Sunday, January 13, 2013
The car in front of me hears the siren a moment before I do and pulls over. I do the same then glance in my rear view mirror and watch the dense stream of vehicles behind me make way for the ambulance to get through.
Habitually, I offer a prayer. I’ve done this since I was a small child. This time with the rain falling, I offer two. One for the crew in the ambulance and one for its unknown destination. Altogether it takes a few seconds for those of us on the road to unite and synchronize our efforts. In this case our help is to move aside so professionals can get through.
Underneath the dark sky there is no time to consider who needs the help. We don’t hesitate. We don’t ask about religious views or politics. Are they rich or poor? Gay or straight? Do they deserve it? We don’t care. None of that matters when a siren sounds. Someone needs help so we move aside to let the ambulance through.
This human capacity to unite for a stranger always pulls gratitude from the middle of my heart into my throat. We are good on the inside. I know this but love when clear evidence is given unexpectedly. I take a huge gulp of air to keep the tears back then pull onto the road and continue driving.
I’ve always been drawn to everyday kindness and generosity. The kind offered when we think no one else is watching. When we offer a hand. When we open a door. When we make a real sacrifice for someone who will never know our name.
And, during times of crisis the human capacity for compassion is overwhelming. The day after Hurricane Sandy hit my telephone at work was filled with messages from people wanting to know what they could do to help. Mirroring the response after Katrina, the Tsunami and the local fires. The same response seconds after a local car accident or heart attack. People want to know what they can do to help. This is just who we are. We are good. We are generous and kind. It doesn’t matter where we live, what language we speak or God we pray to, when we see someone in need - we move.
I am humbled by the generosity of our local community members. Whether it’s lending a few hours to volunteering at the animal shelter or dedicating their life to making a difference in the world - it all matters. We can all make a difference.
Shirley Adams comes to mind. Shirley is a local woman who has made it her life work to bring access to clean water to areas of the world at the mercy of rainfall. I think of Dan and Joan Strauss, a local family who turned the devastating loss of their teenage son Alex into efforts to prevent youth suicide in our region.
Then there is Justin. A local boy who decided one Christmas that he’d rather give a bike to a child without one than to have a new one of his own. A project that has lead to dozens of bikes being gifted each Christmas to local children. I am reminded of The Twelve, a group of women focused on caring for local families not on Santa’s route. This is the proof I have that we are good! We are so very good on the inside.
So many of you come to mind when I think of the generosity of our local community. And, although I know it doesn’t take a storm for us to come together to help, knowing when a storm comes we have each other brings me great peace. For that, and for your incredible generosity, thank you!
This holiday season may we continue to offer our gifts of compassion and generosity to all those who cross our paths. There has never been a time when those gifts were needed more.
(Originally published in Upgraded Living www.upgradedliving.com)
Monday, July 30, 2012
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
like a tall slim street lamp
illuminates each room she graces
barefooted and breathtaking
in ripped jeans
and quiet brilliance
Not far from her reach
a country morning hums
dinner plate dahlias burst
untamed oak trees dance
Our souls stir, slowly
in last night's dreams
wrapped in soft white sheets
A home, our home -
at the end of a dirt road
amid almond trees and wild flowers
And, the sweet bliss of finding the very woman
you were born to love.
For Melinda Lee
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
To find home...
I've searched the rugged mountaintops in Laos and along the crust of China. I've crawled inside the Guatemalan jungle and down the shores of Vietnam. I searched without knowing what it would look like. I just trusted an unmistakable love would be there.Truth would be there. God would be there. Joy and kindness would splash about. There would be no doubt left in my mind.
Seven months ago, today, my search ended. I found your heart. My home. Happy Anniversary, Melinda Lee.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
I came here to walk alone
to find my own peace
my own space
my own place
in this world.
In this solitude
I've sought only God's company
looking to this ever-changing sky
this ever-moving tide
the ever-present fears inside my mind.
after days of quiet
to hear Her voice this morning
inside the silence.
Written on the shores of Vietnam
Thursday, February 17, 2011
let us be remembered
not for the love we stopped
but the love we gave
when our laughs turns to memories
let us be remembered
not for the differences we feared
but the tolerance we shared
when the sunrises that first time after we are gone
let us be remembered
for all the times we stood up
when others sat down
for all the times we turned to forgiveness
when others turned to fear
for all the times we spoke up
when others were silent
can never be justified
knowing just because
this is how its always been done
and done in the name of God
doesn't mean it makes God proud.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
There she lay
in the morning light
naked, save the shadows
cast by her own curves
Her soft green eyes
untouched by fear
holding only the slight
remnants of sorrow
from living raw and alive
in a numb world
Reluctantly I move
to stir her, to pull her
from the dreams
with her heart
Instead I remove my shirt
slowly press my breasts
against her back
wrap my small hand
around her waist
and, breathe in
I breathe her in
I breathe her
so deeply, so completely
into my soul
The morning light
unabashed, dances on
through the fruit trees
against the lawn
inside the dawn
as our witness.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
You stepped in. You dug in. You kept building.
It didn’t matter what got in the way - you kept building for our children. You gave and gave and gave.
Monday, October 11, 2010
or the sun her light.
I need a label like the ocean need label the water
need my parents label me
I just am.
It just is.
not for your acceptance
Simply because to be yourself
in our world
is still not safe
for our children.
