Something Nice (for a change)

September 30, 2008

With all the dire news about the economy and world, and me feeling really quite busy and a little bit overwhelmed with school and work, I am very pleased to sit here and hear our neighbors talking to our cats from their window to the cats in our window. They have just moved into the building next to us and it must not occur to them that we are home (or maybe they don’t care) because they keep going, “Meooowwwww! MEEEE-OOOOOW. Mew mew mew! Hey, there’s another one! Wow, how many cats are there in that house? MEOWWWWW. MEOWWWWW. Mew mew mew. Hey kitty kitty kitty. Meowwwwwww.” It is very cute. Our cats are super impressed.  Except Leo who is hiding. He is shy.

Now back to work.

When YOUR Issue becomes THE Issue

September 25, 2008

Or: Vegetarianism and animal issues are not THE most pressing issue in the universe to everyone right now.

I am on the UFETA (Unitarian Universalist for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) listserve, and I think it is a great group. I love the dialogue. I love the passion. The care for suffering beings. I think it is an essential and prophetic voice in our faith community.

But a conversation has been going on recently that freaked me out a bit. I didn’t respond to the listserve because I think some people were voicing what it is I desired to say. But it brought up a good point that I wanted to raise here, more broadly.

The gist of the conversation on the listserve is that a UU church is going to have a chicken raising club or something – egg chickens, not eating chickens. I totally understand why people are not fond of this idea. What happens to the chickens when they quit laying? Where are you getting them from? A mean, terrible hatchery where the male chicks are killed an the laying hens are treated very very poorly? I do not think there is a problem in and of itself of eating the eggs of chickens that are your pets, but I am not so much a fan of raising chickens for eggs, especially if you are going to do away with them once they are no longer good egg producers.

But I digress. The point of this is that I think that it is quite reasonable to identify some ethical stumbling blocks with a church sponsored/orchestrated chicken raising club. But the thing that really freaked me out is the suggestion that those people who oppose this maybe should WITHHOLD THEIR PLEDGE because of this. Stop the presses! Can you IMAGE the mehem that would be caused in UU churches across the nation if people started withholding pledges when they really really disagreed with something?

I can think of five examples of the top of my head:

1. I think sweatshops are bad. Terrrrrrible. Violations of human rights. This is my cause. AND WE ORDERED OUR R.E. t-shirts from a company that uses sweatshop labor!!!!!!!! And the minister’s robe was MADE IN CHINA. And people are wearing sweatshop-made clothes to Sunday services. THIS MUST STOP. We must be consistant, people. We talk about human rights. Justice. Equality. And now the church is supporting sweatshop labor everywhere you look. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. And if it isn’t, I am withholding my pledge until I feel like it is being better addressed.

2. Climate change is coming fast, people! And our church is doing like a zillion things that make it worse. We are all driving to church. Where are the bikes? And the church is sponsoring events on Sunday evening so people drive to church on Sunday morning, drive home AND THEN DRIVE BACK. We keep this place 69 degrees in the winter, which is way too warm. We could very easily keep it at 67 and just bundle up. And, we need to get a new furnace which is more efficient, which costs only $10,000. I know this is a lot to ask BUT A LOT IS AT STAKE HERE PEOPLE. I am sorry, but I will have to withhold my pledge until this church takes more drastic steps to address this VERY SERIOUS problem.

Okay, so I won’t give five examples, but my point is that there are lots of very important issues that are probably not being well-addressed by our churches. We are not perfect. We are sometimes spoiled. We talk a lot about ethical stuff and do-gooding stuff but that is hard to do and, if we are honest with ourselves, it is easier to support things that we already agree with (we are for peace! gay marriage! sex-ed!)  than to do hard stuff we don’t want to do like stop buying sweatshop clothes or turn down the heat or drive less or whatever. I’ll never forget talking with one church I was involved in about socially responsible investing (which, let’s be honest, is not perfect but probably better than just haphazard investing in whatever). And they were like, “Yeah, well we tried that and the returns were really bad.” So, they invest in whatever, including nuclear energy, arms companies, oil companies and so on.

So, my point? Unless your parish committee has decided to open a nudie bar in the parish hall with the church income instead of having an R.E. program, with holding your pledge is really just not a reasonable approach to expressing your wants and desires in your congregation. Discussion – yes. Education – yes. Joining the parish committee/board – yes. Starting an ethical eating club – yes. But if our financial support of our churches starts becoming a “only if you attend satisfactorly to the issue I deem most important” then I say fulfill your pledge this year (since, you know, you did pledge it) and then find a different church that will meet your needs and expecations in every way. (Good luck with that one.) Because being part of a faith community can’t be so freaking conditional. It is a committement, in many ways, for better or worse. I understand that there are sometimes good, legit reasons to find a new church home or even to find a new faith home. But, I hope it would be bigger than issues. Because, when it comes down to it, we are all treading on this earth very heavily – doing harm – enmeshed in a system that is going to be a part of this system of harm. Our goal, I think, should be to lessen our harm, to love, listen, do better, try harder, and, in the end, know we aren’t going to be able to do it all and be humble that we are imperfect people stumbling along on this spinning planet together. And we are going to have to stick in it together – educating each other, learning from each other, listening to each other, being with each other – in order to get anywhere.

The Age of Facebook Activism

September 22, 2008

I have seen all sorts of groups on facebook. Some make sense to me – like a student group that I am a part of has a facebook group. You can go and see who is in the group. Announcements about gatherings are made. Pictures from functions are posted. But I recently saw a group somewhere along the lines of End the Violence Against (Certain Minority) in (Certain Other Country). I am not listing the exact name because I don’t want to criticize this specific group at all. But my wondering is… what happens when you join this group? I have looked at it. There are not events. It seems like maybe updates can be sent to members about what is happening around this. There is no way to give money. No info on how to get more involved. There are all sorts of silly facebook groups (like Bring Back the Chicken Strips at Tommy’s Diner or I Love That Melon (The Group)) which make sense in that they are meant to be inside jokes or funny or silly.

But for serious things, I have a slightly nagging feeling that I don’t like to be able to join the facebook group about really serious social problems and then get the feeling that, yes, now I have done something for that cause. It reminds me of online petitions – I think by and large (there are probably exceptions) they are a waste of time and energy. So what if a zillion people forwarded something around to end human rights abuses in __________ or to end the war __________ or to ban foie gras in Montreal or whatever and they all signed their names? Who reads that? Who cares? (Please don’t provide me with an exception unless you know of 1000 meaningful exceptions to this.)

It isn’t that I am so much against facebook activism or online petitions in and of themselves, but rather that they provide people who take part with a sense that they are doing something useful when they are not. This raises two questions for me (for which I do not have answers). First, if a MILLION people join your group, does that make a difference? Does it matter or make some sort of statement to someone(s) that care if that many people will join a facebook group? My point being maybe if TONS of people join your group, it does somehow matter (?). And, second, If people couldn’t join facebook groups about their favorite causes, would people then go out and do something actually meaningful? That is, do gestures for a good cause that have no impact whatsoever actually reduce the level of action that does have some sort of impact?

An afterthought is that people on facebook (and online petitioners) feel so helpless to do anything (I mean, what could you do that would be that meaningful to end the war in Iraq or genocide in Darfur without committing a significant amount of time and energy?) that they just do facebook groups or online petitions to somehow address that feeling of helplessness – that is, the idea that people just don’t feel like they have the ability to commit real time an energy to one issue (or to the many issues that may tug at us) so facebook groups are sort of a stop gap measure…a way to represent care for an issue, to announce to friends that something matters to you, with no pretence that it actually does do any good.

Anyway, just some thoughts. No conclusions just yet.

Why I am switching to Mac.

September 20, 2008

My friend and the beloved benefactor of this blog said to me, “E, you know what is so great about Mac now that I have switched? It is just that it works. Like, all the time.”

Brilliant! Being a Windows user reminds me a little bit of being chronically ill. You just gradually don’t feel well, and you lose track of what it even means to feel well. Until Vista, it was just like it was normal for your new computer to take weeks of call to support centers and searching on forums to try to get it to work. And, you just got used to the fact that it took ten minutes to start up. And shut down. It would lock up here and there. But you just tried to save often, and hope for the best.

And then Vista came along, and it was like that step in chronic illness before you finally realize that it is the last straw and you start making the rounds to specialists – ten minutes becomes a 20 minute start up. You start to wonder if you really need your computer to consistently connect to the internet – maybe you can write emails off line and send them when things finally connect. And it does cut down on procrastinating on facebook if you can’t get on the internet….

But, in the end, you realize the time has come. To say goodbye to your old life. Your old ways.

Mac rumors tells me that the new Mac Book Air will come out October 14. Until then, it i just me and my little Dell chugging along with Windows, hoping that things work, that my computer will connect to the internet, that I can toggle two windows at once without everything freezing.

Microsoft is apparently spending millions of dollars in a rebranding campaign, but I wonder if maybe they should have spent that hiring computer programmers that could, you know, make an operating system that allows people like me who mostly listen to music, use an internet browser, type papers, and use email to be able to do that on their new operating system without misery and pain. You know, build something that just works.

Here I come Steve Jobs.

Are you vegan at heart? (but maybe not so much in practice?)

September 16, 2008

Kind Green Planet has the coolest thing for you then! It is called Vegan at Heart. You get an email “mission” every day for thirty days that takes only 1 to 10 minutes. I was lucky enough to be able to be in the test group for this project and it helped sooooo much and was fun (and if you skip a day, you can save it for later or, don’t tell anyone and no one will ever know….). The “missions” are little tips, projects, websites or suggestions about gently incorporating more veganism into your life.  I loved it so much because it is non-judgmental, supportive, and fun. I love the title Vegan at Heart because I relate to it so much as someone who really really wants to be vegan but really really is a picky eater and not a good cook in the first place. I am big on “baby steps” (anyone remember that from What About Bob? I loved that movie.) This is a great little thing to sign up for even if you are just VC (veg-curious) or you just want some fresh ideas for ways to incorporate more sustainable practices into your life.

p.s. The woman who designed Vegan at Heart is a Unitarian Universalist who is very nice and friendly and would probably answer your individual questions too if you have them along the way. :)

How Sarah Palin Made Me Cry

September 10, 2008

My partner is a political scientist, so talking about politics is one of his hobbies. So I talk with him about politics, including the election every day. I also am a consultant for an organization that deals a lot with democracy. There is no escaping it.

Yet, I always keep it at a distance. It is not my ministry. It is not my passion. It is not what I study and love. I change the subject when it comes up at dinner, I try not to upset anyone, gently suggesting where I stand, but not going much further. How are those Red Sox doing anyway?

My mentor from high school who remains a friend wrote to ask me what I thought of Sarah Palin. I ignored his email the first time. I knew he probably disagreed with me.

He emailed again, so I told him. I didn’t want to tell it to him, or to myself. It feels something like Bush winning in 2004, only somehow worse. A mixture of disbelief and hopelessness. That there is simply nothing that can be done to save our country. Even if she and McCain do not win, I am so disheartened by the level of support that they have that it doesn’t even matter anymore if they win or lose. My dear mentor, who reads newspapers and is educated and cares about poor people and is not a radical Christian conservative, thinks Palin is great. Too many millionaires running our country in the past, he says. She can be a mom and a leader. He loves that she is anti-abortion, says being a governor provides plenty of experience. And the reason this made me cry sitting right here in Diesel Cafe is because I know he is a good person. If kind, giving, well-meaning people like him who keep up with the news can be convinced by Palin, then what is there to possibly be done?

Sarah Palin makes me cry because I hurt for our country. I try so often to not be overly dramatic or engaged with politics because it feels like such a futile use of my energy. I vote. I am involved in my community. Why get in a tizzy about things that I cannot do much about? Yet, for some reason, Sarah Palin did it for me.

I do not feel like some sort of partisan nut. I do not think the Dems are somehow amazing. But rather, I am just aghast at how bad the Republicans are. It is just that I care about poor people. I care about hard working people. I care about a country that tortures people. A country that is a world leader and runs around invading other countries based on manufactured intelligence. I care about women who have been raped who can’t have a rape kit unless they pay for it themselves. I care about our military people who cannot get decent healthcare after fighting for our country. Or ordinary people who cannot get health care. I am just sad for all the suffering that has been caused by the previous government, and a country that is not able to recognize that. I know many caring people support the Republicans, and have been won over by Sarah Palin. Which is what makes me so upset, I guess. That it is possible for large numbers of people who really do care about others to think that McCain and Palin really care as well. I am just so sad and frustrated that someone like Sarah Palin and John McCain can successfully portray themselves as people who are going to take care of our country… to take care of people.

I always felt like people who considered moving to another country were selling out, were being overly dramatic, were abandoning people in this country who need fairness and justice more than ever. We won’t leave. But I increasingly understand that impetus.

I will get over it. I will re-detach. Do what I can. But it hurts.

Don’t you bet this is a fun church to attend?

September 4, 2008

Church Sign: Kissing Girl Leads To Hell

The Associated Press reports that “a church in the Columbus [Ohio] area is turning heads with its public spin on the pop song I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry. (For more on the song, including the lyrics, you can see my old post on it.)

A sign outside Havens Corners Church in suburban Blacklick has the lyrics from the song’s chorus, “I kissed a girl and I liked it” — and adds, “Then I went to hell.” … Church pastor the Rev. Dave Allison said the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin, so the sign is intended as a loving warning to teens.

Yeah, that seems really loving to me. And I bet it is super-effective too. I sure won’t be kissing any girls now that I have read that on a church sign and I bet all the teenage girls in the area won’t be either. Good thing we have been warned!

Post-Modern Conservativism Tells It Like It Is – Or Isn’t – Or something.

September 2, 2008

Fred Thompson says, “Let’s be clear: the selection of Governor Palin has the other side and their friends in the media in a state of panic.”

Right. I’m sure the Dems are the ones in the state of panic. Very Orwellian, no?

Murray – April 2007-September 2008 –

September 1, 2008

He was very loved little cuddle bunny who very much enjoyed watching the foster kittens play, being groomed by his best friend Gustav the cat, and eating Papa Johns pizza and as many treats as he could get his paws on. He left us gently this evening at Angell Memorial Hospital in Boston after looking at us and saying (with his eyes), “I’m ready to go, okay?” Wolfgang and I were with him as he felt gently to sleep.

Vegetarianism Watch in the UU Blogosphere

September 1, 2008

I just can’t help reading the vegetarian or vegan posts that are out there. And then reposting them here. Peacebang watched Meet your Meat which I have never been able to bring myself to watch – for me it is sort of like a Saving Private Ryan sort of thing – I know it (war or raising animals for meat) is bad. You don’t need to show it to me in graphic detail. But many vegetarian advocates points out that this does actually work well in terms of helping people understand what goes into our meat production. So, if you are as brave as Peacebang, and braver than me, you can watch it to. Or else just read her commentary on it.

p.s. Why four blog posts in a row after months of almost silence? I don’t know. I guess it comes in waves.