Chaos, Contemplation, and Change

Chaos, Contemplation and Change

April 9-10, 2018

 

If philosophy is the science of thinking, then chaos is the science of surprise. Most of us have heard chaos theory explained in the following example:  If a butterfly flaps its wings halfway across the world, then a storm will occur a few weeks later.  Putting it in perspective, butterflies in Chile were busy around the time of Easter which accounts for the recent storms in the Midwest portion of the United States of America.  Six months ago all the butterflies in the Butterfly House in a botanical garden in the USA were disturbed by a tree falling outside and so we had powerful storms in the South Pacific Ocean two months ago.  Such a theory has a backside, though.  If there had not been a butterfly house housing hundreds of butterflies to be disturbed, there would not have been the monsoons,  If Easter tourists in Chile had not disturbed the butterflies, twenty million people in the USA would not have spent this past weekend under tornado and severe storm watches.  Is it really all the poor butterfly’s fault?  Can something that small have such a large effect?

 

For most of his life, Karl Marx was not gainfully employed.  The man who penned “Das Kapital”, a scathing condemnation of prevailing capitalist ideas and functions, living mostly on the goodwill of his friends, preferring to spend his time thinking and reading at the British Museum instead of earning his own way and living on his own.  He was not well-known and yet within seventy years of his death, one third of mankind was under the hand of governments that considered themselves “Marxist”.

 

Chaos theory is built upon the belief that the smallest of changes in a system can result in very large differences in that system’s behavior.  Marx saw many benefits in the capitalism of his time but chiefly he saw it as a stepping stone, a period of history that would bring about greater change.  Marx applied science, or so he thought, to his predictions about society and the dependence the owner had on his workers would, Marx believed, ultimately bring them closer together into one society.

 

Isaac Newton developed thoughts about physics.  With his work, one can take information about the present state of an object in motion and, using Newton’s laws of motion, predict where and what that object will be in the future.  Marx sought to do this with developing societies.  Many of his followers believed they were being optimistic about the future.  After all, the philosophies of Locke were given as causes for the American and French revolutions.  Perhaps Marxism would be the “planned solution” the world needed to prevent further chaos.

 

Philosophy cannot be relegated to the walls of academia.  It began with man and it follows him today in every aspect of his/her living.  The ideas of one impoverished thinker spread like wildfire across the globe from Eastern Europe to Russia and China.  Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity has ever had such a swift, effective, and devoted following.  The Russian leaders Stalin, Trotsky, and Lenin, the Yugoslavian Tito, Chinese Mao Zedong, Vietnamese Ho Chi-minh, and the Cuban Fidel Castro not only read and believed Karl Marx, they changed the world because of their following his ideas.

 

The sensitive dependence that Chaos Theory is built upon is not really news.  Aristotle mentioned it in his writings:  “the least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousand fold”.   Scientifically, chaos theory is the study of nonlinear dynamics, making predictions on random events based upon deterministic equations.  I would be remiss if I failed to note that even defining the term chaos is up for discussion so defining a theory based upon something that is still being determined or defined is … well, not an exact science.  It is generally agreed upon that chaos is the science world does not refer to a state of confusion but rather a state of apparent lack of order, something very much like dynamical instability, a state of being discovered by French physicist Henri Poincare.

 

In using chaos theory, two general conditions have been established.  The first is that systems, all systems, rely upon an underlying order of sorts and that even the smallest of systems can create large, complex behaviors or effects.  The second condition or assumption is something known as “sensitive dependence on initial conditions, coined by Edward Lorenz in the mid twentieth century.  A meteorologist, Lorenz was using a computer to predict upcoming weather conditions.  Having completed one particular sequence, he reentered the numerical data and then left the computer to its own equating.  He later returned expecting to see a duplication of the first transcribing and equations but instead discovered results that were very different.  Instead of entering the data exactly, he had left off three digits in one number, entering “.506” instead of “.506127”.  Such an error was not expected to have made much difference in the results since the primary three digits were what were needed.

