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For The Love



News on religion, spirituality and faith from the Press-Register



Last Build Date: Fri, 25 Mar 2011 16:10:25 UTC

Copyright: Copyright 2016
 



What's your name?

Sat, 26 Mar 2011 12:08:12 UTC

2011-03-25T16:10:25Z

So long as we keep our distance, physically or emotionally, some of us seem to think, we’ll be safe and happy. Yet once we come to recognize and know the people, plants and animals who may be living in our midst, not to mention the myriad threatened and endangered animals with whom we share the Earth, we may be more likely to provide them the care and offer them the respect they merit.

Some people are highlighters. Some are note-takers. I am an underliner.

Particularly when I’m reading a text for school, I read, pen in hand, ready to underscore passages I find particularly provocative, compelling or meaningful.

Reading Richard Louv’s "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," I have taken pen to paper often, eager not only to mark ideas I might incorporate into an upcoming presentation about the book, but to note resources for my work with children. I’ve also underlined sentences that remind me of truths I need to not only do better to remember, but to live daily.

Take the sentiment expressed by Elaine Brooks, a biologist and oceanographer at California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Addressing the issue of spot bulldozing, Brooks, according to Louv, observed, "Much of this destruction is done out of expediency and ignorance."

Brooks, according to Louv, "believed people are unlikely to value what they cannot name."

Louv quotes Brooks as noting: "One of my students told me that every time she learns the name of a plant, she feels as if she is meeting someone new. Giving a name to something is a way of knowing it."

The passage, which for some, may call to mind the Genesis account of Adam naming the animals, is among the many in the book I’ve underlined.

The student Brooks cited may have articulated her experience more poetically than some of us might, but her experience, I’d guess, is fairly universal. Furthermore, I would suspect that it’s not limited to flora alone, much less to those of us living in the early 21st century.

Some of us, perhaps unconsciously, regularly dismiss and disregard unfamiliar neighorhoods, cities and nations, not to mention the people, animals and plants who know those places as home.

Just as Brooks speculated, we don’t value what, not to mention those whom, we cannot name.

So long as we keep our distance, physically or emotionally, some of us seem to think, we’ll be safe and happy.

Yet once we come to recognize and know the people, plants and animals who may be living in our midst, not to mention the myriad threatened and endangered animals with whom we share the Earth, we may be more likely to provide them the care and offer them the respect they merit.

Somehow, just knowing the names can help us recognize that we must take responsibility for those within our purview, extending our compassion and using whatever resources we have to protect the innocent and endangered.

This duty may seem overwhelming at times. The needs of so many are so great. Some of us may be uncertain as to where we might begin.

As we consider our courses, we might recall the words of Brooks as well as the Bible, which may lead us to start exactly where we are, taking the time to become more familiar with our families and neighbors, our pets and our house plants, our backyards and our neighborhoods. By doing so, we can hope that we’ll not only know one another better, but value each other more.

Contact Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com.





'The time is always ripe to do right'

Sat, 15 Jan 2011 12:23:17 UTC

2011-01-14T20:16:11Z

First, I read the news, shed some tears and found out that my family in Tucson, Ariz., was safe. In time, I found myself angry but resolved. I am still sad about the lives lost to violence last Saturday. I hope for the speedy recovery of those who were injured, and pray that the grieving find comfort. In the...

First, I read the news, shed some tears and found out that my family in Tucson, Ariz., was safe.

In time, I found myself angry but resolved.

I am still sad about the lives lost to violence last Saturday. I hope for the speedy recovery of those who were injured, and pray that the grieving find comfort.

In the days since, investigators have poured over the life of alleged shooter Jared L. Loughner, and no doubt will continue to do so. Still, it’s possible that we’ll never really know or understand what led Loughner to that Tucson Safeway last week.

But his actions have stirred discussion about the ugly and violent rhetoric that has permeated our public dialogue. Such virulence has no place in public life.

The hate has to stop.

I blame no politician, no party, no public policy.

I blame us.

(image) People listen to speakers at a memorial service for the Arizona shooting victims at McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus Wednesday in Tucson, Ariz. (Chris Carlson/AP)

Some of us have allowed frustration to fuel incivility. Others have ceded to apathy; we know what we hear or read or even laugh at is mean-spirited; at times, it may even make us uncomfortable, but we don’t speak out against it.

I’m angry that we let it get so bad, that we didn’t stop one another from creating such a polarized climate.

I’m disturbed that those for whom sacred texts repeatedly call us to care — the poor, the stranger, the sick — so often seem subjected to disrespect, disdain and far worse.

It’s beyond enough, and I’m done.

I’m through with keeping quiet when confronted with ignorance and hate.

As history has shown, such sentiments will not evaporate over time.

In his famous letter from Birmingham City Jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is observed Monday, wrote:

“It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Contact Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com.


