Monday, November 7, 2011

Electricity Fast Day 6 and Final Thoughts

To read the introductory post, click here.

I apologize for the late posting of this blog entry. Over the past few weeks I began applying for grad schools, wrote and had my thesis proposal approved, and applied for a job and was hired. Needless to say, unfortunately this final post kind of hit the back burner for a while.

But here it is—the last day of the six-day electricity fast: six days without electricity over six weeks. How did it go? What did I learn?

Well, to begin with, the last day without electricity was the easiest. I had by now recognized when in the day I would get restless, so planned taking a several mile walk. I knew how painful those several hours of night would be without electric lights, so I planned going to a friend’s place. It became easy to find things to do that did not involve electricity. But, the habits are still there—the turning on lights without thinking, the turning on the hot water before realizing, the impulse to get in my car and drive before remembering. All of these things have become second nature to me, so even consciously trying to avoid electricity it was still near impossible to do so.

Indeed, one of the main things I learned was just how much what is called the “Western lifestyle” is dependent upon electricity. From taking warm showers every morning to using the microwave to heat up some leftovers to having a bedside lamp to read from—these are all little things that we hardly even think about. Yet there they are, consuming electricity, supporting a comfortable lifestyle. It gets to the point that it is hard to imagine a life without electricity—indeed, many ecologists have written about how now that we’ve opened the electricity can of worms we can’t go back. Sallie McFague, for one, speaks out against some of the more radical ecologists who envision a world without electricity, saying that it is more realistic to find sustainable ways to power our needs. Her book Super, Natural Christians was a shock to me—here was an ecologist—an ecofeminist, no less—that doesn’t speak against the urban life, but rather argues for it—at very least, calling for increased urban parks and green spaces.

I also spoke about previously about being present. That has been perhaps the most personally awarding result. Without internet, without television, without the distractions electricity provides, one has the chance to be present in the moment. One is not constantly being fed news and internet memes and status updates. That is kind of the contradiction, you see: on the one hand, knowing what is happening all over the world immediately; on the other, being able to be fully present and aware with what is going on around you. There has to be some balance—certainly knowing what is going on in the world is helpful, is necessary to live in any sort of community with one another. Unless one wants to retreat to an anchorite or hermit, knowledge of both local and global communities and events is necessary. But, the ability to stop and process, to stop and think, to just be present with friends or a good book without being interrupted by tweets and status updates—there is something in that, too.

Perhaps most importantly, what does this mean for the future? I plan on using less electricity throughout the day. Keep the lights off when it’s sunny outside. Unplug appliances when not in use. Easy things, simple things. Open the windows when it’s a nice day out. All things are so simple, so easy to do. Perhaps that’s the last thing I learned—as hard as going without electricity is, it’s also really easy. The world doesn’t stop, it keeps on going. I don’t need to have a hot meal every day. I don’t need to be watching television or on my computer every day. There are books out there, there are friends, there are activities like hiking or taking a stroll through town—all these things which are fun that don’t use electricity. It’s really simple to cut back. The benefits of a day without electricity—more time being active, more time with friends, more time reading books, more time to just think--more than make up for any inconvenience, in fact, not only does it make spending some time away from the computer or television “worth it,” it makes me wonder what joy I found in spending hours in front of the computer or television to begin with.

It's like that Toyota Venza commercial (embedded below). The daughter talks about having all these friends on Facebook, and she even says "this is living," meanwhile, her parents are out there actually living.

Another writer went a week without internet, and posted some similar points. It's on, so just a warning, some of the language and themes on this humor website are a little vulgar. But nonetheless, he came to some of the same realizations I did. If you do not mind a little bit of language, I encourage you to read the article here. Suffice to say, electricity--with all the marvels of modernity--has its drawbacks. The ecological crisis alone shows us that, in fact, that's the very reason I chose to take on this fast. But, it can also keep us from living, from being present. And, that I think is Sallie McFague's greatest point in Super, Natural Christians and the greatest thing I learned, the environmental crisis isn't just about electricity and over-consumption of resources, it's about the reality that those of us living the Western lifestyle of comfort and ease have forgotten what its like to be present in the midst of the earth. To be present in the midst of the earth, to be truly present, just may be the first step towards moving out of this crisis.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Electricity Fast: Days 4 and 5

To read about what the Electricity Fast is and why I am doing it, please read my introductory entry.

I was unable to post day 4 of the electricity fast last week, so I decided to combine it with Day 5 of this week. So what to say? The past two weeks were pretty intense with travel for me--I went to Baltimore, Columbia, Silver Spring, and Frederick (three times)--all in Maryland--and Chambersburg, Philadelphia, Hanover, Hershey, and tomorrow am going to Millersville--all in Pennsylvania. In the midst of all the travel which somehow seemed to inexplicably occur within the past two weeks, I tried to keep the lights off for the twenty-four hours as I vowed to do. It's easier for me to keep the lights off now. I think both days four and five I only turned the lights on accidentally once. The downside was of course, due to all the travel that seemed happened to hit me all at once I unfortunately had to use my car on both days (though I carpooled to Philadelphia, at least!). Ah, the reliance we all have on fossil fuels!

But what I want to reflect on today isn't my ability or inability to hold to the fast (though I'm happy to say I'm getting better each week), but rather the unexpected benefits that not having electricity for a day allows for. For one, it forces me off of the computer, the radio, mp3 player, television, all of that. One of the great things about technology is it allows for constant stimulation--not in a bad way, either. But think about it--real time updates on news and current events. The ability to multi-task--I can listen to a news story while reading another news story and commenting about it on Facebook and Twitter... at the same time! All of this, I feel, has tremendous benefit. It allows for efficiency, it allows for continual expansion of our minds, a continual synergistic education. But, all of that said, it keeps us--or at very least me--from ever being able to be still. To just remain or linger on a topic. When was the last time I just sat and did nothing? Or read a book without checking my four e-mail accounts between chapters?

In other words, not using electricity for a day forces me to linger. Instead of putting down a book and instantly picking up my laptop, I'm forced to think about the book. I'm forced to linger on the book, to dwell on it. I'm forced to live in the moment--not the real time continuously streaming moment, for all of that distracts from the presence in the moment lived. And that, if anything, is something we can--and perhaps should--learn to do more. To just turn everything off and force ourselves to wrestle with the infinite as it actually exists, not through soundbites or glowing screens.

One more day left--I think I'll probably have it on Friday (21 October), but that could still change. The last fast day... well, it's been an interesting journey. Let's see where this last week takes us...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Electricity Fast Day 3

To read the introductory entry, please click here.

Sorry for the delay in posting. It was my birthday weekend, so it took me a bit to get around to posting...

Any way, so halfway through the fast, three down, three to go. Every day of the fast I end up realizing even more just how much our lifestyle depends on electricity. I wasn't feeling well, so I popped in a movie to help me get to sleep. I had to turn on my computer a few times a day to check for an important e-mail I was expecting. It seems that it is near impossible to completely escape electricity.

What happened to our society? How have we moved from the majority of people having no or little electricity to our lives being so entwined with it that it can barely be escaped, even if only for one day. What have we done to ourselves?

Overall, this day wasn't bad, even if I ended up using electricity a few times. Three days left to go--let's see if I can actually make it through a day without electricity.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Electricity Fast Day 2

To read about what the Electricity Fast is and why I am doing it, please read my introductory entry.

So, the second day of the Electricity Fast rolled around. This time, I only accidentally turned on the lights twice! I spent a lot of my time in the library doing research for my thesis, and went on a really nice walk through town. I spent some time at a friend’s place watching a Bollywood flick with a group of friends (which, as I said, I don’t consider breaking the fast as long as it is not me consuming electricity that would not otherwise be consumed if I were not there). All in all, it was a great day.

