Answering the Call

Answering the Call

Detours in Life

Pentecost 27

 

I am not sure what they had originally planned for yesterday, Saturday, August 12th.  Maybe spending family time or simply doing chores at home.  One was a veteran law enforcement officer with more than two decades as a Virginia state trooper. The other was a pilot who transferred to the state police aviation unit last month and was one day away from his 41st birthday.

 

Both Virginia State Police troopers died Saturday when their police helicopter crashed and burned in Charlottesville, as they patrolled near the site of clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters.  State police identified the victims as pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40. Both men died at the scene.

 

Their helicopter was “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville,” according to a police statement.  The aircraft crashed in a wooded area near a residence just before 5 p.m. No one on the ground was injured, and officials are still investigating the cause of the crash.

 

Others had decided to spend their Saturday upholding the ideals of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.  A young paralegal from Green County, Virginia, Heather Heyer had decided to peacefully protest the white supremacists holding the rally.  She was run over twice by a car driven by a twenty-year-old man, James Alex Fields, from Ohio.  Nineteen others were injured and taken to area hospitals.

 

All of these people suffered a detour yesterday.  Three made a detour from the living to death while another made a terribly misguided choice that resulted in injury and death.    Sometimes these things happen – death and injury.  Hopefully, when they do, it is for a good cause.  Yesterday it was not for a good cause.  Hatred is never a good excuse for death. 

 

We should strive to detour away from hatred and yet, many see, to thrive on it. We need to realize that we alone are responsible for many of the detours in our lives.  When we answer the call to be kind and just, supporting equality and goodness, then we can detour away from hate and create a positive, effective world.

 

I have mentioned the names of these casualties because we need to remember they were people.  It really does not matter what “side” they were on or if you agree with them.  When one person dies, the fabric of humanity is weakened.  Each life matters.  Each death is a tragedy.  Tomorrow should be promised for us all.

A Small World

A Small World

Pentecost 134

 

“There is just one moon and one golden sun and a smile means friendship to everyone.  Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it’s a small world after all.”  This second verse of one of Disney’s most recognizable songs worldwide really hit home to me yesterday.  The world of laughter and a somber world of tears came together as two friends and I realized just how small a world it really is.

 

A friend posted that a much loved spouse had returned home from a business trip to a small country halfway around the world.  After my first “Wow!”, I realized I knew someone in that small country so different from my own.  The population of this planet is growing.  At the turn of the century the population stood at 1.65 billion.  Today we are seven billion, seven hundred and forty-five million and growing.  Agriculture came into being around 8000 BCE and the world census was an estimated five million strong.  By the first year of the new common era (1 AD or ACE), the growth rate of people on earth was .05% per year.  Today it is 1.13% with over one million births expected during 2016.  In spite of all this, it is still a small world.  Insignificant me knows someone halfway around the world living in a small nation where another friend’s husband just spent a week – a connection between four people, four out of seven billion.  It is a small world.

 

Earlier this week the New York City Fire Department helped police investigate a suspected drug laboratory at a house in Yonkers.  Battalion Chief Michael Fahy led his men into the structure which exploded.  Michael Fahy was born and raised in New York City and became an attorney.  He had one brother and two sisters, one of whom was his twin.  They were not surprised when Michael left his law practice to answer what he described as a “higher calling” and became a NYC firefighter. This past week the world became aware of this heroic man who lived every day in an extraordinary way when he died in that explosion.  I became aware of Michael Fahy when a friend realized she had purchased her home last year from his parents. This friend lost her own mother two years ago due to a distracted driver who took his eyes off the road and stared at his mobile phone for just five seconds.  In that five seconds he took a life almost as quickly as the explosion from the illegal drug activity ended the life of Michael Fahy.  My friend is a college professor and native of Colorado but she knows too well the grief of losing a family member in an instant.  “A world of laughter, a world of tears’…It’s a small world after all.

 

It is election season in the United States and volunteers are trying to help register people to vote.  Few states automatically do this when people obtain driver’s licenses or state sponsored Identification cards and often people fail to make that extra trip to register.  This past week another friend was helping register people and found himself volunteering to do so at a homeless shelter.  Suddenly he saw a familiar face, someone with whom he worshipped.  This friend is a humanitarian and yet even he was surprised to realize that the theory of “Anyone can become homeless” was now a reality standing in front of him.  The world of economics is not just for a chosen few and the effects of financial woes can and do happen to anyone.  “It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears” and being unable to maintain a certain lifestyle will probably be experienced by many.  Sometimes that lifestyle change is for the better but all too often it is not.  It truly can happen to anyone.  It’s a small world after all.

