Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stephen Powers

last place first

I'm reading the book "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan And Pakistan" by Greg Mortenson. It is a continuation of the story that began in "Three Cups of Tea," a serendipitous story about the Central Asia Institute's wonderful work of promoting peace by building 130 schools, most of them for girls, in the remotest regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The CAI has a "last place first" philosophy, an understanding that people who live in the last places - the people who (as Liberation Theologian Gustavo Gutierrez reminds us) are the smallest and most forgotten people in our world - show us the best of who we are and the finest of what we are meant to become.

My own life and work in the Clarksdale housing projects in Louisville, on the "wrong side of the tracks" in Tennessee, in a remote part of West Africa, and in a Title I elementary school in the Greenville County School District has helped me understand places and people in this way, too. I'm thinking of Nick, an inner-city kid who stood banging on my barred window at the Jeff Street Baptist Center at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning to remind me that I promised to take him to an afternoon movie. He taught me that promise keeping is sacred, especially for those who have known mostly broken promises. I'm thinking of Junior, a giant of a 65-year-old man with the innocent heart and mind of an 8-year-old child, who traveled the broken neighborhoods, public nursing homes, and county hospitals with me to visit the poor, the lonely, and the sick ones in our small community. He taught me that being is sacred, especially for those who have been mostly forgotten. I'm thinking of Momadu, a peasant farmer, cook, and pastor, who washed the mud off my shoes after helping me plant a garden. He taught me that grace is sacred, especially to those who have known mostly law. And I'm thinking of a classroom full of multi-colored 2nd graders, 19 seven and eight year olds who talk, walk, giggle, and wiggle when I tell them to hush, sit, listen, and be still. They teach me that staying is sacred, especially for those who have known mostly leaving.

These places are the stones that are building me. These people are the ones who are helping me become more human. I think the "last place first" philosophy offers the stones that can build our world into a more human place for everyone.

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Satchel" Paige

"Satchel" Paige

Have you heard of Leroy "Satchel" Paige? I have been thinking of him this week. I was a benchwarmer on my baseball team when I was a kid but I've always loved the history of baseball. "Satchel" Paige was arguably the greatest pitcher to ever throw a baseball. There is a wonderful story I read about him - once he walked three batters in a row to load the bases, called his outfield and infield into the dugout, and struck out the next three batters with nine pitches to end the inning!

You can learn about "Satchel" by reading a new biography about him - "Satchel:
The Life and Times of an American Legend" written by Larry Tye (a Boston Globe reporter) and published by Random House (June 9, 2009). In this remarkable book about this remarkable person, you'll learn that Satchel's dream was to be a Major League Baseball pitcher and throw baseballs to the great hitters of the game. You'll also learn that his dream was deferred because of his race - he spent the best years of his career in the Negro Leagues because black players were not allowed to play in the MLB during his heyday.

I wonder how many people have their dreams deferred - aren't able to become all that they can be and do all that they can do - because of their class, race, sexual orientation...or you name it? Let's work for a time when all of the "Satchel" Paige's of the world can realize their dreams. It will make the world a better place for all of us :-)

Friday, January 1, 2010


"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

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