Twelve Steps Forward Again

Twelve Steps Forward Again

Advent 16-19

Year in Review 2017


During Easter of this year we discussed mindfulness.  Mindfulness has become a trending buzzword these days but what does it really mean?  Simply put, mindfulness means being present in the moment, being an active participant in one’s life – moment by moment, awareness of each feeling, thought, and sensation.  It combines the external with the internal without judgment. 


Charles A. Francis published a book in 2015 about mindfulness entitled “Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding Inner peace”.  Mindfulness is an important lifestyle technique that I believe we all need but few of us truly understand it.  For that reason, I am publishing Francis’ summation he wrote about his book and the twelve steps he advocates.  His way is not the only path one can embark upon in being mindful but it is an excellent journey if you desire to engage in this journey of mindfulness.


I like Charles Francis’ book and highly recommend reading it as well as paying particular attention to his explanation of each step.   Trying one a day for the twelve days of Christmas would be a great exercise and introduction to mindfulness.   Of course, without having read the book, it might be difficult but you can get enough of an idea to try some rudimentary practices regarding each step from this synopsis of them. 


Step 1—“We became aware of the pain and suffering created by unmindful thoughts, speech, and actions.” Step 1 teaches you some important concepts to help you understand the practice. In this step, we’ll talk about the Four Noble Truths, which deal with suffering and how to overcome it. We will also talk about the Five Hindrances, which deal with things that get in the way of your meditation and spiritual development.


Step 2—“We learned how to develop our primary tools of observation: concentration and mindfulness.” Here you will learn how to use your two most important tools of observation. If we want to understand ourselves, and our relationships with others, then we need to learn how to observe the world with unbiased clarity.

We often make quick judgments based on preconceived ideas, because it’s easier than examining situations further and often less painful in the short-run. That is, we jump to conclusions without having many of the facts. So, to observe reality without bias, we need to develop our skills of observation. Like a journalist, we’re trying to get at the truth.


Step 3—“We sought to eliminate the things that agitate our mind, and prevent us from achieving inner peace and serenity.” A common challenge for beginners is dealing with a racing mind. We’re often unaware that many of our daily activities are agitating our mind. In this step, I’ll show you how to identify and eliminate the sources of agitation. I’ll also give you some effective tools for calming your mind.


Step 4—“We learned how to structure our meditation session for maximum effectiveness, and to fit our lifestyle.” In Step 4, we discuss our meditation environment. There is no best time or place that applies to everyone, because we all have different commitments and living situations. I’ll give you some guidelines for choosing the best time and place for you. We’ll also talk about sitting position and how long to meditate.


Step 5—“In order to enhance our spiritual evolution, we made mindfulness meditation a regular practice.” This step deals with the actual mechanics of meditation. You’ll learn exactly what to do during your meditation sessions. I’ll give you different formats, so you can choose the one that’s most suitable for your needs, and I will even guide you through a typical meditation session.


Step 6—“We remained vigilant in our meditation practice, so that we continued making steady progress.” In Step 6, you’ll learn how to track your progress by keeping a meditation journal. This will help you stay grounded in proper techniques by establishing goals and measuring your progress. It will also help you stay motivated.


Step 7—“We became aware that other people can provide us with the spiritual nourishment vital to our development.” Other people can be invaluable sources of spiritual nourishment that will dramatically speed up your development. I will show you how to connect with them, so that you not only enhance your own spiritual development, but also that of others.


Step 8—“We sought to cultivate peace and harmony in our relationships and interactions with others by practicing deep listening, mindful speech, non-judging, and forgiveness.” In this step, we’ll examine how our behavior impacts our spiritual development and our relationships, and I’ll share with you some powerful tools for improving them.


Step 9—“We sought to dwell deeply in our spiritual community in order to enhance our development, and that of others.” In Step 9, I’ll show you how to avail yourself of the healing power of your spiritual community. I will introduce you to some more useful tools for enhancing your practice, including loving-kindness meditation, and a new meditation technique we’ve developed—writing meditation. You will also learn about the most powerful tool of all—the mindfulness meditation retreat.


Step 10—“We became aware of how unmindful consumption perpetuates our suffering, and prevents us from achieving true inner peace.” In this step, we’ll discuss how your consumption of nutrients and other substances can either enhance or hinder your spiritual development. As you progress in your practice, you’ll develop the wisdom and inner strength to make healthier choices.


Step 11—“With the strength, courage, and mindfulness we attained through our meditation practice, we confronted and overcame the wounds from our past.” Many of us have wounds from long ago that have never healed. These are serious obstacles to our development. In Step 11, I will show you how to use your emerging mindfulness to overcome them, so you can be free of them once and for all.


