Epiphany 54




Today is widely known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.  In many regions, it is also called Shrove Tuesday.  Regardless of what you call today, I hope you celebrated your life today.  Sometimes life sucks.  There is no getting around it.  The consequence of being alive is that sometimes unpleasantness occurs.  And yet, there is still always something for which to give thanks and celebrate.




I cannot think of a better way to express what today’s word or verb means than this quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:    “People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state–it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.”




To celebrate is not to get drunk or stuff one’s face full of food.  Celebration means to give thanks and be appreciative of that which we have or have experienced.  When we celebrate we confront our living and recognize it.  We recognize our being and the living of others.




Be an active participant in your living.  As we close this series, I hope you celebrate your being.    Tomorrow we begin our Lenten series on happiness.  The format will be a bit different and I welcome your comments.  Until then … Each of you has been a gift to me and I toast you all, celebrating your presence in my life and your being.  Join me, please.  Celebrate!




Epiphany 53


“Engage brain before mouth in gear.”  Popular in the 60’s and 70’s, this piece of advice seems to have been forgotten in the fine art of conversation and public speaking.  And lest you think I am specifically referring to politicians, I am not.  I am referring to all of us.


Negotiation and compromise is a part of everyday life and if it is not a part of yours, then you are doing something wrong.  No one gets a free ride from the responsibility of negotiating.  We live on a planet with many others and whether it be nature or humanity, we have to learn to get along together.  That requires negotiation. 


The farmer who is successful does not simply tear up the ground and drop whatever seeds he/she wishes wherever and whenever.   Compromise is essential to insure the best yield of a crop.  Rotation of seeds planted, paying attention to the weather and available water supply, Crops which will grow in the given climate, availability of manpower/womanpower to harvest and process said crops – all of these things must be considered, compromises made, and negotiations scheduled.  Otherwise, we would not have food to eat.  Human beings would perish.


Words have power and the words we speak have consequences.  All too often it is the word we do not say that carries the most impact.  Parents play a vital role in the life of a child but it is the absentee parent that often plays the biggest role and whose presence or lack thereof carries the most weight.


Just as our actions are important, so are the words we utter.  AS we draw this series of Epiphany and words of action to a close, this being the next to last post about such verbs, I hope you take a moment to think before you speak.  Is what you are about to say really necessary?  Are you saying it effectively so as to be fully and completely understood?  Is it kind and most importantly, is it completely true?  If the answer to any of these is no, then please remember this adage:  Silence is golden.



Epiphany 52


“We can never know about the days to come but we think about them anyway.  And I wonder if I’m really with you now or just chasin’ after some finer day.  Anticipation; anticipation is makin’ me late is keepin’ me waitin’.”  This lyric from the 1971 song by Carly Simon often describes our living. 


Anticipation itself is not a bad thing… as long as we make it productive.  The trick is to use our past to help with our present and prepare us for our future.  That can be difficult at times.  Norman Cousins once said that “Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.”  He made a very good point.


Anticipation is something we all experience in ways both pleasurable and frightening.  Just before you touch your tongue to that spoonful of ice cream, there is a thrilling anticipation of the delectable cool taste one is about to experience.  There is also that moment just before a skydiver exits the plane that the reality of gravity sets in and one is faced with what could go wrong, the anticipation of a reality one hopes never comes to fruition.


As we end this Epiphany series of actions, we anticipate Lent.  This year our Lenten series will be based on the Beatitudes, scriptural proverbs of sorts that number between eight and ten, depending on one’s preference for translation and interpretation.  The word “beatitude” translates as happiness although anyone anticipating happiness knows that it is not a simple topic.


Each verse of the Beatitudes consists of two parts, the condition and the result.  In the Gospel of Luke, there are listed four beatitudes and four woes, also with two parts.  Similarly, the process of anticipation has dual parts – cause and effect.  I think these reflect our relationships with others – our stance and theirs.


