Tag Archive | education

The Running of the Sap

‘Tis the season to tap maple trees and invite them to share some of their delicious bounty.

Unusual winter weather does not seem to have affected the harvest; I taste-tested some of this year’s “crop” this morning at the Maple Festival at Touch of Nature (on Little Grassy Lake, south of Carbondale) and it was more than satisfactory.

To be honest, I almost didn’t go to the festival. Ash Wednesday, my first full week in a new church community, a lot of planning for Lent, a broken clothes dryer, and dogs with upset stomachs … it has been a very long week.

But at 7:45 this morning, I got the text from wonderful friends with whom I was anxious to spend time … so despite the urge to take a cup of tea and my journal and curl up somewhere quiet, I loaded up the dogs and headed for the woods.

The dogs burned some energy at Giant City State Park prior to our visit to the festival, and their mania at the sun and the smells and the water and the woods made me laugh. After they had worn themselves down, I let them nap in a warm and sunny car while I ate pancakes and sausage with local maple syrup and then learned the ins and outs of tapping trees.

I was sure that my greatest need today was to putter gently around my house, rather than spend one more day this week driving around Southern Illinois. But  it turns out that I was wrong.

Laughing with friends, learning something new, and bringing pleasure to the critters whose care is entrusted to me was what my spirit needed most. As it happens, I only discovered that truth in the doing of those things.

In honor of the season, here are a couple of photos:

Why Food Ethics?

Tonight was the second week of our series on food ethics at FPC. Those who were gathered made up quite a good group: large enough to spark some interesting conversation and plenty of diverse opinions.

At some point, a lightbulb went on over my head and I thought: this topic is a landmine. It’s not the kind of issue that is so controversial that it comes with it’s own red warning light that flashes “DANGER” to pastors who would approach. But it is still very much an issue that can stir up controversy; it just does it subtly.

So, why bother with it? Why have the difficult conversation about food ethics? And what would I say to those in any congregation, anywhere in the country that might prefer NOT to be more aware of how their food choices affect people and animals and ecosystems and economies around the world?

As you might imagine, I’ve given this issue a fair bit of thought. For me, it comes down to one answer: because we are the people of God.

The God we serve has commanded his people throughout every age to tend to those in need: the widow, the orphan, the least of these. As the people of God, we do not have the option of ignoring the consequences of our actions, even actions that would be easy to take for granted (like our food choices).

When it comes to eating ethically, there is no easy answer.

No one way of eating (organic, vegetarian, etc.) will eliminate every ethical dilemma.(For more on this topic, watch to Michael Pollan’s brilliant lecture at Princeton University’s conference on Food, Ethics and the Environment available on iTunes.)

But because we are given the responsibility of stewardship of creation  – and of care for one another – we are commanded to take our choices seriously: to eat with our eyes open and to be willing to bear the weight of the consequences of our actions.

An Ethic of Food

Michael Pollan writes that the name for his book – The Omnivore’s Dilemma – comes from the difficult choices an organism faces when it can eat anything.

As Pollan explains:

Omnivores (like human beings … or rats or cockroaches) can nourish themselves with a variety of things. Unlike a cow, which is biologically programmed to eat grass, or a koala bear, which only eats eucalyptus leaves, we have options.

However, when you can eat almost anything … the choice of what to eat becomes more difficult.

For the other omnivores (the rats and cockroaches), the menu choices focus on finding food that provides sustenance, but that also isn’t harmful to them.

Human beings have to go one step further. We not only have to choose things that will nourish us rather than sicken us … we also have to choose food that will allow us to live inside the moral framework that we’ve chosen.

Moral framework? Perhaps you’re thinking that you don’t make your food choices based on any sort of moral framework. Well, let me take this opportunity to point out that you (more than likely) do not eat other humans. Why? Probably because something inside you tells you its just wrong.

That, my friend, is just the most obvious way that your moral framework affects your food choices. There are others.

Wednesday night (March 16 at 5:30pm) is the first night of the Food Ethics study at the congregation I serve. (Meal provided: come and join us!) We’ll begin this 6-week study by talking about what ethics means … and how it affects our food choices. We’ll even watch an excellent lecture given by Michael Pollan to some college students at an ethics conference at Princeton University.

It’s shaping up to be a great evening and I’m really looking forward to it.

What Wisconsin Taught Me

My mother spent her entire career in elementary education. She never sequestered herself in administration; she spent 35 years in the classroom.

Over the course a lifetime of family dinners, I was forced/privileged to hear stories both humorous and touching, to endure analysis of contract negotiations, and to absorb both the hopes and frustrations of one who was both unequivocally dedicated to the public education system and who truly appreciated the gifts and individuality of each student.

So the last several weeks of watching more than one state government attempt to solve their budget woes by eradicating the collective bargaining rights of teachers, police officers and firefighters has been difficult for me to endure.

In addition, I have been sickened at the ways in which certain media outlets have demonized these public servants, portraying them as selfish or greedy or self-serving.

