Epiphany 23


“The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out,” the blue-eyed man told the reporter.


Two women were sitting at a coffee shop sharing some quiet time as they watched the hustle and bustle of humanity swirl around them.  “One of my biggest regrets,” the first said, “is that I simply lived, worked for a paycheck that just paid for the essentials in life.  I always wanted to do more, to start a foundation or charity to help others.”


Her friend put down her cup.  “I helped children with cancer have a safe and enjoyable summer camp experience.  I helped fund a college scholarship program.  I gave to a center that helped people with substance abuse issues and I supported a program that united corporations with community partners to expand corporate giving and create stronger communities.”


The first woman looked at her friend in amazement.  “Goodness gracious!  We both worked the same job and I know you had to have been paid a similar salary to my own.  How did you ever manage that?”  Her friend took another sip of coffee and smiled.  “I made my living count,” she replied.  “I bought salad dressing and dog food.”


We all should be farmers in our living… putting something back as we use the world’s resources to support our own life.  As the woman in the above anecdote explained to her friend, she did so by simply living, but she made her living count.  We all need to purchase things and many of us purchase our food instead of growing it or making it.  Have you figured out how the woman was able to live and yet be a humanitarian as well, even on a meager income?


The actor Paul Newman, whose quote opened this blog post, led what was to many a very charmed life.  He found success in his acting and was able to enjoy expensive hobbies like race cars.  However, Paul Newman was not only a man with famous blue eyes.  He was a man with a conscious.  “I wanted to acknowledge luck; the chance and benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others, who might not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it.”


Paul Newman had a little-known hobby of cooking.  He parlayed that hobby into a food company called Newman’s Own.  They began with Newman’s own recipes for spaghetti sauce and branched out into other items like salad dressing.  There is a line of pet foods as well.  The proceeds from this line of culinary items go directly into various charities Paul Newman established.


One of those charities is the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, the name taken from the famous film Newman starred in about the outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang camps offer a summer respite for children suffering from cancer.  Proceeds also have help fund a substance abuse treatment facility named after Newman’s son who died from a drug overdose.  Personally Paul Newman and his actress wife Joanne Woodward donated over a quarter of a million dollars to help refugees from Kosovo.


Sometimes helping another is as simple as selecting which brand to purchase at the grocery store.  My laundry detergent goes into nature ravaged areas and offers free clothes washing to victims.  My dish detergent goes to areas with oil slicks and cleans affected waterfowl.  My snack food company donates proceeds to local food banks and national child hunger prevention programs.  Every time I go to the store, I can be a humanitarian.


We all purchase items.  Few of us make or grow everything we consume or use.  Start buying smart by making those purchases count.  It really can be done, even on a tight budget.  Education is a big thing for ma and Paul Newman used some of the proceeds from his personal and company holdings to fund a ten million dollar scholarship endowment at his alma mater.  In 2008 he contributed over twenty million dollars to charities and was named the Most Generous Celebrity of 2008.


I like knowing I helped with a wee little bit of that charitable giving.  When faced with the chance to purchase one of the Newman’s Own brands, I gladly do so, knowing that I am like a farmer, putting something into the world as I take something out.  I like knowing I am helping to cultivate a better future as I live the present.


Paul Newman’s philanthropy did not die upon his death in 2008.  His daughters have picked up the gauntlet and are doing their parents proud.  Nell Newman has her own foundation, which began as an organic subsidiary of her father’s food empire, which is funding cooperative food networks and hunger and poverty initiatives all over the globe.


What will you eat today?  Could it possible help someone else have something to eat?  If you purchase a product from Newman’s Own brand, it will.  It is just that simple to be a humanitarian.  Life is much more than just living.  Life is about doing positive things that give back to society.  Sometimes that is as easy as a trip to the grocery store.




Epiphany 22


Many times it is either education or work that opens our eyes.  For one child who remained feeling on the outside of society even as a young adult, it was work.  Work took her to Cambodia and while many boast of having taken an exotic vacation there, this young adult saw the real Cambodia and the bleak reality its children were living.


