Friday, August 28, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy, 1932-2009, Hero

In a time where politics is fraught with name-calling, paranoia and insult, Senator Kennedy was a man of graciousness and a passionate advocate for the causes and people he believed in. His accomplishments were legion:

  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

  • The Freedom of Information Act.

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act.

  • The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009.

  • Fought a four-decade crusade for universal health coverage.

  • Helped Soviet dissidents.

  • Fought apartheid.

  • Was one of 23 senators to vote against the Iraq war.

  • Vastly expanded the network of neighborhood clinics.

  • Virtually invented the COBRA system for portable insurance.

  • Helped create the law that provide Medicare prescriptions.

  • Helped create the Family Leave law.

What kind of man was he? Admittedly, neither a man without faults nor a self-righteous man who called names. In the words of Vice President Joe Biden, who worked in the Senate with him for 46 years, Senator Kennedy “never was petty; never was small. It was never about him, it was always about you.” He reached out to others, had a heart for others. When Mr. Biden’s first wife was killed in a terrible auto accident that injured their two children, Senator Kennedy was on the phone with him immediately, offering support.

What did Rush Limbaugh say about him? No surprise. If Kennedy was the Lion of the Senate, "We were his prey." No surprise there. I have two questions for Mr. Limbaugh: Does this mean that you oppose all of those things that Kennedy fought for that have benefited so many of your fellow citizens? Or do you simply not care?

“Today we have lost a great spirit,” Vice President Biden said. And so we have.

In a recent post, political cartoonist and blogger David Horsey wrote the following: “Teddy Kennedy is gone and we may not see his like again. But a greater tragedy for the nation would be if the politics of mutual respect, wise compromise and willingness to find common ground died with him.” So it would, David, so it would.

“If by a liberal,”, Senator Kennedy wrote, “they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind; someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions; someone who cares about the welfare of the people, their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, their civil liberties; someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicion that grips us; if that is what they mean by a liberal, I am proud to be a liberal.” —Edward M. Kennedy

And so am I.

All for this post,



Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saburo Toyoda, artist; my kind of hero

Saburo Toyoda was born in Japan in 1908. He has been a painter since childhood. Graduating from high school, he went from his small village to the big city to follow an art career, but no one liked his paintings, so he became a junior high school teacher, and continued his painting on the side, marrying and raising four children along the way. At age 68 his wife became ill, and he spent the next four and a half years caring for her. And then be became a full-time painter of pictures. A portrait of his wife  hangs on a wall of his home. At nearly 101, he lives alone, paints and teaches painting to his neighbors in his small rural  town. All of his landscape paintings, of the mountains and trees among which he lives, are done outside. Several times a week he slings a big canvas over his shoulder and, with his cane, paints and brushes, heads out into the countryside. It is hard for an old man nearly 101, but it is his life calling, and he keeps at it.

The evening before last, Japan’s public television network, NHK, ran a special on him on one of their education channels. Saburo Toyoda is my kind of hero because of his love for the land and its trees, his connection to its spirit and his ancestors, and his lifelong pursuit of his calling as a painter. Once a month, he puts on his best suit and heads off to teach his class. Every day he follows his routine: exercise to stay limber and maintain his strength, prepare his meals, eat, tidy up his house, then head off into the countryside to commune with the trees and work on a painting.

Our communities, neighborhoods and countryside are full of people like Saburo Toyoda. If we would but let them, they would enrich our lives and our land. It’s way past time that we begin seeing them as our heroes, the “unordinary, unsung ones” who, through their persistence, insight, depth and wisdom, have much to teach us in their quiet way.

I wish I had a photo to show you what Saburo Toyoda looks like, but I don’t. So instead I present to you this verbal portrait of a seer and wise elder, my kind of hero and, if you will, “superhero”.

All for this post,


Thursday, August 13, 2009

My kind of hero: Bernard Loeffke, Major General, USA (retired)

Bernard Loeffke

General Loeffke is on the left in the photo

A Vietnam veteran, Bernard (“Burn”) Loeffke commanded Special Forces and finished his Army career as the Commanding General of Army South. A graduate of West Point, he has an MA in Russian and a Ph.D. in Political Science. When retired from the U.S. Army in 1992, he did something that didn’t surprise anyone who knew him: he studied to be a Physician’s Assistant, receiving his degree in 1997. After graduation, he participated in several medical missions in combat zones in southern Sudan.

A professional soldier, Burn Loeffke is also a man of peace and compassion, the sort of man who commands respect because he gives respect to everyone he meets. In that, he’s like my old Naval Reserve Commander, Commander Roy Heffelfinger. I met General Loeffke at a conference at the Pacific Institute in Seattle in 1998, where he was speaking. I had just written my first book, “Things I’ve Learned From the Old”, and gave a copy to him. The next day he came up to me and said he’d read the book and liked it. Then he turned to those who were standing around waiting to speak with him, and, holding up the book, said: “This is a fine book. You ought to read it. And here is the author.” Out of the blue, unasked for, unexpected. That’s Burn Loeffke, and that’s what makes him my kind of hero: He has a heart for other people.

Here’s a quote from his book And the Least Beastly of Us Should Be Doing It: “Acting like brothers is the key to keeping hope alive in our Americas”. And by “brothers”, he means that every human being living anywhere from the North Pole to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America, is a brother and sister and must be treated as such, and not left, marginalized and unwanted, to live in poverty and despair. That’s the way he treated the people under his command, and that’s the way he treats everyone. And that, more than anything, makes him my kind of hero. We need a lot more like him.

