Sunday, August 25, 2013

We're all bastards, but God loves us anyway

Will Campbell (1924-2013) was a radical Christian, a native of Mississippi who was involved in the Civil Rights movement from its beginning and also ministered to members of the KKK. When challenged to sum up Christianity in ten words said, "We're all bastards, but God loves us anyway."

He was no less straightforward about the involvement of the church in politics. This was an area where my brother and I had many a conversation. He felt it was appropriate to hang the flag above the altar, and invite the candidate your congregation favoured in to preach the Sunday morning service, and collect contributions for his campaign. I believe the government's job is governing, and the while each of us must act from moral conviction the church has no business meddling in affairs of state. I think Will and I would have gotten along just fine.

"I believe God made the St. Lawrence River, and the Rio Grande River, and the China Sea and the English Channel, but I don't believe God made America, or Canada, or Mexico, or England or China. Man did that… Patriotism is the insistence that what we have done is sacred. It is that transference of alligance from what God did in creating the whole world to what we have done with (or to) a little sliver of it. Patriotism is immoral. Flying a national flag - any national flag - in a church is a symbol of idolatry. Singing 'God Bless America' in a Christian service is blasphemy. Patriotism is immoral because it is a violation of the First Commandment."

If you are doubtful how Christ would look if He walked among us today, look no further than Will D Campbell. There's a wonderful program about his life, his philosophy and his work, below. Grab a cup of coffee and prepare to be entertained.

If you can't see the embed watch it here.

God's Will from The Center for Public Television on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Every Breath, New Chances

If you can't see the embedded video, click on the PBS link. Blogger is being weird about videos.

We age, we are faced with it on a daily basis. The only way to escape growing older is to die young, which is not much of an option. This brings to mind the Plum Village Chant I have in the sidebar, which I find such a comfort day after day:

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.

There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.

I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.

My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

from: The Plum Village Chanting, by Thich Nhat Hanh

The One Thing

If you can't see the video here you can watch it on YouTube, and then this conversation can begin.

To start with, I'm one of those people you would expect to be a racist. I was born in the 1940s. I spent my formative years in a little town that sits almost with eyesight of the Texas/Oklahoma border. We were poor, I went to a segregated school and lived in a segregated neighbourhood. My parents had only elementary educations, and spoke the parlance of the day. Even a Black man you knew and liked was called by the "N" word. And even though it was a small town you rarely saw Black people on the street, they had their own businesses, clubs and churches. They knew better than to come to Main Street, or if they did they hurried, head down, and women pulled their children by the arm and urged them on. Signs in shop windows said, No Dogs and No *iggers.

A month before I started high school we moved to Phoenix. The students in the high school I attended, on the poor side of town, were a mixture of immigrant Whites, (from other countries or Southern poverty), Black kids, Latinos (though we just called them Mexicans then), and Japanese who had stayed on when the World War II Japanese internment camps in the Arizona desert had closed. And I learned, in the classroom, the cafeteria, the hallways and the after school clubs, that all of us were essentially the same, no matter what colour we were. Some had brilliant minds and beautiful souls, some had beautiful bodies, some goofed off and some worked hard. Some, like my friend Dan Grijalva, who had late stage muscular dystrophy, struggled on a daily basis just to survive.

It was an intense time. I remember watching on the nightly news films of courageous Black children trying to integrate schools in Little Rock Arkansas, pristine dresses and white shirts. The frightened faces as the local police turned fire hoses and unleashed police dogs on small children. The National Guard, The Freedom Riders, the lunch counter sit-ins, We Shall Overcome and I Have a Dream.

Someone broke into the school grounds and wrote racist graffiti on the walls. It was like we'd been violated. I will never forget the shame and pain on Lily Jones' face that day. We needed the adults to tell us that it was okay to be angry, it was okay for all of us to grieve with the Black students who the violence had been directed toward, but we were not told. We were children ourselves, unsure. I knew what I should have done. I wanted to go to Lily, who I liked so much, put my arms around her, cried my heart out and told her how sorry I was that she and the other Black kids had been the target of such ignorance and hate. But I was too shy, I was afraid she'd reject me. I knew what I should have done and I didn't do it.

