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Today’s Politics Should Prompt New Hymns

MM at Moodys PubI’ve been working on my next book of reflections on hymns, and just completed the story behind “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee.” The writing of this hymn was prompted by the social and economic conditions in the United States following the Civil War. As I was explaining the context of this hymn to Mim, she said, “That sounds just like the social, economic, and political situation today. You should blog about it.” So here’s a peek at one reflection that will be in my next book.

The time period following the Civil War in America was turbulent. In the late 1860s, America was beginning to change from a land of mostly farmers to an urban industrial society with two distinct classes of people – the super wealthy and the vulnerable poor – the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, and the slum-dwelling working class. Economic injustice was one of the dominant themes of the day.

Washington Gladden was a Congregational pastor of a church in Ohio. He was very troubled by how society was evolving, and he became an outspoken activist for moral reform in industry, commerce, and politics. He wrote 38 books on related moral reform themes, as well as numerous editorials and articles, and even poems and hymns. He became a noted leader in the Social Gospel Movement, a movement to apply Christian ethics to social problems – to apply Jesus’ teachings to our daily living, to take seriously the prophet Micah’s admonition to “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

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Gladden was widely criticized by fellow clergymen for his political involvement. They thought he should limit himself to preaching the gospel instead of getting involved in secular justice issues. Gladden wrote the poem,“Walking with God,” and published it in his magazine in 1879 as a response to this criticism. The poem had three verses of eight lines each.

Dr. Charles H. Richards, an editor and publisher of hymns, read the poem and loved it, except for the second verse. He omitted that verse, and split the first and third verses into four verses of four lines each. Then Richards paired the edited poem with the tune MARYTON, and published it as the hymn, “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee” in his book, CHRISTIAN PRAISE. The omitted verse helps us understand why Gladden wrote this hymn. I’m sure he felt better after writing it – even if he’s the only one singing it.

O Master, let me walk with thee
Before the taunting Pharisee;
Help me to bear the sting of spite,
The hate of men who hide Thy light,
The sore distrust of souls sincere
Who cannot read Thy judgments clear,
The dullness of the multitude,
Who dimly guess that Thou art good.

Obviously, Gladden thought his critics were hypocrites who were totally blind to what the Bible really says about justice issues. That was back in the 1870s, as our country was evolving from an agricultural age to an industrial age, and economic changes were bringing about extreme wealth and extreme poverty. 

And that’s what is happening today, as well. Today’s age of technology of all types is bringing about chaos in many new ways. Unfortunately, our political parties have very different ideas about how to address the chaos. And, most unfortunately, people have forgotten how to work together to solve our problems. Listening. Understanding. Compromising. Respecting each other. These seem to be lost skills.

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I feel that many Christians support policies that I believe are contrary to what the Bible says about justice issues, like caring for the needy, and welcoming strangers. I feel just like Gladden felt. Maybe we should all do what Gladden did – write a hymn like Gladden’s, one that begins with words like,

O Jesus, Let me walk with you,
before the horrid Washington crew …

After getting out that bitter first verse, we might be able to move on to more constructive, positive verses, like the ones below, verses that begin with words like, “Help me… Teach me… In hope…”

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Multi-Purpose Melodies

fullsizeoutput_2003When I was in eighth grade, our English teacher gave us the assignment to celebrate National Library Week by writing a poem about books. In general, I was a good student, and I liked to write. But I didn’t (and still don’t) like to write poetry. I complained to my mom about the stupid assignment, and she told me about a trick for writing poetry. She said, “Just make up new words to a song you like. It will turn out to be a poem.” She said the song that always worked best for her was the Stephen Foster song “Oh, Susanna.” I decided to try it, using that song. I remember I started the song with, “I went downtown the other night to get myself a book…” I think I wrote half a dozen stanzas, the teacher loved it, and I got an A. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I don’t remember the rest of the poem.

I’ve thought about that poetry-writing experience periodically throughout my life. I’m sure my mom and I aren’t the only people who know about that trick for writing a poem – or a hymn. A lot of contemporary hymn writers seem to use it, although I don’t think they use “Oh, Susanna.” A lot of them use the hymn tune called BEACH SPRING. I’m not particularly fond of the tune, although it’s okay. It’s not hard to sing. It’s just not all that pretty, in my opinion. But it must be a good tune for fitting lyrics to. One of my favorite hymns that uses this tune is “Come and Find the Quiet Center,” a hymn by Shirley Erena Murray of New Zealand. Here’s the first verse of the hymn:

Come and find the quiet center
in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter,
find the frame where we are freed;
Clear the chaos and the clutter,
clear our eyes that we can see
all the things that really matter,
be at peace, and simply be.

