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.

Watch CBS Videos Online

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.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Planet Awakening

Yesterday, I read “Planet Awakening” by Patricia Waak, a former Senior Advisor on population for Audubon and currently the Chair of the Colorado Democratic Committee. I read this on the recommendation of my adviser, who (I hope I get this right) worked with Ms. Waak on interfaith environmental issues through Audubon. He recommended this book because it talks about the intersection of faith and environment; so, right up my alley.

This far in my education, human population hasn’t been discussed much. We talked about population the most in my env econ class last spring and touched on it a bit in env ethics last semester. When population has been discussed, it has been mostly about population of other species and how we can avoid extinction for those that are vulnerable or endangered. When human population has been discussed, people have been afraid to say anything. “Planet Awakening” takes on the issue of human population and how it relates to the environment.

I’ll start off by saying that this is probably the fairest, most impartial and positive review of Christian environmental thought that I think I’ve read. It’s an extremely fair and positive review of every religion Ms. Waak covers (ancient indigenous religious practices, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism), but she talks about Catholic and various Protestant denominational thought the most as they deal with population, and I was impressed by what I read.

I think Christians and Christianity get a bad rap when people start talking about environmental issues, and in some sense I think it’s rightfully so, but I also feel that sometimes, many people want to only see the bad about Christianity. When discussing population, Christianity is all over the place. Some people feel that the command to be fruitful and multiply still applies today, even though we live in a world where we can’t feed and clothe all the people we’re producing. Some Christians feel that we should do all we can to control population without stepping outside some ethical boundaries. And there are people who are everywhere in between.

Waak says, “Our calling as theologians, pastors, spiritual directors, and lay persons is to reframe the dialogue around population growth and consumption, and bring to bear ethical and spiritual principles, without pretending to have answers to these complex sets of problems” (Waak 14). Why is human population such a big issue for the environment? Practically, more people in the world means that more resources will get used. It’s that simple. For each person that is born, more land has to be converted to farmland or housing. The loss of this land destroys ecosystems, speeds soil erosion, and contributes to climate change (through plant loss). More people = more consumption.

In theory, talking about population growth is a good thing. In reality, we avoid it because it brings up all sorts of sticky issues. In America, infanticide is a crime; in other countries and/or cultures, infanticide is practiced as a means to control population. How do we tell some of these indigenous cultures, like the Bakairi Indians of Brazil (Picchi 65), that their population control practices are wrong? In many countries, not just Western or developed, abortion is used to control population. Even the subject of birth control and contraception is difficult to talk about because some people believe that all forms of hormonal and barrier contraception, as well as sterilization, are morally wrong (there are many reasons for this). So if we really need to talk about population, but we have a hard time talking about how to deal with a growing population through preventative measures, we then have some acute difficulty in coming up with a workable solution. But we MUST talk about population growth, because more people means more consumption of resources.

In America, we are blessed to have the means and education to prevent unwanted pregnancies (which, if used correctly, work most of the time. That people disregard this information is a completely different blog post). We look around to see average sized families with two to three kids and wonder, “Where is overpopulation taking place?” Then we see pictures of starving people in Africa and Asia, particularly young children, and a light goes off – sort of. “Oh, so it’s the poor people who are having too many kids. How is this my problem? I know how to prevent that, and I do. Maybe they should learn to prevent all those pregnancies as well.”

Waak says we need to be careful here: “Many women’s rights advocates fear that by acknowledging the relationship between population growth and environment they will ‘blame’ poor women for environmental degradation” (Waak 31). Blaming the poor anywhere for this problem is a twofold problem. First, the poor, especially in other countries, don’t have access to contraception and gynecological care. In countries where women are seen as second or even third class citizens, girls and women can’t go to school for a basic education, much less receiving information on human reproduction.

But the second problem with this statement is that while people in poor countries might have bigger families, each person is using far fewer resources than a family of four in developed countries, especially America. The poor in third world nations have little access to electricity and running water. They don’t eat as much food, especially meat or animal products, and most of their food comes from local places less than 200 miles away. They don’t drive or fly, and they don’t have the things we have (toys, computers, clothing, appliances, etc). So while there might be more people, they use fewer resources.