But… My main challenge during day two was sticking to the fast. Once the sun went down it was all I could manage to keep from turning the lights on or to watch the television. I had the light of a few candles, which was more than enough to read or write, but my comfortable lifestyle, the enjoyment of thinks like light bulbs and television, reared its ugly head and caused a major challenge for me. The first day of the fast had the novelty to keep me going. But once that wore off by this week, it really became a challenge. I ended up cutting the fast short by an hour, which I regret. The challenge for next week will be sticking to my guns for the entire fast. As nights get shorter I will have to be more conscious of my addiction (for lack of a better term, yet appropriate) to electricity, and really challenge myself to get past the dependency on it.

Next fast day will be Friday, September 30th. So, until then, I'll spend some time thinking about the comfortable lifestyle many of us take for granted. I can't believe that just twenty-four hours proved too much this go round. Twenty-four hours. Why does just one day prove too much? How many of us, living in this comfortable lifestyle, dependent upon (and addicted to) electricity, would be able to transition into a less harmful lifestyle? No wonder there is an ecological crisis. Over the next week I will be thinking about my addiction to electricity, thinking about ways to combat that addiction and become less dependent on it. And what it might look like if we were less dependent upon electricity.

Until next time!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say?

I want to tell myself to be brave
except for those times when it is okay to be scared
I want to tell myself to speak out
except for those times when I need to listen
I want to tell myself that being a man
is simply being yourself and nothing more
That the mysteries behind every face
are greater than the grains of sand
The moon is peace on a clear blue sky
and the muddied soil is home

I want to teach myself to see
beauty in everything
To make a friend with that old
oak tree and
To listen to momma and remember
the music of the spheres
can be heard if you have ears to hear

Love and peace may be worth fighting for
but can only be won by open arms
The earth is not yours, but you are the earth’s
Nothing cures heartache like
a Beatles’ song and don’t forget to
smile on rainy days when the earth
smells like copper

And yes, I want to tell myself
that everyone deserves
to be truly seen and everyone
deserves a second chance
And Elysium still shines through
broken skies

I want to tell myself that
Bad will happen, but good, too
Yes, good, too.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review Page is Up!

Just put up the book review page. You can access it via the tab marked "Links, Books, Recommendations" below the blog title/image, or just click here. My hope is to update this page at least once a month to keep ya'll abreast of what I'm finding meaningful (in addition to helping me keep track of the resources). My hope is that some of these books and resources will be meaningful to you all, and help in your journeys toward becoming. Peace!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Electricity Fast: Day 1

To read about what the Electricity Fast is and why I am doing it, please read my introductory entry.

Yesterday was my first day of the electricity fast. Twenty-four hours without utilizing any electricity... well, it was both harder than I thought it would be and easier than I thought it would be. To begin with, I cannot tell you how many times I turned on the lights without realizing what I was doing. Depending on lights is second nature to many of us, and every time I would walk into a room the first thing I did was turn on the lights before realizing what I was doing. Of course I would turn off the lights within a few seconds. Next week I need to be more careful so I don't turn on the lights, even accidentally.

Also, I forgot I had a doctor's appointment. Over twenty miles away. I considered calling a taxi or asking a friend to drive me, but either way, it would still be utilizing a car. With no decent public transportation in the Gettysburg area, I was more or less forced to drive to the appointment. On the way back I stopped and got coffee. Which brings me to my next realization.

As I explained in my first post, the goal is that I do not utilize any electricity within a period of twenty-four hours. I realized after getting coffee that I need to make a distinction. I said that I wouldn't consider it a breaking of the fast to go to the library or to a friend's place since the electricity would be on whether I'm there or not. But, going out to eat or getting coffee--that is utilizing electricity that would not be used if it were not for me (whether it's an espresso machine or a grill). I am trying to make as little impact as possible for these twenty-four hours, so going to a coffee store is out of the question.

Also, another realization I made during the fast was that it defeats the purpose if I end up utilizing more electricity than normal on the day before and the day after--whether it's for making food for the fast day or watching extra television or extra computer-ing. So, this means I need to be intentional about how I utilize electricity throughout the entire week, not just making sure not to use it on the fast day.

Overall, the first fast day made me really aware of just how much I do rely on electricity. Throughout the next five weeks, my hope is to continue to become more mindful of how I use electricity, but also to become less reliant on it even when the one day a week fast ends.

Any way, questions, comments, whatever--all are welcome. Next week fast day will be on Saturday, so tune in for more.

(P.S.--still working on the recommended books, so expect to see that up sometime this week).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review: Beyond God the Father

Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation

“…[T]he depths of anger and alienation to which some women point are not inappropriate. It really has been ‘that bad.’ Unless one is willing to take the journey into that deeper anger, even to risk going a bit mad, one really will never understand the depths of the evil of sexism. The great importance of a feminist thinker like Mary Daly is precisely that she insists on taking herself further and further into that journey and insisting that others who wish to be honest follow her. She lays before our eyes the ‘passion drama’ of female crucifixion on the cross of male sexism.” Rosemary Radford Reuther, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology, page 187

Mary Daly’s book Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (1973) is often considered one of the classics of feminist theological literature. The book is essentially a critique of Christian religion as the exemplary force behind patriarchy. Even almost forty years after being written, I find the book to be just as shocking, revealing, and challenging as it probably was for the original audience, and, even more, I find the book to be just as important and necessary.

Daly writes that the purpose of the book is to be, at least in a sense, a theology and philosophy (both “torn free from [their] function of legitimating patriarchy”): “For my purpose is to show that the women’s revolution, insofar as it is true to its own essential dynamics, is an ontological spiritual revolution, pointing beyond the idolatries of sexist society and sparking creative action in and toward transcendence. The becoming of women implies universal human becoming. It has everything to do with the search for the ultimate meaning and reality, which some would call God” (Daly, 6). Not only does Daly create a beautiful and powerful attempt towards an ontological understanding of universal human becoming, but in so doing she reveals the very harmful connection between patriarchy and Christianity—indeed, she would argue, the two cannot be separated.

What then follows is an attempt to both legitimatize an argument for a “theology” of feminism but also legitimatize the need for feminism to confront Christianity. Daly uses Tillich often in her argument, particularly his notion of ontology, which Daly claims can be potentially liberating, but stops short of being so for failing to confront sexism.

Perhaps most enlightening is Daly’s humorous take on Christianity: the idea of a male God sending down a God-Man. She claims that if God is man, than man is God. Daly then calls for a castrating of this male deity, and the patriarchal androcentric religion and culture that springs forth (ejaculates) its way into the world, prohibiting and cutting off true religion and androgynous society from taking place. While I describe Daly’s take as humorous, as I believe it is intentionally meant to be taken with good humor, I do believe that the points she raises are very serious (and also intentionally so). Is a male savior able to save women? Even if the God-Man’s ministry was proto-feminist, does that really matter since the God-man has been utilized by Christianity as a legitimization of patriarchy? These are questions that cannot be answered lightly—as often has been and continues to be done in theological circles—and, I believe, for Daly, the answer to both the questions after profound thought is ‘no’—the God-Man is relevant only insofar as he represents a broken deity that must be overcome by universal human becoming.

Daly then goes on to speak of the death of God the Father, and the subsequent ability to participate in God the verb as community. She also has a chapter on Eve, in which she reinterprets the Fall of Eve as a fall into freedom, a fall into being. She also writes of a phallic morality that is entwined with God the Father and what she calls "Christolatry," and rejecting them, calls for a feminist ethic to be made. She ends with a reinterpretation of the telos, the Final Cause, freeing it from a static-Aristatilian understanding and instead interpreting the final cause to be a continually changing state of becoming.