 

Lorenz repeated his efforts, each time only slightly varying the data in ways that were thought to be miniscule and therefore having little or no effect.  What he discovered was that the slightest differences, even those beyond our ability to measure, could have significant effect on the outcomes.  This meant that predictions of past or future events or outcomes was impossible, a concept that violated the very foundations of physics.  Physicist Richard Feynman explained: “Physicists like to think that all you have to do is say, these are the conditions, now what happens next?”

 

In order to use Newton’s Laws of Motion, one has to be able to assume that precise measurements are possible.  Newton held that nearly perfect measurements were possible and would suffice.  Poincare discovered that the slightest variation made huge difference in astronomical computations. Since absolutely precise measurements of objects in space is impossible or chaotic, then all predictions based upon assumed orderly measurements were nothing better than random thoughts on the subject.  In presenting his theory of the Butterfly Effect at a meeting in Washington, D.C. in 1972, Lorenz illustrated an anonymous meteorologist’s assertion that, based upon chaos theory, a single flap of a seagull’s wings would be enough to change the course of all future weather systems on earth.

 

The so-called “Butterfly Effect”, first described by Lorenz at the December 1972 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., vividly illustrates the essential idea of chaos theory. In a 1963 paper for the New York Academy of Sciences, Lorenz had quoted an unnamed meteorologist’s assertion that, if chaos theory were true, a single flap of a single seagull’s wings would be enough to change the course of all future weather systems on the earth.  He would later repeat his thoughts in a paper entitled “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?”

 

Today some of those countries who completely revamped their government in favor of Marxism have loosened the reins.  They have discovered that the behavior of mankind is more akin to the apparent randomness of chaos theory than an exact science.  Free will may be a tenet of Christianity but people of all belief systems, cultures, and socioeconomic levels are living proof of it every day.  We often define chaos as randomness or a lack of order.  James Gleick, author of “Chaos : Making a New Science” defines chaos theory as “a revolution not of technology, like the laser revolution or the computer revolution, but a revolution of ideas. This revolution began with a set of ideas having to do with disorder in nature: from turbulence in fluids, to the erratic flows of epidemics, to the arrhythmic writhing of a human heart in the moments before death. It has continued with an even broader set of ideas that might be better classified under the rubric of complexity.”

 

Whether constrained by government or the idle pondering done on a solitary walk, the power of thought cannot be underestimated.  Some thoughts are logical conclusions based upon known data while others are the unexpected surprise of simply living.  We can all make order from the chaos of our lives.  It doesn’t take being a government leader or someone famous.  Maya Angelou once stated:  “I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.”

 

 

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Calling All Others

Calling All “Others”

March 26-30, 2018

Maundy Thursday / Good Friday

 

Atheists and Non-Believers:  This post is for you.  I confess that when I began this blog over four years ago, I did not expect to write a post specifically for non-believers.  It is, after all, a lifestyle blog about incorporating faith and daily living, connecting our spirituality with our relationships.  During this time commonly known as Holy Week and especially on Maundy Thursday and the weirdly named “good” Friday, though, the story is really more about atheists and non-believers than about the faithful.

 

The last week of Lent is designated as “holy” because it depicts the final days of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.  One cannot ignore the story.  It has changed the face of history, brought about world wars, been used as the basis for genocides throughout the centuries and still is the impetus for many works of art and musical presentations, the latest being NBC’s concert version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Sunday, April 1st.

 

As a child, I always connected the term atheist with the character in the story known as Caiaphas.   Caiaphas is one of the lesser characters who seemed to be pulling the strings and controlling the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, the one who gave the order for Jesus’ crucifixion.  There was very little separation of church and state in the Roman Empire since Roman law titled the Roman Emperor as the savior of all within the Roman Empire.  Succinctly put, no one – man or god- was higher than the Roman Emperor.

 

The faith of the Jewish people was insignificant to those in power within the Roman Empire.  Someone violating Jewish law meant nothing to the powers that controlled the land.  Caiaphas and his five brothers-in-law saw Jesus as a threat but knew Rome would not care that he cured the sick on the Sabbath or went about preaching without being an actual Rabbi or living what we might call a “kosher” lifestyle.  When John the Baptist, however, called his cousin Jesus the new Messiah…well, Caiaphas could take that to Rome and claimed treason.

