Unique is Spelled Y-O-U!

Unique is Spelled Y-O-U!

Easter 24

 

In this day and age when we have technology which can help us proclaim our individuality, many hide instead.  For instance, many people utilize the Internet to write every day about personal doings, preferences, style, etc.  These web logs, commonly known as blogs, reach billions each day since there are an estimated 354 million blogs worldwide, this being one of them.  Yet, even with such technology, instead of emphasizing individuality, it has made many of us lemmings.

 

Lemmings are mammals that live as locusts, those winged insects that can strip a habitat bare, wreaking the same destruction to an environment as a plague.  The thing about lemmings is that they follow the group without forethought.  Thus, the word lemming is also a term used to describe someone who joins a movement without proper consideration. 

 

Generally speaking, human lemmings are one of many, lost in a crowd.  The use of the word in this manner describes a person who has forsaken mindfulness.  They are living with no originality and have silenced their own voice.  It takes courage to be one’s true self, to show our uniqueness to the world.

 

In his book “The Crown of Individuality” William George Jordan writes:  “The supreme courage of life is the courage of the soul.  It is living day by day, sincerely – despite all opinions, all obstacles, all opposition.  It means the vine of inspiration comes from the crushed grapes of our sorrows.

 

“This courage makes the simple life great; it makes the greatest life, sublime.  It means the royal dignity of fine individual living… Every man [or being] reigns a king [or queen] over … self.  He [She] wears the crown of individuality that no hands … can remove.”

 

Mindfulness reminds us to be our true self, our best self, our highest self, our self victorious.  We are all wonderfully created unique – no one better than another, just different, unique and special.  A box of crayons all the same color would be boring and dull.  Diversity and uniqueness create life.  With mindfulness we can break out of the cocoon of sameness and soar above the crowd to discover our own beauty and true life.

Negotiate/Deliberate

Negotiate/Deliberate

Epiphany 53

 

“Engage brain before mouth in gear.”  Popular in the 60’s and 70’s, this piece of advice seems to have been forgotten in the fine art of conversation and public speaking.  And lest you think I am specifically referring to politicians, I am not.  I am referring to all of us.

 

Negotiation and compromise is a part of everyday life and if it is not a part of yours, then you are doing something wrong.  No one gets a free ride from the responsibility of negotiating.  We live on a planet with many others and whether it be nature or humanity, we have to learn to get along together.  That requires negotiation. 

 

The farmer who is successful does not simply tear up the ground and drop whatever seeds he/she wishes wherever and whenever.   Compromise is essential to insure the best yield of a crop.  Rotation of seeds planted, paying attention to the weather and available water supply, Crops which will grow in the given climate, availability of manpower/womanpower to harvest and process said crops – all of these things must be considered, compromises made, and negotiations scheduled.  Otherwise, we would not have food to eat.  Human beings would perish.

 

Words have power and the words we speak have consequences.  All too often it is the word we do not say that carries the most impact.  Parents play a vital role in the life of a child but it is the absentee parent that often plays the biggest role and whose presence or lack thereof carries the most weight.

 

Just as our actions are important, so are the words we utter.  AS we draw this series of Epiphany and words of action to a close, this being the next to last post about such verbs, I hope you take a moment to think before you speak.  Is what you are about to say really necessary?  Are you saying it effectively so as to be fully and completely understood?  Is it kind and most importantly, is it completely true?  If the answer to any of these is no, then please remember this adage:  Silence is golden.

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.

 

 

Call to Inspire

Call to Inspire

Epiphany 6

 

“It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.  This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.”  He came from what many would call a less privileged heritage and became the most influential man in his country.  This might have been a quote from Gandhi or Mandela but it is part of Barrack Obama’s farewell address as President of the United States of America.

 

In his speech President Obama spoke of the American dream that began in 1776 when a group of colonists committed to a certain belief, not just one he shares but one that the entire nation was built upon and a belief that continues to motivate and inspire. 

 

“And it’s not just my belief.  It’s the beating heart of our American idea – our bold experiment in self-government.  It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.”

 

The American dream is about giving people a chance and freedom or, as President Obama defined it,  “The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination – and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good.  For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation.  It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom.  It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande, pushed women to reach for the ballot, powered workers to organize.  It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan – and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.” 

