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The Power of Community-across-diversity

3rd September 2011

I was intrigued today as I read reports about the tropical storm Lee racing toward the Gulf States, or more specifically toward New Orleans. What struck me was the comment made by the executive director of S&WB, Marcia St. Martin, to the citizens of the greater New Orleans area that “The pumping capacity is at 100 percent. We will close gates as necessary, but most importantly, it’s important that citizens clean their catch basins, clean their drains” (http://www.munciefreepress.com/node/24341).

We might ask: what our catch drains really do in the face of such fury? However, when one adds the collective impact of more than 1 million people each doing this ‘little’ thing well, we get the massive results of a community at work.

Nothing can shock the system of a community as the power of a hurricane blasting through a city. Also, nothing can do more to activate those that are threatened in this way into galvanized action. Moreover, nothing can do more to generate compassion from outside of service; help; support; finances; love and prayer. The Internet is packed with accounts of billions of dollars of resources poured into such situations. The figures are staggering despite the failed promises to meet the minimum 0.7% of GNP by some of the wealthiest nations as the two Official Development Aid charts below show:

Charts courtesy globalissues.org - 125$b spent by nations on aid in 2010

And yet, is it the billions given by nations, and their organizations, that are making the greatest impact in the disaster zones of the world? Or, to follow the example of the million ‘catch drains’, the collective sum of the little individual acts of kindness done daily by those who care: from businesspeople turned philanthropists; to individual people; to representatives; to young teenagers giving up weeks or months of their lives to involve themselves in the restoration process; to loving family members, et cetera! One might call these all, whether they represent an organization or themselves, the modern-day Samaritans. It is their faces that this world cannot forget!

Heroic acts, given opportunity by, at times frightening adversity, usually rise above the tides of pain and despair to redeem; restore; recover; refresh, and to rescue. More so, to comfort; to heal, and to bring hope again!

At six years of age, on the island of Mauritius, on the 28th February 1960, I experienced what a cyclone could do that was about 100 kilometers in width; moving south at 25 km/h, and spinning at speeds in excess of 250 km/h. I still remember an entire roof fly by our house 100 feet off the ground. Then the eye of the cyclone came over the island casting an eerie suffocating yellow glow over us for four horrible hours. I remember my father, who was the manager of La Baraque sugar mill, racing about madly throughout the villages where the estate’s employees lived with their families, and warning them that the worst was to come. When the tail of Cyclone Carol hit the island, the impact came in the reverse direction (still turning clockwise). This was what caused most of the devastation.

The graphic picture of the inside wall of my bedroom swelling; water two-feet deep; trees uprooted, and debris flying through the air is still very vivid. However, then as now, it was the character of compassion; love; service; sacrifice, and caring for others that we cannot forget.

What humans discover at such difficult times is the power of community.

Imagine if you will, a placid mountain scene, with vacationers cooking their meat over campfires; sounds of lighthearted activity and of children running around laughing excitedly, and then a shout is heard from somewhere, “MY CHILD IS LOST!” There will be no questions asked; no further explanations needed. Everyone understands exactly what needs to be done; everyone scatters in the hunt for the lost child. Carried in every mother and father’s heart is a love for all children, and of the burdens that other parents bear in such a situation. Empathy gushes out involuntarily. This is not shallow idealism, but realistic compassion in a community at work! I speak here of one event, but also of the whole human and creational community. The principle applies to both.

All it takes is a disaster to remind us that we are indeed all members of the same human race; and when push comes to shove, we will care and protect each other no matter what. Might the continuing violence of the world then not stem from the idea that the other, as the neighbor, as the stranger, as the enemy, as different culturally, is somehow ‘other’ to me, and thus justifies a different response? I am bringing up here the radical change in response that a view of the other as both the same and different and thus worthy of acceptance in unity-across-diversity might make to this world.

John Donne in his Devotions, rightly said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”.

The possibility of a world united-across-diversity fills me with joy! Will there always be the tension between the known and unknown, the subject and the object, the divine and the human, the self and the other? No doubt, yes, and yet this tension in its presence and for the future reflects the powerful love of God on the cross—a love willing to die for the other, and yet which violence and hate could not destroy! This love is still here among us in the Spirit of Christ—it is in the resurrected Spirit of Christ. This love is not owned by Christians, or anyone else—it is a love that respects all; gives dignity to all, and reminds all of the grace of God that waits in kindness and mercy for all to find their joy, and their hope, and their faith, and their love for themselves and others in a future of unity-across-diversity.