Another contemporary hymn writer that has used this tune is Ruth Duck, an American theologian. Here’s the first verse of a hymn she wrote for this tune:

As a fire is meant for burning
with a bright and warming flame,
so the church is meant for mission,
giving glory to God’s name.
Not to preach our creeds or customs,
but to build a bridge of care,
we join hands across the nations,
finding neighbors everywhere.

The reason I’m thinking about “multi-purpose melodies” this week is that last weekend (Labor Day) we sang a relatively new hymn in church, one that uses one of my favorite melodies. The tune is FINLANDIA, composed in 1899 by Jean Sibelius. As a hymn tune, it is most commonly associated with “Be Still My Soul.” The hymn we sang this weekend was “This Is My Song,” a different kind of patriotic song. Verses 1 and 2 were written by American song writer Lloyd Stone. Verse 3 was written by another theologian, Georgia Harkness.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
So hear my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

This is my prayer, O God of all earth’s kingdoms,
your kingdom come; on earth your will be done.
O God, be lifted up till all shall serve you,
and hearts united learn to live as one.
So hear my prayer, O God of all the nations;
myself I give you; let your will be done.

As I was preparing the music for church this weekend, I was reminded of another new hymn written to this tune, “When Memory Fades” by Mary Louise Bringle. Basically it’s a hymn about aging and Alzheimer’s Disease, and where God fits into this picture. Here’s the first verse:

When memory fades, and recognition falters,
when eyes we love grow dim, and minds confused,
speak to our souls of love that never alters;
speak to our hearts, by pain and fear abused.
O God of life and healing peace, empower us
with patient courage, by your grace infused.

I love all three of these hymns – Be Still My Soul, This Is My Song, and When Memory Fades – and this tune is the perfect complement to the message of each one. As I was looking for a piano arrangement of FINLANDIA to play for the offertory to subtly remind people of the opening hymn we had sung, I came across an arrangement by Anne Krentz Organ, currently the music director of a church in Chicago.  The arrangement begins with a bold phrase from FINLANDIA, which is followed by soft and tender phrase from “Jesus Loves Me.” The arrangement moves back and forth between the two hymns, phrase by phrase. Although a piano arrangement has no words, the juxtaposition of musical phrases from these hymns emphasizes the point that Jesus cares about me and loves me always – whether I’m praying to God to “still my soul,” or praying to the “God of all earth’s kingdoms” for peace, or praying for comfort “when memory fades.” God is always near – “Jesus loves me.”

I’m not sure exactly what God created when She created music, but I’m sure glad She shared the same trick with many hymn writers that my mom shared with me – that melodies are multi-purpose, and that using a tune is a great way to write a poem, or a hymn.

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Peace – Let It Begin with Me

Floe-Marian faces 2015“Hey, Mom.” My dog Floey came ambling over to me as I sat at my desk.

“Good morning, Floey. What’s up?” I replied.

“I just saw on TV that it’s supposed to be as hot and humid today as it was yesterday. Do we have to go on any long walks today? I’d rather stay inside where it’s nice and cool.”

“I agree with you, Floey. Maybe we can run up and down the stairs a few extra times for exercise. You let me know when you need to go outside to do your business, and the rest of the time we’ll stay inside.”

“Great plan, Mom! What do you want to do while we’re inside today?”

“I think I’ll get back to writing my next book. It’s coming along pretty well. I’ve completed the first draft of the first couple chapters, and now I’m working on the third chapter.”

“Is this book going to be just like your last one, TALKING WITH GOD THROUGH MUSIC: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns?”

“It’s very similar in style. I’ve made a few structural changes based the on feedback I got on that book, but it’s the same concept – choosing a favorite hymn and reflecting on its history and meaning. The first chapter includes 16 hymns about peace – hymns like Dona Nobis Pacem, Let There Be Peace on Earth, Peace in the Valley, Peace Like a River, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace, and lots more.”

“That’s an interesting mix of peace hymns, Mom. One of my favorite hymns is Let There Be Peace on Earth. Can you read me what you wrote about that one?”

