Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Detours in Life

Pentecost 30

 

Some of the hardest detours we travel are those that require us to rethink what we thought we knew.  This past weekend, three people died because of feelings about the subject of race.  The topic of race is a social force and anyone claiming it isn’t has been living deep down at the bottom of the ocean. 

 

For centuries the human race has debated the divisions of, the identification for, and the correlation between the various races, their impact on intelligence, physical potential, genetics, and disease.  It cannot be denied that certain cultures are prone to specific illnesses while others seem to have no susceptibility at all.  This should not be interpreted as a weakness, though.  It is simply a characteristic of a great many things.  Genetics has proven that certain cultures – i.e., races – have a particular connection to various healthcare concerns.  This does not mean there is a correlation to potential or intelligence.

 

Throughout history the body of humans inhabiting this planet has been organized into racial groups, sometimes as few as three and other times as many as fifty.  In 1998, the American Anthropological Association issued the following statement on race:  “The idea of race has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them.”

 

Race is not a biological fact and it has no true scientific importance as a means of division.  It should not be used to segregate or discriminate.  This may be a new detour in your thinking but it is fact, based upon pure scientific data, not greed, fear, nor baseless rhetoric.

 

In 2002 the American Anthropological Association published a paper remarking on the social foundations of race: “Although racial categories are legitimate subjects of empirical sociological investigation, it is important to recognize the danger of contributing to the popular concept of race as biological.”    Please take a moment and reread that last sentence.  Race is not a biological fact.

 

The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 had as its purpose a way to better understand genetic components of disease.  A detailed map of humankind’s DNA sequence was constructed which allowed exploration of the various genetic differences across our vast planet.  Their findings were a huge detour from what many of us believed and/or have been taught.  We all are genetically 99.9 percent alike.

 

Within our specific DNA there are six billion bases of DNA with a .1 percent difference representing six million locations that differ between two individuals.  Most of these differences are “neutral” which means they do not change the function of any genes.

 

Before your eyes glaze over, take a minute to think.  A genome is nothing more than the genetic material of something, the complete set of the DNA that an organism has.  In humans, the nuclear genome comprises approximately 3.2 billion nucleotides of DNA, including genes and chromosomes.  So while having six million different sounds like a like, it actually is less than .1 percent.  Imagine having one hundred pieces of tiny chocolate candy like M & M’s on a plate.  Would you really argue if someone took just one?  Of course you wouldn’t because the amount left is much greater and overrides that one piece.

 

Race is a social construct, a way of organizing people by culture and yes, sometimes by skin color.  However, race itself is misleading.  Those deemed Caucasian are of European descent while the term actually comes from the Middle East and referred to people from the Caucus Region, a mountain range in Turkey and Russia.  Asian is a racial term to signify people of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian descent but Russia is also on the Asian continent.  There are many natives of Bermuda which, technically as a former English colony would make them of European descent and yet, these people appear African because they are descended from slaves.  If we assume most people from Bermuda are African, what do the descendants of the British pirates do?  There would then be Caucasian-skinned Africans which is contradictory to the racial separation itself.

 

Racial designation is not a biological fact and will always be misleading because the human race did not remain living in just one place.  Such descriptions and their resulting divisions are a social construct, a harmful collective construct.  Certainly people should take pride in their ethnicity and the culture of their ancestors.  However, this pride should not seek to silence or harm others. 

 

There is no biological division of the races.  We are human beings.  Hatred based upon race is much ado about nothing.  We are all part of the human race and it is time we started treating each other with humanity and respect.

 

 

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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.

The Aftermath

The Aftermath

Detours in Life

Pentecost – 22

 

One year ago over two thousand flights were cancelled as a fier and power outage at a Delta Air Lines control center affected air travel worldwide.   Many people found themselves facing changes in plans, delays, and certainly detours in their everyday living.  These were temporary detours to be sure but they still created a type of chaos that many saw as avoidable evil.  Eventually, though, people did get to their destinations and life resumed again.  It did not seem like it at the time but those affected by these flight cancellations were luckier than many.

