Embrace the Forgotten

Embrace the Forgotten

Advent 13

Year in Review 2017

 

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

 

The University of Alabama, a major university whose football team claims sixteen national championship titles will once again compete for the national number one slot in collegiate football on January 1st.  It is only forty-nine minutes away and the bustling metropolis of Birmingham is only one hundred miles away from Hale County, Alabama.  Yet, for the children of Hale County, Alabama, they might as well live on the other side of the country.  They live in one of the most rural and impoverished areas of Alabama in what is known as the Blackbelt region of the state. Residents of this are at an economic disadvantage with very limited resources. The high school graduation rate is only 34% with 74% of households earning less than $30,000 per year. Almost 200 families live without plumbing and healthcare is nonexistent for most.

 

According to the United Way of West Alabama, one in every four Alabamians is functionally illiterate, unable to read, write, or use basic math skills and technology in everyday life.   According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 60% of K-12 school children read below the level needed to proficiently process the written materials used in their grade levels.  Children who have not already developed basic literacy practices when they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out of school.

 

According to the 2014 Alabama Kids Count Data Book, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 26% of Alabama children are living in poverty; 9.7% of Alabama teens are not in school and not employed; 25.8% of Alabama children are food insecure; 40.1% of Alabama fourth graders are not proficient in reading; 20% of Alabama’s students do not graduate from high school.

 

The Sawyerville Work Project is, on paper, a day camp. It is an outreach project sponsored by the Youth Department of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama & local community volunteers.  It takes place in the summer for just a few weeks, and for that camp session, the children that attend the camp are not framed in the light of the region’s poverty.  They are simply kids, having fun, in a place created solely for them.

 

The Sawyerville Day Camp’s location originated at the Head Start Center in the small town of Sawyerville, hence the name. Within a few years of hosting the camp, the Center could no longer accommodate the increased numbers of campers and staff volunteers. The elementary school in nearby Greensboro welcomed this project and the partnership has continued for a successful thirteen years.

 

Sawyerville Day Camp ministry began in 1993.  The Blackbelt Convocation knew they needed to embrace the residents of the area, not just those in their church pews and the Diocese of Alabama Youth Department needed an outreach program for senior high students.  The answer to both problems became the Sawyerville Work Project, now known as the Sawyerville Day Camp.  It is supported by many people.

 

People serve as prayer partners, staff members, organize book drives, gather paper products, provide meals and make financial gifts.  The Episcopal Diocese has committed substantial funds to this ministry.  The generous people of the Black Belt have opened up their homes and churches for staff housing and meals.  Volunteers from within and outside of the Episcopal circle lend time and talent.  High school, college, and adult staff come from all over the state to serve as counselors.  The Hale County School Board permits use of school facilities and buses.  This project is woven together by hundreds of different supporters, all working together to form the Sawyerville experience.

 

The mission of the Yellowhammer Literacy Project, born out of the Sawyerville Day Camp, is to help close the achievement gap and prevent summer learning loss in Greensboro, Alabama. The YLP works toward this mission by hosting a multi-week summer academic program in which students will participate in reading intervention, engage in creative writing, and strengthen their literacy skills. Additionally, the YLP is invested in helping students grow as scholars and citizens through participation in academic field trips, community engagement, and other enrichment opportunities.

 

Summer 2015 was a huge success for the Yellowhammer Literacy Project! When first assessed the students in April, 58% were performing below grade level. By the end of this program, 88% of students grew by at least one reading level. Of that 88%, 66% grew by at least two levels. Nine students saw growth by three to five levels in a mere three weeks!
Not only did these students grow academically, but what cannot be tested or shown through the results is that these kids were encouraged to enjoy reading, were praised for their efforts, and became more confident in their own abilities by the end of the program. One child said it best in his final reflection, “I really am smart.”

 

The Humanitarian efforts of the Sawyerville Day Camp are led by Leslie Manning but she would be the first to acknowledge the help of hundreds, both volunteer staff and interns as well as the volunteers who fed, donate, and serve as prayer partners.  Each child received a swimsuit, towel, and book as well as a backpack.  For many this is the first time they have owned any of these items which serve as outward, visible signs of the larger community of caring that supports them and embraces them.

 

Now over twenty years old, this day camp has counselors who were once campers.  They believed in the promise shown by the Sawyerville Day Camp of a brighter future and by those who embraced them and they have succeeded.  Kids who once had never heard of a college are now college graduates, having learned to believe in themselves to make a better world for themselves.  People of all ages, races, and stages of life create the humanitarian efforts that result in Sawyerville Day Camp.  They come together and embrace each other.

