Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent One: Hope is Our Work

I’ve been spending time this fall with Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones.

You know the story, recounted in a well-known spiritual: God brings Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones, instructs him to prophecy, the bones come together, “toe bone connected to the foot bone,” until the bones rise into a mighty army.  The moral: an exuberant “them bones them bones gonna rise again.”

Seen from a comfortable distance, it’s an encouraging vision: even very dry bones, scattered and forgotten, can rise to life again.

The Valley of Dry Bones, Ben Zion, 1952, New York
The view is a little different up close.

Several weeks ago I was praying for some situations that seem beyond impossible. Let me rephrase that: I was supposed to be praying. Instead I was reflecting on how little prayer I had left, and lamenting my investment in a series of obvious lost causes.

I was due to meet that day with a group expecting me to bring a word of encouragement, and I had none.

Sitting with my Bible, brain and heart empty, I found myself picturing Ezekiel in a valley full of bones.

Not just a few bones – lots of bones. In a dry, barren, lifeless place.

I flipped through my Bible to Ezekiel 37: 
“Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Ezekiel, the man, the prophet, is an interesting study. There’s a real person there, if you read the book carefully. He’s precise about when his strange story starts: 
In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River. 
And he’s precise as words allow about all he sees and hears, although he’s clear that the words available don’t quite fit, that his experience is beyond language. It’s all “like” something, like the appearance of something – several removes from what it really was: 
Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. 
In a book full of overwhelming sights and difficult instructions, Ezekiel reports as calmly as he can, with only small hints of his personal response. Twice he simply reports himself falling facedown; once he describes sitting by the river “for seven days – overwhelmed.”

But he says nothing of his emotional state in the valley of dry bones.

An alternative translation of Ezekiel 37, by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, offers insight:  
The hand of YHWH, the Breath of Life, was on me,
And in a rushing-breath YHWH brought me forth
and set me in the center of a valley -
Full of bones!
- And led me all around them, all around.
Here! - Very many on the face of the valley,
and here! - utterly dry.
And said to me;
"Child of Adam, earthling, can these bones live?"
I said - "Pillar of the World, Breath of Life -
You know-it-in-your-heart, and only you."
Today is the first day in the liturgical year – the first Sunday of Advent. In the Anglican tradition, we’ll light the first of four advent candles, read the words of Mark 13:24-37, celebrate the promise of Christ’s second coming.

And we’ll speak of hope.

The hope of earthlings, children of Adam, waiting for the Pillar of the World, Breath of Life, to breath his life into our dead, dry bones.

My son, home for Thanksgiving, handed me a book he brought for me to borrow: “The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good, by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, founder of the Two Futures Project and now chair of the World Evangelical Alliance's Global Taskforce on Nuclear Weapons.

I’m only a few chapters in, but already I know can see that Wigg-Stevenson has spent time in the valley of dry bones, like Ezekiel, and like me, and has considered the question: can these bones live?

He describes a conversion experience on a back staircase in the Fairmont Hotel in LA, not long after a less-than-successful protest against nuclear weapons: 
I was willing to do anything.  But there was nothing I could do. This realization dropped me midstride. I saw a service stairwell to my right, slipped inside and crumpled on the rough concrete stair. And I wept in despair for the world I so desperately wanted to save from itself. 
Then, for the first – and, to date, the clearest – time in my life, I heard the voice of God.
God said: the World is not yours, not to save or to damn. Only serve the one whose it is. (18)
 If our hope is in ourselves, we are headed for burnout, disillusionment, delusion, despair.
The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, Gustave  Doré,
1866, Paris, France

Ezekiel, in the valley of dry bones, appalled by the very many, very dry bones, knew for certain there was nothing he could do. Yet, when God said “Prophecy,” he did. When God said “Speak,” he said what he was told to say.

And then, in a way, the story grew more alarming. 
So I prophesied as I was commanded.
And while I was prophesying,
there came a voice, and - here! a commotion! -
and the bones came together,
bone to bone.
And I saw - here! - upon them muscles;
Flesh arose, skin covered them;
But there was no breath in them.
Which is worse: dry scattered bones, or lifeless bodies waiting for breath?

In a way, Advent is a celebration of this place in between: moving toward life, but not there yet.