General Loeffke is the author of several books, including And the Least Beastly of Us Should Be Doing It; Our America, Our China (Dr Bernard Loeffke, Dr Renliang Xu, and Marc Loeffke); How These ... Can Make Us Healthier (with Carmen Queral) ;and From Warrior to Healer: 99 True Stories from a General to His Children, which I have read.

His website is Helping Others Today, a not-for-profit initiative with his son Mark and daughter Kristin that supports a variety of projects, including:

  • An orphanage in Guatemala
  • A reconciliation camp in Ireland
  • An AIDS clinic in Kenya
  • A free clinic in Haiti
  • A school in a refugee camp in Sudan
  • A day care center in Kosovo
  • Aiding low income children in the Third World
  • Educating nurses in Niger
  • Their website is at:

    All for this post,


    Sunday, August 9, 2009

    A hero

    Clarence Jordan


    Our news is so full of people who do all they can to attack, belittle and tear down that I’ve decided to dedicate the next few posts to people who stand up, confront wrong, build up, heal, and comfort – people who live by their beliefs in spite of all the garbage, violence and trash that is heaped on them. This is the first installment, and my hero is Clarence Jordan.

    Clarence Jordan was born in Talbottom, Georgia in 1912, and died suddenly of a heart attack at age 59 in 1969.

    Clarence Jordan lived what he believed, and he believed in living Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, binding oneself to the equality of all persons, rejecting violence, ecological stewardship, and common ownership of possessions. In 1942 he and his wife moved to a 440 acre farm near Americus, George, calling it “Koinonia”, a Greek work that means fellowship.

    Until the advent of the civil rights movement, their neighbors generally left them to live and farm in peace; then Koinonia became the target of a stifling economic boycott and repeated violence, including several bombings.

    I met Clarence Jordan at a conference for Baptist ministers in a Chicago suburb in 1963, where he spoke about the civil rights movement and the response (or lack of) of the White churches in the South. A Bible scholar, we were eager to hear what he had to say about the civil rights movement that some claimed was “tearing our nation apart”. Interesting how discomfort turns reality around: It wasn’t racism that was tearing our nation apart, it was opposition to it.

    In his quiet, red clay south Georgia drawl, Clarence Jordan said it. The churches, both large and well-known and tiny and unknown, had turned Blacks and their supporters away and in so doing, turned their backs on everything that Jesus taught and stood for. He said it quietly, eloquently and pointedly.

    By the end of his first presentation, there was a lot of discomfort in that room. When we returned from lunch, with all of the local Church bigwigs seated behind us, he began by saying that they had asked him to apologize for saying what he had said about the churches negative response to the civil rights movement.

    With each of the bigwigs looking pleased, he began his apology. And with each word he spoke, the white faces seated behind him turned to scarlet. I don’t recall Clarence Jordan’s apology other than to say that it turned their words back on them as a scathing indictment.  All delivered in his quiet broad red-clay Georgia drawl.

    It was brilliant, it was deserved, and I was happy that I wasn’t on its receiving end. It, and the man who delivered it, stand as beacons to me of heroic living.

    So I give you Clarence Jordan, one of my heroes, as a life to be emulated.

    Among other writings, Clarence Jordan was the author of the Cotton Patch translation of the New Testament. Here is a sample, from his translation of Paul’s letter to Ephesians, which he translates as “The Letter to the Christians in Birmingham.” You’ll see why the church bigwigs at that conference were so uptight:(from Ephesians 11-13):

    "So then, always remember that previously you Negroes, who sometimes are even called "niggers" by thoughtless white church members, were at one time outside the Christian fellowship, denied your rights as fellow believers, and treated as though the gospel didn’t apply to you, hopeless and God-forsaken in the eyes of the world. Now, however, because of Christ’s supreme sacrifice, you who once were so segregated are warmly welcomed into the Christian fellowship."

    Hard to misunderstand, isn’t it?

    That’s all for this post,


    Sunday, August 2, 2009

    My kind of hero

    Bela Kiraly, Hungarian hero

    Bela Kiraly, 1912 - 2009

    Long considered a folk hero in Hungary, Bela Kiraly is the kind of man I admire.  A general in the Hungarian army, he was sentenced to death four different times for sedition, spending 4 years on death row.  Paroled in 1956, he led Hungarian freedom fighters against the Soviet invasion, escaping into exile with some of his forces when they were overwhelmed.

    Aside from all of his accomplishments, which include earning a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, here is what I like about the man, and what makes him a hero to me.

    He was a man of honor who stood for the honorable treatment of people. During World War Two his unit was assigned several hundred Jewish slave laborers. With the Nazis in power, rather than hand them over for transportation, he put them in uniform and made them part of his troops, saving them from certain death in the camps. He was later honored by Israel for it. Arrested by the Soviets at the war’s end and sent to Siberia with his men, he and a number of them escaped and hiked back into Hungary.

    During Hungary’s attempted break-away from the Soviet bloc in 1956, he was made commanding general of the rebels while still in hospital recovering from 5 years of prison for “sedition”.

    In 2006, learning that one of the Russian generals who led the 1956 invasion was still alive, he invited him to Budapest  to join the 50th anniversary celebrations. When the general declined the invitation, fearing that he might be arrested, 94 year old Kiraly flew to Moscow and spent a weekend reminiscing with his former enemy.

    “He will be remembered not merely as a warrior,” writes Nina Khrushcheva, “but as a humanist, the conciliator who called for no reprisals after 1989,” a liberal model for Hungarians, and for the rest of us.

    We need more heroes like Bela Kiraly.

    All for this post,