Category Archives: Giving Back

Causes of note

Lock-down.

Here in Washington State I woke up this morning to lock-down. All nonessential businesses are ordered to close. If necessary, they have 48-hours to get things in order. That means I have a non-producing client for the duration. Doesn’t mean I won’t get the work done, but, well, we all have some sacrifices to make.

Photo by Luke Insoll on Unsplash

Update on worldwide numbers this morning is showing the US in a solid third place just now with 46,158 confirmed cases and 583 fatalities. At this point only 35 are confirmed recovered. I know China said they were good, but the reports are showing an increase of 1.78 percent in the last 24 hours. We are far from done with this — and yet we still don’t get it.

I am one of the lucky ones. My day job is connected to an essential service and I can work from home. We have spent the last two weeks planning so that everyone that can be remote is and those who have contact with our clients can do so through phone connections. I am proud to be part of such a team. And I am greatly blessed.

I hear, though, that there are those who think that our economy is more important than our lives. That, perhaps, we can sacrifice those in our population who are old, have underlying conditions, or too poor to keep the engines of industry running without risking their health. That the 40% of Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck just don’t count enough to protect or support. After all, there’s always more where they came from, right? A fresh supply sits crammed in camps and detention centers on either side of our southern border.

There are several problems with that plan. You can’t control a virus by age group, socio-economic status, color of skin, or (obviously) nationality. The numbers coming out of California show a bubble in the 18-65 age group. No matter how good our models are, we can’t always predict the direction of a disease; especially one that can mutate in order to do what it does best – infect. Even those who flit about in the stratosphere of our society are testing positive.

Also, the United States, against any internal delusions to the contrary, is not an island. A search for photos for this blog ended in a barrage of photos of major cities around the world that were filled with deserted streets. There is no “business as usual” just now, so wake up from that dream and deal with reality as we find it.

I have grown weary of the mantra that flu kills tens of thousands of people a year, why are we so upset over this? First, those tens of thousands are people, not statistics. People who mean something to someone. In 2015 one of those statistics was my husband, those numbers represent real losses. Nor does anyone understand the full extent of the economic impact of flu season as workers show up to work because they have no choice if they want to pay their bills, eat, and have shelter. When they show up at work, several other folks get sick, and the cost in productivity, health, and financial stress on the economy continues. The fatality rate of the common flu is .01%. So far COVID-19 is scoring higher than 4%. You don’t have to know math to figure out that is a big difference.

Let’s take an example. During the 2018-2019 season the CDC classified the impact as high severity. From the CDC:

CDC estimates that the burden of illness during the 2018–2019 season included an estimated 35.5 million people getting sick with influenza, 16.5 million people going to a health care provider for their illness, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths from influenza [Table 1]. The number of influenza-associated illnesses that occurred last season was similar to the estimated number of influenza-associated illnesses during the 2012–2013 influenza season when an estimated 34 million people had symptomatic influenza illness.

So, high severity season and there was a fatality rate of .0963% (34,200/34,500,000). These numbers are for the US only. Let’s convert that to COVID-19 math. 34,500,000 people infected X 4% fatality rate is 1, 380, 000 people. That is a lot of living, breathing souls, most of whom will never see a medical professional or receive care of any kind either because there is none available to them or because our health care system is in triage mode; Italy has been there for days. An article published by the AMA on March 19th makes it clear that protocols are already being developed in expectation of limited resources. Protocols that might mean someone you care about does not get a ventilator or even a hospital bed.

Granted, these are broad, back of the envelope, numbers which are impacted by a myriad of influences depending on local or regional health care systems, access to basic needs, underlying health conditions, and duration. Even yet-to-be-quantified elements such as how fast this particular brand of bug can mutate to protect its survival and continue to infect. They are, however, an illustration of how incomprehensibly naive our society is about containing this under “business as usual” scenarios.

Have we become so brazen, so uncaring that we really don’t care about the repercussions of our actions? What changes in your life style are you willing to make once the people who serve you at the drive through, pick up your garbage, help you at the store, the bank, the wherever there are folks stumbling along on a minimum wage with no benefits, are no longer there? Was your trip to the beach worth infecting the next person you met at the grocery store who may be taking care of an elderly relative at home? Really? By the way, have you thanked the people who are still out there delivering, cashiering, making life tolerable for you at the risk of their own health?