“We cannot close ourselves off to information and ignore the fact that millions of people are out there suffering. I honestly want to help. I don’t believe I feel differently from other people. I think we all want justice and equality, a chance for a life with meaning. All of us would like to believe that if we were in a bad situation someone would help us.”  Upon returning home, this person did something about what she had seen.  She contacted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


There is very little I could tell you about the actress Angelina Jolie.  She is as well known for her movies as for her beauty.  It may be hard to believe but she was once that outsider in her school – the girl with glasses and braces that no one befriended.  The dropped out of high school and took a home course for her chosen profession of embalmer.  A chance part at acting led her in a different direction.


It was not until she adopted her first child that the suicidal tendencies vanished.  “I knew once I committed to Maddox, I would never be self-destructive again.”  Jolie not only committed to her first son, she made a commitment to the children of the world.  As a humanitarian she has traveled the globe and helped inspire others to also help.


It can really be that simple.  You do something and somebody else follows.  Behavior is contagious.  We usually say that about inappropriate behavior but it is also true for good behavior patterns.  “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”  Jane Goodall’s words may not seem like they could change the world but they speak the truth.


American statesman Thomas Jefferson once said “Action will delineate and define you.”  We are all doing something.  Right now you are reading this blog.  Earlier I wrote it.  What comes next?  Will you simply sit back and ignore that people are starving and children are freezing or will you contribute to a food bank and go through your closet donating items you don’t need or haven’t worn for several years?


Very few of us have the public platform that Angelina Jolie has but we do have a platform in our own corner of the world.  Edward Everett Hale was a nineteenth century historian, writer, and Unitarian clergyman who once stated “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”


We are all someone.  We may not have won multiple awards or have plentiful bank accounts but we can do something.  What will you do today that benefits another?  When we help someone, we help ourselves.  When we help someone, we help the world.  We can all do something.



Epiphany 21


So what do a Harvard medical graduate, a social activist, a television actress, a movie actress, and an actor in music videos have in common?  First, the verb in that question is incorrect.  It should read “what does” because all those professions refer to just one person…a woman from Pakistan.  Seemi Raheel has a diversified acting portfolio playing everything from a devoted mother to a vamp and has won numerous awards for her acting.


What really interests me about Seemi Raheel, besides her views on being a mother, is her work in gender training.  She is, if one asks, an actress but she is also very proud of her heritage.  You might think, knowing she is from the sixth largest country in the world which is Pakistan, that she leans towards very traditional roles for women.  I did wonder when I first saw the term “gender training” if that was what it meant – the teaching of females to be only the historical roles they have been relegated to in ancient times.  Still, she did attend Harvard.  Hmmm….


Seemi Raheel does not do fluff roles.  Her acting roles as a mother are described as “energetic and dramatic”.  Her first film was about a woman abducted, forced into marriage and sexually molested and also addressed changes in Pakistan’s political scene as well as the US government’s role in Pakistani affairs.


Her social activism also benefits from her passionate approach to life.  Not only does Seemi Raheel boast an impressive resume, she really is a mother in real life.  Her daughter, Mehreen Raheel, studied in London and was a supermodel before she also turned to acting.  Both women are a part of their family’s production company but still find time to do humanitarian work.


Gender training, by the way, is teaching people of both genders to communicate better.  It may seem like nothing significant but just think of how many of the world’s problems are really from a lack of proper, respectful communication.  Mehreen Raheel has worked diligently for children not only in her native Pakistan but also in Thailand, a country where children are exploited at an alarming rate.


Today’s word is faith and I believe both of these women, this mother-daughter duo, are great examples of living their faith and having it propel them forward to live the best they can, not only for themselves but for others.


Seemi Raheel firmly believes in her role as a mother and is proud of it. “My daughter is a realization of a dream, a continuation of myself. I feel the best gift a mother can give to her daughter is independence – instead of mollycoddling and protecting her from the world, she must give her the freedom to discover who she is and be her own person.”


