Slip Through the Cracks

Slip Through the Cracks … and Stop

Lent 37

 

The note was short and written in a surprisingly strong hand.  “It is ironic that I have chosen this course of action.  I do so because I am tired of slipping through the cracks.  I offer suggestions that are never followed up.  I volunteer only to never get called.  I am, apparently, a profession al slipping through the cracks.  Emails go unanswered; phones never returned.  I thought I had something to offer.  I thought my life had value.  Apparently I was wrong.  And so, I am calling it quits.  The irony is that some will consider that choice to be “cracked”.  Perhaps that is fitting since it was caused by my slipping through the crack of life.”

 

One of the comforts of the Beatitudes for me is that they describe what we all experience in life – the good and the bad.  No one walks a smooth and straight path all the time.  We all encounter detours and bumps and yes, sometimes dead ends.  Marlon Wayans believes that “Success is not a destination but the road that you’re on.  Being successful means that you’re working hard and walking your walk every day.” 

 

Henry David Thoreau sought peace and personal success in his own unusual walks of life.  “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

 

We cannot give control of our lives to others, even when we seem to be ignored, forgotten, or slip through the cracks.  As Gautama Buddha once said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”   More recently Jay Woodman said something similar.  ““The world is a wide place where we stumble like children learning to walk.”

 

We all stumble and at some point in time, feel like we have slipped through the cracks.  Maybe we have but anything that can slip though can also crawl or pull itself out.  When we forget that even the negative things in life, the stumbles and falls we make on our path can offer us lessons, then we truly stop living.  Our life is a gift and we have much to learn and to offer.  If you feel you are being ignored or overlooked, make a turn and go down a more productive path.

 

Steve Maraboli offers this wisdom:   “Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.”

Embrace

Embrace

Epiphany 47

 

The University of Alabama, a major university whose football team once again competed recently for the national number one slot in collegiate football, is only forty-nine minutes away.  The bustling metropolis of Birmingham is only one hundred miles away.  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 out of 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 and because of that, recently changed its name to Sawyerville 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 we 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!  The Summer of 2016 yielded even better outcomes.  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 two coordinators although the success is due to the project being embraced by many.  All successes of this camp include the help of hundreds, both volunteer staff and interns as well as the volunteers who fed, donate, and serve as prayer partners.  Each child receives 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.  When we embrace each other and ourselves, 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.

 

 

Win

Win

Epiphany 31

 

Professional football players and Bangambiki Habyarimana may not seem to have much in common.  One groups spends their time playing a football game.  The other is either writing another of his books, having already published eighteen, or working with young adults, educating them about HIV Aids as a community worker.

 

This is not the story of different men although they are.  It is the story about men who are helping children and young adults win in life.  Winning is, whether we admit it or not, something we all seek.  We might not all be trying to win a spot at the Super Bowl which will be played later today but we all want to win at something. 

 

Bangambiki Habyarimana writes books about personal growth, inspirational books and happiness and self-help.  Players like the recently retired Peyton Manning put a more private face on their charitable work with youth.  They live in affluent areas of the United States while Habyarimana works in his native homeland on the continent of Africa.  Yet, the both are winning the same game of life.  I think They all are living proof of author Bangambiki Habyarimana’s words: “When you say you can’t, you stop the creative powers in you; when you say you can you free them.”

 

This year during Epiphany we are talking about taking action and how the actions we take can affect not only us but our world.  The players and owners of American football teams have a long history of charitable acts.  Manning played for the Indianapolis Colts and for the Denver Broncos, a team owned by the Bowlen family with Pat Bowlen being the major stockholder. 

 

Born in Wisconsin, Pat Bowlen is an attorney and member of the Canadian Bar, among other things.  Born into a family that became wealthy while he was still a child, Bowlen set about making his own place in the world.  Under his ownership the Broncos have won seven AFL Championships and two Super Bowls, all since 1984.  More impressive, they have raised millions of dollars for Denver’s poor and homeless populations.  He is also one of the largest contributors to the University of Denver, helping to promote educational opportunities for all students.

 

Manning, as I mentioned, does not flaunt his charitable work.  He never mentions that fact that there is a hospital named after him, the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Even after leaving Indiana and moving to Colorado, Peyton Manning continued to support the hospital and, perhaps most importantly, continued to interact with the young patients there.  Once he has the parents’ approval, Manning calls the young patients and then lets them talk.  The PayBack Foundation in Denver provides Thanksgiving meals to low income families in both Denver and Indianapolis and yes, Manning is heavily involved in it. His foundation gives over one million dollars annually to various groups.  Manning donates time and energies to the Make-A-Wish Foundation as well as the local Community Development.

