Monthly Archives: December 2014

Moment of Zen: Christmastime

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Christmas, Christmas time is near
Time for toys and time for cheer
We’ve been good, but we can’t last
Hurry Christmas, hurry fast
Want a plane that loops the loop
Me, I want a hula hoop
We can hardly stand the wait
Please Christmas, don’t be late.


Migraine

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It started mid afternoon yesterday and seemed to jut get worse as the day went on. I took some medicine and slept off and on until this morning when I had to get up and go to work. Thankfully, today is a half day and then I am on vacation for two weeks.


When Giving Is All We Have

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When Giving Is All We Have
By Alberto Ríos

                                        One river gives.
.                                       Its journey to the next.                  

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails,

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

About This Poem
“This is a poem of thanks to those who live lives of service, which, I think, includes all of us—from the large measure to the smallest gesture, from care-giving to volunteerism to being an audience member or a reader. I’ve been able to offer these words to many groups, not only as a poem but also as a recognition. We give for so many reasons, and are bettered by it.”
— Alberto Ríos

Alberto Ríos is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the author of The Dangerous Shirt (Copper Canyon Press, 2009). He teaches at Arizona State University and lives in Chandler, Arizona.


Busy Weekend

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It’s been quite the busy weekend. I brought home work from school Friday and spent Friday night, Saturday morning, and Sunday afternoon and night making out semester exams and study guides for those exams. Saturday night a friend of mine had a belated birthday dinner for me and an early birthday celebration for another friend. They grilled steaks, each was huge and cut two inches thick. It was more than I could eat. We had a wonderful time though.

Sunday morning, I went to my niece’s baptism. It was at one of those huge Baptist churches, where my sister and her family attend church. My brother-in-law refuses to ever attend church with us because he says the singing is terrible, and while we don’t use music, I always find our singing, with all voices, and only voices combined, to be the most beautiful sound. However, the singing I heard yesterday morning was pitiful. The one song that they allowed the whole congregation to sing was merely drowned out by the orchestra and most of the music service was solos and duets. One of the joys of going to church, for me, is being able to sing, and at this church no one was encouraged to sing except those whose voices they deemed worthy.

The rest of my Sunday, not involved in making exams was spent baking. A friend of mine gave me a KitchenAid stand mixer for my birthday, and I’ve been dying to try it out and I always love baking for Christmas gifts, so I made four dozen cookies and a dozen mini loaves of bread. The cookies I usually make are very simple: refrigerated cookie dough, a cup of dried cherries, and a cup of pistachios. When they are done and cooled, I dip them in white chocolate. Everyone loves them. It’s an easy recipe, but kneading the pistachios and cherries into the cookie dough takes a while to get a good mixture, so I decided to make the cookie dough from scratch this year. What has always taken about 30 minutes to put together, took less than five with my new mixer. I was amazed and the cookies look beautiful, but I will wait and dip them in white chocolate tonight. I ran out of time trying to get everything done.

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Giving

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Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.
Proverbs 19:17

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
Proverbs 14:31

I have to admit that when I was looking up some commentaries on giving and the Bible, too many of the sources I found focused on giving to the church. I give what I can to church, which is what I think of when the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:12 “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” Many churches though use this as a means of forcing a true tithe of 10 percent. However, even though we are in the season of giving, we should be giving and helping year round to those who need assistance.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands us to give to the needy:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:1-4

Giving is not all about what you give to your local congregation, but what you give to those who are in need. We are to love our fellow man and not judge them. If we look down on the poor, the how can we look up to God. Some people blame God for the misfortunes of the world, I blame those who do not follow the teachings of love and charity. Do you have to be a Christian to have love for your fellow man or to be charitable to the less fortunate? Of course you don’t. But I will say this, too many people who call themselves Christian often follow the proverb “God helps those who help themselves.” The phrase is often mistaken as scriptural, but it appears nowhere in the Bible.

Political commentator Bill O’Reilly employed the phrase, in responding to Jim McDermott, the Democratic U.S. Representative for Washington’s 7th congressional district, who argued, “This is Christmas time. We talk about Good Samaritans, the poor, the little baby Jesus in the cradle and all this stuff. And then we say to the unemployed we won’t give you a check to feed your family. That’s simply wrong.” O’Reilly argued for a more selective approach to unemployment benefits, and the importance of individual responsibility, concluding “while Jesus promoted charity at the highest level, he was not self-destructive. The Lord helps those who help themselves. Does he not?” Political comedian Stephen Colbert parodied him in response, concluding in character, “if this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition; and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.” Colbert may be a comedian who is often irreverent, but he makes a good point.

For the vast majority of us, misfortune finds us at one point or another. Various people have helped me during those unfortunate times, and I do my best to help those in need when I am able to help. Giving is not just for the red buckets of the Salvation Army during Christmastime bit for all year round. It is also not about gifts and money, because not all of us are able to do so, but it is about giving our love to those around us. Love is the greatest gift we can give.

Peace, love, and charity!

If this post looks familiar, then you read it a year ago. I wasn’t feeling well last night, and I’d planned on posting about the hymn “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” until I realized that I’d already written that post in October. So I decided on a more holiday themed post from last year.


