Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Joy to the World

I hang out with ordinary people. We go to our jobs, take care of our children, walk our dogs, support our communities, watch our TV shows, and make lists to keep up with everything else. We are assembly line workers and attorneys, entrepreneurs and engineers, surgeons and songwriters, preachers and painters, chefs and shoe salesfolk. We come from the city and the country, from the US, Mexico, China and Palestine, from big families and very small families, from Christian to Buddhist to atheist. We struggle, we celebrate, we grieve, we console, we dance, we pray. We believe. We believe in right over wrong, in mystery and in science, in freedom and in truth. We believe in the kindness of people, the strength of the human spirit, the power of one strong voice crying out in the wilderness. We believe in angels and gods, holy women and wise men, and the Baby born under a star in the East. We are at work in the world...healing and feeding, championing causes and holding hands with the broken. Some of us write, some of us lobby, some of us ladle soup into styrofoam bowls, some of us sing, some of us smile and listen. Some of us roll down our windows at intersections and give change to the woman holding the "Homeless with 3 Children" sign. Some of us put spare quarters in the "Heifer Project" box at the office. Some of us buy stuffed animals for kids in the children's hospital. Some of us simply wish we had more to do more...and we wait hopefully for the time when we do, because we will. I hang out with some ordinary folks...but they are people who carry amazing dreams for the world. These are people - every last one of 'em - filled with a collective mission to be ambassadors of great comfort and deep joy. They respond to that need everywhere - from the neighbor's house next door, to the orphan's hut in Uganda. It is a circle of unexplainable hope, irresistible joy, and determined love. It is a force to be reckoned with. It is extraordinary. I am part of a movement to bring Joy to the World! If you are reading here, you are, more than likely, one of these people. Thank you. Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. - Desmond Tutu Peace.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Once Upon a Time...

Did you see the young guy on the Daily Show last week who's had a vasectomy just because he doesn't want to bring another consumer into the world? Even I think that's a little extreme...though I do understand his motives.
We the people of the United States of America are 5% of world’s population. We consume 24% of world’s resources. 1 American, on average, consumes as much energy as: 2 Japanese 6 Mexicans 13 Chinese 370 Ethiopians We are overweight, overindulged, and saturated with images that tell us to spend, borrow, and own every little thing we want (whether we can afford it or not). But, we apparently have our limits. It appears to me the Economics 101 lessons of the last few months have provided the ceiling on our tolerance for being compelled to spend, spend, spend. We don't like unabated greed. We can't believe we stood by while people with money made more money preying on unqualified home buyers. We don't appreciate auto execs who make obscene amounts of money while people who build their cars take it on the chin. We don't trust falling gas prices in an economy otherwise going belly up. We don't feel at all comfortable with the idea that billions of tax dollars are being promised from a general ledger that's trillions in the hole. I think we've had enough.

According to the American Research Group, Inc., we will be spending half what we spent last year on Christmas. The amount we're willing to spend on the magic of the season this year is $431. In 2007, the number was $859.

My friend Frank works for a high end clothing chain here in Austin. He told me yesterday that Christmas sales in his store are down 70% from last year. As much as I hate to see a friend's personal economy in peril...I have to say I'm happy to know we're thinking about what we're doing with our credit cards and our savings accounts.

Because twice as much money spent does not really say "I Love You" twice as much. Does it?

In fact, what we're involved in at Christmastime is apparently something right out of Grimm (as in the fairy tale). Some smart university researchers have followed a handful of Christmas shoppers around for 7 years. What they discovered is a pattern of motivation that reads a bit like Jack and the Beanstalk...small dreamer (us) with magic seeds (our Christmas lists) pulls off a giant (retail world) tricking feat of daring (shopping) to bring home prizes of great value (the gifts under the tree).

Unless, of course, a villain prevails...which typically (according to research, not me) is a husband or father or death of a loved one.

Or the collapse of a greedy economy?

Stop right here for a moment, my friends, and ponder this: How are you really feeling about the condition of your Christmas economy this year? Hero or villain?

I say it's a good year to spend less, sit more, and enjoy the view from the bottom of the beanstalk.

And we all lived happily ever after...

