Kenyans Win Boston Marathon

Who and where we come from shapes who we are. Why do some nations produce such unbelievable strings of champions?

The men’s and women’s champions at the Boston Marathon today are both from the same country—Kenya. Kenya and its neighbor Ethiopia have won 27 of the last 30 Boston Marathons among the men (28 if you include an Ethiopian-born American). Kenya and Ethiopia have won 19 of the last 21 Boston Marathons among women. The results are not much different at the Olympics. These countries’ men have won 3 of the last 5 marathons, and their women have won the last 2 marathons.

Does their success come from national wealth? Not likely. The World Bank lists Kenya as having the 149th largest Gross Domestic Product out of 194 nations. Ethiopia ranks at 172 out of 194.

Other off-the-chart champion-producing nations are Jamaica and South Korea. Jamaican men and women have each won the 100-meter dash at each of the last three Olympics. That is double Jamaican gold in 2008, 2012 and in 2016.

South Korea has boasted great archers for several centuries. South Korean women have won 14 of the 15 gold medals in archery from 1984-2016. They have won all but 1 of the archery gold medals given over 36 years. South Korean men have dominated by winning gold medals in archery in each of the last 5 Olympics, 2000-2016).

What makes these nations’ athletes excel in these sports? Genetics, tradition, geography? Whatever the answer, who and where you come from shapes who we are.

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America’s Blind Spot

Slavery is a dark stain on America. Yet Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson proudly ran newspaper ads for runaway slaves. If they could not see the evil of slavery, what are we missing in our time?

Jefferson sought to find his escaped slave by pointing out that the man was a left-handed shoemaker who “swears much.”

Andrew Jackson’s ad is more horrifying with a $30 bonus for torturing the runaway with 300 lashes:
“Stop the Runaway.
Eloped from the subscriber, living near Nashville, on the 25th of June last, a Mulatto Man Slave, about thirty years old, six feet and an inch high, stout made and active, talks sensible, stoops in his walk, and has remarkable large foot, broad across the root of the toes—will pass for a free man, as I am informed he has obtained by some means, certificates as such—took with him a drab great-coat, dark mixed body coat, a ruffled shirt, cotton home-spun shirts and overalls. He will make for Detroit, through the states of Kentucky and Ohio, or the upper part of Louisiana. The above reward will be given any person, and deliver him to me, or secure him in jail, so that I can get him. If taken out of the state, the above reward and all reasonable expenses paid—and ten dollars extra for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of three hundred.
Near Nashville, State of Tennessee.”
(Tennessee Gazette, 1804 October 3, page 3.)

The Freedom on the Move project at Cornell University is digitizing tens of thousands of such ads. They expose the blindness of slave owners such as James Norcom who offered $100 for 21-year-old Harriet who “absconded from the plantation of my son without any known cause or provocation.”

We can sneer down our pious, Pinocchio noses, or we can pause to ask ourselves in a moment of humble reflection: If our nation’s founders could not see the evil of slavery, what are we missing in our time?

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“My Lifelong Thanks”

flag-147x147On Veterans Day


“My Lifelong Thanks”


I was a great big second-grader as the Independence Day parade approached.

The first wave was men in old uniforms.

They did not walk,

But marched,

Firmly holding their flags aloft,

A shrunken soldier remembered Cuba and the Spanish-American War.

A grandfather with sagging shoulders had sailed to France for the Great War.

A strong man like my father had traveled the world—Europe, Asia or Africa—in World War II.

A young dad had halted the advance of communism in Korea.

I held my hand over my heart.

Here and there along the sidewalk veterans held a hand firmly against an eyebrow,

Their backs straight as iron rods,

Their toes pointed squarely forward.

These were the men who sold me groceries,

Barbered my hair,

Repaired our car,

Coached basketball,

Volunteered to rush to fires,

Drove the police car,

And sang in the men’s chorus at church.


The band blared and boomed.

The floats fired fusillades of color.

The horses whinnied grace and strength.