 

Living on a continent where there are countries where it is illegal to speak with people with Aids or HIV, Bangambiki Habyarimana risks it to help young adults stay alive.  Every day he goes out makes him a winner.  As American rodeo cowboy and barrel racer Doug Firebough once said, “Winning is life is more than just money; it’s about winning on the inside and knowing that you have played the game of life with all you had….and then some.”

 

Winning does not instantly happen, though, and sometimes that is exactly what we think should happen.  One of my favorite quotes from Habyarimana is this:  “success sits on a mountain of mistakes.” In other words, you have to accept that you are not always going to win.  What makes a winner is that failure is just a step towards winning, not a dead end.

 

We all can take action and help others.  First, we must help ourselves.  That starts when we adopt a winning attitude.  Perhaps each step will not result in what we wanted but we can make it successful as long as we keep trying.  As writer Johnnie Dent, Jr reminds us:  “God will not allow you to add the words “Next time” to now faith. 

 

For one of the two teams playing in today’s Super Bowl, today will be a good day to be a winner.  For both teams, today will be a great day to win and both teams, by virtue of playing in this game, are winners.  We should all try because winning is not just determined by who takes home a trophy.  It is the label given to all who made the effort.  Today is the time to make the effort to win.

Fear… and Trust

Fear … and Trust

Epiphany 24

 

Atheists claim that most religion is based upon fear.  Psychologists see fear as a deterrent in keeping us from understanding ourselves and our neighbors.  Fear serves a purpose but that purpose is to keep us alive, not make us crawl into a hole and never come out.  Much like studying history, we can learn a great deal if we analyze our fear.

 

I consider myself a religious person.  For me, my religion is not just a compass by which I live but is the core of my spirituality.  Many see religion as being in competition with spirituality but for me, if one lives both as completely as possible, they go hand in hand.  Religion may give me an outline with which to live and perhaps some reasons for doing so but it is the spiritual connection I have with that outline that give its meaning and purpose.  My fears do much the same for me…when they are based upon reality and not imagination or ego. 

 

University of Massachusetts-Boston economist Julie Nelson argues that the experience of fear has become highly gendered, a problem that she applies to theory and practice in the field of economics. Men learn to fear because they associate such emotions with a dangerous lack of control over the self and world. In her words, “Since bodies are far more vulnerable, mortal, and messy than the pure Cartesian cogito, contemplation of the feminine-associated aspects of human life may create anxiety”.   To avoid this, men gravitate away from the emotional world of fear and anxiety toward a more analytical and objective one in which logic rules over feelings.  The danger of fearing fear, Nelson suggests, is that in their economic thinking, men prefer not to seem “risk averse.” It’s permissible, in this societal context, for women to base their decisions on the fear of negative outcomes, but men who do so may be perceived as weak or unmanly. When economic markets develop around men’s desire not to look risk averse, those markets become more likely to crash and burn, as happened in the late 2000’s.

 

Susan Krauss Whitbourne is a Psychologist who offers some sound advice when it comes to dealing with our fears.  “Separate your own insecurities from the actual threats that the people in your life present to you. Not only will you feel better, but your relationships with those people will benefit, as well.”   All too often the perceived threats that create our fear are just our own insecurities rearing up.

 

I can promise you that no one living in a bombed out hole in Syria has kept you from advancing in your workplace.  They are too busy trying to stay alive.  No one proclaiming bombs are the tools of Allah is quoting the Quran correctly either.  I am not an Islamic scholar but Islam is not a religion of fear.  Neither is Judaism or Christianity.  As we read in yesterday’s blog post, all three proclaim we are to love our neighbors and not fear them.  They also define neighbor as pretty much every other living, breathing human being on the planet.

 

When we build relationships, trust grows.  Trust is the anecdote to fear.  The key is to take the time and invest on those relationships.  Fear may seem to keep you alive for the short-term but trust is the key to longevity.  In 1967 a television host named Fred Rodgers wrote a song he used in the opening of his children’s program.  “It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood, a neighborly day for a beauty, would you be mine? Could you be mine?  I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you; I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.  So let’s make the most of this beautiful day, since we’re together, we might as well say, would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor? “

 

Fear is not a productive way to live and over the long-term serves no real purpose.  Trusting each other, however, is the key to not only good relationships but building a better world.  We really are all neighbors.  It is time to stop fearing and start living with trust.