Moment of Zen: Country Butts

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The Normal Heart

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The Normal Heart is a 2014 American drama television film directed by Ryan Murphy and written by Larry Kramer, based on Kramer’s largely autobiographical 1985 play of same name. The film stars Mark Ruffalo, Jonathan Groff, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Joe Mantello, and Julia Roberts.

I usually find that when a movie has an all-start cast, you can’t expect much from it because all of the actors compete for the spotlight. This movie wasn’t like that. It largely focuses on Mark Ruffalo’s character Ned Weeks, and the cast surrounding him make the movie sublime.

The film depicts the rise of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City between 1981 and 1984, as seen through the eyes of writer/activist Ned Weeks, the founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group. Weeks prefers public confrontations to the calmer, more private strategies favored by his associates, friends, and closeted lover Felix Turner (Bomer). Their differences of opinion lead to arguments that threaten to undermine their shared goals.

The play and film are based on true events and real people. After most performances of the 2011 revival of The Normal Heart, Kramer personally passed out a dramaturgical flyer detailing some of the real stories behind the play’s characters. Kramer wrote that the character “Bruce” was based on Paul Popham, the president of the GMHC from 1981 until 1985; “Tommy” was based on Rodger McFarlane, who was executive director of GMHC and a founding member of ACT UP and Broadway Cares; and “Emma’ was modeled after Dr. Linda Laubenstein, who treated some of the first New York cases of what was later known as AIDS. Like “Ned,” Kramer himself helped to found several AIDS-activism groups, including Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), and indeed experienced personal conflict with his lawyer brother, Arthur.

This is a truly powerful movie and people need to see it. Kramer’s furious inveighing against a government that seemed content to let gay men die by the thousands has plenty of bite left in it nearly 30 years later. In many ways, The Normal Heart has become an entirely necessary historical document, giving full-bodied life and spirit to a piece of recent history that’s all too often forgotten in our progressive, gay marriage-sanctifying present. The horrors of the play’s generation must be remembered, not just because H.I.V.-infection rates among young people are troublingly on the rise in this country, but because these stories crucially remind us how we got where we are now, how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go. Murphy gets out of the way of this message, filming from a respectable distance as Kramer’s words flare and burn. But this is also an intimate movie, close and textured, made all the more so by the fine cast.

I hope that lots of people watch this film, as lots of people seemed to watch HBO’s similarly themed masterpiece Angels in America ten years ago. Because it’s a good movie, and because it roars with the fury of many ghosts who didn’t have to be ghosts. If only more people had said something, done something. At least Larry Kramer and others like him did, and The Normal Heart is a fine accounting of that noble history.

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Up Too Late

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I was up late watching a movie with a friend and didn’t have time to write a descent post. A friend of mine had given me The Normal Heart for my birthday, so we watched it together. My friend lives about 500 miles away, so we sometimes have a “movie date” where we text each other during the movie. It’s a fun way not to watch a movie by yourself. I will write more about The Normal Heart tomorrow, but let me just say that if you haven’t seen it, you really need to watch it.


Coming Out to Play

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In 2013, Robbie Rogers briefly retired from playing soccer with Leeds United in England and then came out in a poignant blog post on his personal website before signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy in May 2013. When he signed with the LA Galaxy, Rogers became the first openly gay male athlete to join Major League Soccer or any of the five major North American sports leagues. In 2014, Rogers became the first openly gay male athlete to win a big-time team pro sports title in the United States when the Galaxy won the Major League Soccer Cup. However, well before he came out to his friends and family, Rogers first opened up about his sexuality to a random woman he met at a bar in London.

“I had been thinking about it a lot,” Rogers, 27, recalled in a HuffPost Live appearance this week to promote his new memoir, Coming Out to Play. “I just was so sick of lying and wanted to get the ball moving.” Although he told his family a month later, Rogers said the initial coming out “felt so amazing, and I’m sure [the woman] didn’t realize it.”

“Secrets can cause so much internal damage,” he wrote when he came out. “People love to preach about honesty, how honesty is so plain and simple. Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are gay.” We all come out for the first time in different ways. The hardest person to come out to can sometimes be yourself, and then you have to voice it aloud to someone. The first time I told another person was late one night at a party when I told two of my closest friends. They were shocked, but not really. I’m not sure I could have told a complete stranger in a bar though.

Rogers told HuffPost Live’s Alyona Minkovski that while it was “rewarding” for him to hear from younger athletes who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), he’s “always surprised” that so few professional sports stars have come out.

“That’s always been a little weird to me,” he said. I find it disheartening, and a sad commentary on the American sports world. Jason Collins and Michael Sam both came out but neither has really played professionally since. Collins I believe played in a few games, but Sam was a star in the SEC, which should, have made him a top draft choice not someone who was dropped from the Rams and Cowboys. American sports have gay athletes, but it’s sadly understandable why they don’t come out, because they fear losing their jobs.

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Sonnet 97

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Sonnet 97
By William Shakespeare

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness every where!
And yet this time remov’d was summer’s time;
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widow’d wombs after their lords’ decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem’d to me
But hope of orphans and unfather’d fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And, thou away, the very birds are mute:
Or, if they sing, ’tis with so dull a cheer,
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter’s near.