The Basis of Belief – All Lives Matter

The Basis of Belief – All Lives Matter

Days 37-38

Lent 2019

 

Religious freedom is not just something discussed and guaranteed in the United States Constitution, although that document was one of the first to include it in a government’s laws and stated human rights.  It has been the goal of mankind since beliefs became diverse and openly discussed.  Clearly the first deliverance of the Jewish people from the bondage in Egypt was not a cure-all.  In the mid twentieth century Adolf Hitler sought to not only enslave them but to eradicate them, even though he himself was of Jewish descent.   “We were redeemed from Egypt because of the righteousness of the women of that generation.”  This sentence is found in the Talmud, the Jewish holy book.   

 

Today many people are seeking freedoms, both for religious purposes but also for just basic living.  Sarah Aaronsohn was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent her life trying to obtain freedom for Palestine from Turkish rule.  She was tortured for her efforts but remained strong and determined, faithful to her religion.  Lina Abarbanell was an opera singer of high acclaim.  She retired from singing but not from the stage and became a worldwide director of such wonderful operas as “Porgy and Bess”.  Born in Germany immediately after the end of World War I, Rosalie Silberman Abella took her experience as a refugee and used it as motivation to help others.  She became the first Jewish woman elected to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Ruth Abrams became the first woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, championing both women and minorities through her legal career.  Ruth Ginsberg is a vigilant and powerful presence in the United States Supreme Court today.

 

Lithuanian Dina Abramowicz was a Holocaust survivor from World War II.  While many hold that librarians are quiet, dull people, usually female, Dina proved them wrong.  As the head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, she helped recreate the rich heritage of the Jewish culture and people after WWII.  Bella Abzug was a New Yorker who also proved the strength of the Jewish woman.  Throughout her three terms as a U.S. Congresswoman, she advocated for and helped pass ground-breaking legislation for equal rights and particularly the right of women to play intramural sports in schools.

 

More recently Jill Abramson was the first female executive editor of the New York Times and promoted women within the organization as well as featuring stories regarding gender equality and racial injustice.  Rachel Adler sought to achieve gender equality within her own faith and was a pioneer of the Jewish feminist movement.  Born fifty years earlier, Paula Ackerman had taken over leadership of her rabbi husband’s congregation upon his death, a move that was met with support from the members of their synagogue.   Amy Alcott is a fantastic golfer who was recognized in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Sue Alexander is a founding member of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. 

 

The Beatitudes offer us a reason to continue to believe, in spite of what life throws at us.  They also have, for many, provided a foundation for which to live.  With no mission board to support or guide her and less than ten dollars in her pocket, Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China.  Amy Carmichael is an Irish missionary who spent fifty-three years in South India without a break.  Both women believed that their Creator would provide for their needs.

 

Dr. Helen Roseveare graduated in medicine from University of Cambridge in the late 1940′s. A well-known missionary doctor and author, with several of her works still in print, she worked in the north-eastern province of the Belgian Congo with the Heart of Africa Mission in the 1950′s & 60′s.  Art critic John Ruskin enthusiastically proclaimed her potential as one of the best artists of the nineteenth century, but Lilias Trotter’s devotion to Christ compelled her to surrender her life of art, privilege, and leisure. Leaving the home of her wealthy parents for a humble dwelling in Algeria, Lilias defied stereotypes and taboos that should have deterred any European woman from ministering in a Muslim country. Yet she stayed for nearly forty years, befriending Algerian Muslims with her appreciation for literature and art and winning them to Christ through her life of love.

 

Khadīja Khuwaylid Even was an important figure in her own right even before her famous marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, since she was a successful merchant and one of the elite figures of Mecca. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and has the distinction of being the first Muslim. 

 

One of the most important mystics (or Sufis) in the Muslim tradition, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya spent much of her early life as a slave in southern Iraq before attaining her freedom. She is considered to be one the founders of the Sufi school of “Divine Love,” which emphasizes the loving of God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. She lays this out in one of her poems:

“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

 

Throughout history women have been prevented from participating in a great many things, including religion.  Throughout history women have lived and fought for their religious beliefs and freedoms, finding strength in the cause and effects echoed in the Beatitudes.  These named represent a small minority of the thousands of thousands of brave and spiritual women who have lived according to their beliefs.  The list just goes on and on as these women have found purpose and strength from their faith. 

