Try and Trying

Epiphany 11


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


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


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


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


“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”  A life lived selfishly is a life half-lived.  Being of service to others does not limit your own being, it expands it.  We’ve discussed the benefits of volunteering but perhaps we need to refresh our memories.  Those who spend time helping others are healthier physically and emotionally.  You may thing you haven’t the time but really you need to find that time.  Your life really might just depend upon it.  A decade ago businesses were encouraged to allow workers to donate time to local schools to serve as mentors for young readers.  Those participating in the programs would spend two hours a week at a local school having children read to them, helping when needed to sound out words.  While reading scores were improved so was the health of those volunteers.  They reported less stress and an overall happier sense of self.  They began to care about their own personal health and without even realizing it, adopted better lifestyle practices which resulted in a lower healthcare cost for the businesses involved in the program.  The loss of two hours of productivity from being away from their job site was more than compensated by the higher productivity of the happier and healthier employees.


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



Pentecost 192


Tomorrow those in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving.  For many that will mean a day of traveling and being together with family; for others the start of the holiday shopping season and for even more, a day dedicated to eating.  Each of these can be a double-edged sword.  The only way some can shop is if others are working.  Traveling at a time when everyone else is traveling guarantees gridlock and long lines at security checkpoints as well as the impossible to schedule weather delays.  The weekend always seems dedicated to college rivalries being played out on the football field and often this polarizes family get-togethers instead of unifying.


Thanksgiving is not an American novelty.  Thanksgiving is celebrated worldwide, though not always on the fourth Thursday of November.  The August Moon Festival in China, Tet Trung Thu in Vietnam, Pongal in India and Chusok in Korea are just some of the many celebrations designed to give thanks that are celebrated around the globe.  Even the ancient Romans had such a harvest celebration.  Theirs was known as Cerelia in honor of the goddess Ceres, the goddess of corn. 


Perhaps the most fitting celebration of harvest and family takes place in Korea on August 15th.  Before eating the celebratory meal, families gather together on the evening of August 14th to honor their ancestors.  Dances are done by the children in the moonlight in remembrance of the past to celebrate the present and give hope to the future.    As we celebrate symbolically the coming together and the harvest of the fields and give thanks for the food which we have, we need to remember the most important harvest of all – that of friends and family. 


Unless we are mathematicians, most of us fail to realize the important of exponents in our lives.  Exponents are one of those things in mathematics that cause most of us to roll our eyes and close our ears.  We are convinced they are difficult and impossible to not only understand but also learn and use.  The truth is, we are the cause, the result, and the definition of exponential growth just by being.  How can it be such a foreign thing to us when it is what we are?


I like the game of chess but dislike some of its rigidity.  That should tell you that I know very little about actually playing the game because in truth, the possibilities are not rigid but endless, much like the game of life.  During political campaigns, it seems like there are a plethora of things a candidate can and cannot do.  Most recently, in the United States Presidential race, it would seem that a candidate should not conduct themselves respectfully of others.  We all tend to allow exponential growth of a perceived enemy to exist while denouncing their good qualities.  It is ridiculous, of course, but it is how populations have reacted throughout time.  Populations themselves are a great example of exponential growth because populations exist, grow, change, and fade away all through exponential growth and its control.


Mathematically speaking, exponential growth is the increase that results when the growth rate of something is directly proportional to its current value.  Pretend we are standing on the banks of a lovely pond and we see one water lily pod floating on the water.  Each day we meditate by the pond and notice the growth rate of our water lilies.  The second day we have two; the third day, four.  The water lilies are doubling each day and by the end of the month, day 30, they cover half of the pond. So how long will it take the water lilies to completely cover the pond’s surface – another thirty days?  No.  When we visit the pond tomorrow we will see that it will be completely covered, due to exponential growth.


This series has been about making the ordinary time of Pentecost something extraordinary.  We haven’t invented anything new, cured any plagues, or discovered buried treasure.  What we have discussed is how to live better, create more happiness, and share the wealth that life has already afforded us.  We are using our being to exponentially grow a better world.


A great way to think of giving thanks is to remember the following example from Khan Academy regarding exponential growth, based on various folktales about how the game of chess was invented..  You are offered a job, which lasts for 7 weeks. You get to choose your salary:  First option – you get $100 for the first day, $200 for the second day, $300 for the third day. Each day you are paid $100 more than the day before.   Second Option – You get 1 cent for the first day, 2 cents for the second day, 4 cents for the third day. Each day you are paid double what you were paid the day before.


