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Archive for the ‘Sustainable Lifestyle’ Category

As I write this I am on the porch of a cabin looking out a beautiful panoramic view of the Great Smoky  Mountains in E. Tennessee.   It seems like the first time in a few weeks that I’ve had both the time and inclination to reflect on what I am learning from my life and to write about that reflection.  Having grown up in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains and  now living in the Midwest, I am always perplexed when I visit at the changes to this area that I think of as home.  Driving  in to reach this cabin we passed a mountainside that has been what can only be described as ‘raped’ by unregulated building.  Rather than a mountainside forested with trees and an occasional house or cabin, it is now covered with nearly identical two and three story cabins with an occasional tree.  Rather than the soothing shades of green and brown one is now confronted with the jarring sight of the red clay soil of this area covering nearly the whole mountainside.  The sight is a blight on the landscape that is disturbing to see because it represents both a basic disrespect for the land and a disregard for sustainable development.  It is an extreme example of what has been happening in this area for years and I wonder where it will all end.

Seeing what is happening to this place I think of as home leads me to wonder at the sustainability of the life I am building for myself.  Having this time to slow down and be quiet makes me more aware of just how busy and stressful life has felt in recent weeks.  Our family is going through a transition as I start a new job as the director of a shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence in Indianapolis.  This new job means I will be commuting and working daily 60 miles away from home until we are able to sell our house and move closer to my work.  That change to a daily commute is a significant one but for my kids, particularly my 9 year old son, the idea of moving is very anxiety provoking.  He’s been really anxious and worried about the upcoming changes.  It’s going to take very intentional decision making and boundary setting on my part over the next few months to ensure that our life during this transition is sustainable for all of us.  I’m going to have to be careful about how I use my time so that I have enough energy and time to help my kids (and myself) through this time of change.  I don’t want to look back a year from now and see something like I saw driving in here…change that has left scars on the landscape of our lives that will take years to heal.  I’d appreciate your prayers during this time of transition.

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I’m reading an interesting book right now, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, in which she chronicles her family’s year of eating only foods grown or produced in their local area of Virginia. The term “locavore” is being used to describe those who are trying to support local farmers and eat foods in season in their particular locales. In doing so, they are trying to create and promote markets for a more sustainable agricultural future. Our current food preferences in the U.S. depend upon fossil fuels to both produce and transport food over great distances. With the rising price of petroleum comes inflation which we are all feeling now not to mention the price that is exacted as we pour more carbon into the atmospere and degrade our topsoil through unsustainable farming practices.

Over the past few months we have been making some efforts to eat more locally. Last summer we bought virtually all of our produce and eggs at the local farmer’s market. We continue to buy eggs, beef, pork and some dairy produced locally but winter in the midwest is not known for an abundance of produce. As I peruse the produce department at my local grocery store and see grapes grown in Chile, Clementines from Spain, bananas from Central America and all kinds of green veggies from California I realize how accustomed I have become to having anything I want at any time at a price I can afford. But I am coming to realize that this kind of global agricultural marketplace comes at a high price to both the environment and, in many cases, to the producers of our ‘affordable’ vegetables and fruits.

I realize that if something does not change, my children will have no concept of how our food is produced and how that food production is connected to the earth and the seasons.  As far as they are concerned, strawberries are endlessly available, asparagus has no particular season, tomatoes are a year round food and meat comes in shrink-wrapped plastic containers. When foods are available to us constantly, we lose any sense of the wonder and anticipation that comes from looking forward to a favorite seasonal treat or the appreciation for the cycle of life and our part in that.  Nothing is special because it’s always available with a minimal expenditure of effort.  When that over-familiarity occurs, we lose some sense of the wonder of God’s creation and our connection to our physical environment.

Over the next few months I’m going to be thinking and writing about what I am learning about trying to eat more locally as well as the hidden costs of the global agricultural marketplace. I’d be interested in hearing your reflections on these issues.  To find information about local farmers and food producers in your area, check out localharvest.org.

