Sustainable Flowers

August 20, 2007

I wanted to send my sister flowers and she is even more into making sure everything is sustainable and fair to workers and environmentally friendly than I am, so I did some research and I thought I would post it here in case anyone else wanted possibilities for sustainable flower sending. In case you wonder if regular flowers are all that problematic, you can go here to read about it. I’m not trying to be alarmist and make everything into “an issue” but just trying to be more aware of ways I can be more gentle on the earth and its people, while also keeping in mind that everyone doesn’t have the economic or time resources to be super-vigilant. It raises questions for me about how we can make sustainable practices not just something UUs or well-off do-gooding upper middle class people can do, but change systems so that a range of people can be aware of and do these things.  Just some thoughts. Onto the companies.

Organic Bouquet http://www.organicbouquet.com/Index.aspx

California Organic Flowers http://californiaorganicflowers.com/

Diamond Organics http://www.diamondorganics.com/prod_detail_list/84#524

Well, I thought there would be more, but that is it for online stuff. It, of course, goes without saying that buying local is best and local farms/farmer’s markets often have a good selection.

p.s. Another link about buying traditional flowers http://www.coopamerica.org/pubs/realmoney/articles/flowers.cfm

 http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-05-04-organic-flowers_x.htm


The End of Brown v. Board

June 28, 2007

This is so absurd and awful I can’t think of anything to say right now.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/28/us/28cnd-scotus.html?hp


What does it take for mentoring “at risk” kids to “work”?

June 25, 2007

So I have “mentored” three young men for the past twelve years. They rank in the top five joys and blessings of my life. I love them so much and think they are just so amazing beyond words. That said, it has been hard. Very very hard. For them. For me. These are my thoughts on that process and on the “afterschool tutoring”/”mentoring disadvantaged kids” trend that is quite popular these days. This is a tad long, but I think worth it, as it is one of the areas I am most passionate about and actually know a little about.

First a note on terminology: I put “at risk” and “work” in quotes because I’m not sure if either of those are the greatest terms to describe what I am talking about, but I can’t think of others that work better. I think we label inner-city and/or minority kids “at risk” and it turns them into Those At Risk Kids rather than just people trying to make their way in the world. That said, kids whose families are poor, kids who grow up in the inner-city, and/or kids who are part of a minority ethnicity/race, face a whole host of factors that stack the cards against them, and it is important to acknowledge that they are up against a lot that has really nothing to do with who they are and everything to do with the way our society is structured. I say “what does it take to make mentoring “work”?” because the whole idea of what is a “success” that has really “worked” makes it seem like mentoring is meant to churn our “good” members of society. This is a problem. I wanted the boys I mentored to be happy, safe, and feel loved, like most people want for people/children who they care about. Part of this is the hope that their criminal record would be non-existent or minor, that they wouldn’t have children earlier than they were ready, that they wouldn’t be involved in drug sales (one of the only lucrative jobs available to them with the sort of sucky inner-city education they got), that they could have a job that make them happy and feel secure, that they would find a partner they loved, etc. This is different than the grappling, desperate hope of preventing “those kids” from becoming criminals, which is the underlying message/goal of lots of inner-city mentoring/after school programs.

So, enough with terminology. I think you get the point.

The main thing I wanted to raise in this post is that afterschool tutoring programs and mentoring programs mostly serve the purpose of exposing privileged teenagers to social injustices. The best result of this is that they are more aware of these social injustices and aware that they are structural issues (and not because poor/minority folks are lazy or bad parents, etc.). This is actually important because I can’t think of any other way to get privileged people to understand their privilege, and to understand social injustice other than getting to know people different from them. Volunteer programs help with this and the good ones help volunteers reflect on this, and integrate it into their world view. The idea would be to produce volunteers who will be moved enough by their experiences to want to change the world.

What these programs usually don’t do is actually help the kids have any more stability in their lives, get better grades or be less “at risk.” I know that there are exceptions, but by and large, these programs do not actually help the kids. The best programs realize this, and instead do the programs with the knowledge that it is mostly about volunteers learning from communities, with a sometimes side-benefit of actually supporting those communities in the struggle for the justice that they deserve.