I’ll illustrate. For fun, I went to My Footprint and took the quiz to see what my ecofootprint would be here in Springfield, in Brazil as a Bakairi Indian, and as an Ethiopian. For my own results - and this is me eating no meat and very little fish, recycling what the city will allow, having a smallish home, driving little, and using as many ecofriendly products as possible, FAMILY OF THREE – if everyone lived like me, we would need 3.66 earths for all of us to survive. Ouch. As a Bakairi Indian – little need for transportation, they grow most of their own food, eat little meat and hunt/fish for what they do, small houses with no electricity or running water, FAMILY OF 5+ – we would need 0.26 earths for all of us to survive. As an Ethiopian – tiny houses, no electricity or running water, in the middle of a severe drought, what little food they have they grow or hunt, little need for transportation, FAMILY OF 5+ – we’d need 0.08 earths. Look at those numbers again and come up with a good reason for us to blame the poor who have large families, when we who have small families use vastly greater amounts of resources.

How can we reframe the dialogue around population and consumption? I think we first need to admit that while population is definitely a problem, the bigger problem is consumption. Yes, we need to worry about population growth in other countries, and “The poor need to share in the human commitment to change so that life on the planet can be sustainable for all. But to make an appeal for that commitment credible, the rest of the world must address not merely its own salvation, but the relief of poverty as well” (Waak 68) and “If we are to be good stewards of the earth, we must strive to make our planet just and sustainable for all. We must care about and care for each of the six billion people – and more to come” (Waak 78).

Most people would consider forcible population control unethical. But should people really be allowed to have as many children as they see fit? Large families pose ethical questions themselves: consider Nadya Suleman, who recently gave birth to 8 children through in-vitro fertilization and already had 6 young children at home; or Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who have eighteen (or nineteen) children and will probably have another one on the way soon, if the pattern continues. Should Ms. Suleman or the Duggars be allowed to have that many children? Is it our right as individuals to have as many children as we want? Why do people have that many children, especially when there are children in our own country who don’t have homes or families? Can we control population through policy and still be considered ethical, especially if people like the Duggars continue to have children because they believe “be fruitful and multiply” still applies today, a tenet of their own faith?

Next week, I’ll be interviewing Ms. Waak and will post some of that interview here in the following days.

Picchi, Debra. The Bakairi Indians of Brazil. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2006.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Transformation (Green Ink 2)

I became a Christian when I was in high school, late in my junior year. That summer, I got a t-shirt similar to this one:

The t-shirt I had also had Romans 12:2 written on it:

“Be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

While my transformation as a follower of Christ began when I was sixteen, my transformation into a steward of the environment didn’t start until I was thirty-one. I think I’ve told that story numerous times, so I’ll give you the condensed version, which starts out with a geopolitics paper on soybeans and all their uses. There was a long period of thinking about what I’d written in that paper before I took any other steps. I wanted to become a vegetarian, but I wasn’t sure I could really give up meat. And then in August after I turned thirty-two, I just sort of slipped into it. Jeff was gone for work for a few days, and I didn’t eat any meat during that time, mainly because I didn’t feel like cooking it. Once I realized that not only had I not eaten any meat for that time but that I didn’t even miss it that I much, becoming a vegetarian was much easier. About six months after that, I started recycling (some of us are late bloomers!). Six months after that, I started this MA program. And now I want to retrofit my house with various (expensive) energy projects. Including trying to figure out how to get a green roof onto our sloped roof. Or a windmill. I think the huge tree in the front yard probably prevents solar panels up there…

My transformation into who I am today didn’t happen overnight. Most transformations don’t.

I’m talking about transformations because of this Frome quote:

“Along the way I came to believe that society needs a transformation, a viewpoint of human concern to counter injustice and greed. The spiritual ecological dimension of writing with green ink provides a way of life with its own rewards” (Frome 171).

I also believe that society needs a transformation. If you ask me what I think is the most important transformation that needs to happen, I would say that people need to come to know Jesus and have their minds transformed and renewed. (Some of you disagree with me about the Jesus part, and that’s OK; we each have our own religious world view.) The next transformation would be that we all follow the two greatest commandments, as given by Jesus, which sum up all the laws: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

In my opinion, when one loves God and loves one’s neighbor, everything else follows, including being a better steward – not just of the environment, but of all that God has blessed us with. Human concern to counter injustice and greed is part of that transformation that I’d like to see myself. We can’t separate environmental concerns from injustice and greed because it is so often our greed and the resulting injustice that cause environmental concerns. What we do to the environment today will effect our children for several generations. We might be around to see some of it, but we won’t see the worst of it. But the effects don’t stop at that, because what we do today to the environment also affects people in third world countries.

Palm oil is a really good example of this because it is found in a lot of products we consume, especially crackers and cookies. When we consume these products, demand for the ingredients, including palm oil, increases. Increased demand for palm oil increases the demand for more oil palms, which are grown mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia. To grow more oil palms, tropical rainforests in this country must be cut down and the land burned to prepare it for the new trees. As of now, more than 170,000 km2 (105,633.1 mi2 ) have been lost to oil palm plantations in Borneo (1) (the island that houses Indonesia and Malaysia), which is just under half of Borneo’s total area. Destroying the native rain forest kills or drives out native fauna, encouraging species vulnerability or endangerment. And most oil palm plantations aren’t being farmed sustainably, causing soil to be depleted of nutrients.