As I mentioned, this is a variation on the rice and the chessboard story of how chess was invented.  The Indian fable tells of a ruler being so delighted with an old man inventing the game of chess that he offers him a reward of the old man’s choosing.  The old man, according to the Indian tale, request a grain of rice be placed on the first square of the chess board, double that number on the second square, double that number on the third square, etc.  An Islamic version of this story was included in a book written by Ibn Khallikan in 1260 which uses wheat instead of rice.  In each version of this story, the game of chess was used to illustrate how the ruler should treat his subjects with humanity in order to be successful.


Also in each version, the request is thought to be frivolous and quickly granted.  However, soon the true exponential growth factor is apparent.  Exactly how much would such a request create in terms of rice or wheat?  You could try it yourself but you’d need to make a lot of trips to the market.  Such a reward would be enough to feed 100 tons of rice to every single human on Planet Earth. That’s 1 kg of rice per day per human for 275 long years. Economically speaking, that is more than a millennium worth of global rice production since we grow and produce approximately 100 million tons annually.


Let’s return to our example from the Khan Academy regarding salary.  Which choice would you have chosen?  For the first choice, the person earns $2800 in week 1, then $7700, $12600, $17500, $22400, $27300 then $32200, for a grand total of $122,500.  That is not a bad salary but the second choice, due to exponential growth, is the better choice.  For the doubling scheme, the person earns $1.27 in week 1, then $162.56, $20807.68, $2,663,383.04, $340,913,029.12, $43,636,867,727.36 then $5,585,519,069,102.08 for a total of $5,629,499,534,213.11. I certainly would rather have five trillion dollars than a little over one hundred thousand!


When we focus on someone’s faults, they seem to grow exponentially.  We seldom realize that goodness can do the same.  By allowing our strengths to double, by putting value on them rather than placing value on our faults, we allow ourselves a better future, an extraordinary future.  The choice is ours – positive growth based on kindness and respect or negative growth which results from fear and narrow-minded approaches.  Remember, the rate of exponential growth is determined by the current value. 


A single grain of rice is not very big; neither does a single good deed seem like huge action.  However,  the results of the old man’s reward, all his grains of rice placed end to end, would cover a distance of 60,000,000,000,000 miles. How far is that? Alpha Centauri, the nearest star, is located 25,000,000,000,000 miles from Earth. Placed end to end, these grains of rice would reach farther than from the Earth, across space to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, and back to Earth again – sixty trillion miles.  Never underestimate the value of a smile or a good deed.  Exponentially it could be extraordinary!


As we begin to prepare for our celebratory weekend, I hope we remember that blessings can grow exponentially.  By focusing on the positive and not the negative, we can reap a harvest of gratitude that will lead to a lifetime of thanksgiving and make the ordinary something extraordinary.

Life Happens – Again and Again

Life Happens – Again and Again

Pentecost 179


Sometimes things don’t go like we had planned.  Maybe the car won’t start so you are late to that meeting.  Maybe the store was out of your secret ingredient for your holiday casserole.  Maybe you discovered that you thought you had scheduled a blog post only to discover there was a glitch in the system.  Maybe the power went off overnight and so your alarm didn’t go off.  Maybe you split coffee on your tie right before you walked out of the house.  None of these things were really your fault and yet, you are the one who has to make things right.  Maybe your candidate lost and yet, you still need to pledge allegiance to the winner.  After all, life happens.


In past discussions we have talked about how practice makes perfect.  The same is true when it comes to basic living.  We plan for the successes in life but it is the “oops!” and “goofs” that really build strength.  We seldom practice success; it is its own reward.  What we practice are the mistakes either we made or life just threw our way.  By practicing, we gradually overcome and learn.  We gain strength but also confidence to move ahead in life.  We feel we can take on another project, which comes with a new set of challenges.  Because they are new, these challenges come with their own set of mistakes.  And the process starts all over again.  Life happens,


As adults, we tend to overlook that learning process, the series of one step forward and two steps backwards that we all make.  In a few brief weeks we will end our Pentecost series on altruism and begin a new series, an Advent series.   Advent is a time of learning.  For the nonspiritual among us it is a time of reflection.  Television and radio programs are already having “End of the Year in Review’ programs, reflecting on what was and looking ahead to what will be.  For those celebrating Advent, it is a time to prepare with a wee bit of reflection thrown in.  It is a time to reflect on one’s spirituality, the good and the bad, and how to improve.  Life is not about standing still.


