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Three Bullets in Buffalo: When Miracles Aren’t Enough

So this episode titled ‘Three Bullets In Buffalo’ features the life story of Rob Howze, a man who left the ministry for business -at least that’s one byline.

But the story’s bigger than the byline, in this case. Rob’s on a mission, and there’s some big whopper issues attached to where that all started for him. Stuff like what’s good and bad about religion? Is there a God? And where do we go to find meaning in our lives? The kind of stuff that many like to file in the “don’t touch” drawer for entire lifetimes. 

Rob’s also pulls back the curtains on some of the underlying emotional dynamics that drive addictions. He paints a wickedly crisp portrayal of the hidden struggles that can light the fuse on depression and problem drinking. I could’ve called this episode “Church & Booze,” because both were at the root of his low points.  I happened to relate to alot in Rob’s story. Not only did I work in the addiction industry for 8 years, but both booze and religious zealotry made the highlight reels in my own upbringing. I actually think that helped us make a good on-air connection-but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

What really got my attention, however, was Rob’s portrayal of a compelling personal miracle. The guy was held hostage and shot at point blank range – and he survived. Somehow.

So, you get to hear how Rob made sense of all that. You also get to glimpse why moments like these turn lives around. They shake the very foundation of a person, beliefs, outlooks, hopes, dreams, and perspectives -everything can change in an instant. We’ve showcased a few of these “wake up calls” on the show.  But man… Rob’s got one super legit wakeup call. It’s terrifying and mystifying and perhaps worth chewing on. It’s something he still draws on as a leader and family man to this day.

One final random thought this episode sparked in my head. 

Rob’s story reminded me how important change is. Everyone is carrying around an agenda -until we’re not. 

What I mean is we all have beliefs we like to imagine are serving us in the best possible ways. …Until that moment an event comes screaming out the blue to completely reset our story and perspectives. Once humbled, we can see how life forces our hand to inspire changes we might not otherwise be compelled to make. There seems a truth here. As an interviewer I feel privileged to get close to moments that after decades are still reverberating in people’s hearts. It’s awesome.

The Greeks liked to riff on what they saw as the divine origin of life struggles. Tragedies weren’t just tragedies, they were ‘Divine Tragedies.’ They framed the worst as purposeful acts, even if often perpetrated by hungry and capricious Gods. Many religions continue this tradition to this day.

My interview with Rob got me thinking that perhaps our ancestors were just pointing out the ancillary benefits of radical discomfort. Struggle inspires change. Life encourages us to grow in this way. More broadly I see this as a commentary on the nature of freedom. We desire it, dream, plan, and scheme for it but aren’t so great at achieving it. And if we do achieve it, it’s typically fleeting as freedom by nature can’t be captured.

More often then not we get stuck in the lives we create to secure our freedoms. They become our cages, because we can’t help but fall short of lives that only exist in our dreams. So life helps out and knocks us on our ass from time to time. The unexpected difficulties knock us out of our spells. And in those brief moments we taste freedom. Freedom, in other words, is often felt on our knees.

Can’t we all relate to this idea in some simple way? Haven’t we all come through some screwed up event feeling better off? More prepared for life, or more grateful? We may not have expected it, but there it is anyway-a better life resulting. Rob’s story reminded me just how important it is to stay open to change -at least as best we can. I say open rather than “prepared” here, because change ain’t predictable. It’s not on anyone’s calendar and rarely welcome when it stops by. But if we can see the process of change as healthy, perhaps we won’t add struggle to our lives by trying to avoid it. Perhaps then won’t need a great flood or to be held at gunpoint to inspire growth. Maybe if we simply make the room to get uncomfortable in some tiny way each day we’ll remain flexible enough for life to flow through us as opposed to cutting us off at the knees. 

 

 

Listen here ->>> http://bit.ly/ep-18-3bulletsinbuffalo

Bad Mojo – a podcast, plane crash, and two murders within weeks

 

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Some strange shit had been going down in my office building. A handyman who ran a wood-working shop below my office got arrested for killing a cult leader. No you did not read that wrong. It’s a weird sentence to write. The dude’s name was Sorek Minery. And he was a dude, a seemingly laid back dead head type. Seems he was caught up in a cult called The Work started by a scary fella his followers called Julius Christ. He thought he was God proper. That was crazy enough, but then some weeks later a clerk at a local grocer was arrested for murder too. He reportedly raped and killed a woman on the bike path that ran just past our office. I talked to this oddly friendly fella daily, so that hit home too. So two big wtf moments. I called up my buddy Shannon Cason to get his take on this weirdness. He hosts and produces Homemade Stories and The Trouble for Chicago’s WBEZ radio.  Both are killer shows. Anyway, at that point I was considering making it the subject of a podcast series called Bad Mojo.

