Alternative Religion: Is There Such a Thing?

Alternative Religion: Is There Such a Thing?

The little boats saved the troops at Dunkirk.

I’ve had enough of alternative facts. I’ve had enough of powerful people either in our government or operating as talking heads, obscuring the real tenants of religion. Whether you are part of a church or not–I hope you will agree with me that some of the basic principles used to found “this shining city on the hill” have been kidnapped by powerful people who do not care about their fellow man or woman–not in the least little bit. They could give a damn about loving their neighbor, unless that neighbor can grease their palm and make that first or second yacht a possibility. But if the neighbor is asking for legal help, looking for work, asking for good medical care, wanting her child to get a good PUBLIC education–FORGET ABOUT IT.

NO NAMES 

You might already have stopped reading, but in the hope that you will continue to hear me out, I will not use real names. But I will state my case.

In our country today and maybe across the globe, there now rises an alternative religion. It preaches through various voices that hating another man’s religion is okay. Much of this comes from ignorance. Yes, there are members of a certain faith who have twisted its basic tenants to support killing anyone who does not agree with them. THAT IS WRONG. But there was a period in past centuries when Christians armed and ready, took to their horses and in the name of Christ killed many. This was called the Crusades. Click on the word and read about it. The Crusaders USED religion to gain power. Wow, not a new concept. It’s going on in our country right now.

LIVING BY EXAMPLE 

I found the following sentence while thinking about writing this post. I don’t know who said it: You push people down and you have two choices. RAISE THEM BACK UP or arm yourselves. There is much truth in these words. But also a problem. With there being two sides we want to believe that one side is right. That one side is moral.

OKAY: One side is working to live, feed their families, and practice their religion. The other side is filled with hate, doesn’t want these people to live, take care of their families and practice their religion. (I started to write this post on Friday, having NO IDEA that #Charlottesvillle would occur. But it has.)

PREACHERS ARE HUMAN & COME IN ALL STRIPES

To be a preacher, sometimes all you need is a great voice, a few great lines and a Bible. You have to have a Bible. People come. People listen and they pay you. You are on your way. You can say outrageous things in the name of God. (In my day, there was that preacher couple. Millions flocked to them. She wore all that mascara. He went to jail.)

Here’s my question today. I’m a Catholic. But I don’t pretend to have read every page of the Bible. In college, I studied with teachers who used what is called EXEGESIS: an explanation or critical interpretation of a text. What this process does is get a person away from literal word interpretation. Like: if you sin with you hand, cut it off. The Bible as a holy book has been used to enslave and hurt human beings.

Jesus spoke in parables and this is my favorite. In fact, I wonder if modern preachers like that mascara lady just ripped that page right out of the holy book.

Luke 18:9-14 Two men went up to the temple to pray,one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

PUBLIC SERVANTS

Wow, my head kind of zinged when I typed that very familiar phrase. Servants? But the point I want to make is if you are a preacher of any religion or a senator, representative, mayor, the president–you are a public servant. You work for THE PEOPLE. ALL THE PEOPLE. Supposedly you work for peace; you work to prevent wars that kill people, not start them. You work for your citizens, your military, your diplomats. You work for me, for all of us. And burning in your heart, should be the desire to think: the people first, not my bank account.

MORE PUBLIC SERVANTS: DUNKIRK  

To wind this up, let’s remember DUNKIRK. My husband and I saw the film this week. Generations of Americans have no idea what Dunkirk was. Not a clue. But you could say the story of Dunkirk is a kind of religion, if you are using the definition A SYSTEM OF FAITH. The men in the little boats believed in their country and their countrymen. They were willing to give their lives for that faith.

Pressed to the edge of the sea by the Germans, thousands of British soldiers and other Allied Troops were evacuated from the beach at Dunkirk between the 27th of May to the 4th of June. Wiki Says: British press later exploited the successful evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, and particularly the role of the “Dunkirk little ships”. Many of them were private vessels such as fishing boats and pleasure cruisers, but commercial vessels such as ferries also contributed to the force…The term “Dunkirk Spirit” refers to the solidarity of the British people in times of adversity.[49]

I feel a thrill that is hard to describe every time I watch the clip below. Yes, it’s an old movie, but maybe in a small way watching these PUBLIC SERVANTS risking their lives connects me to the small things I have done: helping one of my students whose parents had no time for education; holding the hand of one of my patients who was losing her baby and had no one to cry with her.

I’m against using religion to fill your bank account. If you want to be religious, fill your heart and soul–take care of others, consider others. It’s A FACT — it will fill you up. PS: See the new film, though the clip below is great, part of the film MRS. MINIVER. 

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/1111863/Mrs-Miniver-Movie-Clip-Your-Destination-Is-Dunkirk.html

Photo Credit Taylor Homes

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What Are the Chances that Folks Will Remember You?

What Are the Chances that Folks Will Remember You?

Maybe you’re not in the mood for this, but I’ll try to make it upbeat.

We all want to be remembered. For something. And though today, right this moment, we might consider how vast our place in FOREVER might be, it’s not that vast. I’ll use ME as an example. Who will remember me?

My family: my children and grandchildren. After that it’s a guess.

My friends. Yes I have many, my husband has many. But like Wendy, Michael, John and Peter Pan, we might ascend to the heavens all at the same time, or around the same time. Because remember, we are all of the same generation.

THINGS YOU CAN DO TO BE REMEMBERED

Be kind, be as generous as you can be and take photos! From the beginning of our life together, my husband took photos–of our vacations and family events: baptisms and weddings, holidays and birthdays. We have a cabinet full of photo albums and now many of those precious memories have been digitized so that we won’t lose them. You cannot walk through a room in our home without seeing a framed photograph of family. It’s necessary–because two of our children live a distance away and life gets crazy and we want to think of them and see their faces. It’s a form of connection. I also have a photo of the women’s group I was a part of when I lived in Iowa. I look at it frequently–I miss them.

