Legacies and Honeybees

I want to do something that may last beyond me.

I doubt my writing will.

Maybe it will, if I get much better at it than I am now.

But I think the world has moved on, and is moving faster.

I do not think many people alive today will “last” the way their creative ancestors did.

The world is so different now, and it will be so different.

There are so many voices saying so many things, and that will only grow.

We are no longer great marble statues, enduring through the ages.

At best, we’re a good meal: enjoyable, healthful, giving both pleasure and sustenance

Living on, if at all, in the growth and strength we give to those we nourish.

 

Perhaps I will plant some honeybee-friendly flowers on the edge of our yard,

Far from where my daughter likes to play,

Where their buzz is faint, and their stingers out of reach.

Perhaps I can give them some sustenance, some strength

So they can hold on as a species

Beekeepers struggle to sustain their numbers, often failing

Wild bees dwindle

The species skitters across the slippery slope to extinction

If the bees go, a million plants go with them

 

Perhaps I’ll do the same for butterflies.

But these flowers I’ll plant in the heart of our yard

So we can see their stingless beauty up close

Perhaps this means I’ll write less

But create more.

And I am at peace with that;

A life lived wholly before a screen

Is no life at all.

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First, Do No Harm: Aligning My Ethics and My Actions in a Disconnected World

I posted a few Mondays ago that I’d mostly moved on from theological blog posts … well, it turns out I was wrong.

Sure, a lot of the questions I was asking back then are things I’ve settled now, but one big one has arisen: How do I be moral and righteous within an economic and industrial system that is heavily built upon cruelty, exploitation, and oppression?

I’m still wrestling, just with slightly different angels.

I’m struggling to figure out how to align my actions with my ethics in modern America. Most of the things we do to survive, or at least live, seem to be built upon the suffering of others. And that suffering is deliberately concealed from those of us on the consuming end of the equation.

I’m not talking about historical injustices or atrocities, but  ongoing suffering and death, here and now. The kind I can either contribute to or help alleviate.

  • The meat, dairy and egg industries are horrific for the animals and (to a lesser extent) the workers.
  • Overfishing has put the health of entire oceans at risk.
  • Global warming is real. The oil companies and their pet politicians and pundits have spent a lot of money convincing people it isn’t, but I trust actual climate scientists more than lobbyists.
  • Hunger is still an issue around the world, and drinking water is an even bigger issue (even here in the U.S.)
  • Worst of all, a large but hard to determine, number of everyday items include components that were made by literal slaves.

The food in my belly, the clothes on my back, the shoes on my feet … someone suffered for all that. It’s easy to ignore. It’s easier to ignore than it is to learn about, because the men with the money want it that way.

As the old song says, they “you can throw that rock, and hide your hand … but what’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.”

So now that I’ve seen this particular light, what can I do?

I really want to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. How can I passively inflict this kind of damage? How can I cynically make this kind of mess for other, poorer people to clean up? Or for my daughter and her future children to clean up?

Out of sight, out of mind.

Jesus always sided with the underdogs, the outsiders in society (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”).

When he railed against sin, he was always speaking to the powerful, whose sin was oppressing and exploiting others, usually by making them into outsiders and declaring them unclean.

He never accepted second-hand cruelty. When the system was cruel, he rebuked the system. When the respectable, “moral” people were callous, he called them out.

He called me out.

We’re good at being good, when that just means being nice to the people in front of our faces, paying our taxes, and giving some money to charity from time to time. But I have a hard time believing that that is all that matters.

No matter what you believe religiously, we all stand under judgement. We can’t escape the things we do. Even if there were nothing beyond our mortal material existence, our actions still exist. They are as inescapable as gravity and entropy.

If my lifestyle is having real consequences on other people, don’t I need to change it?

Yes, I do.

Yes, I will.

And I hope that maybe I’ll inspire a few more people to join me. Over the next couple of days, I’ll be following this post up with more detail on the harm that we do, harm that is being hidden from us, and with what I’m personally doing to try to eliminate, or at least ameliorate, this in my life.

I hope you’ll join me.

Meat-Free Monday: Why Vegan?

Animal_Abuse_Battery_Cage_01 CC Compassion Over Killing

So why vegan and not vegetarian?

Well there’s two answers to this, three actually.

First, I’m supposed to be off the dairy for my health anyway. If I’m eating steak I don’t need butter on it. If I’m eating a burger I don’t need cheese on it. I need to be off dairy. Full stop. And that’s the hardest part of going vegan by a long shot. I can’t tell you how much cheese I used to eat on a daily basis.

Now, on to eggs and meat. Eggs are healthy enough, but factory farming conditions for chickens are heinous. We’ve seen the trucks taking the chickens to the the chicken factory just north of Hattiesburg, Sanderson Farms. It doesn’t look like a farm, it looks like really nasty factory, and it smells like it too.

