Friday, July 18, 2014

GFU & transgender

This week, a fairly public news item emerged, regarding George Fox University's win in a case with the Department of Education, allowing Title IX religious exemption for the university's housing policy and a transgender student, Jayce, who wanted to live in a male dorm. Here's a Register Guard article about the court decision, and here's an Oregon Public Broadcasting news spot on the issue, featuring Wess Daniels and my grandpa, Ralph Beebe. Both are supportive of Jayce and desire to make him feel welcome and like he can be himself at Fox. Here is GFU's statement about the case. I want to just write a brief post on this issue, what's going on, and my thoughts.

First, I wanted to note that there has been some misrepresentation of GFU's policy. Some news reports are stating that the transgender student was "denied housing," which isn't true: he was offered housing on campus housing in a single apartment. One issue is that he hasn't yet undergone sex reassignment surgery, it sounds like, making it a little bit difficult for the university to give him housing in one of the single-sex housing options. Fox cites similar difficulties deciding what to do at Smith College, an all women's college. Do they admit male-to-female transitioning transgender students? Such questions of sex and gender are far from resolved in society at large, let alone in a Christian context such as Fox.

Second, luckily it sounds like Jayce has been fairly happy with the way he's been treated by other students, staff, and faculty, besides this issue of housing, so that's good.

Third, GFU cited Northwest Yearly Meeting's policy to shore up its claim that this was a religious belief. As far as I can tell, NWYM doesn't have a real policy about transgender identity.

This coming week, Northwest Yearly Meeting will be discussing a revision to the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality (p. 80 of that document). The major question really pertains to what sexual acts are consider "sinful," especially including homosexuality. There is quite a range of opinions about what should happen with the current statement, although the fact that we're discussing it this week probably means that a majority of NWYM Friends believe that it should be changed and does not represent current belief. I don't know if we'll even have time to talk about transgender issues this week in the limited time we'll have in meetings for worship for business.

Fourth, a few queries: Why is it so troubling to us when people don't want to remain within traditionally-defined gender boundaries?

Every culture has different opinions, practices, and beliefs about what it means to be "feminine" or "masculine," what roles and behaviors go along with each, and which attributes are considered "good" or "bad." There are different traditions and beliefs about what men and women wear, how they behave toward one another and toward their own gender, and what occupations or tasks belong to each. We can't really define, once for all, what it looks like to be "female" or "male." We can't even describe this physically, for many people, since many are born with secondary sex characteristics for both sexes, chromosomal differences from their "normal" sex, or other differences that make sex more of a spectrum rather than a duality. Moreover, due to both "nature" and "nurture," I'd expect, each individual displays traits that are more or less "feminine" or "masculine" in different areas. Very few individuals fall in furthest end of each category on all of the things we use to measure our own culture's understanding of what it means to be "feminine" or "masculine."

What does it mean to YOU to feel "male" or "female"?

Why is it more culturally acceptable, on the whole, for women to be relatively "masculine" (wearing clothes designed for men, or at least similar to those designed for men, portraying "masculine" traits like assertiveness, etc.), and less culturally acceptable for men to act "feminine"? What does it say about us as a culture and what we value?

What would it look like for us to not really care about who's male and who's female, and just to love one another for who we are, regardless of how we dress and which body parts we have? Would this not be more congruent with our understanding of who we are as part of the Body of Christ, in whom there is no male or female, because we are all one as children of God?

Hold us in the Light this week as we have our annual sessions. Pray for unity and that we will listen to the Spirit, that we will be slow to anger, and that the love of Christ will abound in our midst.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

mason the frog & other stories

As you may have read in my last post, I just started a new PhD program in Environmental Studies. For one of the first two classes, Ecological Thought, I was supposed to create a visual essay that shared something about my sense of place. One of the other assignments for the course was to work on a sense of place journal, where I observed the same outdoor location every day for three weeks. I observed my back yard, and generally my two sons accompanied me. I took quite a few pictures. What came out of me for my visual sense of place essay was a children's story, starring my kids and a tadpole we caught. Most of the photos were taken during the three weeks I observed my yard. I thought I'd share the story with you. (My boys loved it, by the way!)

Friday, July 04, 2014

back to school

I wanted to let you all know about the newest development in my life, and the life of my family!

