Easter Eleven

Easter Eleven
April 30, 2014

The Good, the Bad, the Serving
RIP John Servati

Monday a young man, a student at the University of Alabama, died. A stellar athlete and good friend liked by most, he died holding up a retaining wall in the basement of his rented college house while his girlfriend escaped. They had sought refuge in the basement of the home just as all the experts advise. Tuscaloosa had suffered tragic and extensive damages three years and one day earlier. Every student and resident in the town knew what to do in case of a tornado and this young man and his girlfriend did just what they should have done. Maybe the town needs stricter and more frequent inspection of rental properties. Maybe the homeowner needed better waterproofing for the basement of better drainage of the yard around the home’s foundation. One fact is certain: Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

Sometimes people we thought were good do bad things. No one is perfect, in spite of our expectations. We are always quick to admit we are human and along with that sometimes comes an assumption that our actions will be excused or forgiven because we are human. How often do we apply that to others? Do we give them that same “pass” or are we quick to judge? How exactly do we see others? “Jehovah sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7; Luke 16:15). How do we serve each other by offering mercy?

Man is an animal that likes logic and rational behavior. We like to think every problem has an answer and that we, as animals at the top of the evolutionary ladder, can determine a working solution. We like to think we know a great deal, especially about each other. In 1 Corinthians 2:11, Paul admonishes that no one can really know the mind of another. He reminds his audience that everyone has secret places, secret hopes, secret fears within them. He uses that fact to illustrate that since we cannot know everything about each other, we certainly cannot begin to know everything about God. I would add that we cannot know everything about life.

Paul is trying to explain that the wisdom God has, the purpose of the Holy Spirit, is to help us live. While this passage centers more on the Holy Spirit and that is what Pentecost is all about and we are not yet there on the Christian calendar, the metaphor is a good one we can all use, regardless of religion or spirituality. The Christian faith is based upon a deity that serves man, not the other way around.

Man has evolved, whether you believe he did so walking out of the Garden of Eden or crawling out of the ocean. We are not as we once were. If you are reading this, then you were born from a human, regardless of past lives or forms. You are now human; you now live. Paul’s admonition applies to all of us. Like all scripture, it came to us through many variations and translations and even today, disagreement exists over which words might have actually been written. His basic message remains for us to hear, though. Our knowledge of God must always be relative, not absolute. It is not possible to measure the arm of God with the finger of man.

Good things happen to undeserving people and bad things happen that are undeserved to good people. None of us can be absolute about our tomorrow here on this planet. We may plan for it, prepare for it, and do all the right things to make it successful. All we can do is live with mercy and pray for mercy. Christian doctrine encourages a way to do this is by serving others, putting others first. So do many other spiritualities.

On a Monday evening, possibly discussing the recent swim meet between two of the sport’s greatest, a young man prepared for the end of the semester. An honor student in finance, as his hometown in a neighboring state was being devastated by tornadoes, John Servati did all the right things. He showed mercy and his legacy is one of grace. While his parents and two sisters will someday take pride in his multiple medals and record-setting swims, right now they are able to take comfort that he died living his faith, being as successful a human as is possible.

None of us live in a perfect world basking in perpetual sunshine. That’s a good thing because the star we call the sun could not provide for us what we need without the precious water which gives us life. When the clouds of our necessary water gather, when those clouds turn stormy as life often does, as the floods of reality of our own humanness threaten to overwhelm us, we need to remember to have mercy and to ask for mercy – from ourselves, our neighbors and fellow residents, and from our Creator or Spirit Guide. We also need to show mercy so that we can share the grace of living a spirit-filled life. We need to see with our hearts and act in faith. We need to learn from a twenty-one year old young man who, in his last moments, turned the bad into good and lived a most successful life, though all too brief.

The Latin word “servatus” means saved or kept. May God have mercy to help us all be as brave, as successful, as a loving servant to each other, following the example of John Servati.

Easter Ten

Easter Ten
April 29, 2014

The Casserole of Man

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are often called the Synoptic Gospels. The word synoptic basically means synopsis or a summary. If you have ever read any or all of these Gospels, you know that they are not short as one might expect in a synopsis. They are called this because they contain many of the same stories. This bothers some.

Let’s suppose you have two aunts who lived on either side of your house when you were growing up. Once you become an adult, these aunts are asked to write your biography, as is your mother. Chances are that all three would contain many of the same stories, told from different viewpoints. Would that mean one or two were lying? Of course it doesn’t; is just means they had their own point of view.

All four gospels contain many similarities. I do not think this is surprising since they tell basically the same story, although admittedly from four different points of view. However, that in itself is the question: Where they actually written by four or more different authors? I think they had to be, at least four if not more. Were they updated or revised copies of one basic text? Maybe but this doesn’t bother me either. When you consider the harsh times that text would have had to survive through centuries, I think it makes it even more amazing. I think that is true of any spiritual credos or other articles of religious faith, not just Christian. Did the political environment of the times affect the gospels? Politics tends to affect everything on way or another so most assuredly. On a typical multiple choice test, one would simply circle “D” meaning “all of the above” … or possibly “D” for Deity!
The Bible is not a book written by one man, carried to one publisher who maintained its rights forever and ever. It is a collection of stories, some of which are told and retold by different people. Some are told in prose and some, like the psalms, appear as poetry or song lyrics. It is not the story of one race but of a group of believers and nonbelievers, travelers all in a common area throughout time.

Likewise, Easter is not a celebration just for Christians. It may be celebrated only by Christians with that name and one story of a man’s crucifixion and resurrection, but it is not gender nor race nor even faith specific. Jesus Christ died for all mankind, for any seeking eternal salvation in heaven. Saint or sinner, rich or poor, beggar, thief, doctor, lawyer, tribal chief….The kingdom of heaven is open to all who seek.