There is a human side to the palm oil problem too. The continual burning of forest releases CO2 into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change. Higher demand for palm oil increases its price, making it difficult for poorer people around the world to buy it for cooking. And Malaysia’s government, at least, is replacing local leaders with timber company associates in a bid to take land from indigenous peoples.(2)

What we consume – our greed – fuels environmental and human injustices.

I’m not perfect; far from it, in fact. But I see what we are doing to this world and have to wonder how people who believe in God and that He created this world can participate in greed and injustice, especially those of us who call ourselves Christians. After all, Jesus told us to store up our treasures in heaven, not on earth (Matthew 6:19-20) and when we are the victims of an injustice, Jesus said we are to forgive “seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Jesus calls the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, and the peacemakers blessed, and I think He wants us to be transformed to have these qualities, that we might reverse injustice in this world.

And in focusing on environmental injustice, Frome says, “Focus on principle, rather than personality. In environmental journalism you are likely to upset somebody, but writing in one sense is outreach to adversaries, recognizing that people who disagree are not evil” (Frome 101). And this is why I’m not perfect: I don’t think of those who disagree with me as evil, but I do tend to think of them as lazy, stupid, insensitive, and lacking compassion and love.

Refocusing takes transformation. I need to be transformed so that I might love others and see them as children of God, but I also need to be transformed so that my own greedy impulses and drive to do injustice to others can be replaced with compassion, forgiveness, and love.

1. Little, Jane Braxton. “Regrowing Borneo, Tree by Tree.” Scientific American Earth 3.0. Vol. 18, num. 5, 2008: 66.
2. Mok, Kimberly. “Logging, Palm oil, and Human Rights in Borneo.”

Writing about Writing (Green Ink 1)

For the past week, I’ve been reading Green Ink by Michael Frome. This is the second time I’ve read this book for a class, and I’ve enjoyed it both times.

Even having read it twice, I’ll be honest – I’m not completely sure what the point is. The book is about how to write about the environment, aka, how to be an environmental journalist. That’s the whole reason I’ve read it twice for school. However, it’s not really a how-to book in the sense that Frome says, “Step 1… Step 2…” Green Ink is mostly about his own observations or stories he’s read or heard about being an environmental journalist.

In the semester and a half that I’ve been focusing on stewardship, I haven’t talked much about writing – since writing wasn’t really the purpose of the independent study. However, I chose Green Ink since it was about environmental writing, and I want to spend this little bit of time talking about writing, in general and about the environment.

If you’ve ever tried to write something serious, then you know writing is not an easy task. Even writing the perfect thank-you note can be a Herculean effort, especially if you have to write many of them, over and over, thanking people you barely know for something you wish you hadn’t received. (“Dear Mr. and Mrs. --, thank you for the lovely sterling silver cookie tray you bought us for our wedding almost 16 years ago. While it is lovely to look at, it has sat in our basement or in storage, untouched, for all that time, and it was a complete waste of probably $100. Neither of us cares for knick-knacks and especially not those that have to be polished after being subjected to air for a time. Thank you for the impracticality of your gift, I’m sure the money could have bought something off our registry that we would still be using today. Sincerely, the unappreciative bitch.” Also known as, “Dear Mr. and Mrs. --, Thank you for the lovely sterling silver cookie platter you gave us for our wedding. We are very grateful you thought of us and appreciate your kindness. Thank you for sharing in our special day. Sincerely, Jeff and Stephanie.” Hmph.) But honestly, trying to write something lighthearted or funny is just as difficult.

The other difficulty in writing is that each type of writing has its own laws, reasoning, and mechanical issues. Writing a thank-you note requires striking the right balance of appreciativeness without appearing underwhelmed or looking like a complete buttkisser, and you probably have to write a little creatively here so that if people compare notes, you don’t look like you copied a generic note. Writing an essay means that the writing part is, in essence, the icing on the cake. All the writing shows is what you’ve learned from your research. I should mention that whatever you call this essay - whether it’s essay, research report, scientific study, market analysis, etc. – the important part is communicating what you’ve learned to the audience, but different audiences expect that information to be communicated in different ways. For example, my English professors expected me to do literary criticism or analysis in a specific way and use a specific format for citations. My environmental studies professors, on the other hand, expect something a little different than what I was trained to do in undergrad. It’s not “and now for something completely different” different, but you try learning APA format after you’ve been writing in MLA all your life!

