Creating Fear

Creating Fear

2018.10.31

The Creative Soul – Pentecost 2018

 

 

“We have this need for some larger-than-life creature.”  It may seem a bit ironic that one of the leading authors of a book on a giant, human-like mythological creature that may be real is actually an expert on much smaller animals that are real.  Robert Michael Pyle studies moths and butterflies and writes about them but in 1995 he also penned a book about the supposed primate known, among other names, as Yeti, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch.

 

The giants in American Indian folklore are as varied as the different tribes themselves.  It is important to remember that although they are grouped together much like the term European, the designation of American Indian applies to many tribes, most of which are now extinct.  Many millions of Americans over the past two hundred years could and should claim American Indian ancestry.  The story of Bigfoot is the story of their ancestral mythical creature.

 

The Bigfoot phenomenon is proof that there is a real place for mythologies in the present day.  The past several years saw people viewing a popular television program, “Finding Bigfoot” which aired on the Animal Planet network as well as being replayed via internet formats.  A group of four traveled the world, speaking and exploring the myths about a large, here-to-fore undocumented bipedal primate thought to be a link between the great apes and Homo sapiens.   One member of this group was a female naturalist and botanist but the other three were educated men in other disciplines.  To date, the three men have yet to convince their female scientist companion of the existence of the myth known as Bigfoot although she has dedicated several years of her life to searching for something she claims not to believe exists.

 

Even the more popular terms are modern additions to the myth.   A photograph allegedly taken by Eric Shipton was published with Shipton describing the footprint as one from a Yeti, a mythological creature much like a giant snowman said to inhabit the mountains of Nepal.  Several years another set of footprints was photographed in California and published in a local newspaper.  This time the animal was described as “Bigfoot” and a legend dating back to the earliest settlers in North America had been reborn.  The interest in such photographs is proof of the opening quote of today’s post.

 

The Lummi tribe called their giant ape/man mythological character Ts’emekwes and the descriptions of the character’s preferred diet and activities varied within the tribal culture.   Children were warned of the stiyaha or kwi-kwiyai who were said to roam at night and steal children.  There were also stories of the skoocooms, a giant race which lived on Mount St. Helens and were cannibalistic.  The skoocooms were given supernatural powers and status.  A Canadian reporter also reported on such stories and he used a term from the Halkomalem and named the creature “sasq’ets” or Sasquatch.   Rather than to be feared, though, some tribes translated this name to mean “benign-faced one.”

 

Mythologies of such giant creatures can be found on six of the seven continents and if mankind had been able to survive on Antarctica for thousands of years, there would probably be some from there as well.  We do seem to need to believe in something larger than life, as our mythologies bear witness.  What if there was proof of these creatures?  What if they really did exist and perhaps still do?

 

The Paiute Indians, an American Indian tribe from the regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains also had folklore of such a character.  Their legends tell of a tribe of red-haired giants called Sai’i.  After one such giant gave birth to a disfigured child who was shunned by the tribe, The Paiute believed the Great Spirit of All made their land and living conditions barren and desolate as punishment.  Enemies were then able to conquer the tribe and kill all but two – Paiute and his wife and their skin turned brown from living in such harsh conditions. 

 

In 1911 miners working Nevada’s Lovelock Cave discussed not the guano or bat droppings for which they were searching but bones they claimed were from giants.  Nearby reddish hair was found and many believed the remains were those of the Sai’i or Si-Te-Cah as they were also called.  However, some like Adrienne Mayor in her book “Legends of the First Americans” believe these bones and others found nearby are simply untrained eyes not realizing what they are seeing.   A tall man could have bones that would seem large and hair pigment is not stable and often changes color based upon the conditions in which it is found.  Even black hair can turn reddish or orange given the right mineral composition in the soil in which it is found.

 

What the mythologies of the world tell us is that mankind needs to believe in something. In ‘The Magic of Thinking Big”, David Schwartz writes:  “Believe it can be done. When you believe something can be done, really believe, your mind will find the ways to do it. Believing a solution paves the way to solution.”   