Peace.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Do Bees

Don't get excited...I'm writing about Romper Room DO Bees. Not doobies. Romper Room was the preschool prequel to Sesame Street. The Do Bees were Romper Room's version of lesson-teaching muppets. As we sang along with the Do Bee song, we learned some of life's most basic skills: be a sidewalk player, be a shoe cleaner, be a car sitter, be an ear washer AND be a plate cleaner. Do be a plate cleaner, don't be a food fussy. That's what the Do Bees demanded from little Romper Roomers who "never did anything wrong."
I think we learned the plate cleaning lesson well.
Americans consume 815 billion calories a day - that's about 200 billion more than we need. Meanwhile, 700-800 million people in the world don't get enough food to support normal daily activities. 9.8 million people have died in the world this year of hunger and hunger related diseases. Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we throw away 200,000 pounds of edible food...every day. And that's usually after we've cleaned our plates. We just throw away the extra food that never even got to the plate. I know, I know - you heard this over dinner when your mom wanted you to eat your peas: "There are children starving in Africa," she'd say. And we all thought: "Then, send these peas to Africa." You'd think our early awareness of starving children in the world might have, at some point in time, made us think about the way we consume the world's food.
In fact, it has not. In the 38 years since I was made aware of starving children in Africa while pushing broccoli around on my plate, food consumption, per person, in the United States has gone up 16%.
66.6% of adults in this country over the age of 20 are overweight.
32% are obese.
I don't want to be a wet blanket on the official U.S. eating season, but could we stop for a moment and at least think about our food traditions? I know I need to. It's so easy to confuse what we need with what we want, whether we are preparing the food or piling it on the plate. It's almost impossible, I believe, for a fully resourced urban American to even know when enough is enough. I've spent more money on magazines full of holiday recipes than many families in the world have to spend on food in a month.
And what about those starving children in Cameroon, Pakistan, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines (the top 5 hungriest countries in the world)?
I tell you these things not to inflict guilt, like your mom may have, but to share the grief.
Be mindful. Do bee a world thinker.
Peace comes when people are fed.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Kindergarten Thinking

Remember the kid who showed up for school every day ready for a fight? He/she targeted certain kids...the ones who were usually the easiest shots. They were often the biggest or the smallest or the oldest or the youngest or the richest or the poorest. In our kindergarten minds, this kid was cunning and popular and powerful. In our adult minds, we know this child was probably sad and insecure and, mostly likely, treated very badly at home. I believe we've discovered Austin's schoolyard bully (or bullies). He picks on open-minded people (aka "libbos"). Email is his playground. The Letters to the Editor page in our daily newspaper, his classroom. If you read Papa de la Paz' guest entry over the weekend, you know he got some nasty responses to a letter that was published in the paper Saturday. I mean, before he even knew the letter was on the editorial page, he had responses. As in, before 7 AM Saturday morning. And...ooooo...they were ugly. Interestingly, they had a familiar tone. Where had we heard that "don't bother writing me back, I've read enough drivel today"...? Oh yeah...it was September 21. The day I had a letter published in the Statesman. Three emailers... jim_karp@fastmail.fm rongoodwine@gmail.com jjandbevo@yahoo.com ...apparently make it part of their daily routine to send hate-email to people they don't agree with who have been allowed brief platform space in the newspaper. Another friend, who has letters published regularly (usually on the subjects of disease and poverty in developing nations), says he receives the same love notes from the same sources. Don't spend too much time pondering the emotional baggage people like this might be lugging around. It's unsettling. It's probably enough to realize these are not happy campers. They wake up mad. They go looking for a fight. They swing at the kids who have been taught to NOT hit people. They walk away snickering "ha ha" like Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons. Maybe emailing newspaper letter writers is the latest anger management therapy...get it all out on strangers before you have to deal with people you know. Maybe it's activity driven by the loneliness of a homebound person with a debilitating illness. Or, maybe it's someone's paid job to try to keep us "libbos" from actually feeling sane. Does Rush Limbaugh subscribe to the Austin American-Statesman? Enough said. I've reached a new (low) level of thinking when I include Rush Limbaugh's name in a blog entry. Let's live with our lessons from kindergarten today, shall we? Peace.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Free Prize with Every Letter to the Editor