I have written a book about my hero, Job. It is currently in the process of being published, although I’m not sure how the current situation will impact the release date. I’m not sure even my publisher can know. Then, of course, having a book out is nice only if folks can get one. As of now even Amazon is focused on essential supplies and book delivery dates can be as much as two months out. I’m now looking for other ways to get those ideas out into the world. My firm conviction is that we are called, whatever our faith or ethics, to help each other. To become informed and to act in responsible, compassionate ways.

You do not need an advanced degree in biochemistry to understand pandemics. You do need to kick conspiracy theories and “hunches” out the door. You do not need an advanced degree in economics to understand there are people hurting and you – yes you – may be one of those that can help. You may feel protected in your faith. You may feel like the end is near and you have a front row seat. You may be one of those who think a lock-down is a great excuse to do the spring break gig you never had in college (or had too much of). I am here to tell you that whatever your vision of yourself, you are not being brave. You are not being smart. I suppose if the only people affected would be those who chose hubris, willful ignorance, or selfishness I might be willing to shrug and walk away. Might. But, I can’t. I still must try to get people to think through their actions and how those actions impact themselves and others.

Please, find the sources that know what they are doing. If you have a medical question, seek out the medical profession. There are any number of places that have solid, actionable information regarding this current crisis. Check out the CDC, NIH, and WHO. Your state or local health organizations have information on what to do and where to go (or not) if you think you have a problem. Many states are already gearing up to support small businesses and hourly employees. Be informed and act accordingly.

And above all, see what you can do to help. If you are one of the privileged that still has cash flow and a reasonable assurance it will continue, then find ways to help your community. Pay your barber, hairdresser, or any personal service provider what you normally budget for that service. Support local restaurants that are providing take out or delivery. Add a bit to your utility bill or donate to the charity pool so that others can keep the lights on. Keep after your representatives to make sure they make the right decisions to protect us as a people and a nation. If they lose a sense of priorities (as so many have) – then they need to move on.

Most of all, keep your heart safe. Do not allow the urgency of the situation drive you to distraction and cause you to hoard or jump on every rumor. Be safe.

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Prayer in Motion

While I was looking for an image to tag this post, I wandered down several paths. Things that showed solidarity, things that showed people helping people, images that showed unity in faith, things that captured the truth that humanity is one species and from those ancient roots sprang a myriad of cultures, faith, ideas—and yet we remain, at the core, one. In the end it dawned on me that I already had the image, the Kalaloch Tree of Life. A tree that holds on to life in the most precarious of situations.

(c) by the author/ photographer 2019

I’ve been wanting to write about this current global event for a few weeks. In part because I have been disappointed at the reaction of those I thought I knew who disregard the threat because they are not in a high risk group, or who were concerned that our hospitals were going to become centers for the spread of infection (I’m not sure when that was not the case), those who thought it was a hoax, or those who were over-reacting to the point of endangering others.

Then there were my heroes and heroines. People who were reaching out to neighbors, volunteering to deliver food and supplies, rearranging their schedules to protect themselves and others. I’ve seen missteps and masterful strokes of leadership. I’ve seen stalled responses and the broadcasting of irresponsible, irrelevant, and (consequently) dangerous information. I’ve looked on the challenges to go against all common sense and trust God to protect them at the communion table, in their gatherings, and in their lives. I grew tired, I cried, and just as often took heart. So much to write about, and unsure of where to start. If nothing else, a National Day of Prayer gave me that start. Prayer, you see, is a verb.

Those of you who know me well know that I have an issue with folks that look to God as a cosmic Santa Claus. “Dear Lord, we’ve made a terrible mess of things (for those who are willing to admit it) could you please just fix it all?” Or even the arrogance of the practice noted above, “God loves me and won’t let anything happen to me so I can do what I please and I’ll be fine (too bad for anyone else that suffers due to my actions).” For those who wish to test the creator of our universe, however you perceive that entity to be, allow me to point out the passage of Luke 4:9-12:

Then the devil brought him to Jerusalem, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’” (NET)

If you are a Christian and you believe Jesus is the Christ, then I am here to tell you that not even the Son of God was willing to test the Creator. Tell me why you should. Tell me how you can dare to risk the suffering of others through your own ignorance and lack of compassion?

After studying and writing about the Book of Job for several years I can tell you I see the same lesson. Just because you think you’ve done all the right things; you are not magically protected from the vagaries of a universe that operates on rules you may not have bothered to learn. The lesson of Job that I see is that the universe operates on understandable rules. Sometimes we suffer because we made bad choices, sometimes it is because the universe operates on knowable rules and we didn’t take the time to learn. Sometimes it is because other people make bad choices. In any case, I believe we are here to do our best to reduce the subsequent damage to our global home, our loved ones, and our neighbors. I believe we are obligated to make the best choices to reduce the suffering of others.