Communicate: we have phones, snail mail and email. Though hearing a friend or a family member’s voice is the best, it’s not always possible to connect that way. A voice mail starts the process and so does an email–it’s like a friendly knock on the door of the person you want to chat with. It’s saying: here I am. I have news. Or I want to tell you I care about you.  Or I don’t want to forget you and I don’t want you to forget me.

Don’t Move. Stay in one place. This is hard to do. We live in a society of movement and change. In our years of marriage, my husband and I have moved twice–once with our children (though one was in college, one in grade school and another already working) it changes the center of the family, the HOMESTEAD. When we moved the second time, it was just the two of us. Now one daughter is near us, one in Boston and our son in Chicago–which is our starting place, our HOMETOWN. Chicago is where we were born and lived for many years–and thus there are people in Chicago who do not forget us. They are the Golden Oldies and if you’ve moved from your Hometown, you know that and you need that.

But regardless, you must call or write, visit and embrace. That’s how you will be remembered. We had many wonderful years in our second Midwest home, and I knock on doors with email whenever I can, people visit when they travel here, and yet I fear over time those friendships could be lost. Of course, now in our new home, we make new friends. Will they last? Will they remember me?

Become a Member of Ancestry.com or a similar organization. Talk about memories!! My husband has become the official family historian–and if you can become part of someone’s history, why yes, you will be remembered. He has unearthed photos and news clippings about my deceased father and mother and his family. He is building a family tree that grows bigger and bigger with births and with finding those that lived before us. No one is ever deleted. They live in our memories. What will be necessary is for someone to continue this endeavor. Not everyone finds history fascinating. But here’s something else to consider:

Someday you will be history, but only if there’s a living person keeping track. So encourage record keeping of some sort. You know what they used to say: if your house catches on fire, grab your photo albums and run. Now you need to have a flash drive or backup system you can grab and run with.   

And I guess, finally, make a name for yourself. Or in other words, get your name out there. Still with becoming so-called FAMOUS, there are no guarantees. You have to be truly truly famous to go down through the ages. I would love to publish my novels. Then, hopefully, someone would have a copy when I’m gone. But over time who is remembered? Shakespeare. Homer. Jane Austen. Dickens. Writers of literature in languages I am unable to read. Tyrants, kings, presidents, politicians, saints and sinners.

Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us 

Yes, this is a real thing, a book by scientist Sam Kean. He is fascinated with all things science and finds connections for us–between the LIVING and the DEAD. An excerpt: Even more startling, our breaths entangle us with the historical past. Some of the molecules in your next breath might well be emissaries from 9/11 or the fall of the Berlin Wall, witnesses to World War I or the star-spangled banner of Fort McHenry. If we extend our imagination far enough into space and time, we can conjure up some fascinating scenarios. For instance, is it possible, that your next breath–this one right here–might include some of the same air that Julie Caesar exhaled when he died? …Across all that distance of time and space, a few of the molecules that danced inside his lungs are dancing inside yours right now.   

Kean’s theories certainly connect all humans to one another. And we will be remembered as the species that occupied the planet Earth for thousands of years. But will some other species know that we were also the creation that destroyed it?

ONE FINAL THOUGHT

In order for humans, those that are famous, those that our infamous, those that will be forgotten over time–the earth must survive. It becomes questionable that we should strive to advance and change, only to allow some naysayers to condemn the planet to it’s final death. Yes, there is controversy, but if your painting or photo, your poem or organization, the building, the business you built with your name up in lights or glorified on a skyscraper–if any of that is to have meaning, the human race must survive on this planet. Or we can say goodbye to Shakespeare, Austin, Caesar and the rest–then, Oblivion. So we must strive to keep the earth healthy, for our DNA to continue on in some form. And to make that happen? We all need to fall in love with Mother Earth and protect her.

P.S. To preserve memories, you can interview family members and write down their memories. Or keep a diary. More about how to do that here.

Photo: Pixabay

 

Jobs Stop Bullets

Jobs Stop Bullets

“Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope,” Father Boyle has said. “Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”

Last week in my post I said I would write more about that topic which was the importance of good education for everyone. A few of you wrote “bring it on.” So here goes–one solution that is working for some kids. It’s only one, but it’s tossing a stone into the pool–it’s making some ripples.

Have you ever heard of the Homeboy Program? I had. But I didn’t know very much about it, until a friend from Chicago who worked with a volunteer group helping others,The Ignatian Volunteer Core, sent me an article which talked out it.

THE PERSONAL CONNECTION

While reading the piece, I immediately found a personal connection–this caused me to read every word. IT STARTED: …One of Saint Margaret of Scotland’s graduates, where I am an IVC volunteer, was gunned down and killed last year. He was only a Sophomore. ”What is the answer?” I asked the priest I was working with.

St. Margaret’s! The church I walked by every day when I attended The Academy of Our Lady High School, better known as Longwood on the southside of Chicago. Knowing that the story was about a place that I could claim as mine, made me more invested.

Our lives go on, some places in our lives feel static–but they are moving and changing just as we are. (In fact that’s a primary concept in the novel I am writing. PLACE defines us, digs in our hearts, brings up memories, but nothing is static. For better or for worse, we humans change and everything around us does also.)

I cherish the old house I was raised in and drive by it when I am back in Chicago. I often drive the roadways that took me to familiar places. I reminisce. So here is more of the story.

The priest admitted right off that the question as to why young men and women are dying on Chicago streets is complex. He stated clearly that such a problem cannot be solved with only surveillance cameras or even gun laws. He said: “That does not get to the root problem.”

That’s when he mentioned Father Greg Boyle who started Homeboy Industries.