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Therefore, be you resolved

Sat, 01 Jan 2011 07:42:18 UTC

2010-12-31T17:43:22Z

If she were still alive, my nana would be celebrating her 93rd birthday today. I imagine it’s an occasion she’d have marked with song, cake and conversation. To my recollection, resolutions were not a mainstay of her observance. But if she were to have done so — or, as might have been more likely, told me what I should...

If she were still alive, my nana would be celebrating her 93rd birthday today. I imagine it’s an occasion she’d have marked with song, cake and conversation. To my recollection, resolutions were not a mainstay of her observance. But if she were to have done so — or, as might have been more likely, told me what I should do in the year to come — I imagine her list would have looked something like this:

Organize thyself (and anyone else in need). Nana apparently knew you were much more likely to find what you needed to find when you needed to find it if you kept your belongings in order. Not only did she carefully sort and store everything from jewelry to old letters, she spent many of her summer visits painstakingly pasting recipes into books for my mom.

¡¤Stay connected. If any of us ever wanted to know what was going on with anyone in the family at present (or over the past several decades), all we needed to do was ask Nana. An indefatigable communicator, Nana wrote letters, talked on the phone and sent e-mails to friends and family alike. By doing so, she helped bind us together with laughter, tall tales and a sense of history.

¡¤Stay stocked up on gumdrops. Nana did, and I loved it.

¡¤Get angry, then get going. While it’s not worth time or energy to get upset over inconsequential matters, some of us might do well to engage in a little righteous indignation, then take compassionate action. Apathy, at times, may seem like the easiest course when it comes to some social justice issues, but Nana, along with any number of spiritual leaders and sacred texts, might remind us that we’re responsible for one another — particularly those who, for whatever reason, are “the least” among us. We may have different ways of approaching contemporary challenges, but accepting injustice shouldn’t be an option.

¡¤Laugh more. We all encounter difficult days, but Nana showed me that we can almost always find reasons to giggle and guffaw. For some of us, all it takes is the utterance of a particular word or the retelling of a story, while others may require a bit more. Regardless, some research supports the Proverbs sentiment that “a joyful heart is good medicine.” A study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore (http://www.umm.edu/features/laughter.htm), for example, showed that laughter, as well as an active sense of humor, may help protect against heart attacks.

¡¤Dream big. Nana sometimes had trouble sleeping, but once she dozed off, she often had dreams that she reveled in sharing with the rest of us. She particularly loved to dream that she was flying. I thnk such nocturnal journeys granted her a sense of freedom, and may have even inspired her to take risks in her conscious hours as well.

The new year is filled with much that we cannot control. Yet we may resolve now to approach the days to come with grace, compassion and joy, ready to pursue justice and mercy at a moment’s notice.

(Contact Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com.)




Count your blessings

Sat, 20 Nov 2010 10:16:51 UTC

2010-11-19T20:18:47Z

Thanksgiving snuck up on me this year. I can’t say how exactly, though I’m sure it’s precisely the way holidays have a way of suddenly manifesting themselves in everyone’s lives. Happily, however, it’s an occasion for which I feel particularly prepared this year, and not just because I’ve been eating anything pumpkin for weeks. This year I’m ready for... Thanksgiving snuck up on me this year. I can’t say how exactly, though I’m sure it’s precisely the way holidays have a way of suddenly manifesting themselves in everyone’s lives. Happily, however, it’s an occasion for which I feel particularly prepared this year, and not just because I’ve been eating anything pumpkin for weeks. This year I’m ready for the festival of turkey and togetherness because in recent months, I’ve been consistently flooded with gratitude. It’s not that the days have been carefree or endlessly joyful. But they have been good, filled with challenge and meaning, along with good humor, boundless love and amazing grace. I hope yours have been too. Perhaps the blessings you’ve received have been the sort that tend to be enumerated on holiday cards and traditional prayers — loving family, good health, safety and security. Perhaps they’re more esoteric. Most of us probably have some combination of both. It’s impossible to calculate the benefits of the greatest gifts we’ve received. We may not even be able to recognize, much less count, them all. Still, as Thursday approaches, we might do worse than to take a few minutes to call to mind exactly for whom and what we’re particularly grateful for this year and to offer our thanks. Our lists may have common themes, but they’re all bound to be different, a bit of diversity for which I, for one, am grateful. Also on my docket: Family: I’m extraordinarily grateful for my immediate and extended family, a generous and compassionate lot who take me in even when I show up with bags of laundry, late at night or early in the morning. I’m also thankful for all the other families of which I’ve become a part throughout the years, including, but not limited to, my newspaper family at the Press-Register. Work: It’s important to me to engage in work I find challenging and meaningful, so I’ve spent considerable time and energy pursuing such endeavors. I’ve had the good fortune not only to find employment in my fields, but to work wiith extraordinary men, women and children who inspire me with their creativity, dedication and compassion. Nature: Whether we’re crouched down watching ants scurry about or staring up at too many stars to count, we have opportunities wherever we are to marvel at the beauty and diversity of the natural world. As I give thanks for all of nature’ s tangible and intangible gifts, I’m also reminded that I need to do what I can to protect such precious resources. Freedom: Thanks to the sacrifice and devotion of many today and in the past, I’m free to speak, write, pray and protest. We may not all agree on what constitutes the best course for the days ahead, but I’m glad when such matters may be discussed respectfully. Of course, neither a sense of gratitude nor a transcription of blessings is really sufficient to express thanksgiving. As a supplication in “The Book of Common Prayer” states in part: “And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives ... .” [...]



