March 17, 2018


Having recently had eye surgery I am reminded of a quote from Harper Lee about the value of reading:  “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing.”  Breathing is an essential part of our living.  Without it, we have no life.  Harper Lee was correct, though, because we often overlook it.  It is so much a part of our living that we forget its importance.  Self-worth is much the same way.  Until we love ourselves, we do not allow ourselves value.  Unless we first love ourselves, we have no true self-worth.


Joybell C. is an author, writer, and community developer. She also sits on the board of the Scientific Journal editorial board. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she also is excellent at keeping the focus off of herself and very much on her work.  She is, I believe, a great example of someone who values herself and her work and knows the difference between the two.  “Life is too short to waste any amount of time on wondering what other people think about you. In the first place, if they had better things going on in their lives, they wouldn’t have the time to sit around and talk about you.  What’s important to me is not others’ opinions of me, but what’s important to me is my opinion of myself.”


During the liturgical season of Lent we tend to go back to our roots, so to speak.  This series is about cultivating a better self, growing a better being.  One of the best writers on this subject is Shannon Adler.  Shannon Adler is not some great scholar or a cosmopolitan literaturist from a distant continent.  She is a regular woman with the same challenges in life we all face.  What is so great about her is her ability to make lemonade from life’s lemons.  She knows her self-worth and that gives her the courage to see beyond the hurdle and stay on track.


What I have described as self-worth, Adler would probably call dignity.  She has quite a few definitions for this:  “1. The moment you realize that the person you cared for has nothing intellectually or spiritually to offer you, but a headache.  2. The moment you realize God had greater plans for you that don’t involve crying at night or sad Pinterest quotes.  3. The moment you stop comparing yourself to others because it undermines your worth, education and your parent’s wisdom.  4. The moment you live your dreams, not because of what it will prove or get you, but because that is all you want to do. People’s opinions don’t matter.   5. The moment you realize that no one is your enemy, except yourself.  6. The moment you realize that you can have everything you want in life. However, it takes timing, the right heart, the right actions, the right passion and a willingness to risk it all. If it is not yours, it is because you really didn’t want it, need it or God prevented it.   7. The moment you realize the ghost of your ancestors stood between you and the person you loved. They really don’t want you mucking up the family line with someone that acts anything less than honorable.  8. The moment you realize that happiness was never about getting a person. They are only a helpmate towards achieving your life mission.  9. The moment you believe that love is not about losing or winning. It is just a few moments in time, followed by an eternity of situations to grow from.  10. The moment you realize that you were always the right person. Only ignorant people walk away from greatness.”


Self-worth is not something we can purchase, no matter how many times we try.  It is not the latest fashion or snazziest vehicle.  It is neither the biggest house nor the most friends on Facebook.  It is not even guaranteed if you repost that blurb on Facebook or Twitter or share your latest and best snaps on Instagram.  It is, as Adler says, “the moment you realize that you were always the right person”, that “happiness was never about getting a person”, and that “no one is your enemy, except yourself”.


What do you see when you look in the mirror?  I did not ask what do you think you should see but what DO you see?  I think selfies are so popular because we are striving to see ourselves from the eyes of another.  We seek to see what the objective eye of the camera sees.  Of course, we are interpreting that vision through our own eyes so it still is blurred but we continue to try, taking picture after picture.


I recently came across a picture of our family pet taken when said pet was just a tiny baby.  It was his first day with our family and the picture was taken at the pet store as we purchased the necessary items to become his caregivers.  “Goodness!” I thought.  “If I had known I looked like that, I never would have walked out of the house!”  Needless to say, I thought I looked less than desirable.  Yet, we had been approached by an animal rescue group, an international group, to adopt said pet.  Clearly, regardless how horrible I thought I looked, someone thought I looked caring and responsible.


Perception is everything when we view a reflection of ourselves.  “You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away.”  C. Joybell C. speaks a great truth in these statements.  “It’s not like you have forever, so don’t waste any of your seconds, don’t throw even one of your moments away.”


