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Saturday, October 14, 2017

We Are All Enlisted: Lessons from a Scottish Clan

Almost 25 years ago when I attended BYU, I took sign language classes.  Sadly, I didn’t stay with the language, and I have forgotten most of it.  But there is one sign that I will never forget as long as I live.  And that is the sign for Israelite.  Let me tell you why.

When I was taking my ASL grammar class, one of our assignments was to attend the Deaf Ward in Provo.  After Sacrament Meeting, a gentleman approached me and asked if I was an Israelite.  The strange thing was, I had just happened to learn that sign a few weeks before.  But I was baffled that a stranger would ask me at church if I was one. 

Before I answered him, a debate began in my head.  I had also taken a religion class on the book of Isaiah by Dr. Ludlow.  We were learned the difference between Gentiles, those born in the covenant and those adopted to the tribes of Israel.  I wondered if this man was somehow testing me.  I finally answered back, “I’m not sure.” 

He looked surprised by my answer.  He asked it again only more slowly.  “Are you an Israelite?” 

“Why do you want to know?” I asked.
“Because we have a Sunday School class for Israelites,” he answered. 

Now I was really baffled.  Why does the Deaf Ward have a special Sunday School class for Israelites?  That seemed like a strange way to divide the members. 
My face must have revealed my confusion because he explained further.  “We have a class for those who are married and those who are Israelites.” 

It was at this point that I began to suspect that he wasn’t actually signing the word “Israelite.”  The sign for Israelite is used making the letter “I” with your pinky.   He was using his forefinger, which is the sign for “single” as in unmarried. 

I quickly replayed the conversation in my mind.  “Are you single?”  “I’m not sure. Why do you want to know?”  This poor guy must have thought that I thought he was hitting on me.  I was mortified.  I quickly explained that yes I was single and I would be happy to attend the Sunday School class for singles. 

Today, I’d like to ask you the same question that I thought this poor gentleman was asking me.  “Are you an Israelite?”

An Israelite is anyone who descended from one of the 12 sons of Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel.  These descendants were divided into separate family tribes.  Today we call them the 12 tribes of Israel. 

Are we literal descendants of the tribes of Israel?  The answer most likely is yes.  As we learn in the scriptures and from modern-day prophets.  The Israelites were scattered on the earth and their blood was mixed with Gentiles.  Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith said that “it is very possible that the majority, almost without exception, of those who come into the Church in this dispensation have the blood of two or more of the tribes of Israel as well as the blood of the Gentiles” (
Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–66, 3:63.) 

What about the minority?  Those few members who do not have the blood of Israel?  Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith explains, “Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 3:246.)

So while most of us are literally an Israelite by blood, the very few of us who are not, were adopted when we were baptized. 

So I’m happy to report, that yes, we are all Israelites, or of the house of Israel. 

And as Israelites we are all enlisted.  We are soldiers in God’s army.  Like the hymn says we are to “fight for our Savior.” 
As I’ve pondered what it means to be a soldier in God’s army, I’ve thought a lot about Scottish clans. 
My maiden name is Buchanan.  It turns out my last name was invented by my great grandfather when he changed his identity.  But for 70 years our family thought we were Scottish.  Back when I still thought I was a Buchanan, I learned that the first Scottish clan was the Buchanan clan. 
Once a group of people are considered to be a clan they were assigned a tartan to identify the members of that group.  Typically the members of the clan would adopt the same last name as the leader of the clan.  They became sort of like an extended family.
You might be wondering, what was required to become a clan? This was the standard.  If the community could have 100 armed individuals within an hour ready to fight, they were a clan. 

As I’ve pondered the implications of that requirement, I’ve come to realize that the community needed to have at least 4 systems in place. 
1.   They needed to be large in number.  It took a lot of families to be able to spare 100 able-bodied men to leave to fight in a war.
2.   They needed to be prosperous.  If the community was starving, they wouldn’t be using their precious resources to build swords and shields.
3.   They needed to have a communication network.  To notify 100 warriors within 60 minutes meant they needed to know where everybody was and how to contact them.
4.   They need to be united in a common cause.  It would be hard to convince 100 soldiers to fight for something that the community didn’t agree on. 
While we are not a Scottish clan, I think that we can learn from the Scots as to ways we can prepare ourselves to fight for our Savior as soldiers in God’s army.  I believe we can follow their example in these same four ways. 

1.   Numerous.  Our church has divided its members into congregations so that we can gather to worship together in larger numbers than just our immediate families.  In order for this to work.  We actually need to show up to church. Church is exactly where Satan doesn’t want us to be and he’ll try every trick to get us not to come.  Elder Holland’s talk titled Song Sung and Unsung from the April 2017 General Conference tells us, “Don’t demean your worth or denigrate your contribution. Above all, don’t abandon your role in the chorus. Why? Because you are unique; you are irreplaceable.”  I just got back from spending a couple of months in a place where I didn’t speak the language.  I discovered that of all the activities I did each week, attending church was by far the hardest.  I felt out of place and uncomfortable.  I was living alone and it just felt like it didn’t matter if I even went or not.  One Sunday I did something I haven’t done in years, I just didn’t go.  I just couldn’t bring myself to walk into the building and feel ignored and lost.  So I stayed home and watched BYU scripture discussion videos.  The next Sunday I went back to church because I knew it was important to at least take the Sacrament.  When I arrived, I was greeted by several members who spoke English.  They said how much they had missed me and were grateful I was back.  I had no idea anyone even noticed that I came to church.  I have learned that even if all we can do is sit in the back and fold our arms for three hours, we add to the numbers.  We add to the group.  Our presence matters, even if we feel out of tune or like I did that we don’t have a voice at all.
2.   Prosperous.  In D&C we read “It is my purpose to provide for my Saints” (D&C 104:15).  Our Heavenly Father has provided ways for us to prosper, but it takes effort on our part as well.  As members of God’s army we need to be self-reliant to serve and preach.  This doesn’t mean we need to financially prosperous.  We can prosper in several ways.  We can be resourceful, like knowing how to garden, sew, or repurpose household items.  We can be educated, like knowing how to research solutions to problems, or where to go to find the sources that we need.  We can be spiritually strong, like knowing the basic principles of the gospel well enough that we can share them with others and bear testimony as to its truthfulness.  President Monson said, “[Self-reliance] is an essential element in our spiritual as well as our temporal well-being.” (“Guiding Principles of Personal and Family Welfare,” Ensign, Sept. 1986, 3)  When we are prosperous we then can focus our resources towards others.  Hopefully we won’t need to arm ourselves for war like a Scottish clan, but we can arm ourselves to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. 