So I'll take the labels.
I'll find the words.
I am gay.
Just as I am human.
Just as I need love
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
I am whispering
I am the stillness of the breeze
I am the trees
I am everything.
I am the warmth of the sun
the serenity of night
I am the light
I am everything.
I slow dance with the moon
rock the mountains to sleep
I do not weep
I am in everything.
I am the eagle's wings
I am the sandy shore
I hurt no more
I am everything.
I soar, I dance, I sing,
I am everything.
Listen closely for
I am only whispering.
Monday, August 9, 2010
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Judge Vaughn Walker doesn't know my name. I've never written him a letter or rang his smart phone. We're not colleagues or acquaintances or even Facebook "friends". In fact, there's a strong possibility the judge and I would defy the theory of "six degrees of separation". We simply don't know each other and probably never will.
Which is a long way of saying the Chief Judge of the US District Court in California, nominated by George H.W. Bush, doesn't know anything about me. He doesn't know I value my family and faith above all else. He doesn't know how deeply I cherish being an American, and the individual rights and freedoms both of my grandfathers fought for.
If Judge Vaughn Walker doesn't know those things, he couldn't possibly know that I would be a wonderful wife and a good mother. The kind of wife who will listen and be patient. The kind of mom who will lift her children up to reach life's joys or hold them closely when life hurts. He couldn't know that I'll teach them to trust, to be generous, and to see the good in things. Nor could he know I'll do my best to love them unconditionally just as my mother and father have loved me. How could he know I'll be the grandmother with warm cookies always waiting?
But, Judge Walker doesn't need to know about me. There is no reason for him to know my name. Nor do the thousands of people who have fought for marriage equality in the United States need to know me. They know something far more important. They know the rights of American citizens are not determined by a majority vote. They know that under our states and federal laws citizens are equal regardless of our leaders, our majorities or our minorities preferences. Our internal and external differences do not dictate our civil rights in America.
Today, I want to make this pledge to Judge Walker and all those who have fought for marriage equality. I am not making it because they've asked or even want me to. It's not because I think it is their business or anyone else's business who I love or create a family with. I make this pledge simply because it is the best way I can think of to say, THANK YOU.
To be a loving and loyal wife.
To be a wonderful mother.
To be a kind grandmother.
To value above all else my faith and my family.
History has shown us that this battle for equal rights will be won. However painful, however long, there will be a time when being gay or straight no longer has a baring on the state and federal rights bestowed on American citizens.
If I am here to see that day I will crawl back into my mind to these darker times and remember the thousands of gay and straight people, of every color and faith and political view, who fought to insure that in our great nation separate would never again be considered equal.
I will pull the hot chocolate chip cookies out of the oven and share with my grandchildren a story about an America that didn't always get it right at first but did not stop until it was so.
Then, I will tell them Judge Vaughn Walker's name and make them promise to remember.
Originally Published at www.chicosol.org
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
Friday, July 9, 2010
Today the rain acts as a brilliant reminder to let go.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
Our values are our greatest resource. They act as a compass in determining where we spend our time, money and energy. That is not to suggest that everything we give our resources to is valuable. It is simply to note the awesome power of our values.
My clients often share a list including: faith, family, financial security and freedom. Some share the value they place on health, happiness and goodwill - even love. Our values are unique and illustrate our beliefs, cultures and influences.
Recently, I heard the story of the doorman at the World Trade Center who calmly escorted people outside of the building, after the plane crashed into it, only to perish when the building collapsed. He had placed the value of saving others’ lives above even the value of his own. We call these people heroes, which they undoubtedly are, but what if they have figured out how to consciously and vigilantly move in accordance with their values?
We also have shared values or that which we lend our resources to as a community, as a region and as a state. We have the shared values we honor as a nation and as residents of this planet. We can identify those simply by looking at what receives our money and attention (or what does not).
In January, when the earth cracked open in Port-au-Prince our world sent a message to the people of Haiti that we valued their lives. With our collective voice we said, “If there is something we can do to save your lives or stop your suffering there is no distance too far and no mountain too high. We value your lives.”
As American citizens we offered hundreds of millions in federal aid; but even more, we found ways to pull $10, $50, $100 out of our pockets to make sure the Haitians knew they were not alone. In addition to our currency we offered countless thoughts and prayers.
As a human race we demonstrated our shared value for life by immediately transcending geography, religious beliefs, and political systems to help. Perhaps, it was most evident when we saw the search and rescue teams made up of people from every corner of the earth.
That’s the power I want to talk about. By moving in accordance with our values and using our resources accordingly we can have a massive impact.
As the CEO of the North Valley Community Foundation I work with more than 10,000 donors and close to 500 local and international nonprofits. I know we understand the correlation between what we value and how we use our resources. But, do we understand the power we could wield as a community if we had consensus regarding our shared values and prioritized our resources accordingly?
Here is the point.
The time is now, to prepare for a post-recession economy, a post-recession community, and a post-recession world.
Our resources are more limited than ever before yet the demand for them has never been greater. The nonprofits and agencies I work with represent the national and international reality that we need to do more with less and less. This is true in our personal lives as well as in the public sector.
So, what can we do to ensure the quality of our own lives and the protection of the “quality of life” in our community?
Let’s consider two things.
