Friday, November 07, 2008

Let us unite in banishing fear

"After all, there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. "

Roosevelt said it well, and it's something I hope we will all hear again. I walked into class today and one student was showing a video (ah, the lovely combination of you tube and wifi in a college classroom) to his fellow classmates that went on and on about all of the reasons to fear Obama. I realized in that moment how tired I am of all of the talk of fear. It's time to act out of a position of health and wellness, to choose the good rather than running from the bad. It's also time for truth to make a come-back, rather than all of us being satisfied with the malicious spreading of rumor and innuendo in the hope that a fearful people will more easily be controlled.

So "let us unite in banishing fear", because, as Roosevelt said, "Together we cannot fail."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I'm back!

After a REALLY long hiatus, I'm making a feeble comeback into cyberspace ... I hope you haven't all forgotten me!

Thoughts for the day:
1) Only in Germany can you get married in a barn and sleep in the hay on your wedding night. Seriously. Thank you NY Times!!

2) An open letter to the next President about Food as a national security issue (by Michael Pollen)--- I'll let you read it for yourself, but suffice it to say, that after listening to the show about it on NPR I found myself (very briefly) fantasizing about being a farmer. I agree and hope we can implement at least some of these ideas.

3) Who I'm voting for this year: Barack Obama. Because he's thoughtful and clearheaded and seems to have good ideas about how to get us out of this (take your pick!) mess. John McCain is a good person, but I don't think he's the right guy right now.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Solidarity = We're all in it together

More notes on Germany's health system -- highlights from today's Morning Edition on NPR:

* The health system is not funded by taxes; however, the government DOES regulate the non-profit (and for-profit) insurance companies to keep costs down, and also regulates what doctors can charge.

* Before you start worrying about the poor doctors, they are still the highest-paid professionals in Germany (higher paid than lawyers and architects; entrepreneurs can still earn much more, depending on how successful they are. There are millionaires living the German dream, even!) The doctors earn about 1/3 of what their U.S. counterparts earn. (Oh, and they don't have to pay ridiculous malpractice insurance premiums, because the German legal system is also regulated and there aren't lawsuits for malpractice going on all the time. If a doctor commits malpractice, depending on the severity, they lose their license and the patient harmed is paid; no need to tie up the legal system unduly. And German doctors didn't accrue hundreds of thousands of debt getting their eduction, so they aren't having to pay all of that off.)

* Each worker pays 8% of their salary into the health system. The employers also pay 8% per worker. It is based entirely on what you earn. If you earn more than 72,000 Euros, you can opt out of the required non-profit insurance and you can buy private (for-profit) insurance. Right now I have pretty good health insurance, although they don't cover everything. I have some kind of deductible ($500? $1000?) and I have to pay a co-pay each time I visit the doctor, as well as for medications, etc. The cost for my health insurance is a set rate, not based on my salary, but right now it comes to about 3%, and my employer puts in 9%. I would be more than happy to have that increased on my part (and decreased on the part of my employer) if I knew that a) I would always have access to high quality health care whether employed or not, b) I would be able to go to the doctor whenever I feel like it and not be charged and c) everyone else in my country was also paying in based on salary and also covered. I KNOW that 8% can come to a lot of money for some of you, but just remember that you won't have any other medical-related out-of-pocket expenses.

* The non-profit insurance provides a level of care equivalent or better to many places here in the U.S. You can even call your doctor in the middle of the night and reach him personally at home (not some service) and ask for a home visit to help care for your flu (unheard of here) or you can call him personally at home on a Sunday afternoon and he can arrange to see you in the clinic that very day (as happened to me once). By the way, I was just a tourist travelling through. They glanced at my insurance card (travel insurance) and took care of all that ailed me. I didn't have to pay a single penny out-of-pocket. It turns out that my travel insurance is one of those "pay first and we will reimburse you" types. So, the German doctor probably was not paid for the care that he rendered to me (I did not realize that at the time, but learned it over a year later). If you were badly injured in Germany, they would care for you without asking any questions about insurance.