Last year I took a class, a wonderful class, on spiritual practices.  I took the class because I was about to begin a series on prayer and was positive prayer would be a huge component in the curriculum of the class.  I was wrong.  Life happens.


The class focused on the spirituality within each of us as we go about our daily livings.  It was less on the “churchy” things we tend to tack on to such things as prayer and more about the mundane everyday things we all have to do … or should do.  Instead of hearing someone talk about how to pray I heard about washing the dishes.  Was this an “Oops!” moment?


Trying to define altruism is both very easy and intrinsically complex.  The word spiritual is equally difficult to define.  If you read my series on prayer last year, then you might remember that after presenting you with all the complex definitions of prayer, I summarized it down to one word – conversation.  I am certain each of us defines “spiritual” in our own way and we could go through a host of definitions.  To many people, it is synonymous with being religious but for others, it is a distinct and different approach to life than being religious.  For me, a spiritual life is a connected life.  I define spiritual as just that – connected.


The “Everyday Spiritual Practices” class I took was a great class but it did not discuss praying.  What it did discuss was being connected to our living, being present in the moment.  Coaches tell athletes that they need to be “present in the moment.”  What they are really saying is forget about that last pass you didn’t catch, the goal you didn’t make; live the play at hand.  It is great advice…in the moment.  Tomorrow, though, after the game is over, that same coach will spend all day going over the game and showing the players where they made their mistake.  That coach will point out where the player was supposed to turn so that he could have caught the ball or how distraction from a guard threw the passer off a bit so that a ball caught and then thrown was too far to the right to hit the basket.  Today they need to live in the moment to win the game but tomorrow they will live in the past to prepare for the future.


Such a habit of living and learning is great for sports but it doesn’t do much for our spiritual life and yes, even atheists have a spiritual life.  We all have a soul, a spirit within us.  We all exist and by existing, we are connected to other things and people.  Even the homeless are connected, maybe not to a structural house but to their own favorite place to sleep on the ground, their comfortable blanket or hat. 


We all have what St Augustine called “ordo amoris”, an ordering our loves.  In other words, we have things we love and place a priority on those things.  We also place a priority on the everyday mundane tasks that life requires; washing dishes, doing laundry, keeping the car in working order and filled with gas.  Few of us love doing those mundane tasks but they allow us to live and do what we do love or need to do.  Can these things possible be spiritual?  Are they a part of our prayer life?


Who are you?  What is your personal “ordo amoris”?  Does it include helping others?  None of us are born with a warranty tag attached under our arms or on the back of our necks.  Life happens.  The importance of prayer, that conversation we have with our faith as we live, keeps us sane and emphasizes our being connected.  Our spirituality, that which connects us to our universe and life, tells us we are alive.  Life happens and so, we need to live it.  It is scary and exhilarating.  It needs reflection and preparation.  It demands we are present in the moment.  Life happens and so should altruism.  It is in how we respond to those “Oops!” moments sand reach out to others that we truly define ourselves.  It is how we act rather than react than makes us extraordinary rather than ordinary. 

Your Vote

Your Vote

Pentecost 173


Earlier this year I wrote about liking ourselves and using that new-found favorable opinion of ourselves to make a difference. There are many things we can all do to create positive change.  One way is to vote.  Another is to make sure what we say truly reflects what we believe and is not just being said for humor.  Life deserves much more than a thirty second sarcastic sound bite, as one man discovered.


In an earlier post I told you about a guy who uses a bicycle instead of driving a car that would pollute the environment.  He takes commercial airplanes and lives modestly.  He is the youngest writer to have worked for the legendary comedian and humanitarian Bob Hope and is the comic genius behind such movies as Evan Almighty, Bruce Almighty, Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, and others.  He has taught in colleges in California, Colorado, and Tennessee.  And once upon a time, he almost died and discovered death was no laughing matter.


“Facing my own death brought a sense of clarity and purpose,” Tom Shadyac told Oprah Winfrey once in an interview. “If I was, indeed, going to die, I asked myself: What did I was to say before I went? It became very simple and very clear. I wanted to tell people what I had come to know. And what I had come to know is that the world I was living in was a lie.”  Shadyac’s recuperation included starting a foundation, the Foundation for I AM.  “Ultimately, the goal of the Foundation for I AM is to help usher in a more loving, kind, compassionate, and equitable world for all.”


