Grace for Granted

Grace for Granted

Advent 22

 

This week we begin our discussion of grace from an axiomatic view.  Not surprisingly, the word comes from the root word “axiom” from which another semi=popular word is derived, “maxim”.   Axiom I comes from a Greek word meaning authority and the word itself is best defined as “that which is seen as fit”.  Today axioms are those items which are seen as self-evident, those truths which are taken for granted.

 

The atrocities of war are horrible and one of the reasons for avoiding war if at all possible.  There is no grace in war although many times simple acts of kindness become self-evident during the course of a war.  The young Jewish teenager known to the world as Anne Frank lived a life as the recipient of grace, at least for a short time.  Denied the right to immigrate to the United States by the USA, Anne Frank’s family needed a place to live, a place safe from the Nazi soldiers who were corralling all those of the Jewish faith and forcing them to live and die in concentration camps.  For a period of time, the Frank family hid in the attic of a benevolent family.  They received grace in staying alive because of this family but upon discovery, all grace ceased.  Anne Frank kept a journal which her father later published.  Both Anne and her sister died while in horrid captivity at a concentration camp, just weeks before they would have been rescued by Allied troops.

 

The journal of Anne Frank bespoke of the grace she found after the life she had lived and taken for granted was taken from her.  It is a warning to us all to never take grace for granted because someone might let their ego convince them grace is a useless commodity which has no value.

 

The world was horrified as the true meaning and reality of the Nazi concentration camps came to light.  The media was severely handicapped in the 1930’s and 40’s by the lack of technology and news did not travel within mili-seconds like it does today.  As the Allies regained control, truth bore witness to the depravities and atrocities that man could inflict upon one another.

 

Today, however, is another age.  In the twenty-first century, we have the ability to connect with others around the world in the blink of an eye.  We have no excuse to ignore the lack of grace when mayhem, chaos, carnage, and destruction reigns down on the innocent.  We cannot and should not assume an axiomatic stance toward grace.  When mass killings occur, there is no grace to be found. 

 

If you have ever read the Diary of Anne Frank and marveled at the tenacity of a young girl while destruction bore down on her, then look no further than the slaughter occurring today in Aleppo, Syria for an incredible parallel. Government military forces, backed by Syria’s President and Russian President Vladimir Putin are butchering civilians in their homes as the city falls. The situation is complicated, and there are no quick solutions.

 

There’s a great and important conversation to be had about the role of nations becoming a part of the history of other nations in the world today, but this isn’t the time. The question before us with the Syrian situation is not one of politics but of grace.  One thing must be clear: The guilt and shame of these deaths lie on all of us, on the murderers themselves.

 

We must ignore the politicians both in the US and abroad who seek to flirt with men like Vladmir Putin for the sake of crony capitalism.  We need to exercise grace and act so that action prevents the immoral who enable children to be executed in the streets.

 

The dozens of those who claim Christian or Jewish or Islamic values, who knowingly risked the safety of thousands for their own comfort and political expediency, do not portray the grace of their beliefs when they allow such slaughter to occur but rather the humiliation of their failure to act with grace.  They are just the men and women in suits who play dice with the lives of millions from behind finely polished desks a world away. 

 

Shame also extends to the citizens of countries throughout the world who are more concerned with selfish nationalistic interests than the basic human rights of people who don’t look like us.  There are billions of the faithful, religious and spiritualists who recoil in horror and then change the channel when the news bespeaks of these horrors, ignoring the most basic of mandates from their Creator.

 

We must take action and not take for granted that grace lives.  It lives in the world only when we act, supporting those who are at the front lines offering sanctuary, aid, food, and medical comfort.  As we live grace by helping, we must also extend grace to both the slaughtered and the butchers.  Grace is not multiple choice.  Ernest Hemingway once said “Courage is grace under pressure.”    An axiom is any mathematical statement that serves as a starting point from which other statements are logically derived.  Our axiom is that grace is real.  Therefore, the axiomatic approach concludes that, once established as being viable, grace can accomplish wonders.  Can you find the courage to do something and extend grace today?