 

“There’s so much that we share” the lyric goes but I wonder…Do we really share?  Are we really living with a thought making and seeing the connections we all have or do we simply go about our lives getting as much as we ourselves can personally garner?  “That it’s time we’re aware” is perhaps the most telling way to describe this past week for me.  I realized an awareness that even though I myself have never traveled to some exotic locale, I know people in many such settings and we are connected.

 

I sincerely hope that you have never been homeless or experienced the death of a loved one but most likely you have experienced death and certainly some sort of tragedy.  They are a part of life.  “A world of laughter and a world of tears” describes one’s overall living.  What makes it extraordinary and even bearable is that we share both the good times and the bad.  We need to create connections in a positive way so that we make our living count for something. Whether someone is an attorney, a firefighter, or a volunteer, we all have the opportunity to make the ordinary process of living extraordinary.

 

Pentecost is called the “Ordinary Time” but it really is not so ordinary after all.  No single day is.  They may all blur into a sort of oneness or sameness but they shouldn’t.  We can make them count for something but showing kindness, concern, and realizing that “There’s so much that we share”.  We have the power to make these ordinary times spectacular and meaning and by doing that, we gain strength to get through the tough times.  We are in this thing called life together and we need to connect and help each other.  “It’s a small world, small world after all.”

 

 

Trust-Distrust

True Test

Pentecost 116

 

In a country where all are said to be welcomes, at least for the current time being, and in which a statue stands welcoming all, this weekend’s acts of terrorism beg a discussion of trust…and trust broken.  These welcoming efforts are best dealt with by making sure goals are met and work is organized.  The inscription on the Stature of Liberty gives an air of legitimacy to such efforts of welcoming those to our shores.  However, the land can only support just so many and policies are put into place so that those coming to this country are subject to scrutiny.  However, policies are only as good as the people that lead them and  will be effective and continue the open door policy only if those coming having a willing heart and caring demeanor.  Clearly some would wish to defy these policies which are, at their core, a matter of trust and distrust.

 

An easier way to review the immigrant policies is to think of them as aid organizations.  They do, in fact, give aid to those wishing to live here.  Many are escaping rigid and murderous regimes while others are simply seeking a better life for their families. Like immigrant policies, aid organizations have a standard they must meet and are subject to intense review.  Some prove able to pass; others are not.

 

One such example is Greg Mortenson and “Pennies for Peace”.  Born in Minnesota, Greg Mortenson grew up in missionary schools in Africa, learning to speak Swahili as well as he spoke English.  His parents returned to the United States in time for Greg to graduate high school.  He attended college and earned degree in liberal studies and nursing after a stint in the US Army.  Mortenson began the CAI, Central Asia Institute.  His time with them has been fraught with investigations and repayments of monies.  Although he was the New York Times Bestseller List for over two hundred weeks, having written five or six books, some of his biographical details and stories in his books have been disputed.  Although he was subject to court-ordered restitution, the IRS has not cleared his CAI foundation and he no longer serves as its head.

 

What cannot be denied is the work done with his Pennies for Peace campaign.  The organizations tag line says it all: “Together we can cultivate peace, nurture hope, and change the world—one child at a time.”  So how does this campaign work?  Quoting again from the website:  “Participants collect pennies while learning important lessons about cultural understanding, experiencing the rewards of sharing and working together to bring hope and educational opportunities to children in Central Asia.  A penny in the United States may have little worth, but in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan just a few pennies can buy a pencil and open the door to literacy.”

 

The terrorist acts that occurred in New Jersey, Minnesota, and New York City this past weekend are a call to our faith and put our belief in the ideals of this country to the test.  Those who will react with distrust and fear are playing into the hands of the terrorists.  The definition of terrorism, as defined by the federal government of the U.S.A., is this:  “criminal acts perpetrated on innocent victims for the express purpose of creating terror and fear.”  These villains do not know their victims so they cannot claim they are doing this out of a religious belief or an intent to improve anything.    They just want to create distrust and fear.

 

In 1936 Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston wrote a song entitled “Pennies from Heaven”.  Recorded by Bing Crosby, Billie Holliday, and Frank Sinatra, it became a popular hit.  The phrase “pennies from heaven” came to mean unexpected goodwill or found treasure.  “Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven.  Don’t you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven?”  While the leader of the campaign had some problems and perhaps did not go about his work in the best way possible, the Pennies for peace project was and has been successful.  By placing trust in even something as small as the smallest unit of currency, positive change was possible.  One penny may not seem like a lot but one hundred of them makes a dollar and one hundred of those can equal one hundred dollars.  That can purchase a flock of chickens or two goats that can not only provide food for a family in need but also give them a livelihood.

