Actions in Living

Actions in Living

Epiphany 9

Year in Review 2017

 

Someone asked me to explain the theme of by blog series for Epiphany 2017 in one word.  My response was the title – Action.   In one post I revisited verbs, those words in a sentence that denoted action.  I also promised to, later in the year to take part in positive action.  Another reader apparently understood the theme but asked “Why?”

 

In early 2017 four young people were arrested and indicted for their attack on a developmentally disabled classmate of one of the four.  The nation and particularly residents in Chicago were outraged.  I wondered why.  When a person can mock another human being and make their disability part of the reason and justification for mocking, a person who did so in the most public venue possible, news coverage at a press conference for the candidacy for the highest elected office in the country, why, I wondered, are people outraged when young people follow such an example.

 

Actions have consequences, even for winners.  “We are aware of an incident tonight involving Joey Porter,” the statement from Pittsburgh Steelers’ director of communications, Burt Lauten read. “We are still gathering information as it pertains to the situation, and we will have no further comment until we get more details.” Joey Porter is a former professional football player and current outside linebackers coach for the Steelers.  He ended his celebrating a win over the Miami Dolphins in their AFC wildcard play-off by being handcuffed and taken to jail.

 

Also happening that same night were the Golden Globe awards awarded by the Foreign Press Corps, honoring those in the film and television world for their acting and actions.  Receiving a lifetime achievement award was Meryl Streep.  She briefly identified several in her profession and their varied ethnicities and their roles playing outside of those ethnicities.  She remarked about how we are all different and yet all the same.  She also mentioned the above-referenced incident of discrimination by then candidate, now president, Donald Trump and his performance on the occasion of his mocking a reporter with cerebral palsy.  “There was nothing good about it, but it did its job,” she said. “It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out my head because it wasn’t in a movie, it was in real life. That instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in a public platform, it filters down into everyone’s life because it gives permission for others to do the same. … Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence insights violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.”

 

There are only twenty-four hours in a day but we need to use each of them for good and not waste them, letting them get lost in our own egos and fear.  The incidents with the professional football player and the actress are examples of how one can use their time, either wisely or unwisely.  We cannot do everything and instantly cure the world of all its ill but we can all do something.  Each of those little somethings will, much like the snowflakes we discussed over the weekend, come together to make something beautiful. 

 

You effect change on this planet with each breath you take.  You matter and your presence makes an imprint on the lives of others.  Why do I encourage you to take positive action?  Julia Butterfly Hill has the answer:  “The question is not ‘Can you make a difference?’  You already do make a difference.  It’s just a matter of what kind of difference you want to make, during your life on this planet.”

 

To cherish someone or something requires action.  During Epiphany 2017 we discussed manifestations of our living, how we can cherish each other and how our actions reflect not only our faith but our beliefs and our identity.  I cannot desire forgiveness if I cannot extend it to another.  I cannot expect aid if I do not render it when possible.  In many ways life is a mirror with a time delay.  Our actions today will reflect our living tomorrow.

 

 

Advertisements

Disapprove, Move, Behoove, and Groove

Disapprove, Move, Behoove, and Groove

Epiphany 48-51

 

We all have our pet peeves, those annoying habits or actions that others do which we find to be displeasing.  Maybe it is something understandable like someone talking with their mouth full of food or tapping their foot loudly and interrupting what is being said or perhaps performed.  We recognize that it is an adjective, a judgement of sorts and yet, for most of us, it is also one of our greatest fears.  As a verb, however, to disapprove indicates a type of power, a power that is often misused and abused.

 

Whether we are the one doing the disapproving or we are the object of someone else’s disapproval, it requires movement.  That movement needs to take place on both sides, by the way.  Even if we are on the side of right, we need to allow for some understanding on our part of that which we are disapproving.

 

If you think all of the above sounds complicated it is… and it isn’t.  You see, it is well within your rights to disapprove but that cannot be the end.  Once you have determined that you disapprove, then you need to understand, move mentally into how the other side that is the object of your disapproval might be thinking or acting.  And yes, you might even need to change your mind.

