A Man
Overboard

 

 

 

July interview with Joe Laur


It’s not very often I hear Judeo-Christian scripture quoted on an NWTA. As a matter of fact, I recall only once, and that was my very first staffing in the summer of 1995 in New Mexico.

Joe Laur, the first professional Executive Director of MKP (then known as the New Warrior Network), in our staff meeting read these words from Malachi, referring to the return of Elijah in the last days:

"And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…"

I was incredulous, and yet heartened that a man with religious conviction was welcome in MKP, even allowed to be a leader. I remember vividly Joe telling the group he believed that the mission of MKP was found in the Spirit of this verse.

Moments later, Joe invited any men who were Jewish or just interested in the circle to join him afterward to celebrate Shabbat, the weekly Jewish day of rest on which the Christian Sabbath is modeled.

I have held this spiritual remembrance in my heart all these years, but did not bring it up in our dialogue on the phone.

I did begin by asking him about his faith.

“I’m Jewish by choice,” Joe said, “I converted 12 years ago.”

Joe Laur was raised Roman Catholic, but came to a crossroads in his faith at an early age when a friend of his was killed in a hunting accident.

“His brother threw a loaded gun into the trunk of the car, and it went off and killed him. I experienced a great amount of grief and anger, and when I went to the priest to ask how such a thing could have happened in God’s plan, all I got was homilies. He couldn’t answer the difficult questions I had about his death. Maybe no one could in that case. But with due respect to my Christian brothers, I had never quite gotten Jesus as God. As a role model and brother yes, but not divine in a fundamental way that I wasn’t. I left Catholicism, and spent the next 30 years as a spiritual omnivore.”

Joe said he studied many religions, but “nothing stuck.” The closest spiritual connections he had were with nature – being outside and “being with God all day.”

In 1993, at an early Shadow Work seminar in New England, Joe met a joyous Jewish woman, Sara, who practiced a “renewal” form of Judaism and introduced him to Shabbat. For two years he studied Jewish tradition, variety, and practice and eventually converted. He also ended up marrying Sara; they now have 5-year-old twins.

“The word ‘religion’ is from the same root as ligament; it’s a connection or a re-connection of who we are and what we experience as a source of life. In that sense, I’m religious. I don’t subscribe to dogma, however. I like being Jewish because you can find rabbis that support a wide range of practice and outlook. It’s not a centralized religion. The Torah refers to the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. The focus of the religion is on an individual relationship with God. Each prophet had his own relationship, and so can I. There’s nothing to stand between me and my relationship with God. There’s no brokers, or middle men.”

Any spiritual path “worth its salt” should have an inward and an outward meaning, he noted.

“The inner part of religion provides meaning, so for example, when I say a blessing over a meal I become aware of all the things that went into that turkey sandwich … the miracle of a seed, the life of the turkey, the growth of the lettuce … if I take a minute to be with what the sandwich represents, then I’m connected to all the beautiful elements that went into its making. It’s personal meaning for the individual.”

“Then in the outward relationships, religion provides an ethic, it helps me show up differently and relate in a fundamentally different way to you Reid, then if I had not found that path. The primary question is about how I want to be with others. The religious ethic offers me a life giving way to be with other people.”

My own experience in MKP, and in the world, is that many people feel uncomfortable discussing organized religions. Joe acknowledged that many men have been wounded by religion.

“I’ve heard it said that everyone needs two religions – one to reject growing up and one to accept with full consciousness. There’s been a lot of damage done by priests, rabbis, ministers and imams. I wish we had a little more ability to welcome all spiritual paths in MKP … we have to make a strong enough container to really do that.”

He referenced a Woody Guthrie story where the singer was asked by the nurse what religion to put on the child’s birth certificate: “He said all … it’s all or nothing.”

Joe said he believed “there was wisdom to that … and we’ve got to be able to work with men’s shadows around religion, as well as sexual shadows, and money shadows. Money’s a big one for men. So much of our self worth is tied up with our net worth.”