 

A news story today chronicles a suggested answer to the high number of people illegally entering the United States was to “dump them” in various locations across the country.  It should be noted that attorneys within involved agencies rejected this offer.  Throughout history women have been prevented from attaining an education and were considered good only as slaves, much like these immigrants have become – slaves and prisoners to an inept and ineffective system.  The fact is that all lives matter and we need to address issues as if we ourselves were the victims of the problems.  After all, whyat affects one really will, at some point, affect us all.  We truly and effectively need to treat others as we would want to be treated if we are to have success in living.

 

The women mentioned here today, as well as those in education, health care, and politics, live their belief that all lives matter.  After all, why do we believe and go through our daily living if it is not to help us live better and leave the world a better place?

 

 

 

 

 

The Best we Can Offer

Mirror Image

 

We are coming to the end of our series on mindfulness, a series that was written more in social media than at this website.  I hope you followed along on my twitter page.  We now our approaching Lent.  Lent is, after all, a four letter word and often that is felt with the commonly held attitudes about four letter words!

 

Lent is a time of reflection and often, sacrifices.  It is really a journey we undertake.  Perhaps one way to undertake keeping a holy Lent would be to follow the example of Lewis Carrol’s character Alice and fall into our mirror.  What would we really see if we fell into the looking glass of our lives?

 

“The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.”   Mark Twain spoke gospel words when he said that.  How often do we look in the mirror and think we are not as good as we should be?  What happens when we are too full of ourselves?  When are we being prideful and when are we practicing self-respect?

 

Many would say that pride and self-respect are the same thing while others have written that they are two different sides of the same coin.  I have no worldly wisdom here.  Let me say that before we go any further.   I too am on a quest.  If I was perfect and/or had all the answers, I would no longer being seeking.  I would have arrived.

 

In my humble opinion, pride is fine as long as it does not include a sense of better-ness, of being on a higher plane of existence than anyone else.  I might even go so far as to say there are many times in which pride and self-respect can be synonyms.  However, pride that elevates one’s personal worth to being “better” than another is wrong.

 

Self-respect means seeing the value in one’s existence.  That existence will not be perfect, though, and it will have its challenges.  It will be a journey and like most journeys, it will have its detours and delays.  However, the journey will also have a purpose and value.

 

The Reverend Peter Marshall once said Americans should not look to their Constitution as carte blanche to do whatever they wanted but rather as an opportunity to do right.   When you live with intentions, you live with purpose.  Anyone who lives with a purpose has to have self-respect.  You cannot and should not separate one from the other.

 

The dilemma about self-respect and building it is not a new challenge.  In his “History of the Peloponnesian War”, Thucydides spoke of it.  “Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”

When we look into a mirror, we see a reflection staring back at us.  That reflection is just an outer covering.  What we should respect and inspect is the deeper self of the character within the outer shell.  Joan Didion explains:  “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”

Life is not for the weak or lazy.  It takes courage and it requires an intention to live.  When we accept those two gauntlets that being born shoves on us, then we can live and build our self-respect.  Author Adrienne Rich agrees.  “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”

 

The reward to really being the image we want to see in the mirror is the best prize of all.  We gain self-respect and control over our being.  No one can ever deny us that.  You will never be without yourself when you can respect yourself.  Happiness requires that we have some measure of self-respect.  Be happy and start building your own bed of self-respect.

 

Life is much easier when you look into the mirror and can smile at your own reflection.  Then we are able to smile at others and be sincere.  A smile is the first invitation to others to join us on our journey of faith.  That is the blessing of truly keeping a holy Lent.  The end of Lent is not the end of our journey but rather an important layover.  The story does not end with Easter.  The resurrection is our invitation to fully live into our own self-worth.

 

Religion is not about the end game – a series of rules in which one wins a golden ticket into heaven if they are all followed.  Religion is about the game of here and now, living each day to the best of our abilities.  We achieve true spirituality and make the most of whatever dogmas we hold to be true when we are able to see ourselves in the faces of all we meet.  We are the world and each of us is, in some form or fashion, related to our neighbor.  If we are to have a future, we must first see ourselves in each other.

Accept

Accept

2018.12.30

12 Days of Kindness

 

 “What goes around comes around”. Like most people, I receive posts on Facebook that are often pictures of animals. Being an animal lover, I revel in each one. One of my favorites, though, is an oldie but goodie. It is a picture of two dogs, German Shepherds, sitting side by side. Both dogs have a sign around their necks, respectively. The first sign states “Don’t let karma bite you in the rear.” The dog sitting beside that dog has a sign that reads “I am Karma”.