THE FOUNDER OF HOMEBOY

Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J. founded Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.

A Catholic prises and Jesuit, he has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and English from Gonzaga University, a master’s degree in English from Loyola Marymount University, a Master of Divinity degree from the Weston School of Theology, and a Master of Sacred Theology degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.

He spent a year living and working with Christian base communities in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Then in 1986, he was appointed pastor of Dolores Mission Church in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East LA, the poorest Catholic parish in the city, located between two large public housing projects with the highest concentration of gang activity in Los Angeles.

He witnessed the devastating impact of gang violence on his community during what he has called “the decade of death” that began in the late 1980’s. He witnessed suppression and mass incarceration as the means to end gang violence. (Which is what the current administration wants to do again.)

So Father Boyle and parish and community members adopted what was a radical approach at the time: treating gang members as human beings. 

“Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope,” Father Boyle has said.  “Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”

In the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Jobs for a Future, a community-organizing project begun at Dolores Mission, launched their first social enterprise business in an abandoned bakery that Hollywood producer Ray Stark helped them purchase. They called it Homeboy Bakery. If you ever fly into LAX, you just might find yourself purchasing something at one of their kiosks.

Today, Homeboy Industries employs and trains former gang members in a range of social enterprises, as well as provides critical services to 15,000 men and women who walk through its doors every year seeking a better life.

  • Father Boyle is the author of the New York Times-bestseller Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, which was named one of the Best Books of 2010 by Publishers Weekly and received the PEN Center USA 2011 Creative Nonfiction Award. 
  • The book received that title because: Father Greg was talking to one of his Homeboys and he said something very profound. He said that ‘jobs stop bullets’.  When the Homeboy heard that he responded ‘Damn G , I think I will tattoo that on my heart.’  Think about it. Jobs help attack poverty and idleness at the same time.”
  • Father Boyle is the subject of Academy Award winner Freida Lee Mock’s 2012 documentary, G-Dog.  He has received the California Peace Prize and been inducted into the California Hall of Fame.  In 2014, the White House named Father Boyle a Champion of Change.  He received the 2016 Humanitarian of the Year Award from the James Beard Foundation, the national culinary-arts organization.

The Things We Already Know Are Truly Right in Front of Our Eyes

My friend Tom, who sent me the article about Homeboy, recalled that his mother would say: ‘Idleness is the devil’s workshop.’  He decided that was why she always gave him lots of chores. My brothers and I can say the very same about our mother. Give kids a  job and they feel pride. THEY FEEL HUMAN.

Another member of the Ignatian Volunteer Core probably said it best. “I think the key to making it work is what Father Boyle calls “exquisite mutuality”. There is no “them” and “us”; there is only “us”.”

Think about the pride you felt when you brought home your first paycheck. You were entering the adult world, taking on the mantel of responsibility, growing up!! Helping your family.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every small town, city and village across our country could see it that way?

PRIDE in WORK.

SUMMER JOBS or JOBS THROUGH THE YEAR: cleaning vacant lots; repairing run-down properties. A wonderful suggestion: statewide and national programs to begin to rebuild our infrastructure. With the right program, we could millions of jobs for our kids. Give them a good start for their lives.

Someone has suggested that doing this would be like starting a revolution. JOBS STOP BULLETS. We as citizens going about our daily jobs of parenting, grand-parenting, having talks with friends and co-workers can spread this message of ONLY US and JOBS STOP BULLETS.

So I just wanted to share this idea with you. Who knows? In conversation with someone looking for summer help or someone looking to help a community, there are ideas to consider, to expand on. Maybe on a small scale the revolution can start with each one of us.

My husband works with the Conejo Valley Youth Employment Services, helping homeless people and high school students find jobs. He talks with them, discovers their interests, what their skill set might be or is tending to. One person at a time he is making a difference. And so is my friend Tom, who sent me this article and has given freely of his medical expertise to people who need it.

One day at a time. One person at a time. One kid at a time–you can tattoo something wonderful on some kid’s heart.

For more about HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES go to http://www.homeboyindustries.org.

Thanks to Tom Essig. And of course, John.

 

Work Against a Divided America: Support Good Schools For ALL Our Kids

 Work Against a Divided America: Support Good Schools For All Our Kids

Consider the following words: gangs, drug use, pregnant teens, petty crime, unsafe neighborhoods, poor schools, being homeless, children without parents, reckless driving, suicide, mental health issues. Every word listed could be expanded into reams of writing: how this is a problem, how this problem is growing, how we cannot seem to make a dent in this problem and how every problem listed is a drag on the economy.

WANT TO SOLVE THESE PROBLEMS? Good Public Education For EVERY CHILD Is the Key

Because YES, one problem infects another and each problem affects local, state and national governments and uses tax dollars that could be used to make America the shining city on the hill (Reagan) or whatever metaphor you care to choose.

Because the little kids you see crowded into a poor daycare center today can become the troubled teenagers that might mess up your neighborhood tomorrow or fill up the court systems after that. It has to stop.

Please consider this, taken from an article in the LA TIMES: The current administration wants to impose the biggest cuts to federal education funding in memory and slash support to poor children and families by cutting Medicaid, food stamps and other programs while cutting taxes for the rich. (DO YOU SEE THE GAP GETTING SO WIDE THAT IT CAN NEVER BE HEALED?? my words) It is an agenda that betrays millions of families seeking a better life, and one at odds with what this country stands for. Public schools are a fundamental engine of opportunity in this country. We will (we must) stand together to defend them. ( to read more go here.)

Tax Dollars Need to Be Spent In ALL Neighborhoods

Each problem that I have listed could be ameliorated, helped, reduced, maybe even eliminated if one thing was offered and utilized by each of our citizens: excellent public education that leads to JOBS!!!

