Sunday, January 31, 2016

Music Director with Heart For Voices that Sing to God

Defining  the Awe of Religious Music

By  Robert R. Schwarz

Music is an inherent part of every society. The unearthly sounds
of throat-singing in Mongolia and Siberia are as important to
their cultures as Bach is to European cultures or drum-driven
song and dance are to Native American cultures. Since music
is such an important part of life, it should not be surprising
that the Bible says much about it; in fact, the longest book
in the Bible is its song book—Psalms. ( from " Got",
a volunteer, non-denominational ministry )

                        He who sings well, prays twice . ( Saint Augustine of Hippo ) 

   Eighteen-year-old Tamaron Conseur is driving across a long bridge that connects San Diego to Coronado Island  in the Pacific . At the end of this 45-minute drive he will audition for the job as  music director  who leads a section of church  choir . He senses it can be a defining moment of his start-up career, and , considering his age, he is quite nervous about the outcome.
            He pulls in to the small parking lot of the Graham Memorial Presbyterian church ; it is a small church attended by many senior citizens proud of their several decades of worship tradition.  Tamaron , wearing a black suit  jacket  and green shirt, takes a  final glance in the rear view mirror, alights from  his car and heads inside.
            He walks to a small room and is greeted by the music director Vicki , a woman in her mid-sixties who, sensing Tamaron's  nervousness, immediately puts her applicant at ease with a sincere, welcoming smile.   Tamaron will remember her as a "youthful  appearing  woman with no false nature.  "   He will also remember how his nervousness now  increased because Vicki  was "so nice , " and that meant he had to please her.
            Vicki soon was at an upright piano playing two songs which Tamaron had never heard.  Standing behind her, this young man with his  baritone  voice sings both selections,  one an opera aria. Vicki then  picks up a hymnal , hands it to Tamaron, and requests that he sing a particular hymn . Not only is Tamaron completely unfamiliar with the piece but he must sing it without any accompaniment other that the one note Vicki now taps on the piano.
            Today Tamaron will tell you that by his standards he did poorly, yet Vicki offered an "encouraging word" after he had finished singing and then asked him to come back in an hour to meet the choir section .  Her  invitation brings a smile to his heart. When he returns after a turkey sandwich at a nearby outdoor café, Tamaron is introduced to 18  men , most between  the ages of 70 and  75.  This is  the choir section which Tamaron would direct if hired, and when he reflects on what they would expect from him—improve their musical accuracy, sound, and tone quality—he begins  to sweat.
            But at day's end, Vicki asks Tamaron if he'll take the position.  " I'll  do it right away!" he says.  
            Tamaron later describes this climax: " It was at this moment that I realized this isn't just a  job; it would be a  family ; it felt like home ! A place I wanted to be , a place in my life  that had been missing. "   

12 Years Later

" Taste and see the goodness of the Lord ."
                                              ( refrain   of a  hymn inspired by Psalm 34 )
            Tamaron—or "Tam", as he is known—is once again waiting for an audition, though this time confident of his  professional skills, which have been honed by 12 years of  directing church music.  He sits in a  darkened  church sanctuary , waiting to be ushered down to the church basement . There he will  be evaluated  for the position of music director of the St. James church in   Arlington  Heights , Illinois  .  St. James, with its more than 12,.000 parishioners and five choirs  ( three adult , one children's, and a teen choir ) has an illustrious history of  producing  semi-professional Broadway musicals in which one or more or its three priests frequently  make cameo appearances. 
As the baritone soloist at a high school
honors music festival
Tam  wants to know more about the sound quality of the sanctuary  and begins to test it by listening to his own whistling. Minutes later, he is downstairs and being introduced to one of the choirs and to the music director search committee.  The church pastor, Fr. Matt Foley, will arrive later.  In a no-nonsense business  tone , Tam  is  told,  "You have 30 minutes .  "  At that moment , he remembers the  advice given from other  music directors:  Use time effectively.      
            Tam's final test comes when he is asked to direct the  hymn, " Taste and See."  It happens to be his favorite , and it allows him to express his  core belief: We always have to sing our faith.  When the choir sings it,   Tam feels  "connected" to everyone in the room , especially the  choir members, whom  Tam perceives are enjoying this same connection. He is also feeling  what  he had felt intensely  in  that  small church room 12 years ago: I  am at  home !
            Fr. Matt has arrived ,  and he perceives that the singing has  energy unusual and  spirited . It is exactly what Tam wanted to achieve.  The priest   shares what he has just  felt with Tam , who later say during our interview, "I knew then that I really wanted the job . " 

A Music Director's Challenges and Some  Opinions about Music 

            During our recent interview in Tam's   small , task-filled  office,  he talked   openly and often candidly about work and life.   One quickly notices that  he runs  on high voltage and  welcomes meaningful conversation . He is a tad over six feet tall,  has blue eyes and dark brown hair, and wears glasses. His workday clothes were khaki pants, a necktie, and a checked dress shirt with sleeves partially rolled up .  
With new bride Natalie 
 Since his singing roles in the Lyric Opera chorus included the tragedies " Faust "  and the " Damnation of Faust, a logical question was : What in life makes him  sad  ? "People who can’t see life for the goodness and possibilities that can be,  " he replied. Hatred and homeless people also sadden  him . He tries not to read newspapers too often. As for what gives him happiness, it is his wife , Natalie,  and  three children:  Julian 7, Claire 4,   and Daniel, 15 months.  "I know it sounds sort of dorky, but I really do love coming to church on Sundays. I just love being   here with everybody and glorifying God. "   For fun, he plays a lot of basketball at a local X-Sport Fitness.  He's a Cubs and Bulls fan and has remained loyal  to the Los Angeles Lakers . And he loves to "make a good steak for the family.  "
            Tam  weighs 180 pounds, a  100 pounds less than when a high school senior.  He admits dieting was perhaps his   biggest life challenge, especially  making up his mind to say no to certain foods and realizing  he could not  be in complete in control  of his life.   It was a year of  discipline with Weight Watchers. The result: " It changed my life. I became more of a take-charge person. "
            "Music has always been a part of my life and has been at the heart of my faith and spirituality," Tam said.  He grew up in a house "always filled " with music.   "My dad was a drummer, and my sister and I were always performing different things for my father and his friends who came over. Tam's mother used to dance with a modern ballet company in Los Angeles. Tm started playing the piano at age six . "  Because music was all he knew when he started college, Tam today  advises youths who seek a career in  music —a career known to often  be  financially unrewarding—to have a backup career in mind.
The Eucharist Prompts His Conversion