The Kingdom of God is at hand. The Kingdom is still far in the distance.  

Peace has been proclaimed. Peace is nowhere to be seen.

The dead body is sitting up, but still not speaking clearly

The older I get, the more I invest in people and communities around me, the more clearly I see the depths of our dilemma and the more certain I am that the world is not mine to save.

I am not able to solve or even shake the entrenched racism and oblivious injustice that will put one in three African American men in prison, that continues to question the outrage of one more, and one more, and one more unarmed young man shot dead by those sworn to keep the peace.

My uneven boycott of slave-harvested chocolate, my uneven support of Fair Trade coffee, will never make a dent in immoral labor practices.

I'm not able to ensure safe food, water, air, for my own family, let alone this suffering, sorrowing world.

I can't heal the sick, restore broken families, fix broken systems.

As Wigg-Stevenson observes, in a moving chapter about a trip to Hiroshima to honor those who died there in 1944, 
The sin of the world is not some minor laceration. . . It is a vast and ragged puncture wound driven deep into the lungs and heart of creation itself. The divide stretches between us and God, and between every person and every other person. Even if we cared enough or were good enough to work in perfect concert to try to fix it (though we don’t and aren’t, and thus we won’t) we lack the capacity. The wound of sin is the very ground on which we live, eking out our unpredictable lives along its edge. (61) 
I look at the heritage of war, or slavery, or racism, I study the generations-long trail of abuse, deceit, abondonment, I listen to new stories of brokenness and ask:

The Valley of the Dry Bones, Abraham Rattner,
Urbana, Illinois, 1956
Can these bones live?

Honestly? From what I see? Is healing possible?


Give up.

Forget it.

Yet, we’re told not to give up. We’re commanded to hope.

And not just to hope for a time in the future, but to speak, act, live as agents of that future wholeness alive in this fractured present.

In Ezekiel’s vision, God simply said “Prophecy.”

Ezekiel obeyed.

When bones, flesh, muscle gathered into lifeless forms, Ezekiel didn’t turn and run, didn’t shut his eyes and pretend all was well. He simply waited for the next instruction.

Then obeyed again.

Knowing the earth wasn’t his to save, he chose to serve the one whose it is. 
Then God said,
"Prophesy to the rushing-breath-of-wind -
Prophesy, you child of earth! -
and say to the breathing-wind -
Thus says the Pillar of the World, the Breath of Life -
From the four breathing-winds come, O breath,
And puff upon these slain, that they shall live."
 There are days I start out with no vision of what the next step will be, and then words are given.

There are times when I stand in the middle of dry bones and watch in wonder as they spring to life.

There are moments when the rushing-breath-of-wind breathes through the valleys where I live, and I marvel, and go my way rejoicing.

There are seasons when I simply wait in hope. This is one of those seasons.  
No king is saved by the size of his army;
    no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
    despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
    and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.  (Psalm 33:16-22)

modification of Velden Floating Advent Wreath, Johann Jaritz, Austria, 2009
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Austria license.

This is the first in a four week Advent series.

Earlier Advent posts on this blog:
Advent One: Rethinking Portfolios, Dec. 1, 2013
Advent Two: Resisting Idols and Injustice, Dec. 8, 2013
Advent Three: Redefining Home, Dec. 15, 2013
Advent Four: Rejoicing in Mystery,
Dec. 22, 2013
 Advent One: How Do I Know? Dec. 2, 2012
Advent Two: Outsiders In Dec. 9, 2012
Advent Three: Question. Fruit. Dec. 16, 2012
Advent Four: Sing Alleluia, Dec. 23, 2012
 Advent One: What I'm Waiting for, Nov. 26, 2011
Metanoia,  Dec 4, 2011
Voice in the Wilderness,  Dec. 11, 2011
Common Miracles,  Dec. 18, 2011
The Christmas Miracle, Dec. 24, 2011 
 Advent Two: John the Baptist,  Dec. 12, 2010
Mary's Song,  Dec. 19, 2010
Christmas Hope,  Dec. 24, 2010 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Feasting on Real Food

Since April, we’ve been participating in Community Supported Agriculture, sharing the risk and reward of an organic farm in nearby Lancaster County. We paid our part at the beginning of the season, and every Friday since we’ve picked up a box of produce from a front porch a few minutes away. Friday was the last pick-up day for our 2015 CSA share  

I’ve done more research than I would like on America’s broken food systems: overuse of antibiotics to prevent illness in overcrowded livestock; pigs warehoused on cement floors and kept alive with pharmaceutical feed; vegetables grown in soil so depleted the nutrition gained is a fraction of what should be there.