 

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TUNE: WORLD PEACE
COMPOSER: Sy Miller (1908-1971)
AUTHOR: Jill Jackson Miller (1913-1995)
SCRIPTURE: Romans 12:18 (NRSV)
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

THE HUSBAND AND WIFE TEAM of Sy (Seymour) Miller and Jill Jackson Miller collaborated to write many songs together. In 1955 they wrote “Let there Be Peace on Earth” for a very specific purpose. They wrote it to be sung at a week-long retreat for young people who had come from very different religious, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. 

Sy Miller described the effect of the song this way. “One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment – ‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’ – helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding.”

When the retreat was over, the kids took the song home with them, and it quickly spread throughout all 50 states, and then internationally.

The author of the song, Jill Jackson Miller, had lived a life of many challenges. Her mother died when Jill was only three years old. By the time she was 12 she and her sister were placed in a foster home. One of her two brothers died from an accident with fireworks. 

Jill’s life dream was to become a movie actress. After two years of junior college, she moved to Hollywood. She starred as the heroine in several westerns. In 1940 she married Felix Jackson, a German writer and director, and she gave up her movie career at his request. 

They had two daughters. They divorced in 1944, which led to Jill attempting suicide. During her recovery she developed a strong belief in God and felt inspired to become a writer. In 1949 she married Sy Miller, and he convinced her to write songs with him – she wrote the lyrics and he wrote the music. After they wrote “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” the quest for world peace became her life focus. She traveled widely to speak about the power of each person to help create peace. She encouraged people to keep searching for their meaning, their inspiration, their true beliefs, and to forgive themselves and others for mistakes made along the way.

——————-

“Hey, Mom. If what you said is true, that song was written 63 years ago. Do you think the world is more peaceful now than it was in 1955?” 

Danny and Marian in haybarn - brown“That’s a good question, Floey. In 1955, I was seven years old. My fiercest enemy was also my best friend – my 9-year-old brother Danny. I wasn’t very aware of international politics back then. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president – that’s all I remember.” 

“Didn’t you watch TV way back then?” 

“Yes, we did, but there weren’t any round-the-clock politics channels back in those days. We watched comedies like “I Love Lucy.” We spent our time together laughing, not arguing.” 

“How about racial discord?” Floey asked.

“The only non-white kids in my school were Robert and his sister Sandra. Robert was in my class and was a good friend. Sometimes he shared his candy with me. I especially liked it when he gave me a whole envelope of lime Lik-m-maid. We drifted apart over the years, and the last I heard, about twenty years ago, he was in prison somewhere.” 

“That’s kind of sad, Mom.” 

“Yeah, it is, Floey. Peace can be very elusive – on a personal level as well as community-wide and globally. But the message of this song still holds – “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” 

“How’s that, Mom?” 

“Do you know what day it is today, Floey?” 

“It’s Tuesday, August 14, 2018. Is there anything special about today?” 

“Yes, there is, Floey. In Wisconsin and a few other states it’s voting day for primary elections. I’m going to ignore the oppressive heat and go out and vote. That’s one little thing I can do to help us all move toward peace on earth.” 

“Good for you, Mom! I wish I could vote, too. Maybe I should begin a fight for the right to vote for dogs (but not cats – they don’t have the intellectual capacity that we dogs have).”  

“Now, Floey, if you really want peace on earth, you’ll fight just as hard for the right for cats to vote as for dogs. When you accept the universal right to vote as your cause, you’ll have taken the first really big step toward peace.” 

“Maybe, you’re right, Mom.”

“Floey, let’s try to find a shady block or two, and walk down the street together. Maybe we can even sing all the words of Let There Be Peace on Earth.  

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God our creator, children all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me; let this be the moment now.
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow;
to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Your Perspective?

Floey at wetland
Yesterday morning my dog Floey and I went for a long walk and a long talk. It was already a hot day, but I figured if we walked on country roads rather than sidewalks, we might catch a little breeze. I was right. As soon as we turned off Water Street onto Highland Drive the setting was just right. The birds were singing, the frogs were croaking, and the red-winged blackbird that greets us most mornings landed on the tallest cattail and began her usual chatter. We stopped for a moment to feel the breeze and listen to the bird songs, and then continued ambling south on Highland.

Red-winged Blackbird on cattailFloey looked up at me and said, “Hey, Mom, there’s something I want to talk about. Something serious.”

“Okay,” I replied. “What’s on your mind?”

“You were really mad at me last night, weren’t you. You yelled at me twice.”

