Cookies, hot cocoa, pick-me-up notes: ‘Sparks’ of kindness

Cookies, hot cocoa, pick-me-up notes: ‘Sparks’ of kindness

Moments Of Kindness And Solidarity Shine During George Floyd Protests | TODAY | Video Courtesy of TODAY


A tin of cookies is left on the running board of an ambulance outside a nursing home with a note for the emergency workers who operate it: “You’re AMAZING! Yes, you!”

A baggie sits on the edge of a fountain with dozens of copper coins and another message, for anyone who passes by and fancies tossing one in: “Take a penny. Make a wish! Hope your dreams come true.”

This is the world of Sparks of Kindness, an online community of people going out of their way to put a smile on the faces of others through small but touching good deeds, especially in tumultuous times of pandemic, protests and political division.

“There’s so much bad in the world, and that’s kind of what we hear about,” said Debbie McFarland, a 53-year-old photographer from Peachtree City, Georgia, who founded the group on Facebook. “But I found that there’s so many people that want to do good — they just don’t really know how to start.”

That’s where Sparks of Kindness comes in. It has lists of ideas for “sparks,” or small kindnesses people can do such as thanking a teacher with candy or leaving coloring books in a hospital waiting room.

Users share their ideas and stories in the forum. Among them:

— “Took flowers to the neighbor. She had been caring for a sick friend and thought she could use a little cheer.”

— “I gave the guy in front of me $20 since his debit didn’t go through. My emergency $20 came in handy… he hugged me, so I may get Covid, but he was very appreciative!”

— “Took hot soup and biscuits to a sick mama next door.”

McFarland said she encourages people to do “sparks” when they’re struggling in their own lives. It helps them cope with their own traumas.

She enjoys leaving notes in stores for others to find — say, “You’re beautiful just the way you are” in the cosmetics aisle, or “This too shall pass. Hang in there” amid the cold and flu remedies.

Once, McFarland watched in a grocery store as a weary woman in medical scrubs with three crying young children in tow came across one of those pick-me-ups. She looked around, broke out in a smile and tucked the note into her pocket.

She’s also fond of the story of a woman who put her 4-year-old daughter’s comforter in the washing machine at a laundromat, only to realize she didn’t have money for the dryer. Almost by magic, a bag of quarters left by a member of the group materialized. After the woman went on the Facebook group and posted her thanks, another member bought her a new dryer.

McFarland encourages people to keep their eyes open for random acts of kindness, like helping an older adult struggling to load groceries into the trunk. But she also wants them to do good with planning and intent — “deliberate acts of kindness,” as she puts it.

“When you’re making your to-do list for the day or the week, you think about where you’re going that particular day,” she said. “If you’re going to the tire shop, maybe swing by and pick up a pack of cookies. … Or if you know you’re going to the school, maybe pick up a hot chocolate for the crossing guard.”

Launched several years ago, Sparks of Kindness has grown to some 5,000 members in about 40 countries, according to McFarland. Interest has picked up during the pandemic, with about 500 new people joining since it began.

“During this pandemic, I think people are starting to realize that … every person you come into contact with is fighting some kind of battle, whether it’s appointments or unmet expectations of others or health or bullying or whatever it is,” McFarland said. “Everyone’s facing a battle, and if you can get one tiny spark to ignite a hope within them, then it does something within them.”

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“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read the collection of stories at https://apnews.com/hub/one-good-thing

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Guard chaplains reflect on Floyd protests, lessons learned

Guard chaplains reflect on Floyd protests, lessons learned

 

Reflecting on a polarized nation in the throes of a bitterly fought election, Stephanie Christoffels started the communal prayer at a fall training of her fellow Minnesota National Guard chaplains by reminding them of Christianity’s two greatest commandments: to love God and neighbor.

“It’s difficult to love our neighbors … to go on Facebook and see what they’re posting,” the Lutheran pastor and only female chaplain in the Minnesota Guard told the faith leaders in military fatigues, each with the cross insignia of a Christian chaplain and many with badges for service in combat zones. “It’s hard to love people that hate us.”