 

The Jewish historian Josephus, a fist century historian and writer, lists Caiaphas tenure as a high priest as beginning in 18 ACE.  Caiaphas married the daughter of the previous high priest Ananus, the son of Seth, Caiaphas was known as Joseph.  We know very little about his life or other duties as a high priest.  In 1990 an ossuary was found that many claim contained his remains.  Another was found in 2011 and was declared to be authentic.  Because of this later find, Caiaphas has now been assigned to the priestly course of Ma’aziah which was instituted by King David.  It is thought Caiaphas (Joseph) served eighteen years as high priest so he apparently got along quite well with the Roman authorities.

 

It is written that Caiaphas and others felt Jesus posed a threat to their faith, its holy places, and would give Rome cause to destroy them all.  In both the gospel of John and the book of Genesis, references are made that it would be better for one man [Jesus] to die rather than the Jewish nation be destroyed.

 

The villain of the final days of Jesus to many is the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.  He in fact says he has no reason to charge Jesus with any crime and urges the priests to take their own action.  They tell him they have none and only Pontius Pilate can do so.  Pilate then gives the assembled crown a choice of which prisoner to set free.  Jesus is not their choice.  Caiaphas would go on to reign as a high priest longer than any other under Roman rule.

 

Maundy Thursday is the day many remember the last supper Jesus had with his disciples, the event which ended in his capture by the Roman soldiers.  The character Jesus knows what is coming and tells the disciple who points him out to the soldiers to hurry up and do what he must.  He then tells the others to be as servants to each other and purportedly washed their feet, placing himself in a servant role to them.  They eat and then sleep in spite of his asking them to stay awake with him.  They are awakened by the soldiers and watch helplessly as their leader is taken away.  Within the next twenty-four hours, the disciple peter would pretend not to know Jesus.  Good Friday ends with his torture and crucifixion.

 

We all live on this big blue marble called Earth one with another.  Whether we are believers or atheists, we must interact with each other.  To intentionally do harm to another does not benefit any of us.  The last advice Jesus gives to his disciples about helping each other are not just words for those who believed in him.  They are the key to successful living for us all. 

 

Whether your messiah is a man called Jesus, a political figure, or someone who has yet to come, the wisdom still works.  To help one another, to serve humankind …. This means successful living for us all.  Not everyone loves themselves so I am not going to say love others as you love yourself.  What I will say is this:  Please treat (love) others as you would want to be treated.  We truly are here to help each other.

 

https://youtu.be/kdmgpMfnjdU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stewardship of Prayer

Stewardship of Prayer

March 14-15, 2018

 

Stewardship is often defined stewardship as raising money, getting pledges of tithing from membership which creates a stream of income for the coming year.  Recently a friend was facing an upcoming surgery and mentioned needing to make certain church attendance was on the agenda, needing to have God on their side for the operation.   Many view their attendance at their house of worship as a stewardship of prayer, a type of “praying it forward” to earn brownie points for those times they mess up or do not live their faith.

 

Let me explain the term “brownie points” in case you are reading this and are unfamiliar with this popular slang term.  Like most slang terminology, there are several opinions about its origin.  In the 1960’s a system of brownie points was created in the Girl Guides/Scouts program.  In order to earn a badge, Brownie Guides or Scouts had to complete a certain number of tasks concerning the particular badge in question, usually six tasks.  As each undertaking was completed, they were said to have earned a “brownie point”.  [I was a proud Brownie Scout and yes, I earned all the badges.]

 

After World War II the practice of issuing stamps based upon the amount of purchase became prevalent in many retail businesses.  The stamps would be accumulated and then exchanged for household items that were often a luxury for the average household.  The first such stamps were brown in color so the consumer was said to earn Brownie points while supporting the local economy.  In New Zealand a utility company still uses what it calls Brownie points in their marketing. 