* Private insurance entitles you to see any doctor you want, even the chief of medicine, get a free cup of coffee, jump to the head of the line, and get a private room in the hospital. (All according to today's show.)

One of the things said in the show was by a man who is familiar with both the German and U.S. health care systems (he's German, married to an American woman). He said that in Germany no one would ever go bankrupt trying to pay for healthcare, and that the healthcare system was one of the reasons that they would never consider moving to the U.S. And I thought of all of those personal pleas for funds --- all of the requests to leave a few dollars for little Suzie or little Johnny so that they can the operation they need; or please donate to St. Jude's or to the Ronald McDonald house, etc., etc.

It's not that I don't think it's great that Americans are so charitable, and that we give money to organizations to help others, but so many fall through the cracks that way, because St. Jude and Ronald McDonald can't possibly help every single person out there (and they focus on kids at any rate). And yes, there are lovely Make-a-wish foundation gifts and these great TV shows where they make over someone's house to help them out because they're good people who have fallen on hard times, and Oprah gives tons of money to people; but there are still so many who fall through the cracks. And we are the wealthiest nation on earth! (Holding onto that distinction by a thread at the moment, but still....)

Universal health care would cover everyone. It doesn't break the bank. It shouldn't even raise your taxes, if we fund it like Germany. Yes, the insurance company will need to be non-profit (shouldn't they all be?) and costs will need to be regulated, but aren't the lives of 48 million Americans worth it? We're spending billions a day on a war in Iraq in order to avenge the death of 3,000 Americans, but we won't spend any money so that the poorest among us can have a half-way decent quality of life?

In my many discussions with people about this, the most startling thing I've been told is that part of the "fun" of being an American, and the whole underpinning of the American Dream, is not just that any of us can have whatever we can achieve through our own hard work (bollocks, but I won't get into that now), but that one can have something that is more than what other people have. It's not just keeping up with the Jones's, it's BEING the Jones's and staying ahead of everyone else. (I've also been asked by some why they should give up their "hard-earned" money to help someone else -- when I get over the shock of hearing this, I think, because it will make our country better, stronger, and SAFER. Poverty fuels crime.)

I don't know if that's really true. The idealist in me, the part of me that wants there to be good in everyone, hopes that it isn't true. I KNOW that it isn't true for all of the Jones's out there, although it might be true for some. But can't we all get over our desire to have something more than others around us, and realize that each person having access to the same level of care would actually serve ALL of us, and make this an even better place?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Watch what you eat!

Monterey Bay Aquarium has a list of seafood you should seek out, and seafood you should avoid, either because of the damage done to the environment, or the damage done to us (by eating too much mercury.

How do they do it?

Have you ever wondered how it is that Germany can have a better (really!) healthcare system than the United States and still manage to spend half of what we do per person? This fascinating story at NPR will tell you. By "better" I don't mean that they have superior physicians. We have the best medical schools in the world, excellent doctors, excellent nurses and other healthcare providers, and we have wonderful hospitals and equipment etc. Germany has all of that as well, but the difference is that it is available to everyone. (We could argue about which medical schools are better; I've heard that the U.S. ones are, both from American and German doctors/medical students, but I'm sure there are those who would disagree. I have no personal knowledge about that.)

NPR is doing a series comparing medical systems in Europe and the U.S. There's even a link so that you can check individual costs across countries (Check out the interactive graphic!)

This is the year when we all need to be thinking about how healthcare in the U.S. can be improved, made more cost-effective and efficient, and how it can be made available to EVERYONE. Yep, I said it. I'm a crazy liberal, who thinks that all of God's children (and everyone else's children) should have access to good health and dental care. While we're at it, I also think they should have access to decent food, safe neighborhoods and good schools.

So let's get hoppin' ...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Bringing what she is able...