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It’s easy to get caught up in buying “stuff” this time of year. Often we feel obligated to buy gifts for people that we don’t know well or we want to give a gift to a loved one but are not sure what to buy because they seem to have everything they could want or need. Why not take a stand this year to honor someone you love by giving a gift that makes a difference for others and the earth? I’d like to recommend two alternatives to giving “stuff” that may or may not fit, be appreciated, used or needed:

  1. HEIFER International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating hunger and poverty and caring for the earth by providing individuals with a source of food rather than temporary food aid; thus helping individuals and families to achieve self-reliance. In addition, HEIFER works to educate the recipients about sustainable agricultural practices. You can honor someone by giving the gift of a cow, pig, goat, sheep, chicks, geese, rabbits, honeybees, trees, etc. that will go to help a family in need sustain itself. See HEIFER’s online gift catalog by clicking here.
  2. The Arbor Day Foundation is working to replant National Forests across the United States that have been devastated by wildfire and insects. At present the National Forest Service has a backlog of over 1 million acres of forest that needs to be replanted and with each new wildfire that number grows. You can give the gift of trees to be replanted in a national forest in honor or in memory of someone ($10.00 minimum gift) by clicking here. You will be able to print out a certificate to give to them or have the Arbor Day Foundation send them one. You can also send holiday cards ($5.95) that come with the gift of a tree planted in a national forest by clicking here.
  3. Of course, I’m sure you would not have to look far in your own community to find an organization whose cause you could feel good about supporting. (Like the Julian Center in Indianapolis, an organization near and dear to my heart. You can access their website here.)

In the midst of this season in which honoring the birth of the savior is overshadowed by honoring the god of the marketplace I pray that we can all stay focused on celebrating in a way that reflects that values that Jesus lived and taught.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Luke 4:18-19

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I visited my parents in E.Tennessee over the Thanksgiving weekend and saw first hand the effects of the drought I had heard them talking about for months. The rivers in the Smokies were as low as I’ve ever seen them and while a little rain has eased some of the immediate dryness there, the rainfall in that area of the country is more than 25 inches below normal for this year. Many in the southeastern United States are beginning to understand the sense of helplessness many in other parts of the country and world have felt for years as they have struggled with drought and limited water supplies.

I suppose I’ve been experiencing my own kind of drought in recent days. Since the beginning of November I’ve made only five posts to this blog; less than half the number I made in October. I could say that it’s because I’ve been busy or that the holidays have kept me from taking the time to post and while I, like most everyone, do have extra things to do this time of year I can’t say that my busyness has kept me from posting. It feels more like a drought – a scarcity of whatever it is that elevates us from simply surviving to being able to thrive. I know myself well enough now (five years of therapy will do that for you) to know that when I feel this way it tends to be my psyche’s way of drawing my attention to something that is not sustainable. When something in my life is not working for me, I begin to experience symptoms that, if left unattended, will lead me down the path of depression. When I begin to feel mentally dull, irritable, uninterested in things I usually enjoy and I feel a lack of creativity I know that I need to stop and spend some time reflecting on what it is that is not working for me or what is going on that might require that I practice better self-care. God has created us with a lovely array of sensors that will sound warning bells or will signal us somehow that something under the hoods needs some attention. The trick is to learn to be aware of the signals that your body, mind and spirit are giving you and then do something to identify the issue and deal with it appropriately. Sometimes we can identify and fix the problem on our own and sometimes we need help.

Drought can benefit us if it causes us to pay attention to the way we are using our resources whether they be material resources or physical, emotional and spiritual resources. It would be a shame to waste the opportunity to learn from it.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55: 1-2

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A few days ago our friends went in to check on their two year old son Tristan who was sleeping in his bed and discovered that he was not breathing. All attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. Now our friends are dealing with a grief that I’m sure reaches right to the core of who they are. As a parent, I can easily let myself imagine the grief they are experiencing. They are living every parent’s worst nightmare and my heart breaks for them and their extended family.

When I told my children about Tristan’s death they were surprised and saddened for him and for his brother and parents. We recently spent time with our friends at their home and the memories of that lovely evening are fresh in all of our minds. Ben, my eight year old, was particularly shaken up. He has known other people who died but they were all older folks so the news of a child’s death was shocking to him as it is to all of us. “I didn’t know kids could die” was his initial response and he has worried each night since then that, like Tristan, he will not wake up. Both my children have, however, expressed their faith that God is taking care of Tristan. Last night as I prayed with them before bed Julia prayed to God to “keep Tristan close to your heart.” When talking about Tristan’s death, Ben expressed his belief that while his body was dead, he is in heaven with God and “God will take good care of him until his parents get there.”

As a Christian, I place my faith in the belief that death is not the end of life. I believe that life continues in the presence of God after this life is over. That is my faith; my “assurance of things hoped for, [my] conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1. The question I have been dealing with lately, however, is not about the next life but about this one. How do we live in the present with the grief and sorrow that life brings? When we allow ourselves to love anything or anyone we open ourselves to the potential for loss and over the course of our life these sorrows accumulate. How then, do we live and not be overwhelmed by the weight of sorrow and grief?

While I don’t pretend to have this all figured out, I have come to some conclusions about things that help me:

1. Stay connected. Being part of a community that can support you with love, friendship, humor, compassion, mercy, comfort, and the occasional meal is vital for all of us. As humans, beings created in the image of God, we are built for community and connection. We suffer when we are isolated and our grief and sorrow is amplified.

