I Pray for Grace

13 10 2009

Do you know someone who thinks about God or religion or spirituality differently from you? How do you feel about that? Are you respectful toward their beliefs? Are they respectful toward yours?

Did you pray to Buddha? Someone asked me this today. I was sharing how I have been meditating and doing spiritual work to affirm and attract Praying - Purchased from iStockPhotoprosperity. I incorporate various precepts in my spiritual practice. I love the  Buddhist concepts of loving-kindness, that suffering ceases when we let go of our attachment to ideas, people, places, and things, and that we can increase our own peacefulness (thereby increasing the peacefulness in the world) by practicing mindfulness and allowing life to flow. For some reason, these precepts are threatening to my Christian friend and he often mocks me not so subtly as if to say “Do you think Buddha can hear you?”

Why do we do this? Isn’t there enough derision, separation, and I’m-better-than-you (and so is my religion) mentality in this world without mocking someone’s beliefs…and especially the beliefs of someone we’re close to? Each time I encounter this, I feel battered and feel a need to hunker down and redouble my meditation. I…and my brothers and sisters of the world…really need instead so much healing, understanding, acceptance, tolerance, love, kindness, and grace.

Here’s Michael Franti singing what I ask for right now. I pray for grace…for myself, for my friend, and for my brothers and sisters all over the world.

Thanks to Gerry Starnes for sending me the link to this wonderful video.

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Don’t Stop Believin’ – Formerly Homeless Journey Lead Singer and Harvard Student

5 10 2009

The early 80s Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin” was sung on the Oprah show today by their amazing new lead singer (and formerly homeless person in the Phillippines) Arnel Pineda, who was discovered by one of the band members in a video Arnel posted on YouTube. Arnel, who had to fend for himself on the streets after his encouraging mother died when he was 13, is a testament to the power of those words, now living a life he says is way bigger than he could ever have imagined.

The song provided a perfect setup for the story of Khadijah, an African-American young woman who was homeless from the time she was six and slept with her mother and sister in bus stations, on the streets, and in many Khadijah - Homeless to Harvard (Oprah website)shelters. She attended 12 schools in 12 years and was encouraged by her mother to better her life through education. She took this advice to heart, studying hard, and spending a lot of time in the Los Angeles Public Library reading every book she could.

When Khadijah was in the 10th grade, she was determined to finish out her schooling at Jefferson High School, and got up at 4:30 a.m. every day to make the two-hour trip from Skid Row in Los Angeles to school. In May she graduated with honors and is now a freshman at Harvard University. Here’s part of the essay she wrote as part of her admission process. You can read the entire essay at Oprah.com:

Being homeless has given me the skills I need to succeed on the pathway towards my higher education pursuits and life-long goals. My experiences have made me a dedicated student both inside and outside of the classroom. I do not let anything stop me from achieving my goals. Hearing such negativity where I have lived has enabled me to focus on my goals and remain optimistic, even when faced with grave adversity. Having to depend on myself for food has enabled me to take charge of my education. I have learned to be resourceful and diligent and I am confident in saying that I am a very self-motivated and determined individual that will stop at nothing to receive an education. When I go to college, I know that this acquired knowledge and skills will enable me to succeed in whatever I do.

Oprah was so moved by Khadijah’s story that she invited Khadijah to accompany her the next time she visits the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa and tell her inspiring story to the girls there.

Arnel and Khadijah…two formerly homeless people with little to hope for. They both had mothers who believed in them and encouraged them, they both believed in themselves, and they both were willing to work hard to achieve their dreams.

No matter what your situation, no matter how hard or hopeless it may be, don’t stop believing. You never know what miracle is waiting for you!

Here’s Arnel and Journey…





Youssou N’Dour: Goodwill and Music Ambassador of the World

16 08 2009

It penetrates. It uplifts. It feels joyful. Grammy award-winning Youssou N’Dour’s music. Mostly sung in his African Senegal native tongue of Youssou N'Dour Sept 2004Wolof, one does not need a translator to feel this music. Described by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 as “perhaps the most famous singer alive,” Youssou N’Dour is the subject of a documentary called I Bring What I Love, which was shown at many prestigious film festivals around the world. It is now being shown in theaters across the country and I had the privilege of seeing it on Friday.

I received an email from UNICEF USA about the movie. Youssou is an UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and, per the the email, “advocates for children at home and abroad, giving benefit performances and participating in social mobilization and advocacy campaigns. He has been a consistent supporter of the Roll-Back Malaria Partnership, a global initiative launch in 1998 to significantly reduce the number of malaria deaths.”