The chickens in the truck were so cramped and packed together and each one was in a box that would barely hold six bagels. The Huffington Post calls eggs from battery-caged chickens “The Cruelest of all Factory Farm Products.” So, why would I participate in that if I’m giving up dairy? Why would I leave eggs in?

On the same point, the lives of dairy cows are even worse than the lives of beef cows, and once they run out of milk, they’re killed just like beef cows.

So it came down to a matter of health and ethics. And then there’s point number three:

I’m terrible at moderation. For years I’ve tried to “eat less meat and more veggies.” I’ve given up dairy a half-dozen times, only to backslide. I know I couldn’t half-do this. I knew I couldn’t give up some animal products without giving in and eating them all. If I was going to do this at all, I need to go “all in.”

Now, I’m only two weeks “all in,” so I can’t comment on my long-term success. And I’m certainly in no position to criticize (for example) someone who’s been a vegetarian for many years and still eats eggs and dairy. But “all in” is the only route I haven’t tried already and failed. It’s the only chance I have to succeed, realistically. So it’s what I’m going to do.

 

Freestyle Friday: A Museum of My Mistakes

(With apologies to Julia Wertz, who draws a comic called “Museum of Mistakes“)

Restarting my blog has led me to re-read some of the posts I wrote three or four years ago … and boy, is that embarrassing.

In some areas, I’m a little embarrassed by where I was then, compared to where I am now.

And I’m more than a little embarrassed by how little progress I’ve made in other areas.

But I’m extremely embarrassed by a few stupid insensitive things I did back then, like using the “homosexual” as a noun, instead of LGBT+ person, gender/sexual  minority (GSM), or a more specific and appropriate term like gay man or lesbian woman.

My first instinct was to go in an “correct” it, changing the old terms to more appropriate, sensitive and respectful wording.

But I’ve decided to let it stand. I’m not going to sanitize my past. Because I wasn’t writing that to speak against GSM people, but to work through my own understanding, and come to a place where I could at least be supportive and respectful to them as people.

I just didn’t know that I didn’t know.

I know now, but I think it would be wrong to go back and change it, to retroactively present myself as wiser or more sensitive or understanding than I really was. That would be false.

So I’ll let the old posts stand as a “Museum of My Mistakes.” Though I do reserve the right to take a post down entirely, if I really feel I need to. But I won’t alter what I wrote, and leave it up as if it had always been that way.

You can’t change the past, even if you have editing privileges 🙂

Meat-Free Monday: The Journey Begins

I’m moving toward becoming vegan.

So you may ask why I would do such a thing, given my lifelong predilection towards eating meat, loving cheese, and the whole 9 yards. You might also ask what chance I have of actually successfully riding this out, given my short-lived, idealistic attempts at any number of other eating plans in the past: South Beach, staying clear of dairy (which I’ve done several times for various health-related reasons … first because of sinus, then because of actual lactose intolerance), Weight Watchers, and some vaguely bean and greens based diet with lots of protein and nutritional faddish vitamins and stuff.

Well, my reasons actually go back a while. As you may recall, some time ago (September 2012, actually) I tried to give up on factory farmed meat eggs and dairy. The problem with this was that I still wanted to eat meat eggs and dairy in the same proportions as I did before (which never works, but I’ll talk about that more later). Free range anything is going to be twice as expensive, and free range is not a very well-regulated term so it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

As so many other things did this came to an end, due to “something.” In this case, the “something” was pretty big: a tornado hit my house, and 12 days later my daughter was born. In this case, I can be excused from falling off whatever wagon I was teetering upon at the time.

However, I am a flake, so if it wasn’t a tornado and a childbirth, it probably would’ve been some other “something.”

I could say that the reason I did this or started this I haven’t done it yet was as I looked at the scale and saw that it read 375. I’m a tall guy (6’7” – that’s 2 meters for y’all in the rest of the world), but 375 pounds is about 170 kg. It’s a lot. My BMI and my age are running neck and neck, and they’re about to catch up with Douglas Adams’ favorite number (Not that the BMI is a reliable or valid measurement of health, but goodness!)

Honestly, I got over the sticker shock of 375 pounds a long time before I ever thought of reducing animal intake.

In fact, I talked about even going on diets, which I don’t really believe in due to the medical evidence and of extremely high failure rates over a five-year period, and the medical evidence of the damage that weight cycling does to a person’s metabolism and their body overall. I’ve done a lot of reading, and the only things that work for major sustainable weight loss are gastric bypass or a major shift of consciousness that causes the person to start over in their entire relationship to food, exercise and activity, and their whole mind-body connection. So in short, it’s either cut out part of your stomach, or give your entire mindset major surgery.