“I guess I did, Floey. I’m sorry, but I had reasons to be angry and to speak harshly to you. The first time was when Peggy and Buddy came over for a visit. You really pounced on Buddy. You could have hurt him. He’s smaller than you, older than you, and has a bad back.”

“I know, Mom. But I was so excited to see him and I wanted to play. I really like Buddy. He’s the best little white dog I know. I would never hurt him.”

“You wouldn’t hurt him intentionally, but sometimes, if you’re not careful, it can happen. Like the second time I yelled at you, after Buddy and Peggy were gone, and we went out for a little walk before going to bed. You really hurt me, Floey.”

“No, I didn’t. I wasn’t even near you. You just started to yell at me. I have no idea why.”

“Did you forget what you did as we went out the door? You charged after a rabbit. I wasn’t even through the door yet. You jerked on your leash so hard that my hand banged into the door frame. The back of my hand and my first finger are still swollen and have turned black and blue. As soon as we got back in the house I put an ice pack on it for half an hour. We’re lucky none of the little bones in my hand and fingers were broken.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mom. I had no idea you were hurt. I was just trying to protect you from that big rabbit that was close to jumping onto the front porch. Fortunately I was able to chase him away. I’m sorry you were hurt in the process. Are you still mad at me? I would never try to hurt you.”

“No, Floey, I’m not still mad at you. But I think it’s good you wanted to talk with me about this. Obviously, we have different perspectives on what happened last night. I now see, from your perspective, you were warmly welcoming your good friend Buddy to our house and inviting him to play with you – and I yelled at you. Then you chased away a rabbit to protect me from him – and I yelled at you again.”

Buddy“That’s right, Mom,” Floey replied. “And from your perspective, you were trying to protect Buddy from getting hurt, so you yelled at me, and later, I accidentally hurt your hand when I chased away that rabbit, and you yelled at me again. I’m sorry. But now I understand.”

“You know, Floey, perspective is a funny thing. We can always see everything that happens to us from our own perspective, but often that’s not the whole picture. We need to try to understand other perspectives as much as we can.”

“That’s for sure. If we hadn’t had this little talk, I still wouldn’t understand why you yelled at me last night. Now I know, and my feelings aren’t hurt any more.”

“Good, Floey. While we’re talking about perspective, let me tell you about an email I received a couple days ago. It was about my last blog post, What Can I do? Remember, it’s the one where I talked about children being taken away from their parents at the US/Mexico border.”

51smFhUIbL._SX322_BO1204203200_“I remember it,” Floey said. “It’s the one where you talked about Ellen Finn’s book, Emotional Witness. That book was scary. I’m sure glad we don’t have to live in Honduras where there’s so much violence.”

“The email I received was from Tim, the husband of an old friend of mine from our Chicago days. He was pretty upset with me about writing that blog post.”

“Why was he upset, Mom? It was sad to read about all the violence in Central America, but you shared some good ideas about how we individually can support at least one or two children to be sure they have food, clothing, education, and so on. Was Tim really mad at you for writing about this?”

“Yes, I think he was, Floey. You see, he’s a world traveler and avid bicyclist. He’s been to Honduras several times. A few years ago he took a solo bicycle trip from Mexico City to Costa Rica. During that trip he spent several weeks in Copan, Honduras. In his 4-page email to me,  Tim wrote:

The reasons for writing this are to give another opinion about Copan. The town is struggling and needs more tourism. Would a foreigner who is contemplating a first visit to Central America consider Honduras or Copan after reading Ellen’s book or your blog post? Highly unlikely…. During my 2015 solo bicycle tour through Honduras, en route from Mexico City to Costa Rica, I neither experienced nor witnessed any violence. I had expected to at least hear gunshots, but did not. 

“From Tim’s perspective, Ellen’s book and my blog post may actually hurt the people of Honduras by discouraging tourism rather than helping anyone.”

IMG_2265Floey looked up at me and said, “I think I can see his point, Mom. I know I wouldn’t want to travel to Honduras. I’d be afraid of getting shot.”

“I don’t think I’d like to go there for a vacation, either. But remember our friends Liz and James go to Copan almost every year to visit the kids they support. They love the trip. They have found safe places to stay and really enjoy their visits. From their perspective as tourists, they feel safe.”

“Hey, Mom. There’s that word PERSPECTIVE again. Ellen’s perspective of life in Honduras is quite different from Tim’s.” 