The mission of the Foundation for I Am is quite simple:  “The specific purpose of this corporation is to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of those impoverished in our society. We will use our resources to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the sick, and help heal the natural world; we will also serve those in spiritual need, those suffering from a different kind of poverty, a poverty of perspective and purpose, through educational programs and media that will foster a dialogue around the ideals of love, compassion, kindness and empathy. In addition, we will financially support existing non-profits whose work is kindred with the Foundation’s principles.” 


Some of the organizations and missions supported include St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital which treats and seeks cures and prevention for pediatric catastrophic diseases without charging parents for such services.  The Haven at First and Market Streets is a community service center for the homeless and very poor in Central Virginia.  The International Charity Invisible Children seeks to end the war in Uganda and the abduction of children for use as child soldiers.  The mission of The MY HERO Project is to use media, art and technology to celebrate the best of humanity one story at a time.


By integrating the Fine Arts and science with the needs of Mankind, Shadyac offers us all a chance to redefine who we are and the opportunity to discover who each of us really is.  He reminds us that we can redefine who we are every day by the hope we live and give to others. 


We don’t need a big screen or even an art gallery to connect with the artistic side of our souls.  We can become donors for St Jude’s or other charities via the Internet or local contributions.  What the Foundation for I Am really does is remind us we are all connected and how we honor those connections defines that “I am”.  As we wind down our series on making the ordinary days something more, something positive, we will review just how we all can bring about a difference in life. 


What do you want the definition of your life to be?  How are you going to make it happen?  You are truly the master of the ship called your life.  No one can make you into something better unless you become an active part of that effort.  We should not simply follow the crowd but make informed decisions that reflect what we want our lives to be and to encompass.  A better self is possible if we work for it and that better self will lead to a better world and future.


One way to make today something great is to exercise your right in the USA to vote.  Many of the poll workers across the country today will be immigrants, not because they are trying to overtake but because they know, really know, the value and privilege it is to cast a vote, privately and without pressure or threat of life.  I will vote today for the person I would want eating at my table, talking to my children, sitting on the floor with my pets because really, leadership is being someone who makes life better for us all by sharing it with us.

Electing to …

Electing to ….

Pentecost 170


In 2011 author Judith O’Reilly decided to do one good deed every day.  In an article written for the London-based Daily Mail’s online publication fittingly known as “Mail Online”, columnist Bianca London interviewed O’Reilly.  ‘I didn’t realize when I made the resolution that New Year what I was taking on,’ she says in the epilogue to her book.  “I’d made resolutions before… but the idea of doing one good deed a day morphed into something else again.  ‘This year made me question what a good life is, how we give our lives meaning, and what it is to love.  ‘It also taught me that people don’t always want the good you want to do, and that doing good – believe you me – is harder than it looks.”


Today in the United States, voters are twenty-four hours away from electing a new President of the United States of America.  It has been an election that many claim is unlike any other.  A candidate considered to be ill-suited has parlayed his lack of experience into an asset.  The more experienced candidate has been criticized for living a life that – well, gave her experience.   However those voting choose to vote, I hope they  will focus on the spirit of living and remember that, through our voting, we show our the beliefs we profess to hold dear.


I recently got called out by a person regarding my “seemingly liberal views” in a comment.  I always enjoy feedback and often answer direct questions.  I respect everyone for having a point of view because I also have a point of view.  However, this person asked me to apologize and explain my stance so, my first deed suggestion for this series, is ….respect.


Earlier this year I told you about my attending a lecture series having five parts.  The last speaker talked about the environment and said several things that were, scientifically, not factual.  Did I stand up and scream “Liar!”?  No, of course I did not.  This person had the right as an invited speaker to say what they wished.  I deeply regret that some people walked out of the meeting thinking erroneous facts but respect for another required that I say nothing.  There were several courses of actions I could have taken afterwards.  One would have been to engage the speaker in some polite chatter and asked for their references, casually mentioning what I felt might have been said in error.  Another would have been to send them a letter comparing my references with theirs and asking for what clarification or reconciliation they knew.  A third would have been to accept that the series was more about gathering together than about academic learning and that others probably realized this as well.


I elected the third course of action, out of respect.  Was it a pleasing choice?  No, not really but I do believe it to have been the best.  I could, of course, be entirely wrong about that and would love to hear your thoughts.  I sincerely hope no one left the meeting and became a vegetarian because of the speaker’s comments that beef cattle are ruining the atmosphere with the amount of methane gas they discharge.  The truth is that dairy cattle produce twice as much methane gas as beef cattle.  Becoming a vegetarian may be the best health choice for someone but such a decision should be based on health and religious reasons, not a misspoken statement given in a speech.