National Guard troops were deployed during this summer’s widespread unrest over racial injustice following George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis, and again this fall in the city as a surge in violent crime collided with heated debate over law enforcement and race.

Now the chaplains say they’re working on two main lessons learned from those tumultuous times: Building bridges within tense communities and bringing faith-grounded calm and comfort to the front lines whenever they may be mobilized again — possibly as soon as next March, when the officers charged in Floyd’s killing go on trial.

“The work isn’t done,” said Buddy Winn, the state chaplain and a Pentecostal pastor in the Twin Cities. “It’s about relationships … to establish some trust, to de-escalate threats. To people of faith I say, ‘pray hard.’”

The role of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu faith leaders who serve as National Guard chaplains nationwide has grown more crucial, and more challenging, as thousands of soldiers and airmen, most of them in their 20s, find themselves mobilized not only for natural disasters and overseas conflicts but also domestic unrest.

When the protests erupted in Twin Cities neighborhoods following Floyd’s death, Minnesota’s governor authorized the state National Guard to fully activate for its largest domestic deployment in history.

Sam Houston, a Baptist pastor and the Minnesota National Guard’s only Black chaplain, said he saw protesters taunting some African American guard members — and heard soldiers agonize about wishing they could stand with demonstrators.

“You’re providing the opportunity for people to protest peacefully for you,” Houston advised them, adding that their role in serving was to ensure a safe environment.

“It’s only the people who were trying to break the law,” he said, “that needed to be concerned about the guard.”

Raised in an Army family, Houston plans to spend even more time on the front lines if activated again, “taking care of the soldiers and just praying for discernment, for what to do and what not to do … because as our commander put it, the only thing standing between a good day and a bad day is literally 6 pounds of pressure on the trigger.”

Michael Creagan, the state guard’s only Catholic chaplain, recalled how on a bright Saturday in late May, he was looking forward to celebrating Pentecost with the first public in-person services since lockdown. Instead, he was abruptly called up to join the approximately 10,000 other guard members being mobilized to help law enforcement protect hospitals, federal buildings and the state Capitol.

It was at the Capitol that he celebrated Mass for troops bunking there, a few blocks from the worst of the damage St. Paul saw during the protests. For the nine days he was away from his parish and school, Creagan supplied soldiers with “piles” of rosaries — “they go fast,” he said of the Catholic devotional beads — and tried to provide some grace and “normalcy” through Mass and confession.

He’s preparing for a possible next time by readying a supply of sacred scriptures from a variety of faiths to better counsel troops from other religious traditions — the Quran, for example, for Muslim soldiers.

“It’s the basic right of the free practice of religion,” Creagan said. “We pluck them up and deploy them, but they need to have their rights protected.”

Winn said chaplains’ fundamental objective has remained unchanged since the first were put in paid Army positions in 1775: to provide pastoral care to their units. That includes everything from leading worship services to counseling the nonreligious, a group that in the Minnesota Guard represents about a third of members.

“You’re the pillar of spiritual resilience for your unit,” said Winn, who wears a bracelet engraved with the names of two Marines who were killed in Iraq in 2007 and whose bodies he retrieved from their forward operating base.

That kind of war-zone experience can help chaplains like him with another important duty: advising commanders on the impact religion might have on any mission. When that involves civil unrest, it means reminding commanders that “we’re not going out against an enemy,” Winn said.

Chaplains are also called to sensitize commanders to potential moral trauma among the troops, such as one case where Winn witnessed a young Black soldier being harangued by protesters for not being with them. And they can be especially useful in defusing such confrontations, as men and women of faith and because they do not carry weapons.

Chaplains wrestle with the same tensions as the regular guard members over being deployed to U.S. protests.

“It was really strange, being worried about myself in my own state,” said Christoffels, a mother of three who served in the Middle East before the summer callup. “We’re trained to do all this, but it’s just different when it’s your own turf.”

