Four letter Words and Questions

Four Letter Words and Questions

January 6-7

 

Action determines everything.  Even the quality of being inactive, the perceived opposite of action, has consequences.  Last year about this time four young people were indicted for kidnapping and brutally beating a classmate of one of the four.  The criminal actions took place a week ago and were seen by thousands since the perpetrators filmed themselves and streamed online.  Those that watched, however, were inactive in their watching because that’s all they did… watch.  No one in the audience immediately contacted the police. Their inactivity made them accessories during and after the fact though none will ever be charged. What would you have done?

 

Yesterday began the season of Epiphany, an often confused season of the liturgical calendar.  It might be easiest explained with the graphic of a lightbulb, although generally a star is used.  Liturgically, the Epiphany was that time when wise men traveling from far off reached the baby they believed would be a savior for their world and its peoples.  It is the actual beginning of the religion known as Christianity since these were the men who proclaimed the baby to be the Christ-child.  The child would grow up and become known as Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem.  By birth he was of the Jewish faith and yet in the end, his own rejected him.  He came, he said, for all and vetoed notions that some were better than others, that some might be “chosen” and others could be ignored.

 

Last year, at this time, we discussed actions and verbs, seeking to discover how to be the light of our own lives and hopefully, a light for others.  We asked ourselves just how brave we are, just how narcissistic we are in our everyday living.  It was not about whether you believe one way or another.  It was about the fact that we are all living here together.  If we are honest with ourselves, we make resolutions at this time each year for pretty much the same reasons.

 

Chaos theory helps not only define many of our lives, it gives credence to the fact that we are all in this thing called life together and are affected by each other.  In 1960 Edward Lorenz, a professor at MIT, constructed a weather model.  Weather is the total behavior of all the molecules that make up earth’s atmosphere and Lorenz’s model uncovered patterns from seemingly unrelated instances that aided in predicting the weather. 

 

A snow flake is an object composed of water molecules. These molecules do not have a common nerve system, DNA or a chief molecule that calls the shots.  How do they stay together?  What attraction keeps them together?  How does one molecule in one leg of the flake know which private design the rest of the gang is cruising for, in other legs of the flake, for the tiny molecule a million miles away?  This year much of the United States is covered in snow and ice with record-breaking low temperatures as far south as Florida and Texas. 

 

At a time when clearly the populace is not united, the particles of frozen water we call snow have found a unity in staying together.  They have found a common direction despite the chaos theory.  Chaos theory when applied to humans uncovered the cycle patterns of life.  There is much still to be discovered, more epiphanies of mankind to unearth and yet, we do know some things.  Brutality is not kind.  Criminal actions can be considered evil.  Gangs provide a sense of family but not in a positive way.  What actions provide for a better world?  What verbs might be used to describe your day?  What actions and verbs can combine in helping us make and keep resolutions that will provide for a better tomorrow and year?

 

Deed… Gang… Evil… Kind… Look…Turn… Snow……..Self…. and the biggest four letter word of all……Life.  I sincerely appreciate all of you and your following this blog.  That involves the four letter word…Read.  As with everything, my intention is to offer something for your mind, another four letter word, to ponder.  Most of all, during this year, my wish (yes, also a four letter word) is that you find the best four letter word of all… Hope.

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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.

 

 

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. 

 

 

Scrap Metal and Big Foot/Egos

Scrap Metal and Big Foot/Egos
Detours in Life
Pentecost 165

Recently I attended a meeting during which all those present had to stand up and introduce themselves. It was the third such happening of that sort I had attended in the past month. At each event my first thought was like many present: “There isn’t much to tell.”

As we enter into the holiday season, many will experience depression and a feeling of being little more than scrap metal. We tend to think of scrap metal as garbage but it really does have value. First and foremost, it comes from a useable resource and secondly, it still has value. Scrap metal is generally sold and while it may not have the same monetary value as it once did, the resulting material still has many uses.

Personal identity becomes paramount during the holidays. Whether it is because we are attending more events than usual and are dressing ourselves for presentation or because we share greeting cards and those lovely, usually exaggerated notes of what transpired during the past year, we find ourselves in a competition of sorts. Far too often we fall short and feel like nothing more than scrap metal. We seemingly just are not good enough.

“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. 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 the 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.

