Thursday, February 28, 2008

Waste Not

I submitted the following comment to the EPA regarding EPA-HQ-SFUND-2007-0469 They are accepting public comments through March 27, 2008

Why is it so hard to use just plain common sense when dealing with food production issues? Large producers of manure should be required to not just report their waste, but attempt to reduce it, or, better yet, utilize it's powerful positive properties.
Manure production businesses such as cattle and chicken producers have in their possession, some of the best fertilizer available on the planet. Instead of redistributing it to the growers that need it, they are piling it up and allowing it to pollute the water and air of the areas nearby.
Providing incentives to give this resource back to farmers as free fertilizer would help our country reduce its dependence on foreign oil, provide natural alternatives to soil-killing chemical fertilizers, help a wide range of farmers cut costs, thereby cut consumer costs, by reducing the amount of money spent on fertilizers.
Rather than give CAFOs a free pass onb accountability, offer incentives for them to do the right thing. Report, recycle and reuse responsibly the nitrogen-rich natural fertilizer that they are instead using to pollute.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Finding Peace When the Boat is Rocking

For extra credit in my "History of African-American Religion" class, I visited a church this morning that has mostly black congregants and a black minister. The following is the short paper that I wrote about my experience. I hope it touches you in a loving, peaceful way:

Hymn #431, “Let There Be Peace on Earth”, was the closing hymn at Bethel United Methodist Church on February 24, 2008, the day that I visited. I know every word of that hymn by heart. It was one that I sang growing up in the Catholic Church, and again, later as a teenager we sang it at my church of choice at the time, the United Methodist Church of Lake Orion. Even now, occasionally, out of the blue, that song bubbles up out of my heart and over my tongue. I was really surprised when I was singing it and I looked around, that almost everyone was reading and singing it out of the hymnal-even the choir members read it as they walked down the aisle. It was being sung by the book. I am used to singing that song from the heart, with more joy and celebration in sound. That is one of my all time favorite songs, up there with other church songs from my youth such as “Amazing Grace”, “Ave Maria” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” That last one was part of the service as well, but the congregation didn’t sing it. It was sung by a quartet which sounded beautiful, but it was hard for me not to sing along. It was sung slow and reverently. I had a more upbeat version in my head.
I chose to visit Bethel because I wanted to compare my experience in an all white town in an all white United Methodist congregation with an African-American United Methodist service. I was surprised at how much of the ritual aspect I had forgotten. (It has been about 20 years since I went to UMCLO.) I was also surprised at how much of the music was done by the choir, even though much of it was music I’d experienced as congregational hymns in other churches. In the United Methodist church of my teenage years, the choir (and sometimes the youth choir, of which I was a part) tended to perform songs that were more what I would consider “high church music”, not songs found in many hymnals across the country.
I focus so much on music in this writing because, to me, music is always in me and it is one of the ways that I connect to the divine. Music, for me IS prayer. (I believe that everything we do and say is a prayer, but I feel it consistently through music.) I often find myself humming when I am not initially aware of it. To me, God is love and love is peace and peace is music (often).
The sermon was on Peace. What peace means and how to find it. Rev. Dr. Tara Sutton’s sermon was very powerful and eloquent in a relaxed way. She spoke of finding peace through prayer and through helping others find some sort of peace in their lives. She spoke about gratitude and surrender (my word, not hers). She spoke about the peacemakers of the civil rights movement. She spoke about Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Her sermon included several bible passages about peace, and went into detail about the morning’s scripture reading, Luke 8:22-25. She spoke about praying as we make decisions throughout our day and throughout our lives. She spoke about praying for peace when we are troubled. She spoke about peace within and peace in the absence of war.
The service was as low-key as I remember the services at my former church being. Maybe low-key isn’t the right term. I guess maybe I mean calm. Peaceful. Comforting.
One major difference, other than the music, that I found was that I don’t remember having an altar call at our United Methodist Church in Lake Orion during Sunday services. There was an altar call at Bethel. In the past, I only remember that happening in other churches that I visited throughout my childhood, like the Pentecostal Church my oldest brother attended, and at the Billy Graham service I went to once. In the United Methodist context, I only remember that happening during a regional youth rally/conference that I went to and at a retreat called “Mountain Top” that I attended 3 or 4 years in a row where we went down to Appalachia and did service work.
Like the United Methodist church of my youth (and my current Unitarian Universalist Church), doing good works was an integral part of the message at Bethel. In the welcome packet that they gave me, there was a quote from John Wesley that I thought was beautiful and powerful and simple, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, at all the times you can, for all the people you can, as long as you can.”
To me, that is what being human is all about. To me, that is what being a spiritual being is all about. To me, following that tenet is what living peace within and without is all about.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Someone Takes What I Consider a Wrong Turn on the Path to Humanity

I had a really disturbing conversation today with another white student in my English class. We were talking about what we had left to take in order to graduate. I was telling him that I really don't have much left in specific, but that I get to take whatever I want and that this semester I am taking "History of African-American Religion." He got a weird look on his face and his immediate verbal response was, "I would never take a class like that." I responded that it is a really good class and I am learning a lot. He repeated that he would never take a class like that. I asked him why and he said, "because I am a Christian." I responded that almost all of what we have been talking about is Christianity, Methodists, Baptists, etc. He said that he is pentecostal and repeated again that he would never take that kind of a class. I told him that the professor is a Baptist minister. He said that Baptist ministers bore him.

I think that it is pretty obvious that what he was saying really was that either black people can't be real Christians, or that black religion and history are irrelevant, or, I suspect from his body language, that he believes like white folks in the 18th century did in that people of African heritage have no souls. (The scary thing is, that I know that there are people who believe that still. The KKK justifies their racism, calling it Christianity.)

I just can't get that conversation out of my mind. I find myself second guessing what he was saying, and any way you slice it, it comes up racist. If not racist, than at least chosen ignorance based upon religious extremism. That is as dangerous as racism, because chosen ignorance based upon religious extremism leaves one open to being brain-washed into racism, mysogyny, anti-semitism, homophobia, terrorist mentality and any other avenues for hatred.

While talking to him, I knew that because of his chosen ignorance, that no matter what I said, I would not be able to get him to open his mind at all. The only thing I could think of to say to him was "Everyone has got to believe in something." I know that isn't a snappy comeback, but it is an honest statement. It is the only honest statement I could make in response without telling him that he is an idiot for being so close-minded about the world.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Clearing a Path to the Neighbors'

How 'bout them snowflakes, huh?

Yesterday, I got home from PT and started up the snowblower (started around 4 ish). I got about one and a half feet before the snow stopped coming out of the shoot on top, and began to spit out the bottom front. This kept happening over and over again. Did you know that you can use your snowblower as a snowtube maker? These tubes can be broken down into fairly good-sized snowballs. A little too big to throw easily though. So, anyway, after making what felt like 100 snowtubes of various lengths (I think the longest one came out whole at about 16 inches), I finally had the half of the driveway closest to the street blown. I then made the mistake of allowing my sore knees to turn me around to look at my handiwork. Evidently, there were little tiny snow gremlins behind me with little tiny snowblowers of their own, blowing snow back onto the driveway where I had just cleared it. The driveway needed to be cleared again. I hadn't even gotten around to moving the cars to clear the other half of the driveway yet. I decided to give up for the moment. I went inside and Deb had dinner waiting for me.

I drove the truck to work last night because of the storm. I left about 1/2 hour early and arrived 5 minutes late (I'm usually about 10-20 minutes early). If I had driven my car, I probably would have gotten there about 3-4 hours late, since it handles so poorly in the snow.
When I got home this morning, a neighbor about 1/2 block away was stuck in her driveway. I stopped and told her I was going to run home and use the bathroom and I'd be back to help her. I got home, pottied, started the snowblower and started plowing down the sidewalk buried in over a foot of snow. I got about halfway to her when another neighbor finished digging her out and pushed her into the street. So, I turned the snowblower around and cleared the other half of the sidewalk to home. I had cleared our sidewalk and about one and a half neighbor sidewalks by that time.

In my round about loquacious way, I really do have a point to this story... in the 6 or so minutes that it took me to get back to our driveway, our neighbor, Dave, was grinning from ear to ear and clearing our driveway for us. Again. We have only needed to clear our driveway a couple of times this winter, because Dave keeps beating us to it:). And his snowblower doesn't clog up and get confused into thinking it is really a snowtube maker. Who says that chivalry is dead? Who says that neighborliness doesn't exist (especially in Flint)? When I thanked Dave, he said that he was glad to do it and he appreciates that Deb helps him with the lawn in the summer. Okay, he has an awesome snowblower, and we have an awesome lawn tractor. And it's fun to drive. And Deb loves to help the neighbors when she knows they are busy with their own lives. And, did I say this already?, he has an awesome snowblower.

