Did the corona virus just save the Earth?

by Rhea and Eric Harmsen

A recent picture taken of the atmosphere over Italy just showed a significant decrease in pollution over that country, correlated with its coronavirus lockdown. It even talked of fish and dolphins coming back into the canals of Venice when the boats and ferries stopped churning up the muddy waters. Country after country has locked down or decreased its industry and car use.

What is the impact of shutting down our society on climate change? Will it buy us time? Did it decrease CO2 output? Did it decrease the temperature or at least keep it from rising as quickly? Did we just succeed in doing what was on Greta’s fervent wish list? Did we just give the earth a breather so she can recover a little bit?

When we restart our economies up again, what can we keep from our current shutdown that would benefit the earth and the climate? Does working from home need to become the new normal so that we drastically reduce our automobile pollution? Do we actually need to congregate in order to do all of our jobs? Do we need to relocate our young adults to physical colleges in order to educate them? Do we need to air condition or heat hundreds of millions of square feet of offices? If Justin Trudeau can do his job as prime minister from home while minding three kids, can’t we?

Isn’t the lack of pollution we are seeing proof positive that fossil fuel energy needs to be changed to green sources? Is there anything we can do when industry starts up again to keep it from spewing venomous pollution into the air? And what about air travel? Can we not start to build electric planes? Or find some other form of green energy for planes?

This is an opportunity. This is a moment. We have so many questions. Climate scientists need to model this and to compare their past and present models. This is a big change but is this change even detectable in their models?  Does it put us on a new trajectory?   This scenario (massive decrease in CO2 output) is better than the best-case scenario that climate change accords could even dream of. And all countries are forced to participate whether they want to or not. With the coronavirus, governments are forced to react to the projections of infections and death by the medical scientists. They are slower, however, to react to the projections of the climate change scientists. Maybe we should be stressing the number of projected deaths from climate change instead of the number of degrees of temperature rise.

But the question is, where do we go from here? We have a few weeks or a few months to answer these questions before we start business as usual again. So, let’s get it right. Let’s honor all this suffering and death and find some answers.


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Reframing Motherhood in the Context of Equality: The right to health

Rhea Harmsen

MOTHER’S RIGHTS, segment 2 of 5 (see previous post)


The Right to Health

The low priority afforded worldwide to the health of mothers is a fact wholly incongruous with their inestimable value. The loss of a mother is an ordeal more devastating to a family than any other. Yet women undergo pregnancy in many cases without adequate prenatal care or skilled birth attendants.5 Widespread mother malnutrition and the high incidence of childbirth mortality in many regions of the world reflect the low priority given to mother’s health by agencies allocating resources.

Even beyond pregnancy, safeguarding the health of a mother would directly affect the survival of children. It is clear that what is good for mothers is good for families. Therefore, in allocating resources to the health of mothers, governments are ensuring the highest benefits to the largest number of its citizens.


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What are the rights of mothers?

Rhea Harmsen

How important is motherhood to us as a society? I want to generate a dialogue on how our global society views, upholds or defends the rights of mothers. During the next 5 days I will share parts of an article I had published in the San Juan Star several years ago. I thought taking it piece by piece would help us focus the dialogue. Please feel free to leave any comment, no matter how short.



Rhea Harmsen

During the month of May we celebrate one of our most sacred holidays – Mother’s Day. At this time we honor our mothers, buy them flowers, take them out to a nice restaurant and recognize their sacrifice and care. During our celebration it is also fitting that we should examine the spiritual significance of motherhood, the vital contribution which mothers provide to civilization and…

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The cat that sits

The cat that sits in the kitchen floor

Has refused to go out when I open the door

He does not meow but will not be swayed

He wants his food poured in his plate

How often have I seen, a child, or man

Who will not speak but takes this stance

My own heart too, who just as meek

Waits, and wants, but will not speak

Craving, longing, for the giving hand.

But living prisoned, by my own command

As the cat upon this floor remains

I wait for love, to break these chains

Rhea Harmsen

Copyright 2018

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Raised from the Dayspring of Grandeur

Reflecting on the day’s sad buzzword, which is so heartbreaking. There are historic reasons for the state of nations. There will be an accounting, where some will be shown to have grandeur and some will be found wanting.

