Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Assembly of People Into Giving a Sh*t: Christmas Eve

There are many aspects of the Christmas story that are often over-looked or misinterpreted. We think of the night that Mary gave birth as a peaceful and silent night. We forget the involvement of the government. We forget the emotions of those involved.

When Mike was in college, he volunteered with a home for those with disabilities. He attended one of their plays which was the Christmas story. During the play the audience could hear one young man shout over and over “No room in the inn!” He was to play the role of the innkeeper and he was simple minded. When his part came and Joseph explained how his wife was pregnant and everyone else in Bethlehem had turned them away, the innkeeper responded, “Ah hell! You can have MY room.” Simple minded but not simple hearted.

Pregnant Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, a town crowded with people coming back to their home town to register with the Roman government which was an occupying force in Israel. Rome wanted to take a census, for tax purposes. The Roman Empire was not kind to those who did not follow their laws and the need for taxes was great because they had to pay their soldiers who maintained the Empire.

Joseph and Mary went from inn to inn trying to find a place to rest. I remember what it felt like to be nine months pregnant…swollen, out-of-sorts, and feeling like any moment I might pop! I cannot imagine needing a bed to just lie down and rest to discover that there were no vacancies anywhere.

And while the last innkeeper did not offer his room…he did offer them the cattle shed. A place with straw and flat surfaces…a place to rest. In the early days of the Midwest many farmers offered travelers their barns in which to rest. 

Nicaraguan Nativity painting

Mary goes into labor. The baby is coming. This part of the story is not told. Maybe because long ago, people instinctively knew what having a baby was like or maybe because it was written by men who did not understand the pain, the messiness, the fear, the exhaustion of having a baby. I do. I can imagine Joseph going out into the night to find a mid-wife to help with the birth.

I can imagine the sweat pouring off Mary’s face. Did she know to breathe and focus on something else to help? Or was she terrified, it being her first child and first birth? We know she was young…so young.

Joseph and the midwife helped Mary, giving encouragement as each contraction tightened the largest muscle in the human body to move the baby in position and then eventually through the birth canal. We have no idea how long this birth was, but there was no spinal block…no drugs given…no fetal monitor…just working, pushing, and hoping against hope that baby and Mama will survive the ordeal.

Let me tell you, with no drugs, pushing a baby out is work and it hurts. There is a huge relief when the baby comes shooting out but it is not clean. Fluid, blood and most of the times feces come out of the body before and during the actual crowning and birth of the baby. Most of the time, mothers cry out with the effort so it is neither silent or calm as everyone is doing their job to help the baby come. Midwives are encouraging and – I suspect – Joseph was lending physical support as Mary squatted…maybe?

Taken away from her home and the people she knew, Mary gave birth to her son in a barn with Joseph and a stranger (mid-wife) …we can guess. When the birth is over, the cord is cut, the baby wiped off, Mary is cleaned, the straw with fluids, placenta, and feces is removed, and Mary will have tried to feed her child.

Baby and mother trying to get the nipple in the mouth so that sucking can happen and Mary’s uterus can start contracting down again.

I am sure with all the smells of the bodily functions, the animals were disturbed, moving and making noises. This was no silent night.

But as with all births, it was holy.

Despite the Empire’s desire to lord over the Israelites, despite the lack of room or space, despite the strange land, Mary gave birth to the Son of David.

Despite wars, famine, flooding, and all kinds of disasters, women give birth…no different from Mary. It can be frightening, painful, hard work, and something that we don’t want to happen, but babies come when it is their time.

We cannot forget that human element of the Christmas story.

Mary gave birth to Jesus. Not at home. Not in a hospital. Not in an inn. Not even in the innkeeper’s room, but in the cattle shed.

That is where the King of Kings – as we Christians call Jesus – was born…in a barn. Without a home.

We must remember this when we see refugees, homeless people, and outcasts…because we are seeing Jesus when we see them.

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Saturday, December 19, 2020

Assembly of People Into Giving a Sh*t: Love

Our fourth Advent banner today is LOVE. It is the only banner that actually has images of people…a Haitian woman holding her baby…Madonna and Child. When we made these banners years ago, Haiti was going through an AIDS epidemic and had gone through a revolution to overthrow their family dynasty of the dictators, the Duvaliers. 