“You’re right, Floey. I’m sure the people living in small villages in the mountains of Honduras have a different perspective on life in Honduras than wealthier people living in the larger cities and more prosperous suburbs, or from tourists traveling through the country. Another very important part of the whole picture is the perspective of Honduran immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. Many of them see the violence in their homeland as unbearable.”

“Life sure is complicated, isn’t it, Mom.”

“This conversation has taken us a long way from our different perspectives on why I yelled at you last night.”

LADxC%rGSY+gK%%cnDLrPg“It sure has. I’m glad we talked about perspectives. I learned that one perspective rarely provides the whole picture. I need to remember to try to see other perspectives as well as my own if I really want to understand what’s happening.”

“That’s right, Floey. Maybe when we get home from this long walk and long talk, I’ll bring up Tim’s blog about his bicycle tour of Central America, to try to see more of his perspective on this part of the world. I took a peek at it yesterday, and he includes lots of beautiful pictures along with his narrative.” 

https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=1mr&doc_id=15328&v=qE

“Great! That will be fun to see, especially with lots of pictures.”

We continued on our walk in silence for a while. Then Floey added, “Hey, Mom, do you think the need to understand different perspectives applies to all our political differences, too? Like, lots of people hate Trump and all his policies. Other people love him and everything he does. I know people on both sides. Can a complete understanding of any issue ever come about by really trying to understand both sides?”

“I don’t know, Floey. But the first step is to be willing to listen to the other side. I don’t think most people are even near the first step yet. And I don’t know how to get there.”

“I know!” Floey said excitedly and grinned at me. “Everyone needs long walks and long talks, just like this!”

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What Can I Do?

Floe-Marian faces 2015That question has been on my mind every day for the past couple weeks as I have watched the news from our southern border. And I know I’m not alone.

A few days ago one of my Facebook friends wrote, 

“I just keep giving because I don’t know what else to do beyond contact my legislators… It’s World Refugee Day today. It’s a day dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world. If you are at all in favor (or ambivalent) of this administration’s actions, I implore you to take a moment today to educate yourselves and find empathy for those seeking asylum from violent countries in Central America such as El Salvador and Honduras. The vast majority of these refugees are not looking to freeload off of the USA, they are seeking safety for themselves and their families.” 

Nearly half a million people have joined my Facebook friend in making a donation to RAICES, an immigration legal services provider who is committed to reuniting immigrant parents with their children who were taken away from them at our border. (https://www.raicestexas.org). I thought about sending them some money, but I wondered what else I could do to help alleviate the terrible situation of children from Central America being separated from their parents at the border, with no credible assurance that they will ever be reunited. 

I feel particularly connected to the people of Honduras because Mim and I are currently providing support for two girls in Honduras, Dulce and Leydi, through a small organization called Casita Copan. (CasitaCopan.org)

Leydi Emily Dulce

Leydi, Emily (founder and executive director of Casita Copan), and Dulce. (Photo by Liz Dougherty)

Also, we make donations, at least once a year, to various projects of Buenos Vecinos (BuenosVecinos.org), a small aid organization in western Honduras and Guatemala organized by Ellen Lippman Finn, a retired social worker and jazz musician from the United States. 

51smFhUIbL._SX322_BO1204203200_Ellen wrote a book about her experiences in Honduras, EMOTIONAL WITNESS: My seven-year journey as an aid worker into the heart of Honduras. (The book is available in both print and digital form on amazon.com.) I’d like to share a few excerpts from her book to provide a more personal glimpse into the extreme violence today’s Central American refugees are fleeing. Ellen writes:

My house was robbed again a couple days ago, in front of many witnesses who were afraid to come forward because the robber is a gang member… This was the thirteenth or fourteenth time I’ve been robbed…

I can’t count how many times I’ve been extorted. A couple of them really scared me. One I actually paid off because they threatened to harm a dear friend if I didn’t pay. And as far as murders – I can’t even count how many friends, workers, neighbors have been murdered by police, by an angered person, by narcotraficantes [drug traffickers], by gang members. I barely cry any more.

My neighbor had her head cut off with a machete in broad daylight on a main street. The police didn’t find her attacker. Police never “find” anyone.