3.   Networked.  One of the defining characteristics of our church is our ability to reach most of its members within 24 hours.  This is mainly achieved through a program known as Visiting Teaching and Home Teaching.  According to the handbook the purpose of visiting teaching is to watch over, strengthen, and teach one another. Pres. Ezra Taft Benson described home teaching this way, “a program that touches hearts, that changes lives, and that saves souls; a program that has the stamp of approval of our Father in Heaven; a program so vital that, if faithfully followed, it will help to spiritually renew the Church and exalt its individual members and families.”  Another added benefit is it serves as a calling tree; we could easily reach 100+ members of our ward in 1 hour.  These two programs make it possible for us to find the one.  The one who needs to be ministered to.  I would submit that no matter what our situation currently is, we all need to be reached out to, we all need to be shown love and to receive service.  Over the years I have learned that while we may not fully be aware of each other’s needs, the Lord is aware.  If we will pray to our Heavenly Father and ask Him “Who needs my service today?” The Spirit can lead us to those who need our love and our help.  We don’t need to decide who is or isn’t in need of help, all we need to do is follow the Spirit. 
4.   United.  It wouldn’t do much good to have 100 armed warriors if they didn’t agree with the purpose of the war.  As members of the same Church we too should be united towards a common cause.  But as we read in the Gospel Topics on lds.org, unity doesn’t mean we are all the same. 

“The diversity of the Church’s worldwide membership is a notable characteristic of Latter-day Saints because the gospel of Jesus Christ transcends every culture, race, nationality, and language. Cultures and peoples throughout the world gather together by geographical location to form local congregations that worship together. Because of the Savior’s invitation that all God’s children come unto Him (see Matthew 11:28D&C 10:67), no two congregations in the Church are the same.
Regardless of ethnicity or outward appearance, all Church members are united in the knowledge that they are children of a Heavenly Father. They know He loves each of His children equally. This knowledge builds a feeling of unity in every building and worship service around the world and ties all members of the Church together.”

So we may look differently, we may communicate differently, but in one thing we are the same.  We know that we are children of our Heavenly Father.  We know He loves us, and we love him.  We want to share this love with the world. 

As enlisted soldiers in God’s army we need to show up and be counted.  We need to learn how to be resourceful so that we can help ourselves and others.  We need to watch over those we are assigned to visit and home teach.  We need to know where they are, how they are doing, and how to contact them.  We need to be united in our testimony of Jesus Christ while embracing our diversity.  We need to be willing to join together to act in His name.  I’m pretty sure that most of us are never going to be asked directly, “Are you an Israelite?” But in case that does happen for some reason, we can proudly answer, “Yes!  Yes, I am!”

Even though it has been almost 25 years since I have spoken in sign language, I spent many years performing musical numbers in sign language.  I am actually much more comfortable singing than speaking in ASL.  So if I hope it is okay that I share with you my testimony in sign language by sharing the words of my most favorite hymn when translated in ASL, I Stand All Amazed. 

 I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.
 I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Go to Where the Hurt Is: Attending the Clergy Summit on Mental Health

I was asked if I could take someone's place today at the Clergy Summit on Mental Health hosted by the NewYork-Presbyterian Ambulatory Care Network.   I'm so glad I went.  I hope I can give you just a small portion of what I learned in less than 4 hours.  

~~~


Before I share what I learned, let me give you some context.  

The Building Bridges, Knowledge and Health Coalition wanted to create an event to let clergymen in Upper Manhattan, Harlem, and the Bronx know what mental health services are available to their congregations.  The LDS Public Affairs learned about this event and invited LDS Bishops and Relief Society presidents in New York City to attend as Clergy.  I was asked to take the Relief Society's President's spot for the Union Square Ward.  Our Bishop and Welfare Specialist also attended.  I saw one other LDS member there from another ward.  Most in attendance were pastors of various churches including Baptist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian.  I also saw some of the Jewish and Muslim faith.  

~~~

SPEAKERS

The honored speaker was New York City's First Lady, Chirlane McCray.  Her platform is known as Thrive NYC and she's trying to change the conversation about mental health.  Here's a link to the website.  

Thrive NYC

An assemblywoman, and a US Congressman for NY also spoke.  They shared some interesting statistics and challenges with mental health.  

We also heard from two doctors, Dr. Yiu Kee Warren Ng and Dr. Sidney Hankerson.  Then we had a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Hankerson.  The panel was a blend of both medical professionals and ecclesiastical leaders.