For me, faith gives us independence and if practiced as intended, can and should motivate us to discover who we are and what we have to offer the world.  Faith for me is synonymous with courage.  All of the practices of faith, attendance at worship, prayers, studies, etc., all are designed to make us better people and more productive neighbors.


The Latin “fidere” is the root of the word faith and it really has nothing to do with deities or religions.  It translates as “trust”.  Do we really live as if we trust our beliefs?  Do we really trust ourselves and our potential?


We cannot help others until we first help ourselves and that can be really difficult at times.  It means doing what we know we should and not just what we want to do.  I am as guilty of failing in that as most people.  Faith is not simple nor is it easy.  Neither is living.  What makes it easier is when we do it, practice it, live it. 


The Persian writer known as Hafez once said: ““And still, after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.”  Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”  J. R. R. Tolkien described it this way:  “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” 


Bring the optimist I am, of course, I will not leave you with the negative approach.  I like C. S. Lewis’ description of living faith: “I believe in [my faith] as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  Faith allows us to grow into who we are, into the potential we can achieve by showing us how to live as neighbors, activists, and caring individuals.  It is where humanitarianism begins. 




Epiphany 20


Did you awake this morning and stretch?  Most of us do.  And if we didn’t before we got out of bed, we certainly do while getting dress.  We stretch and bend over to pick up shoes, to open a drawer, to perhaps pull up slacks.  Let’s face it…We all stretch our bodies.  But what about stretching our minds, our activities, our souls, and most importantly our vision?


Cotton has been a staple industry of the south for three centuries.  To many people, cotton would seem more agriculture than industry but the southern United States, particularly Mississippi and Alabama developed cotton, a crop that made Egyptian textiles plentiful and beautiful, into an art form.  The Mississippi Delta, land in the northwestern part of the state, grew some of the finest cotton in the world, thanks in part to the surrounding waters of the Mississippi River.  North Alabama became famous for cotton used for industrial purposes like towels and bedding, duvets, and upholstery.


Merrimack Manufacturing Company of Lowell, Massachusetts opened a textile mill in Huntsville, Alabama on July 9, 1900.  The company used Merrimack Hall, built ten years earlier, as the hub for the mill village.  Houses had been built for the mill employees and by 1913, Merrimack Mill Village consisted of houses, a school, hospital, store, and cemetery.  Ten years later the store which was a two-story building built in 1890 was enlarged to twenty-five thousand feet to serve as a community center.  The newly refurbished Merrimack Hall opened its doors with the Merrimack Drug Company, two barbershops, a grocery store, a bicycle repair shop, and a café.  The second story included a gymnasium and two large meeting rooms used by local civic groups and the community. 


Merrimack Mills (a second mill built within ten years of the first), grew to over sixteen hundred employees.  Today, a century later, the town of Huntsville has enclosed Merrimack Village.  Less than three hundred of the original duplexes constructed as employee housing remain.  Merrimack Village Historic District became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.  But what happened to Merrimack Hall?


In 2006 Alan and Debra Jenkins purchased Merrimack Hall and stretched their budget to renew the building and its purpose.  Today the building serves as a concert venue, the upper two rooms now an auditorium with a stage.  Musicals, comedians, and concerts delight the public.  Those are the sideline purposes, though.  Merrimack hall was renewed for a much larger purpose.  You see, Debra Jenkins was determined to stretch the vision of all who drove past the dilapidated building.  She was a woman on a mission, a woman with a purpose.


Today Merrimack Hall is a 501c3 nonprofit organization and that gymnasium on the upper floor serves as the home for Dance Your Dreams.  Their website says it best: “Our mission is to provide visual and performing arts education, and cultural activities, to children and adults with special needs and to provide quality professional entertainment to the community. Our Johnny Stallings Arts Program (JSAP) serves more than 500 children, teens and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities each year through a variety of weekly classes and special programs.  In addition to JSAP, Merrimack Hall also gives back to the community by providing facility use to other nonprofit organizations, and reduced or free tickets to the underserved. Since opening our doors in 2007, Merrimack Hall has given back more than $1.5 million to the community.  Each time you purchase a ticket, you are helping to fund our outreach programs, and we thank you for your patronage!”