In those moments my heart broke and broke and broke again. It's been 50 years since I Have a Dream, and "the dream" is no closer to being realized now than it was then. But that's only because those of us with White Privilege have not spoken up when we could to make the dream of harmony and peace for all our children, of any colour, ethnicity, religion, or disability a reality. We have been all too complacent, we have been willing to stand aside and allow our brothers and sisters to be persecuted, discriminated against, humiliated, and beaten down. The only thing that stands between the dream and its realization is our inaction, our lethargy, our timidity, our unwillingness to make a scene or get involved.

We know what to do. It's time for us to stop being cowards, no one wins a battle alone. It's time for us to step up to the plate and send prejudice back to Hell with the Devil, which is where it springs from and where it ought to stay.

Friday, August 23, 2013

All your diamond tears will rise up

If you can't see Bryan Bower's wonderful performance of this song embedded here you can view it here.

His interpretation is that this song is about it going down fighting, but I hear it saying that death brings a great release of the mass = energy we are composed of and our energy becomes a part of all of physical creation. I find it a beautifully compelling song. No fear. We are here, and here our energy will stay, expressed over and over again in affirmation that we indeed are one.

Come, lonely hunter, chieftain and king
I will fly like the falcon when I go
Bear me my brother under your wing
I'll be struck filled with lightning when I go

I will bellow like the thunder drum, invoke the storm of war
A twisting pillar spun of dust and blood up from the prairie floor
I will sweep the foe before me like a gale out on the snow
And the wind will long recount the story, reverence and glory, when I go

Spring, spirit dancer, nimble and thin
I will leap like coyote when I go
Tireless entrancer, lend me your skin
I will run like the gray wolf when I go

I will climb the rise at daybreak, I will kiss the sky at noon
Raise my yearning voice at midnight to my mother in the moon
I will make the lay of long defeat and draw the chorus slow
Send this message down the wire and hope that someone wise is listening when I go

And when the sun comes, trumpets from his red house in the east
He will find a standing stone where long I chanted my release
He will send his morning messenger to strike the hammer blow
And I will crumble down uncountable in showers of crimson rubies when I go

Sigh, mournful sister, whisper and turn
I will rattle like dry leaves when I go
Stand in the mist where my fire used to burn
I will camp on the night breeze when I go

And should you glimpse my wandering form out on the borderline
Between death and resurrection and the council of the pines
Do not worry for my comfort, do not sorrow for me so
All your diamond tears will rise up and adorn the sky beside me when I go

ARTIST: Dave Carter TITLE: When I Go

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Celebrating KIVA!

Microfinance is a general term to describe financial services to low-income individuals or to those who do not have access to typical banking services. Microfinance is based on the idea that low-income individuals are often capable of lifting themselves out of poverty if given access to financial services.

Over the past three or four years through KIVA we have made monthly loans of $25.00 to individuals in many different part of the world. Most have been women, many have been groups of women, who work together to guarantee each other's loans.

KIVA combines our $25.00 with loans from other lenders to make up the full amount of the loan. Borrowers pay back a small amount on their loan each month,   so your money is recycled. When a loan is repaid you can choose to loan the funds to another borrower, or take the money out of the program and put it back in your pocket. Although we have only put $286 into the program in all the time we've participated, by recycling what has returned we have loaned $1,350. And of the 49 loans we have made, only one borrower has not paid back the loan in full, and her entire village was destroyed in a tsunami. We do not know if she escaped and survived or if she died.

This month we celebrate making loans number 50 and 51, both to communal groups in Bolivia served by Pro Mujer (For Woman).  Pro Mujer provides not only loans but also free basic health care to borrowers and their children, in addition to business and financial literacy training.