Listening and building, burning bush not required

Sat, 13 Nov 2010 10:45:56 UTC

2010-11-12T20:47:03Z

Some people may long for the days of the burning bush. Those were the times, it seems, when divine manifestation and direction seemed so clear, when those, faithful or otherwise, who witnessed it couldn’t help but know exactly what to do — and that God was asking them to do it. In today’s noisy world, such blessed assurance may... Some people may long for the days of the burning bush. Those were the times, it seems, when divine manifestation and direction seemed so clear, when those, faithful or otherwise, who witnessed it couldn’t help but know exactly what to do — and that God was asking them to do it. In today’s noisy world, such blessed assurance may not seem quite so evident. Or at least not so pyrotechnic. So we wander and wonder, peering into self-help books, praying alone or with congregations, reading scriptures, consulting friends, life coaches, spiritual advisers and therapists — or maybe even all of the above. None of that is bad, of course. At times, though, we may spend so much time trying to discern what exactly it is we’re “supposed” to do that we may end up doing nothing at all. I’m pretty sure I’ve been guilty of that. And if I’m honest with myself, I must also acknowledge that I’m the sort of person who needs multiple sources. Maybe it comes from working for so many years in journalism — reporters learn early the adage, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out” — but words from one burning bush alone might not have been enough for me. Still, every now and again, some messages get my attention. It started more than a week ago, perhaps, when I sat down to read part of Ken Robinson’s “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” in preparation for an upcoming meeting. I perused pages from a chapter titled “Finding Your Tribe.” A few minutes (and no lightning bolts) later, I headed to a lecture. Then, last Sunday, a priest addressed the issue of immigration; noting words from the prophet Haggai, she reminded those in the congregation that what’s created together is more important, more beautiful than what’s created in isolation. Something about that caught my attention. But soon thereafter I simply continued about my weekend. In time, though, I returned to Robinson’s work. There, I read: “Finding your tribe offers more than validation and interaction, important as both of those are. It provides inspiration and provocation to raise the bar on your own achievements. In every domain, members of a passionate community tend to drive each other to explore the real extent of their talents. Somtimes, the boost comes not from close collaboration but from the influence of others in the field, whether contemporaries or predecessors, whether directly associated with one’s particular domain or associated only marginally. As Isaac Newton famously said, ‘If I saw further it was because I stood on the shoulders of giants.’” I am neither prophet nor priest, philosopher nor physicist. Still, even I couldn’t help but notice that a preponderance of messages about the importance of community seem to be coming my way these days. It’s a message all of us may need to hear now and again. Some of us may tend to undertake too much on our own, hesitating to seek or accept help; others, meanwhile, may define their ideas of community narrowly and restrict others’ participation. As wise leaders have reminded me as of late, none of those courses of action is likely to benefit any of us. Instead, it’s time to listen to one another and build together. Contact Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com. [...]



Total surrender, one prayer at a time

Sat, 06 Nov 2010 10:51:26 UTC

2010-11-05T20:52:32Z

Some people try to put God in a box, somehow hoping to isolate the Almighty from one part of their lives or another. Mary Finlayson, it seems, took a different approach: She gathered a myriad of concerns and thanksgivings, then placed them into boxes for God. The dated notes, sometimes typed and sometimes handwritten, covered everything from health and...

Some people try to put God in a box, somehow hoping to isolate the Almighty from one part of their lives or another.

Mary Finlayson, it seems, took a different approach: She gathered a myriad of concerns and thanksgivings, then placed them into boxes for God.

The dated notes, sometimes typed and sometimes handwritten, covered everything from health and love to flooring and real estate. According to the article written by Finlayson’s daughter, Mary Lou Quinlan, in this month’s issue of Real Simple, the correspondence expressed Finlayson’s concern for family members as well as for others.

The idea to create a kind of inbox for the Almighty came from a friend who noticed Finlayson’s tendency to take others’ problems to heart, Quinlan recalls in the article. The friend suggested that Finalyson put a list of her cares into a box, Quinlan writes.

“From then on,” Quinlan writes, “when someone shared a concern with Mom, she would say optimistically, ‘I’ll put it in the God Box.’ The simple act of writing down the wish and relinquishing control to a higher power was her way to help others, and relieve her own mind. Mom was always offering to put wishes from Jack or me into the box, as long as we observed her one condition: total surrender. If we started fretting again, the message would be removed. I can’t say that we stopped worrying on command, but she did make us realize that we needed to let go and give it over.”