That brings me to the title of this little rant, “Prayer in Motion.” I have no issue with taking a day to set aside time to breath, to get our bearings, to focus, and to reassess priorities. This is true regardless of your faith or ethics. What I do wish to see in the world is an active response, a prayer in motion, if you will. Seriously think about ways you can reduce your contact so that we can get on top of this. Italy has the 2nd highest ranking health care system in the world, yet they are currently (as of this writing) being forced to triage patients for the use of ventilators and life sustaining treatment. Currently, the United States ranks 37th in health care services and has a population more than five times that of Italy. We are coming out of the gate seriously unprepared to handle a large outbreak of anything, let alone something that can kill.

Problem number two: “if you’re sick, stay home” doesn’t work if having a home of any kind depends on you working and your job isn’t portable. This article published by the Pew Research Center breaks down the numbers of people who cannot afford to take off a day or a week with no pay and no benefits. Next time you stop at the local drive through to pick up dinner, you might want to keep this in mind.

That leads us to the next problem, when people stop showing up at places to eat and buy the things we took for granted, businesses suffer, especially the small business trying to keep things propped up. In the Seattle metro area, there are already serious impacts to people who make their living serving the huge population that commutes to commercial centers daily. Many of the professionals in our communities can and do opt to work from home; hotel maids, taxi drivers, food service workers, cleaning personnel, and oh so many others don’t have that option. And when the people are not there to serve, there is no job to do.

But there are things that I see that give me hope. Neighborhoods that pull together to keep an eye on each other. People coming together to find alternative ways to deliver food and supplies to those who no longer should be relying on public transit. People who work on getting medical services where they are needed while containing risk. This is the heart of “prayer in motion.” This is where you step up to finding ways to reduce impact, and to help those who face challenges in surviving this crisis. This is what people of faith, and people with an ethical standard, are called to do.

Take this day to pray, or meditate, or simply practice deep breathing. But use that time to focus on what you as an individual, or as a member of a “social distancing” group, can accomplish that will alleviate the situation. Be informed, make wise choices, and learn to rebuild a society that sees us as one global community facing many global threats. Be the answer.

 

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In the season of gratitude, is “thank you” enough?

This is the season for gratitude. From Veteran’s Day through the many faith-based celebrations clustered around the turning of the year, it is a time when we at least try to look beyond the glitter and find a reason to be grateful, a reason to have hope. In that spirit, now and through the year, we find ourselves wanting to thank those we feel helped to make this life possible. I often hear a brief conversation, a sentence or two at an event, that acknowledges the service of a veteran. Each time such brief moments make my heart hurt. I’m sorry, but “thank you” is not enough.

Photo by Mike Hashisaki, Plains, MT

My teen years were spent in the Vietnam era. I lived in a city that was surrounded by military bases and the cost of that commitment contributed much to how I perceive the world. There are those that will tell you it is mere urban legend that if our troops wore their uniforms when returning from active duty, they risked ridicule and abuse. No, no legend. I was there. Whatever my thoughts were on why we were there and how the “military action” was executed, I wept when I saw those who had suffered so much, who came home broken in ways not always obvious, abused in their own country. This is the root of my issue with “thank you for your service.” Even for today’s vets, it is not enough.

I like to find ways to actively pursue solutions, ways to help. I am a fixer, but I also like to be effective. Growing up with veterans, I learned a great deal of what went on in their heads, and I wanted to help. That sometimes requires finding out from the source of your compassion just what it is that is needed. Sometimes we get it right.

Veterans in this country face horrific statistics. According to the NIH in a report published on the Department of Veteran Affairs website, 1.7 million veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program in fiscal 2018. Programs included treatment for PTSS, substance use disorders, behavioral problems and a host of other issues. This number includes only those that accessed VA resources.

The 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report published by the Department of Veteran Affairs notes that 6,000 vets commit suicide each year. This crosses gender and age boundaries. That is an average of 16 men and women each and every day.

While you are saying “thank you” to the spiffy looking fellow in a uniform at the local restaurant, are you thinking of the scruffy fellow on the sidewalk that hasn’t had a bath in who knows when? According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 9% of the homeless population in this country is made up of vets. Some 37,878 broken spirits; men and women who just don’t see a way to cope in society. Some, of course, choose to separate themselves from a society and a culture that cannot comprehend the places they’ve been and the things they have seen.