I research and write for my job, too. Learning this particular style of writing has been a brain stretcher because it involves communicating all the subtle nuances of statutes as succinctly as possible. It involves an endnote format (I work with parenthetical citations for school work) with citations in what I would call… well, I’m not sure what to call it. Its not MLA, it’s not APA, it’s not even anywhere in between. We use a format that will help the audience find the statistic or statute as quickly and easily as possible.

Writing creatively is quite another monster. Just because you don’t have to cite your facts doesn’t mean that you don’t have to research. And where in other writing the point is to say exactly what you mean, writing fiction involves the feared craft of “showing, not telling” – i.e., don’t say, “she had blonde hair,” say, “Her hair reminded me of the silken tassels of Illinois corn.” But you have to know when to show and when to just get to the point already.

I am not a journalist. My education so far has involved learning about the environment, but I have yet to learn how to write an article, especially one about the environment.

I say all this to show you that writing is not a simple task. Not every person can write well. You might think writing is just putting the words in your head on to paper or in the computer, but it’s not that simple. I don’t like reading anything written by H.G. Wells or Charles Dickens (my apologies to my former English professors). In Dickens’ case, I have to tell you I feel for the guy, because he wrote in the era of getting paid per word. But wordiness doesn’t make one a good writer, and I think Dickens milked the system without any thought to his audience or the story. After all, why say in twenty words what you can say in 500? I feel about the same about Wells. Then there’s Victor Hugo. In Les Miserables, Hugo works sections of his stories for a good hundred pages in some cases. The first section of the story has little dialogue, and we learn about the priest, Monseigneur Beinvenu, who eventually meets Jean Valjean, who stays with the Bishop and steals his silver before departing. The whole point of the story is to show Beinvenu’s character:

In the meantime, Monseigneur Bienvenu had advanced as quickly as his great age permitted.

"Ah! here you are!" he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. "I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?"

We learn here that Bienvenu doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk, and his compassion changes Jean Valjean’s life. So while Hugo is wordy, there’s a point. I suppose Dickens fans would say he had a point too, but I fail to see it.

Writing is a craft. It’s not just about putting words on paper, but about putting words together like puzzle pieces so that the pieces don’t just fit, but show the intended picture. For some people, writing can be easy, but for most of us, learning this craft is difficult work, full of red pen marks, mechanical errors, and draft upon draft of rewrites.

Frome addresses the task of writing about the environment. What is especially important to me, as I learn to write about the environment for an audience of Christians, is this particular quote: “It seems that the task of environmental writing can be defined as translation. It is our job to narrow the gulf…” (Frome 125). Another one; “…but you’ve got to make those technical issues clear and understandable to the public. Don’t write for your sources, write for your public” (Frome 126). The more I hear about what some people think about climate change, the more important to me this becomes. If I had to sum up the whole point of my education, I could do it quickly and without regret using the two Frome quotes above.

I feel like I’m starting to lose my point, so more later about Green Ink.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Creation Care and Character: The Nature and Necessity of the Ecological Virtues

My first journal reading for this semester was "Creation Care and Character: The Nature and Necessity of the Ecological Virtues" by Dr. Steven Bouma-Prediger who was/is in the Department of Religion at Hope College. I found this article through The Christian Environmental Studies Center. In order to better understand this post, you should read the article. I'm going to assume that that's exactly what you're doing, as y'all are intelligent folks, and my post is going to reflect what stood out to me in the article. This is quite philosophy-heavy, so bear with me (and the article).

The first thing that Dr. Bouma-Prediger did here was to establish classic philosophical and ethical arguments for what a virtue is. Quite simply
A virtue is an state of character--with the attendant desires, attitudes, and emotions--formed by choices and habits over time, which disposes one to act in certain ways, and shapes one's vision of the world. Some virtues are intrinsically morally good, while others are instrumentally good. Some have more to do with intellectual excellence, while others have more to do with moral excellence. Some are corrective in the sense that their necessity derives from various temptations; others would exist in a perfect world. All virtues shape our character and substantially influence how we see the world.

I've just hinted at it with this quote, but one thing that he stresses is that virtues must be lived out. One is not simply something by saying that s/he is that thing, one must act to be that thing. Matthew 7:17 says, "Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit" and Galatians 5:22 and 23 tell us what the fruits of a good tree are: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Notice that bearing fruit is an active thing. The tree doesn't just call itself a fruit tree, it produces fruit so that we can see that it is, indeed, a fruit tree. The same principle applies to attaining virtues (or the fruit of the Spirit - if you read the article, you know that what the author calls virtues are very similar to the fruits of the Spirit): you can't just call yourself righteous with practicing righteousness. You can't call yourself patient without practicing patience (and you might have already found that God doesn't give you patience, He gives you opportunities to be patient). And you can't call yourself loving without loving the people God commands you to love. In this case, doing=being.