Daly’s work clearly falls in the radical feminist camp, as she readily admits, so her work is certainly controversial among those on both sides of the argument—those who believe Christianity can be saved from patriarchy (or those who feel Christianity is fine as is), but also among many feminists who believe that God-talk is irrelevant to the feminist becoming. I believe that both criticisms should be heard and considered, but I also believe that Daly is on to something important that also must be heard and considered.

Daly has also been criticized by third-generation feminists for not taking into account the roles of culture in what it means to be woman. Certainly this can be seen with Daly’s criticism of black liberation theology and others for avoiding confronting patriarchy within their own communities and the larger society as a whole. As a radical feminist, Daly stands clearly in her view that patriarchy is the root cause of oppression, and all other movements to end oppression—ecology, the civil rights movement, etc.—have to confront patriarchy if they hope to be successful in moving towards human liberation and becoming. Even so, I did not see Beyond God the Father to be at fundamental odds with third-generation feminism—while Daly speaks of an androgynous community and of women binding together and sharing a sort of community, I do not think that either of these are at the expense of cultural and ethnic traditions. However, this is also the first book of Daly’s I have read and I can definitely see those threads being spun out to an unfortunately more exclusive distinction between what it means to be woman and what it means to be of a specific cultural, ethnic, social, or creedal context (as opposed to a more holistic approach).

I end this review by lifting up the quote from Rosemary Radford Reuther’s book Sexism and God-Talk that I began with. Many people—primarily those who do not consider themselves feminists, but also those that do—find a book like Beyond God the Father to be full of a deep anger that they find very uncomfortable. Like Reuther, I feel that the anger expressed by Daly is not only appropriate, but necessary to understand the depths of the hurt that patriarchy causes, particularly the hurt that Christianity causes. The anger is part of the journey, but it need not be the end. But it is nonetheless important to be able to immerse yourself in the anger and alienation, to “go through a certain level of truth” (Reuther, 188), before taking the next step. “To skip over this experience is to become ‘reconciling’ in a way that is basically timid and accommodating and not really an expression of personal freedom” (ibid). In other words, Daly’s work is important, and has a lasting importance, because it takes us where most of us are reluctant to go: to confronting the beast for what it is and not backing down. Only after the separation can new growth begin.

Post Script: You will see a new page go up on this blog in the next few days! This page will be a book recommendation page. Basically, it'll be a list of books important to my growth and understanding in the areas of feminism and ecology simply offered in the hope that they could be of some help to those who are seeking/exploring/finding/becoming/being found in those areas =D

Monday, September 12, 2011

Electricity Fast

How much electricity does the average American use per day? According to the United States Energy Information Administration, "[i]n 2009, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,896 kWh, an average of 908 kilowatthours (kWh) per month." Simple math shows that approximately 29.8 kWh, then, are used by the average U.S. household per day. Forty-eight percent of this electricity comes from coal (Visual Economics). Coal is well known to be a dangerous source of electricity--dangerous to the environment (producing about 2 pounds of carbon dioxide per kWh) and to the coal-miners who are charged with meeting the United States' demand of electricity.

With this information in mind, I decided to challenge myself to an electricity fast. One day a week for the next six weeks, I will abstain from the use of electricity. By doing this I hope to lessen my burden on the environment and lessen my modern Western lifestyle dependency on technology and the electricity it requires.

What this does not mean:
Well, first off, to be completely honest, there are three exceptions to my electricity fast:
-Cell phone
Unplugging my refrigerator for an entire day would save a lot of money and electricity... but, as a single man with no roommates, I would end up wasting plenty of food, and my attempts as frugal spending and organic foods would become unfeasible. Second, I do not wish to freeze to death as the nights grow colder (also, my apartment requires the use of the heater on low heat throughout the colder months so the pipes do not freeze). Finally, I do not have a land-line, so a cell phone is currently a must. I will say this, though, my phone is not a smart phone. It is a very dumb phone with only texting and calling capabilities, and I will severely limit the use of my phone during the fast day. I also will not charge my phone during the fast day.

What this does mean:
Everything else is a no no. No television, no computer, no hot water, no cooking (so making food that must be cooked ahead of time). It means unplugging all my appliances (with exception of the fridge) for the entire twenty-four hour period to prevent phantom energy consumption. It means no lights. It means no air conditioning. It also means no car, except for emergencies.

Perhaps a loop-hole in my energy fast is that while I will keep the lights off for the entire twenty-four hour period in my own apartment, I will allow myself to go to public places or friend's houses that have lights on. In other words, I will still need to study and read for class, so I will probably be a frequent guest at coffee shops and the libraries within walking distance after dark. And, not being a hermit, I will leave my apartment, which also means the reality of going to places that use electricity. I am unsure if I will allow myself to use public computers (such as in libraries) yet. Right now I am tentatively saying no, but as the semester work load picks up, we'll see if that is able to be a realistic goal.

Benefits (in addition to being more eco-friendly)?
I hope to save a little money (although in campus apartment housing, I don't pay monthly utilities so how much money saved wouldn't be as much as if I were paying a monthly electric bill), but also to be able to take a break from the hectic and busy lifestyle that I have grown accustomed to. It will hopefully give me a time to be present in the moment for a little bit, some more time for reading and writing, some more time for thinking.

Why six weeks?
Lots of reasons. Six seems like a good number. Six weeks is a good amount of time to try something out. It takes a little more dedication than a simple month. It also ties into biblical fasting--six weeks contain just over forty days. In six weeks' time I will reevaluate how this fast worked, and see if it is something I will continue and what adaptions need to be made if I do choose to continue. Perhaps I will determine that I don't even need my cell phone. Perhaps I will determine that I really do need electricity, even if just for a part of the day. Who knows?

What can one expect to see here?
I will be chronicling this attempt on this blog in addition to the regular postings about feminism and ecology (and Doctor Who), though obviously these observations will have to wait to be shared on the blog until at least the day after fast day. I'll be exploring the benefits (saving money!) and draw backs (an entire day of cold food?). Hopefully this will inspire others to do mini-electricity fasts of their own--if not for a whole day, what about a few hours a week, or even just one hour a day?

So, this week, my electricity fast day will be Friday (It will probably be on Fridays most weeks, but I do expect it to change to a different day at least once or twice, depending on scheduling). So, tune back in Saturday to see how the first day went!

(Or, click below!)
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Days 4 and 5
Day 6

Friday, September 2, 2011


It it just me, or is every Silurian episode on Doctor Who exactly the same, but with different doctor and companion?

Images owned by BBC

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tree of Knowledge, Tree of Liberation

The leaves were golden and reflected every bit of light, filling the canopy over head with a warm, shimmering, liquid glow that danced around on the soft moss. The entire garden was surreal, beautiful, but nobody in it realized that until it was too late. That’s how these things go, though, is it not?

And yet, there she was, naked and beautiful, not perfect like many imagined her to be, but perfect in her own way.

Her red hair was wild and shone in the golden light reflecting on her ebony skin, her wild eyes a deepest blue, deeper than the ocean which her innocent eyes had not yet seen.

Then the serpent, it’s slithering slight of hand speaking silent whispers, hissing and disrupting the sleepy stillness of the silky golden garden. A blazing light. The fruit tree looking gold, like everything else, but so much more, seen as if through a disturbed pond, ripples disrupting the light, making it glimmer like something just out of reach, something just out of sight, something just out of grasp. The forbidden fruit, the tree of knowledge.

She walked up to the tree slowly, her naked feet against the mossy grass; no brambles or pebbles here. The tree seemed to vibrate with every step she took, shaking in the slight breeze full of perfume that wafted through the gardens. She reached the tree and held up her hand for the fruit, hesitated for just a moment, then grasped it. It felt warm in her hand, and soft. She plucked the fruit, and brought it close to her nose and inhaled. It smelled like… like jasmine and thyme and clove and citrus… everything good, everything she loved.

