From Broken to Beauty

From Broken to Beauty

May 23, 2018

Pentecost 2018

 

Often we encounter people who think we are “broken” because we are not exactly like them.  We are different.  No two people are ever exactly alike and yet, we tend to spend a great deal of our life trying to be like each other.  Whether you believe in the happenstance of creation or you believe it to be the orderly work of a deity, one thing is quite true.  Our world, our planet, our universe is quite diverse.  The world does not have just one type of flower or tree, one vegetable, one type of protein, etc. 

 

People tend to fear that which is different and so, in an effort to protect themselves, they treat those who are different as if they were broken.  They bully; they battle; they belittle; they hurt.  Those of us who are different are left feeling broken and worse – we become ashamed of who and what we are.

 

Some of the world’s most beautiful buildings are those with stained glass windows.  The stained glass window would be nothing if it had not started out as broken.  Each window is made up of hundreds of broken pieces of glass made beautiful by an artist.  The times in our lives when we feel broken are just setting the stage for the beauty of living that is to come.

 

During Pentecost this year we will delve into ways to fill the broken places in our lives.  We need to incorporate the Japanese art of Kintsugi into our lives. Rather than disguising the breakage, Kintsugi restores the broken item incorporating the damage into the aesthetic of the restored item, making it part of the object’s history.  A piece of plain pottery suddenly glistened as lacquer and gold dust would be used to fill the broken crevices.   Pottery pieces of Kintsugi were said to have such value that some purposefully broke their pottery so as to have the repair work add value.

 

The world can be a risky place and none of us escapes without bruises and scars.  We need to value these as mementoes of our survival.  Just like the Kintsugi pottery or the stained glass window, our brokenness is the palette for our true beauty to be revealed.

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The Reality of Being

The Reality of Being

April 14-15, 2018

 

American author and artist James Thurber once stated:  “Philosophy offers the rather cold consolation that perhaps we and our planet do not actually exist; religion presents the contradictory and scarcely more comforting thought that we exist but that we cannot hope to get anywhere until we cease to exist. Alcohol, in attempting to resolve the contradiction, produces vivid patterns of Truth which vanish like snow in the morning sun and cannot be recalled; the revelations of poetry are as wonderful as a comet in the skies, and as mysterious. Love, which was once believed to contain the Answer, we now know to be nothing more than an inherited behavior pattern.”

 

Born in Ohio and raised in both Virginia and Ohio, Thurber had a rather typical early twentieth century American boy’s childhood.  Not so typical was an injury he suffered as a child when an arrow of his brother’s resulted in Thurber being blinded in one eye.  He worked as a journalist in Ohio after attending but not graduating Ohio State University and then moved to New York City where he obtained a position on the staff of ”The New Yorker” magazine.  Thurber become known for his cartoons of animals and his drawings of dogs soon had their own career on pages of periodicals, newspapers and books, often watching strong-willed women and seemingly weak men.

 

Thurber once remarked “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people–that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.”  Many enjoyed both his drawings and his books, of which there were more than just a few.  Often people saw themselves on the pages of Thurber’s drawings; always they saw their neighbors.  Few took offense, though, knowing that Thurber was pointing his pen not only at them but also himself.

 

“There but for the grace of God go I” is an idiom attributed to Anglican priest James Bradford.  It is also a paraphrase of the scripture found in the New Testament, I Corinthians 15:10.  That the quote in English form is also attributed to a Roman Catholic priest is no surprise and quite fitting given Bradford’s life.  Ordained an Anglican priest shortly before the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne as reigning monarch of England, he was later imprisoned and hung for his beliefs.  Bradford preached of the connectivity of mankind and saw himself in the face of the lowest of it.  Mostly, Bradford saw each man has a reflection of another except for perhaps life’s circumstances.  He advocated spreading good will not judgment.

 

However you might define reality, we are real.  If you doubt that, get a hammer and bring it down intensely upon your finger.  I really doubt you will question the pain experienced.  Life is transitory but the travails we experience are very real to us.  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”  Elie Wiesel was referring to events leading up to World War II specifically but his words ring true for everyday living.

 

We are not only real, we are connected one to another.  Three years ago Nepal suffered a terrible earthquake.  About that same time Face Book began running a streamer at the top of personal pages giving ways people could contribute to charities helping the victims of the earthquakes in Nepal.  Some people protested this.  They were good people with no motive for malice but they really did not like the streamer inviting them to help others.  “Wouldn’t it be better to help people in our own country?” was a common response people posted on their own pages.  “Why do we have to see this ticker about giving to Nepal?”  The unspoken meaning here was that one should let the Nepalese help themselves while we help our neighbors closer to home.

 

That is a great thought except for one thing – Nepal was a country in dire straits even before the earthquake.  The victim of countless regimes whose only purpose was personal greed, these “live and let live” people were in abject poverty before nature took its revenge on them.  How can someone with nothing have their lives and homes literally upturned by seismic events then pull wealth out of their empty pockets to “help themselves”?

 

Every country has its poor, its disenfranchised societies.  For many, these populations are simply uneducated, sometimes on purpose based upon gender, and/or the wrong ethnicity, again the victims of deliberate discrimination.  Sometimes these populations suffer from illnesses that are not fully understood or greatly feared.  Do these Face Book subscribers donate to these groups within their own countries?  No one country has enough money given to completely render all needed assistance to these groups.  The reality is that there is always a need for which we could render aid.

