Sunday, January 15, 2012
Even though I was on the inside looking out the window at the frozen and snow-dusted Earth my breath still made its presence known before disappearing into the air. The dark lines of the plowed soil in the garden formed patterns on the ground, providing visual relief from the otherwise white land. The sun kept threatening to break through the hazy layer of clouds which were holding it back.
My body was in the summer kitchen of our host family’s house (i.e. unheated kitchen in the winter), cooking banana pancakes made with milk from a neighbor’s cow and a touch of cinnamon. But my mind was back in Colorado. Back with friends. With our old small group. With my family in Buena Vista. With Revision International and the communities it serves. With our faith community Denver Community Church.
I looked down into the cast iron pan to see the edges of the pancake starting to harden and the bubbles appearing briefly in the middle of the batter before popping. My hand extended, already holding the metal spatula, and seemingly on its own deftly flipped the pancake over to expose the golden brown goodness waiting on the other side.
In the midst of the beginning of a new year; exactly a year since our evacuation from Niger; after the holidays we just missed at our homes; about to move into a new house here in our village in Moldova. So many emotions are stirring in my mind and heart. Over the past few months it has begun to dawn on me just how much Ash and I have to be thankful for back in Colorado. And in those moments, perhaps aided by the aroma of cinnamon banana pancakes and the anticipation of dowsing them in homemade raspberry syrup before slowly enjoying each bite between sips of coffee, I was reminded once again how much we have to be thankful for in general.
The birds were flying in and out of the bare branches of the trees out back. The grape vines lay dormant, hanging on the wires strung between the concrete posts and waiting with what I imagined to be something akin to the same anticipation I felt toward breakfast toward the coming spring and the chance to bloom and bring forth life once more. The clucks and crows of the chickens reached my ears from their coup. The light shifted with the clouds, changing ever-so-slightly my perspective on the frost-bitten village and surrounding hills.
I am surrounded by life. I am surrounded by miracles every second. Indeed the breath I see dissipating into the air is itself the culmination of a million miracles within my body. The biggest miracle of all; God having created all of it and deeming it all good. Him who is endlessly knowable having created something (really trillions of things) so complex and so interconnected that we will never fully grasp how they exist.
The wave of gratitude helped lessen how much I was missing home and ground me again in the knowledge that wherever we are, we can be thankful.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
How can we fully express our human virtue in the decisions we make?
Ask not, What shall I do? Ask, What kind of person do I want to be? Then act as that person would act. You are what you do. To be the sort of person who helps move the world toward shared, sustainable flourishing will require a strong set of virtues:
A sense of wonder, to perceive and value the extraordinary beauty and mystery of the thriving world.
Compassion, to feel the suffering of both human and nonhuman animals caused by climate change and ecological collapse.
Imagination, to envision new and sustainable ways to provide for human needs without plundering the planet.
Independence of mind, to distinguish true from false, to distinguish real needs from created markets, to understand how to make good moral decision under conditions of uncertainty.
Integrity, to do what one thinks is right, even if it means making decisions that are radically different from the decisions one’s friends and neighbors make, decisions contrary to what is well advertised or easy.
Justice, to honor the needs of other people and other species as highly as one’s own, and to respect in others the rights one claims for oneself.
Courage, to do what needs to be done even if the lonely odds are against you.
So now. Choose one virtue. Make a decision (what to purchase, how to travel, where to donate time) that embodies that virtue. Now choose another virtue. Make a decision that embodies both of them. Continue. Virtues are habits of the mind and heart. Habits are developed by practice, over time.
- Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril. Edited by Moore & Nelson. Trinity University Press. 2010.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
I know now I had no idea how much it meant back then; how much I had nor how unique it was. Every year ten or fifteen families as well as a few stragglers would show up a few days before Christmas, each carrying some sort of dish to share. Main dishes, salads, breads, desserts, dressings, drinks, chips, salsas, the list goes on and on. Mum would have made her famous homemade lasagna, both a meat and a vegetarian, their rich aromas barely contained by the aluminum foil before billowing forth to fill the house with their intoxicating goodness. Two families would always come earlier than the rest. These were our closest friends. We would do a gift exchange before the others arrived and I relished in the feeling of importance. Not that they came over just for me, but that for bit of time, I had a friend or two all to myself, before other kids came and stole them from me.
When the others arrived, the kids would immediately tear away from their parental units to our unfinished but spacious attic to play with any number of toys. Cardboard bricks, one pair of rollerblades accompanied by two battered hockey sticks and a puck, plastic golf clubs, and of course, the annual piñata that my brother, myself, and mum had painstakingly made out of paper maché. We would play our hearts out while the parents did whatever boring things parents did. Finally the call to eat would ring up the ladder from the kitchen and we would push and shove to be first in line to fill our plates.
After shoveling down the food without a thought, we’d return back upstairs until the second call came. A little less hurriedly we’d make our way downstairs to the living room and sit with each of our families as my mum would hand out the lyrics packets. She would take her place behind a guitar and the singing would begin. Timidly at first, as we all fell into rhythm, as we all remembered that we could trust each other and actually let our voices be heard. Soon the carols filled the room and threatened to burst through the windows into the frigid night air. We would stop only to vie and vote for the next song, then once again our voices and hearts would unite into one song. O Holy Night. What Child is This. In the Bleak Midwinter. Deck the Halls. Little Drummer Boy. And on and on.