She brought the forbidden fruit to her lips, and bit in. It was warm, and sweet. It gushed out liquid into her mouth, a liquid that tasted like everything, sweeter than music. Sweeter than He ever was, sweeter than anything she ever tasted.

And with that fruit? Knowledge. Liberation. Freedom. She was a woman, she had power, and she was strong. She laughed, her laugh rang out clearer than it had before. She opened her new eyes and saw the world for what it really was. The breeze drifted by, it was cold against her naked skin. It felt good. The golden glittering trees were too golden, she had to shade her eyes. But it felt good. The air was no longer perfumed and sweet, but it was fresh and clear.

She did not bite that fruit because of the serpent. She took that fruit because it was her right. The serpent was not the evil one. The fruit was not an apple. The woman was not full of sin. This was not some great fall of humanity, or a lesson of right or wrong. This was freedom, liberation, woman at her best, not her worst.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Call to Honesty? Global Warming "Alarmism"

According to a post I read on Facebook earlier today, global warming being caused by human-made atmospheric emissions was once and for all debunked. I thought, "hrm... that's curious," so I clicked on the link the post was referring to and came across James M. Taylor's article, New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism, about how NASA data apparently prove that global warming is not a big deal. The article is an interesting read, and obviously an op-ed piece, full of the same sensationalized language he chastises "alarmists" of having. What gets me is not the data Taylor cites, which doesn't say much aside from the fact that the more apocalyptic-leaning predictions of scientists may be wrong since the earth's atmosphere lets a significant amount of energy into space. As far as I could tell, the data did not say that global warming is an hoax nor did it say that we should stop caring about carbon emissions. One can read the press release here or the abstract or full article here.

The article does not make conclusions about what is causing climate change, but merely says that as of right now we do not know whether or not the climate is changing as a result of human-made emissions. The data also does not explain continuing data and observations about climate change that show that the climate is changing (the article I linked to I found on NASA's very own website on climate change, In the end, the article really does not say much other than computer models were wrong because they did not take into account this new finding on earth's atmosphere's ability to adapt. It does not say that global warming is a hoax, nor does it chastise what Taylor calls "alarmists."

But here is the interesting part. This is how Taylor ends his article:

"When objective NASA satellite data, reported in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, show a 'huge discrepancy' between alarmist climate models and real-world facts, climate scientists, the media and our elected officials would be wise to take notice. Whether or not they do so will tell us a great deal about how honest the purveyors of global warming alarmism truly are." (Emphasis Mine).

What I find most interesting about the article, as I said, is not the data it points to. What I find most interesting is Taylor's call for global warming alarmists to be honest. I say this is interesting because Taylor is the senior fellow for environmental policy at the Heartland's Institute. I find Taylor's call to honesty interesting because the Heartland Institute, a non-profit organization, received more than $600,000 from Exxon-Mobile. How can Taylor ask honesty of the scientific consensus when the company he works for received significant funding from Exxon-Mobile? A call to honesty, indeed.

There will need to be more research to see how much of a negative effect human-made emissions are making upon the planet, certainly. And I'm sure it will cause climatologists to adjust some of their findings. And, although the vast majority of data I've read and come across suggests that global warming and climate change is at least partially (if not primarily) caused by human activity, I know that carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases damage local ecosystems. Even if global warming really were once and for all debunked, as my friend's facebook status declared, it would not change the fact that humanity is having a negative impact on the earth. You need only look at polluted streams, disappearing ecosystems, rising cancer rates in urban areas, and vast islands of plastic in the ocean to see that.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gender, Sex, and the Brain

I had the opportunity to listen in on a conversation between a young mother and a mother of a college-aged student as they shared experiences, stories, and wisdom. This was at a church function in an urban area. The young mother’s husband was sitting at the table as well, his child in his lap.

The conversation turned as the mother of the college-aged student said, “Just wait until she grows up, then you’ll be up all night worrying.”

Another mother joined in and said, “One time, my son stayed out several hours past his curfew. I was worried sick. And would you believe it? My husband went to bed! I woke him up and asked him how he could sleep when our son could be out there in danger or hurt. My husband replied ‘if there was anything wrong, we would have heard about it. Now I need my rest so I have the energy to kill him when he comes home.’”

Everyone around the table laughed. Then the mother of the college student said, “It’s true, though. My husband and I are the same way. It just goes to show you, mother’s worry about their children and nurture them and love them. The fathers are the disciplinarians. They love their children too, but in a different way.”

I watched the expression of the young father as this conversation continued. The joy in his face, playing with his young daughter, to the nervous agreement he made that yes, as a father, he loved his child in a different way than the mother.

What are the differences between the way a mother and father nurture their children? Well, for one, neuroscientist Lise Eliot shows that mothers and fathers both “respond more to a baby’s cries than the brains of male or female nonparents; the experience of parenthood is stronger than the fact of gender.” According to an article in Discover Magazine on Elliot’s research, published in 2009, there are some differences in brain chemistry between men and women at birth, but the majority of behavior is acquired through experience: “Nature sets the ball rolling, biasing boys and girls toward different interests, but the gaps themselves are largely due to learning and plasticity.”

What are these differences?

Another article, “Do Men and Women Have Different Brains?” (Discovery Fit and Health, 2008) by Molly Edmonds, outlines a few of these differences. For one, men generally have larger brains than women. But, that does not mean that men are smarter, as women have ten times more white matter than men (white matter being dense with neural connections). In this way, one could say that women’s brains compensate for size by having a more complicated setup. Scientists suggest that the reason men have larger brains is simply because they tend to be taller and larger in size, but that women’s brains are set up differently to counteract the size difference.

Another difference is that women tend to use both the right and left hemispheres of the brain while men tend to rely more heavily on the left side of the brain, perhaps relating to the fact that women’s brains are more complex in set-up then men’s brains.

Furthermore, the article cites that men tend to score higher in math than women. The article asks the question if this is a result of nature or nurture—whether men are just inherently better at math and the sciences because of the way their brains work, or if it is acquired through societal expectations and constructs, nurture, and learned behavior. The article almost immediately dismisses this conclusion on the basis of Sandra Witelson’s research. Witelson, a psychologist, examined Albert Einstein’s brain. She said portions were significantly different than that of the average person’s brain. Since there is no evidence of Einstein having a significantly different childhood than the average person, Witelson suggests in her research that brain structure is developed at birth.

One might think that this article proves that there are biological differences in the way men and women think. I do not think that Einstein’s brain can be a proof-case. Certainly, a genius’ brain will look different than that of an average person. But a genius’ brain in and of itself cannot prove that women and men think differently solely because of biology.

Cited before, Eliot’s research, published after the article by Edmonds, believes that there are slight differences in male and female brain structure that accounts for small differences in behavior. These differences are accented by societal constructs. For instance:

“When the toddler son of peaceniks pines for a toy army truck, she argues, he is expressing an inborn tendency toward active, physical play that has been shaped by social influences, not by the effects of a ‘gun gene’ on the Y chromosome. Until about one year of age, boys and girls are equally drawn to dolls; it is only later, when boys become more active, that they strongly prefer balls and cars. Parents also play a role in shaping their children’s interests, often in ways that they may not be fully aware of” (Dickinson).

The article also picks up on the differences between men and women when it comes to math.

“There are certain areas of math involving spatial skills that males definitely perform better at. Even in infancy, boys do a little better at visual mental rotation. But we need to appreciate how much this ability is enhanced through play like sports, building toys, and video games. When it comes to other aspects of math—addition, subtraction—girls actually have an advantage. They do slightly better. So you can’t generalize about all math abilities” (Dickinson).

