Happy Fourth of July: “May God Continue to Shed His Grace on the United States of America”

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This year’s celebration of the 4th of July Declaration of Independence, furnishes another opportunity for profound reflection on the tenets undergirding our still evolving union–The United States of America.  As we know, the July 4, 1776 Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  As most of us are also aware, as a nation, we are still moving towards a more perfect union which insures the aforementioned rights and opportunities for all people.

Moreover, as we celebrate this 4th of July, it is hard to ignore the disturbing spring and summer 2015 events of American-against-American violence–exposing prominent rips in our national social fabric.

Sometimes in summer, the extreme temperatures seem to correlate with intensified human emotions and lack of tolerance for dissonance.  This year, with the early spring violence in Baltimore and public reactions in other American cities, it is painfully obvious that many American citizens perceive an unevenness in quality of life and truncated opportunities in their pursuits of the American Dream.  It seems also obvious that many citizens are growing impatient, as they seek relief in their lives from economic downturns, diminishing hope, housing foreclosures, stagnant wages, and limited future options.

And, though it was hard to anticipate, in June of 2015, a tenuous national climate deteriorated further with the killing of nine human beings attending a Bible study class at the historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  Lesser acts of violence and hatred have thrown communities across the nation into deepening divides.

In fact, I originally thought about writing a blog about the ramifications of distrust and hopelessness–as illustrated in the Baltimore riots.  That blog would have been about how our fears and prejudices destroy lives and curtail economic development.

However, President Obama’s June 26, 2015 eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney left me contemplating the concept of grace, and how we can earn and spread such grace to strengthen our nation.

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If there was ever a time for a President of the United States to summon a higher and evolving vision of the future of our collective America that demands deeds similar to those of the Reverend and public servant Clementa Pinckney, this was it.  President Obama, in his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney empathized with the congregation before him, held the well-being of America close to his heart, and delivered a sermon of hope–a call for us to seek a collective salvation to turn an egregious violent act into “thoughtful introspection and self-examination.

President Obama shared with the congregation of Mother Emanuel that he had been reflecting on the concept of grace the week before the eulogy.  We, too, can note that the concept of grace appears sufficiently in writings and dialogue that predate the independence of America and coincide with our developing sense of an American union.

For example,

Greek Philosopher Aristotle stated that, “The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances,”

Father of Humanism Petrarch stated that “Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth….”

Saint Francis of Assisi stated, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives is that of overcoming self.”

Texas preacher Max Lucado states, “The meaning of life. The wasted years of life.  The poor choices of life.  God answers the mess of life with one word: ‘grace.’

In his eulogy, President Obama affirmed that “As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace on us, for he has allowed us to see where we have been blind.  He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.  We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other–but we got it all the same.  He gave it to us anyway…But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of it.”

As the crowd, and probably millions of viewers, reflected on this much-needed eulogy, President Obama concluded his remarks by stating that the heinous act of the deaths has left us with a “reservoir of goodness–an open heart.”  Moreover, if we Americans “can tap that grace, everything can change.”  Such is our challenge this 4th of July.

President Obama concluded his eulogy by singing Amazing Grace published by John Newton in 1779, just a few years after the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  The Mother Emanuel congregation joined President Obama in singing the song that many of us know well.  Perhaps we will now sing it with somber and renewed awareness.

“Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”

Before walking away from the podium, President Obama proclaimed, “May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.”

Amen!  And thank you President Barack Obama!  Happy 4th of July!

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The American Dream–A Reboot Needed

IMG_0749Recently while spring cleaning, I sorted through some older TIME magazines and put one issue down, then picked it up again.  The 2012 TIME issue entitled, “The Making of America Issue: The History of the American Dream,” seemed to linger in my hands while riveting scenarios of the current deepening divides in American lifestyles, educational achievement, justice, economic realities, and dreams for improved lifestyles raced through my mind. The TIME article on the American Dream was written by Jon Meacham.

Before I venture forward, I should make it clear that my family, like many others, ascribes to an education leads to upward mobility version of the American Dream.  We believe that hard work, quality higher education, delayed gratification, spiritual grounding coupled with core values of honesty, personal integrity, compassion, and altruism pave the way for personal and familial well being.  Our American Dream also embraces peaceful existence with our global neighbors, whenever possible.  Like our parents, we have been known to live below our financial means, at times.  However, also like our parents, we seek to leave a legacy that will result in a better future for our children, grandchildren, and other people’s children.  We suspect that most American families shape the Dream to fit their past family experiences and future expectations.

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For the most part, like others, we are proud of our diligence, contributions as citizens, and we are honored to pass the legacy of hard work, higher education, and altruism on to our extended family, friends, and the students we have helped guide over numerous decades in higher education.   Yet, while we feel hopeful overall, and we are sometimes viewed as good examples of obtaining the American Dream, we know that there are multitudes of families who feel crushed and betrayed in their quests for the good life of the American Dream.

