Friday, July 25, 2014

The Human Spirit Will Prevail

“That thing isn’t even human!!”  Those are the words I heard come out of my mouth upon seeing my first transsexual person, and it bothers me to this day that I said them.  A friend had taken me to a dance and standing in the center of the room was a very tall person. My friend told me about her and what that meant.  I was so appalled and horror-stricken, we decided to leave and go elsewhere.

Not long after the above incident, I had gone into a Christian bookstore.  I was the only customer so the clerk and I struck up a conversation in which he began to tell me about his current situation.  He proceeded to tell me that he had been a man, became a woman, and was in the process of becoming a man again.  Just then two others came into the store.  We began talking and the man began to tell me about the woman he was with.  She had been a man, went through the process of becoming a woman, and was going to become a man again.  Because of a change in religious beliefs, these two people were told they were no longer acceptable as they were, so they had to change back to the way they were before. 

Before I could leave, someone suggested that we hold hands in a circle and pray.  Next thing I knew I was standing there and on each side of me I was holding hands with one of these “freaks.”  Then something happened.  While someone was praying, I heard the words in my mind very clearly, just as if someone was standing there speaking them aloud, “Karen, these are my children, and I love them just as much as any of my children.”  Did I really just hear those words?  No one in the circle spoke them.  Therefore I knew that Spirit was gently giving me a wonderful message.  I may not have had an instant turnaround in my thinking or beliefs, but a seed was planted that would continue to grow and manifest until they took hold years later.  I learned that we are all children of God and that we are all loved equally. 

Since then, I’ve met and gotten to know so many wonderful people who happen to be gay and I love them dearly.  They are some of the nicest, kindest, most accepting people I know.  It pains me to see the discrimination, even hate, which they have to deal with in our society, much of it being propagated by some religions and politicians.  Jesus made it very clear that we are to love one another regardless of color, race, religion, politics, sexual preference, gender, and so on.

Being straight, I don’t understand what makes someone gay.  But I also don’t understand what makes people fall in love, the miracle of childbirth, or any other wonderful mysteries life bestows upon us.  I am not going to get into any Biblical or political arguments over people’s beliefs about this.  The point I’m trying to make is that these are human beings.  They laugh, cry, hurt, and feel joy. They're kind, compassionate, and they love deeply. They care about others and will help them when and where they can. They're humanitarians, philanthropists, and they care about what happens to our world. They live in all corners of the earth, from all professions, races, cultures, and religions. They love their family, friends, and pets, and they grieve when they lose them.  You don’t have to agree with the lifestyle.  That’s your choice.  But they don’t deserve to be hated and treated horribly just because of perceived differences.

History has shown us that since the beginning of humankind, discrimination, hatred, bigotry, and ignorance have been perpetuated against various cultures and groups of people.  But history has also taught us that the human spirit is strong and we will prevail until all are loved and accepted equally.  American Indians, Jews, Japanese, gays, Muslims, Hispanics, woman, and so on have been discriminated against and/or oppressed at one time or another, or continue to be to this day.  What history is also teaching us, though, is that oppressing any person or any group of people is not our natural state of being.  People are starting to ‘get it.’  We really are one and it really is all about unconditional love for all beings.

It's time to stop the hating towards anyone.  Nelson Mandela said it best when he stated, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper July 25, 2014.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

We Are the World!

“There comes a time when we heed a certain call; When the world must come together as one; There are people dying; And it's time to lend a hand to life; The greatest gift of all.  We can't go on pretending day by day; That someone, somewhere will soon make a change; We all are a part of God's great big family; And the truth, you know, Love is all we need.  We are the world, we are the children; We are the ones who make a brighter day; So let's start giving; There's a choice we're making; We're saving our own lives; It's true we'll make a better day; Just you and me.  Send them your heart so they'll know that someone cares; And their lives will be stronger and free; As God has shown us by turning stone to bread; So we all must lend a helping hand.  When you're down and out, there seems no hope at all; But if you just believe there's no way we can fall; Well...well...well; Let's realize that a change can only come; When we stand together as one.”