What really put me back on this path was having lunch with Sally Jane Black, who you might know from Letterboxd, where she is the best film critic of her generation, or if you’re really lucky from role-playing gaming where she is the best GM I’ve ever encountered of any generation. And yes, I’m name dropping. Sally Jane has been a vegetarian for as long as I’ve known her, since she was a teenager I think. And Katherine and I had talked about reducing our animal intake, making more vegetable dishes, just trying to eat a little bit more healthfully since we know that the average American eats too much meat and dairy on an average yearly basis. So Katherine asked her what she cook how did she eat. That just sort of started my mind rolling.

That afternoon, we went to the Audubon zoo. After several hours there, we stopped to get some refreshments. Katherine and the little one got ice cream, but I was leery about getting anything so heavily dairy when I was in New Orleans, a city not well known for easy bathroom access. We would be doing a lot of walking that day to lots of different places, and I wanted to be ‘normal’ for it. But then I saw that the concession stand at the zoo where they were getting their ice cream had sorbet. I bought the mango, and said after one taste, “If I can get sorbet half this good, I’ll never want to eat ice cream again.” And I meant it. If you have access to Häagen-Dazs mango sorbet, try it.

In addition to being a tasty treat, it was an eye-opening moment. I enjoyed that mango sorbet as much or more than I’ve ever enjoyed any ice cream I’ve ever had. Maybe the heat of the day and the fun of touring a zoo with a three year old made it taste sweeter, but in my mind, I realized I didn’t have to suffer to do this. For the first time, I really believed it.

So within a week of that trip I stumbled across Main Street Vegan, a book about going vegan when you don’t live in New York City , LA, or Portland, when you don’t make six figures, when you don’t have a Whole Foods and a market right at your doorstep. It’s a book about going vegan when you have a family that may not also want to do that, when you have kids, so you can’t spend an hour and a half fixing a massive multi-ingredient delicate foodie type recipe, even if you wanted to, which I have never in my life wanted to do that – I’ll eat a meal it’s been prepared with that kind of love and attention to detail, and I will complement the chef profusely, but I’ve never felt deserved the desire to actually do that. I write, I sing well enough for three-year-old audience, and I like to do visually artsy type things though again I’m about good enough for three-year-old audience.

So started reading Main Street Vegan, and I was pretty well convinced by the time I got to the sample material that I was going to buy the book, and I was sure is gonna make some kind of go of it.

Since then I’ve spent some time online, and I found out that not every vegan lives in a major city or even a progressive area, and not every vegan is a foodie. Monique, the “Brown Vegan,” has a lot of practical information for those of us who don’t secretly wish to attend the Culinary Institute.  Some vegans prefer raw foods, which are great because they don’t take that much time and they are generally hard to screw up, which is really good for me.

Although I am not sure how people make all of those smoothies. Every time I make a smoothie and ends up just kind of okay, but certainly not worth the extensive cleanup that comes afterwards. Only takes five minutes to make a smoothie, and an hour to clean the blender. Well, I’d rather eat my food rather than drink it anyway, so even if I never solve that particular riddle, I’ll be fine.

To make a long story short, I did the research and came to believe I could actually do this.

And here’s my final reason: the little one is getting old enough to ask questions. She watches a lot of cartoons about animals, like A Turtle’s Tale (the first one is very educational, and has a great sense of timing, pausing to let the viewer feel the wonder of the oceans or witness the devastation wrought by pollution like an oil spill) or the various Land Before Time sequels.

And inevitably, the biggest fear the protagonists have is predation. Nobody wants to be eaten.

So, what am I going to say when she asks me “why do we eat animals?”

I can’t tell her we need to do it to survive.

I can’t tell her it’s nature’s way. We choose our path. We don’t just follow instincts.

Previously, I’d have to tell her “Because people have eaten animals for a long time, and we don’t care enough to ask if we still need to. But mostly, because they taste good.”

And I don’t want to be the kind of person who tells his daughter that concern for animals is stupid, that empathy is a liability, if the animal tastes good.

But now, if I succeed at this, when she asks “why do we eat animals?” I can say “Daddy doesn’t.”

And that’s an answer I can live with.

 

 

Empire of Static and Noise

Earlier today, I realized I’d been feeling washed-out and uncreative. This blog was lying fallow, and my fiction inspiration was as dry as California underbrush.

If I had a cause, a central idea, a unifying point to what I’m doing, then I would be so much better off. I’d have my writing drive back, my thinking drive back, my mojo back. But all I have is noise.

And so it occurred to me: noise. Maybe my main point for now is noise.

I don’t mean noise as in decibel levels, like the neighbor’s barking dog (though that’s certainly a part of it, just ask Schopenhauer or the New York Times. I mean noise as in “signal to noise ratio.” I mean static.

Like it or not, as modern Americans we live in an Empire of Static and Noise. Televisions blare from every corner. The instant gratification of a thousand status updates bubbles up through our phones like swamp gas.

