Sunday, June 30, 2013

what do you do when your sunglasses break? and other ethical dilemmas

Elvis glasses laying around the house
My sunglasses broke the other day. This brings up an ethical dilemma for me. Does this happen for you? I wonder, “Should I buy a new pair of sunglasses from the Dollar Store, where I only have to pay $1, therefore being a good steward of my resources, or do I buy them from somewhere else and pay $20 for them, knowing they were probably made in about the same sweat shop as the Dollar Store ones?” There’s no way I’m paying more than $20 for them because this is not an isolated experience. It generally happens a couple times a year. In fact, I’m pretty proud of myself that I held onto these ones as long as I did. I got them toward the end of last summer when I lost a previous pair, and I’ve had them for about ten months—albeit ten months of rain (plus a serve trip to Mexico and a vacation to Costa Rica).

Then come the questions of waste. What do I do with the old ones? They’re no good to anyone anymore, cracked and lens-less as they are, and they can’t be recycled, so they go to a landfill. Did you know there’s a trash continent in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? It’s referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and is mainly made up of plastic debris and decomposing bits of plastic that harm wildlife and introduce non-native species as the plastic floats from place to place. Search for “trash continent” on YouTube—it’s gross! And landfills are not any prettier. Worldwide and even in the United States, studies show that landfills are disproportionately near the communities of people of color. Americans cause a lot of waste worldwide, but the middle-upper class white population is hardly required to face into this waste because it’s sloughed off in minority areas or in less-developed countries. Not only is my trash an environmental problem, but it’s also an issue of justice that disproportionately affects minorities, the poor and those in the “Third World.”

This leads me to the question of my own sense of entitlement. When faced with a broken pair of sunglasses, or other cheap, relatively disposable item, my immediate thought is that I will go out and buy a replacement. I am not wealthy by American standards, but I do have a comfortable income with food on the table and more than enough to cover basic necessities. I so often act as if I’m entitled to just go to the store and purchase whatever it is I need or want.

In fact, it’s rather convenient that I lose or break sunglasses often, because then I can get some new ones with a higher “cool” quotient, since sunglasses and fashion designers ever-so-subtly-and-convincingly tell us that styles change from year to year (or month to month), and it’s so easy to believe them. While I’m grateful for the creativity and self-expression that some people are able to effortlessly exude through their clothing choice, I’m also aware that fashion and being in-style are luxuries that also have the effect of making people feel badly about themselves. Whether we like it or not, as a society we judge people based on appearances in so many ways, and the coolness-level of their sunglasses is one such way.

In purchasing the latest style of sunglasses, then, in many ways we’re telling the world, “Look at me! I have the means to buy this trendy pair of shades. I have the level of coolness to know what’s ‘in,’ and therefore I’m more worthy of your love than others who don’t have the economic or social resources I do.”

Therefore, as a reminder to myself and a way to try to break down this system that bases value on what we can afford and on how “cool” we can convince people we are, as well as this “disposable” culture, I’m going to try to make the commitment to wear “found” sunglasses that no one else wants, or to buy them used. If none of these options are available, I guess I’ll have to get used to squinting, or wear a hat!

"New" shades from a friend
Two friends already took pity on me and donated sunglasses that they no longer use or they found and can't figure out whose they's amazing what community can do!

If you’re interested, here are some sources regarding the distribution of worldwide waste and garbage in the oceans:

Bullard, Robert D. “Poverty, Pollution and Environmental Racism: Strategies for Building Healthy and Sustainable Communities.” Paper presented to the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN) Environmental Racism Forum World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Global Forum Johannesburg, South Africa July 2, 2002.

Bullard, Robert D. “BP’s Waste Management Plan Raises Environmental Justice Concerns.” Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice. July 29, 2010.

Gorman, Steve. “Scientists study huge plastic patch in Pacific,” Reuters, August 4, 2009.

Norton, Jennifer M., Steve Wing, Hester J. Lipscomb, Jay S. Kaufman, Stephen W. Marshall, and Aitha J. Cravey. 2007. "Race, Wealth, and Solid Waste Facilities in North Carolina." Environmental Health Perspectives 115, no. 9: 1344-1350.Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 14, 2013).