Doing what I do, even after years of accumulated stories and nights sitting up with friends dealing with things that would not leave their heads, I still felt it necessary to do the research. I asked a friend of mine if I could visit one evening and grill her husband on what he saw as the greatest need for vets today. His answer might surprise you; education and job placement support.

The GI Bill, established to provide help for education in trades or professions is an elusive benefit that changes with when you served, how long, and where. Vietnam was a battle ground between the president and congress and the legal status of Vets in the conflict was ambiguous at best. This impacted many of the benefits which may have been available to men and women who served in that theater.

The other issue he noted was job placement assistance. He felt that the least the military branches could do was to help veterans transition into civilian life. Knowing how to blow things up is not always a useful civilian skill. Leadership skills, logistics, technology, mechanics, construction, and a myriad of other skills most certainly are. During my interview he expressed his frustration when he returned home after his first term of service. He thought he was only suited for jobs in the security sector. Never really finding the right fit, he finally elected to re-enlist in a different branch. His second time home he was lucky. His mother-in-law pointed out that all of his time as a leader in the military had trained him as a manager. He applied to a position and found a new career. Even if a veteran had a solid career before serving, that job may no longer be a fit.

I don’t think it is important to find the perfect job. However, it is important to find a place that reconnects a person to society and gives them some sense of being of use, some sense of belonging. Part of transitioning to civilian life is adjusting to a less intense more loosely associated culture than the intense life or death relationships of foreign service. Success occurs in degrees; failure can be deadly.

Above all, we spend millions training our military personnel to do damage to others. That is what war is. Although we deploy to a few “nation building” exercises, such deployment often occurs in hostile environments. Even when stationed with allies, our military people are usually not culturally assimilated by the host nation. Military service is an intense training course on how NOT to deal with the society in which you find yourself. Then you come home, and there is no one there that can begin to understand that separation from the wider world while becoming ever more dependent on highly disciplined, insular core group.

Where does one go to help with such things? Not everyone has time (but some do), not everyone has money to donate (but some do). Sometimes it is a matter of letting someone know that there is a resource out there, they just need to reach out. Such as we have, we give – that’s why “thank you” is never quite enough.

With a little research, I found several organizations that specialize in job assessment and placement. Remember, the local VFW and American Legion posts are always willing to help sort things out. Both the VFW and American Legion often have counselors and staff to help a vet find the help needed. Local posts can be found on the websites (https://www.vfw.org/ and https://www.legion.org/).

Also, check out these links for information on how to get careers shifted back to a civilian focus.

http://www.veterans2work.org/veterans.html
https://www.militaryonesource.mil/military-life-cycle/separation-transition/employment-education/programs-that-hire-veterans
https://www.dav.org/veterans/employment-resources/

There are other ways to be proactive. There are many organizations that do amazing things such as providing companion dogs, offering financial assistance and counseling, and providing mental health services. There is also support such as Music Corp, Wounded Warrior Project, and Honor Flight. Final Salute is an organization that focuses on homeless women vets and their children. This season make it a point to find a better thank you.

https://www.finalsaluteinc.org/Home.html
https://www.honorflight.org/
https://www.operationhomefront.org/
https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
https://www.co.thurston.wa.us/distcrt/services/mental-health-and-veterans-court/
http://nchv.org/index.php/getinvolved/getinvolved/how_you_can_help/
https://www.vetdogs.org/Default.aspx
https://veteransfamiliesunited.org/financial-assistance/
https://warriors1st.org/
http://www.musicorps.net/Home.html
https://www.workingdogsforvets.org/
https://tcvs.us/

 

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When things align…

Suffering

A reflective weekend wrapped up in the emotions of my agency’s annual fund-raising dinner and the process of formatting Job for advanced reader copies. This is all such an emotional roller coaster so I will do what I always do when I need to sort through things – share.

Let’s start with Friday night. I’ve been working for Behavioral Health Resources  for over a year now. I love the people, I love the work, and I feel I have sincerely found that spot I always wanted. Friday night was our annual dinner event. Since I work in the administrative offices, I was privy to some of the hard work that went into putting this event together. Our focus this year was our school-based programs.

We always have a silent auction. Baskets are contributed by staff, board members, sponsors, and other interested parties to put up for auction. Some truly creative ideas made their way to the table. There were so many interesting combinations that created festive themes including several which focused on our kids. We also have an auctioneer who comes with all sorts of fun ways to raise money, silly games to get folks involved, competitive games to draw out the best in us; and then there were raffles. This was all sprinkled throughout the evening that included live music, a catered dinner, and stuff about kids. Let me tell you a bit about that.