Joe Laur has been involved in men’s work for many years. He’s been around the block a time or two. He was there when Dr. Robert Moore asked MKP if “we were the men” to carry us on into the future, and worked with him and a small group of MKP to craft our identity statement about reclaiming the sacred masculine.

He conceived of, developed, and lead a week-long retreat with John Lee and Jeffrey Duvall entitled “Men, Wilderness, and Soul” in Minnesota many times. Other leaders included Tom Daly, Bill Kauth, Rich Tosi, Cliff Barry, Doug Gillette, Mark Gerson, Jed Diamond, Joseph Jastrab, Aaron Kipnis and Robert Bly.

One of these retreats led to a workshop entitled “God, Sex, and Money” in New England.

“A lot of God issues came out during that week. We got into God the very first day. Men who were angry with God were smacking trees, yelling at God, weeping in his/her arms… doing whatever it took to heal their relationship with the divine. That was the first day. The second day we dealt with sex and relationships, and went even deeper. And the third day we put numbers in a hat of our age, income, and net worth. We then pulled them out randomly and had men respond. It turned out one man with the most money had the most issues, no family, and one man with the least money had the most friends all over the world. It was an incredibly deep experience. We were exhausted after those three days. And we still had four days left …”

I asked Joe about this month’s theme of Speaking Your Truth.

“Well, there’s something Mark Twain said, ‘… it’s better to tell the truth because then you don’t have to remember what it was you said.’ The truth is there anyway between people - if I’m sitting with you and shooting the shit about weather, at some level you’re aware I’m not being there with you with everything I’m thinking and feeling.”

“In my work with corporations, I have them divide a sheet into two columns. I invite them to remember a challenging situation that didn’t go well. In the right hand column I have them write down what happened - what was said and done. On the left hand side, they write everything they were thinking and feeling, but not saying. They can readily see the disconnect.”

“I challenge them to create better conversations by bringing in more of who they are with the other person. I tell them as they practice this skill, they’ll see that pretty soon there is no left hand column. It’s not about venting, it’s about enhancing a relationship. The real joke is that if you don’t share the left hand column, people get it any way. That’s why we hate used cars salesman …. I might be more willing to buy car if he tells me he has to meet a quota, but if he leaks it out passively, then I’m not interested. Our interactions with each other are full of bullshit. It’s in the water we drink. Telling the deep important truth is refreshing. It opens people up.”

While we were on a roll, I asked Joe if he had any hard truths for MKP, or would he rather not be critical?

“I wouldn’t want to be part of an organization that wasn’t being critiqued continually. If we think we’ve got it – that now we’ve got everything right - in that moment we’re wrong. Either we’ve lost our vision, or we’re just in denial. The vision that pulls me into the future is different than my current reality. If vision and reality are the same, then the game’s all over. I wish we weren’t so critical about critiques. I wish there was a way to do it better … a way to offer a blessing along with it.”

So, Joe … are we getting too soft in MKP? Too much CYA attitude?

“I think we train men for leadership better than we used to,” he mused. “I think we’re more thorough now. We take better care of safety elements on an NWTA than we used to in the early 90’s. The death of Curtis Nelson in 1993 was a huge wake up call for us. We had a new attitude of safety after that.”

“Also, we’re providing many more initiations to more men in more places. We’re arguing about multicultural things … arguing is good; if we all agreed, we probably wouldn’t be doing our work.”

From my own theatrical playwriting, I know that conflict is just the way you set up the story.

“One of my favorite stories is of Jacob who wrestles the angel and comes away stronger. He’s got his wound through this initiation, and at that point he becomes something else – Israel- God Wrestler. We should all be wrestling … and hopefully making it a clean fight.”

C’mon Joe, haven’t we lost some of the risk-taking of the old days?

