Tag Archives: Health

A day like any other day

“It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that masses of people joined in.”

—Rosa Parks

What are you joining in on during this ordinary day?

English: Signature of Rosa Parks.

English: Signature of Rosa Parks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All is one

In Friday’s post , SchoolBOX president Tom Affleck told us that the most rewarding aspect of his work has been witnessing creation—seeing his work begin as a mustard seed and then grow and evolve.

He refers to the biblical quote from the books of Luke or Matthew (take your pick) that say that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. This is yet another occasion for us to free ourselves from the prison of literalist thinking and embrace the offerings of metaphor: the potential for a compassionate world lies within tiny seeds that don’t look like they could ever amount to much.

We see this in power-of-one stories: Tom’s mustard seed came to him the moment he realized that he had changed a girl’s life; Terry Fox sowed his mustard seed when he decided to run across Canada; Ryan Hreljac was six years old when he planted the seeds for the Ryan’s Well Foundation.

Compassion and perseverance

All of these stories have two things in common: compassion and perseverance. These people began their journeys for selfless reasons, only to help others. These people persevered on their journeys through trying times and inclement weather. How easy would it have been for any of them to stop? Who would have blamed them?

But, they didn’t. They persevered, transforming the power of one into the power of many. When compassion lies at the core, a story ripples out to touch more and more people, who then tell the story to ripple out and touch more and more people.

Cancer, lack of clean water in Africa, and illiteracy in Central America—these are big issues. Who would think that one person could make a difference? Terry, Ryan and Tom, that’s who. 

Each of us can plant a mustard seed.

When we do, at the beginning, we will feel all alone. At the beginning, the magnitude of the problem we’re trying to overcome will seem overwhelming. We will think, “What difference can one person make?”

One person is a mustard seed containing the potential for a compassionate world. If you plant your seed and persevere, your story will ripple out and touch more and more people, and you won’t be alone for long.

I want to live like Alex

At Alex McKeague’s funeral, I learned I want to live like Alex.

The crowd crammed into pews until elbow room evaporated, and then the crowd crammed some more. When every inch of every pew was full, ushers scurried to bring extra chairs to line the aisles front to back. I looked on with wonder at the overflowing multi-faith, multi-generational, multi-cultural assembly of people whose lives Alex had touched in his 80-plus years and thought, “I’ve got to learn to live like Alex.”

If I dare.

It is not an easy road to extra chairs at your funeral.

To live like Alex, I would need to take action and not say, “I’m sure someone else will do it.” To live like Alex, I would need to speak up for what is right, even when it is not the popular option. To be truly alive like Alex, I would need to be the voice in the wilderness crying out for changes to make the world more compassionate, equitable, peaceful.

During his memorial service, Rev. Ellie Barrington compared Alex to the powerful biblical prophet, Isaiah, tirelessly working to loose the bonds of injustice, to share bread with the hungry, to repair the breaches in our world and restore the streets we live in. Alex tapped into some mysterious energy force we would all love to find to do more good work for our world in a week than many people do in a year, or even a lifetime.

Alex founded the Carlington Chaplaincy in Ottawa to help feed and nurture residents of a challenged neighbourhood. He gave them more than food; he granted them potential. Alex collected skates, tennis racquets, or hockey equipment for children in need. He gave them more than sports equipment; he gave them inclusion. Alex rode his bike when he could, even during draining chemotherapy treatments. He gave us more than clean air; he gave us inspiration.

Alex couldn’t coexist peacefully with injustices. He couldn’t overlook a need, and he never tired of making the world better.

Sounds good. Sounds like what we all should be doing.

But most of us don’t. I don’t.

Most of us set up our walled defence of excuses. I do.

I don’t have time today.
There are programs in place for that.
I’m afraid.
That person is getting what he deserves.

Alex, the prophet, took action to change things when sticking to the status quo would have been easier—the tempting, deliciously attractive, effortless, risk-free status quo. Alex, the prophet, had a gift for bravely stepping in where others feared to tread.

But Alex’s true gift lay in handing out the difficult truths to resistant audiences and achieving the miracle of illumination. When Alex spoke in his quiet way, people somehow knew they could no longer accept the unacceptable. Alex’s soft handling of the hard truths encouraged us to join his vision for a better, more just world. His quiet words held loud power. This gentle Isaiah knew that if you want to make the world better, start with your corner, and never give up.

I remember Alex sitting week after week in the church lobby selling grocery gift cards as a fundraiser for the Carlington Chaplaincy. Those less committed to righting the world’s wrongs breezed past his determined dedication with barely a glance.

That was the thing about Alex—he was easy to underestimate.

