Monday, August 31, 2009

Politics and Faith

I found the following principles on the website for the National Council of Churches.  Although it's not a major election year, these are things to keep in mind when voting for local representatives and when writing to the president, members of Congress, or other elected officials:

"[O]ur Christian faith compels us to address the world through the lens of our relationship to God and to one another. Public discourse is enhanced as we engage civic leaders on the values and ethics affirmed by our faith. At the same time, religious liberty and the integrity of our democracy will be protected as candidates refrain from using faith-based organizations and institutions for partisan gain. We offer these 10 principles to those seeking to accept the responsibility that comes with holding public office.

1. War is contrary to the will of God. While the use of violent force may, at times, be a necessity of last resort, Christ pronounces his blessing on the peacemakers. We look for political leaders who will make peace with justice a top priority and who will actively seek nonviolent solutions to conflict.

2. God calls us to live in communities shaped by peace and cooperation. We reject policies that abandon large segments of our inner city and rural populations to hopelessness. We look for political leaders who will re-build our communities and bring an end to the cycles of violence and killing.

3. God created us for each other, and thus our security depends on the well being of our global neighbors. We look for political leaders for whom a foreign policy based on cooperation and global justice is an urgent concern.

4. God calls us to be advocates for those who are most vulnerable in our society. We look for political leaders who yearn for economic justice and who will seek to reduce the growing disparity between rich and poor.

5. Each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth. We look for political leaders who actively promote racial justice and equal opportunity for everyone.

6. The earth belongs to God and is intrinsically good. We look for political leaders who recognize the earth's goodness, champion environmental justice, and uphold our responsibility to be stewards of God’s creation.

7. Christians have a biblical mandate to welcome strangers. We look for political leaders who will pursue fair immigration policies and speak out against xenophobia.

8. Those who follow Christ are called to heal the sick. We look for political leaders who will support adequate, affordable and accessible health care for all.

9. Because of the transforming power of God’s grace, all humans are called to be in right relationship with each other. We look for political leaders who seek a restorative, not retributive, approach to the criminal justice system and the individuals within it.

10. Providing enriched learning environments for all of God’s children is a moral imperative. We look for political leaders who advocate for equal educational opportunity and abundant funding for children’s services.

Finally, our religious tradition admonishes us not to bear false witness against our neighbor and to love our enemies. We ask that the campaigns of political candidates and the coverage of the media in this election season be conducted according to principles of fairness, honesty and integrity."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out upon the world, ours are the feet with which he goes about doing good, ours are the hands with which he blesses his people."  St. Teresa of Avila

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Why the Hurry?

This morning as I was doing my daily readings, I was struck by the thought that Americans are in too big a hurry.  In the 1700s, Quaker John Woolman said, "So great is the hurry in the spirit of this world, that in aiming to do business quick and to gain wealth, the creation at this day doth loudly groan!"  This sentiment applies even more so today, not just in business but in all our affairs. 

My hubby's recent blog post talking about the war in Afghanistan brought to mind how we rushed into war with Iraq before we had all the facts.  We later learned the truth about the lack of weapons of mass destruction, but it was too late; we had turned our own weapons of mass destruction on innocent civilians.  Within the past year, our government rushed in to borrow billions of dollars to invest in private corporations in order to "save the economy."  The various bills that were passed to fund these bailouts were hastily slapped together.  They were so voluminous that it is impossible that our lawmakers actually read them prior to passing them into law.  Now we are addressing the healthcare "crisis."  Again, we're being pushed into making decisions without careful consideration and honest public debate.  We have a sense of urgency, that it's a now or never deal.  In rushing to fix problems, we tend to create more.  The need to rush to a decision is not based on the issues at hand but on the potential for politicians being voted out of office. 

We need to keep in mind what Alexander Pope said, "For fools rush in where angels fear to tread."  Let's not let artificial timelines mar our judgment.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bag Facts

In the United States and throughout much of the world, we take the ubiquitous plastic bag for granted.  Each and every retail purchase we make is usual deposited in a plastic bag which we carry home and typically discard.  Although we don't think about it, these bags make an enormous impact on life on earth.  Here are a few eye-opening facts:

*4 to 5 trillion plastic bags are manufactured world-wide each year

*Approximately 100 billion are of these bags are plastic shopping bags used in the U.S.

*12 million barrels of oil is required to make those plastic bags

*Only 1-2% of bags are recycled in the U.S.