The industrialization of our food supply is one of those large problems that demands small solutions. Wendell Berry’s essay, Think Little, called attention to the problem of food, and the harm to the earth from large-scale production:   
We do not understand the earth in terms either of what it offers us or of what it requires of us, and I think it is the rule that people inevitably destroy what they do not understand. Most of us are not directly responsible for strip mining and extractive agriculture and other forms of environmental abuse. But we are guilty nevertheless, for we connive in them by our ignorance. We are ignorantly dependent on them. We do not know enough about them; we do not have a particular enough sense of their danger. Most of us, for example, not only do not know how to produce the best food in the best way – we don’t know how to produce any kind in any way. Our model citizen is a sophisticate who before puberty understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty will not know how to produce a potato. . .
For an index of our loss of contact with the earth we need only look at the condition of the American farmer – who must in our society, as in every society, enact man’s dependence on the land, and his responsibility to it. In an age of unparalleled affluence and leisure, the American farmer is harder pressed and harder worked than ever before; his margin of profit is small, his hours are long; his outlays for land and equipment and the expenses of maintenance and operation are growing rapidly greater; he cannot compete with industry for labor; he is being forced more and more to depend on the use of destructive chemicals and on the wasteful methods of haste and anxiety.
For most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been Think Big. I have come to believe that a better motto, and an essential one now, is Think Little. That implies the necessary change of thinking and feeling, and suggests the necessary work.

One of Berry’s “think little” solutions is for families to attempt to grow their own food. I’ve planted tomato plants, and watched the groundhogs and rabbits feast. And I’ve espaliered apple trees along my front yard, and watch the deer nibble the blossoms. My peaches are too high for the deer, but the squirrels pick them before they’re ripe and sit on my backyard bench, laughing at me as they nibble.

While attempts to grow our own food haven’t yielded much in the way of harvest, it’s made me more aware of the risks of food production. It’s also made me very thankful for the small scale farmers in
Wimer's Organics hoop house, 
our region who are relearning the forgotten wisdom generations of small-scale farmers, while adding new knowledge about plants and soil, and new technologies, like high-tunnel hoop houses that extend the growing season.

Bud Wimer, of Wimer’s Organics, is one of those farmers. His weekly newsletter gives insight into the planning and preparation, the hard work, the unexpected weather. With other organic farmers, he’s working to grow the healthiest food he can, as sustainably as he can, in ways that improve the soil, extend the harvest, and build community.

The food is wonderful: fat round beets, richly colored chard, greens of every description, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, garlic. Peas, beans, strawberries, delicious tart apples. My husband and I share our share with my daughter and her family, and we marvel at the wealth of goodness in every box.

SpringWood pastured chickens and cows 
Another part of our CSA is the option to order eggs, yogurt, or chicken from a partner farm in nearby Gap. I heard Roman Stoltzfoos, the owner of SpringWood Farm, speak at a sustainable agriculture conference several years ago about his experiments in growing organic feed, using solar energy to sprout grains during winter months when his animals can’t graze in his lush green pastures. I  was amazed at the beauty and love that radiated from his slideshow of his farm, and happy to learn of his partnership with Wimer’s Organics. I have never seen egg yolks as full of taste and color as the rich, brown eggs we enjoy from Springwood Farm.

