The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.

September 1, 2008

And such is the case with the passing of our Murray. He still breathes shallowly, his little eyes opening just a slit every once in a while. But his time is here. I have written about him several times on here. He has been sick on and off for many months. We thought he might be better. But on Thursday he got much worse, very fast. Our vet tried some alternative treatments. But they merely perked him up for a few hours, until he descended back into that space between this world and the next. We hope he will pass gently on his own, comfortable in his little fuzzy bed, tucked in his favorite closet where he is happiest. But if he hangs on until tomorrow, we will gently take him to the vet and give him the help he needs to let go. I thought that I would be okay with it – sad, but not too sad, knowing that he has always been a bit weak and sickly, and that he would be far more comfortable in some world beyond this one. But instead I am just overwhelmed with sadness and wishing he could be better and it, well, it just hurts. Logic about how this is best for him and was partially expected doesn’t make it much better that my kitty is dying, and he is uncomfortable and, as a mostly feral cat, even less consolable than a regular sick cat.

My partner, Mr. Philospher, told me so ministerially and lovingly that the heart has reasons which reason does not know. It is so true. Our hearts so often just do their own thing, no matter what we tell them.

Such is this life of suffering and joy and struggle and hope.

May your passing be smooth and comfortable, sweet Murray. We love you.

.

Here is Murray just last week cuddling his favorite foster kitten, Juliet.


The Sexual Politics of Meat and PETA

June 8, 2008

Carol Adams wrote a good book in 1990 called The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. While not without its faults (what book is perfect?), I appreciated the way she made connections between oppressions and subjugations, highlighting what is one my key mantras – oppressions and subjugations are related and you can’t just address one without attention to the others (and certainly not at the active exclusion of others). If you could see the small picture on the cover, you would see that it is a woman divided up into “cuts” – and the question written is “What’s your cut?”

A quick summary – women’s bodies are objectified. The bodies of animals who are eaten are objectified – their pain, suffering, life becomes irrelevent to us because they are objects for our consumption, not beings.

But the whole point of this post is an ABHORRENT image that I stumbled-upon this morning from PETA (see below). I know, I know. PETA doing something that angers someone? Upsets them? Being provocative? Even questionable? Not a surprise. But I found it so upsetting that I will be canceling our $10 a month donation to PETA and finding an organization that does work to lessen the suffering of non-humans animals that doesn’t also promote sexism and objectification of women. It isn’t like I didn’t know that they ran sexist ads before, but somehow this was so upsetting to me that it was the last straw.

Because women and cows are alike, right? And you wouldn’t eat a woman so you shouldn’t eat a cow?


Thoughts and Pictures From Ohio

May 26, 2008

I’ve been in Ohio for a week visiting my parents on their farm (which they don’t actually farm), going to Arcanum Old Fashion Days where I used to run around every May with my best friend Katie chasing boys and trying to be cool, visiting the young men I mentor and their beautiful families, working at The Kettering Foundation, and thinking about and trying not to stress over my upcoming Regional Subcommittee on Candidacy Interview on June 2.

I loved the the country, the green, how slow life is, how easy it is to drive, how much space there is to prance around in my parents’ yard, how there are barns to explore if I want to, how you can smell the grass, how police and farmers always wave to you when you pass them on the road, how there are no jack hammers outside your window in the morning, and how I know all the streets and back roads and even how I know people at the grocery store even if I don’t really want to talk to them, introvert that I am.

I loved visiting my parents and being and adult and it being okay to extrapolate myself from family dynamics that you can’t extrapolate yourself from when you are 17.

I like how I can have a bon fire in the back yard and make smoores if the mood strikes.

I love how each tree is a tree I climbed, or how the barns are hideouts we made and adventures we had searching for secret passage ways and evidence of a crime we could solve (like Nancy Drew). Each back road all with their names that only seemed strange once college friends visited and told me so (Hogpath or Schnorf-Jones or Otterbein-Ithica or Dull Rd.) is a story, or a memory, or a home I used to visit of a childhood friend, or where so-and-so lived who married so-and-so.

All the memories are not good. But they are mine and taken together they are the first 17 years of my life. Corn stalks, and woods, and barns, and school mates, and religion and all of it. They are rich and dark and funny and sad and happy and complex. Like our lives.

I love the religious signs and radio stations, in a weird sort of way. I forgot how much more religious Ohio is than Massachusetts. I have documented some of them for you (along with other lovely pictures). My dream would be to make a book documenting this sort of thing, except that several of them have already been written/photographed.

*

This is an awesome looking coffee house in Arcanum (population 2,000). You know coffeehouses are main stream when Arcanum gets one.

This is my parents house from the back yard.

And this is the hole in the wall where the raccoons broke in through the attic, down into the walls and into the extra room upstairs. There are some legendary stories involving raccoons in our attic, a hand gun, my dad, an attacking Mama raccoon, and eight year old Elizabeth, but that, I shall save for another post.

This is Sugar Boy. He graciously allows my parents to live with him and feed him and attend to his every whim.

Their sister Priscilla did not want her picture taken until she looses a few pounds. She currently weighs 18 pounds.

This is Pablo, our foster kitten. Just before we left for Ohio, we lost his brother Logan and sister Maria – the first two kittens we have ever lost. Very hard. Especially for Wolfgang who doesn’t really believe in any sort of kitten afterlife. They were just too young to be away from their Mama (who apparently abandoned them, or was unable to attend to them for some reason) and they just couldn’t pull through. We almost lost Pablo, but he is doing quiet well now.

He is considering taking up blogging about his near-death experience and being abandoned by his mom. Either a blog or a memoir. He isn’t quite sure yet. Since he is only six weeks old, he figures he has a little time to decide.

That’s all from Ohio. And Somerville. For now.


Resources for Sharing Information and Sparking Discussion About Vegetarian Issues With Your Congregation

May 3, 2008

A Unitarian Universalist for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (UFETA) member, Charlie Talbert, shared this with the UFETA list the other day and I thought it was really well done and could be quite helpful for those that are interested. Please feel free to share with others.

Thanks for raising the vegetarian issue to your group. I’m happy to suggest some resources. Many who want to raise this topic in their congregation find that people often want to avoid the topic, which is unfortunate.

I was telling someone at GA last year about a workshop I had just attended at GA, with Doug Muder presenting. He’s a favorite Unitarian Universalist writer of mine. He made an analogy between effective advocacy and Captain Cook’s strategy for greeting island cultures that he discovered in the 1700s. Some of his crew would leave items of interest on the beach and row back out to their sailing ship. Afterwards the island inhabitants would cautiously approach the beach and investigate what the Europeans had offered them. They might then similarly leave items they considered valuable on the beach and retreat, giving the Europeans an opportunity to row back in and have a look. This careful, non-threatening approach facilitated communication and mutual understanding between these groups where who were wide apart in traditions, culture, and language.

As you probably know, some Unitarian Universalist congregations have experienced some controversy over the idea of banning meat in the congregation all together. I believe it’s ineffective to try to ban animal products at congregational functions. The suffering inherent in animal agriculture is too entrenched, too accepted by even Unitarian Universalists – who have a heritage of questioning traditions that institutionalize cruelty – to be challenged so directly.

Members of UFETA regularly share what’s going on in their congregations on this issue, and exchange information and ideas. Perhaps some members of your fellowship would be interested in joining the listserve. UFETA’s website is at http://www25.uua.org/ufeta/. Instructions for joining the listserve are at http://lists.uua.org/mailman/listinfo/ufeta

Advocacy can take two approaches that can be summed up by two words: unnecessary suffering.

It’s the “suffering” part that sometimes makes people squeamish. That’s why much of our denominational advocacy focuses on the “unnecessary” part – that shows a vegetarian diet can be tasty, satisfying, and healthy. We have presented “Cooking With The Compassionate Cooks” at my congregation here in Kenosha and one close by in Racine.

This DVD is upbeat, entertaining and full of information about nutrition, basic ingredients, and delicious but simple recipes. We have prepared some of the dishes demonstrated in the DVD and served them afterwards. We have also displayed the ingredients (e.g. tofu, seitan, tempeh) with information about where they can be obtained in our community.

The founder of Compassionate Cooks began her cooking classes at First Unitarian in Oakland when she was a member there. She is now well known in vegetarian cooking circles and has appeared on the Cooking Channel. You can see more information about her and her DVD at http://www.compassionatecooks.com/ .

Vegetarian food can be not only tasty and satisfying, it can be much healthier than a diet with animal products. People are increasingly accepting this, but the protein and other nutrient myths are still out there. No group I’m aware of challenges these myths more authoritatively than the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine. Their website offers a lot of useful nutritional information that can be downloaded or purchased for sharing with others www.pcrm.org/.

But showing the pleasures and health benefits of a vegetarian diet is not enough to persuade some people to consider their food choices. They like to eat animal products. They’re tolerant of those who don’t, but they don’t what to be “told what to do.” To them, this is a “freedom” issue, and freedom is fundamental to Unitarian Universalism. In my opinion, it’s an admirable “live and let live” ethic that – in this case – humans want to apply selectively: to themselves but not to other animals.

The moral issue is a sensitive one, but I believe it’s a legitimate one for religion to consider. In my observation, it’s usually the more conservative people who object to it the most, which is why Matthew Scully’s writings are so important.

Scully is a political conservative and former senior speechwriter for President Bush. His 2002 book, Dominion – The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, has influenced many people, including me. You can get an idea of his considerable writing abilities from his 2005 cover story “Fear Factories: The Case for Compassionate Conservatism – for Animals” for Patrick Buchanan‘s magazine, The American Conservative. www.matthewscully.com/fear_factories.htm. Our UFETA chapter has made this article available at our church. The word “conservative” can spark some curiosity in a UU congregation!

Our UFETA and Green Sanctuary chapters have also displayed this pamphlet www.veganoutreach.org/cc.pdf on their table. It has drawn attention particularly among our congregation’s younger members. Vegan Outreach is a primarily volunteer organization that hands out over a million of its pamphlets every year at colleges and high schools, primarily in the U.S. Its posters were used in the two-page advocacy ads that UFETA sponsored in the UU World in May 2006 and May 2007. (This May the UU World will have a statement signed by 40 or so Unitarian Universalist ministers and seminarians.) We also make available PETA’s Vegetarian Starter Kit, which offers a concise overview of the issues and some very appealing pictures of veg food.

I would also recommend the DVD Peaceable Kingdom. It has influenced a number of people in our congregation, including our minister and her partner, who went from vegetarian to vegan after seeing it. It’s produced by Tribe of Heart www.tribeofheart.org/, and its other film, The Witness, is also outstanding. You can see a trailer for the yet to be released newest version of Peaceable Kingdom at www.tribeofheart.org/tohhtml/pk3previewhome.htm. Tribe of Heart is not distributing the older versions any longer.

If your fellowship has Christian members, then I would recommend materials from the Christian Vegetarian Association www.all-creatures.org/cva/ . Its DVD “Honoring God’s Creation” is wonderful. It includes Fr. John Dear, a board member of the CVA who coincidentally will be speaking at GA in Ft. Lauderdale on Jesus and the question of peace.

Many Unitarian Universalist congregations provide lay led services. If yours does, then members in your fellowship may want to use the opportunity to provide a sermon. Some of these are available at the UFETA website under the “Resources” tab.

As you may know, one of two Study Action Issues that the GA is currently considering for 2008-2011 is “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice”. If it is selected as an SAI, this would present an excellent opportunity for discussion in your fellowship. You can find more information about it at www.uua.org/socialjustice/issuesprocess/currentissues/55648.shtml

Thanks for taking the time to raise this very important issue in your congregation.

-By Charlie Talbert, May 2008


Privilege, Justice, and Sustainability

April 28, 2008

Over at My Moxie Life, Jacqueline writes about Why Food Isn’t My Politics (also mentioned at The Interdependent Web). She writes about how she and her family became vegetarian and…

Three years after that we moved to an intentional community in Missouri for a year. We, again wanted to experience living as lightly on the earth, community, and a back to the land ideal. It was while living with 70 other people from all walks of life that I began to shift my ideas about food…

What I began to realize was that food is only a choice for those who have the financial privilege to make that choice. It is an economics thing. If you come from a lower economic background or a definitive cultural background you will have food ideas around that. You MAY choose to break out of those ideas, but often, in the circumstances you CAN’T. You eat what is offered, and if you are lucky you are grateful.

It was the white middle and upper middle class kids that were offensively food oriented. THEY were making the RIGHT moral choice and they let you know in no uncertain terms that they were better because of it. Well, that screams of economic superiority, a bit of racism, and holier then thou attitudes.

These were CONSTANT conversations at East Wind while I was there and because of that tension and my wanting to understand where everyone was coming from I chose that food was something to be thankful for in whatever form it takes.

Education and poverty were more important to me then what someone served me at dinner.

So, we moved back to San Francisco omnivores… and have stayed that way.

I started to comment over at her blog, but the comment got a bit long so I thought I would post it here. I completely hear this idea that often liberals or other do-gooding folks go around being like, “Gosh, look at us. Shopping at Whole Foods, getting our vegetarian, local, organic food while we cruise around in our Prius. Golly, we are sure doing good by the world. Too bad there are those other people who are ruining the planet!” I know these people. I try not to be one. Probably I don’t always succeed.

So first, I want to affirm Jacqueline’s struggles with this issue and say that such struggles resonate with my experience (perhaps, um, too closely….). Yet, I think there are two important additional things to consider here.

First, I think we need to be careful not to set up a false dichotomy between “food politics”, and other (race and class or education) politics. Being attentive to the ways that our diet impacts the world around us – the natural world, humans, and other animals – is one important way to seek to live out our convictions related to compassion for suffering, non-violence, environmental justice, and human rights. Vegetarianism isn’t just all about saving the animals/lessening their suffering. It is also about trying to live more sustainably so that future humans have an earth to live on, and it is about being attentive to the ways that meat consumption, violence, the meat packing industry, immigration, race, class, food shortages, food riots, global warming, etc. are all related. Vegetarianism or veganism is, of course, not only way to address such concerns. But, I don’t see our food choices (to the extent that we have choices about our diet) as separate from bigger questions about justice, environment, class, etc.

Secondly, I struggle with the idea that if everyone/poor people/lots of people can’t do _________ (fill the blank with an attempt to be more sustainable/attempt at social justice activity), then it is a privileged thing to do and we are being too privileged/spoiled/snobby if we do this thing. I feel like this would apply to most volunteering, many if not most home energy efficiency measures, to many forms of education (expensive colleges/any colleges/many forms of homeschooling/private schools, etc.), buying organic/locally grown food, having the time and energy to grow a garden, driving a hybrid car, etc. The problem seems not to be that by doing these things (such as being vegetarian) we are not attending to the real problems like race or education, but rather that often our attitudes about our various “do-gooding” activities (like being vegetarian) are problematic.

The problem could thus be framed as the attitude that “We are doing the right thing (as privileged, liberals) while they (poor, others) are not,” rather then the problem being framed as the particular action we are taking (in the case of Jacqueline’s post, vegetarianism). If we look at it like this, the solution would not to be to stop doing action X, but to change our attitudes about action X.

For me, it is all about finding a balance between calling on each other and calling on ourselves to live as sustainably and justly as we can, while at the same time, being understanding that we can only do what we can do. I find it challenging, with vegetarianism, but also issues like hyper-consumerism, sexism, racism, classism, etc. to know how to best challenge my fellow humans try to live justly and more sustainably, while at the same time acknowledging the wide range of limitations to what each of us can do as individuals, families, communities, and countries. Certainly, to some extent, I believe all of us are called to call to humanity to be more just, more loving, less violent, and to live more sustainably, and to live out these principles in our own lives. But how much is too much calling? And how are we to do it without infringing too much on individual prerogatives, given that we cannot all do it all? And, are there different standards for calling upon fellow Unitarian Universalists, than, say, the general public?

Thanks to the post at Moxie Life for helping me to continue to grapple with some of these questions.