“We’ve lost some of the focus on the apparent danger or the perceived danger. If I’m on an Outward Bound course and I’m going to be up a tree scared out of my wits… even though they’ve got redundant safety systems ... my balls don’t know that. I’ll have this perceived danger or risk, and that’s enough. I don’t have to be at a genuine risk. In MKP’s movement toward safety, we’ve erred sometimes on the amount of perceived risk or moderate risk there is. I’m not upset if someone sprains an ankle; I think that’s better that than a walk through a golf course. I want the adventure, without anybody breaking a leg. There was a fellow who had a tooth knocked out on the old pool adventure. Today we would cringe and the email lists would light up over it. But this guy was proud of it- it reminded him of the aboriginal custom of knocking out a tooth at initiation. BTW, I’m not advocating we knock out teeth, and they put is back in, but it’s not the end of the world. I want us to take measured risks. This is something we should be arguing about.”

I get to be on the Leader Chat List so I’m able to read Joe’s comments. He talks a lot about his family of 5 kids …Melanie, 28, Sean, 26, Lauren 17 and Sam and Maya, 5. And those are just the ones he knows of!

You’ll have to listen to his brief video interview with David Moravec where Joe talks about healing our family of origin, and then creating our family of destiny.

“It’s important to heal the family wounds and plug up the holes in the boat, and then you get to work on your family of destiny. The NWTA is one of the few, if not the only weekend, that focuses on mission! We do guts to remove whatever impediments there are to become a man of mission. Guts serves mission. I don’t care if men leave the weekend feeling good and rosy; I want them on fire to create who they are in the world and what will lead them forward. I don’t just want them to have a mission, I want their mission to have them.”

We don’t want to become “spiritual hypochondriacs” by too much focus on healing every single wound with every single person we’ve ever encountered, he warned.

Joe Laur is a veritable encyclopedia of information, quotes, poems, etc. He began quoting one of my favorite poets, and poems. I told him I knew this one:

With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach
By William Stafford

We could climb the highest dune
From there to gaze and come down:
the ocean was performing;
we contributed our climb.

Waves leapfrogged and came
straight out of the storm.
What should our gaze mean?
Kit waited for me to decide.

Standing on such a hill,
what would you tell your child?
That was an absolute vista,
Those waves raced far, and cold.

“How far could you swim, Daddy,
in such a storm?”
“As far as was needed,” I said,
and as I talked, I swam.

I could sense Joe’s genuine love and concern as he repeated the line:

“How far could you swim … as far as was needed. The dad was swimming as far as he needed to make sure his daughter was safe.

As a father of three kids of my own, I took a moment to breathe in this blessing.

“Our kids need that kind of reassurance in order to grow up,” Joe continued. “Part of being a good parent is about not passing on the same shadows to kids.”

Joe shared this song lyric:

Cradle of Nails
By Joe Laur

They wanted a baby or so they were told
Marriage is silver and children were gold
But the fantasy faltered it was all in their heads
And when it got ugly the gold turned to lead

The boy was a gambler as all children are
And for every risk he’s taken he’s wearing a scar
From the time he could stand up and cling to the rails
The baby was rocked in a cradle of nails

So rock a bye baby
In the wrong house
You won’t get hurt
If you’re still as a mouse
Daddy don’t like you
And Mommy’s love fails
So sleep tight tonight
In your cradle of nails

The boy he grew older and time held its sway
And his body grew stronger with each passing day
His parents won’t touch him; they don’t know what he’d do
And now it’s the other foot wearing the shoe

The boy left his home when he’d grown to a man
And he fell deep in lust at the touch of her hand
She kissed him so softly and soon they were wed
And the next generation came forth from the bed

So rock a bye baby
In the wrong house
You won’t get hurt
If you’re still as a mouse
Daddy don’t like you
And Mommy’s love fails
So sleep tight tonight
In your cradle of nails

Now a child will inherit what his father has lived

And a man who’s got nothing has nothing to give
The pain passes through and the blessing just fails
And what’s left in the will is a cradle of nails

Now the chain that ain’t broken is doomed to pass on
Just as sure as the sunset will bring forth the dawn
Through each generation the pattern prevails
Rocking the children in a cradle of nails

So rock a bye baby
In the wrong house
You won’t get hurt
If you’re still as a mouse
Daddy don’t like you
And Mommy’s love fails
So sleep tight tonight
In your cradle of nails

“It’s up to us to break chains, and decide we will not pass it on to our children.”