Yandle, Tracy, and Dudley Burton. 1996. "Reexamining Environmental Justice: A Statistical Analysis of Historical Hazardous Waste Landfill Siting Patterns in Metropolitan Texas." Social Science Quarterly (University Of Texas Press) 77, no. 3: 477-492. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 14, 2013).

Katz, Eric. 1995. "Imperialism and Environmentalism." Social Theory & Practice 21, no. 2: 271-285. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed June 14, 2013).

Saturday, June 15, 2013

you might be raising a quaker kid if...

This week I experienced a couple of solid indications that I might be raising a Quaker kid (or two). First, at the dinner table the other night, my six-year-old initiated a conversation on his opinions about war and peace, how we treat the Earth, and the difficulties surrounding these issues. After about 30 seconds of this I asked if I could make a video of him sharing his thoughts, and here's what he said.

The other day, we were biking around town (as usual) with him on a trail-a-bike and the 2-year-old in the bike trailer. I noticed the 6-year-old was a little quieter than usual so I asked if everything was OK. He said, "Yeah, I'm just enjoying nature." I think this is becoming his code phrase for, "I need a little space and I'm just going to be quiet for a while," because he used it on a couple other bike rides this week.

Then, this morning, we were playing outside and gardening. He sat on one of our big rocks and at first called it his "Nature Rock." He said his brother needed to find his OWN rock because he needed to be on his own for a bit. Soon he started using the term "Meditation Rock," and he helped his brother find a good one. They settled down on their own Meditation Rocks for a few minutes, then ran off to pick fresh raspberries together. We might have to make use of these rocks throughout the summer!

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

"mama, does God hate cars?"

My 6-year-old son asked me at the breakfast table the other day, "Mama, does God hate cars?" We try to bike or walk everywhere we can and we've talked about the reason for this: driving our cars puts stuff in the air that isn't good for people to breathe, and it uses resources from the Earth that will run out if we use them too quickly. Plus, it's better for our bodies to get the exercise. One time I told my son that for me, biking is a way of praying. It helps put me in a space where I can be almost meditative. It's relatively quiet and my body is active. It's a spiritual and a physical discipline, toning my spiritual and physical muscles. It's a testimony of simplicity.

In my son's question, however, I sense the feelings that often arise in me as well: a swirl of guilt, pride and fear. We're proud to be doing the "right" thing, afraid that if we do the "wrong" thing, we'll no longer be loved, and we can feel guilty if we knowingly choose to drive when we "should" be true to our commitment of walking or biking. This is the darker side of the spiritual disciplines.

I'm so grateful for a body that works well and can get me from most points-A to points-B; I'm grateful for the stubbornness to do this in many types of weather; I'm grateful I live in a small town so this is possible; I'm grateful for a clear sense of leading to try to alter my life to live more sustainably.

And yet, there's the nagging sense of guilt that I'm not doing enough, and the tendency to feel pride that I'm doing this while so many people are driving by in their massive, fossil-fuel-fed vehicles. At this point in my life, I don't think I'm afraid that God won't love me anymore if I do differently, but I can certainly relate to this feeling, and it's not one I want to foster in my children!

We talked about the fact that God doesn't hate cars, per se, but that God loves us and everything God created. The better we care for ourselves and the rest of creation, the better it will be for us--not because God will love us more, but because we will be healthier. We talked about how God asks us to follow rules not for the sake of the rules, but because they keep us safe and healthy. We discussed self-inflicted consequences. "It would be like if I asked you not to jump off the deck outside. I'd say that because I didn't want you to get hurt, right? What if you jumped anyway? Do you think I'd love you any less? Do you think you'd still get hurt even though I loved you as much as a person can love another person?"

This concept is so simple, and yet so difficult to make ourselves understand--at least if you're me! How do we have a sense of duty and loyalty, a sense of truth and a desire to do what is right, without beating ourselves up for not doing more? How do we practice the disciplines without going overboard into our time period's form of self-flagellation? Can we raise our children with a sense of right and wrong, a sense of following our leadings and an example of that, without teaching them that God hates cars, and, by extension, the people driving them?

In my experience, I try to trust God and release it into God's hands. I ask for release of my own fear, guilt and pride, and for the grace to not teach these tendencies to my kids. I ask for the grace to show God's love through my actions rather than God's negative and overwhelming judgment. I ask for the grace to admit to my children my own fears and feelings of guilt and pride, and to ask their forgiveness as I ask for that of God.