Was I disappointed that the speaker gave out erroneous information, this being just one example?  Naturally I was but again, that is the decision this person made.  We all make such decisions, whether it is to jaywalk or pull into a parking place someone else had their eye on or even to short tip a server for their services.  These decisions reflect on our being and illustrate our own spirit of living.


I will not apologize to my readers for being a liberal because I don’t think of myself that way.  Reminding that the person screaming about one man’s infidelity also committed infidelity in his own marriage and did so in his multiple marriages does not necessarily make me a liberal.  It means simply that I have a brain and memory and am putting both to use.


I firmly believe if we put eight people in a room and ask them one question each regarding the topics of religion, faith, lifestyle choices, or even just fashion preferences, for each question we would probably receive at least twelve difference answers.  We should insist everyone think exactly the same as we do.  We must respect another person’s right to their own opinion, even when it contradicts their own actions.


It is that contradiction that I hope to illustrate and, perhaps, cause us to consider.  I firmly believe most of us are good people and try to live good lives.  We sometimes just don’t stop to think and yes, that includes me.  Never think I hold myself up as a sterling example.  I am, as my bio states, a struggling wanderer on the road of life and I have fallen into more than my fair share of pot holes and taken wrong turns in life.


Life is a journey and I hope in this blog and particularly in this series, to offer a few ways to make that journey a little more pleasurable and effective.  I hope I have, in this series for Pentecost, challenged you during this series to make this time a little less ordinary and a bit more productive – both for the world, your community, and most importantly, yourself.


“You were ordered to obey to Allah, and you were created to perform good deeds.”  While I do not identify as a Muslim, I really do appreciate this quote.  The author is considered to be the first person to convert to Islam, being a cousin to Muhammad.   As a collector of quotations, he is among my favorites.  Respect today that wisdom knows no labels or sectarian divides and do yourself a favor by reading up on this man and some of his quotations.


William Shakespeare once wrote “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”  We can all do our little part to make the world a better place.  It is, in every religion and spirituality, part of the credo for living.  Whether liberal or conservative, non-religious person or devout, doing good just makes good sense.  It doesn’t take a lot of money to create a smile.


As those of us in the USA go to the polls to vote tomorrow, I hope we will vote for a better tomorrow for all and not simply allow fear to be our compass.  The point of living is not to do so in sixty-second sound bites but to make a meaningful and lasting positive impression.  Richelle Goodrich sums it up very succinctly:  “Every sunrise is an invitation for us to arise and brighten someone’s day.”


Solipsism – Part Three

Solipsism – Part Three

Pentecost 166


“Dubito ergo sum.”  We have discussed how solipsism began perhaps with Rene Descartes famous quote “Cogito ergo sum.”  Someone protested as to the literal translation.  Latin is considered a dead language but the truth is that it never really lived except as a written text.  Based upon the century and the class structure, Latin varied much like colloquialisms do in many areas. Of concern to us in this third part of our discussion on solipsism is not the exact translation of Descartes famous saying but the entirety of it.


Descartes did indeed state “Cogito ergo sum” but he followed it with “Dubito ergo sum” – “I doubt therefore I am.”  Solipsism can be a great tool for maintaining one’s calm, I believe.  When faced with a dark pathway, it is comforting to know that the reality is one’s self moving forward, not imagined scary things that go bump in the night.


I never conversed with Descartes but I believe he was encouraging us to use our brains.  To think is to be alive and to doubt is to learn.  The person who claims to know everything is a fool, in my humble opinion.  No one knows all.  Can we ever know all that there is to learn?  I certainly hope not.


Phillip K. Dick once said: “Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. . . If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness.”


When we believe that we are the only truth, then we disregard and devalue others.  We put ourselves above everything else.  We lose our connection with each other and even our own reality.  We become something impossible – the past, present and future as well as all of creation.  Life is the sum efforts of all that has been and alal that is but it is also the vision of what may yet to be. 


What makes tomorrow worth waiting for is the dream of what might be, the possibility of a better world.  The living we do today is important but perhaps its real value is in paving the way for a superior day yet to be. 



Pentecost 159


Many times it is either education or work that opens our eyes.  Sometimes, as Wednesday’s post mentioned, it can even be fear.  Most world leaders that are not dictators have very little power.  Their duty, their primary duty is to inspire.


