See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.
Monday, December 22, 2008
I am in the process of moving into an intentional Christian community. Our Columbus group has been in existence for about 3 years, and we are part of the Catholic Worker movement which has been going on since the 1930s.
We have recently signed a lease for the former convent at St. James the Less Catholic Church in Columbus. Three men are moving in, and we hope others will join us in the near future. We will host daily prayer in the mornings and evenings with a larger weekly prayer session. We will also be supporting the food pantry of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. There is a Bible study already underway there. The public is welcome to attend any of this or just to hang out, and we'll post dates and times for all of this in the near future.
We are looking to expanding the food pantry with hot meals or clothing distribution. We are currently researching possibilities for a medical or legal clinic. A key ministry we are looking to begin is care for the elderly in the surrounding community. There is a large Hispanic community that gathers at this parish, and we would love to work with them. A number of other ideas are brewing, and we'd love to hear yours.
The Catholic Worker movement has always impressed me. It weaves social justice together with direct charity. It combines community living together with voluntary poverty and spirituality. It is wholly pacifist. The unstructured network of communities across North America and the world provides the skeleton for the peace and justice movement today. The Catholic Worker is also a key inspiration for the new monastic movement.
Being a movement rather than an organization, there can be vast differences from one Catholic Worker community to another. One thing that binds all of these groups together is that they take their inspiration from the founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, who in the depths of the Great Depression realized a true stone soup story and found themselves able to give so much through their own poverty.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
The church is small, very beautiful and well attended. The parish has a strong devotion to their patron saint, which is unusual these days. Today, the choir did a magnificent acapella number during the offertory. Fr. Atwood's sermon was excellent and called us to see God's presence--and invitation--everywhere. Each day, we are given the same invitation offered to Joseph and Mary so many years ago: Is there room for God here?
This was all well and good, but it was after mass that I felt church the most. There was an invitation to help put up Christmas decorations. I gladly participated. I'm not a good crowd estimator, but there were probably 30 or more people stringing up garland, setting up Christmas trees, and hanging wreaths. There was endless sweeping up of pine needles and a shipment of poinsettias to unload. Kids were sometimes running around, at other times dutifully helping and often both at the same time. People put themselves to the task in their own unique way, some orchestrating, some judging the evenness and placement of the decorations, some lifting things or putting things up, with the pastor sweeping the floors right there with us.
I feel bad for people who expect too much from the Sunday service. The Sunday service is really meant to be a climax and a capstone of a week of Christian living. It is best set against a week of service, study, theological arguments and just good living. However, for many the Sunday service is their only community expression of their faith. People who are searching in their faith often look for the answers at Sunday services and leave disappointed. I feel bad for the people who get up to take communion and then instead of returning to their seats to end the mass with everyone they just keep right on going out the door and to the parking lot, to beat the rush, I guess. They "got" what they came there for. Or did they? Those who left when the service was over today would have missed the point.
As Fr. Atwood asked in his homily: Where is God's house? Is it inside of the walls of the Church building or the homes of the families burned out from an arson attack just last night? Was God's invitation just to Joseph and Mary or is it really to everyone? In light of the events today, you might start to ask where "Church" actually is, and what exactly is this thing called "Church." And when does communion happen?
Today, there was communion after mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Some people (women especially) suffer from what I call the "knight on a white horse" syndrome. This is the false belief that they can live with all sorts of emotional barriers, making no effort, and that one day a knight will ride up on his white horse and whisk them away to a life of happiness.
That's not how it happens. Why would you want that, anyway? That knight never got to know you. He totally just sees you as an object. And face it: You see him as an object, too.
Actually, statistics show that women initiate the first contact of flirtation more than men. The knight shows up because the woman already gave the green light.
But that's okay, because I'm here to tell you the hidden mysteries of the universe. Here's the major, big-time secret--you may want to sit down and take a deep breath, because this is the big one:
Just freaking talk to people.
You don't have to do any kind of outrageous acts, or take monumental risks to ask someone out point blank--those are fine things to do, but it doesn't have to be that extreme. Just go where people are in an environment where you are likely to actually mix with them. Being a passive participant in a classroom or church puts you around many people but there is no mixing. Just talk to folks: How are you? What brings you here? I notice you have a book that I read... Smile often. It does not have to be a flirtatious, "come get me" smile... just a friendly smile. Show an interest in them and share some bit of yourself.
Don't even think about dating, just think about talking to people. At some point, yes, there will be a time to move forward and take the risk of showing more of an interest. But there is plenty of time beforehand to just be friendly and see if chemistry develops. Start talking in the buffet line or see if someone is standing around aimless at a conference. Seek out opportunities to study with folks and go out to eat with coworkers even if you don't feel like spending the money.
Dating won't come without effort on your part--bottom line. Sorry, you're just gonna have to get out of your comfort zone. For some people that is hard and for others it is excruciating, but one way or another you gotta do it. You will have to step away from your group of girls or guys--they keep you safe, but they also keep you single. But it does not have to be outrageously difficult, either. Just start with being friendly and in a short while you'll have a bounty of folks you are mixing with regularly and chemistry is bound to develop.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
But this can be taken to extremes just like anything else. There are people who believe they don't ever need to see a doctor because they can "cure" whatever they have with the right combination of foods. They act like they can just eat their way out of any problem.
While in theory this may in fact be possible, as of right now there isn't anybody out there who knows the precise combination of foods for each individual person that will ward off or even cure all diseases. Even herbal remedies haven't been thoroughly tested and often they may not cure you but "rebalance" your body so that it can cure itself. Many work and many do not, and it may vary from person to person.
It is also problematic because these movements are partly a protest against western culture and medicine. They represent a desire to get back to whole foods and by working with the body in a holistic manner rather than filling us full of toxins and then having to fill us full of drugs when things go wrong. The problem is that these folks are treating food as if it is a drug. They are still in the "drug" mindset, even though they think they are protesting it. Eating grass-fed steak, despite being full of Omega-3's, is not the same as taking your heart medication. You can't pop steak cubes as if it were a pill and expect the same results. It works much, much differently.
Food is made up of chemicals and as such it can have curative properties, like a drug. However, it should be noted that natural, holistic health is usually focused on prevention and maintaining health rather than extreme cures. Drugs tend to have extreme concentrations of certain chemicals, whereas food normally does not. In my book, western medicine is still the place you need to go when things get out of hand. I think it would be a mistake for any person to put all their eggs in any one basket based on some hunch. I'll see a doctor when I need to and an herbalist/nutritionist as well. A lot of people die due to their blind faith in their doctors, but I have also personally seen people suffer by putting all their faith in "natural" cures that get them nowhere. Be smart and consider all options with an open mind.
Food by itself is also just one component of a healthy lifestyle. Putting a lot of wonderful foods in your body without an appropriate amount of exercise is like putting sugar in your coffee and not stirring. Sure, you'll get some sweetness, but you'll have to add a whole lot more to get the sweetness you need and in the end you just have a pile of sludge. The food movement and holistic medicine involve a deeper change in lifestyle and philosophy. It is not about popping pills or being passive while some doctor or herbalist "fixes" you. It is about taking an active and informed role in your own health and working at it day by day--listening to your body and sculpting the lifestyle that is conducive to good health.
Monday, December 8, 2008
I imagine a scene where you pull up in your car to a window. You select your foods with a touch screen. You insert money into a bill acceptor or card swiper. You open a hatch and out comes your food.
I'm all for hand-made foods, but when I got some sandwiches from Wendy's today, the first thought that crossed my mind was, "A machine could easily have done just as well... or poorly." It could grill the meats, slap on some dressing, throw on a pickle, put some bread around it, wrap it up and send it down the chute. This wouldn't be that hard for the technology of today.
Added bonus: No danger that some 16 year old punk is going to spit on your sandwich. Or worse.
They could always have one person on site to answer customer complains, re-stock the automatic sandwich assembly machines, or be on the watch for quality control (ha!)
Friday, December 5, 2008
I've never read Dante's Comedy, but I'll never forget the description above that a professor told me once. While "the depths of Hell" may be a cliche in our modern lingo, that is exactly where Dante goes in this poem. The lower he gets, the worse it gets. Finally he is in the very basement, he is at rock bottom. Yet, his biggest challenge is yet to come: The devil stands there. Dante climbs over the devil and immediately there is a paradise of color, lightness, laughter and music.
Anyone who has been through some rough times in life may notice something uncannily familiar about that story.