My own second-row seat to collective bargaining between teachers’ unions and administrators saw as many discussions about things like class sizes as about salary.

I grew up understanding that the local teachers’ union negotiated on behalf of the teachers AND in the service of the best possible school system … not in an attempt to be self-serving, but in an attempt to do a service that they took very seriously.

And (for the record) having been a substitute teacher for a couple of years, I can say (without reservation) that I have never met an elementary teacher that was overpaid.

These were formative experiences, although I didn’t know quite how formative until recent events helped me to look more closely.

People learn all sorts of things from their mothers. It turns out that the influence of mine shaped my politics.

Milk and Alfalfa

During the season of Lent, the congregation I serve will be meeting on Wednesday nights and doing a 6-week study on the topic of food ethics. We’re calling the study Food Matters and we’re going to be wrestling with the following question: How do we practice our faith at the table?

For much of the last 8 weeks, I’ve been doing research:  reading books and articles, as well as watching documentaries and video-recorded lectures posted on the internet about anything related to the global food system. I’m not yet as well-informed as Michael Pollan, but I feel like I surely must be close.

I’m so saturated, in fact, that I am having a hard time engaging in conversations about anything else. I’m not sure if it is my preoccupation or the curiosity of the other person, but somehow the conversation always veers onto the topic of food. I stayed with friends in Memphis – we talked about food ethics. They invited 10 people to dinner – we talked about food ethics. I went to the Ministerial Alliance breakfast gathering – we talked about food ethics.

I’m afraid I may be starting to repeat myself. But, here I go again …

The big news in the last few weeks to those who care deeply about the condition of our food supply is the USDA’s approval without restriction on the sale and planting of genetically modified alfalfa.

Alfalfa is the primary food for dairy cows. Organic alfalfa is the primary food for dairy cows producing organic milk. If genetically modified alfalfa cross-pollinates with organic alfalfa, then the formerly-organic alfalfa can no longer be certified as organic … and neither can any milk that comes from any cow who eats it.

The unrestricted planting of genetically modified alfalfa threatens the future of organic milk producers, not to mention the future of milk.

I don’t intend to get on my soapbox about this issue in this posting, especially not at this time of night. But I’m noticing that I’m buying milk and drinking milk more often in these last few weeks. It’s as though my body is manifesting my concern about the future of milk by trying to hoard it in preparation for whatever may come.

It saddens me to think that we have to be so concerned about the safety of our food.

For more information, read Marion Nestle on the threat of genetically modified crops, Robyn O’Brien on how the increase in food allergies is related to genetic engineering of food items, or read the letter in opposition signed by 25 Big Names in Organic and food safety.


The Easy Out

I left the house around 8am this morning and didn’t get home until 13 hours later (and then I had to do some organizing around the house for ClutterBusters28)… so I guess you could say that I’m just too tired to have much to say.

However, there are several good articles that I discovered tonight and would love to pass on to you all.


1) Yes, I admit that I probably have a slightly romanticized notion of farm-life. But articles like this one make me want to be a homesteader. I can’t help it!

2) I thought this blog post was a brave and very real article. Adam (the author) can always be counted on to enlarge my perspective.

3) This blog post is called “Ill-Behaved Women.” I don’t think I need to add any more commentary to that!


The Backhand of the Generation Gap

I confess that I like to think of myself as fairly literate when it comes to technology. My truly talented technical friends (Rob, Chip and others) know that I’m really not all that savvy. However, I’m willing to learn and I’m not afraid to just play around with a gadget until I figure out how it works.

Not unlike many of my generation, I sometimes field calls from my parents or others who are in need of some technical how-to help. I do my best to walk them through these dangerous waters … but admit that my patience has been challenged on more than one occasion.

Today was a perfect example.

A call early in the day found me saying, “Are you talking about the first page of text within a document named History? Or are you talking about a document called Page One in a folder called History?”

To which the caller replied, “I don’t know. How do I tell the difference?” (Silent hair-pulling ensued on my end of the conversation.)

But within only a few hours, somebody UPSTAIRS decided to teach me a lesson. My pal “J” – who is a great friend, a self-confessed “computer geek,” and an emissary from the generation after me – sent an email in reply to my technical questions about videos and the internet.

I won’t go into the technical details of J’s email … because I can’t. I have absolutely no idea what the email said. There were some links and a series of directions; all-in-all, it was a bit like reading Biblical Hebrew.

I told J that I would look at the links and experiment with the directions, and I’m hoping that it will all make a little more sense once I try it out. But in the meantime, I’ll consider this a lesson learned about what the backhand of the generational gap feels like when it smacks you in the head.

Peace, friends!


PS: Today begins ClutterBuster28! Not only will I be spending the next 28 days tackling the clutter in and around my house, but I’ve also committed to finding at least 100 things that I can either give away or throw away to help simplify my household (and, thus, my life). Tomorrow, I’ll post an update on the first day of ClutterBuster28 … as well as the “Before” pictures of several areas I plan to tackle before the month is over.

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