*Retailers in the U.S. spend about $4 billion annually on plastic bags

*Plastic bags do not biodegrade; they break down into smaller and smaller pieces and are eventually ingested by animals in the food chain

*Over 1 billion seabirds and mammals and approximately 100,000 sea turtles and other marine animals die as a result of ingesting plastic bags; bottom-feeding sea life is affected when plastic bags sink to the bottom of bodies of water, preventing accesss to food.

*About 1,000 miles off the Coast of California is a place called the North Pacific Gyre.  Within this spot is a mass called the Garbage Patch.  It is twice the size of Texas and as deep as 300 feet.  This patch is composed almost entirely of plastic, an estimated 3.5 million tons of plastic.

These facts make my head spin.  And it makes me more determined than ever to answer the question, "Paper or plastic," with "No thanks, I brought my own."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Today's Quote

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Truth Behind the Products

As an environmentalist and one who cares about health issues, I am always searching for information to help me make informed decisions when it comes to purchasing food and personal care products. Through reading Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, I discovered a great web site that rates over 70,000 products on the basis of health, safety, and environmental impact. GoodGuide has a great tool that allows users to search by topic: food, personal care, household chemicals, and toys. Each product receives a rating from 0 to 10 based on several factors, including safety of ingredients, environmental impact, and social issues. The site also has a section for news and recalls.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Modest Proposal for Peace...

I discovered this poster, available for free at Mennonite Central Committee, through a Facebook posting by fellow blogger Deanna. Pass it on.

No Bag Challenge Continues

So far so good on my *no bag challenge.* Besides the plastic bag that I was given the first week, when I specifically said no bag, I've only gotten one other bag. It was a very small paper bag given to me by a crafter friend who insisted I take something in exchange when I gave her some of my old beading supplies. I selected a pair of earrings and without thinking, let her slip them into a paper bag.

Several times I've found myself either in the grocery store or heading there when it dawned on me that I'd forgotten my bags. So, each time I returned to my car to retrieve the bags. It seems every store now sells reusable bags with their logos on them - the grocery store, the drug store, department store, you name it. With all of these reusable bags on the market and all the stores displaying them next to the cash registers, I have a couple of questions. Why do the sales clerks look puzzled when you actually come to the store with bags in hand and ask them to use them? Also, who is buying all these bags (and what do they do with them) because I almost never see anyone bringing bags into the stores? I'm starting to think that retailers are selling these bags as just another point of sale and not to be truly *green.* And the buyers are enjoying their *green* moment when they make the purchase. Sigh.....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An American Hero

Last night I had the privilege of hearing Greg Mortenson speak. For those of you not familiar with his name, Mr. Mortenson has become well known through the best-selling book, Three Cups of Tea. He and his organization, Central Asia Institute, have built 130 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He believes that education, especially the education of girls, is the key to peaceful relations in the world. He is passionate about this cause and has risked his life to bring educational opportunities to children in that corner of the world.

North Carolina State University had Mr. Mortenson speak as part of its freshman program. One of the student organizations challenged the students to donate one dollar each to the Pennies for Peace program. There are approximately 33,000 students at the school. Such a small gesture on the part of each student would raise enough money to build a school in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Imagine if every college and university student donated such a paltry sum? It could change the world.
If you haven't already read Three Cups of Tea, I encourage you to grab a copy and get ready to be inspired.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Favorite Book Revisited

This week I fairly abandoned all my other reading in order to devour an old favorite of mine: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I never reread books as I feel there are so many books and so little time. But I made an exception for this book which I first read about ten years ago. I was not disappointed with the second reading and actually think I enjoyed and appreciated it more this time. It's a moral tale on many levels: the dangers of imposing American values on other cultures without bothering to understand the other culture; how religion can be misused; and the consequences of nations interfering in the politics of other countries.

Having return from a trip to Haiti, I saw so many parallels between the Congo and Haiti - the use of the French language; the inescapable poverty of the people; the traditional African beliefs; the tropical diseases; the influx of Western missionaries; the colonization by Europeans; and the foreign intervention in political matters. This book is still among my favorites.