STATISTICS
As you can imagine many stats surrounding mental health were shared.  Let me share with you what jumped out at me.  

  • 1 out of 5 in the U.S. are struggling with some type of mental health issue.  
  • Most substance abuse is because of a mental health issue. 
  • Overdose is the number one cause of death for those under the age of 50.  
  • In the last 30 years, suicide rates for girls ages 10-14 has increased by 200%.
  • Suicide is the second highest cause of death in the U.S. for ages 15-29. 
  • Suicide rates for all ages are at an all-time high within the last 30 years.  
  • Those who are suffering with a mental health issue are more likely to seek their clergy than a doctor or therapist.  
  • Depression is the #1 cause of disabilities in the U.S. 
  • Pastors and other clergymen are more likely to suffer from depression than the average American.

STUMBLING BLOCKS 

Those who minister to others in a faith-based organization or church have some unique challenges to helping those who struggle with mental health.

1. As stated before, those who are suffering with mental health, are more likely to seek their clergy rather than a professional.  Some may be resistant to seeking professional help because of distrust, lack of access, or their faith traditions.
2. Clergy have a tradition of actually making it difficult for church members to seek professional help.  Sayings like, "Too blessed to be stressed" or "Too anointed to be disappointed" make those struggling feel like they shouldn't be battling grief, depression, or anxiety.  The idea to pray harder is encouraged.
3. Since clergy are not therapists or mental health professionals, they struggle providing adequate support and care.  This not only doesn't help the one in need, but also causes stress and mental health issues to the clergy.

SOLUTIONS

The theme that was repeated throughout the event was understanding the difference between being a first responder and a professional.

Here's one way to look at it.

Let's say you come upon someone who is bleeding.  You have a basic understanding of first aid.  You know that you need to stop the bleeding, clean the wound, call for help, and stay with the patient until help arrives.  You also know that since you aren't a doctor, you can't stitch up the wound, or perform surgery on the one who is suffering.

Let's say you come upon someone who is having a panic attack.  Do you have a basic understanding of mental health first aid?  Do you understand that you are not a therapist and can't "treat" the person?  Do you know what questions to ask?  Do you know how to call for help?

Well, New York City is working to change that.  ThriveNYC offers mental health first aid training classes.  To learn more about the classes offered, click on the link below.
Mental Health First Aid

When assessing a person's physical health, we look at their vital signs.
Heart rate
Blood pressure

Temperature
Respiration
Weight

When a assessing a person's mental health, we can look at other vital signs.
Heart rate:  Listen to their heart.  What is their story?
Blood pressure:  What stresses or pressures are they experiencing?
Temperature:  What heated emotions are they showing?
Respiration: Do they have room to breathe?  Are they practicing self care?
Weight: What anxieties or worries are weighing on their minds.

As those who are leaders in our churches' organizations, we are known as the first responders.  Here's what we can do.

  • Assess their risk of harm or suicide.
  • Listen to them non-judgmentally - be a careful listener 
  • Reassure them and give them information of what they can do next
  • Encourage them to seek help
  • Encourage them to get support
As first responders there is something else we should also do.  That is to make sure we are practicing self-care so that we can stay mentally healthy.

In our info packet was a worksheet allowing us to inventory how well we perform self-care.  As an aside, I have to say this.  I was humbled by this list.  These are activities encouraged by the LDS Church to all of its members.  I guess I've always seen the counsel from the leaders as ways to live the gospel, I've never seen it as ways to stay mentally healthy too.

I won't type the whole list, but here is a sample of the worksheet.

SPIRITUAL
--Read Bible daily

--Daily time in prayer
--Journal insight from Bible, reflections on the day
--Serve and encourage others
--Start your day with a time of praise and prayer
--End your day with a time of praise and thanskgiving
--Bible study (dig deep)
--Join a small group where you can share, pray, learn

PHYSICAL
--Eat healthy
--Exercise
--Get regular medical care for prevention and when needed
--Get enough sleep every night
--Set boundaries for time away from telephones/email/technology

PSYCHOLOGICAL
--Make time for self-reflection but don't stare at the past- just glance and move forward
--Write in a journal
--Read literature that is unrelated to work
--Do something at which you are not an expert or in charge
--Engage your intelligence in a new area
--Practice receiving from others
--Say "no" to extra responsibilities

I'd like to end with a poignant comment made by one of the panelists.

Compassion is going to where the hurt is.  When someone is suffering, all they know is that they are hurting.  They don't know why or that they need help.  We can't wait for them to come to us, we must go to them.  We must enter their homes and sit with them.  That is how we minister to them.

The LDS Church has a dual-sided program known as visiting teaching (women visiting women) and home teaching (priesthood holders visiting families).  This program is based on the idea of one-on-one ministering.  To learn more about how these programs work within the Church visit the links below:
Visiting Teaching
Home Teaching


NYC has a hotline for those who are struggling with depression, anxiety, suicide, and drug or alcohol abuse.  1-888-NYC-WELL.  To learn more, click on the link below:
NYC WELL




Thursday, May 18, 2017

The magnifying glass over New York City

Today tragedy struck.  A drunk driver made a u-turn at an intersection and drove onto the sidewalk.  Afterwards the city had to shut down multiple streets and public transportation in order to investigate if it was a terrorist attack.   You see this was no ordinary intersection.

http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Widespread-Road-Closures-After-Times-Square-Crash-423006034.html

It happened in Times Square, the most famous intersection in New York City, and possibly the country.  The sidewalk was crowded with people.  While many of them ran to avoid the car, 23 people couldn't get out of the way, and one young woman was even killed.


