Just So Much Skin in The Game

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June 15, 2021- After reading my horoscope, which said not to make financial decisions today, I spent a delightful morning at Phippen Museum of Western Art, on Prescott’s north side, with my hiking buddy. Given that it was too hot for any outside activity, enjoying various paintings, sculptures and Native American handicrafts was a fine way to appreciate the Southwest. It also gave A.K. a possible outlet for creativity, during the rest of the hot weather. The Phippen offers affordable painting classes, once a week.

I have no qualms about sharing time and energy, as these imply that the other people involved will invest the same. Money, as I’ve said before, is a different matter. People often throw out- “The more you give, the more you get”, in a guilt-mongering manner. I have said, more times than I have cared to, that my fair share of coin goes to those in need. So, I set a hard and fast limit on the amount going towards a socioeconomic development project in another country. This generated a sarcastic comment, that I have such “an elevated sense of brotherhood”. I actually view that as a compliment. What I am not doing for one person, in perpetuity, is balanced by what I am doing for others. I want to see just how much the individual will pull himself together, working with others to build a communal dream. I will “beseech God to guide him”-as Baha’u’llah teaches us.

My parents gave us only so much, in the way of financial and material assistance, and I believe each of us are the better for it.

Flags, etc.

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June 14, 2021- Today was Flag Day, an often overlooked commemoration of the adoption, on June 14, 1777, of the Stars and Stripes as our national pennant. The flag, to me, is something to be honoured and respected. I am proud to offer a salute, or to stand with my right hand over my heart, when it is presented at a public event. By extension, I will also stand in silent respect, if I am in another country, and ITS flag is similarly presented.

A candidate for local office has been showing a photograph that depicts his opponent waving a flag that is tattered, at a public event of a few years ago. If this is authentic, I object to that other candidate’s ignorance. If it is altered, the shame goes to the man who is showing it around. As for those who stomp on, burn or spit upon a national flag, this may be regarded by the judiciary as free speech, but it is no more worthy of respect than is a stream of profanity.

Flags may be symbols, yet symbolism has value. The most strenuous exercise, in the history of mankind, has produced a society which has slowly, often with excruciating pain, approached its stated ideals. Many of those ideals have yet to be fully realized, and there have been many times, which deserve to be acknowledged, studied and corrected, when the behaviour of the ruling class, and those underneath them, went counter to the stated guiding principles of our national experiment.

In my journey next month, Tulsa will be on the itinerary, on the way east, and Minneapolis will be on the route back west. My heart is heavy, yet hopeful, for this nation which will guide the world spiritually, in years to come, much as it has guided the world economically and politically, in times past.

The flag is a symbol-of the ideals towards which we work, perseveringly.

Breaking A Small Logjam

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June 13, 2021- Every so often, I find myself with nothing to say, at a given moment. On a quiet routine day, such as today, rest takes priority, especially with one very active, at times frenetic week gone and a slightly quieter one ahead. Indeed, a Christian friend, at breakfast this morning, extolled the virtues of not working on the Sabbath of one’s Faith. We Baha’is are, unofficially, given Friday as a day of rest, yet statutes and the present course of the wider society make that sometimes problematic. Still, when I am tired, I take the time to rest.

Nonetheless, life goes on and commentary with it. A small fire broke out today in Cornville, about an hour northeast of here. I may pull a shift, or two, this week, at any shelter that opens in consequence to that fire. There are other matters to which I must attend-some maintenance on the Elantra, a few meetings to host and to attend, and the long overdue resolution of a personal health issue. Fires, and other social emergencies are never convenient, nor are most personal matters. Somehow, action is required on each one-and so on I go, along with anyone else who can make the time.