 

His farewell address was not so much about saying goodbye but about inspiring everyone to continue the good fight for all people.  He noted that the path towards that is often bumpy and full of potholes.  “So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional.  Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.  Yes, our progress has been uneven.  The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody.  For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.  But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.”

 

The measure of any person is by their forward movement, the forward motion of our intentions.  We are not always successful but we should never give up or give in.  Life is best lived moving forward.  It really is the only profitable direction we have to travel.

Act

Act

Epiphany 2

 

We are now in what is most probably one of the most important and least religious seasons of the liturgical church calendar, Epiphany.  To have an epiphany means to have a realization.  In theological terms it refers to the story of three, possibly four, men of great wisdom who traveled from far away destinations to see a newborn baby.

 

In our usage, epiphany also means realization but it is of a much more personal nature.  During this series, I am asking you to look inside and see where your heart is and what speaks to it.  Our actions are dependent upon what we truly hold dear, what we feel is most important to us.  What makes you act?

 

American Theologian and writer Robert Schuller once asked “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”  It is an interesting question and one often asked of people in discussing their life goals and how to achieve them.  I want to implore you to think of it in a different way.

 

Yesterday I mentioned the four young people being held, now without bond, in the kidnapping and brutal attack on another young person.  The victim is mentally developmentally deficient and a classmate of one of his attackers.  Another young man and two sisters were the rest of the four who appeared in court yesterday.  The judge asked them one simple question:  “Where was the sense of decency?”

 

Many are using this story to highlight the violence in the metropolitan area of Chicago and there can be no denying that violence is at a high and alarming rate.  However, Chicago is not the only area facing such crimes.  Last week two soldiers were charged with homicide in a drug deal apparently gone wrong, soldiers that are part of the national defense of a country.

 

This post will not attempt to offer a cure for such crimes but I use them to ask you this.  “What would you do if you were on the scene?”  Writer Spencer Johnson became published writing a series of children’s books but it is his motivational book “Who Moved My Cheese?” that made him a household name and much-sought on the business circuit.  “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

 

Witnessing a crime is going to create fear in us and that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Fear serves as a protection device many times.  I do not touch a hot stove because I fear being burned.  Today the wind chill is below zero degrees Fahrenheit and I am not going outside wearing only a swimsuit for fear of hypothermia.  That also is not a bad thing.  But if I knew I could save another person in the cold and not become ill myself, would I do it?  I hope so.

 

“If you listen to your fears, you will die never knowing what a great person you might have been.”  This quote from Robert Schuller offers us great advice as long as we use it wisely.  Getting help when you witness a crime is paramount.  The thousands who viewed the young man being attacked during the live video stream on Facebook from these four people did nothing.  They could have contacted Facebook or local authorities.  Someone could have simply called the emergency 911 number and reported the streaming video.

 

There is also a course of action open to us.  How we respond is the key to who we are.  How we act tells everything about our character and what is most important to us.  There is an old Chinese proverb that states “Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.” 

 

Maybe you are thinking right now of a time in which you should have acted but did not.  We all have those.  The important thing is to recognize them and make commitment to yourself to not let them be that last actions you ever do.  As Robert Schuller advises, “Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”  Today act, not react.

 

Live Authentically

Live Authentically

Christmas 12

 

March to the beat of your own drum!  On this the twelfth day of Christmas, the day where supposedly someone gave their true love twelve drummers drumming, I’m encouraging you to develop your own rhythm and march to it.  In other words, live your own authentic life.

 

“Historically, musicians know what it is like to be outside the norm – walking the high wire without a safety net. Our experience is not so different from those who march to the beat of different drummers.”  This can be quite a scary thought but it worked out well for the speaker, Billy Joel, and I truly believe it can work out for you as well.

 

How can you tell if you are marching to the beat of your own drum?  That that make their own rhythmic way through life are not content to simply follow the status quo.  They question the reasons for following trends and determine if it works for them.  They can respect authority but do not do so blindly, questioning those in authority and holding them accountable. 