 

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

 

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

 

 

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Be a Light

Be a Light

Advent 11

Year in Review 2017

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Lay Down to Build Up

Lay Down to Build Up

Advent 10

Year in Review 2017

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Actions in Living

Actions in Living

Epiphany 9

Year in Review 2017

 

Someone asked me to explain the theme of by blog series for Epiphany 2017 in one word.  My response was the title – Action.   In one post I revisited verbs, those words in a sentence that denoted action.  I also promised to, later in the year to take part in positive action.  Another reader apparently understood the theme but asked “Why?”

 

In early 2017 four young people were arrested and indicted for their attack on a developmentally disabled classmate of one of the four.  The nation and particularly residents in Chicago were outraged.  I wondered why.  When a person can mock another human being and make their disability part of the reason and justification for mocking, a person who did so in the most public venue possible, news coverage at a press conference for the candidacy for the highest elected office in the country, why, I wondered, are people outraged when young people follow such an example.

 

Actions have consequences, even for winners.  “We are aware of an incident tonight involving Joey Porter,” the statement from Pittsburgh Steelers’ director of communications, Burt Lauten read. “We are still gathering information as it pertains to the situation, and we will have no further comment until we get more details.” Joey Porter is a former professional football player and current outside linebackers coach for the Steelers.  He ended his celebrating a win over the Miami Dolphins in their AFC wildcard play-off by being handcuffed and taken to jail.

 

Also happening that same night were the Golden Globe awards awarded by the Foreign Press Corps, honoring those in the film and television world for their acting and actions.  Receiving a lifetime achievement award was Meryl Streep.  She briefly identified several in her profession and their varied ethnicities and their roles playing outside of those ethnicities.  She remarked about how we are all different and yet all the same.  She also mentioned the above-referenced incident of discrimination by then candidate, now president, Donald Trump and his performance on the occasion of his mocking a reporter with cerebral palsy.  “There was nothing good about it, but it did its job,” she said. “It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out my head because it wasn’t in a movie, it was in real life. That instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in a public platform, it filters down into everyone’s life because it gives permission for others to do the same. … Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence insights violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.”

 

There are only twenty-four hours in a day but we need to use each of them for good and not waste them, letting them get lost in our own egos and fear.  The incidents with the professional football player and the actress are examples of how one can use their time, either wisely or unwisely.  We cannot do everything and instantly cure the world of all its ill but we can all do something.  Each of those little somethings will, much like the snowflakes we discussed over the weekend, come together to make something beautiful. 

 

You effect change on this planet with each breath you take.  You matter and your presence makes an imprint on the lives of others.  Why do I encourage you to take positive action?  Julia Butterfly Hill has the answer:  “The question is not ‘Can you make a difference?’  You already do make a difference.  It’s just a matter of what kind of difference you want to make, during your life on this planet.”

 

To cherish someone or something requires action.  During Epiphany 2017 we discussed manifestations of our living, how we can cherish each other and how our actions reflect not only our faith but our beliefs and our identity.  I cannot desire forgiveness if I cannot extend it to another.  I cannot expect aid if I do not render it when possible.  In many ways life is a mirror with a time delay.  Our actions today will reflect our living tomorrow.

 

 

Manifestations of Living

Manifestation of Living

Advent 8

Year in Review 2017

 

 

I do not wake up each morning expecting trouble.  I am one of those disgusting folks who wake up fully awake.  I give thanks for the awakening and expect good things.  I live a typical life so good things do not always follow me around like a pet.  I encounter the same number of problems and irritating people and make probably more mistakes than the average person.  Yet, at the end of each “Oops!” and “Whoops!” and “Hey; watch it!”, I am happy I am alive to have had the irritation.  I move forward expecting something better.

 

Advent is the beginning of the Christian calendar.  It is also that time of year in which people begin thinking about their favorite things from the concluding year and new resolutions for the upcoming year.  On January 1st of each year, I do not think of everything I did not do correctly the preceding year.  Instead, I think of my hopes and I expect to give life my all, my best.  I understand the concept of resolutions; I just hope I make them each new hour, after each aggravating minute, after each encounter with someone else being just as human as I am.  Maybe I am just too imperfect to only make them once a year.

 

New Year’s Resolutions tend not to be our expectations of what we plan to do, in spite of how the name might imply that.  They end up being a litany of things we perceive we did wrong in the past.  Examples:   Because I did not exercise and walk every day, I will resolve to do so in the coming year.  Because I do not weigh whatever it is that society seems to think I should, I will resolve to lose weight, regardless of whether or not I am healthy.  See what I mean?  I try not to anticipate the negative.

