Building Community


Building Community

Takes time.

Time for coffee with a friend, time to say hi on the street,

Time in the grocery store to ask how someone is doing,

Time to listen, and have that five minute conversation, and

Not worry about the to do list, the errands yet to be run.

 

Building community

Is giving someone else the credit, get the award,

Have the idea you had become theirs,

Letting someone work through the process and stumble

When you could do it twice as fast, knowing that they are learning

And will be proud of their accomplishment when the work is done, and to

Know we will all be better off because of that.

 

Building community

Is teaching skills and quietly providing tools

Helping someone grow in confidence and pride

While you stand back, and just coach, mentor, applaud,

Brag about them to others about how they are growing.

 

Building community

Is letting the gossip stop with you, not passing it on,

Not finding something to criticize, or mock, or disparage

And instead, to praise, to applaud, to find the good in something,

And let the flowers bloom in someone else’s yard,

To quietly weed when no one else is looking, and let someone else

Take all the credit.

After all, don’t we just want the flowers to bloom?

 

Building community

Is to keep smiling, to praise, to recognize the good in someone,

To remind yourself that you haven’t walked that mile in someone else’s

Shoes, that you don’t really know all of their story,

And that we are all on a journey

Together.

 

–Neal Lemery 5/16/2017

Believing In Tomorrow


 

 

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
–plaque in a public botanical garden started by a nurseryman.

Recently, I’ve visited several gardens, taking in their winter beauty, the quiet, the restful time before Spring gets started.
One garden was the kitchen garden begun by a Jesuit missionary in the 1690s. Walking hundreds of miles through the desert to a dry, almost abandoned area, he brought a new religion and new crops to a community on the verge of starvation.
His first task was to build a church, but I’m sure near the top of his list, like any gardener, was laying out and planting the beginnings of his garden. An irrigation ditch soon brought essential and dependable water. Plants from his beloved Italy found new homes. In a few years, an orchard flourished, and grains and vegetables supplemented the local diet of roots, seeds, and other traditional local fare.
The herbs were planted in orderly beds, near the tomatoes, peppers and other plants that thrived in the hot, sunny climate. An ancient wrought iron hoe laid against a gnarled fruit tree, likely the third or even fifth generation of the first orchard planted here. I wondered how many generations of gardeners had held that hoe, steadily weeding and tending this fertile space next to the church.
A substantial adobe storage building wasn’t very far away, a symbol of the bounty of this land and the investment in sustainable agriculture, 1700s style. Inside, large terra cotta bowls stored next year’s seeds, and the winter supply of the year’s harvest.
The priest must have smiled, seeing his garden feed his parishioners, helping the community to thrive and grow. How many gardeners started here, gently nurtured by others, learning of the miracles of seeds, the tending of plants, the pleasures of harvest?
In good years, there was enough surplus resources so that the villagers could make more adobe bricks, hew more wood beams brought from the forests in the mountains. They slowly added on to the church, making it into a bigger symbol of their faith in God, a rising symbol of their success as a community.
Now, the ruins of the church dominates this place, bringing visitors, teaching us of old ways, the power of faith.
Yet, the real church, the real symbol of faith is here in this simple garden.
Over three hundred years later, the Jesuit’s garden still produces fruit, and the irrigation ditch still brings water to this thirsty garden. In a few months’ time, a new gardener will plant tomatoes and peppers, prune the orchard, trim the rosemary and deadhead the oregano. The new gardening year will start again.
That Jesuit priest left his mark here, his love of the land and his design still apparent to those who now visit his garden. If I began the spring work, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him looking over my shoulder, perhaps even discussing where to set out the tomatoes this year. We probably could talk for hours about this place, how to make it an even better garden for next year, for yet another year of tomorrow.

–Neal Lemery 1/11/2017

Building Community — Ubuntu


How do I build community? How do I help make my community stronger, more resilient, more viable? How do we improve our ability to take care of each other, and become healthier, a better whole?

 

In South Africa, there is a concept of Ubuntu.

 

“I am what I am because of who we all are”

 

“A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

Desmond Tutu

 

 

“Ubuntu is a philosophy that considers the success of the group above that of the individual.” Stephen Lundin- Ubuntu!

 

The word ‘ubuntu’ originates from one of the Bantu dialects of Africa, and is pronounced as uu-Boon-too. It is a traditional African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation with the world. According to Ubuntu, there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities.

 

“Or as the Zulus would say, “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”, which means that a person is a person through other persons. We affirm our humanity when we acknowledge that of others.

 

“The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as:

‘It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole.

 

They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”

 

(https://motivationinspirationandlife.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/ubuntu-i-am-what-i-am-because-of-who-we-all-are/)

 

Who am I? A citizen, yes. Yet, I am a part of my community. In defining that, I am who I am because I am a part of the community.