The current administration talks a great deal about jobs. But you can’t GET A JOB if you don’t quality, if no one will hire you. There are jobs in this country that American citizens cannot fill so employers go abroad to find workers. Google it. You will find articles like these: America’s Persistent Problem: Unskilled Workers; America Has Near Record 5.6 Million Job Openings. And there is this:

Companies can’t find enough skilled workers. Manufacturing jobs have become more technical, but workers haven’t kept up. That’s left companies with a glut of low-skilled workers and a shortage of applicants who can really do the job. 

There is a solution. There has always been a solution. The United States needs to educate its citizens. ALL ITS CITIZENS. And do a damn good job of it.

A Divided Country Cannot Stand

My argument, and you are welcome to poke holes in it, is that we must eliminate every problem I have listed. We cannot continue on the path we are on which actually is creating two Americas: one where the super-wealthy and the moderately wealthy live and work; the other where the poor and those getting by live and work.

Education Can Make a Difference 

  • Gangs: involving young children in MEANINGFUL education that communicates  self-worth helps them see a future for themselves that is not the streets but a job.
  • Drug use: keep kids involved in the school day with sports and extra curricular activities, honor their self-worth and they won’t need drugs to feel good about themselves.
  • Pregnant teens: I worked with a program called RISING STAR. We helped girls that had already had one child go back to school, alter their goals to include getting a job and thus a feeling of self-worth that comes from earning an income. This also helped them PROVIDE for the child they already had. Today, offering health education in schools and providing healthcare for young girls will help prevent unwanted pregnancies.
  • Petty crime and unsafe neighborhoods go hand in hand, occuring when growing men and women cannot find a purpose for their lives and do not receive respect from teachers, parents and people who have “power” over them.
  • Reckless driving, suicide and mental health issues occur in the lives of young people who are lost and cannot see a future for themselves. They feel rejected by society and harbor a death wish. Education builds self-respect, creates a pathway to a good and fulfilling life.
  • Being homeless or not having a parent often springs from the generation above that did not have a good education and thus a job. Responsibility to the child they brought into the world is key, but some have no hope.

I know I have drawn this picture with some broad strokes, so next week I will offer a few solutions. Thanks for reading. I’ll end with a few more thoughts from the LA TIMES article.

Research, common sense and our collective experiences working with children, families and schools tell us that we must invest in, not cut back, public education. That means providing high-quality preschool for kids, and the social health and mental health services they need. It means making sure students are reading at grade level by the end of the third grade, that they have powerful learning opportunities, including career and technical training that can prepare them for college and work. 

Photo: www.Simply-magical.net

Saving Our Country’s Backyard

Saving Our Country's Backyard

Scenario ONE:

You have worked for over five years to make your backyard a place of enjoyment for your family. You have planted trees, shrubs and flowers, raked and weeded, spent money to fight disease in one of your trees and installed hardscape for more enjoyment of this outdoor space. Then one day a person from the government comes to your door and drops off a sign. Your backyard is now government property and has actually been purchased by a large corporation. The sign with their name will now hang on your fence and the use of your backyard is open to change.

Scenario TWO:

You live in an apartment, condo or public housing and in order to enjoy the outdoors you walk to a public park, a lakeshore or some open space. And wherever you live, when planning a vacation you consider a national park like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon or Glacier National Park. But now you learn that the government has changed the use of public lands. Oil drilling will now be taking place at Yosemite National Park and off the ocean shore by Santa Barbara, California.

THIS IS NOT ALL SOME HORROR MOVIE

A crazy movie-maker’s nightmare? The first scenario maybe. The second–a distinct possibility under this new administration. AND I wrote the first scenario to underline that our national parks truly ARE the playgrounds and backyards of the citizens of these United States.

FAMILY FUN IN AMERICA  

Not all families can fly to Europe or some exotic island. But they can climb into the family car and drive to a national park or fly to a central location, rent a car and again drive, drive, drive. That’s what we did in 1988. What did we see with our two daughters? The Continental Divide; Mesa Verde; the north rim of the Grand Canyon; The Four Corners; Monument Valley and Brice, Zion and Arches National Parks. My husband is one amazing planner.

When we lived in Iowa, we drove west through the Badlands to Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument and then on to Mammouth National Park. But all of these amazing preserved lands that make America the land of free space for families to enjoy are now in jeopardy. Why?

WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR SUCH TRIPS??

When our current president was campaigning, he promised to “streamline the permitting process for all energy projects.” That could mean ignoring environmental protection laws or changing them to “encourage the production of [fossil fuel] resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters.” That means “open season” for oil and gas drilling on public lands.

A recent article in NEWSWEEK reported that Americans see our National Parks as a gift of high value. A report from Harvard’s Kennedy School this year found that 80% of Americans would agree to pay higher taxes to keep the National Parks—and attacking them directly would be politically unwise for any government rep seeking a future term.

Saving Our Country's Backyard

WHO MIGHT FIGHT FOR OUR NATIONAL PARKS??

Who is currently in charge? Who could you write to? Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke of Whitefish, Montana is now serving as the 52nd Secretary of the Interior. He has said that no president in his lifetime has been “more for us” than the current one. WE WILL SEE. Click here for their website.

So what does this guy do? The Secretary of the Interior is in charge of overseeing the National Park Service, as well as overseeing all federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and presiding over the U.S. Geological Survey, a massive scientific research agency which studies America’s natural resources and anything that threatens them—like climate change, which you know who says is a hoax perpetrated by “the Chinese.” Read more here.

THE ANTIQUITIES ACT: REMEMBER THEODORE ROOSEVELT?

We also need to worry about the future of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which permits presidents to create national monuments on federal lands, so that they must be preserved indefinitely. President Obama used the Antiquities Act during his tenure to create 23 new national monuments, including a massive marine monument off the coast of Hawaii, and an expanse of wild land in north-central Maine. Republican presidents almost never use the Act. And under this president, things could get worse.