The word synoptic really means “affording a general view of the whole”, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. The celebration of Easter is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, affording the kingdom of heaven view to the whole of man. Heaven must be one large casserole of man, bound by love and flavored with diversity. I hope we can start practicing for it here on earth, showing love to our fellow man, regardless of color, race, creed, age, handicapped status, or religion. After all, we are all synoptically recipients of God’s love in the one big casserole of man..and all that jazz!

Today’s recipe combines two ethnic stand-by foods: rice and chili. We give the Asian staple a bit of American flair and then combine in with either store-bought chili or homemade (recipe included). This savory pie can be prepared in advance and even frozen for future use.

2 cups cooked rice 1 oz Cheddar Cheese shredded
1 egg beaten Dash of salt

Two cans of chili with beans 2 oz Cheddar Cheese shredded
2 tsp olive or vegetable oil ½ cup each diced bell pepper and onion
1 minced garlic clove 6 oz drained can red kidney beans
5 oz cooked ground beef 8 oz canned tomatoes chopped
¼ tsp Chili powder ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
2 oz Cheddar Cheese shredded

To prepare crust – Preheat oven to 425 degrees-F. Spray 9-in pie pan with nonstick spray. Combine in a bowl all ingredients for the crust. Press the mixture in the bottom of the pie pan, going up the sides as well. Bake until firm and lightly browned – approx 20 minutes. Remove from oven, reduce heat ot 325 degrees-F and set pie pan aside.

To prepare filling –
If using prepared chili, heat until warm in a saucepan.
If making chili: Heat oil and sauté bell peppers, onions, and garlic until onion is translucent. Add remaining ingredients except the cheese and cook until the liquid is reduced by almost half.

Once the chili is ready, then spoon the mixture into the pie pan and bake at 350 degrees-F for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese over the op and heat for another ten minutes or until the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven and let sit for at least five minutes.

Easter Nine

Easter Nine
April 28, 2014

Who? Me?

The many posters about faith are easy to find. Their slogans are catchy. “Faith is not believing God can; it is knowing that He will.” “Let your faith be bigger than your faith.” My personal favorite is the simple “Have faith!” Many in today’s troubled times would question the practicality of having faith or ask where is the proof.

The word faith has its roots in the Latin “fides” from which comes the English word fidelity. In business a company is considered strong with a proven track record when it is described as having fidelity. A person with fidelity is considered steadfast. Marital fidelity is considered being true to one’s spouse or partner, never straying, being…well, faithful.

The Bible is full of scripture about faith. Of course, one could say the entire Bible is about faith but really, the Bible is about stories of defining and living in faith. Quite a lot is said about faith, man’s faith in God. The gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter spoke of Thomas the Apostle needing to see proof before believing Jesus Christ had been resurrected. Most readily identify with Thomas and use other scripture to justify that.

Hebrew 11:1 states that faith is the sum of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Romans 10:7 says that faith comes only from hearing the word of Christ. Luke 17:5 is the well-known parable of the mustard seed and the mulberry tree. These and other verses often lead to discussion, debates, and disagreements on the difference between faith and belief. Also involved in such conversations comes the word credulity or credulous. Based upon the root of the word credible, meaning something is taken as being truthful, credulity or credulous suddenly become something naïve, believing too easily, having faith with little or no proof. In other words, Thomas the Apostle gains new stature for his doubts and could be seen as the most faithful of all for them.

C.S. Lewis, although often seen only as a children’s writer, spoke a great deal about faith. “We must not encourage in ourselves or others any tendency to work up a subjective state which, if we succeeded, we should describe as “faith”, with the idea that this will somehow insure the granting of our prayer…. The state of mind which desperate desire working on a strong imagination can manufacture is not faith in the Christian sense. It is a feat of psychological gymnastics.”

Again we can turn to scripture to understand his opinion. Mark 13:5-6 warns that we should be careful not to let people deceive. Luke 21:8 echoes that adding that many will come claiming to be a god but they will be false. Romans 14:5 says it most simply: Be sure in your own mind. John 20:31 gives us the result of our faith, to have life in God.

What about the other side of the coin? What about God’s faith in us? Certainly God’s faith in us is the sum of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1), the evidence of things not seen. We crucified Jesus; we wage war on each other; we squander the gifts of nature; we think we need more each day. Obviously God does not follow the Thomas school of thought of “Show me the money – in this case, evidence!” God totally disregards the admonitions of Mark not to be deceived. How often has man gone out, supposedly in the name of one’s spiritual creator, to conquer? How often do we murder in the name of belief? How often are the faithful duped by someone whose real purpose is as far from religious doctrine as one can get? How often do pride and vanity trump loving creeds?

Thomas had just seen his beloved teacher and leader die. He probably helped lift Jesus off of the cross and perhaps even carried the body to the tomb. The stench of death had probably stayed with him for days and was only just starting to abate. He was trying to deal with his anger, guilt, and going through the stages of recovery. He had no reason to put faith in false hopes. He had no desire to relive that past eight days. Their own lives were in jeopardy and yet, they still had things to do, teachings to somehow continue, basic human needs to meet like food and shelter in a hostile environment. They had left their past lives and needed to decide what came next. He needed to move forward. He needed the reality of the future because the past was too painful.

When Jesus resurrected appeared to Thomas, it was Thomas’ nightmare coming to life. It was validation that the event had happened. God has validation of our failures every day. Someone dies at the hand of another each and every day in each and every country. Man kills one of God’s children every hour, a life taken, a life disregarded. Are we duping God? Is God ignoring the admonition of false prophets Luke spoke of by having faith in us? Mark tells of the deceitful. How are we steadfast in our faith?

Some say faith and belief are synonymous; others feel there is a difference. I would say one is taken to the heart and the other to the head. However, feel free to differ. Again turning to CS Lewis: “”Now faith… is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” Maybe that is our answer about why God continues to believe in us, has faith in us.

