Installing a Swing Set at a Greek Orthodox Academy in Southern Arizona

Over the 4th of July weekend, I traveled to Florence AZ to help a small Greek Orthodox academy install a swing set.  The school is located in the desert 60 miles SE of Phoenix.

Pennant of the Greek Orthodox Academy

My host for the project was Symeon Shieh, a resident at the nearby St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Monastery and a teacher at the academy.

Prior to my arrival in Florence, a school volunteer had picked up the metal pipe and bags of Sakrete for the project.  The remainder of the swing set parts I brought with me from Utah.  The first day, we added scrap to the bottom of the metal swing legs to catch the concrete.  This was accomplished at the monastery’s wood shop.

The next day, the volunteers were to assemble at 8 am.  Unfortunately beside Symeon and I, there was only one other volunteer.  It was July 4 weekend.  Fortunately, three teens were rounded up.  An icon of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco was set up to bless our worksite.

Icon Representing St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Because of its length and weight, the swing set frame was assembled in two separate sections to make the structure easier to stand up in place.  While standing, the two sections were joined  One of the teens had access to a motorized post-hole digger.  This sped up the hole digging.  Each of the 10 holes were partially filled with concrete.

Digging the Holes for the Legs on the Swing Set

Attaching the Swing Hangers (with Pendulums)

It was very hot with temperatures in excess of 110 degrees.  Individuals took frequent breaks for shade and water.  But the work got done; the four volunteers and Symeon worked hard under difficult conditions.  The school PTA provided an excellent lunch.  The final assembly of swing seats and chain was completed back at the monastery.

The Work Crew for the Swing Set Installation (Symeon is Third from the Left)

Additional structures for the academy’s playground are planned.

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Yusuf (aka Cat Stevens) on the Need to Play

Yusuf (aka Cat Stevens) is re-releasing some of his old songs on a new album.  One of the ones he’s reinterpreting is “Where do the Children Play?”  He doesn’t bemoan progress:

Well I think it’s fine building jumbo planes

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass/For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas

Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air

But Yusuf does wonder about the children?  The punchline is in the refrain:

I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

That is an excellent question, particularly in developing countries.

Our NGO “Playgrounds Everywhere” is making playgrounds more available in remote corners of the world.  You can make donations to our efforts on Venmo.  Or view some of our projects on Instagram:  playgroundseverywhere.

My Favorite Road Sign in Reno, Nevada

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Homage to LDS Women Agitators

In the last few years, women have come to the forefront in the fight to reform the LDS Church.  My list is obviously incomplete, but those listed below are the ones whose writings I frequently read and whose opinions I personally respect:

  •  Angela L. Clayton is a prolific writer (or poster) on both bycommonconsent and wheatandtares.  She goes by the sobriquets of hawkgrrrl and angela c.  She recently had her mission memoir published by bcc press.  Angela is an outspoken supporter of most progressive Mormon issues.
  • Jana Riess is a prolific writer for the Religious News Service.  Her columns about Mormonism are frequently reposted at sltrib.  Her observations about the Church as an institution are almost always spot on.  Since Jana is a convert and married to a non-Mormon, she brings a unique perspective to her opinions.
  • Joanna Brooks has written several very influential books.  The latest titled “Mormonism and White Supremacy” was just released and is very timely as members discuss the ugly history of the relationship between the Church and African Americans.
  • Peggy Fletcher-Stack is the lead religion writer for the Salt Lake Tribune.  The majority of her columns concern the LDS Church and its members, which is to be expected since Utah has a high percentage of Mormons.  Despite her progressive leanings, she successfully presents both sides of an issue.  Peggy has received numerous awards for her work.  Because she writes for the only major newspaper in Utah, it is hard for LDS leaders to avoid her writing.

There are others I need to mention including Mary Ann, Kristine, Ardis, Nylan, Laurel, etc.  I’m sure I’ve missed many others.  I apologize.