Volunteers give of their time three times a week to be dance partners to the wonderful dancers with disabilities.  They help them travel across the boards and the smiles reflected in the shining wax surface of the floor come from both dancers and their volunteer partners.  Having done this for two years I can testify to that.  It is a glorious experience, one that stretches not only the body but the heart strings.


Some people walks in their neighborhood and others have walking buddies.  It may not seem like much but these are the things that improve our focus and bring our community into vision, giving us a clearer connection to all.  We all need to exercise not only our bodies and minds but our spirits and that is best done by helping others.  What will you stretch today?



Epiphany 19


Peyton Manning and Bangambiki Habyarimana may not seem to have much in common.  One spent today playing a football game, the American Football League Championship game in Denver, Colorado.  The other was either writing another of his books, having already published eighteen, or working with young adults, educating them about HIV Aids as a community worker.


This is not the story of two distinctly different men although they are.  It is the story about two men who are helping children and young adults win in life.  Winning is, whether we admit it or not, something we all seek.  We might not all be trying to win a spot at the Super Bowl in two weeks but we all want to win at something. 


Bangambiki Habyarimana writes books about personal growth, inspirational books and happiness and self-help.  Peyton Manning puts a more private face on his work with youth.  One lives in affluent areas of the United States while the other works in his native homeland on the continent of Africa.  Yet, the both are winning the same game of life.  I think Quarterback Peyton Manning would applaud author Bangambiki Habyarimana’s words: “When you say you can’t, you stop the creative powers in you; when you say you can you free them.”


During this series we are talking about how we manifest what we believe, how we show the world our faith in our actions.  It may not seem like much, this game of American football.  Certainly it has had its fair share of scandals and even Peyton Manning was recently the subject of accusations and claims.  The ramblings of someone attempting to get his ten minutes of fame cannot erase the good deeds of the man, however.


The players and owners of American football teams have a long history of charitable acts.  Manning currently plays for the Denver Broncos, a team owned by the Bowlen family with Pat Bowlen being the major stockholder.  Born in Wisconsin, Bowlen is an attorney and member of the Canadian Bar, among other things.  Born into a family that became wealthy while he was still a child, Bowlen set about making his own place in the world.


Under his ownership the Broncos have won seven AFL Championships and two Super Bowls, all since 1984.  More impressive, they have raised millions of dollars for Denver’s poor and homeless populations.  He is also one of the largest contributors to the University of Denver, helping to promote educational opportunities for all students.


Manning, as I mentioned, does not flaunt his charitable work.  He never mentions that fact that there is a hospital named after him, the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Even after leaving Indiana and moving to Colorado, Peyton Manning has continued to support the hospital and, perhaps most importantly, continued to interact with the young patients there.  Once he has the parents’ approval, Manning calls the young patients and then lets them talk.


The PayBack Foundation in Denver provides Thanksgiving meals to low income families in both Denver and Indianapolis and yes, Manning is heavily involved in it. His foundation gives over one million dollars annually to various groups.  Manning donates time and energies to the Make-A-Wish Foundation as well as the local Community Development.


Living on a continent where there are countries where it is illegal to speak with people with Aids or HIV, Bangambiki Habyarimana risks it to help young adults stay alive.  Every day he goes out makes him a winner.  As American rodeo cowboy and barrel racer Doug Firebough once said, “Winning is life is more than just money; it’s about winning on the inside and knowing that you have played the game of life with all you had….and then some.”


Winning does not instantly happen, though, and sometimes that is exactly what we think should happen.  One of my favorite quotes from Habyarimana is this:  “success sits on a mountain of mistakes.” IN other words, you have to accept that you are not always going to win.  What makes a winner is that failure is just a step towards winning, not a dead end.


