Embrace the passion

Embrace the Passion

Day 29

Lent 2019

 

Literature is often life’s greatest teacher.  Today I turn your thoughts to two often forgotten but very influential writers – Harper Lee and Umberto Eco.  Harper Lee was a daughter of the Deep South, that part of the United States of America that was explored a century before the Pilgrims began their epic ocean crossing.  Born in Alabama, Harper Lee died in the small town she wrote about in her ground-breaking novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

 

While Ms. Lee sought to show the world its true reflection, Umberto Eco looked for the same in symbols and signs.  Umberto Eco was a scholar but sought to see how the world viewed itself through not only words but also music, religious icons, signs, symbols, and graphic artwork such as cartoons.

 

In Past conversations/blog posts we have talked about the image people sometimes set for us – the restrained studied indifference that is seen as being socially correct.  Neither of these writers wasted time with any of that.  They both embraced their beings and their worlds and sought to make both a little better while keeping their eyes wide open.  In short, they both embraced their living with passion, great passion.

 

Both writers also had legions of critics.  Harper Lee’s critics were usually rather silent, that is until her second book was published last year, “Go Set a Watchman”.  Her first book gave us a distinct hero and was written as a commentary seen through the eyes of a child.  People were comfortable with that because it gave them an excuse for their living.  It recognized that we all live each day with the experience for that day the same as a child’s first time as doing anything.  In her second novel, however, Lee expected her readers to have grown a bit and gives them an adult story that is complete with raw, unapologetic truth.  No one wanted to be held accountable and the book was met with great negativity.

 

Eco’s biggest critique was that he saw nothing as being too menial and looked for meaning in everything.  The writer Salman Rushdie who would later have to live in hiding because of a death contract on his head placed there by Islamic Extremists once described a novel of Eco’s as ““humorless, devoid of character, entirely free of anything resembling a credible spoken word, and mind-numbingly full of gobbledygook of all sorts.”

 

Umberto Eco spoke at least five languages and never apologized for his passion about what he saw in the world.  He once explained his viewpoint to the London newspaper “The Guardian” in 2002: “I’m not a fundamentalist, saying there’s no difference between Homer and Walt Disney… but Mickey Mouse can be perfect in the sense that a Japanese haiku is.”

 

Harper Lee, though looking very different from the stereotypical Southern damsel yet always reminiscent of the grown-up version of her character “Scout”, explained her lack of hurt feelings this way:  “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing.”  She also explained her title”  “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy….they don’t do one thing except sing their hearts out for us.  That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

 

Both writers sought meaning and encouraged their readers to find the passion in their living.  Sadly many people are frightened when confronted with someone doing just that.  Do we really fear passion or do we fear what their passion requires of us – a true and honest look at ourselves?

 

“To Kill a Mockingbird” brought the inequities of racism into focus and gave meaning to the daily struggles of its victims.  Umberto Eco’s novels are a bit more involved, his most successful being “The Name of the Rose”, but they do much the same thing.  In spite of having once won a literary competition for young Fascists as a lad growing up in Italy and later a member of the Roman Catholic Church, Eco was considered a liberal.  As a girl growing up in a small town in Alabama, Lee walked among the tides of racism every day and brought a liberal, humanist approach.

 

Both of these writers embraced life and humanity in their passion for writing.  They saw the need for greater humanity in the world and encouraged people, by their example, to embrace the passion of living.  Sometimes the truths about which they wrote were discomforting.  Passion is not always wine and roses and warm sweaty embraces.  Passions can sometimes hurt.

 

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for,” said Harper Lee during a ceremony in 2007 when she was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom.  She had lived in New York City for decades but returned to her Alabama small town home that same year.  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

 

I invite you to crawl inside your own skin and walk around in it.  I am not talking about  the skin the world wants you to wear but the skin that makes you feel alive, that gives you a passion for living.  Embrace your own passion and then make it your identity. 

A Bi-Polar Holiday, Part Two

A Bi-Polar Holiday, part two

2018.12.08-12

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

The story of two people about to have a child traveling is not that unusual.  Thousands are doing just that south of the US border along Texas west to Arizona and California at this very minute, having left their homeland because of political unrest, threats of death, or lack of living conditions that make living sustainable.  Hopefully most are not about to give birth but some might be. 

 

Many would argue that what makes the Nativity Story important is that the child was the Son of God.  However, that very child grew up to become a man who made it his life’s work to preach that we all are sons and daughters of God.  He lived showing love to all, especially those disenfranchised by society.  You could honestly say that most if not all of his actions were everyday miracles. 

 

Those of the Christian faith put great stock in the Nativity Story, the story of Mary and Joseph who traveled a great distance, not in the easiest of circumstances, to be registered on the census rolls.  Without doing so, they would be without verification, a couple without a country so to speak.  There is some discrepancy within the Bible about this story, I should note. 