When we awake in the morning, most of us go through some sort of anticipation.  Sometimes it is merely reviewing our daily schedule and list of obligations, appointments, and tasks at hand.  Sometimes it is a matter of hoping everything runs smoothly and sometimes, it is the process of making alternative plans for those times that things go awry.


Life is about anticipation.  As many in the world are leaving the season of winter, they will anticipate the springtime.  Those in the other hemisphere will be anticipating their fall and succeeding winter.  Nature is always anticipating something.  New shoots spring up from a dormant ground while others are storing away food or preparing for hibernation. 


Anticipation reminds us that life is the opposite of being stagnant.  We cannot be truly living if we are merely staying in one place for any extended period of time.  Even those confined can live more fully by anticipating another adventure, book to read, person to meet, craft to make.  Everyone has something to offer if we would just live.  Albert Camus once wrote:  “… We need the sweet pain of anticipation to tell us we are really alive.”


Looking forward to the new day is what life is all about.  Thomas Henry Huxley knew it.  “But anyone who is practically acquainted with scientific work is aware that those who refuse to go beyond fact, rarely get as far as fact; and anyone who has studied the history of science knows that almost every great step therein has been made by the ‘anticipation of Nature,’ that is, by the invention of hypotheses, which, though verifiable, often had very little foundation to start with.”


There are a great many things in life which are required to be taken care of each and every day.  Family, work, those things which humans and nature require for daily maintenance…all of these can become boring without anticipation.  Allow yourself to look forward to that next minute and suddenly, they will add up to a great day and even better tomorrow.  Anticipate the excitement of living!



Disapprove, Move, Behoove, and Groove

Disapprove, Move, Behoove, and Groove

Epiphany 48-51


We all have our pet peeves, those annoying habits or actions that others do which we find to be displeasing.  Maybe it is something understandable like someone talking with their mouth full of food or tapping their foot loudly and interrupting what is being said or perhaps performed.  We recognize that it is an adjective, a judgement of sorts and yet, for most of us, it is also one of our greatest fears.  As a verb, however, to disapprove indicates a type of power, a power that is often misused and abused.


Whether we are the one doing the disapproving or we are the object of someone else’s disapproval, it requires movement.  That movement needs to take place on both sides, by the way.  Even if we are on the side of right, we need to allow for some understanding on our part of that which we are disapproving.


If you think all of the above sounds complicated it is… and it isn’t.  You see, it is well within your rights to disapprove but that cannot be the end.  Once you have determined that you disapprove, then you need to understand, move mentally into how the other side that is the object of your disapproval might be thinking or acting.  And yes, you might even need to change your mind.


The word “behoove” literally means to do something or to be necessary.  The world will never advance if we do not all work together.  In other words, we have to be.  We cannot simply go along doing whatever we please.  That is living selfishly.  We need to be something and that includes being something for someone besides ourselves.


During this Epiphany series we have been discussing verbs, words of action that allow us to move forward in our living productively.  Propulsive rhythm is the definition of the word “groove”.  When we determine what we like or dislike, then take action or move towards rectifying things, we end up doing something positive, something that, hopefully, will propel the world into a brighter tomorrow.


Disapproval is not the end but a start for a better tomorrow if we allow it to motivate us to take action and make positive changes.  It’s called working together after careful and fair introspection.  It’s called peaceful forward action.  It’s called the only way we will all live together, work together, and thrive together.  Remember, your comfort zone exists only in your head.  It is not a latitudinal or longitudinal spot on the map.  Use your thoughts to inspire and stimulate positive action and change.  It is the best way to run a path to success, the groove we all we hope to follow.