            In 2006, Tam began attending the Catholic mass with his wife and two years later made his profession of faith after attending classes of the church's Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.  Music had  played no small role in Tam's conversion. While attending the Catholic  mass , he had been  giving  rapt attention to how its music and liturgy "had this elegant flow . "  He also had thought a lot about the church's "beautiful faith history" and how the Eucharist  seemed to be " drawing  him into a faith  I   longed to be a part of. "
Dad , baby Claire and son Julian 
    Asked  how people in church should listen to its music to get the most out of it, Tam said: "It's all about the text and the Word [ of God ] .  The text is the most important thing and how the music colors its words. The emotion comes from the music but the words guide us where our emotion should go. The beauty of  hymn  'Ave Maria '  helps us to deepen our relationship with the Holy Mother and to contemplate the gift which she was able to bring into this world. " Cantors, he said, can also help people  develop their faith.
            Tam wants his St. James congregation to sing wholeheartedly so they will then sing as one "communal" voice . " When that occurs, " he said with some passion,  "It's a really moving experience and helps people grow in faith. When I sing,  I try to let myself go   and let my spirit  in. " His personal favorites are the  Mozart and Verdi requiems and Bach's " Saint John Passion", whose chorus he has sung with  several times.
As for secular music,  Tam owns probably every album of the Beatles and  often listens to the music of " Radiohead,"  an English rock band formed in   1985.  Though he maintained that  some  secular music "doesn't have a whole lot of purpose,"  he also credited some of it as having "a deep connection to the soul. "  For example, he mentioned  the jazz of Miles Davis , "where raw emotion of the music enables one  to  feel what the musician is feeling. " 
            In discussing how  Americans since the 1960's  have radically changed their taste in popular music , Tam said that  listening to today's hit tunes is "an altogether different experience; a lot of it is pointless and repetitious  and without a meaningful message of love or loss. Some of it can be very crude. "
            Two technical questions (perhaps with  obvious answers?)  were  posed to Tam: What's  the fundamental difference in sound quality between a high school orchestra and a top professional one; and, can an orchestra play well without a conductor ?  Good orchestra sound, Tim explained, occurs when the  musicians , after years of experience, blow and bow their instruments with greatly  matured skill and when the orchestra "blends"  its music  and faithfully follows how the music score, its style  and dynamics  ( softness and loudness ) . With singers,  he said, it's a matter of how their voices have seasoned physically. "The quality of a really good singer is how  softly can he or she sing those low  notes with  the audience still able to clearly hear the text. "
Answering the second question, Tam explained that while the chorus must watch its director continuously,  some orchestras can play without a director if  "they're all feeling the music together."  He explained,  however, it's different with a director who knows exactly what he wants  from his orchestra, such as the late Leonard Bernstein (who composed "West Side Story") .
Challenges and Goals Today

            Music naturally has a prominent role in a large parish like St. James with its almost 80 ministries.  No  wonder then  that Tam's  biggest daily challenge is organizational  or, as he said,  "keeping the choirs and accompanists  informed  as to what's going on. "  Another full-time challenge he expressed this way: " Because you have various  levels of experience and talent , you don't want to squash anyone's  desire to lift his or her  voice up to God . It's not necessarily how good  each musician is;  it's working hard to find the choir's singular  voice ." He works especially hard  to help a choir  "hone its vowels " and  fine tune its sounds. "It's a difficult tight-rope act because you want them to lift up their voices to God  to make their singing a prayerful experience.   If the choir gets passionate about a song they're doing, then  you can get a sound that's from heaven. "  The director, he added,  must inspire and motivate  a choir as would the manager of a champion athletic team . 
      Said John Towner, a  key member of the church's music ministry: "Tam has an outstanding voice and it is a joy to listen to him sing.  He is able to demonstrate with ease different vocal examples during choir rehearsals.  One of his best attributes is his calm confidence.  Having worked with a number of music directors over the years, I know well how stressful being a  music director can be.  He has a lot of good, solid ideas to move our ministry forward . "
Tam's other goal?  " Right now, I'm living my dream. I want to help  inspire others to reach a deeper level of understanding of Christ and to deepen their faith through music.  "   He paused, then affirmed: " And I want to be a good father and husband, because at the end of it, family is the most important thing for me. "

All comments are welcome.

© 2016 Robert R. Schwarz

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Moral Wounds of War Being Healed By a Retired U.S. Army General

By Robert R. Schwarz  

                                          God's mercy always comes to us by way of
                                          other people …( anonymous )

                                         More than 50,000 veterans are homeless

                                         ( annual homeless assessment report to Congress )

June, 1969 , Mekong Delta
 A wounded comrade being rescued by a platoon of Capt.
Mukoyama ( in center at rear )
...UPI photo by Shunsuke Akatsuka

            In June of 1969 in  the 14th year of the Vietnam War,  150 American soldiers of  Company B, 4th Battalion of the 39th Infantry,  9th Division,  are  led silently through  the Mekong Delta jungle in search of their Vietcong enemy. Their three platoons are being led by  Capt. James Hidefumi Mukoyama, Jr. , who will  became one of the youngest major  generals in the U.S. Army .
            Each man carries from 25  to 30 pounds of gear, which includes hand grenades  and  M16 semi- automatic rifles ; Capt. Mukoyama's weapon is  an AR15,  a modified version of  his men's rifles.    The enemy which they are about to encounter kills with the Russian-developed , semi-automatic and gas-operated  AK-47  (also known as the Kalashnikov ).
            Since early morning Company B has moved in a fan-shaped patrol with fox-like alertness, for this particular  enemy are  guerrillas who operate in small units  of perhaps 27 men who have shed military uniforms and attack by ambush. Their strategy is  simply—but always violently—to  disrupt operations of larger American units and then flee quickly.
            The sun is  much higher than when Company B started out and has likely  drawn the Fahrenheit up  to 90 and the humidity to a Delta average of 84 degrees.  Their captain, who has a report that " the enemy is in  the area ", keeps the patrol moving aggressively through the dense jungle of palm trees and impenetrable walls of  bush-thickets.  If anything diminishes the men's mission focus,  it is the sudden , occasional monkey  screeches and exotic bird squawks.  Nearby are the Delta rice paddies and near them  disease-ridden swamp waters with snakes, leeches, and malarial mosquitoes.   Here and there the Vietcong have placed a  skull and crossed bones on it to warn their own men of a booby trap. But Company B  has discovered that some of the signs  falsely indicate booby traps and purposely exist to detour  this American patrol  closer  to harm's way .  But after ten months of combat in this delta,   Capt. Mukoyama's men  are   hardened to the environment  and know how to cope with any threat.   
          Capt. Mukoyama would later recall  that the constant  pumping of his adrenaline  left little room  for fear or doubts about the value of this patrol mission.  Freedom is not free, he would tell himself.  Yet ,  as the men now neared the likelihood of a fire fight,  some of  them no doubt experienced , if  for a split second ,  a  violent flashback of a past  fire fight. For their captain,  it was that  ground-concealed   hand grenade booby trap  that exploded, mortally wounding one of  his men and piercing Capt. Mukoyama's arm with  shrapnel . And there was that tripped booby trap which wounded six of his  men , killing one of them— it was the only fatality suffered by his company in Vietnam.   [ see the dramatic photo in this article  of that soldier being rescued  , with Capt. Mukoyama in the center holding his rifle ] 

