Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Healing with tunes and kazoos -- from U-T San Diego Tuesday May 27, 2014

Healing with tunes and kazoos

Volunteer get to the heart of music therapy

Volunteer music teacher Bill Protzmann, right,  leads members of his Friend to Friend class in a round of kazoo merriment.

Volunteer music teacher Bill Protzmann, right, leads members of his Friend to Friend class in a round of kazoo merriment. — Peggy Peattie

What does healing sound like? For the men and women in Bill Protzmann’s music-appreciation class at the Friend to Friend center in North Park, it sounds like the melancholy strains of “Taps.” And the roof-raising bounce of Katy Perry’s “Firework.” And when things really heat up, it sounds like the party-time instrumental “Tequila,” as played by a roomful of people honking away on kazoos.
For Protzmann — the volunteer music teacher who plays the tunes and hands out the kazoos — healing sounds like whatever music people need to make them feel less jumbled-up inside. And when he’s standing in front of his class, the impact is so big, he can feel it.
“You can see it in their eyes,” said Protzmann, who works for the TetraDym Inc. telemanagement company and has been teaching the weekly Friend to Friend class since 2010. “It could be joy. It could be tears. But there is a deep connection happening. Sometimes I get the chills, and sometimes I cry.”
Operated by Episcopal Community Services of San Diego, the Friend to Friend program helps mentally ill and homeless adults with everything from housing and social services to job training and support for independent living. And on Mondays, the Friend to Friend menu includes Bill Protzmann.
During his one-hour classes, the accomplished pianist and mental-health advocate talks about music and its power to help people help themselves. With the day’s play list cued up on his smartphone and his passion for the subject thrumming like reverb, Protzmann gets to the heart of the songs and their listeners.
Who likes disco? Who likes rap? How did Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock ’n’ Roll” make them feel? What music puts them in a good mood? What music stresses them out? And for every question there is feedback from the crowd.
One man talks about the soothing use of Eastern music in Sting’s “Desert Rose.” Another student talks about the way “good yelling” songs lift him up. When Protzmann plays “Taps,” heads bow and the mood turns thoughtful. And when the kazoos come out, you can hear the liberating sound of emotional baggage hitting the floor.
This month, Protzmann’s musical outreach earned him the 2014 Inspiring Hope Artistic Expression award from the National Council for Behavioral Health, along with a $10,000 grant that he will be passing along to Friend to Friend. Although he was pretty priceless already.
“It can be really difficult to get some members involved socially, and this is a real help for them,” said Stephen Faille, a Friend to Friend vocational rehabilitation specialist. “I have heard people say that time just goes by in that class, and I think it’s because they can fully participate without judgment. There is no way to be wrong in this class. It lets people be themselves and accept themselves, and that’s a good feeling.”
For the Los Angeles-born Protzmann, playing the piano was always about more than hitting the right notes. Even as a kid, it was about the way it made his piano teacher laugh and cry at the same time. It was a coping mechanism for feelings he didn’t understand and an outlet that kept him out of hot water at home.
“I was very depressed as a kid, and the only way I could express that was on the piano. If I didn’t, I would act out. Until I went to therapy in my 30s, I didn’t know that’s what was going on,” said Protzmann, 53, who moved to San Diego with his family in 1978 and graduated from Fallbrook High School. “I still have issues, but that’s not the point. I have taken my own experiences of healing and put them into something that is teachable and understandable.”
His teachable musical journey began in the 1990s, when he combined his piano prowess and his emotional awareness into a one-man show called, “Connected.” Protzmann would play everything from nostalgic pop tunes to comforting classical numbers, and he would talk about how the songs made him feel while encouraging his audiences to think about how the songs made them feel. A comforting good time was usually had by all.
In 2007, he began performing a new version of “Connected” that emphasized the use of music as a self-healing tool. He did a lot of work with veterans groups, including Guitars for Vets, which provides guitars and music lessons to military men and women dealing with post-traumatic stress issues.
The Friend to Friend gig started in 2010, and what looked like a tough crowd became a support group that worked for teacher and students alike. For the man with the musical lesson plan, the benefits just keep on coming.
“Every single time, it’s a healing thing,” said Protzmann, who likes to do a little therapeutic drumming with his wife, Rebecca, and their five daughters. “I love watching people light up around the music. It’s been a wonderful, joyous ride.”
karla.peterson@utsandiego.com • (619) 293-1275
© Copyright 2014 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Charity, Humanitarianism, Wealth and Government

Dan Palotta's latest book "Charity Case" has rocked my idea of what could be done if giving to humanitarian organizations could be improved by just 1% nationwide. He also offers cogent ideas about doing that, and reasons for why we incorrectly evaluate the impact of charity by how money is spent on everything other than measurable progress towards a humanitarian goal. I recommend it highly, but that's not the point of this blog.