Step 12—“Having found freedom from our suffering through mindfulness meditation, we shared this practice with others, and continued dwelling deeply in the present moment through mindful living.” One of the great gifts you will receive from this practice is a deep sense of caring and compassion for other people. In this step, you’ll learn how to help others achieve inner peace as you have, and how your mindful leadership can help create a more mindful society. You’ll also learn how to apply mindfulness to all your daily activities, so that you continue making progress.”


Remember, you only have to try one step per day.  It may seem like I am adding more onto your already busy schedule but once being mindful becomes a habit, it actually improves your schedule and your response to life itself.  The true purpose of mindfulness is to recognize the joy in living that is all around us.  What a great way to end this year and begin the next!


Faith Lived

Faith Lived

Advent 15

Year in Review 2017


During Epiphany 2017 we discussed ways people lived their life’s credo.  The season of Epiphany follows Christmas and while most people Christmas celebrate Christmas as the birth of a “king”, it is actually the season of Epiphany that celebrates the revelation that a small child born in a stable would become the king of a new religion.  This year during Epiphany we discussed people whose lives reflected their beliefs.


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 interested me about Seemi Raheel, besides her views on being a mother, was 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, I mentioned during Epiphany 2017, and I believed both of these women, this mother-daughter duo, were and 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. 


Ask and Receive

Ask and Receive

Advent 14

Year in Review 2017



This is the time of year when Santa Claus facsimiles abound.  As young children clamor to crawl into their laps, the age-old question is heard:  “What would you like for Christmas?”  During Epiphany of this year we discussed the process of asking… and how many of us never do because of fear.  After all, someone might just give us an answer we would not like.  Instead, we wander around using only that which we already know, too afraid to learn something different.


“Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds — justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner.”  It may seem strange that I am opening with a quote from Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Lestat”.  After all, this is not what most would consider a “dark blog”.  It is more along the lines of “peace, love, and all things nurturing”.  And yet ………


The most succinct summary of Rice’s second book in her vampire series says this about the book from which I took my opening quote:  “When the vampire Lestat becomes a rock superstar, he finds himself in serious conflict with the ancients whose powers are beyond his imagining.”  If you are really honest with yourself, could this not be a description of your life?


All too often we do not ask question because we are simply too afraid of the answers.  Life Lestat, we do not want to open the door of more or greater knowledge.  And so, we remain within our comfort zone, a place, as I have stated before, is not really a place at all.  There actually is no address for our comfort zone except in our mind.  The most accurate location for anyone’s comfort zone is simply “that place in which we feel less fear.”


Karen Hackel is one writer who talks a great deal about the verb “ask”.  “The way is yours for the asking – the way is yours for the taking. The way is as it should be.”  The way to enlightenment is there for us; all we have to do is have the courage to ask for it. 


Faith Baldwin is another writer who speaks of this.  “In asking for it, we ask for a sufficiency of strength, courage, hope and light. Enough courage for the step ahead–not for the further miles. Enough strength for the immediate task or ordeal. Enough material gain to enable us to meet our daily obligations. Enough light to see the path–right before our feet.”


Why am I only using female authors today?  Truth is, I could not find a lot of male writers on this subject.  I suppose this would be a good place to insert a joke about men asking for directions, or rather the lack thereof of men asking for directions.  Perhaps, though, we do not allow them the space to admit they need to ask.  Most of us hesitate because the world seems to expect us to know, not admit we need to ask.  Even though they earn almost fifty percent less than their male counterparts and make up over half of the world’s population, women are still encouraged to be silent, to live as shadows in their own lives.


In his book, “A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life”, Brian Grazer encourages us all to ask.  “Curiosity—asking questions—isn’t just a way of understanding the world. It’s a way of changing it.”  Don’t we all want a bigger life?  Is that not really our reason for being?  Perhaps the reason behind creation itself is for us to question and then, having asked, use both our questions and our answers to change the world for a better tomorrow.


There is an old Chinese proverb that gives us the right to take the plunge and ask.  “He who asks a question remains a fool for five minutes. He who does not ask remains a fool forever.”  I will close with a quote from another woman, Oprah Winfrey:  “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for”.  Today I hope you ask because that will be the first step towards a better tomorrow.


Embrace the Forgotten

Embrace the Forgotten

Advent 13

Year in Review 2017


What about Hale County, Alabama?  Football is big business, not just a popular sport and it is one of the things for which the state of Alabama is known.  This week’s election to complete the remainder of an open Senate term has become another.  Few people know anything about Hale County, even those living in the state.