The Moral Crisis of Killing

Capt. Mukoyama at Fire Support Base at
My Tho, Vietnam in June, 1969
      Suddenly, one of  the platoon point men  shouts " Enemy !"   No more than 50 yards ahead is an encampment of  maybe 25 Vietcong guerrillas ,  caught by surprise.  Both   sides began firing at the same time; for several seconds no human voices are heard.  Capt. Mukoyama instinctively acts: he keeps his men advancing while he stays in contact with his platoon leaders and makes sure  all three platoons are engaged in the fight. This war scene moves with the rapid precision of a professional football team . It is permanently etched  in the captain's mind .
         (In 2015 , this captain will edit the publication , "They Don't Receive  Purple Hearts " ,  ©2015 Military Outreach USA . In the  publication , he and Joseph Palmer, another veteran and  the manual's author,  share their first-hand knowledge about a soldier's moral injury and the knowledge they gleaned from  79 experts and  other sources. )

                        The military culture, like any other culture, has its own sets of
                        rules and codes. What makes the military  culture  different ,
                        however,  is that it teaches, trains, encourages, and rewards
                        the killing of other human beings….Service members, of any
                        military, are conditioned to act without considering the moral
                        repercussions of their action; they are enabled to kill without
                        making a conscious decision to do so. In and of  itself, such
                        training is appropriate and morally permissible. ..( from "They
                        Don't Receive Purple Hearts " )

     The men of Company B keep firing and advancing until they are  about 20 yards away from the guerrillas , who soon retreat.  The fire fight lasts 10, maybe 15 minutes at most.  There are no American casualties—this time. Three dead, bloodied Vietcong bodies lie at  the feet of Capt. Mukoyama . He stands over them for a moment or two  without any compassion, seeing them —he would later admit—as lifeless animals . 
                       ( more from "They Don't Receive Purple Hearts ) Conscience
                       can be overridden or suppressed by circumstance or emotional
                      condition. …."The rush of battle " may cause conscience to be  
                     " blanked out". It may be only after the battle is over that one's
                     conscience will play on the mind and begin to cause guilt or shame.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
          He quickly shouts orders to his platoon leaders: " Reorganize your units ! Take care of any  wounded ! Redistribute ammunition! " Then ,  aware that in the wake of a combat  victory  is when soldiers are most at risk of a counter-attack, he  leads his troops away...   
     In Vietnam, a   brigadier general awards Capt. Mukoyama
 the Bronze Star

          Decades later , Capt. Mukoyama remembers   this scene during our interview, especially what happened immediately after his evacuation orders to his men… " I'm  saying  all this stuff, and then I stop and look at those three bodies at my feet and realize that something had happened to me. Something had hardened my heart, where only moments earlier these were live   human beings , children of God ; they had families, they had loved ones, they had emotions, and  yet I was treating them like they were bumps on a log. Then I remembered Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, where He told us to pray for our enemies. So in the middle of  all this stuff going on,  I just said a  silent prayer  for the three Vietcong and their families—and for myself. I  didn't make a big ceremony out of this. I didn't get on my knees. All of this  maybe lasted  45 seconds,
but it remained me with me for the rest of my life. " 
            That  captain today  will, with a joyful tone,  tell you that in that  prayerful moment  he avoided being permanently wounded morally.  It was a grace which would shape the rest of his life….

November 7, 2015…46 Years Later

                        My soul is full of troubles and my life draws near to  Sheol 
                        ( the world of the dead )…Thou has put me in the depths of
                        the pit, in the regions of the dark and deep…( Psalm 88:3 , 6 )

    Some of the 200 veterans  on Nov7, 2015 in Arlington Heights, IL  who heard
now retired Major General Jim Mukoyama talk about  the moral wounds of war

            Forty-six years later,  this captain—now a highly decorated, 71-year-old retired major general, is standing before  an estimated 200 veterans in a church auditorium with new "marching" orders. He is there to tell them , among other encouraging things,  how he himself  avoided a moral wound and how they and/or  their veteran buddies can heal their moral wounds.   
           The occasion is the Annual Arlington Heights ( IL ) Veterans Breakfast , and General Jim Mukoyama is  president and chief executive officer of Military Outreach USA, a national, faith-based nonprofit ministry he recently founded to help veterans and their families recover from moral injuries.  e H He On his Army dress jacket are more than  20 military decorations  and badges, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart, and four  decorations from the Republic of Vietnam.  Once asked for a description of the events which earned him these honors, the general replied modestly, "  Let me just say that I was in the  wrong place at the right time  and had great non-commissioned  officers who made me look good. "
With Fr. Matt Foley, a former Army chaplain in Afghanistan
and now helping the general with "Military Outreach USA "
          To his audience, he makes no mention of having been  a victim of Agent Orange  ( the deadly defoliation  spray used against the Vietcong  ) , which eventually led to a heart attack, kidney transplant, and  his current 80 per cent veteran disability. Nor will the veterans  here learn about his  B.A. in English literature from the University of Illinois or that his retirement resume includes so much activity with   financial services and charitably agencies , that  it begs the question  if he ever slept.
Not everyday can veterans gab with  a general, like at
this celebration  breakfast for them  ...