For many of us, it’s that letting go that’s the hardest part.

We keep trying, fiddling and tweaking, all in hopes of making things right.

Much of that is good.

But Finlayson’s discipline reminds us that ultimately, in matters big and small, we have to surrender. We can’t hold tight to every fear, every question. If we do, our hearts and minds will become clenched and shriveled, unable to take on any new challenges or behold new joys.

Through her actions, Finlayson also shows us yet one more quiet way to recognize God in the midst of the everyday. Her discipline was not a showy one. Indeed, Quinlan writes that she and her family didn’t know how many petitions Finlayson had penned until after her death. At that time, Quinlan writes, they discovered 10 boxes of prayers.

It’s an inspiring legacy. No doubt Finlayson’s God Boxes were considerably more meaningful to her family than the reams of paperwork many of us are liable to have stored away in closets and file cabinets.

The good news is that it’s not too late to clear out the mammon and minutae. Perhaps even more importantly, there’s still time to let go of the fears and doubts that, too often, hold us back from pursuing our dreams.

For people of faith, that may mean letting God out of the box and into daily life. Such an endeavor may feel unnerving, especially at first. When it does, remember Finlayson: It just might be time to take it to the Lord in a memo.

Contact Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com.




What are you carrying?

Sat, 30 Oct 2010 10:43:00 UTC

2010-11-01T13:06:24Z

If you’d peered into the back of my car last week, you might have spied, among other things, a coffee-stained mug, a box of library books, a few old newspapers, a kite and a yoga mat. When I took note of the collection, I think I was a little amused. The detritus provided a relatively accurate glimpse into my...

If you’d peered into the back of my car last week, you might have spied, among other things, a coffee-stained mug, a box of library books, a few old newspapers, a kite and a yoga mat.

When I took note of the collection, I think I was a little amused. The detritus provided a relatively accurate glimpse into my daily life.

Still, I didn’t have very good reasons for every one of those items to remain in my car for more than 24 hours.

While I use the yoga mat on an almost daily basis and the books were bound for the schoolroom where I spend my days, the other items really had no business languishing in the car: The mug should have been washed and put away in a kitchen cabinet; the newspapers needed to be recycled; the kite, dysfunctional, was dumpster-bound.

Yet, for better and worse, there it all sat.

I wish I could say that I’m much more intentional when it comes to carrying life’s intangibles.

Sadly, I’m not. I’m afraid I travel heavy—or at least, not as lightly as I could.

To be sure, just as some of what I’m physically carting about is purposeful and healthy, some of what I carry with me metaphorically is beneficial; there’s a lot of hope, a weathered faith and, most of the time, good humor. But if I take a careful and honest inventory, I also find that some days I can be weighed down by sadness or worry or doubt, all three of which I know I’d do well to let go, but sometimes clench tightly just the same.

The choice isn’t one supported by sacred texts or spiritual leaders.

In the Book of Jeremiah, God promises to “refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

And then there’s one of my favorite stories, found in Jon J. Muth’s “Zen Shorts.” In this particular tale, two traveling monks encounter an ill-tempered woman who couldn’t walk across a puddle without spoiling her robes. The younger monk walks past the woman, but the older monk carries her over the puddle.

Rather than thanking the monk for his kindness, however, the woman shoves him aside and leaves, with nary a word of gratitude.

As the two monks continue traveling, Muth writes that the younger one is brooding and preoccupied; eventually he speaks, stating, “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!”

The older monk notes that he set the woman down hours ago. Then he asks the younger monk: “Why are you still carrying her?”

It’s a haunting question.

What’s scary, though, is that we’re so often content to live without asking it, without accounting for all that we carry with us every day.

Taking such an inventory, and then taking responsibility for what we find, may be tricky. Yet if we summon the courage and strength to do so, we might be in for a real treat.

Contact Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com.