Deb and Dave aren't the only ones who help each other out in this community. There is another guy with an awesome snowblower several doors down. The day that Deb and I were trying to get out of the driveway a few years ago to go buy our snowtube maker (really, it only acts like that when the snow is wet). I say trying because we were stuck. Really stuck. Really really really stuck. Like, trouble opening the door and getting out stuck. This neighbor down the block was using his awsome snowblower to clean his driveway and his two neighbors' driveways when he looked up and saw us (like I said, he's several houses away). He snowblowed the entire sidewalk between us, and blew out enough for us to get out of the driveway. A second guy had helped to push us out. When we got home from buying our brand-new snowblower, our driveway was cleared already. We had to wait for the next snow to try it out. I think it was the next day or so. By the way, I think the guy who rescued Deb and I is the same one who rescured that other woman this morning. I think I recognized the snowblower.

My round about point is that it's kind of fun to help each other out. I don't know these guys by name, or really even by sight, but I know them by the smiles and willingness to jump in and help each other. Deb is just naturally a good neighbor. She knows the dogs in the area and when they get out & need an understanding human to help them get back into their yards, she is the one they go to. She helps to mow the lawns of the busy or absent people in a one block radius. She offers a helping hand to anyone who seems to need one. She offers neighbors fresh grown tomatoes in the summer when she sees them outside. I admire that in her.

All this snow makes it feel like a real Michigan winter. What I remember about this time of year on the farm is that mom always had a warm tea kettle on the stove for the strangers that inevitibly ended up in our ditch during weather like this. I remember my brothers bundling up and pushing them out of the ditch and back into a spot from where they could drive when they were done with their tea or cocoa. I may be romanticizing this memory, or stretching one experience into a regular thing. I'm not sure. (Hey, if any of you older Louberts are reading this, does any of this ring a bell?)

Enjoy the snow. Enjoy your neighbors. Enjoy being a good neighbor. Random acts of kindness and all that stuff.

Question of the day: What warm fuzzy winter memories make you smile?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Electing Our Path to the Future

With tomorrow being "Super Tuesday", I can't wait to see who will sweep the nation off it's feet. I'm still kind of pissed about the Michigan non-primary though. Is anyone else upset that the democratic party has made all these claims of making every vote count, yet all of Michigan's democratic voters have been silenced in the primary process? I can only hope that in the final election, we don't have issues with computer ballots being misread or lost or hanging chads or anything else.
This year's presidential election race has been a very exciting one. I hate to say it, but on both sides of the aisle, I've been fascinated with the dynamics that have been going on. I have been excited about this lineup of democratic candidates, especially, considering that last time around, we had a pretty lousy selection to choose from. This year, we've seen several dynamic candidates step forward. Maybe, in a way, I'm glad that I didn't need to make a choice in this primary election, since I see potential in both front runners. I am disappointed that Edwards dropped out, I saw potential in him as well. Being fickle, perhaps I'm better off waiting to see who the final nominees will be so my choices are more limited.
There are several issues that I hope won't get forgotten in the shuffle. Universal health care, for example. (By the way, there is a series of 3 talks going on about that at the Flint UU church. The second one is tonight (Monday February 4). There is one more next week. I think the information may be on their website, I'm not sure.) Some of the other issues that I feel need to be addressed in a serious and perhaps even radical way are: school funding (ditch "no child left behind"), mental health accessibillity for everyone (especially for teens), creating local jobs in Michigan and all around the country, limiting the use of genetically-modified crops and creating safe buffer zones for growers who choose not to use gm crops (corn crops, for example, often get contaminated by gm crops being grown nearby), eliminating NAFTA and other trade agreements that exploit poor workers in other countries while moving jobs out of the United States, repairing the child protective services industry, eliminating CODEX, eliminating the electoral college so that every vote really does count, and on and on and on.
So, as we gear up for the fall elections, think about what issues you want to see addressed. Everyone is talking about the war, the economy and "change". What exactly does that mean, and what kinds of changes are they talking about? What, in your opinion, needs to change?