This is further discussed by Allison Ford in her article “Busted! Five False Myths About Gender Differences.” She writes:

“It’s been established that boys tend to do better on math tests and are more likely than girls to choose math-centric career paths, such as engineering, technology, and computers. The real problem, though, is not an actual biological handicap, but the perception that girls are inferior at math. Many tests, like one professors at the University of Texas and New York University conducted, found that when they tested groups of people who were primed to think about the bias against women, the women scored poorly, but in groups that were primed to think about gender-neutral subjects, the score gap disappeared. This ‘stereotype anxiety’ is a well-known psychological phenomenon in testing, and many researchers now believe it accounts for much of girls’ lower performance on math tests” (Ford).

Ford’s article also looks at other myths, such as women being more emotional, intuitive, and talkative, and men being more competitive, proving that they are just myths.

So what is the answer?

First, it seems that all of the research in these articles is inconclusive. The differences between adult men and women can be just as much acquired as biological. For instance, women might think with both hemispheres more often than men simply because they are taught to do that in an early age, whereas men are taught to think logically at a young age, resulting in more limited development between hemispheres. Also hinted at in some of the articles but not shown extensively is the role hormones play. The levels that hormones (such as testosterone and estrogen) play in all this neurological stuff is still being discovered. Thus, any neurological differences between men and women must be taken with a grain of salt since, at least currently, we do not have the resources to figure out how much truly is biological and how much is developed behavior.

Second, these are just tendencies. Yeah, the majority of men might be better at math (for whatever reason), but some women are geniuses at math. No one should be restricted or expected to fail in any subject simply because they are more likely to because of their sex. As shown, the evidence is not conclusive, and, more likely to fail does not mean will fail. Tendencies are just that: tendencies. Many women can be extraordinarily smart when it comes to math and science, even if the majority of their sex is not. The problem is when these tendencies become rules for the norm, restricting women and men from subjects (or things, emotions, experiences, etc.). Just because a woman might not do as well at math does not mean that a woman should not do math or be discriminated against in hiring or schooling.

Third, humans have a remarkable ability to overcome biology, both for good and for ill. For instance, breast cancer is no longer a death sentence and smallpox has been eradicated from the earth. Also, childhood obesity is on the rise in certain countries, which is primarily due to a harmful and unhealthy diet, interfering in the normal development of a human child. I say this to point out that even if science were to conclusively say that the different ways in which men and women think are solely caused by biology it does not mean it has to stay that way. Some extreme feminists have envisioned a future that would not require women to have children to continue the human population. Perhaps part of this future means that women and men no longer have to be bound to the biological differences in the way they think. Perhaps there will be a future in which women and men truly are able to have an equal footing in all aspects and realms, both physically and mentally. Who knows, it may even happen naturally as humanity continues to evolve.

But, for now, we should stop throwing around these misconceptions about the differences between men and women, at very least for that young father, who was told by the “wise elder” that he should not show compassion, as that’s the mother’s job; for the mother who is expected to be always full of compassion for her children even if she desires to be the disciplinarian; or for both if they want to share equal aspects of parenting in their children’s lives. But most of all, we need to stop this gender stereotyping for the women of yesterday and today who were and are told that they are not smart enough, and therefore not good enough.

A few notes:

1. I am not a scientist. Nor am I analytical in thinking. I perform horribly in math and science. I tend to think much more abstractly. This alone proves that not all men are inherently better than women at math and science. I also say this simply to let readers know that my understanding and knowledge, by my own admission, are not nearly as complete or credible as the sources I quote. There has been a lot of great work done by feminist and non-feminist scientists and psychologists alike, and I direct you to them for more information and further reading. Aside from the articles I quote, I also lift up Lynda Birke’s book, Feminism and the Biological Body, which seeks to bridge the gap between feminist philosophy and biology.

2. A word about the terms “gender” and “sex.” I use the word “sex” to mean one’s biological sex: male, female, or intersexual. I use the word “gender” to mean one’s acquired gender identity and traits, which may or may not be linked to their biology: masculine, feminine, etc. While I try to exclusively use gender and sex as so defined, I cannot say the same for the articles and quotes from other sources. I apologize if this is a source of confusion.

3. I also humbly ask that if you notice any factual errors, please let me know and I will do my best to correct them. Disagreements with points I make, or with the sources I use, can certainly be discussed in a professional manner—in fact—I encourage such discussion. However, comments that are inappropriate, aggressive, or combative will be deleted at my discretion.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Introduction to "Her Voice, The Pine"

On Becoming

My sister, JennaMarie Warfield, inspired me to kind of renew or refresh this blog. She recently devoted her own blog to her journey of becoming. By journey of becoming, I mean an ongoing, continuing journey to becoming who one is. For my sister, well, here are her words from her introductory entry: "I have been on a journey, a journey towards new understanding. To be more specific I have been on a journey towards feminism. I have gotten to the point in my journey where I have decided that I can no longer keep it to myself." I encourage any readers of my blog to check her blog out.

I spoke a little about my own journey, specifically as a man, towards feminism in a previous entry. What that entry did not say was that along my journey it got to the point where I could barely sit through a worship service without the strong desire to walk out or watch an episode of my favorite television show without the urge to turn the television off. The exclusive language, the patriarchal images and themes... all unintentional (I hope), but painful and wounding nonetheless. I can only imagine what it would be like as a woman to sit through a worship service week after week, be barraged with these advertisements and television shows daily.

I decided, inspired by my sister's courage and example, to rededicate this blog. I am tired of posting the sermons that I tried to fit into the box of "right" theology. I am tired of constricting myself and my beliefs to align with the limited (and often very sexist) views of Luther and the other reformers. I instead want this blog to be a place to try out new language and thoughts in a public sphere. I want a place to test my new-found and evolving thea/ologies and understandings of the divine, to dip my toes into the water, or, if necessary, taking a running head-first dive into the pool.

One might say that this is very conceited or self-serving. But, I respond, since when was blogging not conceited or self-serving? Even so, I hope this will be more than just an experiment in vanity, but a place for discussion and discovery.

So what might you see on this blog? Well, my passions in social justice, ecology, and feminism, for starters. Perhaps some book recommendations. Perhaps some good discussion (please feel free to disagree with anything I say through comments or messages). But definitely a safe place to discover and be discovered. Perhaps this little experiment will fail, which is alright, too. Simply put, as my sister said, "I have gotten to the point in my journey where I have decided I can no longer keep it to myself."

On Language

You may notice when reading the entries (especially from here forward, but also throughout) that I often refer to the divine as "she." I do this for many reasons, most of them personal. But I'll try to explain a little of my lexicon of the divine here.

First, it is my personal belief, though shared by many, that the divine is neither male nor female. In fact, the divine could simply be the sum total of all the laws of the universe. The divine could be the force from the Star Wars films. Who really knows? But, regardless of what the divine actually is, I do believe that humanity, the earth, and the entire cosmos are a part of the divine (a kind of panentheism, lit. "all in God"--you can check out a previous entry I wrote about the distinctions between panentheism and pantheism). As such, the divine is neither a man nor a woman. The divine is so much more than that. Yes, you might say, but if God is not a man, then God is also not a woman, so why use "she?"

Well, all language of the divine (or anything else) is inadequate. Language is flawed, broken, human. Language often reflects the values, images, and identities with which it was formed. As we live in a patriarchal world, language unfortunately reflects that patriarchy. Masculine terms, such as "mankind" and "men" are incorrectly assumed to include the feminine. Same with the term "God."

The term God has taken on a male identity. God is solely referred to as male, and reflects traditionally "masculine" traits, such as Warrior, Savior, Lord, Father, Son, Master, King, Almighty... the list goes on. The word God then, at least in use and general understanding, is masculine. Sometimes I will use the word "God" to refer to the divine. But, in my use of the word I realize the patriarchal and masculine assumptions tied in and attached to the word, although it is my hope (perhaps a hope in vain) that the word God and other such words can someday be divorced from these broken attachments.