Part of the joy of our CSA share is the weekly email explaining what’s coming. It lists what will be in the box, offers tips for storage, short and longer term, always includes a few recipes, and sometimes a verse of scripture or simple encouragement to take a walk with a spouse, spend time with a friend, get outside and enjoy the day. The highlight, though, is the description of what’s happening on the farm, the insight into challenges and joys, the lessons learned, the plans for the future. The emails are both whimsical and wise: 
Broccoli, cabbage, spinach and leeks all walk through these short freezes as though nothing out of the ordinary is occurring.  Cauliflower, on the other hand, starts complaining about having cold hands and feet and asking for a blanket and a cup of hot tea.  We gave it neither one and are hoping it survives. 
The frost effectively ended the season of Summer.  The crops we think of as summer crops all died, summer is over.  Another season is beginning.  Occasionally I think about the passing of the season of Bud Wimer.  Eventually it will come.  As I remember, at this moment, the Summer 2013 peppers, I wonder how my descendants will remember me.  The peppers this year started off a little slower than in other years, and they did not get quite as big on average.  The second round of peppers here in the fall was much less than in previous years and, again, they aren't quite as big.  Of course, we can also compare the soil at each location of pepper plantings and the weather patterns over the two years.  The pepper plants had no choice in those circumstances.  Those comparisons will affect how we esteem this year's crop.  Even though this was not the most productive pepper season, it was still a good one and we are thankful for the crop that was produced.  May my descendants and their generation be thankful for my existence and yours when they remember us.  Let's endeavor to be a good crop.
 I am very thankful for Bid Wimer and his work at Wimer’s Organics, and for the Stoltzfoos family and their work at SpingWood Farm.

And thankful for all the farmers like them, here in Pennsylvania, across the country, around the world, creating small, sustainable solutions to the large-scale problem of industrial food.

I wish them health, and thank them for their contribution to my own family’s health.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wimer's Organics Share
 I posted about both these farms last September as part of a series on God's Green Equity:
Imagining Wholeness, September 29, 2013

Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome.Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Health Care: A Matter of Soul

“We have 900 billing clerks at Duke. I’m not sure we have a nurse per bed, but we have a billing clerk per bed… it’s obscene.”
Health economist Dr. Uwe E. Reinhardt, describing the Duke Medical System
Yesterday was the start of open enrollment for health care insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

This weekend, Physicians for a National Health Program is holding its annual meeting in New Orleans to consider this year’s theme: “Seeking Health Equity: Politics, Racism, and the Fight for Single Payer.”

In Congress, majority leaders are planning major investment of time and money in investigations into every aspect of creation and implementation of the ACA, and looking for ways to vote, once again, on repeal of all or portions of the act.

And last week  the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of  King v. Burwell, a case challenging the decision of  the Fourth Circuit court to uphold an IRS rule regarding health insurance subsidies.

I confess, I’ve found the animosity toward Obamacare hard to follow, especially as expressed by Christians. Christians have historically been the ones most insistant on helping the sick, often at great cost to themselves. I posted about this several years ago
When plague devastated the 3rd century world, Christians cared for the sick, gathered and took into their homes people thrown into the street by family members fearful of becoming infected.
When Romans and others threw their deformed, surplus, unwanted babies on trash piles or into rivers, Christians gathered them up, fed them, cared for them as their own.
John Chrysostom taught, "If you see anyone in affliction, do not be curious to enquire further... [the needy person] is God's, whether he is a heathen or a Jew; since even if he is an unbeliever, still he needs help."
Even now, with the frightening scourge of Ebola, Christians are essential participants in care of the sick. A Sixty Minutes report on the Ebola outbreak in Liberia made no mention of the Christian faith, but showed the local health workers gathering strength and courage during their breaks by singing hymns together. Two doctors flown back to the US for Ebola treatment last summer were missionaries: Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol, both serving with Samaritan’s Purse.
The Good Samaritan, William Henry Margetson,
London, ca 1900

Faithful Christians have always taken to heart the challenging parable of sheep and goats in Matthew 25. The sheep and goats aren’t divided by theological position, experiential worship, whether they’ve prayed or said the correct thing, followed the right leader. In Jesus' parable, they’re judged by their care of those in need: the poor, the hungry, those in prison. The sick. 
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 
Care of the sick is not a political issue, although both parties try to  make it one.

It’s a moral issue, with practical consequences in the lives of those without access to care, and heavy financial implications in a system where the only option for the uninsured sick is to show up in emergency rooms.

Before the Affordable Care Act was passed, there were nearly 50 million uninsured Americans. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: 
More than eight million Americans signed up through the Marketplace, exceeding expectations and demonstrating brisk demand for quality, affordable coverage. . . In addition, over 4.8 million more people have been covered by states through Medicaid and CHIP programs, around 3 million more Americans under 26 are covered under their parents’ plans, and recent estimates show that an additional 5 million people have purchased coverage outside of the Marketplace in Affordable Care Act-compliant plans. 
That’s more than 20 million people who now have access to health care. To me, that looks like a win.