 

The old idiom I quoted at the beginning of this – What goes around comes around – has a great deal of truth in it, both in nature as well as our treatment of each other. I first heard it as a definition of karma when doing a religious presentation to a group of first graders.  There was an overly-active young lad who was not prone to sitting still in the class.  On this day he kept jumping up and playing with non-playful objects in the room, things like the light switch or window blinds cord.  He suddenly stopped his actions, though, and looked directly at me when I asked if anyone knew the meaning of the word “karma”.  His response was quick and to the point: “What goes around comes around.”

 

Celtic culture described the areas of grass affected by a common fungus as fairy rings. These circular spots of grass contained grasses that grew a deeper green and were often thicker than the other areas of grass. It was believed that the fairies made them and that they were a sign of good luck. Depending on the mythology and the culture, fairy rings were thought to be made by fairies dancing, perhaps used when illustrated by mushrooms growing as dinner tables with the fairies eating off the mushrooms, or as places for spirits to gather and sometimes be free to release their powers within the circle.

 

Mushrooms are associated with fairy rings and not just because eating certain ones can produce hallucinations that might make one believe he/she really had seen fairies dancing. A common sign of a fairy ring is a necrotic zone, an area in which the grass and other plant life has died. Fungi associated with mushrooms, mushrooms themselves being a fungus, deplete the soil of nutrients and the plants growing within the circle often die. Similarly the area adjacent to such fungus can grow thicker and deeper in color.

 

There is also evidence that rabbits are an important part in the life cycle of some fairy rings. Rabbits eat grass, cropping it very short while their waste products contain nitrogen-rich droppings. Mushrooms need more soil nitrogen than grass does and a fairy ring can be started from a single fungus spore. Subsequent generations of the original spore will grow outward seeking more nutrients since the parent fungus would have used up all in the immediate area. Rabbits eat only the grass and not the mushrooms so the mushrooms soon grow taller than the grass which the rabbits keep low. This can create rings inside of rings.

 

It is said to be bad luck to enter a fairy ring and even worse luck to destroy or disturb one. Superstitions abound in almost every culture based upon such novelties of nature. From the thirteenth century writer Raoul de Houdenc to the modern-day romance writer Nora Roberts, fairy rings have played a prominent role in the literature of the world. They are also found as subjects of art and were a favorite of Victorian art.

 

The roundness of fairy rings is repeated in the Native American Indian culture in the form of medicine wheels. These stone man-made circles were thought to harness the healing power of nature and used to benefit man/woman. Also known as “sacred hoops”, medicine wheels were found in areas of different tribes and are one of the common aspects found throughout the tribes of all such peoples within North America. Alberta, Canada hosts at least seventy medicine wheels that survive today.

 

Archaeologist John Brumley notes that a medicine wheel consists of at least two of the following three traits: (1) a central stone cairn, (2) one or more concentric stone circles, and/or (3) two or more stone lines radiating outward from a central point. The lines of stones radiating outward from the center appear as spokes in the directions of east, west, north, and south.

 

The medicine wheel was not a set pattern, though. The number of spokes differed from wheel to wheel and some spokes were not evenly spaced out in the design. One of the oldest remaining wheels dates back over forty-five hundred years. Some are aligned astronomically with the horizon and others reflect the position of the sun on the four seasonal equinoxes. How their power was utilized is a subject of much debate but it is clear that they held power and served purpose of healing and living.

 

While many fairy rings are found throughout Europe and the medicine wheels of the North American aboriginal people known as American Indians seem to be found only on the two American continents, there are other such rings. The landscape of Africa also hosts fairy rings. The explanations for them in Europe, particularly in Great Britain and Ireland seem to lose validity when comparing that topography to the land of Africa.

 

Often described as a “thousand blinking eyes in the desert”, the fairy rings of Namibia are considered one of the world’s great natural mysteries. In a place called “The Land God Made in Anger’, the Namibian circle number in the millions although such circles are also found where the grassland transition to desert, from Angola to the Cape province of South Africa. The Namib Desert is a remote and harsh environment. Reasons for the circle abound but, just as plentifully, they are found without backing. Biologist Walter Tschinkel was certain the circle were the work of termites. “They are really neat places, these little clean patches. They are like little satellite dishes. I looked at them and thought ‘this has to be termites,” Tschinkel remarked. “It is the sort of things termites do.” However, his theory proved false and while others still believe in the sand termite as the cause, that theory also fails to justify all aspects of the circles.