I'm sure just about every city has had a drunk driver at some point drive down the wrong side of the road or up onto the sidewalk, but it doesn't make national news like it does in New York City.
That's because New York City has millions of tourists every year, and just about all of them visit Times Square.  So when a car drives up onto the sidewalk, we get a horrific outcome.

http://pix11.com/2017/05/18/car-in-times-square-crashes-into-pedestrians-witnesses/

What happened in New York City, happens everywhere.  It's just that the millions of us living on a 22 square mile island live underneath a magnifying glass.  Our actions may be the same as everyone else's but the effects are magnified.

However.

It doesn't mean that you shouldn't visit Times Square.  Or walk on sidewalks.

In fact, did you know that New York City is considered to be the safest big city in America?

Read more here and here and here.
 

Yet despite all the statistics, reports, and facts, people still might be afraid to come to Times Square or visit New York City.

Don't be.

But don't walk around with cash hanging out of your pocket either.

http://www.traveldudes.org/travel-tips/top-five-european-cities-pick-pockets/11922
And for heaven's sake, don't buy any tour bus tickets from people on the street.  Seriously, get them online.




Monday, April 17, 2017

Observing Families on Vacation in NYC: Nurturers and Protectors

Spring is in the air here in New York City--blossoms on the trees, tulips in the gardens, and tourists lost on subways.
Tulip field about a 3-minute walk from my apartment


It must be Spring Break for most of America right now because I have not seen it so crowded since I moved here in mid-September.

I can spot the families on Spring Break pretty easily because they have quite a few things in common.

  • School-aged children in the middle of the day
  • Hats, t-shirts, or jacket with NYC on them
  • Looking up at buildings
  • Taking pictures of said buildings
  • Not making eye-contact with those who pass by.  (Okay, who am I kidding? New Yorkers don't do that either.)  
But I have to say the number one thing I have noticed about these families is the fathers and the mothers.  They all pretty much do the same thing.  

FATHERS 
The dads in the family are almost always at the front of the pack.  They are leading the way as the family tries to navigate around other pedestrians.  Walking on sidewalks is akin to driving on a highway.  We have lanes and everyone is expected to maintain a minimum speed.  The fathers create a path for the family to follow.  

Fathers also seem to be the "holder of stuff."  They have more bags in their hands than the others, and also are usually the one carrying the valuables, cameras, bags, etc.  What is it about dads that make them such good pack horses?  

As soon as a family gets on the subway, the dad looks for the subway map, figures out which stop they need to exit, and informs the rest of the family which stop is theirs.  I have seen this repeated many times. Most New Yorkers just know to lean to one side if they are sitting in front of the subway map without having to be asked.  

MOTHERS 
Mothers tend to walk either behind or beside the children.  I've noticed that they like to have all of their kids in view.   Depending on the age of the kids, they may even hold their hands.  I think the best image I can relate it to is a mother hen gathering her chickens.  

When the family gets on the subway, I see the mother do a quick check to make sure all the kids made it onto the subway.  Then they look for a place for their kids to sit or stand.  I can tell they don't want their kids to sit next to someone who looks questionable.  (Fortunately, very few people are like that on the subway, most are tired commuters or other tourists.)  

As I have observed this pattern repeated among different family sizes, ages, races, and nationalities, it has caused me to wonder, why.  Why is just about every family behaving the same way in New York City no matter where they are from?  Where did all these fathers and mothers learn to act like this? 

The LDS Church published a document called the Family Proclamation in 1995.  You can read the full text here. 

In it we read, 

"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children."  
Family Proclamation to World, emphasis added


What I observe on the streets in New York City, isn't all the different than what we see in families everywhere.  Fathers work hard to clear the dangers and obstacles for their families and make sure the family is going in the right direction and doesn't get lost.  Mothers are looking out for their children and making sure they are cared for.

Of course not every family is exactly what I just described, but as I see this description repeated over and over, it tells me that a father's and a mother's role is by divine design. 

This divine pattern was established long ago with our first parents, Adam and Eve. 



They are our First Parents.  The reason why we are here is because of the choices they made in the Garden of Eden.  They brought about what is known as the Fall and made it possible for us to live here on earth.

Almost 24 years ago, a certain Englishman and I assumed the roles of father and mother.  As our kids came quickly within a six and a half year period, we didn't really have much time to think about how we wanted to fill that role, we were too busy just doing it.  


But as I look back on almost a quarter of a century of parenting, I realize that I am primarily the nurturer and my husband is the protector and the provider.  Not to say that I don't ever provide or protect, or that he never nurtures, but we have been the main person in our respective roles.

I am grateful that the Plan of Salvation allows us to live as families here on earth.  We can learn more about our Heavenly Parents by caring for some of Their children.  Whether it is to our siblings, children, nieces and nephews, or any of God's children, we all have an opportunity to be a protector or a nurturer, even outside of New York City.  


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Finding a New Home: Attending the UN Panel Discussion on Refugee Resettlement Work

Every once a while living in New York City allows me an opportunity that I otherwise would never have.  Today was one of those days.

I found out a while ago that LDS Charities was organizing an event with the UN. The Director of Public Affairs for the LDS Church in the New York New York Stake wanted our help to fill the room.  So I signed up for a ticket and then promptly forgot about it.

About a month ago, I had a chance to fly to Utah to be with my husband and son. We were going to all fly back to NYC on the 13th of April.  I looked at my calendar and saw that it was the day of the UN meeting.  I decided to stay in NYC so that I could attend.

Best decision ever.