Hi all, DC here making a guest entry to the blog. My letter to the Statesman about my experience at the State Board of Education (or perhaps it is actually the State Board of Dis-Education) meeting was published today. It said:
I attended my first SBOE meeting recently, mainly to speak against the creationists' attempts to corrupt our science curriculum. As a bonus, I got to hear the board vote to take the steps necessary to treat athletics hours like academic hours so they can count for up to four of the state's required graduation credits. I must admit it is a creative end-around on the Legislature, which has tried valiantly to raise the bar in Texas education. The inmates have taken control of the asylum. David Chapman mailto:davidc@austin.rr.com.rr.com
Well, guess what happens when you put your email address in the paper? People write to you. I got one good letter and a smattering of fruitcakes...enjoy. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- From: John King [johncon2007@yahoo.com] Sent: Saturday, December 06, 2008 8:38 AM To: davidc@austin.rr.com Subject: Letter to editor A noted astronomer, Fred Hoyle, remarked: "Would you not say to yourself, 'Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be miniscule?' Of course you would." In a similar vein, Albert Einstein wrote: "Something deeply hidden had to be behind things." You want to forbid a teacher from repeating such statements in a public-school classroom. Which is to say, you're not defending science but rather advocating censorship. Cordially, John King From: David Chapman [davidc@austin.rr.com] To: 'John King' Cc: 'David Chapman' Subject: RE: Letter to editor John, Thank you for your thoughtful response. As a huge fan of Einstein (a large photo of him is the only decoration in my office) I find it fitting that you cite his philosophy. And as a Christian I agree that the most basic identity of our God is "Creator". The record is very clear that the path of Einstein's scientific work was directed, or some would say misdirected, by his theology. Specifically, he refused to pursue Quantum Physics in the later years of his life because he considered the apparent randomness at the base of Quantum Physics incompatible with the character of God. Isn't it interesting that it was Einstein's inability to accept the possibility of God being larger than was circumscribed by his own perception of God that, in the end, blocked Einstein from making any significant contributions to science in the last 30 or 40 years of his life? That is going the long way to say that I do hold that for better or worse every human endeavor is underpinned by some sort of philosophy, point of view, assumption, belief...and biased by the limitations of our ability to perceive or even to imagine. I have no problem with that concept being taught in literature, philosophy or even religion classes…and have no problem with exposing students to the diverse range of beliefs people have held over the span of human history and across the world’s cultures. However those beliefs are not science and are no substitute for science or the scientific method. There is nothing in the first draft of the Science TEKS revision that suggests science is any substitute for religion or philosophy. However it is highly inappropriate to corrupt our science education by attempting to substitute religion for science or to suggest that the two are alternative, equivalent competitors to the same objective. When I was in 9th grade Biology class a fellow student asked our teacher about Creationism. She suggested that we imagine a chocolate cake sitting on her desk and her husband standing at the front of the room with her. She suggested if we asked how the cake came to be there he would say "My wife, who I love very much, made it." On the other hand she would describe an elaborate process involving a list of ingredients and her oven...but went on to point out that both of them would be 100% correct despite having given radically different answers...because he addressed Who made the cake and his love for her while she described How she made it. There is nothing in the first draft of the Science TEKS that would prevent any Texas science educator from making a similar response to Texas students. There is no censorship involved. In fact it is imperative that Texas students learn the difference between what is and what is not science and scientific method. Our science educators are responsible for teaching our students about How...and more importantly, about how we discover How. Our literature, philosophy and religion teachers address our search for knowing Who. Our churches, for the most part, are communities who profess to know Who. I want to keep it that way. Thanks again for your thoughtful response. It was worlds different from the rest that came in. (see below) - DC --------------------------------------------------------------- From: ron goodwine [rongoodwine@gmail.com] Sent: Saturday, December 06, 2008 7:55 AM To: davidc@austin.rr.com Subject: letter to the editor Well, it appears that you have intimate knowledge of the other inmates. Did you help in the take-over, or were you just blindly and mindlessly led by the other inmates? Best guess from here is that your favorite drink is obama kool-aid. Because of email-borne viruses, I never open email from unknown sources. Or from idiots, so don't try. RG ----------------------------------------------------------------- From: horn fans [jjandbevo@yahoo.com] Sent: Saturday, December 06, 2008 7:58 AM To: davidc@austin.rr.com Subject: Statesman letter This is your lucky day. Each week The Stateman gives an award for Drivel of the Week. Congratulations. First place goes to you. Gotta be proud to be a published celebrity. Going to frame it? Show it to others in the welfare lines? Your libbocrap buddies are going to be soooo proud of you. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- From: jim_karp@fastmail.fm Sent: Saturday, December 06, 2008 7:51 AM To: davidc@austin.rr.com Subject: statesman "The inmates have taken control of the asylum". Well, maybe, but one thing is for sure. The Statesman will still publish letters from lunatics. Gotta be thankful for that, Davieboy. And don't bother to reply. Wouldn't open/read anything you send jim_karp@fastmail.fm --------------------------------------------------------------------

