We Are the Village

We Are the Village

2018.11.29-30

Growing Community

 

Several years ago Jacob Devaney penned:  “No matter how old we are, we are children of ‘the village’, the community that raised us and supported us helped to shape the way we see the world.”  Many of us had nurturing families in which we lived but many others did not.  Regardless of the family unit or lack thereof, the community around us was our village.  Pam Leo explains that How we treat the child, the child will grow up to treat the world.”

 

This is not a new concept.  What we know of ancient civilizations is based upon the archaeological finds of their communities.  The shards of pottery tell us how and what they ate.  Pieces of ancient tools help understand how they lived and in what types of abodes.  The community is as much a vital part of our living as the air we breathe. 

 

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an Igbo and Yoruba proverb that exists in many different African languages. It reflects the emphasis African cultures place on family and community and may have its origins in a biblical worldview.  This proverb is so widely used in Africa that there are equivalent statements in most African languages, including “One knee does not bring up a child” in Sukuma and “One hand does not nurse a child” in Swahili.  The widespread use of this proverb by cultures around the world shows its timelessness and relevancy.  The saying is used in America to evoke feelings of community on the small scale as well as on the national and even global scale.

 

Some believe the proverb may have its origins in the Bible, since it reflects a worldview regarding unity and self-sacrifice expressed in several passages of the Bible, such as Ecclesiastes 4:9,12 and Isaiah 49:15-16.  This worldview is commonly seen in African cultures today. In many African communities it is common for a child to be raised by its extended family, in many cases spending extended periods of time living with grandparents, aunts and uncles. Even the wider community sometimes gets involved, as children are seen as a blessing from God upon the entire community.  We could debate for hours which came first – the Biblical scriptures or the African communities.  One thing is certain – We need community.

 

Robin Grille is an Australian psychologist and writer who has authored “Parenting for a Peaceful World”.  He encourages parents and the community to consider how our daily lives are influencing our children.  A fractured society cannot be an effective community.  We must work together and be supportive in order for the future generations to understand how to form, grow, and continue the concept of community. 

 

Health and fitness coach Jen Waak believes there are six vital reasons for us to grow community.  First there is the concept of Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers, consulting with experts is always going to give you better information.  Secondly, life pushes our limits. When working alone, it’s oftentimes too easy to give up when things get hard. By surrounding yourself with others working toward a similar goal or objective, you’ll get motivation, support, and friendly competition to push yourself just a bit further than you would have done on your own.

 

Support and belief are the third reason for developing community. Some days those big goals just seem impossible. On those days when you most want to give up, you need to lean on your community the most. They believe in you—probably more than you belief in yourself.  Next, there is the need for new ideas.   When you are working within a community of like-minded people, the wisdom of crowds is considerably greater than any one person working alone. Our divergent world views and lenses mean that we all approach the exact same problem slightly differently. 

 

Fifth, communities offer borrowed motivation. Even on those days when your belief in yourself isn’t waning, doing what needs to get done can often seem overwhelming. Look around your community and be inspired!  Lastly, we need community because there is the need for accountability.  If you’re an uber-responsible person, you may not want to admit to people you care about who are pulling for you that something didn’t get done. There’s nothing like having to be accountable to others to up your game.  Allowing others to help is hard, but it ultimately raises everyone’s game.

 

Khalil Gibran spoke of this concept of community and children, the need for the village to be a sustainable community in this poem.

“Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.

For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”

 

An old African folksong asks “Who is watching the children?…It Takes a whole village to raise a child.”  It takes a community to grow a world.  Hopefully this month we have all realized the need to be communal and in community with each other.  I will let Idowu Koyenikan on this month’s topic of Growing community:  “There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals.”

 

 

Importance of Community

The Importance of Community

2018.11.26-28

Growing Community

 

Good health is a positive thing and we all know at least one thing we should change in order to improve our health.  For instance, most of us could improve our diet.  Eating right, that is to say eating a balanced diet helps to combat disease and weight gain.  We all should have at least one hundred and fifty minutes of moderate physical activity each week.  When we opt to walk instead of drive, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even pace while on the telephone, we make positive changes for our personal health.

 

Fitness is not just a personal thing.  It improves with community.  Those one hundred and fifty minutes of physical activity improve our mood and cognitive function and that makes us more productive members of our community.  This means we are better able to be useful, offer assistance and guidance to those around us.  It also means we are more likely to form connections with those in our neighborhood, professional and personal networks.  This increases the opportunities for positive relationships. 

 

Communities, by their very nature, contain a diversity of opinion, ideas, and knowledge.  IN the early twentieth century, there was a group of men who called themselves to “vagabonds.”  This diverse community of businessmen and politicians forms a camping community.  Membership included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, the occasional US President and leading scientists.  The Vagabonds were a perfect example of how communities, large and small, are beneficial. 

 

It is impossible to do everything by yourself.  A community offers the prospect of meeting others who can render skills that you might have lacking.  It is not wrong to utilize the skills of others.  A community offers a quid pro quo or an exchange of abilities that benefits everyone in the community.  To quote the Centers for Disease Control:  “Designing and building healthy communities can improve the quality of life for all people who live, work, worship, learn, and play within their borders—where every person is free to make choices amid a variety of healthy, available, accessible, and affordable options.”