Texas in Africa wrote a provocative post today, asking what it is that we are able to give up so that someone else might have life, and asking hard questions about what it is to be church and to be Christians. I challenge you to read it and think about it. But if you can't, at least watch this beautiful video and let it touch your heart:

Let's do it!!

Come run with me (and many, many others) in the World Wide Half on October 11/12 this year! Thanks to Triviales Wissen for letting me know all about it :-). I probably won't "run" the whole thing, but love the idea of a worldwide event.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Inspired to Action

On the Inspired to Action website, today's inspiration comes from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: "Let everyone sweep in front of his own door and the whole world will be clean."

On a completely non-spiritual note, in Germany to this day (not just when Goethe was hanging around) it is expected that everyone who owns (or is renting) a house, keep the street in front of said house clean, by sweeping it once a week during the non-winter months, and by shoveling the snow off of the sidewalk whenever that is necessary during the winter months. For this reason, my brother, sister and I all had to clean the sidewalk every Saturday when we lived in Germany, each of us having a specific section for which we were responsible. Thankfully, my parents took care of shoveling the snow when it had the audacity to fall during the night in the winter (you had to have the sidewalk clear by something like 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning), although I remember helping with this task occasionally (on Saturdays) as well.

It's an interesting thing about the German psyche --- you do something simply because it is the right thing to do. To the best of my recollection there isn't an actual law requiring people to do this, although their neighbors will remark on it if it isn't done (and removing the snow in the winter has to do with safety, etc.) And if you don't do the right thing, people will take it upon themselves to point out to you the extent to which you've missed the mark. In like manner, if you live in an apartment complex, you are required to clean the windows and stairs in the common areas (how often depends on how many people are in the rotation), and you are expected to respect the posted "quiet times". This is all set by the owner/landlord.

There is certainly something to all of this --- it's not just about taking care of things that are your own, the care of which affects only you, but also the bits in your purview that will affect the well-being of others. It's a remarkable amount of personal responsibility, especially when you consider that Germany has a strong social safety net; i.e. is a country, where people might be expected to sit around and wait for the government or someone else to take care of those things.

In very small ways, it makes the world a nicer place, bit by bit. How can we step a little further out of our comfort zone and affect the world around us in a positive way?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Google Reader ROCKS

Wow. You've got to love something that does all of the work for you. :-).

Just a reminder to everyone: today is the first day of the 40-day fast on Inspired to Action. Today's post was by Brant Hansen about "where God lives".

Friday, June 20, 2008


Calling all engineers!!! Is this for real? I recently got an insider tip (wink, wink) from Australia that people there are driving LPG cars, which cost half of what it costs to fill up with normal gasoline, and are better for the environment, etc., etc.

Are these available in the United States? What are the drawbacks? The benefits seem obvious enough.

Well, darn it ... they're only available in Canada and Argentina. What about us?

Going shopping?

If you're looking around for cute gifts, check out the Cute One's new blog, Annette's Creative Endeavors. She has a number of different pictures and notecards for sale from her Etsy shop, A&W Photography.

There's also a fabulous, fun giveaway at The Downtown Boutique. Buying stuff is fun, but getting it for free every now and again is EVEN funner :-). If you like stationary (and the chance for more free gifts!) check out the Inkspot Workshop and MewPaperArts.

If you're interested in putting your own handmade treasures out into the world for sale, check out Etsy. It's free (mostly) to set up your own shop, and you can be selling to world before you know it. For some insight into how much work might be required go here.

Ok, that's my bit for capitalism and keeping the economy rolling... have a splendid Friday!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

John Wesley's General Rules

1) Do no harm.
2) Do good.
3) Practice the Means of Grace.

Moving with the times...

I headed out to the library on Tuesday to see the movie they were showing, "A Crude Awakening". The movie was interesting and thought-provoking, and I recommend it to anyone interested in questions surrounding our dependence on fossil fuels and other alternative energy sources.