We often wonder if the implicit Dream core values of hard work, improved quality of life, accumulation of wealth, and steady progress for individuals, for families, and for the nation have morphed into a light speed, digitally enhanced 21st century notion of progress–the accumulation of goods.  We also question whether the numerous messages of a better, more consumer-oriented, Middle Class have become so commercialized that many Americans are left disillusioned? Is the commercialized American Dream a positive contribution to the global community?

So, with the magazine cradled in my hands, I sat on the floor, and I reread the article that sought to describe the economic and social complexities in which the vision of an American Dream emerged. I noted that the term American Dream was supposedly coined after the Great Depression in 1931 by popular historian James Truslow Adams in his book, The Epic of America.  Historian Adams discussed the ‘American Dream of a better, richer, and happier life of every rank’ as a great thought or concept that America had contributed to the world.  In brief, the Dream described an expectation of a steady improvement in the lives of everyday Americans, the lives of their children and grandchildren, and growth of the nation.

As usual, the devil is in the details. In some ways, you can argue that the concept of the American Dream for a better life is a beacon of hope which under girds many Americans and immigrants, as they endure economic hardships, an array of inequities, and conditions totally out of anyone’s control. Emerging out of the 1930’s Great Depression, it was probably crucial to rally the spirit and hearts of everyday Americans with a vision of hope for a better future.  Yet, from the beginning, there were contradictions and struggles in applying the intrinsic building blocks of the Dream.  At times, various groups perceived that their rights to the Dream were blocked and sought remedies in the Civil Rights Movement, Supreme Court decisions, the US Justice Department, the political system, public education, the workplace, and housing venues—to name a few.

Likewise, for most of the last decade,  times have been tough in America for most citizens.  Efforts to live the lifestyles that are seemingly promised by the Dream have been met with economic downturns, home foreclosures, downsizing at jobs, shrinking wages, and various gridlocks in state and federal governments.  Some American citizens are professing lack of confidence and hope in the roles of once venerable institutions (such as government and higher education) in supporting the American Dream.  Their uneasiness is further exasperated by data that reveal a steady unevenness of quality of life and well-being in American society for many citizens.

Yet, in some ways, we might have sabotaged ourselves in our quest for the Dream.  It probably does not help that we are bombarded constantly, by media and advertisements, with examples of how we are supposed to be pursuing the Dream.  Despite evidence to the contrary, ubiquitous images of people obtaining the Dream seem to suggest that disparities, struggling families, and foreclosure realities are/were only a blip in an otherwise society of beautiful, successful, technologically equipped, and content Americans citizens who are lining-up to purchase the latest must have product such as the newest cell phone, for instance.

Only when it is really hard to ignore the growing tensions and frustrations of some Americans in achieving some version of the Dream do we see some sort of news coverage of details gone awry (protests, workplace violence, toxic spills, riots, active shooters, and political gridlock).  No matter how beautiful the reporters are, many of us are still not really comforted.  Further, there is a growing disquiet among many Americans about the future prospects of their children, the value of a college degree, coupled with growing anxiety about retiring without enough money.  The economic recovery that has not quite trickled down to millions and millions of citizens is making it increasingly difficult for them to pursue their American Dreams.  Similar to the years after the Great Depression, Americans seem to need a Dream, that is supported appropriately, that helps them maintain hope, security, and economic stability.

So, what do we do?  Some of us think it is time to reboot the American Dream by strengthening the pillars (institutions, policies, and living work wages) that support the core values of upward mobility, personal progress, and national progress. Certainly rebooting the American Dream would encompass policies that support families; affordable higher education; higher wage jobs; opportunities for continuing education; improved achievement in K-16 education; and fairly applied justice for all.  The 21st century American Dream also seems to require broadened perspectives of racial understanding, tolerance of differences, sustainability practices, knowledge of global complexities, and an awareness of the benefits and pitfalls of a consumer driven society.  Possibly, if citizens focused less on acquiring expensive possessions, without appropriate monetary resources, they would enjoy a better sense of overall well-being (and less debt).  For example–what would happen if more discretionary income was invested in future leaders, innovative projects, and/or scholarships for students?

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The American Dream for the 21st century would probably also benefit from taking into consideration the access to different windows of the world allowed by the Internet and alternative news networks. America, as much as we love it, is not viewed as the center of the world by everyone.  A more complex, interdependent view of the world would help Americans make more knowledgeable political and social decisions.

The American Dream can once again, become a beacon of hope, but it needs to be rebooted for the technologically enhanced, and globally connected world of the 21st century!  The reboot might start as close as possibly to the family unit and gradually include global communities. Meacham, Jon. “Keeping the Dream Alive,” TIME, Vol. 180, No. I, 2012.