 

My community defines me.

 

If I want to advance myself, and advance my community, I must, as a part of the community, also advance the community.

 

Ubuntu is unity, being a part of something bigger than myself. And, that “whole” also defines me.

 

In my work in the community, when I strengthen others, I strengthen the community and also myself.

 

When I mentor someone, help them with a school subject, take time to listen to them, work in a community garden with them, talk with them in the line at the grocery store or the post office, or just smile at someone on the street, I am building my community, and I am engaging in and being an aspect of Ubuntu.

 

And, when I am tearing down my community, not taking care of myself and others, when I am exploiting weakness and divisiveness, then I am working against Ubuntu. My negativity is destructive, of myself, of others, and of my community.

 

Racism, sexism, bigotry, ignorance, indifference — all work against the spirit of Ubuntu.

 

Today, I resolve to be a builder and a force for strength, wholeness and health. I strive to live within the spirit of Ubuntu.

 

–Neal Lemery, November 16, 2016

Three Ideas


Three Ideas

 

I came away from a recent workshop with three basic, interrelated ideas: core thoughts that I should be applying to everything in my life.

  • Increasing diversity improves a system
  • Respect and trust the natural system of life
  • Support rather than control

 

My viewpoints, my opinions aren’t on the list. My particular slant on how the world should work isn’t what is important. What is important is that everyone, including me, has the intention that we are here to be helpers.

 

Our own experiences, backgrounds, and dreams are simply tools, a small part of the whole, to be used to support others and work to improve the world. Each of us is a contributor, and a force for change.

 

We are here to support others, and to be a healthy part of the world. Our contributions should focus on being a healthy component of the whole, an enhancement rather than a hinderance.

 

“If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” (Eldridge Cleaver)

 

–Neal Lemery 10/17/2016

Be The Change You Want To See


Do you want to make a difference in the world? Do you want to see some real change in the way the world is, and how your community functions?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

“Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect the nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience and just plain loving each other.” (Erma Bombeck)

Do you want to live in a better neighborhood, a better community? Do you think the world could be a better place? Are you tired of hearing about the troubles of the world and all the negative political rhetoric? Are you frustrated that things are getting worse, and there’s nothing you can do that would make a difference?

Then, get involved and volunteer. Connect with a person, help them out, and make a difference. Take a few minutes, an hour, maybe a day, and offer your talent. Pay attention to someone, work together on a project, or simply have a conversation and offer a kind ear, a helping hand.

Find a group where you can get involved. Or do something on your own.

It can start with just a simple conversation at the grocery store or with a neighbor, a few kind words, and maybe a helping hand.
Volunteers are at the center of our community life.

Our schools, churches, community festivals and gatherings, museums and parks are staffed by volunteers. Much of what happens around here would quickly fade away without dedicated volunteers.

On a more personal level, our volunteers are helping an elderly neighbor with their yard work, or bringing them a meal. Others tutor a child, or help out at school or church. The possibilities are endless.

Our community calendar in the local paper is filled with activities run by volunteers, working to make this community a better place to live.

I see the impact of volunteerism everywhere. Without them, our welcome mat wouldn’t be as inviting, and as enjoyable for our visitors. Our youth and our seniors wouldn’t be as integrated into our social fabric. Our community wouldn’t be nearly as vibrant and supportive.

Look around you. Volunteers make a difference, and they change lives.

I volunteer. I find a project, I connect with a person, and pay attention to them, and put action into my caring for their wellbeing. I make a difference and my heart is filled with a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment. My volunteer work at the local youth prison and with master gardeners gives me a sense of purpose, and helps change people’s lives for the better.

In volunteering, I become an instrument of change. I am part of the solution to a small part of the world’s problems, rather than a person who just sits back and complains. I have a purpose, and become a voice for doing good.

The payback for me is amazing. What I give I receive back tenfold. I feel better about myself, I contribute, I connect, and I become a better member of my community.

Volunteerism is all about health, my health, the community’s, my state, my nation, and the world.

I can even stand to watch the evening news, and know that I don’t need to just listen to the litany of the world’s problems and get caught up in all that drama. I’m not the passive listener, who can easily say the world is a miserable, hopeless place. Instead, I am part of the answer, an agent of positive change.

—Neal Lemery, July 26, 2016

Getting Sober


I’ve lived in the same small town almost all of my life, and we’ve always been riddled with the demons of addiction and wanting to find the magic wand of sobriety and recovery.

Much of my professional life in the law, and many of the conversations I have, even now, has been about people finding meaning in their lives and working on getting sober. Addiction was certainly the “meat and potatoes” in my legal career.