I've struggled a lot with obsessive thinking and anxiety in my life. I've spent days just watching the wheels go round and round, not able to stop my thoughts and just reeling from the onslaught. I have recently come to understand how passive the whole experience is. I'm the victim of my own mind, I'm a passive victim to the thunderstorms in my head. I just sit back and watch the fireworks as I go on long anxiety trips. I just wait around and hope they stop.
People wonder why I don't have an interest in watching movies, thrill seeking or even drug use. Spend an hour in my head and you'll long for cartoons and comedy, too. It is like asking someone in the ghetto why they don't have an interest in daredevil stunts, like jumping out of a plane--They get all the adrenaline they could ever need just walking home from work safely at night.
I think the trick to dealing with anxiety is not be afraid anymore. It is true that the only thing you have to fear is fear itself. Whatever you are worried about is either true or not true. All your worry doesn't change whether it is true or not. The sooner you just accept it for what it is and quit running from it, then sooner you can break through the fears. Running from fears is often necessary, but it is usually only best as a temporary fix. You can't retreat from the fear for long, because it stays with you as a cancer of anxiety. You can't go around it. You can only go right through it. Climb over the devil himself and you'll see paradise, too.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Good idea. But I wonder how many of them would be as keen on this idea, using the very same logic:
Let's put the "mass" back in Christmas (i.e. Christ's mass).
ADDED LATER: I'm not really arguing either way on this. I just think it is funny that many of the people who want Christ the center of the holiday and who use the name of the holiday as justification probably don't realize that the name of the holiday is really the "Mass of Christ." Christ is there, but so is the mass. Would non-Catholics really want this?
Don't get me wrong, I think secularizing the holiday is a bad idea, but this one argument makes me chuckle.
Having hair has always been more important to me than the color of it, so I've never really worried about this so much and still don't, but it is a curious little phenomenon! The streak seems to be growing.
My body's like, "Okay, that was fun for a while, but now let's get back down to business and get the coffee circulating again, alright?" No, it is time to face the reality of a long-term adjustment.
I have to retrain myself how to manage stress and tiredness. I can't just reach for a cup of coffee to recharge. I have to use other means, such as taking a nap, exercising, or just allowing myself to be tired until my body naturally warms up. I honestly don't know what to do when I get tired! What do you non-caffeinated people do? I've used caffeine my entire adult life. I totally trained myself to reach for caffeine during those times, and it is those times again when the cravings are strongest.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I try hard not to boil anything, unless I plan to drink the broth. Too many nutrients are washed away that way. However, I don't always have the equipment for steaming. I have this method which is sort of a half boil, half steam. The important part is that I don't throw any water away.
I get a stainless steel pain and pour some olive oil in. I cut up some onions and get them going. As soon as they are starting to turn translucent I throw on top lumps of cut up cabbage and a little bit of salt. Right before anything gets stuck to the bottom of the pain, I'll start pouring in small amounts of water and put the lid on--no more than maybe 1/2 inch of water in the pain at a time, medium to low heat.
The pan just has to be watched. The cabbage actually is steam cooked, although the small amount that touches the water directly is technically boiled. However, I don't throw this water away. Instead, I let it cook out. I keep adding small amounts of water whenever it is needed, but careful not to add too much and be left with vegetables floating in water. I mix the cabbage and onions regularly, too. The goal is for the water to cook out right at the very moment when the cabbage is perfectly done. If any nutrients have been cooked out in the boil, my guess is that they are still sitting in the pan ready to be consumed.
The end result is juicy, cooked cabbage with onions with a very light coating of oil and salt. It goes great with sausage, kielbasi and ham, as well.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Case in point: Alfredo sauce. You just know there's got to be more to it than a whip, snip and a dash, yet recipes across the world wide web were awfully consistent: Melt some butter, pour in some cream and Parmesan cheese, stir, salt and pepper to taste, and voila!
As I was mixing ingredients together, it was starting to have the smell and consistency of Alfredo sauce. I was hopeful. Upon pouring it over noodles and salmon, I couldn't believe the horror I had created. It was fiercely salty and way tangy. Ummm... too much Parmesan?? Next time, I had better watch the ratio of ingredients a little bit better. I got cocky and thought I'd act like a traditional Old World cook and dump all the ingredients together without wasting my time over silly little things like measurements. I was strongly reminded that you can only do that when you actually know what you're doing.
I managed to knock it down, but at what cost to my health? Please keep all livestock away, as I am a walking salt block and could get licked to death. I'll never need to eat salt again.
People play music on acoustic guitars and tambourines and they call it "folk." There is nothing folk about it. That is just acoustic music, no more, no less.
True folk music is just that--music of the people that is part of the collective songbook of everybody. They are songs you sing while playing childhood games, while people gather to shuck corn or pick cotton. People used to do that all the time before TV and radio--they whistled while they worked and hummed tunes and sang. You would, too, if you didn't have TV, radio and ipods constantly turned on around you. Summer camp is about the only place where this kind of music still exists.
I bet we would all be amazed to go back in time to see what life was like when people had to entertain themselves else ways. This is folk music--you don't know who wrote it and every town has their own verses, like campfire songs that just keep getting passed down from generation to generation, and you can improv some verses yourself when you feel like it, like we all do when singing on top of old smokey or "the littlest worm" or other stupid elementary school songs. Now we just turn on the radio or cd player and just hear some heavily produced number, but often it is the same songs over and over with the same arrangements. I love recorded music and electronic media. Love it. But think of the price we have paid: We stopped singing.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
If you choose not to eat industrial-raised meats, you are definitely saving animals from a cruel life and a cruel death. You are saving chickens from living virtually their entire lives in tight cages nor cows pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. However, what you are also doing is making it so that some animals are not raised at all. When the demand for such meats goes down, producers will simply raise fewer animals. Those animals will never have a life at all, cruel or otherwise. Would the animals really thank you for that? Hard to say.
You can eat sustainably raised meats. The problem is that the more animals raised on farms just translates into less land available as natural ecosystems. Maybe the chickens you ate were sustainably raised, but a small forest glen had to be cleared out to make room for them to live. Numerous animals in their natural habitat died off to make room for the livestock.
At this point in history, we are seeing the last remnants of widespread natural ecologies. What I mean is that human population is growing so densely over the earth that natural ecosystems will soon only exist in isolated pockets. Large-scale migrations of animals across hundreds of miles may actually cease to exist. When was the last time you saw tens of thousands of buffalo stampeding across the Midwestern plains? How many salmon waterways are still open today, compared to what their once were? You have animals like deer and raccoons who can slip in between the cracks and live between humans, but there is a great cost compared to what was once there.
I often opt for seafood at a restaurant. I prefer wild caught, since farm-raised fish are often worse for the ecology than wild caught. I figure that at least the animal lived a normal life and had a relatively normal death, for a fish. But I also know that the waters are being depleted. The more fishing that is done, the worse the oceans become. Many popular fish species are near extinction, and the ecology of the oceans hangs in the balance. Maybe this fish I am eating is a sustainable choice if you evaluate it as an individual animal, but the overall impact of the fishing industry brings suffering to untold millions of sea animals just to get me the few fish I eat. Am I saving animals from cruelty by eating this wild caught fish?
Eating meat is part of nature. Lions would die if they had to eat grass--they eat other animals. However, if the lions did not eat them, those prey animals would eventually overpopulate and die. The cycle of life and death is part of nature, and there is no way to escape it. If you could somehow disallow animals from killing each other, soon the lions would die of starvation and then their prey would fall on hard times, too. Perhaps an entire species of deer would die off due to overpopulation, rather than just a few being taken here and there by lions which keeps the whole species in check.
In our modern tree-hugging culture, we like to think that every living creature can live to full health and happiness all together in one loving ecology. That is not true: nature is a constant fight for survival, and one death only brings life to someone else. It's not pretty, but it is what it is.
The reputation of the Native Americans seems to fit the best: Take what you need, use what you have, and respectfully leave the rest.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Case in point is Viva la Vida by Cold Play, which Cathryn recently blogged about (she also has the video and lyrics posted).
I have been enamored with this song for some time. It slowly caught my attention, almost like a mist gradually rising up from the ground and then all of a sudden I found myself immersed in it. I was incredibly drawn to it whenever it would be on the radio, and it would go through my mind all day.
I couldn't understand all the lyrics, but the majestic (I call it heavenly) music coupled with some isolated phrases I was able to pick out created this amazing scene:
This song was about a man who was once a player in worldly affairs, rolling the dice and winning, getting satisfaction from the thrill of victory and reveling in power and riches. I imagined he had some sort of conversion experience in which he lost all that but found a humbler but deeper spiritual path.