The email also had this to say about the movie:

Enjoy the tantalizing beats, be inspired by Youssou’s compelling story, but also go see the film because there is more at stake. It’s all too rare that an African or Muslim subject gets this kind of film making and this kind of attention. Amid the images in the U.S. media of African AIDS, war and poverty, this film is a chance for Americans to see a positive, realistic representation of contemporary Africa. In addition, it is all too rare that stories go below the surface and give nuanced views of a more tolerant Islam.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Youssou N’Dour is is often credited with introducing the music of Africa to countless new audiences. Now the innovative Sengalese singer, composer and producer is the subject of a new documentary film, ‘I Bring What I Love’, currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit and in cinemas.

Director and producer Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s cameras followed Mr. N’Dour for three years, documenting family life, concert appearances around the world, the infectious energy of Senegal and his Sufi Muslim faith.

The resulting music-driven journey unfolds at an extraordinary moment in N’Dour’s career, when his most personal, spiritual album to date sparks controversy at home when it is released.

Youssou is revered in Senegal and all of Africa, but originally the Egypt album, which was loved all over the world, was rejected in his home country. Considering it a testimony of his faith, he released it during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan; many considered it blasphemous. It was only after the album won a Grammy…Youssou’s first…that it was accepted.

I was privileged to attend the one showing in Austin that was followed by a discussion of the movie. About 20 former Peace Corps volunteers were present as well as several native Sengalese. The discussion was lively and intelligent, as would be expected from the worldly, curious, and open-minded people who stayed to participate. I came away with a new appreciation for the country of Senegal and a renewed interest in Youssou N’Dour.

Not only is he a world-renowned musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Youssou N’Dour also:

  • Organized in 1985 a concert for the release of Nelson Mandela
  • Performed in the 1988 worldwide Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour
  • Acted in the 2006 movie Amazing Grace about the abolitionist William Wilberforce
  • Performed at three Live 8 concerts
  • Worked with the United Nations
  • Advocated for public health (including AIDS/HIV activism) and civil and political stability in Africa
  • Helped change the economic landscape in Senegal through the Youssou N’Dour Foundation
  • Was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007 by Time magazine

Check out the movie if you have a chance and definitely check out some of his music. It will make you smile and make you want to get up and dance.

Here is the South by Southwest Film Festival trailer about the movie:







Michael Jackson: The Sad Legacy of Child Abuse

27 06 2009

No doubt the music was superb, the dancing mesmerizing, the videos innovativeMichael_Jackson_1984, the costumes eye-popping, the energy unbelievable. After his death this week, Michael Jackson, the proclaimed King of Pop, leaves a legacy of 13 Grammy awards, 13 number one singles, the best selling record of all time (Thriller), 750 million records sold, and many other accolades and awards. He also leaves behind three children, $500 million in debt, a tangled legal mess, and the sad legacy of child abuse.

Michael Jackson was an abused child and he was (allegedly) an abuser. It’s easy to forget all this because we are so stunned at the death so young of someone who has made such an impact on music. We must remember, though, that his life story is a cautionary tale.

When Michael was a child, his father Joseph did things like:

  • Held Michael upside down with one leg and “pummeled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks,” per brother Marlon.
  • Sat in a chair with a belt in his hand while the Jackson brothers rehearsed and that “if you didn’t do it the right way, he would tear you up, really get you,” per Michael.
  • Tripped and pushed the boys into walls and called them names.

[NOTE 6/30: The Wall Street Journal reports that it appears that Michael’s father Joseph was cut out of what is purported to be his latest will, written in 2002.]

The abuse took a toll. Michael often cried from loneliness and even vomited upon seeing the father he so feared. He went from an adorable and impossibly talented little boy to a bizarre-looking and irrevocably scarred middle-aged man. And still lonely. Very lonely.

Perhaps to ease his loneliness and to try and create the childhood he never had, he often invited children over to his fairytale and theme park-like Neverland Ranch. He admitted to the stunned British journalist Martin Bashir, in a 2003 documentary entitled Living with Michael Jackson, that he often had children sleep in his bed.

Just this sort of thing is what got Michael in trouble in 1993 and 2005 when both times he was accused of sexual abuse of a child. In 1993 he suffered deteriorated health from being addicted to three painkillers as a result of the stress he felt from dealing with the accusations and settled out of court. In 2005 the boy who was seen holding hands with Michael and discussing sleeping arrangements with him in the documentary accused him of sexual abuse. The People v. Jackson trial ended with Michael being found not guilty, but left a shroud of suspicion around him that never ended. Mental health professional Dr. Stan Katz, who evaluated Michael and the accuser for the trial, declared Michael a “regressed 10-year-old” and not a pedophile.

