No permission needed

Don’t trespass when the sign says so. Ask before you enter. A yield sign gives you permission to move on when the way is clear. On many an occasion, Grażyna appears to be the guardian of propriety when I behave like a paparazzi. “Ask if you can take that picture,” she instructs me, “and even better, why take it?”  

If you are a driver, you give yourself permission to go from A to Z. However, the road is guarded by restrictions such as speed limit, a stop sign or a red light. If a road sign says senso unico (I love the Italian sound of “one way”), you do not enter. If you risk going against the obvious, there will be a consequence.

One time in Lincoln, Nebraska, I was showing off my knowledge of the town to a friend, driving on autopilot. When driving without noting the signs or street names, one can turn into a senso unico street and a discotheque light appears within seconds behind you. Little traffic on the road and a slow speed allowed me to do it, but even the officer could not give me permission to break the law.

She was extremely polite and kind. “Sir, I suggest you carefully turn around, and I will help you do it,” she said, then added, “Enjoy the city.” There was even a smile, I noted, as we moved on.

There are situations when you need to ponder whether someone is in charge and if you need to get an okay to move on. Writers, artists, photographers, and musicians care about the copyright on their creative work. Permission is needed to reproduce the original work, especially important if your livelihood depends on having your work used. But years will pass and even your creativity can become a public free-for-all, used without permission.

In an era of social media, liberties to someone’s image and creativity are all over the place. We just shoot pictures and post them, copy and paste and we think that we have permission to do it. Whose permission? Our own, of course! Much of it is perfectly fine, but ...

You do not need permission to be yourself. No permission is needed to exercise the freedoms you are endowed with -– to influence others, to say yes or no, to be kind, compassionate and caring. No need to have permission to reject becoming an ersatz of the real person you already are or a copy of another influencer. You do not need permission to share your thinking and debate issues.

Yet ...

Let me admit that Japhet De Oliveira, my pastor from Boulder, has become more than a brother. He is also a “challenger in chief.” He has a way of reaching out to the congregation, not as a group only, but individually, by pointing to The Word and making my Christian experience seriously focus on what it means to follow Jesus.

Recently, he re-introduced me to the Book of Acts, a journal of the first years of a fledgling Christian church of the first century A.D. Reading and studying this amazing diary puts me in touch with the amazing acts of God, proving that to follow Jesus is a serious matter.

To encourage a serious reading of Acts, he sends out a daily reading devotional, Daily Walk [see: www.boulder.church], which is used as a daily primer for a sermon, which is preached on Saturday, the Sabbath. In our home we are reading it daily first thing in the morning.

A few days ago, Japhet commented on a permission that is not really required. What existed in the first century continues as a foundation of the Christian church’s mission today.

Japhet tells of an encounter he had: “He stopped me in the corridor of the office and asked who gave me permission,” he wrote in the Daily Walk. “I was a little bit surprised as the question was not in the usual friendly tone that I was used to from this leader. I tried to gather my thoughts, and calmly asked, ‘Permission for what?’ He replied, ‘To pull all these people from around the world to your conference, the One thing.’ ‘Oh,’ I replied, ‘You mean the One project gatherings.* Anyone can come. They are simply spaces to talk about Jesus. I did not know we needed permission to talk about Jesus.’”
Japhet further comments, “Here is my hunch about the Sadducees at the time of the early Church. They were at one point responsible for sharing faith with the people from the seat of authority — the Temple. They did not believe in angels. They had become comfortable in their positions. They were not willing to engage in learning. They were not open to the discovery that God had been trying to show them for a long time. The Holy Spirit descended on the apostles, who did not have ‘permission’ to speak and lead. The apostles couldn’t contain the experience and knowledge of Jesus. The Gospel simply flowed out of them. As Luke described it earlier: Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. —Acts 4:13.”
Simply speaking, no permission is needed to follow Jesus. No permission is needed to be creative in how you live love, His love. And do so in more than one way.

*the One project gatherings ended on February 11-12, 2018 in San Diego, California, after 32 events internationally since 2011. A celebration of the supremacy of Jesus Christ, it impacted thousands of Seventh-day Adventists and helped them to recalibrate the way they follow Jesus, the perpetual center of their faith.


Meet Jerry Brooks, and sheer feeling of freedom

We met under somewhat unexpected circumstances. He was sitting at a nearby restaurant table, writing. The unexpected was in seeing a man using a fine writing instrument. Beside him was an inkbottle next to a notebook full of calligraphy-like writing.

There should be nothing strange about seeing someone using a fountain pen, though they are used less today than a few decades ago. I use one daily and have a collection of Viscontis, Montegrappas, and S.T.Duponts. It was unusual, however, to see it in Lyons, Colorado. “Yes, it can happen everywhere, but not here,” I argued in my head.

Grażyna whispered, “Go and talk to him. He is someone you can relate to.”