Raised from the Dayspring of Grandeur

They were forged in irons
And steeped in toil
They were clothed in cruelty
And brought gold from the soil

When invaded by Spain
Those with skin of coal
They were called to arms
Despite their own bonds.

They bartered for freedom
one day out of seven
to work their own hand
and buy out their children

They fought off the aggressor
And the Spaniards turned tail
With valor they triumphed
Then were paid with betrayal

They were told to disperse
To melt back into bondage
To dissolve the army
To be again master’s hostage

So they took no trophies
And begged no pay
But raised the saber
And claimed the State.

They framed a constitution
Enshrining their rights
Pristine and unique
In the annals of time

They invited all nations
To come to their ports
To France they offered
To be brothers, in short

In exchange for equality
They would stay with the crown
They were sent a vast army,
To make them stand down.

Napoleon’s thirty thousand
They vanquished again
Where once they had freedom
They would not be enslaved

Again they prevailed
And the generals surrendered
But Toussaint, their Pride!
Was carried away, on the ocean tide.

He would sue for their cause
Haiti and France reunite.
But without hearing his plea
Napoleon denied it.

In a cell he entombed him
Then mislaid the keys.
Of hunger he perished
As they left him to freeze.

A martyr for freedom!
His oblivion intended
Across the broad waters
To his nation dismember.

But the roots of the tree
Which he planted so deep
In its sons and its daughters
Awoke with a shriek.

Now descending to wrath
They unleashed a blood bath
An hundred thousand man army
Miraculously assembled

To proclaim to the world
That their bondage had ended.
Egalitée, liberté libète
Were both seized and defended

They burnt their own legacy
The fruit of their toil
They left nothing to covet
To the thieves on their soil

They left nowhere to hide
But the soot and the ash
O’er that tyrant’s disgrace
They triumphed at last.

Then bound wounds of the broken
With the rod of command
Planted liberty’s flag
Across their own land.

Nations shunned them as lepers
For ideals contagious
The world turned its back
Wiping them from the map!

And so, into their future
With their island as home,
Their banner unfurled,
They sailed alone.

Nurturing their spirit
They toiled resilient
They painted their history
In the colors of synergy.

They had knitted a language
And called it Creole
They sang to their children
Beat the drums with their soul

Yet they harbored a cancer
Bequeathed by their past
There moved in their midst
a vile colorist asp

A leach necromancer
Drained blood from its breast
Eclipsing the grandeur
From which Haiti was cast

Enslaved still,
by her own amalgam
Oppressed yet,
by an elitist language.

The black pupil shone
In its dark cabochon
A Caribbean jewel
held as captive son.

Its luster yet hidden
Amid poverty’s grip
Poised with the phoenix
Like the arrow’s own tip

When the bowels of the Earth
Raised the hand of fate
And with the rod of command
Shook tectonic plates.

Moving its sinews,
It bid Haiti awake
By the rivers of pain
And the innocent slain

To meet the horizon
To seize and lay claim
to their rightful place
On the world’s wide stage.

To fill all of space
In mellifluous hymn
Singing, “We were the first
To have broken our chains

“Before all we proclaimed
That on earth Justice reigned
As in heaven the same.
That all colors are one!

“And though we were betrayed
By the traitors on Earth
We have not lost our faith
Nor made deals for our worth.

“Shunned, used and oppressed
By the nations of Cain,
Though Sacrificial Lamb,
We have prospered and gained.

Our soul is redeemed
Our own hands are clean
Our spirit is unbroken
Our resilience serene

Now the test is the world’s:
For all nations and races,
To redeem their own past
Wipe the greed of their history.

Who of these will atone
For their deeds in the now?
Those who trafficked in treachery
Will they mend their own vow?

By the Rod of Justice
By the voice of the people
Part the goats from the sheep
Clean the chaff from the wheat.

Bind the wounds of the broken
And abolish their suffering.
Cry and fight for the world
And not just your own country

For the Books are unsealed
And the Kingdom is nigh.
Now the meek shall inherit
As decreed from on High.