Epiphany 47


The University of Alabama, a major university whose football team once again competed recently for the national number one slot in collegiate football, is only forty-nine minutes away.  The bustling metropolis of Birmingham is only one hundred miles away.  Yet, for the children of Hale County, Alabama, they might as well live on the other side of the country.  They live in one of the most rural and impoverished areas of Alabama in what is known as the Blackbelt region of the state. Residents of this are at an economic disadvantage with very limited resources. The high school graduation rate is only 34% with 74% of households earning less than $30,000 per year. Almost 200 families live without plumbing and healthcare is nonexistent for most.


According to the United Way of West Alabama, one out of every  four Alabamians is functionally illiterate, unable to read, write, or use basic math skills and technology in everyday life.   According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 60% of K-12 school children read below the level needed to proficiently process the written materials used in their grade levels.  Children who have not already developed basic literacy practices when they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out of school.


According to the 2014 Alabama Kids Count Data Book, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 26% of Alabama children are living in poverty; 9.7% of Alabama teens are not in school and not employed; 25.8% of Alabama children are food insecure; 40.1% of Alabama fourth graders are not proficient in reading; 20% of Alabama’s students do not graduate from high school.


The Sawyerville Work Project is, on paper, a day camp and because of that, recently changed its name to Sawyerville Day Camp.  It is an outreach project sponsored by the Youth Department of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama & local community volunteers.  It takes place in the summer for just a few weeks, and for that camp session, the children that attend the camp are not framed in the light of the region’s poverty.  They are simply kids, having fun, in a place created solely for them.


The Sawyerville Day Camp’s location originated at the Head Start Center in the small town of Sawyerville, hence the name. Within a few years of hosting the camp, the Center could no longer accommodate the increased numbers of campers and staff volunteers. The elementary school in nearby Greensboro welcomed this project and the partnership has continued for a successful thirteen years.

Sawyerville Day Camp ministry began in 1993.  The Blackbelt Convocation knew they needed to embrace the residents of the area, not just those in their church pews and the Diocese of Alabama Youth Department needed an outreach program for senior high students.  The answer to both problems became the Sawyerville Work Project, now known as the Sawyerville Day Camp.  It is supported by many people.


People serve as prayer partners, staff members, organize book drives, gather paper products, provide meals and make financial gifts.  The Episcopal Diocese has committed substantial funds to this ministry.  The generous people of the Black Belt have opened up their homes and churches for staff housing and meals.  Volunteers from within and outside of the Episcopal circle lend time and talent.  High school, college, and adult staff come from all over the state to serve as counselors.  The Hale County School Board permits use of school facilities and buses.  This project is woven together by hundreds of different supporters, all working together to form the Sawyerville experience.


The mission of the Yellowhammer Literacy Project, born out of the Sawyerville Day Camp, is to help close the achievement gap and prevent summer learning loss in Greensboro, Alabama. The YLP works toward this mission by hosting a multi-week summer academic program in which students will participate in reading intervention, engage in creative writing, and strengthen their literacy skills. Additionally, the YLP is invested in helping students grow as scholars and citizens through participation in academic field trips, community engagement, and other enrichment opportunities.


Summer 2015 was a huge success for the Yellowhammer Literacy Project! When we first assessed the students in April, 58% were performing below grade level. By the end of this program, 88% of students grew by at least one reading level. Of that 88%, 66% grew by at least two levels. Nine students saw growth by three to five levels in a mere three weeks!  The Summer of 2016 yielded even better outcomes.  Not only did these students grow academically, but what cannot be tested or shown through the results is that these kids were encouraged to enjoy reading, were praised for their efforts, and became more confident in their own abilities by the end of the program. One child said it best in his final reflection, “I really am smart.”


The humanitarian efforts of the Sawyerville Day Camp are led by two coordinators although the success is due to the project being embraced by many.  All successes of this camp include the help of hundreds, both volunteer staff and interns as well as the volunteers who fed, donate, and serve as prayer partners.  Each child receives a swimsuit, towel, and book as well as a backpack.  For many this is the first time they have owned any of these items which serve as outward, visible signs of the larger community of caring that supports them and embraces them.