 

I hope today, if you live in the U.S.A., you go about your living with a smile on your face.  We need to be aware and report what looks askew.  Additional unexploded devices were discovered in New Jersey when two homeless people reported a suspicious backpack.  As a robot sought to disarm the devices they exploded.  Thanks to these two homeless people and their trust in the system, lives were saved.

 

Continue to welcome those who come to our shores with trust but also be diligent in your own living.  While you are at it, find an empty jar and start your own collection of pennies.  I think you might be surprised that you can collect quite a few that will amount to greatness when combined with those of others.   The victims of this weekend’s tragic events did nothing wrong.  They were doing everything right in living as best they could.  We owe it to them to investigate and continue to live our best efforts.  Trust in your ability to make a difference, continue to trust and don’t let terrorists lead you astray.

Honor

Honor

Pentecost 103

 

Today is September 11th.  It is a day that, to quote President Franklin D Roosevelt speaking about a day in the early 1940’s, “will live on in infamy.  It is the anniversary of the attacks on the two identical towers that comprised what was called the World Trade Center in New York City.  It was an attack on citizens of the world because not just Americans were killed but many nationalities.  It was a day in which honor was lived in both misguided and wonderful presence.

 

Honor is an interesting word, one that illustrates how culture and time can define a word.  In the 1600’s ACE, the word “honor” meant a particular gift of great value or a legion of the highest ability.  Visiting dignitaries were often bestowed with something of great honor that was significant to the area being visited, such as the key to the city.  Soldiers strived to become part of an “honor platoon” which often would be chosen to guard such a dignitary or perhaps the ruler.

 

Also in the 1600’s the word was associated with women and female purity.  One seldom hears male purity being discussed.  Even the celibacy of Roman Catholic priests and other spiritual leaders is encouraged as a way to staying focused, not for purity reasons.  The term “honor” was connected with a chaste woman and so it is no surprise that it soon came to be defined as respectable.

 

The word, however, dates back four hundred years.  Spelled “oner” it was a word used to signify welcome or present in the 140’’s ACE.  However, in the 1200’s we have the original meaning of the word, “onor” – dignity.  Today there are at least eight definitions of the word, Honor, the “h” being added by the French sometime before its use by William Shakespeare.  Use in the 1200’s to mean respect, it is easy to see the connection to dignity.

 

Today in many places, homes, and nations, there will be remembrances for those who perished during the flying of two airplanes into the World Trade Towers and also the flying of an airplane into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and into a field in western Pennsylvania.  A group of men claiming falsely to honor Allah undertook four suicide missions and in the process lost all respect for human life and defied the dignity of their supposed religion.  They showed no honor nor faith.  All they showed the world was the loss of intelligent thought and how blindly following evil will lead to destruction and death. 

 

The names of these lost souls are not the named of dignity to remember.  Those names of honor are the names of the people who lost their living that day and their families and survivors.  All were a part of a family unit at some point in their life.  All were part of the family of man.  None considered themselves a hero to the world but that day they showed us true honor and dignity by living their lives up to the very last second that those lives were taken from them.

 

We do not honor those dignified citizens of the world, those honorable members of the family of man by hating others.  We best honor them by living to the highest degree possible, by welcoming other members of the family of man, by being present in our living.  We best show them respect by being the best we can be, not by continuing the hatred that led those who perpetrated these crashes down such a horrific journey.

 

The morning of September 11, 2001 found the children of New York City in school.  Suddenly, however, their world shifted on its axis and the air in the general areas of the World trade Center was filled with the chaotic remnants of construction materials, fires, cries of agony, and metal crashing down.  Pictures drawn by children began appearing around the city and at the other two crash sites.  Robin F. Goodman and Andrea Fahnestock gathered many of these in a book they published entitled “The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11”.

 

My favorite picture was drawn by Tamara Obradovic who was nine years old at the time.  It shows the two tall twin towers with fire behind them and the flying debris all around them.  Miniscule people, little tiny stick figures are at the bottom of the scene.  The two towers each have one eye drawn on them near the top and from the eyes, red tears fall. 

 

Matthew Sussman drew a picture of stick figures walking on broken concrete, reaching out to each other.  His figures are of different colors, the colors of the family of man.  He entitled his picture “Coming Together”.  What a glorious way to honor those who died.  What a wonderful way to make the ordinary process of grief something extraordinary.  What a grand way to live honorably.

