Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

A Dream and a Young Boy

I grew up in what I can only describe as an integrated community, at least as far as race is concerned. Simply put, the subject never came up. You see, I grew up in the military.

The other children that I played soccer with, played marbles with, went to classes with, and were friends with were of many different races. Shawn was black, Kenny was white and black, Tim was Latino, Charlie was white, Lee was Asian, another friend (name lost in the mists of memory) was something called a Sioux, Josh was white, and Tommy was just an idiot (even if he was the other blond haired blue eyed white kid besides me). We all had one thing in common… our Dads or Moms were Sergeants in the Army.

There is racism in the military, but as kids we did not see it. You see, the dividing line between us kids was not what color you were, but what rank your parents held. Officer’s kids hung with other officer’s kids… Sergeant’s kids hung with other Sergeant’s kids. Most of the enlisted kids were a lot younger than us, so they didn’t count. We hung with our own, and fought with the “other”… but that division had nothing to do with race.

I remember one of the first questions we would ask someone when we met them was “So, what rank’s your Dad?” Sometimes it would be “your Mom?” but that was rare back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. If they were a sergeant, you were in… if they were not…. well, you were other.

There was racism we experienced, but it was different. Many of these years of my life were spent at Schofield Barracks, in Hawaii. There is a word in Hawaiian, haole. Directly translated, it means “without spirit”. It was a belief that people who were not Polynesian did not have a soul… were not really human.

I remember being called “haole” by the local Hawaiian kids, mostly at school or when we were playing soccer with them. There was a day that we military kids were not supposed to go to school, called “Beat up Haole Day”… the anniversary of the day that Captain James Cook first landed in Hawaii… January 20th, 1778. Our parents kept us home… and the one time I went to school on that day they sent me home after my third fight.

I did get beat up more than once for the color of my skin (and at least a little bit for the smartness of my mouth). I think that was a part of why all the non-Hawaiian kids banded together the way we did. I began studying martial arts in Hawaii… a passion that eventually led me to the study of Zen. But I began that study not for discipline, or for spirituality, but for self-defense.

When my family left Hawaii, we moved to a post in the bayou country of Louisiana. I attended a school what was only 5 percent white… and all of that 5 percent consisted of children shipped in from the local Army post. After coming from the very racially integrated community of Schofield Barracks (at least for us kids of Sergeants) I did not understand why no one wanted to be my friend. I did not understand why I kept having to use those martial arts skills to defend myself. We were all haole’s… right?

After about six months of survival in that school, and being disciplined repeatedly for “fighting”, my mother, I, and my two sisters temporarily left my father in Louisiana to finish off the last six months of his time in the Army and moved to our family home in Tennessee… and for the first time in my life I lived in “white suburbia”. I was twelve.

I remember the day when I was fifteen, when I first read the complete text of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, “I Have a Dream”. Sitting in class, my eyes teared up at the phrase, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Though the message that Dr. King brought us resounds through the deep valley-like wounds that this nation has inflicted upon itself and upon each other through racism between whites and blacks, that is not the only thing that his message speaks to. Though I have not suffered the centuries of oppression that blacks have in American society, on that day in class it was as if Dr. King was speaking to me… to my experience.

As I read that speech, I felt a healing. I felt a connection with someone who would have understood the pain I had felt as a child, as fists hit my belly and my face in Hawaii… and as fists hit my belly and my face in Louisiana. I felt the presence of someone who knew in his heart that racism is a poison killing us all. He knew that for humanity to grow, to become the “kingdom of God”, we had to quit finding ways to separate, and instead find ways to see ourselves, not as the same, but as interdependent upon one another.

As I read that speech for the first time, I did not read it with an understanding of the privilege I carry in this society because I am white, but as a scared and hurting little boy in the principal’s office, being sent home because my “parent’s should have had the sense to keep me home” because I was a haole, and it was January 20th. I read it as the boy who no one wanted to be friends with, because I was white. Each Martin Luther King day, I read that speech again and remember being that young boy. And I cry.

That young boy is why I have dedicated so much of my life to equality, be it religious, racial, gender, sexual-orientation, or ability.

Through that speech, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King ministered to the wounds of a young boy. I hope I can do the same for someone else someday.

Yours in faith,


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