For Food Security

Day Five: For Food Security

I feel more conflicted about this one than I have about my previous gratitude topics. Not that food security is not a marvelous blessing–it truly is, in every sense of the word. 

But I’m aware that all around me–in my community, across my nation, and around the world, there are many, many people who do not share this blessing.

To express public gratitude for it, in the knowledge of such widespread lack, almost feels like gloating. That’s not my intention at all. If I could, I’d extend this blessing to everyone in the world, so that no one anywhere has to go to bed hungry, or wonder where their next meal will come from.

Here in the USA, today is Thanksgiving. Everyone in the country is presumed to be eating their fill, then waddling into the next room to zone out in a “food coma” while watching American football games. However, despite the best efforts of community charities, not everyone will be able to do that. Statesman Jacques Diouf put it well:

Everyone alive should be acknowledged to have a basic human right to adequate, nutritious food. That this is ignored, pushed aside as inconvenient, left to the vaguaries of climate change, governmental style or unregulated capitalism, or even actively subverted so hunger can be used as a weapon is inexcusable. Yes, people have been doing it for millennia; it’s a crime against humanity every single time, in my opinion.

How can persons of conscience work to fight food insecurity? Acknowledging that we who can eat well are blessed, we can make charitable donations on both the local (link to find US agencies) and international (this link: UN) level to help fill immediate shortfalls.

But we also must advocate for longer-range goals: 

Creating systemic improvement is a large, difficult goal, fraught with practical difficulties, cultural pitfalls, and unintended results. It also is desperately necessary, as long as people anywhere are hungry.

Creating changes in public opinion is a way to begin. Funding empirical studies by unbiased researchers is a reasonable step forward. Involving all involved parties in design of solutions is a reasonable, respectful necessity that is likeliest to result in the best solutions. Many initiatives have already begun. We all must work together to bring the best ones to fruition.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The “Food security definition” quote by Pattie Baker is from Quozio, via Pinterest; her book Food for My Daughters is available from Amazon Smile and other fine booksellers. The Jacques Diouf quote is identified as sourced from Live58, though I couldn’t find it on their site; I did find it on the website for GRIID (the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy). The quote from Ray Offenheiser of Oxfam America is courtesy of The Huffington Post, via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

For my Callings

Day Four: Grateful for my Callings

The idea that one has a “purpose” or a “calling” on one’s life is another one of those universal thoughts that many different spiritual traditions have identified. I’ve connected to mine through my Christian faith, but you don’t have to be a Christian to know you have gifts and talents, or passions in life that call to you.

I think it’s part of human psychology, deep-rooted in our social-animal nature, to want our lives to make a difference in the world. We find our reason for being in what we perceive to be our life’s purpose.

Conversely, I don’t think I’ve ever met any more unhappy kind of person than those who don’t think they have any particular purpose, no reason to exist. They swell the ranks of the suicidal, because they really don’t believe they matter–even when they very much DO.

My faith-tradition tells me that I was uniquely created by God, and placed here in this moment and location for specific reasons–with tasks set before me, which I was specifically crafted to do well. It is part of my faith-walk to seek out my callings (we all come with several), and fulfill them as faithfully as I can.

That means I must know myself, in as much honesty and fullness as I can. I must look at myself critically, and evaluate my strengths and weaknesses to the best of my ability, nakedly before God (God already knows, of course; there’s no fooling, or faking God out).

What am I drawn to do? Where do my skills, talents, and natural abilities lie? If I was created by God to fulfill certain callings as faithfully as I can, then I must also believe that God has attuned my heart to them (why else would they be identified as callings, after all?). When I am fulfilling the best uses I can find for the callings I feel most passionate about, then I believe I am operating at the heart of God’s will for me.

I don’t know any other way to faithfully answer my calling. Some things–some causes, some works–resonate more deeply for me. Throughout my life, it has been the same: Writing; artwork; teaching; giving; nurturing the animals and people entrusted into my hands. God and I have pretty much reached an understanding, six-plus decades on. I do the work as I understand it; God provides the way to sustain it.