 

The word “behoove” literally means to do something or to be necessary.  The world will never advance if we do not all work together.  In other words, we have to be.  We cannot simply go along doing whatever we please.  That is living selfishly.  We need to be something and that includes being something for someone besides ourselves.

 

During this Epiphany series we have been discussing verbs, words of action that allow us to move forward in our living productively.  Propulsive rhythm is the definition of the word “groove”.  When we determine what we like or dislike, then take action or move towards rectifying things, we end up doing something positive, something that, hopefully, will propel the world into a brighter tomorrow.

 

Disapproval is not the end but a start for a better tomorrow if we allow it to motivate us to take action and make positive changes.  It’s called working together after careful and fair introspection.  It’s called peaceful forward action.  It’s called the only way we will all live together, work together, and thrive together.  Remember, your comfort zone exists only in your head.  It is not a latitudinal or longitudinal spot on the map.  Use your thoughts to inspire and stimulate positive action and change.  It is the best way to run a path to success, the groove we all we hope to follow.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Monooly: Game of Life

Monopoly: Game of Life

Easter 4

 

The concept of land ownership is both new and old and is the reason behind many lawsuits, disagreements, and wars.  Throughout time cultures have advocated the communal use of the land while at the same time wanting to control such lands.  It may sound complicated but think of the game Monopoly.   Elizabeth Magie used this game she invented to protest unfair economic policy.

 

The point of Monopoly is to obtain properties (or at least cards with titles to spaces on the game board that signify properties0 and then allow others to use your land in the form of rent paid to the property or card owner.  The game player becomes the landlord and every time someone lands on a space for which he/she “owns” the card, rent must be paid.  Sound a bit unfair?  Elizabeth Magie thought so, too.

 

A monopoly is when a person or company is the only one offering a certain product, usually a necessary commodity.  A monopsony is a single entity’s control of a particular market to obtain an item and oligopoly is a few businesses dominating a particular field or industry.  Who would have thought all of these could be expressed in a game?  Elizabeth Magie did.

 

The examples I will use are found in the United States of America but none of these terms or economic policies are the sole characteristic of the U.S.A.  Every country on earth has them – regardless of their political structure.  In fact, the more restrictive a government, the more these terms are present and carried out in life.

 

If I want to see a professional baseball game in the U.S.A., I have to go see a team that is part of Major League Baseball.  There simply are no other professional baseball teams in the United States.  That was not always the case, however.  In the early 1900’s there were a number of professional leagues that were trying to make money by playing before paying crowds.  Baseball was a most popular sport, often called “America’s Game” although variations are found in many cultures worldwide.

 

These different leagues were not always playing fair or as gentlemen and in 1915, the Federal Baseball Club in Baltimore sued the National and American Leagues under the Clayton Antitrust Act, a law designed to help protect consumers.  If only one business offered a necessary product, that business could charge whatever it desired and consumers would be at the mercy of said business’s possible price-gouging.  The Federal baseball Club wanted to have a fair share of the public’s affinity for baseball but could not compete with the larger National and American Leagues.  Pardon my pun but they wanted to level the playing field, so to speak.

 

The court case made its way through the court system and eventually ended up at the U.S. Supreme Court.  The 1922 decision written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes has resulted in professional baseball being the only sport in America exempt from antitrust laws, a sport often called “America’s favorite monopoly.”  FYI – Major League baseball will begin its 140th season on April 3, 2016.

 

In writing the decision of the court, Justice Holmes penned:  “The fact that, in order to give the exhibitions, the Leagues must induce free persons to cross state lines and must arrange and pay for their doing so is not enough to change the character of the business. …  The transport is a mere incident, not the essential thing. That to which it is incident, the exhibition, although made for money, would not be called trade of commerce in the commonly accepted use of those words. …  Personal effort not related to production is not a subject of commerce. That which in its consummation is not commerce does not become commerce among the states because the transportation that we have mentioned takes place.”

 

Let me make his eloquent words more easily understood.  Baseball is not commerce because it does not “produce” anything.  Antitrust or monopoly laws refer to things that are produced and because baseball does not produce anything, it is not commerce and therefore not subject to laws of commerce.

