Sunday, September 13, 2009

Visual Representation of my Degree

I don't know that this is all that creative, but I like it because it's simple. The quotation from Genesis explains why I think it's important to take care of the earth, and the recycling shows I'm doing it. The tree is a good background. :D

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day 2009

“Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example to the believers in your speech, your conduct, your love, faith, and purity.”
1 Timothy 4:12

As you’re probably aware, today is Earth Day. UIS is celebrating Earth Week this week, and the big presentation for the week was last night. This year, the presentation was given by Chad Pregracke, the founder and president of Living Lands and Waters, a company that cleans up America’s rivers.

I’ll be honest: I was really hesitant to go last night. I really enjoyed last year’s speaker and took lots of notes (which I think I still have around here somewhere), and even though I think it’s great that someone is out there cleaning up the rivers, it’s not my primary interest, and I was afraid I wouldn’t connect with what he was saying.

I was so wrong. Chad has a very interesting story, and he’s damn funny about telling it. There were no slides, no powerpoint, and no lecture. It was just him and his story.

He was raised in the Quad cities and became concerned about the health of the Mississippi River when he was in his teens. While still in college in 1997, he decided that he wanted to clean up the river, so he set out to get funding so he could get another boat and a crew. Only one company was interested, so they gave him money to go out and do it himself, which is exactly what he did. Chad told us that during the first two or three weeks he was cleaning up the beaches, people would pull up to his boat and ask who he was and what he was doing. He’d tell them, and his quest apparently impressed a few people, because a local paper asked him for an interview. He says he hated the interview, and was embarrassed when the AP picked it up the next day. Soon after that, CNN called for an interview. Soon after that, Chad got more funding from companies who saw his dedicated solo venture, and he was able to get another boat and a crew. A barge followed. Yes, a barge. The funny story about the barge is that it came about because he wanted to be more efficient. Instead of spending several days a week unloading, he wanted to only spend a few days a year unloading the garbage for recycling. So he thought it might be a good idea to get a barge. He called a barge company to see if by chance they had any, and the man on the phone said, “Yeah, we’ve got some. Who’d you hear about it from?”

“Well, no one. Why?”

As it turns out, the barge company had four barges they were going to get rid of, the first time they were going to get rid of any if several years. They scrapped three and gave Chad the best one they had. Chad didn’t know anything about it before he called the company. (To me, that’s a God moment)

Chad said two things that struck me not only as being the point to his presentation, but struck me personally. The first is that there are thousands of people who care about our streams, rivers, and environment. He added here that he had created an opportunity for them to do something positive. Second, he said, “Anything you want to do is totally feasible. Think outside the box. Think about what you want to do and do it.”

When I first started this degree program, I was really a rookie and had no idea what people of faith were saying about the environmental movement. I’m still pretty much a rookie, but now that I’m in my second semester of studying stewardship, I have a better idea of what’s being said, and there are a lot of Christians who take environmental stewardship seriously. That’s great news for me personally, but I’ve often been left with the thought, “Well what more could I say that hasn’t already been said?” I’ve found myself in different stages of discouragement, especially lately as I’ve tried to write about stewardship in general and environmental stewardship in particular.

When I was seventeen, I thought God was calling me to be a pastor, but I wasn’t really sure, and I was afraid that I wasn’t hearing God right or at all. Knowing that I was discouraged, a pastor friend of mine wrote me a letter, encouraging me seek God’s will for my life. He quoted the passage from 1 Timothy that I wrote above, knowing that even for people considering full time ministry, I was very young.

What he wanted me to know, and what Chad’s presentation reinforced, was that anyone of any age can make a difference. One person can make a difference. It doesn’t matter that other people might be doing the same thing. What matters is that each of us is doing the thing we’re supposed to be doing, whether it’s cleaning up the rivers, recycling, reducing our consumption, or sharing with others why it’s important to be a good steward of the environment.

For more information on Living Lands and Waters, visit the Living Lands and Waters site. Happy Earth Day! Celebrate Earth Day by remembering the Creator and being a good steward of His creation.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

"Mankind is No Island"

I promise I'll get back to the academic stuff soon. Fortunately, I think the things I've posted the last few days have shown the practical side of being a good steward and/or being a follower of Jesus.