 

 

 

 

Kindness

Kindness

Pentecost 52

 

“You cannot do a kind act too soon, for you will never know how soon it will be too late.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson said that in another time but his words ring true today.  Recently I had the opportunity to review a scrapbook of an organization in which I had been a member.  I came upon the picture of a friend who recently passed away.  My joy in looking at the past was suddenly turned to grief and regret as I realized I had lost the chance to hear my friend laugh and had missed opportunities when they were still possible.  My friend had died within one month of receiving a devastating diagnosis.  The tomorrow I kept promising that would be the time we would get together was now lost.  It was indeed now too late.

 

I do not need to define the word kindness to you.  We all know it means to do something nice, good, or compassionate for another.  It means living a generosity of spirit.  Never has the world needed kindness more than it does this very day.  When the young people of the world are so confused as to what signifies as a good deed that they blow themselves and others up, we need clarity about just exactly kindness and faith really are.  At a time when one political candidate is proud to be supported by a corrupt, egotistical leader, we need to live kindness, not hate.  In a world where the battle between death and living seem tilted in favor of death, we need to see with kindness and not mayhem.

 

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.”  Wayne Dyer may have seemed like he was proposing a contradiction but there is great truth in his statement.  When all we see is the carnage, we will only see hate and pain.  When we focus on the helpers in the midst of such turmoil, we are emboldened by the kindness of strangers and the willingness of responders to assist.

 

We have never needed kindness more in the world than we do right now.  People are not perfect and are easily swayed by the thirst for power from within themselves and from the world around them.  Kindness is the avenue by which we make ordinary and sometimes troubling times into extraordinary moments and opportunities for positive change and growth.

 

The song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams is a top-tapping, gonna make you smile type of song.  It supports the comment by Maya Angelou that “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”  It is almost impossible to listen, really listen to that song and not be the title – happy.  Hatred accomplishes nothing except contempt and contempt builds nothing but fear.

 

Kindness is a motivating, positive step for the future.  Kindness builds bridges that build pathways towards a brighter tomorrow.  Kindness is inspirational, regardless of your faith, creed, or spirituality and it crosses all socio-economic boundaries and cultural divides.  Kindness is the key we all possess towards making this ordinary time extraordinary.

Pat on the Back

“Pat on the Back”

Pentecost 41

 

It probably began much earlier but in 1823 it was put on paper.  “Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man” is the beginning of a popular nursery rhyme which involves putting a child’s hands together to make a “pat pat” sound.  To do these actions not only entertains the young child, it helps acquaint them with eye-hand coordination.

 

Recent events in the United States have emphasized the need for a friendly pat.  In these times of fear and death, a simple touch on the shoulder or back can mean support and compassion.  It often is the simplest and most meaningful thing we can do for another person.  It turns their brief ordinary time of pain and frustration, fear and distrust into a brief moment of the extraordinary which occurs when we come together to offer support.

 

To offer support to another person is a way to improve our life eye-hand coordination.  All too often we forget that we are a part of a much larger whole – the whole being of mankind.  We each are important for our own individuality but together we comprise the body of humanity.

 

Like most things, life requires effort and daily practice.  Turn today’s ordinary process of living into something extraordinary.  Send a thank you note to your local law enforcement or take a batch of cookies over to the house of a friend with family serving in law enforcement.  Recent attacks are not just directed towards other people.  They attack the heart of our being, our collective being.

 

Yesterday’s post stated that there is no “them”.  Because of that, we need to honor our collective “you” and those who protect us, help us, comfort us, teach us.  Make today extraordinary by taking a moment to give someone a pat on the back.  Sometimes doing something good can really be as easy as a pat on the back.

What’s In a Myth?

What’s In a Myth?

Pentecost 170

For the past five-plus months we have discussed the mythologies of mankind.  For many people, these myths are simply stories, fantastical stories that today have provided plot lines for many comic books, young adult and graphic novels, television programs, and movies.  For many of these legends, their importance died as did the ancient cultures that believed in them.

For African tales, however, these stories live today.  Since some might say most religions have their beginnings in myths, one could argue that many of the myths of early mankind are still alive in one form or another today.  Some things in use today have a beginning in myths and yet, we would never suspect that.  Labyrinths are found at many religious institutions and castles, considered to be both part of beautiful garden landscapes but also wonderful meditative devices.  Have you heard the Greek myth about the king of Crete who called for the construction of a labyrinth?  The king wanted to hide a monster and it was believed that that very nature of a labyrinth would prove ideal for this.  Of course, in true mythological form, the monster to be hidden had been born of the Queen, and was just one of several layers to the story.