Folks at our agency put together a video to explain something of what we do. No real clients were involved, but through the narration/interview of one of our Program Managers, our guests were introduced to just how much BHR does for children in the three counties where we have offices. He told us that we were now represented in 29 schools within our service region. We are not just “on call.” We are there, addressing problems that include depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, and early diagnosis of mental disorders. Our clinicians work in high-intensity situations every day to help kids learn to cope and develop the skills to be successful, all while negotiating goals with teachers and administrators.

The video (using actors) described a case regarding a young man who was banned from school due to aggressive behavior. By working closely with him, our team was able to get him re-integrated with his classmates and to help him accomplish his school requirements. He is looking forward to college. During a talk given afterward, our Program Manager described several cases where being there mattered. One involved a young woman who had gotten out of bed that morning prepared to commit suicide. She made herself one promise. If anyone reached out to her that day, anyone that indicated they cared how she felt, she wouldn’t follow through. One of our clinicians had the privilege of being that one person. Our agency serves approximately 500 children throughout three counties. Although not always as dramatic, every single day our clinicians are working on giving the next generation tools to be mentally healthy, successful adults.

We were also entertained by the folks from Olympia Family Theater. This non-profit organization uses the tools of theater to teach, to encourage creativity, and to touch lives with joy. I can tell you they had a room full of adults roaring like lions, voting for the prettiest feather, and encouraging good choices as we watched Aesop’s Fables played out in adorable skits. It was an emotional and rewarding evening. So many people gathering together to have fun and support good things in their community. And I get to work there.

As much as we love our children, our focus is on mental health in many forms throughout our service region. We have programs that support Pregnant and Parenting Women. These programs do amazing things to help moms shake the stigma of mental health issues, break the chain of substance abuse, and learn to be good parents. We offer outpatient services and have recently opened our more intensive in-house program where mom’s come and stay – with baby – to get help to find productive solutions for their lives and the care of their children. And there is sooo, much more we do. We are involved in assertive community treatment programs, integrated programs, residential support, and community information programs designed to chip away at the stigma attached to mental health challenges. And I get to work there.

This brings me to the meme. I’ve seen the unclaimed quote before, and it is one that I have chosen as a guidepost in so many things I do. I no longer subscribe to some philosophical debate about why a God we have defined as X allows Y to occur. There are reasons for that, and I have worked through those reasons thoroughly in a manuscript soon to be on its way out into the world to see if it can find a home. Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering is very much about what our responsibility is when it comes to dealing with those who face challenges of whatever nature.

I find it all a bit scary at times as the things that are so important to me find alignment between my “day job” and my love of writing. It is an amazing journey, and I hope you will join me.

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Reflecting on Pulse ~ By One Pissed-off Christian Lady

Pulse

It took a few days to do this. It took a few days because deep within my sadness the responses I saw flying across my newsfeed sickened me; physically took the steam out of me. Weeping in my own wine does not accomplish much. Much of what I have learned on my journey with Job demands that I do more – far more. So, here we go.

The events of June, 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida are not the product of Reason A, or Reason B, or some other simplistic, easy fix, “if only” cause. It was an event that was a culmination of many factors; all of which we share in to one degree or another. Humans do not like to think beyond the binary; it is hard work. To actually accept responsibility for tragedy is a whole different kettle of fish. There were many factors that left 50 cell phones ringing, unanswered, on a bloodied dance floor.

It is not productive to choose among the many in order to gain admittance to the wake. It is not acceptable to exclude a facet of the blood-covered stone to create a better setting for your own agenda. First, and foremost, it is about the arrogant turpitude that allows us to pick and choose those causes that best fit our own agenda. These are my picks, and there is nothing simple about them.

It’s about LBGT

No, you don’t get off the hook. You are not allowed to push this down (actually up, if you know your Native American lore) the totem. Whatever his future plans may have been, the perp saw a few guys kissing, and went ballistic. He targeted a gay club on a busy night and during a time of celebration. Word has it that it was a club that he, himself, had visited.

Did he think Americans would not care? That they might even thank him? Part of what sickened me this week is the number of pastors, and professed Christians, that stepped up to say that it was God’s judgment on the gays. Or that it was a good thing all those pedophiles were gone. (There is a vast difference, and I ought to know). Men who professed a belief in God who stood in front of congregations, and, while insisting that they did not advocate murder, suggested we should not grieve. Were there many? I have no clue. It is horrible enough that even one blasphemed his or her pulpit with this venom. They are no better than Mateem’s father who said his son should have left the murders to God.