Unfortunately, some of the people most in need of care are still unable to receive it. An important 
provision of the ACA is expansion of Medicaid eligibility to individuals with incomes at or below 138 percent of poverty ($27,310 for a family of three). The expansion was intended to be national, but the June 2012 Supreme Court ruling opened the door for states to opt out. As a result, 23 states have refused to expand their programs, leaving the  median income limit for parents in 2014 at 50% of the poverty rate, an annual income of $9,893 a year for a family of three, with childless adults completely ineligible. As a result, four million adults fall into a “coverage gap”,  with incomes above Medicaid eligibility limits but below the lower limit for Marketplace premium tax credits. The majority of those are the working poor, working minimum wage jobs or trying to get by with part-time employment.

The ACA, Obamacare, was a compromise cobbled together in an attempt to care for the uninsured while keeping the insurance industry happy.

From every indicator I can see, it’s improved things for many: young adults struggling to find a permanent job with benefits, peoplewith pre-existing conditions who before would have faced bankruptcy, families of the working poor in states that have followed the Medicaid expansion plan.

But I’m still puzzled at the strong opposition to single-payer health care. To me, it’s a no-brainer. 

Why should my health care dollars pay the salary of the insurance gatekeeper who decides whether my doctor’s prescription is eligible? 

Why should my doctor spend hours every week answering to non-medical personnel eager to boost profits by denying care?

Why should a financial executive behind a desk in Hartford have more say over who needs a hospital than the doctor in the room with the patient?

A 2006 survey examined the amount of time physicians spend on billing and insurance-related paperwork in the United States and Canada (a single-payer system): 
20.6 hours of nurse time per physician in the United States versus 2.5 hours in Canada; 53.1 hours per week of clerical time in the United States versus 15.9 hours in Canada; and 3.1 hours per week of senior administrators’ time in the United States versus 0.5 hours in Canada. 
Economic analysis has repeatedly shown that a single-payer plan would slash administrative costs, allow greater focus on preventive care, free workers and employers from insurance-related staffing decisions, and save billions in health care dollars. 

I’m thankful for doctors. And for nurses, optometrists, dentists, therapists of every kind.

I’m thankful for those who spend their lives training, serving, looking for ways to bring health to bones, brains, eyes, ears, teeth.

I’m thankful for the Affordable Care Act, and the difference it’s made in lives of people I know, and don’t know.

I'm thankful for those willing to face political heat and accusations of “socialist!” to advocate for more and better care for those who are still without.

I’ll be praying this weekend for the doctors gathering to look for ways to advance the idea of a single-payer system. Their website is a revelation of simple good sense and compassion.
“The issue of universal coverage is not a matter of economics. Little more than 1% of GDP assigned to health could cover all. It is a matter of soul.”  Uwe Reinhardt

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Click on the   __ comments link below to post.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bird Yard #7

Our yard was bird yard #7 in Pennsylvania for October, 2014.

Not impressed?

Let me explain.

We live on a half-acre lot in a suburban neighborhood, minutes from several major highways and a regional mall.

When we moved here, almost twenty years ago, it was the first single-family home my husband Whitney and I had owned, the first I’d lived in since I was 13.

We’d been living in townhouses for over two decades, first in the city, then a planned community, so we had lots of ideas about what to do with a yard.

One of mine was to attract birds.

I put out a bird feeder, and no birds came.


I’d watch squirrels race around on the mismatched fences that edged the backyard, but rarely saw them set foot on the grass. We lived in a dead zone: no birds, no squirrels, no butterflies or lightening bugs.

The previous owners had tried to grow lawn all the way to the back fence, despite a grove of locust trees, a big white pine, a basswood, a maple. And they’d apparently used plenty of chemicals to help the cause along.

We turned the back third of the yard into a shade garden, stopped using chemicals, watched for the birds.

A few robins appeared. Some blue jays.