Now over twenty years old, this day camp has counselors who were once campers.  They believed in the promise shown by the Sawyerville Day Camp of a brighter future and by those who embraced them and they have succeeded.  Kids who once had never heard of a college are now college graduates, having learned to believe in themselves to make a better world for themselves.  People of all ages, races, and stages of life create the humanitarian efforts that result in Sawyerville Day Camp.  They come together and embrace each other.  When we embrace each other and ourselves, we make the world a better place.  Sawyerville Day Camp is but one example.  For more information, they can be reached at www.sawyervilledaycamp.org.



Please Pass the Integrity

Please Pass the Integrity

Epiphany 46


There are days when I “window shop” on Google.  I am not really searching for any specific topic so I just stroll through a variety of nouns or verbs or adjectives.  It was on one of these virtual excursions that I came across a question:  “What is it that integrity is a noun and not a verb?”


We’ve all been told to be careful what we post and it is a great warning.  After all, once something is on the Internet, it tends to stay.  The Internet is like a computer’s hard drive – very hard to completely erase.  The question I found was posted almost ten years ago and received a variety of answers.  The most interesting was this and yes, I am posting just exactly as it was written – typos and grammatical errors and all: “ I always thought of intergrity to be something that one can have, one can possess etc so that’s why its a noun. Its not something you can hold or touch, but you know it when you see it, or have it. Anyone can act nice, or act as though they are ethical and fair, but its not really who they are. It would take away the depth of the word, just something that anyone could do, like driving a car. Its not that special since just about anyone can do it.”


What I find most troubling is that last sentence so I wonder if it bothers you as well.  The implication that integrity is “not that special since just about anyone can do it” is certainly an interesting viewpoint.  And, I confess, one that makes me very sad. 


You see, if something that anyone can do is not special then a great many things are included in that viewpoint.  Since anyone can be happy, then being happy or making someone happy would not be “special”.  Since anyone can be excited, then being excited or contributing to someone being or getting excited would not be “special”.  Since anyone can be loved, then loving or making someone feel loved would not be “special”.  I really do not want to exist in a world without happiness, love, or excitement.  Would you?


We all have had those times where our world had too much drama but drama is different from excitement.  The feeling we get upon receiving an unexpected surprise or present is excitement.  Having someone tolerate you is very different from being loved.  Experiencing the sheer joy of a beautiful afternoon or symphony or time spent with loved ones creates happiness.  It certainly is better than cleaning the toilet!


Integrity is, by the way, something that is far too often in short supply.  It is the sense of fairness and honesty that we all seek.  It is living up to one’s morals and following one’s ideals.  As Harper Lee wrote in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”


The word integrity evolved from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete. In this context, integrity is the inner sense of “wholeness” deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character.  There are many synonyms for the word “integrity” but it does not exist in an adjective or verb form.  While that may not make sense, it actually does to me. 


When we live with honor and steadfastness, being honest to that which we profess to believe, we are truly being true to ourselves and whole to our visions of life.  We are, in the very best sense, living.  At some point, the emphasis on living shifted from being complete to being trendy.  We stopped asking ourselves is this what I want to be and settled for being what everyone else wanted to be.  We stopped listening to our conscience and became blind followers to the “crowd” we shoes to follow.


Albert Einstein once said of integrity that “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters”.  Perspective is vital but in the final analysis, truth is just that – truth, accurate, verifiable fact.  Integrity has nothing to do with status or one’s address, clothing or the number of letters after one’s name.  It is living a truthful life.  It may not have a verb form but it encompasses many.


How we live the next twenty-four hours is up to us.  Will we live it with integrity?  If so, it will be a very special twenty-four hours indeed.  Remember, before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Step, Stumble Stretch, Succeed

Step, Stumble, Stretch, Succeed

Epiphany 42 – 43 – 44 – 45


Life is not lived in brief spurts, regardless of how many characters it seems we can summarize and reduce our being into on Twitter.  Life is a building process and we, if we use the past properly, can and should be the architects of a productive and effective tomorrow. 