 

Although the earliest reference of brownie points in print is found in a 1960’s article in California as a man spoke about his wife earning brownie points, a sexist attitude I have to dislike, it is much more likely that the real credit for the term belongs to an American railroad superintendent, George R. Brown.   In 1886, Brown developed an innovative system of merits and demerits for railroad employees who worked for the Fall Brook Railway in New York State.   His system of rewarding and punishing employees was written about in business publications and it garnered great fame as other railroads began using it.  Railroad employees referred to the merits and demerits as “brownie points” and the slang term worked its way into our common vocabulary.

 

An important thing to remember is that brownie points are imaginary and are not free.  One earns them either through effort or by paying a monetary price.  Their imaginary existence is the result of action.  I am not a deity to which anyone offers prayer so I cannot speak with authority but I am fairly certain that the concept of “praying it forward” is far less effective than the generosity of spirit involved with “paying it forward”, a concept suggested by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book “In the Garden of Delight” in which a person does a good deed for a stranger instead of the original benefactor from which they received something favorable.  Paying it forward might be considered giving it back while praying it forward is more of a savings loan program.  Paying it forward involves at least two or more people and usually can become a bit contagious with others following the example.  Praying it forward is an idea predicated on the belief that one will need extra favor due to a mistake or intentional wrongdoing.

 

Many donate or tithe based upon the knowledge that they are not perfect and will need forgiveness from their supreme spirit to which they believe they are accountable.  This use or practice of giving money as a type of “fine paying” treats forgiveness and being blessed as something that can be bought.  Indeed, there are some denominations and religions that still purport this concept.  It is, in fact, the reason many suicide bombers detonate their bombs; they believe it is the ultimate payment for the ultimate resting place for their soul.

 

I will not even get into the theology or lack thereof of such concepts.  The fact is that stewardship has really very little to do with money or even earning favor.  How often have you visited a busy shopping mall or large office complex and seen someone mopping up a spill or emptying the waste cans?  While the majority of such cleaning is done by a custodial staff after hours when the general population is not present, there are those little mishaps that require constant attention.  This is the real definition of stewardship, the caretaking of the establishment.  Do we stop to thank those stewards, those custodians or do we simply walk around them, maybe acknowledging their presence with a quick nod or the briefest of smiles?

 

Almost every culture has a flood myth and during Pentecost one year we discussed several of those, the most famous of which is the story from the Abrahamic faiths of Noah and the Ark.  What we fail to realize is the stewardship required of Noah and his family in this story.  Anyone who has had a household pet or lived on a farm or ranch knows the efforts required by owning animals.  Imagine doing that on a boat in the middle of nothing but water.  The mucking out of cages and stalls, the sweeping up of shedding hair…you get the picture.  All of a sudden the mythology of this story takes on a very different meaning than simply a man saving his family and two of each species so they can repopulate the planet.  Providing sustenance, a source of staying alive, a healthy environment…these are the realities of stewardship.

 

What sustenance do we give our prayers and how do we keep our prayer life alive?  While many times there are those on-the spur-of-the-moment prayers, how do we provide for those deeper meditative prayers and do we create a healthy environment for those?  Do we make very necessary quiet pockets within our day to engage in a prayerful dialogue, one in which we can listen?  Before we start to worry about earning brownie points, we first need to really engage in prayer, real active prayer.  Regardless of our spiritual leanings or direction, we can go nowhere until we have stewardship of our praying. A vehicle without petrol or gas will go nowhere and even an electric car needs recharging after its first drive.

 

Literature is full of examples of the Devil, the ultimate evil spirit, the nemesis for most faithful people.  Before you tell me you are too busy to be a good steward of prayer, let me remind you that Milton’s Lucifer and Goethe’s Mephistopheles were considered the most interesting of all the characters in the plays they inhabited.  Delightful and witty, their evilness does not appear as repulsive but rather charming and charismatic.  Yet, they represent the most evil of all, that which separates us from God – “I am the eternal spirit of negation” Mephistopheles explains to Faust in Goethe’s play.