 

 

 

Embrace and Tolerate

Embrace and Tolerate

Epiphany 23

 

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”  He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”  “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”  Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

 

The above paragraph was in a post I received on Facebook from a young man of strength and character.  This paragraph has become the topic of the world news because of recent events occurring in the United States.  The man elected in part with the support of conservative religious groups seems to have forgotten this part of faith – all faiths.

 

In times where terrorism seems to occur several times a day in some part of the world and several times a year in others, fear is an understandable reaction.  Fear responses are our body’s defense system.  It serves as a reminder to act – not to hate.  We take cover during a storm because our body fears the consequences.  We use medicines productively to combat illness because our body is telling us something needs attention.  When used appropriately, fear can serve great purpose.

 

To hate one’s neighbor, though, is not productive and none of the world’s top religions encourage it although they all speak of it.  “Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define your ‘neighbor’?”  In other words, who do we embrace, loving them as ourselves?

 

We all have had neighbors with whom we were not friendly.  It is inevitable that at some point in time our neighbors will not share our interests or respect for boundaries, play loud music, push their leaves onto our yard, etc.  In some settlements, the neighbors have guns aimed at the houses.  How on earth are we supposed to embrace these people?  Surely they are not our true neighbors.  Or are they?

 

“Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side…”.   This quote is from the Quran, 4:36.  Islam speaks highly of the one who not only sees their neighbor and embraces them but also tolerates them and treats them with respect.

 

“The Scale of Wisdom” is a collection of sayings of the Prophet Mohammed and the Twelve Imams compiled by M. Muhammadi Rayshahri.  “It is to help him if he asks your help, to lend him if he asks to borrow from you, to satisfy his needs if he becomes poor, to console him if he is visited by an affliction, to congratulate him if is met with good fortune, to visit him if he becomes ill, to attend his funeral if he dies, not to make your house higher than his without his consent lest you deny him the breeze, to offer him fruit when you buy some or to take it to your home secretly if you do not do that, nor to send out your children with it so as not to upset his children, nor to bother him by the tempting smell of your food unless you send him some.”

 

What does the Torah say about loving one’s neighbor?  “Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.”   This passage from Leviticus 19:18 is important as is the Jewish definition of love.  Judaism defines love as “the emotional pleasure of identifying virtues in another person.”   It is not seen as an act of fate nor a physical pleasure but a deliberate embracing of another and a purposeful identification of their existence.

 

The third of the world’s largest religion is Christianity, the third of the Abrahamic faiths.  Scripture for this topic is found in many places in the Christian Bible but it appears first in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew, in the twenty-second chapter.  To the question at the end of our first paragraph, the man known as Jesus of Nazareth gave this answer earlier in this book.  Matthew 5:43 states: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. 

 

 Later in that same book, Matthew 22:36 we find this:  “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.   And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  We are to embrace all and tolerate them.  In Islam this is illustrated by not having your house higher than your neighbors so as to prevent him from the breeze.  In Judaism, it is to recognize that we are all different but those differences have value.  In Christianity it is to allow that your enemy is still your brother and sister as children of the Creator and should be treated as you would wish to be treated.

 

Who is the neighbor you are to embrace and tolerate?  The person who is standing beside you, the person standing halfway around the world, the person who looks nothing like you or whose speech is unfamiliar because they exist and are, therefore, your neighbor.  We should embrace and tolerate.  To do anything else is to live a lie and hasten the end.  This is not political or even religious.  It is simply good common sense.

 

 

 

 

Help

Help

Epiphany 12

 

“Success has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself.  It’s what you do for others.”  This might just be the most difficult post I will ever write for some of you to read.  I completely agree with actor/comedian Danny Thomas in the opening quote.  I also realize that very little in today’s world agrees with his words.

 

Danny Thomas was a struggling actor with a family to support when he said a prayer one day.  Praying to St Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, he asked for work.  He promised that if he got a job that he would do something for others.  He got a job and kept his promise.  The result was St Jude’s Children’s Hospital. A hospital devoted to the treatment and curing of multiple childhood diseases once considered incurable.  Because of St Jude’s, children with these illnesses such as cancer are no longer considered lost causes.  They now have a chance at living and many of them are doing just that.

 

This post might be difficult to read because it is asking you to look away from the mirror and think of someone else.  I am telling you that all you have accomplished for yourself is nice but only that.  Your focus on yourself needs to be broadened to include others.  What’s more, you need to do for others what you want done for yourself.