 

 The Gospel According to St Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph travelled from Galilee to Bethlehem because of a Roman census during the time Quirinius was governor of Syria. This census took place in the year 6 ACE, and the Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that this was the first such census that affected the Jews. A paradox in this passage comes from the fact that we also know that King Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, some 10 years before the census. Moreover, it is highly improbably that such a census would include Judea, since Herod was empowered to raise his own taxes and was not required to report on the population or wealth of his dominion.  

 

The Gospel According to St Matthew provides a different telling of this story and it suggests that Mary and Joseph did not travel from Galilee at all. Bethlehem was their home town, and the wise men found Jesus in a house, not a manger. The family fled to Egypt to avoid the Slaughter of the Innocents and returned to Judea after the death of Herod. But when Joseph heard that Herod’s son, Archelaus, had succeeded to the throne, he turned aside and went to Galilee and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, thus fulfilling the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.

 

Like many myths, there is some truth, some storytelling embellishment, and some history in the Nativity Story.  At this time of the year when rather than experience joy, many feel depression, it is of great use to explore the reality of the time period.  In 2011 Justin Taylor wrote a very interesting article regarding the political scene of Galilee and Judea at the time of the birth of the baby Jesus.  He quotes historian R. T. France in his article. 

 

“The northern province of Galilee was decisively distinct—in history, political status, and culture—from the southern province of Judea which contained the holy city of Jerusalem.  Racially the area of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel had had, ever since the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century B.C., a more mixed population, within which more conservative Jewish areas (like Nazareth and Capernaum) stood in close proximity to largely pagan cities, of which in the first century the new Hellenistic centers of Tiberias and Sepphoris were the chief examples.  Geographically Galilee was separated from Judea by the non-Jewish territory of Samaria, and from Perea in the southeast by the Hellenistic settlements of Decapolis.

 

“Politically Galilee had been under separate administration from Judea during almost all its history since the tenth century B.C. (apart from a period of “reunification” under the Maccabees), and in the time of Jesus it was under a (supposedly) native Herodian prince, while Judea and Samaria had since A.D. 6 been under the direct rule of a Roman prefect.  Economically Galilee offered better agricultural and fishing resources than the more mountainous territory of Judea, making the wealth of some Galileans the envy of their southern neighbors. 

 

“Culturally Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins, their lack of Jewish sophistication being compounded by their greater openness to Hellenistic influence.  Linguistically Galileans spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic whose slovenly consonants (they dropped their aitches!) were the butt of Judean humor.  Religiously the Judean opinion was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual, and the problem was exacerbated by the distance of Galilee from the temple and the theological leadership, which was focused in Jerusalem.”

 

Today many people are discriminated against because of their religion.  This was also true of the man we call Jesus.  According to R. T. France, “even an impeccably Jewish Galilean in first-century Jerusalem was not among his own people; he was as much a foreigner as an Irishman in London or a Texan in New York. His accent would immediately mark him out as “not one of us,” and all the communal prejudice of the supposedly superior culture of the capital city would stand against his claim to be heard even as a prophet, let alone as the “Messiah,” a title which, as everyone knew, belonged to Judea (cf. John 7:40-42).  The man for whom we celebrate his birth was very much a stranger among even his own people and at this time of the year, many feel exactly the same way. 

 

Mathematician Blaise Pascal believed “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it cannot be filled by any created thing.”  He believed that by surrendering ourselves we would gain everything.  Pascal saw the gridlock of ego as the world’s biggest problem.  It would be an everyday miracle and the solution to this holiday that seems to celebrate and yet cause depression if we would liberate ourselves from the gridlock of our own ego.

 

 

 

Thoughts on Tradition

Thoughts on Tradition

2018.11.24-25

Growing Community

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Creating Fear

Creating Fear

2018.10.31

The Creative Soul – Pentecost 2018

 

 

“We have this need for some larger-than-life creature.”  It may seem a bit ironic that one of the leading authors of a book on a giant, human-like mythological creature that may be real is actually an expert on much smaller animals that are real.  Robert Michael Pyle studies moths and butterflies and writes about them but in 1995 he also penned a book about the supposed primate known, among other names, as Yeti, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch.

 

The giants in American Indian folklore are as varied as the different tribes themselves.  It is important to remember that although they are grouped together much like the term European, the designation of American Indian applies to many tribes, most of which are now extinct.  Many millions of Americans over the past two hundred years could and should claim American Indian ancestry.  The story of Bigfoot is the story of their ancestral mythical creature.

 

The Bigfoot phenomenon is proof that there is a real place for mythologies in the present day.  The past several years saw people viewing a popular television program, “Finding Bigfoot” which aired on the Animal Planet network as well as being replayed via internet formats.  A group of four traveled the world, speaking and exploring the myths about a large, here-to-fore undocumented bipedal primate thought to be a link between the great apes and Homo sapiens.   One member of this group was a female naturalist and botanist but the other three were educated men in other disciplines.  To date, the three men have yet to convince their female scientist companion of the existence of the myth known as Bigfoot although she has dedicated several years of her life to searching for something she claims not to believe exists.