 

In her book “Second Chance”, Jodi Picoult writes: ““Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.”  This sentiment is echoed by Kurt Vonnegut in his “Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage”:  “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

 

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”  This quote by Jane Addams is just one of many used by the initiative Do One Thing.  This is funded by the Emily Fund.  Emily Rachel Silverstein, of Roosevelt, was tragically taken from us on April 9, 2009, at the tender age of 19. Born in New Brunswick, NJ on June 27, 1989, for most of her life Emily resided in Roosevelt, NJ, in Monmouth County. From an early age Emily was a creator. She was a skilled artist all of her life and most recently displayed her talents in her creative writing. Her sensitive and caring nature leant power and meaning to all of her works. At twelve years old she decided to become a vegetarian. She wrote her first letter to the president when she was in sixth grade. Her academic prowess followed her through high school as a member of the National Honor Society, and graduating with honors. She continued her success as a member of the Dean’s list at Gettysburg College, where she was an Anthropology Major, with an English Minor. She also participated in several extracurricular activities like the Hightstown High School Marching Band and swim team. Emily was a dedicated activist in all of her causes, which included Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). At Gettysburg, Emily lived in the Peace House, where she also served as the co-president, whose mission was to create awareness of world peace issues. She was involved in Amnesty International, Free the Children, Adopt a Holocaust Survivor Program, among many others. She was planning to participate in a week-long event, called Tent City, to help bring awareness to the homelessness crisis.

 

Emily lived in a Gettysburg College residence called Peace House with construction-paper flowers covering the windows and world music filling the hallways.  She died a death more violent than her friends care to imagine in her ex-boyfriend’s apartment a quarter-mile away, in a yellow clapboard house that neighbors say was always quiet.  Authorities said Kevin R. Schaeffer, also a Gettysburg College student, choked Emily early Thursday morning and then stabbed her in the neck with a steak knife. He sat with her for 15 minutes before putting her in a bathtub, according to a police affidavit.  Kevin confessed to the crime, according to the affidavit. He told police he had been drinking that evening but was not intoxicated. He said he had recently stopped taking Zoloft, an anti-depressant.  Kevin Schaeffer was arrested that morning and charged him with homicide, aggravated assault, possessing instruments of crime and tampering with evidence.

 

Emily Rachel Silverstein’s compassion, passion and creativity touched many lives. She shared many deep friendships and accomplished many amazing things. But there was so much more that she wanted to do to make this world a better place. There are so many more lives that she would have touched, inspired and empowered to join in the struggle for a more peaceful, just and sustainable world. The Emily Silverstein Fund (emilyfund.org) has been set up by her family to continue Emily’s legacy of hope and action for a better world, and her strong conviction that every act of compassion makes a difference.  By creating a community for caring and helping, the Emily Fund uses education, mentorship, inspiration, and leadership in building communities of youth for a better world.  Legendary activist Dorothy Day sums up the importance of community.  “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

 

Thoughts on Tradition

Thoughts on Tradition

2018.11.24-25

Growing Community

 

It is that time of year in which traditions seem to take on a higher priority.  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or something else, almost every community has its winter solstice-time traditions.  These traditions are generally passed from one generation to the next, and they provide a very important connection to the past.  Thus, these traditions are a direct link from the past to the future.  They give us direction, personal relationship and serve to honor the culture from which they originated.  We receive our core values from our traditions. 

 

Traditions and core values are important because they provide the framework of a community.  Within a family traditions serve to provide us identity.  Most of our traditions are based upon our history and they provide the framework for who we are today or in the present.  Our traditions reinforce the values we hold dear, the core values that help define us.  Through our traditions we celebrate those things that are dear to us and that we consider important.  By such celebrations we honor our role models, the tenets of our religious and/or spiritual beliefs, and the structure upon which our communities are built.

 

What happens when we stop honoring those traditions?  Award-winning author Frank Sonnenberg cautions that if we stop honoring our traditions, “our beliefs will get so diluted, over time, that our way of life will become foreign to us.”  Within the modern-day community, though, there are often differing traditions.  Our traditions do provide us a forum to show what is really important to us but what if our neighbor does not celebrate in the same way?

 

In the past culture is what brought a community together.  Culture referred to a pattern of human activity and the symbols which gave significance to tradition. Culture is represented through the art, literature, costumes, customs, and traditions of a community. Different cultures have always existed in different parts of the world. The natural environment greatly affected the lifestyle of the people in that region, thus shaping their culture. The diversity in the cultures around the world was also a result of the mindsets of people inhabiting different regions of the world.

 

Today, however, we have a far more mobile society and a community is often the home of varying cultures.  Culture has served to link people and their value systems.  Have we lost that in the 21st century?  Can we create culture among so many different behaviors?  At a time when people are shouting “remember the reason for the season”, have we forgotten how to be civil towards each other?  Traditions serve to unite us but at this time of year, they also serve to divide us.  Lawsuits will be filed to determine what symbols can be placed in public locations.  People will decry the “happy Holidays” that encompasses the complete community to honor a man who advocated love for all.  Can such a traditional saying meant to show support for all really be so divisive?