 

I am going to again quote Ralph Waldo Emerson because he eloquently spoke of this topic.  “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  Read that again because it really says quite a lot.  “The purpose of life is not to be happy.”  Really?  Then where does happy come into play?

 

“The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired. One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.”  Gordon B Hinckley realized that in order to be happy we have to stop trying to be happy.  We cannot make being happy our life’s goal because we will never reach it if it is.

 

The purpose of life needs to be helping others.  Then and only then will we find true happiness and feel complete.  It is easy, in today’s world, to fall into despair and become frightened.  It is fitting that we find the answer to such negative feelings in the words of the man who is spending his last few days as President of the United States.  “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” 

 

Charles Dickens succinctly said “No one is useless who lightens the burdens of another.”  I hope that today you see that your purpose is in helping someone else.  The best way to lighten your own load is to lighten that of another.  Then we not only help our neighbors, we help ourselves and, quite possibly, discover our purpose in life.

 

 

Toot Your Own Horn

Toot Your Own Horn

Christmas 11

 

Today on this the eleventh day of Christmas, many people are walking around humming quietly to themselves “Eleven pipers piping.”  Are you now envisioning a chorus from John Phillip Sousa with a bevy of piccolo players all marching in formation?  Perhaps you are seeing twelve curly-headed Greek lads playing the pipes of Pan.  You might know a bit about musical instruments and imagine eleven Chinese musicians playing something similar to a lute known as a “pipa” which is very similar to the Persian Barbat or hu-pipa.  You might even be imagining hearing the glorious sounds of a pipe organ, often called the granddaddy of all musical instruments.  Does anyone really want to hear eleven people all standing their bragging about their accomplishments, the definition of the slang phrase “toot you own horn”?

 

The fact of the matter is that a “pipe” can have many different meanings and so can how we relate to people.  I remember once working at a facility that provided materials for tradesmen.  The head of a plumbing shop was asked how many workers he had assigned to a specific project and at what stage were they working.  His answer made perfect sense to him:  “I’ve got eleven pipers piping.”  He referred to the pipefitters who were installing the pipes for the large restrooms in the four-story building.  Even though it was mid-August, someone immediately began singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.  Bet you definitely were not thinking of sanitation when you read that first paragraph, huh?

 

One might not expect such confusion regarding this song and yet, although it is the most parodied Christmas carol known to man, it is also the most misunderstood.  Many people think the song was developed to teach Roman Catholic confirmands the dictates of the church doctrine, a pneumonic memory device to help them learn the catechism.  After all, for a period in England, one could hang or be beheaded for belonging to the Roman church.

 

The problem with this theory is that nothing in the song differs from what the Anglican Church believed.  It would only have put someone in harm’s way if they spoke of differences between the two religions, not what they shared in common.  The rhyme actually appeared one hundred years before credit is given.  First published in the Americas, Amherst, Massachusetts to be exact, in 1868, the rhyme appeared in 1780 in a publication known as “Mirth without Mischief” and again in 1842 in James Orchard Halliwell’s “The Nursery Rhymes of England.

 

Tying this song to the catechism of either denomination, the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican Church is simply someone’s imaginative way to “toot” the Church’s own horn.  Nothing in the supposed metaphorical stanzas differs from one to the other – the two sections of the Bible, the recognized Christ, the disciples, the days of the week, etc.  It does serve to remind people of the division between the two faiths and the turmoil caused by such.

 

Is it possible to toot one’s own horn without causing derision?  In writing for Forbes magazine, Ty Kiisel thinks the answer is yes but he does explain some basic rules for doing so.  First, only take credit for what you yourself have actually done.  Publishing the song might have seemed like a great idea but those who did so after the original publishing in the late eighteenth century were riding on someone’s else’s credit.  This leads to Kiisel’s rule number two which is share credit when it is due and, rule three, give praise to those who deserve credit.  Giving praise to another does not diminish you; it actually helps you so do not be stingy when it comes to giving praise to someone.  And the two magic words for practically every situation…”Thank you”.  Use them liberally.

 

Whether you are playing the highest part of a marching band on the piccolo or simply working at your desk, it is important to appropriately toot your own horn for good deeds.  They tend to encourage others and we all know the world needs more positive behavior.  As the holiday season winds down, there will never be a better time to inspire goodness in this world.  Circus owner P.T. Barnum famously said, “Without promotion something terrible happens—nothing.”