Defend and Protect

Defend and Protect

Jan 25-26

 

There is an old expression: Behind the man there is the woman, and I believe she was the great human being.”  Maurice Markheim, a Nazi Holocaust survivor, said this quote while describing Emilie Schindler.  Together with her husband Oskar, the Schindlers are credited with saving more than twelve hundred Jewish people from extermination camps.  Oskar had joined the Nazi movement but then. Upon realizing the brutality of the Nazis, decided to save his Jewish workers.

 

The love story of Oskar and Emilie cannot be told without reliving the political history of the period.  They married after dating only six weeks and, as the Nazis moved closer to their enamelware factory during World War II, were forced to flee to Buenos Aires, Argentina with many of the Jews they helped save.  Twelve years later, bankrupt, Oskar returned to Germany and the two never again lived together as husband and wife.  Seventeen years later, Oskar died in Germany, still legally married to Emilie.

 

Emilie continued to live in Argentina until homesickness caused her to return to Germany in her nineties.  She died in Strausberg at the age of 93 and is buried in Waldkraiburg, Germany.  There love story may not seem to have had a happy ending but for the hundreds whose lies they saved, they were angels, angels who protected and defended their culture and a faith.

 

Once known as “Sham”, the region became known as “Suri” and later “Syria” by the Greeks and Romans.  Today the coats of arms contains a hawk, the emblem of Mohammed, the founder of Islam, as well as two green stars which are also symbolic of Islam.  And yet, today, many of its cities are in rumble and its people are being bombed… supposedly in the name of Islam.

 

Politics aside and regardless of what ever religion, faith, or spirituality you believe or disbelieve. The destruction of an entire culture affects us all.  While modern day Arab nations seem to contribute little culturally except terrorism, it would be impossible to imagine our current world without the contributions of such Arab nations as Syria.  The fall of the Roman Empire in the sixth century put a stop on many of the great artistic and education explorations.  One only has to look at the Architectural artwork and buildings of the early first century Arab nations to appreciate their beauty, detail, and mathematical prowess.

 

The current destruction of these cities and the culture of the people being scattered will affect our future.  It may seem to not be our problem but when families of the world are being torn apart, it is our problem; we are but one race, after all. 

 

American writer Alex Haley once said:  “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”  These two posts were delays by a death in my family.  My family member, however, died peacefully in his sleep.  He served his country by defending its constitution and protecting freedom and though I lament his passing, it was after a life well lived.

 

In 2016 the island of Taiwan suffered a natural disaster and initially over one hundred people were unaccounted for and many are presumed deceased.  Earlier this month the state of California suffered mudslides and even now, several weeks later, there are still those never found and presumed dead.   Last week there was an earthquake off the shores of Alaska and, fearing a tsunami, people were warned to move inland.   We have enough things in life that will threaten us.  We do not need to twist religion and use it as an excuse to commit genocide.

 

I once asked a young girl about the age of ten if she knew what a humanitarian was.  “Of course I do,” she said.  “I am a human being so if I live like I should, I am a humanitarian.  And if I don’t live like I should, other people get hurt.  That’s just stupid.”  Alex Haley agreed:  “Through this flesh, which is us, we are you, and you are us!”

 

The next time you wonder why we are “over there” defending and protecting “them”, just remember Alex Haley’s words:  “We are you and you are us.”  Truly we need to treat others as we ourselves would want to be treated.

Expressing Grace

Expressing Grace

Jan 19-22

 

The empirical approach to anything means to collect data through observation.  Empirical research is that research which has been obtained using empirical evidence. If it sounds like I am repeating myself, it is because I am.  I want to make this way of defending and supporting a concept very clear.  The empirical approach is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience and it can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively.  

The concept of grace is not something one can definitively identify.  Much like probability, the concept from which we have borrowed an approach to discuss grace, one’s perspective bears a great deal of weight in our discussions.  Empiricism values research more than other methodologies.  Empirical evidence, the record of one’s direct observations or experiences, has four basic goals:  go beyond simply reporting observations; promote environment for improved understanding; combine extensive research with detailed case study; prove relevancy of theory by working in a real world environment. 