There is some good news. Dwight Pitcaithley, the former chief historian to the National Park Service says: “For every action there’s a reaction. This president doesn’t have carte blanche. I think if he goes too far, there will be a pushback by the public, and that will be felt in the next election.” Still, Pitcaithley sees no wins for the environment anytime soon. And he is worried.

Saving Our Country's Backyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WRITE YOUR SENATORS, FIGHT FOR OUR BACKYARDS

Stay alert these next few years. Plan your vacations to our national parks. (We are going to Yosemite in a few weeks.) Enjoy the beauty and bounty of this land. If you do and you want to fight for it, use the web, write to your congressman and congresswomen. Make sure your voice is heard. And thanks for reading.

Saving Our Country's Backyard

The sun was low in the sky at Arches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of John Havey

More Like This….

More Like This....

We all make choices about what we will read, what television presentations or films we watch. In today’s world of “fake news”–almost anyone with an opinion can throw us a curve ball. FACT-CHECKING helps. If you come across something you think might be false, you can go to various sources to confirm it’s truth factor. (I’m thinking news stories–better to have a few different sources before you think Pizzagate really occurred.)

Currently, I think we need to do that a lot. When reading non-fiction that lands on the best-seller list, we are at the mercy of the author. His or her book could still be a vehicle of lies and BS. Sad but true. An Index at the back of the book often helps confirm that the author did research and what and who the author’s sources were. (Think childhood immunizations cause autism. It took a long time for those lies to be correctly challenged and disproved.) Because if the author is known for a certain stance on that subject. then you probably know what you’re getting–unless the book is a complete turnaround or includes new research.

Rebecca Skloot had credentials when she started working on the book that became THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS. She attended Portland Community College to become a Veterinary Technician and then received a BS in biological sciences from Colorado State University, and an MFA in creative nonfiction. Her education prepared her for the ten years it took her to write the book which was on the NYT Best Seller list for two years and recently made into a film that appeared on HBO this past weekend.

Oprah Winfrey played the part of Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter, whose life was shadowed by the death of her mother. Henrietta died in 1951 at the age of 31 from cervical cancer. She had five children whose lives suffered after her death. And unbeknownst to this black family, a doctor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, removed cancer cells from her cervix and these cells were able to reproduce outside the body in petri dishes at an astonishing rate. Called HeLa cells, they enabled researchers to make medical breakthroughs, one being Dr. Jonas Salk who is credited with the polio vaccine.

But there is a downside to this story–how it affected Deborah Lacks and her family. When you tell a person who is not a scientist that her mother’s cells are alive in a lab in Baltimore–complications occur. The Smithsonian writes: A postdoc called Henrietta’s husband one day…The way he understood the phone call was: “We’ve got your wife. She’s alive in a laboratory. We’ve been doing research on her for the last 25 years. And now we have to test your kids to see if they have cancer.” Which wasn’t what the researcher said at all. The scientists didn’t know that the family didn’t understand. From that point on, though, the family got sucked into this world of research they didn’t understand, and the cells, in a sense, took over their lives. Skloot in many ways was a gift to the Lacks family, explaining things as she learned them, comforting Deborah who helped Skloot with her investigation. Read the book! Watch the HBO presentation. We need more like this.

Now consider a work of fiction. Fiction, you make stuff up, right? But when an author takes on a topic that has complicated ramifications, is a topic that she does not feel she can speak to WITHOUT RESEARCH, then I applaud her for letting us know. Jodi Picoult, the author of 23 novels, did just that with her latest novel, SMALL GOOD THINGS.

The novel is about a black maternity nurse who is accused by a white supremacist for contributing to the death of his newborn son.

Picoult writes at the end of the novel: I expect pushback from this book… Believe me, I didn’t write this novel because I thought it would be fun or easy. I wrote it because I believed it was the right thing to do, and because the things that make us most uncomfortable are the things that teach us what we all need to know. In her review of SMALL GOOD THINGS Roxane Gay writes: ‘A writer is like a tuning fork: we respond when we’re struck by something…If we’re lucky we’ll transmit a strong pure note, one that isn’t ours, but which passes through us.’ To the Black people reading SMALL GREAT THINGS – I hope I listened well enough to those in your community who opened their hearts to me to be able to represent your experiences with accuracy. And to the white people reading SMALL GREAT THINGS – we are all works in progress. Personally, I don’t have the answers and I am still evolving daily.

I thought the book was well done. It was a page turner and though it tied up things a little too neatly at the end, I did trust Picoult’s research. In the back of the book, she delineates exactly who she talked to on both sides of the situation.

Roxane Gay also writes in her review: And therein lies the true challenge of writing across difference, or of writing a political novel — if the politics overcomes the prose, then it becomes something other than a novel. (Maybe that’s one way to reach an audience that needs to be reached)

Picoult writes: There is a fire raging and we have two choices: we can turn our backs, or we can try to fight it. Yes, talking about racism is hard to do, and yes, we stumble over the words—but we who are white need to have this discussion amongst ourselves. Because then, even more of us will overhear and then, I hope, the conversation will spread. (Picoult even provides her reader with a list of things you can do to get invovled.

Roxane Gay concludes: It is, in the end, the author’s note that leaves me feeling generous toward “Small Great Things” despite its shortcomings. Picoult wanted to write about race in contemporary America, and she does. The novel is messy, but so is our racial climate. I give Picoult a lot of credit for trying, and for supporting her attempt with rigorous research, good intentions and an awareness of her fallibility.