This YouTube video will give you an idea of what started this whole process for me. It's heartwrenching - but sometimes it's good to have your heart torn like this.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Taking time out of my regularly scheduled stewardship musings again today to bring you another message from Andrew Sullivan.

This is about torture, folks. It's not for the squeamish, and it's not for those that want to ignore what the former Administration authorized in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo:

The one symbol as offensive as the Bush administration's decision to use Abu Ghraib prison for the deployment of cruel and inhuman punishment of prisoners was the use of former Soviet black sites for other "interrogations" of high value suspects. But I never felt this resonance as viscerally as I do after reading this. The parallels with the Gestapo "enhanced interrogation" program have been established. But Mark Danner shows the Soviet parallels - explains them physically and psychologically - in really helpful, if chilling, ways. Take this example of classic torture methods from the Soviet State Political Directorate (GPU):

They consisted usually of tying the victim in a strait-jacket to an iron bunk. The strait-jacket was his only clothing; he had no blanket, no food and was unable to go to the lavatory. With a gag in his mouth and a stopper in his rectum he would be given periodic beatings with rubber poles.

Now compare what Bush and Cheney authorized:

In the “black sites,” the same end was achieved by forced nudity and what the Red Cross terms, in its chapter of the same name, “prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles.” One of the fourteen detainees, for example, tells the Red Cross investigators that
he was kept for four and a half months continuously handcuffed and seven months with the ankles continuously shackled while detained in Kabul in 2003/4. On two occasions, his shackles had to be cut off his ankles as the locking mechanism had ceased to function, allegedly due to rust.

This technique, like other of the “alternative set of procedures” detailed by the Red Cross, seems to have been consistently applied to many of the fourteen “high-value” detainees. Walid bin Attash told the Red Cross investigators that

he was kept permanently handcuffed and shackled throughout his first six months of detention. During the four months he was held in his third place of detention, when not kept in the prolonged stress standing position [with his hands shackled to the ceiling], his ankle shackles were allegedly kept attached by a one meter long chain to a pin fixed in the corner of the room where he was held.

As with the GPU set of procedures, prisoners were kept naked, deprived of blankets, mattresses, and other necessities, and deprived of food. As for “the stopper in the rectum,” it was supplied by the GPU to deal with the practical if unpleasant problem of how to cope, in the case of a person who is naked and entirely under restraint and at the same time experiencing prolonged and extreme pain, with the inevitable consequences of his bodily functions. The Americans at the “black sites,” who had also to face this unpleasant necessity, particularly when holding detainees in “stress positions,” for example, forcing them for many days to stand naked with their hands shackled to a bolt in the ceiling and their ankles shackled to a bolt in the floor, developed their own equivalent:

While being held in this position some of the detainees were allowed to defecate in a bucket. A guard would come to release their hands from the bar or hook in the ceiling so that they could sit on the bucket. None of them, however, were allowed to clean themselves afterwards. Others were made to wear a garment that resembled a diaper. This was the case for Mr. Bin Attash in his fourth place of detention. However, he commented that on several occasions the diaper was not replaced so he had to urinate and defecate on himself while shackled in the prolonged stress standing position. Indeed, in addition to Mr. Bin Attash, three other detainees specified that they had to defecate and urinate on themselves and remain standing in their own bodily fluids.

One turns, finally, to those “periodic beatings with rubber poles” that the GPU administered. No rubber poles are to be found in the Red Cross report. Once again, Agabuse though, as with the stopper in the rectum and the diapers, the rubber poles simply represent the GPU’s practical solution to a problem shared by the CIA at the “black sites”: How can one beat a detainee repeatedly without causing debilitating or permanent injury that might make him unfit for further interrogation? How, that is, to get the pain and its effect while minimizing the physical consequences?