The above are lyrics to “We Are the World (USA for Africa)” which were written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, and sung by over 45 well-known musicians.  The proceeds were used to feed starving people in Africa.  But the song could be used just as much today because the words speak to the hearts of so many

There is so much going on in the world right now.  So much violence, hate, bigotry, and fighting.  If you watch, read, or listen to any of the medias, you will hear mostly all negative news.  It is very rare that the media will communicate any of the good that is occurring, and my friends, there is so much good occurring all over the world! 

It’s hard not to wonder what on earth is going on with people now-a-days.  The hate and vitriol that is being spewed forth from religious leaders, politicians, and others is just mind-boggling!  But what you’re not hearing is that there are people all over the world who are coming together in harmony to help each other and to be of service to humanity. 

People are awakening!  We know that we are brothers and sisters on this great planet of ours! We look for what we have in common rather than focusing on any perceived differences. We know that when people work to destroy others, we’re only destroying ourselves.  But when we work together in love, peace, and harmony, we build a strong foundation where we can lift each other up. 

There are many protests happening all over our country and in the world, and it’s the violent, horrifying ones that are making the news.  Not too long ago, there was a protest in Turkey that made world history though you probably didn’t hear about it.  One man began his protest by just standing.  Standing for hours; not moving.  Others began to join him.  Soon it became a movement in various parts of the world where people would protest by just standing.  No violence.  By peaceful protesting, they made an impact like no other.

Back in 1986, there was an event I participated in called “Hands Across America.”  Almost seven million people held hands in a human chain that crossed the continental United States from New York to California.  Celebrities, politicians, people from all races, religions, cultures, and genders came together for the greater good.  Money raised was donated to help fight hunger and homelessness.  The feeling of knowing we were a part of something so great and wonderful was very exciting!  And no one was harmed!

There are many of us in the world who are the peacekeepers, the light workers, those who know that if we are to move forward, we have got to come together as one.  We need to start standing up for what’s right, good, loving, and kind, and do so with compassion in our hearts.  The challenge is that we’re not the complainers, nor do we attack others in public, so our message is not being heard like those who only know hatred.  But we can make a difference.  One person and one cause at a time.


Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper July 18, 2014.


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Friday, July 11, 2014

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

“‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invited you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)

I don’t know how much clearer Jesus and other writers in the Bible could have made it.  And yet, we’re still not getting it.  What Jesus is saying is that he appears as each being on this planet and when we treat others bad, then we’re treating Jesus the same. 

It makes me really sad when I see so many various religious leaders and politicians doing so much harm to so many people all in the name of God.  We were commanded to love each other.  Jesus even made it a new commandment over all other commandments when he said, “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34-35)  Could he have made it any clearer?   Yet people instead pick verses out of the Bible that propagate hate and separation over Jesus’ greatest command of all.

It’s so easy to see people as less than or to make them outcasts or demonize them because that gives us an excuse not to love them.  We do it to the gays, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, the poor, homeless, sick, uninsured, anyone who doesn’t believe the way we do, and countless others.  We buy into what the religious and political leaders say because we think they know more than we do, that they’re smarter, or that they must have some special ties to God that we don’t have.  And yet in 1 John 4:7-8, it says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 

I have a picture on Facebook that shows the face of Jesus in the Universe looking down on the earth, a tear gently falling down his cheek, and with the caption, “What part of loving one another do you not understand?”

We are to learn to love others….unconditionally.  That doesn’t mean we condone the behavior when they harm others, and yet what’s ironic is that we’re condoning this very behavior from the leaders who are doing so much harm with their words and actions!  We still have to be accountable for our actions.  But it’s sad that so many leaders are teaching such hate, bigotry, and ignorance and so many blindly believe whatever they say.

Jesus and all the other great spiritual masters taught unconditional love and that we should be coming together in peace and harmony.  Yet there are so many who are working really hard to separate us, including some news stations and talk show hosts.  They teach us to focus on our differences rather than what we have in common.  They denigrate individuals or groups of people in order to keep those separations in place so that they can get the masses to agree with their own personal beliefs. 

Please don’t misunderstand.  There are many wonderful religious leaders and politicians who do get it, who really care, and know that if we want peace, we have to first learn to love.  They’re trying, but the media only focuses on the negative so we don’t hear about them. 

