Itching For A Fight (a 7QT post)

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It began Tuesday morning, when I pulled into a spot at the public library twenty minutes before it opened. I let Michael get in the driver’s seat and play with all those fun controls while we waited. We were not the only people killing time between school dropoff and library opening time. There were half a dozen other cars in the lot. In the white sedan beside us, a blond college-age girl sat navigating her a smart phone…with the car running. For over fifteen minutes.

Now, it was not a hot day. Nor was it a cold day. My blood pressure rose every minute she sat there spewing pollutants into the air unnecessarily. I wanted to get out and knock on her window and suggest that she shut her car off. When we all got out to walk into the library  at the same time, I sent a little prayer winging skyward: Do I speak, or do I keep my big mouth shut?

The compulsion to speak was nearly beyond control. But I could not for the life of me come up with any way to address it that sounded anything other than  nose-in-your-business.

And so I didn’t say a word.

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This is not an easy dilemma to solve. On the one hand, it seems clear that life in this world will be much better if we stay the heck out of each other’s business. I may not agree with your choices, but it’s wrong to stick my nose in and give you the third degree about it. Our personal choices are our own.

A friend articulated it this way later that afternoon: “I kind of think whether people run their car for half an hour is their prerogative.”

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Not so fast.

Photo by Rachel Knickmeyer, via Flickr

Because it’s not your prerogative to do things that screw up the world for everyone else. We all have to live on the same planet, and that means we all have to think about how our actions impact others. That’s the reason we have rules at all. Nicholas has been asking questions lately like, “Why does green always mean go?”

“Because that’s the rule they made, honey.”

“But why?”

There is no why, it’s just a rule someone came up with so we could all coexist peacefully.

This issue–unnecessary consumption–is a global issue. It impacts all of us.

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Christian has tried for years to convince me that arguing with people is useless, that no one changes their mind because you engage them in flame wars or even spirited debate. All that happens is everybody leaves with bad feelings. This philosophy wars with my nature–I come from an extensive, widespread net of extremely opinionated people  dating back at least two generations, and probably further, only I was too young to know them. But in the past decade and a half I’ve come to recognize the truth of what my husband says. More often than not, I take deep breaths and abstain from pointless argument.

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But then again, evangelization can’t be limited to people who already agree with us. And if I feel convicted on an  issue because of my faith–in this case, that we have a responsibility to take care of the earth we’ve been given, and that there are dire consequences if we thumb our nose at that responsibility–then I’m not really living out my call to discipleship at all, am I?

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Dawn on Cloud Nine, by Krasnickaja Katya, via Wiki Commons

So…I’m opening a can of worms I’ve been avoiding all week. I’m just going to say it.

I believe in global warming.

I know that a good number of my readers probably don’t, but there it is. I don’t see how you can look at the explosion of devastating storms and years-long drought in recent history and not think, “Gee, isn’t it just possible that something we’re doing is having an impact on this?” These weather events are not judgment from God, and they are not just oh-well-it’s-a-fallen-world-after-all. If they’re getting more severe and more common, we need to take a hard look in the mirror and think about this quote from Fitzgerald:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy–they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…

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I don’t see how we can close our eyes and pretend this isn’t happening, and say “it’s nobody’s business but my own if I burn fuel for fifteen minutes, or half an hour, in a parking lot.” I don’t see how we can say “it’s nobody’s business but my own if I don’t recycle.” Actions have consequences. How can we call ourselves Christians if we put “it’s-my-own-business” ahead of “the good of the whole world and everyone in it”?

End rant.

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about winners, 100th birthdays, blue blocking glasses, and my desperate need for Youtube recommendations

A Farm Story

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Parched ground

Parched ground (Photo credit: Al Jazeera English)

Growing up on the farm is on a short list of things that define who I am. My memories are filled with gigantic, buttery harvest moons rising through the jagged tips of cornstalks, of leaf piles reduced to pulsing embers that mirrored the night sky, of glittering frosty dawns and mist hanging over the woods, the roar of the grain dryer and the drop in the stomach while jumping off stacked hay bales. My entire childhood is woven with the fabric of the earth.