Perhaps that’s so. Perhaps Michael was 10 in his thoughts and actions and doing the normal exploratory stuff that 10-year-olds do. Maybe he was innocent and taken advantage of by greedy fortune-seekers. At the very least, Michael was naively inappropriate to allow children in his bed. He was an adult and a public figure. He should have known better.

But this is what severe child abuse does. It can delay or thwart emotional development and contribute to a 50-year-old man regressing to being 10 years old. It can lead to life-long problems.

Michael Jackson is both a talented and tragic figure. It leaves us wondering if he would’ve been less troubled and if he would have left a less sullied legacy if he had been treated with kindness and love as a child and not ridicule, threats, and harm.

This brings to my mind the 1954 poem by Dorothy Law Nolte that has hung in my home since my now-grown children were small. I looked at that poem several times a day and tried to live by its tenets as I raised my daughters. Here is the poem, entitled “Children Learn What They Live”:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

Thanks for the music, Michael. Like so many creative giants, your flame extinguished way too soon. The torture you felt in life is now silenced, but the music lives on. Here’s one of my favorites of his. Enjoy.






Stand By Me

30 04 2009

Who do you stand by? Today. Right now. A child? Spouse or significant other? Best friend?  Maybe yourself? Is that about it? Hmmm. Too busy, too frazzled, or just don’t give a damn to stand by anyone else? Do you even think about others outside your primary relationships? Of course you do…right?

You are like a cell in the total of the human(ity) body. For this every-human-on-the-planet body to be healthy and functioning, each cell needs to be healthy. Think those women being children and women being raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo don’t affect your life? You have a deadly cancer…good luck. Think Chinese women being forced to abort 9-month-old fetuses to comply with the one-child law doesn’t affect you? You lost your sight…how does that feel?

globe-in-hands-smallerEspecially in the U.S. we have had this notion that we are independent and not connected to the rest of the world…that global body. Look what happened with the economic crisis here…it brought down economies around the world. Our greed, self-centeredness, and narcissim infected others and caused the global body harm.

Now look at the power of what one person can do. President Obama has such a positive, calm, comforting, reassuring, thoughtful, and attentive demeanor and he is lifting us all up. Our global cells are starting to hum and vibrate with hope again.

We are all interconnected. It starts with one person…and then another…and then another…and then another… Who do you stand by? Who do you stand with? Who do you connect with? The answer to that last question? EVERYONE.

 We all need each other. Stand by me. I stand by you.

 From the award-winning documentary “Playing for Change: Peace Through Music”…enjoy!





Susan Boyle – A Wake-up Call

17 04 2009

Matronly, unstylish, shy, double chinned, unassuming. If you passed her on susan-boylethe street, you may not have looked twice. She would be invisible to most people. Middle aged. Looking older than her 47 years. Not beautiful. Ordinary.

The judges of Britain’s Got Talent – Simon Cowell (also judge on American Idol), Amanda Holden (actress), and Piers Morgan (also judge on America’s Got Talent and winner last year of Celebrity Apprentice) rolled their eyes. Surely this frumpy looking woman had nothing to offer. They judged her on her looks.

And then she opened her mouth and it was as if an angel was singing. The looks on the judges’ faces said it all…shock, awe, delight, sheer joy. The crowd went wild. After she sang, judge Amanda Holden summed up what everyone was feeling by saying:

I am so thrilled because I know that everybody was against you. I honestly think that we were all being very cynical and I think that’s the biggest wake-up call ever. I just want to say that it was a complete privilege listening to that.

We know now that Susan had oxygen deprivation at birth and had learning disabilities. That helps to understand the simple mindedness of this woman who kept her cheeriness despite the obvious initial jeers against her.

It’s a reminder not to judge a book by its cover and that sheer magic can come from people in all kind of packages (bodies).

Of course, it should come as no surprise to anyone that there is still a double standard in what people will accept in a woman’s looks vs. a man’s. The New York Times has an article today about how there are many heftier men stars now and they still get roles in movies. Not so for women.

While most of the comments left on YouTube of her singing are overwhelmingly positive, there are those that show the cruelty and prejudice of people:

  • “bitch u ugly as fuck! u ugly as sin! ur ugly!”
  • “she ugly”

Why do people feel a need to hurt people like that and judge people by how they look? Was it a wake-up call to you? Did you judge the never-been-kissed Susan Boyle before she opened her mouth?

Here she is…a total YouTube sensation, featured on the Today Show, Oprah, and so many other shows. Enjoy!