            One soon notices that this retired  soldier , however, does not fit the Hollywood movie  profile of  a combat general. Those who interacted with him earlier at breakfast saw a bespectacled ,  five-foot-four-inch man with smiling brown eyes , and  a  genuinely cheerful and  warm personality.  
            He takes his audience back to that Mekong Delta fire  fight  and sums it up with :   "The concept is that when you have a moral injury  in combat ,  you don't have time  to address it and think about it. So what do you do ? You suppress it, and it becomes unresolved grief.  Often it does not bubble up until these veterans are  55 or retired,  and then [ for the moral wound to heal],  they must have coping skills such  as performing a service for others,  church involvement,  or confession ."
           He emphasizes  the importance  of the morally wounded veteran (or anyone wounded morally)  to rebuild  a sense of worthiness , self-worth. The absence of this , Jim Mukoyama  cautions, has proven to be a factor in suicide among veterans and also  among men, women , and children  who have  "no moral compass " or have discarded it and now have given up hope.   [ Though statistics about military suicides widely vary due to a variety of methods  used to collect them,  a recent study found that the suicide rate for veterans was 50% higher than that among those who had not served in the military. ]
            A veteran in the audience stands up and asks: " How do you approach a veteran who has a moral injury?"
            "The first thing you do is get him registered with the Veterans Administration,"    Gen Mukoyama  replies.  Many in the audience now again look at their breakfast program , which lists RESOURCES FOR VETERANS: Military Outreach USA, (  877) 734-4244 or  ; Road Home Program, The Center for Veterans & Families at Rush Hospital, Chicago ,  (312 ) 942-8387 ; www.veteransroadhomeprogram/  ; and Veterans Crisis Line, Veterans Administration, (800) 273-8255 [ press #1 ] ,  .
            Afterwards, the general shakes hands with veterans wearing  smiles as broad as his. For most , interacting this way with a two-star general—retired or not—is a first. For the general, his mission is far from complete.

A Long March from Cub Scout to 2-Star General, 1953-1995 
     The  "moral compass" which Gen. Mukoyama believes defines a man or woman's life  likely defined him while growing up in a lower-middle class family in Chicago's  Logan Square neighborhood. There , he says, he led the  life  depicted  in the still-celebrated paintings  of Americana  by Norman Rockwell . "Every Sunday we'd put on our best Sunday clothes and walk—as a family—to church  . I was baptized  and confirmed and sang in the choir. "  He was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout , had a newspaper route, attended Schurz High School , and played the saxophone and clarinet at Polish weddings.  ( At a guest appearance in 2015  at Schurz, he admonished the students:  "Complete your  education and  compete in life.  " )
            Born in Japan, his father immigrated here in 1918 and moved to Chicago  in the early 1930's ; his mother, of Japanese descent, was born in Madison, Wisconsin. In Chicago, the senior Mukoyama  opened a retail gift store , which  after 30 years  became  unprofitable due to the nearby  large  chain-owned  stores that had sprung up. "My father could have easily declared bankruptcy  but he didn't for the  sake of family honor and his integrity, " the general says.  His father belonged to the   local chamber of commerce and to a  committee to help settle  Japanese Americans who had been interned  on the West Coast during the World War II and had come to Chicago  "with nothing" .  All of this, he  says, " Is a lesson  I'll never forget. " Both his parents  and grandparents remained married for 55 years. 
            Long  before Jim Mukoyama wore an Army uniform,  he had desired a military life. He got his first taste of it in R.O.T.C  programs at his high school and  the University of Illinois, from which he graduated in 1966 and  commissioned a  regular Army second lieutenant and  assigned to infantry  unit .  Unknown to many of his friends, he reluctantly chose not to become an Army chaplain.  Nevertheless, in peacetime  or war, he never was known to be lukewarm about what he believed was a calling to "serve God."
              Jim Mukoyama laughingly  recalls an incident when, as a mere lieutenant, he was given red carpet treatment  during an R&R ( Rest & Recreation )  in Japan . He went to visit his family grave site ,  "One of my lifelong missions   I had to fulfill, " he says. An uncle of his knew the Japanese army chief of staff and, unbeknown to his nephew, had arranged for a limousine to be  waiting  for him as he got off the Tokyo  train. 
          Soon  Lieut. Mukoyama is sitting face to face with the chief of staff . " 
          I was just a lieutenant ,"  he says  during our interview , "and he's treating me like I'm a general!  " 
           Japan was then  experiencing a lot of anti-American sentiment over a controversial defense  pact with  Japan  and the United States. Delighted  that Lieut. Mukoyama's visit to Japan had somehow made front page news in several Japanese newspapers, the general  tells him,  " I want to thank you for what  your visit has done to promote  United States-Japan relations  .Then, having learned that his American visitor has had U.S.  Army airborne training,  he gives  him the  Japanese Parachutist Badge, an enviable distinction in  the Japanese army .
          "No one will believe  this, " the lieutenant tells the general. The next day , Lieut. Mukoyama  opens  his hotel room  door and is handed an envelope with official Japanese army orders–in English—that award the parachutist badge to this American  lieutenant..  
            That day Lieut. Mukoyama  takes a stroll down the pedestrian-packed sidewalks of Tokyo .  He has dismissed  the prudent  advice not to wear his American military uniform, so as not to stir up unpleasant memories of the American military occupation of Japan after World War II. He will show he's proud to be  an American Army  officer— and keeps strolling  through throngs of Japanese pedestrians.   
 "People would  take  double takes of me, " he says.  " I had a Japanese face; I was a short guy with black hair;  and they saw my name tag that said 'Mukoyama . '  "     
                                       Promotions Come Fast,  then Unwelcome
                                       Bravery Before Congress; ' Somebody Has
                                       Got to Stand  Up ! '
     After that, he rose fast  through the ranks and, in 1986 ,  became  the then  youngest   general in the Army;  and, two years later,  the first Asian-American in  United State history to command an Army division.   When asked later in life  what his biggest challenge had been , Jim Mukoyama says,   " I really don't think there's been a lot of challenges. I've always felt that if I worked hard and studied hard enough, I'd be successful in life. "  
Hoisting Old Glory at his home near Chicago

            Now  wearing  two stars on each shoulder,  Major General Mukoyama will make  a decision that impels  him  to retire with five years  remaining  before mandatory retirement.  He  has been studying  how the military  was  budgeting its money and is convinced it is  not in the "best interests " of the country  and is also  ignoring Army procedures .  He testifies to this before a Congressional House subcommittee ,  but not as  an Army officer but  as a civilian  (because of his membership  with the Army Reserve Association  of which  he is  president and founder ) . Members of  his association  had caught wind of the budget improprieties and urged their president to tell Congress about it. " Somebody has got to stand up ! " the members pleaded.  
            Gen. Mukoyama did stand up .  It so  angered the Army Chief of Staff  who , according to Mukoyama ,  "blackballed " him.    " A year later, my career went down the drain. I was history. I retired from the military under a cloud because I testified  that the military  had made  political decisions and were making some budget cuts  that was  to the detriment of our force readiness."   His testimony, however, was later validated by a  Government Accounting Office (GOA) study. " But the train had gone too far down the track to turn things around," Jim says .
 At the Army's  retirement ceremony honoring  Mukoyama's more that 30 years of service,  "All  I got," he says  with a melancholic expression,  "was a handshake. "  
          But he quickly turns philosophical and  adds with a sigh, " But God closes doors and He opens them."
         Jim had no idea that 30 years later a particular door would open and usher in  his deepest  desire.