 

More recently a scientist took a holistic approach. Many theories have focused on the underground gasses believed to be affecting the soil and grass formation. Folklore of the region mentions underground dragons whose breath created the circles. Stephan Getzin, an ecologist from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, in Leipzig, Germany decided to consider all theories but from a different perspective – a bird’s eye view. He took to the air to examine the Namibian circles and discovered something very interesting. The circles not only appeared as eyes in the desert, dancing across the landscape, they were evenly spaced and had an organization to them. His findings have revealed only that there is still we do not know and that all previous theories might have some validity although none would be the entire story. “I’m sure this is not the end of the story,” summarized Getzin.

 

These circles, these evidences of unknown karma upon the environment, whether natural or man-made, are excellent examples of the sacred in our own lives. Sometimes it is what we do to ourselves and sometimes we are simply the victims of another’s behavior or choices. The fact is that we can learn and heal from everything.  Life is a series of lessons, a process of acceptance.   Not all of life’s lessons are pleasant or invited.  Healing occurs when we learn. What we choose to eat and drink affects our living and how we live has just as important an affect.  Selecting to live graciously with respect to all gives us a greater chance of being treated the same. Even when we are not, we can find the lesson and move on to greater things.

 

My readers for this blog come from forty-three countries world-wide.  Those of you who have taken the time to comment have taught me and I accept those lessons with gratitude and joy.  Life is not for the faint-hearted.  Life takes courage and is seldom “easy”.  Your acceptance of these posts has been a blessing and I thank each of you.  My efforts in writing this blog have been rewarded by your reading it.  Some might say that is a type of karma.

 

Eventually, goodness will go around the world and encompass it and us.  The best karma will be found in the acceptance we give one another.  Today’s world is often a world of one of name-calling and inciting terror.  Sharing kindness by allowing people to be, accepting them for their differences rather than in spite of them, opens a door for a better tomorrow and a brighter, safer future for everyone.  May be t greatest lesson is that the sacred part of karma is in learning from the painful and spreading joyful kindness to all.  I do know that if we encompass the world with a ring of goodness, we will all have better karma.  Then, what goes around will be goodness, mercy, kindness, and a better tomorrow to come.

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.  

 

 

 

 

It Happened This week

It Happened This Week

2018.11.09

Growing Community

 

This week is ending as so many in the United States of America have all too often – with families grieving and communities reeling from yet another incident of multiple victims from one incident of gunfire.  A gunman opened fire on a crowd inside Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif.  On Wednesday, Nov 7th twelve people were killed and another eighteen injured, and the gunman is reportedly dead.  One of the dead was a responding law enforcement official.  The man suspected of killing 12 people in a bar in a Los Angeles suburb was a decorated Marine Corp machine gunner deployed in Afghanistan who had several prior brushes with law enforcement.  He was also the grandson of a thirty-year Navy Commander veteran.

 

Countries need to defend themselves and young men and women often gain maturity and skills when doing so.  Sadly, though, some are taught those skills without being able to cope with such knowledge.  War is often a catalyst for mental anguish and we need to include such screening in the curriculum of all who serve.  We also need to offer more assistance to those returning from war zones.

 

With such carnage it is easy to forget the positive things that also occurred this week.  In lieu of the upcoming holiday season, toy drives and in full swing and many are donating for the less fortunate.  In areas where winter is fast approaching, clothing drives are also being conducted.  It is a great time to donate both your time and energy to help someone else.

 

In Boston this week a conference was held regarding how cancer research can be adapted for maximum clinical impact.  A chemotherapy symposium was also held with new innovative cancer therapies being unveiled.  Various educational conferences were held this week.  Some were for the traditional educator but others offered education in specific careers.  The American Resort Development Association hosted its Fall Conference in Washington, DC.  Ongoing until the end of today, it offers industry professionals educational and networking opportunities each year through its Annual Convention and Exposition with attendees, educational sessions, and expo hall booths.

 

This week is Law Justice and Development Week, a platform to explore the link between rights and protection to economically empower disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals and groups, identify the role multilateral institutions, non-governmental organizations and the private sector may play in advancing rights and protection, and examine how upholding rights and protection may affect development outcomes, especially in fragile contexts, and how such approach may contribute to reducing poverty and boosting prosperity with a focus on the impact for refugees.  These are topics which have been around since the beginning of mankind and we definitely need to continue our work in developing and resolving such issues.