If we express our values by how we spend our resources, including everything from how much time we give to our families to where we give our greenbacks than imagine what increased mindfulness would yield.
If every time we used a dollar we used it as an opportunity to align with our values, social and/or personal, what would change? Is what we’re buying, where we’re shopping, and the charities we’re giving to aligned with our values? Is that also true with how we spend our time, our energy, even our thoughts?
The second thing is to develop a public – philanthropic partnership, a partnership that could identify and prioritize our shared values, with a mechanism to glean everyone’s input. One sector simply cannot solve these challenges alone.
For example, if we decided that keeping local control of the Chico Unified School District was a shared value, tell me, what distance would be too far, what mountain would be too high?
If we value having excellent educational institutions, thriving local businesses, safe streets to walk along, clean parks, quality health-care and we were willing to align our personal and public resources to achieve those ends - what could stop us?
It simply does not take the earth to break open or the towers to collapse in order for us to move in sync with our values. It takes understanding the power of our time, energy and money when we align it with our values.
[Originally Published in the Enterprise Record 2010]
Thursday, February 4, 2010
I know we have pressing matters to tend to. Our homeless need shelter, our sick need care, our schools need resources, and our children need to be left a world they can thrive in; a world with clean water and air, with art and innovation, with religious freedom and equality. In fact, these are the very objects of my affection and what I’ve dedicated my life’s work to insuring.
So, I understand busy. Each one of us is occupied in various and numerous ways. We have our “urgents” and our “importants” battling for every minute of our days. There is only so much we can get involved in. Perhaps, our gay friends and their fight for marriage equality will have to wait a bit longer for our attention? I say this and I am gay.
So, I can only imagine where this issue ranks in your to-do list. But, the truth is, marriage equality is no more a gay issue than slavery was a black issue. In 2010, hundreds of thousands of Americans are being treated as partial citizens. The very men and women we trust to fight our wars, protect our streets, teach our children and heal our sick can’t get married.
I can’t get married. I am an American citizen, living under the same constitution as you, abiding by the same tax laws as you, yet without the same rights as you. Doesn’t that matter?
Marriage matters. It matters in our society. It matters in our laws. It matters in our hearts. Equal rights and equality protection under the law - matters. For as long as we allow discrimination in our laws it will remain in our hearts.
I recently heard the story of a Missouri state trooper, Dennis Engelhard, who was killed on Christmas day. He was helping a motorist when a car driving past lost control, hitting and killing the 49-year old trooper.
Dennis was gay. He had committed his life to his partner of fifteen years. After his tragic death, the state denied the normal pension benefits that would have been given to any other spouse. In Missouri there is no legal way for same-sex couples to marry. They are not protected under the very laws that Dennis fought to defend day in and day out. Marriage matters.
There are countless stories like that of Dennis Engelhard being told in a small courtroom in Sacramento, during the Proposition 8 trials. If you haven’t read the arguments for both sides of this issue yet, please spend a few minutes at www.prop8trialtracker.com.
Within the testimonies of each witness and expert one fact prevails. There are societal, psychological, emotional, and economic ramifications linked to marriage. Denying marriage to an entire class of people has negative consequences which extend beyond those individuals, and impact their families, their friends and their communities. Moreover, denying same-sex couples the right to marry has a negative impact our economy as a whole. Oppression is oppression no matter what way you look at it and is harmful to society.
I’m writing this editorial as a friend of this community and a firm believer in the values we built our nation’s democracy on. I also believe there is no greater foundation than that of our family, friends and faith. It is that foundation which led me to public service, and has provided the compass needed to negotiate the difficult waters I’ve faced. It is not easy to be gay in America.
But, I am not writing this as a victim. I’m not writing this to stand on a soup-box or run for office. It simply occurred to me that maybe no one has asked you yet; asked you to get involved. If that was the case, I wanted to be the first.
It will take all of us to abolish institutionalized discrimination from our state and federal laws. Only then will we have a nation worthy of our children.
[Published on www.Chicosol.org, February 15, 2010; Republished in Upstate Business Journal Feb. 2010; Republished on www.newamericanmedia.com Feb. 2010]
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I’m just grateful we found water on the moon in 2009. If we had waited another month to find ice on the lunar surface I’m afraid the entire decade could have been deemed, ‘The Great Pause’; as in a cease in progress; a stop in forward movement; a freeze.
It began with the great trepidation of Y2K, a fear that now appears more like profound foreshadowing than a likely reality. But who among us, save the doomsayers and the conspiracy theorists, could have fathomed the ‘00s?
Who could have imagined a deception that would start a conflict in Iraq but result in a war with no foreseeable end? Which one of us could have predicted an economic meltdown that would split the citizens of the world’s superpower into those whose nest eggs dissolved and those who would struggle to buy a dozen eggs?
There is no doubt that the ‘00s will be a decade the historians, and poets alike, offer extensive prose. However, when the history books are written, I believe, something will emerge as a far greater consequence to the long-term strength and health of this nation than the economic and institutional mayhem.
Today, we are witnessing a movement, from Maine to California, to deny basic rights to citizens of the United States, while preserving and protecting the same rights for others citizens. Simply put, gays and lesbians do not have the same right to marry and the state-protected benefits that go along with marriage as their heterosexual counterparts.
Allowing the majority to determining the rights of our minorities through ballot measures is a betrayal to our republic. To say nothing about the duplicitous campaign against gay rights that is planting deceit and lies in our town halls across America.