 In other words, we need to not just observe but really think about what we observe and provide a clear and objective perspective that includes some fact checking.  Then we need to pay attention and try out our resulting conclusions in reality.  So today’s post is a four-part series where we will do just that with three different real-life observations of grace. 

 

Case Study Number One

A Kansas City organization is raffling off a tiny house.  In May a tiny house, a house typically under 800 square feet in size, was dedicated by the Veterans Community Project in Kansas City, Missouri.  Heralded as the start of a planned tiny home community, the house will provide transitional housing for homeless veterans. 

ynn Horsley, writing for the Kansas City Star newspaper explained what the Veterans Community Project is.  “Some military veterans who want to help struggling and homeless veterans have started a program to build tiny houses on a vacant piece of land in south Kansas City. The first tiny house will be dedicated Monday.  “We identified too many veterans suffering from PTSD and addictions who were going untreated and not doing well in traditional shelters,” Chris Stout, president of Veterans Community Project, said in a news release. “We decided as vets that we had to do something to help.”

Stout, an Army veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, teamed with retired Marine Corps veteran Kevin Jamison, Navy reservist Mark Solomon and others to form their nonprofit organization. They are passionate about helping homeless veterans who don’t qualify for other veteran housing programs, and they pledge to connect residents with other services to aid their recovery.

A 240-sqaure-foot home was raffled January 1, 2017.  It was the product of collaboration between Veterans Community Project and Zack Giffin (co-host of Tiny House Nation) and sponsored Honeywell.  Labor was provided by local homeless Veterans, Zack Giffin, and Veterans Community Project, many of Honeywell’s veteran-employees.  Materials were provided by Home Depot and 2×4’s For Hope. Tools were provided by Milwaukee Tools. Additional labor was provided by the Carpenters Union, Teague Electric, United Heating and Cooling, and UAW Local 249.

Homelessness is a growing problem among the USA’s returning veterans.  Some have difficulty finding employment while others bear the psychological scars of combat.  Veterans Community Project is raffling this home to raise funds for Kansas City’s Veterans Village. All proceeds from the raffle directly contribute to the Veterans Community Project’s mission to end Veteran homelessness.  Not only can we observe the grace of those involved in this organization but also the grace of those purchasing raffle tickets as well as the volunteers who built this and other such tiny homes.

 

Case Study Number Two

Benevolence is a buzz word at various times of the calendar year.  While the Scrooges among us may claim people participate for the advertising and spotlight such action affords, the empirical evidence of race should not be ignored.  Nor is such isolated to just one area.  In Concord, California an auto body shop used the holiday season to spread some good will and grace by giving away refurbished cars to the needy in 2011.  Mike’s Auto Body is not just a mom and pop operation.  They have fifteen locations in the San Francisco Bay area so you might think they could well afford to be gracious. 

They have extended their giving program, however, and the customer helps decide who the recipient of such grace can be.  The thinking behind the Mike’s Auto Body’s Community Give Back Program is that by giving back, it can open your eyes to what’s really important and perhaps inspire you to “share the wealth” with others while making your local community a better place for everyone to live.  Mike Rose’s Auto Body in 2016 donated 3% of the parts and labor of auto body repairs to the local non-profit organization of the customer’s choice, whether it was a school, charitable cause or other non-profit organization.  The list of available recipients was diverse and included all facets of the local communities in the area and charitable organizations.  As their website states, this business wanted to work with their customer base to give back to an organization or group “that’s close to your heart, because we want to help them and this is one way that we can do it together.”  What a great example of grace in action! 

 

Case Study Number Three

Another observation of grace is from Athens, Georgia.  Each year an annual Holiday Benevolence Market, an alternative to traditional Christmas shopping that provides an opportunity to learn about and support local nonprofit organizations is held in downtown Athens.  At the Holiday Benevolence Market, shoppers can purchase items that the nonprofit agencies need, in the name of someone with whom they would ordinarily exchange presents, such as a friend, relative, teacher or coworker. The market has been part of the holiday season in Athens for more than 20 years, hosted by Athens-area faith organizations in support of an array of local nonprofit organizations.  Shoppers can select symbolic gifts ranging from $5 to $150 and make a single payment at checkout. The market has become a popular idea for teacher gifts, church staff appreciation gifts and stocking stuffers, and all donations are tax-deductible. Representatives from the agencies will be on hand to share information about their missions. 