 

Maybe you believe in the yeti or Sasquatch and maybe you believe in the disproof of them.  We create giants in our own minds every day – those problems that seem insurmountable or the dreams that seem impossible.  The only Bigfoot that matters is that one foot that takes a big step towards progress, towards peace, a step taken with hope.  The dawn of a new day requires us to take a step forward.  If we believe in ourselves, that step will have purpose and accomplishment.  The longest journey really does begin with a single step.

 

In the past week, the United States has seen great tragedy.  The monster currently at foot is the monster of fear derived from a created hatred.  Words spoken without thorough thought as to how they could be perceived and the aftermath of these words having been heard and misinterpreted are in part responsible for creating such hatred.  We have created a bogeyman, a monster that exists not in fact but as a result of our own insecurities.  The ego might want quantity of followers but the world needs us to be sincere and in communion with each other.

 

The best thing to believe in is you.  Let yourself be your creature to believe in today.  Walk away from fear and into your bright future, a future in which you believe you can do anything.  The reality is you can do whatever you set your mind to doing.  Turn your fears into lessons and steps toward success.  Believe in yourself.  You are amazing!  The world is waiting for us to create a better tomorrow.

Guns and M&Ms

Guns and M&Ms

Jan 23-24

 

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of living, over the years people have been rudely taken out of their daily lifestyles to become the target of terrorism.  People who had hurried past each other suddenly became part of a team they never wanted to be a part of, a team which now has a place in history.  They have become the victims of policies that allow gun ownership to be too easy.  Additionally we do not insist on responsible gun ownership and storage nor do we fund mental health programs from the simplest means such as available social workers in all schools to mental health clinics in every county.

 

In the book “Praying for Strangers”, author River Jordan states:  “I can be a woman who prays for strangers but remains completely blind to their bruises.”  How many people did you pass today?  Now, answer me this:  How many people did you really see?  With all the sensory overload in our busy lives, we often become indifferent to the people around us, the people the inhabit our living. 

 

In the final minutes of their lies, people often report that it is not the material things they have in their lives that matter.   What matters are the people.  The very people we often take for granted or simply seem to not see often give our life definition. People we may have ignored or simply have not really seen might just be the one thing that helps define our living.

 

We need to step out of our busy lives to really live.  We need to share our living with others.  Our blindness to those around us translates into inaction on our part in giving of our selves.  What we forget is that by giving of ourselves, we give them the most precious thing – our attention.  Writer Kathleen Norris talks about our lives having a liturgy of their own and that each life has a sacred rhythm unique to each of us.  Far too often we go through our lives with the mute button pressed down when it comes to hearing the rhythm of those we love and care about.

 

Too many people go through their daily living with blinders on, not really seeing the person standing next to them.  We share common ground and yet act as if we are alone.  We should connect with those around us.  For many, prayer is living, the action of being part of the whole because prayer connects us together.  When we pray for someone we are giving them attention and creating a connection to ourselves.

 

An often heard response to the call for better gun legislation to prevent such violence as has occurred in the past three days with school shootings in the USA is the following mantra:  “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” If taken at face value, that sentence might seem like a true statement.  The fact of the matter is that without the availability to guns, people cannot kill with a gun.  Yesterday a student, a fifteen-year-old teenager walked into his school and injured more people than the number of years he had lived on this earth.  Could he have hurt several with a knife?  Maybe but certainly the odds of those injured and killed would have been much more in their favor if they had only to run from something being held that had a range of just an arm’s length.

 

Yesterday I bought some groceries which means I walked down at aisle in the market that had candy on it.  Candy in and of itself on the shelf did not cause me to gain any weight.  I did not consume calories by simply walking past the bags of M&Ms.  To have those added calories in my system, I have to be able to purchase that candy and then use/eat it.  M&Ms sitting on a shelf will not cause me to gain weight.  They posed no threat to the diabetics who walked past them either.  One cannot own an elephant or a tiger in the United States without proper permits and proving said animal will be taken care of properly.   One cannot operate a car without first passing a test and having insurance in case there is an accident.   It is, however, as easy to purchase a gun in some states as it is a picture frame or a roll of toilet paper.

