Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Follow up on Thanksgiving

I had an immediate response to my Thanksgiving blog this morning. I was going to delete the comments but thought that I would rather leave them so people could read how misinformed and absolutely ignorant they are with regard to our nation's history. To think that this guy is writing history books makes me want to puke, I can only hope that there are few schools that would buy into his agenda of manifest destiny. Sorry folks, I can't believe that God would want us - let alone lead us - to enslave africans to work our farms, exploit asians to build our railroads, or kill any indian that got in our way, just so we can sit in our 4 bedroom homes with 2.5 kids, 1.3 pets, and tune out the world around us.

On second thought I don't need to give this guy a platform to spew forth his vile rhetoric, he and his manifest density are gone.

I apologize, but because of this incident, I've put tighter controls over commenting on here. I do this reluctantly because I believe that these forums should be as free as possible. But if someone is selling something, particularly if it is something I wouldn't believe in, it's not going to show up in the comments section.


Some thoughts on Thanksgiving

Over the last 3 or 4 years I've been more or less tolerating Thanksgiving. Ever since I read Kent Nerburn's book "Neither Wolf nor Dog, On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder", and having spent a fair amount of time investigating native "issues" the whole Thanksgiving thing just doesn't cut it for me. I wouldn't have such a problem with it if we weren't annually subjected to the sanitized version of the First Thanksgiving or if we, as a nation, were to finally stand up and admit to the genocide that we have inflicted on native people. On Thursday there will be people celebrating the bounty of this great land, there will also be a small group of people mourning the loss of their culture and to a great extent their dignity. Let us not forget that many of them couldn't afford a full blown Thanksgiving meal either.

If that wasn't enough, the fact that Thanksgiving just adds to out gluttonous nature as a society is also troublesome to me. Do we really need to be celebrating the fact that we over consume food or that we're an obese nation? The environmental costs of food production are enormous. The United Nations has published a report that shows food production, specifically the livestock industry, produces more greenhouse gasses than does transportation. Those costs don't include the land destruction that takes place to grow feed for livestock or the costs of the added nutrients to our watersheds from animal waste.

So, with all this going against it, why even bother? I do think we should celebrate Thanksgiving. Food is a sacred gift from God and we should be thankful for that. We should celebrate the fact that native cultures still exist and that we can still learn from them. So, Thursday morning I'll get up early, burn a little sweet grass and sage to give thanks for my many native friends, put some free-range chickens in the oven, and chill some salmon-friendly wine from Oregon and be thankful for the opportunity to do so.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

What is a farm?

Last year the Minnesota Legislature redefined what constitutes a farm. At one time if you had more than 10 acres of land and lived outside an incorporated area you could be considered a farm. Now, the 10 acres doesn't cut it. Why should this matter? The fact of the matter is people are farming, and making a living, from 10 acres of land. This has everything to do with sustainable farming practices, good, fresh food, and a stable, sustainable economy. I'm certain there were people abusing the old system, but should we be punishing those who weren't? The StarTribune is running a story on this in the Sunday (November 18th) paper. This is something we can all do something about from a grass-roots level.

Friday, November 16, 2007

War Eagle!

War Eagle is the "cheer" and greeting of Auburn University students, alums, and fans. It does kind of grow on you, and it does have kind of a neat background, but I'd still prefer it didn't have such a militaristic tone to it. I spent a couple of years living in Alabama while I was doing my M.S. program in fisheries biology. It was a great experience and I'm glad I was able to do my graduate studies within a great program like Auburn's. I was able to study with some truly remarkable people and got to see a totally different part of the country. My research was conducted across the state looking at crappie populations which enabled my to see a lot of rural Alabama. It was pretty eye-opening to see the little sheds and cabins that people were living in. It wasn't uncommon to drive through the country and see light shining through cracks in the walls of houses. So, I was particularly pleased and proud when I opened my last little email from Speaking of Faith this morning. This week's program is about Auburn's architecture program designing housing for people living in poverty. I think this is a really big deal, since a lot of people see Auburn as a football school. I've known it's much more than that but this will (hopefully) give people a little different perspective. I'm eager to hear the program (although for some stupid reason, they play it here from 10 a.m. on Sunday when I'm at church!) and hear what the folks at AU are doing. It's good to know it's not just about football.
Peace Eagle,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

And what did you do today?

I've seen a number of posts describing the blogger's day, including work, home, activities etc. This evening while driving home, it occurred to me that I had a pretty unique day. I woke up at the UofM's Forestry Reseach Center in Cloquet. I was there for a short, two-day meeting with a group of other biologists with the goal of developing a detailed sampling program to track environmental changes in aquatic systems all across the state of Minnesota. I'm responsible for developing and implementing the zooplankton sampling protocol for the program. About mid-morning I left the meeting and headed for St. John's. I spent the first class talking about the implications of Vatican II on ecumenism and the second about Hildegard of Bingen and the Beguine mystics. I got back to Alexandria around 5:30 p.m. just in time for a potluck/monthly church council meetings at church. At 8:30 I was helping Will put the final touches on his science fair project. Pretty good day I'd say.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A new level of frustration