I decided to get there early since I knew we'd have to go through security and you know, I get lost a lot.  I always try to budget "Don't know what I'm doing" into my itinerary whenever I go somewhere new.

Well, I over compensated and ended up being the first person to walk into the conference room.

See how empty it is?


 It was just like what I imagine from the movies.  Tons of microphones and screens at each desk.  Large, padded leather chairs to allow for sitting for long periods of time were arranged in large semi circles.

I'm not sure if this is the same room, but it looked just like this.


  I finally walked up to someone to find out where the "nobodies" like me were supposed to sit.

"You can sit wherever you'd like," she said.

"You mean I can sit here?" I said pointing to the leather chairs.

"Sure, you are the first one here so get a good seat."



I could see that the best seats in the house were being reserved so I chose front and center, three rows back. I had a beautiful view of the panel and the screens.  In fact, I ended up seeing myself on the screen quite a bit throughout the meeting.

CARYL STERN

The moderator of the event was Caryl Stern who is the President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

Before she introduced the panel, she told two very personal and contrasting stories.

Her mother was a refugee who left in 1939 to escape Hitler's regime.  She was 6 years old and accompanied by her 4 year old brother who traveled with a woman who escorted them to New York City on a boat.  Once they arrived they lived in an orphanage in the lower East side.  For as long as Caryl can remember she has heard about how it was because of this woman, that her mother safely made it to America.

The other story is of her grandfather who was on that fateful ship, the SS St. Louis, or more commonly known as the Voyage of the Damned.  For those who don't know, a group of Jewish refugees arrived in Cuba only to discover that they had false documents and Cuba would not accept them.  They stayed on the ship for 40 days while the nations argued as to what to do with them.  No country would accept them and they were sent back to Germany and for many, their deaths.  Fortunately her grandfather survived, but again this story was retold many times in Caryl's family.

What Caryl subtly told us with her two stories was that we have a choice.  We can create our own story in how we respond to the millions of refugees in the world today.

JEAN BINGHAM

The first panelist to speak was the recently called General Relief Society President for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jean Bingham.  Jean's credentials definitely made it clear why she was there today.  As a former member of the General Primary Presidency for the LDS Church she has traveled the world visiting children in need.  She has taught English as a second language to immigrants and for nonprofits.  Just 6 weeks ago she was in visiting children in Africa in association with UNICEF.

Despite how shell shocked she must still feel that she is now the General Relief Society President, she spoke clearly and eloquently about what the LDS Church is doing to help refugees around the world.  She also spoke about how important it is to work with other faith-based organizations in this effort.  I would say the theme of her speech was that small and simple ways to help really do make a difference.

ANWAR KHAN

Even thought I'm not Muslim, I really had a soft spot for the next panelist, Anwar Khan.  He is the CEO of Islamic Relief USA.  This is a man who must overcome more obstacles than he should to provide relief to Muslims around the world who are suffering.  He must constantly deal with those who do not agree with his beliefs or what he is doing.

My favorite line from his speech was,

"We answer their hate with love."

He made it clear to me that what we see on your 24/7 news feed is not reality.  There are many faiths working together to help those in need.  He told the story of a group of people who came to Washington DC to welcome a group of refugees to the airport.  "This is more of what we need to see on TV," he said.

BARBARA DAY

Barbara Day must have a business card the size of an index card.  She is the Domestic Resettlement Section Chief at the State Department's Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration.  In English that means that she helps place refugees in the US by working with official resettlement refugee organizations.

She made it clear that they do not select organizations based on their faith or if they are even faith-based.  Each organization is held to the same standard.  Every refugee that is resettled in the U.S. receives the same goods and services no matter what their faith is.  She said that any organization can be nimble, and it can also be root bound.

What impacted me about her speech was when she said that a woman from Bosnia said that what she wanted most was someone to have a coffee with.  She said the greatest gift we can give, is a gift of friendship.

REV. CANON E. MARK STEVENSON

Rev. Mark Stevenson is the director of the Episcopal Migration Ministries, which is the official refugee resettlement program of the Episcopal Church.  He said that they aren't the largest resettlement organization, but they definitely have a punch above their weight class.  Last year they resettled 5,000 refugees from 32 countries.

He pointed out that Jesus Christ was a refugee due to infanticide.  He had to flee because of his beliefs and his religion.

I was brought to tears when he said this profound statement,

"I cannot conquer the evil in the world, but as a Christian I don't have to.  Our Savior already has."

This brought peace to my soul.  Learning about the refugee crisis can definitely be overwhelming and discouraging.  But that is not how we should feel about this problem.  We should feel empowered to do something about it.

ABDUL SABOOR

Abdul Saboor is a resettled refugee from Afghanistan.  He's currently getting his Master's at Syracuse University.  He is currently a match grant program coordinator at Interfaith Works.

He told his experience about having to leave his home and community.  He said that his community was on fire.  He had to choose between survival and death.  But he learned that there is something stronger than fear, it is hope.

He said that now we have refugees here because their homes are on fire.  But, he pointed out, we are all refugees.  None of us are living in our true home, which is with God.

MARIA FARE

I think Maria Fare was a new addition to the panel, because her name and bio is not listed in the program.  She works for the UN with their Sustainable Development Goals.  I'm so glad she made it on the panel.  I couldn't get enough of her.  She resonated with me with her talk about citizen participation, something I'm passionate about.

She said that in 2000 people from the UN got together and created eight Millennial Development Goals that were to be accomplished in 15 years.  She pointed out that no one asked the people in the developing countries how they felt about those goals or what they wanted.