A few years ago I read Bringing Nature Home, a treatise on using native plants by entomologist Doug Tallamy, and started trying to understand how natural environments work. Leaf litter feeds bugs and soil, fallen trees provide winter cover for insects, berrying shrubs offer winter food, well-constructed twig piles offer nesting sites places for butterflies to hide cocoons. A great blog by some local gardeners, Backyards for Nature, confirmed and expanded what I was learning. 

Since then, I’ve let bird and squirrel-planted seedlings grow, collected baby plants from the woodlots of friends, frequented native plant sales at places like Jenkins Arboretum, consulted with the owner of Redbud Nursery, a small local business crammed with plants essential to birds and bugs of the mid-Atlantic region. 

And I’ve worked to learn more about birds: what they eat, where they like to hide.

Bluebirds, for instance. They like bluebird boxes that face east, preferably facing open space. But in the winter, they’d rather have a deep hole in a tree, somewhere high and not facing the wind. They don’t like birdfeeders, but a pile of crumbled suet on an old stump will make them happy on a wintry day.

Carolina wrens like piles of sticks, the looser the better, and suet with seeds.

House wrens like houses. The more the better.

Nuthatches like dead trees, and safflower seed.

So: bird yard #7. There’s a website called ebird, run by the Cornell University Department of Ornithology. The idea is to crowd-source study of bird behavior. Bird watchers record what they see, the data is collected, then information shared about migration patterns, population trends, local sightings of unexpected birds. The site lists top birders by county, state, country, but also has a feature listing top yards according to number of species seen.

In 2009 I started keeping track of birds seen in my yard. That year, there were 36 species.

The number jumped to 60 in 2012. Part of the shift was my improved ability to identify birds. But part was better bird habitat as new plantings grew and began to bear fruit.

This year, so far, the number is 83, with two months yet to go. And in October alone, my best month ever, I saw 50 species of birds in the yard, 7th best bird yard in Pennsylvania. (You’ll have to take my word for it – on the first of each month, the count starts over, and the stats for the last month disappear).

My yard will never be first – for that I’d need a yard with a pond, or a wetland, maybe a field or two. 

For a suburban half-acre, 7th is an honor.

Writer and farmer Wendell Berry has written of the task of making the abstract particular: it’s not enough to say we care for the earth if we don’t have a specific corner we tend; it doesn’t work to advocate for children if there are no particular children we’re helping to thrive.  In essays like “Think Little,” published in the Whole Earth Catalog in 1969, or The Agrarian Standard, published in Orion in 2002, or his speech in Washington, DC in 2012Berry has insisted that many problems our nation faces are a result of “thinking big”: looking for grand solutions, trusting in large-scale corrections. For half a century, Berry has been lamenting our industrialized, machine-driven, one-size-fits-all world that flattens landscapes, levels communities, drives people into cities, a world dominated by "The Way of Industrialization":“Big Ideas, Big Money, and Big Technology.”

In opposition to that, he celebrates small, particular, intricately connected. He describes the kind of stewardship deeply rooted in 
the commonplaces of the Bible . . . the admonitions that the world was made and approved by God, that it belongs to Him, and that its good things come to us from Him as gifts. Beyond those ideas is the idea that the whole Creation exists only by participating in the life of God, sharing in His being, breathing His breath. “The world,” Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “is charged with the grandeur of God.” Some such thoughts would have been familiar to most people during most of human history. They seem strange to us, and what has estranged us from them is our economy. The industrial economy could not have been derived from such thoughts any more than it could have been derived from the golden rule. 
There are things I can't change. Not alone. Not soon.

I can vote (and did).

I can boycott (and do). 

I confess, I want big solutions: fair wages for workers here and elsewhere, happy homes for children near and far, just laws, honest legislators, clean air and water, safe food.

I’ve been reading Andy Crouch’s Playing God: Redeeming theGift of Power, and it occurs to me that Wendell Berry’s deep concern about big ideas and industrialized solutions has a great deal to do with the misuse of power.

Power can be used to make things happen in a way that benefits the one in power.

Or power can be used to make people and communies thrive.

In a response to the Nietzschean will to power that sees life as a zero-sum battle for more, Crouch offers this vision: 
All true being strives to create room for more being and to expend its power in the creation of flourishing environments for variety and life, and to thrust back the chaos that limits true being. In doing so it creates other bodies and invites them into mutual creation and tending of the world, building relationships where there had been none: thus they then cooperate together in creating more power for more creation. And the process goes on. 
I’ve been playing God in my yard: tending my garden, pushing back chaos, trying to create a flourishing environment full of variety and life..