Extending hospitality to all creatures great and small

Mon, 18 Oct 2010 14:37:22 UTC

2010-10-18T14:44:05Z

  One hot July day, I drove over to Mobile’s animal shelter and saw Abigail for the first time. A playful puppy, she was also rather solicitous of her peers, seemingly trying to care for their well-being as best she could.  I was soon to discover her compassion didn’t extend only to puppies.  For more than nine years now,...   One hot July day, I drove over to Mobile’s animal shelter and saw Abigail for the first time. A playful puppy, she was also rather solicitous of her peers, seemingly trying to care for their well-being as best she could.  I was soon to discover her compassion didn’t extend only to puppies.  For more than nine years now, she has taken care of me with steadfast devotion, good humor and extraordinary patience. Constantly, she serves as a reminder of what unconditional love looks like.  But while Abigail may be the most significant non-human in my daily life, she’s far from the only one.  And as Laura Hobgood-Oster, author of “The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals” reminds me, the way which I choose to interact with every creature matters.  In the introduction to her new work, Hobgood-Oster writes: “As the twenty-first Christian century moves along, the state of animals, both human and other, on the earth is in constant flux with habitats shifting and species disappearing. We humans have shaped the current state of the planet to such an extent that we must recognize our impact and our import and take responsibility for how we act and on whom we act.”  According to Hobgood-Oster, Christian texts, rituals, images and practices provide resources “to instruct Christians and provide compassion for animals in today’s complicated world.”  But, she notes, “in the last several hundred years Christianity has been hesitant, at times, to include animals in either its ethical or its theological systems. Without addressing the issue of ‘the animal,’ Christianity not only lives in a potentially dangerous bubble, but it risks becoming increasingly narcissistic and marginal to the world as we know it, and as we are making it.”  In her text, which she describes as “both a religious-environmental history and a contemporary theology,” Hobgood-Oster addresses animals companions, animals in sport, animals for food and animals as our fellow inhabitants on Earth.  Again and again, she calls readers to awareness, encouraging us to consider the ethical implications of our actions, and urging us to respond with compassion. Citing Scripture, she writes of radical hospitality, and challenges us to extend that hospitality to non-humans.  “Just as early Christians broke traditional concepts of hospitality by eating with those who were considered unclean, and just as some Christians before the Civil War broke the law by opening their homes to the Underground Railroad to help escaping slaves, so does our time call for a reexamination of the boundaries of hospitality. Other animals — those faced with the threat of extinction at our hands — must now be invited into the circle.  “How will we enact this hospitality?” she asks. “Sometimes it will mean simply leaving spaces alone, not encroaching on the homes of other animals; leaving forests standing, wetlands intact. Other times it will involve creating spaces for animals who have already been displaced, providing sanctuaries or wilderness preserves. Regardless, the call to Christians for radical hospitality in the twenty-first century is a call that encompasses many species, not just humans.”  (Contact Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com.) [...]



The blessings of the common cold

Sat, 09 Oct 2010 10:22:48 UTC

2010-10-08T20:24:13Z

I am not a patient sick person. When I get a cold, I am annoyed, aggravated and altogether frustrated that my body has betrayed me. After all, I think of myself as a healthy, energetic person, not as a sneezing, hacking, tea-saturated lump under a quilt. So it is that I have spent time plotting, scheming ways to avoid...

I am not a patient sick person.

When I get a cold, I am annoyed, aggravated and altogether frustrated that my body has betrayed me. After all, I think of myself as a healthy, energetic person, not as a sneezing, hacking, tea-saturated lump under a quilt.

So it is that I have spent time plotting, scheming ways to avoid the former and stock up on the latter. Options abound these days, from antibacterial anything to supplementary everything.

Whatever I do, I know I won’t be completely successful in avoiding the plagues du jour. No one is. Plus, I now spend my days working with 3- to 6-year-olds, a population not necessarily known for extraordinary health. I’ve been warned that I will get sick.

I’m not looking forward to it.

But after reading an article by Jennifer Ackerman, author of “Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold,” I’m feeling a little bit better about the oncoming days of tea and honey.

Writing for The New York Times, Ackerman notes that in the case of the common cold, all those unpleasant symptoms are caused by the host, not the virus.

“Chemical agents manufactured by our immune system inflame our cells and tissues, causing our nose to run and our throat to swell,” she writes. “The enemy is us.”

“So,” she adds, “susceptibility to cold symptoms is not a sign of a weakened immune system, but quite the opposite. And if you’re looking to quell those symptoms, strengthening your immune system may be counterproductive. It could aggravate the symptoms by amplifying the very inflammatory agents that cause them.”

All that may seem a bit counterintuitive, but I’m not sure that it should.

We should know by now that in matters of body and spirit, looks can be deceiving. There rarely seems to be much benefit to bells and whistles, for fancy or funky packaging.

All the supplements in the world — be they physical or spiritual in nature — can’t protect us from every danger.

That’s not to say, of course, that we should resign ourselves to illness of any sort. But rather than falling prey to superstition or psuedo-science, we might engage in the simple disciplines known to help provide strength and protection. Many find their souls nourished through the age-old practices of prayer, meditation and service to others. All of us benefit from washing our hands with plain old soap.

Ultimately, what comes will come. We will suffer from common colds and uncommon heartaches. We will sniffle and hack and find ourselves overcome with lamentation.

It won’t be pretty.

But Ackerman reminds us that it may not be as bad as it seems.

So in the midst of all the coughing and sneezing, keep a watery eye peeled. It’s in precisely those moments that blessings, for reasons often beyond our understanding, might be skulking about in disguise.

Contact Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com.




Know the facts, embrace the mystery

Sat, 25 Sep 2010 09:25:47 UTC

2010-09-24T19:28:16Z

We humans are a complicated lot. We spend an enormous amount of time, energy and money seeking explanations and solutions for life’s mysteries and predicaments. We invest incredible resources in calculating the risks involved in various endeavors. But when answers emerge, it seems as if we’re often inclined to ignore them. Did we not really want to know? Did...