Today, women are having a major impact on Mormon public opinion, and I know that influence will continue.  I encourage other women to step forward and express their opinions.  The intelligence of these women highlights the Church’s shortsighted attitude toward women leaders.

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An Alternative Form of Worship

In the COVID-19 era, people are starting to question what a future religious service might look like.  Recent changes in LDS meetings, encourage more religious instruction in the home and less instruction in chapel lessons.  Sunday meetings have been reduced from 3 to 2 hours.  Manuals have been developed for home family study.

With the cancellation of church meetings during the pandemic, many LDS members have come to appreciate home churching.  Some even question the need to return to formal meetings.

Maybe church activities need to evolve in new directions.  One option would be an increased emphasis on self reliance.  And gardening fills at least a part of this need.  And the LDS Church has plenty of land to dedicate to member fruit and vegetable production.

According to LDS President Spencer W. Kimball:

We encourage you to grow all the food that you feasibly can on your own property. Berry bushes, grapevines, fruit trees—plant them if your climate is right for their growth. Grow vegetables and eat them from your own yard. Even those residing in apartments or condominiums can generally grow a little food in pots and planters. Study the best methods of providing your own foods. Make your garden as neat and attractive as well as productive. If there are children in your home, involve them in the process with assigned responsibilities.

One example of how gardening might fit into a church format is occurring in San Pedro, California.  According to Jana Riess with RNS:

In 2014, the Rev. Anna Woofenden moved to Los Angeles to try a bold experiment: to reenvision church as an outdoor community centered on a garden. As a church, the community would grow food, prepare and eat it together, and share it with the neighborhood.

What happened next is a story she chronicles in her beautiful memoir “This Is God’s Table: Finding Church Beyond the Walls,” out just in time for this week’s Earth Day. Moving and full of innovative ideas at any time, now that a pandemic is upending all the ways we traditionally do church, it feels prophetic.

Something for traditional churches to seriously consider.

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Installing a Swing Set at Navajo Mountain

A friend (Roe) and I traveled to Navajo Mountain to deliver supplies to help fight the pandemic (baking powder for making fry bread, coffee, hand sanitizer, and boxes) and to begin a playground expansion at the Head Start preschool.

Swing Set Install at Head Start Preschool at Navajo Mountain

On Thursday, A Navajo friend (Hank Stevens), Roe, and I installed a 3-seat swing set on Thursday.

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Pat Bagley: Homage to George Orwell

In high school, I remember reading two books by George Orwell:  1984 and Animal Farm.  Typical high school stuff.  During my LDS mission in the mid-1960’s, I broadened by interest in Orwell by reading two of his lesser known works:  Down and Out in Paris and London and Homage to Catalonia.  I was really enjoyed the latter.

In a recent political cartoon in the, Pat Bagley quoted Orwell in his assault on fascism.  An obvious a shot at President Trump.

My other post about Orwell can be read here.  And read my subsequent comments.

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Artwork in LDS Church Foyers

LDS Church authorities just announced that the foyers of chapels should be adorned with images depicting Christ.  Nothing wrong with that suggestion.  Sounds like a great idea.  Except, the leadership provided a list of acceptable artwork.  Most fell into the realm of illustration, and are very familiar to most Mormons.  Most of them make Christ look painfully like a Scandinavian with blow-dried hair.  Only two of the accepted artist/illustrators are women.  All are blah, and not one encourages the viewer to really stop and think about Christ’s message.

In lieu of the “acceptable” list, I would suggest two alternatives.  Works that cause entrants to really ponder (sorry) moments in the life of Christ.

How about something by one of the great masters, like El Greco?

Christ Carrying the Cross by Spanish Artist El Greco

Or something by the Jewish modernist Marc Chagall?

“White Christ” by Marc Chagall

“White Christ” is currently an important piece in the Chicago Institute of Art’s collection.  It is a favorite of Pope Francis.  In the Chagall’s oeuvre, he likens the suffering of a very Jewish Christ with world suffering, particularly, but not limited to, the suffering of the Jews in the pogroms.