Writer Elizabeth Gilbert makes an important point that we often forget:  “Never forget that, once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you saw yourself as a friend.”  For most of us that time was when we were children.  Children have this undoubting talent for embracing life, embracing passion, and finding joy.  We need to tap into that part of ourselves we think we have outgrown and embrace it, reflecting a zest for life and ourselves.


“Let’s tell the truth to people. When people ask, ‘How are you?’ have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you because, they, too, have knees that pain them and heads that hurt and they don’t want to know about yours. But think of it this way: If people avoid you, you will have more time to meditate and do fine research on a cure for whatever truly afflicts you.”  This advice, written by Maya Angelou in her “Letter to My Daughter”, is right on track but very hard to do.


Value yourself to live honestly and realize that if someone doesn’t share the value you bring to the world, you probably do not need them in your orbit.  Be yourself – honestly and joyously.  You have value.  You are worth having value.  Most importantly, in the words of Malcolm X, “We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.”



Stewardship of Prayer

Stewardship of Prayer

March 14-15, 2018


Stewardship is often defined stewardship as raising money, getting pledges of tithing from membership which creates a stream of income for the coming year.  Recently a friend was facing an upcoming surgery and mentioned needing to make certain church attendance was on the agenda, needing to have God on their side for the operation.   Many view their attendance at their house of worship as a stewardship of prayer, a type of “praying it forward” to earn brownie points for those times they mess up or do not live their faith.


Let me explain the term “brownie points” in case you are reading this and are unfamiliar with this popular slang term.  Like most slang terminology, there are several opinions about its origin.  In the 1960’s a system of brownie points was created in the Girl Guides/Scouts program.  In order to earn a badge, Brownie Guides or Scouts had to complete a certain number of tasks concerning the particular badge in question, usually six tasks.  As each undertaking was completed, they were said to have earned a “brownie point”.  [I was a proud Brownie Scout and yes, I earned all the badges.]


After World War II the practice of issuing stamps based upon the amount of purchase became prevalent in many retail businesses.  The stamps would be accumulated and then exchanged for household items that were often a luxury for the average household.  The first such stamps were brown in color so the consumer was said to earn Brownie points while supporting the local economy.  In New Zealand a utility company still uses what it calls Brownie points in their marketing. 


Although the earliest reference of brownie points in print is found in a 1960’s article in California as a man spoke about his wife earning brownie points, a sexist attitude I have to dislike, it is much more likely that the real credit for the term belongs to an American railroad superintendent, George R. Brown.   In 1886, Brown developed an innovative system of merits and demerits for railroad employees who worked for the Fall Brook Railway in New York State.   His system of rewarding and punishing employees was written about in business publications and it garnered great fame as other railroads began using it.  Railroad employees referred to the merits and demerits as “brownie points” and the slang term worked its way into our common vocabulary.


An important thing to remember is that brownie points are imaginary and are not free.  One earns them either through effort or by paying a monetary price.  Their imaginary existence is the result of action.  I am not a deity to which anyone offers prayer so I cannot speak with authority but I am fairly certain that the concept of “praying it forward” is far less effective than the generosity of spirit involved with “paying it forward”, a concept suggested by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book “In the Garden of Delight” in which a person does a good deed for a stranger instead of the original benefactor from which they received something favorable.  Paying it forward might be considered giving it back while praying it forward is more of a savings loan program.  Paying it forward involves at least two or more people and usually can become a bit contagious with others following the example.  Praying it forward is an idea predicated on the belief that one will need extra favor due to a mistake or intentional wrongdoing.


Many donate or tithe based upon the knowledge that they are not perfect and will need forgiveness from their supreme spirit to which they believe they are accountable.  This use or practice of giving money as a type of “fine paying” treats forgiveness and being blessed as something that can be bought.  Indeed, there are some denominations and religions that still purport this concept.  It is, in fact, the reason many suicide bombers detonate their bombs; they believe it is the ultimate payment for the ultimate resting place for their soul.


