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

Go Change the World Today


How do I make a difference? How do I change the world?

At my age, I’ve figured out it’s not by leading the white horse into battle, leading my armies into the fray and conquering Europe.

But, then again, it is. I just lead my troops and fight my battles in a different way.

I am an instrument of social change. I have a voice, and I have a presence, and I talk with other people all the time.

I make my changes one person, one conversation at a time. It may be in the line at the grocery store, or at the coffee shop, or visiting with one person for a while, just the two of us, talking about life, and talking about choices. It might be by giving a book, sending a poem, or a note of encouragement, showing someone they matter, that they are important, valued, and yes, even loved.

It is the power of listening, really listening. Listening with your judgment and your ego parked at the door, listening with your heart, and simply offering to love people for who they are, deep inside.

Labels don’t mean much to me, nor does the style of someone’s hair or the fashion of their clothes. I like to look deeper than that, deep into someone’s heart, and to hear what is really on their mind, what is really going on in their soul.

The town I live in isn’t rocked by a huge earthquake when I have those quiet little conversations, when I open my heart to someone and really listen, and really have a conversation about the things that matter to them, and matter to us all. Buildings still stand and volcanoes don’t spew lava and smoke when we talk, but lives change.

Real change comes from a change in attitude, having a sense that I can change myself, my thinking, and that what I do in this world, that how I treat myself and how I treat others really does matter.

What I decide to do today, and how I will approach the problems and issues of the day, really does matter. I am the one in charge, what I feel and what I value is truly important.

Oh, I know that there are millions of other people in the state where I live, and hundreds of millions more in my country, and about six billion people around the world. Those are numbers I can’t really comprehend, and its pretty darned hard to have coffee with each one of them.

But, I can have that deep one on one conversation with myself, and with someone else. That’s manageable, that fits in my calendar, my to do list for the day. I can take the time to open my heart and really listen to someone, really hear what they are saying, and to value them for who they are, to weigh their soul against all the gold and jewels in the world, to really say that I value them for who they are, and for who they are becoming.

It is all about my intention, what I seek in that conversation, in that time together, one person with one person.

“You can do it,” are the magic words. “I believe in you.”

“I care about you,” said with love, and often, said simply by your presence at the table with them, showing up and being part of their lives, listening with your whole, loving heart.

Does this win the Battle of Gettysburg, or turn the tide at Waterloo? Do I ride my white horse up the steps of the royal palace and claim victory for the people?

I don’t need to win those kinds of battles. But, I do need to empower myself to truly live my values, and to help others see the potential they have to live decent, meaningful lives, free of the demons and darkness that often clouds their souls.

“Yes, you can,” is my battle cry, my shout for leading the revolution and winning the war.

Letter To My Son


March 2, 2014

Dear Son:

I struggle with this language. Greek has seven words for love. We have one. Often, what I really want to say doesn’t have a word that fits. Often, the better word is in another language. What I really want to say is still inside of my guitar, waiting for my fingers and my lips to get into gear, and write a really good song.

The best things in life don’t suddenly appear. They quietly show up, and slip into your life, until, one morning, over coffee, you realize they are there. The best things don’t make a lot of noise, and don’t draw a lot of attention. Yet, they become part of the foundations in your life, just part of the granite that you build your life on.

And when you need that strength, that presence of those things in life that are truly good, truly part of your heart, you realize that they are simply there, and have become a big part of who you are, and who you want to be, that what you’ve been dreaming about, has softly become a part of your life.

You quietly came into my life. And, looking back, I realized you were now part of my life, part of who I was, and who I was becoming. And, to be part of who I will become later on.

Living my life is sometimes like a jigsaw puzzle, looking for that particular piece, searching out patterns, trying to find a match, so that things that don’t fit together, can fit together. Often I don’t see the whole picture, until some pretty big pieces of the puzzle come together, and then, I get it. I see what I’ve been working on, what is really going on.

I was helping you, yet in that, I saw myself, and figured out some things that I needed some help on. But, that is how life works; helping others helps the helper, especially when you don’t realize what is going on.

In watching you work through the tasks you have had to get where you wanted and needed to go, I saw my own journey, and gained perspective on what that time in my life was like for me, and how I managed. I saw you struggle, and I gained wisdom on my own struggles. You gained wisdom, and shared it with me. In that, you held up a mirror and I saw myself, in ways I hadn’t noticed before.

Around my birthday each year, I try to take some time to “count my gold” in my life, to take inventory, and to reassess. Who am I? What am I becoming? Am I on the right path?

Seeing you on your path, hearing of your adventures, watching you face your challenges and move on with your life, realizing your dreams, brings a big smile to my face. You share all that with me, and bring me into your life, opening your heart.

That is a great gift, to me.

You may think I give a lot to you, and that what we have between us is a one way street, all flowing to you. But, the street goes both ways.

You show me courage, determination, how to love one’s self and strive to walk towards your dreams and challenges, shoulders back, ready to face the day head on. You show me the joy in challenging one’s self, and in going out in the world with determination, with strong values.

You don’t take no for an answer very easily. You question, you challenge obstacles, and you look for solutions.

And, I learn from that. I take notes. I look at who you are and who you are becoming, and I mirror that back to me, and assess who I am , and where I am going, and who I am becoming.

I take a bit of your strength, your energy, your mojo, and I grow it inside of my heart, and I try to share it with others. You probably do that with me, and what you get from me. But, this is a two way street, and we both are challenged and we both grow.

I expect both of us to be challenged in what we are to each other. I expect us to butt heads, to argue, to struggle at times. In that, we both become stronger, and we both have to confront who we are inside, and what our relationship really is. Yet, that is the power of a healthy relationship.

A real, a strong relationship has those struggles. Such a relationship will only grow stronger, and deeper. Out of those conversations comes strength, and a knowing, a deeper understanding of who each of us truly is, deep inside. Such a relationship makes each of us journey deep into our souls, and truly realize who we are inside.

I want you to have those struggles, and those challenges in the important relationships in your life, and with your relationship with your own soul. This is work, but it is good work. It makes you stronger, deeper, more complete.

Such is the journey of a real man, a complete person.

The Maori in New Zealand have a word for this value, this attribute of a healthy man, mana. The Aborigines of Australia, native Americans, and most cultures throughout the world have a sense of this value, this journey, this aspect of character.

This week, President Obama talked about this, as he talked about the crisis of African American young men, growing up fatherless and aimless. He shared about how he would smoke dope as a teenager, struggling with a father who abandoned him and his mother, about trying to find his way into manhood, as a Black kid on the streets, not sure where he wanted to go in life.

It is a familiar story, and an uncomfortable one. Most people don’t want to hear it. But, when the President of the United States tells that story, and says that it is his story, I hope that a lot of people listened.

It was a powerful speech, and his initiative is a powerful, thought provoking message to our country. He called for a conversation about how we raise kids, and how we need to bring boys into their manhood, and offer them a role in this world, and a purpose in their lives.

In my little town, heroin is the most popular street drug, and many of the people in jail are junkies. Our dropout rate in school is substantial, and a lot of young people are unemployed, under-employed, and not challenged to be a vibrant part of our community. Most of them are lost, too, just like the young men President Obama is talking about. The issues aren’t abstract, and they aren’t just a “national” issue. These are the issues in my neighborhood, too. The President could give the same speech right here on our Main Street, and just refer to what is going on here, right here in my “hood”.

Yesterday, I was a guest at “J’s” 21st birthday party (he is an inmate at the prison where I mentor young men), and we had a similar conversation. And, I saw such a hunger in the room, young men seeking direction and purpose in their lives, young men doubting their journeys and questioning their strengths. And, how they listened to the three mentors in the room, and to each other, talking about strengths and talents, and directions to take in their lives.

“J” wept at the words of others, words of value and admiration. And, when he spoke of his own strengths, and his own value in the world, we all wept.All of us needed that conversation, and needed to hear those words, and feel the pain and the love that was part of that conversation. I needed to hear a young man, talking about his values, and his strengths.

I felt honored to be in the room, to hear those words, to have that conversation, to talk about what really matters in life. And, if President Obama and “J” are on the same page, maybe this country is changing.

Son, I felt you in that room, your spirit of guidance and courage. You have journeyed in those questions and doubts, and you have found direction and answers, and wisdom.

And, when it was my turn to speak and offer wisdom and guidance to those young men, I heard your voice in my heart, and I felt your guidance and your wisdom in the room. And, I was filled with gratitude, gratitude for what you have brought to my life.

Thank you, son, for all of that.

Last summer, I shocked you, telling you that I don’t want a perfect son. I still don’t. But, I do want a son in my life who uses his brain, and is comfortable in his own soul, and who dares to question himself, and where he is going. I want a son who takes on a challenge, and who confronts his dragons and demons.

I want a son who isn’t afraid of saying no, who isn’t afraid of his weaknesses, and doesn’t run from the possibility of “failure”. I think the only time a person can “fail” is when you don’t even try.

I want a son who embraces his journey into manhood, and takes life’s challenges head on, and who is not afraid to ask for some tools and help as he goes about his work. I want a son who reaches out to the stars, and who lives life to the richest and fullest.

I’m not perfect either. I mess up, I run from challenges sometime, and I’m not the perfect father for you. I am on my own journey, and need to have my own challenges and make my own mistakes.

I’ve made mistakes in our relationship. I’ll make more. And, I expect you to call me on those, to be critical, to be a good observer, and a good communicator. I expect us to have rich dialogues about who we are, and who and what we are to each other. In that, our relationship will grow.

I’ll try to show you how I do my own journey in life, warts and all. I’l try to be open about my blunders and my errors, as well as my achievements and my successes. I won’t be perfect for you, but I will try to be honest with you. I’ll try to be open and transparent.

Let this journey continue!

Love,

Neal

Taking Mandela’s Life Into My Heart


“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela

Many words are being written about the life and the death of this great man. He lived a life of courage, living his convictions, and, in spite of overwhelming pain and suffering and obstacles, he did what was right. He focused on what was decent, and what was just, and moved others ahead, towards justice and compassion.

Each one of us can do the same. We may not be leaders of social movements, and we may not be able to speak to millions of people, become president of a country, or win the Nobel Prize. Yet, each of us, in our own ways, can lead lives of value, integrity, and advance those values and morals that we each hold dear.

I can do the right thing. Each one of us can. And, it starts with taking a step in that new, unfamiliar, often awkward direction.

Often, doing the right thing is profound, and astonishing to others. And, in that action, and in the act of others witnessing the doing of right, and the demonstration of living morally and righteously, changes their lives as well.

Nelson Mandela was all about change. And, he did that, one person at a time. His speeches, his writings, his one on one encounters, profoundly changed others, one person at a time.

His life was a way of giving all of us permission to encounter hatred and bigotry, and to be consciously active in not living with those values, and to work towards a higher good. He gave an example for us to follow. He let us see that we all have choices, and we can decide to live differently.

Living this is hard work, but also simple. Change your attitude, change your intention, and move in a different direction. Embrace love, and not hatred. Be intentional in what you do. Live your values.

The great people in history have done that, people who are able to show us simple truths, and to move the direction of their lives in accordance with those simple truths. The examples are powerful, and stun us with their sheer simplicity and beauty.

Yet, we make that choice hard, finding lots of excuses, and resisting moving out of our old habits, our old ways of thinking, and being seduced by the status quo, old ways of thinking, being caught up in the thought patterns of hatred, distrust, and fear.

I see people all around me being brave and courageous, just as Nelson Mandela lived, people dealing with hatred, prejudice, ignorance; people dealing with addictions, injustice, and fear. They face their challenges, they speak their values and morals out loud, and they move into action. They take life head on, and forge ahead, against the headwinds of social pressure and old ways of thinking and living, rejecting hatred and fear.

In the coming days, we will read and hear many wise words, and hear many stories about Nelson Mandela and his life. We will see the famous and powerful gather at his funeral and offer heartfelt eulogies. We will be inspired and we will honor his great contributions and how he helped bring change to his country, and how he provoked the world to follow his lead.

Yet, if we really want to honor his life, and to give meaning and celebration for the life that he lived, and how he helped to transform a culture of racism, intolerance and fear, into a society taking on bigotry and hatred, then each of us has to take his message and his life into our hearts. His message is about changing ourselves and our lives from within, to love ourselves and the world unconditionally.

How am I going to make a difference? How am I going to move forward, embracing and living unconditional love? How am I going to change myself and my community and move towards a healthy, peace-loving view of life? How do I respond to the hatred, bigotry and fear that I find inside of myself? Am I brave enough to move on and move away from what I don’t want to be?

Nelson Mandela called each of us to action. He wrote inspiring books, and gave motivating speeches. He practiced forgiveness and reconciliation. Yet, his intention was to call upon his readers and his listeners to look deep into their hearts, and to move into action, to live our values and our morals, to live lives filled with love and hope, with compassion and forgiveness.

Today, I will look deep inside of myself, calling out my morals and my ethics, calling out my true intentions for my life, and for this world. I will call out my fears and my biases, and put them out on the table for me, and the world, to see, in all that reality, warts and all. I will dig deep and I will take a wobbly step or two, and move ahead, towards my true intentions and my higher purpose.

—Neal Lemery, 12/6/2013

Peace Making


Peace Making

It is a lofty goal. Religions preach it. Politicians speechify it. Song writers laud it. We all like to say we are peaceful, loving people.

And, it’s really the other guy who can’t get along, who pushes us into the argument, the fight, the war.

“They started it,” we say, justifying our own escalation of the argument, as we stiffen our backs, and pick up the nastier word, the bigger stick.

Our wars are longer now. This country’s ten year war in Afghanistan barely makes the main section of the daily newspaper, and rarely hits the front page. Our “victory” in Iraq really isn’t seen as a victory of democracy over tyranny, but rather a bad nightmare we should really rather forget.

The latest Israeli-Palestinian rocket war is seen as inevitable and unsolvable. And, folks quickly blame one side or the other for the terror and destruction, the deaths of families, and the unbending, inflexible positions of the major players.

Not many people see the irony in both sides justifying their geographical arguments on scriptures and theologies that also preach unconditional love and peacefulness being the true direction to humanity from an all loving God.

And, at home, war is being waged. We have the highest rate of jailing our fellow citizens of any country in the world. And, we criminalize and jail drug addicts. Our economy continues to impoverish millions of families. Our politics of late turn into high paid deceptive and vicious advertising and name calling, rather than looking towards solutions to difficult problems, and an expression of compassion and helping others achieve the American Dream.

Aside from all the noise, a quiet revolution is going on. Without fanfare, without a lot of chest thumping and back slapping, change is afoot.

Volunteers, neighbors, students, good people from all walks of life are making a difference. Soup kitchens and warming centers are springing up in the basements of churches. Food banks, community gardens, and community centers enjoy quiet and energetic support. Twelve step programs are strong and are attracting healthy members. Prison outreach programs, local music jams, potlucks, and community thrift stores are thriving.

We baby boomers are retiring now, in record numbers, and we are volunteering, helping out, talking with people. We are engaged in our communities, our neighborhoods, and in our homes. People are tending their gardens, taking up crafts, and working with others. We teach each other new skills, and we are reaching out to others, on every level.
The grass roots in this country are healthy and strong. Social media has expanded the front porch and the neighborhood coffee shop into a bigger, national neighborhood of old friends, old classmates, and long lost relatives. New connections are made, and our common humanity, our common passion for connecting with others, for caring for each other, are re-weaving the social fabric.

As a country, and as a community, we are re-creating our social conversations, and deciding what topics we will take on. Newspapers and the major television networks, and other corporate media are finding their audiences shrinking. New books are now self-published, and marketed by word of mouth and on Facebook and blogs. We are taking charge of what we talk about and what we learn.

The richness of our own wisdom, our heritage, our values, and our work is now easily shared, and easily explored. What I think and what I want to say to others now can be quickly “aired” to not just my household, not just to my buddies at the coffee shop, but to the world. With a few keystrokes, my morning rant about one thing or another can be put out to all my friends, and, literally, to the world.

Someone thousands of miles away can read what I think, and can find my thoughts, on their computer and their cell phone. “Google it” is the motto of this decade, and the back fence conversations start up with a smart phone text or a reply to a Facebook posting. We’ve become master weavers of the social fabric.

We’ve rediscovered the value of those rich one on one conversations, the power of reaching out and simply saying, “I care about you.” Yes, we do that electronically, but we also do that face to face, neighbor to neighbor. This is our reality; we are rejecting the mass media view of the world, and being told what to think and what is truly important.

This morning, the cashier at Denny’s and I had a rich conversation about the real meaning of Thanksgiving and thankfulness, and the crass commercialization of Christmas. She’s rejecting that commercial hoopla and instead, she’s gathering and distributing underwear and toys for foster kids. Her mom is mentoring those kids, filling a need in her community, changing lives.

I’m spending time with young men at the youth prison in my town, playing guitar, being friends, hopefully showing them a more fulfilling way to live. Me buying them coffee at the canteen, just being there, and listening, is opening hearts, and changing all of us.

Yes, small steps, but in the right direction. Together, we are an army, working for change.

Perhaps this country’s “Arab Spring” starts with those conversations at Denny’s, or engaging your neighbor in an idea to revitalize your town. It starts with each one of us, one step, and then another.

We’ve rediscovered the power of taking the initiative, of finding our voice in our community. When I post something on Facebook, or write a rant about something on my blog, or “share” a particular article I’ve found on line, I’m really joining my neighbors on the front porch, or at the coffee shop.

I don’t have to depend on the corporate media to set the agenda, or tell me what the real “news” is, or what to believe. I’m my own news editor now, and I produce my own news show. My friends and neighbors do that, too. Our conversations, in person and on line, are abuzz with new ideas, rich discussions, and the rebuilding of our collective social consciousness.

In all that buzz, we are rediscovering the power of that one on one conversation, about caring for each other, and getting involved with each other. That is the practice of love, love of self, love of family, love of our fellow humankind. Isn’t that the true meaning of the holidays, our true spiritual calling?

We are getting off the couch and thinking for ourselves again, and rebuilding our community, making peace.

–Neal Lemery 11/22/2012