How do we break these chains?

“I like focusing more on awareness than just feelings. Even if I’m cut and bleeding, I can still work toward my mission. There’s an obvious preamble to healing that’s about us being aware of our behavioral patterns. If we can be aware of ourselves, then the healing happens naturally. If all we focus on is healing, then there’s a potential pit we fall into … feeling good gets mistaken for healing. The whole basis of addiction is comfort, including alcohol, sex, or work. It numbs me out even when I feel bad. The original addiction is to be comfortable, and an unwillingness to be uncomfortable. That’s addiction. That’s the core. I go to the quick fix, rather than as Karlfreid Graf Von Durkheim wrote: “endure the suffering and pass courageously through it, making of it a raft that leads to the far shore.”

And where does initiation come in?

“The five-year-old boy can’t take the pain. He can’t take rejection. When he’s older he’s going to have to deal with it. Initiation is breaking us loose from our addiction to comfort. Again, awareness is the primary key. I have to be willing to see what my comfort addiction costs me, and others.”

So, it’s the parent that provides the mature masculinity model?

“Yes, the goal is mature masculinity that leads all the way to new models from the Elders. I wonder what MKP is going to do with an old Leader like me … I can’t spend as much time as I used to, and I still have a contribution to make. I think MKP is looking at new models of Eldership and doing a wonderful work of moving past the notion of us as washed up shells to be scoffed at. Elders are blessers, mentors, wisdom keepers, and gentle generative wise people. And for me, in my particular craziness, I want to be that and more. As I move into Eldership, I want to be a little dangerous, audacious, and more of a risk taker the older I get - because what have I got to lose? I’m going to die! If death is tomorrow, then I can take more risks today. If I play it safe, I’m playing a fool’s game. I want the fiery voice of old age to come out and speak truth into power … speak to social issues, environmental issues … speak truth on both sides of the political sides of spectrum. Are the kids hungry? Then neither the left nor the right is doing their job. Are there homeless, people without health insurance? Every child deserves to have their needs met.”

Joe said he wanted to hold a conference on how Elders should be stirring the pot, or rocking the boat for the benefit of those who are coming.

Check out Joe’s website: www.seedsys.com and www.godsdog.net [he’s making lots of waves]

He is co-authoring a book entitled, The Necessary Revolution, teaching businesses how to build sustainability. It is slated to be published by Doubleday in early 2008.

Joe talked about how his work can help not only the children, but the planet we live on.

As we neared the end of the interview, I took a moment and gave him a word that was resonating with me as he spoke. Legacy.

“I believe it’s the book of Malachi in the writings of the prophets talking of the Messianic Age,” Joe noted. “It’s where the Spirit of Elijah will turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.”

I felt a spine-tingle as I remembered Joe quoting this scripture a dozen years ago. I kept my secret and listened.

“Those of us who are here now must do everything we can to bless our next generation, not only with words but with actions. We ought to leave them a world that we most want them to inherit, one that we would want to inherit for ourselves. Let’s leave it better than we found it …Sustainability means nothing without the next generation. The Talmud says “By the breath of children, God sustains the world.” Think about it - it’s the generations that sustain it. We often hear the quote from the Iroquois federation about considering the seventh generation in our deliberations and choices. But the part we leave out says: "even if it requires you to have skin as thick as the bark of pine tree.”

It was a mystical experience for me to share with Joe that this same vision had inspired me many years ago and that he even used the same quote from Malachi.

“It’s easy to forget the work I did all those years ago,” he concluded. “It’s a blessing to hear that I touched your life.”

Indeed, Joe Laur has touched my life. And, as I write this piece on Sunday – Father’s Day – I feel that Spirit of Elijah. All three of my children have called me tonight and blessed me.

May we all participate in the Sacred connection through the generations, is my blessing to you.

© 2007 Reid Baer

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The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.



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