I will not even get into the theology or lack thereof of such concepts.  The fact is that stewardship has really very little to do with money or even earning favor.  How often have you visited a busy shopping mall or large office complex and seen someone mopping up a spill or emptying the waste cans?  While the majority of such cleaning is done by a custodial staff after hours when the general population is not present, there are those little mishaps that require constant attention.  This is the real definition of stewardship, the caretaking of the establishment.  Do we stop to thank those stewards, those custodians or do we simply walk around them, maybe acknowledging their presence with a quick nod or the briefest of smiles?


Almost every culture has a flood myth and during Pentecost one year we discussed several of those, the most famous of which is the story from the Abrahamic faiths of Noah and the Ark.  What we fail to realize is the stewardship required of Noah and his family in this story.  Anyone who has had a household pet or lived on a farm or ranch knows the efforts required by owning animals.  Imagine doing that on a boat in the middle of nothing but water.  The mucking out of cages and stalls, the sweeping up of shedding hair…you get the picture.  All of a sudden the mythology of this story takes on a very different meaning than simply a man saving his family and two of each species so they can repopulate the planet.  Providing sustenance, a source of staying alive, a healthy environment…these are the realities of stewardship.


What sustenance do we give our prayers and how do we keep our prayer life alive?  While many times there are those on-the spur-of-the-moment prayers, how do we provide for those deeper meditative prayers and do we create a healthy environment for those?  Do we make very necessary quiet pockets within our day to engage in a prayerful dialogue, one in which we can listen?  Before we start to worry about earning brownie points, we first need to really engage in prayer, real active prayer.  Regardless of our spiritual leanings or direction, we can go nowhere until we have stewardship of our praying. A vehicle without petrol or gas will go nowhere and even an electric car needs recharging after its first drive.


Literature is full of examples of the Devil, the ultimate evil spirit, the nemesis for most faithful people.  Before you tell me you are too busy to be a good steward of prayer, let me remind you that Milton’s Lucifer and Goethe’s Mephistopheles were considered the most interesting of all the characters in the plays they inhabited.  Delightful and witty, their evilness does not appear as repulsive but rather charming and charismatic.  Yet, they represent the most evil of all, that which separates us from God – “I am the eternal spirit of negation” Mephistopheles explains to Faust in Goethe’s play.


It is that “I haven’t the time”, the subconscious “NO!” playing in our heads that keeps us from actively taking control of our praying and our prayer life.  Anywhere can become a sacred space as we discovered last Advent 2014 with the series that explored all the different sacred spaces on earth.  It is up to us to create that sacred space in our own lives, that time no matter how brief and that place no matter where it is that allows us to be faithful stewards of our praying.  We have no need to pray it forward.  We simply need to pray.

Living the Spirit

Living the Spirit

March 6-7, 2018


In 2011 author Judith O’Reilly decided to do one good deed every day.  In an article written for the London-based Daily Mail’s online publication fittingly known as “Mail Online”, columnist Bianca London interviewed O’Reilly.  ‘I didn’t realize when I made the resolution that New Year what I was taking on,’ she says in the epilogue to her book.  “I’d made resolutions before… but the idea of doing one good deed a day morphed into something else again.  ‘This year made me question what a good life is, how we give our lives meaning, and what it is to love.  ‘It also taught me that people don’t always want the good you want to do, and that doing good – believe you me – is harder than it looks.”


The season of Lent, the current lliturgical season, is a time for doing something that results in making one better.  Traditionally it has involved sacrifice but more recently, the trend for a lenten discipline has been to take on something.


I recently got called out by a person regarding my “seemingly liberal views” in a comment.  I always enjoy feedback and often answer direct questions.  I respect everyone for having a point of view because I also have a point of view.  However, this person asked me to apologize and explain my stance so one of my Lenten disciplines this year  is to show others respect.