 

Traditions developed as a way to continue the family unit, to illustrate identity and for celebration.  Unfortunately, there are many who fear embracing the whole community.  Rather than our traditions promoting empathy and the engagement of citizenship, too often they serve to be contentious. 

 

I hope this year as we celebrate the core values behind our traditions we remember to let those traditions evolve.  We have a few traditions in our family that have developed from less than perfect times.  On a day where most people in our community and country eat turkey, we include hot tamales on our table.  We do serve turkey as well as ham, green bean casserole, corn pudding, stuffing, filling, dressing (the last three being very similar but each representing all sections of the cultures from which family members have been raised), potatoes (usually two kinds), etc.  A prominent spot on the table, however, is reserved for the hot tamales.  They represent a Thanksgiving gone bad but yet, at the end of the day when all we had to eat was one can of hot tamales, a day in which we truly appreciated our blessings and togetherness. 

 

It is wonderful to have the picture-perfect traditional dinner or holiday tree, etc.  Nonetheless, we should not consider the holiday ruined if it is not impeccable or flawless.  In our communities we need to strive more for inclusion and smiles rather than a movie-set depiction of any holiday.  I think the best way to keep our traditions – all our traditions – is by remembering their reason.  Most traditions are based upon love and strength.  This year I hope we find the strength to honor those who are different and share the love of life with them.  We build stronger communities through the tradition of community – the coming together, the engaging of others in a shared experience called life.

 

 

Gratitude in Community

Gratitude in Community

2018.11.23

Growing Community

 

Gratitude is something that crosses all and boundaries and countries, cultures, and ages.  Gratitude is something we all can do and express and should.  The impact gratitude has on a community, whether it is a community of two or two million, is amazing and vital to the growth and sustaining of the community.

 

National Gratitude Month is an annual designation observed in November.  Gratitude is more than simply saying “thank you.”  Gratitude’s amazing powers have the ability to shift us from focusing on the negative to appreciating what is positive in our lives.  Everything in our lives has the ability to improve when we are grateful. Research has shown that gratitude can enhance our moods, decrease stress and drastically improve our overall level of health and wellbeing. On average, grateful people tend to have fewer stress-related illnesses and experience less depression and lowered blood pressure.   They are more physically fit, they are happier, have a higher income, more satisfying personal and professional relationships and will be better liked. Grateful kids are even more likely to get A’s in school.

 

If everyone practiced daily gratitude, we could change ourselves and the planet for the better.  Everyone would be much happier.  Love would grow and hate would decrease.  And the world would know true peace.  People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis have fewer physical symptoms, exercise more, are optimistic, and feel better about their lives as a whole.  They offer emotional support to others and are considered helpful. Many studies have proven that daily discussions of gratitude results in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and better sleep quality.

 

Grateful people tend to put less importance on material goods, are less likely to judge others based upon material possessions, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.  Emerging research suggests that daily gratitude practices may have preventive benefits in warding off coronary artery disease.  Increasing positive, grateful thoughts can increase a sense of well-being.

 

Entrepreneur Deborah Sweeney feels gratitude is a necessary component in any business model.  “very morning when I wake up, I reflect on everything that I’m grateful for. I do this before I get out of bed. It only takes a couple of minutes, but this kind of inner reflection helps me set the tone for my day.

How you practice gratitude will differ for every entrepreneur, but the key to embracing an attitude of gratitude is making it a daily habit to be thankful. Where you are, how long you dwell on the thoughts, and what makes you thankful are details you can tweak to make your own. All that matters is making it a regular part of your day — and one that you genuinely enjoy taking a break to do.  Don’t just think of the things that are so obvious. Instead, try to think of mundane things that you’re grateful for. For example, I’m thankful I live in a safe environment. It may not be as obvious as being thankful for my parents or children, but I don’t take any of it for granted.”

 

Sweeney continues:  “As I mentioned before, gratitude differs for everyone but it’s important to consider the smaller details just as much as you would the bigger picture. Look beyond what’s obvious. Maybe you have a small Bonsai tree you keep in your office that makes you feel happy to look at or perhaps it’s a card you received in the mail from a friend you hadn’t heard from in a while. Take stock in the little things that happen throughout your day that makes you thankful. Who knows — your own actions might be part of someone else’s daily attitude of gratitude!”

 

This weekend we living in the USA are celebrating Thanksgiving.  It really should be a daily habit for us all.  The physical, mental, emotional health benefits are proven and being thankful serves to remind us we have a purpose, a reason to live, and a place in the universe. 

Mayflower Compact

Mayflower Compact

2018.11.21-22

Growing Community

 

If you go to the website plimouth.org, you will read what a community of Americans describes as the first Thanksgiving.  The community decided that was how they wished history to be.  However, it is not fact but rather a perspective that protected the community from seeming to be cruel or heartless.  Sometimes a community feels it must do such to protect itself.  I don’t know exactly when those in charge of Plimouth plantation decided to fabricate the partially true bit of history but it might fall under the heading of “fake news”.