Most of us go nowhere quickly when we refuse to take that next step.  The wonderful thing about infants is that they have little fear in taking that next step.  They see others moving and want to join the parade of life.  They spend months learning to pull themselves up and, hesitantly, stick that leg out, completely unaware of what their foot is or its purpose in balancing them.  They simply go for it and, generally speaking, fall flat on their face or rump.  Most will be undeterred and immediately try again while a few cautious souls will wait a minute.  The thing is, though – they continue to try… and fall… and try again.


Here is the point where I generally insert a quote and never fear, there will be a quote coming but first…think.  How many steps did you take yesterday?  For those health-conscious few who are tracking their steps the answer will be relatively easy.  The next question is a bit harder.  How many of those steps took you where you ultimately want to be in life?  Here is where the quote, from Ralph Waldo Emerson, comes:  “All things are engaged in writing their history…Not a foot steps into the snow, or along the ground, but prints in characters more or less lasting, a map of its march.”


Every step we take is an important part of our journey.  Some teach us while others delight us.  Often, we are like an infant and stumble.  The world would have us think that stumbling is wrong.  Yes it hurts and often puts us back a few paces on our ultimate pathway for our goals but is it really wrong?  Is not the difference between success and failure merely our perspective?  Can stumbling blocks really be steps to success?


Daniel M. Gilbert, in his book “Stumbling on Happiness” writes:  ““Consider this scenario. You own shares in Company A. During the past year you considered switching to stock in Company B but decided against it. You now find that you would have been better off by 1200$ if you had switched to the stock of Company B. You also owned shares in Company C. During the past year you switched to stock in Company D. You now find out that you’d have been better off by 1200$, if you kept your stock in Company C.

“Which error causes you more regret? Studies show that about Immune to Reality nine out of ten people expect to feel more regret when they foolishly switch stocks than when they foolishly fail to switch stocks, because most people think they will regret foolish actions more than foolish inactions. But studies also show that nine out of ten people are wrong.  Indeed, in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret “not” having done things much more than they regret things they “did”, which is why the most popular regrets include not going to college, not grasping profitable business opportunities, and not spending enough time with family and friends.”


The infant believes that as long as he/she is moving, progress is being made.  The wisdom is that belief is staggering because it is very true.  As long as we are moving, we are taking the next steps that will lead us to our ultimate goal.  We are going to stumble and perhaps even fail.  It is inevitable.  Getting back up and trying again is the first step towards success, however. 


Have you ever watched an infant try again after failing to stand up and successfully walk?  Whether they fell back onto their bottom or they fell forward and needed to turn over, at some point they are once again sitting up, ready to try to take that first step once more.  So what do they do next?  They stretch forward.


Whether you go for Lailah Gifty Akita’s “You have to stretch your soul to find your potential strength” or Sunday Adelaja’s “You are meant to stretch yourself in life”, the message is the same.  Life requires us to stretch, to forego rigid movements and beliefs and reach for something just beyond our grasp.  Often, like that infant, we will fall but we alone can decide whether our falling is really a step forward or the end.  Nothing guarantees failure like staying in one place and doing nothing.


This post, a four-part post, is not that complicated.  We take a step and then we stretch.  Not the runners among you will be shouting right about now that I’ve got the order wrong.  Before we step we need to stretch and I will not disagree.  However, sometimes we have to simply make that first step and then, preparing to make successive steps, stretch.  All too often we fail to take a step because we feel unprepared.  Allow me to impart a small pearl of wisdom:  We cannot be fully prepared for every step we take in life.  Life is lived in the unexpected as well as in the prepared, carefully planned journeys.  None has a complete sense of control in life.