He obtained a doctorate, but there was no “Call me Dr. McKeague” from him. He instructed his son, Paul, to not make him “look like a big shot” at the funeral. He wanted the rewards of his actions to fall on those who needed the help, not on himself. It was okay with him that we all looked toward his causes, helping them, supporting them, only glancing back after he was gone to realize that he had been the foundation, the catalyst for so much good work.

Alex was fulfilled, purposeful, always learning and stretching himself in new ways, happy. He showed that deep, long-lasting happiness is a paradox. We think to find it we need to focus on ourselves and our emotional comforts and material bonuses. We think happiness comes wrapped as a big screen TV. But the opposite is true. Alex knew that happiness doesn’t live in the mirror. He turned his back on self-reflection and looked out to find how to fulfill the needs of others.

I wondered for a time if my admiration for Alex was a bit exaggerated. Maybe my glowing memories cast too bright a light on his accomplishments? Then I learned that the Church in Society committee, of which Alex was a dedicated member, when considering a course of action would ask themselves one question:

What would Alex do?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who aspires to live like Alex. I’m not the only one who sees that life as lived by Alex is not far removed from some of the most inspirational spiritual leaders of our day.

Alex was like that. He lived to a standard that the rest of us find difficult to achieve. When Alex was here, following his lead came naturally. But now that he’s gone, can I risk carrying that torch? Can I go from being a writer to being a righter? Can I be a female Isaiah? Can I overcome the stumbling blocks of polite society? Be nice. Obey the rules. Don’t rock the boat. What will people think?

I’ll try. Because at Alex’s funeral I learned I want to live like Alex so that when I die they will need lots of extra chairs.

It seems that Alex altered the course of my life, as any good prophet would.

I’ll start with my corner of the world.

Top 10 reasons to belong to a faith community

10. Critical thinking

There are faith communities out there that don’t want to tell you what to think! There are faith communities out there that say, “Let me share something with you so that we can explore this mystery together.” Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples provide places for you to sit and listen and really ponder matters fundamental to our lives together.

9. A community of support

When life brings you to your knees (and it will) a faith community helps you through. The connections forged at deep levels in these groups help people to rebuild lives after tragic events like the loss of a child, the early death of a spouse, or a house fire.

8. Lifelong learning

“I am still learning,” Michelangelo said. An insatiable curiosity drives happiness, and faith communities come with an endless supply of brain teasers.

7. Singing!

Our popular culture provides so few opportunities for belting out a tune. If you want to sing, play the guitar, or bang a drum, we have the place for you. Best of all, when you sing in these venues, even a solo, you don’t have to be perfect. The audiences are very forgiving.

6. Child education

What does the wisdom of Solomon mean? Under what circumstances might one require the patience of Job? What is a David and Goliath situation? How many prodigal sons, or daughters, do you know? Have you ever been the Good Samaritan? Our societies, our art and our literature contain religious references which would be meaningless without adequate education about our heritages. 

5. Ritual

Humans create rituals. It is what we do. Jumping into, or out of, any particular activity without some form of ritual just feels wrong. At a hockey game we introduce the players and sing the national anthem. At graduation ceremonies we wear gowns, deliver moving speeches, give individual rewards, and have a group celebration. Faith communities provide grounding rituals for the most pivotal moments in our lives. Sometimes the comfort of ritual is all that gets someone through the night.

4. Peace

When I returned to church as an adult, I did it for my daughter. I was shocked to discover there was something for cynical old me there too. At the time I had a young baby, I worked full time and we had just moved to a new house. I was a little stressed. When I went to church each week, I left my baby in the care of the nursery workers and sat in the pew. I expected to sit and roll my eyes at everything the minister said. Instead each week he said something that made me think.  Each week he said things that surprised me, challenged me. Each week, at some point, I had tears in my eyes. That hour of peace each week fulfilled a need in me that I didn’t even know I had.

3. Helping others

Faith communities pick up where social agencies drop off. The charitable donations and volunteer activities of members of all kinds of faith communities keep many aspects of our society afloat. Used clothing donations, homework programs, soup kitchens, food banks, emergency assistance, global outreach. The charitable deeds amount to millions of volunteer hours and billions of dollars.

2. Creativity and growth

One of my minister’s favourite statements is, “Do it, and you’ll grow.” This simple statement has encouraged many to take on tasks that initially made their fingertips tingle with fear. Our involvement with faith communities pushes us to do work that stretches us past our comfort zone.  Every time we climb over our fear and break through that barrier, we grow. We learn to get past fear. Are you brave enough to deliver a Christmas basket to a family in need and share the experience in their home? Would you teach Sunday School? Preach a sermon? Do it, and you’ll grow.

And the number 1 reason to belong to a faith community . . .

1. Fun

So many of the activities in faith communities are just plain fun!