One thing that the author tries to get us to examine is our attitude towards creation. I think, especially here in America and in a lot of evangelical settings, we have the belief or attitude that what God created is only valuable because of how we (humans) can use it, but

All creatures--the wild asses, the cedars of Lebanon, the storks, the rock badgers, the young lions--depend upon God for their existence and their flourishing. In addition, God's creatures are valuable for their own sake. That is, they are valuable not because of their usefulness to humans--though some are useful, indeed essential, to us; but rather they are valuable to each other--e.g., the cedars are valuable as places for birds to nest and the mountains are valuable as places of refuge and rest for the wild goats--and, most importantly, they are valuable simply because God made them. In short, rocks and trees, birds and animals, have not only instrumental value but intrinsic value. Their value resides in their being creations of a valuing God, not in their being a means to some human end.

In environmental ethics, something is intrinsically valuable simply because it exists, and in Christian environmental ethics, something is intrinsically valuable because God created it and its worth is in God. It doesn't matter if that creature has no value to us for any purpose; it is valuable because God created it. And
Because species have intrinsic value, they have moral standing. And because they have moral standing, we as humans have certain duties with respect to species. Given, furthermore, that species are dynamic natural kinds, unique and irreplaceable, entire forms of life the extinction of which is a form of superkilling, we offer the following moral maxim: we should act so as to preserve diverse kinds of life. More exactly, we have a prima facie duty to protect and preserve non-human species. In other words, while the possibility exists that other moral considerations could outweigh or overrule this duty, normally we are obligated to protect and preserve non-human species.

Enter more ethical considerations. This, for example, absolutely smacks of utilitarianism, which says "we should always do whatever will produce the greatest possible balance of happiness over unhappiness for everyone who will be affected by our action" (Environmental Ethics 65). Normally, utilitarianism is an ethic used for mostly human consideration, but I think it applies well as an environmental ethic. We all function better when our environment is functioning well; this includes plant and animal life. Utilitarianism doesn't discount the fact that sometimes hard decisions need to be made, and we won't always make a decision that makes everyone happy. In other words, sometimes the human has to win. Given the choice between saving the life of my child and the life of my dog, my child will always win. But if everything is equal, I will do and must do what I can to preserve the lives of both child and dog. And bird and tree and blade of grass.

It's important to talk about consumption when we discuss environmental stewardship. The author says
Given that the earth is finite, I propose the following moral maxim: we should acknowledge the finitude of the earth and act so as to live within our means. More precisely, we have a prima facie duty to preserve nonrenewable resources and conserve scarce though renewable resources. This duty applies to a wide range of things--from energy to species. We should, for example, conserve our fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas, for once that solar savings account is depleted it will be a very long time before it is replenished. So too we should preserve species, for that "resource" once gone will never return.

With respect to ecological ethics, foolishness is the disposition to act as if creation is endlessly exploitable and expendable. By living only for today one acts as if the future does not matter.

the vice of deficiency contrary to patience is impetuousness. It is the impulsiveness which, fearful of the future, drives us to gratify our desires in the immediate moment, irrespective of the legitimate need of others. Those who exhibit this vice lack the ability to wait. They always eat first at the wilderness supper table. They never put off a purchase in order to pay cash when they could charge it now.

These three passages speak to the foolishness of our drive to consume as much as we can. Yes, we have needs that must be met, and we must consume those needs. That isn't what these three passages are talking about. What's being discussed here is the level of consumption that is destructive to the environment. We don't live within our means. We feel like we have to have our wants and desires met right now. So many of us feel that way that we've driven species to extinction. This is shortsighted of us for two very important reasons. First, it is an attitude of disrespect towards God, because we think our individual needs are more important than the rest of the earth God created. Second, when we consume too many resources, we take those resources out of the hands of our children and grandchildren. And their children and grandchildren. That sounds trite, but it's the truth. Think of all the species that have become extinct because our ancestors either overhunted or destroyed their habitats. There are birds, fish, mammals, and plants that we will never see because the humans before use killed every last one of them. But we are doing the same thing to other species.

Sustainability is also an issue:
We are permitted to use the fruit of creation, but we are not allowed to destroy the ability of creation to be fruitful. Indeed, as these texts suggest, the kind of wise use which preserves creation's ability to replenish itself is an important ingredient in living well.