 🎜LOVE is what makes the world go round. 🎝
🎜All we need is LOVE. 🎝
🎜What the world needs now is LOVE sweet LOVE. 🎝

Songs from the ages exalt LOVE. But what is LOVE?

When many people hear the word “LOVE”, they automatically think of the romantic kind of LOVE. The LOVE that one has with a spouse or partner. Passionate LOVE. Abiding LOVE that moves with us through the years as we age. LOVE that depends on the other.

With all the Disney films for children, a spell is broken by “the kiss of one’s true LOVE.” In these movies the prince comes along and lays eyes on the beautiful princess and gives her a kiss. Poof! Spell broken

With the Pixar movies, Brave, that began to change…the spell was broken by the daughter with her true LOVE for her mother and in Frozen with the true LOVE of a sister.

Familial LOVE is another form of LOVE that we recognize as well. Deep abiding LOVE we feel for the members of our family…that feeling of warmth and attachment I have when I just think of our children.

LOVE with one’s friends. I will light up when I see our wonderful friends. We have so many dear, precious friends that my LOVE for each of them is as deep as familial LOVE. All of these types of LOVE, give us warmth in a cruel world, and fuzzy feelings of acceptance and joy.

But there is a different LOVE that may be most important of all…the LOVE we share with everyone whether we like them or not. The word LOVE in English can mean an emotional state but it also means action. The LOVE we act on.

We were doing a slide presentation at North Anderson Community Church (Presbyterian) back in the day when we ran shelters in North Carolina. A member came up to me and said, “The way that you LOVE those people is admirable.”

Trying to be honest, I replied, “I’m sorry but I don’t LOVE many of these people.”

She then said one of the most important sentences I have ever heard, “LOVE is a verb: you show your LOVE by caring for them physically and emotionally.”

Maybe it was because I was getting the flu or maybe because we then saw the movie, Gandhi, I don’t know but that sentence has stuck with me.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The real LOVE is to LOVE them that hate you, to LOVE your neighbor even though you distrust [them].”

True LOVE often comes with no warmth or fuzzy feelings of acceptance or joy, but instead true LOVE often comes in the face of hate and malice.

LOVE is action…what we do to and for others.

Cornell West, an American philosopher and social activist, said, “Never forget that justice is what LOVE looks like in public.”

If we believe in the Divine of LOVE…the God of LOVE…we have no other choice, but to LOVE… 

“You cannot LOVE God whom you have not seen, if you hate your neighbor whom you have seen.” (1 John 4:22b) 

“LOVE your enemies, pray for those who persecute you,” Jesus told his disciples. (Matt 5:44)

Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “LOVE is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

“Nothing is impossible for pure LOVE,” Gandhi said…and he would know. He held a LOVE-filled revolution and the British left India.

LOVE…a force that is powerful and right. 

What the world needs now is indeed LOVE…true LOVE.

Neighbor to neighbor.  Community to community.  Nation to nation.  All LOVING each other.  All taking actions of LOVE.

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Assembly of PIGS: Joy

Today is the third Sunday of Advent and our banner has a Chinese red dragon and the character for “JOY”. It has bells on the bottom that have rusted away over the past 30 plus years and shiny sequins for the fire coming out of its mouth. I find the banner itself quite joyous. 

In this year of 2020 with its quarantines due to the dangers of the virus, we have found the year extremely boring with no break in sight.

We’ve tried to break the monotony. We tried to go away for a few days as the Jubilee House Community…to see and do something different but Hurricane Eta hit; so, we rescheduled and Hurricane Iota hit. We went back to the same old same old.

Until yesterday…and yesterday we celebrated with fanfare Becca and Paul’s daughter, Eibhlín, turning 15 years old. We had her quinceañera.

We all dressed up. A masked photographer came and took loads of photos. Eibhlín and her sister, Orla, had fancy dresses made, and bought fancy shoes. They even had fancy masks to wear. Sarah cooked a great Chinese feast. Daniel got balloons galore. Claudia and the girls’ friend Abril decorated. There were presents, speeches, music, Zoom calls and - as I have mentioned above - lots of photos. Even Samantha, the Community’s toddler, after a cool down and rest, dressed up in her fancy dress to match Eibhlín’s. 