Say: we fulfilled the command.
Built an Ark with our hands.
Crushed oppression at last
And spread peace in the land.

In this Dayspring of Grandeur
It is stamped on our brow:
“In the family of Man
Those who serve are the free.

And grandeur is shown
By whose love is now spent
On the good of the world
And not on his own.”

Rhea Harmsen
Copyright 2017

Posted in history of nations, national discussion, peace, political debate, race in America, slavery, Uncategorized, unity in diversity | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Grandpa Ed was badass

Grandpa Ed was badass

Yeah. Forgive the word badass, it doesn’t come easy to my generation. But it is, in fact, the word that fits. And I thank the generation that coined it.

In 1954 my father, Edward James Howard, a black man, newly married to a white woman, moved into a neighborhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Promptly, several of the white neighbors moved out. In 1959 he sailed to Brazil, wife and four kids in tow, to “pioneer.”

Edward J. Howard thought "a little different."

Edward J. Howard thought “a little different.”

Was he for real? What made him think so differently? What was it like for him in the 1950’s? And what was going on in the world at the time? I wish that he could tell me, but he’s been gone for thirty years now.

Recently, my storage got invaded by termites. Horrible. I won’t go into how nasty that was. But one amazing thing came out of it. I had to sort through my deceased parents boxed belongings. And there I found it. This precious thing, that told me how he thought. There, neatly typed on an old fashioned typewriter, with hand-written notes in the margins, was a talk he gave in 1956, when he was 32 years old. This is the average age of his current grandkids, most of whom never got to meet him. And it’s titled “Fast Evolving World – to What?”

Seriously? He thought his world was “fast evolving”? If he were here now his head would be spinning like a top. The other question, “To what?” is almost funny. But don’t we all want to know where we’re going, what we’re evolving into?  I know, some think we might actually be “devolving.”

In order to preserve the disintegrating document I digitized it, so that his descendants could decide for themselves whether he was a dreamer, a philosopher, or a revolutionary. It’s freaky how current some of his comments are. I know for sure his grand kids are smart and enterprising global citizens, but then, maybe Edward J. Howard started this trend.

Precisely at this moment in time it became very important to share his thinking. Why? Because at this juncture in time it is imperative to know one’s north. So that events in the world don’t defeat us, or cause us to lose our footing before we get where we’re going.

Here’s his talk, given in 1956, at LouHelen Bahá’í School near Davidson.



By Edward J. Howard

In an age wherein we are inclined towards and have our attentions constantly drawn to the negative things of life; in an age wherein we have witnessed opinions and viewpoints expressed on every imaginable idea in every conceivable subject; in an age that has produced so much confusion, conflict, and catastrophe, I would like to speak to you upon a more positive vein this afternoon and tell you some of the deeper values and spiritual implications found in the Bahá’í World Faith as it pertains to this disturbed and fast evolving world of ours.

The material and spiritual history of mankind has been a continuous process of evolution or gradual and constant unfoldment -and with all processes of unfoldment or development, as with the life of an individual, we might well ask ourselves the question – to what?

In the case of the individual, we can readily observe the seed of the man contained in the boy and through the various stages of growth and development the reality of the man who consumes the boy. Likewise, we observe the processes of history in civilization and see mankind march from family to tribe, from tribe to village, from village to city state, from city state to nation, and from nation today we hear the soundings of world government in the making.

You will notice I have mentioned world, for that is exactly what the Baha’i faith is- a universal, all inclusive, all embracing global movement of spiritual impetus signalizing the coming of age of the whole human race and the consummation of mankind’s material and spiritual progress on this planet.

Jane and Ed married in 1954, bringing his daughter Mary, and her daughters Tina and Carolyn into the family. Baby Tracie was a new addition in 1956.

Ed married Jane Reynolds in 1954, bringing his daughter Mary, and her daughters Tina and Carolyn into the family. Baby Tracie was a new addition in 1956.

To those of us accustomed to thinking in terms of limited concepts such as nationalistic states, geographic religions, class groups, and racial identities it is perhaps difficult to readily grasp concepts and the avenues of progress which eliminate all barriers in human endeavor based upon such limitations, and to begin anew with a simple thought such as – one God, one religion or one earth, one country. And yet, in the subconscious reality our deeper senses should demonstrate and confirm these basic truths.

