Who could not love this woman! A Tribute.

Who could not love this woman! A Tribute.

As Valentine’s Day approaches and I realize that I don’t have a suitable gift,  I thought I would share one reason why I love this woman–Vickie–the embodiment of resilience.

For the second time in our married life our house was destroyed by fire.   In this instance in 1987, we were driving across town in Nairobi and saw smoke bellowing in the distance.  “That’s our house Vickie.” I shared with her, before we were even close to home.  Apparently rats had made a meal of the tattered electrical wiring in the ceiling of the old house we called home in a rather nice suburb of the city. Cross two bare wires and you get sparks.  As we arrived, scores of police encircled the house–to keep looters at bay. Fire fighters poured water on the house with blazes still reaching above the tall avocado trees that usually shaded the house from the heat of noonday sun.
Okay, so Vickie wasn’t that “together” when we arrived.  And she would have rather me hold her instead of grabbing my camera to document the fire for insurance purposes.  But, within a few short hours, she was quickly going through the cooling house collecting anything salvageable.  Who knew tupperware could survive all that heat!  What is remarkable in this photo is the ever smiling face of Vickie who has the ability to laugh in the worst of circumstances.  Humor is one of the best attributes to combat trauma, crisis, stress, catastrophe, and just plain hard times.
We are all stronger because of laughter and Vickie is an example and encouragement of a loving and resilient woman.  If there is any quality I see in all of my children, it is this ability to laugh, look for the positive amidst the worst, and to keep moving on–they come by it honest.
So maybe we will go to a movie together on Valentine’s Day, and have a nice meal.

First Class Blues: How Important is Your Education

Written to a class of students ten years ago who had a difficult time–they complained a lot about their assignments and driving 10 miles to class.

To a Professor of Cross-Cultural Studies every destination is a new course in cultural knowledge. Every encounter is an assessment of skills. A new relationship is an opportunity to learn from others. While the sum of our experiences shapes our present, it is the significant encounter, that can change our perspective. It has been a number of years ago, but the situation is still the same. My Kenyan associate and I were invited to teach in a mountain town near Mt. Meru. It was a five-hour drive from Nairobi, a city where I lived for quite a few years. We set out one morning and drove the 200 miles. Continue reading

Sometimes Caged Birds Don’t Sing

Sometimes Caged Birds Don’t Sing

[About the photo: I took this at the Mt. Pleasant Pier near Charleston. This bird didn’t sing, and didn’t need to sing either–what a view!. 2014]

The other day a friend came over and asked me to go into an apartment with her.  Her neighbor had gone on a camping trip with a church group and left my friend to feed her two pet parakeets.  My friend is afraid of the birds (and most living creatures) and she wanted me to do the feeding while she watched.  It wasn’t a big deal really. The birds politely moved to the back of the birdcage while I lifted the door and placed the seeds in the front of the cage.  “That was easy.” She sighed.  The experience reminded me of story about my father, a somewhat eccentric person.

When I was in the first grade we lived in Illinois in a pastorium next to the church where he was pastor.  He loved animals and took every opportunity to fill our yard with an array of dogs, the garage with Persian and Siamese cats, and in that year one of the bedrooms of the house with canaries. I am not sure where my 3 sisters slept, but I remember this bedroom lined with cage upon cage of pretty little yellow and other brightly colored birds.  There was one problem–other than the obvious one of crowding his children into spaces so he could have the birds–the canaries wouldn’t sing.  He specifically bought the canaries so he could have bird sounds around the house. What to do? Continue reading

The Spirituality of Music

[Note: This was published first in Xtreme Music: Exploring Music and Spirituality edited by Justin St. Vincent]

Music has the power to transcend the mundane. Through the musical experience, one enters into the presence of Otherness; a presence that unifies outside of the boundaries of self, race, class, and difference.

Several years ago, BuildaBridge, an arts-education and intervention organization I co-founded in 1997, was providing a summer concert series in a local homeless shelter in Philadelphia. We asked a local concert pianist to provide the music, and here I begin to show my bias. Not that he was a bad pianist. He wasn’t, but I learned that his concerts where mostly in nursing homes.

The shelter where he was performing is the largest in Philadelphia with nearly one hundred and fifty homeless children and their parents in residence. The location is depressing enough. The former mental hospital is in very poor repair with one wing closed because of broken floors and ceilings. Only the resident rats call it home. The once stately gates now provide a façade of safety in one of the toughest areas of the city, surrounded by vacant houses often home to equally menacing drug dealers and gunshots. Continue reading

The Worm in Horseradish: Awareness and Ignorance

A number of years ago I met a man from Bangladesh. I have traveled widely and consider myself a global citizen. Unfortunately, during an evening meal I kept referring to his country as Pakistan. I had been reading a novel by Salman Rushdie on the separation of India and Pakistan and had not yet created new geographic categories for that part of the world. Throughout the evening my ignorant, unmindful, and unaware reference became a barrier to our communication. His perception of Americans as ethnocentric and ‘ignorant was reinforced. Fortunately, he was kind, and I was able to learn a great deal from him. However, most of our conversation was a geography lesson–he the teacher and me the student. Continue reading

How to Have a Good Conversation

How to have a good conversation about ideas.

My youngest daughter Laura has never had a filter on her conversations.  I am sure she got that from her father.

I remember well one day, when she was about 5 years old, a close friend of mine came by the house for a visit.  He was a hawkish looking man with skinny legs, a large chest, and an equally long nose that hooked across his upper lip. His broad yet thin-lipped grin was welcome enough and gave evidence to a peace with himself.  Yet, his deep black eyes closely set above his boney long nose always made me think he was out for a hunt.  At times, he could tear into a topic with ferociousness.  Our conversations were always filled with wisdom, truth-seeking, sarcasm, and laughter.

Laura sat on the couch next to him and observed my friend for about 10 minutes as we talked about the issues of the week.  Her observation soon became a stare and then she blurted out,

“Why is your nose so long?” Continue reading

Merry Christmas To My Grandchildren

Look at this picture, below.  This ancient house (in the background)  in Bir Zeit [pronouce: beer zite] sits in disrepair, as do many of the houses in ancient Palestine.  I took the picture on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2008.  Bir Zeit is very close to Bethlehem where Jesus of Nazareth was born.  Notice that there are 3 floors.  The third floor is enclosed on top.  This is very much like the house Jesus of Nazareth was born in.  Christmas is in celebration of this event.

If you remember the story, there was no place for Mary to have her baby and so she and Joseph (her husband) stopped at a local inn or house and asked for a place to stay for the night.  As you can see this is not like the Holiday Inn you see on the Interstate.  It was very basic with no running water, electricity or indoor toilets.  I don’t even think they had a microwave. 🙂 Continue reading