 

Bombings worldwide have become less once-in-a-lifetime events and are on the verge of becoming more common.  Recently in a southern town a gun battle ended a discussion between two teenagers out for a movie on a Saturday night at a popular shopping open air mall.  The mall has a strict curfew – no one under the age of eighteen allowed after 8 PM without a parent or guardian.  The movie theatre had a line outside of over hundred teens, most without an adult present and shoppers mentioned this to the security standing outside the theatre.  Security took a “What can we do?” attitude and nothing was said to the teens violating the curfew nor was any law enforcement called.  That is, not until a few minutes later when a fifteen-year-old pulled out a gun and shot a sixteen-year-old.

 

Weapons have been around ever since man decided to eat something larger than himself.  Sitting on a shelf, that weapon will most likely do no harm to anyone.  With proper training and usage, it might even one day be practical.  When weapons are used to illustrate a point, however, they become deadly and innocent victims will most likely suffer.

 

The simply answer to get rid of all weapons is not the answer but what we do in the aftermath of such events is.  When faced with detours we need to focus less on the detour and more on how we handle it and what we do afterwards.

 

Acts of terrorism are detours but they can be avoided if we remain calm and take proactive approaches.  We cannot let radical evil alter the course of our lives and yet, we should and must confront the grief of so many lives lost due to evil.  Make no mistake:  terrorism is not about religion.  This is about greed and power.  It is easy to point fingers but we each are responsible for our own actions.  As the Anishinabek Indians, of the Algonquin Nation and located in Ontario, would say – “No one else can represent your conscience.”  Even the Apache, considered a southwest US American Indian tribe with a warring history knew that “It makes no difference as to the name of the God, since love is the real God of all the world.”

 

It is very hard to look in our hearts when dealing with those who have committed these egregious acts.  We would rather react with anger.  It is at such times we need the wisdom of the Arapaho:  “When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us.”  I know what you might be thinking.  “They showed us no respect.”  That is true.  However, as an old Cherokee proverb points out, “The weakness of the enemy makes our strength.”  Their weakness is their need to strike out against innocents.  They know they cannot win by using logic and reason for their course of actions do not have any.  They must battle and they do not battle fairly.  They cannot win a fair fight so they battle the unprepared, the untrained.  They are cowards.

 

A Cheyenne saying advises us to “Judge not by the eye but by the heart.”  We cannot let the images of tragedy be our compass.  We must use our heart in determining our future paths.  We cannot think to honor those who have died by causing more death. The Delaware Indians believed “Good and evil cannot dwell together in the same heart, so a good man ought not to go into evil company.”  The Hopi agreed: “Do not allow anger to poison you.”

 

The Iroquois believed “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decision on the next seven generations.”  The Lakota a tribe that was the merger of the Sioux and Teton tribes of the US northwestern area said that “true peace between nations will only happen when there is true peace within people’s souls.”  John Lennon asked us to imagine a world where people lived to ether in peace.  Days after the Paris scenes of terrorism someone played his melody on a piano outside the concert hall of great carnage, the music soothing the pain.

 

Today many will face detours in their living, serious alterations in the life they had planned.  Whether from violence or illness or changing life situations, many will attempt to pick up the pieces of lives broken.  We need to let our faith anchor us as we offer goodness to the world.  The Pawnee Indians believed “all religions are but stepping stones back to God” and the Osage taught that “we must assist each other to bear our burdens.”  Let us use our energy to help our fellow neighbors to bear their burdens.  Let us remember to be that which we would like to see in others and cast aside thought of retaliation and further killings.  As the Shenandoah Indians proclaimed, “It is no longer good enough to cry peace; we must act peace, live peace, and live in peace.”

 

I have thus far taken somewhat a light-hearted approach to the various detours we face in our lives but some are deeply serious and life-changing.  How we handle the aftermath of these detours will determine what comes next.  Some detours are avoidable while others are not.  A driver crashed through a construction zone because he failed to be alert and take a different route.  A school bus slid off a roadway due to needing to turn around because its normal route was flooded by a sudden storm.   Both were detours of travel.  One was avoidable and the other not so much.  There were injuries in one and none in the other but both serve to remind us that even a simple trip home or school can result in a sudden detour.