At Last, 'His Greatest Commission '

And we know that God causes all things  to work
together for good to those who love God, to those
who are called according to His purpose…
 (Romans 8:28 ) 

             But there is  no rocking chair or 18-hole links  for Jim.  He is  soon doing a beaver's work e s of public  service and white-collar labor. There are  those several years as full-time vice president and chief compliance officer of a national stock brokerage firm, also volunteering for ten years as an instructor for the Military Ministry of the former Campus Crusade for Christ . Then came membership in  the New York Stock Exchange, and later, a co-chairman post on the Patient Advisory Council for the mammoth veteran's health care center in North Chicago . He joined  the Willow Creek Community mega-church and started   a  religious group   for 30 to 40 veterans and their family members. 
           For six years he and his wife do volunteer work at a hospice  center. The stress of caring   for dying people wasn't like war combat stress, but  even   for Jim it was  "most stressing. " He bonded with a 56-year Vietnam veteran  like himself  who , while being wheeled around by Jim, would cry out, "Hey, I've got a general  pushing me around! "  The man would soon die of cancer. "He was a  fighter, " Jim says, "and used to tell me, 'when I beat this, I'm  going to become a hospice volunteer like you. ' "
         His thoughts about the hospice silence  Jim for awhile during our interview  .  He finally breaks  his silence with,  "I've come to realize God has created all of my seeming disparate parts and experiences  in my life into a mosaic, and that hospice duty was all part of it. "

The Big Door Opens
         One  day   Jim is  invited to  a round table  discussion of ten  men  who met twice a month  to tackle their  stated goal  to " transform ourselves as individuals to be better men  and to use our Christian values to influence  the transformation of our society."  Ever since Jim first heard of their  goal ,  his heart  had  been stirred: A meaningful life of full-time Christian service  had been his dream. The group is named the Pinnacle Forum.
          On a particular day, the men are  meeting at the Lake Forest ( IL) Illinois  headquarters of the mammoth  Brunswick Corporation. Each man at this round table is a successful leader in a particular  and major segment of the American culture: family, religion, education,  the media, business, government , and entertainment.  
 An inciting question is put to the men: " If you were king, what  would you do to realize our goal?"   
           When it's  Jim's turn to speak, he begins to describe all the many current afflictions —especially moral wounds—of veterans and their families.  The men pay attention to this retired general with the distinguished , eclectic  background .  "The answer to these tragic veteran problems is not bigger government," he says with authority.  " It lies with   the local community ,  spearheaded by houses of worship. "  He gives  time for full impact of his words . Then his voice  calls out for leadership:  " Somebody has got to reach out  to them ! "
        The group  gives their collective   fiat to Jim: " We're in ! "
        It is the birth of Military Outreach USA—and the birth of what Jim , with uncharacteristic emotion ,  would later call " my greatest commission. " 
        After a year of Jim Mukoyama's leadership,  the military  outreach  is active in 80 churches, and today  more than 400 churches have  signed on to its national network.  The goal of Military  Outreach USA and its cadre of volunteer workers is to enlist  20,000 thousand  churches who reach out to veterans and their families with near-comprehensive help that includes help for  homeless veterans.   
         Reflecting back on his entire life,  Jim says, "All these things God has woven together.  "As a teenager I wanted to become a minister.  But I also loved the military.  I finally said to God, ' I guess you don't want me to do the ministry thing, so I'll just move on with the military thing. ' "   
         Fr. Matt Foley , pastor of St. James church in Arlington Heights and   former Army chaplain in a combat zone of Afghanistan and who today is a colleague of Jim, commented that  , " General Jim has a tremendous drive to assist veterans and their families in returning to their homes healthy."
         Nowadays Jim and "K.J.",  his wife of Korean descent ,   live in an upper-middle class home in a quiet residential neighbor in Glenview, Illinois. They've been married 40 years. Owing to their heritages, the home's décor is touched here and there with tasteful  Asian art.  K.J. has a master's degree in gerontology and works as an activity associate at a rehab center. The Mukoyamas have   two children , both adopted: a 36-year-old daughter who lives in Seattle and is an advertising rep for Amazon , and a 35-year-old son who is a registered   dietitian. 

A Constant Spiritual  Battle Cry through  the Years: 'Cling to Your Faith '

          We sat down and continued talking. When asked if the military code of behavior had  ever  hampered  the religious  callings he had  had since youth, Jim exclaimed, "Not at all!  I remained active in church. "  He said he encouraged his soldiers to stay fit  physically,  professionally, attitudinally ( i.e., positive thinking ) , and spiritually.
         " As I  went higher in rank, I was able to talk more to the troops about my spirituality, but without proselytizing  anyone. I would tell them that whatever your faith is, cling to it.  I only mentioned the name of Jesus if I was personally asked about my own faith. When that occurred, one or more soldiers would later tell me  'we're happy you said  that . ' "
         What does he do for fun or recreation ? "Just being with my wife, just to have physical time with her,"  he replied. "  "It doesn't get any better than that. " 
Does anything make him sad?  "When I do things I shouldn’t do—and we all do that every day. And when I disrespect my  wife, or don't treat her lovingly, or when I fail to follow up on something I've promised someone. "  
Minutes Before Heart Surgery, ' Every Day Is a Great Day'

   What about being happy? " When I see God being glorified, like in nature such as a sunrise, a baby being born ,  seeing people serving others.  A dozen times a day I say , Every day is a great day!"  He recalled  how he said this even when his wife was driving him to the hospital after his  heart attack four years ago.   "When I had that heart attack and was being wheeled into  the operating room, I asked myself,  'Can you say today is a great day?'  My answer was an unequivocal  'Yes, I can.'   I had been given  40-plus  years of borrowed time since Vietnam,when many of my comrades died,  and today  I have a wonderful wife and children , live in the finest country in the world and , most importantly,  a relationship with my God through my faith.  "  Those words remain his life's  mantra .
            Just before his   surgery  and after the doctor had  asked  Jim some routine   questions , Jim repeated what he had told himself minutes ago. It prompted the surprised physician   to ask Jim , " What is  your faith ? " 
            Jim   expressed it this way: " Since you asked… I am a Christian,  Christ is my savior , you are a skilled physician, your nurses here are skilled.  But God's in charge, and whatever He decides I'm okay with it. So, let's get on  with it.  " 

       Soon thereafter,   Jim was to focus on his mantra  when his kidneys totally failed and he had to undergo dialysis  for three months  until doctors found  a right  transplant donor. It was his daughter, Sumi, whose kidney was a match for Jim's even though she was not his biological daughter . "It was truly a God thing;  He  provided ,"   Jim said, glad that his mantra includes his gratitude for family.       
            What would Jim  like people to say about him  after he's been "called home "?  Simply  that he  was a man of faith.  Perhaps more than a few aging  veterans would add that  Jim Mukoyama  was, among many things,  a front-line   medic who bandaged  the wounds of many.