 

Approximately 398 years ago, plus one day, the men aboard a ship of immigrants fleeing persecution were nearing the end of their sixty-six day journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Hoping to soon set foot on dry land, they devised a legal and binding contract of behavior and governance for all to follow.  Before each man set foot off the ship he was expected to sign the document that, as of the late 1700’s, has become known as the Mayflower Compact. 

 

The ship these immigrants sailed upon was called the Mayflower and it was under the steerage of Christopher Jones.  Known as the master (today we would consider him the Captain), Jones’ quarters were at the back of the ship in the stern.  The sailors lived in quarters at the front of the ship and used a hole cut into the tip of the bow or head for their personal hygiene needs.  The quarters consisted on one room known as the forecastle, a wet room constantly hit by crashing waves and frequently quite cold.  In the area between the Captain’s berth and the forecastle were the quarters for the officers.

 

The passengers on the Mayflower were considered cargo.  One hundred and two men, women, and children lived in the dark cargo decks below the crew.  Today there are caravans of immigrants escaping persecution from Central and South America approaching the United States border but in 1620, the fleeing immigrants were below the decks, seldom seeing the sun and feeling the full brunt of the ocean’s currents, tides, and waves.

 

These immigrants in 1620 were known as the Pilgrims.  Before leaving England, they had obtained permission from the King of England to settle on land farther to the south near the mouth of the Hudson River (in present-day New York).  The wind drew them off course and instead landing farther south where they had expected to make shore, they landed in New England.  This meant they needed a new permission (called a patent) to settle there as all land in this New World had been claimed as property of the King of England. On November 11, 1620, feeling the need to maintain order and establish a civil society while they waited for this new patent, the adult male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact.

 

At this juncture, two important points need to be made.  First, there were over five thousand groups of people already living in this New World as the North American continent was known in 1620.  Claiming it for the sovereignty of England did not erase this fact.  These people had spent decades and centuries to reach this land mass, coming originally as immigrants from the Caucus Mountains.  Today in the USA they are called Native Americans or American Indians.  The Canadian term is much more apt – First Families.  Archaeological evidence places their arrival some thirty thousand years before Europeans reached North America and some twenty thousand years in South America.  It is estimated they arrived some fifteen thousand years before the Vikings reached the shores of northern North America.

 

The second important point is that communities make such compacts as a way of maintaining order.  This is true of religious communities, volunteer groups, municipalities, social organizations, businesses, etc.  It is to be hoped that such documents include all parties involved and are written to the greatest maximum benefit of all.  In keeping with the times, only men signed the Mayflower Compact as women were not considered to be of mental acuity to understand such.  Gender discrimination is not a modern-day issue.  Much like the laws of today, though, a piece of paper cannot guarantee success, or that all will follow what has been agreed upon, or that order will lead to a better tomorrow.  The community itself must work together for the betterment of all and be willing to chance.  If not, well…that is where things can often get complicated.  They certainly did in 1620.

 

Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, there were 50 men, 19 women and 33 young adults and children.  Just 41 were true Pilgrims, religious separatists seeking freedom from the Church of England.  The others were considered common folk and included merchants, craftsmen, indentured servants and orphaned children—the Pilgrims called them “strangers.”  Seeking the right to worship as they wished, the Pilgrims had signed a contract with the Virginia Company to settle on land near the Hudson River, which was then part of northern Virginia.  The Virginia Company was a trading company chartered by King James I with the goal of colonizing parts of the eastern coast of the New World.  London stockholders financed the Pilgrim’s voyage with the understanding they’d be repaid in profits from the new settlement.

 

The strangers argued the Virginia Company contract was void. They felt since the Mayflower had landed outside of Virginia Company territory, they were no longer bound to the company’s charter.  The defiant strangers refused to recognize any rules since there was no official government over them.  Pilgrim leader William Bradford later wrote, “… several strangers made discontented and mutinous speeches.”  The Pilgrims knew if something wasn’t done quickly it could be every man, woman and family for themselves.  It’s unclear who wrote the Mayflower Compact, but the well-educated Separatist and pastor William Brewster is usually given credit.  One now-famous colonist who signed the Mayflower Compact was Myles Standish. He was an English military officer hired by the Pilgrims to accompany them to the New World to serve as military leader for the colony. Standish played an important role in enforcing the new laws and protecting colonists against the natives of the area who were considered unfriendly.

 

In establishing a community, it should be noted that other communities must be considered.  The Europeans came to this new land mass wanting to own all and did not give thought to those who were already living on the land and considered it theirs.  Because they dressed differently, had different customs and practices, they were considered savage.  When they tried to protect their homes, gardens, food sources, and families, they were called unfriendly. 