Altruism

Altruism

Pentecost 30

 

It was one of those annual meetings many religious places hold to elect leaders and discuss the budget, planned outreach, and in general, just let everyone know they are still around and doing things.  AS a teacher of the five-year-old class, I had been asked to watch the class while standing in the doorway and listening to the meeting.  Apparently my cherubs had revolted at being sent to the nursery with all the “babies”. 

 

The meeting began with a prayer and then someone read the agenda.  I was very proud that my kids had stopped their coloring and bickering to bow their heads in prayer with everyone.  As the agenda was read, they seemed to be listening.  One extrovert even commented upon each item read and the others responded.  I remember thinking my class might be paying more attention than half of the adults.

 

 It went something like this:

                Opening Prayer….            Boy #1: ”Well, yeah.  We already know that.  We just did it!”

                                                                Girl #1: “Some people never pay attention.”

                The MInutes …                  Boy #1:  ”Cool.  This is gonna be quick.”

                                                                Boy #2:  “Grown-ups are never quick.”

                                                                Boy #1:  “He said minutes.”

                                                                Girl #1:  “Yeah but grown-up minutes are not real minutes.”

                Finances…                           Boy #1:  “Church is not about money.  God is gonna be mad!”

                Outreach and Altruism…

 

At this point my group stopped coloring and fidgeting all together.  I dared to hope for a split second that my teaching had resulted in their being interested in the proposed outreach projects.  Had I really made an impact on them to care about mission work?  Then I listened to their whispering.

 

“They gonna eat!’  “No.  They wouldn’t do that without us!”  He said “All chew it.”  “That means they gonna do more talking.  My dad says my mom and her sisters “Chew the fat” when they get together.”  “No, he did not say “All chew it”.  He said “All trues.” 

 

At this point I intervened.  I explained he had said altruism and showed them the word on the printed agenda that was passed out.  Several noses wrinkled at the unfamiliar word so I explained it meant doing good for others, caring about others.  I still had confused expressions staring back at me.  I was pretty confident in my explanation so I asked “What part did you not understand?”  Finally my leader spoke up.  “Why we gotta have a meeting about what should come natural?”  Out of the mouths of babes ….

 

The other day I again got a comment asking why I was “wasting” the whole of Pentecost talking good deeds.  Perhaps I wondered I had found my young leader who would now be an adult himself.  Then the reader continued to explain that nobody cared about helping others and they felt I should be doling out self-help advice, not “encouraging a forgotten thing like altruism”.

 

In a world where people are killed for having a good time or attending a sports event or concert, in a time where political candidates are murdered for speaking for what they believe or giving speeches filled with hate and encouraging annihilation of one’s enemies instead of peaceful cohabitation, it is easy to believe that altruism is a long-forgotten relic of times gone by, much like the dinosaur.

 

Cooperative behavior seems to have fallen by the wayside on the journey of life in the twenty-first century.  It is, however, what got our ancestors to this point and how mankind survived the harsh reality of life in the prehistoric times.  It can either be the thing that saves us or that kills us if ignored. 

 

Research has proven the benefits of helping others.  Alcoholics Anonymous is built upon that principle.  Stopping drinking does not make one a recovering alcoholic.  Those in recovery who help others have a better chance of staying sober than those who do not.  People who volunteer are healthier than those who do not.

 

I know of no better self-help advice than to be the best you can be and to help others.  One simple act a day or week can mean the world, not only to another person but also to you.  Get out of your own head and help someone.  Even if you are homebound, you can do something for another person.  Life is a team sport, after all.  Science has also proven it really does come naturally if we just let it.  And that’s the truth about altruism1

Two Bits

Two Bits

Pentecost 28

 

Our last discussion was about water and as much of the United States’ wild west has become a wildfire, many were able to relate to how precious water can be.  For many of the world’s children, food is also a very precious commodity. These children should be able to go to school and play but instead they spend they days searching for just one bite of food.  A popular children’s rhyme often used in basic yard games begins with “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar…” so I wondered: “Just what could someone do with an ordinary twenty-five cents (two bits) to make it into something extraordinary?”

