Friday, October 2, 2015

Harry Bear and Coyote


When our boys were young we had a family tradition  when we went camping in our big old tent.  Once everyone got into their sleeping bags I would tell them a Harry Bear story...  here are two  typical examples   
It was a lazy Summer afternoon and Harry Bear was sitting under his favorite tree thinking about what he would like to do.   He was thinking "maybe I'll make something."    He had lots of wood and metal, and tools... and could make almost anything he could think of.  Just them his best friend Coyote came to visit.  Coyote said - "Do you want to ride bicycles?  We could go see if their are any ripe apples on the tree by the hill."

While they were talking, Harry took out a chocolate bar and Coyote said - "I sure wish that I had a chocolate bar too" ...Harry Bear said - "That's it! I have a great idea for a new invention - you go check for apples I am going into my workshop."

Later when Coyote rode past the workshop on his bicycle,  all he could hear was hammers and saws, power tools, and electric buzzing - and when he looked in, he gave Harry one of the  apples he had just picked.  Harry said - "its just finished - I made my machine!"

So Coyote watched as Happy Bear put a chocolate bar inside a special door in the machine - and then he pushed a button - the machine went - "Squack - Growl - Roar - and Pop..." and out the other side came two identical chocolate bars...!!

Harry Bear said I haven't tested the machine completely but I think I can duplicate anything - Coyote said - "Lets try an apple"  ... and when Coyote put it in the machine it went: "Squack - Growl - Roar - and Pop... "and out came two apples..."Wow", Coyote said, "what will we try next..." So all afternoon they put toys and tools, books, and T shirts, sandwiches and cold drinks... and it worked every time.

Finally Coyote said - lets try it with your cat - I always wanted a cat like yours.  However this time the machine got stuck and it made another cat, then another, and another, and another... until the workshop was full of cats... Coyote said - "Help - how can we turn this thing off..." cats and more cats kept coming... some of them ran out the door and up into trees.  Harry Bear took a tool and cut one of the wires and the machine went - "Squack - Growl - Roar - Pop... and then Spoong" and it quit ( after releasing one more cat).

Harry Bear's father and mother came running out to see what was going on - the father said - "Harry, what are you up to now?"  But when they saw the cats the parents agreed that the next job for the boys was to find a good home for all the cats.  And that is what Harry Bear and Coyote did for the next  3 days - until everybody in town had a cat that looked just like Harry Bear's cat.

Harry said "I quess I need to figure our what went wrong..." And Coyote agreed - "at least we didn't put a rattle snake in the machine when it got stuck!"


One time Harry Bear and Coyote were just leaning back on the hillside looking at the clouds and the birds go by.  Coyote said - "I sure wish that I could fly like a bird! - I bet its beautiful to be up that high - you could see everything!" 

Harry thought for a few minutes and then he said - "I think I know how he can do this... We will make a really big kite and fasten a seat to the kite and then fly it from the hilltop.  You can be the passenger."  Coyote said - "lets get right to work".   

So they looked at different designs and decided on a standard kite plan.  They got some strong pieces of bamboo and instead of paper they used light weight canvas that was really strong ... They planned the  kite to be 6 feet high and the across piece would be 4 feet wide...  They spread it all out on the floor of the back patio and fastened everything together really tightly.  They even sewed the canvas together to make it super strong.  To the front of the kite they fastened an aluminum lawn chair.  Then they took all their allowances for the week and went to the store and bought 500 ft, of really strong nylon string.   Then to make the kite work better they bent the cross piece and made it bow just enough and tied it with a piece of the nylon string.  

So Harry said, "Coyote, are you ready to go?"... Coyote said... "I'm a little scared but it should work just fine."  So the next day there was a nice steady wind blowing from the south.  Harry and Coyote went to the top of the hill with the kite and Coyote climbed in... Harry let out some string and waited for a gust of wind - and Hurray!!, the kite rose into the air...Higher and higher every minute!   Coyote yelled down - this is great I can see all the way to Beavertown and to the Hawk mountain... 

Everything worked just fine as long as Harry kept letting out more and more string.  Coyote even had remembered to bring his camera and was taking lots of pictures.  The only problem came when Harry came to the end of the string.  Then the kite started pulling so hard that it lifted Harry Bear off the ground too and he was holding on for dear life as he got lifted higher and higher in the air.  Coyote yelled down to Harry - "Help!, do something! - we are going higher and higher." Coyote said "I can't do anything but hold on!"