Quinceañeras are a Latin thing and usually very big…I have issues with them by-and-large. In some ways they remind me of debutant balls…or events that announce “Here she is, ready for the picking!” Boys do not have quinceañeras, neither do they have debutant balls.

A quinceañera is also a time that the family spends way too much money. For poor Nicaraguans, they will often times go into debt to pay for the festivities. I have issues with spending too much money for frivolous things when the family might suffer…but last night taught me an important lesson…JOY is as important for the soul as bread is for the body.

Being poor is like quarantining. It is boring. You can’t afford books, outings, puzzles, games…it is the same old same old every single day. It is worse than quarantining because you sweep the same dirt floor, eat the same rice and if lucky beans, scrub the same clothes on a washboard, cook over a wood stove with the same pot…day in and day out. It is dreadfully boring, so when there is the chance for a break in that boredom…for JOY, the poor jump at the opportunity.

In 2003 we went to El Porvenir, the remote, rural coffee cooperative, with volunteer Lisa and her mother Dottie and brother Josh who were visiting. Dottie did medical consults and I handed out medicines. Lisa and Josh made balloon hats for all the kids of the cooperative. Word went out through the cooperative and kids kept coming from down below the mountain. It was the most fun I had had on top of that mountain, watching the different creations and the children’s delight in the hats. JOY was so prevalent that I was surprised a beam of happiness was not lighting up the sky. 

I have heard volunteers say “Oh! They are so happy!” wondering if the “simple life” of poverty makes one happy. What actually happens is that having new people around and dressing up for those on delegations breaks the monotony and gives people a little JOY.

JOY feeds the soul.

When we ran shelters in North Carolina in the 1980s, we laughed all the time. Mike and our late dear friend Margaret kept us in stitches. As we have aged laughter comes more slowly to us, but it is there. We understand dark humor and the need to laugh at things that most nice, white folks would find appalling. Our humor has an edge to it as does the humor of the poor. 

When Pat died Joseph and Daniel kept making jokes. While trying to be “Mama”, I fussed at them. Their response consistently was “that is how we grieve…you know this.” And I did because they grew up with us.

Laughter cleanses the soul of all the negative build up and allows JOY to break into the soul. As People Into Giving a Sh*t we must be aware that spreading JOY is as critical as spreading justice, peace and hope.

I love our Chinese dragon…our symbol of JOY…the glittering fire burning away the pain and hurt to allow the bells to ring and my soul to fly.

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Thursday, December 10, 2020

Future Fridays: Are Nations Not Responsible For Their Actions?

If your neighbor had a tree twith a branch that hung over into your yard and over your house, and though you had asked for them to trim the branch, they had not. And if that branch cracked and fell on your roof caving in part of it, should your neighbor have to pay for the damages?

If your neighbor, avoiding garbage pick-up fees, burns their trash and during a dry spell a spark flies over to your house and catches it on fire, should your neighbor have to pay for the damage to your home?

If your neighbor keeps having huge barbecues with billowing smoke even though you have asked and asked that they be mindful of your child with asthma. And then if your child has an asthma attack breathing in said smoke, should your neighbor be responsible for the hospital bill?

Negligence and plain selfishness are easy to see on an individual level and holding people responsible on an individual level is usually a cut-and-dried solution.

But what about nations?

When nations do not limit green house gases, then are they responsible to pay for the damages of climate change to nations suffering from the changes in climate (like hurricanes, droughts, flooding, or fires) but who are not polluting nearly to the degree that wealthier nations are? 

2020 hrricane damage Caribbean coast communities, Nicaragua

Last month Nicaragua lived through two category 4 hurricanes within two weeks. TWO within TWO WEEKS!