“Expect little and we live up to the expectation.  Expect a lot, and we stretch and grow to meet the expectation.”  John Stahl-Wert uses this in working with corporate leaders and team-building seminars but it applies to our individual lives as well.  We tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies at times.  Believe you are a failure and you will be a failure.  Believe you can take that next step and you most likely will.  It might not be just exactly as you had planned but…. Reread two paragraphs up and realize that life sometimes gives up the unexpected as a learning tool.  The infant eventually learns to walk and to try.  Other skills quickly follow, not because walking is the first step to adulthood but because learning to try and try again is.


Each step you took yesterday got you to today and your steps today will lead into tomorrow.  If at the end of the day you can count your steps, whether just a few or all of them, you will have been successful.  I’m not talking about success defines as being the riches person on earth or amassing a huge stock portfolio or being the most beautiful or handsome or even winning the latest Twitter war of words.  Success is found in the sum total of everything you did and each step you took. 


Life’s successes are not sitting on a certain latitude and longitude just waiting for us to find them like hidden Easter eggs or the prize in a box of cereal.  Each step we take leads somewhere and yes, sometimes we will fall.  How we utilize that opportunity will grow and stretch us, preparing us to stumble at times but to also try again and succeed.  An infant often seems like an inexhaustible bundle of energy and when that energy is dedicated towards learning to walk, they succeed.   Each step is an opportunity towards success, an important ring on the ladder of life. 



Epiphany 41


I am about to do something either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.  I am going to disagree with Yoda.  I refer to his (if one wants to assign a gender) famous quote – “Try not. Do. Or do not!! There is no try.”  The scene is where an aircraft has sunk into a lake and the hero Luke is being taught a lesson about what he has been taught (and untaught) and encouraged to take the necessary next step.


We all try things every day.  What gives us a chance at success is that we have tried.  What guarantees success is that we keep trying, keep at our endeavors until we achieve success.  In an age where religion is doubted and those waving their zealous faith seldom actually live it, it makes sense that many turn to the media and films for spiritual direction. 


In the movie (and book) “Lord of the Rings”, Sir Ian McKellen playing the character Gandalf the Wise intones to Frodo, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”  The games developed from these movies offer, some claim, players to experience life in the game and that helps them when living their real lives.  Some might claim the religious and spiritual writings of the past do the same thing.  Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of a book entitled “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks:  An Epic Quest for Reality among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms” which discusses this very topic.


I like Gandalf’s bit of advice.  It is true for each of us every day, regardless of our socioeconomic level, background, culture, or beliefs.  I actually pretty much agree with Yoda if he means that we must try until our trying becomes our doing and that we should do until we are successful.  The first step, though, requires that we try.


The difficult thing about trying, about taking that first step, is that we must believe.  Believing in a Creator or even a character in a movie might seem difficult but the really hard thing to believe in is ourselves.  Regardless of what our attempt is, whether it is learning to walk, to drive or to fly a spaceship that orbits the heavens, we first must believe we can be successful.  We must put effort into our attempt and that requires that we try we our whole heart, soul, and being.  That is hard.  IT is also a bit scary.


Last year at the Westminster Kennel Club there were two very different dogs vying for best in show, the ultimate winning title of the event.  In the canine world I am fairly certain that the dogs really are just happy to do their best because that is, after all, a dog’s life and purpose.  For their owners and handlers living in the human world, winning is everything.  And so it was that the German Short-haired terrier’s handler and the German shepherd’s handler were waiting with baited breath to hear the winner’s breed be announced.  Names of the animals are not announced at Westminster, only breeds, which is good because some of these dogs have names that would take up half of this blog.  Seldom, though, are there two breeds with names of the breed so close.  Odds on favorite in 2016 was the German Shepherd so most were surprised when after the words “German” came “short-haired”.  The rumors about the German shepherd being the best in show were just that – rumors, fitting in a ironic twist since that was the shepherd’s name.