God not only has faith in us, He is faithful to us. Second Timothy speaks of our faith but I think it also speaks of God’s faith. “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” Surely God knows His own mind and, in spite of what we do as humans every day or may do not do, God is still convinced and has faith in us. I am not always confident in myself and yet, I read this and can only say one thing: “Thank you, God!”

Easter Eight – Second Sunday of Easter

Easter Eight – Second Sunday in Easter
April 27, 2014

Woodpeckers in Life

One day in 1606 a certain Mrs. Van Rijn gave birth. She was the daughter of a baker and her husband was a miller. The Netherlands at this time were something of a mess religiously. The Reformation had begun twenty years earlier and would continue for another twenty years. Catholic masses were held and often publicly but not every Sunday and often times people lost track of who, if any, had been baptized that year. Folklore and superstition prevented some from coming, soldiers marched through other churches and, for those towns with no town bell, taverns would remain open during services resulting in an inebriated congregation that might or might not remain. There were those churches felt to be in good order, several services held daily, support from monastic properties, and the communicant number steady or rising, but for the most part, change was in the air for the Dutch.

While the British were establishing the first settlement of Jamestown, the rather prosperous Van Rijn family was establishing their young son into the family of eight children (another would be born later for a total of ten). Their young son lived with the family in the town of Leiden, known to be an artistic and intellectual center. He studied mathematics, Greek, classical literature, geography and history at the Latin School in Leiden. He then entered Leiden University where he undertook studies in science, particularly enjoying the anatomy classes in which cadavers were dissected on stage. The knowledge of anatomy he gained in the anatomy theatre was invaluable in his artistic career. This son, named Rembrandt, however, had a strong preference for painting which led him to abandon his studies after just a few months, move to Amsterdam and study under an Italian master.

With a face often compared to a loaf of bread, Rembrandt Van Rijn did multiple self-portraits and developed a style of painting known for its use of light and shadows, most likely developed from studying his own shadows of self. Coming from a family of Calvinists, Rembrandt had painted on commission for wealthy clients who sometimes did not like the drama he interjected into his works. Holland in the seventeenth century was a country of rigid rules and artists were expected to follow them. The wealthy were presented almost one-dimensionally which often complimented them. Rembrandt painted scenes of dimension, using light and its subsequent antithesis of shadow to illuminate and animate the picture. Everything had purpose in a Rembrandt painting; every inch was interesting; the parts, seemingly often unrelated, were the sum of a beautiful moment captured on canvas.

Rembrandt’s life was not all paints and success, though. His first wife suffered several unsuccessful attempts at childbirth and only one child, a son named Titus, lived past infancy. He would later die as an adult from one of the various plagues. Rembrandt’s first love and wife died, he was sued for breach of promise amid rising financial difficulties and lost the case, another mistress gave birth to a daughter and later die and Rembrandt was bankrupt, forced to sell his beloved art collection and possessions. With his son’s death one year before his own, Rembrandt still managed to paint astoundingly beautiful paintings and at his death was found to have amassed another wonderful art collection.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn once stated: “Without atmosphere, a painting is nothing.” The same might be said of life. We often focus on the dark shadows of life and forget that, in order to have the shadow, we must have experienced light at some time. Rembrandt often told his students that they should only have one master – nature. Some might interpret that to mean he lacked faith. That would be incorrect. He felt painting was the grandchild of nature and that being so, it was related to God. Rembrandt was a man of deep faith and it was that faith that saw him through the hard times of his life. Once, when a patron protested over the length of time taken to produce a painting, Rembrandt remarked: “The deepest and most lifelike emotion has been expressed and that’s the reason they have taken so long to execute.”

It is of little solace at the time I am going through a trial but the fact is that those times are the ones that bring our life’s deepest emotions to the surface. It is at those times where we cannot see the end or a successful resolution that our faith is most present. Rembrandt is said to have encouraged patience in his students: He most likely would have felt the same as Hal Borland who said “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I understand the meaning of persistence.”

I have five trees in my back yard that are nice – sorta. They provide shade but also drop millions of seed pods and then leaves that need raking; make it difficult to plant a garden; and result in a longer yard maintenance time because you have to cut around them and the few above-ground roots that exist. They are the remains of a forest that grew on the mountainside on which I live and were the survivors when developers claimed the land for man and unsuccessfully tried to push out the squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and various bird families. The squirrels and I are at constant conflict, the raccoons and opossums have waved a white flag one we gained a giant puppy, and the birds and I talk every morning – apparently I don’t insult them because my car stays clean, though my neighbors can’t say the same. These tree, though, amaze me. Surrounded by the 21st century, they bear their ages of 150-250 years proudly. They also bear the scars of various storms and tornadoes, pruning, and woodpeckers. Oh yes, we have one very persistent woodpecker.

I have a hard time remembering that this woodpecker is also a child of God. He has caused damage to our house, awakens us even before the cats and dog can, and is heard all over the neighborhood doing his thing. Yet, he is also part of nature, a living example of the patience and persistence needed for life and faith. In his own way, he is expressing the emotions of his world and living his relationship to God.

People can be woodpeckers of our comfort and complacency. People can bore right into our deepest fears and prey on our greatest needs. They may be the light of our world but they can also be the cause of our shadows. What I love about Rembrandt, and there are many things, is his ability to see the less than beautiful and make it beautiful. Using his own face, he found the value in each pore. He did not just see a face “like a loaf of bread”, he found value in it and made a life and new school of art because of it. His realized that faith is the core of our life and our connection to the rest of life, the natural world God has given us, is not perfect.

With faith we can find the patience to persevere and make the dark times animate our life and give meaning to the bright times. Like Rembrandt, we can embrace the fullness of life and realize that a life of only one hue is one-dimensional, dull, and flat. It simply is not a full life. The tree stands for the woodpecker to make his holes but through it all, both will emerge to live their true purpose. Both will be strong and both will be brilliant through the night and the day as creatures of God. We don’t always know why but that’s okay. What we need to know is that God is with us, in the dark and bringing us to the light.