Recently I attended a lecture series having five parts.  The last speaker talked about the environment and said several things that were, scientifically, not factual.  Did I stand up and scream “Liar!”?  No, of course not.  This person has the right as an invited speaker to say what they wished.  I deeply regret that some people walked out of the meeting thinking erroneous facts but respect for another required that I say nothing.  There were several courses of actions I could have taken afterwards.  One would have been to engage the speaker in some polite chatter and asked for their references, casually mentioning what I felt might have been said in error.  Another would have been to send them a letter comparing my references with theirs and asking for what clarification or reconciliation they knew.  A third would have been to accept that the series was more about gathering together than about academic learning and that others probably realized this as well.


I elected the third course of action, out of respect.  Was it a pleasing choice?  No, not really but I do believe it to have been the best.  I could, of course, be entirely wrong about that and would love to hear your thoughts.  I sincerely hope no one left the meeting and became a vegetarian because of the speaker’s comments that beef cattle are ruining the atmosphere with the amount of methane gas they discharge.  The truth is that dairy cattle produce twice as much methane gas as beef cattle.  Becoming a vegetarian may be the best health choice for someone but such a decision should be based on health and religious reasons, not a misspoken statement given in a speech.


Was I disappointed that the speaker gave out erroneous information, this being just one example?  Naturally I was but again, that is the decision this person made.  We all make such decisions, whether it is to jaywalk or pull into a parking place someone else had their eye on or even to short tip a server for their services.  These decisions reflect on our being and illustrate our own spirit of living.


I cannot apologize to my reader for being a liberal because I don’t think of myself that way.  Reminding that the person screaming about one man’s infidelity also committed infidelity in his own marriage and did so in his multiple marriages does not necessarily make me a liberal.  It means simply that I have a brain and memory and am putting both to use.


I firmly believe if we put eight people in a room and ask them one question each regarding the topics of religion, faith, lifestyle choices, or even just fashion preferences, for each question we would probably receive at least twelve difference answers.  We should insist everyone think exactly the same as we do.  We must respect another person’s right to their own opinion, even when it contradicts their own actions.


It is that contradiction that I hope to illustrate and, perhaps, cause us to consider.  I firmly believe most of us are good people and try to live good lives.  We sometimes just don’t stop to think and yes, that includes me.  Never think I hold myself up as a sterling example.  I am, as my bio states, a struggling wandered on the road of life and I have fallen into more than my fair share of pot holes and taken wrong turns in life.


Life is a journey and I hope, in this blog, to offer a few ways to make that journey a little more pleasurable and effective.  “You were ordered to obey to Allah, and you were created to perform good deeds.”  While I do not identify as a Muslim, I really do appreciate this quote.  The author  of it is considered to be the first person to convert to Islam, being a cousin to Muhammad.   As a collector of quotations, he is among my favorites.  Respect today that wisdom knows no labels or sectarian divides and do yourself a favor by reading up on this man and some of his quotations.


William Shakespeare once wrote “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”  To do something good certainly helps the world but it also helps us be better citizens.  I hope you will join me during this season in extending respect to all you encounter.


We can, however, do our little part to make the world a better place.  It is, in every religion and spirituality, part of the credo for living.  Whether liberal or conservative, non-religious person or devout, doing good bu offering respect to all just makes good sense.  It doesn’t take a lot of money to create a smile.  In fact, tomorrow’s tip for better living just takes seven minutes.   Richelle Goodrich sums it up very succinctly:  ““Every sunrise is an invitation for us to arise and brighten someone’s day.”


Who Are We…Really?

Who are we…Really?

Feb 12-13


In 1974 a politician serving on the national level was discovered in a compromising position with a burlesque performer.  Being a member of the conservative political party, he claimed he was just supporting the woman’s career and was doing so with his wife’s support.  In the next several months the true affair was revealed, a relationship that had involved a pregnancy and an abortion, all the time while the politician campaigned against abortion and touted his own family values.  This was a watershed moment for national politics.  Up to this point, their private lives were just that – private.  In a nation that proudly disavowed an aristocracy or ruling monarchy so that all could be considered equal (and held equally accountable by a justice system that supposedly was blind to class, politicians had been given a free ride based upon their stature as … well, politicians.