 

The victims of gun violence are now a part of a team, a team that is crying out for better gun ownership.  No one is safe from being a possible target.  Last year members of Congress were playing an early morning baseball pickup game and became victims.  While there are many motivating factors for these incidents, one thing is clear.  Without access, far too easy access, people who need mental health help are making horrible choices that result in tragic consequences.  We should and must take action.

 

Prayer is action.  Action can take on a different form than just prayer and should involve those in your own daily living, not just victims of terrorism or natural disasters halfway around the world or across the country.  It might be the offer of a ride somewhere.  It might be organizing a group dinner for those with no family during the holidays.  It might be buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line or even just a smile.  The thing to remember is that life is all about action.  

 

Such action saves us from being indifferent to others.  It creates a web in our lives that unites us with the rest of mankind.  It is not just about the person we are praying for or the actions we undertake.  Ultimately these actions benefit most the person who does them.  Such action opens our eyes so that we see not only the need but the pain.  It acknowledges the want without blame or guilt. 

 

We all make decisions about action every hour.  What will I wear?  What will I eat?  Where will I go?  How will I do this task?  It is time to think outside the box of our own being and ask ourselves what action can and should we do today to help another.  After such attacks fear is an easy pit in which to fall but fear is not action.  Fear is a negative emotion.  Fear causes us to become inactive and hide.  We need to take positive action and move forward. 

 

 

Barcelona Benediction

Barcelona Benediction

Detours in Life

Pentecost 32

 

Over two decades ago I moved to another part of the country that was heavily populated.  As is the case with large metropolitan areas, several of the major thoroughfares were under construction.  Detours were in place as roadways were rehabbed, refurbished, and retooled for the increasing number of cars and trucks that traveled them daily.  For ten years we followed the detour signs until the detours became more familiar than the actual interstate highway.

 

The mayhem and chaos of terrorist attacks have once again taken over the international news.  The scenes of crowds running, people being sheltered in place, and the all-too-familiar wail of emergency responders replaced the sounds of a busy city this week in Barcelona, Spain.

 

As is my habit, this blog went dark out of respect for the double-digit number of victims killed and the greater number physically injured.  Such events make even the strongest of us want to hide in our houses and crawl under the covers.  This is not the time for silence, however.  It is a time for action.

 

The Barcelona attack on Thursday was not an isolated event.  Wednesday night a house exploded killing one person in the Spanish town of Alcanar and injuring the firefighters and police who responded to the call.  Thursday a white van careened onto a crowded pedestrian mall in Barcelona with the afore-mentioned casualties.  Spanish Police on Friday shot and killed five people wearing fake bomb belts who staged a car attack in a seaside resort in Spain’s Catalonia region hours.  Authorities said the back-to-back vehicle attacks — as well as the explosion earlier this week elsewhere in Catalonia— were connected and the work of a large terrorist group.

 

Today crowds chanted “No tinc por” meaning “I’m not afraid” in Plaça de Catalunya, Barcelona following the minute silence observed for the victims of the attack in the city.  This is not the time to cower, believing our silence will not only save us but prevent future attacks.  We need to respect freedom of speech and we can without condoning violence.

 

Last weekend a rally was held in Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of the US President Thomas Jefferson.  The result was bedlam and the death of three people, one attending a protest rally to the original white supremacist/nep-Nazi rally and the other two law enforcement answering the call to assist in trying to resolve chaos.  The events Charlottesville were neither sad nor tragic; they were failure. The so-called supremacists did not act supreme in any way. The other side did not show love for all – emphasize – all. We cannot say we are better if we do not act it. We cannot claim love for all mankind if we only mean we love those we like.   At the end of the day, Charlottesville was a lesson in identifying none of us are supreme, right, or seeing the “other” person as equal. It was a mirror reflecting misguided energy.

