Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Great e.e. cummings quote

From Meg's facebook page:

"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting."
~e.e. cummings

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Iraq Body Count

According to the Iraq Body Count (http://www.iraqbodycount.org/), as of today, somewhere between 57000 and 63000 Iraqi civilians have died (See logo at the bottom of this blog). This does not count combatants, but it includes civilians affected directly by the fighting (bombs, etc.) as well as those killed because of the increase in rampant violence and lawlessness.

Read my sister's blog for links to humanitarian groups that are helping Iraqi civilians.

Who are you?

Today in church the message was about vocation, and the preacher, Brent MacDougal (Coordinator for the Alabama CBF), said a number of things I thought were really good. First, he said that vocation is about being and doing -- but that our primary focus should be on being the person God created us to be. The "doing" will come out of that. He said this in the context of what we should teach our children -- tell them that God didn't make any mistakes when he created them, that their gifts and their personality and everything that makes them unique were created for a specific reason, and that the most important thing they can do is to fully become the special person they are.

Second, and here he was quoting Rick Warren, your purpose, your vocation, is not about you. It's about playing a part in God's larger plan. He used the image of Christ's baptism. When he came up out of the water, the voice of God "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased". He didn't say "Listen up, people, this is my son, and in the next three years he's going to do x, y, and z. I've given him the to-do list, and you need to pay close attention to everything he says, because your soul hangs in the balance." It was about who Christ was, and about God being satisfied and pleased with him simply for being that person. But it also wasn't about CHRIST, the man, the person, even the deity. It was about the role he played in God's plan to bring freedom and love and comfort and salvation to the world.

There was a woman on NPR this morning who suffered from anorexia and has written a book, "Gaining", about her process of healing. She said, in order to recover, she had to "swallow fear" and allow exuberance and the joy of living take over. Her fear was caused by the imagined external voices she felt were judging her for not being thin enough.

The message from both is to enjoy and live fully who you are, without fear that there might be something deficient or lacking. It is in being fully ourselves that we have the strongest impact on the world.

And this brings me to the final piece. The text this morning came from Luke, which quoted Isaiah, which quoted Leviticus. It was the part where Jesus reads aloud the scriptures about the year of Jubilee. In doing so, he was declaring himself to be the long-awaited Messiah.

But the message of the "Year of Jubilee" or the "Year of God's Favor" has always stuck with me. Here's the text from Luke 14:

'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

The Jubilee year, or year of the Lord's favor, was supposed to be the year following seven "sabbaths" of years, so seven times seven. In the fiftieth year, debt was to be forgiven and slaves were to be set free (only Israelite slaves, not ones bought and sold from neighboring countries. This was completely fine in the context of Leviticus. Yet another argument for those of us who think of the Bible as a document to be read and understood in its historical context, but I digress.) The Catholic church declares "Jubilee years" every 50 years or so, but they don't forgive debt or release prisoners. (You get extra indulgences, though!!) [Wouldn't it be radical if the whole world got together and just forgave debt? -- You know, on July 10, 2007, perhaps (according to the Hebrew calendar, 2007-08 is the next year of Remittance, although 2000 was the last Jubilee year according to the Catholic church, making their next one 2050). Personal debt, national debt, everything. Impractical, yes. Hugely unrealistic, yes. But can you imagine how liberating. Set my people free, indeed.]

But the words in Luke give me pause for a different reason: what am I doing to bring good news to the poor, release the captives, give sight to the blind, and free the oppressed?

If I am perfectly honest, nothing. I've been too wrapped up in the small things of life. And I don't know what I could do, that would make a difference. Sending the small amount of money I can afford to charities doesn't feel like it makes a big impact, and I've been too self-absorbed and "busy" (I hate that word) to go out to those who are in need and DO something.

In another sense, though, we are the poor, we are the oppressed, we are the blind, and we are the captives -- to our own beliefs and self-limiting behaviours, if nothing else. And the message is to us: know that Christ came to bring us comfort, to open our eyes to the beauty (and the need) around us, and to set us free from all of the chains that bind us and hold us down.

Now if there were just a way to work in that whole debt-forgiveness thing...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Death and taxes ... or really just taxes

Conscientia has written an interesting article about why taxes might be a good thing. Today's post by The Cute One is in a similar vein. As we gather our W2s and other random tax documents, it seems like a good time to think about the role they play in society.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

I know, I keep sending everyone to other blogs, but click on the link above for a beautiful thought-for-the-day today, Ash Wednesday, 2007.

Dust we are, and to dust we shall return.

Blessings and peace...

An Excellent Suggestion

The Patient One (aka The Engineer, The Triathlete), who is married to The Cute One, wrote a great post in 2005 about Peak Oil. It emphasizes that we should focus our collective energy on finding renewable sources or power. I highly recommend reading it.