Easter Seven

Easter Seven
April 26, 2014

Prince George, two Popes, the NRA, measles, tornadoes, – Oh My!

Tomorrow is special for several different reasons. First of all, Sunday morning the young, bonny Prince George will awaken after sleeping his first full night in 19 days in his own bed. Of course, as the parent of any young toddler knows, that does not guarantee that he will actually sleep all the night or that the parents will get any sleep. Children are amazingly resilient and adjust quickly to new situations. Odds are that young George will need to get reacquainted with his home, his bed, and the lack of photographers around every corner and adoring fans and wooing grandmothers in the crowd.

Sunday also marks the canonization of two Popes at a ceremony which will have two other Popes present. History will be made for any and all of the above-mentioned Popes, by the way. Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will be honored at this step along their journey to becoming saints. Unlike the future king of England who heard many say “Isn’t he just an angel? Isn’t he a saint?”, the two Popes had to meet certain criterion. It also affords some the chance to review their lives and renew any and all disapproval of their tenures as Popes. The vocational call to be Pope must be received with some joy but a fair amount of trepidation. Certainly, the man who first feels God leading him in that direction must pray “Are you sure? Really sure?” a goodly number of times. Whether one is a member of the Roman Catholic Church or not (and I am not), the historical bearing and significance is such a call is an awe-filled thought. Sainthood denotes for me a life dedicated to God and certainly these two men – yes men, not perfect but human – lived such a life.

Sunday will also see the close of the National Rifle Association’s national convention. I do not plan to debate the second amendment, not at this time anyway, but I would prefer that they did more actual association business and less name-calling and posturing. The young Prince George would be a good example for them, I think. He goes about his duties being himself and being honest, in spite of the million photo ops to be less drooling and more smiling. He was, simply put, a baby. The two Popes also took care of business with more thought to their business than themselves. The NRA claims their right to own their guns, which include far more than the rifles their name implies, is based upon their being Americans, their rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. They are, they shout, law-abiding citizens. Well, that might just not be true.

According to the Constitution, no one has the right to speech that inhibits another’s speech. Ever try to argue with an NRA member? You will seldom get a complete sentence out without being interrupted. Their right to bear arms, a right I support in case you are wondering but I support it when it is done intelligently, does not give them the right to override another’s rights. According to the Constitution, we are all equal and entitled to certain rights but those rights must be to the benefit of all Americans. A gun in a locked case cannot kill another if it has been cleaned properly, is unloaded, the case is locked and put in another locked gun vault. Allowing someone to carry a gun, loaded, into a bar is not protecting my freedom. Mankind does not make good choices when inebriated. Even in the Wild West guns had to be checked before going into a bar.

Also this week we learned that measles are on the rise with a 20% increase this year alone. Hopefully, Sunday will begin a new week and new era of parents investigating their vaccination options and discussing them with their doctors instead of relying on Hollywood to make these decisions for them. It may be the right of my neighbor to decide what is best for his or her children but it is not their right to decide for my child. When it comes to communicable diseases like measles, other people must be considered. There are always some, adults and children, who should not take a particular medication including certain vaccinations. These decisions, however, should be made with rational thought, not based on trendy fads or because they are favored by the star of the month.

Sunday will be the mid-point of a three-year anniversary of one of the most deadly tornado outbreak across the south, Midwest, and northeast, with the states of Mississippi and Alabama being hit the hardest. In total, 358 tornadoes were confirmed by the National Weather Service and Canadian meteorologists in 21 states from Texas to New York to southern Canada. Widespread and destructive tornadoes occurred on each day of the outbreak, with April 27 being the most active day with a record of 211 tornadoes touching down that day from midnight to midnight CDT. Four of the tornadoes were classified as the strongest possible, EF-5 and three hundred and forty-eight people lost their lives.

The trip by Prince George’s parents reflected the one made by his father’s parents and showed the continuity of the British monarchy and its strength. The canonization of two Popes and the presence of two others is making the statement that not only is faith alive but the followers of the first Pope, chosen by Jesus as the first bishop of Rome and thereby the first Pope are alive. They will celebrate the canonization and lives of two believers but also their faith tomorrow, April 27th. The convention speeches of the NRA are meant to signify their determination to continue their fight and their lobbying in Congress. Parents make a statement with each decision regarding their parenting. In Alabama two hundred and thirty-eight people lost their lives on April 27th, 2011. Mother Nature definitely made a statement that day in Alabama. Making a statement is what all of these events have in common.

What statement will you make this day? What will your actions proclaim? Will our actions match our words and will both of those reflect our faith? One of my favorite prayers is this: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.” It is quite possibly the hardest thing to live, though. How do we reconcile our beliefs with our rights and how do both of those protect and support our neighbors without imposing upon them our own faith which may or may not be theirs? Tomorrow will be a renewal of their heritage; a renewal of faith; a renewal of rights; a renewal of hope; a renewal of life. The sun will dawn tomorrow just like any other day and the thing is, with all these anniversaries and news stories, tomorrow will be just like any other day. It will be the day we have to make a statement, to reaffirm life and our beliefs about it. Just like any other day, we have that to do – today and tomorrow. With each breath, our life is statement. What will you say today?

Easter Six

Easter Six
April 25, 2014

World Malaria Day

Pick up a calendar and you will discover that almost every day has been designated as Something Day. I do not plan to mention everything or every day so designated but World Malaria Day lends itself to our Eastertide theme of renewal and rebirth.

The global efforts to combat malaria are one example of how we can work together and do. Since the year 2000 over 3.3 million lives have been saved from dying of malaria. That breaks down to 244,444 lives each year, almost a quarter of a million people! It further breaks down to approximately 670 people per day or 28 people every hour. Those are outstanding statistics but they are not the end of the story. One child dies from malaria every 60 seconds. There is much left to do.