The empirical evidence of grace in this event is very clear.  The Holiday Benevolence Market began in 1994 as a joint venture between First Presbyterian member Mary Burton and the First Presbyterian Outreach committee.  In 2003, other Athens congregations joined.  Patrons are given a “shopping list” that includes all of the agencies represented and items that can be “purchased.” The list includes a range of prices. For example, a shopper might buy a box of nails for $10 that will be used in building a Habitat for Humanity house. Or, for $100, a child can be sent to the Extra Special People summer camp for a week.  “We are very excited to continue the tradition of the Holiday Benevolence Market,” the Rev. Margaret Davis, co-chair of this year’s event, said in a news release several years ago. “Through the years the market has raised from $15,000-$20,000 in support of the missions of these local agencies, and we hope to reach that level again. We are grateful to First Presbyterian for hosting and to the 10 congregations which are participating in the market. The united effort of faith communities to support Athens nonprofits serving those most in need is a powerful testimony of faith to our city.”  This event combines the diversity of mankind with the needs of the local community is living not only grace but also the joy, community, and hope of the season. 

 

Case Study Number Four – Past History

This case study takes a look back at grace in history and looks at grace from an axiomatic view.     Axiom comes from a Greek word meaning authority and the word itself is best defined as “that which is seen as fit”.  Today axioms are those items which are seen as self-evident, those truths which are taken for granted.

The atrocities of war are horrible and one of the reasons for avoiding war if at all possible.  There is no grace in war although many times simple acts of kindness become self-evident during the course of a war.  The young Jewish teenager known to the world as Anne Frank lived a life as the recipient of grace, at least for a short time.  Denied the right to immigrate to the United States by the USA, Anne Frank’s family needed a place to live, a place safe from the Nazi soldiers who were corralling all those of the Jewish faith and forcing them to live and die in concentration camps.  For a period of time, the Frank family hid in the attic of a benevolent family.  They received grace in staying alive because of this family but upon discovery, all grace ceased.  Anne Frank kept a journal which her father later published.  Both Anne and her sister died while in horrid captivity at a concentration camp, just weeks before they would have been rescued by Allied troops.

The world was horrified as the true meaning and reality of the Nazi concentration camps came to light.  The media was severely handicapped in the 1930’s and 40’s by the lack of technology and news did not travel within nano-seconds like it does today.  As the Allies regained control, truth bore witness to the depravities and atrocities that man could inflict upon one another.

The journal of Anne Frank bespoke of the grace she found after the life she had lived and taken for granted was taken from her.  It is a warning to us all to never take grace for granted because someone might let their ego convince them grace is a useless commodity which has no value. 

 

Today, however, is another age.  In the twenty-first century, we have the ability to connect with others around the world in the blink of an eye.  We have no excuse to ignore the lack of grace when mayhem, chaos, carnage, and destruction reign down on the innocent.  We cannot and should not assume an axiomatic stance toward grace.  When mass killings occur, there is no grace to be found. 

 

Hopefully, grace is always present and we all need to strive in our daily living to make it more abundant.  Grace is the giving back to others, often strangers, out of gratitude for what we ourselves have.  Perhaps the greatest evidence of our own true worth is when we are able to help another while going through our own personal storms.  Grace is not only for those times where we feel we have too much.  Grace is for every day, an expression that gives our own life purpose and meaning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guns and M&Ms

Guns and M&Ms

Jan 23-24

 

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of living, over the years people have been rudely taken out of their daily lifestyles to become the target of terrorism.  People who had hurried past each other suddenly became part of a team they never wanted to be a part of, a team which now has a place in history.  They have become the victims of policies that allow gun ownership to be too easy.  Additionally we do not insist on responsible gun ownership and storage nor do we fund mental health programs from the simplest means such as available social workers in all schools to mental health clinics in every county.