It turns out that, the more people have, the more they feel free to give. I know homeless folks who knowingly give away anything extra they have just to benefit their friends. A homeless buddy of mine bought a six-pack of beer and gave away most of it. Yes, being homeless puts my friend closer to the need, but which of us, if we had $60,000, for example, would give away all but $20,000?

I wish we could talk generosity on that level. I don't mean calculating all the costs of earning $60,000 and the tax benefits of giving most of it away -- it's the ratio of giving two thirds of every dollar to those in need that interests me. That's real giving. And impractical under the circumstances. But do you see why that matters? My homeless friend is giving at a level -- a rate, if you will -- that is far more munificent than the level -- or rate -- of all of the funds donated to humanitarian causes.

Somewhere around 2% of gross domestic production is given to charity each year, not 66%. It's been that way for almost half a century. During that same period of time, the government has been taking more and more control of more and more humanitarian organizations, which of course costs taxpayers more and more each year. For example, America's ability to vote for more and more government programs that cost more and more each year is offset by America's need for the many humanitarian organizations which fill the holes in the government programs. It's obviously a self-defeating zero-sum game when viewed that way: earn, be taxed and fund an OK government program; give to charitable programs that augment the government program. As government's needs increase, so do taxes, which are paid first. Less is left over for generous giving as the earner/taxpayer/giver feels the economic squeeze and therefore gives less.

I believe there's another answer, more in line with giving 66%: Let's become more prosperous.

America, for example, could elect a government that was all about inspiring new entrepreneurial businesses and making it simple for them to start and sustain themselves. This is the start of prosperity: unleashing aspiring creators to launch sustainable enterprises. Enterprises that can be sustained employ people. There's a huge opportunity right now for entrepreneurs to solve the environmental and social problems of the world and America just isn't the financially attractive or regulatory low-impact place to start a business to do that. But that could be changed by Americans.

More prosperous people means fewer poor people. We know this from American economic history. Adjusted for inflation and measured in constant dollars, American incomes have done nothing but rise over the long term. America's poor are still wealthier than most the the world's poor.

Instead of demonizing them, the world could learn some lessons from the mega-wealthy about how to be prosperous. We might learn that the creation of real wealth involves hard teamwork and compassion. We might be able to correct the misdirection that there's not enough wealth to go around so those at the top must have stolen it. Prosperity rests on the assumption that someone is willing and able to make an exchange with you for something you offer. Offer the world enough and you can be quite prosperous. Build a large and willing team to do that and many people can prosper along with you.

My hope is that more people who are more prosperous will give us a shot at raising the bar on giving. Maybe by more than 1%. Imagine if we could raise it to 5%.

With that kind of charitable giving, humanitarian organizations in medical and therapeutic fields, educational institutions, environmental causes, social entrepreneurism, the arts, research -- nearly every giving-based organization --  used to raising $1 could potentially raise $5. That would change the game. Government humanitarian programs might become obsolete as well-funded NGOs surpass them in excellence, innovation and value.

To me, creating this kind of prosperity sounds like a real solution to the humanitarian ills that ail us. This can't be done by printing more money. Instead, let's enable our best and brightest to create organizations that address humanitarian issues through innovative ideas valuable enough to export profitably. Let's clear the way for investors rather than donors to back low-profit social-venture businesses so that they can scale big enough to have meaningful positive impact.

Clawing at the ultra-wealthy won't create more wealth.

Unlike natural resources, wealth-producing ideas are not zero sum. They are all around us ready to be put to work. Let's get great ideas working, exchange them for what we need, and help raise everyone's wealth just a bit. Then let's encourage everyone to become a donor to their own favorite charities in a way that will truly make a difference.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Evangelism at the Corner of Turk & Taylor

The following essay inspired me, and I share it with you with the author's permission. Humanitarians could learn much about outreach here.

Evangelism at the Corner of Turk & Taylor

Kendall Protzmann, M.Div exp. 2015, Pacific School of Religion

May 12, 2014 at 4:32pm
In my 21st century evangelism course we were asked to observe  people in a location often overlooked in our parish setting and ask ourselves, essentially, "What is the good news in this context? What could a local church do?" Across the street from this street corner is my parish, my halfway house. This is the community setting we look out onto (pictured below). Today I presented the following paper in class, not realizing how emotional I was going to feel inside until reading it aloud.

I share the paper below as a prayer and a hope....

Setting the Scene:

            The setting I chose to observe for my project is the corner of Turk and Taylor Streets in the Tenderloin. At the corner sits Club 21, a smoky, semi-rundown dive bar owned by older man named Frank. Street corner locals waft in the laissez-faire atmosphere Club 21 provides, it's a safe haven, a gathering place, for residents and business peoples of the Turk and Taylor curb.