 

Instead of traveling to march, we need to walk… walk across town to feed the poor, help the homeless, tutor a child, donate to your community, hold the door and smile at a stranger. The best way to support your vision of and for humanity is to be humane.  Instead of spending money on training camps for future terrorists, we should spend money on feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, discovering cures for the illnesses that affect all people.

 

Nature cannot exist apart from its many segments. The sun dries up the rain as it creates new life. Animals need plants; water needs the soil for filtration. We all have a purpose, not a place.   We failed in Charlottesville.  The terrorists failed in Spain.   No death should be a battle cry. It should become a motivation for us all to be better, to use the life we have to live humanely. We are, after all, human – all of us.  What will we choose – chaos or community?

 

William Faulkner believed as those in Barcelona did today that our best respect for those who have perished is to speak up.  “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”

 

Sanctuary

Refugees and Sanctuary

 

Strictly speaking we are all refugees in that the word quite simply means “displaced person”.  At some point, we all have felt out of place, or at least, out of step.  It is when I am most out of step that faith gives me strength and greater understanding, the chaos helping me realize the sanctuary faith affords.

 

It was on my twentieth birthday that the rector stuck his head in the choir room after the service to tell me I had volunteered to be the youth minister. I walked from the university to church but he had found me rides and so, as a most reluctant college junior, I found myself preparing for our first event – a refugee supper.  In the 1970’s the national church had a campaign to assist those coming from Vietnam.  We were to prepare a typical meal for these refugees – rice and soybeans.   Each plate consisted of one cup of rice and soybeans – a dull plate of white, rather tasteless food.  We served five hundred and made more than expected but what really affected the kids was the blandness and lack of color of the meal.  These kids who never ate their vegetables all brought vegetables to our next pot luck.  I can still hear the clown of the group:  “Thank you Lord for this food, this colorful rainbow of blessings, we are about to eat.”

 

In the 1990’s I was the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA and we were asked to sing a sidewalk concert outside the prison for a group of illegal detainees from China.  Known as the men of the Golden Venture, these men were held for over four years and became famous for the 3-D origami art they created while there.  These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes.  Eight years later while working for a state agency I walked into a home of what seemed like a strange group of refugees.  It turned out I had walked into a human trafficking ring and this time faith gave me strength to help disband it.

 

The Beatitudes for me speak of sanctuary in that they provide hope and clarity in understanding what life throws at us.  My experience with refugees, both legal and illegal, is that all are seeking sanctuary.  I am at times a displaced person, someone trying to find their way in life.  Because of that, Jesus came and lived and died – all to provide me and you a sanctuary.  There are sixty-eight Bible verses about “sanctuary” but it really hits home to me when we sing it.  “Lord, prepare me to be sanctuary – pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”  Sometimes we seek the sanctuary and sometimes it is up to us to be it.

 

Build

Build

Epiphany 34

 

There is a great deal of talk worldwide about refugees and people act like it is a new thing.  It isn’t.  Strictly speaking we are all refugees in that the word quite simply means “displaced person”.  At some point, we all have felt out of place, or at least, out of step.  It is when I am most out of step that faith gives me strength and greater understanding, the chaos helping me realize the sanctuary faith affords.

 

It was on my twentieth birthday that the rector stuck his head in the choir room after the service to tell me I had volunteered to be the youth minister. I walked from the university to church but he had found me rides and so, as a most reluctant college junior, I found myself preparing for our first event – a refugee supper.  In the 1970’s the national church had a campaign to assist those coming from Vietnam.  We were to prepare a typical meal for these refugees – rice and soybeans.   Each plate consisted of one cup of rice and soybeans – a dull plate of white, rather tasteless food.  We served five hundred and made more than expected but what really affected the kids was the blandness and lack of color of the meal.  These kids who never ate their vegetables all brought vegetables to our next pot luck.  These kids who had protested eating vegetables their entire lives now realized what a gift they were on the dinner table and how lucky it was to have them to eat.