But then Harry remembered that they had a very smart friend that helped them sometimes .  He took out his cell phone and called the Yellow Gorilla.  Now the Yellow Gorilla was yellow colored because he was a little messy when he hit hot dogs - which he liked a lot - and he always wiped the yellow mustard on his fur... But he answered his phone and said - "No problem" I  can help you..  and he called their friend  Roberta Raven - and told her the problem - "Come over here" ,he said "and I will give you something to take to them"... So Roberta flew up and delivered first to Harry and then to Coyote some very old but still good Army surplus parachutes... 

Harry said to Coyote " Do you have your parachute on? - Lets jump at the same time... and they did ... and they drifted down just like dandelion fluff and landed in the meadow just above their homes...  Coyote said - "Wow that was great!"  "Do you suppose we made the kite just a little too big?" " Do you want to try again?"  Harry said "Why dont we just go for a nice swim in the river instead...?"

Friday, September 25, 2015

An Open letter to Pope Francis

Dear Pope Francis:

I want to be quite clear at the start that I speak as an active member of an American progressive Protestant denomination… and I  want to say that I have been pleased and surprised by many of the changes that you have brought to the Catholic church. 

It is refreshing to have a Pope who lives a simple life and seeks to educate us all by serving the poor and forgotten of the world.    I read in the press about how you choose to eat with the homeless of Washington DC rather than the legislators.  How you ride in a simple car rather than a great limousine.  How you went into downtown Rome to eat Pizza and to buy eyeglasses. Hurray for you!

I love to hear your voice when you are speaking to the US Congress, the UN, or a school in Harlem N. Y…. There is a gentleness and a strength even when you speak words that may be challenging or difficult for us to hear.  I was cheering when I hear (most of) your what you had to say to the Congress.

You have also taken an active position of important global issues. Your stand on Global climate change is so encouraging to hear.  I am convinced that many in America who are opposed to considering climate change at doing so for their own personal economic gain (If you are from a coal or oil producing state the last thing you want re national policies to limit carbon emissions.)  You recognize the human effect of climate change of rising sea levels, of how global climate change will lead to desertification and mass displacements of people.  You recognize how human greed drives many of our economic decisions....which affect our global atmosphere.

You keep reminding us of the great social challenges of our time not as a matter of numbers but to “see the individual faces” of those involved. …Of the lives being saved or harmed as we make our policy decisions.  I commend you for your stand on immigration and displaced people the world over.  I was thrilled by your message to Europe that each parish should take in at least one immigrant.   Whether the issue is immigration from Syria or Mexico, from the effects of global climate change, or looking at the effects of unjust economic policies, you side with the poor and the powerless.  I say “amen” to your telling us that we should seek to prevent and to end wars, and arms sales to those engaged in war.

I feel encouraged when I read that you recognize the social cost when money becomes concentrated in the hands of a very few, while the middle and lower economic groups are being squeezed harder and harder.  Some people is America become confused about what a humane economic system should be.  You teach the way of Jesus who bade us to care for the poor and destitute, the outcast and the stranger … who warned us how the lust for wealth destroys the inner person.  Top heavy capitalism is just as damaging to society as some of the highly controlled governments  we have seen in the last 200 years.

While many of your positions give me hope for the future of the Catholic Church and for the Christian Church generally.  I have a very hard time understanding why you take some of your positions.  I’m sure that the Vatican is still deeply driven by tradition and I’m sure that there are Catholic church politics that most of us know nothing about.  I wish that I could know your deep down real opinion on some of these matters.

In America, and in fact in many Catholic countries, Catholic priests have been guilty of horrific sexual crimes against young children.  Often the scars of these encounters extend into later life. I felt outraged to hear your position describing the “courage of the Bishops”!   Sure they may have had uncomfortable press to deal with –But that hardly equals the grave damage done to the children.  Now I read that you may meet with the parents of affected children.  That is not enough. I ask you to do justice to those deeply hurt by the guilty priests.

Also I find it hard to understand how you could name Father Serra, of early California missions, to be a Saint of the church.  Do you not read the story of this man?  Working with the army of Spain/Mexico whole native tribes were subjugated… essentially enslaved...forced to work on the lands of the Missions.  For minor transgression they were flogged Sunday after worship at the front door of the Mission church in front of the throng. Indians were forced to attend mass even though it was in a language they could not understand.  The Mission fathers and the others from New Spain brought diseases that decimated whole tribal groups.  Valuable traditional cultures were destroyed and lost.  This man was no saint ...he has a lot of sins to answer for.

For someone who shows such compassion for the poor and needy I am surprised that you don't see the value in birth control. If you really want to reduce abortions this is the first thing to change.  No human life is destroyed if contraceptives are used – the egg and the sperm are simply prevented from joining in the first place.  If you seek to strengthen families and to reduce poverty this is the first thing to change.  Please reconsider.