The best thing to believe in is you. Let yourself be your creature to believe in today. Walk away from fear and detour 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! This holiday season detour from depression and move toward remembering that we all have value and a purpose. Life is not a race. Life is best lived when we find our comfortable pace.

Evil and Grace

Evil and Grace

Detours in Life

Pentecost 158-163

Mega Post 13

 

Recently I have been silent on my blog out of respect for those who lost their lives in natural and manmade disasters.  A Middle Eastern earthquake was unavoidable, although loss of life might have been prevented with better housing and warning systems instead of monies spent of war.  Then in the United State of America there was yet another instance of a mentally ill white male obtaining too much firepower for his fragile mental state, resulting in injury and death to innocent people.  If we treated the threat from active shooters like we do from pesticides … well, suffice it to say that we have less threat from dying from DDT than we do at the hands of an angry gun owner.

 

Evil is a nebulous term and we have a better chance of defining a black hole than a definitive answer to what evil is.  Over the weekend it was announced that convicted criminal Charles Manson had died.  The response to this news did not speak well for the faith community.  Many see Manson as an evil man, the very definition of what a devil would be living in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Their faith that bespeaks of all mankind being children of God seemingly flew out the window, much like those politicians who want rules for everyone except themselves.

 

The world can be a tumultuous place at times.  How we respond determines what we really believe. Maintaining grace in all times is not easy but very necessary.  While others are ranting and raving, someone needs to carry on the good fight, do the good works.  A good person is not the one with the loudest voice.  A good person is the one that does the most good.

 

Sometimes people are just good people.  In 2015 the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award was awarded to John and Tashia Morgridge.  John became a part of Cisco Systems as president and chief executive officer in 1998 and quickly led the company into becoming a publicly traded company that was known as a technological powerhouse.  Tashia had studied at the University of Wisconsin and was a special education teacher.  As a couple, they became known for their charitable giving.

 

Quoting from The Tech.org website which announced this award, given each year by the Tech Museum of Innovation, the Morgridge’s philanthropically have sought to improve education worldwide, “and they have done much of that giving through the TOSA Foundation, named after the high school where they met. The Morgridges have supported the University of Wisconsin’s research facilities, special education programs and scholarships, founding the Morgridge Center for Public Service and establishing the Morgridge Institute for Research, a biomedical institute. They are also generous supporters of literacy programs in East Palo Alto, Calif.; Tashia has long devoted herself to improving educational opportunities in disadvantaged neighborhoods.  Internationally they donate principally through CARE, an organization dedicated to fighting poverty, and The Nature Conservancy.”

 

Other people need a wake-up call.  Jon Huntsman, Sr. is well known as the founder of a global chemical manufacturing company.  What might not be as well known is that he gives away a great deal of his income.  He became a serious humanitarian in 1992 after a diagnosis of prostate cancer.  En route to the hospital, he wrote a one million dollar check to a homeless shelter, another to a local soup kitchen feeding the homeless and poor, and half a million dollars to the clinic that first diagnosed and discovered his tumor.  He later began his own cancer foundation at a cost of over one billion dollars.

 

This humanitarian has long been giving away his money, which totals well into the billion dollar range. Founder of a global chemical manufacturer, his serious giving days began in 1992 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. On his way to the hospital, he gave a one million dollar check to a homeless shelter, another million to a soup kitchen, and $500,000 to the clinic that first found the malignancy. Huntsman would go on to found his own cancer foundation, which cost him more than one billion dollars alone. His donations have even gone so far as to knock him of the Forbes list of wealthiest individuals.

 

We have already discussed ways to help with local educational projects on this blog in the past three years.  Volunteering to be a mentor or, if you do not feel academically capable, volunteering to help behind the scenes at such locations, is a perfect start to living your beliefs and helping your local community.  Baking or providing cookies is an easy first step.  Being a Big Brother or Big Sister is another and these programs have training sessions to help you get started.

 

If making hats or weaving plastic bags into water proof mats is more your style, your local homeless shelter would be happy for donations of your handiwork.  One of the easiest ways to make a blanket is to purchase a yard of flannel and then fringe each end.  That is done by cutting slits five inches long on either end.  The strips become fringe and the blankets is an easy yet warm addition to any homeless person’s bedroll, lightweight yet a good layering insulator for cold nights.