 

In the 1990’s, as the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA, we were asked to sing a sidewalk concert outside the prison for a group of illegal detainees from China.  Known as the men of the Golden Venture, these men were held for over four years and became famous for the 3-D origami art they created while there, buts of paper napkins folded into beautiful works of sculptural art.  These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes.  These were people trying to escape a Communist regime that allowed for no one to be a dissident; no freedom of thought respected.  Eight hundred men and women had attempted to flee the harsh conditions of their lives.  Their ship, the Golden Venture, did not complete the journey and some perished in the ocean before being pulled out, only to be arrested and some, eventually returned to China.

 

Eight years later while working for a state agency I walked into a home of what seemed like a strange group of refugees.  It turned out I had walked into a human trafficking ring.  My faith gave me strength to help disband it, wading through all the necessary agencies to report it and make sure the case was not lost in the myriad of cases that existed. 

 

My experience with refugees, both legal and illegal, is that all are seeking sanctuary.  I am at times a displaced person, someone trying to find their way in life.  There are sixty-eight Bible verses about “sanctuary” but it really hits home to me when we sing it.  “Lord, prepare me to be sanctuary – pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”  Sometimes we seek the sanctuary and sometimes it is up to us to be it.

 

I have been lucky in my life, although not as lucky as some.  Usually my displaced feelings come from peer pressure, not attempts on my life nor missiles and bombs exploding in my ear.  Still, life is not a competition and displaced feelings are valid regardless of their level of threat to our well-being.  The saving grace in life comes not just from our beliefs and faith but from our actions.

 

I believe that the world needs more bridges and fewer walls.  When we connect, we build bridges and recognize how similar we really are.  The world benefits from our connections when we build them.  Such human bridges serve to strengthen our world and create a better future for us all.  The world will never have enough sanctuaries and it is up to each of us to help build them.

 

 

 

Darkness: Living and Grieving

Darkness: Living and Grieving

Advent 18

 

Advent is often compared to darkness.  For many it signifies the four weeks leading up to Christmas.  However, when it began as a significant event during the fourth and fifth centuries, Advent was a time of preparation for Epiphany, not Christmas.  Advent in the beginning was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). In the beginning, the faithful would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for the celebration of God/s grace come to earth.  Originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.

 

Advent was the dark time, that period in which people had nothing to hold onto, no real proof of what they believed.  They did their fasts out of reverence and each week lit a candle to bring more light to the bleak darkness of nothingness.  Advent represented in the early days the end times of the Church, a time in which faith mattered little.  Faith is described as “the evidence of things unseen” and Advent celebrated that.  Epiphany was the Festival of Lights with faith not seen and manifested.  Grace was now real and living among us.

 

Today marks the fourth anniversary of 26 murders, most being children whose lives had barely started. Tonight I will participate in a service called Lessons and Carols, playing eight different instruments which, hopefully, will help herald the message of good news and belief in the future.  Tonight others will participate in a memorial service for those who died that fateful day.   I wonder what lessons we have learned from those deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary.

 

One lesson is that there were actually 27 murders. A troubled young man shot 20 children, 6 staff members, AND his mother. Then he committed suicide with a weapon.  We forget the responsibility factor when we protest gun laws, when people claim gun ownership is a right, when we go about our daily lives today amid claims it was all a hoax.

 

“Certain unalienable rights” is the core phrase upon which the United States of America was founded. Those 28 that died this day four years ago had the right to live. Our responsibility to them and ourselves goes beyond what we might have in a closet or gun case. It includes providing mental health, protecting our children and yes, intelligent ownership.

Grace came to earth but it is up to us to give it life.  We do this by living and grieving and then by beginning the process all over again, this time using knowledge gained from our past lessons.  May light perpetual continue to shine upon those 28 who died. May those of us living continue to learn and strive to be responsible in living grace.  I ask your prayers for the families as they remember the joy and grace of those for whom we grieve.