It is clear and evident that the direction in which civilization is moving, and the swiftness of events that accompany this fast evolution, requires of us a new orientation in regards to our mental outlook, in order to make those necessary adjustments so essential to a positive approach to the problems of this age.

There is not one individual in this gathering whose conscience does not testify that in this day there is no more important matter in the world than that of universal peace. If the 19th century witnessed an age of industrial change, the 20th century is witnessing an age of changing concepts about people, about religion, about political ideologies and many other aspects of our civilization. As a matter fact, there is no facet of society that has not come in for a new closer scrutiny, and re-evaluation. The fundamental challenge of our day is the re-ordering of human affairs on the basis of justice and a genuine concern to understand the essential values and real purpose of life. The most outspoken opponents of truth and justice must and do rely on antiquated and unscientific information to make their points. Those people who distrust the democratic processes of freedom offer nothing new. They use the oldest kinds of religious and political devices to divide and rule. Any successes which the enemies of mankind can claim are won through the default of those who can and should promote the spiritual way of life. We as individuals bear a great responsibility to mankind to make clear (in both word and deed) our fundamental principles based upon some higher spiritual process such as those given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Baha’i Faith over 100 years ago. Hot air may serve a very comforting purpose on a cold winter’s night, but it leaves a very noticeable chill in terms of human rights.

Another aspect of this swiftly developing need and demand for re-orientation (and reorganization of our thinking processes) in order to see the great transition through which the world is passing, lies in our ability to gain perspective. To attempt in this day to visualize the world as anything other than a complete unit is a failure to understand the lofty purpose of divine wisdom. A most important concept is that of universality. The human situation concerns everyone, and not only do we have a religious precept on which to base our action, but they are in accord with and supported by all kinds of scientific evidence. Unfortunately our society has become so compartmentalized that many people believe that their only responsibilities are to limited groups of their own choosing. In reality the job before us is universal, it’s primarily to do with our sense of values. Any contrivances which some people use to set aside the common qualities of mankind are frustrating and annoying, but they are temporary at best. No matter how they twist and turn, regardless of their spurious arguments, in spite of their violence or turbulence, those who are unaware of the world as one community have been unable to do more than delay the constant progress of the great ideals of truth and justice as the true basis upon which universal peace can alone be established.

Brazilian friends Flavia and Newton invited Ed to settle in Brazil in 1959.

Brazilian friends Flavia and Newton invited Ed to settle in Brazil in 1959.

A standard by which we can test all valid arguments in the field of social concepts is this simple statement made in the Bahá’í Writings, as to the meaning of religion, “Whatever has to do with the universal good is divine, and whatever is divine is for the universal good; if this be true it is for all, if not it is for no one.”[i] “How pathetic indeed are the efforts of those leaders of human institutions who, in utter disregard of the spirit of the age, are striving to adjust national processes, suited to the ancient days of self-contained nations, to an age that must either achieve the unity of the world…or perish.”[ii]

We are caught in the era of change. Today’s problems and their solution were outlined in perspective over 100 years ago. The tangled mass of tensions in the world today comes from people’s past experiences, their outmoded ideas and limited vision, and their inability to meet the challenge of tomorrow. Those who oppose or hesitate to face broad moral issues, today, rely on insecurity, fear, expediency, and self-interest to sustain their position. Unfortunately too many accept the present state of affairs with complacency. We find many people who recognize the impact of change, but who insist that the only way of dealing with it is to let time solve the world’s problems. Most people abhor war, but they resist efforts to bring about peaceful solutions because they have not learned how to work constructively in the world community.

Though we view the world in its present state with apprehension and alarm, there is something strangely significant about this century we are living in, (beginning about the year 1844) which can only be fully understood and appreciated through spiritual eyes.

In the estimation of historians, this radiant century is equivalent to over 100 centuries of the past. If comparison be made with the sum total of all former human achievements, it will be found that the discoveries, scientific advancement, and material progress of this present century have equaled and far exceeded the progress and outcome of 100 former centuries.