One of the worst scenarios that keeps haunting me is the murder of Odilio. He was the kind and respected leader of a mountain village where he built a small school. He had just finished building the school when, in the middle of the night, two crazy men high on drugs forced their way into his house and shot him pointblank while his kids hid under the bed. The children are still traumatized, as well as all of the members of his community. They have now all dispersed, leaving the village empty. This kind of violence can and does happen anywhere and at any time. My friend’s son was murdered in a restaurant. We all live in fear…

One night, I heard gunshots and called the police. They never showed up. In the morning, at about 5:00 a.m., I found a dead body at my gate, full of bullet holes, dried blood everywhere. He was a young fellow I knew. No motive found. No murderer found. What’s worse is this wasn’t the only time I had found a dead body, and I live in a supposedly quiet tourist town. San Pedro Sula, our largest city, a few hours from here, is now considered the most dangerous city in the world due to gang violence.

Later in the book, Ellen described how she put together enough terrifying clues to realize that she was actually on a hit list. She discussed this with Marel, a Honduran friend and co-worker on many of her aid projects. He investigated and confirmed her suspicions. 

… after my conversation with Marel, I periodically saw men walking by my house in pairs, especially in the evening. This frightened me terribly at first. They appeared to be reading. This made no sense. Why would folks be reading? When I asked Marel, he told me that he hadn’t wanted to worry me, so he hadn’t mentioned anything. These men were from his church, many of whom I had helped over the years in one way or another, with food baskets, emergency medical help, house repairs, and school supplies. And yes, they were in fact reading. Bibles. They were walking around my house in two-hour shifts. When Marel told me this, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was so touched. These men were protecting me in shifts, two at a time, two bibles at a time, praying, monitoring, their cell phones at the ready….

There was a continual yet futile search for more information. As I came to understand it, the narcotraficantes didn’t like that we were working in “their communities.” The more we empowered the communities with schools, or a clinic, or a bakery to make them self-sufficient, the less power and control the narcos would have to extort from the villagers. I still didn’t get it completely, but I was in no position to try and figure it out. I had to leave if I wanted to stay alive…”

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Ellen shopping for school supplies with some of her young friends.

That’s everyday life in Honduras, as seen through the eyes of a 70-year-old former social worker who who lived there for seven years, trying to help families survive their cruel circumstances. She had to flee for her life, and was back in the United States for a while. It’s still not safe for her to return to Honduras (except for a few carefully planned trips to visit her old friends), so she has moved to neighboring Guatemala. Through Buenos Vecinos (which translates to Good Neighbors) Ellen is doing basically the same kind of aid projects in Guatemala that she had done in Honduras – providing school supplies and school lunches, building schools, helping to address medical needs, and so on.

After reading this book, it’s easy to understand why individuals and families in Honduras are trying to immigrate to the United States. They are literally fleeing for their lives.

Back to my original question, what can I do to help? When I lived in Chicago and was working in business, I learned that to solve problems, it is important to figure out how to remedy the immediate problem, but it is just as important to look for the root cause of the problem in order to find a permanent solution. For us in the United States today, the immediate challenge is to reunite children who have been separated from their parents at the border. That’s the problem that brings tears to my eyes every day when I watch the news. That’s the problem (or at least one of the problems) that RAICES is trying to address, and they are getting help from nearly half a million people who are donating funds to support their efforts. Mim and I might join in with a small donation. We want to be a part of this solution.

But we also want to be a part of the long-term solution. Thanks to our connections with Ellen Lippman Finn and Buenos Vecinos, we know that a permanent solution involves making it possible for the incredibly poor families in Central America to survive and even to thrive in their own communities. We can do this by making donations to organizations like Buenos Vecinos so that they can provide resources to these families to help them meet their basic needs – food, clothing, housing, health care, education, and ultimately some means of livelihood.

And, on an even more personal level, Mim and I will continue to support our two girls at Casita Copan so that they can be assured their basic needs will always be met. Both girls will have birthdays this summer. We’ll send them birthday cards, and will provide an extra donation to the organization for birthday presents. They need to know that someone in North America really cares about them and has hope for their future.

Earlier this year Mim and I sent special presents with some friends of ours who went to Honduras to visit face-to-face with the children they support through another organization, Children International (children.org).

Leydi Dulce smiling w presents

(Photo by Liz Dougherty)

We sent Dulce (age 9) a backpack filled with coloring books and crayons, art papers and pens, and other craft supplies, and Leydi (age 16) a tablet computer along with an amazon.com gift card that she can use to download apps or kindle books. (She has Internet access at Casita Copan.)