From this theological motif I derive the ethical principle of sustainability. From this flows the following moral maxim: we should act in such a way that the ability of living creatures to maintain themselves and to reproduce is carefully preserved. To make this maxim more exact, we have a prima facie duty to judiciously use those creatures under our care so as to provide for future generations. We cannot but use plants and animals to survive and maintain our own human existence. Like all creatures we affect our surroundings, in part by consuming other organisms. But we have an obligation to so use the creatures under our care that we provide not only for our own generations but also for the generations--the fruitfulness--of non-human creatures.

This goes along with the previous section comments. Our culture conditions us to consume too many things. It conditions us to think we need things that we don't really need. The problem isn't that we use the fruits of the tropical rain forest for medicines. The problem is that we have decided that it's more productive to burn the rain forest down so that we can raise cattle for meat. More and more forest is being razed and burned so that we have more land on which we raise livestock. It's OK to use the fruit and plants of the rain forest to make needed medicines and feed people. It's OK to eat meat. It's not OK to consume so much meat that it causes us to destroy whole environments to do so.

Actions like this aren't sustainable. Overconsumption of resources isn't sustainable because we usually consume faster than than the resources renew.

And finally, a good Christian environmental ethic includes rest, or Sabbath:
We are reminded of this need for rest in the Ten Commandments--better rendered God's ten best ways to live. In Exodus 20:8-11 we are called to "remember the sabbath and keep it holy" for the seventh day is a sabbath to God on which "you shall not do any work--you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns." Notable for our purposes is the injunction to rest farm animals on the sabbath. Apparently cows and horses and mules need to be rested too. This is spelled out in greater detail in the case law in Leviticus and Deuteronomy where the Israelites are instructed by God in certain very specific ways on how to organize their lives. For example, in Leviticus 25 they are told that the land must be given a sabbath rest every seventh year. In the seventh year "you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vines" because "it shall be a year of complete rest for the land" (verses 4-5). Furthermore, after seven seven year cycles there shall be a year of jubilee. In the fiftieth year "you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants" and "you shall return, every one of you, to your property and to your family." As in the sabbatical year, so too in the year of jubilee "you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines" (verses 10-12). And these stipulations are given, the text makes very clear, "so that the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live on it securely" (verses 18-19). Life on the land goes better when one observes God's statutes and commandments.

Indeed, God intends that humans give the people, animals, and land under their care periodic rest and the opportunity for restoration. Such intentional rest and nurture of creatures human and nonhuman resists the relentless use and exploitation which drives much of modern society.

Sabbath isn't just for humans, but for animals and the land as well. Everything is more productive when rested. Everything simply functions better when well rested. I the same passage where God commands the Israelites to rest, He also commands the Israelites to allow their servants, animals, and land to rest as well. In this, God ties Sabbath to sustainable living.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Removing the Governor from office

Today, the Illinois General Assembly is, more than likely, going to sustain the Articles of Impeachment against Governor Rod Blagojevich. Given what happened in the media when Rep. Milt Patterson voted against the Governor's impeachment in the House, it's unlikely the any Senator will vote against the conviction.

On the one hand, this is justice for the State of Illinois. But on the other hand, my heart hurts for this man and his family. Don't get me wrong - I think he needs to be removed from office. But can you imagine waking up in the morning, knowing that what you face in the next few hours is not only going to ruin your career, but will be the beginning of severe legal troubles and impact your family in a horrible way?

I guess what I'm asking each of you to think about today is how you would feel in Governor Blagojevich's shoes. Imagine how it feels when he looks at his little girls tonight and has to tell them that their daddy no longer has a job. Imagine how it feels to look your spouse in the eye and no that nothing he or she can say can fix this situation. Imagine how it feels to be in the middle of a crowd of people who want you removed from your job, and most of them really don't like you.

Yes, we need justice. When someone does something wrong, there are consequences that should follow. But we need to remember two things to temper that desire to see justice served: first, none of us is without sin; and second, we are called to forgive and restore. Christ died and rose for those two things. So even if you're happy that Governor will be removed from office, please pray for him and his family, because there are some dark times ahead for them.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Welcome to the New Year; now let's do the right thing

Happy 2009!

I realize it's been awhile since I've blogged. School, work, and Christmas got the better of me, so there I went, disappearing from the blogosphere.

I regularly read another blog called The Evening of Kent, which I started reading because of another blog I read regularly. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what KW Leslie says; oh, there were a few posts about a month ago about speaking in tongues that I didn't agree with (still don't), but I think there are some theological issues where Christians can agree to disagree gracefully, and no one's going to go to hell because we don't see eye to eye. But on Leslie's normal posts, I think he and I agree about 95% of the time.