So in 2015, they worked to create new goals for the next 15 years called Sustainable Development Goals.  Seventeen goals were set to be accomplished based on input from those who would be impacted.  What amazed me is that over 80 percent of the respondents did not respond online, but with pen and paper.  What an incredible effort.

But the input has ended.  Now they are using surveys to find out if the goals are working and changing lives.

Here is a list of places we can go to find out more:

Humans of MY World 
World We Want 2030 
UN Virtual Reality (she said that donations go up 30 to 70 percent when people can experience through virtual reality what it is like to be a refugee.)
Festival of Ideas 

Then the panel was asked two questions and invited to answer.

Question #1 "How do you respond to those who are against what you do?"

KHAN - When someone tells me that they won't give me their money because we help people of other faiths, I say to them, "Keep your money.  You need it more than we do."  Mary and Jesus could have just as easily been Syrian, so ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?"

BINGHAM - It is good to ask ourselves, "What if their story were my story?"

DAY - We need to remember to take care of ourselves.  It's easy in this work to forget about our own needs trying to help the refugees.  But self care is what makes us resilient to the criticism.

STEVENSON - If you are buying the narrative that the 24/7 news cycle is telling you, go out and volunteer.  There you'll find the true narrative.

SABOOR - Engagement is the key. We need to meet face to face with those in need so that we can share information with them.

Question #2 "What are you doing on the ground?"

DAY - Last year Americans donated $7 billion.  Repatriation is the ideal, next is local integration and then if necessary resettlement.  The U.S. has resettled more refugees than all other countries combined.

KHAN - We are trying to keep Syrians in the country.  We go into the most dangerous areas and try to help those in crisis, if we don't, they are going to walk away and then will need lots more help.

BINGHAM - LDS Charities are involved with different programs.  We look to provide clean water, immunizations, food, community projects, emergency response, neonatal care, vision care, and wheelchairs.

SABOOR - Currently we are helping those who are refugees due to violence.  But we will eventually see refugees due to climate.  We need to be prepared for the onslaught of climate refugees as well as violence refugees.

STEVENSON - The Episcopal Church has a program called Young Adult Service Corps.  These young people go throughout the world and look for ways to serve.  They then report back to the church what they have observed and learned.  We also work with legislators teaching them how they can use their tenets of faith to drive policy.

STERN - We all want the same things for our children, no matter where they live.  We want to serve them a hot meal, tuck them in at night under a warm blanket, and hope that when they fall asleep they dream big dreams.

The meeting ended with some final thoughts from Jeff Brez who is with the Department of Public Information for the UN.  He said that our two goals for the refugees should be to provide them dignity and safety.  He left us with the charge to find the thing that we can do, and do it.

I want to end with a few thoughts of my own about today's panel discussion.

It can be overwhelming to look at all the pictures of the suffering refugees realizing that there are millions and millions of people who are displaced.  It's easy to ask ourselves, "What can I do?  I'm just one person."

But we have something greater than the problem before us, we have hope.
Like the Bible says, "They that be with us are more than they that be with them." Kings 6:16

We might not be able to donate millions of dollars, or thousands of hours, but we can offer friendship.  We can speak kindly to them and about them.

Being a refugee does not define who a person is, but how we respond to them will definitely define us.




Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Strollers, Hot Chocolate, and Cronuts: Playgroup in NYC

When I was raising my kids my lifeline was playgroups.  This was in the days before Pinterest, Instagram, and even the Internet.  The way we got moral support, tips, and adult conversation was by actually hanging out with other adults.

Typically playgroups were one day a week at a park.  We'd pack a lunch, and the kids played while the moms visited.  Sometimes we congregate at someone's house, or at an event, but it was easier to just go to the local park the same time each week.

In downtown Manhattan, you might think the moms don't have a playgroup.  Well, I'm happy to tell you that you are wrong.  There is a very active and fun group of women who take turns picking something to do in the city with their toddlers and strollers in tow.   And these amazing mothers are gracious enough to let me tag along.  

Today's playgroup was a walking hot chocolate tour in SoHo.  Because, you know, you can do that sort of thing in NYC.  The plan was to buy a hot chocolate at each shop, and then pour a little bit into each of our mugs and take a sip.  

I decided to run to TJ Maxx because all my travel mugs are in Utah, and I didn't want to be the one with a simple mug from my kitchen.  I felt like I needed to be more cosmopolitan than that, I mean I've been in the city 6 months now!  

After picking up a travel thermos, I walked up to what is known as the red cube which is a popular meeting spot for the downtown moms.  

Not hard to see how it got its name, right?




Fortunately, in downtown NYC, everything is really close, it was a just a couple streets from TJ Maxx.  


After we were gathered, we walked to our first stop, MarieBelle. 


MarieBelle is officially in the SoHo district.  This is an area south of Houston street.  And if you just said "Hewston" in your head when you read the word, Houston, you are pronouncing it incorrectly.  I'm happy to say that here in NYC it is pronounced "Howston" which is how my Houston line pronounces their last name.



SoHo is right above TriBeCa (which means the triangle below Canal Street) and next to Little Italy and Chinatown.  It is known for its shopping, but today we were there for the hot chocolate.

Our first stop was MarieBelle.  This place is more like France than France is like France.  



The staff was extremely friendly and even invited all of the women to bring their strollers into the store so that we could sit in the back and enjoy our drinks.  We explained that we are actually just tasting different hot chocolates and couldn't stay.  

The back of the store has a Cacao Bar where you can sit down and sip your drink.  They  have different chocolate bases you can use to design your own drink.  