All comments are welcome.
© 2015 Robert R. Schwarz

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Few Adventurous Interviews about Families , Our Indefinable Core of Humanity

By Robert R. Schwarz

The family is an integral structure of society and the primary
means for individuals to experience the reality of God.
What vehicle is more powerful to invite us into loving relationships,
relationships where we actually come to know God because we are
cherished, because we belong, because there are human arms to
embrace and hold us, because others do not give up on us despite our
shortcomings, where forgiveness heals, and where joy and laughter
create memories that bind? …JoAnne Mullen-Muhr,  former director
of faith formation, St. James church, Arlington Heights, Illinois

Healthy marriages are. . . . good for  children; growing up in a happy
 home protects children from mental, physical, educational and
social problems. . . .  the American Psychological Association

While the direct legal and genetic relationships you share with others can help
you create your definition of a family, there is more to family relationships
than these basic concepts. A true family provides its members with emotional
and spiritual kinship...from LovetoKnow website by Melissa Mayntz, freelance
 writer and editor.  

The family is the basic cell of society. It is the cradle of life and love , the place
in which the individual is  'born' and 'grows. '…Saint John Paul II

A cool, early October day and an overcast sky on Wisconsin's Door Peninsula somehow  triggered my muse to resolve an aging regret about having  "lost"  most of my extended family decades ago . That occurred  by my repeatedly  ignoring ,  without good reason,   invitations to weddings, birthday parties  and funerals. Since then, my attempts  to reconnect to those loving relationships I had enjoyed before entering my world of self-centered pursuits—I have no children, and I remarried soon after my wife of 33 years died— have been painfully  discouraging.  When I have given a friendly call to one of  many  nephews or nieces  or aunts or uncles I haven't talked to in years, our conversation usually ends with a lukewarm : "Well , Bob, we'll have to get together sometime. "  But we never do.  
An unexpected mending of this fragmentation,  however, began when  my wife, Mary Alice,  and   I  embarked on a  five-day getaway  to the Door Peninsular on Lake Michigan's Green Bay . During  the five-hour drive from our suburban  Chicago home,  I mentioned to my wife that maybe I should write something about  this  "family issue"  and that there were a few  hard-learned lessons to pass on to others .
       " Like what ?" my wife inquired.     
       " Like  don't take family love for granted; don't ever stop stoking the family embers, "  I  told             her.  " Old newspaper reporters never retire—"
     —"I know," she stopped me . " They just write away , " and then asked if  I had packed my voice recorder  and  camera , my two digital veterans of interviews with  individuals here and there.
     Problem was I hadn't the slightest idea who or what I was looking for. A lot more musing was waiting for me.  
     On the first night at our  resort on Rowley's Bay  ,  we met an 86-year-old storyteller—we'll call him Sam— who , before dinner, had entertained  a dining room audience with a historical narrative of the peninsula by assuming the role of 250-year-old man who had "seen it all. "  After our white fish dinner, a journalist's hunch prompted me to approach Sam with my voice recorder and a word of appreciation for his animated talk.  
     "I'm doing a story about family, " I said, hoping he had a family .  He did and  was eager to talk .
     Sam was   a widower and former dean of students at a New York  university  and  was saddened  by the  "lack of disciplined  structure "  within families of all socio-economic levels .  " I'm very disturbed , " he told me ,   "that when I talk to parents today, they don't even think about this anymore. They're so busy thinking about their own desires for more pleasure, more electronic devices. "      
     Sam admitted he had a son  who had lost everything because of a drug addiction problem. " How can this happen to  a guy who's been brought up by two highly educated parents ?"  He expressed dismay.
      I offered that  his son did have free will. "Yes, " he replied, " but he  didn't follow it ; he wasn't strong enough. "
     The interview didn't  exactly address my needs as a journalist, but it did prime my pump .  
     The  next day Mary Alice and I we  took an excursion to Gills Rock , a settlement on the peninsula's northern  tip  and boarded  the  "Island Clipper" ferry for Washington Island.
Once on board for the five-mile cruise,  I excused myself from my wife and went up  to the  open-air  deck to gaze upon  the dark blue lake waters to unleash everything from my mind  except   with an occasional thought  of  the waters'  bottom  littered with several  known ship wrecks ; we were crossing a  strait called Porte des  Morts (  "Door of the Dead" ) by the early French explorers .
We docked at a small landing and boarded a tourist tram  for a  ride through a portion of  Washington's  Island's 23  square miles , which are populated with almost 700 residents , many of  Scandinavian  (mostly Icelandic)  and Irish descent  .  The tram rolled us  through farmland and forests as we heard the history  of  missionary work done here with the Ojibwa and Potawatomi Indians  by French Jesuits between 1650 and 1816.  I grew restless  waiting for something to spark my writing that would  put closure on this family issue that had dogged me far too long.                                     
" My Husband and I have Put Together a Blended Family"
     The tram made a 15-minute refreshment  stop at a small grocery store . I was about to follow Mary Alice into the store  when ,  on the other side of this country road ,  I noticed  a small café with a fairly large wooden statue of a monk holding onto some birds. The statue left no doubt that it was Saint Francis, the l3th Century   saint who addressed the moon and the sun as well as nature's creatures as his " brothers  and sisters " . "I'll be just be a minute , " I told Mary Alice who , knowing how distorted my sense of a minute could be, indulged me with a  smile  and  suggested I return in time for us to catch  the  return tram . "Meanwhile," she said, "I'll look for some souvenir post cards."  
Valerie Fonds outside her cafe
            Inside  the café , I watched a perky woman of senior citizen age wait on two customers who were buying some Washington Island fudge.
           "Excuse me, miss, " I said. "  I  saw your statue of St. Francis outside.."
            "Oh, yes, " she replied and, anticipating the usual tourist  questions from me, cheerfully gave her spiel:  " Well, each morning here I serve a free breakfast of yogurt, granola , coffee and fruit to anyone who shows up for our prayer group.  Any denomination. We eat at 7 a.m. " 
            My pump had been  primed .   
            She introduced herself as Valerie Fons, the proprietor.  I asked if she minded giving me her thoughts about the value of a good, healthy  family.  Her expression said no one had ever asked her this . I felt for my pocketed voice recorder;  but with the  tram  returning soon, I felt uncomfortably rushed, especially not knowing if Valerie had anything to say which I  could really use. Why don't I simply get a few library books about families  when we get home, I thought . Surely  I can  get  a few valuable insights that way. . . No, that's being a lazy.
  "I  guess it's all right," she said cautiously, then  immediately dove into a long reply .
             In between Valerie  waiting on  an occasional customer, I kept our conversation going and eventually learned that  Valerie was an ordained elder of the United Methodist Extension Ministry. And when she told me she had earlier that morning carried lunches for her six adopted children  to the island's only school , I now happily anticipated golden nuggets of  family insights coming from  Valery. [ As a footnote, I want to say that before the days' end , my total  disbelief in the reality of coincidences or luck would again be affirmed . ] 
 " My husband and I have put together a blended family, " she said, explaining  that one  of her children is  Haitian and  the other five are Afro-American . Their ages range  from 12 to 21   and  "have come from  abuse and trauma " and were placed in the Fons home by a foster care agency in Michigan . Today the entire family lives in a ten-bedroom home behind the café. 
            " We try to open up our lives  to the children's special  dreams and issues," Valerie  continued, now enjoying what she was sharing, likely for the first time.  "We emphasize emotional intelligence .  I thought that now that our children are teens ,  I would have  to be leaving the island because of their need to see a wider world. But we have invited diversity to this island  ,  and it's  the best work I have ever done [ as an ordained elder ]. "
            She explained that Washington Island residents  are currently  sponsoring several high school exchange students from Belgium, Spain, Costa Rica, Korea,  China, and Columbia . " We have changed the face of this island ," Valerie boasted, , " and have brought energy to this school and to the community and to our families . "
            I asked Valerie what she thought was the main problem  facing American families. " I can't speak for anyone else,  but what I do is   listen  to my children and try to hear what they're really saying , and to let them know they are heard. "
            Mary Alice entered the café to tell me our return  tram was outside. I asked my wife to  take some photographs with her point-and-shoot camera—I had left my Canon Rebel at the resort. She  did.  