Loan number 50 went to “LAS MAÑANERAS” (The Morning) group, which is starting its fifth loan cycle in Pro Mujer. It is governed by a board of directors, and Pascuala is the president. The members' businesses are varied and include: condiments sales, potato sales, canned food sales, grain sales, pop sales, vegetable sales, and food sales.

This loan will benefit all these small businesses. The leader of the group, Pascuala, says that she has been part of Pro Mujer for five loan cycles. She joined at the invitation of a promoter who visited her at home to tell her about Pro Mujer's loan program. She currently has a business selling vegetables. She says that she began selling vegetables several years ago when she saw what a wide demand there was for fresh vegetables.

This loan is to increase her working capital so she can purchase larger quantities of vegetables from wholesale markets of the city of El Alto. She will then sell the produce in her market stall. This work allows her to generate an income in order to maintain her household; she is married and has three children. When asked what she likes about Pro Mujer, she responded that she likes the health center.

Members of Villa Esther

Loan 51 went to the communal group "Villa Esther" which is starting its second term in Pro Mujer. The group has eight members and is run by a Board of Directors headed by Constancia, the president. The members have a wide variety of businesses, including a bakery, a cleaning service, bread sales, clothing sales, and the weaving of wool sweaters.

The loan will benefit the tiny businesses of the organization where Constance is a member. She said that they joined Pro Mujer a year ago at the invitation of her sister-in-law, who is a member of another communal group of borrowers.

Constance runs a bakery, which helps to sustain her family. She learned how to run this business with the help of a family member who gave her the start-up capital. Her loan will be used to purchase flour, which she will buy from one of the wholesaler vendors in the city of El Alto. After using the flour for baking, she will sell her products in her market stall. Her work generates income which she uses to help maintain her home and family, as she is married and has four children. When asked what she liked most about Pro Mujer, she said that she liked the access to health assistance.

Anyone can make a KIVA loan, in fact you can make a free one now by following this link. Select a borrower, make the loan free of charge and see how it works. You get updates which tell you how your borrowers are doing, and you can see how your loan has helped raise them help themselves.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Lean In

I'm a great fan of  Buddhist nun  Pema Chödrön, and find her gentle but no nonsense advice very helpful many days.  I find reading her books like talking to an older and wiser friend, one who knows what it is to live with pain and ill health and neither pities nor blames me for my feelings.

"The next time you lose heart and you can't bear to experience what you're feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering - yours, mine, and that of all living beings."  Excerpt from "Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears", page 55 Pema Chödrön

I tend to get wound up in what I am unable to do, and I do this worst when I feel worst. So instead of just staying with the moment, and allowing my body to rest and recover I tend to replay the tapes in my head, "Lazy, useless, better if you'd never been born, millstone, could if you would… yada yada". Then I predict that if today is this bad, tomorrow, next week, next year are bound to be worse, and I just feel like curling into a ball and giving up completely.

Pema tells me not to buy into those old voices in my head, stop flagellating myself and just stay with what's happening now. Not to worry about the past, what tomorrow will be like, just stay with *now* and be like a cork in a pond. Bob along, sometimes washed over by a wave and briefly submerged but quickly popping up again.

All in all, the practice of peace must begin with being at peace with yourself, your life, your particular strengths and weaknesses. Lean into your own heart, your own pain, see them for what they are, and rest.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Better Underwater Than Old

Eight weeks ago we had a terrible flood which inundated entire neighbourhoods. In contrast to mayors in some smaller communities around Calgary, our mayor, Naheed Nemshi, was a tower of unflappable strength and showed incredible leadership during the crisis. There is no doubt that he is the most popular man in Calgary right now.

The Alberta government stepped in and began giving those who were displaced by the flood debit cards worth $1250 for each adult and $600 for each child in every family within 48 hours. Funds are being made available, in the billions of dollars, to help people repair their homes where possible, or to move and buy or build elsewhere if their flood damaged home sits in the newly assessed flood plain.