We recently learned about the three Mayan calendars and how, with the Long Count calendar which had predicted the end of the world in 2012, the world would reset and begin a new cycle.  A similar cycle was written about by Socrates, although he called it the “Cyclic Uproar.”  Some have defined mythology as prehistoric mankind’s way of explaining creation.  Others claim it to be allegorical stories used to educate and maintain one’s culture.  A large group of psychologists and sociologists have posited that mythology is more like a group dream with archetypal symbols which are used to interpret and explain the inner-most urges of mankind.  There are those that believe mythology is a vehicle of the mind and subconscious and still others believe it to be the primary communication between mankind and the world of spirits and gods.

In his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell offers a different perspective about the purpose of mythology.  The book is well worth the read and I would do it a disservice to try and summarize it in a simple paragraph so I will not even try.  The book was first published in 1949 and is said to have greatly impacted certain psychological fields.  Basically, Campbell believes that we need a hero and myths provide us with one.

The world definitely needs heroes and heroines.  The 1984 song originally heard in the movie “Footloose” but more recently in the “Shrek” cartoon films, asks some pretty interesting questions.  “Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?  Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds? … Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need.”  The song, written by Jim Steinman and Dean Pitchford might just have the answer to why, what, and who the world’s myths are.

Joseph Campbell defined a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”  Tennis star Arthur Ashe, in whose memory an award is given for exceptional bravery once said that “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.  It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

Firemen and law enforcement officials are often seen as heroes because they are daily called upon to put their lives on the line for others.  Yet, history bears witness to the fact that often it is the ordinary man who is the lasting hero.  Mythologies are full of the supernatural hero or the tyrant monster who requires violence in a semi-heroic sense.  The world’s history tells a different story.  In 1954 an ordinary woman became tired of the injustice of society requiring her to sit at the back of the bus.  She sat down, peacefully and quietly, closer to the driver than anyone of her ethnicity usually did.  In doing so, Rosa Parks was arrested and began a civil rights movement that continues today.

American Nathaniel Hawthorne stated:  “The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one’s self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when it be obeyed.”  Most of us know what is right and what is wrong.  When we see someone being bullied, we know it is wrong.  Speaking up to stop the bullying, however, is not such a clear path.

So, what is in a myth?  Any good story has five basic elements – characters, setting, plots, conflict and resolution.  Today you wrote a myth, your myth.  You are the main character in your life, your myth.  The setting varies from work, to home to various other settings.  The plot will vary from day to day but each chapter or plot will have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Sometimes the exposition or discussion of the plot is a bit muddied and many find clarity of it in their dreams, others in simple retrospective meditation.  What is not hard to identify is the conflict and yet, often the visible conflict is really just a symbol of a deeper struggle.

In storytelling and writing, the conflict is the point of the plot and who the characters are often determines how they resolve the problem.  Everything builds to the climax, that one cliff-hanger of the story just before everything is resolved that holds our attention and gives the most drama.  For many people, life is all about the climax.  They would rather live their life in the throes of drama than in everyday living.  Resolution is great but life after resolution can seem dull, mundane, ordinary.  Many people today believe “ordinary” is a curse and they do everything they can to avoid the adjective being attached to them.

I love a good climatic scene as well as the next person but it doesn’t end the book.  It doesn’t resolve the problem.  It doesn’t guarantee the “happily ever after” that we all seek in life.  We need, as we write our own mythologies, to remember that all those people who lived in the climax usually ended up dying before resolution could be achieved.  It may seem anti-climactic but the answer to the title question is a very simple… good, evil, and a hero who knows the difference between the two.  What happens when you don’t do the right thing makes for a great story but do we really want to live a life like that?

Recently someone teased me about my reading romance novels.  They said in a surprised voice “You read romance novels?”  I replied I did.  “But you seem so smart!”  I thanked them for the compliment and then asked if they were always depressed or just having a bad day.  “Whatever do you mean?”  Then I told them I read the romance genre because I liked the HEA as it’s called, the Happily Ever After.  “Isn’t that the point of life?” I asked.

Yesterday someone served food to a homeless person and someone else gave refugees clothing and blankets.  Because of the aid received and charitable works of many, Sierra Leone today declared itself free of the deadly Ebola virus. If you need a hero or a good myth, just look around.  Better yet, life so that you see one every time you look in the mirror.