Keep on. Loys

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MAKING LIVING EVEN MORE FUN—the effect of grace

1st September 2011

I read a story recently of a man who was in an airplane about to eat his purchased in-flight $5 lunch when he glanced to his right at a bunch of soldiers all sitting quietly without any food. He could not bring himself to eat his, but got up and went to the steward’s cabin at the back of the plane. He gave the air hostess a $50 bill and asked her to provide food for the ten soldiers. She teared up and told him that what he was doing, he was doing for her own son who was still in Iraq. A little later while he was sitting in his seat, another hostess came up with a tray of food from the first-class cabin, which she said was as a “thank-you”. Then two strangers came up to him and each gave him $25 and said that they also wanted to help. Then the pilot arrived and asked to shake his hand. All the passengers began to clap in appreciation.

It does not take much to raise the joy level in any situation. Even the smallest grace acts of kindness can transform the atmosphere in a second. I had a similar situation happen to me on a flight to the island of St. John. What ended up happening in that instance was that eight of the passengers came to visit the community where I was speaking. In so doing, they encouraged this community in a difficult time.

Getting joy is grace to us; keeping joy is our charge and opportunity to others.

The key to shepherding joy rests in the belief that every human is already afforded the grace from God to stand on level ground.

I speak here of the effect of grace or hope in each person to go deeper.

Without a doubt, this world wants to be filled with joy. I, however, would admit to not knowing how to shepherd it well. Moments of ecstasy or victory can be quickly swallowed up by the mundane; by mounting debt; by difficult events; by personal insecurities; by relational mishaps, or by some other negative thing. However, joy means to understand that through God’s grace to all we already carry the potential of turning any ground to “level ground”!

Some need to acquire their “sea legs”, so that when their boat sways dangerously in the swell, they remember their potential and their already access and acceptance to live as “on level ground”. ‘Level ground’ in any life does not mean the absence of mobility, for that, would be death. No, rather, ‘level ground’ happens when we connect with the knowledge that we are worthy as individuals, and that all other individuals are worthy also. I am opening a path here toward what Paul calls the ‘royal commandment: to love others as ourselves.

It does not matter how we frame it: spiritually or otherwise, but I believe this love is a grace from God already present in the earth through the Spirit of Christ. I speak here of a Christ who belongs to all the living. At a purely sociological level, we find our ‘level ground’ in our mobility; in our life; in our choices; in our community of support, and also in the unexpected and unknown of our futures. This ‘potential’ means we have a perpetual access to the possibility in us and in those around us to resolve our conflicts through proper relationships of care and nurture (epitomized in the example of Christ on the cross) and thus to recover from sadness and despair; to hope; to curtail our anger; to grow in healing; to forgive if need be; to rise from fear of the future; to break free of intolerance of uncertainty.

The story of the Air-Samaritan was not concluded until he arrived in the terminal. He approached the soldiers and gave them the $50 he had received from the other passengers and told them to use it to feed themselves later that day. I would bet that their lives were deeply touched that day!

Keep on. Loys 110901

 

GOING BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY!

31st August 2011

My brother who designs bridges as a civil engineer has a saying: Engineers just can’t walk away from a bridge with an analysis or a report. They have to see the problems through to an effective resolution – they couldn’t just submit the report. Engineers should see “every bridge as their personal responsibility irrespective of who designed it or built it!” The thing that keeps them from walking away is “passion and love for what you do.”  In Kaohsiung, the southernmost city of Taiwan, the engineers had picked up longitudinal cracks next to the abutments underneath the deck of one of their bridges. The bridge was 100 meters long and carried extremely heavy daily traffic. The problem was complex and they had not been able to resolve it. He was flown into the city to assess the situation. Twenty Taiwanese engineers looked at him from the ground and pointed up at the cracks and said, “why?” He had no idea what caused it. He asked to be lifted in a one-man lift into the deck box. When he entered alone into the concrete box frame of the bridge he got immediately on his knees and asked God to help him. What came instantly into his mind was a paper he had written many years earlier in Africa on ‘temperature gradients in the transverse direction’. As he lifted his eyes he saw the answer immediately. The repairs that had been carried out on the cracks were actually wrong and were what seriously threatened the bridge.