According to the World Health Organization, Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. In 2012, malaria caused an estimated 627 000 deaths (with an uncertainty range of 473 000 to 789 000), mostly among African children. Malaria is preventable and curable. Increased malaria prevention and control measures are dramatically reducing the malaria burden in many places. Non-immune travelers from malaria-free areas are very vulnerable to the disease when they get infected so this is a disease that poses risk to all of us, not just people living on the African continent.

Malaria is caused by a parasite and spread to people who are bitten by an infected mosquito. The Anopheles mosquitoes, called malaria vectors, bite between dusk and dawn. Again, quoting from the WHO, “Transmission also depends on climatic conditions that may affect the number and survival of mosquitoes, such as rainfall patterns, temperature and humidity. In many places, transmission is seasonal, with the peak during and just after the rainy season. Malaria epidemics can occur when climate and other conditions suddenly favor transmission in areas where people have little or no immunity to malaria. They can also occur when people with low immunity move into areas with intense malaria transmission, for instance to find work, or as refugees.

“Human immunity is another important factor, especially among adults in areas of moderate or intense transmission conditions. Partial immunity is developed over years of exposure, and while it never provides complete protection, it does reduce the risk that malaria infection will cause severe disease. For this reason, most malaria deaths in Africa occur in young children, whereas in areas with less transmission and low immunity, all age groups are at risk.”

Although most malaria cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa, everyone is at risk. In 2013, 97 countries had malaria transmission. These included countries in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Europe. When you consider the amount of exports traveling to and from these countries, it is easy to understand how the mosquitoes are able to spread worldwide.

Malaria is preventable. That’s right. This devastating disease that kills one child every minute is completely and totally preventable! Up until now, efforts have been spotty and not consistent. However, global efforts are effecting positive change. There are multiple websites one can go to do to donate and volunteer. For less than the cost of two meal combos at a fast food restaurant, you can purchase (donate) a mosquito net that will protect an entire family for life!

There is absolutely nothing we can do about the inevitable accident that claims a life except practice good habits. Not texting while driving, not driving under the influence of any drug – tobacco, alcohol, prescription, illegal, not driving without proper corrective eyewear – prescription lenses, sunglasses, etc. …These are all sensible and necessary habits to follow. However, so is doing what you can to stop malaria. If everyone in an office of 100 people gave a dollar, ten families would be saved. If everyone donated five dollars, five families would be saved. Even if everyone gave a penny, one family would be saved.

Think about that, One hundred pennies will save the life of a child. BY the time you finish reading this blog post, another child will have died of malaria. Maybe you don’t work in an office of one hundred people. Do you have a faith group of ten? Could everyone in that group donate a dollar? How about a book club? Instead of having coffee and a pastry, bake some icebox cookies and donate $2. Five of you would save one family.

Often we think “I am only one so what can I do?” Well, it is true. You are only one person. But, you are one person. Send emails to everyone you know and encourage them to contribute. Like I said there are multiple ways and places to do this – either online, via telephone, or by mail.

This disease is preventable. I cannot say that enough. No one has to die if we get our collective act together and stop it. Don’t care about anyone in Africa? How about your own child or nephew/niece? No one is safe. It is only a matter of time before this epidemic reaches every country. Every life counts. We are all in this life together and mosquitoes hitch rides on every imaginable carrier possible worldwide.

We can eradicate malaria. We need to eradicate malaria. Let’s make this the year that malaria becomes obsolete! Let’s provide a life a chance by removing malaria from our vocabulary of the future. After all, the best way to celebrate Easter is to celebrate life. Somewhere, someone who will live because of you needs you. Let’s give them tomorrow and stop malaria from being a dreaded buzz word.

Easter Five

Easter Five
April 22, 2014

Who died?

Christians just celebrated the death and resurrection of a man called Jesus. History has revealed that a man named Jesus did live and was from Nazareth. He is considered part of the Holy Trinity by many Christians the other two being God the Gather and God the Holy Spirit. Another time we’ll discuss this Trinity but right now I’d like to ask: Who died?

Bart Ehrman wants to know how this man became a God. His new book, “How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee” does not take a theological approach but rather that of a historian. It is only in the gospel of John that Jesus is heard calling himself God. Such passages include “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” and “Before Abraham was, I am”. The gospel of John obviously takes a more theological approach than the other three.

Historically we know exactly when Roman began considering their leaders to be gods and called them such. Perhaps these followers of Jesus were simply using the vernacular of the day in referring to their leader. The first Christian Roman emperor was Constantine and we have him to thank for the “HIS” that appears on so many crosses. He commanded his armies to go forth and conquer in the name of God, “In Hoc Signa” or “In His Sign [Name]”. Instead of the Roman emperor being a God, he became a believer in God.

Of course, then comes the question: If Jesus is God, who is Allah, Abba, G-d? How powerful can a God be is He can killed? The Holy Trinity is a type of modalism or an example of dividing this God-head into three modes, as we’ve already discussed. The question I am asking you to consider is not who is God but who was killed?

History is an interesting way to look at our faith proving faith and religion are fairly impossible. Quite a lot of what happened in the past actually happened but is it history? History is generally considered to be the past that we can prove. That leaves out a great deal of our past. We simply cannot prove everything that has occurred in the past. After all, we would need a video feed of all of mankind to do that and well, “Jerusalem in 4 BC had no mass communication”, to quote Judas from “Jesus Christ Superstar” and it didn’t have cable either. To quote historian Bart Ehrman: “Historians acting as historians – whether they’re believers or nonbelievers – acting as historians, they simply cannot say Jesus was probably raised by God from the dead.”