But there is a darker side that time has edited to make it more palatable. It’s not that I’ve forgotten the tough parts, but like childbirth, you dissociate from the visceral memory of how unpleasant things can be. And children (both as children, and as adults who’ve moved away from home) are insulated, anyway, from their parents’ fear and uncertainty.

This spring was lovely in rural Missouri. Early, but lovely. On Mothers Day, we ate dinner on the deck with my parents. It had been about a week since the last rain, and we were starting to look for another. None of us could imagine that it wouldn’t rain again for three months.

When the heat arrived in June, we shook our heads at how early it was–those 100+ days usually don’t set in until later in July or August. But surely we’d get a thunderstorm out of that blast furnace. It couldn’t last more than a week or two.

But it did. Week after miserable week it went on, and as my lawn crisped, and I watered furiously in the early mornings, I started watching the weather for my parents’ area, too. Every once in a while, a weak attempt at a storm would drift across the area, but only once did it leave more than a scattering of droplets in the forty-mile swath covering our house and all my parents’ fields. “Not even enough to settle the dust,” as my dad would say.

At last the rest of the country figured out this was a big deal. Wells were drying up, rivers were so low that navigation was questionable. When the storms finally came, it was far too late for the corn crop, and possibly too late for some of the soybeans. When my parents sampled their fields, they found ears with passable yields and ears with virtually nothing on them at all. Then there was the concern about a particular mold that thrives in drought conditions and can render the grain unusable. There was no way to tell how things would shake out until harvest began. Uncertainty is more punishing than a coup de grace.

Harvest began early, averaging 30 bushels per acre–not even a quarter of a normal yield, but better than nothing. But the corn was too wet, so they put it in the grain bins to dry, then sent it to the elevators. When the mold numbers finally came back this weekend, they were not good. My parents’ entire corn crop suddenly became completely useless. An entire year’s work and investment, gone. Harvest stopped. My dad, instead of running the combine through the field, instead went in with a mower and a disk to turn it all under.

Why am I telling you this story? Because the world removed from the land and from agricultural exposure needs to know what goes on beyond the grocery aisles. From these crops the cattle that become your steaks and burgers are fed. From these crops come the corn starch, the corn chips, the soft drinks and juices and cereals containing high-fructose corn syrup. We can argue the health benefits (or lack thereof) of many of these products, but the fact is they are staples of our lives. You may think it has nothing to do with you, but it does.

Some are convinced that the severity and breadth of this drought can only be attributed to climate change. Others are more cautious. Invoking climate change is not a popular point of view in some circles; most conservatives point to experts who say the whole idea that humans can adversely impact the environment is big-headed nonsense. Well, maybe it is. And maybe it isn’t. Considering what’s happening around us, we can’t afford to dismiss the idea of our own culpability on a knee-jerk reaction. The fallout from this drought will hurt your pocketbook and mine, but that’s just a nuisance. The people who will be most affected are the poorest people, those who can least weather it. Maybe this drought has nothing whatsoever to do with our vehicle and power plant emission. But what could it possibly hurt for each of us to cut back our usage, look humbly at our interactions with the world and rethink our assumptions? To act like the stewards we’re supposed to be, instead of the consumers we’ve become?

Living Mindfully

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Litter Lout

Litter Lout (Photo credit: Smabs Sputzer)

I think most of us, most of the time, don’t think about what we’re doing. I think we live our lives on inertia, nudged by forces we’re not even aware of in directions whose validity we never question. Most of what we do is done on autopilot, a series of habits we’re not even aware we have. We assume that however we’re doing things right now is the only way it can possibly work. Every day, I look around the world and want to pull my hair out, wondering how people can miss what seems so obvious to me.

How, for instance, did we get brainwashed into thinking we have to buy name brand laundry detergents and bathroom cleaners, when you can make both in less than half an hour from completely natural ingredients–and they work just as well (and sometimes better)?

How can a family half our size, who spends most of their day away from home, generate 2-3 times as much trash as we do?

Why do people sit in parking lots and run their cars for a quarter of an hour at school pickup or the grocery store? Do they not understand how much poison they’re spewing into the air–much less how much money they’re burning? Or do they just not care? Sure, it’s hot–find a shady spot to wait outside the car. It’s inconvenient, but it’s only an inconvenience.

What are people thinking when they toss fast food bags, plastic bottles, and cigarette butts out their car windows? I mean really–what are they thinking? Where do they think all that trash is going to end up?