For quite a while I've felt drawn toward seeking a PhD in order to a) gain more knowledge and b) be able to pursue full time teaching or other job opportunities. This last year I applied to programs in theological ethics, and I got in to a few of them, but I still felt a check in my spirit about the whole thing. As a Quaker, I didn't want to get a degree that was based solely on theory. I want my scholarly work to have practical application, and to flow out of lived experience. Also, religion and theology programs are extremely competitive, based mainly on the theories and systems that you know with head knowledge and can rationally explain. While I find all of this incredibly intriguing and interesting, I also find it absolutely useless if it can't be put into action for the good of the world. I recognized that doing this sort of degree, even if I was studying ecological theology, would be 5 years of intellectualizing and head-work that I would be slogging through with no time for any practical action.

At the last minute, I decided to look into PhD programs in environmental studies and sustainability education, and got accepted into them as well. I felt peace and joy about the program at Antioch University of New England, and decided to go there! It's a PhD in Environmental Studies. Last week I had my first intensive session, where I had the classroom time for two courses, Introduction to Research Design and Ecological Thought. Both classes were excellent, and I enjoyed the creative and practical information and pedagogy employed by each professor.

Added to the fact that I get to do a degree that combines the practical and theoretical, I also have a Quaker advisor! That's something I wouldn't have had in any of the PhD programs I applied to in theological ethics. My advisor will be Steve Chase, Friend from New England Yearly Meeting, who has written several books and articles on Quaker topics, including Letters to a Fellow Seeker: A Short Introduction to the Quaker Way, and a recent chapter in the Friends Association for Higher Education's 2014 book, Quakers Perspectives in Higher Education, entitled "Educating for Beloved Community." I'm excited to work with him on issues pertaining to Quakerism and care for the Earth.

I also have an excellent cohort of about a dozen students, all from different types of backgrounds, including the sciences, social sciences, literature, and various government agencies dealing with environmental issues. It's exciting to look at this issue from so many different angles, with experts from different fields as my colleagues.

In about a month, we'll be moving to New Hampshire! Here we come, New England Yearly Meeting...

Thursday, July 03, 2014

published: christ & cascadia

Photo by Joel Bock
I have a lot of updating to do on this blog and I will soon be posting a bunch of thoughts and an update on life, but first I wanted to share that I've recently published a piece on the online journal Christ & Cascadia. The piece is called "Sister Willamette: Co-Lamenting with My River." I wrote it after participating in a sort of stations of the cross meets ecotheology experience called "River's Lament," created by the group EcoFaith Recovery. I participated in this for a seminary class I'm co-teaching called Poverty & Restorative Earthkeeping.

I'd encourage you to read Christ & Cascadia, especially if you're a Northwesterner! They're doing good work embedding theology in our particular time and location by asking what faith looks like in the context of a person from our bioregion, Cascadia.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

eco-lent reflections

Yesterday marked the end of Lent, with the celebration of Jesus returning to life. The Eastern Orthodox church calendar now moves into 50 days of Eastertide, so maybe I'll become Orthodox for a bit, because after the 40 days of fasting during Lent, Orthodox Christians spend 50 days feasting! What's up with us Quakers who don't do the fasting or the feasting?! (I say this only partially with tongue in cheek.)

With the close of Lent comes the end of my personal Eco-Lent Challenge. It's been fun and I've learned quite a bit, and even changed some habits. I'll give a few reflections.

Affordability of Going Green
Throughout this whole experiment, I don't think I've actually spent any money on the challenges I chose to tackle. This surprised me, because a lot of times I hear people bemoaning the expense of becoming more eco-friendly. This is assuredly the case in some areas, such as organic products, but there are quite a few things that can be done without major expense. Some of the challenges took some extra time, and of course there were ways I could have spent money, but the small changes I made didn't cost me anything in the monetary sense.

I got rid of plastic containers, but I had glass jars on hand. If I hadn't, I could have saved up jars from pasta sauce or peanut butter as I used their contents, and come up with free storage jars. I did save a few such items over the course of the last couple months, and I also use a lot of glass canning jars.

Changing to less caustic chemicals is actually quite a bit cheaper than buying harmful cleaning products. I bought more vinegar and baking soda than usual, but those are incredibly cheap items.

Driving less costs less than buying gas (or even using electricity to charge a car), although you have to already be set up for biking, or live within walking distance of everything you need. This requires some lifestyle changes, but is cheaper. It also allows you to spend time outdoors more often! I did have to buy a tire repair kit recently. I haven't used it yet, but I'm going to see if I can repair my flat inner tube rather than replacing it. This is an area into which I have yet to venture, so we'll see whether I can get my bike back into one piece. Bikes, unfortunately, aren't completely without expense. This repair kit was only about $8, I believe, so it wasn't prohibitively expensive, especially when compared to gas.

Using less electricity obviously is a money saver. It's kind of annoying to unplug stuff and have to plug it back in each time, but it presumably lowers your electric bill at least a little bit. If you have the means and you want to get rid of some of the annoyance, you could purchase little switches for each outlet so you can flip the switch rather than having to unplug it each time, but I haven't gone that far yet.

Using food scraps for compost or chicken food also saves money, and, obviously, buying less new stuff costs less.

No matter how many gold stars I can pin on myself for doing my good deeds of taking care of the plan in these tiny ways, there are always people I'm friends with who have been doing this for a long time, or who have taken it a bunch of steps further. There are people who know more than me and who are doing a better job at all this. There are people who can't afford to NOT live in a simple way that is less harmful to the environment. It's humbling to realize that my small choices are so incredibly small, and to recognize that the fact that I think of these as "choices" belies my huge sense of entitlement.

Community is so important! I was really encouraged with people's comments, here on the blog or on Facebook, on your own blog or when I saw you in person, and you shared with me your thoughts and struggles, your ideas and successes. It was so nice to know I wasn't in it all by myself, but that there are others thinking about these things and making small, eco-friendly choices, too. It held me accountable to know you were all out there, interested in what I was doing, and wondering what more you could do.

It also takes a lot of community positive peer pressure in order for me us to change our lifestyles. When it becomes normative in a community to walk or bike, or to be vegetarian until the factory farm issue is resolved, or to buy organic and non-GMO food, we're able to support one another in these choices and hold one another accountable, to encourage one another to live by the values we espouse.

I feel like this issue of caring for the Earth is one of the major justice issues of our time, one regarding which we as Friends (or others) have the opportunity to hold the front line. With a little education and a lot of tenacity, we can make the small choices that become a movement. We can make these changes more affordable so they're not only for the wealthy. We can let the Spirit strip away our sense of entitlement, and truly seek after our Friends testimony of simplicity. We can speak truth to power: the truth of abundance and overflowing goodness, rather than the fear of scarcity, evil and not-enough. We can live in the Kingdom of God here and now, the new heaven and the new Earth manifesting in our choices of life for all. We can release our destructive hunger for more and live in the life and power that finds no need for wars, no need for fighting over resources, because we have enough and more than enough.

I learned the word "dayenu" when practicing the Passover with some Jewish friends a few years ago, and it means "enough." It's a yearly reminder at Passover (also last week) that God does immeasurably more than we expected. (OK, so that's from the New Testament, but it's the same idea.) It would have been enough that God released us from bondage in would have been enough that God provided manna and water for us in the wilderness...but the list keeps going on and on of the ways God has provided for us. Can we trust God and find satiation in simplicity? Can we experience dayenu in the overwhelming abundance the Earth produces for us? Can we remember how blessed we are in the midst of always-enough?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

eco-lent: holy week

It's Holy Week, and today is Maundy Thursday: according to John, this is the day Jesus ate the last supper with his disciples and was arrested, then stood trial and was crucified on Friday, in the late afternoon just before the beginning of Passover (since the Jewish day goes from sundown to sundown, and Passover was a high holy day that year where the Passover coincided with the Sabbath, Saturday).

In reflecting on my Eco-Lent experience over the last several weeks, the instructions of Jesus to eat together (what we've turned into communion) and to serve one another (he washed his disciples' feet) feel particularly poignant. In ecological theology, much is made of the physicality of eating together as a community with Christ in our midst, and the memories of the pre- and post-resurrection scenes including food. As we bring food into our bodies it becomes part of us and is the very energy source that gives us life. We eat and we are sustained, or in our day, perhaps, we eat empty calories and can never be filled with life and health.

Although Friends don't practice the physical sacraments, seeing all of life as a sacrament, I like to broaden the ameliorated ounce of grape juice and pasty wafer into all food encounters. I take in the good gift of life, health and energy in the food I eat; I take in the sustaining friendship and fellowship with my family and community when we eat together; my hunger, gratitude and satiation link me to the Divine.

Therefore, the very food I eat becomes an opportunity to experience a sacrament: an opportunity to be open to God's life-giving Spirit filling me, sustaining me, and connecting me with others. I'm literally sustained by the world God created, taking it in so that it becomes me.

The choices I make about what food to eat, what chemicals it has soaked in, what has been done to the Earth to get it to me--these are choices that directly affect me, my body, my community and my world. I can choose to participate in a life-giving sacrament of preparation by growing my own food and encouraging the use of healthy farming practices, alternatives to fossil fuels, refusing to use products that leach chemicals into the soil and groundwater and that provide my body with sustenance and health.