It’s about religious fanaticism

The true believer, according to Eric Hoffer, needs the movement more than the movement needs him or her. Sometimes we cannot be driven to our worst (or our best) unless we perceive something greater than ourselves that demands it. Not always a superior being, sometimes just the mob, the organization, the belonging. But we, we of western civilized culture, do not come to the bar with clean hands. Not only is human history soaked in the blood of “others,” we light the fire brighter every time we choose to hate. Defend, yes. Hate, no thank you. Hatred changes you and takes away all that is human. Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu: it really does not matter. The founders of these faiths all spoke of something beyond the faith. Something intrinsically human. We are all selling our sacred heritage short if we choose to use it as a sword, rather than a way to support.

It’s about terrorism, domestic, foreign, and familial

If only. If only he had been dealt with when the charges of domestic violence floated around. If only the FBI had kept closer tabs, if only. If only McVey had not allowed himself to be egged on; if only there had been better communication before 9-11. When are we going to learn that we are part of the problem? If you believe the current administration is soft on terror you are sorely mistaken. Over the past 7.5 years Bin Laden is not the only target taken down. But these people don’t brag. They don’t occupy us with cheerleaders. They don’t stir up the hornets’ nest by blasting every victory across the headlines. They quietly, and efficiently, dismantle the knots of venom. The truly evil are being sought out. The war is with them, not your Muslim neighbor.

Sometimes we do win. Neighbors saw suspicious activity and reported it to police and police responded. A man from Indiana, a mid-western, white boy, was on his way to create mayhem at a Pride parade. But he was stopped. Countless other “almost events” have been stopped over the past several years. So, sometimes – whatever the threat – everything works as it should.

It’s about guns

I’m not against guns. I’m really not. I have, actually, used them and I’m not a bad shot. But, here’s the thing. We need a conversation about what is appropriate. I did some research (that’s what I do) and the AR-15 is not, I repeat not, a military-grade assault weapon. It is a modified, semi-automatic rifle that can be altered to accept a magazine of up to 100 bullets. As a semi-auto, it can be fired as quickly as the shooter can compress the trigger. One clip from Sunday morning records 20 shots within a 9 second interval. If you are going to talk about gun responsibility, and still preserve rights, then it is a good idea to know what the hell you are talking about.

Should citizens be armed with this capacity? I saw a meme float across my feed that froze my soul. “The problem was not the one bad guy with a gun, but the 103 without one.” Really? Please for the sake of all that is holy can someone tell me they don’t really believe this? Think about filling a room of over a hundred people, dancing to loud music, some of whom are at varying degrees of intoxication, and arm them. Then flip the panic button. What are the odds that the right guy gets shot, and that anyone walks out alive?

There are several timelines of the events available on line. I have relied on police reports to sort out the order. Just after 2 AM Mateen entered the club and started shooting. An off duty officer in the employ of the club immediately engaged the shooter and called for backup. Not long after backup arrives, Mateen barricades himself in one of the bathrooms and calls 911. Then he starts talking about bombs and ISIS. Swat, having already been onsite, breaches the building, and takes him down. Regaining control took a team of trained, prepared police officers, with all of the equipment available to them (including Kevlar helmets). The “good guy with a gun” was not able to control the situation; even though he was right on top of it. Some people I know might have been able to drop the perp in his tracks before he got very far. I’m not sure they are the type of folks that would have been in a gay bar at 2 in the morning.

If you are trying to protect yourself from the government I have a secret to tell you – they have drones, and black helicopters, and bigger bombs than you. If you are trying to protect your family in an event such as Sunday morning suggests? Then be trained, be smart and don’t complain when folks with appropriate credentials want to know where those weapons are and who had them last.

 

And here is the punch line. If you really, sincerely, want to be part of the solution. If you want to make sure that nutcases are not able to use hatred and turmoil to achieve their goals, if you want to be the humanitarian, the Christian, the believer you profess to be, then do something with value.

Stop “loving the person and hating the sin” and just love the person. Educate yourself about the LBGT community, and the issues they face. It is not a choice, people. All of the colors of the rainbow involve a complex combination of hormones, brain patterns, physiology, and plain old fashioned self-image.

If you want to be intolerant, be intolerant of violence, be it domestic, work place, any place. Do not let monsters grow in our midst. Get them help, or get them somewhere safer for us all.

Support those in desperate need. Please check before you give. I know of one GoFundMe that raised some $3,509,556 as of noon PT Tuesday. Find a way to put motion into your rhetoric; motion that says you really do care. Not just for gays, for every human soul that crosses your path. Be the change you want to see.