 

In the book “Praying for Strangers”, author River Jordan states:  “I can be a woman who prays for strangers but remains completely blind to their bruises.”  How many people did you pass today?  Now, answer me this:  How many people did you really see?  With all the sensory overload in our busy lives, we often become indifferent to the people around us, the people the inhabit our living. 

 

In the final minutes of their lies, people often report that it is not the material things they have in their lives that matter.   What matters are the people.  The very people we often take for granted or simply seem to not see often give our life definition. People we may have ignored or simply have not really seen might just be the one thing that helps define our living.

 

We need to step out of our busy lives to really live.  We need to share our living with others.  Our blindness to those around us translates into inaction on our part in giving of our selves.  What we forget is that by giving of ourselves, we give them the most precious thing – our attention.  Writer Kathleen Norris talks about our lives having a liturgy of their own and that each life has a sacred rhythm unique to each of us.  Far too often we go through our lives with the mute button pressed down when it comes to hearing the rhythm of those we love and care about.

 

Too many people go through their daily living with blinders on, not really seeing the person standing next to them.  We share common ground and yet act as if we are alone.  We should connect with those around us.  For many, prayer is living, the action of being part of the whole because prayer connects us together.  When we pray for someone we are giving them attention and creating a connection to ourselves.

 

An often heard response to the call for better gun legislation to prevent such violence as has occurred in the past three days with school shootings in the USA is the following mantra:  “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” If taken at face value, that sentence might seem like a true statement.  The fact of the matter is that without the availability to guns, people cannot kill with a gun.  Yesterday a student, a fifteen-year-old teenager walked into his school and injured more people than the number of years he had lived on this earth.  Could he have hurt several with a knife?  Maybe but certainly the odds of those injured and killed would have been much more in their favor if they had only to run from something being held that had a range of just an arm’s length.

 

Yesterday I bought some groceries which means I walked down at aisle in the market that had candy on it.  Candy in and of itself on the shelf did not cause me to gain any weight.  I did not consume calories by simply walking past the bags of M&Ms.  To have those added calories in my system, I have to be able to purchase that candy and then use/eat it.  M&Ms sitting on a shelf will not cause me to gain weight.  They posed no threat to the diabetics who walked past them either.  One cannot own an elephant or a tiger in the United States without proper permits and proving said animal will be taken care of properly.   One cannot operate a car without first passing a test and having insurance in case there is an accident.   It is, however, as easy to purchase a gun in some states as it is a picture frame or a roll of toilet paper.

 

The victims of gun violence are now a part of a team, a team that is crying out for better gun ownership.  No one is safe from being a possible target.  Last year members of Congress were playing an early morning baseball pickup game and became victims.  While there are many motivating factors for these incidents, one thing is clear.  Without access, far too easy access, people who need mental health help are making horrible choices that result in tragic consequences.  We should and must take action.

 

Prayer is action.  Action can take on a different form than just prayer and should involve those in your own daily living, not just victims of terrorism or natural disasters halfway around the world or across the country.  It might be the offer of a ride somewhere.  It might be organizing a group dinner for those with no family during the holidays.  It might be buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line or even just a smile.  The thing to remember is that life is all about action.  

 

Such action saves us from being indifferent to others.  It creates a web in our lives that unites us with the rest of mankind.  It is not just about the person we are praying for or the actions we undertake.  Ultimately these actions benefit most the person who does them.  Such action opens our eyes so that we see not only the need but the pain.  It acknowledges the want without blame or guilt. 

 

We all make decisions about action every hour.  What will I wear?  What will I eat?  Where will I go?  How will I do this task?  It is time to think outside the box of our own being and ask ourselves what action can and should we do today to help another.  After such attacks fear is an easy pit in which to fall but fear is not action.  Fear is a negative emotion.  Fear causes us to become inactive and hide.  We need to take positive action and move forward. 