So far, that’s working for me. I hope you’ve found your own path–the one that works for you. Blessings come, along your calling’s paths. Follow your passion, when you think you’ve lost your way.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post.  Many thanks to Chellyepic on Instagram, for the “things that excite you” quote image; to Heart and Soul Coaching for the Mark Twain quote image; to The Soul Purpose Project, for the Picasso quote image; and to Awesome Quotes on Tumblr for the “purpose and passion” quote image. I deeply appreciate all of you!

For Peace

Day Three: Grateful for Peace

Peace is a slipperier concept than you might at first think. For starters, what kind of peace am I grateful for?

Do I mean inner peace? Yes. Do I mean domestic peace? Yes. Do I mean peace in my community? Yes. Do I mean peace in the world? Yes. I am grateful for whatever moments, or fragments, or aspirational visions of peace I can grasp.

It seems ironic to me that everyone seems to want peace, or at least they say they do–but still there actually is so little of it to be encountered in the world. If we really want it so badly, why don’t we have it? Lots of reasons, I think. There are many forces working against peace, no matter whether we are talking about personal, inner harmony, or our larger communities. We live in a perpetual state of seeking a balance.

Forces such as a struggle to survive, to thrive, and to control aspects of one’s life are not necessarily bad, in and of themselves, but there are times when they produce strife. Forces such as greed, hatred, and intolerance normally are looked upon as evil or sinful–in others. We tend to give ourselves a “pass” when they crop up in our own mental landscapes.

Is competition good, or does it stir up divisiveness? The answer to both is: it can be/can. Is self-interest essential to individual survival? Yes. Can it also lead to destructive selfishness? Absolutely.

I think the first step for any of us is to find a way within our own selves to cultivate peace. As Anne Frank said:

The imperative need to act lovingly toward others is affirmed in many faith traditions, but you do not have to be Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or a follower of any religion at all, to see the sense in this. If we treat others with love and respect, it is much easier for them to respond in kind.

But it is the “love and respect for others” part where so many of our peace initiatives break down. If we go into a situation believing that the “other” is angry or hostile, it is harder to display peacefulness.

If we start with the assumption that the “other” is stupid, evil, or automatically wrong, we have already decided not to respect them. Granted, there are a lot of people whose opinion we find it hard to respect! But we don’t have to like what they say to agree that every person deserves a foundational level of respect, if we seek for peaceful relations with them.

I think respect is the essential difference between the peacekeeper and the peacemaker, no matter what the setting or the scope of the dispute.


In our lives, our local communities, our social media, our national discourse, and our international relations, I think the people we need most are peacemakers. Blessings upon them! How can we find ways to be them? The road is deceptively simple. Kind of like the idea of peace itself.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The “You cannot find peace” quote image is from The Things We Say; the Anne Frank quote image is from Affirm Your Life; the Tabarani 6067 quote image is from e Islamic Quotes; the Angie Lichtenstein quote image is from Pixteller. I profoundly thank each one!

For my Family

Day Two: Grateful for my Family

We humans are shaped and often defined by our families, for both well and ill. We can inherit everything–and anything–from our forebears, including any or all of those listed below:

  • Genetic vulnerabilities or resistances to diseases
  • Family recipes (be they sublime–or dreadful!)
  • Attitudes (political or otherwise)
  • Catchphrases (do you ever hear your parent’s or grandparent’s voice coming out of your own mouth?)
  • Childrearing practices (boy, can that be a two-edged sword! For you, and your kids!)
  • Knicknacks (from worthless dust-collectors to priceless heirlooms)
  • Traditions, (for holidays, special occasions, or anything at all)
  • Wealth (along with its entanglements.)
  • Poverty (different kinds of entanglements, but at least as many, here)
  • Or, all too often, dysfunctional patterns that over time can take on the likeness of a “generational curse,” if we’re not careful, thoughtful, and brutally self-reflective.

Blessings? Curses? A little of both? Yes. Families can be all of those. They even can be all of those at the same time.

If you regard your family-of-origin with little short of horror, I get it.

If you see them mainly as a pain in the patoot but you love them anyway, you’re in good company throughout most of the planet.

If you never knew them, I offer my deepest condolences–and pray you may be empowered to surround yourself with the kind of friends who love you like the most positive kind of brothers and sisters.

But if you’re like me, you not only remember your siblings and parents–you still have at least some of them around to deal with, care about, and/or worry about.