 

Land ownership and land value might seem to fall under the same sort of issue.  Early American patriots advocated that the land was for all and all should benefit equally from its usage.  Certain economics philosophies such as Georgism gained popularity with many followers.  Georgism was so named after Henry George, the author of “Progress and Poverty”, a book in which George upheld that while people may individually own what they create, natural opportunities such as land belong equally to all.

 

Elizabeth Magie was a follower of Henry George and led an active life with varied careers.  In the early 1880’s she worked as a stenographer and was a writer.  She also worked as a comedian, actress on stage, an engineer, and not surprisingly, a feminist.  By the dawn of the 1900’s she had a job as a newspaper reporter and at the age of 44, married.

 

Magie invented a board game which was designed to demonstrate the ill effects economically of land monopolies and how land taxes could alleviate such problems.  She called her game “The Landlord’s Game” and obtained a patent on January 5, 1904.  In 1932 she revised the game and obtained a new patent for the newly named “The Landlord’s Game and Prosperity”.

 

Elizabeth Magie followed her own economic philosophies of Georgism with her game.  She did not have it sold to a commercial manufacturer.  Burton Wolfe explains:  “Players… made their own game boards so that they could replace the properties designated by Lizzie Maggie with properties in their own cities and states; this made playing more realistic. As they drew or painted their own boards, usually on linen or oil cloth, they change the title “Landlord’s Game” to “Auction Monopoly” and then just “Monopoly”.  One enthusiastic player of the game was student Priscilla Robertson who would later become the editor of “The Humanist”.  “In those days those who wanted copies of the board for Monopoly took a piece of linen cloth and copied it in crayon.”

 

The game grew a following and in 1932 Charles Darrow obtained a copyright for his version of the game.  It included the familiar white box of classic Monopoly games.  Also in 1932 Parker Brothers company bought Elizabeth Magie’s original patent for the sum of five hundred dollars.  In keeping with her original purpose of the game which was to popularize and spread the Georgism economic philosophy, by now whose followers were misnamed as “Single Taxers”, she was not interested in making money from her game but in illuminating the public.  She also insisted that Parker Brothers not make any changes to her game.  They reissued the game to the public but then immediately recalled it with very few being sold.

 

In 1940 just four years before her death, Elizabeth Magie, the original inventor of the game Monopoly, was still a strong voice for supporting what one believed.  “What is the value of our philosophy if we do not do our utmost to apply it? To simply know a thing is not enough. To merely speak or write of it occasionally among ourselves is not enough. We must do something about it on a large scale if we are to make headway. We must not only tell them, but show them just how and why and where our claims can be proven in some actual situation…”  Living one’s beliefs was not a game to Elizabeth Magie; it was life itself.

 

 

 

 

Pieta

Pieta

Easter 1

 

We are now in one of the most contested seasons of the calendar I use in my organization of this blog – Easter.  Perhaps it is fitting that we will, as a theme this year, discuss another contested subject – gender equality and the contributions of women as innovators.

 

A terrorist attack was thwarted today in Nigeria when watchful villagers noticed three young girls acting suspiciously.  One of the young girls escaped, to what no one knows.  The other two, however, were captured and found to be wearing suicide bomb vests.  One of the two captured was under the influence of very strong drugs and taken to a medical facility.  The other girl claimed to be part of two hundred and fifty girls kidnapped from a school in the Nigerian town of Chibok two years ago.  Only fifty of the original two hundred and fifty were able to escape and many have feared that the remaining two hundred had fallen victims to horrendous sexual abuse or forced to convert to Islam.

 

The very name of the group claiming to be behind the school girls’ kidnapping is “Boko Haram” means “Western education is a sin.”  The group protests women doing anything other than raising children and taking care of their husbands.  In other words, to this group and others like it, women have only the function in life to be slaves.

 

More than one billion people live in poverty today and most of them are female.  The issue of poverty is a highly complex one and its origins are not rooted solely in Western education but can be found in local, national, and international realms.  Part of the problem is the lack of gender equality worldwide.