 

Our faith and spirituality is really put to the test when someone like Charles Manson dies.  Do we simply say we are glad he is no longer a drain on the coffers and our psyche or do we respond with the faith we profess to have?  Where was the resounding “May the Lord have mercy on his soul” that one cannot argue he desperately needed?   Evil done by others should not be our compass.   We all have the ability to help another and when we live grace, we receive grace.  Life is really just that simple and we all should exercise the grace to do whatever good we can.

Light and Dark

Light and Dark

Detours in Life

Pentecost 143-145

Mega Post 10

 

Several  Advent seasons ago we delved into over twenty-five various religions and spiritualties.  Of recent years there has been much debate regarding religion and spiritual beliefs.  Usually it is in the form of an opposing debate: religion versus spirituality.  I always find this very interesting because the religious explanation(s) of the universe are derived from the philosophies of various spiritualties.

 

This past week many of the Hindu faith celebrated Diwali, a five-day celebration of light over darkness, goodness over evil.  The country of India was the beginning of many religious traditions.  The early civilizations of India all contributed their own versions interwoven with their specific cultures but most shared similar basic concepts.  Today we know these as forms of Hinduism which believes in reincarnation.  The samsara spoke of the cycles of life – birth, life, death, and rebirth.  A person’s rebirth was based upon their living a good life, our focus during Lent, and introduced moral philosophy as a basic part of religion. 

 

Siddhartha Gautama was born in India during the sixth century BCE.  Better known by most of us as Buddha, he introduced the Four Noble Truths.  They included suffering, the origin of suffering, the end of suffering and the Eightfold Path to the end of suffering.  This Eightfold Path told one how to live a life of fulfillment and centered on the eight principles of right, mindfulness, right action, right intention, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, right speech, and right understanding.

 

Then a man known as Jesus of Nazareth was born and after living approximately thirty years began to spread his own version of philosophy around.  He claimed no great title or crown but neither seemed confused about life – its origins, its purposes, its ending.  He spoke of many of the same things Greek philosophers had wondered about and eastern spiritualties referenced.  Thus it is no surprise that the teachings of Christianity dominated the philosophical world in Europe through the first ten or more decades ACE.

 

Questioning was not forgotten, though.  The first noted Christian philosopher is considered to be Augustine of Hippo.  Augustine’s mother was a proud Christian but he himself at first followed Manichaeism, a Persian religion.  Intense and careful study of classical philosophy led him to his Christian beliefs, however.  He saw no divisiveness between his faith and philosophy and wrote “The City of God”.  In this book Augustine explained how one could live on an earthly place and also live in the heavenly world of what he called the kingdom of God, an idea he adapted from Plato.  While Augustine encouraged open thinking, he also warned against ego in one’s thinking.  “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”  All too often, we believe until it makes us uncomfortable or we believe only what we want to believe.

 

It is easy to believe in something that benefits us.  The true test comes when we believe in something that might not give us everything we think we want or should have.   Detours in life often challenge not only our beliefs but how we live those beliefs.   “Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.”  Augustine encouraged learning but lamented that many people saw this as an outward exercise, desiring only to learn about things and others, not themselves.  “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”

 

Taking time to study one’s self or one’s life is tough.  It truly puts the test of learning through its paces.  After all, it is always much easier to see the dirt on another than on ourselves.  I remember hearing a friend remark on her recent weight gain.  Having been ill, she stayed inside recuperating.  She knew rationally that her medications could result in weight gain but really had not given it much thought, that is until she needed to dress for an outing with friends.  “I stood in front of the mirror every day, brushing my hair and teeth, putting on a robe, etc.  Yet, I never noticed I had gained weight until my “going-out” clothes did not fit when I put them on!”  From her perspective, the added weight was invisible until she had her eyes opened by a zipper that would not close.

 

Most of us know right from wrong.  We know it is wrong to drive faster than the posted speed limit but sometimes feel our reasons warrant the infraction.  Many people feel they can tell when they are inebriated.  Sadly, the statistics on deaths from drunk driving prove most people cannot tell accurately.  “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”  Hopefully, you will approach whatever detour life places in your path today as an opportunity for goodness to conquer the darkness of extra time, temporary frustration, etc.  To paraphrase a Diwali wish … “May today find your in the light of prosperity, good health, and wisdom.”