Say What You Need to Say

9 02 2009

John Mayer’s “Say” won Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards tonight. The song is featured in the movie “The Bucket List,” and in it he sings “Say what you need to say…even if your hands are shakin’ and your faith is broken, even as the eyes are closin’, do it with a heart wide open…say what you need to say.”

Is there something you need to say to someone? Join the wave of courage, authenticity and integrity, which begins now with the inauguration of President Obama, the end of the George Bush monarchy, and the exposure of Wall Street fat cats and others who have built a house of cards at our expense.

Authenticity is about saying what you need to say even when it is hard to do. It is about President Obama telling us that the road to healing our nation is going to be rocky and we will all have to make sacrifices. It is about speaking out about torture and child abuse even when people don’t want to think those things exist in the world and don’t want to hear about them. It is about telling a troubled family member their actions are hurtful and yet you are there to help.

I think a lot about women and children all over the world who live in fear, who are physically, emotionally, and sexually abused, who are refugees, who are treated as property and/or slaves, who are forced into marriages with men they don’t love, who are hungry, who have no money or means to support themselves, who have AIDS, and who have no hope for a better future.

Living in such conditions and just trying to survive, do they even think about life being precious, being understood, feeling a connection with others, being comforted, and treating others with integrity and love? How do we help people who have been so afflicted to rise above the trauma of the affliction and begin to trust, love, and connect with others?

The thing is that we don’t have to go to Darfur or the Congo or Somalia or any number of other places to find women and children who are suffering. Look around. Perhaps you have or know a child who is suffering, or a cousin, a friend, a parent, an acquaintance. Maybe you don’t know they are suffering, but you sense that something is wrong. These could be women or children who live with the shame of having been sexually abused, who live in poverty, who live in physically violent homes, or who are so desperate that they are considering committing suicide.

What do you need to say? Are you holding something back?  Reach out to that person. Be courageous. Step up. Perhaps what you have to say could make a difference in someone else’s life and could even save their life. Say what you need to say.

Here’s John Mayer singing the song as featured in “The Bucket List.”





Pure Joy – African Children’s Choir

30 01 2009

Huge smiles on beautiful brown faces. Bright tangerine and purple outfits. Energy for days. Dancing with sheer abandon. Twenty-two children ages 7 to 11 moving in sync and singing with big hearts. A packed crowd, many with small children who were mesmerized to see children their ages performing so beautifully. Sheer glee. An enthusiastic crowd. Wild applause. A non-stop smile so big on my face that it almost hurt.

african-childrens-choir

The African Children’s Choir came to Austin tonight and I was privileged to witness their incredible performance. Formed in 1984 by Ray Barnett, an Irish-born minister who travelled to Uganda during the reign of terror of Idi Amin. He came back afterward and saw homeless children and was so moved, he knew he had to do something. He gave a ride to a small boy who sang during the entire two-hour trip. This was what Ray could do…form a singing group and take them to the U.S. and other countries to raise awareness and funds for the children. Thus the first African Children’s Choir was born.

The choir I heard tonight is the 35th choir. The children are picked from all over Uganda and go to a training center for five months. Following their tour, they are enrolled at the Music for Life Primary School. The school can accommodate 120 students. Currently there are plans to build a new facility that can take 400 children. There is a drive to raise the 1.1 million dollars needed to make this dream a reality. There was no charge to hear them sing, but donations were accepted and people gave freely. How could they (I) not when these precious and talented children so delighted them (me)?

Similar programs are also in place in Sudan, South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria. This program is changing lives and helping children break the cycle of poverty. Without this opportunity, many of these children would live on the streets with no parents to care for them and no way to care for themselves.

Many students who have participated in the African Children’s Choir and education have gone on to earn degrees and even advanced degrees. It was touching as each student introduced themselves with “Hallo. My name is _________ and I want to be _________ when I grow up.” Their responses varied: teacher, nurse, bus driver, doctor, lawyer, builder…. The light in these childrens’ eyes signified to me that they will realize their dreams.

If you want to know more about this wonderful organization, check them out at http://www.africanchildrenschoir.com. Watch for yourself and I just bet you will start smiling!





Want to Be Uplifted? Check This Out!

16 12 2008

Straight No Chaser a cappella group has over 9 million YouTube hits for their fun rendition of “Twelve Days of Christmas”. These ten guys were a big hit at Indiana University in the late 1990s and after graduation, went their separate ways, pursuing musical and non-musical careers. They were “discovered” on YouTube by Atlantic Records and signed a recording deal. They have a fabulous new “Holiday Spirits” CD out…check it out!

Here they are singing “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Enjoy!