Star Spangled Banner

So I recently performed the Star Spangled Banner for the first time. This was on April 9, 2021 at the start of the National Ninja League’s (NNL) Southeast Qualifier held at MOTIVE School of Movement in Greenville, SC. I’ve never done it before, but have thought about trying it, and just had to work up an arrangement that I liked on guitar.

The story behind the National Anthem has stuck with me since I first heard it way back in school. If you need a reminder, in 1814, Francis Scott Key was observing from a distance as the British Navy bombarded Fort McHenry in the Baltimore harbor (Key was actually being held by the British on one of their warships). Witnessing the assault by the British, it was nearly certain that the fort would be overtaken. But through the night, by “the rockets red glare”, Key could see that “our flag was still there”, and was ultimately still flying over the fort at “dawn’s early light”.

That story always sticks with me whenever I hear or sing it, and I can only imagine what an incredible sight that must have been.

Sometimes these days, in some places, it seems like a fad to hate on America. I’m proud that this country fought the oppression of an over-reaching government to create a system for the people and by the people, emphasizing individual liberty, freedom, rights to due process and equality of opportunity. SALUTE!

Freeing Myself

A few years ago our church made some news by announcing we would be open and affirming of all people, regardless of their sexual identity. There was some negative feedback from some outside sources, but the overall response and effect has been incredibly positive.

I have a lot of friends and family who are on all various points on the religious and political spectrum, and many struggle with their acceptance of the LGBTQ community. I was not always as accepting as I have become, but can say I am much happier with where I am today. If this is something you struggle with, I hope you will kindly consider some things that have been helpful to me:

First, I have found that life becomes simpler, easier and more spiritually meaningful the more theologically open-minded I am. It would be wildly arrogant of me to think I have the answers, especially pertaining to matters of God. I believe a healthy theology is one that is open and flexible, allowing room for questions, change and growth. For some, that can be a very scary step.

Second, I also find life becomes simpler, easier and more spiritually meaningful when I have an attitude of welcome instead of exclusion. I have LGBTQ friends and family, and I am simply not willing to turn my back on them because of who they feel they were created to be at the deepest level. And if I am going to be wrong on this matter, I would rather err on the side of Love.

It has been incredibly freeing to let go of my old judgements and to just be, while also allowing others just be, as well. It just feels right. It has freed me to enjoy a more joyful and content existence. It is a hands-off, “don’t tread on me” perspective, which is what we all want for ourselves, isn’t it? The instant I judge or critique your way of life, I open the door for you to do the same to mine. I must allow the same individual freedoms and graces for my neighbors that I want for myself.

Often it’s helpful to hear someone’s personal story. Last year a documentary crew filmed the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as they traveled on a tour of the south, and they stopped at First Baptist for an incredible evening. The award-winning film will be screened on Sunday, June 9 at the Peace Center in Greenville, and the trailer is linked below. I continue to grow from that experience.

These topics can be very difficult for many people, and respectful dialogue is hard to come by these days. I’m happy to talk more, if it would be helpful. Comment respectfully here, or in a private message. If you’re interested in a biblical perspective, I can also highly recommend the book, “This I Know” by my colleague and friend, Jim Dant, linked below, as well. Best of luck in your journey!



“This, I Know” by Jim Dant




Be an informed and educated voter.

  1. Ignore anything where someone or a group of people are attacking a candidate. These groups are paid millions of dollars to make a candidate look as bad as possible. They turn words and phrases around, taking things out of context, never telling the full story. They are playing us all, and many of us just blindly allow it. Don’t pay attention to it. Ignore them all.
  2. Instead, go to the candidate’s websites and read about their positions and watch their videos, but do it objectively and fairly. Get it straight from the source, not some third or fourth party who will paint it with as ugly a color as they can. Educate yourself on both sides, then make your own, informed decision.
  3. Then VOTE, and celebrate the freedom you have to live in a country where you are allowed to participate in deciding who our leaders will be.




Live a Life That Matters

Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.

Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear.

So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won’t matter where you came from, or on what side of the tracks you lived, at the end.

It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant. Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant. 

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave.

What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.
What will matter is not your competence, but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you.

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters.

– Michael Josephson

A Look at “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown

*I originally published this on my Facebook page in 2009 and wanted to include it here. Acc. 12-492, Box 4; Portrait of an identified male. Label on slide: I-BAE 3. Acc. 12-492, Box 4; Portrait of an identified male. Label on slide: I-BAE 3.

I recently finished reading Dee Brown’s book, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”. If you are not familiar with it, it is the history of the American west from the Indian’s perspective using “council records, autobiographies, and firsthand descriptions” from various tribes as well as U.S. Congressional records. It opened my eyes to who the true savages were in the fight for the American west. I already knew the Indians got completely shafted but I didn’t know the scope of it.

It’s always different after hearing the other side to a story. As an admirer of the Indian perspective and way of life, it is discomforting to read, and I wish everyone living under the flag of the United States of America would read it.

If you don’t know the history of this era, here is the simple version: The “white’s” forcibly and systematically pushed the Indians off their lands and wiped out their way of life for the greed of money, land, gold and silver. And it did not matter to the Americans in the least if they trampled over another human being in the process (it actually took an 1879 court case, Standing Bear v. Crook, to determine if an Indian even qualified as a “person”). That is the easy version. Anyway, it makes me mad as hell and I wanted to recommend it.  And instead of just leaving it at that, I’m gonna blabber on about it some more and include some select quotes from the book. So if it interests you, please keep reading.

