Can Polyester Save the World?

February 21, 2007

No, this is not an attempt to become Beauty Tips for Ministers II. I’m filing an update on my New Year’s Resolution not to buy clothes for a year. And I am on day sixty-something of this, having bought my last piece of clothing December 21. I was thrilled and renewed in my determination when I read this article at the New York Times – Can Polyester Save the World?

The article writes about the new trend of “fast fashion” where clothes are so cheap, they can be bought in larger quantities and just discarded when they go out of style or start to show signs of wear. Three of the stores named in the article are were three of my favorite places to buy clothes – H&M, Old Navy, and Target. Yikes. The problem is, of course, is that buying more, cheap clothes is not so good for the environment when multiplied by millions of people doing it. As the article points out

…clothes — and fast clothes in particular — are a large and worsening source of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, because of how they are both produced and cared for, concludes a new report from researchers at Cambridge University titled “Well Dressed?”

And all of this helps me remember why I am not buying clothes for a year.  First, because I don’t need to.  I’ve amassed a collection that I need to learn how to work with and not get clothes just because it is fun. Which brings me to point number two is that I bought clothes just for fun, and I really craved them.  More made me want more. I didn’t like that. And three, this is an attempt to save money, although I realize that I really didn’t spend that much on them.  So while it saves some, it is mostly turning out to be a good exercise in discipline and anti-consumerism. It reminds me a lot of my transition to vegetarianism – it got easier with time, and each time I rejected meat I felt sort of accomplished and more content with my decision.  And much faster than with vegetarianism, the “I really might not stick to this” type of temptation has faded.

So that is the update.  No clothes so far with about ten months to go. It feels good.


UU World Article on Ethical Eating: A Disappointment

February 19, 2007

The cover story for this month’s UU World is titled “Eating Ethically.” As someone for whom eating ethically and compassionately is important, I was excited about the article. While I applaud the UU World and the author Amy Hassinger for taking on this issue, I was very disappointed by the tone of the article and Hassinger’s conclusions.

To summarize, Hassinger begins by noting that she, like many, has tended to like to buy the cheapest food, not the most ethically or sustainably grown food. But she says that this is changing and she has begun to reflect on the way her food choices impact the environment. She eloquently notes that “[Eating] may be the most powerful way we Unitarian Universalists have of experiencing our Seventh Principle, of participating in the ‘interdependent web of all existence.'”

She goes on to outline the “disaster of industrial agriculture,” and, in her section on “the seventh principle response,” she encourages us to consider our food choices and how they are related to the way that we live out our seventh principle, respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. She writes,

Eating, of course, is an essential element of our everyday experience. If we can approach our daily meals with a sense of reverence, if we can recall each time we slip a forkful of food into our mouths the many miracles it took to cultivate, harvest, and prepare that bite, we will be moving toward truly living this radical principle.

She discusses steps that we can take toward eating more sustainably – both on an individual level, and at a congregational level. And it is as this point that the article becomes problematic. While Hassinger mentions that becoming vegan seems like the best response to ethical eating, she dismisses this option by noting that “I admit that going vegan feels extreme to me: I have a hard time imagining a happy existence without the pleasure of a good cheese.” To her credit, she spends one paragraph touching on the option of vegetarianism and veganism as responses to the question of ethical eating:

Inevitably, thinking about ethical eating means thinking about the animals we eat. The Rev. Gary Kowalski, minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington…believes that “the greatest and most effective thing we can do to befriend our own bodies and befriend the environment and other living creatures is to eliminate meat from our dinner table.” In my conversation with him, Kowalski ran down a list of highly persuasive reasons to take this step. He told me that eating a 16-ounce steak is equivalent to driving about 25 miles in your car. Each new vegetarian annually saves three acres of tropical trees. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat and 25,000 gallons to produce a pound of beef. Clearly, the choice to become a vegetarian—or, even better, a vegan—is an excellent way to diminish your ecological impact.

But rather than noting that she has decided to reduce the amount of meat or animal products in her diet, or encourage her readers to do so and explain how others have managed to find happiness without cheese, she goes on to present buying “sustainably raised” meat as a response to the challenges of “eating ethically.”

My first concern is the off-handedness with which she dismisses vegansim (“extreme”) and even vegetarianism. She notes simply that “My family and I are meat eaters—my husband is allergic to so many foods that meat is one of the few things that he can eat.” And, while I understand that her husband’s allergy to vegtables is a unique case and perhaps requires him to eat animals and animal “products” to survive, I am disappointed that this exception appears to form the basis for her guidance on ethical eating.

Vegetarianism is becoming more mainstream, and veganism is becoming increasingly more pleasant due to the proliferation of lots of products that expand one’s options. Veganism and vegetarianism should not be wild ideas to call Unitarian Universalists to. They should, at the very least, be the focus of an article on ethical eating – not marginal possibilities, as they are in Hassinger’s article.