Volunteers have come out by the 10s of thousands to help complete strangers clean up, restore, donate. Albertans pulling together. Benefit concerts are an almost nightly occurrence with big name entertainers here to raise money for flood victims. There's a huge groundswell of community spirit.

Which is why I was dumbfounded to see on last night's news that the Kerby Centre, a local non-profit offering a wide variety of services to Calgary's seniors is going to be forced to close six of the 15 beds in its Shelter Program for Homeless Seniors  unless it can raise the $207,000 to keep the program running for the next year. The shelter housed 56 clients last years, for an average stay of about two and a half months while they got back on their feet, were medically stabilized and found a place to live. The Alberta government has turned down their requests for help.

The Shelter turns away many more seniors than it can house, but is life-saving for the clients who find a place there. One elderly couple with serious medical issues spoke of sleeping in their car in the months after they lost their home due to the inability to keep up the mortgage payment after the husband fell ill. Hungry, sick, exhausted and no longer able to endure the stress, they were so desperate they had decided to end their lives when a friend found them a place at the Kerby Shelter.

The government says it will give flood victims up to the amount of the price of the average house in Calgary to implement repairs - the average house in Calgary is now $460,000 - and that's ONE house. Maybe someone should flood the Kerby Homeless Shelter and apply for flood aid! 

This makes one suspect that the couple who owns a $2 Million property along the Elbow is much more important to the Alberta government than an elderly senior.

Where's that community spirit now? Who is going to do the benefit concert for the 80 year old who has no place to go?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Dionysian hangs the picture wherever it suits

I have absolutely loved the work and philosophy of Dan Phillips since reading of him years ago. A trained architect from Huntsville, Texas, Phillips helps people build their own affordable dream homes with recycled materials that most people would consider useless. The houses he builds are spectacular and creative, all one of a kind and entirely unique. And by affordable he's talking $40,000-50,000. The average Calgary family home is selling for $460,000 right now! "Starter" homes are a quarter of a million dollars or more.

Each of the homes he's built has allowed low-income, first-time buyers to enter the world of home ownership. And they learn new skills as they go. One of his best carpenters was a bottle-picker he saw go by every day and asked if he'd like a steady job.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

What a kitten taught a cat

When we sat the defenseless 1.5 pound ball of fluff on the floor for Smokey the 20 pound "only" cat to look at for the first time we stayed within rescue distance. We need not have worried. On Smokey's part it was love at first sight.

He would have scooped the kitten up and cuddled it immediately but the kitten took one look at his new monster-sized brother and turned fierce, arching his back, tail straight up and puffed, spitting and hissing like a teakettle.

Smokey is quiet, calm, and patient. He simply turned his back, lay down and looked the other way. The little one hid under the leg of the table, but by day two was too curious to ignore the mound of grey fur, and he was missing his mama and siblings awfully.
Hobbes at about 12 weeks, snoozing on Smokey's back

He wondered. Does that big cat have titties? Which is how patient and loving Smokey came to have scabs around his nipples for the first few weeks. He would let the baby suckle his tiny nubs of nipple, before it curled into his bulk and slept.

We tried to call the "little one" Salvadore Too, but he never took to it. After seven months he still ignored being called by name. It was obvious he wanted no part of being the second anything. So Sal2, renamed Hobbes (which he took to immediately) will be nine months old on the 18th. He weighs about nine pounds. Time for a visit to the vet. I'll have to take them both, Smokey needs his boosters, and I'm not sure how he'll react to leaving his baby behind for surgery. There cannot be a closed door between them. If Hobbes wakes and doesn't see Smokey immediately there is such a screaming as you wouldn't believe could come from such a small body.

To say they are bonded would be the grossest understatement. Smokey has, from the first, let Hobbes eat first. Smokey will only eat tuna and Hobbes will only eat chicken, but  every time we feed them Smokey stands back for Hobbes to check out the tuna bowl before he eats.