Where the GPU responded by developing rubber poles, the CIA created its plastic collar, “an improvised thick collar or neck roll,” as the Red Cross investigators describe it in Chapter 1.3.3 (“Beating by use of a collar”), that “was placed around their necks and used by their interrogators to slam them against the walls.” Though six of the fourteen detainees report the use of the “thick plastic collar,” which, according to Khaled Shaik Mohammed, would then be “held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall,” it is plain that this particular technique was perfected through experimentation. Indeed, the plastic collar seems to have begun as a rather simple mechanism: an everyday towel that was looped around the neck, the ends gathered in the guard’s fist. The collar appeared later and brought with it other innovations:

Mr. Abu Zubaydah commented that when the collar was first used on him in his third place of detention, he was slammed directly against a hard concrete wall. He was then placed in a tall box for several hours (see Section 1.3.5, Confinement in boxes). After he was taken out of the box he noticed that a sheet of plywood had been placed against the wall. The collar was then used to slam him against the plywood sheet. He thought that the plywood was in order to absorb some of the impact so as to avoid the risk of physical injury.

Let's ignore the political context completely and get right to the heart of the matter for me. No one is perfect. I am not. Former President Bush is not. President Obama is not. All three of us claim to follow Christ.

Somehow, I highly doubt Jesus would advocate torture. Yet former President Bush, former Vice President Cheney, and their administration allegedly authorized this kind of activity in these two prisons. Is this the kind of love we're supposed to show for our enemies? Or more to the point, is this the kind of love we're supposed to show for our neighbor? If you need a reminder about who our neighbor is, you can read this post from back in October 2008 from this blog, or you can go directly to Luke 10:25-37 to see the Story of the Good Samaritan.

I cannot comment on President Bush's faith. If he says that he is a Christian, I have no choice but to believe him; to do otherwise gets too deeply into the "Judge not, lest ye be judged" territory. His faith is between him and God. But his actions, if he indeed did this (and the evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming), were wrong. Torturing human beings, even under the presumption of guilt, is wrong. It is one thing to punish a person for his or her crimes, but it is quite another to strip them of their dignity and their will to live, to humiliate them and hurt them, just to prove a point.

This was torture, plain and simple. It was wrong. Are we, as Christians, to be peacemakers or warmongers? Are we to love our enemies or hate them?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Where is the Church?

I read Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish, well... daily. For the past month or two, he's been running posts called "The View from Your Recession," posts describing how his readers are dealing with economic issues right now. Most of them are pretty much what you might expect right now, though some are more positive than we would think. Few have been horrible; yes, losing one's job in the middle of this mess with no hope in sight is horrible, but not as horrible as Saturday's "The View From Your Recession":

A reader writes:

I work for the state child welfare agency for Missouri. We have been routinely asked if the economy has affected the amount of child abuse and child neglect hotline calls that are made or the number of kids coming into foster care. So far, it has not. We assume that because most of our clients are already soaking in poverty that the economic downturns don't affect them because they currently survive in that same circumstance.

This is no longer the case. Today, we had our first child enter foster care because the parent's unemployment ran out and the parent could no longer care for them. The economy is now affecting us.

And so I interrupt my normal pseudo-academic rants on stewardship to ask this question: Where is the Church?

I want you to put yourself in this parent's shoes for a moment. You are out of a job and looking for something, anything, that might allow you to support your family. Then one day, the unemployment checks run out, and you still have a child you have to support. What do you do? Where are all your friends and family to help you? If you had no money and no job in sight, could you give your child up to the state because you couldn't support that child?

I don't know if I could do that.

But (maybe) the more important question is this: where is the church? Where are the people called and commanded to be the hands and feet of Jesus, especially in the difficult times? Where are the people who should have been offering to help pay this family's bills, bringing them food, buying them groceries, and doing everything they could to make sure that this child didn't have to go to foster care. Where were they? Where are they?

Why are we, who claim to follow Christ, turning our eyes and ears away from those in need?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Creation by E.O. Wilson

In my opinion and experience, one of the hardest gaps to bridge between environmentalism and faith is the subject of origins. Many hardcore conservationists have science degrees and believe in evolution; many hardcore conservatives believe in creation. There are a lot people in the world who ride that gap, who believe that God created the world and has allowed evolution to ensue from that act of creation.

Then there are people like me, who really don’t like to talk about it and will only do so with those people who we know won’t roll their eyes at us and give us that “You’re a damn fool” look.