So here’s what I puzzle over, while I'm tending my seedlings, or weeding my moss path:

How do I use my small sphere of power to create room for more?

More birds, more bees, more butterflies.

But also – More contentment. More integrity. More patience. More beauty.

And how do I take what I learn in my yard, and apply it in other ways?

How do I dream big, while thinking little?

This isn't the first post about life in my yard. Here are a few others:
Generative Grace, October 13, 2013  Imagining Wholeness, September 29, 2013  Consider the Sparrows, April 6, 2014
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Just click on   __comments below to see the comment option.    

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Voting Pro-life

full inforgraphic available at
I would like to vote pro-life in the election on Tuesday.

But I'm finding that very hard to do.

That's because my definition of pro-life doesn't line up neatly with the pro-life contingent’s scorecards.

My goal is to vote pro-life in the widest meaning of the term: in favor of all life.

The lives of unborn children AND the lives of those lost to handgun suicide and handgun violence AND the lives of the millions in the Pacific island nations anxiously watching waters rise and waiting the next catastrophic evidence of climate change.

But I'm also aware that voting pro-life must also mean voting pro-children, since if unborn babies are worth our attention, surely that doesn’t end the moment they’re  born?

Which means I’m also commited to voting for maternal and paternal leave, family leave, safe and affordable childcare, affordable, accessible housing.

Current family leave law in the US mandates 12 weeks of unpaid leave for mothers, none for fathers., no requirement of wage compensation during leave. In terms of length of leave, the US ranks 20th of 21 high-income countries, and is the only country that doesn’t require some length of paid leave. What's the message there for women with unplanned pregnancies?

Children in Homeless Shelters; Coalition for the Homeless
Child care? Again, the US lags most developed countries in ensuring safe, appropriate child care, and in keeping it affordable for working parents. 
 “When we compare what we do as a nation to what other developed countries do in terms of child care, it’s embarrassing and it’s tragic,” says Stewart Friedman, practice professor of management at Wharton. “Part of it is rooted in the American ethos of individualism. You’re supposed to make it on your own.” 
 According to data from the Center for American Progress, low-income families spend a much larger portion of income on child care. In 2010, for instance, families who made less than $1,500 per month with children under the age of five spent more than half of their monthly income on child care expenses (52.7%). Only about 30% of low-income families using center-based child care, and 16% using an in-home care center for a child under the age of six, received subsidies, according to the data.
 Some of the working poor make do in other ways. Take, for example, the arrest of Debra Harrell earlier this summer. Harrell, a South Carolina mother, was arrested for leaving her 9-year-old daughter in a park for hours while she worked at a nearby McDonald’s. She was charged with unlawful conduct toward a child, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Her arrest sparked a national debate.
 “Those employees who are most needy — single mothers or people who work in the fast food industry, say, whose work is prone to shift changes — are left with nothing,” Bailyn notes. “They represent a group of people that need to work to take care of their children, but they are not supported with anything close to high-quality child care.”
Looking through organizational scorecards on candidates in preparation for an earlier blog, I came across this group: Campaign for Working Families.

That’s exactly what I think we need, a campaign for working families, so I linked with interest to the group’s home page:

"Campaign for Working Families. Unapologetically Pro-Family, Pro-Life, Pro-Free Enterprise."


Pro-free enterprise?

According to what I know of history and economics, free enterprise reached its zenith during the days of the transatlantic slave trade and the sweat shops of New England.

And yes, a handful of families benefitted greatly from their unfettered enterprise, but many families were ripped apart, many lives were lost, many children brutalized in the idolatrous worship of free or cheap labor and unlimited profit.
Free enterprise guarantees employers the right to divide jobs into part-time shifts with no benefits, no protections, reschedule at will, fire women the moment they look pregnant.

Free enterprise allows landlords to offer substandard housing at unaffordable rents, refuse to make repairs, then evict families for adding another child.

Free enterprise pays waitresses $2.13 an hour, refuses protections to migrant workers, pays CEOs a thousand times the pay of hourly workers then insists a living wage would be a hardship.