 

Even the more popular terms are modern additions to the myth.   A photograph allegedly taken by Eric Shipton was published with Shipton describing the footprint as one from a Yeti, a mythological creature much like a giant snowman said to inhabit the mountains of Nepal.  Several years another set of footprints was photographed in California and published in a local newspaper.  This time the animal was described as “Bigfoot” and a legend dating back to the earliest settlers in North America had been reborn.  The interest in such photographs is proof of the opening quote of today’s post.

 

The Lummi tribe called their giant ape/man mythological character Ts’emekwes and the descriptions of the character’s preferred diet and activities varied within the tribal culture.   Children were warned of the stiyaha or kwi-kwiyai who were said to roam at night and steal children.  There were also stories of the skoocooms, a giant race which lived on Mount St. Helens and were cannibalistic.  The skoocooms were given supernatural powers and status.  A Canadian reporter also reported on such stories and he used a term from the Halkomalem and named the creature “sasq’ets” or Sasquatch.   Rather than to be feared, though, some tribes translated this name to mean “benign-faced one.”

 

Mythologies of such giant creatures can be found on six of the seven continents and if mankind had been able to survive on Antarctica for thousands of years, there would probably be some from there as well.  We do seem to need to believe in something larger than life, as our mythologies bear witness.  What if there was proof of these creatures?  What if they really did exist and perhaps still do?

 

The Paiute Indians, an American Indian tribe from the regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains also had folklore of such a character.  Their legends tell of a tribe of red-haired giants called Sai’i.  After one such giant gave birth to a disfigured child who was shunned by the tribe, The Paiute believed the Great Spirit of All made their land and living conditions barren and desolate as punishment.  Enemies were then able to conquer the tribe and kill all but two – Paiute and his wife and their skin turned brown from living in such harsh conditions. 

 

In 1911 miners working Nevada’s Lovelock Cave discussed not the guano or bat droppings for which they were searching but bones they claimed were from giants.  Nearby reddish hair was found and many believed the remains were those of the Sai’i or Si-Te-Cah as they were also called.  However, some like Adrienne Mayor in her book “Legends of the First Americans” believe these bones and others found nearby are simply untrained eyes not realizing what they are seeing.   A tall man could have bones that would seem large and hair pigment is not stable and often changes color based upon the conditions in which it is found.  Even black hair can turn reddish or orange given the right mineral composition in the soil in which it is found.

 

What the mythologies of the world tell us is that mankind needs to believe in something. In ‘The Magic of Thinking Big”, David Schwartz writes:  “Believe it can be done. When you believe something can be done, really believe, your mind will find the ways to do it. Believing a solution paves the way to solution.”   

 

Maybe you believe in the yeti or Sasquatch and maybe you believe in the disproof of them.  We create giants in our own minds every day – those problems that seem insurmountable or the dreams that seem impossible.  The only Bigfoot that matters is that one foot that takes a big step towards progress, towards peace, a step taken with hope.  The dawn of a new day requires us to take a step forward.  If we believe in ourselves, that step will have purpose and accomplishment.  The longest journey really does begin with a single step.

 

In the past week, the United States has seen great tragedy.  The monster currently at foot is the monster of fear derived from a created hatred.  Words spoken without thorough thought as to how they could be perceived and the aftermath of these words having been heard and misinterpreted are in part responsible for creating such hatred.  We have created a bogeyman, a monster that exists not in fact but as a result of our own insecurities.  The ego might want quantity of followers but the world needs us to be sincere and in communion with each other.

 

The best thing to believe in is you.  Let yourself be your creature to believe in today.  Walk away from fear and into your bright future, a future in which you believe you can do anything.  The reality is you can do whatever you set your mind to doing.  Turn your fears into lessons and steps toward success.  Believe in yourself.  You are amazing!  The world is waiting for us to create a better tomorrow.

Joe Camel and Stonewall Jackson

Joe Camel and Stonewall Jackson

02018.09.22

The Creative Soul

 

In 1997, Stuart Elliot reported for the New York Time regarding the demise of Joe Camel.  Joe was the graphic that helped turn the tide for the R J Reynolds Tobacco Company, along with his brother camels known as Buster, Max, and Floyd.  While commercial art often is considered the bastard child of visual arts, it cannot be denied that many successful logos are seen by more people than any painting ever is. 

 

As Elliot reported:  gains in sales and market share for Camel, the nation’s No. 7 cigarette brand, came only at a high cost as anti-smoking activists convinced President Clinton, the American Medical Association, several Surgeons General, the Federal Trade Commission and other authorities that Joe Camel was emblematic of what they maintained were the insidious, underhanded marketing gimmicks by which cigarettes are sold in America. Particularly, the activists hit home with contentions that slick, colorful presentations of a grinning cartoon animal were intended to appeal specifically to children to take up smoking.