Hobbes has long, extremely powerful back legs, and even as a 10 week old kitten was jumping higher than the cobby Smokey is able to jump. Smokey was afraid to jump on the bed, would stand and look into the tub, but couldn't jump into it. Somewhere he missed that lesson. Hobbes taught him how to jump and now the two of them hurtle like furry missiles over every obstacle in the house. I've even caught Smokey on the kitchen counter a couple of times.

Hobbes has taught Smokey how to scratch the furniture. (sigh) He *never* scratched the furniture before. He's taught him to yodel, and to purr, and how to be brave.

Smokey is terrified of the vacuum. Any time he saw me taking it from the closet he would run to the bedroom and hide under the bed until hunger or the need for the litter box forced him out, four or five hours later. Hobbes is not afraid of the vacuum. He plays with it, and now Smokey will jump on the bed and watch me vacuum past.

Last week a section of the front walk had to be removed, with a jackhammer, before new concrete was poured. Smokey was just overwhelmed with fear at the noise, which was right below our balcony. He was soon so stressed he was panting and crying. I took him out into the hallway for a walk, away from the noise for a few minutes, but he soon ran back to our door, where Hobbes was waiting. Hobbes comforted him, kissing his face, rubbing along his sides and intertwining their tails and within minutes the two of them were curled together sleeping, Smokey unconcerned with the noise. 

Maybe Hobbes will teach him not to be afraid of thunder, but I doubt it. We have had several spectacular thunder and lightening storms in the last week. While Smokey hid under my chair, as far from the windows as he could get, Hobbes was standing in the big patio window watching the light show with great interest and excitement.
As soon as the lights go out each night a great rumpus starts, but after 10-15 minutes of hard play both will join us in bed. Smokey wouldn't sleep with us before Hobbes came. I think he must have been punished as a kitten for getting on the bed, and we couldn't convince him we wanted him there with us. Hobbes did that. From the first night, when he slept sprawled on my chest, he's taught Smokey that a lot of things are pretty okay.  You think it's the older that teach the young, and Smokey has taught Hobbes things too, but it's surprising how much the older has learned from the young.  

Monday, August 05, 2013

I'll send what I have on the Allens, but it will be a wrench

I have been an avid genealogist since the 1970s. In those days "research" involved combing through dusty files and old books in courthouses, hours spent hunched over fiche and film readers, trying to finish reading through 1300 pages of unindexed county records before the film you ordered at a cost of $15.00 or $20.00 was returned to the dark vault from whence it came, 100 or 1000 miles away.

In those days genealogy was a very civilized pursuit. You wrote polite letters to other genealogists who might have information valuable to you, explained who you were researching, how you were connected and exactly what information you were seeking. You offered to pay for any copying or other expenses and included a self-addressed stamped envelope in case the recipient of your plea was kind enough to reply. If you knew the person you were writing was a "fount of knowledge" for the family you were researching you often tucked a $5.00 or $10.00 bill into the envelope.

Now for a small monthly subscription fee you can maintain a family tree on and have access to millions of ancient records, from old newspapers and high school albums to parish records from the 1500s, census records and military documents. All you have to do is put in the name and start searching.

There is also the "Family Tree", where subscribers can look at others' trees, and very easily pull data from dozens, if not hundreds, of trees into their own. The "Family Tree" on is a potential minefield. Look closely and you find children born 100 (or more) years before their parents, two, three, four families "blended" into one impossible 75 years of childbearing for one incredibly patient wife, men born 100 years before (or after) the Revolution marching with George Washington, 1/2 the world descended from Charlemagne and the other half from Richard the Lion-Hearted.

Truth be told there's a great deal more fiction than fact in Ancestry trees. THIS is where research comes in, or doesn't usually. People just copy from each other, never checking for documentation to see if what they are including is accurate. Newton Allen of Connecticut did not race down on his horse in the nick of time to father your ggg-granddaddy Newton Allen's children in West Virginia and then ride back home to his Connecticut wife and children. Lots of people have the same names, even unusual ones. I though it would be easy to find Stirling Tidwell until I found out that there were dozens of Stirling Tidwells born in the early 100s. And also remember that people were not normally buried in two separate graves in different states unless there was an incredibly messy accident.