 

The United Nations World Food Programme or WFP answers that question.  The largest humanitarian organization in the world, WFP is the United nation’s frontline agency whose sole purpose is to combat global hunger.  In 2008 they provided 102,000,000 (one hundred and two million) people in seventy-eight countries with 3.9 (three million, nine thousand) tons of food.  [Normally I do not use numerals in writing numbers because the text translates easier but these numbers are staggering and I felt their impact greater in both forms.]

 

Every ninety-three cents of each one hundred cents or a dollar is spent directly on getting food to those in need of it.  That means .07% is spent in overhead and .93% of every US dollar (or equivalent) goes to people in need.  There is no overhead eating up the donations.  Four quarters equals a dollar so if you saved a quarter every day, then you could provide food to someone who is in dire need of it.

 

The UN World Food Programme does not just deliver food, though.  They have created a sustainable food chain.  They develop strategies to create long-term food production and work with local farmers, sometimes training them on the best ways to grow food in their region.   Your twenty-five cents, when joined with others, can feed a hungry child for a day.  The WFP is entirely supported through voluntary contributions so your “two bits” can really be much more than just a piece of a dollar.  It can be a meal for someone in need – today and tomorrow.

 

I really like the idea WFP has of not just passing out meal packets but creating a food chain that includes the growing of food for tomorrow’s children.  Having a sustainable food chain means an end to hunger in a region.  By the way. their ambassador is actress Drew Barrymore.  Kudos to her for getting down to basics and working with this great organization.

 

I have been asked how I classify this blog and that I needed to arrive at an exact definition.  Is it spiritual or theological?  Is it humanitarian or conversational?  Quite frankly, I don’t see why those items are an either or.  Why can’t something be spiritual AND theological?  Why can we not put humanitarian topics into our daily conversation?

 

Theology is defined as the study of the “divine”.  For some that is God; for others it is gods.  Spiritual means not material, relating to or consisting of something of the spirit and yes, that spirit can mean a God or gods.  All conversation relates to humans in one way or another.  Even when we discuss alien life forms, it is in relation to humans because, quite frankly, we define alien as something not human or of this planet.  Why then do we tend to isolate those things one from another?

 

If you follow me on twitter (and if you don’t, please do!), then you will have seen that today I posted a link to the Good Deed Time website, gooddeedtime.com.  We all get so many tweets and emails about so many different things, most of which we disregard.  I understand that you might be hesitant to sign up for yet another thing.  Seriously, though, this is the answer to how you can turn this Ordinary Time of Pentecost into an extraordinary time.

 

The best way to have more time is to use your time to help someone else.  This website will email you one specific good deed you can strive to accomplish that week.  Perhaps you will not be able to do that specific good deed but it will most likely give you an idea for another.  The result will be that more people will be focused on doing good, on creating goodness in the world, on making their lives more productive.  For me, that is the very definition of turning the ordinary into something extraordinary.  It is your opportunity to be a hero…. And it can start with just two bits.

 

 

 

Flip Flop Fantastic

Flip, Flop, Fantastic

Pentecost 15

 

It looks like an ordinary house from the outside.  Walk into the living room, though, and you might very well see boxes of rubberized sandals known as flip flops.  The mother living there is collecting them to send to her daughter, an Air Force technician.  But surely one young woman cannot possibly need these many pairs of flip flops you might ask.  She does and happily asks for more.

 

While there is a type of electrical switch known as the “flip flop”, let me assure you that is not what this blog post is about today.  I am talking about the open-toed footwear that gets no respect for being, in spite of it having been around since 4000 BCE.  The oldest pair of flip flop sandals can be found in the British Museum and dates to 1500 BCE.  That pair is made of papyrus but the material used for these shoes has varied just as the cultures wearing them have varied.

 

Thought to have originated in ancient Egypt, the flip flop, aptly named in modern times because of the sound one makes while wearing them, was probably first made from papyrus or palm leaves.  In Africa the Masei tribe used rawhide for their sandals.  In India wood was the material of choice but China and Japan made them from straw.  As mankind advanced, so did the materials used in making flip flops and they began to be constructed from leather and other materials as well as stronger fibers that made them more lasting, durable, and wearable.