Walking back to our Chevy,

We passed the color guard.

These men in old uniforms huddled around a cooler.

Clutching their cans,

Chuckling at each other’s stories,

Remembering their buddies who were forever absent.


Soon after, my big brothers’ classmates came home from Vietnam,

Strong, razor-sharp young men.

When I began college their less fortunate comrades

Sat in the back of my classes.

They marched to the outdoor ashtray when class ended,

Then wandered the campus—lost.


Time marched on.

Far away I taught English where people rode on the roofs of buses.

The walls around my home each wore a Mohawk of embedded glass.

My friends were kidnapped and executed.

When I approached my embassy,

Alert, erect Marines welcomed me inside.

On the 4th of July we swam together,

Playing hot potato with a 50-pound block of ice.

The Marines chopped the water with

Precise butterfly and backstroke,

Smiling and unaware that soon

Brigands would attack,

Bricks and weapons in hand.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed a hot dog and apple pie

Instead of my usual rice and lentils.


Home again, I re-entered the college classroom,

Now on the other side of the podium.

Some of my students spent weekends in the National Guard.

Others told me their stories from the Gulf War in Kuwait.


Time rolled forward.

My brother’s son flew to Afghanistan

And stood with his comrades against chaos.


Today my nieces and nephews sweat and strain in camouflage.

They risk their lives for me.

They tie their boots as the shrunken old men did in Cuba.

They cinch their belts as the slump-shouldered veterans did in WWI France.

They count their push-ups as my father did when he sailed to Japan.

They polish their boots as my father-in-law did when he trained to fight in Korea.

They salute as my PTSD classmates did in Vietnam.

They shout “Yes, sir” as my students did in Kuwait.

They sweat shoulder to shoulder with veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.


Tonight I lay my head on a soft pillow.

Around the globe my heroes stand alert and erect,

Ready to bleed and die for me and for my family.

I humbly offer my lifelong thanks.

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The Power of Showing Up

Olympics Rio logo statueThe lawyer loves to run. Michalis Kalomiris makes his living as an attorney in Athens, Greece, but when he is not in the office, he sweats. He is not a sprinter, but he can run for a long time. He runs several miles per day. His favorite race is the marathon.

In March 2015, Michalis traveled to Rome to run a marathon. The weather was awful that morning—cold and rainy. Men could qualify for the Olympics by running the marathon in 2 hours 19 minutes, but the weather conditions militated against anyone running a personal best. “The conditions were tough, with constant rain and cold,” he explained. “Better athletes in the race decided to give up.”

Rather than waste an opportunity to run a qualifying time, excellent runners took a pass. Kalomiris, however, donned his gear. He made his way to the warm-up area and stretched and stretched. He thought about enjoying a free day in Rome. Instead, he ran.

Michalis ran well, 2:29. He was 10 minutes from automatically qualifying for Rio, but that was all right. Michalis was an attorney—not an Olympian. He went home to Athens, back to work, and he kept running.

Fourteen months later, in May 2016, the attorney read an article about the Rio Olympics. As he browsed the list of Olympic athletes, he was stunned to see his own name, “Michalis Kalomiris” from Greece! Because the Rome Marathon was a “Gold Label” event, any runner who had finished in the top 10 qualified for the Olympics. Since Michalis Kalomiris showed up on the day when the great athletes stayed in bed, he finished in that top 10.

In May, Michalis went to his law firm and asked for three months off to train. This aspiring attorney is not a world-class marathoner, but he has earned the right to become an Olympian. Michalis may never become a judge. He may never win a famous legal case.

Because he showed up on a difficult day, he will be an Olympian the rest of his life!

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Graduations Are Grand

Besant Hill Graduation 2016Why are graduations so great? A graduation ceremony celebrates both individual achievement and an intense bond of community. Graduation is the doorway between years of routine and an unpredictable journey into the future. It shines with youthful aspiration and shows flickers of childish uncertainty. It combines generations of family with lifelong friends. The sad note: At the moment a graduate pivots into a peer relationship with a mentor, the two face a farewell.

