26 November 2015

Thank You

Thank you.

Two simple words, when spoken simply and offered sincerely, are an expression of gratitude that can be balm to the soul. It is an expression that can launch so much good. Think about how you feel when someone offers a sincere 'thank you' for something that you've done. You're spurned on to do more of the same. Doing more good is never a bad thing.

Today, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving. Now a day more celebrated for its excess (food, pre-Christmas sales, drunken family fights that can only be solved by the power of She Who Must Be Obeyed, Adele - click here for the proof), at its arguably forgotten core, this is a day of gratitude. It is a day to pause, reflect (go ahead, count your blessings!), and to give thanks for what we have. Even if you think the things for which you can be grateful are meager, the fact is that you are so much better off than so many others in this world.

When you consider the meaning of gratitude, it is not only being thankful, but it also embodies being ready to return a kindness shown to you. Demonstrating that gratitude can be as simple as those two little words: thank you. It is an act of kindness. Those acts need not be grandiose. A smile at the elderly woman in the grocery store who is writing a check (rather than a sneer and the burning urge to display a middle finger). Declaring a ceasefire in your Twitter war with our nation's long-suffering national passenger rail provider. Offering to help the lady who has somehow managed to lug 34 carry-on bags onto the plane find places for her crap in the overhead bin, instead of wishing a pox on her. So those examples may be things I need to work on, allegedly, but you get my drift.

Be ready to return a kindness. On those opportunities, Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

You cannot do a kindness too soon,
for you never know how soon it will be too late.

Say thank you today. Say it every day. May your Thanksgiving table be surrounded in gratitude. Even if it winds up looking something like this, there is still much for which to be grateful:

Happy Thanksgiving!

23 November 2015

The Enforcer?

Post-mission career choice?
It appears from the picture that we got from TMFKATB in this week's letter that he has been regaling the good people who reside behind the Zion Curtain of his life growing up on the mean streets of Chicago, or the Greatest City in the United States. Per his letter, a member of the Church in his area bought him this gem of a Chicago PD knock off shirt.

I think I should clear up a few things about TMFKATB's "mean streets" experience. Here we go:

Those "mean streets"? Yeah, those were in Naperville, or Naperthrill, or the Dirty 630. The mean factor? Terrifying! It was embodied in the irate pearl-wearing, Volvo wagon-driving hausfrau upset about not getting covered parking in the downtown garage, thus exposing her to the elements while walking to the Ann Taylor store. And tough? You bet! Some of those kids had to ride the bus, the bus!, to high school up until the day they got their driver's license. It's a miracle that any of them made it out alive...

But made it out alive he did and he's telling tales as he serves. This week's letter talked a bit about the service opportunities he and his companions have had in the run-up to Thanksgiving. They spent a bit of time prepping turkeys and meals for distribution. It helped him to see again the needs that exist in the world and to feel the reward of selfless service. He also talked about being introduced to a former gang banger. Hearing that man's stories no doubt put TMFKATB's Dirty 630 experiences into stark relief. But what he found in this man was a good soul and a powerful lesson in not judging a book by its cover. There is good to be found in all of us was his subtle reminder.

It's a good reminder as we enter the Thanksgiving week. We should be grateful for the good in the world. It's there, even if it takes some digging to get to it. There is good out there. It's a blessing for which I'm grateful. I'm grateful for my Chicago cop wanna-be son and for what he teaches me every week.

22 November 2015

Where Do I Register, Mr. Trump?

Lady Liberty weeps
While I've tried to avoid politicizing things in the Den, there are times when my take on politics/current events has found some place here. This is going to be one of those (longer) posts, so for those of you who have not liked my take on things political in previous posts, move along - nothing to see here (as a card carrying member of a religious faith known for its conservative majority, being a moderate or even left-leaning is akin to being the Anti-Christ; not supporting Mitt Romney in 2012? 'Oh the humanity!').

Since the mass murders in Paris on November 13th by ISIS terrorists, U.S. presidential candidates have wasted no time in taking (or not) a position on how America can best protect itself against a similar attack.  Megalomaniac and everyone's favorite xenophobe Donald Trump wasted no time in bloviating his rational, well thought out, and humane position (because that's how everything he says is positioned, right?):

Establishing a national registry for all Muslims living in the United States

Wait...what? Read that again and let what that means sink in.