 

”Joe Camel represented an icon that refueled the moral outrage of the anti-smoking movement,” said Eric Solberg, executive director of Doctors Ought to Care, an anti-tobacco group in Houston. Reynolds has always denied that Joe Camel — introduced to Americans in 1988 after more than a decade of selling cigarettes to Europeans — was anything but a standard marketing tactic meant to persuade adult smokers to switch to Camel from bigger brands like Marlboro.  The White House cheered the demise of Joe Camel, which now appears only in the United States. ”We must put tobacco ads like Joe Camel out of our children’s reach forever,” [then] President Clinton said in a statement.”

 

Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (January 21, 1824 – May 10, 1863) served as a Confederate general (1861–1863) during the American Civil War, and became one of the best-known Confederate commanders.  Born in what was then part of Virginia, Jackson attended the US Army Military Academy at West Point.  He then served in the US Army during the Mexican-American War with distinction.  Afterwards, he taught at the Virginia Military Institute for nine years where he was very unpopular with the students.   When Virginia seceded from the Union in May 1861 after the attack on Fort Sumter (12 April 1861), Jackson joined the Confederate Army. He distinguished himself commanding a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run (21 July 1861) the following month, providing crucial reinforcements and beating back a fierce Union assault. In this context Barnard Elliott Bee Jr., allegedly highlighting Jackson’s courage and tenacity compared him to a “stone wall”, hence his enduring nickname.

 

In late April and early May 1863, faced with a larger Union army now commanded by Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, Lee divided his force three ways. On May 2, Jackson took his 30,000 troops and launched a surprise attack against the Union right flank, driving the opposing troops back about two miles. That evening he was accidentally shot by Confederate pickets. The general survived but lost his left arm to amputation; weakened by his wounds, he died of pneumonia eight days later.   Military historians regard Jackson as one of the most gifted tactical commanders in U.S. history.   His tactics are studied even today. His death proved a severe setback for the Confederacy, affecting not only its military prospects, but also the morale of its army and the general public. After Jackson’s death, his military exploits developed a legendary quality, becoming an important element of the ideology of the “Lost Cause”.

 

Yesterday in one southern city a rally was held to encourage town officials to remove statues like those of Stonewall Jackson.  Much like the campaign to remove Joe Camel these commemorative sculptures represent one form of the visual arts.  The reason I am dedicating this blog post in a series about creativity to two such instances of censorship is because they raise a very interesting set of questions.  While I certainly do not want anything or anyone to encourage any human being to smoke cigarettes and I disdain war and the concept of slavery, I think banning such images and statues means we are sacrificing an excellent learning opportunity.  If the arts are to continue and serve their purpose, we must address these questions.

 

Joe Camel would make an excellent case study for a student of graphic arts.  Joe Camel was actually born in Europe. The caricatured camel was created in 1974 by a British artist, Nicholas Price, for a French advertising campaign that subsequently ran in other countries in the 1970s.  The character lacked many typical camel traits, essentially appearing as a muscular humanoid with a camel’s head. Feet were always to be covered, in footwear consistent with the rest of the outfit. The character also lacked a tail or hump.   Advertising presented Joe Camel in a variety of “fun and entertaining, contemporary and fresh” situations, wearing “bold and bright” colors, blue and yellow where appropriate. His face remained the same in different advertising pieces, and images of his hands only used when necessary.

 

In 1991 The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that reportedly showed six-year-old children who not only knew Mickey Mouse was the logo for the Disney Channel but that Joe Camel was associated with cigarettes.  The Reynolds Tobacco Company, under great pressure, ultimately pulled all Joe Camel ads and ran rather boring public service announcements stating that smoking cigarettes was “an adult custom”.   While the numbers for underage smoking have decreased somewhat, last year 6200 smokers below the age of 18, the legal age in the USA to smoke, were caught, some in grades 1-4.

 

Since Joe Camel was so attractive to this age group, why did they not use Joe Camel to educate both children and adults about the actual dangers involved with smoking?  Public Service announcements regarding people with open laryngectomy holes who died after making the commercials are far scarier to some children than a friendly half-human/half-camel.  Even with the increased taxes which have more than doubled the price of a pack of cigarettes since Joe Camel went away people are still beginning the lifelong habit of smoking.  Perhaps Joe and his brothers could have been utilized in helping people stop smoking or never start instead of the bland commercials that replaced them.

 

The commemorative statutes that adorn many public venues in all parts of the country are, in part, educational.  However, few if any contain the artist’s name or even the name of the subject.  Instead of removing and destroying these works of art, why not add a sign that explains their subject and the consequences of his/her actions.  If we continue to ignore history, we have consigned ourselves to the fate of repeating it over and over. 

 

Art at its core is educational.  Even art created for pleasure also serves to educate us.  When we censor our past, we destroy an important part of our history.  We are not perfect and our past is certainly embarrassing and disgraceful at times.  However, paying homage to our mistakes opens the door for discussions about lessons learned and efforts to repair those mistakes.  Whether it be a smiling cute camel, anatomically incorrect but fun, or a stone-faced old guy, art can be used in proactive measures.  We owe it to ourselves to celebrate the successful art and use it to better our world.