If you are very fortunate as I was today at Besant Hill School, Ojai, you hear precious words from graduates:
“There were days when I felt homesick, but there were more days when I felt at home.”
“I feel like Bill Gates in the making.”
“How can I possibly explain the endless love that I have received here?… It has infected my soul and changed the essence of who I am…. Besant Hill has made me who I am and who I want to be.”
“You can gain friendship and inspiration… This will be my home forever. I am always learning
(school motto).”
“I’m glad I ended up here…. That decision was made for me…. I want to thank all my parents.”
“I came to Besant when I really needed support, and that’s exactly what I got.”
“The tides of variety did not wash away my identity at all.”
“I was a closed book…. Now I’m open.”
“There’s no other school that is similar to this community.”
“As you start a journey, you should throw away the store-bought map and create your own.”
“I have learned friendship, leadership and relationship…. I am especially thankful to Randy
[Head of School] who suspended me.”

Graduations are grand!

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When Government Thinks It Is God

Persecution China church cross“Over the past two years, [Chinese] officials and residents said, the authorities have torn down crosses from 1,200 to 1,700 churches, sometimes after violent clashes with worshipers trying to stop them….

“The campaign has been limited to Zhejiang Province, home to one of China’s largest and most vibrant Christian populations. But people familiar with the government’s deliberations say the removal of crosses here has set the stage for a new, nationwide effort to more strictly regulate spiritual life in China….

“In a major speech on religious policy last month, Mr. Xi…warned that religions in China must ‘Sinicize,’ or become Chinese. The instructions reflect the government’s longstanding fear that Christianity could undermine the party’s authority. Many human rights lawyers in China are Christians, and many dissidents have said they are influenced by the idea that rights are God-given.

“’What has been happening in Zhejiang is a test,’ said Fan Yafeng, an independent legal scholar in Beijing. ‘If the government views it as a success, it will be expanded.’”

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Martyr in China Buried Alive

Martyr buried alive Ding Cuimei(Zhumadian, Henan—April 18, 2016) Two members of a church demolition team in China’s central Henan province buried a house church leader and his wife alive on Thursday (April 14) when they tried to prevent the destruction of their church. Though the church leader managed to escape, the wife had suffocated to death by the time she was freed.

On April 14, a government-backed company dispatched personnel to bulldoze Beitou Church in Zhumadian, Henan province, after a local developer wished to take control of the church’s valuable property. Li Jiangong, the person in charge of the church, and his wife, Ding Cuimei, stepped in front of the machinery in an attempt to stop the demolition.

“Bury them alive for me,” a member of the demolition team said. “I will be responsible for their lives.”

Subsequently, a bulldozer shoved Li and Ding into a pit and covered their bodies with soil. Crying for help, Li was able to dig his way free, but Ding suffocated before she could be rescued.

On April 17, a China Aid reporter conducted a phone interview with an officer from the local police station, who stated that the two perpetrators from the demolition team are currently criminally detained while a criminal investigation team from the public security bureau reviews their case. The officer refused to disclose their alleged crimes.

According to local Christians, the various government departments managing the area did not show up to oversee the demolition. Li himself reported that police took an uncommonly long time to arrive at the scene after a report of the murder was filed.

“Bulldozing and burying alive Ding Cuimei, a peaceful and devout Christian woman, was a cruel, murderous act,” China Aid president Bob Fu said. “This case is a serious violation of the rights to life, religious freedom and rule of law. The Chinese authorities should immediately hold those murderers accountable and take concrete measures to protect the religious freedom of this house church’s members.”

Because of widespread media attention, government personnel are already pressuring Li not to disclose the details of the case. Meanwhile, Li is urging the justice system to examine the motive and circumstances behind his wife’s murder.

A video showing the extent of the demolition can be seen below.

China Aid exposes abuses, such as those experienced by Li Jiangong and Ding Cuimei, in order to promote religious freedom and rule of law in China.

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