Buddha said “Radiate boundless love towards the entire world above, below, and across unhindered without ill will, without enmity.”  The Dalai Lama stated, “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”  And even Mother Teresa stated, “Spread love everywhere you go.  Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”

We have our work cut out for us, friends.  There are many of us who are trying to focus on love and what’s good in the world.  We’re getting there.  As Aesop stated so well, “United we stand.  Divided we fall.”  Namaste`


Printed in the Cookeville Herald Citizen July 11, 2014.
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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Churches ~ Dealing with Emergency Situations

Imagine you’re sitting at church listening to your minister.  Suddenly, you smell what hints to be smoke, but you think it has to be your imagination so you put it out of your mind.  A minute later, you notice the smell is becoming stronger.  You look around and see that others are becoming aware that something is wrong and yet no one seems to be taking action.  You realize with horror that there must be a fire in the church.

Change the scenario.  Again, you’re in church.  Outside there is a major thunderstorm.  The wind is howling and there is torrential rain ramming the side of the building.  Hail starts to ping off the outside walls.  It is then that you hear a faint sound…the sound of the tornado siren in town.  Again, everyone looks around uncomfortably, but no one is moving.

New scenario.  You’re in church and everyone’s attention is on the minister.  All of a sudden, you hear the back door bang open.  When you turn around, you are horrified to see a deranged man with an AK47 pointed at the congregants.  No one moves.

Three situations.  All requiring some form of emergency action.  Would your church know what to do to save lives?  Does your church even have some type of emergency plan in place?  Do you have designated members appointed who would know what to do and could take charge in any emergency that may arise?  You’d be surprised how many churches, large and small, do not. 

Many think the chances of something happening at their church, particularly when services are in session, are extremely rare.  Or they may believe that God will take care of them so they don’t have to worry.  Yet it has happened in numerous churches throughout history.   It only takes one time for people to be seriously injured and/or killed.  I don’t think any church wants to have that on their conscious.

It is extremely important to have an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) in place regardless of what you think the chances are of having an emergency situation actually occur in your church.  The time you take to put one in place will be well worth the effort if an emergency should happen. 

The first thing you can do is to get a copy of the state or local risk assessment from your local emergency management agency.  This assessment would contain information of potential threats and hazards in your community that could also affect churches.  Depending on the part of the country you live in, you could be susceptible to fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, violence, and so on. 

There isn’t room in this article to go over every single detail, but I would like to give some basics and will also note a very good resource at the end to help you put together a very effective EOP. 

1.  OSHA requires the posting of building evacuation plans, fire evacuation maps, and easily seen emergency exit signs above all doors in order to meet the building code requirements.

2.   Make sure that you have sufficient fire extinguishers available and have numerous people trained to use them.  They should be hung in easily locatable areas with a red Fire Extinguisher sign above or next to it.  Also make sure you have adequate and reliable smoke alarms in various rooms.

3.    Have a detailed evacuation plan in case you need to evacuate everyone from the building.  All exits should be clear at all times; all doors should open outwards.

4.    Appoint a safety team of members who attend regularly and train them how to get people out quickly and as safely as possible. There should be at least several people who will be in charge in the event of an emergency, though one person should take the lead.  This person would make the final decisions so that there is no confusion among the team in a panic situation.  Members of the safety team should also be trained in communicating with outside emergency personnel.  We may think that in an emergency situation, everyone would act in an orderly manner, but when panic sets in, all bets are off.  Having someone in an authority position can help keep people calm and thinking clearly.

5.   Appoint “Buddies” who would be in charge of helping the disabled and the elderly.  There should be a plan as to whether they should physically try to carry someone to safety either by carrying the individual themselves or using a chair as a carrying tool.  If you have babies and small children in separate rooms, you will need assigned teams to immediately go to those rooms to get the children out and then get them to their parents in the safe areas. 

6.    You should have a safe area designated in the event of a tornado or extremely high winds.  In the event of a tornado, do not stay in the open sanctuary or any open room.  Get people into the smallest areas, away from doors, windows, and as close to structured walls as possible.  Check with your town’s fire department to verify what the siren means.  Some set them off for severe thunderstorm warnings or because an actual tornado has been sighted in the area. 