Murray Seems Recovered

April 8, 2008

So, our little foster cat (likely to be permanent cat since really, who wants to adopt a cat with a history of an unknown neurological disorder that doesn’t like to be touched?) Murray has almost fully recovered from what we thought would be a terminal illness. You can read about his adventure here and here (and here) if you are so inclined. We took him to three doctors and no one had a very convincing explanation for what was happening. Except that it was neurological and it was getting worse. Poor little guy just laid in his little bed by the heater for over a month. But, we treated him with a homeopathic thing (which we were a little skeptical about – how could those three little tablets somehow heal a progressive neurological condition that was causing him not to be able to walk?). But, one week later, we noticed a marked improvement. Two months later he seems almost as good as new – maybe a little on the slow side but he was never the brightest bulb in the bunch. Although sometimes our alternative health vet seems a little just like “well, just keep and eye on [whatever cat is sick]” and just give them [fill in homeopathic remedy] thus far, we have fostered over 50 cats and kittens in five years and no one has died or had to have even a really expensive treatment. Phineas was the most expensive – he had to go to an eye specialist and other stuff for $500 (which, by the way, was covered by an animal loving reader of this blog!!!) and he ended up just fine and in a super loving home with only slight reduced vision. So three cheers for alternative medicine. Of course, can I prove that the homeopathic treatments work? No, but it does seem to correlate that within a week of the treatment the little cuddle monsters get better. For more information on alternative and complimentary veterinary medicine, please visit the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association,The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy or The Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture. You can also find practitioners in your area on those sites.


Checking In: Congregations, Cats, Anti-Racism Class, etc.

February 28, 2008

Ah, school and work are setting in. I’m dying to jump into the conversation on Unitarian Universalist-identified people who are not part of congregations, the limits of Unitarian Univeralist congregationalism, the exciting possibilities for broadening our vision of what it means to be Unitarian Universalist, and the ways that this could expand our reach and ministry. Ms. Theologian links to the various posts here and also eloquently writes about why she is Unitarian Universalist but does not go to church. But, alas, I just don’t have the time to craft something worth putting out there – a lot of important things have already been said. (Come to think of it, I will refer readers to a 2006 post – A Congregationally Based Movement? On Community Ministry and the Work of Our Faith in the World – about my call to community ministry and how I struggle with how that fits into a congregationally-based movement. Slightly longer. Written in third person – why? I do not know. Maybe just how I was feeling that day….)

In other news, our cat Murray is hanging in there. He changes all the time. But seems to not be getting worse (as of the past two days – but who knows).

I am teaching OWL (a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum – Our Whole Lives) and loving it. I was never a huge fan of working with teens. Not so much that I was against it, but I just never understood how people could think it was so awesome. Not that I am clamoring to be a youth minister now, but I “get” it much better how one could consider that as a career option or long-term volunteer option. I’m sure all people who work with young people and really like it think that they are working with especially impressive teens, but I actually think it is true in my case. And my co-facilitator is great too.

I have started five posts relating to the sexual purity movement, a NYTimes article on meat, “the hard work of being a peaceful presence”, and the GA brou-ha-ha (as Philocrities put it) but none have gotten done enough that I want to put them out there. I guess I will just have to resign myself to things being slower while classes are going on and chiming in on discussions a little late in the game.

Speaking of classes, I am taking one called Racializing Whiteness with an excellent instructor who presents ideas, but does a great job of not making everyone feel guilty and horrible (which was my fear of what it would look like) and leaves room for the exploration of issues rather than preaching some sort of party line about the only and right way to be anti-racist (again, this was a fear of mine). I am learning a lot. And now fear less nervous of saying something “wrong” about anti-racism work, since it can be (lest we all forget the brown bag controversy last year) a sensitive subject in our denomination. I think it will help me be more anti-racist (or, framed more positively, more just) in my own life and inform (in a positive way) my ministry and scholarship. Somehow it is a huge relief to me that it is a really helpful and meaningful class and that we have room to learn and grow and grapple with hard questions.

That’s all for now.

p.s. I just read Chalice Chick’s reasons she does go to church. It is super-good. A great compliment to Ms. Theologian’s post about why she does not go to church.