To put it plainly:
1) There is no correlation between the rights of gays to marry and school indoctrination of our children. This is a lie.
2) There is no correlation between protecting the rights of gays to marry and the tax-exempt status of churches. This is also a lie.
Furthermore, regarding the method of popular vote being utilized: When did we decide we could or should give our majority the opportunity to vote on the basic rights of our minorities?
In better words, James Madison’s states in the Federal Paper 51,
"It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.”
Consider what progress we would have made in civil rights if it had been contingent on a popular vote? How ludicrous it sounds to ask for a popular vote to determine whether or not to integrate our schools.
Our basic rights are not voted on in America. Our basic rights are not up for election. Our basic rights are not awarded to some citizens and denied to other citizens based on similarities or differences that might exist. That is precisely why we are America!
In the end the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the matter of marriage equality for all U.S. citizens, a ruling that will be based on our U.S. Constitution and not state constitutions or a popular vote.
This is why our courts were created; to protect minorities against the unfair will of majorities. But we know even the highest court of our land, ruled on the wrong side of equality at one time when in 1857 the US Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Robert B. Taney, declared that all blacks – slaves as well as free – were not and could not become citizens of the United States.
So how long will it take to get this right? The winter of 2009 is quickly approaching. The historians are preparing to name and lock up the decade for eternity. So I ask you, what could be more damaging to the future of our nation; a nation built on the very will for freedom and individual rights, than to seize its heart?
There is no war we could wage, no economic meltdown we could suffer, no infrastructure collapse we could endure that would cause more damage to our nation than to rape (one ballot measure at a time) the very body of freedoms we have fought so tirelessly to have – and to hold.
This story can also be viewed on www.chicosol.org
Republished on www.newamericamedia.org
Thursday, October 1, 2009
It was a pleasant but ordinary morning in Chico. One could sense the end of summer as fall impatiently waited on the porch. A gentle coolness hung in the air. In households all around town coffee gurgled on its descent into the glass pot as children pleaded for five more minutes with their dreams. People young, old, and in between awoke to do whatever it is they do on Wednesdays in September.
I was off to the Foundation. I had arranged for Sherry and Gary Holbrook to drop in for a visit. Our paths had crossed a few years prior to this morning through our international humanitarian work.
Sherry is the founder and director of Orphan Care International (OCI); a Chico-based nonprofit dedicated to assisting orphans and needy children around the world. One of the primary projects of OCI is a children’s orphanage called the Docsek Home in Mazabuka, Zambia. Some might call it a twist of fate that brought Sherry and Gary to Mazabuka in the first place.
In 2003, Sherry was in a quiet room at the Heathrow, London airport on her journey home from Ndola, Zambia. At the time, she was volunteering for a Canadian-based nonprofit working with orphanages there. After many months with that organization, Sherry realized the western decision-makers were quite detached from the children’s reality in the villages.
“The children would need shoes, and decision-makers thousands of miles from Africa would decide against shoes, strictly based on policy,” Sherry explained. “Worst of all, they were slowly westernizing the children without an understanding of the long-term implications. How would the children reintegrate into society when they left the orphanage?”
It was in this tired and slightly jaded state that Sherry heard her name being called from across the quiet room in the airport. It was a woman she knew from her international humanitarian circle. This woman was on her way back to the states after visiting an orphanage called the Doscek Home in Mazabuka.
For the next many hours, Sherry would learn all about the work at the Doscek Home, and the incredible dedication of its owners, Shern and Tabitha Kaumba.
By the time Sherry landed again on US soil her concept and motivation to establish Orphan Care International would already be in flight. She was determined to help and help differently than her Canadian counterparts. She was eager to get home and share with Gary what she had learned about the Doscek Home and the young Zambians, Shern and Tabitha, who ran it.
~ Mazabuka, Zambia (19 years earlier)
At the age of 12, Shern Kaumba was a child of the streets. His father had six children, yet he was the lone child of another mother. During those first 12 years of life, Shern was ostracized, ridiculed and eventually pushed out of his home.
“I had no choice but to try and make it on my own. I slept on the streets. There was no schedule. I ate if I could find food. If there was no food, I went hungry,” Shern explained.
Today, the 31-year-old Shern, shared with a quiet tone, details about his youth and the days and nights living on the streets of Mazabuka. In fact, his wife, Tabitha, now 26, also recalled seeing the young Shern on their shared village streets when she was a child.
“Even before she knew me, she cared for me,” Shern gently shared. “I remember Tabitha as a teenager, coming by and offering me food.”
After many months on the streets, feeling rejected and alone, Shern, just barely a teenager, decided to end his suffering.
“I tried three times to kill myself. I tried to overdose with drugs, then to be hit by a train, and finally I decided to throw myself in front of a truck.”
Yet, each time this boy eluded death. “After the third try I thought to myself maybe there was a reason I was still alive.”
With tears still wet on his cheeks, after being pulled to safety and away from the grill of the oncoming truck, Shern heard a woman calling to him. This would be the moment that changed his life forever.
“A car pulled up beside me and I heard a soft voice say, ‘What is wrong? Can I help?’”
That angelic voice was from a woman he would come to know as Sister Angela Daily. The woman on that same day would ask Shern what it was he needed and when the teenager replied with “an education” - it would be so.