 

Life is about growing and growth comes from knowledge.  Augustine himself explained life as a journey of hope.  “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”  We cannot allow anger in all its many forms such as grief and discomfort or fear keep us from taking courage to have hope and grow, learning with each day.  After all, to quote Augustine, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.” 

Showing Up

Showing Up
Detours in Life
Pentecost #81-89
Mega Post #3

In my last blog post I quoted Corrie Ten Bloom: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Prayer is often synonymous in today’s world with faith. Today’s battle cry of “Take a Stand” and “Take a Knee” is all about showing one’s beliefs and/or patriotism or the lack thereof. Everyone from the NFL’s youngest fan to the President of the United States has an opinion. Everyone, it would seem, firmly believes in freedom of expression… as long as the person expressing is saying or doing what the listener/observer believes in.

I was not around during World War II but a Caucasian Christian had to think they were relatively safe from the witch hunt that the Nazis were conducting in rounding up people of the Jewish faith and sending them to concentration camps for eventual extinction. And before I go any further, let’s address the issue of “Did it really happen?” Yes and the hundreds of thousands who died and are buried are the proof that it did. Six million of the Jewish faith from all ages and walks of life were killed for nothing more than believing. Germany became a killing ground as did the countries invaded by Adolf Hitler. He had promised to make Germany great. Instead it made it a graveyard.

Corrie Ten Bloom was something of a superstar in her chosen field. She was the first woman in the Netherlands to become a licensed watchmaker. Corrie also ran a club for young girls which provided them an opportunity to learn and expand their lives. She believed in these young women and in a bright future for them all. Such actions were considered dangerous by Hitler and when he invaded the Netherlands in 1940 he instituted restrictions that banned Corrie’s club for these girls.

Because of her Christian faith, Corrie and her family helped their neighbors who had been targeted by the Nazis and were in fear of being sent to concentration camps. As father stood up for his faith, different from those he was helping, by stating: “In this household, God’s people are always welcome.” Word of their actions eventually reached the Nazi authorities and Corrie Ten Bloom and her family were arrested. Her sister and father both died in the concentration camps. Corrie Ten Bloom spent time in two such camps over a span of eleven months. On New Year’s Eve 1944 she was released due to clerical error. The following week everyone in her age group in the unit in the Ravensbrück concentration camp was sent to the gas chambers.

Corrie Ten Bloom returned home and continued to help the disenfranchised, particularly the mentally disabled. She established with her remaining family members a rehabilitation center in Bloemendaal. The refugee houses consisted of concentration-camp survivors and sheltered the jobless Dutch who previously collaborated with Germans during the Occupation exclusively until 1950, when they accepted anyone in need of care. She returned to Germany in 1946, and met with and forgave two Germans who had been employed at Ravensbruck, one of whom was particularly cruel to her sister.

Corrie Ten Bloom lived her faith, standing up for what she believed and showing up by living it, even when the going got impossibly rough and life-threatening. You might say her faith created the detour her life took by being sent to a concentration camp but really, isn’t that what faith and our beliefs do at times? Life is not all about smooth sailing. Any sailor will tell you that the most exciting times out on the water are not those where everything is calm and bland.

The recent furor over whether one stands or kneels during the playing of the National Anthem is not just about one song. It has become a battle cry to respect those veterans who defend our nation’s ideals every day. But is that really the only way to show such respect?

I would suggest that perhaps we should use our faith as our own personal steering wheel and follow in example of Corrie Ten Bloom. Faith should not be something we pull out only when we get in a tough situation or are scared. Neither should patriotism. Both faith and patriotism should be active parts of our living each and every hour of every day. They should be as evident and visible as the noses on our faces.

I would suggest that we should be respectful and attentive during the playing of the National Anthem of our own and any country. I do think we should take it a step further, though. Because this has become such an issue involving our veterans, let take it all the way. I’d like to see people continue to support the NFL so that the NFL can support our veterans. Let each team donate fifty tickets to Wounded Warriors, injured and disabled veterans that could then attend the game. I would like to see those Wounded Warriors who bravely lived their patriotism escorted to the sidelines for the playing of the National Anthem by team players with all present on the sidelines for the flag and anthem.

To be sure, some of those Wounded Warriors will not be able to stand but certainly no one can doubt their patriotism. Let’s stop the shouting and start taking real action. Let’s show up for what we profess to believe in and take a stand… or a knee… or a wheelchair to honor the true heroes of the game of life.