Needing Others

Needing Others

2018.11.12

Growing Community

 

“A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members — among them the need to need one another.”  When Wendell Berry spoke these words, he said quite a great deal that most of our politicians have forgotten.  After all, their job is to grow a better community for their constituency, whether it is one hundred, one million, or more.

 

When we forget to need one another, we do a series of things.  First, we proclaim ourselves God (insert Allah, G-d, Buddha, or whatever.  We are saying that we do not need anything or anyone else and, my friends, that is simply not true.  John Donne spoke the truth when he said “No man is an island.  No man stands alone.”  There are countless of thousands living “off grid” and yet, they needed something that someone else made, created, or devised in order to do so. 

 

Taylor Brorby wrote in 2012 “We all stumble… I am not naive to tell you it will work out, but it just might, and if you have a community to support you, it ensures that someone is there to catch you if you stumble.”  He also mentioned author Ray Bradbury’s two favorite words – zest and gusto.  “These words are not only fun to say, but encourage us to move, to experience, to acknowledge that life may be difficult — especially if you’re having a crisis — and they also encourage us to move through those emotions to experience life in a new way, to seize and embrace it.”  In explaining Bradbury’s words, Brorby encouraged us to find our community. 

 

In 2005 Dr. Art Lindsley, a Senior Fellow with the CS Lewis Institute wrote an essay based upon a passage from Hebrews:   “…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…. “.  Found in Hebrews chapter 10 verse 24-25, this summarizes one definition and the need for community. 

 

Lindsley continued:  “Although we can gain the power to love others by our times alone with the Lord, that love is never expressed or stimulated except by being with other people. The Greek word for stimulate (paroxysmos) is sometimes used in English: paroxysm. It means “provoke,” “irritate,” “exasperate,” or “stir-up.” It is a word that communicates intense emotion and is almost always used in a negative fashion. For instance, when the Apostle Paul sees the city of Athens “full of” (under) idols (Acts 17:16), his spirit is deeply moved or “provoked” within him. This seems to be a powerful negative reaction to the idolatry that he saw all around him (Acts 17:16). It is because Paul saw the idolatry that he was moved (provoked) as he was, and thus spoke as he did. But in our context, Hebrews 10:19-25, a positive meaning is demanded. The context of the community stimulates—provokes—love and good deeds by all kinds of means. Without community (the church), love and good deeds are not provoked or stimulated. Love is in fact impossible in isolation. Love demands another: God or our brothers and sisters.”

 

CS Lewis spoke about the need for community.  He called it “a vast need”.  The Greek word for assembling together is “episynagoge” and it means “in addition to”.  Community is in addition to ourselves and it is a vital need that we all have.  Mankind is a social animal and when we are isolated, either by choice or by discrimination, we are only half-way functioning. 

 

No one lives a perfect life.  We have stumble, fall flat on our faces, get lost, and fall apart.  I remember hearing a mountain climber discuss his ascent to the highest peak.  “I lost count of how many times I fell and started,” he remarked.  “What I will always remember is the support I had reaching the summit.”  His community kept him going, kept his dream alive, and gave him strength.

 

Community gives us strength.  It affords us the chance to fail and then learn from our failings.  When we insist on our community only being comprised of perfect people, then we have set ourselves up to be unsuccessful.  Diversity is the blood-force that keeps life going.  Our communities need diversity if they are to flourish and we need communities to succeed.  We need communities to give us a chance to live and thrive, prosper and grow.

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.

My Neighbor’s Faith

My Neighbor’s Faith – A Collection of Essays on Diversity

2018.08.26

Literature and Life

 

We live in a diverse world.  That is a statement no one can refute.  It is a fact.  What is also true, sadly, is that many fear diversity.  Almost every single minute part of creation, of our world, is unique.  Diversity is not just a trendy term used about by politicians.  It is a fact.  No two snowflakes are exactly alike, no two roses, people, etc.  Recently I saw the word diversity explained this way:

Diversity means:

D – ifferent

I – ndividuals

V – aluing

E – achother

R – egardless of

S – kin

I – ntellect

T – alents or

Y – ears

 

Diversity leads to growth and a better world.  Instead, history has shown that it often leads to hatred and violence.  Writer and television executive Gene Roddenberry once said ““If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”

 

The featured book for today is “My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation”, edited by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley.  The book is a collection of fifty-three essays, divided as one might a travelogue.  I think this is fitting since these essays invite us to embark on self-exploration in celebrating diversity and our neighbor.