 

What all of these things, even the tragedy in California with the mass shooting, have in common is that there are part of what is required in growing a community.  We will never know everything and these conferences, varied as they are, focus on growing a better world for everyone.  Community refers to all of us and when we respect the rights and needs of the individuals within said community, then we are making progress.

 

Elections were also held this week in the USA and the biggest challenge now is to act, to take those votes and turn them into forward momentum that benefits everyone.  It is not about power but progress.  We construct a better tomorrow by living in communion with our neighbors – those across the street and those halfway around the world.  This week had more than its share of grief but there was positive effort displayed.  That is the takeaway from this and every week.  “And when I die, and when I’m dead and gone; there’ll be one child born in this world to carry on.”  We best honor those who died this week by living tomorrow and making it better.

The Power of Hate and Love

The Power of Hate and Love

2018.11.02

All Soul’s Day

 

The current events of this past week that made international headlines all had one common thread – hate.  Most of us think of hate as the polar opposite of love but it turns out that there are a great many things these two contradictory emotions have in common. 

 

In 2008 a study was conducted in the United Kingdom at the University College London regarding the effect of hate on our bodies, specifically the brain.  Test subjects’ brains were mapped with an MRI scanner while they looked at pictures of people they had identified as hating.  When they viewed these photos, activity was observed in the regions of the putamen and insular cortex – the very same two brain regions that also light up when a person sees a picture of a loved one.  The difference with those they hated, though, was that the frontal cortex remained active as well.  When we view a picture of someone we love, the areas of the frontal cortex associated with judgment and critical thinking typically become less active than normal.

 

The putamen region of the brain is also that section that prepares the body for action.  Its involvement with both emotions of love and hate are interesting.  Are we ready to protect someone we love?  Do we expect to need to defend ourselves or run away from someone we hate?  Does the frontal cortex take a break with someone we love because we feel safe?  Is the frontal cortex one step ahead with someone we hate, preparing an escape plan if necessary?  Apparently hating involves more thinking than loving someone.

 

Love seems to have been a part of our lives from the initial breath but hate is a fairly new emotion in human evolution.  Did it develop as a defense mechanism or to justify doing what was necessary in order to live in harsh circumstances? 

 

This week a mass exodus took place with thousands of people walking in a caravan towards the United States of America.  These people, much like the Hebrews in Biblical stories, are seeking a better life.  For many of them, it is the only way they feel they can have a life.  Such migrations are nothing new in the natural world.  Many animals do it every fall and spring.  IN the skies over the Mid-Atlantic states, geese are seen and heard migrating to warmer climates in the fall and then again back home to their northern homes in the spring.  Butterflies, birds, bison… Nature knows the effects of the harsh weather on itself and seeks survival.  Many in the USA, including those in Congress and the White House, are disclaiming those seeking a new life.  They feel threatened.  Is their hatred simply a defense mechanism in place?

 

What effect does this hateful rhetoric on have those hearing it?  Is it simply one way for politicians to make a name for themselves and garner public attention they feel translates into votes?  It is a tactic that has worked in the past.  People go to the polls and tend to vote on name recognition rather than stated platforms and experience.  Why else would a nation that considers itself more Christian than anything else vote in a leader who has publicly broken at least half of the Ten Commandments?

 

Hate kills, not only in past examples of lynching and this week’s murders motivated by racism and neo-Nazi rhetoric.  Hateful discourse harms everyone who hears it.  It raises our blood pressure.  Negative comments cause our bodies to have elevated cortisol levels which often inhibits weight loss.  It leads to depression which then results in higher suicide rates, consumption of alcohol and greater use of medications, both prescription and by those self-medicating.

 

Hate is mentioned in the Book of Genesis and in Indian Vedic scripture and ancient Greeks gave much thought to its meaning. The 4th century B.C. philosopher Diogenes Laertius defined hate as “a growing or lasting desire or craving that it should go ill with somebody.”  Science now can prove we do indeed go ill with hate.