He only posts about every three or four days, so I was happy to see he'd posted again when I checked the blog this morning. As usual, his post made me want to stand up and applaud. Rather than just linking to the post, and risking you not reading it, I'm posting his thoughts here, with his permission:

January fasting, and why it’s a crock.

Seeking direction for the year? Try following some of the directions Jesus already gave.

Got back from Spokane with another cold, likely given to me by another nephew. They’re little germ-farms, these nephews. Cute but deadly. Also got back with a bit of an idea, provoked by the pastor of my sister’s church.

The sermon last Sunday had to do mainly with inspiring the congregation to join the pastor in a 21-day fast so that they could collectively determine God’s will for the new year. This is standard practice for some evangelical churches: It’s January; let’s fast. (Mainliners have had enough fasting… if they celebrated Advent properly, or at all.) It’s sort of the evangelical Christian variation of the New Year’s resolution, although many of us make those too—the fast indicates that we resolve to follow God this year, as opposed to last year, which didn't meet personal expectations; where our devotional lives went completely to hell as soon as summer vacation made us busy with… free time? Whatever. We were busy. But this year…

…Well, let’s just say that Christian devotions tend to rise and fall depending on the latest charismatic fad, and in January it’s fasting. Which is made all the more appealing by the fact that we American Christians in particular have packed on an extra 15 pounds thanks to all the holiday food, and fasting seems a good spiritual way to lose some weight.

The purpose behind fasting, in the scriptures, is basically mourning:

* Someone is dead, and a mourner is sad and won’t eat.
* Someone remembers a sad event or holiday, and won’t eat.
* Someone repents of sin, wants to show sorrow, so they make themselves look pathetic and don’t eat.
* Someone really wants God’s help, and wants to appear pitiful and worthy of mercy, and doesn’t eat.
* The rulers, some of whom were concerned about God’s wrath on sin, called a fast for the previous two reasons.

But why do people call fasts nowadays? Sometimes repentance; sometimes contemplation. But most of the time it’s ’cause we’re asking God for direction. We wanna know what He wants us to do. We wanna know what His plans for our future might be. We want a vision for the future—because “without a vision, people perish,” as an acquaintance of mine kept misquoting yesterday. So we want God to show us what to do so that we don’t keep stumbling around in the dark.

But it struck me a few weeks ago how much we really do know what we’re supposed to be doing—and the problem is that we really, truly, honestly don’t want to do it.

Flash back—or flash forward, ’cause Jesus is talking about the end of the world—to Jesus’s story of the sheep and goats. Not literal sheep and goats, of course. Goes like this:

As soon as the Son of Man comes, in His glory and all the angels with Him, He will then sit His throne of glory, and every people-group will be gathered together in front of Him. He will divide them from one another, like a shepherd divides the young sheep from the young goats, and will put the lambs by His right hand, and the kids by His left.

Then the King will say to those at His right, “Come. You have been praised by My Father. Take possession of the Kingdom; it has been prepared for you at the universe’s creation. For I was hungry and you gave Me food. I was thirsty and you gave Me a drink. I was a foreigner and you included Me. I was poorly clothed and you dressed Me. I was weak and you came to help Me. I was in trouble and you came to Me.”

The right-minded will reply to Him, “Master, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You a drink? When did we see and include foreigners, or dress the poorly clothed? When did we see a weak or troubled person and go to them?”

The King will reply to them, “Amen I tell you: To anyone who did such things for the most obscure of My family members—you did so to Me.”

Then He will say to those at His left, “Get away from Me, you damned people—into the perpetual fire; it has been prepared for the devil and its angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat. I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink. I was a foreigner and you didn’t include Me; poorly clothed and you didn’t dress Me; weak and in trouble and you showed no concern for Me.”

They will reply to Him, “Master, when did we see You hungry, thirsty, foreign, poorly clothed, weak, or in trouble, and not serve You?”

He will reply to them, “Amen I tell you: To anyone who didn’t do such things for the most obscure, you didn’t do so to Me.”

These people will go away into perpetual punishment. The right-minded go into perpetual life.

—Mt 25.31-46 KWL

What did the “goats” get sent to hell for? Obviously, for not feeding, clothing, helping, visiting, or including the needy of all sorts. Are we doing any of this at all? Or are we just sending money to organizations that do it—or arranging for our church to send money to such organizations so that we don’t have to?

Seems to me that this is something that your average Christian is not personally involved in, and had better bloody well get involved in if we ever expect to inherit the Kingdom. Trouble is, despite how obvious the lesson is, people figure they can either do it by proxy, or figure there are enough government employees or charity workers to take care of everyone—or they’re participating in a fast and hoping to God that God doesn’t call them into any such vocation.