 

I don’t believe in negative expectations.  The etymology of the word is probably the reason I don’t.  Rather than implying a future anticipated action, the history of the word “expect” actually denotes deferred action.  So instead of a new resolution based upon expectations, it should create a waiting game of sorts.  The word comes from the Latin “exspectare” which literally meant “to look out for”.  However, as an English word of the sixteenth century, “expect” came to mean deferred action or to wait.  It seems really silly to me to wait for something bad to happen.  I mean, really who wants that?

 

In the twelve days of Christmas 2015, in a series I titled “12 Days of Kindness”, I gave you an acrostic.  If resolutions are to be those things that will improve us, then these twelve words explain how I hope to live in the coming months.

Generosity-Respect-Acknowledge-Clemency-Envision…..GRACE

Accept-Need-Dare……..AND

Laughter-Open-Veer-Expect……LOVE

 

That pretty much defines what cherish is – the topic of this Advent’s blog series.  I hope we will all be generous, respectful in acknowledging and forgiving as we imagine a better world.  I pray we will be accepting of others and ourselves, admitting our need for each other and being daring enough to follow through on that need.  I hope we share laughter with each step, are open to potential, brave enough to change when necessary and approach each minute with positive expectations, waiting for the goodness that life has to offer us.

 

During this Advent season I hope this year you receive grace and love.  To me that is the true definition of living kindness.  I also hope you share grace and love.  Advent is a time of preparation but in preparing, we must also reflect.   IF we take the time to cherish, we will have much more for which to be thankful in the future.  How do we cherish?  By extending grace to all, respecting others, acknowledging our differences, offering forgiveness and compassion, imagining a better tomorrow, accepting those different from us, admitting we need others, daring to trust, remembering to laugh, being open to the future, taking life’s detours with faith, and expecting better of ourselves and others.  We cherish our life when we manifest our faith by living it.

 

About Grace

About Grace

Advent 7

Year in Review 2017

 

Ann Lamott felt there was a mystery to grace, that concept we have spent Advent discussing:  “I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”  Describing it is terms of a mystery makes one wonder about its axiomatic presence.  Can something be a mystery and self-evident at the same time?

 

In our approach to discussing grace, using the four realms of probability, we removed the mystery when it comes to grace.  Whether it was classical, empirical, subjective, or axiomatic, we held true to the belief that grace exists.   While some might try to isolate as the provenance of grace to the religious, we considered that it really is in the air we breathe, simply waiting for us to reach out and grasp it, holding it and then releasing it back into the world. 

 

So why did I elect to use the four realms of probability in my approach to grace?  Because there is a very great probability that you have shared grace, both as the giver and as the receiver.  We tend to think of things as concrete or abstract.  Those things we can see, hear, smell, or taste are definitely concrete while our feelings lean towards the abstract realm.  The truth is that our feelings, where we often give and receive grace, are as real as anything on earth.  The probability of grace in your life is a certainty. 

 

The actor Bradley Whitlock has a great quote about grace.  Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.”

 

Life is not simple.  It is complicated and will have periods of darkness and light.  The darkness can serve to clean the slate and lead us towards a brighter tomorrow.  Author Patricia Briggs advises ““When life doesn’t meet your expectations, it was important to take it with grace.”

 

Writer and thinker C. Joybell C. expounds on that thought.  “Peace is the number one beautiful ornament you can wear, I really believe that. They say you should always wear a smile, but I don’t believe that you should “always” wear a smile.  Seriously, you’re going to look stupid!  But peace, you should always carry peace within you.  It’s the most beautifying thing you could ever have or do. Peace makes your heart beautiful and it makes you look beautiful, too. You want to have perfect physical posture when you stand, sit, and walk, and peace is the perfect posture of the soul, really. Try perfect posture outside as well as inside. Peace creates grace and grace gives peace.”

 

Grace is not something we should be awaiting to fall into our laps, placed there by another.  Grace is something we should be sharing.  It is a verb, not a flimsy concept hovering just outside the realm of our own existence.  It is an action verb, the one thing that can turn a subjective judgment into a unifying movement, the first step for a better tomorrow, the hope of the hopeless and the light for those who do not see the beauty of the world.

 

If we are to cherish our being and the lives of those around us, we must extend grace to all.  Sometimes this means overlooking past mistakes.  Hanging onto misery and grudges does no one any good.  It may seem fulfilling and yes, the wronged person deserves respect, but sometimes the best way to respect ourselves is to let go and let God.

 

 

Intention and Disconnect

Intention and Disconnect

Advent  6

Year in Review 2017

 

One cannot approach the concept of grace either objectively or subjectively without including the religious community.  Indeed, many do not even attempt to define the concept of grace outside of a religious and theological construct.  I have asked you to consider it a form of living but today we will discuss it not as an inevitable part of one’s spirit of living but as it relates to organized religion and its followers.  Why?  Because, in my humble opinion, often the religions of the world have become stumbling blocks to grace.  I firmly believe our purpose in living is to cherish – each other, nature, all things connected to life.  Many times, the religious communities are the very institutions that define grace and yet, sometimes, they are its worst enemies.