 

Servicemen returning from the Far East, especially Japan, after World War II brought back the Japanese zori and the flip flop gained popularity in the United States.  Americans added their own flair with bright colors and adornments.  The wearing of flip flops especially caught on a the surfing culture of southern California.  One company began in a garage but today makes and sells over two million pairs of flip flops each year.

 

So how can wearing flip flops become more extraordinary and less ordinary?  And why would one woman collect them to send to her daughter?  Servicemen in hospitals often do not have shower shoes or shoes that allow them to easily walk.  This Carolina mother collects the flip flops for her daughter to distribute to servicemen so that their feet are protected.  These are new flip flops donated by area people and family.

 

Recycled flip flops have a purpose, so don’t throw out your used ones.  The Flip Flop Recycling Company will happily accept them!  The FFRC is a business based in Kenya and began because a woman observed children picking flip flops out of the trash that washed on shore from the surrounding waters and ocean.  The children were making toys out of the discarded flip flops but the woman saw beyond their efforts.

 

Kenya is among the poorest nations in the world.  Throughout the world, the ocean has become a very large and often under-patrolled garbage dump.  The dumping of trash in the ocean not only endangers the wildlife living there, it also contributes to world pollution.  In Kenya, however, the FFRC is buying these flip flops from the women who collect them.  This gives the women some disposable income to help support their families.

 

Artists then use these flip flops to recycle into household products as well as other household products and art.  Some of their work has been made into fashion accessories that have been used in Parish runway fashion shows.  Other companies such as Ocean Sole are also using the trash of old discarded flip flops that end up as floating garbage to create new things and better lives.

 

Next time you go to throw out a pair of flip flops, think.  Next time you purchase a new pair, pick up a second pair for Operation Flip Flops, and then check out their Facebook page to get details on how to donate your new pair.  There is also another Facebook page called Operation Flip Flop that sent new shows/flip flops to Iraqi children.

 

Whichever charity you decide to help, and there are several in your own home town (Contact the Salvation Army, Boy and Girls Clubs, or the American Red Cross) I am certain, please do not forget that something as commonplace as a pair of flip flops can mean the world to someone else.  Make the name “flip flop” synonymous with the words “good deed” today!

 

 

Looking for Treasure

Looking for Treasure

Pentecost 6

 

Earlier in the week we talked about things to do during your commute – providing someone else is doing the driving!  Many of us spend the minutes playing a game on our smart phones or tablets.  Why not use that time to raise money for a great charity?

 

SEO is a term you have seen if you spend any time on the Internet.  It is an acronym that stands for Search Engine Optimization or the fastest way to find something.  Anyone who has used the Internet has probably utilized an SEO at some point.  In fact, unless you only open your Internet browser when you have the website address you are going to, you have used an SEO.  Some of the more common ones are Google, Yahoo, Bing….”Oh, yeah, I’ve done that” you’re thinking.

 

Search Engines make money by showing advertisements on either the left or right side of the webpage.  They then donate at least thirty to seventy percent of the advertising revenue to a specific charity.  Revenue is generated when someone clicks on the advertisement.  So you can sit back on your public transportation or car pool and search while you help a charity fill their coffers, making optimal use of your commute and feeling good about yourself.  Talk about a win-win situation!  The following are just a few of the search engines that donate money to charitable organizations.

 

Sleio is a search engine that will let you designate which charity you would like to assist or, in other words, you get pick that they will donate the revenue you generate by click on the advertisement.  Some of their options are UNICEF and Khan Academy but there are others.

 

Ecosia is a website search engine that promotes tree planting in Brazil with eighty percent of ad revenue being donated.  By mid-2014 over two hundred thousand users had donated over six hundred thousand trees that were planted in Brazil.