Let me be clear: I understand that everyone will not become vegan or vegetarian – that we all pick our battles, our areas to make a difference. I have made the decision to do all that I can to reduce my consumption of animals and animal-based products such as milk and eggs. Yet, I drive too much and I fly too much for various reasons. I would hate for someone who rides his or her bike everywhere to judge me for how I transport myself. I know that my flying to visit my friend in DC is much less ethical than taking the train. Driving to the store is problematic when I could walk. I need to work on this, among lots of other things. But, and this is the key point, I am not writing articles on ethical transportation. And this is the problem I find with Hassinger’s article. If she and her family have made the decision to eat meat, that is certainly their decision to make. But, the problem is then writing an article about ethical eating explaining how people can buy “sustainable” meat and then every Unitarian Universalist household in the country getting a vision of Ethical Eating in their mailbox via the UU World that involves consumption of animal products.

I need people to encourage me to get tough, and make the hard decision to radically change my transportation habits. Because this is what our world needs. We need people be making radical decisions about sustainablity and love. Love for our planet, for the future of the world, and love for sentient beings that are able to suffer just like our cat or dog. I want to read an article in the UU World telling me how unethical it is for me to drive my car in a city with public transportation. I want a faith that says, “Hey. Get tough. Small adjustments are not going to cut it in these times.”

Likewise, we need people to encourage us to make radical decisions when it comes to the food we eat. People transition to veganism and vegetarianism all the time. It might start with meat reduction or cheese reduction. It takes time to adjust. It takes will. But the point is that it is do-able. And, if it is do-able, I want to be called to that.

There is more I want to comment on as it relates to the article, but I don’t want to overdo it here. I will write a follow-up post with some information about how serious the situation of our planet is and why I think that it takes hard, difficult decisions to respond ethically to the situation, and I also have some additional thoughts on living a compassionate life and if and how that can involve eating animals or animal products when it is not necessary for our survival.

Much peace,

Elizabeth


Potential UFETA Cookbook

February 17, 2007

I set this up as a place for UFETA folks to post recipes for a potential UFETA cookbook. Please post your recipe with ingredients, directions, serving size (serves X people), name, and congregation in the comments. Of course, this is also open to other UUs who have great vegetarian or vegan recipes who want to contribute to a potential UFETA cookbook. Make sure it is a recipie you have tried and you know actually works and tastes good. If you have a special story to go with the recipe (it was your grandma’s or it is a favorite at church potlucks) please feel free to include. You can also email recipes to elizabeth199@gmail.com, although I thought it would be nice to have them all together here online too. Once we get enough recipes together, we can either put it online at the UFETA website or make it into a booklet and sell it (or give it out as outreach). If you have special vegan or vegetarian tips that you want to share, include those too and we can maybe find a way to incorporate them into a cookbook eventually. Thanks!


Mostly Naked Skeleton-Like Women Looking Almost Dead in Some Sand

February 14, 2007

0213_illustrated_si_275.jpg

I saw an ad/video clip thing about the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition that is about to come out. I didn’t watch the video, but based on the picture that you see here (which was the “cover” to the video clip), I thought that maybe Sports Illustrated would like some help thinking of creative subtitles for the swimsuit edition. If the whole “Mostly Naked…” one doesn’t work for you, please feel free to suggest others. I was also thinking that “Mostly Naked Starved Sickly Women Who Have Collapsed from Hunger In the Sand” might work too…

While I am being sarcastic, I do mean to be quite serious about the issues that such sickly (not to mention drugged-looking) models bring up about body image, sexuality, and women. I find pictures such as the one below simply irresponsible. Magazines, companies, models, Hollywood, beauty companies, etc. are not somehow immune to the moral responsibility that comes with distributing anything to the public or being in the public eye, particularly when it influences younger people who often do not have the ability or will to be able to sort out the messages that something like the below picture c

onveys. I know that I, raised as a feminist, was still deeply impacted by the images of women and beauty like the one below and I know of no women in my culture who was not similarly impacted. But, as with so many things, I can’t think of a good way to legislate moral responsibility when it comes to bodies, body image, and perceptions of beauty. So I am just left to blog about it and do my little part. Which feels so little sometime. Sigh.


Transition

February 13, 2007

Hi all. This blog is in transition from my Blogger blog over at http://internelizabeth.blogspot.com. Eventually this blog will also appear at www.elizabethslittleblog.com but for now the old Blogger blog remains there until I get it all worked out.

For the time being, I’ll post both places until I am sure that things have transitioned smoothly. One difficult thing is that the imported pictures from Blogger do not line up correctly with the captions in the WordPress import, and my html isn’t good enough to fix it and moving things around in the “what you see is what you get” mode doesn’t work to fix things. But mostly it was a very smooth transition. Feel free to offer comments on the layout. It is maybe somewhat in progress. I don’t like the big quotations that appear when I indent or do a block quote, but this seems to otherwise be the layout that works best for me. Maybe I’ll just have to suck it up and live with the super big quotes.

That’s all for now. Let me know if you see kinks in the new blog. E


a prayer

February 11, 2007

For each Sunday service I write a prayer/meditation for service. I think I will start sharing them here. This is for tomorrow, so if you are from FUUSM and don’t want to know the prayer ahead of time, stop reading now.

god whose name is not god,
spirit whose love exceeds our comprehension,
we ask that you are with us as week journey through this life,
through this week.

it is hard to be the person we want to be.
it is hard to be the community that we would like to be.
the work of love and justice often makes for weary souls,
and sometimes broken hearts.