He liked it the idea of talking to the phenomenon of bad shit glomming together. He’d run into bad mojo. He’d lived on hairy edge as a gambler. He knew there was something real there. I told him about some of the other strange shit that’d been going on, like our office manager had lost her partner in a local plane crash a few days before Sorek’s arrest went down. My life had also been going sideways too. So bad mojo was in the air it seemed. “Could this stuff came as a package deal,” I wondered? Seemed like a good question to ask, although not an original one. Shannon agreed.

After our chat, I realized this idea of bad mojo is pretty complicated. When bad shit happens nobody really wants to deal with it. People prefer to avoid anything bad. It’s easy to see this because people start asking weird shit around difficult stuff like “why is this happening to me?” This is silly, because it’s really just life they’re talking about.  It’s like a spell. The truth is everybody knows there’s up and downs, good and bad in life. If you’re human you know there’s going to be shitstorms. But the moment a person is confronted by the darker side of life a different version of the person comes out. This version acts as though bad shit was never supposed to happen. It’s like a prejudice for the good stuff gets unleashed, or perhaps it’s more a delusion. The person is saying “it’s ok if bad shit happens to other people, but not me.” Perhaps this is the Maya the Buddhist’s are referring to. Most of us prefer to let our mind’s determine what’s real, and it does. Reality’s too painful. 

I’m not going to lie, this bad mojo shit took me for a spin. I was looking at this phenomenon from the eye of the hurricane to speak. But bad mojo is really just the unexpected. But the darker side of it, the stuff that amplifies our uncertainty and pain. The truth is life is mostly good stuff. More days than not the fucking sky’s not falling, so that’s easy enough to see. So the phenomenon of bad mojo is a situation where the script gets flipped. Suddenly we’re knocked out of comfort zone. We live on our assumptions that the good stuff will just keep going forever.  But it won’t, and when gone we’re exposed to the stinky underbelly of life. Bad shit is real. And worse, when it’s bad mojo, it’s like a hose gets turned on the bad keeps coming.  It’s jarring when you see it happening, and way worse when it’s happening too you. Perhaps a good analogy is like you head to a church for a church breakfast but when you open the door you get punched in the face. Nobody expects bad when you assume the good. Bad luck, hard luck, or whatever you want to call it, when bad clumps together it creates a whiplash effect. The weirdness pumps a disquieting fear into our suffering. It inspires a sort of disturbance. You can watch it happening. People start asking questions they might have preferred ignore their entire lives. Like “why do some people get more good in life than bad,” and “why’s all this shit happening too me or them?” Those are examples of people assuming prejudice. It’s like bad is unreal.  

What’s bad about bad mojo is you quickly realize the stories you’ve clung onto in life may not be enough. Beliefs about about reality, free will, faith, fairness, and destiny, may fall short. We may turn to science, psychology, religion, family, or wisdom stories. But the experience of bad mojo is high strangeness. It’s so jolting it asks more than our stories can offer. When it persists around people caught in tragic incidents like wars, epic illness, or in cases like the holocaust, the misery can twist humans into something no longer recognizably human. It takes humans beyond human. Perhaps that’s why people like Victor Frankl are true studies in miracles. We want life to make sense, and when it doesn’t, we are forced to make sense of ourselves. It’s a rare person who can survive life truly turning upside down.  

I wondered if that’s what happened to the guy below me, Sorek. Had misery twisted him into something beyond human? The day I gotten the news I went down to his workspace to poke around abit- you know research. And damned if I didn’t run into the guy’s wife! She was getting his equipment appraised. Her husband was the bread winner apparently and she had kids to feed. It was a sad and awkward moment. We’d locked eyes, and I was frozen for a brief moment. I felt for her. I was struck by how seemingly normal and pretty she was. I then felt silly that somewhere I was carrying an expectation that I’d be able to see why she’d married a monster. I’d apparently also already judged this guy as a monster too. Perhaps this guy wasn’t a monster at all, but just another confused man that fucked up big time. Is every murderer a monster? Maybe bad mojo had run loose in his life for god knows how long. Who knows? 

I’d been caught in bad mojo. My life had gone sideways before, and recently even. So I wondered why him and not me?… Why I am the guy mixing podcasts up stairs and he’s the guy who got caught up in a cult and murder? 

This is a creepy question. We’ve grappled with the notions of good and evil probably since we popped out of the ether. And it’s unsettling. We all like to believe we know we’re capable of.  And more, who we are. But what if bad mojo took up roost in your life?… Like it not just visiting, but rented a room in your home and stayed just screwing up your life daily? Like Job in the bible. It’s a impossible question to answer until you’ve experienced bad mojo yourself. It’s a perspective that can only be earned the hard way. When life turns upside down, who will you be?…