We ordered the Hazelnut and the White Chocolate drinks to share.  The white chocolate had Tahitian vanilla bean, and the hazelnut was like drinking melted Nutella.  Both were very good, but very different.  Most of us agreed that it was like drinking melted chocolate and could maybe use a little milk to make it more drinkable.  


Imagine my surprise when most of the moms pulled out their ceramic mugs to try the hot chocolate. One mom brought small dixie cups to try each flavor.  So smart.   Much more practical than my silly travel thermos!  Here in NYC cosmopolitan = having common sense.

Our next stop was around the corner at Vosges Haut-Chocolate .





This place also had lots of French decor.  The funny thing is that I don't remember hot chocolate being that big of a deal when I lived in Lille, France, of course I was there in the summertime.


Vosges sells a flavor that is called Bianca, that I highly recommend.  That is if you like lemon lavendar-flavored white hot chocolate, which apparently I do.  It tasted more like lavender lemon tea with tons of cream than like a hot chocolate.  But I'm someone who likes a little bit of tea with my cream, so I was just fine with the flavor.  

The decor was a deep rich purple with a dark wood, quite a contrast from MarieBelle, which was like being inside the palace of Versailles.

Our last stop was just down the street at Dominique Ansel Bakery.  



 Have you ever heard of Dominique Ansel?  No?  Well, have you heard of a cronut?  Yeah, Dominique invented that.


This was a very light and inviting store.  The staff was also extremely friendly and accommodating. One of the things I really liked about Dominiuqe Ansel is that has a sun-filled room in the back where you can sit and enjoy your rose pistachio cronut.  They also sell the blossoming hot chocolate, also invented by Dominique.

A flower-shaped marshmallow is covered in white chocolate to hold its shape and then dropped in a hot chocolate where it blossoms.  You can see how it works by watching this video.  


After our hot chocolate tour, we all walked home, which for me was about a mile and a half.

I don't think I'll ever cease to be in awe of these strong, confident women who are raising their toddlers in a condensed, crowded city.  Their strollers are their mini-vans.  They know where all the subway stops with elevators are.  They know which parks are safe for kids and which ones to avoid.  They put up with rude comments from busy New Yorkers trying to walk past all the strollers to get to work.  They also let a middle-aged woman hang out with them for the day!  



Monday, January 23, 2017

Layers: Squeezing millions of people onto an island

After we moved to NYC, I decided to do some math.  What if Utah had the same density as NYC?  How many people would be living in Utah?  The answer?

84 billion people!



The earth only has 7 billion people.  

So how does that many people fit on the island of Manhattan?  I think the easiest way to explain it is in one word.

Layers! 


After a few months of living here, I've tried to observe the layers that this city has to offer.  Because there are so many people, you can find several different layers.  Where a person fits mainly depends on one thing.



INCOME 


For my son's sociology class, we've been studying the social classes.  The bottom is called "lower class" and the top is called "upper-upper class."  I can't think of any other place that shows the stark contrast between the two than NYC.

LOWER CLASS


For those who don't know, there are people who are tricked into taking on debt to come to America with a promise of a job.  They become an indentured servant for the rest of their life.  I usually see them late at night scouring through the garbage looking for recyclables that they can turn in for 5 cents each.  While technically they have a job, they'll never pay off their debt, and since they are undocumented, they don't have any recourse.  Essentially, they are slaves.

While NYC has many resources for the homeless, many choose to go it alone with their cups and memorized speeches on the subway.  They tend to congregate near the tourists spots where they'll get more traffic.  As I walk past these individuals every day, I rarely see anyone give them money.  It is clear that some are battling some pretty severe health problems, particularly with their feet.  Since my mother battled health problems with her feet for 15 years, I can almost imagine the kind of pain they must be in.

Some people live in NYC and collect a welfare check.  One of my new dear friends is one of these individuals.  She was born with the cord wrapped around her neck and as a result has cerebral palsy.  All of her family has passed away with the exception of a brother who struggles with addictions.  She has lived on the same block all 50 years of her life.  She has home health care workers who come in to help her clean her apartment and take care of her personal hygiene.  She's very hard to understand, and uses a wheelchair.  She is a light in my life and I love her.

WORKING CLASS - Many commute every day from Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and other boroughs to work as doormen, clerks, and other service jobs.  I met a woman who commuted on the subway 2 hours one way to work at a Duane Reade in the Upper West Side (those west of Central Park).

MIDDLE CLASS - While the middle class is definitely shrinking, you can still find evidence of it in NYC.  You have people crammed in one apartment to save on rent in Harlem (uptown from Central Park).  Young families with the husband working long hours hoping to get a promotion.  While it's hard to live in NYC on less than $100,000 it's not impossible.

UPPER CLASS - I don't know but I would guess this is the most represented here in NYC.  Especially if upper class is defined as $100,000 or more a year.  In some parts of the country that may seem like a lot of money, but not here in NYC.  These are people whose wealth came because of their own work and not from inheritance or trust funds.

UPPER-UPPER CLASS

A great example of the upper-upper class can be found in the Upper East Side which is east of Central Park (UES).  The UES wives will get injections to get their feet numbed so they can wear the latest shoes.  They have to find a dealer to help them buy a $150,000 purse.  Having the cash isn't enough, you also have to have the right connections to own one.  They hire tutors to make sure their kids pass their entrance exams and get into the right kindergarten.  That's right, kindergarten.  In the UES summer is a verb, not a season.  Where you summer is a sign of status.

How do these different income levels manifest in NYC?  A stark difference is in transportation and housing.