Trust-Distrust

True Test

Pentecost 116

 

In a country where all are said to be welcomes, at least for the current time being, and in which a statue stands welcoming all, this weekend’s acts of terrorism beg a discussion of trust…and trust broken.  These welcoming efforts are best dealt with by making sure goals are met and work is organized.  The inscription on the Stature of Liberty gives an air of legitimacy to such efforts of welcoming those to our shores.  However, the land can only support just so many and policies are put into place so that those coming to this country are subject to scrutiny.  However, policies are only as good as the people that lead them and  will be effective and continue the open door policy only if those coming having a willing heart and caring demeanor.  Clearly some would wish to defy these policies which are, at their core, a matter of trust and distrust.

 

An easier way to review the immigrant policies is to think of them as aid organizations.  They do, in fact, give aid to those wishing to live here.  Many are escaping rigid and murderous regimes while others are simply seeking a better life for their families. Like immigrant policies, aid organizations have a standard they must meet and are subject to intense review.  Some prove able to pass; others are not.

 

One such example is Greg Mortenson and “Pennies for Peace”.  Born in Minnesota, Greg Mortenson grew up in missionary schools in Africa, learning to speak Swahili as well as he spoke English.  His parents returned to the United States in time for Greg to graduate high school.  He attended college and earned degree in liberal studies and nursing after a stint in the US Army.  Mortenson began the CAI, Central Asia Institute.  His time with them has been fraught with investigations and repayments of monies.  Although he was the New York Times Bestseller List for over two hundred weeks, having written five or six books, some of his biographical details and stories in his books have been disputed.  Although he was subject to court-ordered restitution, the IRS has not cleared his CAI foundation and he no longer serves as its head.

 

What cannot be denied is the work done with his Pennies for Peace campaign.  The organizations tag line says it all: “Together we can cultivate peace, nurture hope, and change the world—one child at a time.”  So how does this campaign work?  Quoting again from the website:  “Participants collect pennies while learning important lessons about cultural understanding, experiencing the rewards of sharing and working together to bring hope and educational opportunities to children in Central Asia.  A penny in the United States may have little worth, but in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan just a few pennies can buy a pencil and open the door to literacy.”

 

The terrorist acts that occurred in New Jersey, Minnesota, and New York City this past weekend are a call to our faith and put our belief in the ideals of this country to the test.  Those who will react with distrust and fear are playing into the hands of the terrorists.  The definition of terrorism, as defined by the federal government of the U.S.A., is this:  “criminal acts perpetrated on innocent victims for the express purpose of creating terror and fear.”  These villains do not know their victims so they cannot claim they are doing this out of a religious belief or an intent to improve anything.    They just want to create distrust and fear.

 

In 1936 Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston wrote a song entitled “Pennies from Heaven”.  Recorded by Bing Crosby, Billie Holliday, and Frank Sinatra, it became a popular hit.  The phrase “pennies from heaven” came to mean unexpected goodwill or found treasure.  “Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven.  Don’t you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven?”  While the leader of the campaign had some problems and perhaps did not go about his work in the best way possible, the Pennies for peace project was and has been successful.  By placing trust in even something as small as the smallest unit of currency, positive change was possible.  One penny may not seem like a lot but one hundred of them makes a dollar and one hundred of those can equal one hundred dollars.  That can purchase a flock of chickens or two goats that can not only provide food for a family in need but also give them a livelihood.

 

I hope today, if you live in the U.S.A., you go about your living with a smile on your face.  We need to be aware and report what looks askew.  Additional unexploded devices were discovered in New Jersey when two homeless people reported a suspicious backpack.  As a robot sought to disarm the devices they exploded.  Thanks to these two homeless people and their trust in the system, lives were saved.

 

Continue to welcome those who come to our shores with trust but also be diligent in your own living.  While you are at it, find an empty jar and start your own collection of pennies.  I think you might be surprised that you can collect quite a few that will amount to greatness when combined with those of others.   The victims of this weekend’s tragic events did nothing wrong.  They were doing everything right in living as best they could.  We owe it to them to investigate and continue to live our best efforts.  Trust in your ability to make a difference, continue to trust and don’t let terrorists lead you astray.