My Neighbor’s Faith

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

2018.08.26

Literature and Life

 

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

Diversity means:

D – ifferent

I – ndividuals

V – aluing

E – achother

R – egardless of

S – kin

I – ntellect

T – alents or

Y – ears

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Through the Eyes of a Child

Through the Eyes of a Child

2018.07.08

Pentecost 2018

 

New York City has always been a port of entry for those immigrating to the United States.  Even in the midst of the War Between the States, five ships docked carrying those hoping for a better life in the New World at least every three days.  In the middle of a civil uprising, this country has always seemed to offer new hope.

 

Ellis Island, in Upper New York Bay, was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the U.S. as the United States’ busiest immigrant inspection station for over 60 years from 1892 until 1954. Ellis Island was opened January 1, 1892.  Two years after its closing, a six-year-old child stepped onto American soil for the first time.  The week-long journey across the Atlantic Ocean had been made on a personal troop carrier with several families sharing a room.  Our young girl slept in one bunk bed with her two sisters while her mother slept in another.  The men were in the enlisted quarters and slept in hammocks stacked three or four high.  Rather than excitement, seasickness colored their days.  The quest for freedom, though, was the ultimate prize because even a small child knows a life lived without fear is worth some discomfort.

 

It is an often overlooked advantage but those born in the United States are automatically considered American citizens.  This is not true in many countries.  Our young child had parents who had met during World War II in a relocation camp.  She herself was born in a part of Germany controlled by Americans after WWII but her nationality lay with that of her parents, natives of Estonia.  German was her language in public and at school while Estonian was spoken at home.

 

Her first impression upon arriving on US land was the strange language she heard spoken.  “It sounded like bees buzzing”, she once remarked.  Arriving at a time that saw many immigrants arriving, her school system assigned her one-on-one tutoring with a teacher to learn English.  Her mother would pretend not to understand store clerks so her children would have to translate for her in an effort to facilitate them learning the language of their new home.

 

Our new arrival grew up in a community of immigrants and valued her ability to move around her neighborhood freely.  While most of us have grown up never thinking twice about running down the street, many immigrants relish such an opportunity.  They have lived in restricted environments and under fear of disobedience that often results in jail or death.  Something as simple as walking to a corner store for many became a new adventure, something to be treasured and enjoyed.

 

An immigrant child is seldom allowed to forget they were not born here, though.  Even in a community of immigrants, some discrimination can exist.  We all, regardless of national origin, tend to fear the unknown and different.  We tend to look for the two percent of our DNA that denotes ethnic differences instead of seeing the ninety-eight percent we have in common.  Our young Estonian was called a Nazi even though her family had been victims of them rather than supporters.  A neighbor’s son even threw a rock at her head in the name of patriotism. 

 

When an immigrant becomes an American citizen, it is always day remembered.  At a time when our young high school coed could not have enlisted or been asked to serve in a combat military setting, she was required to swear allegiance to “bear arms” to protect the United States of America.  She became a US citizen one morning and later that day, graduated high school.  Like most immigrants afforded the opportunity, she excelled in school and earned two college degrees.  Over eighty percent of all US Nobel Prize winners have, in fact, been immigrants.

 

I once asked the heroine of our story today what she valued most about being an American.  It was at the end of a long day and I had spent most of the day running errands.  Her answer humbled me.  Without hesitation, when asked the best thing about being an American she replied:  “Freedom of movement.”

 

The country of Estonia was under Soviet rule after WWII for almost half a century and the parents in this story were uncertain of the life they faced if they returned home.  They braved a transatlantic crossing with strangers to give their three young daughters a better life.  Today the families seeking to cross our borders are doing the same exact thing.

 

It is indeed ironic that today, many immigrant children will be taken out of their cages to eat and then return to them to spend the rest of their day.  They have been brought here just as our little girl was by their parents.  Some are seeking opportunity, but most are braving the relocation in order to survive and give their children the same chance to survive.  Hopefully, one day, these children will be able to say they experienced freedom of movement in a country that eventually welcomed them as it has everyone else who ever lived here.

 

We are a nation of immigrants. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said “Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants.” We should not forget that.  Just like the little girl in our story, someone in our family underwent great struggle and trials to afford their children (who eventually became us) a chance at freedom.  The American dream, Declaration of Independence, and US Constitution can be summed up in this quote from Senator Robert F Kennedy.  “Our attitude towards immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as the talent and energy allow. Neither race nor place of birth should affect their chances.”  Hopefully the children of today will continue to live and experience that belief.

 

A Dream … 1776 & 2018

A Dream of a Tale

June 28, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

For some of us these are nightmarish times.  Usually summer is a time of dreams realized in the United States but the summer of 2018 is anything but, especially for those seeking dreams of freedom.  For many of us who still cherish the dreams of our ancestors, all of whom were immigrants to this continent, we worry and wonder what the future will bring for us all.  We must, I believe, remember that this is a nation built upon dreams.

 

The dreams that had created the United States of America were not new dreams but they had been considered illogical.  For centuries, mankind had believed in varieties of mythologies and none of them spoke of equality or independence.  In fact, most myths made it very clear that mere mortals were completely dependent upon their deities and the natural world. 