I feel like this might be guilt-inducing for some, whose food choices are limited or who struggle with this topic in terms of eating healthily. I hope that this is an alternative to viewing food as a commodity. I hope it helps us see our choices sacramentally, not so that we feel bad about not living perfectly, but so we feel invited to participate in the Emmanuel sacrament, the sacred space of God-with-us, each time we choose a food and choose with whom to enjoy it. I hope it will encourage us to symbolically feel the presence of God sustaining us as we eat and receive life from the bounty of God's creation, and that we feel we can joyfully share the overflow of this abundance with those around us. It's a reframing of our desire for "more," translated into "not enough," that recognizes abundance and gratefulness in place of fear and guilt.

Also, we have an instruction to serve one another, to think of ourselves humbly as the ones who serve, rather than the ones entitled to be served. As Americans who expect the world to serve us, or who "generously" give out of our abundance so that others can barely survive, what would foot-washing look like in our context? Would it possibly mean rejecting our sense of entitlement to ever-more, to having what we want whenever we want it? Might it mean letting go of our dignity and receiving what we need from Christ?

My prayer is that each of us can eat at least one sacramental meal this Holy Week, remembering Christ and listening about how we are called to participate in carrying our own cross. I pray that as you eat your meals and enjoy fellowship around the Easter holiday, you'll be reminded of abundance and life, freed for joy and delighting in the goodness of creation, feeling loved and valued, and extending that abundance to others.

Friday, April 11, 2014

eco-lent: week 6, why food waste matters

Although there are possibly any number of reasons food waste matters, I'll give you just two here: 1) an ecological reason, methane, and 2) a justice reason, hungry people.

  • Methane.
When food waste decomposes, it releases methane, which is one of the major greenhouse gases. Now, food waste may not be the hugest producer of methane (#1 natural gas fracking leaks, #2 livestock, #3 landfills, according to the EPA). But if we reduced food waste, at least it would be a step in the right direction.

Becoming vegetarian and feeding cows stuff that's good for them would also be steps in the right direction (Scholarly study: ELLIS, J. L., A. BANNINK, J. FRANCE, E. KEBREAB, and J. DIJKSTRA. 2010. "Evaluation of enteric methane prediction equations for dairy cows used in whole farm models J. L. ELLIS et al. METHANE PREDICTION IN VIVO FARM MODELS."Global Change Biology 16, no. 12: 3246-3256. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 11, 2014). And: Grainger, C., R. Williams, T. Clarke, A.-D. G. Wright, and R. J. Eckard. 2010. "Supplementation with whole cottonseed causes long-term reduction of methane emissions from lactating dairy cows offered a forage and cereal grain diet."Journal Of Dairy Science 93, no. 6: 2612-2619. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 11, 2014).).

Using food scraps to power electrical plants would also be a great solution! It looks like they're actually doing this in London. (Scholarly study: Molino, A., F. Nanna, Y. Ding, B. Bikson, and G. Braccio. 2013. "Biomethane production by anaerobic digestion of organic waste." Fuel 103, 1003-1009. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 11, 2014). Another one: Kastner, Verena, Walter Somitsch, and Wolfgang Schnitzhofer. 2012. "The anaerobic fermentation of food waste: a comparison of two bioreactor systems." Journal Of Cleaner Production 34, 82-90. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost(accessed April 11, 2014).)
  • People.
Besides the fact that of course climate change effects people, not having enough to eat also has a major effect on people. Researchers at the University of Arizona, Tucson, estimate in a 2005 study that 40-50% of food harvested in the United States is never eaten. That is jaw-dropping, if you ask me. (Sources: Jones, Timothy W. 2005. “THE CORNER ON FOOD LOSS.” Biocycle 46, no. 7: 25. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost. And: Jones, Timothy W. 2005. “FOOD LOSS ON THE FARM.” Biocycle 46, no. 9: 44-46. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 14, 2014).)

About 12% remains in the fields after saleable food is harvested, and the other 30-40% is lost at each level of the supply chain. Then there's the dozen or so pounds each week that we waste after we buy it and forget about it in our fridge, like we talked about yesterday.

Add to that, in the United States alone, 14.5% of the population struggles with hunger each year, according to the 2012 USDA Household Food Security report

  • Let's recap.
In the USA, 40-50% of food is wasted on its way to our homes.
Another 12 pounds per week goes bad in our fridges or is unused (shells, cores, peels, etc.).
14.5% of Americans aren't getting enough to eat.
Food waste rots and gives off methane.
Methane is a major greenhouse gas, holding in warm air and causing polar ice caps and glaciers to melt, raising the sea level, and contributing to severe weather patterns.
We could capture the methane and use it for energy production, but we generally don't.
Instead, we use fossil fuels to produce energy, which give off CO2, another greenhouse gas.

  • So, does food waste matter?