For the Roman Catholic Church to proclaim someone a saint, a miracle or miraculous healing needs to be proven. These miracles may have happened, and I for one believe that most if not all did, but proving a miracle as history is nearly impossible. All we can really say is that something happened that does not meet the laws of science as currently known.

The miracle of Easter to many is the empty tomb but is that what really defines Jesus? The apostles were convinced of His resurrection after seeing Jesus and once Thomas felt the wounds, even he was a believer. Their believing created a faith that was not based upon Jesus teachings, thereby opening it up to Gentiles. The newly formed Christianity attracted the attention of Constantine who then encouraged the masses to convert and led armies into explorations and wars, all based on a faith.

So who do you think died that Friday, crucified as a common criminal only to be resurrected as the central figure of a new religion that would become a dominating influence on the world in all aspects – arts, religion, science, history, literature, literacy?

Most of us would love to have world peace, end hunger, and/or cure illnesses. Jesus certainly was able to feed the masses with very little and on several occasions he healed people. He spoke of peace – internal and external. There did not seem to be a great deal of peace, though, in His wake. How do we live our faith, do the things encouraged by our faiths, and accomplish world peace? A better question might be concerning the things hindering world peace.

When the USSR was disbanded in the 1990’s, democracy seemed to be the promise and future of several new nations. Cultural identities lost under the regime of Communism were revived. The road to peace as not been smooth and most recently in Ukraine has taken an abrupt u-turn. The common man on the street in Kiev is either happy to see the return of socialism or he talks of Putin and his ego, the Russian leader’s need to control in order to brag about his empire. In the Middle East, factions are killing their own tribesmen and families in order to promote their own radical views, again in order to create an empire to control. Drug cartels in Mexico and South America are doing the same, financing their efforts with illegal drugs.

Human life and culture have lost their significance. The Romans called the teachings of Jesus radical and unnecessary. His preaching of “love thy neighbor” was deemed ridiculous. The caste system was working for those in power and those in the lower classes were expected to know their place and never dream of anything better.

Were the dreams and hopes of the average man crucified that day in Jerusalem? Are they still being trampled worldwide? Is one ethnicity worthier than another? Is one gender? Has history proven that one way of life is better than another? Who or what died?

Twelve men sat around a table having a final supper. Eleven were boastful of their devotion, scorning the one identified as a traitor. Days later eleven would again be gathered, this time ten of them believing in spite of their worldview being challenged by the presence of the eleventh who had been killed days earlier.

When love is practiced, amazing things can happen. Houses can be built by strangers coming together for families without a home. When people forget to be greedy, food banks are filled and children are fed. When people are respected and not discriminated against, nations prosper and the world thrives.

Doubt was hung on a cross that day and belief was reborn. The belief was carried by eleven to hundreds and then thousands. Worlds were explored and yes, some wars fought. The stories were told and retold, leading to printed words and published books. The world given was studied and lessons were learned and passed on, generation to generation. The unbelievable happened and continued to happen. Now it is our turn. I say we live and continue the teachings. Real teachings are positive ways to proceed, not fanatical means by which others can gain power to feed a selfish need. Let’s let despair stay dead and raise hope and dignity for all. Victory is the resurrection if we but live it. Jesus is with us still. He will raise us up to do miraculous things.

Easter Four

Easter Four
April 23, 2014

Going nuts in the kitchen! Or am I?

During Lent I gave a recipe on Wednesday and decided to continue this during Eastertide since it got great response. If you read yesterday’s post, you know that I am now a bit chagrined at my carbon footprint. The two things that really hurt me were the lack of available public access in my area to the places I need to go and appropriate times, something the mayor can deal with but I have really very little control over, and my diet. I actually eat rather healthily, have a very good cholesterol count, and am considered healthy overall. However, I eat more animal products than is healthy for the planet. Animal products take up available land, require deforestation, use up copious amount of water, and that is only for the growing process. Processing of these animal products really takes a toll on the planet so not only is vegetarian a healthy way to go, if not completely then at least two or three times a week for a meal, it helps the planet. In other words, it guarantees a better future for us individually and as a planet.

Most animal products fall under the classification of proteins so today we will go with the easiest protein substitute I know of – nuts. This poses something of a problem for me since I am allergic to tree nuts but I did want to do what I could. So I did what I usually do when faced with a problem. I looked for an answer in the Bible. In Hebrew there is no one word for nuts. “Egozim” is translated to refer to what we call the almond; “sh’kedim” is similar to the pistachio and its cousins, and “bot’nim” which is most like our present-day peanut.

Genesis 43:11 refers to those things which Jacob’s sons could take to Egypt. Jacob advises them to take with them items that would be of use to barter, things grown in Canaan but not in Egypt. Almonds and pistachios are among those things plentiful in Canaan but rare in Egypt. The Song of Solomon, 6:11, references a nut tree although historians do not agree on which variety of tree nut is being discusses. Walnut trees grew around the Lake of Gennesaret but only Josephus, a renowned Early Christian historian, is convinced this passage specifically refers to walnuts.

The simplest way to incorporate nuts into the diet is to make a salad and add nuts to it in place of any meat. But are nuts really that great a source of protein? The answer is a resounding YES! The problem is they are also a good source of calories. However, calories are not the only thing to consider when thinking nutritionally. Fats and other nutritional numbers need to be put into the equation for making an overall healthy choice. Almonds, cashew, pine nuts, and others are not only great sources of protein, there are also rich in amino acids and minerals. Almonds are high in iron, calcium and vitamin E while walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty (healthy) acids that are also found in fish.

As already stated, I am allergic to tree nuts. Often when we hear someone has a peanut allergy, we think it is a “nut allergy”. Often the two are very different. Recently, in her blog in the New York Times, Jane Brody mentioned that peanut allergies among children had risen from 0.4 percent in 1997 to 1.4 percent in 2010. While the study she quoted came from the prestigious and accurate Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, it relied on self-reporting. Some estimates put these allergies at including more than 4 million Americans. Therefore, before serving these recipes, please make sure you or your guests do not have any allergies to the peanuts used.