And finally – I hear of priests who must  service 4-6 separate churches because there aren’t enough priests to go around.  In my Protestant church one of my pastors is a woman of spiritual and social strength who is an effective minister  to her church.  This is the 'elephant in the room' that the Catholic church needs to consider.

Thank you for listening.  I still feel heartened by much of your message to the world – and I still support much of what you do.  I have the strong feeling that you are someone with whom I would like to share a beer and for us to get to know each other better.  I have the feeling we would agree on more than we disagree...

With all best wishes from one interested California Protestant

John Zlatnik

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Defining Issue

(Photos show our encounter with people in Tanzania)

Judy and Mama Lucy in Tanzania
As a child, I early-on developed a sense of the ‘other’. My own identity was clear.  I saw myself primarily as a Czech Protestant, (never mind that my Mother has half Swedish and half English).  My community was largely Czech so that became my dominant identity.  The ‘other’ included Catholics, Norwegians. Germans, … but also Native Americans (Potawatomie), and if we travelled to Topeka I came to recognize African Americans, Mexicans, and the most exotic of all …Asian people. I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about Methodists and Lutherans.

Me joining in a jumping dance with Swahili people
Since I was a kid, a lot of things have changed.  The main thing is that world transportation has become a lot more feasable and faster.  The wars that America has fought have exposed many Americans to ‘far away places’.  Television has exposed us all to information and images that were not accessible even in the time that I was born. The international finance system has made us much more interdependent.  A far away financial event can now have world wide implications almost instantly.  Also, of course, computer communication and the burgeoning instant access to vast amounts of information change how we see ourselves. 

Me making friends with a young orphan
I live in a community where over 95 different languages and dialects are spoken – I can choose to eat in a vast array of restaurants established by people from all these lands… The classrooms that I visit in my student teacher supervision look like the United Nations – with many newly arrived young people learning to work together and to discover new friends with different cultural perspectives.   And by and large it works!

Me and my friend the wood carver
But I realize that not all communities in America or in the world have the same approach to multiculturalism.  In many communities it is much like my childhood where people clung to their identify and were suspicious of all others.  I was taught to be cautious about the outcome expected from the ‘other’.

So the question of our time, the question that will decide our future as a nation, and out continuance as the dominant species on Earth is how are we going to live with our deep human differences both in the United States and within the wider world community? 

A meeting on empowering the role of women living in tribal societies
There are real dangers in making the wrong choice.  We live in a dangerous world and not everybody loves us.  There are those that wish our downfall.  There are real factors on economic well being in terms of world competition.  Is it better to let is foreign workers when we need them for certain tasks or not; it is in our interests to attract the brightest and best in work in US research and development, in medicine, and computer science – or exclude them because they are foreign?  Do we need them more that we fear them?

Judy celebrating her birthday with a group of friends - we provided juice and cupcakes for all 
In our day-to-day lives, how can we interact with the ‘other’ that we encounter?– is our impulse to protect and isolate ourselves or is it to open ourselves to learn from others?  There will be cultural differences that seem odd.  How close or far they stand physically when talking, how loud or quietly to they speak, is their accent hard to understand, do they have beliefs that conflict with your own…?  
Is your primary goal to change them to be like us, to worship like us, to have the same desires and wishes that we have... or can you be open to learn from them?  If you look, there are ways to learn about the cultures to be found in your neighborhood, you can visit the Mosque open houses, the Buddhist Bazar, the Jewish bar-mitzvah of a neighbor, a meal served in the Sikh temple… what riches! It really comes down for having respect for our fellow human beings way of life.

Our good friends and guide that took up to some of the more distant sites
What do we teach our kids?  Are children taught as I was taught that it is paramount to know your own cultural identity and then have a note of caution with all others?  Or to we teach our kids by the way we choose to live…?  Do we find ways to live and work with those who are different? Do we invite 'different' people into our homes, share food with them,  and enjoy doing things together.  That is the real way that kids learn.

Invited to tea
In my life, I learned about ‘other’ways of being human simply by meeting and getting to know one person from that group.   I was very suspicious of gay/lesbian people until I worked with, and became friends with one lesbian woman.  My understanding of African Americans was the same – spending time with, learning about, and befriending those with dark skin opened up a whole new appreciation of them as people, their cultures and lives.  Travelling to Mexico turned me from someone a little unsure about Mexicans into a great appreciation of Latino people and culture.  The answer is “put yourself out there”.  Don't expect “others” people to become like you… the adjustment has to go both ways – it would be wrong to expect ‘others’ to think and act just like me…

Our friend the blacksmith

You can be the one person that 'the Muslim' gets to know and trust, the person from Bangkok or Swaziland… the one person that lets them know, “ I have this one American friend and he (she) makes all the difference.

Judy and a young village child