Free enterprise dumps toxic particles into the air, then looks the other way while children gasp with asthma and mothers lose their jobs spending anxious days on pediatric wards.

I will not be voting for free enterprise.

Or for any politician who holds out the delusion that unregulated business will save us from our sorrows.

Or tempts us with the promise that “privatized” education, prisons, roads, parks, water will somehow lessen our responsibility to each other, or remove the financial burden of caring for our nation’s children.

Pro-life and pro-family stand in stark opposition to pro-free enterprise.

This is so nationally, and even more so globally.

In 2000, all 189 member nations adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing to work together to eradicate the extreme poverty and hunger responsible for millions of deaths of children every year, and to combat preventable diseases and improve maternal health.

Two years later, Millenium Project analysis estimated that if developed nations each gave .7%  of their Gross National Income, the goals would be achievable. Sixteen countries agreed to work toward that goal; the United States has consistently led the way in refusing that commitment, and has consistently been among the five lowest contributors in percent of GNP. While most other nations have worked toward raising percent of contribution, the US contribution went from .22% in 2005, to .20% in 2011, to .19% in 2012. Meanwhile, Denmark, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden, and Norway have surpassed the .70% goal, with Luxembourg now giving a full 1%, and Sweden .99%. The average contribution is .43%; the US is less than half that.   
I posted on this topic in 2011
In total, the US gives more aid than any other nation. But as a percent of per capita income, we’re competing with GreeceItaly, and Japan for least generous nation.
A few additional facts:
  • Less than half of the reflected aid from the United States goes to the poorest countries.
  • The largest recipients are strategic allies such as Egyptk Israel, Rassia, Pakistan, Afganistan and Iraq.
  • Israel is the richest country to receive U.S. assistance ($77 per Israeli compared to $3 per person in poor countries).
The United State’s unwillingness to commit to funding Millenium Development Goals is directly tied to protections for American business
The United States, Germany, Japan and France still insist that a major proportion of their aid money be used to buy products originating only in their countries, according to experts.
 ”This has ensured that aid money is eventually ploughed back into the economies of donor nations,” says Njoki Njoroge Njehu, director of 50 Years is Enough, a coalition of over 200 grassroots non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
 ”The United States makes sure that 80 cents in every aid dollar is returned to the home country,” she told IPS.  .  .
 Njehu cited the example of Eritrea, which discovered it would be cheaper to build its network of railways with local expertise and resources rather than be forced to spend aid money on foreign consultants, experts, architects and engineers imposed on the country as a condition of development assistance.
 Strings attached to U.S. aid for similar projects, she added, include the obligation to buy products such as Caterpillar and John Deere tractors. ”All this adds up to the cost of the project.”
 Njehu also pointed out that money being doled out to Africa to fight HIV/AIDS is also a form of tied aid. She said Washington is insisting that the continent’s governments purchase anti-AIDS drugs from the United States instead of buying cheaper generic products from South Africa, India or Brazil.
 As a result, she said, U.S. brand name drugs are costing up to 15,000 dollars a year compared with 350 dollars annually for generics.    
A pro-life position, as I understand it, would be for “untied” international aid: more interested in keeping children alive than in ensuring further profits on the part of some of the wealthiest corporations on the globe. Yet, the candidatees most likely to receive high grades from pro-life organizations are also most likely to vote "no" on untied aid, "no" on protections both nationally and globally for working mothers, "no" on access to contraceptives, or universal maternal and child health care. 

As I said, my goal is to vote pro-life, pro-children, pro-mother. 

There is no party platform that lines up completely with the range of issues that concern me.

And no individual candidate that would receive a 100% on my own carefully constructed scorecard.

Which is why I’ll be reading positions and voting records carefully.

And even then, I’ll be voting with prayer.

This is the tenth in a series looking at specific issues of importance in state and local elections, as an extension of my 2012 series "What's Your Platform?"  

Earlier posts:  
What are Workers Worth, Sept. 1, 2014
Back to School Lament, Sept.7, 2014
Who is Allowed to Vote? Sept. 21, 2014
 Dreaming of Home, Oct. 12, 2014
Vote Smart, Oct. 19, 2014
Shale, Oct. 26, 2014 
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Just click on   __comments below to see the comment option.