Thursday, December 4, 2008

7 Years, 14 days...

That's the time left on the international community's pledge to end poverty in the world. The plan was agreed upon and work begun in 2000, with the adoption of the UN's Mellinium Development Goals. This was the plan: The international community will "spare no effort to free our fellow men, women, children from abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty." By the year 2015. Here's an update on our progress from the MDG annual report: "The current troubled climate poses a risk that advances in reducing poverty may unravel." I bring this up only because I'm sitting with news this morning of Detroit's CEOs on Capitol Hill begging for money to keep their businesses afloat. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are asking for a collective $34 billion from the government to avoid financial meltdown. It appears our elected representatives are going to go for it this time around, in part because of the good faith efforts the CEOs have made to restructure business practices that allowed them...those three individual men...to earn a total of $50 million in annual salaries last year (Ford CEO-$21 million, Chrysler CEO-$20 million, GM CEO-$10 million). They say they'll take $1 salaries next year. And, they drove to DC this week (in pricey hybrid cars), instead of flying in on their personal jets. I am not impressed. Thirty-five million people in the United States live at or below the poverty level - $21,203 a year for a family of four...$10,590 a year for an individual. 1.7 million of those folks are living on half that amount. Half of the world's population - 3 billion people - live on less than $2.50 a day. Eighty-percent of all humans in the world live on less than $10 a day. Ford's CEO, Alan Mulally, makes $57,534 a day. A day. Including weekends and holidays. I'm not feeling much love for our auto industry today. The CEO's claims that they've suffered the biggest losses in 26 years and that sales are down 30-40% from last year just make me want to shrug and walk away. Build an affordable car, I say. Stop paying yourselves obscene amounts of money. Go home and figure it out. This is not a taxpayer problem. Poverty, on the other hand, is a human being problem. All of us who are filling our stomachs and sleeping in locked houses and bathing in clean water and seeing our doctors once a year have a moral obligation to care, deeply, about the poor. Every great teacher has told us this. Here's Jesus' summary: To whom much is given, much is required. (Luke 12:48) I can't say it often enough...write your elected representatives in Washington (include Nancy Pelosi). Let them know how you feel about this loony automaker bailout. Feel free to mention the fact that, according to Fortune 500, there are 5 other businesses in the US that have lost more money in the last year than Ford, and Chrysler isn't even in the top 20! Remind them of the Millenium Development Goals. Tell them 25,000-35,000 children in the world die EVERY DAY due to poverty. Let them know you are watching the countdown to 2015 as closely as you are watching your 401K. Use this good line from the 2008 MDG report: "We are still hopeful that an end to poverty can be achieved with unswerving, collective, long-term effort." And, thank them for being part of changing the image of the average American from greedy, self-serving consumer to big-hearted, caring world citizen. Peace.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Are Those Swords I Hear?

I am devouring all articles this morning about Mumbai and Pakistan. Of course, Pakistan. It had to be Pakistan - the country sharing a border with Afghanistan, the one harboring terrorists of all description, the thin-ice ally and politically unstable Pakistan. Condoleezza Rice is headed there (Islamabad tomorrow). She's making sure the people running Pakistan's show understand who's boss: “I have said that Pakistan needs to act with resolve and urgency, cooperate fully and transparently,” Rice told reporters in New Delhi today. “That message has been delivered and will be delivered to Pakistan.” I am chilled to the bone as I imagine what could be next. What if Pakistan doesn't "cooperate fully and transparently?" What if we don't agree on the term "fully"...or "transparently?" Is this an ultimatum? Gulp. Just take a look at the map of the area if you need help envisioning the simmering volatility on this piece of our sweet planet...
Geroge Bush & Co. have 48 days remaining as the captains of this boat. President-elect Obama has no plans to step in, say his people. He's sticking to his "one president at a time" rule. And so, we pray. What else can we do? Read this wonderful poem by Ellen Bass, and pray with every move you make, every breath you take...
Pray for Peace by Ellen Bass
Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or marble or plastic cross, his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the Bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah.
Raise your arms to Mary that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekinhah, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent. Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, Record Keeper of time before, time now, time ahead, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.
Pray to the bus driver who takes you to work,
pray on the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus
and for everyone riding buses all over the world.
If you haven't been on a bus in a long time, climb the few steps, drop some silver, and pray.
Waiting in line for the movies,
for the ATM, for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act, each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer. Make the brushing of your hair a prayer,
every strand its own voice, singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping through your fingers, a prayer:
Water, softest thing on earth, gentleness that wears away rock.
If you're hungry, pray.
If you're tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
Pray to the angels and the ghost of your grandfather.
When you walk to your car, to the mailbox, to the video store,
let each step be a prayer that we all keep our legs, that we do not blow off anyone else's legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle or a skateboard, in a wheel chair,
each revolution of the wheels a prayer that as the earth revolves we will do less harm,
less harm, less harm. And as you work, typing with a new manicure, a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail
or delivering soda or drawing good blood into rubber-capped vials,
writing on a blackboard with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas,
pray for peace.
With each breath in,
take in the faith of those who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered.
With each breath out, cherish.
Pull weeds for peace,
turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds for peace,
each shiny seed that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.
Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path.
Fold a photo of a dead child around your VISA card.
Gnaw your crust of prayer, scoop your prayer water from the gutter.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling your prayer through the streets.
Can we be crazy for peace?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Recession Investing