The word goddess is the female equivalent to god. Goddess has traditionally been assigned to female deities of what are often patronizingly called "primitive" or "pagan" religions. As such, many who do see the divine as more than just a penis in the sky will not go so far as to ever refer to the divine with the term "Goddess" because of the assumptions and connections to these "primitive/pagan" religions. I personally find the word "Goddess" liberating in my own understanding of the divine, so you will probably see me refer to the divine from time to time with the word "Goddess."

The terms I probably will most often use to refer to the divine are "God/ess" and, yeah, you guessed it, "the divine." The term "God/ess" is one I first encountered in Rosemary Radford Reuther's book Sexism and God-talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. She introduces the term "God/ess" by saying

"I use the term God/ess, a written symbol intended to combine both the masculine and feminine forms of the word for the divine while preserving the Judeo-Christian affirmation that divinity is one. The term is unpronounceable and inadequate. It is not intended as language for worship, where one might prefer a more evocative term, such as Holy One or Holy Wisdom. Rather it serves here as an analytic sign to point toward that yet unnameable understanding of the divine that would transcend patriarchal limitations and signal redemptive experience for women as well as men." Reuther, P. 46.

In a sense, the word "God/ess" is a word of hope, a word of becoming. In a way, it raises up the very distinctions made by Jacques Derrida when he wrote of "différance," pointing to a meaning outside of itself, something greater, deferring and differentiating all in one.

The word "divine" is another term I use often. To me (I cannot speak for anyone else) it is detached from the patriarchal connotations of the word "god," and also the (perhaps unfair) "pagan" connotations of the word "goddess." It has been used to describe any divinity of any religion, and as such it is a purposefully broad term, spacious enough for my mind to fail to grasp the full possibilities of the term.

As for pronouns about the divine…. Well, unfortunately, the English language does not have an adequate third person sex-less pronoun. It is her/his, she/him, she/he. The word "one" can sometimes be used, as the word "it," but neither have the same weight of the sexed pronouns. So, while I will use "one" on occasion to refer to the divine, I am usually stuck using a "masculine" or "feminine" pronoun. The question then is, which do I use? I will say this right now. I will more often use the "feminine" pronouns to refer to the divine then the "masculine." I do this for many reasons. For one, God has been exclusively referred to as a He for way too long, and it's about time we change that. When it comes to God, the He is assumed. By using She instead, we work against the assumptions that God is in fact male.

She, in a sense, is a shock of recognition. The shock that God is not just a he, but the recognition that follows that oh yeah, God really is not just a he.

More than that, I, for inexpressible reasons in my journey of becoming, simply have grown to relate to the image of the divine as "She Who Is" (Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is). As I have said, I had gotten to the point that any masculine reference to God was painful to me, not to mention causing anger and sorrow rolled up in one. For a while, I could only refer to the divine as completely devoid of sex, never using a she or he. But over time, I tried out the female pronouns. I began to imagine the divine as Mother of the universe, having held the entire cosmos in her womb. I then began to see and experience the divine as Daughter. Over time, the divine, as she often does, broke out of even those images (the images of mother and daughter, after all, are flawed and broken with patriarchy) until... I could only describe what I felt, saw, experienced, lived, as "She Who Is."

So when I refer to the divine as "she," know that for me it is a term of liberation from a very broken and very small old image of who "He" was.

I also might add that I did not always feel this way. Older entries show me using very exclusive language. I considered editing these older entries but realized that would betray the journey. Part of any journey is looking back to see how far you have come.

On the Title "Her Voice, The Pine"

"Her Voice, The Pine" is a reference to a lyric of song. Well, that's actually only partially true. It is in fact a reference to a misheard lyric of the song "Seven Swans" by Sufjan Stevens (from the album Seven Swans, 2004). The actual lyric goes "I heard a voice in my mind / 'I am Lord, I am Lord, I am Lord.'" The first time I heard the album, driving along Pennsylvania's turnpike one fall day, I heard the line as "I hear a voice in the pine / 'I am Lord' [etc.]" (thanks in part to Sufjan's closing to the “n” in "mind" early... bad enunciation, dude). Even though by the second time I heard the song I figured out the actual lyric, the idea of a voice on the pine saying "I am Lord" struck me deeply. It's a powerful image. I picture myself in a field, the stars out in ribbons overhead, the sky a deep purple, the moon a silvery eye. The wind shakes the pine, the pine rattles a whispery tone: "I am Lord."

In my journey of becoming the image has stayed with me. The divine who seeps up from the firmament of the universe, the divine whose body is the very soil under my feet, the air I breathe, the water in my eyes as the sun's light bursts along the optic nerve. When I hear her voice on the pine, I think of the closing to Rosemary Radford Reuther's book, Sexism and God-Talk: "She, in whom we live and move and have our being -- She comes; She is here" (p 266).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My god's a burning bush

My god’s a burning bush—
     with spry peals of fire
     woven between her nimble branches
a dancing covenant.

My god’s a burning bush,
      a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day,
      a setting sun, a glowing ash,
a quiet whispered sigh.

My god’s a burning bush,
      with hearts entwined like nesting birds
      upon a leafy glowing bough,
a crackling, a smolder.

My god’s a burning bush,
      a poisoned tree, a broken heel,
      a concrete knee upon blood and soil,
a lost wisp, a phantom.

Our god’s a burning bush,
      chains laid to rest, quiet skies broke open,
      freedom, song; spark, catalyst
an open question… ?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2011 Part 1

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2011

This is my first time being at Ecumenical Advocacy Days, and I could not be more excited about the event. I have wanted to go to EAD for a while now, but due to school and the expense it's been hard to make it out. At any rate, for those who do not know what EAD is, here is a description from their website:

"Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community, and its recognized partners and allies, grounded in biblical witness and our shared traditions of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Our goal, through worship, theological reflection and opportunities for learning and witness, is to strengthen our Christian voice and to mobilize for advocacy on a wide variety of U.S. domestic and international policy issues."

At the bottom of this entry is their logo which, if you click on it, will take you to their website where you can find plenty more information. This year's theme is "Development, Security, and Economic Justice: What's Gender God to Do With It?"

The event began yesterday evening with a Welcome and Opening Worship ceremony, led by Monique and John Nunes. Monique Nunes is the administrator at Baltimore Lutheran School in Towson, MD. Rev. John Nunes is the president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief. The worship service was very moving. We were told that there are over seven hundred people who came from over forty states and several nations, a reminder that we are not alone in the seeking of justice and peace. The worship service focused on women from the Bible, lifting up several stories, such as the Wisdom passage in Proverbs 4, the Woman at the Well, and the Hemorrhaging Woman, interspersed with a sung version of the Magnificat. After each story was told, there was a short testimony from a variety of guest speakers. The most moving of these testimonies came after the story of the hemorrhaging woman who touched Jesus' cloak and was made well. A woman from Kenya spoke about HIV in Africa, and about how many of her friends and family have died from the pandemic. She said "If we claim to be the body of Christ, those with HIV are the woman who is hemorrhaging, reaching out to touch the body of Christ. How will we respond to the people reaching out to touch the body of Christ? With justice, love, lack of condemnation, and education."

Unfortunately, I do not know who any of the people who gave the testimonies are. Another moving quote from the service was "I believe the message of Christ is a message of liberation, a message of liberation for all oppression... thus we advance in the construction of peace based in justice." And, again, "What we need is the reminder that we are not alone in the seeking of peace and justice... [Here, We are reminded] of the interconnectedness of injustice."

The service included a very exciting intercultural choir, liturgical dance, and beautiful artwork, in addition to the aforementioned testimonies and scripture passages. It was quite a moving and exciting opening to the weekend.

Today began with a plenary led by Rev. Dr. Daisy L. Machado, Academic Dean and professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and Regina L. Oldak who is a senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center. They spoke on a topic called "Women and Girls Aren't the Problem; They're the Solution!" from a domestic perspective. This kind of set the stage for the weekend, explaining the problems of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and economic and social discrimination, and injustice. Not only did they advocate for awareness of the issues, they called for men and women to work together to find solutions to these systemic problems.

Then came the workshop sessions. There were three workshop sessions throughout the day, with a wide variety to choose from for each workshop. The first workshop I chose was "The Future of Peacemaking and the Church: Just Peace and the IEPC," moderated by Michael Neuroth, Policy Advocate on International Issues from the UCC. The first speaker, Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith, who is the Executive Director of the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis, spoke about the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation sponsored by the World Council of Churches. In addition, she spoke about the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence. She spoke about how violence is the problem that runs deeper than just aiming for peace. She called us to name violence as a sin.

She was followed by Rev. Dr. Michael Reid Trice, the Director for Ecumenical Formation and Inter-Religious Relations of the ELCA. He spoke about how do we, together as church, continue to live in this "current state of desolation," quoting 1 Peter 2, how we are called to reshape our communities as living stones. He spoke of many emerging efforts to raise up peace-building, inviting us to participate in God's reconciling work that is central to being the church of Christ. Something striking he pointed out is how in the US alone, there are over 1000 documented hate groups, a fifty-four percent increase since 2000. I think that is pretty scary. Trice ended by saying "As the door of the decade closes, we have peace on our doorstep and lots of work ahead of us."

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, who is the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, was the respondent. He said that "The ecumenical movement is most essentially a movement for peace," quoting Desmond Tutu, that the "Apartheid is too strong for a divided church," saying, "War is too strong for a divided church." Just as God was in the world reconciling the people, we must be a reconciling people, but "we continue to undercut that Christ is the Prince of Peace by not being a church of peace." He said that not just the traditionally peaceful churches are called into peace and nonviolence, such as the Quakers and Mennonites, but that "Every church is a peace church." He spoke about how there are three anti-violence statements that the WCC all agree on:
1. War is contrary to the will of God. That sometimes, war may be the lesser of two evils, but it is never the work of God, and that no church or government body ever should go to war in the name of God.
2. There are some kinds of violence that a Christian can never partake in, such as torture and nuclear weapons, claiming that not only the use of nuclear weapons, but also the production of nuclear weapons are against humanity.
3. There can be no peace without justice, but also, there can be no justice without peace. The two are inseparable. Thus, we need not just to redefine peace in light of justice, but more importantly, we must redefine justice in light of peace.
Then, Kinnamon concluded by saying that "All of this is inadequate," that without education at a local level and development of advocacy networks, anti-violence will never take hold.

The second session I went to was "The Role of Gender in Climate-Displaced Communities," moderated by Shantha Ready Alonso of NCC. The first speaker was Tonya Rawe of CARE International. She spoke about climate change generally, but then spoke about the affects of climate change on global communities. SHe said, "Those who are least responsible are most affected by climate change," and displayed a map showing how places like the United States and Europe are the main contributors to climate change while places like the Caribbean and South Pacific are not nearly as responsible but reap much of the effects due to rising sea levels and more extreme weather patterns. She said that is estimated that 200 million people will be displaced due to climate-change by 2050, from a breakdown of ecosystem-dependent livelihoods, natural disasters, seasonal migration, glacier melt, and sea level rise. She said that there are four ways to help:
1. Mitigation
2. Reducing emission, most especially from deforestation and forest degradation
3. Adaption (stating that the unfortunate reality is that it is too late simply for mitigation, that now we must consider ways to help those most affected by climate change to adapt)
4. Mainstreaming of climate change into "State of Play" development through international negotiations, our own administration, congress, funding, and implementation/USAid.
She spoke about our current budget tendencies as policies that rob Peter to pay Paul, saying ""You cannot balance the federal budgets of on the backs of poor people. It's just not possible."

She was followed by Jasmine Huggins of Church World Service. Huggins spoke about climate change in Haiti. To begin with, even before climate change is taken into consideration, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is barraged by annual hurricanes, and now faces rising sea levels, saying "Haiti is the most chronically affected in the Western Hemisphere by climate change." The climate change causes frequent droughts, flooding, and a permanent loss of biodiversity. Haiti unfortunately has insufficient technology to cope with many of these problems, not to mention the severe flooding, rising sea level, and agricultural land lost to drought. And this was all before the earthquake. Now, after the earthquake, many of these problems have been exacerbated.

Not only this, but due to gender roles, women often have to absorb much more of the negative effects of climate change in poor areas than men, especially since women in Haiti's culture are the main workers in agriculture, and are often relied upon to bring food for the families and to raise the children, often going without food themselves in order to feed their family.

She mentioned several things that can be done:
1. Adapt to climate change on a community level.
2. Reforestation
3. Alternative fuels
4. Alternative energy
5. Sensitizing the population
6. National and international advocacy
7. All of these discussions must, must include both men and women

She concluded by saying that "The Us government needs to become a World Player in climate change," citing the US' lack of serious mitigation and consideration of climate change.

Unfortunately, I did not catch the final speaker's name nor what organization she was with. But she spoke on the 2010 floods in Pakistan, and the resulting displacement of more than ten million people, seven million of which were homeless and three million who lived in camps. Almost two thousand people were killed, but over twenty million were affect. As of 2011, 166,000 people were still in camps. Eighty-five percent of the people affected were women and children. Furthermore, she said, there is direct evidence linking these floods in Pakistan--the worst in recorded history--to climate change.

She said that cultural norms make it very difficult to provide aid for women in Pakistan, and there is a great increase in gender-based violence and sexual abuse in camp settings. She recommended that we support climate change policies, increase disaster preparedness, support US humanitarian assistance, and ensure that aid supports the most vulnerable, including women and children.

Finally, the last workshop session I went to was called "Gender and Faith: What's Power Got to Do With It?" sponsored by the NCC Justice for Women Working Group. This session spoke about structural and institutional power imbalance and sexism. This session also had a more conversational format, and we looked at biblical texts and a case study of Walmart to get into conversation about sexism, gender, and power. There were four representatives of the Justice for Women Working Group: Rev. Ann Timeyer, Loey Powell, Mary Streufort, and Sandy Sorenson. They began with two Rosemary Radford Reuther quotes: "Language is the prime reflection of the power of the ruling group to define reality in its own terms and demote oppressed groups into invisibility." and "All liberation theology is advocacy scholarship."

Much of what was discussed were things that, as a feminist and someone who reads tons of feminist theology, I already knew. But it was still valuable to attend. I figure I'll just share a few quotes from what was said instead of going into detail.

"There are forces still at play that keeps those gender stereotypes present, and I would say that our churches perpetuate that kind of thinking."
"Jesus named those things that were excluding and mergenalizing people, he named the unwritten rules."

"Story is important for doing advocacy work."
"If our mind stays on the blah blah blah reading of a text [only paying attention to a text on a surface level], than what happens stays invisible. But if we become aware, and name what is going on, we can get a whole new reading."

"When it comes to advocacy, we are caught in between now and not yet."
"We don't want to be mainstreamed into a polluted stream."
"Advocacy is about building relationships and telling stories."
"Listen to what's being said and what's not being said."