It is evident, therefore, that this century is of paramount importance in the history of mankind. Reflect upon the miracles of accomplishment which have already characterized it, the discoveries in every realm of human research, in inventions, scientific knowledge, ethical reform and regulations established for the welfare of humanity, mysteries of nature explored, invisible forces brought into visibility and subjection, a veritable wonder-world of new phenomena and conditions heretofore unknown to man, is now open to his uses and further investigation. Day by day, discoveries are increasing. We might well say, what a wonderful century this is! It is an age of universal Reformation. The foundations of human society are changing and strengthening. Today sciences of the past are useless. The Ptolemaic system of astronomy, numberless other systems and theories of scientific and philosophical explanation are discarded, known to be false and worthless. Questionable ethical precedents and principles cannot be applied to the needs of the modern world. Thoughts and theories of past ages are fruitless now. Thrones and governments are crumbling and falling. All conditions and requisites of the past unfitted and inadequate for the present times are undergoing radical reform.

It is evident, therefore, that counterfeit religious teaching, antiquated forms of belief, and ancestral superstitions which are at variance with the foundations of divine reality must also pass away and be reformed. The morals of humanity must undergo change. New remedies and solutions for human problems must be adapted. Human intellect itself must change and be subject to the universal reformation-if universal peace is to be attained.

In this radiant century, in this fast evolving world, it becomes apparent that at no time has mankind had greater opportunity to achieve a lasting and universal peace than it has now. It is now obvious that if such an objective is to be reached, more than ever before it is necessary to re-examine and reevaluate our thinking, discard worn out and outmoded ideas, to weigh new evidence and discoveries and reapply realistic knowledge to an ever-advancing civilization.

In Brazil Ed designed and built the family home with his own hands.

In Brazil Ed designed and built the family home with his own hands.

In analyzing much of what is happening in the world today, we can clearly see a new world order being born before our very eyes, evolving out of the chaos and confusion that commands our daily attention. We are witnessing the birth pains of the reign of righteousness and justice upon the earth. The period for which the Christians have been fervently praying for 2000 years.

Baha’is throughout the world, in every land and island where human creatures exist, are laying the foundation for world unity based upon simple and broad universal principles given to the world by Bahá’u’lláh. In laying the pattern for future society, he talked on the subject of humanity-“The lovers of mankind, these are the superior men, of whatever nation, creed, or colour they may be.[iii]

Unfortunately, largely prevalent in the attitudes of nations, peoples and religions is the notion that they are on the defensive, that they must cling to some dying cannon and thus they join the ranks of the frightened, exiling themselves from the real world by fleeing from most of its inhabitants. We were all born too late for a tribal existence. The incompatibility of our desires for exclusiveness with our other aspirations for peace and security can be shown on any principal for the ordering of life. That is why nationalistic, religious, classicist, and racist thoughts and practices are ethically wrong, regardless of the intensity of the desires and fears that support them.

Some people think that religion is confined to an edifice, to the worship at an altar. In reality, it is an attitude towards divinity which must be reflected through life in all of our actions. On the subject of the foundations of religion, Bahá’u’lláh (and his son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá) had this to say, “There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God…”[iv] “the foundations of the divine religions are one and the same.”[v] Further, “The fundamental purpose animating the faith of God and his religion is to safeguard the interest and promote the unity of the human race, to foster the spirit of love and fellowship among men. Let your vision be world embracing rather than confined to your own selves.”[vi] “Religion must be conducive to love and unity. If it proves to be the source of hatred and enmity, its absence is preferable.”[vii]

On the subjects of universal peace, education, and economic problems, Bahá’u’lláh said; “All men have been created to carry forward and ever advancing civilization.”[viii] “That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race… It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”[ix]

The family grew in Brazil, with the addition of Rhea, Gregory and Charles, and the marriage of Tina to Celestino.

The family grew in Brazil, with the addition of Rhea, Gregory and Charles, and the marriage of Tina to Celestino.

