Mom’s Bridge (c) John Winston Powell, M.A. February 8, 2017

A Winter’s Day, 2017

Dear Mom,

This year I’m accompanying juniors from to one of their service learning sites, a retirement/assisted living/nursing home community.  It’s like the one you were in but MUCH nicer–I’ve seen the pool room with hot tub! While the students help out with various tasks, including the residents’ computer questions, I parked myself in the library with my laptop, saying hello to residents as they go by.  Some older ladies come to play bridge and we exchange pleasantries.  I tell them how much it reminds me of Dad and you, seeing them play this most challenging of card games, one that I never tried to play because it seemed like so much memory work. But hearing their talk during the game brings me back 40 years to your play in our living or dining rooms with your bridge buddies.

They are asking “what did she bid?” and I’m thinking of you.  It’s cute and reminds me of all those bridge games I overheard growing up.  “What’s trump, diamonds?”  They are helping each other through the game.  This probably would have driven you nuts. 🙂IMGP4144.JPGI miss you a lot.  As Jane said the other day, we’ve been thinking about Dad and you a lot lately. Oh, I think about you daily but  I guess it’s the Trump presidency (gulp) that has really brought you forward into my consciousness even more brightly. Saw you a dream the other morning.I know you probably would have liked what Drumpf has been doing but it’s so regressive and unjust to me, as you could have predicted. Or you know already, LOL.

“They are making her go to assisted living.  That’s communism.”  The other ladies laugh, even as the one who made the comment says “What? Isn’t that true?” But she has a smile on her face.

“What do we have on now? 1 Club?”      “I guess I’ll pass….”

“Maybe I’ll go to another bid then…”     “You’re doubling two spades, correct?”

I think this game mirrors the confusion I’m feeling about our country right now.  We’re all in different realities, seemingly feeling our way through.  There is truth, even if one doesn’t want to acknowledge it.  But as these ladies show, the truth could be based on hearing things incorrectly or not understanding what is actually happening.

“Keep me honest.”

“I have mixed emotions about that…”

The computer player piano in the other room is playing something I don’t recognize.  I often wonder when retirement homes will switch the music that they pipe through the place; I expect to at least hear rock’n’roll stuff from the 50s but it still seems to be the “music of your life” format that you would like. Remember when I worked in New Port Richey at WGUL, playing that music during the graveyard shift in the late 80s?

“Gift from God…”

I think Dad would be amused and shaking his head over Trump.  I don’t believe he would have voted for him–remember how he liked John Kasich so much? Maybe you would have voted for Kasich, if not Jeb Bush, in the primaries.  I wonder if Dad would have voted for President in November.  I feel 90 percent confident that you would have voted for Trump.  Maybe you can send me a sign that would assuage such thoughts…

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…”

“I’m hearing things….”

“We’re not anywhere where we should be…”

One of the women just took a call on her cell phone at the table during the game (!).  I can’t imagine you ever doing that.  I remember how you played cards with my college friend Clark and me when I was home from college. You good naturally kept trying to get him not to talk during the game. “C’mon Clark, it’s your turn! Keep the game moving!”

The others are waiting with their cards in their hands; ah, now one is going to the bathroom. The woman who took the call apologizes and explains that it’s about a friend she’s been worried about…

Why am I narrating this when I believe you can see all now?  Hilarious.

We have another group of women who has come in to play “Phase 10.” They tell me it’s like Yahtzee with cards.  One of the women has had her hair colored.  She asked if one of her partners had noticed.  The other woman says “No.”  We all laugh.

Back to overhearing the other group as the Phase 10 group is not all here yet….

“How does it feel to shuffle?”  One of the women is asking as the person who has just dealt has been dealing with arthritis. The cards. But I love thinking about this question in terms of other things as well.

“…and everything is connected to everything…”

“Heart.”          “Pass…”

“I have to get rid of this wild card.  It’s not doing me any good…”

“Ah, damn, I’m so sorry…”

“The weather is dreary.”      “I like dreary…”         I do, too, as you know, Mom; we called them “Olney days” in the winter.

“We have all day…and then we can just sleep.”

I so wish I could hear you and Dad play bridge today, Mom.  And realize that so much that would be said would sum up my feelings at this point in our history.

“Mercy, I can’t stay awake…”

But we have to #staywoke. I’ll explain that phrase to you sometime, Mom.  I bet you would get it now since you’re on the other side. No, I have to believe you already get it.

“What’s Trump?”

Indeed.