I looked up the term "recession" this morning to try to understand what particular economic imbalance I should have been feeling since this time last year, when the experts say our economic recession began.
Wikipedia tells me it's a "decline in a country's gross domestic product (GDP)"...or, more simply, "reduced economic activity"... or, speaking on my level, we have less - so we spend less. The most dramatic impact recession has on us Main Street dwellers circles around our employment. When business owners feel the economy slowing, they are less likely to be generous in hiring, promoting, and giving raises. So, for many of us, that means we're working more hours for no more pay to get work finished without adequate resources. Or, we're fearing our jobs will end soon. Or, we're searching for jobs without success.
If you can pinpoint when these concerns began...you can locate the beginning of the recession in your life. Mine began in early April.
Class over.
There are some bonuses for folks who feel their jobs are secure in spite of the financial slowdown. Prices are dropping on everything from homes to bread. I heard someone say recently that what we're experiencing economically is "the ceiling on greed." It seems we may be watching the fall of unfettered money grubbing, which ultimately (apparently) insists on a new way.
If that's the case, I'd say the name of this recession is God. But, I wouldn't want to be accused of being a religious goofball, so I'll leave sweeping conclusions for you to ponder.
So, let me tell you what I did last weekend with my tight recession dollars. I invested in two small businesses. One in Paraguay...and one Ghana. In truth, it was my graduate student son's very tight money I invested, via a gift certificate at Kiva.org.
This was the coolest gift certificate redemption ever!
With $50 credit, I was able to peruse the Kiva website and read the stories of hundreds of microcredit applicants, hoping for very small loans to fund their dreams. I settled on two beautiful, hard-working people: Joyce, in Ghana, who operates a small tailoring business in order to pay for her brilliant young son's school; and Marcos, in Paraguay, who runs a street clothing kiosk to earn money to pay for college.
I am amazed by how little these people need...and by how much can be accomplished in the big, wide world with $25. I didn't completely fund Joyce or Marcos in their endeavors, but am part of a collaboration of "loaners" who participate in small ways to make these incredible, life-giving loans. And here's the best part: these are loans. When I'm paid back (via Kiva) I can re-invest the cash in another small business!
It made me feel rich...very rich. And ridiculous for carrying any grief at all over diving 401Ks or declining stocks. It's my current prescription for Recession depression - kiva.org.
Check it out. Breathe. Give thanks. Give money.
You'll feel like a millionaire.
Peace.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Oh, The Humanity!

Herb Morrison spoke these words over WLS radio in Chicago on May 6, 1937, as he watched the German airship Hindenburg burst into flames over Lakehurst Naval Air Staion in New Jersey. 95 people were on board the rigid airship, 37 of them died in the disaster. We borrow the broadcaster's heartbreaking words these days, usually to mock what's been presented to us as serious news.
The phrase crossed my mind when I opened my newspaper this morning:

That's the front page...with 30 column inches of sports disaster spreading above and below the fold. It seems, my world-minded friends, the University of Texas football team was edged out of the Big 12 Championship game, to be played next weekend, by a computer calculation that gave the University of Oklahoma a .013 point edge over the beloved Longhorns.

In fairness, I do live in Austin where people bleed burnt orange and teach their babies to "get your horns up" before teaching them to walk or talk. So, the news is big here...and bad. Consequently, it sprawls across my daily like an earthquake, a plane crash, or a declaration of war (watch your backs, BCS officials).

What luxury to think on these things before all else...

Before the latest from Mumbai. Before news of 32 killed yesterday in Iraq. Before word of today's military and financial rampage in Zimbabwe. Before the worst flood in Venice in 20 years or the worst economic downturn in 30 years or even the news that those antioxidants we've all been consuming won't actually keep us from aging.

How lucky we are to be able to turn our full, front page attention to disappointments over the end of a football season.

I do not begrudge anyone a day or two of football angst. I ask only that we stay in balance with issues that need our intelligent attention. We cannot "be the change" unless we know the news. I worry about being lulled into a kind of drowziness that could allow us to believe we are untouched by anything more disruptive than who will play in the Big 12 Championship game. When we fall into that dream, we become the self-centered Americans the world has come to expect to show up on the Big Stage of global awareness.

Stay on top of the world. Oh, our humanity - depends on it.

Peace.