In the fall training at the St. Paul armory, she urged the two dozen chaplains to take care of themselves, take time to breathe and work to find some element of commonality even among people engaged in bitter confrontations, whether at a barricade or in the pews.

Christoffels closed her prayer by invoking God’s grace for chaplains, soldiers and civilians alike: “Help us when we’re having a difficult time loving people the way you want us to.”

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Guard chaplains reflect on Floyd protests, lessons learned

Guard chaplains reflect on Floyd protests, lessons learned

 

Reflecting on a polarized nation in the throes of a bitterly fought election, Stephanie Christoffels started the communal prayer at a fall training of her fellow Minnesota National Guard chaplains by reminding them of Christianity’s two greatest commandments: to love God and neighbor.

“It’s difficult to love our neighbors … to go on Facebook and see what they’re posting,” the Lutheran pastor and only female chaplain in the Minnesota Guard told the faith leaders in military fatigues, each with the cross insignia of a Christian chaplain and many with badges for service in combat zones. “It’s hard to love people that hate us.”

National Guard troops were deployed during this summer’s widespread unrest over racial injustice following George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis, and again this fall in the city as a surge in violent crime collided with heated debate over law enforcement and race.

Now the chaplains say they’re working on two main lessons learned from those tumultuous times: Building bridges within tense communities and bringing faith-grounded calm and comfort to the front lines whenever they may be mobilized again — possibly as soon as next March, when the officers charged in Floyd’s killing go on trial.

“The work isn’t done,” said Buddy Winn, the state chaplain and a Pentecostal pastor in the Twin Cities. “It’s about relationships … to establish some trust, to de-escalate threats. To people of faith I say, ‘pray hard.’”

The role of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu faith leaders who serve as National Guard chaplains nationwide has grown more crucial, and more challenging, as thousands of soldiers and airmen, most of them in their 20s, find themselves mobilized not only for natural disasters and overseas conflicts but also domestic unrest.

When the protests erupted in Twin Cities neighborhoods following Floyd’s death, Minnesota’s governor authorized the state National Guard to fully activate for its largest domestic deployment in history.

Sam Houston, a Baptist pastor and the Minnesota National Guard’s only Black chaplain, said he saw protesters taunting some African American guard members — and heard soldiers agonize about wishing they could stand with demonstrators.

“You’re providing the opportunity for people to protest peacefully for you,” Houston advised them, adding that their role in serving was to ensure a safe environment.

“It’s only the people who were trying to break the law,” he said, “that needed to be concerned about the guard.”

Raised in an Army family, Houston plans to spend even more time on the front lines if activated again, “taking care of the soldiers and just praying for discernment, for what to do and what not to do … because as our commander put it, the only thing standing between a good day and a bad day is literally 6 pounds of pressure on the trigger.”

Michael Creagan, the state guard’s only Catholic chaplain, recalled how on a bright Saturday in late May, he was looking forward to celebrating Pentecost with the first public in-person services since lockdown. Instead, he was abruptly called up to join the approximately 10,000 other guard members being mobilized to help law enforcement protect hospitals, federal buildings and the state Capitol.

It was at the Capitol that he celebrated Mass for troops bunking there, a few blocks from the worst of the damage St. Paul saw during the protests. For the nine days he was away from his parish and school, Creagan supplied soldiers with “piles” of rosaries — “they go fast,” he said of the Catholic devotional beads — and tried to provide some grace and “normalcy” through Mass and confession.

He’s preparing for a possible next time by readying a supply of sacred scriptures from a variety of faiths to better counsel troops from other religious traditions — the Quran, for example, for Muslim soldiers.

“It’s the basic right of the free practice of religion,” Creagan said. “We pluck them up and deploy them, but they need to have their rights protected.”

Winn said chaplains’ fundamental objective has remained unchanged since the first were put in paid Army positions in 1775: to provide pastoral care to their units. That includes everything from leading worship services to counseling the nonreligious, a group that in the Minnesota Guard represents about a third of members.