To understand their perspective, you must first understand the Indian. Christopher Columbus wrote these words about his experiences with Indians, taken from the very first page of the book:

“‘So tractable, so peaceable, are these people,’ Columbus wrote to the King and Queen of Spain, ‘that I swear to your Majesties there is not in the world a better nation. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle, and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy.'” (p. 1)

In my mind the Indians had the ultimate life. They had their own little bit of heaven on earth. They experienced the joy of living in the middle of Nature, hand-in-hand with it, and in a culture that placed importance on treating others the way they would want to be treated. Those gentle, peaceful characteristics of the Indians to which Columbus referred stemmed directly from the importance they place on things like trust and honor – quite different than the predominant culture around us today. The Indian way of life is an example of integrity. Similar to the ancient oriental culture, the Indians’ code of honor and trust is more important than anything. To say one thing and do another is simply unacceptable.

“‘The Cheyennes do not break their word,’ One-Eye replied. ‘If they should do so, I would not care to live longer.'” (p. 77).

I was just about to suggest that the Indians were too trusting, but maybe there is a better way of saying that. To say the Indians were “too trusting” suggests they were somehow at fault when, in actuality, it was the white man’s greed and dishonor which was the sole source of the problem. Regardless, the Indians trusted the Americans at their word, even through their continued broken promises and treaties. That was the most frustrating part of this book, for me. Each time the Americans would come to the Indians to request more land or a new treaty, I kept wanting to step into the tent and say, “Don’t do it! Don’t trust them!!” Time after time, the Americans proved they were not to be trusted, but by the time the Indians finally realized this fact, there was nothing left to fight for and no one left to fight with. The American war machine successfully divided and conquered the Indians, destroying them and their peaceful way of life, all for the sake of money and power.

Unlike the white’s culture, the Indians’ way of life did not revolve around the want of material possessions and comforts. I think that is what I admire most. Likewise, they do not understand the concept of “owning” land.

“One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.”
– Tashunka Witko (Crazy Horse) (p. 274)

They lived in harmony with the Earth, taking only what they needed to survive. The respect of Life and Nature is at their core. They were self-sufficient and perfectly content with their simple, peaceful way of life but the whites – too consumed by their greed to understand – felt it was their duty to “correct” and “civilize” the Indians for their own sake.

Personally, I think the Indians had it right. It’s ironic how our modern-day culture now strives to be “green” and respect the Earth, when the Indians were on top of this way of life centuries ago. It’s a shame that the early Americans were too focused on conquering them to actually learn anything from them. Hear this excerpt referencing Nathan Meeker, a government official complaining about the Utes band of Indians in Colorado in 1879:

“‘Their needs are so few that they do not wish to adopt civilized habits,’ Meeker complained to the commissioner of Indian Affairs. ‘What we call conveniences and comforts are not sufficiently valued by them to cause them to undertake to obtain them by their own efforts… the great majority look upon the white man’s ways with indifference and contempt.’ He proposed a course of action to correct this barbaric condition: first, take away the Utes’ hundreds of ponies so that they could not roam and hunt, replace the ponies with a few draft horses for plowing and hauling, and then as soon as the Utes were thus forced to abandon the hunt and remain near the agency, he would issue no more rations to those who would not work. ‘I shall cut every Indian down to the bare starvation point’, he wrote Colorado’s Senator Henry M. Teller, ‘if he will not work.'” (p. 374)

Over time the Indians were divided and moved from their native lands and herded into ever-shrinking reservations, often treated as no better than cattle. In meetings with government bureaucrats in Washington, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces Indians pleaded his case for justice this way:

“I have heard talk and talk, but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country, now overrun by white men… Good words will not give my people good health and stop them from dying. Good words will not get my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves. I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and broken promises… You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases… I have asked some of the great white chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.” (p. 330)

“Gall,” a Hunkpapa war chief shared his perspective this way:

“We were born naked and have been taught to hunt and live on the game. You [Americans] tell us that we must learn to farm, live in one house, and take on your ways. Suppose the people living beyond the great sea should come and tell you that you must stop farming and kill your cattle, and take your houses and lands, what would you do? Would you not fight them?” (p.293)

And the Indians had no way to fight the propaganda war. The American perspective was that the Indians were nothing more than uncivilized savages, as that was what the local newspapers told them:

“‘It is too often the case,’ Crook said, ‘that border newspapers… disseminate all sorts of exaggerations and falsehoods about the Indians, which are copied in papers of high character and wide circulation, in other parts of the country, while the Indians’ side of the case is rarely ever heard. In this way the people at large get false ideas with reference to the matter. Then when the outbreak does come public attention is tuned to the Indians, their crimes and atrocities are alone condemned, while the persons whose injustice has driven them to this course escape scot-free and are the loudest in their denunciations. No one knows this fact better than the Indian, therefore he is excusable in seeing no justice in a government which only punishes him, while it allows the white man to plunder him as he pleases.” (p. 405)

Eventually the Indians lost their native lands, their way of life and their liberty. They were forced from their way of life and made to take on the selfish ways of the white man, relying on the government for rations since they could no longer hunt.

“I thought God intended us to live, but I was mistaken. God intends to give the country to the white people, and we are to die. It may be well; it may be well.” – Standing Bear (p.359)

The Indians never stood a chance. Their peaceful, trusting manner and primitive weapons was no match for the kind of power, marketing and weaponry money can buy or the greed that comes with it. What selfishness and “the love of money” did to the Indians and their way of life was nothing short of genocide.

I think it’s a powerful book and one every person should read. There is a lot more I want to get into, branching off into some deeper questions, but this note is too long already. I’ll post more another time. In the meantime, if you’re looking for reading material, consider Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown.