Community, From the News, Religion

Day to Serve and The Snowball Effect

Last January, I received a new church public affairs assignment.

One of our first decisions was to encourage the members of our church to dedicate a day to serve.

We explored the various needs in our communities.

After reviewing some startling hunger statistics, we decided to focus on the needs of those who are considered “food insecure.”

One in four Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from.

11.8 percent of people  in Virginia, one in six people in Maryland, a surprising 27.4 percent in the nation’s capital, 

and 21 percent of children in West Virginia live in families that cannot afford food

We reached out to the Governors of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia and the Mayor of Washington, D.C. and asked for their support.

They eagerly jumped on board.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoIXrRRRikE&feature=plcp

They issued proclamations declaring September 29 as a regional Day to Serve.

They reached out to their community faith groups and asked them to join us by organizing and/or participating in service projects to benefit the hungry.

Governor O’Malley in Maryland set a high bar by sending out letters to over 30 faith groups who all wanted to help.

We have held weekly meetings with our planning committee, which includes representatives from our church and representatives from the Governors’ and Mayor’s offices.

Each week, there is more to report.

More people are catching the vision.

More people want to help.

In West Virginia, all the football games played this Saturday will include food drives.

In Virginia, there are soccer games, 5K races, grocery store food drives, clean-up activities and more.

In D.C., there are “pack the pantry” projects to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank.

In Maryland, there are activities to clean up the environment and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and feed the hungry.

Enthusiasm is building for what will be a historic, unprecedented regional day to serve.

We set up a website at daytoserve.org and asked every organization sponsoring a service activity to add a pin to a google map.

If you go to the site, you’ll see a packed map, full of activities in this wide swath of the country, all designed to feed the hungry or serve the community.

In fact, we maxed out the number of pins allowed on a google map.

We are now in the process of redesigning it to accommodate all the projects that haven’t made it on the map yet.

Every day the snow ball gets bigger with more activities, more donations, and more people gearing up to serve.

If you’re not sure, how to help, go to the website, click on a pin in your community and show up.

Everybody is welcome and everybody is needed.

Community, From the News

Proud to be an American

Happy Fourth of July!

photo credit itthing.com

What better place to be on Independence Day than in Washington, D.C. at Nat’s Stadium with your family and best friends?

That thought has been in my head from the minute I got up this morning.

Highlights of my Fourth of July:

  • Watching all the families dressed in their Nats fan gear pile on the metro
  • Two little boys sliding together on their seat, and saying, “Do you want to sit down?” With mitts in hand and autographed ball caps on their heads, they told me they were hoping to get Bryce Harper’s autograph at today’s game.  I loved their excitement. “How many more stops?” they kept asking their parents. “Why is this thing so slow?” they asked as they bounced up and down in their seats. Their enthusiasm was contagious.
  • A huge American flag draped between two fire truck cranes at the entrance to the stadium
photo credit Washington Examiner
  • Four home runs!
  • Standing up to sing America the Beautiful with a stadium full of proud Americans. I loved the patriotism that surged through the crowd.
  • Thanking our military with a packed house of fans
  • Sharing stories about last week’s storm but not letting it affect a great game, a beautiful city, and resilient group of people.
  • Heat wave? What heat wave? We had a breeze that kept us comfortable all afternoon in the sweltering heat.
  • Fireworks
  • Homemade Strawberry gelato
  • Feeling proud to be an American and celebrating freedom in the greatest nation on earth with the people I love most.
Community, From the News, Uncategorized

Memorial Day

Memorial Day Weekend 2012 and what it conjures up…

1. Memories of living in Crystal City and taking my camera over to Arlington Cemetery to photograph the thousands of flags posted by the graves and feeling overwhelming gratitude for the soldiers who served the United States with such courage and valor. I couldn’t believe the sea of red, white, and blue flags waving in the humid breeze of the nation’s capital.  “And this is where I live,” I kept thinking.

Photos from Patch.com

2.  Going camping at Fairfax Lake Park with my family and camping next to Rolling Thunder bikers.  Turns out they were nicer, friendlier, and quieter than the Christian Bible group camping on the other side of us.

communities.washingtimes.com

3. Listening to Ronald Reagan in 1982 speak in Arlington National Cemetery about the many heroes buried in the cemetery that represented America’s best. He said, In America’s cities and towns today, flags will be placed on graves in cemeteries; public officials will speak of the sacrifice and the valor of those whose memory we honor. In 1863, when he dedicated a small cemetery in Pennsylvania marking a terrible collision between the armies of North and South, Abraham Lincoln noted the swift obscurity of such speeches. Well, we know now that Lincoln was wrong about that particular occasion. His remarks commemorating those who gave their “last full measure of devotion” were long remembered. But since that moment at Gettysburg, few other such addresses have become part of our national heritage — not because of the inadequacy of the speakers, but because of the inadequacy of words.”

The “inadequacy of words.”

When it comes to commemorating those who gave their last full measure of devotion, Reagan was exactly right — there is an inadequacy of words to express our gratitude.

Photo credit: freerepublic

4. I think of the Challenger astronauts on Memorial Day because they were buried in Arlington Cemetery, along with many of the other national heroes. I was working in the House of Representatives watching the space shuttle Challenger on television as it blasted off into space.  Then in horror, I watched it explode.  I immediately thought of my first boss, Senator Jake Garn, an astronaut himself and how heartbreaking that must have been for him.  He knew those astronauts. Then I thought of being at Cape Canaveral watching the space shuttle Discovery soar into the air and felt part of the excitement and anticipation of everyone on the ground watching.  I remember standing near John Travolta and seeing his eyes light up with childlike wonder as Discovery disappeared from sight.  How could the families and friends and onlookers cope with what they saw after Challenger’s blast off? It was a an awful day.  But like always, American paid tribute to them and the country came together to both mourn and heal.

5. I think of my friend Keri whose husband Rich served two tours of duty in Iraq.  She became the caretaker of all the women and families left alone at Fort Campbell when all the men were deployed after the terrorist attacks on September 11th. After thinking, “Why me?” she quickly changed to the wiser question, “Why not me?” While we remember the soldiers who fight for us, we have to remember the families whose sacrifices too are monumental.

 

6. I also can’t help but think of 9/11 — a day that will forever be memorialized on any day of national significance.  Instead of focusing on the terror, destruction, and utter heartbreak, I try to think of the U.S. flags springing up everywhere, the outpouring of love and support and national unity.  I think of walking through the neighborhood putting flags in the ground by every mailbox. I think of crying unexpectedly at the stoplight when I heard the song “I’m Proud to be an American.” I remember talking to my burly brother, the brick mason, who said he heard about it on his work radio. Then he and the other workers took an early lunch. He sat on the curb and opened his lunchbox and broke down sobbing.

7. On a happier note, I think of being at the beach, watching the flag wave on our deck, hearing the ocean waves in the distance, and listening to the happy sounds of a houseful of people enjoying the sublime and often overlooked gifts of peace and freedom.

dcabout.com
Community, Religion

A visit with the Lutherans

In my assignment as a public affairs director for my church, I was asked to attend a Holy Cross Lutheran meeting Sunday morning. One of our local congregations was holding a three-week Bible study course on Mormons and what we believe.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church http://www.holycrosslutheranchurch.net/

Prompted by the presidential election and the possibility of having a Mormon as the Republican nominee, many members of the congregation were asking the pastor questions — could they support a Mormon? Are Mormons Christian?  What would it mean to have a Mormon as president of the United States?

To help educate his members, the pastor planned a series of three classes.  For the first two classes, he showed videos about the Mormon church.  I don’t know what the first week’s video included but I know it prompted a woman to ask her Mormon colleague several questions about what we believe.  He happily answered her questions and clarified many of our beliefs.

Then she asked her pastor if she could invite her colleague to their second meeting.  The pastor agreed and the woman took her colleague to church with her last week.  The pastor showed another video that was produced by a group of ex-Mormons.

You can guess how that video was slanted…

The pastor invited the woman’s colleague to come back to their last meeting, and I and one of my assistants were asked to join him.  We welcomed the opportunity to explain who we are and what we believe. When we arrived, the pastor warmly greeted us and then introduced us to his congregation.  Then he went on to teach about some of the differences between Mormons and Lutherans.  Among them: they believe we are saved by grace alone, and we believe that while Christ’s atonement ultimately saves us all, we are still required to spend our lives doing good works.

He pulled up a page from http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/ about what we believe then he said it was hard to find objective, fair information about the Mormons because on the internet he could only find anti-Mormon or the actual Mormon Church’s official websites.

Mormon.org

I believe that the official Church websites are legitimate, credible sources of information, but the pastor’s point was that the Church’s sites are more conversion-oriented than informational so he wasn’t sure he wanted to share that with his members.

I respect that viewpoint although the Church has really worked hard to make more information available for the curious as well as those interested in becoming members.

Just a couple of days before attending this meeting, I read a comment from Krister Stendahl, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69DkoG-m8Agemeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm and professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School, who said he believed in three rules for religious understanding:

Krister Stendahl photo from elijah-interfaith.org

1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies;

2. Don’t compare your best to their worst;

3. Leave room for “holy envy” by finding elements in other faiths to emulate.

He said these principles foster relationships between religions that build trust and lay the groundwork for charitable efforts.

I believe in these three rules.

http://amy-gordon.blogspot.com/2009/03/holy-envy-part-1_15.html

I’ve never understood why people seek out ex-Mormons to learn about the Mormons.   That’s like asking Mitt Romney to tell us all about President Obama.  His view will obviously be a little skewed.

I love the third rule: leave room for “holy envy.” If we could follow that one simple rule, imagine how interfaith relationships could be improved — softened and strengthened at the same time, and how that would benefit a community. If we could learn to take the best from each other and build up from there, we could really accomplish something powerful and positive for everyone involved.

 

As the pastor described different points of doctrine, he graciously allowed us to make corrections as he went along.  For example, one member believed that Mormons worship Joseph Smith instead of Christ. We quickly said that we follow Jesus Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet and leader of our church whom we hold in high esteem but we worship Christ. A woman behind me said, “Well, then is what we learned wrong?” In unison, all three Mormons in the room, said, “Yes!”

I appreciated the pastor’s willingness to let us speak up, correct and clarify.

After the meeting concluded, many people thanked us for joining them and some wanted more information.

Many of them were shocked to find out that my assistant public affairs director works for President Obama.  They thought all Mormons had to support Mitt Romney. We had an opportunity to dispel that notion.

We have a long way to go in this effort of telling the world who we are and what we believe, but today was another small step forward.

And while all religions may have some doctrinal differences, most of us are seeking to live good lives, help our fellowmen, and strengthen our own relationships with God.

As for “holy envy,” I think that’s a beautiful concept and one that we should more readily embrace. We are all truth seekers who want to understand the world, our purpose and our destiny. When we share the bits of truth and goodness we all have  in our religions we build each other up.

I never imagined myself spending a Sunday morning in a Bible study class with the Lutherans talking about my religion, but I think when we respectfully share our faiths, we increase our knowledge and understanding of each other. We promote tolerance and religious freedom.

As Gordon B. Hinckley once said, there really is no room for bigotry, self-righteousness and arrogance.  We need friendly dialogue that leads to tolerance, brotherhood, friendship, appreciation of others, respect, kindness and love.  We should have quiet, friendly dialogue not vociferous argument and debate.

He said, the world knows “we carry on a vast missionary program in the Church. But it is not argumentative. We do not debate. We, in effect, simply say to others, ‘Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.'”

That is a form of “holy envy.”

We all share the good that we have and we all benefit.

In a world fraught with more and more intolerance and disrespect, we could all be better with a little “holy envy.”

Community, From my Bookshelf, Uncategorized

Duped

My Grandma Snow used to subscribe to every magazine imaginable.

After she read them, she stacked them up and gave them away to her friends and visitors.

So often after I visited her I went home with a stack of magazines.

I usually thumbed through them and took the Reader’s Digest vocabulary tests and the personality quizzes in the women’s magazines.

The slick covers were always so enticing, but the stories inside rarely lived up to their headline hype.

So I’ve always been a little skeptical of magazines because few of them deliver what they advertise on their covers.

Still, every once in awhile, I can’t resist.

While shopping at Target I passed the magazine stand and saw the May issue of O Magazine all bright and colorful with a young-aged and current-aged photo shopped Oprah on the cover and a huge headline across the middle of the page that said “How To Get Better With Age.”

* Rev Up Your Metabolism

*Rejuvenate Your Skin

*Refresh Your Style

*Recharge Your Spirit

In addition to learning the secrets about aging well, Dr. Oz promised to teach me four easy ways to reverse the effects of time.

There was a serenity diet designed to help me calm down and slim down — two things I always need.

On top of that, Oprah had six steps to a more honest life.

I couldn’t resist.

A little time with O Magazine promised to transform my life.

I had to buy it.

When I got home I eagerly searched for how to become better as I age.

Boy, nice Target ads I thought.

That ad about Oprah’s “Lifeclass tour ” intrigued me.

And Julianna Margulies is quite the beauty.

There were  five things Rahm Emanuel knows for sure, and Donna Brazile’s advice on starting over.

Emanuel might dabble in interior design if he ever leaves politics and Brazile says painting your house is a great way to start over.

This is all so fascinating but when I am going to learn how to revolutionize my life?

Oh, here it is… Martha Beck talking about interior motives.

Hmmm, maybe I missed something profound in her column but it didn’t really charge me up and help me cleanse my inner life like it promised by the headline.

I flipped to Dr. Oz for the good stuff — revving up my metabolism!

He suggests yoga, which I believe is a good thing. Then, cold water, white bean extract, forskolin (what?), tahini dip, peppers, coconut oil, green tea dill weed, chives, wine, coffee and sleep.

I somehow doubt these potions will get my  metabolism so fired up that the weight will just fall off of me.

Maybe the style advice will lift me up and revive me.

I love the $310 dress, the $242 skirt and the four-inch heels.  They will look smashing on me for my next run to Target.

Finally, I get to the good stuff — the secrets to rejuvenating my skin.

Get your pen and paper ready because you’ll definitely want to follow this regime:

Botox, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, skin-toning laser, light laser resurfacing facelift, eyelift, and more laser treatment for dark spots.

Wow!

I am so grateful for these insightful, practical self-improvement hints.

Oprah has outdone herself this month.

Thank you Oprah for giving me exactly what I don’t need — photos of beautifully, touched-up women who truly know How To Get Better With Age by surgically enhancing themselves.

They are just the kind of role models I don’t need.

And in all that reading, not one quiz or vocabulary test.

When will I ever learn…

My idea of aging well
Community, Relationships, Uncategorized

We Done Good

 Last April, the leaders of our church asked the 14 million LDS members around the world to devote a day of service to the community to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the church’s welfare program.

Our stake (like a geographic division of members) sponsored a food drive along with a 5k race, a one-mile stroll, and a kid’s 100-yard dash to help LINK Against Hunger, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization in our community.

All the usual worries popped up.

Will anybody come?

Will we get enough food to make a respectable donation?

Will the 5k trails we’ve charted work?

Will the good weather cooperate?

Since this is the first time we’ve had an event like this, we didn’t know what to expect,

especially weather wise since we had a snowstorm last weekend.

I learned a few statistics along the way.

Even though we live in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation,

there are more than 1,500 homeless men, women, and children on any given night in Fairfax County.

Close to 60 percent of those facing homelessness are in families.

More than 75 percent of children in these families are under the age of 11.

We learned there is an overwhelming ongoing effort

to feed the suburban hungry around us.

Seventy percent of the households served by the Capital Area Food Bank

are called “food insecure,”

meaning they don’t know where their next meal will come from.

Our dream was to overwhelm the LINK Against Hunger program with our generous support.

I think we did it.

When we arrived early this morning, volunteers from LINK were already filling trucks with food donations.

Car after car drove up with trunks full of food.

Church members came carrying arms full of bags and boxes of food.

People waited patiently in line at the cash donation table writing checks and putting cash in the donation box.

From 8 until about 11 am, the cars and the people kept coming.

We easily had 500 people attend carrying bags, boxes, cartons of food.

As I cheered runners and walkers coming across the finish line,

I looked over a the shimmering lake with all the golden autumn trees around it

and felt thankful for the weather,

and for every person that climbed out of their warm bed

and came out in the cold to do something good for other people.

I saw Moms bundled up in winter gear

with babies wrapped in layers of blankets

in jogging strollers as they ran across the finish line.

Kids challenged their parents to beat them

as they dashed ahead of them edging them out right at the finish line.

Amazing what can happen when a group of like-minded people get together

and combine their resources, energy and enthusiasm to help others.

The giving spirit is palpable.

My favorite part of the morning

was holding the tape for the finishing line for the four kids’ 100-yard dashes.

When the kids took off, they moved their little legs as fast as they could

and kept their eyes laser-focused on the finish line.

They lit up with pride and excitement

as they were each awarded a medal for their participation

and parents and friends cheered them all on.

And while all of this was going on, the food kept coming.

By 11 a.m., we collected 2.5 tons of food.

$1500 in cash donations,

and a $1,000 worth of food yet to come from the church’s welfare facility.

We did good today.

We filled seven trucks, the back of an SUV and then had to recruit one more van to transport all the food.

The director of the food pantry said, “What a machine we had going.

We had trucks parked along the curb,

people would pull up and unload their food into the trucks

and head off to register for the walk/run.

We had Elders from the LDS church helping put the food into the boxes

and we kept filling up truck after truck.”

Our goal was to take advantage of our “opportunities to do good.”

Today we did it. 

We did good and we felt good.

And I think we’re ready to do it again.

Community, Family, Religion

Genealogy Goes Prime Time

(This was an article I had published in the Deseret News http://desne.ws/qr5awt)

Genealogy has gone prime time.

That was the message at the Conference on Family History and Genealogy held at Brigham Young University last week.

Television programs like NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are,” BYU-TV’s “The Generation Project,” and “Faces of America” on PBS have piqued the interest of viewers around the world and motivated more people to research their family histories and heritage.

D. Joshua Taylor, a nationally recognized genealogical author, lecturer, and researcher spoke at the conference and talked about the future of genealogy, saying, “it will not longer be viewed as an ‘old’ activity for the retired.  It will be undefined by age, gender and nationality.  We’re in primetime now.”

Taylor looked at his first microfilm when he was 10 years old, and became instantly hooked on genealogy.  He is the director of education and programs at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and has assisted with research for the NBC Series “Who Do You Think You Are,” including helping Sarah Jessica Parker with her genealogy.

At the conference, he traced genealogy through the generations, and discussed how it has changed and evolved over the years.

“We started out with people writing letters, going to courthouses, and lineage organizations for genealogical research, then we moved to microfilm, which brought thousands, millions of records to people.  After Alex Haley’s “Roots” book and television series, people became more interested in tracing their families.  It became more visible and the word ‘genealogist’ became known.  Then we moved to digital records like on familysearch.org and ancestry.com,” Taylor said.

Sarah Jessica Parker on an episode of NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are."

Photo taken by Lisa Poole, NBC
Sarah Jessica Parker on an episode of NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are.”

The attributes of the next generation of genealogy may sound “absolutely bananas,” but they will happen, he said.  He predicted some of the following changes:

  1. We won’t have to type in genealogical data from census and other records, we will just drag and drop everything, and the computer will fill in all the details.  “It’s happening now with medical records,” he said, “why not with genealogy?”
  2. Everything will be interactive.  For example, you’ll click on a church, and then click on a pew with a name of a family.  Then all the information about that family will pop up.  With the push of a button, you’ll see all their data.
  3. There will be more online websites for digital scrapbooks and family histories. There will be blogs with live recordings, videos, and links to other pertinent information.
  4. We will see the end of paper.  No more carting boxes of family documents from one relative to the next.  Everything will be digital. It’s all about “the cloud,” and storing data in Apple’s new icloud that should be coming out soon or “dropbox.com” where you can access your data from any computer and you won’t have to worry about external drives, back-up CDs, and thumb drives.
  5. Genealogy will be more about people than facts.  He encouraged genealogists to think beyond the pedigree chart and get into the stories about people.
  6. Communities will share data.  Genealogists, historians, librarians, archivists, and medical professionals will share information.  “We all need the same stuff,” he said, “so we might as well share it with each other.”
  7. Mobile devices are the future.  They will replace computers because they are more portable and can perform more functions.
  8. There will be more instant communications, not just with family members working together on genealogy, but with librarians, county clerks, associations, etc. In fact, he said, the new plus.google.com could be the end of Facebook because of its increased functionality, group video chats and “circles” of friends that can be organized by families, research groups, etc.
  9. Genealogy will not have to be a full-time pursuit.  The younger generations will be able to devote just 15-minutes at a time and make progress because of new technology and collaborative methods.
  10.  There will be a new generation of genealogists that will take new tactics.  Taylor described a Boston University group of students assembled to work on their family histories and said there were 20 countries represented within just three generations of a family.  Fifty percent of their parents or grandparents were born outside the United States.  The average birth year of this new group of genealogists was 1989.  About 85 percent of them immigrated after the year 1900, with the most recent immigrants coming to America in 2000.  With this new generation, new approaches need to be taken like oral interviews, and tracing people who are still alive to find out why they came to America and what political movements affected them.

The Conference on Family History and Genealogy is held at BYU and is sponsored by the BYU History Department, BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy, FamilySearch, Family History Library, and BYU Division of Continuing Education.