Broken Families Sadden this Pastor

            As our tram headed to the Stravekirke , a replica of a medieval church in Norway, I felt like an old time wagon train scout trying to gather helpful facts for a  report to bring back. Exiting  the church was a man and his wife and a son obviously challenged with special needs . (I later learned that the son, 23-year-old Timothy, was born after only six months of gestation. )           Though doubting the propriety of my act, I walked up to the father  and told him of my "mission" asked  if he minded answering a few questions.  I'm sure he thought me brusque and intrusive of his privacy , as if I were some  journalist hungry for exciting tabloid news about a family vacationing with a handicapped son.  
      But to my surprised delight, the father warmly replied, " I'm David Johnson, pastor of the Overland Baptist Church in Overland , Missouri . This is my wife, Marilyn, and my son Timothy. "   
The Johnson family by the Stravekirke ( in background)
We all  boarded the tram, and ten minutes later  Mary Alice and I were walking with  the Johnson family at an  outdoor  farm museum, where I photographed the pastor showing Timothy how to work an old water pump.  A few hours later we boarded the Island Clipper,  and on the cruise back to Gills Rock, the Rev. Johnson granted me an interview.
            " We're lucky to have Timothy ,"   he  said.  " He's lucky to be alive . He's the only son we will ever have because my wife is a cancer victim. "  I asked how God speaks to his pastor's  heart about families, that is , what's wrong and  right with them  nowadays?  "Family is instituted by God just as marriage is," he began. "With people in my community, I can tell you that broken families inevitably  lead to other problems,  like  loss of income, lower education levels . "
 What saddens this pastor  the most are  moms and dads who  part company , leaving  their children  without parents. "Parents who come from  broken families can have a very difficult time in life. I know of dads in prisons, and moms who , with their  children now living with grandparents,  cannot  survive on their  own. There is unemployment , financial struggles, but you can't just blame  it all on poverty. "  He said he's also seen  well-to-do families who come  from broken families yet   are  still "ironing things out. "
            How can a church help? "It's frustrating to all clergy that the rates of divorces and family disintegration are right on par with societal norms ," the pastor replied . " I don't know what we can do except pray about it and preach the  truth  of scripture and try  to be a role model. "        My  last question to him  was : How can we as a nation address this issue of broken families ?  He frowned, then managed  to laugh. . " If  I had an answer to that I wouldn't be a pastor; I'd be a politician or I'd write a book."
Signs of a Healthy Family
*You trust each other *You feel free to talk openly,
without fear of  disapproval *You support one another
                        during  difficult times *You have fun and enjoy one
                        another *You respect one another           
                      Signs of an  Unhealthy Family
                        *Substance abuse *Perfectionism  *Overprotection  
                        *Mental illness  *Neglect *Emotional, physical, verbal
                         or sexual abuse
                          ( from the SteppingStones  ministry )                   
Melancholy and a Cherished Memory
      Feeling melancholic at the lodge late that night, I left my room and , hoping that the chilly night air and the dark expanse of the bay waters would absorb my melancholy, I walked down to the edge of the pier . I was alone in a silence broken only by wavelets   breaking against the pier's trestle timbers . I scanned the shore line for lights and but  saw none; then peered  upward at a few  starry constellations—I knew two  by name—and gazed at a yellowish crescent moon  across which   clouds were  drifting. For a long moment I seemed to exist as the only man on  the planet. And then my melancholy drifted—into a memory . . .  

. . . It was Christmas Eve in the mid  1940's  in my family's  two-floor  frame home surrounded with snow-covered maple trees , lilac bushes,  and evergreens at 801 S. Chester Avenue in Park Ridge, a middle class suburb  of Chicago. I am seven years old and , with my three-year-old brother, Lester, I am glee-stricken in our  living room nest of  love,  laughter and cheerful chiding . I see  Mom and Dad, " Gramps" ( who lives with us ), " Taunt" ( my great-aunt), and two, soon-to-be-orphaned , pre-teenage cousins .Various spontaneous  conversations keep  crisscrossing the room with  topics constantly weaving in and out with abandon.
            Mom goes to her  upright spinet piano and , with her  finely pitched, joy-filled soprano voice, begins  singing  her favorites from   sheet music while I stand at her side and sing  terribly off-key . As best the rest of us can, we follow or hopscotch through the lyrics of " Alexander's Ragtime Band", " Sierra Sue",  "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" ,  and Mom's special favorite , "Papa, Won't You Dance with Me " ( from the then  Broadway hit  "High Button Shoes" ) . Dad calls out for his favorite from the same show , " Indian Love Call . "   Fireplace logs are flaming.  The  floor is a hodge-podge of recently opened  gifts, toys, and Gramp's  perennial gift of a jumbo box of candied fruit. .  .   
You Can't Go Home Again
            . . . But I want no more of  this great  memory and walk back to my room. The title of a novel I had read as a teenager and which I had then thought meaningless , flashed at me. It was "You Can't Go Home Again"  by Thomas Wolfe, and it now barged into my mind with sobering, pragmatic reality. There was no going home.   Truth was I didn't want to go home again .