 

Beyond Intractability was developed and is still maintained by the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. The missions of the Consortium and, more specifically, the Beyond Intractability project reflect the convergence of two long-standing streams of work. The first is an exploitation of the unique abilities of Web-based information systems to speed the flow of conflict-related information among those working in the field and the general public. The second is an investigation of strategies for more constructively addressing intractable conflict problems — those difficult situations which lie at the frontier of the field.

 

Here is a quote from the Beyond Intractability website:  “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a casual glance at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe.  Often, religion is a contentious issue. Where eternal salvation is at stake, compromise can be difficult at or even sinful. Religion is also important because, as a central part of many individuals’ identity, any threat to one’s beliefs is a threat to one’s very being. This is a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists.  … However, the relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. Religiously-motivated peace builders have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world.

 

“Although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latent source of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. After all, if it is the word of God, how can one compromise it? At the same time, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation. Therefore, conflict can arise over whose interpretation is the correct one, a conflict that ultimately cannot be solved because there is no arbiter. The winner generally is the interpretation that attracts the most followers. However, those followers must also be motivated to action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God’s will to fruition.  Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God’s wishes. Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world. If the world is a struggle between good and evil, it is hard to justify compromising with the devil. Any sign of moderation can be decried as selling out, more importantly, of abandoning God’s will.”

 

Manichean may be a word unfamiliar to you but its meaning is how many people view the world and try to live their lives.  Manichean comes from the word Mani, which is the name of an apostle who lived in Mesopotamia in the time frame of 240 ACE, who taught a universal religion based on what we now call dualism. If you believe in the Manichean idea of dualism, you tend to look at things as having two sides that are opposed. To Manicheans, life can be divided neatly between good or evil, light or dark, or love and hate.

 

In other words, in an attempt to live their doctrines of peace and love, people tend to think with a narrow field and view the world as either black or white.  Human beings are complex creatures and no one is one-dimensional.  In other words, no one person is all anything.  In our intention to live a doctrine of love and peace, we allow our subjective narrowness to trip us up.

 

To be certain, some things are either right or wrong.  You cannot murder someone halfway.  A person is either killed or alive.  However, the quality of life then comes into question and such is often what leads people to commit suicide.  Rather than offer grace, their expectations, based upon their belief system, suffocates any grace they might find.

 

So should we assume religion is the problem and not the answer?  Absolutely not!  Religions tend to connect us and remind us of that which we are deep inside.  They are, I believe, most necessary to life.  Religions offer us ways to show, recognize, and live grace.  Life is hard but grace makes it not only possible but worthwhile. 

 

Quoting David Smock, the Beyond Intractability website offers one solution to consider in finding grace amid all this conflict and discord.  “Religion is inherently conflictual, but this is not necessarily so. Therefore, in part, the solution is to promote a heightened awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role religion has played in many conflict situations. More generally, fighting ignorance can go a long way. Interfaith dialogue would be beneficial at all levels of religious hierarchies and across all segments of religious communities. Where silence and misunderstanding are all too common, learning about other religions would be a powerful step forward. Being educated about other religions does not mean conversion but may facilitate understanding and respect for other faiths.”

 

We all have intentions and the faith-based communities of the world are no different.  However, when need to give closer attention to our efforts and revitalize them every day.  Grace might very well be the key to world peace and it certainly makes each of our lives better.  Rather than being the problem, grace is the answer.

 

Recently, I had a family member pass away.  I requested my religious leader to hold a fifteen minute prayer service as requiem for this person’s passing in order to honor their life.  It would have been that last thing I could do to cherish this person’s living almost a century on this planet.  For the past four months, this religious leader has been too busy to find fifteen minutes.  Clearly he does not cherish my membership in his religious community.  Someone else less determined might take his actions to be a condemnation of their living as well.  We hear of suicides and wonder why.  Usually it is something as simple as a person not feeling cherished, not having had grace extended, and seeing nothing in their future.

 

This religious leader has been so busy doing his charitable works that he forgot charity truly begins at home.  It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  This proverb or aphorism is thought to have originated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote somewhere around 1150 ACE “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs” (Hell is full of good wishes and desires).  Life seldom goes according to plan but we still need to have intentions with follow through.  Otherwise, all we are left with is a disconnect and that not only might alter someone else’s life, it usually has an effect on ours as well.  Grace is a simple act of kindness that shows the recipient he/she is cherished.  Life is precious and worth at least fifteen minutes of our time.