The University of Alabama, a major university whose football team claims sixteen national championship titles will once again compete for the national number one slot in collegiate football on January 1st.  It is only forty-nine minutes away and the bustling metropolis of Birmingham is only one hundred miles away from Hale County, Alabama.  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 in 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. 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 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!
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 Leslie Manning but she would be the first to acknowledge the help of hundreds, both volunteer staff and interns as well as the volunteers who fed, donate, and serve as prayer partners.  Each child received 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.


We can each make our own little reflection of this wonderful camp by embracing the forgotten in our own communities.  We all become champions when we do that.  I hope you are able to be a part of something like Sawyerville Day Camp.  Contact your local YMCA or YWCA or Salvation Army, Easter Seals, or local religious groups.  All will be able to put you in touch with a program that you can give aid to with your time and talents and, if possible, monetary assistance.


As we live these last days of 2017, we need to commit to make 2018 better.  When we embrace each other and ourselves, when we live out the true meaning of the word “cherish” which is the them for this blog series, we make the world a better place.  Sawyerville Day Camp is but one example.  For more information, they can be reached at



A Leap of Faith

A Leap of Faith

Advent 12

Year in Review 2017


“I don’t know what we’re doing here – you and me … I don’t know what we are or what we can be, but this doesn’t have to be about that. This can just be about … a chance. Taking a chance.”  We are taught at children to look and not touch.  During the holiday season, one can peruse various markets and stores and see young children holding their hands behind their backs, actively looking but not touching.  British author Dianna Hardy, in her book “Broken Lights” tells us life is about doing exactly the opposite.


Kwanzaa is a holiday of families that will be celebrated Dec 26th through January 1st. The lights of Hanukah are in the process of being lit and we are in the middle of the season of Advent with the second candle on the Advent wreath having been lit this past Sunday. 


Carols are being sung and one of the more popular ones is the Twelve Days of Christmas.  This past Christmas we spoke of this song and I mentioned the Nine ladies dancing and ten lords a-leaping as I asked –  Do we merely dance through this thing we call life or do we leap?  Are we really willing to take a chance or are we simply content to waltz through known steps with familiar companions along heavily traveled pathways?  Certainly a young woman never danced with a stranger in the assemblies of old.  Have we taken the edicts of ancient societies and used them to restrict our own living?


The book “False Gods” by Scottish writer Graham McNeill contains a very interesting conversation:  “When you have come to the edge of all that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen,’ the Warmaster had told him.  ‘And what are they?’ he had asked.  ‘That there will be something solid to stand on or you’ll be taught to fly,’ laughed Horus as he jumped.”


I cannot remember a time when certain relatives did not label me a “wimp”.  The term itself is interesting and although meant as an insult, I considered it something of a compliment.  It is also incorrect but more on that later.  To be a wimp means one is a weakling or lacks courage but therein lays the dilemma.  You see, such a term can only be defined within the narrow parameters of one’s field of vision.  Growing up with relatives who were always injuring themselves defying the laws of gravity, I considered myself wiser and that while they might have considered me a wimp, it really just meant I was smart enough not to get injured.


When it comes to people, I have great trust and , some would say, courage.  It is not that I am that brave; I just am that full of faith.  I believe in people, hence this blog.  The term “wimp” has other meanings, though.  “Weakly Interacting Massive Particle” is an acronym for the dark matter that comprises most of the universe, known and unknown.  Simply put, it is all the stuff we do not yet know about our world beyond our planet. 


WIMP as an acronym has two other meanings.  The first is a computer term: In computing stands for ‘Window, Icon, Menu, Pointer’.   This acronym was developed in 1980 by Merzouga Wilberts and though it is seldom used, we all use it every day.  Most of us have a desktop that contains icons which provide a short cut to a program.  These icons serve as a menu to our programs and when we click on the icon, the program opens.  Congratulations, you just used a WIMP to access this blog.


The last acronym for WIMP was devised by a politician and so don’t be surprised that it is, like the term used by my cousins, considered an insult.  Russ Limbaugh developed WIMP to refer to a “women influenced male person”, something he considered less than desirable, less manly.  Mr. Limbaugh has apparently forgotten that no one is born without being influenced and grown within a woman’s body.  He himself, therefore, is a WIMP, based upon his own definition.


Labels are great for filing cabinets but not so much when it comes to people or as a way of living.  While the very purpose of a word is to have meaning, those meanings often change through the years, depending upon context, culture, and usage.  We need to think for ourselves and have faith to act accordingly, not rely on what someone might call us.