After a wave of sexual misconduct and corruption revelations following the 1974 Tidal Basin incident, Congress created ethics committees for each chamber and formal processes for reprimands, censures and expulsion. The Arkansas politician involved decided to end his political career amid the negative press coverage of his affair also demonstrated that powerful lawmakers could face consequences for their sexual misdeeds ― even if they were consensual affairs.


In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Paul Blumenthal wrote:  “Congress is currently grappling with how to respond to a new wave of sexual misconduct allegations. The effort is occurring amid a national outcry over accusations that powerful men ― not only in politics, but the media and the entertainment world ― abused their positions to harass, assault and rape women, girls, men and boys.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was accused of kissing radio news anchor Leann Tweeden against her will, and he was photographed groping her while she slept in 2006. He has since resigned his Senate seat.  Then news broke that 88-year-old Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) allegedly made repeated sexual advances to women on his staff. He reportedly settled in 2015 a wrongful dismissal complaint filed by one of them.   Several women alleged that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore either sexually assaulted them, kissed them or made unwanted advances while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.  Moore lost the Senate race and is said to be pursuing legal action against his accusers. 


Blumenthal also wrote:  “Absent an imminent election, the public sector has few levers available for ousting a lawmaker from Congress (or a president from the White House, for that matter) for sexual misconduct — fewer, certainly, than the private sector has at its disposal for dealing with miscreant CEOs and the like. No lawmaker has ever been expelled for sexual misconduct, and many facing such accusations have simply declared that they would not seek re-election.  But more and more, lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct are resigning from office. A survey of past cases by HuffPost determined that six of the 11 resignations from Congress since the mid-1970s that stemmed directly from sexual misconduct have occurred since 2006. This trend began after a second watershed moment in Congress’ history of dealing with sexual misconduct.”


The 2006 reporting by ABC News that Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) had engaged in sexually explicit instant message conversations with male teenage congressional pages brought up another issue – power over the powerless.  . At least 10 men came forward to allege that Foley had sexually harassed them or made inappropriate sexual comments to them when they were underage pages. Foley ultimately admitted he had a consensual sexual relationship with a former page once the page was of age.  Foley quickly resigned from office, but the true scandal was not just about the personal failings and misconduct of an individual. Foley’s pattern of abusive behavior toward underage pages was known by powerful congressional leaders and staffers, and they swept it under the rug. That’s where it stayed, until the instant message conversations leaked to the press.


Clearly those in a position of power need to be held accountable but we must make sure that in doing so, we do not ourselves exercise our own discrimination or misuse of power.  Righteous indignation is perfectly understandable and accountability must be ensured but how do we do that?


Earlier this week an Ohio Republican state legislator who consistently touts his faith and his anti-LGBT stances resigned after being caught having sex with a man in his office.  Representative Wes Goodman, who is married, was reportedly seen by someone who is not a staffer having sex with a man inside his Riffe Center office. The witness told Ohio House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe of the situation early Tuesday afternoon, according to the Columbus Dispatch.  Dittoe told House Speaker Republican Cliff Rosenberger, who met with Goodman. Shortly after the meeting, Goodman resigned due to “inappropriate conduct.”


Wes Goodman had made his religious beliefs a major part of his political campaign and life.  He was famous for speaking about what he termed “natural marriage” being between a man and a woman. His campaign website outlined his views on family: “Healthy, vibrant, thriving, values-driven families are the source of Ohio’s proud history and the key to Ohio’s future greatness. The ideals of a loving father and mother, a committed natural marriage, and a caring community are well worth pursuing and protecting.”


Goodman said in a statement to the Columbus Dispatch: “We all bring our own struggles and our own trials into public life. That has been true for me, and I sincerely regret that my actions and choices have kept me from serving my constituents and our state in a way that reflects the best ideals of public service. For those whom I have let down, I’m sorry. As I move onto the next chapter of my life, I sincerely ask for privacy for myself, my family, and my friends.”


It did not take more than ten minutes for Facebook to be full of his opponents and those in the LGTBQ community to start pointing fingers at the hypocrisy of Goodman’s words versus his actions.  My question is this?  Where is our compassion, our humanity in dealing with such revelations?