Forever expressive. Jerry in his story element.
Meeting Jerry was like meeting one of the admirable people you always wanted to meet, or at least shake their hand or take a selfie with.

Jerry was a leader. And being a leader, he was a rebel.

There is no excuse for being a decider. There is no excuse when you opt for honesty, authenticity, and affirmation for another human beings’ choices.

Jerry shares a story of fourth grade when his mother looked at his report card one day when he came home from school. She noticed an “unsatisfactory” grade. “I had flunked singing in music class,” he proudly recalls. My mother wondered, “How can he get an unsatisfactory in music?”

She walked over to the school, which was just one block and a half from their home, and she sat with Mrs. Huston and wanted to know what the problem was. “No, he can sing alright,” she was told. “He can sing as well as the other children.

Not understanding what she was told, Jerry’s mother eventually got this:  “Well, he can sing all right, but he doesn’t always sing the right words.”

“But that’s not why he got the unsatisfactory, is it?”

Jerry’s flunking the class was because he was trying to teach the other children to sing his words.

“That’s my boy,” Florence said and held her head high.

A leader was born.

Jerry shares another well-preserved memory from 75 years ago of taking a brown paper sack with two lunches in it and riding on his pre-World War II tricycle to the Conoco gas station his father owned. There they would enjoy lunch  together. It was just a few blocks away, and two different paths were open to him. In his hand-written journals, which Jerry entitled Aphorically Speaking, he writes, that “one was via the sidewalk with its smooth surface, straight lines and irritable neighbors. The other path was a diagonal cut across two vacant lots along a narrow, crooked path my dad called the ‘bee way.’”

For Jerry, a four-year-old lad, the bee way was the preferred option. It was natural and represented a “sheer feeling of freedom,” he says. It was shorter, for one. Yes, perhaps it was wrought with small dangers for a small boy, narrow and difficult to negotiate on the tricycle. Bees liked it, too. The flower varieties were abundant, different daily as seasons played a transforming role. It seemed neighborhood dogs, snakes, cats and rabbits also preferred the bee way.

Risk taking was slowly becoming evident to small Jerry, marking his life with obvious choices. Enjoying freedom, even for a short journey to see his dad, was symbolic of who he was becoming.

Jerry’s dad knew. His boy would always have the same reply when asked if it was the sidewalk, or …

Over the next decades, Jerry says, “my first thought was to search for an alternate route and when none existed, create one.”

Grażyna is watching Jerry signing a stump
for our chickens.
There he was sitting in the Pizza Bar, one of his favorite eateries, which he calls Pizza Barn (it includes humans and all other animals meeting together), and making contemporaneous notes about happenings in his life, observing moments of which would impact him daily, but also sharing his stories.

It was obvious that in his sharing, the stories became richer as new people entered into them through their reactions.

Talking as one rebel to another we agreed that freedom of choice is foundational to who we are. This just might be a value represented by the leaders we can become.


Thirteen years on

Time flies and a detailed memory fades. It was on June 21, 2004 when a procedure at the Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, put a stop to a developing life challenge with prostate cancer. This exact date was noted on a receipt copy of what I put into a valuables envelope before being wheeled out and delivered into the hands of two physicians who administered the implantation of small radio-active seeds around the prostate and known as brachytherapy.

Until a few days ago, I didn’t consider writing about my experience. It was my experience, and a private one, at that. Who would want to read about it. A little nudge from a friend, going through a very serious trauma of her life, pushed me to share my story.

Dianna, a friend from our university days in the 1970-71, made me do it! So, I brought out a file from 2003-4 with dates and facts of a serious life challenge I once traversed through. She continues to receive my digital hugs and love.

Strasbourg happiness. Onlookers were joining in. September 11, 2012

What follows is a story of a human who does not give up on life, a story of being surrounded by people who care, love and know what to do.

Th early Monday morning of June 21, 2004 became quite memorable for years. Today, I recall a few details of that procedure, and how I was primed by to amazing doctors, Jonathan White, urologist, and Frank Sullivan, oncologist. The experience made me aware then, and continues to this day as a valuable lesson about fragility of life, and choices expressed in the Shakespearean famed phrase, To be, or not to be...

The whole ordeal with my cancer situation was laced with moments of bewilderment, awe, and joy. Most of the joy was expressed in my own thoughts and conversations I had with God, and my loved-ones. There were exchanges of what to do, how to arrange the immediacy of days to come, and basically changing my lifestyle, creating a slower pace of life.

It all started with a chest pain in mid-December, 2003. I ended up on a hospital bed at the Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH). Having a few days to undergo tests and rest, a conclusion was that unless I slow down in my daily pursuits, I may end up with consequential grief and tears on the faces of family and friends.