Wimps are not necessarily people who do not take a leap into the world.  They might just be people who follow a different path to that leap.  I certainly do not want you to leap out in front of a speeding train or moving vehicle today.  I would advise you to take the advice of Sarah Ban Breathnach.  “Take a leap of faith and begin [each day] by believing.  Believe in yourself.”

Be a Light

Be a Light

Advent 11

Year in Review 2017



Hanukah began on December 12th and it will continue until December 20th.  It is a Jewish holiday that commemorates one small bit of oil burning as a light for eight days.  I saw a Facebook meme that explained it this way:  Imagine your cell phone battery had only thirty minutes of charge left and yet it somehow lasted for eight days. 


What a difference two letters can make.  When it comes to kindness, those two letters make all the difference.  Knowledge is wisdom, intelligence, learned matter.  Knowledge is good but unless it is put to use, it really is little nothing more than curiosity answered.  Add the letters to the word “knowledge”, and all of a sudden you have the easiest way in the world to show what you know.


By putting an “a” and a “c” before the word “knowledge’, we create a new word and a great way to show kindness.  The word “acknowledge” comes from fifteenth and sixteenth century words from both France and England, words that mean “recognize” or “understand” or “accord”.  Let’s start with the accord variation first.


All too often, particularly in the political world, it is felt that one must be in complete accord or agreement with someone in order to acknowledge them.  It really is a very cowardly way to live.  We can acknowledge someone and understand that they are not us and do things different without undermining our own lives.  No one is exactly like you or me.  When we acknowledge that fact, then we are free to show kindness, especially to those who are different.  Their beliefs only threaten us when we live fearfully and without confidence in our own beliefs.


The understand facet of this word is similar in its application.  To acknowledge someone having a different opinion and fully grasping their opinion means we understand them.  It also is showing them great kindness because it is allowing them a dignity, much like what we referenced in our conversation yesterday about respect.


The easiest and most cost effective way of showing kindness to someone is to recognize them.  I don’t mean call them by name but treat them as if they have value. After all, we all have value in our own special way.  Regardless of which creation myth you believe, we are all wondrously made.  Recognize them and then follow up with behavior that reflects that recognition and you will be showing someone great kindness.  It can be as easy as a hand raised in greeting or a joyful “Hello!”


In 1865 the American Civil War, officially known as the War Between the States, was drawing to an end.  The states that had seceded were rejoining and the Colonies were once again a viable democracy.  France had sided with the Confederacy and lent them aid but ties to the Union also still existed.  France had been involved with the colonies almost since their inception, sometimes as an ally and sometimes as an enemy.  However, for almost one hundred years, France had assisted the colonies, both those northern and those in the southern part of the country. 


It was because of this connection that historian Edouard De Laboulaye suggested France create a statue and give to the United States.  The commission for such was awarded to sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi.  France would create and gift the sculpture to the U.S.A. and it would build the pedestal upon which the statue would stand, furthering acknowledging the partnership and friendship between the two nations. 


A need for fundraising delayed the start of the massive project until one year before the US/s centennial celebrations.  The finished statue was delivered and dedicated in October, 1886, ten years after the nation’s centennial.  The inscription, the winning sonnet in a fundraising contest of 1883, was penned by Emma Lazarus:  ““Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.   Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.  I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


This inscription acknowledges each and every immigrant that passes through Ellis Island and serves as a welcome to the thousands of others that arrive in other ports across the country.  The Statue of Liberty, as the statue became known, operated as a lighthouse for almost fifty years, sending its beacon of light emanating from Lady Liberty’s torch out into the night, giving safe passage and welcoming all in acknowledgement of their presence.


My challenge for you this day is to wave hello to someone.  Acknowledge their presence.  Nothing complicated in that, is there?  And if you cannot raise your arm to wave then nod and smile.  By doing so, you will be showing kindness to that other person, regardless of their station in life or bank account or position of authority.  Person to person, you will be welcoming them just as the Statue of Liberty has welcomed millions throughout the years.


Sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone is to recognize their existence.  We don’t have to want to emulate them or believe just as they do.  Acknowledgement simply means we recognize their presence.  To acknowledge someone is to show kindness of thought and presence and it costs us nothing to give.  Remember your challenge for this day is to simply wave a greeting to someone or nod your head in a friendly manner towards another person.