A bit rude, maybe, but more accurate than not.

In my case I have a house I have almost reclaimed from the hoarder-esque piles of inherited household goods after some eight estate liquidations since 2005, a recently-turned-93-year-old father, a Beloved who lost his 89-year-old mother this year, and two adult children with a variety of strengths and challenges–plus assorted canine, feline, piscine, and even Eublepharine household members with challenges of their own.

They are, in many ways, the reason I get up in the morning (well, them and the novel!), the delight of my life, and also the sand in my gears. I wouldn’t trade them for anything, and I know I’m incredibly lucky to have them. Every single one I’ve lost, I’ve lost under extreme protest. Every single one I haven’t yet lost, I cherish with all my heart.

IMAGES:  The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. Many thanks to Boardofwisdom, via Your English Library’s summary page about About a Boyfor the quotation image from Manwadu Ndife, and to iFunny for the graphic about family being like underpants.

 

For Religious Freedom

Day One: Grateful for Religious Freedom

On many calendars, this is the first day of the week, so I figure this is a good place to start my Seven Days of Gratitude project for the week of the US Thanksgiving holiday. Throughout my life, gratitude and thankfulness have repeatedly come up as important themes. I welcome this holiday each year as an opportunity to explore them once again.

My daughter recently started a “Gratitude Journal,” a daily recording of at least one thing each day for which she is thankful. Thinking about her project has given me my theme. As a practicing Christian, it is my belief that I have myriad blessings each day to celebrate with joy and thanksgiving to my God.

Massive among of those blessings, for me, it the United States Bill of Rights guarantee that I may practice my religious faith freely, without fear of persecution. It should be a source of great joy to everyone in the USA that this not only is guaranteed to me, but to everyone in my country, whatever tradition of faith–or however much absence of religious expression–they cherish.

Ironically, I think this is the single most important reason why so many people in the United States still say they believe in God (89%, according to a 2016 Gallup Poll. Compare that to most other industrialized nations, many of which have long histories of state religions). It seems to me that if you are free to believe in the God of your innermost spiritual being, you are more able to find reasons to believe in any God at all.

Or not. And that won’t get you thrown in prison either, thank . . . the Bill of Rights.

Our strength, yet again, lies in our diversity. That’s why I shudder when I hear people say “America is a Christian nation!” Many of the founders may indeed have been some variety of Christian (pretty broadly defined, though: consider how many were Deists, or how Thomas Jefferson felt free to create his own “good parts” version of the New Testament), but asserting any specific religion as “the” American religion would have been “fighting words” to them.

And rightly so. I believe that all of us in the United States should be deeply thankful for our guarantee of religious freedomand I believe that we must remember and defend it, any time we see the rights of any religious community under attack. Bad as that is, though, I think it’s even worse when the values of any particular religion are imposed upon others, especially by people acting in the name of some level of government. Any advocacy for either abuse should be “fighting words” for all true Americans.

IMAGES: The “Seven Days of Gratitude” design is my own creation, for well or ill. If for some reason You’d like to use it, please feel free to do so, but I request attribution and a link back to this post. The illustrated quote from Sir Patrick Stewart is courtesy of We F**king Love Atheism. Many thanks!

Respect

How do you celebrate Veterans Day? How should we? I think that varies with the individual or family, whether one is or is not a veteran, and sometimes which war hits closest to home for us.

A Veterans Day parade in Milwaukee, WI, complete with banners, flags and uniforms.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with a good parade, honor ceremony, or display of the flag. In many places you can buy a remembrance poppy, evoking memories of World War I, and a tradition in English-speaking countries since the 1920s.

I sometimes feel that the trappings of patriotism–the outward signs, such as a flag pin on a lapel or a patriotic meme on a Facebook wall–get more focus than actual, substantive ways to support veterans and their families.

Last year I posted some thoughts on how to thank veterans that might be worth another look, if you’re so inclined. But it seems to me that we as a nation need to think long and hard about how we treat our active-duty military personnel and our veterans. It’s easy to wave a flag and say “Thank you,” and I’m sure many feel good to be publicly appreciated–but is that the supportiveness they truly need?