2. Cultivate stillness. If prayer is talking to God, then being still and quiet is listening for the answer. The temptation is to numb the emotional pain we are feeling with busyness, work, entertainment or mindless distraction (computer solitaire anyone?). As Elijah discovered when he was running for his life from Jezebel in 1 Kings 19, God was heard not in the drama of the great wind, the earthquate or fire, but in a still, small voice. God offers us the comfort of divine presence but we must quiet ourselves to experience that presence. Stillness, quiet and meditation is universally valued by virtually all religious traditions because there is great power in being able to be still enough to open oneself to the presence of God. In western culture quiet and solitude are essentially counter-cultural. If stillness is hard for you, find someone to mentor you in cultivating this spiritual discipline.

3. Find ways to redeem your suffering. Suffering and loss can, over time, be transformed into a powerful energy for doing good in the world. There are countless stories of those who took their suffering and allowed the pain to motivate them. The movie “Lorenzo’s Oil” relates the story of Augusto and Michaela Odone who’s relentless search to find help for their son’s degenerative nerve disease, adrenoleukodystropy (ALD), led to the discovery of a particular kind of oil that is now a standard treatment for children who have ALD. Their discovery did not heal their son (though it did halt the disease’s progression) but their work did help them to redeem their suffering for good. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus offers us a beautiful picture of God’s redemptive power. Even the worst human cruelty and suffering can be redeemed through the power of love.

I don’t offer these thoughts as any sort of pollyanna “three easy steps” to dealing with pain and sorrow. There is nothing easy about this process. My friends who are grieving for their son will be grieving for a long time. I do, however, offer up what I am learning about this terrible, beautiful, painful, joyous process of being a human: created in the image of God for relationships and therfore vulnerable to the sorrow that accompanies the joy of loving.

May each one of us find the comfort, the presence, the redemption that is available to all who seek.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. ” Matthew 7: 7:8

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When we decided to fast from TV for a year I had an idea in mind about what that would be like: more reading, more time to do things together as a family, more time for prayer and meditation, and somehow I believed that I would have more peace. While most of those expectations have been met I have been surprised by how unsettling it has been in recent days. The first month was great. We were outside more, getting more exercise, doing more things together and I felt better than I had felt in a long while on a variety of levels. After school started things got more challenging as our schedule picked up with kids activities, church activities, etc., but still it felt good. The last six weeks, however have been quite unsettling. As I have been reading more about the serious problems facing our world due to climate change, political unrest, social inequity, etc., I have experienced more anxiety than have had at any time previous in my life. This experience of anxiety has given me a new empathy for those that live with panic and anxiety on a daily basis. I can understand more now about how it can be debilitating.

As I have worked to manage my anxiety through prayer, exercise, meditation, play, and writing, I have gained a new understanding about how our culture uses TV and other forms of electronic media and entertainment to self-medicate. Karl Marx said that “religion is the opium of the people” but it seems to me that in 21st century North America TV and/or electronic media is the opium of the people. One can spend an evening watching most network or cable programming and other than the few minutes of news programming which brings in a bit of reality, albeit mostly about things that happen to other folks, one can convince oneself that all is well. (sigh of relief) However, if we turn the TV, computer, radio, CD player, or iPod off or put away the book we are reading and sit in the silence it doesn’t take very long for most of us to feel uncomfortable and unsettled.

Why is it that we, who are among the most privileged humans on the planet, fret when faced with silence and feel the need to be distracted? What is it we feel that is so uncomfortable? I have come to understand that we need to be distracted because much of what we invest ourselves in does not satisfy us on the deepest levels. We are investing in things that will not, that cannot, last and somewhere deep inside we know it.

In these past few weeks I have had to come face to face with some things that scare me, that unsettle me, that feel out of my control and it has not been comfortable. I have been challenged to look beyond myself and move out of my comfort zone and what I have encountered challenges me on many levels. But in the process I have also encountered the “peace that passes all understanding” as I have prayed and invited the Holy Spirit to transform my anxiety into an energy that can be a force for good in the world. I feel as though for the first time in a long time I’m really paying attention in a more sustained sort of way to what God has to teach me and what I need to learn about living as a faithful disciple of Jesus.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55: 1-2

Thanks be to God.

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Buy items that are produced locally. It take a lot of gas to ship food and products produced far away to your area and thus produces more carbon emissions into the atmosphere. There is more locally produced food now available as the demand for local products creates a market for farmers and producers to sell their goods. To find local producers and outlets in your area click on the links below.

http://www.localharvest.org/

 http://www.sustainabletable.org/

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