The specific trigger moment that precipitated a hick-up on an EKG read-out became a reminder from a few decades back when I practiced how to do it my way, testing my authenticity and vulnerability, being at ease with my own life decisions, exercising courage, pushing the borders in life, rejecting conformity, and daring to be who I am. Not easy to do it, believe me. It is stressful to face being told what to do and live a life according to someone else.

In short, there was a meeting at work, someone pointed a finger at me, shook it, and said: “Ray, you shall do THAT!” I knew that I would not do what I was forcefully being fed with, satisfying a decision someone else was making for me. I could not do it, knowing that participation in a non-professional corporate charade was against my better judgment. Stress boiled up to its pinnacle in my body. It allowed me for a brief enduring moment to be polite and mum, until the meeting ended. I picked my toys from the office and went home.

The next morning my chest communicated a message: Ray, get yourself checked up. A couple of hours later, I drove myself to the hospital.

The heart-event was woven with a wise and patient words of Dr. Radhey S. Murarka, a consultant cardiologist at WAH. He simply said, You can go home now. My advice? Slow down or stress will kill you. Your heart is fine now, but I recommend a review of your lifestyle. It’s not worth fighting someone’s battles. May your own imagination pave the alley of your life’s journey. And rest a little.

He probably said more, but that’s all I remember today. Returning home, I was wondering, what does he know about me, my work, my lifestyle, apart from what I shared with him, but with rather skimpy details?

A couple of weeks later, in mid-January 2004, I found myself having a general health check-up at Loma Linda University’s Center for Health Promotion. Tests revealed a satisfactory wellness score. Two or three days later a phone rang one afternoon. It was the consulting physician from LLU, Dr. David Z. Hall. He reported on the PSA score, and suggest to double check the result locally. What I see suggests that you have a prostate cancer, I recall him saying. He recommend that I see a urologist locally and have another PSA test done.

What? Such was my first thought which raced though my head.

He was right. The LLU lab test revealed a 9.4 PSA reading. The LabCorp in Maryland showed a 7.3. A visit with Dr. White, subsequent biopsies (it showed a very significant spread of cancer), a half a dozen tests (x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, etc) confirmed seriousness of my situation, and called for a review of options where to go.

In front of me I had the following - do nothing (this is not what crossed my mind), a surgery, a chemotherapy, a proton treatment at LLU, radiation (to start with at the Maryland ), or the brachytherapy. I don’t remember, but here may have been other possibilities to opt for.

For three months since my visit with Dr. White and Dr. Sullivan, primed me for what was to happen on June 21. A receding five-week radiation treatment at Maryland Regional Cancer Center, before the Holy Cross Hospital surgery left me somewhat fatigued and closer to an understanding what the Millennials refer to as a state of whatever.   

Frankly, my initial thoughts did not registered the news of having cancer as being at the edge of a cliff. I tried to fog the potential consequences of the situation with thoughts of … and this shall pass too. But rather quickly, together with Grazyna and Michal, as well as David Brillhart, my close friend, I began a rather serious review of what it is that needs to happen, what needs to be reformed, what changes are important to be ignited. It became obvious that there is no time to waste.

Soon after receiving the phone call from LLU, a memorable moment, one that etched itself in my memory was a visit with my boss, Dr. Jan Paulsen. I shared with him my predicament. His answer was in a question he asked: What are you planning to do about this dangerous situation? How can I help?

My answer was reflective of the was I often approach problem solving. I will take care of it, I recall saying. He replied: Good. Take as much time as you need. Your office work will be still here. Your colleagues will fill in.

We prayed. My family and friends prayed. The greatest treasure in this experience was to be surrounded by loving, caring people. Grazyna became a relentless pusher of quality nutrition (always organic!), drinking lots of water, and engaging in regular exercise. She laughs, as she reminds me about slowing down and considering to unwind my clock and speed! 

Sharing my situation with a few friends helped. At first I was invited to consider what they did, what worked for them. Mitch Tyner, a former colleague shared with me literature on prostate. Reinder Bruinsma, a colleague from the Netherlands wrote that “if caught in time, it appears that a very large percentage of those who have cancer fully recover.” He recommended a brachytherapy. Both Mitch and Reinder poured lots of hope into me. I will be forever grateful. Cancer survivors are a close knit fraternity, I discovered. Later, I did the same – be supportive of those who are going through such traumatic, serious health issues. Living in a post-treatment phase had its challenges, but they didn’t compare with the news of having a cancer issue to deal with.

The assurance of one’s faith and a life of hope made me aware that my life is more than my temporary pursuits. The cancer experience made me more aware of the people around me, especially those who are in situations which cause me to be responsive. My take away from the whole experience is this - living in and with an embrace of God is intertwined with gratitude of living one day at a time, and to the fullest. There is nothing more satisfying than being a purveyor of hope.

--> June 21 will always be an anniversary of becoming a cancer survivor. To life!