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Archive for September, 2007

In a follow up to my recent post Becoming a Good Steward of the Earth, I encourage you to check out Consumer Consequences. This is an online game sponsored by National Public Radio and American Public Media which allows you to input information about your consuming habits and discover how many earths would be needed to sustain human life if everyone on the planet consumed like you do. I discovered that if every human on the planet consumed energy and material resources at the same level as myself, we would need 5.8 earths to support us all. It only takes 5 to 10 minutes to complete and provides a feature at the end to compare yourself to others if you choose to provide demographic data.

Something to think about.

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I had given the kids fair warning:

Me: “I’m really tired this afternoon and you know what that means…

Them: You’re going to be grumpy if we argue?

Me: Exactly. So I need you guys to cooperate. We’ll go to the playground first and then stop by the store on the way home. Ok?

Them: Ok”

I had been praying all day for patience so things did not get too ugly. On the grumpometer I was only registering about a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 but I was really tired and I could feel myself on edge. Rather than playing with them at the park I sat and read (though that was difficult since I was having a hard time concentrating.) I tried to keep it short at the store (is that possible?) and we picked up dinner there to take home. I finally had to call for silence in the car when an argument erupted over the meaning of recycle. Julia, being contrary since she has no idea what recycling means, was telling Ben that he was wrong about everything he said and he, being the big brother, was telling her how dumb kindergarten kids are.

When we finally arrived home and got the stuff carried in from the car I was on a mission to get them fed, bathed and in bed but Ben kept insisting that Julia and I go upstairs because he had a surprise that we were going to love. I have to confess that I wanted to put the kibosh on that but he seemed really excited so I grudgingly trudged up the stairs and tried not to think about how whatever he was doing was probably going to cause me more work. After about ten minutes he called us down in a really excited voice; ” You guys are going to love this. This is soooooo awesome. You’re really going to appreciate this.” Julia and I came down and as we walked into the dining room we could see the table set for dinner complete with tablecloth, cloth napkins, drinks, and the food we bought at the store. Everything was there; right down to the little saucers of soy sauce for the sushi.  I could see how proud he was of himself and what he had done for us and as I gave him a hug and told him how much I appreciated his thoughtfulness he said; “I love you mom. I know you were tired today and I wanted to help. Do you like it?”

Did I like it? Like is such an anemic word to describe what I felt at that moment. I felt humbled and proud and relieved and abashed and loved all at the same time. I knew how much it meant for him to take the initiative to help and be successful. As we ate, he was just beaming and at one point was trying to express how he felt but could not find the word. Finally I asked if he was feeling happy and pleased and proud and that seemed to fit. I’ve seldom seen him so pleased with himself.

His was an act of grace. He felt good because it wasn’t something I had asked of him or “made” him do as seems to happen so often. It was a gift from his heart that he was so pleased to give that he could barely contain himself. Our pastor mentioned the value of “random acts of kindness” in his sermon today. We hear that phrase often and as it has become familiar it has become part of the background noise of our lives; something we don’t pay much attention to. And yet, such an act is, at its heart, an act of grace. It is not earned and no repayment is expected. It is, as I read somewhere “the fragrance the violet sheds upon the boot that crushes it.” There is great power in such moments. In those holy moments, we participate with God in the creation of God’s kingdom. I gave my son fair warning this afternoon that I was grumpy and rather than steering clear he shed the fragrance of love and grace upon my tired soul. In the process, we both received a blessing.

“And Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, he that does not receive the Kingdom of God as little child will never enter it.”

Thanks be to God.

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I read a post by Bill McKibben on the God’s Politics blog tonight (while I wasn’t watching TV) detailing the rate at which sea ice is melting. As I read, I could feel old and familiar feelings welling up in me: fear and helplessness. They are the same feelings I used to get as a kid when I would watch nature documentaries and see footage of some animal being killed or injured by another animal. I naively wanted to believe that surely it could not be real. The film-makers were going to save the animal, right? But even then I knew that the world is harsh and things happen that you cannot control. I dealt with my fear and helplessness by avoiding watching those shows or reading articles about endangered species. Any time I felt that anxiety and helplessness welling up I would move to distract myself or stop what I was doing. I didn’t want to know about suffering that I felt powerless to assuage.

I know now that losing my biological father in a car accident when I was four left me feeling vulnerable and with a sensitivity to feeling helpless that made it painful for me to see other vulnerable creatures under threat. (That only took about four years in therapy to figure out.) Unfortunately, insight does not provide immunity to old pain and so I was taken by surprise tonight when I felt those old feelings creeping up. My first impulse, my default defensive strategy, was to navigate away from the page and try not to think about the implications for the environment, particularly the animals losing their habitat. Thankfully, (remember those four years of therapy?) I was able to recognize and resist my urge to avoid the pain. I finished the article, and then looked at the website for McKibben’s initiative Step It Up 2007. Step It Up is a grass roots initiative to encourage concerned citizens of all ages to gather on around the US on November 3rd to express their concern about global warming to elected officials in all levels of government and to call for leadership on key priorities.