The programs mostly don’t work because, first, the schools that poor and minority kids go to are so bad that a little tutoring here and there by high school students cannot even begin to compensate for the inadequate education that kids from inner-city schools get. (How do I know this? The book Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol deals with this extensively, and I did the research for the book so I’ve poured over these stats and narrative accounts, and studies, um, a lot.)

Another reason they don’t work is because, there is a lot of talk about “loving the kids” and “building relationships” in these programs, but this doesn’t work if you volunteer for one semester, or even a year or two. As cute as the kids may be, “loving them” involves more than showing up once a week to tutor them. And they know it. Many kids from the inner-city have seen hundreds of people come and go, bearing gifts of bicycles, candy, fun games, parties, tutoring books (and often the message of Jesus). They are onto the game. They live it up. Play along. Hug you and smile, but they know that when it gets hard, the tutoring people aren’t around. Not when Dad goes to jail. Not when Mom looses her job, when the phone gets cut off, when the shots ring out.

Someone said something like this to me early in my conversion to Christianity when I was still trying hard to do everything everyone at my church told me to. They said, “Lots of people come and go in these kids lives. You need to be there for them.” So, when I got my first group of tutoring kids I decided, “Okay, these are my kids.” This is not to say, “Oh what a hero I am” but to say that mentoring can’t work unless it is for the long haul. Late night calls. Money transfers. Going out to Chucky Cheese even when you are so tired and just want to rest. Answering the hard questions and confused tears about why we are always stopped by the police – black kids with a white girl. Explaining to the people at ice cream store that we will not leave and you can’t just ban people from your store just because. Knowing when to be the tough big sister or when to just listen. Not having any idea what you are doing and needing to just keep going anyway. And explaining for the five millionth time why you cannot call each other gay even if you “don’t mean anything” by it.

Is mentoring some sort of answer? I would say absolutely not. It is great if you can do it. If you stick with it, love unconditionally, are willing to help financially, emotionally, even on those days when you are tired, and even when the mentorees make the ten thousandth bad decision (as most kids will do), it can “work.” It is the most rewarding thing in my life – the young men bring me more joy than I can put into words. I LOVE to laugh with them, and I am not a huge laugh-er. I think my presence and never-ending-even-when-it-seems-stupid belief in them has made a difference. But they still struggle SO MUCH because being poor in the United States is hard. Being black is hard. It’s like no matter how hard they try, there is often something else that just knocks them down. And there is only so much I can do, they can do, their moms can do. And my love and commitment to them hasn’t done much or even almost anything to change the system. And it has taken a whole lotta energy. I do it because I love them and they love me, but it is so so so frustrating to see that EVERY OTHER KID they know and I know from the tutoring program where I met them is not doing well. Pregnant very young. Shot. Jail. Abused. No decent educations. We sometimes go over the kids that we all knew, and we can’t come up with anyone doing well. It is depressing.

I don’t mean this to be some sort of authoritative article on mentoring or that I am some sort of guru. It is just that I don’t hear a lot of people sticking with the mentoring thing through elementary school all the way to college. It makes me upset to see mentoring programs that are all self-congratulatory and then don’t even have a long-term way to maintain contact with the kids. That is FINE if you don’t want to be in it for the long-haul, but if you want to make a difference, the long-haul is what it will take. I guess I am looking for more honesty about what these sorts of mentoring/tutoring programs can and can’t do for communities and their children. And honesty about what it really takes to make a dent in the numbing barrage of injustices that far too many children face every single day.

May we continue to do the hard work of love and justice wherever and however we can.

2000

meandtheboys.jpg

2007

june-07.jpg


Doing the Hard Work of Love and Justice: Where is energy best spent?

June 24, 2007

I wrote meditations and prayers for my internship congregation each week when I was the intern minister there.  One theme that came up over and over, for me, was to remind us what was involved and pray for what we needed to “do the hard work of love and justice.” The idea that it is important for us to remember that if we are going to talk about love and justice, as most UUs like to do, it is important to remember that it is about hard work and not just righteous talk or token actions. As I think about what it means to do this in my own life, I often wonder where my energy is best spent to bring about the most good. I know for me, it is often easy to convince myself that what I want to do, or what appeals to me the most, is the best use of my time, especially if what is appealing can seem righteous or really worthy.