 

Rutgers University sociologist Martin Oppenheimer, who with his family fled Nazi persecution in the 1930s, argues that hate is sown among a group by identifying and exploiting their frustrations, insecurities, and/or fear of losing out on things they want or need. The trick is convincing people that the explanation for their problems is someone else who is threatening to take away things that ought to be theirs, or is a menace to their safety. Additionally, he says, organized hatred helps give meaning to the lives of those who feel marginalized. “These are the movements of growing numbers of the insecure, who seek islands of safety in a rapidly changing and increasingly insecure world.”

 

The written and spoken word has done much to further the cause of hatred in the world.  What we often forget, though, is that the power of love can be equally as strong.  “Love thy neighbor” is not just a religious saying, one found in almost every religion in the world.  It is also a basic tenet of living with someone else.  We all live with others on this planet so we need to learn how to do that. 

 

The American bishop, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his homily at the wedding of the U.K.’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle earlier this year.  “The late Dr. Martin Luther King once said and I quote: ‘We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this whole world a new world. But love, love is the only way,” Bishop Michael Curry said.  “There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There is power, power in love.”

To Be Creative

To Be Creative

2018.09.07-08

 

Albert Einstein once credited his intelligence to his creative spirit.  What exactly do we mean when we say someone is creative?  Are they overly imaginative?  Do they think “outside the box”?  In an online journal, “The Journal of Effective Teaching”, Jose Gomez discussed the various connotations and definitions of the term “creativity”.  Designed to assist educators in developing a student’s creativity, Gomez’s abstract brings up some very interesting correlations between intelligence, divergent thinking, convergent thinking, reflective thinking, and the different ways we accept or reject creativity.

 

It is nearly impossible to find an all-inclusive definition of the word “creativity”.  New World Encyclopedia defines it as a process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts, and their substantiation into a product that has novelty and originality. From a scientific point of view, the products of creative thought (sometimes referred to as divergent thought) are usually considered to have both “originality” and “appropriateness.”  Wikipedia states it more simply: Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.

 

We must also include the fact that creativity is considered differently based upon the situation or discipline in which it is found.  In education creativity is considered to be innovative while in business it is referred to as entrepreneurship.  In mathematics it is simply problem-solving but in music it is either performance or composition.  The World Conference on Higher Education proclaimed Creativity as “an innovative education approach” in their statement of Missions and Functions in Higher Education. 

 

In his article Gomez refers to the fact that the literature on creativity is sparse, but it is becoming apparent that there may be several kinds of creativity. Donald N. MacKinnon outlined three different kinds of creativity used as a basis for research at the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research Laboratory (IPAR), Berkeley, California. The first is artistic creativity, which reflects the creator’s inner needs, perceptions and motivations. The second type is scientific and technological creativity, which deals with some problem of the environment and results in novel solutions but exhibits little of the inventor’s personality. The third type is hybrid creativity, found in such fields as architecture that exhibits both a novel problem solution and the personality of the creator.

 

In studying creativity, the IPAR group, along with most other research groups that have investigated this process, have assumed that all kinds of creativity share common characteristics, and these assumptions seem to be true. It appears that most creative persons are relatively uninterested in small details or facts for their own sake; that they are more concerned with meaning and implications. Creative people have considerable cognitive flexibility, communicate easily, are intellectually curious, and tend to let their impulses flow freely.

 

It was generally assumed that creativity and intelligence were closely related.  However, the incidence of highly creative individuals, such as Edison, Churchill and Einstein, who at some time experienced difficulty in school, led to a closer examination of the issue during the 1960s. One of the most widely publicized studies was done by Getzels and Jackson (1992), who produced evidence that creativity and intelligence were largely independent traits.  On the other hand, just a few years later Hasan and Butcher(1996) found creativity and intelligence so highly correlated that they were almost indistinguishable.  The subject remains controversial today.  Perhaps the most prevailing view today is that beyond a minimum level of intelligence necessary for mastery in a given field, additional intelligence offers no guarantee of a corresponding increase in creativity.  OF course, since most intelligence tests only test for convergent thinking, we may never really know the relationship between intelligence and creativity.  Usually, there is only one correct answer, and correctness is determined on the basis of logic, rules, or laws. However, even the best known creativity tests are somewhat invalid because of the subjective nature of the elements they measure and the lack of any predetermined right answer.

 

What exactly is convergent thinking?   Convergent thinking emphasizes reproduction of existing data and adaptation of old responses to new situations in a more or less logical manner while divergent thinking is characterized by flexibility and originality in the production of new ideas. Convergent thinking is characterized by the reproduction of known concepts and the adoption of known responses to new situations. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, involves fluency, flexibility, and originality, and is essentially concerned with production of large numbers of new ideas.