 

Reality may be a word that means different things to different people and sadly, many feel they are invisible and that their lives do not matter.  Another thing all countries share is that somewhere today someone will take their own life.  In spite of a number of terminal illnesses, accidents, and crimes that will result in death, people will feel their own personal situation has no meaning and is just a riddle too hard to contemplate resolution except by death.

 

Einstein might have been correct when he said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”  I prefer to believe that human stupidity is reversible, though.  Another in common is countries where children and adults wear socks is that, at some point, one will end up with a mismatched sock.  Seeming to defeat the laws of physics, one sock will magically disappear.  Once during an epic spring cleaning, my spouse and children put all their mismatched socks into bags.  The final count was an even one hundred pairless socks.  Of course, once the socks were all laid out, pairs were found or someone remembered the puppy tearing a sock up, another was worn outside and holes appeared, etc. 

 

Just as our socks were real, the mystery of the disappearance of their matches had resolution.  For an hour, said spouse and kids enjoyed making up stories about the disappearances.  Their imaginations took flight and they did indeed come up with delightful tales.  In fact, I think at least two children, now adults, still imagine at least two socks are orbiting the earth as I type today!  The reality was far less exciting and entertaining but resolution was found.  We did not find all the socks but those that remained single became adorable little snowman figures sold at a charitable auction.

 

Mankind is real.  We have problems but we also solutions if we have faith that we can find them.  It will not be easy but then, most things seldom are.  Pain cannot be seen or even quantified on a scale with weights and balances and yet, pain is all too real for those experiencing it.  We should not share in another’s blame or guilt but we can and should offer to help.  Life is hard but it is not impossible.  All we need to do is believe in ourselves.  Perhaps that is the hardest problem philosophy has to solve.  This weekend I hope you smile more than you cry and, when you pass another, your eyes are opened to not only see the worth of that other person but also your own value.  We are real.  We all matter.  Our lives have purpose and meaning.

Prayer

Prayer

March 9-11

 

This may come as a surprise to some of you who call yourselves atheists but we all pray; yes, even atheists.  Prayer simply means to ask and everyone at some point in their life has asked for the help of another.  We usually think of prayer of invoking a request from a higher spirit, the Creator, the Great Spirit, Allah, or God.  Some pray with chanting; others make their supplications with dancing.  Many say collective prayers and some religions pray several times a day.  Often prayer is done internally, a type of “think talk”.  Regardless of what form or fashion it takes, we all have asked for help.

 

Walter Mueller describes prayer this way:  “Prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble; prayer is a life attitude.”  That can seem a bit daunting to many and so, one man set out to make prayer something people understood.  For the recently departed Reverend Billy Graham, his life became dedicated to connecting people, all people of all faiths, with the prayers of their souls and hearts, with the very core of our most basic needs and humanity. 

 

William Graham was born in North Carolina and earned a certificate in Biblical studies from a Bible college in Florida before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology at the Methodist Wheaton College in Illinois.  He married the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries and for the past thirty years has been an advisor to presidents and world leaders.  For forty-nine consecutive years he was on Gallup’s List of Most Admired Men and Women, something no one else has ever achieved.

 

In 1950, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was formed.  Its mission has been unchanging:  “Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) exists to support and extend the evangelistic calling and ministries of Billy Graham and Franklin Graham by proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all we can by every effective means available to us and by equipping others to do the same. Billy Graham founded BGEA in 1950; BGEA was headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, until relocating to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2003. He conducted his ministry through the BGEA, including: the weekly Hour of Decision radio program broadcast around the world on Sundays for over 50 years; television specials which are broadcast in prime time on an average of 150 stations; a syndicated newspaper column called “My Answer”; Decision magazine, the official publication of the Association; and World Wide Pictures, which has produced and distributed over 125 productions.”

 

That mission statement may sound very preachy but humanitarian aid is also given to nations in crisis.  He also advocated for basic human rights for all people.  After racially-motivated bombings in Birmingham, Alabama, Rev. Graham held memorial services.  He refused to go to South Africa until the government permitted integrated audience to hear him preach.  After the devastating Hurricane Katrina, he held a Festival of Hope in New Orleans and was asked to lead the national memoriam at the National Cathedral, an Episcopal cathedral in Washington, D.C., after the attacks on September 11, 2001 in New York City and Washington, D.C. as well as the plane crash in Pennsylvania due to the work of terrorists.

 

“True prayer is a way of life, not just for use in cases of emergency.”  Billy Graham’s words ring very true for me.   Herman Melville, author of the classic “Moby Dick” once said that “Prayer draws us near to our own souls.”  I would venture that he/she who claims not to have ever prayed is in doubt of who he/she is.

 

Prayer is not a sign of weakness but of being alive.  Chiang Kai-shek explained:  “Prayer is more than meditation.  In meditation the source of strength is one’s self.  When one prays, he goes to a source of strength greater than his own.”  William Inge agreed:  “Prayer gives a man [woman] the opportunity to know [someone] he hardly ever meets.  I do not mean his maker but himself.”

 

I hope you accept that you have prayed and if you are in need, please feel free to comment a prayer request to me.  My own feeling is that when we pray, we become humanitarians for the world, especially for those for whom we offer prayer.  Mahatma Gandhi truly understood the purpose of prayer and its potential.  “Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement.  Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.”

 

 

 

 

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.

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.