In the film, they argued that the earth has reached "peak oil", and that we are about to enter a period in which the amount of available oil is dwindling, but our need for it is increasing. I have no way, really, of independently determining if they are right about the fact that we are about to run out of oil in the next 30 or so years. They make a good argument, but there are experts on both sides of the issue (perhaps on all 3 or 4 or 5 sides...) Personally, I don't think we are on the brink of running out, since the earth has been around for a very long time, and there is lots and lots of plant and animal matter that got squished in the various strata and then heated up by the earth's core and turned into oil. But even if they are wrong about WHEN we are going to run out of oil, I do think that it will eventually run out, since we don't really have the time to start making any more, and we are sucking it up out of the earth rather quickly.

More unsettling to me personally than the idea that we are about to run out of oil was the realization that none of the alternative energy sources currently available come close to being as efficient and providing near the amount of energy that we need every day. They are all a drop in the bucket, and most of them require more in fossil fuels to create than they generate in energy, making it all a bit pointless. Oh, and then there are all the bio-fuels and the unwanted consequence of a rise in food prices and various crises of food availability around the world.

The movie paints a dire picture, but doesn't leave us entirely without hope. Although we do not currently have the technology, we can start working on getting the technology for alternative energy sources, if we will only invest in the research and development, and as long as we understand that all of this will take probably 40-60 years, or more. In addition to doing that we can also continue research into better ways of locating and extracting oil (many experts believe there is a huge amount available off the coast of the U.S.; Bush and McCain want to lift the ban on offcoast drilling in the U.S.; Brazil is apparently about to start deep-sea-drilling).

But the best possible thing we can do right now is conserve energy. Here are some ways:

1) Drive as little as possible. Try to do as many of your errands as you can each time.
2) Drive more slowly -- stick to the speed limit. I know, I hate it too, but it really does save gas.
3) Make your home as energy-efficient as possible.
4) Drive a fuel-efficient car.

None of this will lower the gas prices we have right now, of course, not even finding more crude oil here in the country --- mainly because we're not actually suffering a shortage, and none of the new stuff we find (perhaps) would even be on the market for the next 10 years at least. Brazil (see note above) has already done all of their research, and even their crude oil won't be on the market until 2020. And maybe our prices shouldn't come down. After all, we're still paying 1/2 of what they pay in Europe, and the higher the prices go, the more fuel-efficient we will become. And that is a good thing.

For an interesting, and far more lucid discussion of all of the above, listen to today's edition of the Diane Rehm Show.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Because HE said so...

... and because my dear friend Texas in Africa is one of the organizers and one of the most inspiring women I know.

We are called to be salt and light. Starting on June 23, "Inspired to Action" will be hosting a 40-day fast. Each day for 40 days a different blogger will fast for the day and blog about a cause that is their passion. If you would like to participate, you can go to the registration page and share why you would like to participate. If you don't want to participate actively, you can go to that site each day and read and pray, and see how you are being led to be salt and light in the world; to bless the world, and make it a better place.

Peace and love, y'all...

Friday, June 06, 2008

Thought for the day

The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, and no holiness but
social holiness. You cannot be holy except as you are engaged in making the
world a better place. You do not become holy by keeping yourself pure and clean
from the world but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world's hurting

--John Wesley

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Notes from the trenches....

Well, it looks like Annette has pulled ahead today (12 to 11), so I'll need to step it up!! But I've been out learning about worthwhile causes:

On Tuesday, I attended a "Slow Food Summit" at the local library, all about the benefits of slow food (as opposed to fast food). The movement started in Italy back when the first McDonald's arrived, and has spread around the world. The main emphasis, and one that is particularly important with the current cost of fuel, is to eat food grown locally as much as possible. The panel said that if you have a choice between organic food from 3,000 miles away or locally-grown food from around the corner, the local food is the best choice, even if they did use Round-up to kill the weeds (although it would be good to convince people to try more natural methods of pest control!) For more information about the slow food movement and how to buy locally in your little corner of the world, go here.