Sister Daily not only paid for Shern to attend boarding school but university too. It was during these years that this son man finally learned what it meant to be loved and cared for. Shern would go on to get a teaching internship, and find the conviction to help other children living on the streets.
“There were children in the classroom that just looked differently from the others. There was a hurt inside of them,” Shern recalled. “They reminded me of where I had come from. They reminded me of my own suffering.”
That realization was the beginning of his work with orphans. A short time later, Shern would marry the woman who as a child brought him food on the streets.
That was six years ago.
“When I married Shern he was already caring for two orphans. Six months later we heard about a baby called Joshua.” Tabitha’s eyes lit up while letting Joshua’s name slip out of her mouth. She then shared the story of Joshua as we visited in my NVCF office.
“I was visiting a compound when I heard that a baby’s mother was near death. The baby’s father had died during the mother’s pregnancy,” Tabitha explained.
“There was no family left to care for the child, so I took him home. In fact, I took him straight to my parents’ home, and for three days they taught me how to care for a baby. Then I went back to Shern and our work began.”
Their work has not ceased.
Today, Shern and Tabitha care for 13 children at the Docsek Home, and have dreams of caring for many more. With new land they’ve purchased with the help of their “mother and father” - the Holbrooks -- they are working hard to make this dream come true.
“We’ve dedicated our lives to make sure no one else becomes a child of the streets,” Shern concluded.
[Originally published on www.chicosol.org; Republished in the UpState Business Journal, Oct. 2009]
Sunday, August 23, 2009
A hot summer evening in Chico set the backdrop for a conversation I had waited many years to have. The last time I was with Dr. Godwin Orkeh and Christian Nix, we were in a house built around an avocado tree on the hillsides of San Marco. This tree sat on the crust of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
That was seven years ago.
Sitting together again, my mind was flooded with memories of trekking up and down the mountainsides serving the indigenous, listening to their needs, and helping in ways we didn’t know we could - until we did.
However, on this August night, we rested comfortably in lounge chairs on my back patio, and reflected on the journeys we’d been on together and the near decade spent apart.
Godwin, the MD of our lot, had come to visit after finishing his fifth stint in Darfur, Sudan. He had gone in and out of the war-torn, refugee-saturated regions wearing badges from numerous NGO’s including Relief International, World Health Organization and the United Nations. Godwin helped those he could, and promised that the world had not forgotten their plight. His work was never completed but he slept peacefully knowing he was doing all he could.
As the sun made way for the evening stars, Godwin pulled out his baby blue United Nations passport, something I had only seen in the movies. He pointed out stamps that provided doorways to distant lands - Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. And, with each stamp he shared stories that were harder and harder to fathom. Kidnappings. Malnutrition. Malaria. Death. He spoke about the pain of losing children whose lives could be saved for less than $4.
We cried a little. We laughed a little. We hardly noticed dawn arrive.
Christian, the Chinese medicine man, was in between his barefoot clinic in Chicago and his practice in San Marcos. He works in the village hospital and continues to teach the science of medicine in concert with the art of healing. After learning that Godwin had arranged a trip to Chico, he postponed his journey south for the weekend so we could be together.
Christian shared tales in Latin America that I longed to remember. The way time sits still. The way people celebrate what they have, rather than focus on what they do not. The understanding of abundance and generosity that comes so naturally for those people our world calls “poor”.
I asked if there was anything they would like to do while on US soil. After sitting quietly for some time, Godwin said, “I would like to share what is happening in Darfur. I would like my promise to the children to be true, for the world not to forget what is happening there.”
I knew our community would be eager to listen. More than that, I knew something Godwin would later tell me he never dreamed possible; we not only listened - we cared!
After numerous public radio spots and interviews with newspapers we had a party. Godwin and Christian got to meet, literally, dozens of people that are working to help others around the globe.
They met local independent business owner, Sherry Holbrook who supports an orphanage in Zambia. They met former swim instructor, Shirley Adams, who builds water-wells in developing countries. They met Manoah Mohanraj, a local public health manager, who also runs an orphanage in Southern India. They met a room full of Enloe Hospital’s doctors and nurse practitioners that travel around the world providing medical care -folks that care so deeply about out brothers and sisters around the world. They also met handfuls of community members who support causes here, at home.
As the weekend came to an end, Godwin and Christian walked up to me and said, “We know now.”
“What’s that?” I replied.
“Of all the places in the world you’ve been, we now know why you decided to make Chico home.”
[Published in the Upstate Business Journal, Sept. 09]
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
In a small rural town called Chico, California, about a 100 people gathered to support, protest, celebrate or mourn the California Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8. I was there. So were many of my dear friends and colleagues. The relentless Northern California sun welcomed the rally's participants. The summer's modest afternoon traffic trickled by. The University students were long gone, and local pub patrons had just begun to tiptoe into their venues of choice. Presenters from as far away as Utah took the newly renovated city plaza stage to share their stories; their particular vantage point about this day - on this day.
However, for me, it started many months before.
It was clear autumn night, on the fourth day of November, two-thousand and eight. Unprecedented numbers of Americans waited in stretched lines to cast their votes, many young and old, engaging in our political process for the first time. As the sun bid farewell to the day and the electors began casting their golden votes, here at home and around the globe, people paused to listen. If you were quiet enough you could actually hear “hope” bounce around the atmosphere; like the sound of a sunrise or the first bloom after a long winter.