All the hub-a-bub about General Assembly, and the not too distant brown bag controversy as had me thinking about what it means to be part of a faith, part of an association, and just what I want my life to look like and where I want to put my attention – how to live out my own call to do the hard work of love and justice.

I think it would be really easy for me to get involved in UUA politics (by this I mean both the important, good work of our Association, and also the somewhat jaded, gossipy politics). I could very easily be a snarky blogger making fun of all the unique and maybe less than common-sense seeming things that happen at GA and in UUism in general. In fact, I do this in my head more than I want, but I try to stop myself.  I think I could have written a scathing post on the whole brown bag thing. But I’m trying not to do this, and put my frustration, anger, and energy into those parts of my life and my faith that seem like they will make the biggest difference.* The question of course is what the best allocation of my time and energy is.
Not that General Assembly or language issues (how we talk about things, for instance, lunches where people need to bring their own lunch) aren’t important, but I am feeling more and more like there are a lot symbolic politics that I could really make a lot out of and that would be sort of fun and feel really important, but I’m not sure if that is where my time and energy should be spent.  And of course, there is the important question of being able to discern symbolic politics from actual important stuff that makes a difference in people’s lives (and makes a difference big enough to be justified, relative to the time and energy spent on it, since time and energy, institutionally and individually, is limited).

All that said, it also seems like one needs to keep one foot in institutional worlds, and bigger questions. I can be a bit leery of the potential for political correctness to run amok. But, then again, some people might tell me that using only male language for God is one of those areas, and what is all the fuss about? And of course, I would argue that it is an important area to be attentive to. Maybe all that happens at UUA headquarters in Boston is not earth-shattering, but certainly some things that happen there and some of what happens at our General Assembly is really important.  The question is how to manage my energy and time – how much can I/should I/must I give to these things that are sort of scarily appealing to jump into, yet at the same time, softly whisper to me that this is not where my energy should go? I think it is so easy to criticize what is not going right or well. It is so much harder to do something different that wouldn’t be make-fun-of-worthy.

Just some reflections on this. No conclusions yet.

*When I talk about making the biggest difference, I don’t mean to imply that UUism is some sort of big social service agency or something that is meant to change the world via our Social Action Committees. For me, I feel like my connection with the divine is, in many ways, through bringing about the kingdom of love/god here on earth. I feel a call to unconditional love, which in some way, I feel emanates from the divine to the world’s beings. This is not meant to be Elizabeth’s Spiritual Treatise on Divine love, but just to clarify that unconditional love is a guiding force in my spiritual journey, which, for me, translates to reducing the suffering of others in both spiritual and material ways, thus the whole thing about “hard work of love and justice.”

**Side note II: This is not to be some sort of broad criticism of snarky criticism or critique of things in general. I think sometimes it is good and needed and constructive. Sometimes it can just be too much, too frequent, and mean. This is mostly about my approach to things.


From Nicaragua – Random Thoughts, Small World.

March 27, 2007

I am in Nicaragua with my mom.  It is her first time leaving the country. It is wonderful, stressful, overwhelming.  My mom is very extroverted and would love to talk to everyone although she doesn´t speak Spanish. I am introverted and don´t like to draw attention to my U.S. American self so this makes for an interesting mix.  I am translating for her the best I can and trying not to cringe at how much attention it draws to us to say so much to so many people.  Neither way is better, just different.  It wouldn´t be a problem if I didn´t have to do the translation.  But, then again, when she talks there is no pressure on me to be talkative. Not that I am silent – I am just not one to make random conversation. Especially in Spanish which is difficult in the first place. 

Interestingly, no one here – that is, my Nicaraguan friends – seems even remotely interested in my life, so if I want to say something, I have to volunteer it. And to just volunteer random information about my life isn´t so much my style.  No questions like “How is school going?”  Not about school, work, religion, politics, cats, etc.  I wonder if it is a language barrier although I really don´t think so.  But, my host family does love to see pictures of my life and asked about my grandma who was sick when I was here last time.  I guess I don´t mind, but for all the talk of being close friends and family (as in host family) I feel like no one here knows me well.  Or cares to that much.  I have told this to my friend Francisco who speaks English and he seems to have no explanation for lack of interest in my life. He blames it in part on his lack of English, except that he is perfectly fluent, so that doesn´t really explain it.  But whatever. Not a big deal.  Just a tad sad, given how interested I am in the lives of my friends here. It is nice when it is reciprocal.

I love the sun and the weather.  I have a slight sunburn, but I would take that any day over snow.  The weather makes me feel much better – the warmth and the sun life my spirits.  Even mixed with the large amount of dust.

We visited the school where I worked two summers ago. I enjoyed it and the children were kind and welcoming, as were the teachers.

There was a funny, yet at least for me a somewhat painful experience with some of the gifts I brought for my (host) family and friends here. Bringing gifts in the first place is a funny thing because of course they cost me money that I wouldn´t normally spend.  It is a difficult balance between wanting to show my appreciation for the kind and wonderful welcoming spirit that I am shown by people here, and realizing that my resources are not only greater than what most folks have here, but are in a sense built in some part on the backs of Nicaraguans and other “developing” countries who make the cheap things that I buy, and who have suffered greatly under the dreadful hegemony of the United States over the years. Yet, I also don´t want to come across as Elizabeth Santa Claus trotting in from the U.S. bearing gifts.  It is a funny and hard balance for me.  So anyway, I thought it would be nice to buy the two families and the one friend I am closest with here things from Boston or Harvard.  So I got shirts from Hidden Sweets, a store in Harvard Square. But when I gave the shirt to my friend Francisco we discovered that the company that made the shirts (Gildan) is the company he works out here in Nicaragua.  The shirt was made by a different factory but same company in Honduras.  It is an exploitive company that pushes workers hard, underpays them, requires too much overtime, and is generally an unpleasant place to work.  So here I am giving someone who I care about very much a shirt as a gift from this dreadful company that exploits the workers of which he is one.  I feel like I am not doing a good job of communicating why this felt so weird, but it did.  Francisco, bless his heart, thought it was mostly funny.  He has a good spirit and seems relatively at peace with things and his family thought it was funny too.  But I hated it – it represented exactly what I don´t like about being from the U.S. – that difference that I would like so much to minimize.  It isn´t like I run around feeling guilty all the time in Nicaragua.  But I think I would be remiss not to be aware of the differences in life in Nicaragua and life in the United States and the reasons for those differences and the way that I am privileged by those inequalities between our countries.

More later.  I have a lot to say but I think marathon posts are no fun to read.  I´ll share more when I have time.

Sonrisas – Elizabeth


How much is too much? Compassion, giving, love, sacrifice, and living a “normal” life.

February 27, 2007

I am sure many folks out there struggle with how much of oneself is appropriate to give to all the competing demands on our time, energy, resources, love, compassion, etc. and this is one of my ongoing reflections on this topic. Apologies if I repeat things I’ve said before, but it is an ongoing issue I wrestle with and imagine my blog readers wrestle with too.

This manifests in a very tangible way in our household in that one room of our four room apartment has been occupied by a cat or cats on and off since we have lived here (more on than off). Once we adopt out a current bunch of foster cats or kittens we always tell ourselves that we and our permanent cats (who do not like visitors or having a closed room) that we’ll take a break. But there are always more desperate situations, often life and death, where life means we take the kitties and death means don’t take the kitties. So we usually take them.

And, while I know there are lots of people that support our work and encourage us (which means a lot to us!) there are also those looks we get – “Oh, you are those kind of cat people.” We’ve heard “cat freaks,” and comments about not being able to set boundaries. And for me, this represents a big struggle – within myself and within our culture: how much “good” work can you do before people start to think you are dysfunctional? Or before you actually are dysfunctional in a literal sense – not functioning well. I think that this is a legitimate question, especially for ministers and others in so-called helping professions to ask.

That said, I feel that, in our culture and in our denomination even, there is a sense that we need to have some basic comforts of life and if we don’t allow those to ourselves, then perhaps we are being dysfunctional or lacking boundaries. The question is what are those basic comforts or necesities that people need in order to still function as competent helping people? Does it mean we need one day off a week? Does it mean we need an extra room in our apartment or house – a decent amount of space for all our stuff and to have a quiet space away from the others in our household? Does it mean we should be able to take one vacation a year? I think a lot of folks would agree that these are important things to have ways to stay healthy and fresh – ways to avoid burnout. In some sense, I would even agree that these are good ways to avoid burnout (you can see I’m torn here). But I wonder if we have become too convinced by our culture and by ourselves that these are things that people need to do the hard work of love and justice. Along with a million other things I could think of – nicer cars, nicer houses, nicer clothes, special treats at the spa, a food processor (something I recently justified buying). I include myself in this critique/reflection, but sometimes I want to tell us to just toughen up. I KNOW self-care is important – but I think there are many ways to care for one’s self, and people in many developing countries or in the poorest parts of our country manage keep on going without the extra stuff that we sometimes tell ourselves we need. I think of one of the families I know in Nicaragua – the mom is a school principal, the dad a professor and they both work literally 6am until 9pm six days a week, and usually work some on Sundays too. The mom does all sorts of helping work with the children at the school and the families, and has none of the things that we would consider needed “self-care” things. No vacation. No extra space in the small house with four children. No new clothes, spa visits, no days off, no time for hobbies. And she is not a wreck. She just has to get her stuff done and do it. It isn’t that fun, but she and her family make the best of it and still find joy in life. And with all the needs out there, I just wonder how much flexibility our schedules and our lives should have for those “fun” things while the world is in such dire need.

This is has been inspired by, well, a lot of things throughout my life, but also by my ongoing struggle with how to respond to the suffering I see in the world and how to respond to people who seem to me to be overly hopeful. I feel like far too often liberals especially like to be oh-so-hopeful and la la la about how things will be okay in the end and “oh aren’t we making great progress.” And frankly, we are not making such great progress. On just about anything. Poverty. Global warming. Loving all sentient beings. Children’s rights issues. Women’s rights issue. YES, I know that some progress is being made. And we can’t be all negative about everything or it will discourage people, but the progress that is being made needs to be put into perspective. It is, at best, mitigating harm – it is usually decreasing the rate of increase – not decreasing things overall (emissions, abuse, death, etc.).* And I just find it so frustrating when people (including myself!) are talking about needing this or that in terms of caring for themselves while people are just dying all over the place, greenhouse gas emissions are going up, meat consumption is going up, AIDS rates are going up (in some places), women are being raped, children are being neglected, etc. I think since we are not in the thick of the problems (at least many of us are not) we are able to have rather indulgent ideas about self-care and the sorts of comforts we need in our lives to be good-to-go.

I can just very well intentioned people I know saying, “Oh, there Elizabeth goes again being all worried about the suffering in the world. She is such a trooper” or “she has such a good heart”. I know this is meant in the kindest way, but I hate how people think that caring about dying people and sick people and suffering is somehow a personality trait or occupational calling – like it isn’t something that everyone should be fretting about and preoccupied with. Oh, yes, she cares about suffering, he wants to be a baseball player, she wants to be a computer programmer, she tends to be very interested in insects, while he tends to be interested in sad things like AIDS and global warming. When we think about compassion and concern for the well-being of the world as something that some people have and others don’t need to have or shouldn’t have or “just” don’t have, it is a huge problem. But I think that is another post.

Anyway, I don’t have answers. I know that there are a lot of tensions in this post – that it IS important not to get burned out or dysfunctional. That progress is being made on some fronts. I don’t mean this in either/or terms, but rather want to questions and reflect on the ways we understand progress and hopefulness, and self-care and dysfunctionality.

*I starred this sentence It is, at best, mitigating harm – it is usually decreasing the rate of increase – not decreasing things overall (emissions, abuse, death, etc.) because I think it is especially important to think about the progress we make relative to our ability to make progress. An easy example is to think about how even though life expectancies overall have gone up worldwide (in most areas), relative to how high they could be if there was proper medical care for all people, they are quite low. Or, say, the number of animals being put to sleep in the U.S. has decreased in the last ten years – but, given how easy and relatively cheap it is to have animals spayed or neutered, the level is still quite high. My point is to consider relative and absolute progress and not get too proud of ourselves for the absolute progress, while relative progress still leaves a lot to be desired.


Volunteer in Nicaragua

January 11, 2007

I spent the summer of 2005 working at an elementary school in Nicaragua. I lived next door to the principal of the school with the nicest family ever. The school would LOVE to have another volunteer or string of volunteer teachers. I taught reading to students who needed extra help, but what you would do is very flexible.

If you or someone you know has thought about working/volunteering abroad, consider being in touch with me and I would really like to help arrange something in Nicaragua – two weeks minimum, ideally a month or more. This is a great alternative to paying some organization to arrange a job/housing.

The cost involves a small donation to the school (flexible $100-$200ish), $50-$60/week room and board, and your plane ticket. The school is especially interested in someone who can teach dance or something else artsy, as they certainly cannot afford teachers to do this and the children love it.

There is also the opportunity (for small fees) to take dance lessons in traditional Nicaraguan dance, Nicaraguan cooking lessons, to get sewing lessons, or Spanish lessons. There is also the possibility to work with a domestic violence prevention program, or to design some other creative or flexible option via the connections I have and through friends of friends. I am visiting in March and will make most arrangements then, but all involved people have email and things can also be arranged that way.

You do not need to speak Spanish – but must get some basics before you go and be willing to learn on the job. My Spanish was very average/basic and it still went great. I learned so much and found the people to be so kind and flexible. This is most ideal for someone who is very flexible and doesn’t need a parent-like organization to support them through the travels. I did not find safety to be a problem – basic precautions do the trick. Please email if you are interested, or would like to discuss more, and feel free to share with folks you think might be interested. I will want to check two references just to make sure I don’t hook my host family and the school up with someone shady.

The school is in Diriamba (about 40 min. from Managua) and I lived in Jinotepe. You might have the option of living in Diriamba or Jinotepe, depending on how things go and what your preferences are. Email is elizabeth199 at gmail .com.

**Note that when I imported my blog from Blogger to WordPress the picture/caption alignment got out of wack and I’m not committed enough to refigure things so that everything lines up correctly. This is why the descriptions are not where they should be. Sorry.***

This was my wonderful room in Jinotepe. It was huge and by the end I didn’t even notice the bugs and did away with the net.

This is Ballet Folklorico. Amazing dancing and a very big thing in Jinotepe. You can get lessons if you go. You know you want to wear one of those outfits.

This was some sort of festival or carnival where the children dressed up. I thought this guy looked pretty slick.

This may not immediately look hilarious, but it is. They start teaching children how to do traditional dancing VERY young. Like way before they can possibly remember particular moves. Watching them try to do these dances was the highlight of my day. It would definitely win on America’s Funniest Home Videos.


This might be another “you have to be there” funny thing, but this is a PLASTIC fountain in the middle of a very old city called Rivas. I just cannot imagine what would inspire someone to install this plastic ugly fountain across from a very old church in the middle of a very old town. Notice that it is plastic and meant to imitate wood. And see the flamingo/swan hybrid birds in the middle?

I will post more pictures sometime. I have pretty ones too. Not just funny ones.

*Note, I just notied that Joseph Santos-Lyons posted a call for volunteers in Mexico on his blog shortly before I posted this. I hadn’t seen that before this post and certainly didn’t post in order to compete! :)


Now things will be less disasterous

November 14, 2006

Everyone is oh-so-excited that the democrats are now the majority in the house and senate. Yes, that is good. Very nice. However, fellow citizens of the United States, lets not get tooo excited that 1) democracy has somehow prevailed and is working wonderfully and 2) that now the amazing Democrats are going to usher in a new era of peace and justice.