This morning on NPR, they announced that IKEA will be charging 5 cents for plastic bags. Their reusable cloth bags will only cost 59 cents. I have no idea how most Americans will react, but I think it's great. It will reduce the number of plastic bags they use. I'm accustomed to this system, because it's what they do in Germany in every single grocery store. IKEA will be donating the proceeds from sales of the 5 cent bags to a conservation group.

It's a small thing, but it's not hard to keep cloth bags in your car for grocery shopping. And it will seriously reduce the amount of waste we produce. And the cloth bags can carry heavier stuff, without worrying that they will break!

By the way, The Patient One hasn't updated his blog since sometime in 2006, because he's been focused on their travel blog. But we should encourage him at least to report any musings about oil and energy, etc., he might have in future....

Sunday, February 18, 2007

At church today

my pastor used one of my favorite quotes. It's usually incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela, but is actually by Marianne Williamson. Here it is:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

So, get out there, remember who you are, and let your light shine!

Happy Chinese New Year!

It's the Year of the Pig. So, go out! Celebrate! Enjoy a moon pie and some sticky rice for good luck.

Blessings and Peace....

Saturday, February 17, 2007

What I Think of Things: We're #1?

What I Think of Things: We're #1?

Lots of good and sad statistics, things we should be paying attention to. Thanks to The Cute One for pulling it all together!!! Now I see why you get paid the big bucks....


I include this one only because it was directed by Frodo ...

Thanks to the "Source of Knowledge, Trivial and More Trivial" (SOK - aka the Computer Genius) for sharing....

Addendum: and yes, the Apples in Stereo are awesome.

More british pop...

Thanks to the Lawyer, who first showed me these videos. This one is fun!

The Pipettes

Gotta love this brit girl band. The 70s ambience, bad teeth and fab outfits make this video... What do you do, when the music stops?

Quotes, musings, and tunes

The German exchange student who's been here since August is flying back to Germany tomorrow, so my "wow-I-can-actually-just-speak-German-without-trying-to-figure-out-which-words-she-probably-already-knows" buddy will be gone. **sigh** For her last day in town, we went out to eat at Surin West and then for coffee to Starbucks, and then shopping in a novelty place in Southside, where I found the following on a postcard:

"Naturally, the common people don't want war, but after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag people along ... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country." --- Reich-Marschall Hermann Goering, at the Nuremberg Trials

It is so close to what was said and done in the lead-up to the Iraq war, I thought it couldn't possibly be real. But no, Snopes affirms that Goering indeed uttered these words in a private conversation with Gustave Gilbert on April 18, 1946. And it is sadly utterly true. We were brought to the bidding of our leaders, despite the fact that they were clearly not being truthful: reasons for attacking Iraq changed from week to week, posturing and empty, militaristic rhetoric were the rule of the day, rather than straight-forward honesty. And let's not kid ourselves, they're still lying to cover their butts as well as possible. There were countless voices who very accurately noted that 1) Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with Al Qaida and the attacks of September 11; 2) Iraq posed no immediate threat to the U.S.; and 3) attacking Iraq would prove to be a huge mess. But what does truth matter, when our honor is on the line? We're Americans, darn it, and as such can do no wrong.

You might write me off as being someone who "doesn't like this country", but that's not true. This is a great country to live in. People are usually friendly and fairly generous. Our school system needs some serious work, as do our priorities as far as taking care of those in need, but we're a country that values the individual and individual effort and creativity, and for the most part gives people the freedom to express themselves (as long as they don't choose to be gay or a commie).

But that belief, that as Americans we can do no wrong, is one of the most dangerous things in this country. We chose to start a preemptive war. Even though we would never accept that behaviour by another country, it's ok for us to do, because "we're good people". The Cute One (aka the One Who Wants To Be Called The Genius) has a great entry concerning this (see her "Shrub & Co." post). We've allowed our leaders to weaken our economy and our civil rights in the name of protecting us, but it's ok, because they're Americans and, like us, are therefore inherently good and can only do good things. They can go ahead and lie to us and bully anyone who doesn't agree with them and cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands, because they are "democratically elected, god-fearing men". [Never mind the fact that we don't worry too much about whether a leader is "democratically elected" when we decide to depose or sanction the killing (Allende in Chile) of those we don't deem pro-America enough --- which means pro-American-business-and-capitalism. But I digress.]

There are very good things about this country, and about the people in this country, and I sure do wish we could get back to some of our better moments. Did you know, that during the Revolutionary War, George Washington charged his officers with treating prisoners of war with kindness and humanity? He said that because they were fighting for an honorable cause they should behave with honor. Imagine that. Many of the Hessian soldiers who had come to America in order to fight with the British as mercenaries were so shocked by their treatment that they ended up staying on after the war. How different things would have been, if we had remembered Washington's behaviour instead of doing our best to justify mistreatment of our prisoners.

Sorry about the rambling, but it's what's been on my mind today. There's nothing wrong with having a certain basic pride about who we are as a country, but we can't let it blind us to the fact that we are not perfect. We also cannot let it blind us to what our leaders are doing in our name, which is decidedly UNamerican.