Many believe Senator Obama took the White House by a national mandate, commingling the old and predictable map of red and blue states into a sea of purple. A sea made up of people of all colors, religions, sexual orientations, politics and views. Yet, they had one history-making commonality on that November night. They chose an intellectual who wouldn’t shy away from being intelligent to appeal to the average. They chose a man encouraging unity not division; a leader promoting hope and not fear.
For many Obama embodies change. He stands where he stands today as a black man, not because he is black. I echo the thoughts of so many others when I say, he inspires me. I am even prouder today to be an American than I have been for the past thirty-two years.
Yet, amid all of this light there was a shadow on that cloudless day.
On the very same ballot that illustrated the pinnacle of change for a nation that once allowed slavery of a people based on the color of their skin, and denied equal rights to fifty percent of its population because of their gender - our largest state voted “yes” on a proposition of discrimination.
The most painful factor regarding the passing of Proposition 8 is not simply the narrow margin that it passed by but the untruths and lies that drove people to “yes”.
Simply put, there is no correlation between protecting the right of gays to marry and new curriculum in schools. None. They used our children to get their “yes”. They misled our parents to get their "yes". There is no correlation between protecting the rights of gays to marry and the tax-exempt status of our churches. None. They used and misled people of faith to get their “yes”.
Moreover, how can two citizens of the same state have different rights under the same constitution? We certainly can not give the majority a way to discriminate against a minority through ballot measures. James Madison articulated it best in the Federalist Paper 51, when he wrote, "It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.”
Fortunately, our courts are here to protect minorities against the unfair will of majorities, if and when needed. Will they get this right eventually? We know that even the highest court of our land ruled on the wrong side of equality at one time. In 1857 when the US Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Robert B. Taney, declare that all blacks – slaves as well as free – were not and could not become citizens of the United States. But, they found their way to justice eventually.
Still, even with my quiet faith that equality will prevail - I am perplexed.
Many people Obama’s camp rallied to vote on this historic Election Day, voted “yes for equality” at the top of the ticket, and “yes to discrimination” at the bottom of the ticket. Many of whom, know the plight of discrimination intimately. Must we learn each lesson of equality separately? Must we ourselves be discriminated against before we can rise up to fight for others?
If we’ve learned as a nation that separate is not equal, then why must we try and apply this broken logic again in pointing to civil unions as the solution to denying one group of citizens the right other citizens have. Equality does not have degrees; it either is or is not equal.
There will be a day when the children of this state look back and are amazed by the institutionalized inequality and discrimination that once existed in this land. Until that day, everyone who believes in equality must stand up and fight for it. This is not a gay issue this is a human rights issue.
[Originally Published on ChicoSol.org; Syndicated on Newamericamedia.com]
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Can an atheist be moral?
My friend poses the question this way: If there is no God than explain the problem of good in a world.
The problem of good in a world, by the way, is an intellect’s way of asking for an argument for good; or in this case, an argument for good without God. It is code for "do please, explain" or the elitist version of “Riddle me this, Batman.”
For if there is no God than explain the origin of good? The root of right-doing? How can one explain morals without a Creator? If we’re just a collection of 10 trillion cells (latest estimate), where does the will to do right come in? Moreover, without a clearly identified architect of ethics, would they exist? Would there even be good? Would there be a right? Or a wrong?
So I ask myself, is this true? Without God (and thus a God-esque infusion within each of our shells) would life on earth simply be overrun by evil, by greed, by hatred and fear – immorality run-a-muck as it were? And, if the answer is “yes” but these above mentioned qualities also exist– then what say you?
yes, that's right, if "Good is God's",
and, "God is Good"
- what about evil?
My friend, and his friends, and their friends will undoubtedly pull-in at this particular juncture “free-will.” It is, perhaps, the faithfuls’ greatest trump card for where can one go in a conversational match after free-will is thrown in the ring. Simple put, free-will justifies any and all human behavior within the context of a God. And, faith eliminates the need for proof, so …
So, Socrates would certainly have sub-questions to pose here, but I’ve digressed.
Back to whether atheists can me moral, or, in other words is “Good - God’s”; are morals and ethics crafted into humankind by the Divine?
Let’s look at our words for a moment.
Philanthropy means an effort to promote the welfare of others. In its original form the term was not directly attributed to religion, moral impetus or ethical drive.
The word “altruism” emerged nearly two hundred years after the word “philanthropy.”
Altruism was a word coined by the French philosopher Auguste Comte in an effort to support his ethical doctrine and thus described goodwill towards others as a moral act; a moral act of unselfish behavior - literally marrying goodwill to ethics.
So it begs the questions, before the word “altruism” linked goodwill with ethics - what was philanthropy? Could it not of been goodwill towards man with a moral compass and in the absence of a spiritual core? Does religion really have a trademark on morals and ethics?
I'd like to note that in my friend’s article he addresses the scientist breed of atheism, which is fine, yet in my experience the atheist-scientist-religious argument always starts and ends in the same spot, which can get a little dizzying.
Alas, for a little fun, let's play it out...
The scientist says to the religious man,
"Prove to me God exists."
Scientist then says, “See, you can't.”
Then the religious man says,
“Disprove to me God exists.”