YES, again We need MORE LIKE THIS…

photo: The New York Times

Conversation Versus Confrontation Affects Our Children

Conversation Versus Confrontation Affects Our Children

When I was right smack in the middle of raising my daughters, five o’clock pm could be an awesome and a crazy time. Awesome, because my mother and I were always in conversation at that time, talking about her day and my day. Crazy because my daughters were doing their homework and they interrupted us. Which on the face of it was fine. My mother would wait, loved them like crazy. But often the topic SHE was relating to me was her passion–the news. What was happening: children starving in Africa, Inda. Or something going down in D.C.

Now I’m near to being in my mother’s place–drawn into the issues, the tension, the worry of what is going on in our country and in the world. But when I am with my children, I see the importance of pulling away from those topics and immersing myself in what concerns them: child-rearing and their jobs. Of course often they cross over–one affects the other. Believe me, I see the importance of both and wrote this in my work-in-progress novel: (Ella is the mother of a child who has gone missing)

It was not unlike when Ella had defended certain aspects of current culture to her mother Cecile, something she had done often. Cecile ripped apart the changing mores of society. But Ella defended change, because the result was Ella’s society, Ella’s culture. She lived in it and dealt with it and so she had defended it. She couldn’t condemn what was a part of her, what she had embraced and brought her child into. If she had condemned culture and society, then she would be condemning herself.

THOSE WHO POWER UP SOCIETY OFTEN MUST APPROVE OF IT. And then again, not always.

Let’s consider conversation versus confrontation. I like to think that when my mother and I spoke about our lives it was a conversation. And In fact right now–governments are forgetting conversation. They need to be reminded that diplomacy is all about airing one’s opinions but not in a bullying fashion. It’s not confrontation so that you make THE OTHER want to scream back at you–or drop a bomb on your country. It’s conversation, a sharing. The very word comes from Middle English and means living among, familiarity, intimacy; 

Krista Tippett is the host of a radio program ON BEING. She interviews movers, shakers, thinkers and her podcast has reached a global audience of 1.5 million listeners a month. On Being was listed in the iTunes top ten podcasts of 2014. Tippett was recently interviewed in TIME MAGAZINE.

TIME: (when discussing conversation versus confrontation) Are there limits to listening?

Krista: Listening is not just about being quiet while the other person talks, it is about being present and willing to be surprised and curious. That is muscle memory we have to build up.

TIME: What are you mulling over to explore next in your podcast?

Krista: This matter of what a conversation is, as opposed to a debate or confrontation. We don’t even know right now how to get the people we disagree with in the room with us, unless you set up a formal debate, and it is my ideas against your ideas. Public life is so unsettled, it creates this opening in which we can start to weave whatever common life is going to look like in the 21st century. Can we figure out what questions we have in common if we don’t have answers, and let those be the tools with which we think about how we create the world we want our children to inhabit?

Just think about that. If we continue to fight one another, we are leaving more chaos and confusion for the next generation. We need to listen to the millennials and those behind them. We need to balance their bright and fervent ideas with the history that we might carry with us–whatever age we are.

SO BACK TO MY MOTHER: I needed to understand (and I think I did) the passion she had for helping others as she aged, because she wanted to leave this world a better place. And she in turn had to understand THE CHANGES that I had already embraced with the very act of bringing children to live in this culture.

It’s an ongoing process–it’s a give and take. Conversation must continue. That intimacy. When Krista Tippett interviewed Richard Rohr, one of my favorite thinkers, he said something related to where my mother was and where I am right now:

To be a contemplative is to learn to trust deep time and to learn how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time. Because what you’ve learned, especially by my age, is that all of it passes away. The things that you’re so impassioned about when you’re 22 or 42 don’t even mean anything anymore, and yet, you got so angry about it or so invested in it. So, this word “contemplation,” it’s a different form of consciousness. It’s a different form of time.

“It’s a different form of time” or a different way of feeling time, of living it.

When TIME Magazine also asked Tippett what she was reading, she answered: WHEN THINGS FALL APART by Pema Chodron. I was not familiar with that book, but it definitely relates to the chasm in conversation that we are now experiencing in the U.S.

About Chodron’s Book: How can we live our lives when everything seems to fall apart—when we are continually overcome by fear, anxiety, and pain? The answer, Pema Chödrön suggests, might be just the opposite of what you expect. Here, in her most beloved and acclaimed work, Pema shows that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined. Drawing from traditional Buddhist wisdom, she offers life-changing tools for transforming suffering and negative patterns into habitual ease and boundless joy. 

Tippett then comments: ...things are always falling apart. That would be a thing for everyone in this country to remember–that actually the ground was never all that stable under our feet. Understanding is the nature of waking up…Tippett then says: 

In the 24/7 news environment, people are bombarded with the same story of what is catastrophic and corrupt and failing 25 times before lunch. They start to internalize that not as news but as the norm…(We must work against that.)

There are actually so many beautiful generative things happening in the world, and to end this discussion, I would like to mention that this is NATIONAL POETRY month. Maybe each of us could select a book of poetry and read at least one poem a day. Let me know what book you chose and if that helps THE CONVERSATION. Here is mine:

From New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver: Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches …

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch? Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?

Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left–fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from where you are, to look for your soul?

Art: CONVERSATION OF A FRIDAY: Gallery 13 North in Lambertville recently signed international artist, Lourdes Ral from Barcelona, Spain.

Hey, Listen: I’m a Woman and I’ve Got a Brain

Hey, Listen: I'm a Woman and I've Got a Brain

Thanks a lot, Eve, I guess you were the beginning of it all. And it really sucks: women are temptresses; men need protection from women; and men, because they gained power first, (at least in some countries) get to talk first, deny first. “None of her accusations were true.” “I did not have sex with that woman.” Yes they are and yes you did.