April Showers Bring May Flowers and Hopefully Needed Clean Water for Global Neighbors

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A good spring rain shower waters the trees, boosts water in lakes, cleans the streets, and sometimes soothes the spirit.  In fact, in many places, spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year, as we behold flowers opening, lawns greening, and the  beauty of the Earth unfolding.  As a kid, on the rainy spring days, I remember being reminded by my parents not to frown on rainy days because, yes, “rain showers bring May flowers.”  This statement was usually followed by “we need the rain!”  Without a doubt, water is one of the most basic necessities for life on our shared planet.
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Even though most of us know the significance of rain and the need for water to sustain our lives, many of us still view rain as a gift from the sky that will keep on giving.   Awareness of the need to sustain this valuable resource often only correlates with drastic climatic or pollution conditions that force us to plan and change our behavior to maintain sustainability.  Some environmentalists affirm that we are using water much faster than it is replenished. Other scientists have sounded alarms that global warming is producing profound changes in water availability, quality, and access. Thus, it is not a surprise that in some places in the United States a rainy day is a much appreciated day!  Like with many other limited resources, some states and municipalities are planning ahead strategically to maintain vital water resources.
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 As the USDA drought monitor map illustrates, there are states experiencing significant drought conditions in America.  Some western states with desert climates such as California are already engaged in a debate about the future of protecting water supply. Thus, not surprisingly, there are significant portions of America that employ water strategists and consultants to ensure that there will be adequate water for the citizens in the region.  According to some researchers, it is unclear whether droughts in some of the western states and adjacent areas are a new phenomenon or part of a cyclical rotation. Yet, issues regarding clean water possessions have social and economic effects for all of us.   Some urban planners project that protracted droughts in some parts of the US can lead to economic imbalances, as companies elect to locate in more verdant states.
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As my daughter, a fledgling environmentalist, recently reminded us, there is a great deal of drought in our global community that is literally a matter of life or death.  Even with the scarcity of water and drought protocols, many of us in America take clean water for granted.  We are usually only inconvenienced by monitoring our consumption and employing our sprinkler system on alternative days.  Yet, even with these practices, we function with limited knowledge about how the lives of our neighbors around the world are affected by lack of clean water.  Maybe if we knew more, we would engage in broader positive social action about managing water better among the Earth’s global citizens.
Most of us know that drought conditions can be linked to quality of life in many global communities.  The Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation monitors drought conditions in various global communities and supports drought relief efforts and water sanitation services through generous donations.  According to their Foundation website, drought can be devastating, resulting in barren fields, malnourished families, and starvation for millions of global citizens.  Likewise, the lack of clean water kills. The website charitywater.org states that:

“Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren’t strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.”

So what does this mean for most of us?  As we calibrate our sprinkler systems, and pause to admire our flowers and green lawns, let us be cognizant that for some of our neighbors, even though some may be far away–water is a matter of life and death.  Sustaining our natural resources is one of the most important efforts we can engage in to sustain global communities and the well-being of future generations. I have been convinced that access to clean water is a social and environmental justice issue.  Helping global neighbors attain an improved standard of living might be viewed as a form of effective diplomacy.

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 www.gatesfoundation.org

http://munchies.vice.com/articles/some-california-rice-farmers-would-rather-sell-water-than-plant-crops

 http://www.wired.com/2015/03/californias-run-water-act-now/

http://www.appalmad.org/slider/west-virginias-streams-are-in-trouble

Election Day–Voting is Fundamental

american-flag-sunset-1Some of our fellow citizens have already taken the opportunity to vote in early elections.   The fact that they have voted is good for America.

November 4, when most people, who will vote, will go to the polls is a very important day for the citizens of this country. I would not presume to give advice on any specific candidate or any specific race.   However, I do note that it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern political platforms amidst the negative attack advertisements on television and at political fund raising events. It is more important than ever before to get beyond the 30 second sound bites, that often cater to fears and stereotypes and to “do our homework” about each candidate before completing your responsibility to ensure our American legacy.

As I hear people talk about the candidates’ promises and the records of incumbent legislators, it seems that many citizens correlate being political with being dishonest and serving the interest of specific constituencies who help/helped them get elected. Thus, they do not pay much attention to the actual platforms, records, agendas, and promises of the candidates. This is not good for us as citizens.

As citizens, it is my opinion, that it is our responsibility to vote for candidates who will exemplify our core values and improve the quality of life for us and for our children. Thus, it is important to review the work of candidates on a daily basis, so that we can make the most intelligent decisions possible when we go to the polls.   It is very important, also in my opinion, for us to push pass the emotionally charged words and half-truths, so that we will not be surprised about results we will experience in employment trends, educational funding, environmental sustainability, or social security changes (and so forth) when the candidates actually take office and move forth on their agendas.

As stated by Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, it is our responsibility each day to ensure “that this nation… shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Voting is fundamental in maintaining America.