If you’re fasting and wondering what God wants you to do, I think we need to fast for a different reason: We need to mourn and repent of sitting on our lazy American asses while there are needy people in our towns who are needlessly suffering while we worry about the weight we’ve gained after Christmas. We need to stop casting about for a mission other than what God’s already commissioned us Christians to do, as if He’s didn’t really mean it when He told us to love our neighbors, and is gonna offer us a second option that appeals to our ego more. We don’t need to seek a new vision; we need to obey the one we were already given.

You wanna know why we’re not seeing victories in our lives, or having satisfaction in our ministries? It’s because we’re neither obeying God nor actually ministering in a way God approves of. Our so-called “ministries” consist of entertaining flabby, soft, passive Christians, lest they grow bored or get offended by actual challenges, and go elsewhere and take their money and attention with them. That new direction that we’re fasting and hoping God reveals to us? Deep down, we’re looking for something that will “fulfill” us—meaning that’ll make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, yet not actually involve any sacrifice or hardship or suffering on our part. Deep down, we’re looking for something that will remove us from the misery and vice of this world; something that will make our church well-known and get it attention; something that will raise tons of money and build shiny buildings that don’t do anything. Deep down, we’re looking for a Christianity that doesn’t look at all like anything Jesus went through; we want to be Epicureans, where pleasure rather than obedience is the highest good, and freedom from anxiety comes through “God-given” possessions rather than through the God-given Holy Spirit.

Our fasts are a joke. Have been since Isaiah’s time, when God said even then that they pissed Him off. He doesn’t want fasts; He wants obedience. Isaiah’s got some fun comments on fasting:

Day by day they look for Me

and want to know My directions—

as if they were a people who behaved rightly

and hadn’t abandoned God’s justice.

They ask Me for fair decisions.

They want God to come near.

“Why do we fast, and You don’t see it?

Why do we afflict ourselves, and You don’t know it?”

Look: You take pleasure in your fast day.

You don’t work; but your employees sure do.

Look: Your fasts result in debates and fighting,

to attack with evil hands.

No fast like today’s will make a sound heard in a high place.

Is this anything like a fast I prefer?—

a day for a person to refresh the soul?

to bow the head like a blade of grass?

to lie down in rough clothes, in ashes?

Is that called a fast, a day pleasing to Yahweh?

Isn’t this the fast I prefer?—

Open the chains of the oppressed,

loose the straps of the yoke,

set the broken people free,

and break every yoke.

Isn’t it to share your bread with the hungry?

to bring home the needy homeless people?

to cover those you see naked?

to not hide yourself away from people?

Then your light will burst like day

and your health grow quickly,

and rightness go to your face,

and Yahweh’s glory gather you together.

Then you call and Yahweh answers;

you call for help and He says, “I’m here.”

If you turn away from the yoke in your midst—

the pointing finger and evil saying—

If you spend your life on the hungry

and satisfy the life of the afflicted,

your light rises in the darkness

and your night is like noon,

and Yahweh guides you continually.

—Is 58.2-11 KWL

And He promises a few other nice things… if His people would just obey.

You want direction? God is ever-present when you are actually doing what He wants you to do and serving His people. You aren’t waiting around for advice; you’re getting it instantly, sometimes before you even ask for it, simply because you stopped begging Him to come to you, and went to where He is. Don’t waste His time with anything else.

© K.W. Leslie

What he's posted here troubles me. Not in a theological manner, because I agree with what he's saying; instead, it troubles me because I agree with him.

As I've examined my heart and my life this past semester, I've found a couple of things that are in direct opposition to each other: I want to help others, and I'm a selfish, greedy woman. This was made clear to me at Christmas time when I kept thinking, "This is the birth of Christ I'm supposed to be celebrating. Why am I all about the presents?"

This whole subject is troubling. It SHOULD be troubling. I see the church failing miserably to do these things, and offering only excuses for why we're not doing them. And even though I try to help when and where I can, I still see myself as terribly selfish and greedy, especially as we leave the Christmas season. I've been confronting my own selfishness and greed head on, and it's not pretty.

There are a lot of people in my own community who need help. I could help them, but I'm busy. I have a husband and son, I'm in school, I work full time, and I just don't know where I would fit in helping those people. But lots of other people are just as busy as I am, and they find time to help the people in this city who need it. So maybe what it really comes down to is that 1) I'm lazy, and 2) I'm really uncomfortable around people I don't know.

Leslie's right; we don't need to fast and pray about what God wants us to do, because He already told us what we need to do. Maybe each of us needs to pray about how we go about taking care of those in need, but I'll tell you this right now: God has already given you permission to help.

Welcome to the New Year, folks. Now, let's get out there and do the right thing.