We humans are a complicated lot.

We spend an enormous amount of time, energy and money seeking explanations and solutions for life’s mysteries and predicaments. We invest incredible resources in calculating the risks involved in various endeavors.

But when answers emerge, it seems as if we’re often inclined to ignore them.

Did we not really want to know? Did we not like what was discovered?

I’m not sure.

Writing for The New York Times, Lisa Belkin notes that “while we certainly make constant (mis)calculations in our adult lives, we seem all the more determined yet befuddled when it comes to the safety of our children.

“For instance, the five things most likely to cause injury to children up to age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are: car accidents, homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know), child abuse, suicide or drowning. And what are the five things that parents are most worried about (according to surveys by the Mayo Clinic)? Kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers and drugs.”

Belkin goes on to cite British writer Warwick Cairns, author of “How to Live Dangerously,” who “has calculated that if you wanted to guarantee that your child would be snatched off the street, he or she would have to stand outside alone for 750,000 hours. And while we are busy inflating some risks,” Belkin continues, “we tend not to focus on others — like the obesity and diabetes that result when children are driven someplace when they could walk, or when they play video games inside instead of playing in the park.”

Maybe it’s a matter of self-preservation. If we worried as much about the greatest risks as the smallest ones, we might never do — or give children the opportunity to do — much of anything. At the same time, we undoubtedly would be well served to be a bit more responsive in addressing the true perils that surround us.

But as Belkin notes: “Our brains are not designed to process abstract or long-term risk. We were built to hear a sound, determine whether it is the growl of a saber-tooth, and then decide to run or go back to sleep. ”

For better or worse, though, we are not ruled by our minds alone.

Our souls have a say, too.

After all, at the end of the day, there are only so many assessments one can make and only so many precautions one can take and still live a vibrant, meaningful life. Eventually, we must make decisions and take action, hopefully using some combination of intelligence, compassion, hope and grace as we do so.

That means that our lives may tend to be messy. We will be complicated. We may not always be able to offer rational explanations for every decision we make.

I’m OK with that.

As the narrator of E.L. Konigsburg’s “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” observes, “Having words and explanations for everything is too modern.”

Contact Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com.




Choosing a legacy

Sat, 11 Sep 2010 12:48:09 UTC

2010-09-10T22:51:00Z

Nine years ago today, something really awful happened: A small group of men, seemingly governed by fear and hate, killed themselves and thousands of others in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. But on that same day, something really incredible also happened: Men, women and children in those places and indeed, around the globe, reached out to love, comfort... Nine years ago today, something really awful happened: A small group of men, seemingly governed by fear and hate, killed themselves and thousands of others in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. But on that same day, something really incredible also happened: Men, women and children in those places and indeed, around the globe, reached out to love, comfort and, in some cases, save others from grave and certain danger. To my mind, the heroes of 9/11, whether the firefighters who tore up the steps of the towers of the World Trade Center or the children who made sandwiches for rescue workers, are among the second group. They are those I wish to honor and emulate. They acted selflessly, offering themselves for those they likely did not know. It’s that kind of courage and compassion I hope might be the legacy of 9/11. What’s more, I hope that those of us who remember the day recognize how any religion might be contorted, and do our best to understand our own beliefs as well as the faith traditions of our neighbors. I hope this even now, though the news of late has been less than heartening. In recent weeks, interfaith understanding — to say nothing of tolerance — has not seemed to have played a prominent role as controversy has swirled around the proposed construction of an Islamic community center near the former site of the World Trade Center and one Florida pastor articulated — though has since rescinded — plans to burn copies of the Quran. Religious ignorance, bigotry and intolerance is, sadly, nothing new in this country or elsewhere. For millennia, spiritual traditions and teachings have been manipulated to condone evil of all sorts, from sexism to slavery. But one might hope that one of the lessons learned from 9/11 would be the recognition that such iniquities benefit no one; instead, we and our communities are best served when we heed the ancient and universal commandment to love our neighbors. Earlier this week, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders spoke out. They assembled in the nation’s capital, The New York Times reported, for an “emergency summit” meeting “to denounce what they called ‘the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry’ aimed at American Muslims during the controversy over the proposed Islamic community center near ground zero. “‘This is not America,’ said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the emeritus Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington. ... ‘America was not built on hate.’” What’s more, as a statement released by the interfaith group notes: “Judaism, Christianity and Islam all see an intimate link between faithfulness to God and love of neighbor; a neighbor who in many instances is the stranger in our midst. We are united in our conviction that by witnessing together in celebration of human dignity and religious freedom; by working together for interfaith understanding across communities and generations; and by cooperating with each other in works of justice and mercy for the benefit of society, all of us will demonstrate our faithfulness to our deepest spiritual commitments.” (You may reach Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com) [...]