These are just a few of the broader concepts permeating the teachings of the Báhá’í Faith but they serve to illustrate an all inclusive, all embracing philosophy rather than the limited concept so prevalent in our thinking today. They call for a wider vision, a greater loyalty, which can transcend the mental barriers of nation, religion, class or race, for most of the barriers to peace and the well-being of mankind are mental barriers only, and the only real obstacles to world peace.

Though mankind sits and waits, and expects that some great force other than himself, in this fast evolving world, will bring about a solution to the problems and conflicts with which the world is faced, until all nations and people become united by the bonds of spirituality and real fraternity, until national and international limitations are met in the reality of divinely revealed guidance, true progress, prosperity, and lasting happiness will not be attained by man.

I asked you the question: exactly what is the world evolving to? The world is rapidly and steadily moving towards unity. That the forces of world catastrophe can only precipitate such a new phase of human thought is, alas, becoming increasingly apparent. If nothing but a fiery ordeal, out of which humanity will emerge chastened and prepared, can succeed in implanting that sense of responsibility which the leaders of a newborn age must arise to shoulder, it shall assuredly come.

“The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.… National rivalries, hatred, and intrigues will cease…”“The whole of mankind is groaning, is dying to be led to unity, and to terminate it’s age long martyrdom.”[x]

Back in Chicago, around 1979, some of the grandkids got to know Ed (far right).

Back in Chicago, around 1979, some of the grand kids got to know Ed (far right).

It is strange and pitiful that an inquiring age such as ours, which has discovered so much of truth, should have left the spiritual realm unexplored, and should have missed the most important truths of all.  Arnold J. Toynbee, a historian of Oxford University, recently pointed out that the practical extinction of a rational faith in Western society is the supreme danger to the spiritual health and even to the material existence of Western civilization. A deadlier danger by far, than any of our hotly contested and loudly advertised political and economic sicknesses. He further stated that historical evidence definitely reveals time and time again that religion is the cement that holds civilization together.

Reflecting the spirit of the age, and with grave concern for society brought about by those spiritual forces released through the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, down whatever road thoughtful men look today, they see before them some guiding truth, some leading principle advanced long ago. The sum and essence of the best hopes of the best minds today is contained in such simple statements as the 12 basic principles of the Bahá’í Faith revealed and proclaimed over 100 years ago.

Unification of the whole of mankind is the hallmark of the stage which human society is now approaching. But to those who are aware of the direction in which civilization is moving it can hardly fail to be significant that the Baha’i Faith is laying the foundation for the “Kingdom of God on Earth”.  It is these new patterns of thought for society which will be the agency for the reign of righteousness and justice upon the Earth.


[i] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, by J. E. Esslemont, US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition, p.257.

[ii] Shoghi Effendi. The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1974 edition, p. 36.

[iii] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Paris Talks. UK Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1972 eleventh edition reprint, p. 148-149.

[iv] Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990 pocket-size edition, p.217.

[v] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Foundations of World Unity. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979 sixth printing, p.92.

[vi] Bahá’u’lláh. Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1978 reprint, p. 122.

[vii] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982 second edition, p.287.

[viii] Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990 pocket-size edition, p.215.

[ix] Ibid, p.250.

[x] Shoghi Effendi. The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1991 first pocket-size edition, p.201 and 203.


Posted in baha'i, bahai, equality, freedom, global discussion, interracial, interracial marriage, multiracial, national discussion, new world order, Paradigm shift, peace, race, social justice, Uncategorized, unity in diversity, universal peace, war | 1 Comment

Words for Robert Reynolds (M.I.A.)

Bob Reynolds and Jane Reynolds Howard, his tireless advocate

Bob Reynolds and Jane Reynolds Howard, his tireless advocate

On this Veteran’s day I want to share a poem I wrote in honor of POW (Prisoner of War) Robert Reynolds, my mom’s first husband and the father of my sisters Tina and Carolyn. Briefly, the story goes like this: My mom remarried after her first husband was shot down over the Baltic Sea and declared dead. 30 years later after my father passed away she heard about “Ghosts in the Gulag”, American soldiers whose plane had been shot down during the Cold War and imprisoned in Siberia. She began a long campaign to get secret documents declassified. She discovered her first husband had been taken prisoner and abandoned by the government behind “the iron curtain.” She set out to Russia and the Artic Circle to find him.