#onepulse
#BreakTheBox

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Reflections ~ Interesting Insights on Years Gone By

There is something about spring that invigorates a person. Or maybe it’s the end of the tax return pile. Whatever the case may be, I have begun to attack the pile of papers in my garage – with a vengeance.

In the interest of time, I have started with my archives of financial records. You do not want to know how far back this stuff goes – really. It can’t just be thrown away, it must be sorted and shredded – everything with a number, name, or address, must be converted into parade confetti. I chose to start with the financial records because, quite frankly, I could quote the record retention rules in my sleep. There are a few extenuating circumstances in my history, but, for the most part, the general rules hold. This means I can whip through these boxes with relative abandon. Unlike my husband’s records, I do not have to spend time deciding if I keep, scan, or convert something to unrecognizable ash. Nor do I have to decide if a pile of documents should be sent off to some company archivist.

There is a point to this meandering and that point has to do with the shredding of a few decades of a person’s life. Watching things disappear into the blades of the shredder can be therapeutic, disheartening, and sometimes sad. Here are some of the things I am remembering/discovering about the person that was, and is, me.

Sometimes arguments cannot be resolved. No matter how hard you try, some people will never understand why you will or will not do or say some particular thing they feel so very important. Newsflash — it isn’t important anymore. Why was there so much hurt wrapped up in the struggle?

I never thought of myself as an activist; I’m discovering that when things touch me in some important way I am very much so, and have been for a long time. Among the debris of so many years was a record of how I responded to one of the worst fire seasons Western Montana has ever suffered. The photo with this post was taken during the August 2000 fire in the Bitterroot National Forest. I honestly don’t recall if that was the same year that so much of the forests in Sanders and Kootenai Counties were in flames. There were three things I undertook to change or to help alleviate the burden our fires imposed.

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana, August 6, 2000. Photo by John McColgan working for the Fairbanks, Alaska division of the Forest Service. The photo is public domain.

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana, August 6, 2000. Photo by John McColgan working for the Fairbanks, Alaska division of the Forest Service. The photo is public domain.

One was to find a way to help those that were accepting animals from areas burned or in danger of going up in flames. I contacted the Purina headquarters and they contacted their area distributors to mount a campaign to help reduce or eliminate the cost of feeding the four-legged refugees. One of the ranches accepting animals from all over the state called me personally to thank me.

Another thing I did was to contact Habitat for Humanity to ask them at the national level to look at the possibility of helping those who had lost their homes to the flames. Most people in Western Montana are pretty independent folks, and if helping someone raise a house or a barn was part of what was needed, then, well, let’s just get it done. I’m not sure if this initiative went very far. I think it was inherent in their policies that the person in need contact them.  They did make sure that the local chapter made their presence known.

Next I see that I wrote a long and impassioned letter to some government official, with FEMA, I believe. The letter was impassioned but it was also thoroughly researched. For whatever reason the federal agencies engaged in fighting the fires had decided that it was an actionable crime to assist in the firefighting unless you were certified and part of their crews. In Western Montana that meant that many logging and ranching families, with the appropriate equipment, and intimate knowledge of the lay of the land, were commanded to stand down. Even if their solution could stop another 1,000 acres or so igniting while they awaited “appropriate response.” This was a fire season so devastating that multiple agencies could provide no more help than 1 person per 100 acres in flames. I personally knew many families who, forced out of the field of battle, drew back, and simply fought for their own homes and acreage. Mandatory evacuation was not an option, it was a battle cry.

There are other bits and pieces. Things I volunteered for, people I contacted in hopes of matching up a need with a solution. For instance, finding a research program for a friend whose child had a rare form of epilepsy. All from my desk on the outskirts of a tiny town in Western Montana. No money, just a phone (on dial-up internet), some skill at putting thoughts together in a logical, impassioned order, and an apparent talent for finding people to talk to.

I guess I haven’t changed all that much. I may have better tools, better resources, a more mature sense of immediacy; but I still see my primary mission in life as finding a solution to problems. It’s not all that hard to give a bit of time here and there. We all have experiences that can help other folks. Very often we know of someone, somewhere who just might know how to fix a particular problem, or knows someone who can. Just make sure you know when to say “no” or nothing gets done. Believe me, I’ve been there, too.

Be a presence in the world that draws those who need you and your unique skills. Be the solution you want to see. Someday as you sit in front of a shredder, such things may give you hope that the fight is worth the effort.