 

Everyclick is a great SEO for Anglophiles because it allows those who click to assist over two hundred thousand charities in the United Kingdom.  Simply Do Good is both a search and a shopping website that assists over one hundred thousand schools and nonprofits.  Helpuu is a Google-powered “helping website” that donates money to such charities as Feed the Children and the American Red Cross.

 

Envirosearch.org not only lets you search but also save the planet in your searching.  Just Go Search is a Yahoo search engine that donates its revenue to charities in the United Kingdom.  Freelanthropy is another Yahoo-powered SEO that shares its advertising revenue with schools, churches, shelters, scouts, environmental causes, and other nonprofits.  The Ronald McDonald House Charities are just one of the helping charities that benefits from this search engine.

 

We all look for things.  It is part of human nature to be curious.  We all also usually spend time waiting, whether it is on a commute or in a doctor’s office, train station, airport or maybe just waiting for someone to get ready to go out.  Make that search count for something and help good working charities obtain the funding they need by using one of these SEO’s.  Who knew you could look for the best price on a new outfit and help provide a meal to a hungry child?  Your looking online can mean the world or at least a meal to another person.

 

 

Snug As a Bug

Snug as a Bug

Easter 20

 

Like many of our inventors, our featured female inventor today was a nurse.  Like many women, she thought of herself more as a “problem solver, not an inventor”.  Ann Moore was born and raised in Ohio and became a pediatric nurse.  In her own words, this is how she describes her early life: “I grew up on a farm in southwestern Ohio and being raised on a farm was terrific.  Our family did not have a lot of money and we improvised a lot.  My parents were put out of their church, the Dunkard Brethren Church, which is much like the Amish because they owned a radio.  The church emphasized public service and that stayed with me.”

 

Ann Moore graduated college as a nurse, her lifelong dream, and went to work at Columbia Hospital in New York City teaching pediatric nursing.  Working in Germany helping refugees from Eastern Bloc nations had a profound effect on her as did another humanitarian position working with earthquake victims in Morocco.  She became one of the earliest Peace Corps volunteers and with her husband worked in Africa.  It was there that she saw how the women of Africa carried their babies.

 

Women in underdeveloped nations seldom have the luxury of leaving their infants with someone else while they go about their chores and duties.  Hands are needed to both carry the baby and do the work and since women are not octopi, it can get a bit difficult.  In Africa, the women solved this problem by carrying their babies in fabric slings, keeping the child close and yet having their hands free to do their work.

 

Upon returning home, Ann Moore set about to invent a similar means of carrying infants in the United States.  Together with her mother the Snugli baby soft carrier was invented in 1969, a more involved and sturdier version of the African fabric sling.  This paved the way for all sorts of infant safe-carrying items and afforded women the chance to keep their children safe and yet still be active and productive.

 

Ann Moore learned something the rest of the world is still struggling to accept – we are all one on this planet.  She saw neither race nor color but the things that bind us.  She also knew the importance of togetherness and closeness, the sharing of life and heartbeats.

 

While her invention may not seem earth-shattering, it builds on the basic premise that gives and improves life for us all.  Modern science has within the past twenty years recognized that infants need human contact and that often putting a premature infant on the mother’s chest can work wonders.

 

The women who was the thirty-third applicant for the Peace Corps knew that the road to peace would began with compassion and caring, sharing life and joy.  During her training for the Peace Corps she met her husband, Mike Moore, and their eight-week courtship resulted in marriage before their posting in Togo.  Their first child was named Mandela after Nelson Mandela, in fact.

 

A happy baby makes for a happy family and African babies were very content, Ann Moore discovered.  She attributed this to their closeness with their mother, the constant feeling of being loved and nurtured.  Ann Moored took babies from the hard plastic shell of an infant carrier to being carried by a parent.  This has helped with early talking and vocalization of infants which leads to earlier reading skills and improved educational skills.  Ann Moore knew what science has just now discovered – Love nurtures and builds healthy bodies!

Embrace – Epiphany4

Embrace

Epiphany 4

 

The University of Alabama, a major university whose football team will compete once again for the national number one slot in collegiate football in three days, 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, 1 in 4 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 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!
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.

 

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.  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.