          Some ten-twentypeople (depending on the time) sit in the shade of the tall buildings along Taylor Street, in part to avoid the chill of the wind, but also because the location is out of eyesight from the police car parked along Turk Street. Locals are mostly African Americans. An elderly woman in a faded hoodie and scuffed-up jeans paces the curb, cursing to herself. She passes a younger man with a boom box and some authority in his swaggered walk, adorned in a thick gold chain, pristine white shoes, and a large man at his right hand, surveying their surroundings during a “business transaction.”

            Some people on the curb have lawn chairs. Some people make do with a turned-upside, empty milkcrate. Eruptions of laughter punctuate the scene. At times, the raised voices of arguments do too. The single, most obviously, homeless man tries to rest his eyes amidst business, joshing, sirens, and traffic. The occasional passersby who try to not hear, not know, and not see are taunted or easily dismissed. How can they know or see the community at the corner of Taylor and Turk Streets?

The Good News:

            When I first began applying to seminaries across the country, an admissions application asked me to describe what I believe is the biggest issue our society faces and why. After reading the question, I sat down to lunch with a friend who serves in ministry and asked what she believes is the biggest issue our society faces today.  “Worthiness,” she replied. You could provide no better case study than the corner of Turk and Taylor.

            They would never name it. They would never ask someone to say it of them. Yet, ‘worthiness,’ ‘to be worthy,’ encompasses the good news at the corner of Turk and Taylor. The locals are unseen unless they control how passerby see them through a loud laugh, a yell, or simply getting in the way of foot traffic. Those that sell drugs walk about with a countenance of power. They mean something. They are valuable because someone needs them to do what they do and be who they are. Other locals talk to themselves furiously, purposefully signaling passerby to stay at a distance. As writer Parker Palmer observes about humanity, “we plunge into external activity to prove that we are worthy – or simply to evade the question.” [1] The idea that passerby might stop, might see and judge, is more hurtful than the assurance that passerby will not stop because of what they are made to see and judge by evading locals. It is more hurtful to be unseen than to be seen for the wrong reasons. 

            Thegood news at the corner of Turk and Taylor is worthiness and the ‘beingknown-ness’ that comes with it. I am reminded of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, a woman Jesus was supposed to not see. Society had made up its mind about this woman of many men. Furthermore, Jesus was Jewish. A man looking like him is not supposed to see a woman looking like her. Yet, Jesus stops and sees her. He somehow knows her story and he sees her. By the time we reach the end of Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman, the Samaritan woman runs into town giving voice to her witnessof Jesus, a man who stopped, saw her, and afforded her a brief moment of ‘being known-ness.’ [2] Jesus exemplifies the truth that we are all worthy of being known and we are all loved by God.

On the Ground:

            Evangelism on the corner of Turk and Taylor starts with relationship. It is as simple as taking the time to stop and hear the stories of the locals for a few minutes.Or, the flip side, hear their rants for a few minutes. Do not push a topic of conversation, but simply listen. Be in the moment instead of looking towards what the ministry could mean and how long it might take to get there. Remember their names.
            Do not tell people who have lived hell that God loves them and they are worthy. They will not believe you nor do they care to hear whatever reasons you offer for God about their situation. The relationship will be cut short because you stopped seeing them in their lives, and instead are trying to convince yourself of the truth of God’s love against thebackdrop of Turk and Taylor. They will know of God’s love by the love you show.

            Above all else, be consistent. Plan time so there is no rush. Be patient. The locals will become curious enough about you to ask where you come from and why you do what you do. When they do learn, do not invite them to church. Keep listening. Continue to be consistent. Let the walls continue to break down. They will know of God’s love by the love you show.

            Someday,in a distant future, you can invite them to church and ask them how the church can best support them at the corner of Turk and Taylor. They will tell you. Let them guide how the ministry unfolds by telling you their needs. They may not give you design plans or concrete ideas, but at this point you have had practice seeing them between their words. Again, listen. And they will know of God’s love by the love you show.

Concluding Comments:

            We live in a culture that tells us we need tangible results to measure anendeavor’s success. Evangelism at the corner of Turk and Taylor is a ministry of not doing, not measuring, not counting converts. At the corner or Turk and Taylor, don’t do, stop. Listen. Wait. Be patient. Discern. Tell them the truth of God’s love that they are worthy of being known by saying absolutely nothing. Be with them in their being. Someone like you isn’t supposed to see people looking like them. Show society they are unseen no more…at the corner of Turk and Taylor.

[1] Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000), 86.
[2] John 4: 5-39, NRSV.
Palmer,Parker J. Let Your Life Speak: Listeningfor the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.