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Reflections ~ Nothing is ever Black or White

New Year’s Eve, 2015. The end of a year with so many major changes in my life it is a bit like starting over. At my age that can be a crazy mix of invigorating and frightening. At this point I am well on the way to completing a manuscript I have been actively working on for around three years, using material I have gathered for decades. There is much work to follow, editing, graphics, covers, credits, permissions and all of the steps to getting a book ready for the market. It is good, however, to be this close.

There are other things. I am learning, day by day, to be “me” rather than “us,” even though so much of my husband permeates my home and my heart. I am getting settled into a new home with all the attendant worries and hopes; no longer dependent on a landlord to “fix stuff,” but fully responsible for setting priorities and sorting out the best way to accomplish end goals. A move, from a busy metropolitan center to a clump of smaller, coastal towns. A sorting out of where I am with my interests and how I can best contribute to their success. A year so full, and yet I found time to become more adamant, more vocal, on things that mean so much to me.

New Year’s Eve I stayed home. Dealing with the last vestiges of a rather rough cold, I turned down an invitation and curled up on my couch to look for a couple of free movies to fill the evening. And I came upon a 2014 movie staring Reese Witherspoon called, The Good Lie. While researching the film for this blog I found that, as in all things related to the heart, things are not black and white.

the-good-lie-poster

 

 

 

“Miracles are made by people who refuse to stop believing.”

 

 

 

In broad strokes, it is a movie about the children of the Sudan who were orphaned by the civil war, some of whom were pressed in to military service and escaped. Tens of thousands of these refugees became part of the growing “city” of Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya. Thousands of children walked for miles (as far as 1,000) to reach relative safety in first Ethiopia and then Kenya. Once they arrived, they spent years, if not decades, waiting for someplace else to be. A few of the stars of this movie are refugees or the children of refugees. The scenes and stories from the film are more than acting for them; it is their story.

The program that was put in place to provide refugee status in the US had many restrictions. Immigrants had to find jobs fairly quickly, and the girls had to be placed with families. All of them required sponsors and many churches and faith-based initiatives took the challenge. They arrived with little knowledge of the culture and a reasonable understanding of English. Many of them were devout Christians with an African flavor of worship. It was anything but easy. The title of the movie comes from a class assignment in an evening English class, the reading of Huckleberry Finn. The Good Lie, is a point in the story when Huck lies about the status of Jim; because he would rather his friend be safe than to collect the reward for a runaway slave. To save his friend he lied. If I tell you more I will spoil the movie.

That program was shut down after 9-11. In fact, even those refugees that were in country were unable to move across state lines because they came from a terrorist state. Good ol’ American ingenuity – blaming the victims for the crime. And, that is where things get messy. Some of the story line was derived from background and interviews provided by refugees in the Atlanta, Georgia area. In the process of providing that information, they claim they were promised co-authorship of the movie and a suit is now in place against the producers. As of early 2015 it was still an active court case.

The film does provide access to a foundation called TheGoodLieFoundation. I was not able to find a lot of information about how much of their proceeds go to helping those still in Kenya or those who have found a place to live elsewhere. It does appear that they partner with UNICEF. I was able to find that the population of the Kakuma camp is now over 100,000 displaced persons. Due to the war, the life blood of these peoples, agriculture, cannot be pursued. That is building to humanitarian catastrophe of national proportions.

So, what is the point of my meanderings? Whatever challenges I have faced in the past year, or even throughout my life, I have learned that the only answer to disaster, grief, and evil itself is true concern for my fellow beings and the desire to rebuild. We have a world filled with people in need, people who are suffering, people who need so little – and we have so much. Including a great deal of fear. We are certain that every unknown is out to destroy us– every starving child is out to steal from us. Certain, that if we welcome those in need, somewhere in that group is someone out to murder us in our sleep. So much for “God will protect us.”

It is a very dangerous world and there are people who would like nothing more than to see us, or any number of other boogeymen, in a smoldering heap. I am here to tell you that does not matter. Should we take reasonable precautions to protect ourselves? Most certainly. Should those precautions kick the needy to side of the road? Absolutely not. Whether or not you follow the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions, I ask that you do one thing. Make a commitment be part of the solution. Do not throw money at the problems of the world unless you first check out where, exactly, it is going. But more than that, be the bright spot. Smile more often. Offer a helping hand in some way to someone with whatever you can give, even if it is only time. Time is rather precious, you know. We only have so much of it.

I leave you with an African proverb: To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.

Be the change you want to see.

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