7.     In the event of a fire or even a hint of a fire, evacuate everyone to a safe area away from the building and keep everyone together.  Do not take chances that it’s something minor.  Many buildings can burn quickly, so it’s not worth the risk of waiting.  Immediately call 9/11.  Members of the safety team should immediately get fire extinguishers and check the building to try to find the source.  If it is a highly active fire, do not try to put out the fire yourself as they can get out of hand very quickly.  Do not move cars unless you need to make room for emergency vehicles. 

8.     Churches should be equipped with emergency lights that come on in the event the electric should go out, and they should be placed in various rooms for adequate lighting.  Do not assume that street lights from the outside will be enough light.  In a storm, they may also go out.

9.     In the event of any evacuation, and if it’s safe to do so, your EOP team should quickly ‘sweep’ all rooms to make sure everyone has gone to the designated areas.  Yell out so people can hear you.  Make sure that everyone is accounted for.

10. A team should be trained for first aid. Have at least a couple of good sized first aid kits easily accessible in various parts of the building.  You might also want to look into getting an automated external defibrillator in case of heart attacks.  The Cookeville Mended Hearts has a program where they will donate defibrillators to churches who have a certain consistent number of attendees.  There are also other organizations who offer grants for these defibrillators. 

11.  Supply your local fire and police departments with reliable contact names and phone numbers in case of emergencies.  You can also give them your building schematics, emergency plans, and the location of your utility shut off valves, which they will keep on file.

General evacuations for fire and weather are basically standard in that the procedures can pretty much be followed step-by-step.  In the event of a gunman entering your church with the threat to cause harm, procedures can only be followed so far.  Hopefully, this will never happen in your church, but as we see in the news, it does happen.  In 2008, two people were killed and seven wounded in Knoxville at a Unitarian Church.  In 2012, six people were killed and four injured during a shooting in Wisconsin at a Sikh Temple. In 2013, a minister was shot and killed during the service in at Atlanta Tabernacle.  Just Google church shootings and you will see how much more common these tragedies are occurring.

There is no profile that exists for shooters; however, you can be aware that there may be signs or indicators. Whether the signs are minimal or obvious, many people go into denial thinking that it couldn’t actually be happening; therefore, they don’t say anything.  Your emergency team should be trained to skip the denial and act immediately.  You should also have a plan to safely alert everyone in the building.

In the event of someone coming into your church with a gun with the intention to cause harm, this is when you should apply the Run/Hide/Fight rules:

Run:  If you able to get your people out safely, do so immediately and quietly, and get them as far away from the building as possible.  Leave personal belongings behind.  Know your escape routes as there is always a possibility that one or more could be blocked. 

Hide:  Have safe rooms that have thick walls and doors.  Lock and barricade the doors, turn out the lights, cover the windows, and stay along a wall closest to the exit but out of the view of the hallway.  Silence all electronic devices and remain silent.  If you can do so safely, communicate to emergency personnel your location.  Remain in place until given the all clear by identifiable law enforcement.

Fight:  This is definitely a very last resort if you are unable to run or hide.  If in the vicinity of the shooter, the main thing is to try to keep everyone calm.  Your minister or someone from your emergency team should be trained on how to try to talk someone down without escalating the situation.  If this is not possible, then adults in immediate danger should try to overtake the shooter by using aggressive force and/or using items in their area such as chairs and other heavy objects.  There is a risk in fighting back so it is a judgment call based on the individual situations.  Again this is a last resort.

There is a lot more information available that I obviously cannot include here.  An excellent source to help you develop your Emergency Operations Plan is found at Whitehouse.gov.   It also includes many emergency plan details.  I would highly recommend your church printing this off and then following through in developing your own EOP and training your emergency team.   This information can be found at:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/developing_eops_for_houses_of_worship_final.pdf.

When it comes to church safety, the saying “it’s better to be safe than sorry” is a very good motto to keep in mind.  Don’t wait.  Lives could depend on it.  Remember…it takes only one time to cause serious injuries or deaths.  Keep your members safe!

Published in the Putman County Visions Magazine, July 2014 issue.