 

Dr. Thomas Szasz, doctor of psychiatry wrote “The Myth of Mental Illness” and he had some strong words about diversity.  ““The plague of mankind is the fear and rejection of diversity: monotheism, monarchy, monogamy and, in our age, monomedicine. The belief that there is only one right way to live, only one right way to regulate religious, political, sexual, medical affairs is the root cause of the greatest threat to man: members of his own species, bent on ensuring his salvation, security, and sanity. ”

 

I have written about this book over the past four years of this blog and I still read it at least once a year.  It encourages me to continue to encounter a new neighbor, look with fresh eyes upon my own home and those of others,  to consider redrawing the maps of my comfort zone, unpacking and trying on new beliefs and new ways to live my treasured tenets of faith and living, to step across the lines of my comfort zone, to seek out fellow travelers, and do whatever I can to repair the brokenness in our world.

 

At a university commencement speech in June of 1963, then President of the US John F. Kennedy spoke his truths on diversity.  “If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

 

This series has been more for the writer than the reader and how reading can broaden one’s knowledge and talent.  I seriously encourage all to read this book, published in 2012.  Perhaps essays are not quite your cup of tea.  I still encourage you to read this book.  Albert Einstein once remarked:  “Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else.”

 

 

 

 

Color Blind

Color Blind

Detours in Life

Pentecost 29

 

A friend on Facebook asked how in the world the American Civil Liberties Union could have sanctioned the white supremacist rally scheduled for August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am neither an attorney nor a member so I certainly and most definitely do not speak for the ACLU.  However, knowing their mission, I do think perhaps they felt it was an opportunity for the conveyance of civil liberties guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

 

The melee that became this event, the murderous action that resulted in injury to almost twenty people and the deaths of three was not civil.  It was, most definitely, an excuse to be everything except civil.  The right to free speech is not a guaranteed right to hate nor does it give one the right to inflict bodily harm or the spewing of insults.

 

Color is not a right. Color is a hue, shading that adds interest, not something designed to detract from one’s unalienable rights given by God/the Creator/Allah/ science and pertinent laws.  There are no scientific bases for discrimination and I will discuss that more in detail in tomorrow’s post.

 

Today I simply ask that you go about your daily living color blind.  If you cannot appreciate all colors, including those of the epidermis of mankind, then disregard all color.  Perhaps that will afford you the opportunity to appreciate diversity.  It is a most interesting and beautiful world because of that diversity.  I hope and pray that today you realize that.  Detour from your usual thinking and simply breathe in the diversity that the world has to offer.  Allow yourself the freedom to let others be just that – beautiful, different, and free.

Different Strokes

Different Strokes

Advent 26

 

In 1966 a Kansas newspaper interviewed the boxer known as Cassius Clay about an upcoming fight.  The boxer, more famously known as Mohammed Ali, replied:  “I got different strokes for different folks.”  A year later a rhythm and blues singer released a single called “Different Strokes” and used Ali’s quote in the song.  It appeared a year later in the Sly and the Family Stone hit “Everyday People” and was later the impetus for the title of a television program ten years later.

 

Although Mohammed Ali might have put a more modern spin on the saying, it actually dates back several centuries.  In the later 1500’s there was a saying “To each his own” with an accepted version being frequently heard in the 1700’s.    A reader asked me what one phrase or quote defined grace.  I think one of the first definitions can be traced through these sayings to the first century ACE and even earlier. 

 

“One man’s meat is another man’s poison” is accredited to Lucretius during the first century BCE.  “De gustibus non est disputandum” or “There is no accounting for tastes” was also a popular saying and it evolved into the sixteenth century French saying “Chacun a son gout” or Each to his own taste.

 

I stroke my pets and it is, I am certain, a much different stroke than those delivered by Mohammed Ali to an opponent.  And yet, each allows for individuality.  To me, grace is recognizing that we are indeed individuals.  One person’s food allergies are poison to them while another might eat a great deal of the very same item with no adverse effects.  This does not mean one person is better than the other.  It simply means one is different from the other.