On that note, a funny William Shatner and Henry Rollins song. It's the background music for someone's kitten video....

Power to the People, peace and comfort to the suffering.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

NPR this morning...

Two things jumped out at me listening to NPR as I got ready this morning ---

The first was a horrible crime that happened in Brazil recently. The blurb at NPR says that this child's "gruesome death [...] emphasizes the daily reality of violent crime in Rio de Janeiro." The boy, 6 years old, was strapped into the backseat of his parents' car, when they were carjacked by two gun-toting teenagers. They weren't able to quite get him out of his seatbelt when the carjackers drove off, dragging his little body down the street. By the time they stopped the car and ran away, he was of course already dead. It's created an outcry in Brazil, and only horror here. But what haunted me most was the comment by the author Paulo Coelho, who said that we are all victims, but also all the murderers. We are all at fault when part of our society is so horribly brutalized as to commit such a crime.

The other commenters pointed out that a major part of the problem in Brazil is that so few of the violent crimes (2%) are punished, so the criminals feel they can act with impunity.

My Mom and I were discussing the high crime rate in New Orleans yesterday. It's much worse now than before Katrina. It's easy to sit in the safety of a house in the suburbs, thinking "oh, how horrible for those poor people"... but like Coelho said, we are also victims and perpetrators. To use a tired cliche, if we're not part of the solution, we're part of the problem. I don't know what can be done to make the lives of children born in poverty materially better, so that they don't grow up in a dangerous and brutal environment, but I think we all need to be thinking about it and coming up with solutions, because this can't go on. Although we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world, our crime rate (and a few other less than excellent statistics, such as the fact that we still have capitol punishment) -- put us in an ugly neighborhood: we are right down there with Brazil and the Middle East and some of the countries in Africa. Not in every neighborhood or city in our country, to be sure, but having one child grow up with drive-by shootings and goodness knows what else is one too many in a country this wealthy. It's not ok.

The reason Mom and I got into the discussion is because she mentioned the situation with the projects in New Orleans. There are several families who want to move back. The buildings themselves were not flooded or damaged. But the city doesn't want to let them move in. They would rather raze the buildings, and then create low-income housing dispersed throughout the city, so that there is not such a concentration of low-income families (and crime). Mom had a great idea: why not allow the families to move back into the buildings, which are good, sturdy buildings. But instead of just putting them back into the same situation, help them refurbish their apartments and make them nice. Each family could then have the opportunity to purchase their apartment, so that they would someday have something of their own. In this way, they would feel a sense of pride and a sense of ownership. The projects would not become as run-down, and the families, the good people who live there, would be able to keep the bad element out, with the help of us and the authorities. What do you think? I'd welcome any ideas for ways to improve not only New Orleans, but our other urban centers, and make our cities better places for all children, not only those with the good fortune to have parents with a decent job.

The other series I've been listening to on NPR, is entitled "God, Darwin and Dixie" -- today's installment had to do with the labels they've placed in the beginning of all science books in Alabama stating that Evolution is "just" a theory. Nevermind the fact that this demonstrates that the people (proponents of Intelligent Design) using that rhetoric are willfully disguising the fact that the term "theory" when used by scientists is much stronger than its everyday usage. A scientific theory is something that has been put to the test by a number of scientists (in this case for over 100 years), and which they have not found to be wrong. This doesn't mean it won't ever be shown to perhaps be mistaken, when we have learned more, but until then, it's the best explanation for all of the phenomena we see. Now I'm a Christian and I believe that God created the earth and all that is in it ... the fact that scientists have discovered that things evolve, that we may have evolved, does not bother me in the least. A god who is powerful and intelligent enough to say "Let there be light" and poof, there was light, is certainly capable of coming up with a system as intricate as evolution. Imagine the foresight involved.

Anyway, that's enough for today. I hope you have a wonderful one!!!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Liberals Unite!

Some may call the mainstream media liberal, but here are some true bastions of leftist ideals, and some of my favorite sources of online news:

1) Democracy Now! - take an hour and watch the whole show, or just choose the headlines that intrigue you. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez take on the big issues in the "War and Peace Report". The musical interludes between stories are always a treat. On February 2nd they featured John Fahey Holding to the principle of being "independent media", they present voices from both sides of the political fence. One of the most fun recent features was their interview of Bolivian President Evo Morales.

2) Mother Jones - their tagline says it all: "Mother Jones online is your home for investigative news, politics, commentary, analysis and hellraising." I really like their timeline of the Iraq War: "Lie by Lie".

3) Slate - currently featuring a piece on gay sheep and one of the best Bible blogs ever.

4) FAIR - Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

Friday, February 02, 2007

It's Official!!

That beloved groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil (I just wanted to see if I could really spell that ... not without much help), did not see his shadow today, so it looks like spring is on the way. That's if you believe in German superstitions. Anyone know of any stats about Phil's accuracy? I'd be curious to know how often his predictions end up panning out.

Have a great February 2nd!!