 

Life gives us detours.  It is unavoidable but our response to such is critical.  All we can do is live justly and act, not react.  I ask that you seek the light and goodness and ask whatever your supreme deity is to shower love upon those who were affected.  We are all neighbors and need to remember that we are all called to be good stewards of our world and all living things.  The Oneida identified how to live with light and goodness:  “To be noble is to give to those who have less.  It is an issue of service and leadership.  Service is a spiritual act.  Service is the rent we pay for living, the anchor to our humanity.”

 

 

 

Pay It Forward

Paying It Forward

Detours in Life

Pentecost 9

 

When was the last time you did a good deed for someone?”  I recently asked this of a friend.  My friend thought for a minute and then described something over two weeks ago.  Last year about this time my Pentecost series was about “making the ordinary extraordinary”.   It was about making each day count. Most of us would love to have that happen except … Life takes us on a detour instead.

 

Last year I told you about Kim Atwood, a woman who focused on doing a good deed a day.  In the year 2000 another woman named Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a book upon which a movie was based entitled “Pay It Forward”.  Kim took this same premise and put it into action.  “One morning, on my drive to work, I was thinking about the law of moral causation and the karmic energy that surrounded my life.”

 

Kim was not just interested in doing a good deed but it that deed having a ripple effect.  She encouraged her friends to follow her example as well as the strangers who were the recipients of her actions.  The first day she stopped at her favorite donut shop for a pastry and coffee and then bought the same for the person in line behind her, asking the clerk to tell said person what had been done.  The next day she bought a potted plant and left it with a note on a car in a parking lot.  On another day she ordered some pet products from www.totallyfreestuff.com and donated them to a local animal shelter.  Soon life closed in on her and it was bedtime one evening when she realized she had not accomplished her good deed that day.  She went online and in five minutes had donated a few dollars to a charity.

 

The point of sharing with you Kim’s story was that she turned her ordinary commute into a period of retrospection and then took action.  She made each day extraordinary for the beneficiaries of her actions.  Kim was not some millionaire and often her actions took only a few extra minutes.  One day she simply stood at a store and held the day open for people sharing a smile and a brief greeting for a few minutes.  Each smile was returned and as she finished her shopping, she saw others holding the day for those entering.  Kim create her own detour from her normal pattern and started finding a way to make each day count.  She was doing for others but discovered it took her on a trip of her own as well.

 

Behavior is contagious.  That is why gangs are successful and cults have a following.  Kim Atwood used her time wisely and her detour from her normal routine made positive behavior contagious.  The ripple effect of her actions created more extraordinary moments for more living things. 

 

Joni Averill is a columnist with the Bangor Daily News and she wrote about Kim in 2010.  “ Civility. Manners. Thoughtfulness. Understanding. Compassion. Respect. Tolerance.  Our society seems to be losing its grip on those essential virtues.  What a much nicer world it would be if we all made the attempt, daily, to be kinder to one another.”

 

Bangor, Maine is a town that is often the last US stop for soldiers going to the Middle East.  Those arriving and departing usually deplane as new planes are to be boarded, different connections made.  Each soldier is greeted as they enter the Bangor Airport by citizens of Bangor and usually handed a cup of hot coffee or a cool drink.  They all receive a smile and hero’s greeting, justly deserved and earned.  These humble residents, however, are also heroes.  They make an exhausting trip better and remind our brave men and women why they are doing what they do.  Regardless of the weather or the time of day, each plane is met, each servicemen thanked.

 

Steve Jobs once said “If you are working at something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed; the vision pulls you.”  Hopefully, today something extraordinary will pull you to action, something that benefits another person and makes their ordinary day a time of extraordinary living.

 

We think of detours as nuisances but they can be a wonderful way of paying it forward.  Yes it is scary to deviate from our normal and really, who thinks they have the time?  Truth is, we have all time to take a detour of meaning and to pay it forward.  We’ll end up helping ourselves as well as the world.

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.