I have desired to learn something from his love of his work, and the passion with which he approaches it. He does not leave the basics to others. His passion takes him out of his office to the bridge itself. He involves himself intimately with every detail of what will make a bridge a success. Many stories of him going into impossible places and drilling into a wood pilon to obtain the samples he needed to prove that a bridge is about to collapse, is one of the things that has earned him respect in the engineering community. In a manner of speaking: He cares for the safety of a bridge more than he cares about the client’s needs. Though also, he backs his practical exercises with sound mathematical calculations, he thinks beyond the bridge to the lives that use it every day. A few years back, in similar investigative fashion, he had two engineers lower him in a harness above a ravine below a footbridge used every day by hundreds of children, to prove that it was about to collapse. The bridge was immediately condemned, and, we will never know in this instance, the many lives he may have saved from disaster.

We have each been challenged at various times in our lives with the need to go beyond the call of duty!

Fundamental to his approach to life certain elementary principles present themselves:

First, the value of a correct perspective of ourselves! Integral to success is the ability to recognize our own limits. A leader of others, in this sense, would surround themselves and educate those around them to be both zealous in their work and real about their shortcomings. Many today do not embrace this approach, thinking perhaps that they will lose their job if they do so? However, the opposite is usually true: those who are honest about what they can or cannot do display the more worthy attitude of honesty and accountability – they are the ones that end up growing and maturing into successful operatives, or alternatively, being redirected into directions where they can be more effective. No one, if they are a wise leader, wants to lose someone who is both passionate about their work and is honest!

Second, the value of a correct perspective of others. It is not ‘judgmental’ to make assessments of how well or badly others are doing. Such judgments are integral to the success of any project. It requires a strong wisdom to assess progress; in fact, all positive progress depends on it. Assessments enable the right people to do the right things; they enable taking care of what is overlooked in good time. Good leaders will create an environment in their teams that encourage mature assessments that do not disparage people. It is important for a team to work together, but if they do not take stock of their situations regularly, they will create an unhealthy; difficult, and ineffective environment. No one likes to be told that he has not done so well. It takes a commitment to the perspectives of others to engage in this process. Those companies, and entities that do, always benefit, by contrast, those that don’t, usually lose pace with proper progress. The junkyard of corporate companies is filled with former Titans who refused to listen to their own employees, such as Kodak. They continued to foster, as do others today, an environment of internecine warfare, instead of co-operative and honest discussion!

Third, the value of a perspective that goes beyond the task. We might ask: how does one acquire that sense of responsibility? Responsibility is linked to love. The love of what we do grows symbiotically with the desire to see it work. In this way, passion and process walk hand in hand, as does desire and discipline. Wise leaders can begin to develop this attitude in their teams early on in a person’s career, perhaps by showing how it is done’ by communicating and teaching, and by showing that we can achieve success without sacrificing the values of the family; honor; fair pay; respect, discipline, and affirmation.

Fourth, the value of a correct perspective of obstacles. People who are unable to see the problem will not see through the problem, but it takes greater wisdom not to stop at the problem, but to grasp the solution. People can be trained to both see it and to see past it. A friend who raced motorcycles once explained this approach to me. He said, that if a bale of hay was thrown in the path of his racing motorcycle two things should occur almost simultaneously, first, seeing the bale, and second, looking past it – the racer who will miss that bale most times is the one who looks past it and toward where he wants his bike to go.

Fifth, the value of a correct perspective of God. No situation is ever complete until it has been placed before God in our hearts, and to have an expectation of God’s help. God always has a plan and communicates it to all those who open their ears to this possibility. God’s wisdom is the highest wisdom and is thus well worth waiting for. I do not mean here that those who do not lose out, since to believe so, is to ignore the grace, love, and mercy of God always available to all the living. However, also, those who choose to include God in the path of their lives, find a peace within and the strength to go and do things for others previously unknown to them.

Whether it is physical or spiritual bridges we build, let us build them in such a way that they can stand up to the ‘weathering’ of life, and to their task to bear the load of the communities that will travel across them…

Keep on. Loys 110831