 

Such people are passionate about learning and like to look at an issue from both sides.  They are usually happy to debate either side of an issue which sometimes leads others into thinking they are wishy washy or perhaps a wee bit insane.  Seldom bored, they thrive on input but limit what they receive from social media sites.  They are always refining and rethinking a subject and are not afraid to change their mind.  After all, it takes courage to think you might not have formed a complete opinion or that your opinion needs altering.

 

So how do we start marching to the beat of our own drum?  We stop comparing ourselves to others.  Put twelve drummers together and no two drummers, although playing the same cadences, are going to be identical.  They are all going to believe in their abilities, however, and listen to each other.  Belief in one’s self and remembering to listen to others is paramount to finding one’s own voice.

 

The best thing you have to offer is yourself.  You are a gift to the world.  By finding one’s own beat and marching to it, you are able to maximize your gifts and use them to their best advantage.  Never change to conform.  That diminishes who you are.  As Henry David Thoreau once said:  “If a man loses pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.”  In other words, live your own authentic life.

 

Snowball Effect

Snowball Effect

Pentecost 195

 

I once wrote a thank you note to someone who, in turn, replied with a thank you note to me.  I had written my note in thankfulness for their performance; we will call that Note A.  Their thank you note was to let me know how touched they were by what I had said; let’s call that Note B.  I do not really recall exactly what Note A said and I doubt I spent days drafting it.  However, their note to me was beautifully written and I was so affected by Note B, I felt I should write a thank you note for it.  I suddenly realized that the saga of the thank you notes was starting to sound like the set-up for a Laurel and Hardy joke.  Then I recognized that, like faith, such gratitude is supposed to take on a life of its own.  The snowball effect of each is what makes them so important.

 

The first step you should take in beginning a new day or project is to think positively.  Negative thinking narrows one’s field of vision.  Imagine yourself swimming in the shallow waters of a beautiful ocean resort.  Suddenly someone cries “Shark!”  You no longer are focused on the rest of the people on the beach but only on getting yourself out of the water.  This is a healthy instinct of self-preservation but your focus has also become extremely self-centered. 

 

Recently a great deal of the rhetoric has been about “I”.  One person claims to have all the answers while another says they voted to protect themselves.  The ego or “I” is the conscious self so it is not unnatural that we would consider it in most things.  The problem is that the “I” is not the only living entity on the planet.  There is also a “You” and “We”.  The word affect is a verb, grammatically speaking, in the English language.  Basically it means to have an impact on something or someone.  In writing this blog I am hoping to affect your thinking and encourage you to do something positive to benefit all of us, the family of mankind.  Since a verb is an action word, to affect something or someone is to bring about change.

 

Effect is most commonly used as a noun, the result of an action or, as we just discussed, a thought process.  While I am encouraging you to affect someone in this series by positive action, the intent is that your actions will create a productive effect or result.  “Affect” refers to the doing; “Effect” denotes the end result of that doing or action.  Effect also can be defined in another way.  It can also mean someone’s personal belongings.  This might seem confusing and yes, it can be but I like that effect is both the result and the possession.  It encourages us to be accountable for our actions.  No one is going to score a perfect rating on our actions.  We all make mistakes.  This is where thinking positive can keep us from letting past actions become a future death sentence.  Thinking positive people also have lower blood pressure and sleep better.

 

Positive emotions help us to broaden our field of vision and imagine what is possible instead of seeing only the negative and dire outcomes.  Maybe yesterday really was the worst day of life.  Today really can be the first day of the rest of your life.  Take care of yourself and start the day off thinking of possibilities.  Share a smile with another and together you will create something extraordinary out of an ordinary facial movement.   Maybe you really don’t have time for going to the movies but take the time hurrying on your commute to notice the flowers along your path.  A healthy person can accomplish much more than one who is thinking or feeling negative.  We all have time for a smile and the first smile of the day should be a smile to you.

 

Living positively benefits the “I” and also the “We”.  To make the most of living and do what is best for “You” involves helping another and being grateful for when someone helps you.  The time for talk is over.  It is now time for action.   As Walt Whitman once said, “If you keep your face towards the sunshine, the shadows will fall behind you.”  With one ordinary affect, you will create an extraordinary effect.