Your work matters to us all

Sat, 04 Sep 2010 11:09:44 UTC

2010-09-03T22:10:41Z

 Sometimes I wonder if we want too much from our jobs.  Not only do many of us want them to give us at least a sustainable source of income, but we may count on them to provide us with health care benefits and provisions for long-term financial security. On top of all that, many of us look to our...

 Sometimes I wonder if we want too much from our jobs.

 Not only do many of us want them to give us at least a sustainable source of income, but we may count on them to provide us with health care benefits and provisions for long-term financial security. On top of all that, many of us look to our workplaces to fulfill social and spiritual needs.

 It’s a lot to ask.

 Even in the best situations at the best companies in the best economies, it won’t just happen on its own. It requires that we give considerable, careful thought to our endeavors.

 Long story short: If you approach your job simply as a means to a paycheck, my guess is that it’s likely to serve as little more than that.

 If, however, you view your work as an integral part of yourself, as some kind of manifestation of your identity and beliefs, that paycheck might not be enough. If you’re looking for your job to, at least in part, meet your spiritual needs, it stands to reason that you might do well to consider your work from a spiritual perspective.

 In “All You Who Labor: Work and the Sanctification of Daily Life,” Polish Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski wrote: “We do not work merely to earn the necessities of life for ourselves, but the thought of our neighbors’ need should also accompany us in our work. ... Our neighbors have to live by the work of our hands. The fruits of our work also serve the people immediately around us. This is the special commandment of our time, to conquer the selfishness of the goals that many people pursue in their work, to master low greed, to ennoble effort and competition, to encourage conscientiousness, to raise the productivity of our work beyond the limit of our own, perhaps modest, needs.”

 Imagine, then, how you might feel about getting up and going to work — not to mention doing your job — if you recognized that through your labors, you’re not only supporting yourself and your family, but your community as well. By paving streets and unclogging toilets, bagging groceries and tending to the sick, reporting injustice and picking up trash, you make life immeasurably better for your neighbors.

 It may not feel glamorous or meaningful at the time, or even ever. I can promise, though, that no matter your line of work, paid or unpaid, what you do matters. It makes a difference in your community.

 Some days it may not seem that way. You may have to sit through a meeting that’s long or boring (or both). Your clients may be cranky. Perhaps the sentiments you harbor for your coworkers and superiors are less than complimentary. Maybe you’re just feeling overwhelmed by paperwork, red tape and bureaucracy in general.

 In the midst of all that, take a deep breath. Consider, as Wyszynski noted, the work of your hands and how it influences your neighbors.

 What you do is not all about you. It’s all about us.

 (You may write Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com)




Moving forward with faith, not fear

Sat, 28 Aug 2010 12:05:43 UTC

2010-08-27T22:07:56Z

Thinking back five years ago this weekend, most of us can probably remember what we did and how we felt. None, or at best, very few of us likely had any idea just how much life was about to shift. We’d been through Hurricane Ivan the previous year, and witnessed other, more recent storms. Then Hurricane Katrina came. Water... Thinking back five years ago this weekend, most of us can probably remember what we did and how we felt. None, or at best, very few of us likely had any idea just how much life was about to shift. We’d been through Hurricane Ivan the previous year, and witnessed other, more recent storms. Then Hurricane Katrina came. Water rose. Levees failed. Courage and fear alike coursed along the coast. Those days don’t seem so long ago; the wounds, for many, continue to fester. Yet in the intervening months we have seen so much change. Life goes on, transformed in ways both within and beyond our control. Now, nearly five years later, another disaster strikes shore. The situation is one that might lead one into lamentation, and rightfully so: How much can one region take? Why the Gulf Coast, and why again? It’s the sort of thing we’re liable to say is unfair, even as we shudder at the notion of a storm serving as an employer of justice. Yet thinking back to those first few unimaginable days after Katrina, when problems loomed so large and so much seemed nearly impossible, it’s heartening to note what’s happened since. Despite the horrors of those days, so many have responded with compassion and resolve, devoted to rebuilding the communities they love. As a result, five years later, life — so far as it was battered by Hurricane Katrina — may not be back to normal. But there is life. Those along the Gulf Coast know as well as anyone that in a crisis, they cannot be paralyzed by shock and grief. Neither downed trees nor tar balls will take care of themselves. To ensure the greatest success, everyone must participate in caring for the region and its residents. Everyone must choose to live in a way that expresses justice, hope and faith. In the midst of life’s storms, natural or manmade, on the Gulf Coast or elsewhere, we may sometimes worry that such qualities are mightily scarce. When crises come, we may ask ourselves if we can, once more, rebuild lives and dreams. There’s no need for uncertainty in those matters. We can. After all, time and again, we have. In “Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of ‘A Course in Miracles,’” Marianne Williamson writes: “As I interpret the Course, ‘our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (You may write Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com) [...]