Friday, August 14, 2009

More Spoiled Americans

The weekend after returning from Haiti I turned on the news to catch some of the headlines. One was the story about the fake bomb that was destroyed at LaGuardia airport in New York. Apparently someone thought it would be a good idea to assemble a fake bomb and take it through security at the airport. Of course, chaos and confusion reigned; all flights were cancelled. CNN interviewed a woman who was there waiting for her plane to take her home to Oregon. She proceeded to complain about the situation, that no one at the ticket counter knew what was going on, and that no one knew whether or not they could rebook her through Kennedy. She was indignant about the whole episode and concluded that she would just be glad to be home, the sooner the better. Huh? An unforeseeable event takes place at an airport and she is annoyed that airline employees can't snap their fingers and whisk her away to her happy home?

It really saddens me to see how spoiled we Americans have become. Rather than being grateful that it was a false alarm, rather than empathizing with the airline employees who were doing their best under trying circumstances, this woman cared only about her own comfort. She acted as if it were a deliberate attempt to ruin her trip and that she was entitled to kid glove treatment.

Let's show that we as a nation are better than that. Let's show some courtesy and patience next time things don't go as planned.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Farm Happenings

Actually, we haven't had a lot of farm happenings. Things have been pretty quiet around here. We did have the one chick hatch while we were in Haiti and we now have a number of sitting hens. Two of our goats (Marla and Juliette) are supposed to be pregnant but we suspect one miscarried early on and the other one still doesn't look very pregnant. Our gardens haven't been as productive as in past years, probably because of more than usual rain and cooler temperatures. Both our onion and garlic crops were ruined and the okra isn't producing much. Bill said the eggplant doesn't look very good either. We were able to freeze enough green beans for the winter but lost the rest of the crop due to our week-long absence. The yellow squash hasn't done well either although I managed to freeze some. Bill planted another round of squash and is hoping they'll come in before the fall weather. On the other hand, we've had an abundance of cucumbers and tomatoes. I can't preserve the cukes but have been freezing the tomatoes for use in stews and spaghetti sauce. Hubby isn't feeling sorry for himself, though; he's already planning next year's gardens...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Born Again - Third Day

One of my new favorites.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Eliminate Needless Waste

I recently discovered a new-to-me blogger, Erin aka The Conscious Shopper. I love that she's a Christian AND concerned about the environment, humane treatment of animals, rampant consumerism, and social justice - something I seldom find around my part of the world. One of her recent posts has a link to opt out of receiving telephone books. I don't know about you, but I just find it wasteful to have several companies publishing and delivering white pages and yellow pages to my home, especially when I can quickly find the same information online.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Well, one day into my no-bag challenge and I failed. But it's not my fault. You see, every time I went into a store, I brought my own bag. Yesterday, my last stop was the grocery store. I wasn't sure how many bags I would need but I grabbed a handful and headed in. All went well until the end of the bagging stage. I realized that a couple of items wouldn't have a bag. The bagger commented he would just put the last items in a plastic bag. Noooo, I said, just pile whatever doesn't fit in the basket as I had more bags in the car. Well, he was a sneaky one. As soon as I turned my back to pay, he plopped two loaves of bread in a plastic bag and popped it on top of the other bags. At this point, I had a dilemma. I could make him take the bread out of the plastic, thus sticking with my no bag rule; or, I could just accept the bag. Well, I've seen what they do with rejected bags; they simply discard them. So, rather than allowing yet another bag to be part of the waste stream, I quietly accepted the bag and left the store. I know that at my house that bag will be used one or two more times before it goes to landfill. I think next time I will have to tell the manager that I will have to stop shopping there if they continue to force plastic bags on individuals who specifically request none. Unfortunately that would be a hardship for me if I carried out the threat. We have little choice in grocery stores in our community. Wal-Mart is the favored store in this area and I won't shop there. Well, that's another story....

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bag Challenge

Earlier this week, I was in Old Navy making a couple of purchases. When I got to the checkout line, I was annoyed at myself for not bringing in one of my reusable tote bags. I saw that the store had their own bags for $.99, I decided to purchase on rather than receive yet another plastic bag. As the sales clerk was ringing up my items, I told her to put them in the bag, although I thought this was a no-brainer. She said it should be but she actually had a customer who didn't want her items in the bag and preferred they be put in a plastic bag! This led to the revelation that all the tote bags received at Old Navy come wrapped in individual plastic bags which are removed and discarded prior to being displayed.