If we, as citizens and taxpayers think veterans should be better-served than they currently are, we first should educate ourselves about where the needs truly lie–then get active on a local, state, and national level. To me, that’s the best form of patriotism: the hands-on, trying-to-make-it-better kind. P.S. Did you vote for better government last Tuesday?

If we’re paying enlisted personnel a living wage, why do so many of them end up as prey to the predatory payday lenders whose businesses cluster near military bases?

Back in 2011, I wrote about dilapidated schools on military basesMany were still struggling to improve their facilities as recently as 2015, though academic scores were rising.

If we’re so grateful as a nation to our veterans, why don’t more employers make a point of hiring them

Why are there so many homeless veterans? Also, what can ordinary citizens do to help them? Why are social and mental-health services spread so thin that veterans too often fall through the gaps?

Why do so many veterans commit suicide? How can we stem this trend?

Looks elegant–but are we making it REAL? That’s an open question, I fear.

It seems clear to me that we still have many serious “system upgrades” to put in place, before any “thank you for your service” we say won’t be at risk of seeming kind of hollow, to all too many of our returned warriors.

No matter how sincerely we mean it.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Honor Our Military (based in Milwaukee, WI) for the photo from their 2014 Veterans Day Parade; to the Remembrance Day Pinterest page and Pin for the poppy-themed thought (photo sourced from Hubpages); and to Ultimate Medical Academy via Pinterest for the quote image about real heroes. Thanks are also due to Diply via Pinterest for the Mark Twain quote about patriotismFinally, I am grateful to the National Veterans Foundation for the “dog tags” Thank You image.

Days of the Dead: Remembering the victims of human-made disasters

What can we do?

Sometimes we tend to look at the state of the world today, and say, “I’m just one person. What can I possibly do that makes any difference?” In yesterday’s All Saints Day post, I invited a pause to remember the amazing and valuable people who have perished in natural disasters this year–then to think about our own best response to those who are left behind. But not all disasters come in the form of storms, fires or earthquakes.

Do you think of all terrorism as local? In every case, it’s local to somebody–and wherever such attacks occur, they’re flat wrong. Here, some of my brothers and sisters in Christ (who happen to live in Egypt) were the target. But no community in any country of the world is invulnerable, and terrorism is always wrong, no matter who does it or why.

On this All Souls Day, it would do the world good to remember that too many disasters–this year and every year–are created by humans. And those human-made disasters routinely kill people and destroy lives in vast numbers.

In response to those, our wisest reaction is very much not to throw up our hands and ask, “What can anybody do?” Our clear call to action in those cases is to sit up, take notice, and ask “What can I do to help?” Because if we are not part of the solution to human-made disasters . . . well, you know how that one ends.

The headlines are full of the opiod epidemic sweeping the world right now–talk about a human-made disaster!–but addictions to alcoholgambling, and many other things abound, while understanding (and appropriate compassion for victims) lags seriously behind.

Terrorismaddictiongun violencehuman traffickinghomicidesdomestic violencesexual harassment and assaulttraffic accidentspollution and environmental degradationcoarsening civil discourse, and the determined efforts of many lawmakers to dismantle social safety nets and leave the poor, the elderly, the disabled and children vulnerable . . . no single human can tackle everything

But every single human can take on something

Just one of myriad examples of environmental degradation: cleanup after an oil spill in Nigeria.

What issues pull at you most strongly? Do you thirst for justice, despite living a class-stratified, discriminatory culture where too many nonviolent offenders are locked up for too long, while all too many better-funded violent offenders seem invulnerable?

Is your passion a yearning for greater kindness and civility in our communities? Compassion for the vulnerable at the hands of oppression? Are you worried over the degrading quality of our natural environment?

Each of those causes has an active community of people working to counteract it. I urge you to find one that suits your personality and concerns, then get involved.

You may not be able to solve the problem single-handedly, but you owe it to yourself and your world to do what you can. As long as we have life, that is the job of every moral being.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Casa Bonampak, for the Days of the Dead Papel Picado banner at the top (handy place to buy them); to NewsInfo on Inquirer.net for the photo of the Egyptian church aftermath; to CBC News for the photo of paramedics working on an overdose victim (and a story about how one paramedic copes with his job); to InvestorKing, for the oil spill photo and accompanying article about environmental degradation in Nigeria by oil companies; and to Pinterest for the quote image.