As for an ongoing flow of conversation, as to why the Federal and state governments move so slowly, if at all, on matters of concern to Joe Citizen, I give you the fact that each person in said governments has to deal with the same logjams of overwork and scheduling rest. There is a conflict in perception, between those who ARE rested and ready for action and those who are running on fumes. Some of us are just slow moving, overly meticulous (Obsessive Compulsive) and prone to overthinking. Others, myself included, take action on matters that present themselves, in as expeditious a manner as possible-giving deferred attention to things that are synchronous to what has our attention at the moment. (For example, a barrage of Instant Messages coming at a time when I am engaged in helping feed two dozen people.)

Each of us is important. None of us is as important as we sometimes want the world to think.

The Flow

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June 12, 2021- The past four days were my first attempt at administering a formal event, since 2013. Then, there was a dire emergency, a day or so after the horrific deaths of nineteen wildland firefighters with an ongoing wildfire emergency. I supervised a shelter for some 60 people, who had fled the fire zone, in the small communities of Yarnell and Peeples Valley, about 35 miles southwest of Prescott. This lasted but one night, as a national Red Cross team arrived, the next morning.

This time around, the task was to coordinate a camp for 14 teenagers, who are studying Baha’i teachings. It also involved tending to the needs of four adult tutors, five kitchen staff, two groundskeepers and a recurring visitor, whose skillsets actually came in handy a few times. Three members of the Bellemont School Committee also visited, and thankfully were helpful and anything but overbearing.

My management style, largely derived from watching my father-who was a middle manager, is to take a respectful interest in the activities of both clientele and staff, rolling up my sleeves, so to speak, in any area where needed. It was a pleasure to join the students’ devotionals, help in the kitchen when needed and keep an eye on the needs of individuals, both in terms of first aid and arranging comfortable sleeping facilities. This last is especially critical, as the nighttime temperature differential between the Phoenix area, where most of the people present live, and Bellemont is 50 degrees. Many of the visitors had no clear concept of this critical difference, despite being told in advance, by the camp organizers.

That the camp’s activities achieved a smooth flow is a tribute both to the organizers and to our group’s commitment to the success of the camp, as well as to the maturity of the teenagers. It was a resoundingly reaffirming start to a very full summer.

Grassroots

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June 11, 2021, Bellemont, AZ- Today is the last full day of the camp which I have been supervising. A few people left for home, due to work and family obligations. The teens who are left have busied themselves with clean-up projects, both on campus and across the road, where an illegal dumping site has collected detritus, probably for several decades.

These efforts have brought to mind the fact that grassroots actions can begin to correct even the most longstanding of offenses or errors in judgment. It will take a great deal of such work, to counteract the mistakes made as result of top-down decision-making. The latter is closely tied with “efficiency”, but that is so only in the sense that things can be done more quickly, when the elite is making snap decisions. True efficiency involves BOTH grassroots AND the decision-makers at the top. So, there needs to be a clear-cut system of transparency-which only the slow-moving engine of trust can provide.

As always, my charges have taught me as much, if not more, than was imparted to them. It is this that has kept me in the youth work game, a lot longer than I might have stayed. There is no end to what we can achieve, if we draw lessons from everyone we meet-of all ages and backgrounds.

As Chaos Calmed

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June 10, 2021, Bellemont, AZ- Beware slumbering. in the calm sea, lest one be unaware when the roiling comes along. During the day, yesterday, things were smooth as glass. After dinner, though, came a sprained ankle, five other people (teens and adults) needing “immediate attention” (simultaneously, of course) and the recognition that everyone needed to be sent to their respective quarters, and any visitors bid goodnight, a bit earlier than usual.

The night thenceforth passed, with no further incidents. A perceived insect pest was spotted, this morning, and the requisite protocol was set in place. After the offending pest was found and eliminated, followed by the contents of the building subjected to six hours of bright sunshine and a fairly warm afternoon, the alert was lifted.

This is the way of the world, for as far back as I can remember. Problems find a designated solver, the crisis gets resolved and, after a fashion, the next order of business presents itself. That is, unless the disgruntled and the bored contrive a solution in search of a problem. Then, there are at least two problems.