Religious man then says, “See, you can't.”
Here rests my interest in exploring atheists and morals and religion through a philosophical lens. As far as science and facts are concerned there is little room for these inquiries to be resolved, so let's move it from science (although we will touch on it a bit later) and into the hands of philosophers.
Herein stands Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Sartre - and Kant.
Granted these are not the boys I’d invite to my house for a wine and cheese soiree, nevertheless they are some of the most influential minds of humankind and happen to shop at Atheist-mart – so let’s jump in.
Who better to start with than Kant?
Because, we all know that Machiavelli took moral standards and obliterated them which makes a budding love-affair with “atheists & morals” bleak - (point for religion, “Atheists can't be moral” One-Love).
But, we can’t forget Machiavelli alone, influenced Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Mill, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Dewey in regard to virtue – so, ‘tis a courtesy bow and we are moving on…
We know that Nietzsche is the self-proclaimed "Anti-Christ"; therefore, by unanimous decision disqualifying him from this argument just for being offensive.
And, quite frankly, I haven't the time nor the energy to find a light to shine on the depths of darkness that encapsulates the minds of Freud and Marx - as they did not truly acknowledge good; or if good was acknowledged (Marx), it was too good to be held in the religious choices of his day; therefore, awarding three more points to “Atheists can’t be moral” (Score: Four - Love).
Shall we continue…
Sartre, perhaps, is the sadist of lot because to him there was no God, and with no God all things were permissible and thus nothing had meaning. And with no God and no meaning, then we are again, sipping lattes with the scientist-atheist club who argue that earth (and its creatures) are a physical mass and nothing more. There really is no proof (I mean Petri dish proof) of the contrary, so where can we go …
But, you and I both know, that there is good and goodwill – so Sir Sad Sartre is out (Score: Five-Love) albeit the question still remains is “Good - God’s” and God’s alone.
Or, is there even the slightest chance it is a human-thing, and therefore could exist without the notion, or acceptance, or belief in God. In fact, if it was purely human and an atheist was moral, then what could the power of humanness bring?
Really now, it’s time to find Kant. Shan’t we?
Kant argues that if moral law came from God not human beings, then we would not be free in the sense of being autonomous. Kant then argues that man must be autonomous; therefore the moral law must not come from God but from man. Wait. What was that? Again please!
If Good is God’s, and we are of God, than we must be good; therefore free-will would not be free-will but ordained-will.
This in my view is like saying to a child,
"O.k. you can go into the candy store and pick out one candy, absolutely any candy, but just one.” And, then after the child has thought long and hard about it, and has finally made a decision, saying to her,
“Oh, no sweetie, any candy but that one.”
To state plainly the point of this analogy, if God is influencing us to act a certain way, free-will is compromised and an unavoidable paradox emerges.
If there is free-will (which would indeed justify an all-loving God even with evil and suffering in the world) then we must be autonomous.
If we are autonomous than God did not create morals and moral laws, human beings did.
Good is not God's alone even if God is Absolute Good.
If human beings created morals and moral laws than not only can an atheist be moral but we might have more accountability for moral and ethical behavior here on earth (and, not just the ultimate retirement plan as an incentive).
Socrates and Aristotle point to true happiness springing from aligning with moral norms, irrespective of a God. In other words, it is the highest human drive to be aligned with moral law, even if that moral law was created by us.
If Good is not God’s alone and is a human creation – just imagine the power of humankind.
And, imagine just for a moment, how proud God must be of his creation.
Monday, October 29, 2007
By, Alexa Leigh Valavanis
Shortly after the 21st century arrived I accepted a job across the ocean, on the central coast of China. The destination was a booming metropolis called Shanghai. At the time, Thomas Friedman’s book, “The World is Flat” hadn’t been released, and there were only a couple of places amid the bustling Shanghainese vendors to buy Big Macs (McDonalds) and Caramel Macchiatos (Starbucks). The prime-time reality show “Survivor” wasn’t there yet, nor was the National Basketball Association’s preseason. In fact, when I landed in the ‘Paris of the East’ the Canadian dollar was as it always had been – behind ours, and our Nation was not at war.
It felt like a different time.
I was just leaving the coveted shelter of academia, with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a four-year career as a “Wildcat” point-guard under my belt. Up to that point in my life, I’d had very little time to experience other cultures, contemplate globalization, glean the realities of poverty, or examine the morality of actions – as individuals and world citizens.
That would change.
After I finished a year in China working for International Kindergartens I took to travel. I journeyed throughout Southeast Asia to villages in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. In small doses I began to absorb the reality about the way most of the people on the planet lived – or survived. I became bound by the moral and ethical obligations I learned as a child, yet only then could begin to grasp. Throughout those first years abroad, I listened and learned about the abundance generated through simplicity and gratitude.
Asia broke wide-open a new hunger for humanity within me. I found my way to Central America where my heart was pulled to work. The lessons in this ancient Latin land echoed those of Asia yet were wrapped in very different colors, flavors and sounds. In Guatemala, I established a nonprofit foundation with a Nigerian doctor and three colleagues. Our foundation would strive to redefine the role, impact and sustainability of foreign-aid.
The highlands of Guatemala held me. The people overflowed with generosity and grace. During the next couple of years, I would travel throughout Nicaragua and El Salvador and be met with similar lessons in patience, compassion, and above all else, generosity.