“You’re the pillar of spiritual resilience for your unit,” said Winn, who wears a bracelet engraved with the names of two Marines who were killed in Iraq in 2007 and whose bodies he retrieved from their forward operating base.

That kind of war-zone experience can help chaplains like him with another important duty: advising commanders on the impact religion might have on any mission. When that involves civil unrest, it means reminding commanders that “we’re not going out against an enemy,” Winn said.

Chaplains are also called to sensitize commanders to potential moral trauma among the troops, such as one case where Winn witnessed a young Black soldier being harangued by protesters for not being with them. And they can be especially useful in defusing such confrontations, as men and women of faith and because they do not carry weapons.

Chaplains wrestle with the same tensions as the regular guard members over being deployed to U.S. protests.

“It was really strange, being worried about myself in my own state,” said Christoffels, a mother of three who served in the Middle East before the summer callup. “We’re trained to do all this, but it’s just different when it’s your own turf.”

In the fall training at the St. Paul armory, she urged the two dozen chaplains to take care of themselves, take time to breathe and work to find some element of commonality even among people engaged in bitter confrontations, whether at a barricade or in the pews.

Christoffels closed her prayer by invoking God’s grace for chaplains, soldiers and civilians alike: “Help us when we’re having a difficult time loving people the way you want us to.”

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Black clergy, United Way to launch anti-coronavirus effort

Black clergy, United Way to launch anti-coronavirus effort

Video Courtesy of theGrio


Black clergy leaders are joining forces with the United Way of New York City for a new initiative designed to combat the coronavirus’ outsized toll on African Americans through ramped-up testing, contact tracing and treatment management.

Details of the new effort rests on harnessing the on-the-ground influence of church leaders to circulate resources that can better equip Black Americans in safeguarding against and treating the virus. Its rollout will begin in five major cities with initial seven-figure funding, focusing on expanded testing and public health education, with a goal of further expansion and ultimately reaching several hundred thousand underinsured or uninsured Black Americans.

The Rev. Calvin Butts, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, said participating churches were stepping forward to serve as a “first line of defense” for the Black community against the virus.

“I’m delighted to say we are strongly together across denominational lines and, even when there may be political differences, we still stand shoulder to shoulder in meeting this crisis,” Butts said.

The coronavirus has killed more than 250,000 Americans, with hospitalizations reaching an all-time high this week as U.S. deaths from the virus reached their highest levels since the pandemic surged in the spring. The Black community has been hit hard, with an August study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding that African Americans had a virus hospitalization rate 4.7 times higher and a death rate 2.1 times higher than the white population.

Sheena Wright, CEO of the United Way of New York City, highlighted that impact in describing plans to help boost the partnership’s technical and fundraising capacities.

“We are focused on really closing the opportunity gap for communities of color around the city, and we’ve certainly seen in COVID-19 the profound disparities and impact on the Black community,” Wright said, pointing to a historic “lack of investment in health institutions” that serve Black Americans.

The virus testing is set to start in January in five cities: New York, Detroit, Atlanta, Washington and Newark, New Jersey. Among the clergy helping to spearhead the effort are the civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and a Democratic Senate candidate in Georgia.

Funding support will come from testing company Quest Diagnostics and Resolve to Save Lives, a nonprofit-backed public health initiative led by Tom Frieden, director of the CDC during the Obama administration.

The project is modeled in part on the strategy used by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, founded in the 1980s to battle another epidemic that disproportionally hit Black Americans. The coronavirus initiative will involve the establishment of leadership roles at participating churches with responsibility to coordinate testing, tracing and connection of virus-positive people with health care, said Debra Fraser-Howze, founder of the AIDS commission and a partner in the new project.

The coronavirus struggle “is similar to the AIDS epidemic” in that the Black community has “been again left out, locked out of resources,” Fraser-Howze said. “We have the highest rates of death and illness. So it is time for those that lead us to understand what is going on.”__

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Pumpsie Green, 1st black player on Boston Red Sox, dies

Pumpsie Green, 1st black player on Boston Red Sox, dies

Video Courtesy of NESN


Former Boston Red Sox infielder Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, the first black player on the last major league team to field one, has died. He was 85.