 

People had chanced an ocean voyage to the other side of the unknown seeking the right to believe as they wished.  The colonies were a collection of different groups all following different myths, different belief systems, and different religions.  How could such a diverse population achieve unity and if they did, with what could they battle against one of the strongest nations in the world?  It was the incredulous stuff that formed the plots of their myths.  It was a foolish dream.

 

They began in the early 1770’s and there were hurdles to clear.  Larger colonies wanted greater power and smaller colonies wanted equality.  Somehow, though, agreements were reached, an army formed, a war waged and battles won.  There were losses but they served much like the myths they told to their children.  They learned from their losses, became stronger from their failings, and somehow, garnered the right to call themselves an independent nation.

 

One hundred years later, the unity they had forged in declaring their independence had become a myth in and of itself.  A civil war raged on and towards the end, a man named Abraham Lincoln gave a speech that reminded them of their initial purpose, in their belief not in being slaves to immortal gods and goddesses but in being free men with equal rights and human dignity afforded to all. 

 

Three months shy of the one hundred year anniversary of Lincoln’s speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr stood up and quoted President Abraham Lincoln.  On a sunny day by a reflecting pool that makes up what is known as “the Mall” in the middle of Washington, D.C., thousands gathered to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr give a speech.  It was the culmination of the day’s events and a march for better jobs and freedoms for all Americans, particularly those of African descent.

 

 His passionate speech once again reminded those who were listening of the dreams that had become the founding mythologies of the United States of America.  I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.  I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. … I have a dream today!  I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

 

If you are a reader of this blog, you know that I believe a summer day camp in the Piney Woods southwest part of the state of Alabama Known as Sawyerville Day Camp to be the living embodiment of Dr. King’s dream.  The Dream that all men are treated equally is still an effort, both in this country and in every country in the world.  It was the very dream that we in the United States of America will celebrate in the coming week.  Known as Independence Day, it is the anniversary of the American Revolution, that epic battle between simple farmers and religious zealots and a country well-versed in battles and winning.

 

For many living on the European continent, the colonists’ efforts to be free were going to become a mythological tale.  Indeed, it seemed incredulous.  The mythology that some people deserve to be poor dates back to the myths telling of the “chosen people”.  The mythology that one’s skin color should determine one’s status or one’s religion should make one a target is the dark side of mythology.  Two hundred plus years later we have a sitting Supreme Court Justice for whom Spanish was her first language and a President whose grandparents were immigrants from a nation with whom two World Wars were fought as enemies.

 

It has been said that creativity is closely aligned with mental illness and that those who believe in myths are crazy.  We all believe in myths of one kind or another.  The children of Sawyerville, both campers and staff alike, are all worthy in their right to live, to learn, to laugh, and to be celebrated.  They are the descendants of those who wrote the mythologies of the world.  They are the reason those myths exist.

 

Most of those currently being detained as illegal immigrants I do not know but you are just like every person reading this post.  The children being held separately from their families are just like those smiling faces of the children at Sawyerville, many of whom had ancestors forcibly detained and brought to this nation as slaves.  We all breathe; we all experience joy; we all cry; we all hunger;  we all, hopefully, love.  Sawyerville is celebrating its twenty-fifth summer this year, an accomplishment that would have seemed impossible in 1963 or even 1863.  It was the dream that began a war in 1776 and the path that mankind began with its first step.

 

What some call a myth, others call fact.  What some believe, others discount.  Rice with all its different varieties is a staple found in kitchens all over the world and yet, most prepare it differently and serve it based upon ethnicity.  It is still rice and it still tastes delightful.  The different myths of the world are just as entertaining and meaningful.  We do not need to believe them all; we should just respect them and the cultures from whence they came.  Yesterday, as they have for the past twenty years at Sawyerville Day Camp, girls and boys of different races, ages, cultures, and backgrounds, joined hands to prove the best myths are those dreams that see realization.  Dreaming is believing!

 

The spirits of our mythologies reflect the spirit of mankind, the life force and mental acuity within us all.  The journey begun in 1776 is even more important today.  As we move into this weekend and a week of Independence Celebrations, I hope we remember that the battle is not yet won.

 

Racial bias is also based upon myths as are religious biases and ethnic biases.  We need to learn the truths and then build productive dreams in order to move forward.   This nation was built by the sweat of those forcibly brought to this continent and ever since we have pretended to be blind to that fact.  The current economy is suffering because all of a sudden we have decided to use legal status as a right to live.  In truth, legal status has never played much importance when it comes to those who do the real hands to the ground work in this country. 

 

The actions we take today and tomorrow will be the fodder of our mythology that the world will remember in the future.   They will bridge a divide first experienced when mortals believed in immortals – the divide of difference.  They will also speak of our humanity or lack thereof.  The spirit of the future is not based upon ignorance but upon peaceful living and respect for all. 

 

You Can Make a Difference!

You Can Make a Difference!