In one savage blast of hot air, Trump has legitimized bigotry and hatred on a national scale. The last I checked, bigotry and hatred were not included in the list of principles upon which this nation was founded. If I missed that chapter in my high school US History course, would someone please let me know. 

The thought of a national registry for any group should send shudders of fear through the collective soul of our nation. The Nazis began registering Jews in western Europe in the 1930's. Property was seized, Stars of David were sewn into people's clothing, books were burned, and when all was said and done, six million, that is six million Jews, Eastern Europeans, gays, POWs, and other 'undesirable' non-Aryans were horrifically slaughtered. In spite of that abominable history, in what is staggeringly unthinkable, plenty of Americans don't seem to have an issue with Trump's declaration. 

Well, I do. So does the Rabbi Joshua Stanton. In a piece for the Huffington Post, Rabbi Stanton says to Trump, "...if you do intend to target Muslims in in a national registry (or worse), please register me too." I echo Rabbi Stanton's rallying cry. This madness cannot be allowed to stand. So, Mr. Trump, I ask you, where do I register? I will not stand by as my Muslim brothers and sisters are made targets of your xenophobic madness.

Although it has been more than one hundred and seventy seven years since it happened, members of my own faith were under an extermination order issued by the governor of Missouri. Make no mistake, this was not an effort to rid their homes of pests. This was government-endorsed murder. In order to survive, those early members of the Church fled Missouri, eventually settling, albeit temporarily, in Illinois, before they once again fled their country before murderous mobs. These people were blamed for all manner of chicanery and only saw survival in the solace of the uncharted territory of the United States. They were unwelcome in their own country, fall guys for things totally outside of their control.

In the wake of Paris, Syrian refugees have become the fall guy for those attacks, for which they had no control. Governors of several states have declared these refugees as unwelcome. With those actions, we are betraying the very words of Emma Lazarus' poem, "The New Colossus," that have adorned the Statue of Liberty since 1903:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Are there any exceptions in that second stanza? I don't read any that says, "...except for those of you who are willing to risk your lives and see your children drown in an attempt to flee a murderous regime." We cannot turn our backs on these people. I absolutely endorse doing everything in our power to turn back those who would destroy us. But how can we turn our back on those who have been "tempest-tost?" The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recently said the following in a statement on the xenophobic reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis:

"While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed,
we should not turn our backs on the thousands of refugees."

When we visited the Museum last Christmas, at the end of the tour, there was an absolutely searing exhibit of photographs from the Syrian refugee crisis. If you'd seen it, you'd be asking Mr. Trump where you could register in order to stand with your Muslim brothers and sisters. I'd ask if Trump has seen it but since the Museum does not bear his name nor offer a branding opportunity for him, I don't think he'll be dropping by any time soon.

16 November 2015

A quick hello

So apparently he's learned
to use a jackhammer
Some Mondays bring lengthy letters from TMFKATB and ample time to 'chat' back and forth. Other weeks are akin to an email version of a drive-by. Today, friends, was a drive-by. His letter was fairly brief - a quick hello - and not especially detail rich, but he assured us all is well. That said, he sent a couple of pictures, including the one posted here. The other was of his companion working the same jackhammer. He provided zero context, but I take a couple of things away from it:

- He only has limited time on his P-Day, or day off, and I can't expect a "War and Peace" tome on the week that was.

- His mission continues to give him opportunities to serve and learn things he would never have learned living under my roof, like working a jackhammer. It's no secret I am no handyman and power tools are pretty much any kind are my mortal enemy. I mean I am a forty nine year old man who lives in abject fear of the day that I actually have to use my generator (I know I've said a lot of bad things, which you deserved, about you, Mother Nature, but please, by all that's holy, take it easy on us this upcoming winter!). That I have not taught my only son to use a jackhammer should come as a surprise to none of you. But here he is, gutting someone's patio as a part of a service opportunity. The kid's picked up a new skill!

I'll take the 'quick hello' letters, the out-of-context pictures, and the ongoing realization that he's learning and progressing. As a father, I would be selfish to ask for a whole lot more.