 

It is that “I haven’t the time”, the subconscious “NO!” playing in our heads that keeps us from actively taking control of our praying and our prayer life.  Anywhere can become a sacred space as we discovered last Advent 2014 with the series that explored all the different sacred spaces on earth.  It is up to us to create that sacred space in our own lives, that time no matter how brief and that place no matter where it is that allows us to be faithful stewards of our praying.  We have no need to pray it forward.  We simply need to pray.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu

March 8, 2018

 

A three year old child was killed in a drive-by shooting while sleeping on a couch inside her home within the same twenty-four hour time frame that thirty other people were killed by guns.  This blog has always been humanitarian in nature with an emphasis on spirituality and beliefs and that has not changed.  However, the world seems to have forgotten that at the core of all such concepts is respect.  It is time to speak up and out to advance the cause of respect and unity in being a member of the family of mankind. 

 

Ubuntu is for many younger adults and hipsters just a software platform that helps them run programs on everything from a smart phone to a laptop or tablet.  It has gained popularity because it is free and a community driven operating system that encourages sharing.  Ubuntu is much more than that, however, and much older than any mechanical operating system.

 

Ubuntu came to the world stage in 1993 in 1993 when the negotiators of the South African Interim Constitution wrote: ‘There is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimization.”  This passage in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 200 of 1993: Epilogue after Section 251 was specifically addressing apartheid and the racial hierarchy and segregation that resulted from apartheid.

 

Ubuntu is a word common to several African cultures and each has its own way of defining it.  It is a humanist concept and even the Interim Constitution did not specifically define it.  Generally ubuntu refers to behaving well towards others or acting in ways that benefit the community. Such acts could be as simple as helping a stranger in need, or much more complex ways of relating with others. A person who behaves in these ways has ubuntu. He or she is a full person.  Bishop Desmond Tutu explained:  “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours”. 

 

There is a story that an anthropologist proposed a game while visiting a tribe in Africa.  He tied a basket of fruit to a nearby tree and then told the children of the tribe that whoever reached the tree first could have all the fruit.  The children quickly gathered hands and ran together.  Once they reached the tree they sat down in a circle and shared the fruit.  When asked why they did not elect to keep the fruit to themselves the anthropologist was told:  “Ubuntu!  How can one of us be happy if the rest are sad?”

 

Throughout history violence has been used as an answer.  It is not.  It is a cessation for a period of time but it solves no problem, just creates more.  No illnesses have ever been cured by violence.  No life-saving discoveries came from the firing of a weapon.  No bomb ever aimed created more beautiful life.

 

The story of the children sitting in a circle should be a metaphor for all of mankind living on this planet.  We may not seem to be sitting in a circle yet we live in a circle and what disastrous effects one experiences will eventually affect us all.

 

In 1995 the South African Constitutional Court ruled that ubuntu was important because “it was against the background of the loss of respect for human life and the inherent dignity which attaches to every person that a spontaneous call has arisen among section of the community for a return to ubuntu”.  The recent “(insert here your special group) Lives Matter” campaign is a modern day American version of a call to ubuntu.

 

All life matters.  In Zimbabwe the word for ubuntu is unhu. Unhu involves recognizing the humanity in another in order to have it in yourself.   All are respected and treated as one would wish to be treated and the concept has many rules of what many might consider etiquette or tribal law.  In Kinyarwanda, the mother tongue in Rwanda, and In Kirundi, the mother tongue in Burundi, ubuntu refers to human generosity and a spirit of humaneness or humanity.  Runyakitara is the collection of dialects spoken by the Banyankore, Banyoro, Batooro and Bakiga of Western Uganda and also the Bahaya, Banyambo and others of Northern Tanzania.  In these dialects “obuntu” refers to the human characteristics of generosity, consideration and humane-ness towards others in the community. Luganda is the dialect of Central Uganda and its “obuntu-bulamu” refers to the same characteristics.

 

Basically, though, if you ask someone on the African continent what ubuntu is they will say it means “I am because we are.”  Over the past month we have had much misery and we all have felt sad.  The time has come, though, to dry our tears and respond with humanity and positive action.  The world needs our generosity and kind treatment of others.  While evil is calling for more terror, we need to send out a call for ubuntu, for kindness, for respect, for love, for life.  It is only by living ubuntu will humanity ever have a chance to defeat evil. We must learn to live with respect.  Our children’s future depends on it.