Peanuts are not nuts but are actually legumes, like beans or peas. The peanut most likely originated in Paraguay and is an annual herbaceous plant. Earliest specimens date back 7600 years and are depicted in pre-Columbian art of cultures such as the Moche. The name comes from the pea-like flowers that the plant produces during its growing season. Peanuts were traded in Mexico City and taken to Europe but peanuts played a major role for the North American colonists. Grown not only to eat but also as livestock feed, the peanut provided protein for both colonist and animal. George Washington Carver explored the many used of the peanut and gave it a rightful place in nutritional history. Introduced by missionaries in the 19th century, China has now become the world’s leading grower and exporter of peanuts. Be sure to use safe peanuts, as they are highly susceptible to mold and other fungi. When the produce is viable, peanuts are an affordable and “green lifestyle” choice.

Today’s recipes will feature nuts and legumes. Bon Appétit!

Nut Loaf

2 cups soft bread crumbs 2 eggs
1 cup milk 1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped nuts 1 teaspoon paprika

Soak bread crumbs in milk, add nuts (finely chopped almonds, pecans, or walnuts work best but any nut meats can be used), slightly beaten eggs, and seasonings. Turn into a greased loaf pan, set in a pan of water, and bake at a 350-degree-F oven for forty minutes. Serve with a pureed tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes and green beans.

Peanut Butter Cutlets

1 ½ cups peanut butter 1 ½ cups hot milk
1 teaspoon salt Pepper
6 slices of bread, ½ inch thickness works best

Mix peanut butter with hot milk and seasoning, mixing thoroughly. Dip slices of bread into the peanut butter mixture. Sauté in olive oil or a pan coated with non-stick spray. Serve with a salad and garnish with olives and fruit.

Luncheon Casserole Vegetable Soup

3 cans red kidney beans, washed 2 cans stewed tomatoes
1 cup diced carrot 1 bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, thinly sliced 8 oz chopped mushrooms
½ cup cooked rice
Optional: 1 cup bread crumbs, 2 beaten eggs

Combine beans, tomatoes with juice, carrots, bell pepper, mushrooms, and onions and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, then reduce to a simmer. Add the rice and some of the rice water if more broth is desired. If cooking as an actual casserole, drain the fluid, and mix thoroughly with the two beaten eggs and place in a baking dish, garnishing with bread crumbs on top . Bake in a 350-degree-f oven for twenty minutes or until set.

Easter Three

Easter Three
April 22, 2014

What is your world like?

If you followed this blog during Lent, then you know that on each Wednesday I referenced a Dr Seuss book as well as giving a recipe. On March 31st, our book was “The Lorax”. The character of the Lorax speaks for the trees, advocating for an environment that benefits all. The story of “The “Lorax” is simple: A business needs the trees to thrive and the owner is irresponsible in how he treats the very thing he needs for his business. He cares nothing for the environment or preserving the trees that provide him his livelihood. Theodore Seuss Geisel considered “The Lorax” his fable which told of the dangers corporate greed could pose to nature. The Lorax character speaks for the trees that have no tongues. Sadly, it tells a story being played out all over the world with deforestation.

The book has no real ending just as our affects on the environment have no real ending. We have no way of knowing what we do or do not do today will affect future generations. We do know what is harmful, though, and learn more and more each day. Legislation has not kept up with our knowledge, though, and corporations have far more powerful lobbyists than do the trees. As the one of the characters says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This is a cautionary tale for Earth Day 2014.

What is your world like? Yesterday our Easter renewal was one of self, one seeking a happily ever after. Today we are speaking of our earth’s renewal. What is the earth like in your world? What was it like a hundred years ago? Have we and you helped to improve it or have we deleted its natural beauty along with its natural resources?

Easter is about life – past and present preparing for the future. I don’t know who Dr Seuss based his character the Lorax on but the name is very similar to the name of a real American culturist, Alan Lomax. In fact, the Lorax’s moustache rivals that of Lomax! Alan Lomax spent his time researching our past, trying to preserve it for present and future generations so that they could respect it and learn from it.

In 2006, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress hosted a symposium entitled “The Lomax Legacy: Folklore in a Globalizing Century”. The purpose was to discuss and encourage the world of Alan Lomax, recognized as a musical anthropologist and cultural activist. While many considered him just a song collector, Lomax was preserving the musical and cultural identity of the early Americans who came and settled in the Appalachian mountains as well as the cultural identities of various groups settling in this new world.

Lomax saw the value in all people and every environment, from the songs of Appalachia to the wailings of prison chain gangs. Alan Lomax advocated and practiced the principle of “cultural equity,” in order to make a place in the media and in schools for the expressive arts and aesthetic values of local cultures worldwide. Alan Lomax, through music, gave us a snapshot of our world. IN 2014 a new group of folk musicians will travel and again record music. Calling themselves The Lomax Project, this new generation hopes to continue the music and recording of our worlds that Alan Lomax began. They are heeding the warning: Unless some like you cares, it’s not going to get better.

So what is our world like? According to astronomer Phil Plait, “Our planet moves about 940 million kilometers (580 million miles), the circumference of its orbit around the Sun. That means it’s faster — way faster — than a speeding bullet: about 30 km/sec (18 miles/sec)! A typical rifle bullet travels 1-2 km/sec, so the Earth outpaces them handily.” The Earth is the largest of the terrestrial planets and approximately 71% of its surface is covered by water. The Pacific Ocean alone covers an amazingly large 155.6 miles. The southern hemisphere is 80% covered by water while the northern hemisphere is 60% covered by water.