In the refrains, there were Jerusalem bells ringing, Roman Catholic choirs singing, and missionaries working abroad. I took the Jerusalem bells to represent the Jewish faith--or even more so--the city of Jerusalem which is a holy city to Christians, Jews and Muslims. In other words, when the church bells of Jerusalem ring, much of the world responds and we are all called back to our ancestral home. It is also our future home, as the "New Jerusalem" has been a Biblical symbol for heaven and our ultimate destiny.
Blending all these images together, it was like the entire faithful of every religion were united in one common prayer--as if the bells in Jerusalem, the choirs of Europe, the daily prayers in mosques and the far and sundry work of missionaries were all heard in heaven as one single, expression of a faithful humanity, like all the sounds of a well-oiled machine and one common effort. Heavenly choirs echoed this hymn as the entire universe was in tune.
And in the middle of this global scene, this one individual man was sure that St. Peter will call his name. In this wild global chorus of millions of people, he as an individual voice has a personal relationship with God. It reminds me of the kind of thing people say when they have a conversion experience--they just know somehow that they are called by God and that they will be welcomed into heaven or into the great mystical union or whatever you want to call it. The image from popular lore is that St. Peter will welcome him into the pearly gates of heaven.
Hearing this song was like waking up from a wonderful, mystical dream.
All this is quite lovely, except that that's not what the song is actually saying.
I got the Jerusalem bells right, but it's Roman Calvary choirs singing. What in the world is that, anyway? Calvary is the hilltop on which Jesus was crucified. Cavalry is an army of mounted soldiers. Perhaps a typo, as Alison pointed out to me? In any case, I don't think the Roman armies had either a cavalry or a choir.
And this man is sure that St. Peter won't call his name. However, it is not as depressing as it sounds: This man was once "king of world" who says he now "sweeps the streets I used to own." When he was king and marched into battle, he was so confident he felt like he had the assurance of God that he wouldn't die. This was a man who was so drunk with power that he felt invincible, but he no longer feels that way. Still, that's a far cry from a mystical belief that God will call him back into his fold when he dies!
I still think it is a great song. It is still about a man who has fallen from worldly graces but who now sees a greater grace. All the contrasting images do create some kind of abstract panorama which inspires the imagination and suggests that song may be about more than just the literal images put together. In my opinion, the song still means what I thought it meant--I like my image so much I just don't want to let it go.
There is a reason why many of the great classical composers were thoroughly against putting words (or even titles) to their pieces. The imagination of the listener can see where a song is going even when the composers themselves can't. It is better not to interfere with this pure expression by putting words in the way. While I am a total lover of words, this is a quite valid point in some circumstances.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Earlier this week, I made a 3-hour trip to Garrettsville at night after a long day of work and class. I got a so-so night's sleep then awoke at the ungodly hour 5:00 AM for a drive back to Columbus and another full day of work. Normally, I wouldn't even think of doing something like that without being heavily caffeinated. I would have reached for coffee whether I needed it or not, trying to schedule cups so that I did not drink any too late (and thereby impact my sleeping) and did not drink too much too soon to offset the effects when I needed them most, all the while making sure I had enough. This is how I used to plan out events like this.
The whole ordeal was exhausting, yet I did the whole trip without a spec of caffeine, not even decaf or any sort of tea whatsoever. I'd say this was a trial by fire and I passed with flying colors.
I'm basically free of caffeine and doing quite well! I'm still somewhat foggy, but that appears to be getting better with time.
It is amazing to realize that caffeine doesn't give you any kind of "up" that you aren't already capable of without it! I'm not saying you can't get a rush, but I've been drinking it for so many years now that the "up" was basically just normalcy.
They were trying to push SUV's when the Japanese years ago saw that the future was in fuel-efficient cars and hybrids. It didn't take a genius to realize that. Just the other day I read that Ford is still holding out hope for a resurgence in SUV sales in the wake of current low gas prices. They just don't get it.
SUV's were a temporary fad that would not last when gas prices inevitably go up. The consensus of experts out there clearly says that gas prices will rise sharply as oil reserves become more scarce and most costly to extract from. We can call the Japanese "visionary" but it was more common sense. I don't say that to slight their achievement, only that it should not have been that difficult for US automakers to get on the fuel efficient bandwagon when the evidence was pointing that way.
The SUV/hybrid divide is only one example of why the US Big 3 are collapsing in competition with Japense automakers. It is easy to say we should let them fail on their own and let more successful busineses take their place.
However, the question of the bailout still lingers. Does the country want to go through a painful transition period if they go under? There are plenty of other car manufacturers out there who are more successful businesses. However, it won't be a smooth transition if millions of Americans are suddenly unemployed. They aren't going to simply start buying more Japanese cars--what will happen is that millions of Americans aren't going to buy any cars. It is too much of a shock to an economy that is already reeling. As a result, I'm on the fence when it comes to a bailout. But if we're going to do one, I do support Obama's idea that a bailout should come with strings attached to re-tool the US automakers to transition toward more fuel efficient cars.
It makes me wonder why our entire economy is so dependent on a handful of large corporations and banks so much that if they go under our entire economy goes under. These recent bailouts are all based on this idea--these entities are simply too big to fail without forcing the rest of us into economic hardship. It makes me wonder if our anti-trust laws are as strong as they should be. We should never be in a situation where the fate of a few large corporations determines the fate of our entire economy! We aren't diversified enough.
It our entire economy is so entirely dependent on such a small number of businesses, then I think they fit the definition of a "monopoly" and should have been broken up years ago.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
There are many people who look back at the words of FDR, the Kennedy's or MLK Jr as being pivotal moments that help shaped the course of their lives. They were inspired into politics, science, civil rights, the Peace Corps or just a positive vision for this country. I think Obama's election yesterday is in league with that. I got a sense of this while reading about the public celebrations in Harlem that happened last night. There are people who are going to remember yesterday vividly for the rest of their lives--if not all of us.
I think it is a wonderful moment of reconciliation between white people and black people. This is a moment of deeper integration of black people into the fabric of mainstream culture. They are not just the voice on the outside, but a true inside voice. That will no doubt be an awkward transition, even though it is longed for. I hope black people feel like a part of America in every way possible now--if they aren't there yet, they will be soon.
As Erin pointed out, many black folks haven't trusted the system--why vote, when your vote doesn't count? The system or "the man" will certainly subvert any attempts at a black person gaining power in America, right? Those worries were not unfounded.
Yesterday, we saw it turn around. Something happened last night. Something deep, and we may not see the full flowering of it for a while. Something happened in the relationship between black people and America that will forever change things.
I can't pretend to know what the average black guy is thinking as I pass him on the street. I am sure there is a wide variety of thoughts based on the person. But now when a black guy looks at me, he might--just might--look at me and think, "he's probably one of the people who voted for Obama, since the majority of voters picked him." Maybe when black people see me they won't see an enemy but realize that the odds are I'm a friend.
This isn't to say that McCain supporters were racist! Your vote yesterday was not a vote for or against racism. But what an Obama win does say is that America is ready, willing and able to elect a black man and enthusiastically stand behind him. This isn't the first time that America has rallied behind civil rights, but it is a huge step into a new ballpark. We are not just acknowledging basic rights, but sharing the helm itself.
The presidency in America is more than just a job. Americans want to feel a sense of connection to the president--someone they can relate to or imagine themselves having a beer with. This mentality has caused us some grief. But what it means is that if America is willing to elect a black man as president that means that America is willing to accept black people into the soul of America. That black guy there--he's one of us. He's taking his fair turn at the mantle. Of course, black people were already a part of the soul of America in a major way, but the difference is that now it is fully acknowledged and wholeheartedly welcomed.
Most people don't know that decaffeinated coffee actually does contain caffeine! Levels can be shockingly high, as Consumer Reports reports. According to that article, most decafs tend to have less than 5% of the caffeine as a regular cup. However, it could range from negligible amounts all the way up to maybe 33%! In extremes you might even see a cup of decaf with 50% of the caffeine as regular, if you take the highest levels of caffeine in a decaf brand and compare with the lowest levels of caffeine found in regular.
Still, as Scott said last night, if all you drink is one cup of decaf every day, it is probably safe to say that you aren't addicted to caffeine, anymore.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
However, I got asked for an evening favor and started looking for options. I had a narrow window of time between class this morning and work. I decided to stop in to see how long the lines were.