I must confess that I don’t want to deal with the issue of global warming. I don’t want to have to consider how my lifestyle is contributing to disrupting the fragile balance of the earth’s atmosphere in a way that may make this planet less hospitable to humans and other animals. Like my eight year old self, I don’t want to think about bad things that feel out of my control. I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna! But tonight I made myself think about the fact that since satellite measurements began thirty years ago, the arctic has lost one third of its ice covering. Even I, scientifically challenged though I am, understand that melting ice indicates a warmer climate. In facing into my feelings about all this, I recognize four important things that help me to feel more empowered:

  1. There is hope. We are heading in a bad direction environmentally but humans have survived because we learn and adapt relatively quickly. We can’t restore what has been lost but we can make progress on this issue.
  2. We are not alone. The psalmist writes in Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it;” We are all part of God’s creation and the Good News is that God is actively working to redeem and reconcile all of creation. As a Christian I must take an active role in my stewardship of God’s creation and in advocating for the redemption and protection of this earth that God has blessed us to be a part of.
  3. I’m not powerless. While I cannot control what any other person on the planet does, I can examine my lifestyle and make some changes.
  4. I have to think of my children. While the effects of global warming will have some impact on me in my lifetime, they will affect my children and subsequent generations to a much greater degree. My attitudes and actions in regards to achieving environmental sustainability matter; if not to me and my generation, then certainly to the generations to follow.

I sometimes hear Christians dismissing or speaking pejoratively of environmental efforts as either the ‘worship of nature’ or as part of some ‘liberal agenda’ but in fact, the witness of the Bible is one in which humans are charged by God to be good stewards of the land. Being a good steward means caring for the earth in such a way that leads to sustainability. In Leviticus 25 the ancient community of faith was instructed to observe a year of Jubilee every fiftieth year. The jubilee was to be a year of restoration for the community and for the land. During that year, the earth was not to be sown or harvested. That year was to provide respite in a number of ways both for humans and for the land. It was a year of restoring balance to the community.

Our charge in 2007 is to take an active role in restoring balance to the earth. If we don’t, the consequences will be significant for our children and grandchildren. As our geological history teaches us, the earth will survive. It’s our species and many others that are threatened. I’m committing myself to educating myself about these issues and working for change on a personal and corporate level. Will you join me? Let’s all Step It Up.

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Vegetable Soup Recipe

Available now at www.foodforthejourney.wordpress.com.

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Paradox: a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true.

Oxymoron: a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (as cruel kindness)

ParadOxymoronic: Enjoying Diet Coke and Krispy Kremes…at the same time…I won’t elaborate.

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Joy

  • Watching my daughter laugh so hard at the dinner table that it made us all start laughing
  • Snuggling with my son before he goes to sleep
  • Jumping on the water trampoline with my kids at the lake last weekend
  • Playing “Name That Tune” with my family over dinner
  • Noticing the color of the sky as summer gives way to fall

Please leave a comment with a moment you have experienced joy.

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I posted a quote from recently which caught my attention:

“It’s hard to remember you are a cherished spiritual being when you are burping up apple fritters and Cheetos.”

This quote comes from an book by Anne Lamott called Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. It’s a series of essays reflecting on her life experiences through the lens of her faith. The essay this quote is taken from chronicles her attempt to numb emotional pain with binge eating. After trying unsuccessfully for most of a day to anesthetize herself with junk food, she finally turns to prayer. Unfortunately, at that time she discovers that a body stuffed with food lends a certain physical discomfort which makes it hard to focus on openness to God.

This quote stuck with me because I have been reflecting lately on the ways I try to numb or distract myself from emotional pain, boredom or anxiety. Living without TV means I have one less drug of choice. Shortly before we started our fast, I had also begun trying to reduce my intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates which means I’m trying not to turn to my second drug of choice which would be chocolate or other sugary foods. TV watching was often associated with snacking so giving that up has made it easier to avoid some of the junk food but I’m sometimes left feeling at loose ends. I notice a restlessness in myself that I don’t like. It’s uncomfortable and anxiety provoking. I find myself searching for things to replace the role TV and food have played in my life. I’m spending more time on the computer; some of that time is productive, some not. I finally had to delete ZUMA (a game) from my computer because I was beginning to feel addicted to it.
I’m doing more reading; some thought provoking, some light and distracting. I don’t think I have to be spending all my time being serious and having “deep thoughts.” I value the place of storytelling, entertainment and play so I’m not dismissing the value of those things in our lives. What I am noticing is the way I (we) use entertainment to assuage our anxiety and distract us from our pain. I end up feeling distracted or numbed but not relaxed or renewed.

One spiritual benefit of fasting is that it reveals our dependencies. Fasting brings us face to face with our various hungers: physical, emotional, and spiritual. In denying ourselves the things we depend upon we take ourselves out of our comfort zone. That holy discomfort can allow us opportunity to turn to God, to seek that which truly satisfies. The downside is that it is hard and uncomfortable. My previous experience with fasting teaches me that it will get easier if I look to God for sustenance but for now I’m feeling challenged; the bloom is definitely off the rose.

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