I mean, the current administration and the supporting Republican Congress have taken us to war under false pretenses (I think that is probably a generous characterization), ignored the Geneva Conventions, tortured people, sent people (sometimes innocent – oops!) to other countries to be tortured, instituted tax cuts for the richest people in the country, sort of ignored key parts of the constitution, added “signing statements” to many laws that essentially say, “We aren’t really going to follow this all the time,” came to power in two at least troubled if not questionable elections, and has done all sorts of other really quite unusually bad things. So it isn’t some sort of miracle or triumph of democracy that the Democrats are now in control of both houses of Congress. In fact, I think it shows just how low our expectations are that an administration and supporting congress can do such amazingly problematic things and then when the Democrats take back both houses (by a not a hugely wide margin and with in relatively close races) that everyone is all like “Yay! The era of Republican reign has ended! The American people stood up for peace and justice.” (There is an editorial in this week’s Nation to this effect.) I think that this shows that U.S. citizens are not dead. After years and years of a horrible, ill-conceived, badly executed war, folks were finally like, “Hmm. Guess this isn’t going so well.” It could be worse, I suppose.

Which leads to my second point – the Democrats are not exactly a super-great exciting option. They were really the ONLY other option. So, while it is nice that the American people managed to vote Democrats in before the U.S. completely absolutely ruined the rest of the world, it was a little late and it is not clear to me that the Democrats are really tons better. I like to think of them as less horrible. If you have hopes of some sort of fair, just society where the United States doesn’t wreak havoc on the environment and less powerful nations, and where the U.S. is a strong proponent of basic human rights (as in the UN human rights declaration), I’m afraid that the Democrats are pretty useless. I think the best we can hope for is a slightly less unfair society (maybe), and that we wreak slightly less havoc on the world. I predict at least a decade of damage control. And the Democrats should be honest about this so that people don’t get their hopes up. So, I know this is not very cheerful, but I was really disappointed with Pelosi and The Nation and people all over the place doing a jig of joy that the American people somehow are great stewards of democracy because they FINALLY managed to realize that things were going TERRIBLE, and I am disappointed with the Democrats in that they are acting like they are some sort of revolution from the camp of peace and justice. They are not as bad as the Bush administration and the Eepublicans that supported him, but they are in the pockets of the corporations, will do a little bit to help some regular people a little bit, and will probably try to do something that lessens the destruction of the planet and the resulting humanitarian crises that are resulting and will continue to result from this.

I’ll stop now, but I really want to make a point about how important it is to keep our eyes set on real change – to appreciate that things will be less catastrophic and that the dems will attempt damage control – but to realize that real change and a functioning democracy are far off and will take years if not decades of persistent, well-funded progressive grassroots work.


Angelina Jolie, Bono, and Friends: Aren’t they just AMAZING?

October 19, 2006

…because it must be so hard to give away money and stand up for justice in between your world travels and the Oscars and making new albums or movies AND raising your very own family all at once. I wonder how they do it?

Okay, here is the thing. I think it is GREAT that celebrities such as Pitt and Jolie and Bono are doing good things for important causes, adopting children in need, raising the profile of important issues, and so on…

But, what I really am not so much a fan of is the lack of perspective that media and the general public seem to have on this. I mean, I am very happy that Angelina Jolie apparently gives away 1/3 of her income. But she still has money to live in a mansion, rent out a freaking entire complex in Africa to have her baby, buy designer very very over-priced clothes, jet around the world, and live better than, not only almost all the people alive in the world right now, but better than most people throughout the entire existence of humanity. It is great that she (and now apparently Madonna) adopt children who need homes. But, let us not forget that plenty of nannies are helping out here. I could go on, but you get the point. Celebrities are not really doing much hard work in terms of making things better. And I think, generally, they know this and it is only when people (like Anderson Cooper in the Angelina Jolie interview a while back) and media make them seem oh-so-giving-and-loving-and-just does the problem come along.