It was 10:30 am, which I believe to be the ideal time to vote--after the morning rush but before the lunch rush and the folks-getting-off-work rushes at 3:00, 5:00, etc.
There was a total of 1 person in front of me in line.
I have vivid memories of 2004: It was raining and cold and there were extremely long lines. However, few gave up except for parents with young children who just couldn't endure it all. People on that day would have endured far worse for their right to vote Bush out of office.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Let's say I have a 10-gallon tank and that I fill up 4 times a month at $4/gallon, for simplicity's sake. At its peak, that would run me $160/month and $1920/year.
If prices went down to $3.50 that would be $140/month and $1680/year--a difference of only $240 over the course of an entire year and only and extra $20/month in my pocket!
Right now, we are seeing prices at half of $4. Well, that's $80/month and $960/year, and we are starting to see some significant savings.
We could all do wonderful things with an extra grand in our pocket for a year. But keep in mind this is an extreme example where you are taking the price of gas and cutting it exactly in half and being able to sustain that price level for an entire year. Gas prices were not at $4 for an entire year, nor will they be at $2 for an entire year.
The bottom line is that with all the nervousness over the price of gas, when you factor in your actual travel against the fluctuations in the price, you may be looking at a difference of only a few hundred bucks over the course of a year and only an extra Hamilton in your wallet each month.
By no means am I suggesting that pricing is fair, nor am I trying to justify the runaway profits of oil companies.
I realize small business owners as well as those with large SUV's with high mileage can actually measure their gas expenses in the thousands of dollars a year, and these folks are more acutely sensitive to the price of gas. Also, an extra $20/month for a poor family can make a huge difference, as well.
But for most of us, it is really not going to make much of a difference. I'm not saying it's not a big deal--I am only wondering if it is worth all the attention folks give it. Get a fuel efficient car, try to reduce your miles by carpooling and consolidating your trips, and quit worrying about the price change of a few cents. Try to put your attention on projects that will really save you much more money than keeping yourself on the lookout for the cheapest station to fuel at.
The real problem with the price of gas is when everything on the store shelves becomes more expensive as every company has to pay higher costs to ship their products. This is where the real threat comes into play.
If you really want to save money, consider these:
25-50% of food is wasted in American homes. Look at your food budget and you may see hundreds of dollars of potential savings there!
Try greening your home. This site says the average home in my zip code can save $682/year. It does require some investment, but it will continue to pay out year after year. It is also good for the environment. It is also something--unlike gas prices--that you have real control over.
Keeping my energy up works in two ways: I either get more physical exercise or spend time in an intensely emotional period of my life. This time it was the latter. I have been going through an unusually strong period of anxiety as feelings from the past have bubbled up and needed to be dealt with. I just haven't been eating much at all, and the intensity of caffeine has been too much. I naturally cut it down significantly and then made the final effort to cut it out completely rather easily. I'm down to about one cup of tea a day. Compared to the multiple cups of strong coffee I've been consuming daily (that were no doubt tearing my stomach lining apart) I am ready for a break.
I love the taste and experience of coffee and tea. But my addiction usually begins when I find myself waking up tired and having to find a way to snap out of it. Having a busy schedule is a major culprit. Then once I get my "up" from caffeine, in a few hours I'll crash and be lower that I would otherwise be. Then I'll need another cup just to get back to level. Addiction soon ensues. Non-caffeine addicts tend to have better sustained energy.
My brain has been soaked in caffeine pretty exclusively all of my adult life. I literally planned my days with coffee stops at certain hourly intervals in mind. I hunger to remember what it is like to see the world through non-caffeinated eyes. Believe me when I say that the force of this drug is strong. I look forward to the day when I can relax with a nice cup of coffee now and then without the element of addiction factoring in.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
It is almost magic.
Men, we need to learn this and just keep re-learning. When we have a problem, we just go off by ourselves and absorb it until we work through it. That can work passably well when you are dealing with mundane stresses of the day--it's not great, though. Like Chris Rock says, just because you can do it doesn't mean it's to be done. But when you are dealing with major life issues, it just won't work, anymore. It can take forever to process every problem in isolation like this, and even then it may not be sufficient.
It doesn't make sense to our masculine mind: Talking about something doesn't "fix" anything. What good can it be? Well, I am here to tell you that sometimes that is all the "fix" we need. Just getting your thoughts out of your head and expressed and shared with someone else, hearing their feedback, not always because of the advice that they say but rather the fact that they hear you and affirm what you said. Yes, I hear you and understand.
Then suddenly you feel a weight lifted off of you and you can breathe again. Suddenly your seemingly endless stream of anger has melted away, like it was never there. And no matter how much you have convinced yourself that there is no silver lining to this cloud you're under, the words of someone else might help you see something so obvious you didn't bother to consider. I can't tell you how many times I thought I had it all figured out until someone breathed some words of wisdom into my ear
That is the fix.
And after one good conversation you can find yourself re-emerging into the world refreshed almost instantly. If you had gone off by yourself and muddled over it, it might have taken you ten times as long to get to a point where you felt better about it--and even then, it would probably not be fully resolved. It is gruelling, isolating and insufficient to boot.
Most of us men have only one person who we confide in: Our significant other or spouse. Statistically speaking, women often fare much better after a divorce than men do. That is probably because men just don't have the support structures in place. You lose your girlfriend, you can risk losing your entire world.
Just talk to people. Share your thoughts. Whatever they may be. And keep doing it--even when you don't think you need to, anymore. No, it's not easy, but you'll almost certainly be glad you did it.
I probably shouldn't make this a gender issue, but there is no mistaking the fact that women tend to do this a lot better than men. Women will regularly unload things that a man would keep inside for years. It is actually painful for men to open up, sometimes. And I'm sure this is true of some women as well. But once you do it, you'll be glad you did--even if you don't get the response you wanted from others, you'll at least be glad you unloaded it and said it out loud.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
I eat vegetarian at restaurants, now. This is the one area that I was very lax last year. While my grocery meat purchases were right on the money, I would eat anything if it came from a restaurant. This is the major place I have changed this time around.
A few days after I made my commitment, however, I was hungry late at night and indulged in some Chinese food loaded with no doubt factory-raised chicken. Aside from that one instance, I've kept my commitment rather well.
It can get extreme if I factor in all the eggs, milk and animals fats that are ingredients in just about everything. I try not to worry about all that and focus my attention on the items with large components of animal products.
I picked up a couple of whole chickens at the farmers market. I use them to make soup and usually extract some meat for sandwiches. I also have been eating a lot of fish.
Wild caught fish is a good option, since the animal did not live in confinement and probably suffered little at the end, comparatively speaking. However, the fishing industry as a whole is causing massive turmoil in all of our waters, so it is not a perfect choice. But knowing that none of our food choices is perfect helps me to make the best of it. Even if you eat only vegetables, if they are raised through conventional agricultural methods they are contributing to destruction of ecosystems and global warming when you factor in pesticide usage and erosion. But you can avoid cruelty to animals and have a smaller environmental impact overall by eating vegetarian or properly-raised meats.
I ask for the veggie patties at Subway. They are not on the menu, so you have to ask for them specifically. Most Subways carry them, but not all. They are quite good!
I eat pork and chicken at Chipotle. They are listed as "naturally raised" in Columbus, OH (each restaurant may be different, so you have to check what their menu says). I am under no delusions that this meat would meet all my ethical standards, but I support their efforts to bring better quality meats to the mainstream markets. A chain like Chipotle is large enough to help the industry develop in size and infrastructure, making the work of the next generation of meat vendors easier. Hopefully, we will see meats from animals not raised in confinement and completely organic, but what we have now is a start.
A baked potato and caesar salad at Wendy's isn't a bad lunch, either. I'm a growing boy, so I can often get spacey if I go too long without a substantial meal, so it takes some work to find suitable alternatives to meat. My foray at the Chinese restaurant above was due to not planning and then having a major protein crash. Keeping trail mix conveniently stashed in my car or desk at work helps out in case I get hungry and a substantial meal is too far away.
It has taken some adjustment, as I often eat meat only once a day now, and there are longer gaps between servings. It is best when I can avoid restaurants, especially fast food, but it is unrealistic to think that I can avoid them altogether. The best options in town are the Whole World Bakery & Restaurant, one of the Aladdin's locations or the Northstar Cafe's. The latter serves grass-fed beef and free range turkey as well as great vegetarian meals.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
There are many different types of religious movements, and each of them began in the wake of a societal change. It may be useful to see that each of these movements is a protest against the excesses of society and church of their particular day. There is a new movement beginning right as we speak.
Desert Fathers and Mothers: This was the earliest form of Christian monasticism. People literally went off into the desert and lived as hermits. Some of them practiced extreme lifestyles, such as St. Simeon who lived above the earth on a platform, never coming down for years. The draw here was that people were renouncing the materialism and social strata of the Roman Empire.
Monasteries: As the Roman Empire disintegrated, Europe dove head first into the Middle Ages. Western Europe was characterized by rampant political instability, like modern day Third World nations. Folks lived mostly in rural areas scattered around the countryside. Monasteries kept learning alive, teaching the peasants agriculture and food preservation and offering protection during times of attack. They were the backbone of early Medieval society. Their strict rules of daily life were a tonic for a chaotic world.
Friars: St. Francis and St. Dominic started the mendicant orders as Europe developed larger towns. These were more "freelance" orders who travelled the countryside two by two preaching and serving. They were not sequestered in a monastery but rather drifted around where the people were. The stability of the monastery was not as necessary.
Jesuits & Specialized Orders: As towns turned into cities and as Europe begun a wave of exploration of the New World, Asia and Africa, new orders formed again. The Jesuits were like a special "task force" who could be dispatched to addressed particular issues, such as missions work. Other orders became specialized around tasks such as education or nursing to match the increased specialization of the cities. It may also be useful here to see many Reform movements as also originating out of a witness to a less-institutionalized Christianity, such as the Anabaptists.
Modern Charity Orders: People are now more and more aware of the intense disparity of wealth in the world. In the Middle Ages there was certainly poverty, but odds are you were just as poor as your neighbor. "Helping the poor" meant giving bread to the guy next door if his flour went bad. Today, there are millions of impoverished people, and we have access to them through modern transportation and the media. We are also more aware of the larger social structures that produce poverty. There are orders such as Mother Theresa's Sisters of Charity who devote themselves to direct service of the poor in large scale operations. There is a renewed activism for justice.
The New Monasticism: We are in a period of religious ecumenism. Obedience is less appealing as traditional religious denominations are softening their divisions. We are tired from centuries of religious fighting. People believe there are multiple spiritual roads, and on any given day we are exposed to any number of them. The old vow of chastity lacks appeal, as people don't see a life of celibacy as a means of spiritual purity, anymore, nor are there feudal laws of inheritance so heirs don't compete with the Church for property. Yet, there is still the call to organize Christian communities.
A new monasticism is arising all over the place. People from many different backgrounds are hearing the same call. People are hungry for community, and they want to break down barriers. They are not drawn to lifetime vows nor being part of a hierarchy. They want to increase fellowship in our world which is starving for human contact, not live a life of silence. There are grassroots communities of Christians springing up in a very organic way. They are often rooted in a particular church, but people are drawn to them more for their way of life than through denominational allegiance.
Evangelicals are crazy for the new monasticism. There are movements emanating from the Anabaptists. Protestants in general are drawn to it, as well. There is the Landing group right here in Columbus, OH. People rave about Shane Claiborne's book The Irresistible Revolution and the Simple Way community he helped start. Groups of Christians all over are starting to do something like this on their own. As a friend of mine recently said, this is definitely the work of the Holy Spirit as these groups are oozing from everywhere and they don't even know about each other. They are all responding to the same hunger. I've only begun to start looking in these groups, and I'm not sure how they are all related, yet.
I see the new monasticism as originating with the Catholic Worker. In the 1930s, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin started a movement of lay people who live in intentional Christian communities. This movement draws inspiration from Benedictines and Franciscans. They live in poverty in the cities or on farms. They share what they have with the poor and are trumpets of social justice activism. Community, intentional poverty, charity, justice, hospitality, non-violence and spirituality all blend together as pillars of the same foundation. Catholic Worker communities scattered all across North America function as the skeleton of the peace and justice movement today. I consider it a "lay monasticism." Many people in the New Monasticism use the Catholic Worker as the model.
This is a very rough sketch of the history of religious orders. These periods were not mutually exclusive: There are still Benedictine monks today, and people in the Middle Ages practiced works of charity. New movements begin, but the old ones do not die out completely, as there is always a need for their witness, as well. I hope that all of these movements stick around. No one knows yet where the new movements are going to lead, but it is sure exciting to watch!
ADDED LATER: It is interesting the way the Protestant desire to get back to the tight-knit, early Christian communities is blending with the Catholic impulse to form movements and orders within the larger Church. There might be something really good happening here . . .
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I popped in the SNL 15th anniversary show. It was broadcast in 1990, and most of my tapes are from that time period, give or take a few years. I was amazed at how dated it was. 1990 wasn't that long ago, was it? The calendar counts 18 years. I don't consider 1990 to be the "olden days" by any stretch. Yet, this was well before the internet broke. This was before cell phones. This was before both the Clinton and Bush II years.
I was amazed by the difference in language. I found some PBS documentaries in my collection (some narrated by Johnny Carson), and they were still prolifically using male-based language. It was all "mankind" this and "mankind" that. You just don't hear that, anymore. Even a very "liberal" show like SNL had traces of this. There were subtle differences in the way gender roles were played out, and I couldn't quite put my finger on what specifically is different but it was there.
And while David Letterman's show seems like the one thing that time doesn't change, I spied one notable difference: Special guest Peter O'Toole conducted his interview with David with a lit cigarette in hand. In fact, I remember Dave himself known to light up a cigar now and then. You just don't see that anymore. It's probably illegal. Granted, this show was on location in London, so maybe that had something to do with it.
Malcolm Jamal Warner was on commercials urging kids to "stay in school." OJ Simpson guest-hosted SNL. This was the era of tampon and FDS spray commercials trumpeted ad infinitum on prime time TV--mothers and daughters sat on park benches and had "the talk" about "not so fresh feelings." I remember sitting with my dad when those commercials came on, and I tried to grab a magazine and look busy until they passed. No one said a word. I feel awkward talking about them even now, but why should I feel awkward--I wasn't the one broadcasting these things with no measure of subtlety at all on national TV! You just don't see that, anymore. We have come a long way . . . now we have herpes commercials, instead.
However, I feel like I am always nursing this thing. I reverse it inside-out and scrape off the grounds with a butter knife, although it often splatters. The grounds always stick in the seams and are a pain to get out. I try to hang it out to dry before scraping, but if it gets too dry, the grounds will shoot all over the place with the slightest touch. I used to rinse off the filter. Then I started to wonder if all the extra water was offsetting the environmental benefits of a reusable product. I only rinse it occasionally, now. The manufacturer recommends boiling the filter in water every once in a while to kill off germs and thoroughly clean it.
This is a daily hastle, and I'm not sure if it is worth it. I probably save a few boxes of coffee filters a year. I used to buy unbleached filters, and would throw all the used grounds (filter and all) right into the compost bin. The box would be sent to the recycling bin. Unbleached filters are kinder to the environment at the point of manufacture and being able to directly compost the product makes for less waste. Reusing is always better than recycling, but disposable filters seem to have minimal environmental impact in the first place.
I'm not sure if the coffee filter industry is bad enough that it deserves this much time and attention. There is certainly nothing wrong with having a reusable filter. It would be great to have reusable everything. But I also know that you can easily spend every waking hour of your day making your life greener. Most of us are going to make certain changes and leave the rest--but not all green changes are equal.
Here's my concern: We may pacify ourselves by making these drop-in-the-bucket changes in our carbon footprint but ignore the big stuff. No amount of reusable coffee filters can offset the miles driven in our cars or our home heating and A/C energy use. Our time and energy would be better spent insulating our water heaters or homes. We would be better served researching for the most fuel efficient car or experimenting with the bus lines. Other folks go out and buy new clothes regularly, which accounts for a significant strain on our environment through agriculture, pesticides and oil-based fuels.
I totally recommend the reusable coffee filter. It's a little more hastle, but it is nice--and you never run out of filters or have to use paper towels as a substitute. But don't let it lull you into thinking you are somehow "green." If you want to go green, try to target the changes that will have the biggest impact. Don't drive yourself neurotic trying to save a single coffee filter every morning and leave no energy for the big things!
Monday, October 20, 2008
And then what do these people do? Quite often, they just give up. Even worse, they feel self-righteous about it--they have looked where they could look and gave everyone an honest shot, and now they can wash their hands of the whole bloody mess and be done with it. As a result, they don't believe (much) about God, they don't practice spiritual practices, they don't do the charity and justice work of the churches, either. So they give up their entire faith just because they didn't like how some other church people were going about their business!