 

William Bradford kept diaries and what we known of the original Mayflower Compact has been learned through his diaries.  The original handwritten document has been lost but copies remain from over one hundred years later that are considered good references for it.  The Mayflower Compact created laws for Mayflower Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims alike for the good of their new colony. It was a short document which established that: the colonists would remain loyal subjects to King James, despite their need for self-governance; the colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith; the colonists would create one society and work together to further it; the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws.  The newly-formed Plymouth (or Plimouth) colony was their new community and John Carver was elected governor on November 21, 1620, three hundred and ninety-eight days ago. 

 

That first year was brutal.  Disease, improper clothing for the elements, lack of food and shelter resulted in the deaths of over half of those making the voyage aboard the Mayflower.  Of the eighteen adult women in the new community, fifteen perished that first year.  The Mayflower Compact is considered important as it established self-governance in this new land, the first of any such.  It remained active until Plymouth Colony became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.  John Carver perished that first year and William Bradford took over as governor. 

 

Also at the end of that first year, the new colonists discovered their neighbors were not so savage after all.  The end of the growing season meant the Indians would have their ritual of a harvest feast.  They invited the colonists to join them and the two communities, at least for several days, came together in peace and community.  Sadly, the Massachusetts Indians who were the hosts succumbed to the germs the English brought with them, typical everyday germs we all carry on our bodies.  There was no conspiracy to eliminate the Massachusetts tribe but it did.  The remaining thirty or so members of the tribe led by Chief Massasoit then joined a neighboring tribe, the Wampanoag Indians.  It was an Indian custom to have young men participate in an exchange program with neighboring tribes.  Such a custom shared knowledge but also led to an understanding and often, prevention of warfare.  It enabled the two somewhat different communities to ensure a future through discourse and education rather than annihilation.

 

Many believe the Mayflower Compact set the stage for the US Constitution.  However, the legislative branch of the US government bears more similarities to the governance of the Massachusetts and Wampanoag tribes than the Mayflower Compact.  This is, however, the way of history.  We form communities and we learn.  Those communities thrive when we gain and take the best of the past, giving thanks for lessons learned, and then move forward.  Of the time the Pilgrims had spent in the Dutch republic city of Leiden, historian Nathaniel Philbrick once wrote:  “Just as a spiritual covenant had marked the beginning of their congregation in Leiden, a civil covenant would provide the basis for a secular government in America.”

 

Many times we think of a spiritual covenant as relating to faith, a religious doctrine but I would offer that truly it is a nonphysical grouping of belief and we all have such.  This week might not be a time where you have an official Thanksgiving Holiday but I do think it a good time to give thanks.  We all should have an attitude of gratitude and move forward, committed to making our world a better community for all.  This provides not only a civil covenant for the future but a basis of a better tomorrow for us all. 

 

 

 

 

 

A verb, not a Noun

As a verb, not a noun

2018.11.20

Growing Community

I already mentioned in an earlier post that I think we need to update our definition of community.  Is a community the same as society?  Does it denote a commonality?  Has it evolved (maybe devolved) into merely a group of people communicating with each other?  I think the answer to all of these questions is no.  Certainly society is a part of community but I do not think the terms are synonyms for each other.  Today our communities are a diverse mix of cultures and beliefs rather than a melting pot of common traits.  I definitely believe our lack of listening, an integral part of communication, has led to the breakdown of community so no, we are not communicating with each other. 

Today a group of people living in one general area might be a conglomeration of strangers who simply share the same high rise or neighborhood.  It is not a community in the sense of being there to help one another or grow the area for the future.  All too often we have become a group of people who simply hare the same air.

Austin Kleon is a New York Times bestselling author of three books: Steal Like an Artist; Show Your Work!; and Newspaper Blackout. Kleon’s works focus on creativity in today’s world. He has spoken at organizations such as Pixar, Google, and TEDx, and at conferences such as The Economist’s Human Potential Summit and SXSW.  I think the answer to how we grow a community is best found in his blog entitled “We are verbs, not nouns.”

Kleon is not the first to use this quote which he did in his blog post of November 9th of this year.  In 2010 Stephen Fry in a 2010 radio interview quotes Oscar Wilde:  “Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it – that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”

Kleon quoted R. Buckminsters in his “I Seem to be a Verb”:  I live on earth at present, and I don’t know what I am.  I know that I am not a category.  I am not a thing – a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.”

All of these have the key to how we create, grow, live, and sustain a community.  We do it.  We make it.  We live it.  We don’t worry about how to define the community or the people in it.  I tis something we actively engage in.  We live in the community by seeing all members of it and by doing for them what we would them to do for us.  When we engage in the building and growing of community we learn new and dimensions of the mind and heart.  We not only grow community, we grow ourselves.  We become much more than a label, a noun.  We become a verb, living, breathing life into everything we do.

I – not in team but in community

“I” – absent in TEAM; present in COMMUNITY

2018.11.15-17

Growing Community

 

Many of the rules for living in a community are faith-based so this post (which is being posted late due to illness – my apologies) is combining the week’s wrap-up and thoughts about faith.  This blog is spiritually based but can someone live and grow a community without spiritual or faith-based doctrines?  For the large number (and growing daily) of atheists in the world, the answer is a resounding “YES!”