One of the panelists at the summit was James Spencer from Grow Alabama, a local food co-op. By joining, I will not only be guaranteed wonderful, locally-grown fresh produce, but I'll be doing my part to help local farmers and the state economy. (A little, anyway. For ways to REALLY help this State, check out my previous post about the Constitution). I can't wait to get my first veggie basket!!

I think it's great that so many people are taking a step back and realizing how good it is to buy local food when possible. Another panelist was Edwin Marty from Jones Valley Urban Farm, a downtown farm that not only provides organic produce to many of the local restaurants, but also provides educational opportunities for children and youth in downtown Birmingham.

Yesterday, I attended the second meeting of the Baptist Church of the Covenant class to raise awareness about the state of the Alabama Constitution. If you haven't watched the movie, It's a Thick Book, I highly recommend it. It's funny and educational, and highlights why we so desperately need reform in this state. But even if you're not from Alabama, I think it's interesting to learn more about taxation (our tax code is embedded in the constitution) and about how to tax in a way that is equitable across different levels of income. I don't like giving up my money any more than the next person, especially since I enjoy eating and having a roof over my head, etc.; but if it means creating a better and healthier community in which I can live, and if it means providing basic goods and services to me and to my family, I am all for it.

Friday, May 30, 2008


In my post from February 22nd I mentioned $3.00 gas, and I think I might have been exaggerating at that point....

Another embarrassing note...

Voters here in the lovely (truly!) State of Alabama decided in 2004 to keep language in the constitution of Alabama that requires the segregation of white and colored children in public schools. It isn't enforced, but you would think that we'd have the wherewithall to repeal it in the 21st Century.

And you would be wrong.

Only 78.3%

Well, I took the civics literacy quiz and only made 78.3%, which is above the national average, but still nothing to write home about.

Take it, and let me know how you do!!

Alabama needs a new constitution

1 John 3: 17-18 (NIV)

"17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has
no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not
love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

The 1901 Alabama Constitution does not serve the needs of the people in this state. If we just ignore the fact that it was created for the express purpose of disenfranchising African American and poor voters, we are still left with an unwieldy, inefficient, monstrous document. It is by far the longest constitution in the world, primarily because of the excessive number of amendments created to speak to such important points of law as whether or not to allow Bingo games in Madison County. Further, it is almost impossible to get anything done in the 3 months the legislature meets every year, because of the ridiculous hoops they are left to jump through for any and everything they'd like to pass. State legislators are so busy discussing amendments related to individual localities, they don't have time to worry about the pressing needs of the state as a whole.

But the most egregious feature of this constitution is the unjust taxation. Susan Pace Hamill discovered that Alabama has the most regressive tax code in the country, and wrote passionately about the need to reform it, decrying it as immoral and unjust. For further information, check here, here and here.

For more information about reforming the constitution, go to the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform website. There, you also have the opportunity to see a 45-minute movie created by a graduate of Homewood High School, Lewis Lehe. The movie, "It's a Thick Book" is available for free on the website, or for a donation if you would like a copy of the DVD to show to friends and family, or anyone you think might be interested.

So, it's time for a change. If you live in Alabama, please go to the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform website and sign the petition for a new constititution; then talk to your friends, your family, your legislators, and anyone who will listen.

If you are at all curious about what the Bible has to say about oppressing the poor, you can check out the following Scripture references: Isaiah 3:5; Proverbs 14:31; 28:3, 6; 21:21; Zechariah 8:10; Job 5:15-16; Psalm 9:19; James 2:5-6; Luke 6:20-21, 24-25; Luke 1:53; Luke 4:18; Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 15:7, 10-1; Psalm 82:3-4; Proverbs 29:7; Isaiah 58:6-7; Matthew 5:42; Luke 3:11; 1 John 3:17-18; Matthew 25:35, 40.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

An easy way to make a difference

There are a number of websites that give you a chance to give money for literacy, hunger, breast cancer awareness, saving the rainforest, etc., by the simple click of a button. According to these sites, sponsors will pay $1.00 each time someone clicks on the "Click to Give" button.