I don't want to criticize anyone's spiritual journey. There are times in your life when you need to be fed, and you yearn for a community or a group where you can find that nourishment and mentoring. The restlessness of youth calls the adults out of complacency and into accountability. We all need that.
But there also comes a time when the next step in the faith journey is to take responsibility for yourself. If all those groups are failing, so what? You be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi said. Try it for a while and you may become much more sympathetic about all those "hypocritical religious types." It is easier said than done. You might find out that as difficult as it is for you to live out the gospel, maybe, just maybe, others who are in religion find it difficult, as well. It has never been easy.
At some point in your life, you realize that you are an adult, too. If the church is failing in your eyes, what is stopping you from showing us all how it's done? The Pope isn't our "daddy" that we all look to for direction while we stay in quasi-infancy all our lives. He's a man like I am, and I can look him in the eye and we can talk about it and yell about it then go fishing when it's all said and done. He may not be any better equiped (or positioned) to live out his faith than I am.
"Be the change you want to see in the world," should be our constant reminder every time we want to get up on our soap box and preach hellfire and brimstone to everyone else who is failing around us. Don't come complaining unless you also come with a plan--or at least a desire to help make one.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
I spent the day snacking on apples and cashews. Meals were full of whole grains and other healthy foods. Here's the amazing realization: It never once occurred to me that I was sacrificing or depriving myself in any way.
You have to understand that while I have opted for healthy foods in the past, those decisions came with a bit of discipline. I enjoyed them, but if I were to hit the grocery store uninhibited, I would have often opted for something else. I wasn't forcing myself with clenched fists, but at the same time, it wasn't the most natural change in habit, either. Yesterday, I realized how much I have weaned myself off of those temptations.
I can still give a bag of chips a run for its money. No, I'm not as good as I once was, as Toby Keith will tell you, but I'm still as good once as I ever was. However, when it comes to chips, you can find me munching on Kettle Brand or some organic corn chips with salsa instead of Doritos (which I absolutely never, ever touch anymore). I don't miss Doritos at all. In fact, I resent them. They are addictive (probably due to the high MSG content). Even worse, I have always blamed them for getting cancer. Whether that is fair or not, I don't know, but I stay the hell away from them, and I have all sorts of vicious anger toward them. A couple times I have bought a bag of Doritos and then just sat there as I realized my rage for being hooked on something that might be killing me, and I then suddenly grabbed the bag and threw it into the trash with all my might. It's personal.
Note: There are mixed reports as to whether Kettle Brand products are all perfect angels with regards to additives, but in any case I consider them to be significantly better than Doritos.
I am disappointed as I scan the contents of grocery carts of other people. They are stuffed full of frozen pizzas, prepared meals, candy, pop tarts, deli counter meals, carbonated beverages, you name it. There is hardly anything that hasn't been significantly modified and chock full of additives. My cart? Potatoes, onions, 100% juices, whole grains, dried beans, etc. "Prepared" foods are still very basic and would include things like hummus, salsa and guacamole and the Ezekiel Brand cereals.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
We often distinguish between two types of "freedom" in theology. The first is called the freedom from. This refers to freedom from oppression, from rules, from any kind of limitation. This is what most people have on their minds when they talk about freedom. They want to be un-tethered.
The second kind of freedom is freedom for. This describes the kind of freedom whereby you have the time, resources and capacity for a particular goal.
Going to school can limit freedom by having to take classes, do homework and pay tuition. But in the long-run, it can give you the freedom for a wide open future that you wouldn't have otherwise had.
This plays out in a committed relationship. You do lose the first type of freedom in a long-term relationship. You aren't free to date other people and there are bills to pay, diapers to change and school supplies to buy. However--here is what most people forget--you have the second freedom in abundance: The freedom to take that long-term relationship to the limit, something you would never have the freedom to do sitting on the sidelines going from one date to the other. It's the freedom to be a parent and a spouse and to grow in love.
Kris Kristoffersen understood this when he wrote, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." A freedom from limitations by itself gives you nothing, unless it also provides the freedom for something.
The biggest mistake people make is spending a lot of energy securing the first kind of freedom while giving the second freedom only an afterthought. Yet, the second freedom is the most important one. Are we free to do what we want to do? Every decision we make is going to have limitations. The focus should not be about which limitations we can live with, but most importantly what opportunities we have.
A perfect example is my beloved stoplight scenario. At its most basic level, it is very true that stoplights limit our freedom. They tell us when to stop and when to go. However, a traffic light system keeps everyone moving like a well-oiled machine. The end result of this "restriction" is that we can drive where we want to more safely and quickly. This restriction increases freedom!
This is a simple lesson we all learned in elementary school fire drills: If we line up single file, we can all exit smoothly and safely. If everyone runs screaming for the door, we're going to have a pile-up and nobody's going to get out very easily at all.
Restrictions in the Economy
Capitalists usually freak out when they hear about restrictions. In theory, capitalism espouses a system of anarchy where the market should be kept totally free. The theory stresses that the fewer limitations the market has, the better the economy will function. Capitalists immediately assume that restrictions limit the ability of commerce to flow.
In reality, smart restrictions function like a traffic light system.
The more safeguards to protect people and institutions, the smoother it runs. I don't want to drive through a city without stoplights, nor do I want to work in a job market where I can be fired without provocation or be subjected to life threatening physical danger at any moment.
Businesses raged against regulations such as minimum wage, child labor laws, health insurance, unions, 40-hour workweek, the environment, you name it. But all of those things actually made their workforce more stable, healthy and happy. People were more productive and in turn spent their money back into the economy. Businesses did not lose productivity due to employees quitting or getting injured. By investing in safety, good wages and safeguards for workers, businesses prospered. Granted, these businesses did it kicking and screaming, as if they were in a hurry and held up at a red light. But they were not thinking about how everything would grind to a halt if there were not the occassional red light.
But then why are so many business people politically conservative? For a single business, it seems great to lower restrictions. Every law seems to hurt their ability to make money. In their minds, it makes all the sense in the world to unshackle them as much as possible.
What they don't take into account is the net effect of an entire system of people who have agreed to abide by a certain regulations. It does negatively impact an individual business in the short run if the government makes them pay their workers more through minimum wage laws or overtime requirements. All things being equal, now the business has to pay their workers more and they get nothing in return. However, if every business out there were doing this, the situation changes dramatically. Suddenly, all workers out there are making more money. And what do they do with their money? They spend it right back into those businesses!
In the above scenario, all businesses are taking a hit by paying their workers more. Since all businesses are doing it equally, there is no loss of competition in the market. This is why the government is the ideal body to mandate these changes--a single business would lose their competitive edge if they enacted these changes on their own, because other businesses would undercut them.
Businesses tend to support a conservative agenda because it speaks to these short terms fears, but you need to look at this with a prophetic eye to see where it's all going. Frankly speaking, the conservative agenda is not good for business. Too much unfettered capitalism just creates an unstable marketplace that is bad for business.
The Bottom Line
I've never forget a comic I saw on the office door of a college professor. It had four panels, each showcasing a different crisis in business: The application of Child Labor Laws, Minimum Wage, Safety Regulations, 40-Hour Workweek, etc. In each panel there was also a businessman screaming at the top of his lungs that these regulations would ruin his business! And in each instance, business not only did well but continued to prosper. We need to keep this in mind every time the business community tells us that some new regulation is going to ruin business.
In the year 2008, it is often those "environmental regulations" that are the scapegoat. Or universal health care. But look deeper: These programs may costs a lot, either to the government or business. But in the end, they will stabilize our society which lowers risks and will support the economy. Universal health care would give you the freedom to start new ventures, knowing your family is protected. Good environmental practices will improve our health and enable a future.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
It just doesn't work that way. We need to talk about how taxes and expenses are going to either stimulate or deflate the economy. That is the better way to look at it. You can have a situation where you lower taxes but the government actually ends up with more revenue in taxes--the lower taxes stimulate the economy enough to pay for itself. Raising taxes can also do the same! What's the right thing to do? The key is to figure out where the money is being invested, as I'll show below.
The Police Effect
Let's say the government raises taxes to hire more police officers. As a result, your city puts in a new precinct in a rough part of town. Folks are a little grouchy, since taxes went up to pay for it, but more jobs are created. The cops are spending their money in that neighborhood. The gas stations and donut shops are doing better business. Eventually, some enterprising people notice that there is a safe neighborhood where there used to be a rough one. They decide to open a business right across the street from the new police station. Soon enough, a second person opens another shop right next to them. Suddenly, a neighborhood that was once lacking in resources has new businesses, increased stability and a more vibrant economy.