 

In the Bible, the title of chapter 5 of 1 Timothy is “Rules for Living with Others”.  The chapter goes like this:  “Do not speak angrily to an older man, but plead with him as if he were your father. Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, and younger women like sisters; always treat them in a pure way.  Take care of widows who are truly widows, but if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to do their duty to their own family and to repay their parents or grandparents. That pleases God. The true widow, who is all alone, puts her hope in God and continues to pray night and day for God’s help; but the widow who uses her life to please herself is really dead while she is alive. Tell the believers to do these things so that no one can criticize them.”  This passage from Timothy sounds like great advice but then it gets very specific about younger widows, giving extra honors to church leaders, and to criticize those who sin.  Suddenly this does not sound very loving but rather quite dictatorial.

 

I get the general drift of this passage and it sound advice.  Basically, we are to care for those who are alone, immature, or destitute.  The purpose of living is to care for others and put them first.  This goes along with the age-old axiom:  “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM.”  Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest football coaches of all times and certainly a practicing expert in the field of teamwork once said “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

 

It is true that there is no “I” in the word team but… there is in the word “community”.  So how do we recognize our own needs and reconcile them with practicing teamwork in our community?  This past week there was a great need in the USA for teamwork as the aftermath of a synagogue mass killing, the murder of two at a grocery store and wild fires seem to eat away at our piece of mind and our communities.  A community of faith was attacked because of their faith.  Two were killed in what was considered a racist act.  Nature and most likely human error has resulted in the devastation of hundreds of thousands of acres, entire towns reduced to ash, animals and human life lost.  In the light of such, it is hard to keep one’s faith.

 

Can a community exist without faith?  Frank Zindler, past president and current board member of American Atheists, when confronted with the question “Can an atheist commit a crime?” responded: “Absolutely not!  The behavior of Atheists is subject to the same rules of sociology, psychology, and neurophysiology that govern the behavior of all members of our species, religionists included. Moreover, despite protestations to the contrary, we may assert as a general rule that when religionists practice ethical behavior, it isn’t really due to their fear of hell-fire and damnation, nor is it due to their hopes of heaven. Ethical behavior – regardless of who the practitioner may be – results always from the same causes and is regulated by the same forces, and has nothing to do with the presence or absence of religious belief.”

 

Zindler speaks of the principle of “enlightened self-interest” as an excellent first approximation to an ethical principle which is both consistent with what we know of human nature and is relevant to the problems of life in a complex society.  Mankind is a social animal and whatever is good for the larger tribe is most often good for the individual.  Zindler feels atheists do not need the added emphasis of a list of ten rules to realize this.  He makes valid arguments and uses the science of botany and analogy to make valid points and yet … At the end of the day, very few lions share their meals with stranded fawn. 

 

The “I” in community is vital when we recognize our assets to the community.  Right now, people donating by text on their telephones are spending less than they might at a coffeehouse.  It might seem like a pittance but when combines, that ten dollars (USD) becomes the beginning of a new life for thousands.  Whether you donate because of your faith or because you realize that one day you might be the one in need really has little importance.  We act as a team and build a community together.  Helen Keller, a woman once thought of as being unable to do anything at all grew up to show the world what not only she could do as a world traveler and motivational speaker but also what each of us has the potential to do:  “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Figgy Pudding

Figgy Pudding

2018.11.15

Growing Community

 

In one week those living in the USA will celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  It will also be the official start of the holiday (i.e., Christmas) season.  In reality, though, the holiday shopping season began in mid-July as stores put out decorations and crafts ideas for gifts to be made.  Many people have been griping about seeing peppermint canes and holly wreaths while shopping for swimsuits or pumpkins but I am one of those who delights in seeing the Christmas cheer on display, even when the temperatures are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

As we become fully entrenched in the holiday season, carols will be played and one of the more popular ones has a verse that implores…”So bring us some figgy pudding, so bring us some figgy pudding, so bring us some figgy pudding and put it right here.”  Savory puddings are less well known than their sweet counterparts but savory puddings like figgy pudding are actually not only older but why the community of mankind survived the ages.  The modern usage of the word pudding id used to denote primarily desserts however the word pudding is believed to come from the French “boudin”, originally from the Latin “botellus”, meaning “small sausage”, referring to encased meats.  The meats were encased in animal intestines to preserve them; such preservation meant the meats could be kept longer and thus provided sustenance during hard times or when one could not go hunting. 

 

The first record of plum or figgy pudding dates back to the fifteenth century when records indicate a plum pottage or mash was served at the beginning of the meal.  Plum was a generic term used to indicate any dried fruit and the fruits were combined with meat and root vegetables.  Commonly dried fruit of the period were raisins, currants, and prunes.  By the end of the sixteenth century, dried fruit was more plentiful and the plum or figgy pudding became more sweet than savory.  Pudding cloths became popular as the concoction would be wrapped in the cloth and no longer needed to depend on animal fat to hold together.  It is most likely that such is the early beginnings of dishes like the Scottish haggis and Pennsylvania Dutch hog maw – both savory casseroles prepared in either intestines or the lining from a pig’ stomach.