Try and Trying

Try and Trying

Jan 10 -11

 

The older gentleman pointed to the young mother and then, kneeling, asked her toddler:  “Is that your mommy?”  The child nodded yes and the man continued.  “I knew her when she was your age.  Is she a good mommy?”  The child solemnly looked at the man and then at her mother before answering.  “She’s trying.”  Everyone in the vicinity smiled and gave a loving look at the child’s answer.  Then the young girl continued:  “Her’s very trying.”

 

In an effort to be all we can be, as we make the valiant attempt to try to be our best, we sometimes find ourselves being trying to others.  So how do we accomplish our goals without being irritating, annoying,  or, worse – failing?  As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. next Monday, perhaps we should listen to some of his words.

 

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”  In this twenty-first century social media craze where it seems the winner is the one with the best tweet, we need to take a moment and realize that having a snappy comeback works for about ten seconds only.  It really will not accomplish anything lasting and it certainly will not build bridges that will allow us to cross into a productive future.  We need to create relationships built upon respect and purpose, not simply spend all our time building up our own egos.

 

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”  Respect again becomes the verb we need to use as our modus operandi.  Whatever material things a person has, their appearance or socioeconomic level really matters very little.  When we surround ourselves only with those who are just like us, then we box ourselves in and limit our ability to grow.  Our roots need room to grow and new experiences in order to help us develop fully, both as individuals and as nations and the world.

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”  A life lived selfishly is a life half-lived.  Being of service to others does not limit your own being, it expands it.  We’ve discussed the benefits of volunteering over the past four years but perhaps we need to refresh our memories.  Those who spend time helping others are healthier physically and emotionally.  You may think you haven’t the time but really you need to find that time.  Your life really might just depend upon it.

 

A decade ago businesses were encouraged to allow workers to donate time to local schools to serve as mentors for young readers.  Those participating in the programs would spend two hours a week at a local school having children read to them, helping as needed to sound out words.  While reading scores were improved, so was the health of those volunteers.  The volunteers reported less stress and an overall happier sense of self.  They began to care about their own personal health and without even realizing it, adopted better lifestyle practices which resulted in a lower healthcare cost for the businesses involved in the program.  The loss of two hours of productivity from being away from their job site was more than compensated for by the higher productivity of the happier and healthier employees.

 

Anyone can do it.  No, that is not a quote from Dr. King but it is the summation of what he preached and the dream he lived and hoped to achieve for all.   AS Dr King reminded us:  “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.”

Embrace the Forgotten

Embrace the Forgotten

Advent 13

Year in Review 2017

 

What about Hale County, Alabama?  Football is big business, not just a popular sport and it is one of the things for which the state of Alabama is known.  This week’s election to complete the remainder of an open Senate term has become another.  Few people know anything about Hale County, even those living in the state.

 

The University of Alabama, a major university whose football team claims sixteen national championship titles will once again compete for the national number one slot in collegiate football on January 1st.  It is only forty-nine minutes away and the bustling metropolis of Birmingham is only one hundred miles away from Hale County, Alabama.  Yet, for the children of Hale County, Alabama, they might as well live on the other side of the country.  They live in one of the most rural and impoverished areas of Alabama in what is known as the Blackbelt region of the state. Residents of this are at an economic disadvantage with very limited resources. The high school graduation rate is only 34% with 74% of households earning less than $30,000 per year. Almost 200 families live without plumbing and healthcare is nonexistent for most.

 

According to the United Way of West Alabama, one in every four Alabamians is functionally illiterate, unable to read, write, or use basic math skills and technology in everyday life.   According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 60% of K-12 school children read below the level needed to proficiently process the written materials used in their grade levels.  Children who have not already developed basic literacy practices when they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out of school.

 

According to the 2014 Alabama Kids Count Data Book, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 26% of Alabama children are living in poverty; 9.7% of Alabama teens are not in school and not employed; 25.8% of Alabama children are food insecure; 40.1% of Alabama fourth graders are not proficient in reading; 20% of Alabama’s students do not graduate from high school.