Love,

Johnny

“In the social and civil context as well, I appeal not to create walls but to build bridges.” Pope Francis

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A Letter to DAD on the brink of Game 4 of the 2016 NLCS against the Dodgers (c) John Winston Powell, M.A. October 19, 2016

Dear Dad (AKA #CubDadinHeaven),

They are saying it’s the moment of truth for our Cubs against the Dodgers tonight in LA.  I guess we’ve been down this road before but not with a 103 regular season win team. I know you must be shaking your head, but because you’re in heaven, it’s a different perspective. I’m guessing it’s the perspective of understanding a human’s attachment to a group of people, playing a game with sticks and balls that is still so aesthetically beautiful but paradoxically uniting and breaking hearts.  And you must laugh at all the angst. But you didn’t laugh when you were here…

Anyway, I have a couple of things to reflect on with you.

I often think about your frustrations with the Cubs.  There are few moments where we were very happy with them.  Oh, when they clinched their first playoff spot in 39 years in ’84 and you wrote me the note in your impeccable handwriting (yes, shared with my FB friends!).  Or maybe when we talked on the phone about them beating the Braves in the division series in ’03, the year before you died. But most of the time, it seemed as though we were just flabbergasted at their lack of…. yes, the word you always used, “execution.”  You would get so disgusted; you’d turn off the TV sound because Harry Carey irritated the crap out of you when they were losing.  It’s really a wonder I didn’t see you drunk at times during the many seasons we shared together as fans…but you had too much class, too much respect to fall into dysfunctional behavior, LOL.  Instead, you simply lived with the melancholy and prepared yourself for the loss…or many losses. You were present to the frustration; you didn’t try to ignore it or cover it up or hit the TV.  You just smoked your pipe and sat there with it. It was what it was. Sometimes I really think you would have understood Buddhism.  After making plain what you thought had gone wrong and calling the Cubs, “hitless wonders” or some other little descriptive, you would stop. You would retreat.  You would go into that place of disappointment and just let it be.  Cubs Fan in Losing Repose in Sunroom. Someone should have painted you.

Now I have to prepare by myself for the possible death of this season.  Yes, I have the Cub Fans in St. Louis FB group who are much better analyzing the game than me; and my Chicago cousins who remember Uncle Bill in each pitch, and your daughter/my sister Jane who follows them in memory of you.  I have Lisa, the wife who converted to Cub-ism for me and is supportive, and Adam, our sports loving grandson/nephew who has told me never to give up on these Cubs.  But, really, it’s an existential, solo undertaking. For me as a theology teacher, the Cubs represent so much that is good and yet flawed in the human condition.  We project so many symbolic hopes and dreams onto a team, and we can’t affect the outcome except through rooting.  Really, it’s much easier to pin our hopes/dreams on a rock and roll group.  If your favorite group put out a less than stellar album, you can still listen to their other “championship” material or see them live; and then the “loss” is mitigated.  There is only “competition” when you argue with your music friends over a beer about which group is actually the more influential group.  But with sports, it is about winning and losing in a stark, cold way. Although we all intellectually nod our heads that it’s also about how people play the game, the great and terrible thing about sport is winning and losing. And the Cubs have felt that heart wrenching, losing punch in the gut for 108 years; and by extension, their fans.

I cry out to you out loud in front of the TV, “DAD!  WTF?!?” and there is silence.  But that is appropriate when I think about it.  I can predict what you would say about how the Cubs are screwing this up.  But the silence…yes, we must just go into the silence where the Unfathomable Mystery sits with us and asks us to let go and be appreciative all that we have. Mom would probably remind us of this reality.  We have had many good moments this season, more than ever in my lifetime of following the Cubs since 1972.  And we have all the other good things in life that seem to get forgotten in our momentary depression about a sports team.  We know that the players are giving it their all and we have a sanctuary in Wrigley Field that brings a smile to the face just thinking of it.  We are Cubs fans. Fans that never give up, even if we get depressed and disgusted. Fans that know that with every seasonal death comes a new day in the spring that gives us a chance to resurrect.

So, Dad, in the silence, I thank you.  This little suffering teaches us. Thank you, Dad, and in the silence with you, in that sunroom, I forever mouth the words, “Go Cubs!”