Having the police around reduces risk in a neighborhood. Businesses are not as worried about break-in's or theft, anymore. People don't have to spend so much money buying bars for the windows or limiting their operations. Risk is one of those key indicators in an economy. When risk goes down, productivity goes up. Other folks who are less enterprising take the jobs that these folks left vacant, and some people come off of unemployment.
All this happened because we put a few more cops in a neighborhood? Yes! Sure, we paid more money for more police, but if it plays out right, you could have a small renaissance where we all benefit. All of this increased activity just turns into more tax revenue for the government.
You could follow all the possible ripple effects even further: There is more supervision for kids so they can be productive members of society rather than rotting away in a cell somewhere. If folks feel safer they might spend more money on their yard or their cars, knowing they will be protected. People might take more pride in their neighborhood which could be a boost of morale for everyone. Cops have special training, so that means there is a more educated workforce out there. The ripples keep going on and on.
The Teacher Effect
Let's say we raise taxes to put more teachers in the classrooms. All the same applies: There is an immediate boost as new jobs are created, and those teachers spend their money back into the economy. It also means that universities increase enrollment to train new teachers. More teachers also means that schools can hire art and gym instructors, hire more counselors and host more extra-curricular activities. All of these just turn into more opportunities for students to learn more and get more support. They also provide ways for kids to be connected who may not get that connection in a pure classroom setting. It also provides more mentors in different capacities, who may encourage kids to stay in school, stay out of crime and be successful. Violence should go down in schools, as well.
The result? Not only did we boost the economy by hiring more teachers, but through their work they help foster a smarter, safer, more stable population. Not only are teachers an immediate benefit to the economy, but the product of their work keeps reaping benefits as the years go on.
Just like lowering risk in the police example, innovation in the market is also another key indicator of growth. New ideas, education and technology are reliable factors for growth. We can expect long-term economic growth with a smarter, more experienced population.
The Military Effect?
Some say we should spend more on the military because it will stimulate the economy. At the outset, this is true. It follows the same initial pattern as if you hired more cops or teachers. The government will hire people to work in the weapons factories and in research and development. These people, in turn, will support the gas stations and convenient stores. Eventually, real estate agents start selling again so they feel comfortable enough taking their family out to dinner at a fancy restaurant, for example. It goes on and on, just like the previous examples.
The problem with military spending is that it doesn't create anything with a life of its own. If you make a bomb, then that bomb sits somewhere in a warehouse. You stimulated the economy in the short term by making the bomb, but once that money is spent, it is gone. The bomb has no further use to society, other than to blow up someone else's country--which you may rebuild but I wouldn't count on that, nor would I want an economic strategy based on bombing and rebuilding other countries! Admittedly, some innovation has come through military engineers, but I would rather have that innovation enter the economy directly and not in a small way as an after-thought of military research.
People: The Real Deal
So as you can see from the above examples, the real deal is not just a simple statement of who is raising or lowering taxes. There are good and better ways to stimulate the economy. Pay a guy to build a bomb, and the bomb sits in a warehouse and the guy sits in a factory. Pay a guy to teach our children, and not only do you have an active, vital teacher but he is also hard at work sculpting the next generation of innovators and productive members of society. That is the kind of investment that pays out for years and years.
So my advice: It is good to know how the government is taxing and spending. But look deeper: Think of all the expenses as investments. Are we spending our money on projects that are going to pay out dividends for years to come? Or are we throwing our money into things that have a limited impact? The government can stimulate the economy by hiring all sorts of people--we should be hiring people who, in turn, also perform a service that betters society.
Investing in people is the way to go: Police, education, social work, these are the kinds of things that build up the infrastructure of a society. These people all work to improve on key macroeconomic factors: reducing risk and increasing innovation. One person out of jail and into the workforce makes us all happier, smarter, safer and richer. This is really an extension of FDR's New Deal: building roads, bridges and dams not only puts people to work in the short run, but it also creates a transportation system which increases commerce and cuts cost, thereby continuing to support business in the years to come. It's a double pay-off.
These Democratic policies are not anti-capitalistic at all--in fact, they are entirely capitalistic. They support the system of capitalism so that it can run more smoothly. They function like the traffic light system: Businesses are more profitable when there is a well-policed environment. Businesses can innovate with a more educated workforce. Good social work can help people develop the social skills to work through difficult circumstances in their life--circumstances which keep people from being productive in society. A good counselor can help an angry teen find healthy ways to channel his feelings--instead of one more kid in jail, you have a potential role model in the making.
So not only should we ask our politicians how they are going to tax and spend--we need to ask them how they are going to invest in the future of this country. Some ways of investing can have an exponential impact while others just a linear one.
There are still scientists around today who were inspired and put to work by John F. Kennedy's science initiatives. For the last 40+ years, our nation has benefited from his prophetic investments into our future. Just think how another leader may set in motion the next generation of leaders and innovators who will continue to help us long after the job of that leader is done.
Monday, October 13, 2008
My family would plead with the priest to get more help--make an announcement during mass or even pay someone to do it! Hire some kids or a landscaper! His response: It's your church. [Translation: I'm not paying anybody to take care of your church.]
I loved our priest growing up. He was a good guy, and you could feel grace in him. But he also knew how to kill the spirit of a parish--people with good ideas were consistently knocked down and others gave of their energies until they were spent. The priest wasn't about to spend a penny nor did he have any idea how to take leadership, and--even worse--he would subvert the efforts of others who were trying to lead. It was a toxic environment.
In some ways, this was a reflection of the infamous old school Catholicism: You took for granted people would show up to Church. You took for granted that things would get done. There were no councils to organize people nor campaigns to encourage anybody--you just did it. But it would be also wrong to overstate that--people were being socialized to do the work, but maybe that socialization was happening at home and it didn't need to happen at church.
The problem is that it just wasn't working, anymore. Surly men paraded in for mass then left with big smiles on their faces, not a care in the world. It is quite possible it never occurred to them that they should be doing anything different. The folks who were pulling the weight were getting older and having to quit due to health reasons. Their numbers were dwindling and the few left were having trouble keeping up. The priest was preaching (literally) to the choir, but the choir was getting tired.
The common pattern was that some good people would start up something like religious education or grounds keeping and keep it going for a few years. They would eventually get burned out or drift to another, more vibrant parish. Suddenly no one was doing their job anymore, until some other well intentioned person decided to step up. We saw this play out time and again. It is hard to watch good folks get destroyed or see enthusiastic people pull up stakes and go to another church. People who criticized us were usually people who didn't stick around long enough see this.
The parish started a council on their own initiative and tried to address some of these issues (many churches didn't have parish councils back then!) After some heartbreaking incidents, the council scattered and folks left the parish, wounded.
But I will say this--the priest was so right about one thing: It is our church. It is hard for me to reconcile with this, because this whole event left scars within my family that remain to this day. Yet there was wisdom in the priest's words and he knew that, wisdom that went back to an earlier day.
If the church isn't getting together to take care of the . . . well, church, then something isn't right. This isn't an entertainment venue, where you pay your dues and go there for a show then leave. Church is not a spectator sport--it's full contact. Nobody has to tell you to clean your own house or wash your own dishes. In the same way, no one should have to tell you to clean your church, either.
I can't imagine going to a church that has outsourced its landscaping. You could say that the times they are a'changing. You could say this is merely a cultural shift as people are still dedicated, but they will attend seminars and social events rather than spend their time dusting the altar and peeling potatoes. Many people don't even mow their own lawns, how can we expect them to mow at the church? It's a sign of the times and folks are happy to hire a cleaning crew to get it done. Perhaps the same church is there, and it just looks different. Perhaps it's actually better if folks are attending Bible studies instead of peeling potatoes. But you can't tell me that we didn't lose something big.
To me, church is little old ladies gathered in the parking lot, unloading buckets and rags from their cars to shine up the pews. Church is men driving their tractors down the street to mow the lawn--proudly showcasing a brush hog, front loader or some special apparatus. Church is old folks chopping vegetables together in the garage in preparation for the annual dinner. Church is some of the best memories I've ever had and where I saw holiness. Like a beacon, I've seen what goodness looks like and I can see that beacon no matter what storms I go through. I have recently come to realize that what I saw back then has shaped everything in me. I have a stunning bullshit detector. And it's easy: I've seen what the real deal is.