 

The Sawyerville Work Project is, on paper, a day camp. It is an outreach project sponsored by the Youth Department of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama & local community volunteers.  It takes place in the summer for just a few weeks, and for that camp session, the children that attend the camp are not framed in the light of the region’s poverty.  They are simply kids, having fun, in a place created solely for them.

 

The Sawyerville Day Camp’s location originated at the Head Start Center in the small town of Sawyerville, hence the name. Within a few years of hosting the camp, the Center could no longer accommodate the increased numbers of campers and staff volunteers. The elementary school in nearby Greensboro welcomed this project and the partnership has continued for a successful thirteen years.

 

Sawyerville Day Camp ministry began in 1993.  The Blackbelt Convocation knew they needed to embrace the residents of the area, not just those in their church pews and the Diocese of Alabama Youth Department needed an outreach program for senior high students.  The answer to both problems became the Sawyerville Work Project, now known as the Sawyerville Day Camp.  It is supported by many people.

 

People serve as prayer partners, staff members, organize book drives, gather paper products, provide meals and make financial gifts.  The Episcopal Diocese has committed substantial funds to this ministry.  The generous people of the Black Belt have opened up their homes and churches for staff housing and meals.  Volunteers from within and outside of the Episcopal circle lend time and talent.  High school, college, and adult staff come from all over the state to serve as counselors.  The Hale County School Board permits use of school facilities and buses.  This project is woven together by hundreds of different supporters, all working together to form the Sawyerville experience.

 

The mission of the Yellowhammer Literacy Project, born out of the Sawyerville Day Camp, is to help close the achievement gap and prevent summer learning loss in Greensboro, Alabama. The YLP works toward this mission by hosting a multi-week summer academic program in which students will participate in reading intervention, engage in creative writing, and strengthen their literacy skills. Additionally, the YLP is invested in helping students grow as scholars and citizens through participation in academic field trips, community engagement, and other enrichment opportunities.

 

Summer 2015 was a huge success for the Yellowhammer Literacy Project! When first assessed the students in April, 58% were performing below grade level. By the end of this program, 88% of students grew by at least one reading level. Of that 88%, 66% grew by at least two levels. Nine students saw growth by three to five levels in a mere three weeks!
Not only did these students grow academically, but what cannot be tested or shown through the results is that these kids were encouraged to enjoy reading, were praised for their efforts, and became more confident in their own abilities by the end of the program. One child said it best in his final reflection, “I really am smart.”

 

The Humanitarian efforts of the Sawyerville Day Camp are led by Leslie Manning but she would be the first to acknowledge the help of hundreds, both volunteer staff and interns as well as the volunteers who fed, donate, and serve as prayer partners.  Each child received a swimsuit, towel, and book as well as a backpack.  For many this is the first time they have owned any of these items which serve as outward, visible signs of the larger community of caring that supports them and embraces them.

 

Now over twenty years old, this day camp has counselors who were once campers.  They believed in the promise shown by the Sawyerville Day Camp of a brighter future and by those who embraced them and they have succeeded.  Kids who once had never heard of a college are now college graduates, having learned to believe in themselves to make a better world for themselves.  People of all ages, races, and stages of life create the humanitarian efforts that result in Sawyerville Day Camp.  They come together and embrace each other.

 

We can each make our own little reflection of this wonderful camp by embracing the forgotten in our own communities.  We all become champions when we do that.  I hope you are able to be a part of something like Sawyerville Day Camp.  Contact your local YMCA or YWCA or Salvation Army, Easter Seals, or local religious groups.  All will be able to put you in touch with a program that you can give aid to with your time and talents and, if possible, monetary assistance.

 

As we live these last days of 2017, we need to commit to make 2018 better.  When we embrace each other and ourselves, when we live out the true meaning of the word “cherish” which is the them for this blog series, we make the world a better place.  Sawyerville Day Camp is but one example.  For more information, they can be reached at www.sawyervilledaycamp.org.