Our society is riddled with addiction, in all its crazy forms and actions. You say “addict” and we think alcohol and drugs. Insidious and destructive as those addictions are, there are others, equally powerful, equally destructive of our souls and our community.
The list of dangerous, habit-forming thinking and actions is long; the list of destructive results is even longer. And your list looks a lot like mine.

This cause and effect are often unmentioned and ignored. It is the elephant in our village’s living room. To some extent, we all deal with it, in our own lives. And, we see the devastation our addictions cause in the lives around us.

Much of my work in the law came across my desk because of this addictive thinking. Being the good lawyer, I worked to find the remedy so that people could find happiness and move on in their lives. All too often, the addiction was too powerful, too all consuming. And, it is hard to be clean and sober in a society where addiction, and addictive thinking is an accepted way of life and a widely accepted theology.

Yet, we’ve come a long way since the days of my childhood. As a kid, I was chastised for greeting a neighbor coming out of the liquor store, or commenting about someone being drunk on the street and asking “why”.

We didn’t have AA in our community, and there were no alcohol counselors. We knew there was plenty of addictive behavior, but addiction and complacency about its destructive ways simply wasn’t mentioned in polite society.

I am so grateful for Betty Ford coming out publicly, talking about her addiction to alcohol and opioids and how inpatient treatment transformed her life. At last, it was politically correct to talk about this taboo topic.

Recently, I’ve had deep conversations about addiction, and turning our lives around, becoming healthy and clean. It’s tough work, and we go deep with each other. Reaching out and being supportive is an essential part of the work, and the healing.

Paul Carr writes in the Wall Street Journal about his struggles to become sober (March 19, 2012). He didn’t choose AA, but he says each of us has our own path:

“If it worked for me, it can work for anyone, right? Wrong. The chances that any of the advice here will work for you are vanishingly slim. So, too, are the chances that reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People” [Dale Carnegie’s classic book] will result in your doing either of those things. In truth, all self-help guides are guaranteed to work only for one person: the person who wrote them.

“The real secret to getting sober, and to repairing all the broken aspects of your life, is to take the time (probably through trial and error) to figure out the causes of your addiction and the aspects of your character that can be pressed into service in curing them. To do that, you’ll have to figure out your own list of things you enjoy about drinking (for me: adventures, reckless spending, dating, etc.) and how you can keep those things alive through sobriety. Then you need to figure out what part of your personality will drive you to stay sober (for me: ego).

“And then, as every recovering addict will tell you, it’s simply a question of taking one step at a time.”

—Adapted from Paul Carr’s “Sober Is My New Drunk”.

Today, my community has an active, visible AA community and a variety of mental health professionals. Sobriety and addiction are respectable topics of polite society’s conversations. We even greet neighbors at the liquor store and openly support people in recovery.

Yet, in our search for economic viability, our community is busy funding and promoting brew pubs, and beginning to enjoy the tax revenue from the local marijuana stores. Every bar promotes its state lottery games, and the game terminals are conveniently located next to an ATM, with the bartender happy to refresh your drink while you gamble. Casinos advertise their first class celebrity entertainment, luring us inside for your Las Vegas experience. The Legislature depends on the state lottery to fund our schools and improve parks.

Money talks.

And, opioid addiction is at its highest level ever, as folks who have become dependent upon opioid pain killers then look for cheaper highs after the prescriptions run out. And, heroin is so much cheaper. A loaded syringe of heroin goes for $5, maybe less, right here in my town, cheaper than the black market for Big Pharma’s opioid pills.

100 million opioid pills are prescribed in Oregon, and one out of three Oregonians has received a prescription for an opioid. Oregon ranks near the top nationally in opioid use and in deaths. More people die from opioid overdoses here than car crashes. (Medicine in Oregon, Oregon Medical Association, Winter 2016, page 12.)

Big Pharma deluges us with TV ads, urging us to ask our doctor for medications and pain relief. Where are the ads about addiction; the social conversations about our addictive culture?

The addiction machine in our society is doing well.

And, you know good and well this scourge isn’t just here in the form of the strung out street person. This addiction is alive and well everywhere. It’s alive and well with neighbors, friends, and, yes, even family. It’s an uncomfortable truth.

We’ve responded by turning the addicts into criminals, with the criminal justice system busy making felons out of addicts, and locking them up in our jail for twenty days or so at a stretch. Our judges order them into treatment, and the system collects the court ordered fees for all that. But we don’t take on the tough conversations about really getting sober, or changing our culture’s addictive ways.

I don’t have a magic wand, and I don’t have a “cure all” solution. I wish I did; lives are literally at stake. But, I do know that one person, one conversation, one relationship can alter the course in a persons’ life, and begin the change toward how we as a community can heal.

It takes a village, you know.

Let’s start that conversation. Let’s get sober.

