Author Archives: ray

“weigh the evidence and do the math”

In a delightfully pointed and insightful op-ed piece in today’s RALEIGH NEWS & OBSERVER, Dr. Charles Van Der Horst calls our new state governor to task for his decidedly divisive and damaging decision to deny over a half million working state citizens access to health insurance. Dr. Van Der Horst, a previous AIDS researcher in Malawi and South Africa, and now a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, writes with a wealth of direct personal experience of the disaster of over-burdened health systems unable to provide basic care of society.

North Carolina is now in that situation. Governor McCrory, has his own ideological and partisan political goals. That much is already painful obvious. But, it is shameful that he is so quickly using his power to reject Medicaid for our state and relegate so many thousands of our fellow citizens to insufficient health care.

Like Dr. Van Der Horst, I have spent much of my life working in areas of the world where poverty and broken health systems have caused millions of needless deaths and untold suffering. It is inconceivable to me that an educated leader would allow such to happen if it could be prevented. That a governor of North Carolina would turn his back on the opportunity for providing better health care to the citizens of our state is just incomprehensible.

In Dr. Van Der Horst’s own words, “We are not a healthy state. North Carolina already has high infant mortality (46th in US), low birth weigh (44th), and diabetes (42nd). We need more health care, not less.

Good leadership is about more than ideology and rhetoric. Basic morality must come first. A liberal arts education taught me that. Maybe the governor needs to go back to school.

by doing brave acts

How do we go about ending hunger in our lifetime? What do we need to do to truly make a difference for those in our human family suffering in the shadow of starvation? How do we create the global movement necessary to change the world forever?

Each of those questions could be correctly answered in a variety of ways. There is no single right approach to tackling the obscenity of hunger. And as I have so often stated, everything we do on behalf of the poor and hungry makes a real difference.

Aristotle wrote that,

Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it: men come to be builders, for instance, by building. and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts, we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave.

Ending hunger in our lifetime simply requires us to do that which we know is right in our hearts and minds and our deepest consciousness. We will end hunger in our lifetime by actually doing it.

Achieving a world without hunger is possible. Never doubt it. It simply requires us to learn how by actually doing it. It requires us to do brave acts in the name of justice. And in my opinion, there’s no better time to start than right now.

“from your Valentine”

Tomorrow is the big day. Valentine’s Day is here. And I agree the day truly deserves celebrating. It’s the how that bothers me.

For the millions who celebrate this day of romance and spending, I mean love, precious few really know the origin of the day, and how it has been warped by Madison Avenue into a consumeristic orgy of romance.

Even thought the extant accounts of his life vary, Valentine, or Valentinus in Latin, is a widely recognized third century Roman saint. Saint Valentine’s Day has been celebrated as a feast day since the High Middle Ages.

The feast of St. Valentine on February 14 was actually established in 496 AD by Pope Gelasius I. he included Valentine among those “…whose names are justly revered among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”

Although there are several divergent stories of this saint’s life, the most widely recognized is that Valentine was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius Gothicus. The priest Valentinus was arrested and imprisoned aiding Christians who were being heavily persecuted during this period.

Refusing to renounce his faith, Valentine was sentenced to death. He was to be beaten with clubs and then beheaded. One legend says that while in jail and awaiting his execution, Valentine restored the sight of the jailer’s blind daughter. On the eve of his his execution the saint penned a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter, signing it, “From your Valentine.”

So now, in honor of this martyred saint, we spend untold millions of dollars to demonstrate our affection to one another. There are far better ways to demonstrate love, and far better ways, as well, to honor the life of a saint.

the perfect stillness

It’s always a mystery to me how our consumeristic society can so quickly and easily turn something so beautiful into something so profitable. Valentine’s Day is a case in point.

In three days we will celebrate Valentine’s Day. And all of us know what that means. For anyone with a spouse, partner, or significant other, the day “mandates:”
A. an expensive (and for full credit) sentimental card
B. a box of fancy chocolates
C. at least a dozen red roses
D. a nice dinner (preferably at a restaurant of note)
E. jewelry or (in extreme cases)
F. all of the above

Cash registers across the country are singing their happy song! How much can we be guilted into spending to insure that special someone really knows how much we care?