 

One of the best resources remarking on this topic can be found at the website of the Peace Corps.  “Gender equality is a human right, but our world faces a persistent gap in access to opportunities and decision-making power for women and men. Globally, women have fewer opportunities for economic participation than men, less access to basic and higher education, greater health and safety risks, and less political representation. Guaranteeing the rights of women and giving them opportunities to reach their full potential is critical not only for attaining gender equality, but also for meeting a wide range of international development goals. Empowered women and girls contribute to the health and productivity of their families, communities, and countries, creating a ripple effect that benefits everyone.”

 

Women make up more than 50% of the world’s population and yet they only own 1% of the world’s wealth. Again I quote from the Peace Corps website:  “Throughout the world, women and girls perform long hours of unpaid domestic work. In some places, women still lack rights to own land or to inherit property, obtain access to credit, earn income, or to move up in their workplace, free from job discrimination. At all levels, including at home and in the public arena, women are widely underrepresented as decision-makers. In legislatures around the world, women are outnumbered 4 to 1, yet women’s political participation is crucial for achieving gender equality and genuine democracy.”

 

For centuries it was believed that women could not keep up with men in the science and mathematics fields.  Today the number of women in STEM – science, technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – fields is not proportional to their numbers in the population.

 

During this season of Easter, we will discuss invention of women.  Easter is both a religious and pagan holiday with some overlapping between the two.  It is not one specific date, even among Christians.  One of the lasting images of the religious holiday, though, is of the mother of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth at the foot of the cross where her son is being crucified and then her holding his lifeless body.

 

Michelangelo and many other artists have portrayed this image of the grieving mother in works of art called pietas.  The word comes from the Latin “pietatem” which meant mercy or compassion.  One of my favorite pietas is that of Kathrin Burleson but there are many and all are lovely.  While most of these depictions of the pieta are also called lamentations and feature Mary and her son Jesus, they could be representative of all women who have been subjected to gender bias and the resulting victimization of such.

 

Women comprise more than fifty percent of the population and no one is ever born without a woman being involved.  With the future of mankind literally their dominion, women should be respected, not reviled and enslaved.  #WithStrongGirls is just one of many organizations trying to bridge the gender gap.  Hopefully, with our discussions about these inventions over the next fifty-plus days, we all will realize that women have much to offer in addition to the ability to birth children.  They can also give birth to some great ideas and inventions that benefit all of mankind.  Please join me as we learn and celebrate women.  What helps women benefits us all.

A Story of Strength

A Story of Strength

Pentecost 145

Before we jump into the gloriously rich stories of African mythology, I need to say one more thing about Anansi the spider who convinced the Creator to release the stories of mankind.  AS the stories we’ve already discussed were retold through the ages, some changes occurred.  Anansi’s name became Anancy and the hare became Brer Rabbit or Brother Rabbit.  In case, these names sound familiar, they should.  In the late 1800’s an American from Georgia, using stories told by the African slaves on the Tutwold Plantation, published in an 1879 issue of the Atlantic Constitution “The Story of Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox as Told by Uncle Remus”.

These stories varied greatly from fairy tales that were popular at that time in America.  Joel Chandler Harris would eventually publish nine books containing his Uncle Remus stories, three of which were published posthumously.  They brought him attention and some wealth but also many fans, two of whom were noted authors themselves – Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling.

The most notable thing about Harris’ retelling of the African myths was his use phonetically to illustrate the dialect of the slaves from whom he heard these myths.  To people outside of the southern United States, the dialects of the slaves were a new language.

Joel Chandler Harris did much more than simply present African mythologies to a new audience.  He published articles in the Saturday Evening Post that discussed racism.  He and his son later published a successful magazine who purpose was “the obliteration of prejudice against the blacks, the demand for a square deal, and the uplifting of both races so that they can look justice in the face without blushing.”

Scholars, writers, and other learned “experts” still debate the legacy of Uncle Remus.  Many point to the dialects, the differences in the myths, and the use of the South as proof of the stories’ illiteracy and nonvalue.  Many others, though, use those same points to emphasize their value and strengths.  The same could be said of mankind.  Some of our weaknesses are the door to our greatest strengths.  Likewise, each of us, as we write our own story, can turn that which hinders us into that which enables us.