It surprised a great many people then when this year handler and co-owner Kent Boyles appeared once again with the German shepherd Rumor.  Having had quite the career in the show ring, many were certain the German Shepherd Rumor would retire after last year’s showing.  Most felt there was little shame in only winning best of breed.  Okay, so there is some shame attached to not wining Best in Show but still…Rumor had performed well and was getting up in years for a show dog.


Kent Boyles, though, believes in trying and he believed in his dog.  So this year he walked into Madison Square Garden with Rumor at his side.  Again they won best in breed and advanced to the coveted best in breed category.  I do not own a German shepherd but some friend recently got a four-month-old German shepherd puppy.  The trademark standing ears are not present at birth and it has been fun to watch my friends’ puppy advance from having big ears that folded on top of her head to the traditional standing up ears German shepherds are known to have.  So it was with some but not a great deal of interest that I watched the German Shepherd approach the showing stand.  Then I heard the story of last year’s failure.


I appreciate failure because it is life’s greatest lesson.  I don’t particularly like to fail; who does?  Still, failure can be a great lesson if we allow it to teach us something.  Last night, Kent Boyles proved his faith in his dog was not just a rumor, it was real.  Rumor won best in show and proved to us all that life is about trying.  Giving up assures us failure but giving something one more try is the next step to wining.





Epiphany 40


Today is, if I have scheduled these post correctly, not just the fortieth day in the season known as Epiphany, it is also Valentine’s Day.  Valentine’s Day is, in many locations on and off this planet, the day for celebrating love.  Love truly is a verb although we tend to think of it only as a noun.  During this series we are discussing verbs and the actions they represent, actions that might make our lives a bit better.  On this day is there a better time to remember that love is a verb, something we can do and just hope to receive?  Can living better really be as simple as loving better?   After all, as one 1960’s popular song advised, “all you need is love.”


The man who would become known as Saint Valentine, in whose honor gifts and cards are given on this day in the name of love, is considered a third century Saint and yet, his Saint Day does not appear on the Roman Catholic’s Church’s General Calendar and when this Saint Day was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I the man known as Saint Valentine was among all those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”


Historians now believe there were actually three Valentines.  Being a common name which meant powerful, one of these men named Valentine was a Roman priest, another the bishop of Interamna now known as modern Terni in Italy.   Both are buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city. The third is said to be a saint who suffered on the same day with a number of companions in the Roman province of Africa, and nothing else is known of his life.


Love seems to be just as elusive and illusionary as the holiday.  While the day celebrates our love for each other, we first must love ourselves before sharing love.  In order to do that, we need to go back a couple of days to the blog post entitled “Befriend” and become our own best friend.  We all have that voice of conscious in our heads and that voice can be a positive thing at times.  However, friends not only remind you when you stray off your chosen path, they also build you up and our inner voice needs to that friend as well. 


Environment should not be overlooked.  “Location, location, location” is a popular phrase in real estate but it is true for our own self-love as well.  We need positive people in our lives, not depressed, envious people who only destroy any sense of positive self-love we might possess.  We need to walk through supportive friends in our daily living, friends that will help us formulate and then build our vision for the rest of our lives.  This is the only way to make our dreams become a reality.


We need to live authentically and truly live what we are inside.  This means developing a plan and then following it to achieve our dreams.  It also means giving ourselves time and space to accomplish those goals and dreams.  Declutter your life and clean up your life – throw away the baggage from the past to make room for the future.  Making our bodies and our home space a priority is actually a luxury but even in dire circumstances, it can happen.  A refugee camp showed people living in tents made from discarded clothing.  In one such tent some string had been strung with metal bottle caps hanging.  Even in this environment of misery and uncertainty, the breeze would turn this string and metal trash into a wind chime, a respite for all within hearing distance.


The human spirit should be celebrated every day but on this day in which we take time to share love, remember to love your own self.  “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  Martin Luther King was speaking not only to the crowd before him but to each individual about their own life. 