While we know that it is only in learning to be at peace with ourselves that we can be peace within the world…

this is just very hard.

a life imagined and a life envisioned,
is sometimes very different than a life lived.

this morning, we ask for the serenity that we need to love our life as it is.
to find peace in the bumps and challenges and pains and aches and beauty and joy that is all mixed up together.

let us learn and work to focus on those things in our life that we can be grateful for.

let us learn to let the waves of sorrow wash over us, and have the strength and the peace to be washed anew, baptized by the waters of life that are gentle and rough and beautiful and dark all at the same time.

god whose name is not god,
spirit whose love exceeds our comprehension,

be with us as we do that hard work of love and justice.
we seek gratitude for the joys of our life.
we seek comfort for our aches.
we seek love and peace for our souls.

amen and blessed be.

*Please feel free to use in a religious service with no attribution. If you repost online, please include attribution to this blog and a link.


Darkness: Finding a Balance Between Being Real and Over-sharing

February 5, 2007

So this morning I gave a sermon titled Living With Darkness. This was the description:

Many people come to church or come to a religion when they are hurting – when they are struggling, looking for answers, or going through a difficult time. This morning’s sermon deals with those times of darkness in our lives – how do we bring this to our faith, or bring our faith to our darkness? How can we make space in church to talk about depression, addiction, or aching emptiness? And how can our personal stories of healing open up space for others to share, learn, and be at peace with the darkness that will inevitably be part of all of our lives?

I raised (although did not solve!) the issue of how we bring our darkness and our struggles to our faith. I actually mentioned this post over at Trivium that mentioned the Christian (more charasmatic-ish) tradition of testifying – of sharing with the congregation one’s struggles and problems, and offering those struggles and that darkness up to God, and, implicitly, to the community. This often involved sharing how God had helped with the problem, but not always. The Trivium blog brilliantly called this “joys and concerns amplified” which cracked me up. Amplified, I think is such an understatement. But anyway. I digress.

The point is that it is one thing to point out that many Unitarian Universalists struggle with difficult things in their life and are somewhat reserved in sharing this with each other – there is a lot of judgment, even with the most loving wonderful congregations, with issues like depression, addiction, financial struggles, or abuse. It is another thing to suggest what should be done about this sort of properness that surrounds how we share our struggles and woundedness.

Over at Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, in the context of writing about post-Christian worship, Dan Harper points out that Joys and Concerns is often a challenge and not an appropriate venue for congregations to deal with the struggles that individuals face. He writes:

At the most basic level, if you can no longer count on gaining a deep connection with God during post-Christian worship, there may be a desire to find other ways to have some kind of intimate relationship. On another level, it is likely that some people confuse private devotions, which are personal and intimate and revealing of the deepest secrets of the self, with common worship, where the needs of the common good must take precedence over, or at least balance with, the needs of the self. Similarly, it is likely that people confuse the experience of small support groups, where a semi-public confession about one’s personal problems may be made, with common worship (for example, when the “candles of joy and concern” serve merely as an inappropriate public confession of very private matters). Other things that can contribute to a cult of false intimacy include: the increased secularization of the wider culture and a concomitant ignorance of the purposes of common worship; the spread of false intimacy throughout the wider culture.

One of the questions that I have is what “inappropriate public confession of very private matters” means. Of course, there certainly are inappropriate things that one would not want to bring to joys and concerns. As I pointed out in my sermon, I am not calling for everyone to come up to joys and concerns next week and share their deepest struggle or secret.

But, what I am looking for is a way for my congregation to find ways that we can bring our more difficult, less-polished selves to church – to our church community. I think one of the reasons that evangelical Christianity has such appeal is because it does give people a way to say, “Oh, Lord, I am struggling. I am hurting and aching and I need healing.” How can we develop a Unitarian Universalist version of this where people who are in great pain can feel comfortable bringing that to our church? Not only people who already have a support system in the community, but the person down the street who has no church home and needs a place to go after her mom dies? Or the teenager whose boyfriend broke up with her after she got pregnant and had an abortion? Or the single, middle-aged man who has no church home, but is longing for something in the midst of a very difficult, empty, lonely time in his life? Do we just say, look you need to see the minister for pastoral counseling? I guess I want to find a way for our churches to be less proper and decent and “appropriate” in how we handle the darkness of people’s lives. It all seems so controlled. I don’t have an answer, and I acknowledge that, for instance, joys and concerns gone haywire with tearful confessions and such is not what we are looking for.

Yet – how can we invite people into our faith communities and really mean and really say it is okay to be broken. And wounded. With all that comes with that –

Or, is it that if you are too messed up, you might want to go down to the evangelical church in across town where you can be messed up and they will take you, but before you come to our churches, you need to have your stuff a little bit more together and be ready to be on some sort of committee….

Hard questions. Way harder answers.