What never ceases to amaze me, however, is how completely we have bought into this mindless “spend to prove you love me” orgy. Love is not about roses, or even chocolates, no matter how decadently delicious they might be. While giving thoughtful gifts to those we love is never out of season, poor Saint Valentine is surely rolling over in his grave at the way we profane his day.

I’ll talk more about the saint in my next post, but for now I just want to close with a poem from one of the most influential female saints in Islam. Her name is Rabia of Basra, and she lived around 717-801. She is another of my favorite poets. The poem is entitled THE PERFECT STILLNESS.

Love is
the perfect stillness
and the greatest excitement, and most profound act,
and the word almost as complete
as His name.

Valentine’s Day fast approaches

As we approach Valentine’s Day I would like to recommend the First Letter of John in the New Testament as a good resource. The writer provides some powerful insights into the true nature of love.

John talks about what love looks like and how it acts. He talks about true love, and what love is and isn’t. He talks about loving God and loving one another, and how there cannot be one without the other.

John gives us clear instructions on loving one another and why. He even tells us how to love, which the great bard, himself, picked up on and used in The Two Gentlemen of Verona when he penned “They do not love that do not show their love.”

I am pretty sure that is Shakespeare’s paraphrase of I John 3:18, where John tells us, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

I only wish that Shakespeare would have included the 17th verse as well, which is what verse 18 refers to. The two verses need to be read together.

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or tongue, but in deed and truth.

Valentine’s Day fast approaches, and the writer of First John is a good resource to help us celebrate the day appropriately, even if he doesn’t mention candy, roses or sentimental greeting cards.

the ultimate truth

I am a poet. And although I enjoy almost all poetry, I am especially drawn to the work of mystical and ecstatic writers. The struggle to express the inexpressible is a powerful magnet for me.

One poet I read a great deal is the the great Indian mystic, Rabindranath Tagore. I recently came across a quote from him worth repeating.

In love we find a joy which is ultimate because it is the ultimate truth.

Tagore is right. Love is the ultimate truth. As the Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, wrote, “He who loves brings God and the world together.”

Isn’t this exactly what our broken and hurting world needs? Isn’t this what will lead us to a world where hunger is nothing more than a distant memory?

Abdul Baha, who lived in the mid nineteenth century, captured my feelings perfectly in I HEARD HIM SAY, when he wrote:

Let us have love and more love; a love that conquers all foes, a love that sweeps away all barriers, a love that aboundeth in charity, a large-heartedness, tolerance, forgiveness, and noble striving, a love that triumphs over all obstacles.

This is the love of dynamite power. This is the love that heals the world. This is the love that can end hunger in our lifetime. This is the love in which we can truly find the joy that is ultimate. This is the love that is the ultimate truth.

the principle of existence

As we fast approach St. Valentines Day, I thought a word or two about love might be in order. Experience has taught me that many of us have some misconceptions about the day itself, and even the subject of love.

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” Saint Augustine

The truth of Augustine’s words continue to echo down through the centuries since they were first penned by this saint. True love is manifested in action. Love is not gushy sentiments, Hallmark cards, expensive chocolates, and dozens of roses. Love is the active response to those around us most in need.

Benjamin Disraeli wrote that, “We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end.”

how beauftiful that would be

I know that a world without hunger is possible. And I know that world is possible in my lifetime. Achieving such a world, however, calls for a radical restructuring of our priorities, something most of us cannot even begin to seriously consider.

Just think what we could accomplish toward healing our broken world if we focused on helping one another rather than destroying one another. Even a small step in this direction could result in almost unbelievable good for our human family.

Mother Teresa understood the power of love. She wrote that,

“If all the money that is being spent on finding ways to kill people was used instead to feed them and house them—how beautiful that would be. We are often afraid of the sacrifices we might have to make. But where there is true love, there is joy and peace.”

As a person of faith, I truly believe we have a moral obligation to help work toward a world filled with true love, a world of joy and peace. Such a world will never be achieved through military might.

Isn’t it time we start looking more seriously at our priorities and moving more intentionally toward reducing military spending. Faithfulness in a hungry world demands that all people of faith seek justice for those being held captive by hunger and poverty. One way to do that is to begin spending far less on military armaments and far more on those of our human family that daily face the threat of malnourishment, hunger, and even starvation.

I, for one, would be perfectly content and much happier with less military protection and a world where more of my family were allowed the opportunity to experience a life with hunger. How beautiful would that be?