Ludicrous

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June 9, 2021, Bellemont, AZ- Arguments and fighting can sometimes clear the air, in which case they serve a purpose-and need not be repeated. Most of us have experienced this sort of thing, at one point or another, in our lives. Often, fatigue, depression, and feelings of abandonment can trigger a quarrel, which forbearing people de-escalate. The underlying love that the parties have for one another will win out, in such cases.

The most intractable quarrels, though, find their roots in ego, insecurity and not a small amount of malice. These tend to be found within the larger issues facing our species, our nation-and a good many communities. Egotistical actions themselves are mainly rooted in insecurity-the parent of narcissism, which, to me, is a misplaced attempt to cover for feelings of inadequacy. One public figure, known for expressions of narcissism, experienced a childhood in which he was routinely berated and belittled by his own parents.

Where we, as a society, or as a planet, suffer from acts of egotism or insecurity comes in cases of reckless prejudice, greed or lust. We see these in the behaviours of some in government, in business and even in public service. A senior figure in our Federal government recently asked people working under him to act against certain legislation- “as a favour to him”. Some on both sides of a conflict, in another part of the world, continually focus on what they see as the “transgressions of the other side”. A military leader in a developing nation seized power in his country, claiming that only he can save the country from “the forces of corruption”.

I go back to problem-solving processes based on transparency, unconditional positive self-regard, and respect for other people in general. There is also a degree of letting go of past hurts, which proceeds from the aforementioned qualities. There can be little doubt that the paths which perpetuate turmoil and division between people, at all levels, are ludicrous.

A Path for Healing

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June 8, 2021, Bellemont, AZ– The events of this year have not lost their ability to surprise, though each one, both joyful and sorrowful, has had roots in what has been bound to occur, sooner rather than later.

I have lost friends and family, recently, yet all of them were suffering from chronic disease. Mom moved, of her own volition, from our family home of 66 years, but that had been in the cards for quite some time.

It was a surprise, however, when a man to whom I had been quite close, when he was a child, walked into the kitchen of the summer camp here, at which I will be director for the next few days. “A” did not recognize me at first, as we hadn’t seen one another since 1995. Life has taken him on several rides, but has not dimmed his intellect, or his drive.

Once he did remember who I was, we had a long overdue conversation regarding a mutual loss, which occurred in mid-summer, in the Eighties. He proposed to me that we undertake a hike, what will amount to a healing walk, in mid-August, in the area where the loss transpired.

Healing journeys have occurred throughout my life, and in particular, over the past ten years. This one will close a small hole in my heart, and at least begin to close the much larger hole in his. Indigenous people, the world over, know the importance of ceremonial walks, in bringing the deepest of hurts to the surface, where they can dissipate.

So it goes, that I am continuously being brought to places where the connections that are necessary are made. This is a particularly strong year of healing and correction.

Predisposition

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June 7, 2021- I read an article, in the current issue of National Geographic Magazine, about a sizable number of Old Colony Mennonites, settling in rural, forested areas of Mexico, and clearing huge swaths of the forest, so that they could plant Transgenic (GMO) soybeans. The process includes aerial spraying of glysophate-a poison that has been shown to lead to metastasized cancer, when ingested through air and water. There has been conflict with the indigenous people of the region, the Maya, who have used the land for small farming and to raise bees. The Mayan bees have been dying off, since aerial spraying of glysophate began. The Mennonites say they have bees that can thrive, despite the presence of glysophate.

I have friends in Pennsylvania who are Mennonites, and who are committed to keeping the Earth both productive and in a relatively pristine condition. They are horticulturists, and much of their produce is raised in greenhouses. I am not aware of any widespread use of glysophate in their operation. So, the NGS account set me to thinking: Why are the settlers in Mexico so adamant about their mission?