So, if you feel like making a bit of a difference today, at almost no cost to you, go here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

oh, DEAR

50 lashes with a wet noodle for me --- sorry to have left all of you with nothing to do as you try to waste time at work!! Just kidding; well, mostly. I know that's a true statement for at least one of you. I can't believe so much time has passed since my last post!!

Not much news here --- but I have several friends getting ready to welcome little ones to their families, which is pretty exciting. No names, but you know who you are, and CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!

Training for the 1/2 marathon is going well. We're doing 11 miles tomorrow, can you believe it?? The Ides of March will be here before we know it, though.

There is something to be said for the great, cosmic sense of humor -- I was out at a coffee shop for my weekly Stammtisch with students last night. Little did I know, but 1/2 of the shop was taken up by a Jewish group there for a lecture. This lecture went on for most of the evening, so I just tried to meet quietly with my students in the other corner. When I went up to get my coffee, I could hear the professor talking about prayer and blessing food. He said that he is always jealous of Christians, because they hold hands around the table and bless food before they eat. (I felt more than a little convicted because I'm not really good about doing this). His point, to his students, was that showing gratitude is important; even if you don't believe in God, it is a good thing to pause and be grateful for the food you're about to receive (and by extension for the good that is in your life). It was interesting, and thought-provoking; but here's where the cosmic sense-of-humor comes in: some of the students from my adult class joined us for Stammtisch and one woman brought her father. Well, he is in his 80s and speaks beautiful German -- that he learned as a prisoner of war during WWII. He knows his POW number by heart, and can say all of the phrases he heard (and had to obey) with heartbreaking clarity. He's hard-of-hearing and speaks quite loudly, so on one side of the room you had the Jewish class talking about remembering to be grateful, and on the other side an elderly gentleman talking (loudly) about seeing a friend get his head bashed in; his mother's cousin, who was killed by the Nazis in 1934; and the one time in 8 months they were allowed to take a shower --- the fleas and lice had gotten so bad that the soldiers took their clothes and put them in the gas chamber and then let them take a shower while the fleas and lice were being killed.

It was quite a surreal experience -- but has reminded me to be grateful; for what I eat, for the fact that I can buy gas (even at $3.00) a gallon and drive anywhere I'd like; for the fact that I can say what I want to whom I want without fear that I will be kidnapped by the government or anyone else and never seen again.

We are incredibly lucky --- to put it another way, we are blessed. I suppose we shouldn't forget, though, that "to whom much is given, much shall be required".

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year 2008!!

I don't know about you, but I don't really have many "resolutions" this year, other than the general resolution to keep getting better, to try each day to do more of the things I know I should and less of the things I know I shouldn't. There are always little helps along the way, things that appear as if out of nowhere ... books recommended by dear friends, the inspired turns of phrase that grab you during a sermon. There are several that have popped up lately, and I want to share the best with you:

1) Anne Lamott ... read anything -- she provides beautiful new ways to think about faith and life and community and friendship, and the comfort of sharing her journey and showing us that there's at least one other person out there as screwed up and confused as we are.

2) Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles (thanks again RP) - an amazing story of conversion and incarnation -- how to become the words of Christ to a world in need.

3) Greg Boyd, author and Senior Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minnesota -- in June 2007, Christian Ethics Today hosted a conference on "The Minister and Politics" in Washington, D.C. You can get a DVD of the 4 main speakers, Jim Wallis, Melissa Rogers, Greg Boyd and Tony Campolo. They were all thought-provoking, but Gred Boyd's radical call to living the Christian life grabbed hold and hasn't let go. If you can, order a copy of the DVD. The proceeds go to support the work of Christian Ethics Today and publication of their journal. If not, Greg has a blog, where you can read his thoughts and reflections on a number of different issues. He's a compelling speaker and a "very smart man" (to quote my Dad...)

I hope 2008 is an inspiring time of change and renewal for all of you, and for our world.