June 2, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

Recently a great deal of the rhetoric prominent in social media has been about “I”.  One person claims to have all the answers while another says they acted or voted to protect themselves.  The ego or “I” is the conscious self so it is not unnatural that we would consider it in most things.  The problem is that the “I” is not the only living entity on the planet.  There is also a “You” and “We”. 

 

The word affect is a verb, grammatically speaking, in the English language.  Basically it means to have an impact on something or someone.  In writing this blog I am hoping to affect your thinking and encourage you to do something positive to benefit all of us, the family of mankind.  Since a verb is an action word, to affect something or someone is to bring about change.

 

Effect is most commonly used as a noun, the result of an action or, as we just discussed, a thought process.  While the purpose of this blog is to encourage you think and then affect someone by positive action, the intent is the end result –  that your actions will create a productive effect or result.  “Affect” refers to the doing; “Effect” denotes the end result of that doing or action. 

 

Effect also can be defined in another way.  It can also mean someone’s personal belongings.  This might seem confusing and yes, it can be.   Personally, I like that effect is both the result and the possession.  It encourages us to be accountable for our actions.  No one is going to score a perfect rating on our actions.  We all make mistakes.  This is where thinking positive can keep us from letting past actions become a future death sentence.  Thinking positive people also have lower blood pressure and sleep better.

 

Earlier this week someone exercised what they felt was their right to free speech by, without any cause or pertinence to the speaker’s daily living, insulting someone else.  It was done supposedly in a humorous vein but resulted in quite a backlash.    While language can be a bit confusing, an insult is generally always understand to be just that – a rude, offensive slur about someone.  It is, quite simply, verbal abuse.

 

Today the first step you should take is to think positively.  Negative thinking narrows one’s field of vision.  Imagine yourself swimming in the shallow waters of a beautiful ocean resort.  Suddenly someone cries “Shark!”  You no longer are focused on the rest of the people on the beach but only on getting yourself out of the water.  This is a healthy instinct of self-preservation but your focus has also become extremely self-centered. 

 

Positive emotions help us to broaden our field of vision and imagine what is possible instead of seeing only the negative and dire outcomes.  Maybe yesterday really was the worst day of life.  Today really can be the first day of the rest of your life.  Take care of yourself and start the day off thinking of possibilities.  Share a smile with another and together you will create something extraordinary out of an ordinary facial movement.   Maybe you really don’t have time for going to the movies but take the time hurrying on your commute to notice the flowers along your path.  A healthy person can accomplish much more than one who is thinking or feeling negative.  We all have time for a smile and the first smile of the day should be a smile to you.

 

Living positively benefits the “I” and also the “We”.  To make the most of living and do what is best for “You” involves helping another.  The time for talk is over.  It is now time for action.   As Walt Whitman once said, “If you keep your face towards the sunshine, the shadows will fall behind you.”  With one ordinary affect, you will create an extraordinary effect and make the world a much better place for all of us.

 

 

 

The Chance to Learn & Thrive

The Chance to Learn; the Chance to Thrive

April 17-18, 2018

 

Leonore Zweig grew up the daughter of a bricklayer.  She grew up in a village called Lusatia and upon graduating from what we might call high school, she continued her studies.  She eventually received a doctorate from Heidelberg University in 1921 and worked as a teacher in both England and Berlin, Germany.  In 1923 she married a lawyer named Ernst Goldschmidt and they had two children.

 

 Upon receiving an inheritance from a murdered cousin, Leonore established her own school in 1934.  Leonore had lost her job the year before she opened her own school.  Working for eight years at the Sophie-Charlotte-Gymnasium in Berlin, she was fired in 1933 because of her religious preference.  You see, Leonore was Jewish.

 

The Private Judische Schule Dr. Leonore Goldschmidt or the Private School of Dr. Leonore Goldschmidt as it would have been known in English was granted a license to hold official examinations in 1936.  In 1937 Leonore’s school became an examination center for the English University of Cambridge.  This meant her students could enter universities in the rest of Europe and North America if they scored high marks on their examinations.  The school was shut down by the German government in 1939 and the Goldschmidt family, along with many students and teachers, immigrated to England.

 

Leaving their German home was not easy for the eighty children that accompanied their school’s founder.  Most left behind parents and many never saw them again.  Those that returned to Germany after World War II found a very different landscape and homeland and many discovered their parents had been victims of concentration camps.

 

A roll call of the students of Dr. Leonore Goldschmidt is something like a Who’s Who of professional and influential people.  Clearly they had potential and all achieved it.  They made contributions to their world and the world was a better place because they lived in it.

 

The purpose of today’s post is to ask you to think about how we limit the opportunities of others simply because we might have a “perception” about them.  The legal definition of the word discrimination has nothing to do with statistics or science.  It does not involve theology or proven results.  It simply is “disparity of treatment”.  Like the Golden Rule that has been around for almost as long as there have been beings that walked upright on two feet, it refers to the treatment of others as we ourselves would like to be treated. 