Smiling at Mom and you, sending love to your both on the commemoration of your 70th wedding anniversary today,

1972368_10201782155716112_3555989945296321889_n1Johnny

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What Prince Means to Me (c) John Winston Powell, M.A., May 10, 2016

Growing up in Olney, Illinois, I had WVLN-AM/WSEI-FM on my dial and the great Top 40 of the 70s.  On Top 40, you heard everything and basically I absorbed all sorts of sounds: rock, disco, pop, pop…

Source: What Prince Means to Me (c) John Winston Powell, M.A., May 10, 2016

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What Prince Means to Me (c) John Winston Powell, M.A., May 10, 2016

Prince

Growing up in Olney, Illinois, I had WVLN-AM/WSEI-FM on my dial and the great Top 40 of the 70s.  On Top 40, you heard everything and basically I absorbed all sorts of sounds: rock, disco, pop, pop country, R&B, funk, and even easy listening. Olney was almost all white but music was not seen by me as an issue of race. I started making mix tapes once I got my Panasonic “all in in one” stereo.  Casey Kasem’s Top 40 show was on every weekend.  I can remember liking Ami Stewart’s version of “Knock on Wood,” Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” A Taste of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” and the Commodores'”Brick House.”

Then I moved to Florida with my folks in 1979.  In an ironic twist, although I was now going to public school with people of color in Winter Haven, I also had discovered “Album Oriented Rock” radio.  This meant that I essentially stopped listening to any R&B or urban music, unless it was through the lens of Jimi Hendrix. In fact, I went through a phase that was caught dramatically in the summer of 1979 at Comiskey Park in Chicago when radio DJ Steve Dahl blew up disco records, provoking the rock fans to run out onto the field, cancelling the White Sox game because of the ensuing chaos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1CP1751wJA). Disco sucks (said the guy who had bought Saturday Night Fever in Olney). So, yeah, why did I need “black” music? Sure, in my head I knew rock and roll was generated as a combination of R&B with country in America, but I didn’t need any disco or R&B as I entered high school; I had “graduated” to pure rock and roll.

Of course, it would have been great to has someone play me some Funkadelic or anything from Sly and the Family Stone to dissuade me from my ignorance but alas that didn’t happen. In fact, I was intent on playing catch up with Southern rock as I had a very distinct memory of asking about Lynyrd Skynyrd and a classmate saying “You can’t hear them anymore, they’re all dead.” (The Skynyrd plane crash of ’77 had claimed three members but obviously had broken up the band for that time being). So…no exposure to black musicians who could rock hard was had in my limited world. Most rock radio stations were owned by whites who weren’t interested in black musicians as well, and this was the era of the beginning of radio playlist standardization. This institutional racism was continued by MTV not playing black musicians until the popularity of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the applied pressure of white musicians, like David Bowie, who understood how incredibly racist it was to not play people of all races, changed their playlist (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/01/11/how-david-bowie-confronted-mtv-for-ignoring-black-artists-in-the-early-1980s/).

I remember thinking at one point there was this new guy I was hearing during my senior year in high school (new to me, LOL) who was actually getting played on the Tampa and Orlando rock stations called Prince. It was catchy—not really uptempo, but a seductive song called “Little Red Corvette.” Sad as it was, I let the radio stations define for me what was “rock” and what wasn’t. And I wasn’t going to feature Prince on our school newspaper’s Rock Rap page (yes, the irony of that title hits me between the eyes).

More than a year later, “Let’s Go Crazy” exploded out of my radio and in the summer of ’84 I realized that I had a limited palette to use when rocking. This, combined with the fact that I was also dating someone who loved Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie, opened me up. I went to Purple Rain like most of America and saw somebody embodying great guitar playing like my other guitar heroes and he (gulp!) was black (I remember thinking that I only liked Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” because it featured Eddie Van Halen). I couldn’t wait to buy Around the World in a Day a year later, and then Sign ‘O the Times was a revelation in ’87….

Although I didn’t go out and buy a bunch of Funkadelic albums after my epiphany (taping saved money), I realized implicitly that I had cut myself off from discovery and that I was worst for it. After all, where did Led Zeppelin, the Stones, the Beatles, and so many other groups get their inspiration from? African Americans.

When Prince died a few weeks ago, I was brought back to the fact that like a lot of middle class white kids, I was liberated musically by this guy who epitomized so many musical styles. Along with the great Bowie, we mourn the fact that these artists went beyond what radio and the music business demanded or assumed not only in terms of their music but their affect. Who is that guy producing Bowie’s “Let’s Dance?” Nile Rodgers? What band was he in? Really? That “disco” band? And the discovery goes on…may we all be open the great new music that comes down the pike, regardless of what our preconceived notions may be. Thank you, Prince Rogers Nelson. Rest in power. You’ll be on Lisa and John’s stereo infinitely (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sv_2LzgoBe0).

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“Doing nothing is better than being ‘busy’ doing nothing”: Lao Tzu

My friend, Paul Coutinho, is a teacher and spiritual advisor. He’s awesome!

Paul's Blog

How often after a very busy day do we find ourselves wondering if we achieved anything significant at all? By the end of such days we feel tired, frustrated and empty. It seems like we were ‘busy’ doing nothing.