I wish love to you all, both for another person but also of yourself.  Educator Dr. William Purkey gave us the best lesson plan for doing this:  “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching.  Love like you’ll never be hurt.  Sing like there’s nobody listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth.”





Epiphany 39


It is a popular childhood game called hidden pictures.  I myself belong to a coloring page on Facebook and once or twice a month the page administrator will post a picture with things hidden within it.  Could you spot a fork hidden in the handle of a broom or a comb hidden in a picture of a cob of corn?  Better yet, could you spot the virtuoso playing in a subway station?


According to Snopes.com, the go-to site for all unearthing the truth hiding amongst Internet pages, no one did – either ten years ago or in 1930.  “Many a marketing survey has been conducted to gauge how presentation affects consumer perceptions of quality, and quite a few such surveys have found that people will frequently designate one of two identical items as being distinctly better than the other simply because it is packaged or presented more attractively. Might this same concept apply to fields outside of consumer products, such as the arts? Would, for example, people distinguish between a world-class instrumental virtuoso and an ordinary street musician if the only difference between them were the setting? These were questions tackled by Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten in 2007 when he enlisted renowned violinist Joshua Bell, a winner of the Avery Fisher Prize for outstanding achievement in classical music who regularly undertakes over 200 international engagements a year, to spend part of a morning playing incognito at the entrance to a Washington Metro station during a morning rush hour. Weingarten set up the event “as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”


Snopes continued:  “On 12 January 2007, about a thousand morning commuters passing through the L’Enfant Plaza Station of the subway line in Washington, D.C. were, without publicity, treated to a free mini-concert performed by violin virtuoso Joshua Bell, who played for approximately 45 minutes, performing six classical pieces (two of which were by Bach) during that span on his handcrafted 1713 Stradivarius violin (for which Bell reportedly paid $3.5 million). Weingarten described the crux of the experiment: “Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?”


Weingarten ended up winning for the Washington Post a Pulitzer Prize for his category, the award being given in part for the originality of the ruse.  However, it was not that original.  Seventy-seven years earlier another periodical named the Post, The Chicago Evening Post had done something quite similar.  In fact, several aspects of this story, the hiding in plain sight of a concert violinist were eerily similar.  In May 1930 Milton Fairman wrote a story titled “Famous Fiddler in Disguise Gets $5.61 in Curb Concerts.”   Violin virtuoso Jacques Gordon, a onetime child prodigy, performed for spare change on his priceless Stradivarius, incognito, for three-quarters of an hour outside a subway station. Most people hurried past, unheeding. The violinist made a few measly bucks and change. It was a story about artistic context, priorities and the soul-numbing gallop of modernity.  Fairman’s story began: “A tattered beggar in an ancient frock coat, its color rusted by the years, gave a curbstone concert yesterday noon on windswept Michigan Avenue. Hundreds passed him by without a glance, and the golden notes that rose from his fiddle were swept by the breeze into unlistening ears …”


Both Jacques Gordon and Joshua Bell played Massenet’s “Meditation” from “Thais” and Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Of the hundreds of people who walked by Gordon, only one recognized him for whom he was. Of the hundreds of people who walked by Bell, only one recognized him for whom he was.  Gordon died twenty years before Bell was born but the younger man had heard of him.  In fact, for ten years Bell played the same Strad that Gordon had once owned, the same one Gordon had played on the Chicago streets that day in 1930. By the way, Gordon earned $5.61 that day – the equivalent of $59.73 in today’s economy.  Bell earned $32.17 which would be worth $32.35 today.  AS the nation was recovering from the Great Depression, Gordon had earned more playing than Bell did playing in one of the more heavily traveled subway systems in the country.


How many hidden gems do we pass each and every day without noticing them?  It may not be a concert violinist you hear but that young child singing while waiting for the school bus might someday become an opera star or pop sensation.  I assure you that in your daily commute you pass by someone in need as well as someone helping others.  The beauty of life is all around us.  We just need to really open our living, take a moment and find it.