When I was in undergrad at the University of Hawaii, I had a teacher known as “The Dragon Lady”. This wasn’t a loving name, and in retrospect…mean. However, it wasn’t unearned.

I had Helen, thee Dragon, for a class called Painting Technique 2. It was supposed to be a survey of the painting techniques of the later 19th C. through today. In one work we were supposed to paint a landscape in the “Impressionist” style. The professor never did a demo, never gave instructions on painting technique, or even how to compose a picture. I began a picture, and her only critique was put more red in it. I commented that there wasn’t any red in the scene I was painting. Her rebuttal was that the impressionists would put red in it. We went round and round on the subject. Being an empiricist, this answer didn’t sit well with me.

In preparation for the next class, I went to the library and got as many books on Impressionism as I possibly could carry, and some that I couldn’t, and brought them to class. I made the question/statement of “red” for “reds” sake a class discussion and showed my class picture after picture by impressionists with no red it it. The only thing red in the classroom was the teachers flush.

My actions weren’t done to be hurtful and weren’t malicious, but I wanted to have a practical painting discussion rather than a dogmatic response. I wanted to be taught something that wasn’t conjecture or a pet idea. I wanted the truth. The question is, did I get it?

The Dragon was slain. Needless to say, the Dragon never spoke to me again.

Helen Gilbert’s lack of knowledge of her subject was exposed, what did it profit me? I still couldn’t paint and now I had an enemy. Helen came to Hawaii after her first husband died. Leaving her a vast sum of money, she did what other blue-haired old ladies do, she took a painting course or two. Soon, she had the idea to go back to school to get a painting degree. She befriended and soon married a younger professor named Kenneth Bushnell.

Ken was smart, tall, and very knowledgeable. He trained at UCLA, and unlike most people who received their MFA of Art in the 50’s, Ken could actually draw. Ken helped his student/wife get her undergrad, her graduate degree, and finally a tenured teaching gig at the school. Ken did the most compassionate thing he could for his wife, for his love. Ken knew his stuff. His wife didn’t. I don’t think that ignorance is anything to fear or worthy of shame. Rather, it was her in ability to say…”I don’t know, and I may be wrong, but I think…” that led to our debate.

Years later, I saw Ken driving his near-death and incapacitated wife around town, perhaps on an errand to the hospital. I was ashamed to wave, I still felt bad about hurting her feelings. She died a short time afterward.

Night came quickly last night, and I found myself scrambling to find a place to camp. As it happened there was a beach two blocks from where I was just finishing a painting. I stumbled down the dune to discover a great place. Lo and behold, someone had left a good supply of wood—it seems I was meant to have a fire tonight.

After the tent was set and the flames ablaze, I laid at the fires side and stared at the sea. Soon some merry young adults happened by and I invited them to join my fire. Emily, India, Ben, Nick, and Dallas plopped themselves down and our conversation warmed as quickly as the fire. They were curious who this strange man, camped all by himself on the beach, was. I elaborated on my story and the stories of those I had met along the way, and I saw their cautious and timid looks turn to smiles.

Nick, told me of how he and some of his friend, in an effort to feed the poor and care for his neighbors, went door to door asking simply, “How many do you want? How many burgers do you want?” They had put a BBQ on wheels and just rolled it down the street to give love. They also did a car wash where they gave money to the people for the pleasure of serving them.

Ben told me of how he had gone with a group to wash peoples feet. He said, “It was really humbling…and rewarding. Once you got over the smell. ha ha ha ha! Nah, but it really was wonderful to see yourself as the lowliest servant of all those around you and to do something so intimate for them, lovingly.” Ben also on occasion washed dishes, cleaned houses and cleaned toilets for those who couldn’t do it for themselves any longer.

These kids were Jesus. These kids were the Buddha. I was humbled to be in their presence.

Later Tim and his eight year-old son Eli came by as well. Eli was just getting ready for football season, and we talked about sports. Tim asked me about my pilgrimage and what I believed regarding religion. Tim is a good man, and a good father. I can tell he is an upstanding guy, and yet I found myself upset with his words.

At the end of our conversation, Tim brought up fire insurance. Not the kind bought at State Farm, but the kind Paul thought you needed. Loving me as he though best, his concern was for my happy ever after. For saving my soul, confessing I’m a sinner, and keeping me from the burning lake of fire. But, I kept asking him what about now??? The way that I read the Bible, Jesus is said heaven is right now, go out and love somebody—anybody! Don’t be concerned as the disciples were of “when are you going to save us”, but rather “do as I do”; i.e. love radically. And then…I caught myself. I caught myself about to be unloving. Ironic, that I am arguing for love, and very nearly about to not extend it.

I stopped, and apologized. Then I mentioned the kids before us. I mentioned which of them would he condemn to hell? I related what Nick, Ben, Dallas, India, and Emily had done to love their neighbors. To me, they are the Jesus, they are the Buddha.

As the fire died so did the energy to say awake, and everyone left. I embraced them all with my heart and my hands, and I brandished each of them with a stamp.

This morning, I got a late start. As I was packing up—here came my young friends, and they were elated that I was still there. In their hands was a plate over flowing with food. They had risen early, made a plate of food for me, walked all the way to the beach in their pajamas to give this strange guy sleeping on the beach food. They came to give…love.

Regardless if The Dragon Lady should have been honest, or I should not have proved her wrong. I should have loved her better. I could have done things a million different ways as not to embarrass her in front of the class. I could have just loved her. Similarly, regardless if I will be going to hell or not, arguments of dogma are absolutely fruitless. What does work is love. As Saint Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” Regardless of any religious or artistic dogma, it was the simple ACT of love demonstrated by 5 of the innocents that was an illustration for me of far more.

I was so humbled. One must become like a child to inherit the kingdom. From these babes came living water. From these children came love. A lesson for us all.

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