I do not doubt that the celebrities who have made do-gooding a hobby and their “thing” are amazingly well-intentioned and do make actual differences in people’s lives. I suppose I just want to get away from this whole “Wow, isn’t that great of them” sense that I get from the media. They are not living a difficult life. Not even a little itsty bit difficult based on their do-gooding. It is not hard to tour around the world and visit struggling countries or to set up funds or contests or even to give away A LOT of money when you have so much money you have no need of it all and generally live a VERY luxurious life.

This goes to the heart of one of my life-long struggles: how much “stuff” and “comfort” is okay to have? My gut tells me very little – my $1000 spent on vacation (or clothes or whatever I might spend it on) could go to something way more helpful to people who are suffering greatly. I don’t “deserve” a vacation or nice clothes or fun stuff anymore than people who don’t have such things “deserve” what they have. I live this out very poorly. I have accepted this. It improves, but not to the extent to which I think it really should. I just can’t think of a justification for the sort of unneeded stuff that we all have when that money could go to buy food for children who are hungry, housing for those without shelter, healthcare for those who are sick and in need. So you can see why I am not that impressed with celebrity do-gooding, until they really actually sacrifice something that they want. If a celebrity lives in a 2000 sq. ft. home and rides coach on the airplane and doesn’t have fancy cars or full-time nannies or extravagant vacations – that is the point where I might start to be impressed.

Just general rambling…. I’ve had bronchitis this week, which instead of getting better each day as I envisioned it when it was a little cough, has instead gotten progressively and substantially worse each day. And not only will I give a sermon on my favorite topic ever on Sunday (feminism) but I am scheduled to take the GRE on Monday which I cannot reschedule because not until today did I realize that I am getting substantially MORE sick each day rather than less and I would have had to cancel it yesterday in order to get a refund. So what do I do in response to all of this? I write about celebrity charity. Such GREAT time management Elizabeth.


Resistance

July 30, 2006

In The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, Dorothee Soelle writes

after some initial hesitation, I decided upon the concept of “resistance” as my focal orientation. Later, perhaps, in a different time, it might be possible to write a book on “mysticism and revolution.” But for those who live in the transition to the third millennium of the common era, however “resistance” seems to be the formulation that is more accurate and closer to reality.

I find this helpful in thinking about the situation that we are in today. In other posts I have lamented about the helplessness I feel in the face of such suffering and conflict in the world. The pain experienced by the world’s people and other sentient beings is staggering. How are we to face this? What in the world can we do.

With this quote, I think Soelle is saying that complete, real, sweeping change is not within our reach right now. For now, it is not about revolution. The structures of domination are too strong, too solid. But, Soelle counsels us not to give up and to continue to resist. She writes

I do not want to be separated from those all over the world, who in seemingly hopeless situations practiced the madness of the No! from a different love of life. What I can do in the context of the rich world is minute and without risk in comparison with the great traditions of Résistance. The issue is not to venerate heroes but together to offer resistance, actively and deliberately in very diverse situations, against becoming habituated to death, something that is one of the spiritual foundations of the culture of the First World.

She calls us to continue to say No! even if it may not bring about the revolution we desire. When she writes about what she does being “without risk” I wonder, however, how much risk our resistance should involve. I have a feeling that my life is too comfortable. Too easy. Blogging or preaching or talking simply isn’t enough in the face of the suffering in the world. We must push ourselves, I must push myself, to take more risks. Marcella Althaus-Reid, a feminist/queer theologian reminds her readers over and over throughout her books that liberation theology (in the Latin American context of the 1970s and 1980s) was amazingly dangerous business. But, yet, priests and peasants and religious women and so many spoke the truth, offered resistance, at great risk to everything precious to them, including their lives. Theologies of liberation – theologies of resistance – must also be risky today. The world is not just because justice is not easy. There is not enough love in this world because love is not easy. If these were unrisky, easy things we would not be in such dire need of them.

Conclusion to myself (and readers)….
We must continue to say No! even if it will not change everything. Resistance is all we can do. And we must do it even if it is not easy. If it hurts. If it is frustrating or unfun. Justice and deep love are not easy, comfortable, risk-free endeavors. And we cannot do it alone – we need community, we need mindfulness, we need to be grounded. And this is where Soelle’s mysticism comes in. But that is for another post.