The agenda for the night never changed. But we grew. The two families coming early; the gift exchange followed by the eager anticipation of others arriving; the kids grouping together, each year trying to act more mature but not join the boring adults. Finally the call to food; each year my curiosity and appreciation growing as I tried to find out who had brought which dish and whether they had made it by hand or bought it from the store. Then the climax of the night. The singing was always the part that I didn’t look forward to, but that I enjoyed the most when I was in it. Mum always played the guitar while the rest of us simply gave our vocal chords.
This tradition went on. By the time it ended the year of my parents separation, it was the 16th annual sing and I had begun to look forward to the singing part just as much as the food (if not more, but shh, don’t tell anyone). There is something powerful in singing together. In uniting our voices into one song. Even this Christmas Eve, Ash and I attended a church service in the historic Black Church in the center of Brașov, Romania. The service was conducted in German, so we understood nothing of what was said or sung. But then, the choir sang Silent Night, and the congregation joined in. A thousand voices became one powerful, pounding chorus. The lights were turned off and the only the candles sitting precariously on the Christmas trees at the front of the church and on the alter shone. Though we couldn’t join in the German version, we closed our eyes and let our souls join the thousand others singing in the darkness.
I’m sure there were a lot of different people in that church that night, as I know there were different people who came to our home for so many years. Each with their different view points. Their different political orientations, passions, hopes, dreams and sorrows. But it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered as the height of the chorus peaked. We were together. All of us. Together in the song.
How beautiful would it be if the whole world joined together in a song?annuadr of hockey sticks and a pNourse, the annual pins, one pair of rollerblades accompanied by a pair of hockey sticks and a p
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
This blog entry was written for FeelGoodNow. If you'd like to read that version, click here. Sorry for posting it late, but the message still applies :)
What to serve? What to make the centerpiece of the table for family and friends this Christmas? Admittedly I have to beg the forgiveness of vegetarians and vegans as I’m going to focus on meat for now. Thanksgiving was a no-brainer for most, roasting a turkey was the obvious answer. Yet I know for me growing up I never had a traditional Christmas meal. We had ham a few years, turkey some others, and I even remember throwing some steaks on the grill in the snow one year. But since I’ve started learning more about where our food comes from and how it’s processed, I’ve been forced to reconsider the question of what kind of meat, if any, to serve.
Though there has been a lot more awareness raised in recent years as to the sorry state of our food industry and in particular our meat industry by well-known authors and filmmakers like Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, etc), Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Robert Kenner (Food Inc.) and Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me), much of the relevance to each of our personal lives has unfortunately remained elusive every time we walk into the grocery store. The food we eat literally shapes who we are. And because of its centrality to our culture today, meat has a special potency to either enrich our health, or destroy it. Because overconsumption of meat leads to heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and other illnesses, we must first choose to consume less meat. Then, once we’ve reached moderation, choose the meats which in and of themselves offer the highest of qualities with the smallest of costs to our personal health, the public health, and the environment which sustains us.
So we return to Christmas dinner. Pork? Turkey? Beef? Chicken? Though an in-depth analysis of each of these merits its own thesis, I’ll do my best to highlight the basics here:
· Pork. Unfortunately, only four massive companies produce over half the pork consumed in the United States through Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), where pigs (not uncommon numbers for the industry are 25,000 swine) are so crammed together and so stressed that the managers of the firms have to chop off their tails to keep them from biting them off one another in their panic. But don’t fear, there are local producers which allow pigs to roam in their natural state and act as only pigs can before providing them as humane a death as possible.
· Turkey and chickens. Not the same, but both awkward birds that can’t fly. Some 99% of all poultry grown in the States is genetically modified to grow faster (life spans for meat chickens is down to only 48 days). They live short, brutish lives crammed together by the thousands – up to 100,000 – under one roof for meat birds, called broilers, or confined to one-foot square cages for egg laying hens, called layers. There are local producers of chickens and turkeys, though they are certainly only found through famers markets or direct farm-to-consumer programs.
· Beef. The vast majority of cows in this country (dairy and beef) are grown in CAFOs. There, they are fed mainly grain diets, which increases the amount of e coli viruses in their gut and increases the amount of fat in their muscles. If you’re planning a beef BBQ for the holidays, search for grass-fed and finished beef. This way you’ll know that at least the cows ate a diet for which their bodies were designed. This meat will also be more lean and healthy for you!
In general, purchasing USDA Certified Organic meat is a step up from regular meat. This certification, while not necessarily changing the living conditions of CAFOs, prevents the harmful overuse of antibiotics as well as avoids the synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the food chain to result in less toxic meat, happier animals, and a healthier environment. It is always best to buy meat directly from a local producer. This increases the accountability between producer and consumer, usually means the farmers don’t use CAFOs to produce their meat, and supports the local economy.
So, if you’re looking for meat to serve this holiday, give it a second glance: a second thought. If we rethink how we buy, tending towards healthier, leaner, more consciously grown meat (and less meat in general!), the producers will produce meat which is grown in accordance with nature, not against it. For Denver residents, I strongly suggest a visit to In Season Local Market for all your holiday food needs. They source all their food from within 250 miles of the store and have done all the research for you. I’ve fact-checked their meats and the farms they source from are top-notch. You’ll fiind them up on 32nd and Wyandot in the Highlands. For those outside the Denver-metro area, check out eatwild.com to find the nearest source of natural meat.
Happy holidays and all the best.