The Red Sox said Green, who lived in California most of his life, died Wednesday at in a hospital in San Leandro, near Oakland; no cause of death was immediately available. The team observed a moment of silence before its game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“Pumpsie Green occupies a special place in our history,” Red Sox owner John Henry said. “He was, by his own admission, a reluctant pioneer, but we will always remember him for his grace and perseverance in becoming our first African-American player. He paved the way for the many great Sox players of color who followed. For that, we all owe Pumpsie a debt of gratitude.”

A light-hitting second baseman and shortstop, Green brought baseball’s segregation era to an end of sorts when he entered a game against the Chicago White Sox as a pinch-runner for Vic Wertz on July 21, 1959 — more than a dozen years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Green joined the team on a road trip and had played nine games before taking the field at Fenway Park for the first time. Green said this year in an interview with NESN, the Red Sox TV network, that he remembered receiving a standing ovation when he came to the plate, batting leadoff.

“It was heart-warming and nerve-wracking,” he told reporters in 1997, when he returned to Boston to take part in ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s debut. “But I got lucky: I hit a triple off the left-center fence.”

Born in Boley, Oklahoma, he moved with his family to California at a young age and met his wife Marie Presley at Contra Costa Junior College. He made his professional baseball debut at 19 years old for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League and was named the California League’s Most Valuable Player in 1955.

The Red Sox purchased his contract, and he attended his first spring training with the club in ’56. He was added to the club’s 40-man roster in September of 1958.

Green didn’t have the talent of Hall of Famers like Robinson and Larry Doby, who was the first black player in the American League. The Red Sox infielder reached the majors as a role player, just once playing more than 88 games, and never hitting more than six homers or batting better than .278.

Green played parts of four seasons with the Red Sox before finishing his career with one year on the New York Mets. In all, he batted .246 with 13 homers and 74 RBIs.

But his first appearance in a Boston uniform ended baseball’s ugliest chapter, and the fact that it took the Red Sox so long left a stain on the franchise — and a void in the trophy case — it is still trying to erase.

The Red Sox had a chance to sign Robinson in 1945, before the Dodgers, and Hall of Famer Willie Mays a few years later; they chose not to, decisions that help explain the 86-year World Series championship drought that didn’t end until 2004. Last year, acknowledging the poor racial record of longtime owner Thomas A. Yawkey, the team expunged his name from the street outside the ballpark.

A few days after Green was called up, the Red Sox added Earl Wilson, a black pitcher. Green said there was an informal quota system that required teams to have an even number of black players so they would have someone to room with on the road.

They were among the few blacks in the clubhouse, the front office or the crowd, Green said in ’97.

“Most of the time it was just me,” he said. “It was almost an oddity when you saw a black person walking around the stands.”

But unlike Robinson, Green said, he received no death threats. “It was mostly insults,” he said then.

“But you can get those at any ballpark at any time,” he said. “I learned to tune things out.”

Green returned to northern California after his baseball career ended and earned a degree in physical education from San Francisco State. He worked as a counselor and coach at Berkeley High School before retiring in the 1990s.

The Red Sox honored him again on Jackie Robinson Day in 2009 and ’12, but he was unable to attend the ceremony in 2018 when his debut was recognized as a historic moment by the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

Upon his return to Fenway in ’97, he noticed that things had improved but still saw work to be done.

“Baseball still has its problems, and so does society,” Green said. “I don’t believe things are that much better in baseball or society. Hopefully, it will be shortly.”

Green is survived by his wife of 62 years, Marie; one of three brothers, Cornell Green, was a star safety for the Dallas Cowboys. He had one daughter, Heidi; his son, Jerry, died last year. He had two granddaughters and four great grandsons.

A funeral will be held on Aug. 2 in Oakland.