WOMEN, A VICE PRESIDENT and a TV PERSONALITY MAKE SEX the NEWS

So let’s consider some so-called solutions to the eternal men/women quagmire: don’t dine with a woman alone and for sure take your wife to any social occasion if alcohol is being served. Really? Take that temptress, that woman, your wife–how can she help you out? I will state that religion can be a good thing. But good things can get out of control, run to extremes that make absolutely no sense.

Current news underlines that. The VP is the one who needs his wife to protect him. And a certain TV personality claims ( like another male who now dominates the news) that his role working with women is exemplary. He works at Fox News, so maybe not. Because this guy is sometimes into FAKE NEWS and my guess is he’s also into FAKE MORALITY. How did we get here? Our VP might say it’s because women are in the workplace and if you’re a married man–watch out–we’re coming for you. (Snark comment about the VP could go here, but I won’t.)

CONSIDER the JOB INTERVIEW

Instead I’ll take you back some years when I was interviewing for a job. In the tumult of the current news cycle, I reflected on my own life in the workplace. First job interviews.

In my early twenties I applied at three major high schools in the southern suburbs of the city of Chicago. I was interviewed at the first two by men. They were cordial. That’s all I remember. At the third I was interviewed by two women who would become my department chair and co-chair. They sent me to meet the principal who shook my hand and then the school superintendent for the entire district. He happened to be in the building that day and I was invited into his office. He asked me questions about my education, questions I don’t remember. He did ask me one question that I will never forget.

“Would you still want the job if I told you that a student could come at you with a knife?” “Yes.”

When you like everything you have just experienced and then you are asked this question, there might be some hesitation in your answer, BUT YOU SAY YES. You are a female and you can handle your life as well as any male who might or might not be asked the same question. If later I did ask my fellow newly-hired teachers if that was part of their interview, I confess–I don’t remember what they answered. I GOT THE JOB. I loved the job. I handled myself with dignity and quick thinking when we had race riots in our school about two years later. I matured.

As a young teacher and then later on when I became an RN, worked at two different hospitals, a telecommunication center and a health department–I WAS ALWAYS INTERVIEWED BY WOMEN. The interviews were not easy. At one hospital she would not consider hiring me in the labor and delivery department unless I agreed to work on a medical floor. I did not agree and instead interviewed and got a position in an L&D unit at a Chicago inner-city hospital. Best work decision I ever made. Like my teaching position, I GREW in that job. It’s actually the impetus for the novel I am writing. But I digress.

WOMEN WORKING with Men–A GIVEN 

Florence Nightingale was surrounded by men and they thanked God for her presence. She and her fellow nurses saved lives–and there was alcohol present–you know, it’s a germicide. My point is that each person, male and female, has a responsibility to conduct themselves properly in the work place. But of course that doesn’t always happen. Chalk it up to being human–or something along those lines.

Because my work experience has been in professions that are predominantly women, I have had little to no problem with sexual advances or discrimination. Yes, once in an elevator a doctor I had never seen before took advantage of my school-nurse uniform and propositioned me. Luckily, I got off at the next floor. And all of the MDs on the L&D units were not always verbally “proper”. There was no name-calling, but there was tension that went to the stress of a busy night with clients in pain or annoying family members, or just two many children coming into the world in a 30 minute period. You let off steam and sometimes it’s a female nurse you have shouted at. We shouted back. A given. Reprimands were about a mis-diagnosis, or not always putting the patient first–and rightly so. Lots of life is on the line. But the stress of aiding in a difficult birth comes with some passes.

For me it has always been an acknowledgment either spoken or unspoken that I’m doing a good job, if not a great job, and that I have a brain. That’s what counts. Of course different jobs have different work cultures. Being a female working with the men on Fox News speaks to that, compels a woman to know that culture and to be aware of it. I truly hope there will be a time when someone working there breaks the harassment that seems to be endemic.

On an L&D unit when there’s down time, interns, docs, nurses might talk about family, or whose dating who, or even grumble about the anesthesiologist. (We did that a lot, but he was really okay.) When I did leave my nursing position in that Chicago hospital, a doctor wrote me a letter, mailed to my home, asking me to come back, telling me how he valued what I had given to my patients. That was awesome.

HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED DISCRIMINATION? 

The other part of this discussion speaks to your own personal relationships. If you are single, the workplace can often become the arena for meeting a future partner. And if you work at home but your spouse or partner goes to an office or studio or hospital etc every day, then your relationship relies on its strength. But that’s just the way it should be. Forget some norm that you (if you are a woman) cannot have alcohol after work with a client, boss or co-worker unless he has his partner or spouse with him. Truly, are you kidding me? That’s not to say that nasty stuff is impossible. It is. It definitely is. Use that awesome brain of yours. Be alert. If necessary talk back. Discrimination exists, but there are laws. And within the workplace, it’s great to be noticed. But I for one would advise that the notice relates to your brain, your smarts. What do you think?

Thanks to MrsProfessionalism wordpress.com

 

Books That Pave the Way for Life’s Journey

Books That Pave the Way for Life's Journey

Books can take us on many journeys and I love to get lost in fiction. But ever so often a book can inform, change an attitude, a choice, maybe even a life. Having the ideas of thinkers and researchers at our side when we have a question, a problem or a new idea can make the difference between informed choice and blowing in the wind. The net makes it even easier, as you can type in a term: education, marriage, parenting, employment, health, exercise, travel, science, politics–and voila, your choices are numerous. I’ve picked a few today to get your thinking about nonfiction. Some of these choices have been in print for years. Some are hot off the press. We all want to embrace the next decades with knowledge and understanding–so happy searching and reading.

I highly recommend Dr. Bernie Siegel’s Love, Medicine and Miracles that relates, through his personal experience, how death is truly part of life and acceptance of a loved one’s death makes a passage easier on the one leaving and the one staying. When he was asked to recommend a list of self-help books, he responded: “Every book ever written is a self-help book. What’s the Bible? What about Buddha? Each generation thinks somebody new is starting the process, but we keep repeating the wisdom of the sages and the ages.”

Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient was written by Norman Cousins, a longtime editor at the Saturday Review. The book relates how Cousins laughed his way out of a crippling disease by watching the Marx Brothers and thus “jump-started the whole mind-body connection.”

Man’s Search for Meaning is the memoir of Victor Frankl MD PhD, who survived Auschwitz. He argues that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, states that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, but the discovery and then the pursuit of what we find meaningful..

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi This is one I have not read, but it is definitely on my list. If you have read Atul Gawande and Anne Lamott, readers state you should read this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir that finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds. It is written by an idealistic young neurosurgeon as he attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? He died within two years of his diagnosis.

Blindsided by Richard M. Cohen, a Journalist and husband to Meredith Vieira. In this memoir, Cohen relates his battle with MS, startling the reader with his grace and wisdom.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Mood and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison This professor of psychiatry shares her personal struggle with manic depression. She is also the author of Touched with Fire: Manic-depressive illness and the Artistic Temperament.  

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion A personal favorite, this 2005 National Book Award winner recounts how Joan could continue to live after her husband’s sudden death and then was faced with their only child lapsing into a coma. (Read Blue Nights for the end of that part of Didion’s story.)

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I received this book for one of those “life-changing” birthdays. It’s amazing. The author shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world. You will better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics.

The Book of Joy authors, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama Despite the hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—these two men are the most joyful people on the planet.

If you have suggestions, please mention them in your comments. Wishing you good health and good reading. We are all in this together.

Parts of this post appeared in 2011 in a different form.

Photo credit: janeaustenrunsmylife

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

Who is your other? On the extreme it is the man in the grainy photo in the newspaper–the man being pummeled by another another man, or dragged from a car. Or it’s a woman in a mug shot who is being charged for drug-dealing. This “other” is so easy to look away from. Because is there a connection between these two people and you or me? Remember I said extreme because the majority reading this post do not get involved in crime on the streets or get arrested. But regardless, there is a connection–these are faces of human beings. Their DNA may be different from ours, but we all go WAY BACK, we all have the same beginnings. Again, human beings. Can you open your heart to that concept? It can be really hard.

HELPING THE OTHER

I recently read an article about a man who everyday goes into the streets of LA (and this without belonging to any organization) and works with the homeless. He might spend hours with the one person he finds who is ill or dying. That day he does what he can to help that particular individual. He is answering the call to open his heart to humanity and he is doing it with the other–the extreme other–the total stranger.

My husband volunteers with the Conejo Valley Youth Employment Service helping teens and the homeless find jobs. He does have an office where he can sit and meet with people. But when dealing with the homeless, he often deals with people who don’t keep to a schedule, who say they’ll return with a resume and don’t. It can also be frustrating with the youth who one day are all about getting a job and the next forget they even had an appointment to work on a resume, interview skills, an elevator speech. Still my husband keeps at it, opening his heart to the other, to people he has never met, knows nothing about and for some have been living on the street.

VARIETY IS TRULY THE SPICE OF LIVING 

James Baldwin, author of THE FIRE NEXT TIME and other works, wrote: Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. Baldwin makes a valid point. Our ability to turn away from others, to avoid the other, to look down on the other–that often begins in the home. But I posit that it can be changed around through living and realizing the human connection. Through education and being out in the world, we all can learn that fearing the other closes us off from the splendid variety of life, of people and their ideas, of music and culture, art and writing.

WHO IS THE OTHER? TO SOMEONE–IT COULD BE ME 

Yes, it could be. Because when I walk the streets of a busy city where no one truly knows me, I become THE OTHER to someone. Maybe I’m the other because I’m not the same age as the person looking at me or because I’m a female or because I’m white. But I surely know that if I suddenly became a human being in need–if I suddenly fell to the sidewalk with a heart attack or a stroke, I would hope that someone around me would not see me as THE OTHER and walk away, but would come to my aid.

THE BASIC CONCEPT IS TRYING

James Baldwin also wrote: There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. So true. But when you first read that sentence, test yourself: do you immediately think of the selfish and hidden things about yourself that you try to disguise or lie about or ignore?           OR: did you immediately think about all the wonderful possibilities in your makeup that you just haven’t tapped into yet?

How great if it is and always will be the latter. If we are always opening to the possibility of our changing, of our personal growth and development–of our truly SEEING OTHER PEOPLE. That would be amazing. 

OPEN UP YOUR HEART 

My brother Bill Pfordresher is a song writer and one of his songs urges a lover to:

Open up your heart and let it go,

That’s the way it starts,

This I know-Open up your heart to me. 

And later on the lyric is: Watching one’s life slip by day after day…

For a lover or for the love of living, don’t let time get away.

ACT NOW

On Friday, my husband and I took the train to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. We went to a concert and then walked back to the station through an area of LA that is full of government buildings, the Catholic Church of the diocese of LA and places for many homeless people to walk or sit or sleep under the shade of a tree. A march had occurred that morning and there were crowds of people leaving the march and lots of police on motorcycles and bikes patrolling the area. What did we do? We walked. We smiled at folks on the street, stopped to ask one policeman a question and would have purchased something from a vendor but we had already eaten. We opened our hearts to LA and everything it had to offer that Friday afternoon. Call me Pollyanna if you want to. I’m no saint. But I believe that more and more we have to fight some dictum that tells us to turn away from folks because they are not JUST LIKE ME. You can volunteer or write a check, make a phone call or reach out to someone you know (maybe a stranger but more likely someone who needs a friend.) Do it today. Don’t be a person who is Watching one’s life slip by day after day…

Photo: Zocalo Public Square