 

 

Brokenness and Strength

Brokenness and Strength

Jan 17 & 18

 

The past ten days have found the United States experiencing weather that has adversely affected many.  From freezing conditions on the Gulf Coast to ice in Florida and deadly mud slides in California, the weather has reminded us that life is fragile and nothing can be taken for granted.  Discussions about global warming have offered up evidence of the debate as, in the midst of this bitter deep freeze spreading across over two-thirds of the USA, scientists reveal the planet has experienced some of its warmest temperatures ever.

 

We like to think of science as the art form that explains life.  Since science is rational and proven, then life itself must be rational, right?  Life is full of incongruences.  There is seldom anything completely rational about mankind.  With all of our technology and creature comforts and the ability to expand our horizons into outer space, many of still live in fear, creating our own defeats instead of living successfully.  We seek someone to blame instead of answers.

 

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?  It is a question asked by several different organizations in their efforts to help those for whom life has been most difficult.  Many believe that it takes being born into money or at least an industrialize nation to become successful.  Many often use their upbringing as an excuse rather than a stepping stone.

 

Masiela Lusha was born in Albania and also lived in Hungary and Austria where she studied ballet in Vienna.  At age twelve her parents moved to the United States, settling in Michigan.  Child experts would tell you that is a great deal of moving around in a short time frame, as well as changing cultures, and that it would be expected for there to be some problems for the child trying to assimilate.

 

Lusha was determined and by age twenty she had acted for five years on a national produced television program called “The George Lopez Show”, acting as a Hispanic.  Since the television program stopped production, she started her own production company, wrote eight books and translated several volumes of poetry from Albanian into English.  Masiela Lusha is a humanitarian in her own right. She has served as the ambassador for a major children’s literature publishing house, Scholastic, and made multiple public service announcements encouraging children to read.  Additionally, she started her own foundation to assist homeless families.

 

While most of us will never get a major acting contract with a major network, we can all help the homeless and encourage children to read.  We can also support agencies, government programs, and nonprofit foundations that do similar work.  American Indian Chief Seattle once said: “This we know; the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood, which unites one family. All things are connected.”  Just in case you think “These are not my problems so why should I bother, think again.”  We are all connected so “their” problem is your problem.

 

Aoi Miyazaki is a Japanese actress with over forty films and sixteen television programs to her credit.  Considered one of Japan’s most beautiful women, she is only thirty years old.  One of her films, “Children of the Dark”, led her to the tragic problem of child exploitation.  Her photobook “Tarinai Peace”, published with her brother, portrayed the true nature of poverty in India.  She has also supported programs to assist with raising awareness and funds for childhood cancer.

 

Aoi Miyazaki is a perfect example of how one person can make a difference.  Another book with her brother focused on the world wide problem of global warming and was entitled “Love, Peace, and Green Tarinai, Peace2”.  She doesn’t just see a problem or talk about it over coffee.  She does what she can to bring it into sight of all people.

 

Too many try to blame what is wrong with their environment on those who have moved into it.  They feel that immigrants are responsible for any “brokenness”.  We will always have problems.  The really tragic thing is when no one does anything to address these problems.  These two actresses began acting in the early teens.  They are not experts in their field.  They are, however, able to see and hear through the “noise” of life.

 

We tend to think of noise as a musical or audio term.  Actually it is a mathematical one and means errors in measurements.  In 1722 a man named Roget Coates put forth a theory that perhaps a combination of different observations might be better in determining truth than simply taking one approach.  That led to the development of standards which are then used to determine an answer with the least possible problems.  In other words, procedures were developed to give a way to provide the best estimate with the least amount of errors. 

 

Today a program called “Squish Squash” is sometimes used to find what seems to not be present.  The program takes what is known and then eliminates it and draws logical conclusions about what is thought to be present but cannot be proven to be.  For instance, if you think you heard a robin’s song but only see and hear ducks and geese at the pond while making a video, then you might assume you were wrong.  However, once near a computer, you could upload and work such audio magic to take out the sound of the ducks and geese until the robin’s soft melodic song could indeed be heard.

 

In order to help children and families with their brokenness, in dealing with whatever hurdles they are encountering in life, we first need to eliminate the loud mouths that already have enough to live.  We need to admit there are errors or difficulties with everyone having a fair chance and then do what we can to hear them and help them thrive.