Building off of what Sorenson said about not wanting to be mainstreamed into a polluted stream, we discussed that the reality is simply that we are in a muddy stream: the systemic oppression means that as of right now we cannot make any progress without getting into that polluted stream. Another analogy she used was why bother getting into the room when you have to sit in the old furniture. She said, "We're going to have to rearrange the furniture at some point." Yet, where we are right now is in a situation of now and not yet--we need to sometimes make compromises, but keep our eyes on the goal of rearranging the furniture. Because what good is getting ahead if we are still in the same polluted stream?

And that was today. I still have tomorrow, in which there will be an interdenominational worship, the second part of the plenary, and another workshop session. Unfortuantly, I am unable to attend the lobby day on Monday, but the information I have learned is beyond valuable and kindled within me a fire for justice. As St. Ignatius said, I hope to leave here to "set the world on fire." It cannot end here.

Click on the picture to learn more about Ecumenical Advocacy Days.

Friday, February 11, 2011

5th Sunday After Epiphany Sermon: Radical

Living into Radical Inclusivity
5th Sunday After Epiphany
Gospel Text: Matthew 5.13-20

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Austin, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where Packers’ game makes Steelers’ hands unclean.
From forth the fatal linebackers of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd teams play this night;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their game bury their fans’ fights.
The fearful passage of their fans’ great love,
And the continuance of their fans’ great rage,
Which, but their game’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the six hours' traffic of our television’s sage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

My apologies to Bill Shakespeare. But I had to think of something dramatic to open my sermon for such a dramatic occasion as Super Bowl Sunday Forty-Five. Yes, today is the day of television commercials, pop superstar headed half-game shows, parties galore, and the Green Bay Packers versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. And so. The Packers and the Steelers are notorious for their large and sometimes violent fan bases. I lived in Steelers’ country for four years while attending college in northwest PA and I experienced firsthand a lot of the Steelers fan-base. As someone who follows football peripherally, but do not follow it religiously, I find it curious the intensity many have, us Ravens fans included, when it comes to sports. It makes me think of an Italian proverb my Italian friend told me: She said “In Italia, we have a saying. You can change your family, you can change your husband or wife, you can change your friends and your nationality. You can even change your religion. But you can never change your football team.” And although she was talking about European football, what we call soccer, I think the same holds true for many of us when it comes to American football.

What is it that can serve as a division between you and someone else? For me, it’s not sports, it’s politics. I have very passionate political beliefs. And there is nothing wrong with that, with being passionate about anything. Having strong and passionate beliefs and sharing those with others is wonderful! And standing up for what you believe in is necessary, and can be good and valid cause for division. The problem for me comes when I let my passions divide me from someone else, when I let it get in between my relationship with another person: whether a friend or family member or anyone else, when I let my beliefs separate me from others in this community or cause harm, I am doing something wrong. Is who wins the super bowl really enough--is who is in the president’s office for the next four years--are these things really enough for me to stop loving my neighbor as myself?
What can separate you from another person? It might be football, it might be politics or religious beliefs, jealousy anything, really.

The early Christian community was even more divided than football or politics might divide us. Believe it or not, the early Christian community had two main competing denominations. I bet you didn’t know that even before the Reformation there were already denominations within the Christian Church. We had the Christians of Judea and the Gentile Christians. The Judean Christians were very much Jewish, and they followed the law of Moses. Led by the Apostle James, Jesus’ brother, these Christians still worshiped at the Temple, still followed the dietary restrictions, such as not eating pork or shellfish, and they preached circumcision. In other words, many of them believed that since Jesus was Jewish and spent his entire life in Judea, someone who wanted to be Christian had to be Jewish first. To many of the Judean Christians, Christianity was a Jewish denomination, not a separate religion.

The second Christian community was led by the Apostle Paul. Paul preached that you did not have to be Jewish before you were a Christian, that indeed, Jesus’ message was meant for everyone. Anyone could be Christian so long as they were baptized into Christ Jesus.

The two communities were often at tension. And it was in this context that the Gospel of Matthew was written. So Matthew wrote his Gospel and selected the stories about Jesus that would most likely respond to the division between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. So, Matthew picked stories about Jesus that focused on unity and getting over divisions.

This particular gospel story is no exception. Jesus is speaking to a crowd right after the beatitudes and he stresses the importance of the law and the prophets. Following the law and the prophets gives one an insight into this community of wholeness. Saying that the law and the prophets are irrelevant is the opposite of what Jesus is about. So what is Jesus saying here?

What Jesus is saying here is that those who think Jesus came and put an end to the law are wrong. Also, those who think that the law is salvation are wrong. What Jesus is saying is that his coming brings about a new understanding of the law, his coming fulfills the promises the law brings, the promises God made to Abraham and Sarah, to Moses and the ancient Israelites thousands of years before, the promise that God loves us and God will bring about peace and healing for our broken world.

And so Jesus invites his listeners into this community and tells them that this community is not just for the people listening to him on that mount, it’s not just for those who follow the law, it’s not just for those who do not follow the law but still follow Jesus, no, what Jesus is saying is that God’s fulfillment of the law is for everyone. No exceptions. And so, we are to be like lights that cannot be put out, like cities on a hill that can be seen by all, like salt, a catalyst to get things cooking. Yes, Jesus said you are a catalyst to get things cooking, you are what can get this radical inclusivity moving, this welcoming community on the road.

Did Jesus say that his coming was going to put an end to the law and the prophets? No! He says by his coming he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. By his coming he brings about the fulfillment of the community, the unity of the brokenness. By his fulfillment of the law and the prophets, Jesus fulfills the law which preaches unity and wholeness. He fulfills the prophets that beg for the poor the be fed and the outcast to be welcomed. By Jesus’ coming, Jesus does not abolish the law and the prophets, no, but he ushers in a new understanding of the law and the prophets.

So, back to the Gospel writer Matthew’s community torn apart—those who believe they must follow the law and those who do not yet still call themselves Christian. Who is right here? The Gospel comes alive to them through these here Jesus’ words and shows them, shows us, what it means to be a community. A community where the law and the prophets are fulfilled in the person of Jesus. So whether you were a Jewish Christian or a Gentile Christian, you were welcome to be a part of the full community of God. Because, you know what? No one had it right. In fact, anyone who claims full understanding of the law, anyone who excludes another from this table, from this fellowship, from this gospel of the incarnate God, has misunderstood what Jesus was all about. That goes for people on both sides—the Judean Christians and the Gentile Christians.

And what does this mean for us, on the day of the Super Bowl, two thousand years later? It means, well, for one, if you are a Ravens fan, you are welcome here. If you are a Packers fan, you are welcome here. If you are a Steelers fan, yes, even a Steelers fan, you are welcome here. It also means that if you are Lutheran, you are welcome here. It means that if you are Catholic you are welcome here. If you are Presbyterian, a Messianic Jew, a nondenominational charismatic Christian, a Baptist, a Methodist, a seeker, a Mennonite, an Episcopal, Orthodox, you are welcome here! See where I’m going with this? It means that whether you are liberal or conservative, whether you are male or female, whether you are gay or straight or anything in between, white or black or red or yellow, sad or happy, dying or full of life, sick or in full health, young or old you are welcome here. You are a part of this one community, of this unity of Christ that brings unity out of discord, harmony out of dissidence. Sinners all, me and you: We. Are. Welcome. Here.

So, brothers and sisters. Is that where it ends? No! Jesus says you are the light of the world. You are a city built on a hill that cannot be hid. You are the salt of the earth! We let our light shine before others by living into this radical inclusivity, this radical unity, this radical fulfillment that Christ brings. We shine our light brightest by opening our arms and embracing the stranger. The youth today, by their Soup-er Bowl activities, are shining their lights in this world of darkness. We can follow their example, because we let our light shine by forgiving, healing, loving, caring, and welcoming. So, my brothers and sisters. You have been given a light in baptism and the word of God. Together, let us go into the world and let it shine. Amen.