The water part of our world is very important. Until the last month, no other planet had been discovered to contain water, a very necessary ingredient for life. Water conservation in some parts of the world is going fairly well; it is not so great in industrialized nations, though. Water exists naturally in our world of Planet Earth in three physical states on Earth’s surface: solid (ice), liquid, and gas (water vapor). Due to a peculiar property of water, called a triple point, it can even exist in all three states at the same location and time. And yes, that means we can have a weather pattern with rain, snow, and steam all at the same time!
I buy recycled products, am careful about leaving lights on, use energy rated products, keep my thermostat high, recycle glass, paper, and plastic products. I even make prayer shawls from recycled fibers and yarn made from plastic bottles. In short, I think I am doing a pretty good job of protecting my environment and improving my world. Then I went to earthday.org and used their ecological footprint calculator.

My world doesn’t look as rosy as I hoped. If everyone lived like me, according to earthday.org, we would need 4.6 Planet Earths to provide enough resources and it would take 20,7 global acres to support my lifestyle for everyone else. While mobility was my least draining percentage (yea, me!), services were the largest percentage. Since I live in a metropolitan area, that isn’t too surprising but it does make me happy I planted a garden this year to help out with that.

Gardening is not my only choice to help my world, though. If I pledge to reduce the number of animal products I eat by half, and every American followed my example, we would use 645 million fewer global acres which equates to 484 million football fields. If I committed to only purchasing products with less packaging or products with 100% post consumer recycled content material, and everyone followed that, we would use 521 million fewer global acres, gaining 391 million football fields.

Obviously the answer to making my world perfect is not more football fields. Sorry, sports fans! However, fewer global acres translate into more water, as well as more trees which provide for a cleaner environment and better air quality. I would have to give up perhaps a hamburger and order of bacon a week but I’d gain from lower cholesterol and less fat in my diet. The less packaging deal would definitely help my stress level since trying to open a DVD can send my blood pressure into the stratosphere! I mean, I don’t even think Fort Knox is as securely wrapped as those DVD cases!
What would your world look like with a few less conveniences? Think about it, please. After all, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” I have high hopes for Earth Day 2014 and it being a new beginning, a resurrection for our world. If we remember our past, show respect in the present, we can make the future a better place for all of us.

Easter Two

Easter Two
April 21, 2014

Happily Ever After? Well ……

We made it through Lent and we celebrated Easter so now we can sit back and rest on our laurels, right? No way! In fact, we’re just getting started! Unlike Lent, in which Sundays are not counted because they are considered feast days, the fifty days of Easter include Sundays and are counted from Easter through Pentecost, Easter being Easter One and Pentecost being Easter Fifty.

Thank you for embarking on the journey of Lent with me as I undertook posting something every day. Your comments and followings which introduced me to your own blogs have been blessings in my life. I hope to continue and have you and others join in the journey. Whether you are Christian or not, religious or not, you have each blessed me and I give thanks for each of you.

Easter is about renewal, about life. Just as a seed must crack and seem to fall apart in order to give life, just as the larvae inside a cocoon thinks everything is over and then it emerges as a beautiful butterfly, so Easter invites us to open our eyes, see the new life, and fly.

There are those days that I feel more of me has died than I can say is living. Like the song from the musical “On a Clear Day”, I often ask myself: “What Did I Have that I Don’t Have?” Memories are wonderful but they seldom are one-hundred percent accurate. It may seem like the good ole days were grand but in reality, they leave much to be desired. All it takes is one storm knocking out the power for me to appreciate that while I have a good many hobbies that are ancient and require no electricity or high tech gadgets, I do enjoy the creature comforts of environment (air conditioning or heating), refrigerated foods and beverages, cooking devices that work, etc. Having lived in a town struck by a tornado and being without power for five days taught me that while I like peanut butter, five days of peanut butter sandwiches gets old! I think I always was grateful for my lifestyle but now I really give thanks every day for it and take little of it for granted.

On her website, nancykern.com, Spiritualist Nancy Kern addresses the “art of living from being”. What a glorious thought and so appropriate for the Easter season! Nancy says: “Death is an integral part of the cycle of rebirth. Some parts of our lives have died….All to make room.” It is not part of any liturgical process that I am aware of to make an Easter discipline but I think I am going to attempt one this year. After all, someone thought I was lovable and capable and gave His life to prove it. I think I owe it to Him to find my own “happily ever after”.

One of the easiest metaphors for finding lasting happiness and growth is a marriage. What? You are thinking. Seriously? After all, two-thirds of all married couples do not live happily ever after. According to science, one of the main reasons is something called habituation. In other words, marriage becomes an everyday habit and we get bored. What begins as romantic soon becomes predictable and after that, just plain boring and aggravating. According to Robert Greene in his book “The Art of Seduction”, surprise is a key component to romantic feelings and feeling happy. Next time life throws you a curve ball, maybe it’s just trying to be spontaneous and keep you from getting bored.

Continuing with our marriage metaphor, consider a fairy tale marriage as opposed to an arranged marriage. Surprisingly, the fairy tale marriage will probably fail. That magical feeling really means that you are not in control and since you have no control, you will begin to feel out of control and that the marriage is hopeless. By contrast, couples in arranged marriages have gone into it knowing they have to discover things, learn about their mate, and work at the marriage. They don’t expect the magic just to happen; they expect to have to make the magic.

So how do we renew ourselves during Easter? They are actually several websites to help you do just that, 50days.org being one of them. It encourages creative outlets for your renewal, making a quilt for instance. Many of us plant gardens and the Eastertide season is perfect for that in most parts of the USA. Be realistic, though. Don’t just work on fixing your flaws or faults. Many of us did that during Lent. Let’s use Easter as a time to increase our good qualities and explore new talents. The best relationships, marriages and spiritual relationships with our beliefs, are about increasing the good rather than reducing the bad. Let’s look at our world with the eyes of a child – in wonderment and excitement. As we become aware of the good, we will grow in our faith and in unity with our world and fellow residents of it. Easter is a time for being one in the spirit, one preparing for the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.