The Nicaraguan government is committed to reducing green house gases even though Nicaraguans per capita have a low carbon footprint. The president of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, Dante Mossi said that as of October 2020, the Nicaraguan National Program for Sustainable Electrification and Renewable Energy (PNESER) has achieved for Nicaragua a 98.33% in electricity coverage throughout the nation and 74.39% of the electricity was generated from renewable sources. Mossi went on to say…

  “Nicaragua will be the second country in Latin America to achieve 100% national coverage, which is a historic accomplishment that demonstrates the commitment of the Government to guarantee this basic right for the population…we must acknowledge and congratulate Nicaragua for obtaining approval of US $ 115 million-dollar funding from the United Nations Green Climate Fund to manage the effects of climate change. Approval of funds at this scale by the Green Climate Fund is unprecedented for the region and a clear recognition of Nicaragua's work on environmental protection, as well as
adaptation and mitigation of the effects of climate change. We have a lot to learn from the Nicaragua experience.” 

So, with Nicaragua working to do its part, should not neighbors who are having so much impact on climate change help pay for the damages created by climate change? 

And this is the rub…an individual may be held responsible, but a nation?

Why not?

Climate justice calls for action, and being held responsible when negligence and selfishness happens is a good way to ensure the action.  Being held responsible calls for atonement and funds to repair damage or reparations.  Only when climate change hits us in the pocket.. that seems to be the only effect that moves many.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Adios, 2020! Ending this Whale Poop of a Year in the Black

Well, we got word this week that the last of our adult children and the grandchildren are not coming home for Christmas in an attempt to keep us Old Farts safe and well…or as they said, “not die.” We appreciate their love and care for us, but it feels like just one more PBFTTT from 2020. What a year!

We surpassed our Giving Tuesday goal, which was luverly! Just stupendous! And those of you who helped are just wonderful and we are grateful, so grateful.

With that good news, here comes the not-so-good...

We still meet weekly and wonder where we are going to get the month’s income to do all the unsexy things that take money…and frankly we are exhausted trying to find money and asking for money and stressing out in the middle of the night about how we are going to meet this weeks payroll (as I write this, it is 3:30 AM because I couldn’t sleep). So, we are girding up our loins and asking anyway…we really want to finish this llama spit of a year in the black. 

In the words of Pres. Elect Biden... "here's the deal:"

People were amazing in raising money for the ultrasound machine, but the paper is $200/box then there is the air conditioning to keep it working, the maintenance, and the gel…not to mention the salary of the wonderful doctor, Jorge.

People were brilliant in raising money to put in dental chairs, but the supplies are about $450/month especially with no donations of dental supplies coming in the country…not to mention the salaries of dentist Julio, hygienist Lydia, and assistant Fabiola…two air conditioners and the high electric bill  as well as maintenance for running the equipment.

People were remarkable about raising money to hire the therapist, Dominga, but we have to cover the PPE for her and all the staff and supplies for her to work with patients, especially arts and crafts with the kids. 

People were superb in raising funds for the Giving Tuesday so that we can get our charts and medicines on-line, but we spend anywhere form $2,000 -3,000/month in medication costs.

People were fantastic in raising construction money but we have three builders/maintenance staff salaries...for Rogelio, Lucas, and Pedro…and then there is the money for the truck to haul materials and maintenance supplies like door knobs, screening, lighting fixtures that blow with surges in electricity, water pump replacements, waste filtration materials, and on and on it goes.

And while people are wonderful about raising money for special equipment, we have financial books to keep for our projects, our donors, both the Nicaraguan and the U.S. governments which take staff, printers, copiers, paper (blech!), phones, and cars to run in and out of banks and government offices.

All those are things that the CDCA has to pay, but who wants to fund boring stuff like that? Really?

Well, we hope you will. All those boring facets of our work mean that each year we can:
  • Support 3,000 farmers through the organic agriculture cooperative with loans, phone minutes as Mike and Becca spend hours on the phone with buyers and the cooperative staff, fuel to run the vehicles to go to the sesame plant, meet with farmers as well as the wear and tear on the trucks.
  • Provide health care, dental care, psychological care for thousands of people
  • Provide eye exams and corrective lenses for hundreds
  • Provide lab tests for thousands of people 
  • Provide medicine for all those folks above
  • Provide family planning for hundreds
  • Provide monthly visits, labs and medicines for 143 people with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension
  • Provide wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, beds, etc. for hundreds
  • Provide public health classes to hundreds 
  • Provide ultrasounds for hundreds
  • Provide Personal Protective Equipment and a clean environment to slow the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses 
  • Educate people to the issues of poverty and Nicaragua
Please give and help us end this donkey snot of a year in the black…and consider giving monthly in 2021 so there are continuing funds for this important work.