The more I experienced there - the more I shared here. What resulted was an immense outpouring of compassion and eagerness from people who wanted to get engaged. When others heard about the challenges, injustices, or disasters facing their global neighbors they were moved to help; compelled by their internal compasses to do something.
Some people sent money while others prayed. Some people committed to our cause while others volunteered for new projects at home. But, overwhelmingly people met the needs with actions. It was then, that my belief in the power of philanthropy was solidified. Moreover, it was in these days that my understanding of human connectedness took root.
Today, we live in an interdependent world. One nation’s struggles deeply impact the rest of us. We are all vulnerable to changes in climate, the spread of disease and terrorist threats. We are more intertwined than ever before. Technology has bridged the natural divides and generated interconnectedness on a profound level.
We see each other. We hear each other. We impact each other.
Everyday I see evidence of this connectedness and the vast generosity of human-beings. People around the globe, and certainly here at home, are eager to help when they learn how they can make a difference. The statistics are staggering. Seventy percent of American households give some money to charity each year. In 2006, Americans gave almost two percent of our Gross Domestic Product (nearly $300 billion) to places of worship, emergency relief or to meet local community needs.
Philanthropy is becoming more and more hands on. People not only want to give, they want to do more of it. They want to share that experience with their family and friends. The great challenge is not in convincing people to give, but sharing with them a genuine opportunity to be effective.
Contemporary philanthropy is coining new phrases like ‘social entrepreneurship’ and ‘return on social investments’ for a reason. The standards for philanthropy are rising. Expectations are increasing. Transparency is a mandate, and accountably a must. Our billionaires are giving, our millionaires are giving, and the woman across the street that lived modestly her entire life - is giving to make our world better.
For the past three years I’ve had the privilege of working here, in Northern California as the CEO of the North Valley Community Foundation. I’ve witnessed firsthand the generosity of our local residents. Together, we are creating new ways to address the pressing social needs facing our communities. We are developing innovative strategies to mobilize resources to meet those needs, and achieve measured results. Our method is a hands-on, heart and mind approach to change. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of it.
The more I experience and engage in philanthropy, the more inspired I become. It doesn’t matter what you call it or how you do it, there is no doubt that people are engaged in GIVING. Here and around the globe – people are GIVING. Perhaps, more than ever before, there is a movement of organized and effective generosity.
I call it, human warming!
[Published November 2007, UpState Business Journal]
Tuesday, January 2, 2007
I awoke this morning to a pearly grey dawn. For a moment the breeze held her breath and I heard the massive ball of flames rise above the horizon. One of the many forgotten priviledges of waking up on this part of the globe is the uninterrupted passage of time. Our hours aren't filled with bombings and bloodshed, hungry cries and human tragedy. Our minutes free from the search for shelter, food and safety. As the ancient war in the Middle East sheds new colors of red, I pray for peace.
The journey was a peaceful transition into the lazy afternoon, for even the bird's were slow to stir. So, you might image, when the unfamiliar stare appeared so abruptly in my path my mind was hesitant to digest the interruption.
His darkness frightened me. We stood there connected by the blade of his machete against my neck and the matching color of our eyes.
The quiet air held our breaths as we exchanged sudden movements atop the hillside. I heard distant screams and cries only later to realize they were my own.
It was a violent collision of our birthed realities. His dark skin carrying the burden of hunger and pain; my white skin reflecting all that was opposite his oppression.
Face to face, we stood divided.
Yet, I knew somehow, if either of us were to escape that dark abyss, we would be bound by light eternal.
In his dream, he walked for miles until he reached his village. It was here, where his wife and children worked to keep their modest hut, from tin-roof to dirt floor, clean and ready for papa’s return. He stepped onto the porch and the familiar smell of homemade tortillas and chicken soup dropped him to his knees. It had been too many days and nights of longing to let go of standing up. In the dream, his children wore clean clothing and smiles as they shared stories from school. He looked outside and noticed even the old avocado tree, which stood bent outside the kitchen window for decades, had a youthful sway. They ate and laughed, and carried on as the crescent moon begged for their attention. He told his family memories collected from the coffee fields; about the ripening fruits he named one-by-one in hopes their harvest would bring him home. They listened to their papa until the warm night bowed her head to dawn.
It was this sunrise which found him still, asleep beneath the coffee leaves, without his family or the youthful sway of the avocado tree. He looked up at the open sky, hung above Guatemala’s Highlands, and offered his daily promise to his wife and children. It was the promise of returning home with enough money for food and school for his babies - perhaps, a new life where they could welcome each sunrise together. Until then…he would work each day and hold them in his dreams each night.
Inspired by Juan Antonio – Coffee Field Worker in Fraijanes, Guatemala
May you keep time by the songs you sing, and dance wild with the heavens and seas. May the open sky offer you tranquility and the white moon, rock you to sleep. May you rename the world with your grace and light, so you may be called 'day' and your lover the 'night'.
As I breathe in Belize I relinquish the impetus to cling to familiar. Drifting here - thirty-three shades of green staring back at me through the bus window. The humidity reminding me I am alive. I can't say with any definitive certainty where I come from nor where I will arrive. The river bends around my fingers. The banana leaves and palm trees stand still against the sky, shouting 'Gracias A Dios".
I offer this prayer to the Caribbean sea...