We all can be humanitarians and help others.  First, we must help ourselves.  That starts when we adopt a winning attitude.  Perhaps each step will not result in what we wanted but we can make it successful as long as we keep trying.  As writer Johnnie Dent, Jr reminds us:  “God will not allow you to add the words “Next time” to now faith.  Sadly for Pat Bowlen, his time is now spent battling Alzheimer’s. For Habyarimana and Manning, today was a good day to be a winner.  Make tomorrow yours.



Epiphany 18


The wise owl was trying to teach the young one.  “If you wish to define equality, do not think of yourself but of another and then give to them everything you wish to have.”  The young owl turned his head and then asked: “But what if I wish for something I do not have?  Then the other will have it and I will not.”


There is much more to the story but I think sometimes when we try to define, legislate, and live the concept of equality, we stop the story right there.  We fear that in an effort to make all equal, some might get ahead of us in some imaginary race that we perceive life to be.


Winston Churchill also used animals in discussing equality.  “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” The few times I have been in a barnyard or pig pen I found myself ignored by the pigs, that is after I had fed them.  I am not certain that qualifies as being treated as an equal but I certainly am assured that my cats consider me their concierge and not an equal so maybe Sir Churchill was correct.


The concept of equality is a very interesting and nowhere more a matter of debate than in religious circles.  Recently the Anglican Communion issued sanctions against the Episcopal Church of the United States.  Someone could have stood up and claimed Point of Order since the sanctions literally mean nothing but, because of a sense of equality, no one from the Episcopal Church did.  The members of the Anglican Communion are considered equal and yet, some felt they had the right to try to impose their will over the Episcopal Church.


The issue at hand is not a new debate.  It centered on the acceptance of gay people, the full acceptance of them as children of God, children of God who are entitled to all benefits or His love and the church’s liturgy.  Specifically, the point of irritation is the union of homosexuals and the church honoring their love.  In a world in which terrorism, greed, and hatred kills hundreds every day and children are kidnapped and sold and exploited, it would seem that the leaders of these various Anglican congregations do not want to honor love and commitment.  These unions are not deemed worthy of the church’s recognition and an equal status with other commitments of love, honor, and commitment.


As a young child I grew up in an area ripe with segregation and separate facilities for different races.  Because of my ethnicity, I was mistaken for being another race and told to use the “appropriate” facilities.  It was most marvelous education.  I saw that the water for one race came from the same pipes as the water for another.  The public restrooms were almost identical and again the same water was used in both.  While one race was relegated to the balcony and the other sat in the seats on the main floor, both groups saw the same movie at the same time.  In other words, there was much more in common than different.


If we define equality as sameness, then there is no such thing and never can be.  None of us are clones of another.  We are all unique creatures, wonderfully made and hopefully, proud of our individuality.  None who are married have a marriage exactly like their neighbor because the marriage is as individual as the two people within it.  Each of us lives according to our conscious.  If someone is showing and living in a loving manner, why would we indicate that is wrong?  Because we feel they are not our equals?


The lack of respect for people of certain races or genders is nothing new.  Plato once said that “If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.”  Gender equality is a subject we have discussed with the blog several times.  There are still over four hundred young girls who have been kidnapped and not returned to their families who are thought to now be child slaves or brides.  They wanted an education and because of that have been subjected to tremendous fear and horrors.


One humanitarian seeking to solve the problem of gender inequality is Graca Machel.  Born two weeks after her father’s death, she is the only African woman made a dame of the British Empire.  Born in what was then Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique, Graca attended Methodist mission schools and later the University of Lisbon in Portugal.  She is fluent in five languages besides her native Shangaan and is the only woman in history to have been the first lady of two separate republics.


Graca Machel received the Nansen medal from the United Nations to honor her humanitarian work, especially regarding refugee children.  The honor came nine years after the death of her first husband, the president of Mozambique.  Three years after receiving the award from the United Nations she married Nelson Mandela, the president of South Africa.  She is the chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child health and of the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa.