 

In 2016 on Super Bowl Sunday I did a post and gave an equation about how the offertory plates of one church could feed all the hungry children in the state.  It was quite an eye opening experience for me to realize how one group of people, when working together, could eliminate such a grave problem that exists.

 

Last year in one week I spent about $40 (USD) purchasing some items for a program that provides food for children during non-school periods.  These children do not have a guarantee of eating meals at home due to their poverty.  A local business donates money to purchase meal packages but other items are needed and my mere $40 purchased over two hundred and forty supplemental items.  That breaks down to each item I purchased costing approximately sixteen cents each.  So for less than half a dollar, I provided a child with some fruit, some dairy (on a cracker), and a sweet, in addition to their meal pack.  I consider myself a rather thrifty shopper but I think anyone would say I got a great return for my money,  Not only did I get a good value for the items purchased, I invested in someone’s future, their life.  Just imagine what we all could accomplish for less than fifty cents if we decided to mend the brokenness around us.

 

The answers to the world’s problems are often found in our own mirrors.  We and we alone are the solution to the brokenness around us.  When we think of others and come together to affect real-time solutions, then we become strong.  The best way to help ourselves is to help others.

Make the Impossible Possible

Make the Impossible Possible

Jan 15-16

 

Last year during the season of Epiphany we discussed people who did something and made a difference.  Earlier this week the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was celebrated.  He is but one of many who ventured outside of the box society would have put him in and made a difference.  “There is no man living that cannot do more than he thinks he can.”  Henry Ford was living proof of his quote.  It is about encouraging us all to stop outside of any box someone or we have placed ourselves in and try.  Attempt the impossible… because it just might happen.

 

There is really only way one to make the impossible happen and that is to believe it can.  You must believe in the possibility of the impossible becoming possible.  And no, I have not gone crazy or am trying to win a bet using the word possible or its variations as many times as I can in one sentence.  Lewis Carrol wrote of this in his “Alice in Wonderland.” 

 

“Alice laughed.  ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’  ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

 

In his autobiography “The Crack-Up”, F. Scott Fitzgerald speaks of this.  “Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation– the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.  One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true.”

 

Ah but the book is titled “The Crack-Up” you might be thinking.  Isn’t is crazy to believe the impossible to be possible?  After all, they are contradictory terms.  Yes they are.  Perhaps the true question of value is “Are those terms factual?”  In fact, is it even possible to define something as impossible?

 

Sigmund Freud once said “It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.”  We might inquire of Dr. Freud by what standard of measurement would he define the impossible.

 

History is full of impossible things becoming possible.  During the season of Epiphany 2016 we discussed people who had their own great epiphanies and invented new things, some of which would have been deemed impossible at one time.  They were people who attempted the impossible or unknown and not only made it possible but also known and popular, used in everyday life.  In 2017 we discussed great humanitarians.  This year it is time for us to step up and make a difference.

 

Believe that you are weak and you will be.  Believe that you are forever handicapped and you will never thrive.  Lee Wise wrote a really powerful sentence about this.  “Belief in what matters most holds the power of creating legacies that matter most in the long run.”  I believe in you and your power to live a life of intention, a life that will better the world … for you, for me, and for tomorrow. 

Inspire

Inspire

Jan 13-14

 

Please accept my apologies that this post was delayed.  Weather and technology are sometimes life savers and at other times, nuisances.  The interesting thing, though, is that the messages can still have value regardless of its timing.  As I worked to repair the delay, I received a post about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he made his first major impact as an inspirational hero at the young age of twenty-six years.  He began his inspirational journey at an age when many of us are still finding ourselves.  His life was and continues to be an education in diplomacy, inspirational living, education, and faith.  He not only inspired a generation, he changed the course of history and opened the eyes of society.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Listen

Listen

Jan 12

 

Earlier this week we had an outage at my residence.  We had no telephone service, internet capabilities, nor television for approximately ten hours.   Sometimes the silence can be deafening.  With several hobbies that do not include technology or even electricity, I found plenty of things to do.  What was interesting, though, were the everyday, ordinary sounds that are always in my world that I never really hear.  Technology is a wonderful thing and I certainly love my creature comforts.  However, we need to make certain that in our living, we do not forget to listen.  Listening is one of life’s most effective educational tools.  Once we listen, we become aware of so much more around ud than what we notice as we hurry through our busy lives.