 

Perhaps Einstein, Churchill and others had difficulty in school because institutional classrooms seldom allow for flexibility or creative approaches.  The teacher gives a test and said test is graded based upon the answer key with only one set of choices for the correct answers.   An idea is creative when it brings a new insight to a given situation. The process of creativity includes the ability to change one’s approach to a problem, to produce ideas that are both relevant and unusual, to see beyond the immediate situation, and to redefine the problem or some aspect of it.  The standard test does not allow for a creative response.  In addition, there is the myth that to the truly creative and talented, their skill comes naturally, and the creative works they produce come with ease. However, the evidence shows that the creative experience only comes after considerable effort and time has been put into the creative work.

 

Reflective thinking and evaluation of thoughts are, as we mentioned yesterday in the two creative process models discussed, basic to the process of creativity.  Ideas are best when evaluated for the purpose of facilitating the problem-solving process at every step.  However, continuous evaluation limits the generation of ideas. A suspension of judgment enables one to further examine seemingly wild or impossible ideas.  Wrong ideas may be right in the final analysis. Emphasis shifts from the validity of a particular point to its usefulness in producing new arrangements or patterns.

 

Gomez lists basic attributes of the creative person but I think they could also be considered steps in the creative process.  They include originality, persistence, independence, involvement and detachment, deferment and immediacy, incubation, verification, discovery of problems, generation of alternatives, the challenging of basic assumptions, and minimizing labels and/or categories.

 

Gomez also lists strategies for encouraging creative thinking.  They include the most obvious – make a start.  He also lists taking notes as not only effective but also necessary for not only observing the world around you but also making note of various ideas as they come.  A surprising strategy involves making deadlines.  Deadlines are often considered the killer of a creative spirit but Gomez feels the creative soul should use them to do the necessary daily routines we all have more efficiently.  That in turn frees up more time for creativity and encourages the self-discipline needed in accomplishing goals.  To this end Gomez also advises to “fix a time and place” to lure one’s muse out.  While this may sound far-fetched it is very similar to the bedtime routines we employ to tell our brain it is time to turn off and go to sleep.  One cannot schedule a masterpiece of thought to happen, perhaps, but we can create an environment that encourages creative thought, relaxation and a safe environment for exploration of said creativity.

 

Linda Naiman, founder of Creativity at Work sums it up best:  “If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.”  In their 1999 annual report the Hewlett Packard Company established their basic rules for a culture of creativity and innovation:  “Believe you can change the world.  Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever.  Know when to work alone and when to work together.  Share – tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues.  No politics. No bureaucracy.  The customer defines a job well done.  Radical ideas are not bad ideas.  Invent different ways of working.  Make a contribution every day.  Believe that together we can do anything.  Invent.”

 

I firmly believe that when we throw the labels and criticism of the past away, anyone can develop their creative side.  Someday science will determine the genes that are creative and we will discover that we all have the ability to be creative if we will just take the time and have the courage to develop it. 

 

 

My Neighbor’s Faith

My Neighbor’s Faith – A Collection of Essays on Diversity

2018.08.26

Literature and Life

 

We live in a diverse world.  That is a statement no one can refute.  It is a fact.  What is also true, sadly, is that many fear diversity.  Almost every single minute part of creation, of our world, is unique.  Diversity is not just a trendy term used about by politicians.  It is a fact.  No two snowflakes are exactly alike, no two roses, people, etc.  Recently I saw the word diversity explained this way:

Diversity means:

D – ifferent

I – ndividuals

V – aluing

E – achother

R – egardless of

S – kin

I – ntellect

T – alents or

Y – ears

 

Diversity leads to growth and a better world.  Instead, history has shown that it often leads to hatred and violence.  Writer and television executive Gene Roddenberry once said ““If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”

 

The featured book for today is “My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation”, edited by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley.  The book is a collection of fifty-three essays, divided as one might a travelogue.  I think this is fitting since these essays invite us to embark on self-exploration in celebrating diversity and our neighbor.