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Saturday, December 5, 2020

Assembly of PIGS: Peace

Today is the second Sunday of Advent and our banner has a dove and the words for PEACE in Hebrew and Arabic. When we made the banners 35 plus years ago, we had a Muslim from Morocco in our Community and it seemed appropriate to include both words on our PEACE banner since there has been so much strife in the Middle East.

The Arabic word salaam is a greeting as is the Hebrew word shalom… “PEACE be with you.” Salaam means PEACE and harmlessness, safety and protection from evil and from faults. As-Salaam is also one of the names of Allah.

Shalom means PEACE, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. 

Both words mean so much more than the absence of war or just tranquility.

When I learned the meaning of shalom in my seminary days, it was like a light bulb going off in my head. I understood how we as a world could actually obtain PEACE. When we all live in harmony, when we give everyone wholeness and prosperity and wellness, when we make sure that we are all complete then we can truly have PEACE. Otherwise, PEACE is elusive.

There can be no PEACE without justice.

When people march in the streets because of police brutality and racial biases, this is not a law and order issue…this is a justice issue and without justice there will be no PEACE. 

Until the U.S. addresses the complaints of the Arabic nations to rule as they choose, we will have terrorism…without justice, we will have no PEACE whether we have good intelligence or not.

Until Israel addresses the issue of the subjugation of the Palestinians, there will be no PEACE in the Middle East.

We tend to put band aids on problems and hope that the bandage will stop the bleeding; we never address the wounds and injustices that so many feel. Giving food and shelter helps but not if, with the other hand, we are giving weapons trying to control the outcome.

Deciding that our best interests mean training people in terrorist tactics and setting up dictatorships around the world; then... what that really means is that those tactics will come back to haunt us. Without justice there can be no PEACE…there will be no PEACE.

We have this irrational notion that “keeping the PEACE” is the same thing as PEACE itself. It is not. PEACE cannot be “kept”, PEACE can only be made through hard, hard work and understanding. Making PEACE starts and ends with justice.

If you are hungry and poor, you have nothing to lose if you blow up a building.

If you feel constrained and oppressed, you have nothing to lose if you grab a gun and start shooting up a street.

If you are nothing but a shell from being trodden on your whole life, you have nothing to lose if you loot and burn a business.

If you have no hope of a future, you have nothing to lose in strapping on a bomb and walking into a crowded mall.

But if all you experience is justice, then you have everything to lose.

When our boys were younger, I would read the books they read so that we could discuss them. One of the series they read was the Pendragon series with a boy, Bobby, who moved through dimensions to points of cruxes in different dimensions’ societies. In the first book, The Merchant of Death, Bobby went to a dimension that had extreme classism. The wealthy had all they needed and wanted, while the poor had little and suffered under the thumbs of oppression from the wealthy. One of the leaders of the people who were so poor, finally broke down and with explosive rocks went to an event held by the wealthy to blow himself and the whole arena up.

I remember reading this and suddenly realizing that the author, D.J. MacHale, was explaining to young people in his book why suicide bombers existed. And MacHale did it so well…because - not once - did I think that the man willing to blow himself up was wrong…I could only see him as desperate.

There was no justice in that society, so there could be no PEACE.

PEACE is an individual action. When our kids were small, we had a cassette tape of PEACE music for children and one song was "I Can Make PEACE with Everyone I Meet”. Creating a world of kindness and respect, treating each other with empathy and understanding, and working daily for justice…this is how we as individuals can make PEACE.

PEACE is a community action. In your neighborhoods, towns, and cities we all need to work for justice for every single person…this is how we make PEACE.

PEACE is a nationwide action. In the world, we all need to work to ensure that everyone has their needs met, treating other nations with respect and kindness, and working to ensure there is a healthy world for today and the future ahead…this is how we make PEACE.

Without justice there can be no PEACE.


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