 

The Golden Rule, reflections of which are found in every code of conduct known to mankind, is an ethic of reciprocity.  It is a moral directive that relates to basic human nature: Treat others as you would like to be treated; do not treat others in any manner that you yourself would not like to be treated; be careful because what you wish upon others you also wish upon yourself.

 

The so-called Golden Rule makes all of mankind inclusive in acknowledging that we feel and receive things similarly.  It is not the same as another maxim of reciprocity, “do ut des”.  That states “I give so that you will give in return.”  The Golden Rule is giving without any expectation of something in return.

 

Dr. Leonore Goldschmidt taught her students without knowing what their lives as adults would be or how far they would go in their studies.  She willingly helped them escape a Nazi regime that would have put them to death simply because she was devoted to creating a chance to learn for all who desired such.

 

I recently received a recipe that touted itself to be the healthiest brownie recipe ever!  Since I am human and like brownies as much as the next person, I was thrilled.  A healthy snack with chocolate is like winning the lottery!  The recipe contains only four ingredients and even a vegan would love it.  With almond butter, protein powder, cocoa powder, and bananas, the recipe would seem like winner, right?  Unfortunately, it is not for me.

 

The perception and headline for this recipe stated nothing incorrect.  I completely understand why their perception that it is healthy would seem an accurate perception.  The problem is that it is not healthy for all people.  The number of people allergic to cocoa powder is low, very low.  Less than four percent of people have actual food allergies and of that four percent, less than half of one per cent are allergic to the cacao bean, the source of cocoa.  A brief note here is probably in order.  The bean or fruit of the cacao plant is called cacao.  Once ground into a usable powder, the name changes to cocoa.

 

Generally speaking, people who are allergic to chocolate are allergic to something added to the chocolate and not the actual cacao bean.  Fortunately for me, I am not allergic to chocolate although my waistline might like it if I was.  I am allergic to several, make that, many things, however, and one is included in this recipe.  I am allergic to bananas.

 

The perception that the recipe is healthy is correct.  It just is not healthy for me.  As someone who is in that four percent and having severe allergic reactions, I have to be a wise consumer of what I eat and put into my body.  IN other words, I have to be a food detective before opening my mouth to consume.

 

We all need to be fact detectives when it comes to deciding what we like or don’t like or what we feel is not in keeping with our beliefs.  Yesterday’s post about Dr. Leonore Goldschmidt is proof that the Jewish are capable of many great things and the Nazi regime’s claim that they held no benefit for mankind was false. 

 

Nannie Henry Burroughs was a woman who also opened a school.  Her school was in Washington, D.C., the capitol of the United States of America.  Nannie’s father was a free man but her mother was born into slavery.  Born in 1878, Nannie was born free but had few opportunities being a woman of color.  Her father was a Baptist preacher and Nannie herself gained national recognition speaking at the National Baptist Convention at the age of twenty-two years.  Her speech was entitled “How the Sisters Are Hindered from Helping”. 

 

Nannie Burroughs founded the National Training School for Women in 1909, a school which continues today.  She also established the National Association of Colored Women.  Thirty years later a world war would be fought, in part based upon racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination even though Nannie Henry Burroughs had already proven such to be ridiculous.

 

Nannie Burroughs is proof that the perception that race determines ability is false.  She valiantly worked for all wage earners but especially for those of African descent because their discrimination continued even after the War Between the States, commonly called the Civil War.  She would later be appointed to a national position by President Herbert Hoover.

 

The perception that religion calls for us to divide mankind based upon skin hues is an incorrect perception.  No true religion or spirituality embraces such.  The fear that propels such beliefs is just that – fear, not fact.  It is nothing new.  In her book “Jane Eyre”, Charlotte Bronte wrote: “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.”

 

In deciding who to feature for this post, I purposely elected to feature women who invented schools and created the chance for education to be received.  I agree with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who said: “It’s an universal law– intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”

 

“What we need are mental and spiritual giants who are aflame with a purpose . . . We’re a race ready for crusade, for we’ve recognized that we’re a race on this continent that can work out its own salvation.  When [one] learns what manner of [man/woman he/she] is spiritually, [he/she] will wake up all over. [We] will rise in the majesty of [our] own soul.”  The words of Nannie Henry Burroughs ring true even today.

 

Recently several states within the United States have or tried to enact legislation that goes against the chance for all to experience the same opportunities.  Similar legislation has been introduced in other countries and many terrorist groups advocate the same or similar beliefs as those supported by these laws. 

 

When we single another out and label them in such a way that prevents them from having the same chances as others, we discriminate.  Sometimes such discrimination leads to people being fired, refused service or even being captured and killed in concentration with ovens designed to murder those “different” people.

 

Such actions do not give anyone an advantage and they restrict the future of us all.  The students of Dr. Leonore Goldschmidt and the workers helped by Nannie Burroughs are just two examples of how important it is that we recognize the inclusiveness of mankind and not look only at our differences.   When we open up opportunity for one person to learn, we create the opportunity for better living for all of us.  If we want to continue the chance to make a better world, we need to live smart and live with kindness and equality towards all.