So the rule is: Forget using the Family Trees of anyone else as the basis for your "research" unless you're just trying to find any way possible to connect Granddaddy to Dan'l Boone or Davy Crockett and you don't care what path it takes to get you there. 

Most Family Trees are public, but mine is private. This is because I have put years into personal research and if someone wants to use it they must ask for it. I generally ask how they are connected so I know the research is being connected to the right individual. This angers many people who expect to buy a subscription to and find their entire family tree researched and laid out for them, like buying a can of beans off the grocer's shelf. They do not understand that; 1) every family tree is unique 2) they need to do their own research using the the searchable public documents provides (it's really fun!),  and 3) they have no "divine right" to research which has been done, often at a considerable investment of time and expense, by another individual.

We might compare it to your neighbourhood street. Everyone can use the street, but a if a person living on that street puts together a collection of antique clocks there is no question to whom the clock collection belongs. No one would even begin to suggest that the right to drive on the street gives drivers the right to go into the collector's home and take whichever clock strikes their fancy (no pun intended).

I happily share research and documentation on individuals, like wills, deeds, photos, marriage records etc. But I am constantly asked to share not just information on individuals, but whole family lines, by people who do not understand that they must do their own basic work. I've been told, "I don't have time to look up all that stuff!" by someone who wanted a "family tree for her kids" but decided it was easier to simply take my tree than do research on her family, even though we are not related.

I used to delete "requests" like the ones below. Now I try to help others be more successful in their search for their ancestors by sending them a link to this page, so they can learn the right way to seek information from another genealogist. You note, none of these requests contain a greeting, an introduction or the courtesies of please and thank you, they do not even sign their names. All they do is make a rude demand, when common sense dictates that courtesy would produce a better response. Here are some requests which demonstrate how not to ask for another's research.

"Send me everything you have on the Cox family."

"I am a Cole descendant. Send me everything about my ancestors."

"I'm a descendant of X. Send me her parent's names." 

"David Crouch 1744" 

"I want all you have on the Smiths."

"Send me what you have on the Allens. It's mine as much as yours."

"Give me access to your tree."

The following three messages came from one charming young lady in the space of half an hour:

1) "Send me *everything* you have on the Clarks."
2) "I said send that information. I want it NOW."
3) "You _ITCH, how DARE you block me from information that belongs to me!"

Below is an example of the proper way to ask for information from another genealogist. Remember you are asking someone else to do you a favour, so be polite.

1. Begin with a salutation: Dear (Insert name here - if you don't know the name you may say, "Hello", or "Hi" or "Dear Fellow Genealogist" ) 

2. Introduce yourself:  My name is Mr. Very Polite.

3. Say who are researching and why:  I am researching the Civils, who are my paternal grandfather's maternal line. In particular I am looking for information on my grandfather's great-uncle Extremely Civil  who was born in 1810 in Peoria New York. I have never been able to locate him as an adult.

4) Say why you are contacting the person: I see that you have an Extremely Civil b 1810 in Peoria New York in your tree, who died in Reno Nevada in 1885. 

5) Make a POLITE request:  Would you be willing to compare the Extremely Civil in your tree with the Extremely Civil in my tree to see if we have a match?

6) ALWAYS OFFER to EXCHANGE information:  I would be happy to exchange any information on my Civil and allied families (The Well-Breds, Genteels, and Courteous families) that might be useful to you. I have photos of the Civil family and a copy of the family Bible brought from Germany in 1800. If these are of interest I am happy to copy them for you.  [Note; if you have nothing of interest to exchange then you are not ready to ask for another's research, go do some research of your own first]

7) End politely:  Thank you, (or) All the Best (or) Sincerely yours, etc.

8) Then sign your name:  Mr. Very Polite

And, after all this, when you receive a reply, whether the answer is helpful to your research or not, remember to write a "Thank You" note.

And, if you think this is too much trouble, then go do your own research.