TRANSPORTATION


Here in NYC we have lots of transportation options.  I'll try to list as many as I can think of with their prices:

  • Downtown Connection Bus - free but only runs along the edges of lower Manhattan
  • Subway and Bus- Monthly pass $117 or $2.75 a ride 
  • Car - @$600 a month to keep in a garage
  • Bike - @$50 a month to store in a building
  • Zipcar - @$100 a day 
  • CitiBike - $15 a month or $150 a year
  • Train - Between $95 to $485 a month depending on zone
  • Taxi/Uber/Lyft/Juno - Minimum fare is between $8 and $25 dollars 
  • Chauffeur and Limousines - $75 to $500 an hour - minimum 5 hours
  • Personal driver - $150K a year
  • Charter Helicopter - about $1750 to each airport (not sure about around town, I have to request a quote to find out and if I have to ask, I can't afford it.)
  • Walking - free
I personally like the subway.  It's fast because it's underground.  I feel like I can get just about anywhere I want to go quickly.  I feel safer because I'm never alone.  But it definitely has its drawbacks. It's hot in the summer, has strange smells, and lots of pan handlers.  I like the bus too, but they aren't as reliable and you have to deal with street traffic.

Car services are nice, I like them to get to and from the airport.  I don't really like using them around town because I feel like I'm just paying all this extra money to sit at a red light.  They are great if you have lots of stuff you need to carry or you don't want to walk in the rain.

We bought a Trolley Dolly with stair climbing wheels so that we can transport lots of stuff easily.  It cost as much about 3 taxi rides.  We love it.








HOUSING



I'm not sure I know enough about NYC housing to include all the options, but I'll try my best.

  • New York Housing Authority Developments a.k.a. "The Projects" - These are buildings designed to give low-income people a safe and affordable place to live with access to community and social access.  In my church's congregation we have some who live in these buildings.  The income disparity is huge compared to surrounding neighborhoods and buildings.  
  • Micro apartments - by law an apartment in NYC must be 400 sq. ft.  (or the size of our shed in our backyard in Utah) but in 2015 a new micro apartment was born under Mayor Bloomberg's idea in 2013.  These apartments are 260 to 360 sq. ft.  (or the size of our daughter's bedroom in our home in Utah)
  • Studio - These are apartments that have one room and usually a separate bathroom.  Some will have a separate kitchen, others will not.   
  • Flex - this is where you take a a room and create a bedroom by adding a temporary wall.  Some buildings allow this, some do not.  If the room does not have a window that opens to a street, garden, or courtyard, it's not legally considered a bedroom

  • Walk Ups- any building with more than 6 floors must have an elevator. A walk up is simply a building with multiple apartments without an elevator.  Each tenant must walk up and down the stairs to get to their unit.


  • Penthouse - To be considered a penthouse it must be set back from outer walls, but not all penthouses are on the top floor.  Some will be 2 to 3 floors from the roof but with a recessed roof to have a terrace.  
  • Loft - These were high-ceiling living spaces in old industrial buildings with exposed pipes and beams, but now builders are purposefully building a loft space in new buildings. 
  • Prewar - These are old, thick-walled, beautiful architecture buildings in the Upper West and Upper East Side that get higher rents.  
  • Floor-through - unit takes up an entire floor
  • Duplex - unit is two levels and is connected, triplex is three levels
  • Condo- each unit has it's own deed and tax bill, shares hallways and other amenities with rest of building
  • Co-op - owner doesn't own a unit, but shares in the entire building based on the size of the unit
  • Garden apartment - bottom floor of a townhome or Brownstone
  • Railroad apartment - one room leads to the next, no hallways, like a shot gun house
  • Brownstone - 4-story building built of sandstone in the early 1900's, located south of 125th street in NYC.  Other similar structures not made of sandstone is a rowhouse or a townhouse
In addition to the type of housing units, there are some key amenities that can affect your rent and your lifestyle in NYC.

  • Elevator 
  • Doorman 
  • Laundry in building or Laundry in unit (huge difference)

  • Rooftop access
  • Workout facility
  • Bike room
  • Parking garage
  • Proximity to metro stop
  • Live-in super


We live in an apartment that has laundry in the building (we have 2 washers and 2 dryers on our floor) 24-hour doormen, 24 maintenance, a workout facility, rooftop access, large lounge with a kitchen, two dining tables, and two living rooms sets, yoga room, game room, playroom, and multiple bathrooms and within a quarter mile of multiple subway lines (this is why I love living in lower Manhattan, this is where most of the subways converge) We are in a quiet suburb-type part of NYC known as Battery Park City.  We are close to the Hudson River and the Esplanade which is the longest park in North America.  I would say that we are living in the middle class part of Battery Park City..  Sort of like being the smallest house in the nicest neighborhood.

So how do so many people fit in one little space?  We literally live, work, and travel on top of each other.  You know, in layers.




From what I have observed, you have different kinds of people within each layer.  There are those who are desperate to move up from where they are, either for prestige or just so they can know where their next warm meal is coming from.  There are those who feel lucky to be where they are.  There are those who know they are in a good layer, but annoyed by those below them.  And of course those on top, who don't even realize who is below them.  Luckily, I've met those who are very kind and loving to those living below them.  It's true, being kind doesn't cost a cent.

I believe that it's possible to be just as miserable living in the UES, as it is to be homeless living on the street.  (I mean, shots to numb your feet?  Jeez!)  It's also possible to be just as happy living in a walk up with no laundry as it is in a penthouse with a personal driver and maid.  It's not a matter of which layer you are living in, but your attitude while there.