 

In 1647 the figgy pudding was so closely associated with the Christmas holidays that Prime Minister Oliver Cromwell had it banned.  The Puritanical Cromwell felt such harkened back to the Druids, paganism, and idolatry.  In 1660 when the English monarchy was restored, so were the traditions of Yule logs, nativity scenes,, Christmas carols, and the figgy pudding.  The Victorian era saw the figgy pudding achieve a position of prominence, thanks in no small part to Charles Dickens.  The first Christmas savings clubs were created to help poor housewives save for the figgy or Christmas pudding ingredients.  In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the last Sunday before the Advent season contained a prayer that began “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people” and became known as “Stir-Up Sunday”.  Family members would take turn stirring the Christmas pudding which was then wrapped and boiled and set aside to mature until Christmas Day.  By the nineteenth century the traditional figgy pudding had become more of what we today call fruitcake, a mixture of brown sugar, raisins, currants, candied fruit, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, suet, and alcohol.

 

The Victorian citizens, the Christmas pudding was an analogy for their world view.  The British Empire consisted of savory bits from distant colonies all bound together by a settled atmosphere of All that was considered to be English.  One advantage of the Christmas pudding was the time it took to season and cure as well as the lengthy time it lasted.  This meant that soldiers deployed in far-off lands could enjoy this taste of home even if it took almost a year to receive it. 

 

I don’t mind the appearance of Christmas in July simply because I think it is always time to spread Christmas cheer.  Sadly, too often today our Christmas puddings are made in molds rather than the more organic shapes of the past.  While I admire the beauty of such molds, I do wonder if they serve to divide us instead of bringing us together.  We grow a community with the sharing of Christmas cheer and yet, if we expect that community to be perfect or everyone to fit in a mold, then we are self-defeating.

 

In growing a community we need to stir-up our diversities and celebrate our common denominators in solidifying our future.  The 1848 satirical cartoon once entitled “John Bull Showing the Foreign Powers How to Make a Constitutional Plum Pudding” seems sadly appropriate for our

modern times.  The cartoon illustration revealed a person preparing to carve a bulging, holly-adorned pudding labeled “Liberty of the Press”, “Trial by Jury”, “Common Sense”, and “Order”. 

 

Stir up, good people, the wills of your faith, so that they will bring forth the fruit of good works and therefore richly reward us all.   When we grow community we help ourselves to hear the call of goodness and practice such service as will benefit us all.  Whatever the weather or season, we need some figgy pudding, that combination of different things brought together for preservation and continuance of us all.

 

 

Losing a Community – Lessons of Stan Lee

Losing a Community – Lessons of Stan Lee

2018.11.13

Growing Community

 

With pen and paper, Stan Lee created communities of fiction that, sometimes, became fact.  All of the quotes in today’s posts are his.  Stan lee passed away earlier this week at the age of 95 but his legacy will live on in his characters but more importantly in their examples and dialogue.

 

Two weeks ago I happened upon an advertisement for a house in Calabasas, California.  I still am not sure what I entered into the search engine to arrive at this site and yet, intrigued by the house pictures, I happily spent twenty minutes there.  It was a real estate website and the houses featured were gorgeous – large, sprawling, and guaranteed to make anyone envious.  Yesterday, as I watched the national news about the horrific wildfires in California, something looked familiar.  Then I realized it was part of one of the houses from my earlier search in Calabasas.  Sure enough, the captions showed I was correct with the location. 

 

The community I had so envied fourteen days ago was not smoldering rubble.  No one would be envious of those who had lost their home.  Fourteen days ago the houses I had viewed online seemed flawless and one would have assumed that their owners led charmed lives.  “No one has a perfect life.  Everybody has something that he wishes was not the way it is.”

 

When we think about community, as I mentioned last week, we tend to think of a homogenous area where people share many things in common.  Today, many families in Calabasas are sharing grief and horror.  “I think people have always loved things that are bigger than life, things that are imaginative.”  I was certainly envious of those mansions I had viewed online.  They not only tweaked my envy but my imagination.  I had spent time pretending I lived there, happily forgetting the knee pain the winding grand staircases would have increased or the problems in cleaning the yardage of windows.

 

This had been a community of my dreams but not of my reality.  I could not fathom having clothes and shoes enough to fill the massive walk-in closets.  In truth, I would not enjoy such but still, for a brief time, it was fun to imagine living in such a community. 

 

“Every day, there’s a new development…There’s no limit to the things that are happening.”  The day after I had perused those impeccably designed grand manors in the California community of Calabasas, I looked about my own much more modest abode.  It was time to do fall cleaning and prepare for holiday decorating.  Suddenly I was very happy to have thousands less square footage as I had more than enough to clean and declutter.  I was content to live in my own community.  Now two weeks later I grieve for those very people I had recently envied.  Their homes were consumed by a fire that cared little for their grandeur.  Now, instead of needed my admiration for their magnificent lives, they needed assistance from ordinary people like me.