Those same phones hold a variety of video games and grant access to a wider Internet filled beyond any one man’s imagining with articles, blog posts, and endless arguments across a multitude of forums.

We like our lives like we like our hash browns: scattered, chunked, smothered, covered, and served with coffee at three a.m. And even if we don’t like them, that’s how we live them.

  • How much of what we experience serves not to carry meaning, but to obscure it?
  • How much of what we experience serves not to inspire or provoke new thought, but to scatter our attention so that we can barely think?
  • How much of what we experience serves not to challenge us to new levels of compassion and humanity, but to distract us from the hard questions?

A very wise man once said, “Don’t watch the hand with the wand. The trick is in the other hand.” How much of our lives is just a wand waving on a stage?

I can’t answer that for you. But the answer for me is, “Too much. Way too much.”

So that leads us to the question, “What do I do about it?”

The first thing, the absolute first thing I have to do is start self-enforcing an earlier bedtime. I’m not getting enough sleep, and so many studies have proven that’s bad for you that I don’t even feel the need to cite them here (the Earth is also round, and it orbits the sun, by the way).

Basically, sleep deprivation makes you stupid, and I’ve been neglecting my eight hours since at least when my daughter was born.

Beyond that, I’m going to have to take a fast from certain technology. I will have to use Facebook only to check important messages, and encourage people to call, text, or email me instead.

I will have to stop reading Slate and all online forums. I will have to stop following all those interesting links in the articles that I do still choose to read.

Will this be permanent? I doubt it, but it will have to be for a while, at least. Addicts don’t moderately use, and I’m pretty much addicted to new information and short, nonfiction articles.

I’m going to limit not only my “active” television watching, but my “passive” watching. If Katherine is watching TV and I’m just passing through, I’m going to have to force myself to keep passing through, not stop and “just watch this scene” … and be there half an hour.

I’m going to have to uninstall the games from my Kindle Fire. It’s great for media, and it has potential for productivity, but I won’t get anything done if I’m feeding Om Nom candy.

I’m going to have to clear out some space and time in my life for thought, for reflection, for praying and writing and daydreaming.

I think I’ll be smarter and happier. I think. Heh. At least I’ll be thinking again.

An Epidemic of Obesity, a Pandemic of Self-Hate

Obetrol, with amphetamines, a favorite of Andy Warhol

Obetrol, with amphetamines, a favorite of Andy Warhol

America suffers from an epidemic of obesity. Ask anyone.

But America also suffers from a pandemic of body-hate, shame, and self-loathing.

Ask anyone who’s tried to lose weight, or worse, lost it only to regain it.

Why the obesity epidemic? There are so many possible explanations:

  • the wider availability of high-quality food,
  • the end of hunger (though not necessarily malnutrition) in the industrialized world,
  • more sedentary lives,
  • high-fructose corn syrup,
  • video games,
  • a downward cycle of yo-yo dieting, etc.

Why the self-loathing pandemic? There are just as many possible explanations:

  • the sheer fact of our increasing weight
  • media idols held up as impossible ideals
  • relentless messages from media, friends, family

All these play a part, I’m sure. But this is America, and I think we all know the #1 reason we hate our bodies so much. There is a lot of money in selling hate. $60 billion a year, according to Marketdata Enterprises.

As Christians, we realize that all people are the image-bearers of God. That all people are loved by God, loved to the point that he emptied Himself of His glory and power, walked on earth, and even died for us.

You and I are part of “all people.” You and I are loved that much, by that awesome of a God.

So why do we hate ourselves so much?  That hatred does not come from above.

I am hesitant to call things Satanic, but self-loathing is, and those who spread or profit from it for any reason should be ashamed of themselves. Its fires burn in every skeletal anorexic, every compulsive eater, every cutter, every suicide.

What does that mean for our bodies? I think we owe it to ourselves, and maybe even to God, to try to keep ourselves in good health. And that includes not only illness but physical fitness. I have reached a point in my life when I have fallen far short of this goal. I must struggle to strengthen my body, and resist the things that weaken me. Fortunately, it isn’t always hardship.

But the driving force that leads us to care for our bodies should be love. It should not be Hollywood, magazines, or the advertising machine of the diet and weight-loss industry. And our goals should not be to look like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. Vanity is no virtue, and envy is a poor motivator.

And most of all, we should learn to see ourselves as God sees us, to love our own bodies as they are, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) … not as they will be “after I lose 20 (or 50, or 100) pounds.”

Research shows that those of us who are really heavy will probably never be thin, not for the long term. But most of us can be a lot healthier than we are now.

And all of us can learn to close our ears to the malevolent, avaricious cacophony of advertisers, to gracefully throw off our body-shame, our self-loathing, and to let God’s love flow through our bodies … even if they weigh 350 pounds.