I'm now committed to making August a no-bag month for me. I usually try to request no bag or bring my own but sometimes I forget. Or the sales clerk has already put my items in a bag and I don't protest (mainly because I've seen them discard the bag that I reject). So, I'm keeping all my bags handy and will return to my car if I forget. I'd love to have my readers take this environmental sustainability challenge and let me know how they do.

In addition, I urge everyone to send a letter to the CEO of Gap/Old Navy/Banana Republic to let him know how you feel about this wastefulness, especially in light of the fact that they take pride in their eco-friendly practices. You may contact him at: Mr. Glenn K. Murphy, Gap Inc., Two Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sharing Responsibilites

Prior to our trip, we had some hens sitting on eggs. In one nesting box it seemed that two chickens claimed the egg; at times we found both of them sitting. Upon our return, we were greeted by a new baby chick, along with its two mothers! Since both hens sat on the egg, both now claim the baby. At night we find both of the hens huddled in a corner of the hen house with the baby tucked in with them. There doesn't seem to be any animosity between the hens; they just carry out their responsibilities as new mothers.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lessons Learned

Here are some things (in no particular order) that I learned from my brief visit to Haiti:

- When it comes to trash, to quote Gertrude Stein, "there is no there there" or anywhere else for that matter. All the trash we generate has to go somewhere and sometimes we run out of somewhere. There is no municipal authority to pick up garbage in Haiti. It is all dumped onto vacant lots which is sometimes burned to make room for more. Imagine the chemicals released from all that burning. Imagine having to breathe it. Imagine having to live with it. As we go about our lives, acquiring things, think about where it all goes in the end.

- Creation care is a serious matter. Haiti was once the "jewel in the crown," a rich, fertile land. No more. In the last 80 years, Haiti has been almost completely deforested; it's topsoil is bleeding into the Caribbean. Not so for the country that shares the island, the Dominican Republic, which is still a lush, beautiful country. One country nurtured the land, the other didn't. There is debate about whether global climate change is man-made or natural. The devastation in Haiti is definitely man-made. Let's all begin taking care of the earth.

- Self-sustainability is vital to a nation. If you do not grow your own food or manufacture your own necessities, you are at the mercy of foreign governments, politics, and embargoes. The global economy puts poor countries at risk. Almost all goods in Haiti, including food, have to be imported at high prices and sometimes with high tariffs.

- Fair trade shouldn't be considered a cute fad. Westerners are stealing from the rest of the world. While we demand high wages for unskilled labor, we expect to buy cheap goods at our local Walmart. And then we complain that our jobs are going overseas. How do we balance this equation? Either our goods are expensive because our wages are high, and maybe we should buy less stuff, or else we are paying some poor laborer in a third world nation pennies an hour to work in an un-air conditioned sweat shop without food or bathroom breaks. We need to think more about our brothers and sisters around the world and a little less about the crap we buy and quickly discard.

- A little love and care goes a long way. As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does." The orphanages we visited, even the poorest one, was filled with love, care, and hope. They felt like oases among despair and squalor. Both Danita's Children and The House of the Lambs of God Orphanage in Ouanaminthe are run by dedicated, loving individuals who are making a difference in the lives of the Haitian people.

So much of our western world is filled with petty concerns and the quest for "necessities." Upon our return to the states, our small group was sitting in the Miami airport. CNN was playing in the background. For some reason, all four of us caught the headline announcement. Wolf Blitzer said the U.S. needed to brace for another round of swine flu. The burning question was whether the government was prepared for such a "crisis." We all burst out laughing. What is a runny nose, scratchy throat, and fever compared to all we had witnessed? It seemed so absurd. Saturday, when I visited our local farmers' market, I ran into an acquaintance of mine. After catching up on what had been going on in our lives, he launched into a monologue explaining why we need to fix health care in this country. Although I listened politely, I really wanted to scream at the top of my lungs that I had just seen a barbaric medieval "hospital" where the lucky Haitians were treated, that is, those who could afford it. It made our problems seem insignificant.

Although I've learned much more than these few things, I'm still processing my experience and trying to make sense of it. I know it will take a long time. In the meantime, I'll leave you with these thoughts and the knowledge that there is hope in Haiti.

Hope for Haiti Children's Center--July 2009 (Love)

This slide show highlights the amazing Americans and Haitians we met while in Ouanaminthe.

Hope for Haiti Children's Center--July 2009 (God of this City)

Here is a slide show that my husband put together from our trip. These photos don't do it justice.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Today's Thought

"The purpose of life is a life of purpose."