I think it boils down to living what we profess to believe.  It is not a problem known only to one group of people, one political party.  Society has created the environment that prevents people from living authentic lives.  The media is full of images that contribute to the emphasis on sex and its supposed accompanying power.  We the public encourage this from the media by watching and buying those products, programs, books, fashions, etc. 


Joe Camel was possibly one of the most effective advertising campaigns in the twentieth century.  The RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company was seeking an advertising campaign that would rebrand their Camel cigarettes as being right for younger people.  The plan worked a little too well. 


On May 28, 1997 the Federal Trade Commission released the following statement:  “The Joe Camel advertising campaign violates federal law, the Federal Trade Commission charged today. The campaign, which the FTC alleges was successful in appealing to many children and adolescents under 18, induced many young people to begin smoking or to continue smoking cigarettes and as a result caused significant injury to their health and safety. The FTC charged that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the seller of Camel cigarettes, promoted an addictive and dangerous product through a campaign that was attractive to those too young to purchase cigarettes legally. In fact, the FTC said, after the campaign began the percentage of kids who smoked Camels became larger than the percentage of adults who smoked Camels….The agency is seeking an order that would bar Reynolds from using the Joe Camel campaign to advertise to kids and would require the company to conduct a public education campaign discouraging young people from smoking. The Commission also may order further relief, such as corrective advertising or other affirmative disclosures, after the trial on the case has concluded…. Consumers who smoke cigarettes risk addiction and long term health problems including cancer and heart disease,” said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, “and the earlier they begin smoking the greater the risk. That is why it is illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.”


Where is the outrage today about the barrage of suggestive material, music, and media that encourages the behavior we are seeing in the highest office of this country?  IN its statement of 1997, the FTC concluded “R.J. Reynolds has conducted one of the most effective advertising campaigns in decades. Joe Camel has become as recognizable to kids as Mickey Mouse. Yet the campaign promotes a product that causes serious injury, addiction and death. It appeals to our young people. It is illegal and should be stopped. Joe Camel must grow up or go away.”


Perhaps that is the crux of today’s sexual allegations.  Are people trying to use sexual acts, consensual and harassing, as a means for staying young?  Or have we just decided that whatever a politician wants, he should get?  Have we forgotten why we have a constitution with elected officials instead of a monarchy based upon inheritance and family?


I have no easy answers and, quite frankly, do not think there are any.  What does concern me is the religious community’s response.  Being a religious community involves a sense of compassion and humanity and this week, in response to Rep Wes Goodman, there was precious little of that.  Where is our own compassion when dealing with those who have fallen short and strayed from a path they themselves claim to follow?  Can we not see the need for humanity in these situations, kindness and charity for both sides? 


Before you starting yelling at me, let me be honest and fully disclose that I have never been a sexual perpetrator but I have been a victim.  I would wish it on no one, not even an enemy, to be so victimized and yet, I must rise above any feeling of hatred to find my own humanity.  Who do we wish to be?  Vindictive haters or compassionate in holding others accountable?  I do think we can be accountable and loving without condoning the illicit behavior.    The choice is ours.  I do think we are better as a race than to allow the incorrect, illegal, and inconsiderate behavior of others to pull us down to lower level of behavior than anyone would want.  The selfish behavior of others should create insensitivity and unkind responses of our own.  Very few, if any of us, are perfect.  We hope and seek understanding for ourselves.  I just think we owe it to others to give them the same respect.  Perhaps that is the definition of being mature – the ability to show concern to those who have not earned it but are still just are human as the rest of us.  I firmly believe perpetrators should be held accountable.  I just happen to believe and hope there is a humane manner to do so.


Expressing Grace

Expressing Grace

Jan 19-22


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

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

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


Case Study Number One

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

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

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

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

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


Case Study Number Two

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

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


Case Study Number Three

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

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


Case Study Number Four – Past History

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

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

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

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


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


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








Brokenness and Strength

Brokenness and Strength

Jan 17 & 18


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Make the Impossible Possible

Make the Impossible Possible

Jan 15-16


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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