First you were dead,

gone forty years.

Memory of my mother,

brow of my sisters

reminiscent of your picture.


Now you’re alive

in possibility.

Wandering ghostlike in cold Russia.


You used to be just the pain of my mother,

bottled up grief

never spilling out

of vacant doe eyes.


Now my sister dreams of grueling torture


on a father she never knew.


Cold sweat on waking,

she cries

curled up like the child in womb

she was in 1950

when the spy pilot was shot down over the Baltic Sea

and became a ghost in the Gulag

by our policy of abandonment.


Mom remarried,

had the rest of us kids,

wore widow’s weeds again

after thirty years,

only to hear the news of a possible resurrection.



Now, expectancy pervades

these epic lives

spanning four decades

and two continents.


Where are you now?

Beloved of my mother,

Cold War casualty

lost behind an iron curtain,

wandering in your destiny,

alive in our imagination

(with no official confirmation)

begging release from purgatory.


You are craddled

in the palm of God’s hand.


Rhea Harmsen


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Race in America: My Reflections on “The Present Crisis”

Poetry is all I have to offer today when my country is in such turmoil. I write a lot about race unity, hoping to spread hope. Wherever there is a thought of hate, replace it with a thought of love. We can do this. We will reach the promised land. Keep the faith.



On Restitution and Absolution

(Reflections on James Russell Lowell’s “The Present Crisis”)


From the cauldron that’s America, now in full rolling boil,
Feel the heat of convolution, smell the stench of bubbling oil.
Arms reach out from bloody soil, for relief of human mis’ry.
Mingled voice of white and black call on heaven to take pity
On the people of this nation, ‘cross the heartland and the cities.

Where the sheet-covered figures now march by light of day,
And by night roam the youth gangs seeking unsuspecting prey.
Where retreat into tribalism is our new found insanity,
Self-hate and righteous bigotry reach a level of profanity
And America is drowning in its own inhumanity.

Race relations in America, it’s like entering a maze…
The racism in our fibers is a cancerous malaise.
In some hearts there’s deep despair, and the poor hope no more.
‘Neath the barely restrained violence dwells a lust for retribution.
There dwells an anger deeply rooted in unjust persecution.

While a hoard of TV pundits poke the wound in fascination,
Mesmerized by all its festering, paralyzed by complications,
A new wayward generation can’t transcend its own confusion.
The past beckons ever-present, calling out for resolution,
While the future looms so imminent, with the threat of no solutions.

The momentum of decay is now measured by the hour
As the race-related incidents descend in steady shower.
Each assault deals loss of hope, each new verdict heightens panic.
Feel the fall of a great country, sinking like the great Titanic.
Rearing now for its third gasp, as it drowns in the Atlantic.

One great canvas holds the anguish now reflected in all eyes,
Our faces all turn upward, voices question darkened skies:
“Who will give us restitution?” “Who will grant us absolution?”
“When will come illumination, and an end to tribulation?”
“Do we even have volition to break with our tradition?”

White sister, black brother, come to table, eat your supper.
White father, black mother! Cool your anger, ease that hunger.
Cast the load and sit you down! Break your bread and pass it round…
Hush your mouth and do some lis’ning! Drink the gall of our own history…
Humbly look into each eye. Bow your head and eat your pie…


The gang children of today, you see, who live by hatred’s rule
Only mimic what was learned in our forefathers’ school.
When they led that Cyclops, Slavery, where our trusting feet did play,
To the offspring of that monster they did sentence us as prey.
They enslaved their children’s children in a trackless round of hate.

They defined the most great issue that would challenge us today
As we struggle to retrieve our wounded children from the fray,
From the claws of Slavery’s offspring, Indifference and Self-hate,
We glance behind to roads long forgotten in dismay,
Where the bare bones of history, show both greatness and disgrace.

‘Twas the portion of the white man to be this land’s oppressor,
Blundering into this great drama oft to plunder and divest her.
And now even when immigrating lately to the scene,
He is burdened as accessory to our forefather’s sin.
Now he totes a weary load in the color of his skin.