Doing nothing is the art of flowing with life and living the way of nature. When we plan our day and then let the Great Spirit be the rudder that navigates our day, the life force that flows out of our being inadvertently gets things done. This is when singers stop singing and let the song come out from the depth of their being; the painting that flows out of an artist and when the dancer and the dance become one.

Children live this natural way of flowing with the rhythm of life. So do Indian villagers who do not have birth certificates, they focus on the mystery of the moment…

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Why I won’t be yelling “Go Gators!” at football games anymore…(c) John Winston Powell, September 4, 2015

Some of my favorite memories at the University of Florida are going to football games. I’d roll out of my bed in Tolbert Hall on Saturdays, and go over to Florida Field to watch the Gators and see them win, more often than not. I will always cherish the memories I had with my friends and my parents, in a couple of instances, at games we attended. Tomorrow, the Florida Gator football team takes on New Mexico State to start their season. For the first time since 1982, I will not be rooting for Florida or any other football team.

After thinking about whether this was a sport I wanted to support in terms of morality, I read Steve Almond’s Against Football last year. He was a big fan but turned against the sport for a variety of reasons. I think for me, the most important one is that of rooting for a sport that is inherently dangerous by its very design and that teams are able to win or be successful through a physicality that hurts people. If you have read about or seen what has happened to some of your favorite players years down the line (in my case, the 1985 Chicago Bears), it is heartbreaking. The toll of concussions and other brain injuries are exponential.

I enjoy watching football; in many ways, it is one of the most exciting games to watch. The traditions are tremendous, as I realized once again when I attended the Mizzou/Florida game two years ago in Columbia with Lisa. A beautiful fall day, crisp air, the cheers, the camaraderie, the worn fan gear, the marching bands, and great plays all made the day great (except we (Florida) got beaten badly!). It was so much fun to be with Lisa on  the campus that day. But, for right now until the game or the equipment that protects players is changed, I feel I cannot in good conscience continue to enjoy a sport that injures so many. There are other aspects of the game as well that are bothersome, including the machismo that has made coming out for gay players so difficult.

I will miss this game. It will be weird not to follow what the Gators are doing. I’m sure I’ll probably turn on the TV, perhaps steal a glance. But I’ve decided that Florida, which has one of the best overall programs in all of America, can gain a fan for another sport, e.g., Florida soccer. I’ll still be rooting for Gator hoops and Gator baseball, but this is an opportunity for me to find out about other great Gator athletes (I’m thinking about Abby Wambach, who I was clueless about when she was at Florida, or Ryan Lochte, the great Olympic swimmer who is a Gator). This won’t be completely easy for me. Perhaps if things change in the game, I’ll come back to it.

A final thought is of my mother. Mom came into the room one day when Dad I were watching boxing in the mid 70s. Perhaps it was a Muhammed Ali fight. Of course we were into it. My mother said “I believe that what you’re watching is a sin against the fifth commandment.” My Dad and I snickered. But years later, I realized she was right. Although football does not have the explicit goal of hurting someone so they can’t come out of the corner, thus allowing the other boxer to be declared the “winner,” the injuries sustained in trying to get a ball across the goal line cannot be ignored by me at this juncture in my life.

Right after skin cancer surgery, Florida Gator hangs out with Mizzou wife at the game two years ago in Columbia.

Right after skin cancer surgery, Florida Gator hangs out with Mizzou wife at the game two years ago in Columbia.

I respect people who disagree with me, and I may still look at your football posts on FB. Some day I’ll probably take Lisa to visit “The Swamp” and the rest of the campus, to relive some of those great memories.  I wish the Florida Gator football team well—not to necessarily win, but to remain injury free in pursuit of a goal that is ancillary to the overall goals of a university education.

Thanks for reading and peace,

John

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a priest at the altar of my own life

Our wedding presider, Jessica Gazzola, has started a blog–please check out!

The Altar of Her Life

IMG_1958I occasionally stand at an Altar to call a community to gather.  There we are invited to lay down our gifts, our stories, our lives.  We consecrate bread and wine, asking Spirit to transform what seems dead into something living and new.  When I stand at the Altar, life is held suspended in mid-air and we are changed. 

But these moments at the Altar are fewer.  Today, my sacred moments are less demarcated and exist more in the cracks of life; between diaper changes, scraped knees, and sibling squabbles.  I preside over snack time, congregations of bug worlds, and, most importantly, my own experiences of the joys and trials of life. 

So I start this writing practice.   It is my way of carving time out of my busy life with kids to offer my gifts, my stories, my life… not to change it, but to allow it to change me.  I am a…

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