Why do people who see the wisdom of a chemical-free diet not recognize the inherent philosophical conflict of using pharmaceuticals to shut down their reproductive systems, as if that is the only, or even the best, way to plan families?

These sorts of frustrations underscore how very differently I live than most of the people in America. It’s tempting–very tempting–for me to wag my finger self-righteously at everyone else. But I know I’m guilty, too. Driving my kids to their three separate schools, with their three separate schedules, causes me to put 40 miles on my van every Tuesday, even though none of the schools are more than 5 miles from my house. Nobody’s forcing me to put Nicholas in preschool. And if I care enough, I can try to find someone to carpool with.

How often do we take time to look critically at our own lives and identify places that could or should be adjusted? We work very hard to protect the status quo, because we can’t imagine what we would do if we had to change our habits. And yet things happen, and we do have to change. The car breaks down, and you figure out how to make do without it. Prices go up, and you adjust your purchasing habits accordingly. We always think we can’t change, but we can. We just don’t think.

I’ve been reciting this like a mantra lately: doing religious writing is like a nonstop examination of conscience. And I’m so thankful. I’m never, ever comfortable–I’m always squirming–but it means I’m also living mindfully. And that has to be a good thing.

Related Articles:

The Everyday Environmentalist

A Holistic, Natural Life

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I’m posting today on a subject very close to my heart. I know that probably half of my readers think this topic has nothing to do with you, but I would like to invite each of you to take time to read it, even though it’s aimed at natural family planning users, because the point I’m making in the post is that the birth control-natural methods debate is not just about religion–that there are many, many reasons why reasoning, thinking people think natural methods of family planning are way better than artificial ones. And you might be surprised to see that those reasons echo concerns that are felt across our society, by religious and non-religious alike. At the least, I hope you’ll read in order to get a different perspective on this than what you may have heard of before.

Preaching To the Choir

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“Why is the “e” word (evangelism) so hard? How can the Christian faith be something you keep to yourself … or keep for yourself?” – Tweeted by @lensweet 3/16/11

“What we want is not more books about Christianity, but more books by Christians on other subjects.” – C.S. Lewis

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"Faith and Reason United," Ludwig Seitz (1844–1908), via wiki commons

Sometimes I wonder if what I’m doing here, on this blog, is what I’m supposed to be doing.

I do a lot of religious writing. You might not know it, based on the topics covered here, but basically that’s what I do. It’s refreshing to write about the things I believe without feeling like I have to justify—or worse, explain—them. On the other hand, when I do religious writing, I’m essentially preaching to the choir.

Now, being a church choir director, I’m fully aware that choirs need just as much preaching as everyone else. Still, I wonder if I’m using my gift of gab in the way God really wants me to. Am I supposed to use this blog, for instance, as a platform to talk matters of faith more overtly?

The trouble is that I really don’t think people would read it. (Except for the proverbial choir.) If you start talking faith outside of a church, people hunch their shoulders and back away. That sounds terrible, but I don’t think it really is. Here’s the thing. Talking about matters of faith doesn’t really do anything. But when you act, people notice. This is why I think it’s so shortsighted to fixate on the idea that faith alone saves. Faith is expressed in the body, by what we do—in works.

 “Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing.
It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.”
Rich Mullins

I always try to speak from the standpoint of reason, because I think faith unguided by reason gets corrupted too easily. Reason can also corrupt faith, but I think it’s less likely. Those who shy away from religion often do so because they think faith stands opposed to reason—a viewpoint, I’m sorry to say, that people who profess to be Christian often reinforce. But it’s not true.

Two quick examples.

1. The Israelites were told to circumcise as a visible sign of their belonging to the people of God. But it turns out that circumcision helped, in less sanitary times at least, to reduce disease and infection. There was a practical reason/benefit behind an ancient religious teaching.

2.  For a more modern example: people fume at the Catholic Church for holding the line on birth control and insisting only on natural family planning. But if you look objectively at the world, you see that the benefit of unlimited, supposedly consequence-free sex comes at a high price: hormones in the water supply causing who knows what effects on total fertility, and strokes, to name a couple. Not to mention, since contraception became widely available, the divorce rate has skyrocketed (Janet Smith addresses this issue here, beginning at the bottom of page 6). To me, it seems clear that even though the teaching is religious, it’s based on an entirely practical, reasonable view of the world.