            " Where have you been so long?"  Mary Alice asked at bedside.
            "I think I know something important about myself. I want  to see   Ruth when we get back . "
            "Oh, I see, " my wife replied and went back to sleep.
Digging Up Family Roots and  Then Some
            The morning after we had returned to Arlington Heights,  I made a date for  coffee  at a McDonald's with Ruth Susmarski , a family tree expert and a cousin whom I had met for the first time at  my   75th birthday party. Ruth is in her 50's , never married, independent to the degree of frustrating people who want to be charitable to her, an offer which  she quickly and justifiably  rebuffs. A few years after the death of her mother, for whom Ruth  had been a devoted care-giver for many years, my cousin lost her job with  a Chicago Polish alliance agency.  Her mother's death, Ruth once told me, had left "a large empty hole in my life which I desperately wanted to fill. " She proceeded to fill that hole by climbing branch by branch  through her family tree. Through the years Ruth  has reconnected with several family members by telephone calls and by ferreting out hundreds of family names from American and European  wedding and death certificates and immigration records , some of  which  have  been encrypted  for 300 years. Her library of notebooks, manuals , and digitalized  texts reflect countless  hours of research which, she insists,  "must be accurate before I record anything. "
            " What's on your mind, cuz ? "  she asked over our coffee. 
            Anyone sitting tête-à-tête with Ruth notices,  with pleasure,  her full head of attractive white hair and her blue eyes that stay attentive to whatever  topic is being discussed.
             I confessed to her my dumb mistake—that of being seduced by the allures of the world—of ignoring all those family invitations of years ago  and my failure  to rebuild or reconnect to the several  relatives  who once loved me .
            " So? " she replied, as if to say how common that mistake is .
            " Well,  I don't want  to see others do the same. "
            " I get it,"  she said.
            " Well, there's a  bit  more to it. " 
         I started to tell her about my thoughts that night  on  Rowley's Bay pier when she interrupted (which irritated me , like a  strict teacher might  )  with  " all  I'd like to know is what exactly  have you learned ?"      
            " Well, I guess I learned the hard way; that sometimes to make and  keep a friend, one has to be the first to reach out and maybe do it more than once. "
            "I know . I have to work at that myself, especially with friends who really don't know how to  reach out."  We mentioned a mutual cousin.  
            My voice lowered to make sure the increasing intimacy of our conversation could not enjoyed by the McDonalds' customers behind us .  " On that pier, Ruth,  I suddenly realized that I HAVE  found a new family and I am a member of it. Only thing is, I believe t I'm leaving something out."
            "Like what ?"
            "I don't know. Something beyond my finite mind."
            Ruth grimaced at the word "finite " , then got quite serious and , taking a notebook and pencil  out  of her purse ,  directed me  to write down the names of my current friends , especially those for whom I might have prayed at some time.
            "  List those you really feel comfortable with, she said . "
            " Why ?"  I begged off with a frown.
            "Yes. Now. And the  names of those whom you truly like but haven't, as you  say, reached out to. And don't forget me "— we laughed at that . 
            When I  listed  maybe a dozen names,  I stopped and looked intently at Ruth  and exclaimed :  "I get it !  I see a family here, Ruth!  .  I've had a family, a new family,  ever since I remarried but didn't know it !
            Ruth smiled and nodded.

           But another dimension was to be added to  my family life, rather a new vision of it .  A few months later I posted on this blog you are reading  an article entitled: " Digging Up Their Family Roots Yielded Joy, a Few Surprises and Lots of Inspiration. " It has interviews with several people , including Ruth and another cousin .   At the article's  end ,  I waded into this other dimension  with a sort of metaphysical probing  of the  family dynamic, which seemed to enrich and expand my entire vision of  humanity. Here's an excerpt from  that blog . :
      Another statistic I came across  ( How Many People… )    excites one's  imagination. Carl Haub, senior visiting scholar at the Population Reference Bureau, presents a cogent argument as to the number of people who have ever lived on earth: since 2011, he reports, 107,602, 707, 791 humans have lived or been born since  8,000 B.C.
            I talked with Stephen Szabados about the television program " Finding Your  Roots" ( . I had watched the episode where the moderator, Henry Louis Gate, Jr., a professor at Harvard University ,  documented  his own family tree.  Gates, an Afro-American,  traced some of his ancestry to a small community and was  surprised to see that some of  his  "kinfolk"  is Caucasian!  At the end of the episode, he expressed  amazement over "how we are all linked to just about everybody. I continue to be amazed at how connected members of the human family are. "   

What Gates felt when he discovered he was linked in a very real sense to all of humanity, I too felt one Sunday in church when sitting behind the grandparents of  a two-year-old , a three-year-old, and a babe whom grandpa and grandma  had been rotating tenderly  between their now tired arms for nearly an hour . Naturally, the grandchildren's patience was beginning to ebb; the babe now began to cry incessantly   and  the three-year-old broke loose  from the family corral and ran down the aisle  and the two –year-old was  moving every limb in assorted directions. Clearly, so I thought, this  two-year-old  could  and would not tolerate another five seconds of any discipline. 
As the congregation said the Lord's Prayer , the restlessness of the two-year-old girl  intensified. But at the "amen" , when all turned to show the customary  sign of peace to each other, she suddenly anchored her body and mind—and perhaps soul, too.  Then,  without  prompts  from either grandparent, she turned around  and, with that smile unique to child innocence,  politely extended her small hand over the back of the pew to give  and receive from me  the handshake of  peace  . We exchanged smiles.   Holding her hand  for  a second or two  and then glancing at her family and others  with outreached hands, I had seen that this little girl had been  the first to reach out, and by  so doing , had reminded me that I was also a member of a  body of family—indeed, a family both infinite and eternal .  

Other Families Interviewed on Exodus Trekkers


The End
All comments are welcome.
© 2015 Robert R. Schwarz

An interview about 'moral wounds'
with a 2-star general in