Placement of art is also important.  The example in the LDS news release is terrible.  The artwork is placed above a couch.  How can someone enjoy the artwork while others are distractingly sitting in front of it?

Example of Recommended, but Bad, Art Placement

And I’m thinking that revolving artworks in the foyer will greatly enhance the interest in the life, service, and message of Christ.

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Distributing Food at Navajo Mountain Chapter, the Navajo Nation

Last week, I visited the Navajo Mountain Chapter to provide some supplies for distribution:  hand sanitizer, masks, boxes, gloves, and coffee.  The majority of these supplies were provided by Navajo Santa, a Utah-based NGO.  A major food distribution from an Arizona food bank was to occur on May 13th.

The food truck arrived at 7 am.  The distribution was held at the Chapter fairgrounds.  Although the food and supplies weren’t going to be given out until 9 am, vehicles started lining up early in the morning.

The semi with the food brought items, mostly fresh, in large boxes on pallets:  peppers, oranges, and the like.  Also provided, were meat, coffee, hand sanitizer, and bottled water.   The food and other supplies had to be sorted and repackaged into smaller boxes for distribution to families.  This was accomplished by Navajo volunteers. all wearing masks and gloves.

Repackaging Food for Individual Consumption

They started distributing boxes of food at 9 am.  The line of cars was split into 2 lanes.  The boxes were given out without the recipients leaving their vehicles.  The supplies were placed directly in pickup beds, trunks of cars, or backs of SUVs.  More than 100 cars collected food.  It was a very impressive operation.

Sign Greeting Vehicles Seeking Food Supplies

Handing Out Boxes of Food

Navajos living within the Chapter boundaries live over 100 miles from major grocery stores (Kayenta AZ or Page AZ).  And the Navajo Nation is under a significant curfew.  These type of food distributions are critical for Navajos living in remote locations like Navajo Mountain, particularly since COVID-19 is a major epidemic on the reservation.

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Ugandan Vanilla Bean Extract, Our Latest Fundraising Project

The last fundraising project of Playgrounds Everywhere (P/E) is vanilla extract.  It is made using Uganda bourbon beans.  Ugandan beans compare favorably with Madagascar vanilla beans.  We sell a 1-oz bottle is $8, and a 4-oz bottle is $30.

One-Ounce Bottles of Ugandan Vanilla Extract

You can purchase the vanilla extract here.

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Assisting Rwenzori Mountain Elders with Food and Other Necessities

The Rwenzori Mountains are located along the Uganda/Congo (DRC) border.  The Congo side is beset by Ebola and lawlessness.  The Uganda side is more stable.  But the recent outbreak of COVID-19 virus has made the food situation for the elderly dire.

My daughter and her friends collected money to help ease the food situation.  The Springville Rotary also contributed.  These moneys were forwarded to Playgrounds Everywhere’s in-country coordinator, Chrispus Mbusa, who has been distributing food and other necessities to the elderly (and those in most need) in mountain villages around Kyarumba.

Food and Other Supplies Destine for Rwenzori Seniors

Chrispus Mbusa, our Kyarumba Contact, Distributing Food

Food Recipient in the Kyarumba Area

Another Recipient of Food and Other Necessities

One of the products from the Rwenzori Mountain villagers are coffee beans.  These we bring into the US and they are roasted and bagged by a small Utah company, Great Basin Coffee, Provo.  We sell 12 oz bags of this specialty coffee for $14.  It gets great reviews from coffee drinkers.  All profits go to support projects in the Rwenzori Mtns.  It’s a 3-way win:  for the bean growers in Uganda, for a Utah small business, and for those in need in the Rwenzori’s.

A Bag of Rwenzori Mountain Specialty Coffee; Made from the Finest Ugandan Arabica Beans

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