People being creatures of habit, with deeply engrained genetic memory, it helps to trace the residential patterns of a group. The Old Colony Mennonites came from grasslands of central Europe and Russia, via Germany, and settled in the prairies of central and western Canada. They are accustomed to large farming operations, worked by large families. They are also given to hard work, relying on Biblical Scripture for guidance and practicing prudent business. A treeless prairie is turned into productive cropland, with relative ease, compared with the forest-which, whether tropical or temperate, is alien land. Thus, with no regard for any value the rainforest may have, the trees are cleared. The land becomes grassland, or cropland.

This has been repeated since the first nomads emerged from the steppes of Central Asia, millennia ago. The treeless land of their origins formed both their mindset, as to the status of the environment and as to the approach that should be taken towards any environment that differed from their native grasslands. Forests were meant to be cleared; deserts were meant to be irrigated; mountains were meant to be either terraced or laid low. The Old Colony Mennonites are no different, in that respect, from all who migrated before them.

That said, there remains the one thing that could lay both them, and their neighbours, low: The poison, that their interpretation of Scripture says is essential to maintaining their way of life. Glysophate has been shown to lead to several cancers, most commonly Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. While only a longitudinal study, of the people of Campeche and Tabasco, will likely convince the leadership of Old Colony that this practice is dangerous, such intransigence is going to cause harm to the very people for whom the leaders say they are engaging in large-scale farming: Their children and grandchildren. Even if the leaders can claim to be unconcerned about their neighbours, an unlikely scenario, for them to be blithely placing crop yield, profit and Manifest Destiny over their own families’ lives, proceeds from sublime to ridiculous.

We can debate the merits and pitfalls of transgenic farming for days on end, but the use of pesticides that are deadly to all life should no longer be up for discussion: Mexico, along with most other civilized nations, has banned the use of glysophate. Predisposition to dominance aside, it is time for the Old Colony members to stop its use, and seek to use methods of crop protection that are not lethal to humans, or bees.

Reflections on A Day Taken Off

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June 6, 2021- Thirty-nine years ago, today, Penny and I formalized our commitment to one another-and the marriage would last, through thick and thin, for twenty-nine years. I was hoping for at least forty, but we take what we are given. Some people are married for fifty years plus, and are inwardly miserable. We were not either. Speaking of which, as an aside, an indie artist, at a gathering on Saturday night, played a clip of his, on which a local philosopher opined: “”One who claims to be miserable, and at the same time insists he is right, is stating the impossible. It can never happen.”

Processing the loss of one of my closest cousins, I received word that a fellow member of the American Legion Post to which I belong had suffered a heart attack and is in hospital, facing the now de rigeur bypass surgery. He is one of the regulars, at our Sunday morning breakfasts, holding court and waxing eloquent about everything under the sun, in the style of an English aristocrat. That he is of Sicilian descent matters not. T’s heart and soul are rooted in the Merry Old Isle.

My day was otherwise occupied with the mundane-getting laundry done, gluing the front right quarter panel of my Hyundai, with the same substance that’s kept the back left in place, for nearly three years and watching episodes of “The Underground Railroad” and “Peaky Blinders”. Five of us pondered another set of quotes from the Universal House of Justice’s (Baha’i Governing Body) compilation on Social Action. I got in another workout.

In all this, I am looking at what is going on in the wider world, and just shaking my head, keeping up with it all, yet feeling as if it’s all a dream. The most important things in my life are all revolving around family, friends and the children-always, the children.

One of the traits that my cousin, John, had was presence, centering on who was in front of him, for as long as the person needed. That has not been my strong suit, though I am getting better at it. I am still not great at the perfunctory- greetings or conversation for their own sakes, especially online or long-distance. Birthdays and anniversaries are different; they draw my attention, because they matter so much. The rest of it-well, maybe my agenda is too broad and the next thing is always on my horizon. Still, I am making progress at being present, with someone who is in front of me, at any given time.

Twenty-nine years did teach me something.