And it fell to the black race to be sacrificial lamb
Then the victims free of sin on the stage of this our land,
But like the children of the Israelites when freed from their bondage
Some went wandering in the desert, some went turning to idolatry,
Seduced by every idol, now the tools of their own carnage.

So while white man’s soul did battle with the demons in his head,
The black man had to wrestle with the dragon in his bed.
While the one lost his faith by succumbing to his greed,
The other reaped his grace overcoming evil deeds.
For even ‘neath oppression can the spirit wander free.


At this pass, this great juncture, when the stars are all aligned
And the fruitage of our actions have all ripened on the vine
From the forces of the universe we must question this convergence.
We must ask the divine purpose in the cyclical resurgence
Of Moses’ children’s bondage and Pharaoh’s people’s scourges.

On the shores of this new nation were we destined here to meet?
Some came chased here by intolerance, some came shackled by their feet.
Are we then to chart a path through God’s primordial maze?
Meant to play out age old themes upon this nation’s stage?
Search the meaning of the cosmos through kaleidoscope of race?

Could it be our Revolution, from which our freedom grew,
Won the privilege of dignity only for the few?
And the truth we found self-evident but still chose to deny
Entombed in our constitution a poison laden lie,
Incongruity we’ve struggled ever since to rectify?

For as each century came full circle we came inching towards the truth.
By the strife of good and evil our thirst for freedom grew.
Fighting for emancipation our whole nation agonized.
Marching for desegregation we were further purified.
It but remains to ask the present hour where our crisis lies!


For our country’s schizophrenia there must be a resolution
Lest the strain of our disunion prove our final dissolution
Into shards of shattered principle, into stripes of shredded dream.
What began in incongruity must forever be made clean.
In the river tide of history we may never swim upstream.

To redeem our great nation, from the brink of its destruction,
And retrieve its mangled soul from the pit of its corruption,
Let us wade in the water trusting ever in His grace.
And thus, coax a resolution from the iron teeth of fate
Where we all gain restitution for humanity’s mistakes.

In America’s march triumphant t’wards our spiritual evolution
One brother’s restitution is the other’s absolution.
The one who shows forgiveness heals the wound in his own soul.
And his mistrust, once relinquished, severs slavery’s last hold,
Breathing peace where resentment has taken heavy toll.

The other, who through trial, overcomes his own denial,
And wrenches from his gut that unconscious racist bile,
When desisting of supremacy, his redemption does attain.
In becoming brother’s keeper he wipes from his hand the stain
Of the slaying of poor Abel by his wandering brother Cain.

Thus, for each man and race to its challenge overcome.
To determine what its station, in the darkness or the sun.
To the measure each man caters to his love or to his hate,
Or voices by his silence his collusion with the race,
Turns the tide of this great nation and of our commingled fate.

As we’re merged blood with blood, our destinies can’t be parted.
As two saplings grown entwined who cannot be divided.
By the sheer sweat of sinew, by the act of conscious will,
Must we turn our sights up mountain, scaling back on back until
We plant the flag of oneness on the peak of highest hill.

As we’re made from the same dust and dwell in the same land
We must become one soul, be the lion and the lamb.
We must eat with the same mouth and walk with the same feet.
Till the signs of our oneness make the round complete.
And though darkness be upon us we dare not accept defeat.

For a glorious vision beckons, in the prophecies of old.
Of a day when former enemies will willingly take hold
Of the weapons of their hatred, gladly to transform,
Into instruments of healing. To remove that crown of thorns
From the brow of all their brethren, and be to peace reborn.

And America’s share in breathing life into this vision
Is to heal the wound within, to cure its own division.
For our ever-present crisis is mirrored in all nations
Where old enemies now rise in burning conflagration.
Dare we raise up the first prejudice-free generation?

A global race committed to advance civilization
And ransom all of “those who have trespassed against us.”
For leading by example is our only global power:
With each of our soul struggles we are hastening that hour
When humanity, AS ONE, yields this planet’s finest flower.

By Rhea Harmsen

Copyright 1996

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We need diverse books campaign

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The World is Getting Better, not Worse – Unity of Thought in World Undertakings

Source: The World is Getting Better, not Worse – Unity of Thought in World Undertakings

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