St. Francis of Assisi urged people to preach the gospel at all times, using words when necessary. I went to church almost every week growing up, but heard few sermons. Our priest had a very gravely voice, and while he would give lengthy homilies, I literally couldn't understand a single thing he said, even when I tried. But in light of St. Francis' words, you could definitely say I heard the gospel preached all that time in this little country church.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
It is easy to do. I don't clean my cast iron skillet very often, so grease builds up. When I do rinse it down (never use soap), the oils often end up running over the top and bottom of the pan, making it so much easier to ignite. In addition, cast iron is a whole different animal to cook with than stainless steel. Once it gets hot, it becomes a heat source of its own as it will continue to cook food long after you turn the burner off. Oils can really accelerate under these conditions.
Today was by far the worst. I heated up some oil in a skillet, no big deal. Got ready to throw some chicken chorizo sausages on it. I guess the pan had been heating for a while, because it was ready to blow. As soon as I threw the first sausage on the pan, a shotgun blast of grease pellets nailed me dead center on my bare-skinned stomach. This cast iron pan doesn't have more than a fraction of an inch of a rim to it, so it was practically a flat iron with nothing to keep it from shooting directly toward me.
Fortunately, the grease cooled pretty quickly on my skin, which is amazing as I think back on it. Grease can often continue to burn for quite a while once it makes contact. I'm guessing the splattering effect made the grease dissipate so that it cooled more easily?
Still, it was quite a shot. I ended up with significant red patch of skin on my belly. It hurt to wear a shirt when I finally put one on. I managed to find some sunburn lotion with aloe in the cabinet and applied it, and after a while the pain went down. Later on, much of the redness had gone away. I thought it was healing astonishingly well. Then in the evening, my hand brushed up against my belly and I felt little lumps. I pulled up my shirt to confirm what I already knew: Yes, I was blistering. My stomach is now the texture of a sheet of bubble wrap, but--unlike bubble wrap--I have no ambition to pop anything. Woe to me when that happens.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Some people say they are called to help the needy, like some kind of religious vocation. Some don't feel called. But do you feel called when your mother gets sick? Do you feel called when your best friend is in trouble? No, you respond out of a deep impulse within you. Instinctively, you jump into action, as if the whole world stopped right then and there. If your mother needed you, there would be no hill or mountain that could stand in your way.
I think this is what Jesus is getting at when he wants us to rethink our family relations. All people are your brothers and sisters. The same instinctive, immediate response to the suffering of one of your blood family members should be the same response you feel whenever anyone is suffering. All people are your family.
Our ancestors who lived several thousand years ago had an edge on us. Living in isolated villages, many of them probably lived out their entire lives without knowing that there is extensive suffering in the world. They went to sleep at night not realizing there were hungry people they could have helped.
If a neighbor fell on some catastrophe in one of those ancient villages, I would imagine people would have helped out. House burned down? Just stay with the folks next door. Food supply went bad? The town will pull together to cover the difference. How could you go to bed at night knowing the folks in the next hut are literally starving to death while you have plenty of food? You wouldn't let that happen. Human nature being what it is, I'm sure it was a few steps removed from utopia, but I think it is quite possible that basic needs were met in one way or another in a lot of these places.
We don't have that luxury today. We know that there are millions upon millions of desperately suffering people--from sickness, famine, war, drought, homelessness, emotional anguish, you name it. This is one of the most shocking changes in human culture over the last 100 years: We hear statistics like 'so many thousands of people die of hunger every minute.' People who lived previously saw suffering, for sure, but they didn't have quite that same information in front of them. What that does to our souls is something I don't want to consider.
I just wish all people expressed a collective "No!" one day. Let's not do a single thing until every person goes to bed with a full belly. Let's all stop everything we're doing and hit this hard--with the same fervor as if it were our very mother who were hungry, with the same immediacy as if it were our own levees that were about to fail. Let's take to the streets, boldly go where no one has gone before, and get 'er done!
Thursday, October 9, 2008
In fact, "life" is the benchmark upon which I make all my moral decisions. Does something support life? Does something oppose life? That which supports life is that which I support. And so on. I see education as a pro-life stance. I see the environment as a pro-life stance. I see the arts, community building, peace making and war stopping to be pro-life.
In the Catholic world, we call this the "seamless garment" (John 19:23). All life is a single garment interwoven together, but without a seam or any sort of natural place where it would be logical to separate or tear it. It belongs together as one piece. The young, the old, the infirm, the unborn, the injured, the mentally retarded, the brainiacs, the soldiers, the saints--we're all woven into the fabric of life.
However, to advocate and support life at every stage means you run out of politicians to vote for.
Some people don't vote, as a result.
Some try to pick and choose--they are against abortion but can tolerate war and the death penalty, because in those cases at least you are getting the "bad people." Well, wars often involve carpet bombing civilians and many innocents go to death row. Not so simple. Some vote against war and the death penalty but shrug their shoulders over abortion--they figure it is already a law and there are some claims to womens' equality--claims they don't believe in, but it is easy to look the other way on this issue. We all find ways to justify our vote. You may find me doing it in this post, as well.
A Pro-life stance is not just about your relation to other people. It is about your relationship to yourself. What does it do to you when you justify killing another person? What has become of your own humanity when you find yourself finding excuses why this or that person or group is not worthy of life? Darth Vader didn't start off as a machine. As you can see from Luke Skywalker, it happened slowly--first his hand was replaced with a mechanical one. Then his heart was in play, and Luke had to choose: Life or machine.
The Betrayal of the Pro-Life Movement
I will say this to all the people against abortion out there: You have been betrayed. The Republicans have given you a lot of lip service and gladly took your money, but they have done NOTHING against abortion. NOTHING. Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, and there has been a strong pro-life Republican presence in Washington since. There have even been times when there has been both a Republican Congress and Presidency. Still, what have they done against abortion over the last 28 years? These were such "strong anti-abortion" people. Surely the powerful Ronald Reagan would have stood up to Congress to push some pro-life legislation through. Where was he?
They have led you to believe that somehow they "can't" do anything. They succeeding in convincing you that all they can do is slowly nominate Supreme Court justices, and that over time maybe just maybe they will be able to do something about abortion. But don't believe it. Congress or the President could have introduced, advocated for and supported all sorts of policies and legislation if they really wanted to do something about abortion. They could have let the Supreme Court fight it out. You could have seen these politicians talking about these issues when it comes time to make a law and not just when it comes time to get your vote.
In business terms, the pro-life movement didn't get much for the millions and millions of dollars it has invested. And I realize this is something that can't be looked at purely as a business investment. If nothing else, it is good some politicians are at least giving it lip service, even if that is all they are giving it. It keeps the conversation on the table and there are pro-life role models out there--sort of. But let's face it: Both the Democratic and Republican policies are not very pro-life at all--they just pick and choose some issues to support and others not to support, but they aren't driven out of an innate support for life itself. It is hard to see how George W. Bush values unborn babies when he seemed willing to go to war and blow some babies up for . . . what reason was that war for, again?
Right in line with that, John McCain is willing to use your pro-life sympathies to get your vote and your dollars. He says he will work against abortion as president. What has he done against abortion the last 26 years in Congress? Why is he waiting until now? In the meantime, he sees no sign of stopping a war that is killing lots of born and unborn children in another part of the world. I don't know what he'd do about abortion, but judging by his record I'd say it would be very little. But I do know what he'll do about the children in Iraq, as he has been very clear and consistent on that one.
I can't claim to know every bit of legislation ever attempted in the last 28 years. Perhaps I'm missing something. But you would think with all the talk around election time and the massive campaign machinery of the anti-abortion movement you would see a little more action than you do. I don't see anyone fighting this out on the streets of Capital Hill. And I believe there is a reason for it: They don't really plan to do anything at all about abortion.
If the Democrats were smart, they would take a softer stance on abortion which would undermine the Republican base. Had the Dems taken a more inclusive position when it comes to abortion, I am a firm believer they would have won the Presidency under both Gore and Kerry for sure, and possibly Dukakis and Mondale. The Democratic Party--a party supposedly of diversity--has taken a hard line stance on abortion and it probably lost them their edge in American politics. Who do you think those Reagan Democrats, Southerners and Catholics were who left the Democratic Party in droves in the 80s? That's right: The Pro-Life movement.
But pro-life is bigger than abortion.
I ask the pro-life voters to consider this as you vote. Are you getting what you think you are getting with the Republicans? Are they valuing and respecting your money and your vote? You already know my answers to those questions.