When I started my “career” at UIS, I was fortunate enough to take a class called Evolution vs. Creationism, taught by a man who had one degree in evolutionary biology (I forget if it was the MS or PhD thought) and was a non-religious Reform Jew. Obviously, he believed in evolution. But what I liked so much about that class was that Dr. Levin was so open-minded that he taught us the science behind evolution and brought in other people to teach about creation. Throughout the course, we heard from a Catholic priest, a Conservative Rabbi, a Presbyterian minister, and read books by people who believed in Creation Science (which isn’t science, by the way, but I digress). He wasn’t condescending to those of us who believed in creation and went out of his way to make sure he didn’t say anything that would offend us. I took that class six years ago and still look fondly on it. It’s because of that class that I find evolution so fascinating and can participate in a conversation about it – a good thing as I’ve been doing a lot of that the past year.

In Environmental Studies, no one asks if you believe in evolution; they seem to just assume that you do. So very few people understand the internal struggle I have when I have to talk about evolution. Very few people know that I believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It’s not that I intentionally keep quiet about my faith, it’s that it doesn’t ever come up.

My official stance on evolution and creation – the one that curious people get when they ask what I think – is that I believe God created the earth. If He did that in six literal days with one literal day of rest, fine. If He created the earth and set evolution in motion, fine. The important thing to me is that He created it.

Unofficially? I’m a pretty literal Creationist, think God created everything from amoebas to dinosaurs, and I don’t really have any idea if a day in Genesis is defined as a twenty-four hour period or an eon. What is really important to me though is that God created it all, and He called it good.

In The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, Dr. E.O. Wilson invites a Christian pastor into a discussion on the environment. Dr. Wilson wants science to reach out to religion so that the religious could help save the planet. Wilson says,
“I write to you now for your counsel and help. Of course, in doing so, I see no way to avoid the fundamental differences in our respective world views. You are a literalist interpreter of Christian Holy Scripture… I am a secular humanist… Does this difference in worldview separate us in all things? It does not. You and I and every other human being strive for the same imperatives of security, freedom of choice, personal dignity, and a cause to believe in that is much larger than ourselves.
“Let us see then, if you are willing, to meet on the near side of metaphysics in order to deal with the real world we share. I put it this way because you have the power to help solve a great problem about which I care deeply. I hope you have the same concern. I suggest we set aside our difference in order to save the Creation. The defense of living Nature is a universal value. It doesn’t rise from, nor does it promote, any religious or ideological dogma. Rather, it serves without discrimination the interest of all humanity.
Pastor, we need you help. The Creation – living Nature – is in deep trouble” (Wilson 3-4).

In Creation, Dr. Wilson teaches a few of the basics of evolution, but mostly he talks about the wonder and beauty of the natural world, how it works, and why it is so important to us. Why? His stated purpose is “to grasp and discuss on common ground this purpose: because we are part of it, the fate of the Creation is the fate of humanity” (Wilson 14). Don’t believe that we are part of the creation? The second creation account says that God made Adam from the soil and clay. That’s pretty much part of creation right there. Don’t think that the fate of God’s creation determines our own fate? Consider the first creation account. On day one, God made the light. Light is heat and energy. On day two, He separated the sea from the sky. The sea didn’t freeze because there was heat, and the separated sky will allow a breathable atmosphere. On day three, God separated the land from the sea. Now there is a place for plants to grow. Day four, God created vegetation! Trees that fruit, plants that seed. Both hold the soil together and prevent the land from going back into the sea. They also provide food for the creatures God would be creating later. God also created the moon and stars that day. The creation of our sun allowed more light, heat, and energy to reach the earth, allowing plants to grow. On day five, God created the living creatures in the seas and the birds. The seas were alive, the skies were alive, and neither was any longer sterile. On day six, God created the living creatures on the land. And finally, God created man.

Without all that God had created before, man could not survive. Without light and heat, we would freeze. Without land, we would drown. Without sea, we’d die of dehydration. Without soil and vegetation, we’d starve. Without atmosphere, we’d suffocate. We are completely dependent on what God created before He created us.

Since Wilson’s book is filled with a lot a science, I won’t go into many more details about the book itself. What I will tell you is that reading Creation was a lot like Dr. Levin’s class: Wilson does not condescend to the faithful or make them feel silly for being so. Instead, he feels that while science has the method to save the planet, faith and the faithful have the power to change the attitudes of others. Faith is a strong driver for change, and Wilson seems to think that if we are going to save the planet, we need the help of those of us who believe in God.