 

Respect is the one thing we all want and need.  Living in grace means, in my humble opinion, to show respect to all.  Whether you say “Different stroke for different folks” or Different stroke for different blokes”, the meaning is the same.  Life can sometimes hinder us and it can be very hard.  Having respect shown to us can make the journey easier.  As the theme song of the television show states: “Now, the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum, what might be right for you, may not be right for some.”

 

 

Diversity

Diversity

Pentecost 138

 

The University of Alabama, a major university whose football team is again competing for the national number one slot in collegiate football and is forty miles from Hale County, Alabama.  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 a rural and an impoverished area 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 changed its name two years ago to what is is – the Sawyerville Day Camp. On paper it is a day camp, a diocesan 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 one camp session that they attend, 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.   Supported by many people, all but a handful being volunteers, a literacy program was added two years ago as a part of this day camp and is known as the Yellowhammer Literacy Project, named after the state bird.

 

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.

 

The humanitarian efforts of the Sawyerville Day Camp are made possible with the help and efforts 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. 

 

Sawyerville Day Camp is a living, breathing example of diversity in action.  The ordinary hot humid days of an Alabama summer are transformed into something Extraordinary because people move with their hearts and see beauty in each child, not difference in skin color.  We all have the opportunity to make something remarkable and life-changing happen if we only try.   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.  Sawyerville Day Camp is an example of how diversity can be the strongest tie that binds.

A Folk Tale

The Three: Willow, Branch, Leaf

Family of Man – Harvest

Pentecost 115

 

As promised, here is the story of Willow, Branch, and Leaf.

 

It is said that the creator looked through the clouds one day and saw a need for shade.  The heat from the sun provided much for the world but the people were beginning to spread their own type of heat – anger.  Grieved at this, a tear fell from the creator’s eye and from it, a tree grew.  The tree could bend and move as no other and it was called “willow” from the word meaning to roll and turn.

 

Beneath the willow tree three plants grew.  One grew outside the tree’s shade while another used the tree trunk to grow tall.  Still another stood straight and offered shade to plants around it, much like the willow tree did.   The plants provided food for the people who became more loving in the shade of the tree.  They reached out to each other more and life was good.

 

Nearby there were three sisters living together.  Different in appearance, the sisters loved each other and stayed together.  They believed their being together made them strong.  A visitor soon entered their life and spoke of other places and other customs.  Several nights later one of the sisters had disappeared and within the week another was gone.  The remaining sister blamed the visitor and cast him out.  She never spoke to strangers again and grieved deeply for her sisters.

 

Time passed and then the same visitor appeared.  This time he was accompanied by the second sister.  She told the elder sister that she had not meant to cause her grief but had wanted to grow and so had gone to see the different places the visitor had described.  She had come home now and had many different ways to improve their land.  The sisters hugged and were overjoyed.

 

One day after much time had passed the third sister appeared with her own family.  She was welcomed by her sisters and asked why she had stayed away so long.  “I needed to grow”, she replied.  “I also wanted to see the world, to make my own way.”  She also offered advice on different ways to do things but unlike her other sister, she eventually went back to her new home.  The sisters did stay in touch, secure in their love for each other which time had not dimmed.

 

A willow tree is very flexible and yet it is also quite strong.  Once believed to have possessed magical powers, its leaves are often used to help combat fevers.  Our folk tale of a willow tree being used to help alleviate heat has some scientific bearing.  The willow is one of the strongest trees, bending to the wind but never fully snapping or being brought to death by other forces of nature. 

 

The family of man is like the willow tree with all its different varieties.  We cannot ignore our differences but neither should we forget our similarities.  When we plant strong roots in our being of goodness and kindness, we will grow and flourish wherever we are.  Nothing can truly take away our love of family when we allow it to grow.  We too need to branch out and stretch ourselves both mentally and physically.  Through our actions of kindness and goodness, we drop leaves that can grow within other environs and improve the world.  Willow branches are said to be used by those believing in magic.  We can create the magic of goodness when we use our skills and actions for good. 

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu knows the value of our stretching and growing to spread seeds of goodness.  “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”  The family of man will grow when we remember to do good, not evil.