I'm a little, ummm, frustrated right now. When I started this journey, I figured it would be fairly difficult - balancing work, dad, husband, and school - and that part hasn't disappointed me. It is challenging, but I enjoy it. I enjoy learning and I enjoy the growth that I'm undergoing. The frustration stems from this diaconal ordination track that I'm trying to figure out. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I started the program at St. John's without an intention of ordination. However, at the time I wasn't aware of the Deacon program within the UMC. There truly is a calling above the self fulfilling gratification of further study and I am serious about the diaconal program. However, I've grown increasingly frustrated with the definitions that are presented with the program. Everything is vague and from my point of view open to a great deal of interpretation. I was initially told that with a previous M.S. and being over 35, I needed 24 (and depending on which website or pamphlet you read it could be 27) credits of basic graduate level theological courses, half of which would need to completed at an "approved" school. (What's half of 27 credit-wise?) That wasn't a big deal since United Theological Seminary and Luther Seminary are just down (140 miles) the road and they do offer a few online courses. Better yet, St. John's will count those credits towards my degree AND will include them in the fellowship they've given me. Sweet deal... but too sweet?

Now to the frustrating part. During a conversation with a professor at another school about some environmental issues, the subject about ordination came up and I was told that ALL my credits needed to come from an "approved" school. Yet, all the literature I've found says "Master's degree in appropriate area of specialization, plus completion of 27 semester hours of basic graduate theological studies in the Christian faith. OR Professional certification, plus completion of 27 semester hours of basic graduate theological studies in the Christian faith. Must have reached 35 years of age at the time of being certified as candidate." It says nothing about an approved school OR the 27 or 24 credits having to come from an approved school. For tracks A and B, it specifically states that all work must be completed at an approved school. The frustration (and you must realize that I work for state government, so it takes a lot to get me frustrated!) stems from not being able to get an answer about any of this. In the last two weeks I've left 11 voice mails with various people at the General Board of Higher Ed. and have yet to have one returned. That really goes beyond, rude - it's incompetence in my mind. My District Super. has called on my behalf and hasn't gotten really any further than I have, other than they're sending him some informational literature.

The second point of frustration grows out of the "approved" school list. For a theology born from an Anglican tradition it is truly amazing that there is not a single Anglican, Episcopal, or Roman Catholic school on the approved list. I've pretty much decided that whatever transpires within the UMC, I'm going to finish my M.A. program at St. John's. They've made a commitment to me financially and I've made a great deal of progress in my studies of combining ecology, spirituality, and theology. So, stay tuned, I'm sure there will be more twists and turns on this journey.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007


As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I've been leading a Sunday discussion at church on land ethic, theological response to environmental issues, and most recently the spirituality of food and eating. During the discussion's we've covered Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic, looked at how other denominations view God's creation (including the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the American Baptist Church) and have viewed a short video producted by a Franciscan community of nuns on the challenges of climate change. We are currently looking at the theology and spirituality of food.

During the conversation, corn somehow creeps into our discussions. During the section on Land Ethic, we talked about the toll the environment has taken while we have developed a monoculture of corn on our prairie landscape. During the conversation on climate change, we talked about ethanol a great deal. We discussed how hoarding corn for ethanol production affects the food chain (the commercial one, not so much the natural "eat and be eaten" one). We found that filling up a large SUV with pure ethanol uses enough corn (about 400 pounds) to feed a person for a year. What are the ethical/theological implications of that aspect of corn alone? Interestingly, I found a tidbit (sorry I can't find the link) that John Wesley's cry for abstinence from alcohol wasn't so much that it was unhealthy or a sin to drink; rather it was that the grain that was converted to alcohol could have fed the poor.

As we move our conversation to food it will be interesting to see the role corn plays in our discussion. Corn is everywhere, it is nearly impossible to find a pre-packaged food that doesn't have some corn or corn derivative in it. Nearly all the soft drinks consumed in this country have some high fructose corn syrup in them. Even diapers have corn in them. We've even errected statues of corn! Paul Gruchow, wrote about our corn dependency a number of years ago. His essay, Corn is not Eternal, he paints a fairly frightening analogy between our dependence on corn and the Lakota dependency on buffalo. He wrote:

"A person born in our time will as an infant be clothed in a diaper made in part of corn and fed a formula based upon corn syrup. That person will grow into adult life sustained in thousands of ways by products made from, packaged in, or manufactured with derivatives of corn, from every kind of feed except fresh fish to plastics, textiles, building materials, machine parts, soaps and cosmetics, even highways. And when that person dies, some laws require that the body should be embalmed - in a fluid made in part from corn." "We have not begun to imagine a life without corn. We have assumed, by the default of failing to think about it, that corn is eternal. But it is not any more eternal than the buffalo. In fact, because the corn we cultivate shares a common cytoplasm, it would take exactly one persistent pathogen to devastate our culture as we know it.

" Demand for corn, fueled more of late by the growing ethanol industry, continues to increase. The fear is that in order to meet the demand, more corn will now be grown in places where it should not, such as highly erodible lands. Conservation lands where grasses and forbs now shelter wildlife and help control run-off into lakes and streams are apt to also be converted into new rows of corn. Corn is king.

Are we, by demanding cheaper sources of fuel, running from one dependency to another? Or, perhaps we're already there?

I've been challenging the participants in this discussion to think of ways to make this a pasotral issue. This, as all issues related to the environment, boils down to social justice. Are we going to keep feeding our appetite for fuel at the expense of a hungry world? Are we going to keep warming our climate so millions of people will be displaced by flooding?

Quite literally, food for thought.