Finding our way through the very bad days

Sat, 14 Aug 2010 11:03:24 UTC

2010-08-18T16:35:04Z

I owe Judith Viorst. Not only did she bring me great joy as a child, when I read and reread her classic, “Alexander and His Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” but this summer, I’ve delighted in reading and rereading the tale of Alexander’s misery to children at the school where I work. To say that I loved...

I owe Judith Viorst.

Not only did she bring me great joy as a child, when I read and reread her classic, “Alexander and His Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” but this summer, I’ve delighted in reading and rereading the tale of Alexander’s misery to children at the school where I work.

To say that I loved the book then — not to mention now — may sound like a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing itself. What kind of person enjoys reading about a child’s misfortune?

But the point of Viorst’s slight tome isn’t to take pleasure in, much less belittle, Alexander’s litany of woe.

Instead, Viorst honors Alexander and his pain, acknowledging that bad days come to everyone, everywhere.

They just happen. And when they do, we’re probably better off just chalking them up as such rather than trying to downplay or dismiss our own lamentations.

I am, to be clear, not good at this.

Whether by discipline, genetics or some combination of both, I tend to be a glass-half-full, bloom-where-she’s-planted sort of person.

Part of it may go back to my childhood. Growing up, when things took a turn for the worse, my mom often encouraged us to think of what a great story the calamity du jour might make.

Now, when so many around the globe find themselves victims of disease, violence and poverty, I’m sure I have no cause to complain.

Still, there are times when events — not necessarily even anything all that important — don’t go quite right and just like Alexander, I get cranky and frustrated. As I do, though, I’m quickly liable to feel guilty for feeling grumpy.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that given my many blessings, being anything but thankful and happy seems terribly ungrateful — definitely not the sort of behavior associated with a person of faith.

I can’t pinpoint where I got such an idea, but upon further reflection, I’ve come to recognize it may not be a very biblical one. What’s more, it’s not genuine.

The Bible has its share of complainers: Its men and women are sometimes full of sorrow and discontent. In turn, God does not smite them for their less than sunny dispositions.

Instead, God is there, steadfast in the midst of their suffering, epic or not.

At the end of Alexander’s awful day, things don’t suddenly turn around. He gets soap in his eyes, his night light burns out and the cat wants to sleep with his brother — not him.

Lest the reader be unclear, we’re reminded that it has been “a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

Alexander’s mother informs him that some days are like that.

For anyone who’s ever felt guilty for griping, her words are somehow comforting. They don’t dismiss the sadness or require the grieving party to see his suffering as redemptive. Through her words, she acknowledges her son’s situation and is present with him.

Grace is like that.

(You may write Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com)




Caring for body and soul

Sat, 07 Aug 2010 11:07:37 UTC

2010-08-06T21:11:46Z

I doubt that spiritual leaders are unfamiliar with the admonitions to rest found in scripture. Many of them just seem to have a hard time putting those words into practice. Earlier this week, Paul Vitello reported in The New York Times that “members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans....

I doubt that spiritual leaders are unfamiliar with the admonitions to rest found in scripture.

Many of them just seem to have a hard time putting those words into practice.

Earlier this week, Paul Vitello reported in The New York Times that “members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”

The solution to this ailing state of clerical affairs?

Vitello writes that “a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off.”

Indeed, Vitello notes that in recent years some denominations have taken steps to stress the importance of clergy taking time away from work.

That’s no easy task for a population likely to be well-versed in the virtues of self-sacrifice.

“They think that taking care of themselves is selfish, and that serving God means never saying no,” said Dr. Gwen Wagstrom Halaas, author of “The Right Road: Life Choices for Clergy,” in The New York Times story.

Such behavior, however, is not advocated in sacred texts.

One of the Ten Commandments in the Judeo-Christian tradition is to observe a day of rest. Sacred texts note that religious leaders took time to get away every now and again.

Still, as lay people know just as well as clerics, it’s often difficult to practice what we preach. Caring for oneself after days or months or years of not doing so may prove challenging for some. There are those who may feel guilty for not only remembering sabbath time but keeping it.

Yet clerics, particularly those who wish to serve as role models or spiritual guides for the rest of us, must make time to care for their bodies.

As they do so, they may discover they’re caring for their souls as well. What’s more, they’re liable to be better equipped, physically and spiritually, to care for those around them.

In a passage from “Pray All Ways” I’m sure I’ve cited before, Edward Hays notes that the word “sleep” comes from the German word, “schlaff,” meaning “loose.” Hays writes: “To sleep or to nap then is to ‘hang loose,’ to be un-tight and to let go. Sleep at night or in short periods before bedtime is a beautiful expression of prayer since it is resting in God. It is letting go of our control of life. Sleep is a parable on prayer and is itself a prayer. ...

“Sleep is a form of humility for it says, ‘God is saving the world.’ To let go for coffee breaks or naps and to do so without guilt allows God a chance to save the world!”

(You may write Kristen Campbell at kcampbell@press-register.com)