I’m sure tears will still come to my eyes when I listen to the news again this evening, but at least I know that Mim and I are doing what we can to help solve the huge problems facing our neighbors to the south. If you, like us, want to know what you can do to help solve our world’s current immigration-related  problems, we encourage you to check out the websites of the organizations that are working to solve these problems with both short-term and long-term solutions, and consider making donations to support their efforts. 

www.RaicesTexas.org

CasitaCopan.org

Children.org

BuenosVecinos.org

Also, please feel free to respond to this blog post to share other ideas you may have to address these problems.

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Ellen with some young friends.

And one last comment. Some of the story of Ellen Lippman Finn and Buenos Vecinos may sound familiar to you. I wrote a blog post last February entitled “Memoir of a 70-year-old Super Hero.” If you want to learn even more about Ellen’s story and get a really close up look at the life of a loving and eccentric aid worker in Central America, pick up a copy of EMOTIONAL WITNESS: My Seven-Year Journey as an Aid Worker into the Heart of Honduras. I laughed hard, and I cried hard as I read this book. I highly recommend it. Here’s the link to it on amazon.com.  

Seven To-Dos to Prepare for a Special Guest

d5737d0fe761a791f9bacaf1a5bbed26In one of my devotional readings this morning, the writer asked, “What would you do if you knew Jesus would be dropping in for a visit in five minutes?” There’s not a lot anyone can do in five minutes, so I decided to think about the question a little differently. “What would I do if I knew Jesus was coming to visit me tomorrow?” The idea isn’t so far-fetched. After all, Jesus dropped in on Mary and Martha when he was traveling in their area.

I asked Mim the question after breakfast. Her first response was, “I guess I’d pick up the papers laying around the house.” Then she added, “and I’d be sure we had something to serve with coffee.” I suggested to her, “Maybe you’d bake a rhubarb coffeecake with the fresh rhubarb in the refrigerator.” She replied, “Yeah, either that or almond brownies – whichever would be quicker.”

That got me started on my own list of what I’d do today if I knew Jesus was coming for a visit tomorrow. After 45 years of living together, Mim and I think a lot alike. Our first and second items were nearly identical.

  1. Clean up the house as much as I can (with Mim’s help) in a couple hours. On the house decorating continuum from casual/cluttered to formal/minimalist, our home is pretty far on the left. While Mim is picking up papers, I’d pick up the dog toys scattered throughout the living room and the music lying all around the piano. Then Mim would vacuum the carpeting and I’d dust the tops of the furniture.
  2. Be sure we had everything needed to fix a nice dinner for Jesus. I’d probably make a quick trip to Ken’s Meat Market to get some burgundy pepper steaks to grill out on the deck, and maybe stop at MetroMarket for some fresh vegetables.
  3. Spend some time at my desk making a list of the most important things I want to talk with Jesus about – from Trump’s crazy behavior, to Hawaii’s volcano, to what’s going on with the jail ministry, to my sister-in-law’s health, to everything else on my mind… Once I completed the list, I’d probably have to prioritize it because it may be much too long to cover in one day.
  4. Spend a couple hours cleaning up my latest writing project (Talking with God Through Music) so that Jesus and I could talk about my progress and how I could improve the book.
  5. Make a list of people to invite to join Jesus, Mim, and me for this special visit. I’d want to keep the list small enough so that we could really talk together, but I think I should be willing to share this wonderful moment with a few friends and family members. This will probably be the hardest item on the list for me to do.
  6. Google “Mary and Martha.” I’d want to know everything I could about Jesus’ visits with Mary and Martha to learn from their example how to offer Jesus the best hospitality possible on earth, while at the same time taking advantage of this extraordinary opportunity for personal growth and understanding from Jesus himself.
  7. Finish all my preparations in time to sit down at the piano and play some hymns to center my mind on this amazing opportunity to spend time together with Jesus. Hopefully, Mim would join me and sing praises to God. Maybe, we’d still be singing when Jesus walked in the door, and he would join us.

I guess seven to-dos is as much as I could get done in one day of prep for a visit with Jesus.

What would be on your list?

A Tree, a 100-Year-Old Friend, and Lots of Memories

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

Remodeled Farmhouse

Twenty-six years ago Mim and I left Chicago to move back to the family farmhouse in Wisconsin – the farm where I had grown up, also where my mom had grown up and lived almost her whole life. My brother re-modeled the farmhouse for us to make it our perfect home – doubling the square footage: adding a few rooms, tripling the number of bathrooms and adding a front porch. We also increased the size of the lawn to incorporate a couple fields, giving us about three acres of lawn to mow and a gigantic vegetable garden the size of the whole lot of our Chicago two-flat (30’x120’), where we had lived the previous 20 years.