The holidays of this season all involve celebrations with candles.  In this the darkest time of the planet, the period with the shortest amount of natural light, it is very important that we be the light for another.   No one is truly invisible and when we acknowledge another, we are giving them value and worth, being a spotlight that illuminates their presence.  It is a simple gift that will mean everything to someone.



Lay Down to Build Up

Lay Down to Build Up

Advent 10

Year in Review 2017


A common cry throughout the history of the world has been the call to lay down arms.  In other words, stop fighting.  The quote “War is hell” has been attributed to General William Tecumseh Sherman, although he himself claimed to not remember saying it.  David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, authors of the series “The People’s Almanac” explain: Historians generally agree that this is Sherman’s statement on war, but the Civil War general could not remember ever having said these three words. Before his death in 1891, Sherman made an extensive search through all of his private papers in a fruitless effort to convince himself that the words were actually his. There are several accounts of when the words were said. The earliest version dates back to 1863, after the fall of Vicksburg, when Sherman’s troops were crossing a pontoon bridge over the Pearl River at Jackson, Miss. According to eyewitness John Koolbeck, a soldier from Iowa, Sherman watched the crossing from the water’s edge and then said to the passing troops, “War is hell, boys.” Another account has Sherman delivering the line in a graduation address at the Michigan Military Academy on June 19, 1879. Still a third account says that Sherman made the famous statement in a speech before a group of Union veterans in Columbus, O., on Aug. 11, 1880. At other times, he did state, “War is cruel and you cannot refine it” and “War at best is barbarism.”


The bearing of a weapon greatly increases the likelihood that said weapon will be used.  Hateful words spoken aloud greatly increases the chance that uttered hatred will spread.  History bears witness to the truth of those two statements.  Usually, religion is given as the cause for such things like war.  Within the last two thousand years, the three Abrahamic faiths have been the culprits and there is evidence that they have contributed even though was is not a part of any religion’s doctrine.


Those who claim that isolation and violence are the path towards goodness are walking blindly.  It is with much sadness and anger that I must admit the events of this past weekend at US airports will be forever linked to Christianity.  People with legal documentation that gave them the right to travel to and in the USA have been held up and prevented from arrival.  Claiming to be laying down arms while beefing up security, a new regime has hijacked both the US Constitution and the Christian faith.


How do I make such a bold statement?  Matthew 25:31-46 from the New Testament is my proof.  “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the 3holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’  Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’  Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”


Borgna Brunner explains how Islam actually has two holidays that reference helping others, the building up of each other.  Eid al-Fitr (1 Shawwal)is the Celebration concluding Ramadan, the month of fasting.  Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Literally the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (Eid al-Adha is the other). At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.  A sense of generosity and gratitude colors these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques.


Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Adult Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lifetime.  Eid al-Adha (10 Dhu’l-Hijjah) is the celebration concluding the Hajj.  Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey Allah by sacrificing his son Ishmael. According to the Quran, just before Abraham sacrificed his son, Allah replaced Ishmael with a ram, thus sparing his life. One of the two most important Islamic festivals, Eid al-Adha begins on the 10 day of Dhu’l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Lasting for three days, it occurs at the conclusion of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims all over the world celebrate, not simply those undertaking the hajj, which for most Muslims is a once-a-lifetime occurrence.  The festival is celebrated by sacrificing a lamb or other animal and distributing the meat to relatives, friends, and the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes obedience to Allah and its distribution to others is an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam.


“Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call “charity” in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. However, the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew root Tzadei-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.  Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need. Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper. This is probably hyperbole, but it illustrates the importance of tzedakah in Jewish thought. Tzedakah is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins.


Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon went one step further in explaining how such charity should be given, a hierarchy of learning how to give.  Giving begrudgingly is the first step, followed by giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully. Giving after being asked and giving before being asked follow.  Then there is giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity and giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity.  After a while, giving becomes the important thing, not being known for giving as in giving when neither party knows the other’s identity.  Finally, at the top is the true purpose for tzedakah which enables the recipient to become self-reliant.


When we lay down our hatred and weapons, we are then able to build each other up through the Christian, Jewish, and Islam paths of charity and generosity.  War with its many forms and variations is cruel and does little to build for the future.  Evil should be stopped.  We are an intelligent race.  Surely we can figure a way to create peace and a better tomorrow with mercy and goodness.


Advent is a time of preparation and many feel charitable at this time of the year.  It is important to remember that a gift is not a bribe nor is it payment.  It is simply a way for us to cherish each other and honor the life of the recipient.  It is at this time of the year that the light of goodness needs to shine its brightest.  When we cherish our world and those in it, we also cherish our being.  That is a great gift indeed.