 

“Hey there.  I’m Brandon.  I get really passionate about things.  At some time in my life, I’ve been obsessed or borderline-obsessed with saltwater aquariums, the baritone euphonium, reading, piano, filming, financial markets, New York City, and photography.  I studied History at the University of Georgia.  During my senior year of college, I took out $3,000 in student loans and bet it on Barack Obama to win the presidency.  A friend heard about this bet and got me a job trading bonds on the Chicago Board of Trade.  I traded for three years.  It went really well for awhile.  But then it went really bad. Whoops. After I lost my trading job, I decided to move to New York City and take portraits of strangers on the street. Mom wasn’t too happy about that decision, but so far it’s gone pretty well. I’ve taken nearly 5,000 portraits and written 50 stories. And I’ve met some amazing people along the way.”

 

This paragraph is on the home page of the website for Humans of New York.  Now a best-selling published book and the subject of a highly successful blog, Brandon Stanton’s intro doesn’t really tell the whole story.  In 2010 he had a goal to take ten thousand New Yorkers’ pictures and plot them on a map.  I have often had the same thought regarding pictures of my family.  The amazing thing about Brandon’s photography, though, is the story that each picture tells.  The Georgia native began taking pictures as a hobby while living in Chicago.  He has since traveled under the auspices of the United Nations, taking part in a fifty-day trip through ten nations.  Last year he did the same in Pakistan and Iran and crowd funded a project to help end bonded labor in Pakistan.

 

Stanton’s photographs are not technically perfect.  After all, he was a history major in college.  What they do, however, is bring the human condition into focus.  They capture a moment in time that is an entire book.  Not all of the minute portraits are completely candid shots. There are the critics as well.  Recently, Robert John Boyle published an article at salon.com regarding the sugarcoating of Brandon’s subjects and the presentation that Boyle called “sentimentality”.  I personally think a life well-lived has to include sentimentality but apparently Mr. Boyle does not consider it to be necessary in art.  Over the 2016 December holiday season, Brandon Stanton raised over half a million dollars to help Syrian refugees.  Boyle considers the “dumbing down” of the political aspect outweighs any good the money might accomplish.  It is a common debate in the world of humanitarian efforts.

 

The visual content of the pictures found within Humans of New York make us listen, not only to the subject of the photograph but to the world around us.  When all we hear is our own ego, we are unable to hear reality and the needs the world is calling us to repair.  “When my husband was dying, I said: Moe, how am I supposed to live without you? He told me: take the love you have for me and spread it around.”  This anecdote from Stanton’s blog and book is just one example of the truths found accompanying each picture.  One of my favorites is the young child Stanton saw.  Wanting to take her picture he started asking nearby adults “Does she belong to you?”  Suddenly the little girl responded “I belong to myself!”

 

What if we listened to the world as belonging to each of us?  Observe a group of mothers and you will learn that each seems to know her own baby’s cry and what that cry means.  When I was single I laughed at the thought of understanding a baby’s cry… and then I became a mother.  I soon became one of “those mothers’.  Most of us dog owners can recognize our own dog’s bark and usually what it means.  (My cats also speak to me but we all know that cats merely do that to get our attention.  After all, no human is smart enough to understand cat-speak!)

 

When we listen – not just hear but really listen – great things can happen.  Stephen Covey knew how often we fail to really listen: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  We each can be a humanitarian and help ourselves to be better people if we would just listen, really listen, to what the world is telling us, to what our neighbors are saying.  I think Leo Buscaglia, another best-selling author,  penned it succinctly:  “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

 

We have a very powerful winter storm approaching this weekend and while I sincerely hope there are no outages, I do plan to make use of the weather in listening to those around me.  Last night I went through some old photographs and learned a great deal listening to the story they told of family members now deceased.  We never grow too old or too smart to stop listening.  There is much we can hear and learn if we will just take the time to listen to the world around us.