Graca Machel is just one example of someone who saw a need, picked a cause and then went about fighting for those the way she would want someone to fight for herself.  While she is certainly qualified in her missions, we all can do something to help those needing a voice or advocate.


Science fiction may seem like a rather odd venue to take a fight for equality but that is exactly what American screenwriter Joss Whedon did.  In his various television series and films, he has advocated for strong women and equality of all, even aliens.  “Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it. We need equality. Kinda now.”


In a world with many creation mythologies, many ethnicities, and many different voices and cultures, Whedon has managed to find the one thing that we all share – gravity.  Regardless of age, color, creed, sexual orientation, class, race, religion, or gender, we are all subject to the laws of gravity.  Jump up and we all will fall unless something catches us or breaks our fall.


When it comes to human nature, love and kindness are considered the things that break our fall into depravity and evil.  A humanitarian nature is one that manifests faith and love.  What can you do today to make equality as common as gravity?  Let’s make equality as commonplace as gravity.






Epiphany 17


On August 17, 2015 at 6:31 AM a tweet was seen: “Make sure humanitarian efforts don’t go unnoticed this World Humanitarian Day.  The use of twitter, a social media site that limits the amount of characters seems fitting for the lad who suffered from dyslexia.  Most would not have expected him to try very hard to learn, especially since he was born with the proverbial silver spoon.  Today’s humanitarian, however, was never very good at fitting into any mold.


His simple tweet was seen by over eleven hundred people and retweeted hundreds of time.  That alone did a great deal for humanitarian efforts.   It got people thinking and talking and, as usual, led to action.  The little rich kid began his entrepreneurial ventures by buying American record manufacturers excess stock; you know, the stock nobody wanted.  He then sold the excess record albums out of the trunk of his car to anybody and everybody.  He soon was selling to retail markets in England and then started a mail order discount record business.  That led to opening his first store, the name chosen after being suggested by an employee to recognize the lack of experience they all had in what they were doing.


He was seeking to make a place in the world and our young man who had trouble in school suddenly found himself not having trouble in the business world.  He began opening other businesses, none of which he really was an expert in and all with the same name reflecting his lack of experience.  From records he branched out into an airline, a soft drink company, a liquor company, a mobile telephone company, a communications empire…the list goes on.


He also sought to achieve personally and in doing so has set some personal and world records by crossing the Atlantic in a sailboat alone and flying around the world in a hot air balloon.  All bore the name “Virgin” and were piloted by none other than Richard Branson, now Sir Richard Branson.


Branson started his first charity, “Student Valley Centre” at the age of seventeen.  It is difficult to find an area of life that his foundation and charitable giving does not support.  Among the causes he supports are Domestic Violence, Animal Abuse, Adoption, Fostering Orphans, AIDS and HIV, At-Risk/Disadvantaged Youth, Cancer Education and Research. Children’s Causes, Conservation Efforts, Disaster Relief, Education, Environment, Family/parent Support, Gender Equality, Health Rights, Physical Challenges, Homelessness, Human Rights, Hunger, LITERACY, Mental Health, Poverty, Clean Water, Weapons Reduction, Women’s Rights, and Global Warming. 


All of his causes affect the citizens of the world.  He was awarded the United Nations Correspondents Association Citizen of the World Award for his environmental and humanitarian efforts.  He was also awarded the Knight Bachelor (hence the title “Sir”) by the Queen of England.  Branson credits all this to his desire to seek new things and answers.  “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them…from the perspective of wanting to live life to the fullest.”


Almost a week ago I asked you what identity you wanted for yourself.  Branson thought himself “huge” and then set out to make it happen.  He defined living life to the fullest by giving as much as it could to help others be huge. 


Stop thinking small and give yourself a large identity.  We all can achieve great things when we work together.  The first step is to decide to be a humanitarian and manifest the humanity that I know lives within you.  The second step is to allocate thirty minutes a week to help another.  If you end up giving more, great, but you might be surprised what just thirty minutes can achieve.  Seek to be a better person and help another.  By doing so, you will give yourself a wonderful today and a better tomorrow.