“We cannot close ourselves off to information and ignore the fact that millions of people are out there suffering. I honestly want to help. I don’t believe I feel differently from other people. I think we all want justice and equality, a chance for a life with meaning. All of us would like to believe that if we were in a bad situation someone would help us.”  Actress Angelina Jolie is as well known for her movies as for her beauty.  It may be hard to believe but she was once that outsider in her school – the girl with glasses and braces that no one befriended.  Through the adoption of her first child, she found a calling and a way to not only lend aid but to inspire.  Jolie not only committed to her first son, she made a commitment to the children of the world.  As a humanitarian she has traveled the globe and helped inspire others to also help.


It can really be that simple.  You do something and somebody else follows.  Behavior is contagious.  We usually say that about inappropriate behavior but it is also true for good behavior patterns.  “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”  Jane Goodall’s words may not seem like they could change the world but they speak the truth.


American statesman Thomas Jefferson once said “Action will delineate and define you.”  We are all doing something.  Right now you are reading this blog.  Earlier I wrote it.  What comes next?  Will you simply sit back and ignore that people are starving and children are freezing or will you contribute to a food bank and go through your closet donating items you don’t need or haven’t worn for several years?


Recently candidates for the Presidency of the United States lost two opportunities to inspire people.  Instead they engaged in destructive rhetoric.  Most of us will never have such public forums as these two candidates did this week but we do have a platform in our own corner of the world.  Edward Everett Hale was a nineteenth century historian, writer, and Unitarian clergyman who once stated “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”


We are all someone.  We may not have won multiple awards or have plentiful bank accounts but we can do something.  What will you do today that benefits another?  When we help someone, we help ourselves.  When we help someone, we help the world.  We can all do something.

Your Voice, Your Vote

Your Voice

Pentecost 141


This is the time to manifest what one believes, to not only “talk the talk” but “walk the walk”.  This is the Time to live the revelation that tells what life is all about and what your life means.  This post is definitely for my American readers in the United States but it applies to everyone who has the chance to make your voice count by voting.  What is a voter?  A voter is someone with the chance to make their voice heard politically, someone who cares and then puts that caring into action by voting.   Isn’t it really what we all are put here to do?


“The thinking man must oppose all cruel customs, no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another, even the lowliest creature; but to do so is to renounce our manhood and shoulder a guilt which nothing justifies.”  Albert Schweitzer was not talking being a voter when he made this statement but it certainly fits.


IN this series we have discussed using our time, talents, and skills to make the world a better place, to turn the ordinary doldrums of living into extraordinary moments.  Voting is another way to help create the future and preserve freedoms.   I can promise you two things:  You are someone who can make a difference and no, it will not always be easy or popular.  Earlier this year I told you about the time I left a meeting because a song that was going to be sung contained a derogatory term, a word of discrimination that I felt I could support.  My leaving attracted no attention but it still made a statement.  I did not want to leave.  It was a great meeting with really great people but…I could not contribute to the discrimination of a group of people either.   I took a stand. 


We may not think one vote counts but it does.  Voters take a stand for their cause.  They give a voice to their cause.  We often overlook the power of speech.  Ask someone who has difficulty with speaking and you will suddenly realize how important it is.  For the six million to ten million in the United States alone with speech impediments, life is not easy.  They are sixty-one percent more likely to be bullied and eighty-two percent more likely to be unemployed, despite their talents, intellect, and skills.


In that post about my leaving a meeting in January I also told you about a young man with great potential.  our years ago this past October marked the anniversary of the death of that charming seventeen-year-old young man named James.  Attractive with a great personality, it seemed like his future was bright with potential.  For James, reality was much different that the outward appearances.  He was bullied and lived in fear of being asked questions by his teachers, questions that would require an oral response aloud in class.  His online persona was delightful but his in-person persona was shy and reticent.  Teased and bullied whenever he spoke, James preferred to let his computer do his talking.  You see, James was a stutterer.  The world saw only that one simple characteristic and heard only the hesitated speech, not the beautiful thoughts.  On a fall day in Virginia, James ended the abuse and took his own life.


Malcolm Fraser would have understood James’ pain.  He had lived that same pain, that same fear, that same grief.  In 1947, Fraser was a successful businessman in spite of also being a stutterer.  He endowed and established the Stuttering Foundation which offers assistance and guidance to those who stutter and also researches the causes.


For those who have been the chance to make their voice heard, even if it is not fluid speech, the results are usually quite successful.  Four months before James’ death, a gala was held in New York City to introduce a film entitled “Stuttering and the Big Cats’. Its producer, director, writer, and featured human being was Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, president and CEO of the New-York based nonprofit Panthera.   