 

Farther north another wildfire raged and a family with a one-year-old toddler had to leave everything and evacuate.  As they sat far away from the fire that leveled much of their hometown of Paradise, they understandably wondered if their home was now a pile of ashes.  Suddenly they received a Face Book message from a stranger asking about their address in Paradise.  An ambulance loaded with patients had been stuck in the town of Paradise.  The nurses and patients had sought refuge in this family’s garage.  The Borden family home had provided protection from the raging fire which created a community of those rescued and this family.

 

Community is not just a geographical location and through organizations like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and others, we can create our own community and be super heroes.  “America is made of different races and different religions, but we’re all co-travelers on the spaceship Earth and must respect and help each other along the way.”

 

Stan Lee once said that the greatest super power is the ability to help another.  Today we have the opportunity to help our community by rendering aid to those devastated by these wildfires.  We also need to look ahead and enact policies that will reduce such in the future.  We cannot control Mother Nature; she is a super character in her own right.  We can, however, plan, prepare, and protect for future generations. 

 

“It’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race – to despise an entire nation – to vilify an entire religion….There is only one who is all powerful, and his greatest weapon is love…. We all wish we had superpowers.  We all wish we could more than we can do.”  We can do something, however, and we should.  “Life is never completely without its challenges. … The power of prayer is still the greatest ever known in this endless eternal universe.”

 

There has always been much discussion about the afterlife but perhaps we need to focus on the community of the here and now.  When we insist on derisiveness and division rather than building community, then we lose not only today’s communities but the chance for those of tomorrow.  We need to be the super heroes of today and offer whatever aid we can to our fellow man.  This is how we grow a community, even one that appears to have been lost.  After all, things are only lost when we stop giving them value.  As long as we value community, we will create it.  Then we will all be super heroes.  

 

 

 

 

Needing Others

Needing Others

2018.11.12

Growing Community

 

“A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members — among them the need to need one another.”  When Wendell Berry spoke these words, he said quite a great deal that most of our politicians have forgotten.  After all, their job is to grow a better community for their constituency, whether it is one hundred, one million, or more.

 

When we forget to need one another, we do a series of things.  First, we proclaim ourselves God (insert Allah, G-d, Buddha, or whatever.  We are saying that we do not need anything or anyone else and, my friends, that is simply not true.  John Donne spoke the truth when he said “No man is an island.  No man stands alone.”  There are countless of thousands living “off grid” and yet, they needed something that someone else made, created, or devised in order to do so. 

 

Taylor Brorby wrote in 2012 “We all stumble… I am not naive to tell you it will work out, but it just might, and if you have a community to support you, it ensures that someone is there to catch you if you stumble.”  He also mentioned author Ray Bradbury’s two favorite words – zest and gusto.  “These words are not only fun to say, but encourage us to move, to experience, to acknowledge that life may be difficult — especially if you’re having a crisis — and they also encourage us to move through those emotions to experience life in a new way, to seize and embrace it.”  In explaining Bradbury’s words, Brorby encouraged us to find our community. 

 

In 2005 Dr. Art Lindsley, a Senior Fellow with the CS Lewis Institute wrote an essay based upon a passage from Hebrews:   “…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…. “.  Found in Hebrews chapter 10 verse 24-25, this summarizes one definition and the need for community. 

 

Lindsley continued:  “Although we can gain the power to love others by our times alone with the Lord, that love is never expressed or stimulated except by being with other people. The Greek word for stimulate (paroxysmos) is sometimes used in English: paroxysm. It means “provoke,” “irritate,” “exasperate,” or “stir-up.” It is a word that communicates intense emotion and is almost always used in a negative fashion. For instance, when the Apostle Paul sees the city of Athens “full of” (under) idols (Acts 17:16), his spirit is deeply moved or “provoked” within him. This seems to be a powerful negative reaction to the idolatry that he saw all around him (Acts 17:16). It is because Paul saw the idolatry that he was moved (provoked) as he was, and thus spoke as he did. But in our context, Hebrews 10:19-25, a positive meaning is demanded. The context of the community stimulates—provokes—love and good deeds by all kinds of means. Without community (the church), love and good deeds are not provoked or stimulated. Love is in fact impossible in isolation. Love demands another: God or our brothers and sisters.”

 

CS Lewis spoke about the need for community.  He called it “a vast need”.  The Greek word for assembling together is “episynagoge” and it means “in addition to”.  Community is in addition to ourselves and it is a vital need that we all have.  Mankind is a social animal and when we are isolated, either by choice or by discrimination, we are only half-way functioning. 

 

No one lives a perfect life.  We have stumble, fall flat on our faces, get lost, and fall apart.  I remember hearing a mountain climber discuss his ascent to the highest peak.  “I lost count of how many times I fell and started,” he remarked.  “What I will always remember is the support I had reaching the summit.”  His community kept him going, kept his dream alive, and gave him strength.

 

Community gives us strength.  It affords us the chance to fail and then learn from our failings.  When we insist on our community only being comprised of perfect people, then we have set ourselves up to be unsuccessful.  Diversity is the blood-force that keeps life going.  Our communities need diversity if they are to flourish and we need communities to succeed.  We need communities to give us a chance to live and thrive, prosper and grow.