Reason, formed by faith. Faith, founded on reason.

I don’t fill my corner of the e-universe with religious platitudes because I’d like to think that if I live my whole life by faith, it will come through in what I write. And isn’t that, ultimately, what’s most likely to make someone sit up and take notice?

Nature Boy

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Lately, Alex been wanting to watch all the coverage of the oil…whatever you call it. Spill, blowout. I call it a disaster. But it’s got me thinking about my son.

This week at preschool “graduation,” he told his teachers he wanted to be “a worker at Disney World” when he grew up. We all laughed, but this morning I realized he meant something different than what we thought he meant. “When I grow up, I’m gonna make a ride that’s way up high, with a bunch of airplanes, and it’s gonna have Woody and Jessie jump, and swing off the airplane.” (Recognize this scene he’s recreating?) “And it’s gonna have a roof, and there’s gonna be a sign outside and it’s gonna say Toy Story 2.”

So evidently, he wants to be a design engineer.

But in the meantime, he’s Nature Boy. He has a heart for living things

Watching an earthworm wiggle at the sandy edge of the creek--the worm he uncovered while picking up rocks to throw

…and he loves to be down in the woods, exploring the creek bank and throwing rocks.

looking down over the “magic goldfish pond,” which to his grown-up five year old mind no longer means magic or gold, but the minnows are still an object of fascination

He doesn’t understand the frightening implications of BP’s Gulf fiasco. And I don’t think I would want him to, frankly. Not at the age of five. Imagine the anxiety a small child would feel, carrying a weight that heavy.

Still, I like that he’s paying attention. I like that he’s astute enough to recognize that this is a big deal, even if he doesn’t connect it to the creeks and woods he loves.  

Because someday he will connect it, and it will change the way he approaches life.

May all our children be so blessed.

The Everyday Environmentalist

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cedar-berriesEverybody’s thinking about the environment these days. And that is a very good thing. Whether or not you believe in climate change isn’t really the issue: as Christians, we are called to be stewards of creation. Here are 35 everyday things we can do to go “green”–and usually (though not always) save money in the process!

In the Kitchen

1. Take your own bags to the grocery store. Cloth is even better than paper or plastic.
2. Buy fresh, not prepackaged. Mac & cheese and pancakes from scratch really doesn’t require more time, and veggies you cook yourself lose less nutritional value.
3. Buy organic.
4. Buy local.
5. Grow your own vegetables.
6. Compost.
7. Recycle.
8. Wash and reuse Ziploc bags.
9. Wait to run the dishwasher till it’s full.

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Vehicles and driving

10. Slow down! The faster you drive, the more gas you burn, and it really doesn’t make a significant difference in time, anyway.
11. Make one trip to the grocery store for the week—IOW, plan and shop with a list.
12. Combine trips & walk from errand to errand when possible. Not when convenient–when possible.
13. Take advantage of public transportation.
14. Carpool.
15. Make sure the tires are at the proper pressure (you get better gas mileage).

Around the house

16. Buy refills on cleaners instead of a new squeeze bottle every time
17. Buy used, and don’t buy things you don’t need.
18. Use compact fluorescent bulbs.
19. Turn the lights off.
20. Turn the computer off, or at least to standby
21. Unplug electronics. They draw power even when not in use.
22. Use Recycled Paper.
23. Print on the back sides of used paper for rough drafts.
24. Turn the thermostat up a degree in the summer and down a degree in the winter.
25. Seal doors & windows with caulking or weather strips.
26. Get double pane windows.
27. Replace old appliances.
28. Set the water heater no higher than 120.
29. Take shorter showers.
30. Dry clothes on a line instead of in the dryer.
31. Use a push mower (the kind without power.)
32. Plant a tree

Gans Creek blog magic isle (105)

For the Family

33. Use cloth diapers. There are diaper services that can do the cleaning for you.
34. Toilet train early.
35. Practice Natural Family Planning. No plastic, no chemicals, no waste. And despite what you may have heard…it works.

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Image by Enokson, via Flickr

(This post was originally published on May 29, 2007. I’ve modified it only slightly.)

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