 

 

Lay Down to Build Up

Lay Down to Build Up

Advent 10

Year in Review 2017

 

A common cry throughout the history of the world has been the call to lay down arms.  In other words, stop fighting.  The quote “War is hell” has been attributed to General William Tecumseh Sherman, although he himself claimed to not remember saying it.  David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, authors of the series “The People’s Almanac” explain: Historians generally agree that this is Sherman’s statement on war, but the Civil War general could not remember ever having said these three words. Before his death in 1891, Sherman made an extensive search through all of his private papers in a fruitless effort to convince himself that the words were actually his. There are several accounts of when the words were said. The earliest version dates back to 1863, after the fall of Vicksburg, when Sherman’s troops were crossing a pontoon bridge over the Pearl River at Jackson, Miss. According to eyewitness John Koolbeck, a soldier from Iowa, Sherman watched the crossing from the water’s edge and then said to the passing troops, “War is hell, boys.” Another account has Sherman delivering the line in a graduation address at the Michigan Military Academy on June 19, 1879. Still a third account says that Sherman made the famous statement in a speech before a group of Union veterans in Columbus, O., on Aug. 11, 1880. At other times, he did state, “War is cruel and you cannot refine it” and “War at best is barbarism.”

 

The bearing of a weapon greatly increases the likelihood that said weapon will be used.  Hateful words spoken aloud greatly increases the chance that uttered hatred will spread.  History bears witness to the truth of those two statements.  Usually, religion is given as the cause for such things like war.  Within the last two thousand years, the three Abrahamic faiths have been the culprits and there is evidence that they have contributed even though was is not a part of any religion’s doctrine.

 

Those who claim that isolation and violence are the path towards goodness are walking blindly.  It is with much sadness and anger that I must admit the events of this past weekend at US airports will be forever linked to Christianity.  People with legal documentation that gave them the right to travel to and in the USA have been held up and prevented from arrival.  Claiming to be laying down arms while beefing up security, a new regime has hijacked both the US Constitution and the Christian faith.

 

How do I make such a bold statement?  Matthew 25:31-46 from the New Testament is my proof.  “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the 3holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’  Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’  Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”

 

Borgna Brunner explains how Islam actually has two holidays that reference helping others, the building up of each other.  Eid al-Fitr (1 Shawwal)is the Celebration concluding Ramadan, the month of fasting.  Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Literally the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (Eid al-Adha is the other). At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.  A sense of generosity and gratitude colors these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques.

 

Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Adult Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lifetime.  Eid al-Adha (10 Dhu’l-Hijjah) is the celebration concluding the Hajj.  Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey Allah by sacrificing his son Ishmael. According to the Quran, just before Abraham sacrificed his son, Allah replaced Ishmael with a ram, thus sparing his life. One of the two most important Islamic festivals, Eid al-Adha begins on the 10 day of Dhu’l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Lasting for three days, it occurs at the conclusion of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims all over the world celebrate, not simply those undertaking the hajj, which for most Muslims is a once-a-lifetime occurrence.  The festival is celebrated by sacrificing a lamb or other animal and distributing the meat to relatives, friends, and the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes obedience to Allah and its distribution to others is an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam.

 

“Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call “charity” in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. However, the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew root Tzadei-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.  Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need. Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper. This is probably hyperbole, but it illustrates the importance of tzedakah in Jewish thought. Tzedakah is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins.

 

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon went one step further in explaining how such charity should be given, a hierarchy of learning how to give.  Giving begrudgingly is the first step, followed by giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully. Giving after being asked and giving before being asked follow.  Then there is giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity and giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity.  After a while, giving becomes the important thing, not being known for giving as in giving when neither party knows the other’s identity.  Finally, at the top is the true purpose for tzedakah which enables the recipient to become self-reliant.

 

When we lay down our hatred and weapons, we are then able to build each other up through the Christian, Jewish, and Islam paths of charity and generosity.  War with its many forms and variations is cruel and does little to build for the future.  Evil should be stopped.  We are an intelligent race.  Surely we can figure a way to create peace and a better tomorrow with mercy and goodness.

 

Advent is a time of preparation and many feel charitable at this time of the year.  It is important to remember that a gift is not a bribe nor is it payment.  It is simply a way for us to cherish each other and honor the life of the recipient.  It is at this time of the year that the light of goodness needs to shine its brightest.  When we cherish our world and those in it, we also cherish our being.  That is a great gift indeed.