Shortly after we moved into our newly remodeled home, I invited my mom’s brother, Uncle Helmer, and his wife, Aunt Edith, over to see what we had done to the house where he had grown up. We walked them from room to room. When we got to one of the upstairs bedrooms (the one that had been my room when I was a kid), he looked through the north window and pointed to a large oak tree beyond the pasture and just across the road (Highway PQ). Uncle Helmer said, “See that tree way over there. That was our target. Fletcher [his younger brother] and I used to open this window and shoot our rifles at that tree. I wonder if you can still see any of our bullets in the tree trunk…”

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What’s left of the old oak tree.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot over the past few days. Last week I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare to work on writing my second “Talking to God through Music” book. At the end of the week, as I was driving home past that old oak tree, I was startled to see that the tree was no longer standing, but instead there was a huge stump, about a foot and a half tall and five feet wide. Big chunks of the tree were lying beside the stump. The next day I noticed some men sawing the chunks into more manageable size pieces that they trucked away. Now the only thing left is the stump.

A few years ago Highway PQ was given an additional name, Water Street, as the village of Cambridge expanded westward. This summer the street will be closed to traffic as water and sewer pipes and underground utilities are replaced. Then a new road will be constructed on top of the upgraded infrastructure. I assume the old oak tree is a necessary sacrifice for progress in Cambridge. I can accept that, but I will miss the old oak tree. Fortunately, I still have the memory of that tree, and of my conversation with Uncle Helmer about target practice with that old oak tree.

fullsizeoutput_241cSpeaking of memories, our next-door neighbor in Chicago turned 100 this year. Ruth is still living in her two-flat. In 1924, Ruth’s parents and her aunt and uncle bought the two-flat, brand new. Her parents, 6-year-old Ruth, and her baby sister Elaine moved into the first floor apartment, and her aunt and uncle moved into the upstairs apartment. This two-flat has been home to Ruth and Elaine ever since. (Elaine passed away a few years ago.) The picture on the right is 6-year-old Ruth modeling her new ballerina dress (sewed by her mother) in their back yard.

Fifty-five years later, in 1979, Mim and I, along with our friend Marilyn who was renting an apartment in a Chicago suburb at the time, bought the two-flat next door to Ruth and Elaine. Marilyn had the first floor, and Mim and I had the second. We were neighbors of Ruth and Elaine for 13 years, until Mim and I moved back to Wisconsin in 1992. We’ve continued our friendship over the years, and we stop to visit Ruth whenever we can on our trips back to Chicago. We’ve been fortunate to call Ruth our friend for nearly 40 of her 100 years.

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Marian, Mim, and Marilyn in our backyard in Chicago, about 1980.

One of Ruth’s relatives suggested a plan to celebrate Ruth’s 100th birthday this spring. Instead of holding a huge party, she suggested a hundred days of celebration. She set up an online calendar for Ruth’s friends to schedule a private party for just Ruth and themselves, any time beginning with Ruth’s actual birthday (March 22) and continuing for the next 100 days.

Yesterday (May 22) was our day. Marilyn, Mim and I brought lunch and celebrated with Ruth in her home. We reminisced, talked about the neighborhood, laughed, looked at pictures, took new pictures, and had a wonderful lunch together.

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Marilyn, Ruth, and Mim. (My arm isn’t long enough to take a good selfie, so I didn’t get in the picture.)

Among the best things in life are opportunities for making memories, and friends to share them with. As we approach Memorial Day weekend, we will be reminded many times to express appreciation for the protection our military has provided us throughout our country’s history. That’s important. But what’s just as important, is to thank God for all the happy memories we have – from conversations with uncles about trees, to lunch with 100-year-old friends. 

I’ve decided to start thinking of “Memorial Day” as “Memories Day.” For people who are suffering with traumatic memories, may it be a day of healing. For people with memories of service to country, may it be a day of patriotic pride and thankfulness for the blessings our country provides. And may we all remember the happy moments we have experienced throughout our lifetimes. Thanks be to God!

Happy “Memories Day” Weekend!

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Ruth’s 2-Flat is on the left. Ours is on the right. When it was ours we had a tiny lawn in front with some hostas next to the brick, no trees.