–Neal Lemery, May 25, 2016

Cheering With My Best Friend


He would have liked yesterday. Yesterday, my state made history, ending a legal ban against letting people get married to the ones they loved, ending a time when our state constitution wouldn’t let people enjoy their right to be married, simply because of their sexual preference.

We would have one of our deep discussions in the car, listening to the radio and the reports of long lines of couples lining up at the county clerks offices across the state, getting their licenses, and getting married today. We would have talked about all of the possibilities we have in our lives, and social change, and people being happy, raising kids, and moving ahead in their lives.

Best friends in high school, we always had those serious discussions, and challenged our teachers and our classmates about what they believed, and where we needed to go as a society. We grew up during Vietnam and the March on Selma. We skipped class that day that Robert Kennedy came to our small town, and spoke in the town square about our country being a land of opportunity, of freedom, how each of us had a voice, and a duty to move our country forward.

We read Thoreau and Ginsberg and Malcolm X and listened to Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. We had deep discussions about war and poverty, racism, sexism, and how we could change our town, and our country.

We headed to college, and our separate ways, and drifted apart, as friends do after high school. Once in a while, we’d send each other an essay or a book review, offering more ideas to each other about making a difference in the world, how things needed to be changed.

Ten years after high school, he came back to town and we went out for coffee, taking up our conversations where they had left off, doing what good friends can do, the years apart really not changing our friendship, and how we challenged each other’s thinking.

He came out to me then, telling me that he knew he was gay, back in high school, but had been afraid to tell me, to tell himself, afraid to really be who he was, deep inside. He knew his dad would probably kill him if he came out to his family. He was beaten up for a lot of lesser sins, and couldn’t wait until he could run off to college, and live his own life.

He’d always struggled with love and relationships, and we lived in a time when being gay was looked at with more suspicion and hatred than it was for folks who were trying to live their lives by being black, or being against the current war our country was waging, or for the language they spoke.

He cried when he told me of coming out to his family, how his dad had disowned him, of wanting him dead, of telling him he didn’t have a son now, that his son was dead. And, how his mom had called him later, telling him that she loved him more now than ever, that she was proud of him and the man that he was becoming.

Yesterday, I listened to the radio, and all the celebrations and stories of joy and love, and the happiness people were willing to share, being proud of being gay and in love, proud of the families they were nurturing, proud that they could now be married, and publicly love their partners. We would have talked about how times have changed, so much, about how we’ve all moved ahead in our thinking, how we live our lives.

He would be proud, too, proud that he could marry his lover, and live in a state where his love and his family was respected, that he could be married, and respected for who he was, for who he had become. Knowing him, he’d have been one of the parties in the lawsuit that brought us to this point. He’d be leading the charge, speaking out, willing to take a stand, willing to publicly fight for civil rights, for bringing a bit more equality and liberty to our country.

We’d get together for coffee, to talk about his work, and his activism. We’d talk about this week being the fiftieth anniversary of Brown vs Board of Education, when racial segregation in schools was finally seen as something that we didn’t think was right in this country. We’d say that fifty years really wasn’t that long ago, that racial bigotry is still around, and we needed to keep working to change how people looked at each other, how we treated other human beings, about how we looked at opportunities for real change in our world.

He’s gone, long gone from this Earth, taken from us by AIDS, back in the 1980s, back when hatred and bigotry against gays was at its height. Yet, he’ll always be a part of me, his courage always something I can tap into, when I need to take a stand, when I need to speak my mind, and make a difference in the world.

Yesterday, I felt the people in my state take a step forward, taking on a serious discussion about our lives, about equal opportunity, and civil rights, about families and happiness, about who we were becoming, we Oregonians. We’re on uncharted ground here, pushed into this new world by some people willing to take a stand, willing to speak out and sue their state to bring about change. We’ve got a federal judge willing to look at the law as a means to achieve justice, to think about equal protection and civil rights in a way that moves us forward. We’ve got his words to think about now, to push us forward, to think about who we want to be.

Yesterday was another Brown v Board of Education day, and fifty years from now, a lot of us will think that where we were the day before, when this kind of discrimination was legal, when it was part of our state Constitution, was so archaic, so old school thinking.

Yesterday, I heard my friend again, his voice clear and strong, speaking about his commitment to be someone who was willing to work for change, someone who was willing to be comfortable with who he was, and who he wanted to be. Yesterday, I felt him close by as we Oregonians realized that our state had changed, and we had taken a step ahead in how we looked at ourselves, how we looked at families and relationships, how we looked at our laws, and how we really felt about equality and human dignity, how we felt about ourselves.

I heard his voice, and felt his energy, deep in my soul, as I drove down the freeway, listening to the radio, adding my own voice to the cheers of the newlyweds walking out of the courthouse. We cheered together, we Oregonians, cheering for freedom and liberty, cheering for each other.

Neal Lemery 5/20/2014