“Alan’s courage is particularly inspiring to young people whose career paths have yet to be decided and for whom stuttering often seems an insurmountable obstacle. Through hard work, perseverance and dedication to his true passions, Alan never let stuttering hold him back from his quest to help endangered animals,” said Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation. “We are proud to make this video available and hope that every young person who stutters has an opportunity to hear Alan’s story.”


Panthera was founded in 2006 and is a leading organization devoted to the conservation of big cats.  “I recall vividly as a child staring at a jaguar as he paced in his cage at the zoo,” said Alan Rabinowitz, president and CEO of Panthera. “He was trapped, seeking a way out of a dark world, something I related to strongly at the time. And I knew then that when I found my voice, I would use it for him, for saving big cats around the world. My love for wildlife and the urgency needed to save the big cats helped me overcome stuttering. This life-long quest has resulted in Panthera – which is now my platform for speaking loudly for, and working to save, some of the planets greatest species.”


Both Malcolm Fraser and Dr. Alan Rabinowitz are people who have found their voice.  My small act of rebellion yesterday in standing up for those who suffer from such issues may have seemed inconsequential but if we all stood up and used our voices to stop bullying and discrimination, we could accomplish miracles.  Not everyone can create a great foundation or work in such a visible position as Dr. Rabinowitz.  Most of us will never attend a grand gala anywhere much less in New York City.  We can, however, attend the illustrious polling place to vote.  We can make our voices heard by casting a vote for a better tomorrow, a stronger society that will create a future that shines brightly for all.


If you are not registered to vote, please do so.  This week marks the deadline to do so in many locations across the United States of America.   If you have, please mark it on your calendar to vote.  Make a date with destiny to cast your vote.  Don’t follow the crowd when you vote but do follow your conscience.  Let your voice be heard.  It not only is a beautiful voice, it is the voice of someone who is important.  You matter, as do we all.



Talk is … A Presidential Debate

Talk Is ….

Pentecost 127


“Talk is cheap.”  Some call that saying an idiom while others classify it as a proverb.  That brings to light a question.  What is the difference between an idiom and a proverb?  Most dictionaries define an idiom as a fixed distinctive expression whose meaning cannot be deduced from the combined meanings of its actual words or the manner of using speech that is comfortable to a specific person or group of persons.  A proverb has a much simpler definition: a short well-known saying that expresses an obvious truth and often offers advice.


Talk, however, can be confusing because while the definitions of an idiom and a proverb are not that similar, their synonyms are – phrase, saying, expression.  The phrase “talk is cheap” refers to the fact that it is easy to speak but much more difficult to defend what has been spoken or even to verify its truth.


The easiest way to make a story less ordinary and more extraordinary is by the use of hyperbole.  The word hyperbole comes from two Greek words “ὑπέρ” and “βάλλω” [or the English versions “huper” and “bailio”] and translates as “I throw above.”   It literally means an over exaggeration or magnification.  The American folk tales about a lumberman and his pet known as Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are perfect examples of hyperbole.  Tonight’s American presidential debate will probably be another one.


This will not be a post favoring one candidate or the other.  I respect my readers too much to do that.  This blog is about living better and, alas, politics seldom is about that.  What this debate does offer, though, is a chance to be mindful of what we say and how we live what we say.  If our living does not match our talk, then we have lived in vain.


Many believe it is better to just be quiet.  That way, no one can claim you said something you may not have said and no one can protest what you might have said.  In other words, it is the easy way out.  The problem with staying silent all the time, however, is that the only thing heard is that of someone else and they may not be stating the truth.  That means only the lies will be heard, never the truth and/or the facts.


Shannon Adler disputes the idea that being silent is better than speaking out.  “When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.” 


After all, that is the only way to truly listen.  It is good sometimes to be quiet.  And, after listening, we need to think about what has been said.  Reactive speech is sometimes not speech that has been thought about before being uttered.  One of my favorite bumper stickers gave a great warning – “Engage brain before putting mouth in gear!”


Tonight millions may or may not listen while two candidates and a moderator engage in a political debate.  Hopefully, there will be little hyperbole and much fact, more substance than ego.  For many this debate will seem like a waste of time but when we truly communicate with real thoughts and intentions to which we are deeply committed, then talk is never a waste of time.


“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals,” Stephen Hawkins believes.  “ Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”


Pentecost 86

What a difference two letters can make. When it comes to kindness, those two letters make all the difference. Knowledge is wisdom, intelligence, learned matter. Knowledge is good but unless it is put to use, it really is little bit more than curiosity answered. Add the letters “a” and “c” to the word “knowledge”, and all of a sudden you have gratitude, the acknowledgement of which just might make someone’s ordinary quite extraordinary.

