Celebrate

 

Celebrate

 

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!

 

Negotiate/Deliberate

Negotiate/Deliberate

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.

Anticipate

Anticipate

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.

Embrace

Embrace

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.