 

Dr. Thomas Szasz, doctor of psychiatry wrote “The Myth of Mental Illness” and he had some strong words about diversity.  ““The plague of mankind is the fear and rejection of diversity: monotheism, monarchy, monogamy and, in our age, monomedicine. The belief that there is only one right way to live, only one right way to regulate religious, political, sexual, medical affairs is the root cause of the greatest threat to man: members of his own species, bent on ensuring his salvation, security, and sanity. ”

 

I have written about this book over the past four years of this blog and I still read it at least once a year.  It encourages me to continue to encounter a new neighbor, look with fresh eyes upon my own home and those of others,  to consider redrawing the maps of my comfort zone, unpacking and trying on new beliefs and new ways to live my treasured tenets of faith and living, to step across the lines of my comfort zone, to seek out fellow travelers, and do whatever I can to repair the brokenness in our world.

 

At a university commencement speech in June of 1963, then President of the US John F. Kennedy spoke his truths on diversity.  “If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

 

This series has been more for the writer than the reader and how reading can broaden one’s knowledge and talent.  I seriously encourage all to read this book, published in 2012.  Perhaps essays are not quite your cup of tea.  I still encourage you to read this book.  Albert Einstein once remarked:  “Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else.”

 

 

 

 

Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat

2018.08.07

Literature and Life

 

This series about authors and their favorite books began by my reading a quote about if someone really wanted to be a good writer, they first had to be a good reader.  John Cheever, a celebrated writer of novels and short stories from New England once remarked “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.”  One can, of course, write, but without it being read, it often seems like wasted energy.  There is the old adage that the difference between a good writer and a bad writer is that the good writer perseveres and the bad writer simply quits but one still does hope, at some point, to have their work read. 

 

Cheever also defined art as the triumph over chaos.  I think perhaps this is one of the reasons our featured author today began to write although she described it this way:  “Whole interaction between the storyteller and the listeners had a very powerful influence on me.”  Born on the island of Haiti, Edwidge had a life that was a bit chaotic.  Haiti gained its independence from France in 1804 only to see itself sold to Americans.  It has a history of tyranny and neglect and many seem to have forgotten it most of the time.  Edwidge moved to New York at the start of her teen years after being raised for ten years by an aunt and uncle.  French is the national language of Haiti but at home she spoke Haitian Creole, a conglomeration of words from 18th century French with influences from Portuguese, Spanish, English, Taíno, and West African languages.  Moving to be with her parent in New York was nice but also very isolating.  Literature became her escape and comfort.

 

Edwidge Danticat wrote a story about her immigration experience for New Youth Connections, a citywide magazine written by teenagers entitled “A New World Full of Strangers”. In the introduction to “Starting With I”, an anthology of stories from the magazine, Danticat wrote, “When I was done with the [immigration] piece, I felt that my story was unfinished, so I wrote a short story, which later became a book, my first novel: Breath, Eyes, Memory…Writing for New Youth Connections had given me a voice. My silence was destroyed completely, indefinitely.”  Danticat went on to graduate from Bernard College in NYC and then receive masters’ degree in creative writing from Brown University.

 

It is therefore not surprising that she lists Marie Vieus-Chauvet’s book “Love, Anger, Madness” as a favored and influential book on her writing.  Written by an exiled Haitian writer one year before Danticat was born, the book is actually a trilogy – three stories that reflect the American invasion and economic control of Haiti, Haitis troubles from the occupation, and its own internal struggles. Each story has a character that finds refuge in art, struggles to overthrow dominant forces, and battles for integrity against the devastation of war in a corrupt state. Oppression cuts across class and race lines. The dramas are large and small, and the villains are not always who you think they are.  It is easy to understand the book’s appeal to Edwidge Danticat who once remarked “The past is like the hair on our head …You always have this feeling that wherever you come from, you physically leave it, but it doesn’t leave you.”

 

Three themes are prominent in the writing of Edwidge Danticat: national identity, mother-daughter relationships, and diasporic politics.   It might seem like this are applicable to only her native land but diasporic politics affected the African slave trade as well as that of the Sephardic Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 ACE.  Great literature crosses time and space, uniting us all and both Danticat and her influencing Marie Vieus-Chauvet write such literature. 

 

Edwidge Danticat has given us a picture book, a young adult novel, and five other books in addition to her short stories, essays, and work as an anthology editor and guest contributor for such publications as “The New Yorker” and “The Washington Post”.  The busy mother of two daughters has been known to say the greatest gift one can give a writer is time and she eagerly seeks to connect literature and life.   “We need literature because we wouldn’t fully know ourselves without it.  We need good literature to be fully human.”