By putting an “a” and a “c” before the word “knowledge’, we create a new word and a great way to show kindness. The word “acknowledge” comes from fifteenth and sixteenth century words from both France and England, words that mean “recognize” or “understand” or “accord”. When we thank someone, we recognize their actions, show them we have understood their intentions. All too often, however, we forget that thanking someone does put us in accord with them.

Frequently, particularly in the political world, it is felt that one must be in complete accord or agreement with someone in order to acknowledge them. It really is a very cowardly way to live but also appears in religious contexts as well. We can acknowledge someone and understand that they are not us and do things different without undermining our own lives. No one is exactly like you or me. When we acknowledge that fact, then we are free to show kindness, especially to those who are different. Their beliefs only threaten us when we live fearfully and without confidence in our own beliefs. We are also free to accept kindness and acknowledge it with gratitude.

The understand facet of the word “acknowledge” is similar in its application. To acknowledge someone having a different opinion and fully grasping their opinion means we understand them. It also is showing them great kindness because it is allowing them dignity, much like what we referenced in our conversation above and in past discussions regarding respect. To express gratitude to someone is the highest form of respect as well as acknowledgement.

The easiest and most cost effective way of showing kindness to someone is to recognize them and simply say “Thank you”. It recognizes and illustrates that you accept and understand their action for which you are grateful. More importantly, it says that you acknowledge they have value. After all, we all have value in our own special way. Regardless of which creation myth you believe, we are all wondrously made. Recognize the individual and then follow up with behavior that reflects that recognition and you will be showing someone great kindness. It can be as easy as a hand raised in greeting or a joyful “Hello!”

In 1865 the American Civil War, officially known as the War Between the States, was drawing to an end. The states that had seceded were rejoining and the Colonies were once again a viable democracy. France had been involved with the colonies almost since their inception, sometimes as an ally and sometimes as an enemy. However, for almost one hundred years, France had assisted the colonies. It was because of this connection that historian Edouard De Laboulaye suggested France create a statue and give to the United States. The commission for such was awarded to sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. France would create and gift the sculpture to the U.S.A. and it would build the pedestal upon which the statue would stand, furthering acknowledging the partnership and friendship between the two nations.

A need for fundraising delayed the start of the massive project until one year before the US/s centennial celebrations. The finished statue was delivered and dedicated in October, 1886, ten years after the nation’s centennial. The inscription, the winning sonnet in a fundraising contest of 1883, was penned by Emma Lazarus: ““Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This inscription acknowledges each and every immigrant that passes through Ellis Island and serves as a welcome to the thousands of others that arrive in other ports across the country. The Statue of Liberty, as the statue became known, operated as a lighthouse for almost fifty years, sending its beacon of light emanating from Lady Liberty’s torch out into the night, giving safe passage and welcoming all in acknowledgement of their presence. The contributions of those who are immigrated to this country are without number. From the cuisine, the cultural mores, to the fashion and athletic abilities represented on the recent Team USA which topped the medal charts at the Rio 2016 Olympics, those who have immigrated have given much for which the world, not just the USA, should be grateful.

My challenge for you this day is to wave hello to someone. Acknowledge their presence. Nothing complicated in that, is there? And if you cannot raise your arm to wave then nod and smile. By doing so, you will be showing kindness to that other person, regardless of their station in life or bank account or position of authority. Person to person, you will be welcoming them just as the Statue of Liberty has welcomed millions throughout the years.

Sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone is to recognize their existence. We don’t have to want to emulate them or believe just as they do. Acknowledgement simply means we recognize their presence. To acknowledge someone is to show kindness of thought and presence and it costs us nothing to give. During the Rio Olympics a track meet was held. An American runner acknowledged an Australian runner falling and gave her a quick arm up to help her stand and get back in the race. Then the American fell and the Ussie returned the favor. The two girls ended up helping each other across the finish line despite both being injured. This was a great show of respect and gratitude and they both won Olympic gold medals in sportsmanship, making it only the seventeenth time such medals were awarded.

Remember your challenge for this day is to simply wave a greeting to someone or nod your head in a friendly manner towards another person. No one is truly invisible and when we acknowledge another, we are giving them value and worth. It is a simple gift that will mean everything to someone. I promise at least one person will wave back, a silent thank to you for recognizing and acknowledging them. Being grateful really can be as easy as a quick smile, a nod, or a wave.