Category Archives: Education

Rigged Game

This is a little side track from the main theme of this blog, but it involves my own love for slam poetry and other languages.

The 4.6 million English language learners in the United States public school system are in trouble, according to poet Dylan Garity. Calling them “good organs in a sick body,” he believes that their ability to succeed in the U.S. school system is endangered by policies around English education and he’s using the power of the pen—or, in this case, the poetry slam—to get the word out about it.

The poem derives much of its power from its comparisons:

“Learning to read in a new language when you cant even read in your own is like trying to heal a burn victim by drowning them.

We are telling these children who have spent their whole lives in the deep end that they’ll learn how to swim if they just float out a little farther.”

via This Poetry Slam Video Will Make You Care about ESL Education Even If Youve Never Heard of That by Nur Lalji — YES! Magazine.

These buses have gardens on their roofs

I was gonna do this once.

These buses have gardens on their roofs | Grist.

How to Start a Business When You Don’t Believe in Capitalism

Not too long ago I posted on the facebook, “I don’t even really believe in capitalism, but I feel like an official business since I paid quarterly sales tax for the first time today.”

For those not aware after our family was deported from Bolivia, I started a small business called Edible Lawns. The business is modeled after landscaping companies, but focuses on using your yard to grow food (vegetables, fruits, chickens, even fish) and create more environmentally friendly landscapes (xeriscaping, native landscaping, compost and rainwater systems). I also intend for it to be something similar to a B Corporation which incorporates more than one bottom line into the company’s legal structure including social and environmental factors.

I also have written a lot about my thoughts on economics which should make it clear that I am not a particular fan of our current economic structures. So, what’s a “tree-hugging socialist” like myself doing starting a business?

First, I hope you noticed the quotes and intended sarcasm in describing myself as a “tree-hugging socialist.” Those type of designations are usually intended to create some sort of  us-and-them paradigm. That’s exactly what I try to avoid. The reality is always more complicated than those designations which is exactly why I don’t feel all dirty starting a business.

The truth is that we live in a world that is governed by a particular economic system and structures. I can’t snap my fingers and expect it to change overnight. I still have to deal with those realities in my daily existence which means paying my mortgage, buying food, health insurance and gasoline. There are ways in which I hope to subvert these structures in the way I organize my own economic life through bartering, scavenging for free materials, growing more of my own food and starting a business which can help others do the same.

So, I would rather pay the bills doing something I can feel good about and which hopefully contributes to creating the kind of world I believe God intends. Right now, the only ways to do this are through either a non-profit or for-profit structure. I mentioned that B (or Benefit) Corporations are a new legal structure that attempts to navigate a third option for socially and ecologically responsible businesses.

The recurring question in my life is how change happens. Is it by working within the system or doing something radical outside it which challenges and threatens the existing structure? Is it some combination of both or another option I don’t understand yet? I have studied social movements from civil rights to the Occupy movement for answers, but those movements eventually become co-opted once they reach a certain stage. So, the answer is still not so clear to me.

What does seem clear is that change does not happen by standing still. Real meaningful change seems to require both the radical shifts in thinking and the gradual education of the masses through incremental changes.

Take my favorite topic as an example, compost. I have taken the radical step of composting my own waste with the intention of using it to grow my food creating a closed nutrient cycle. This is a few steps beyond the average citizen’s ability to change. Most people don’t even compost their food waste. How can I expect them to poop in a bucket? So, you start with something more palatable, but never as the end in itself. Without the vision for a sustainable world, we will simply recycle ourselves into oblivion. But without a willingness to walk with people along the way, we won’t ever get there.

That’s why I’m a capitalist, business owner who doesn’t think that capitalism will be around forever or that it is the best possible system for organizing our lives together. I don’t see it as cognitive dissonance or hypocrisy. I see it more as loving the world and vision for sustainable living more than my own self-righteousness.

Begging the Question

So, the idea for this blog came out of my quest for what to do with my life after seminary. The title is just a clever and catchy way to get at the main theme of this blog, food and theology. As I have unpacked this silly little question it seems to have sometimes taken me far afield. Lately I write a lot about economics, anti-civilization, collapse and consumerism. In my mind, of course, they are all interrelated and connected, but maybe these connections are not always obvious. I try to tie it back in to this question “What Would Jesus Eat?” that’s really about making ethical choices in a very complicated world and helping us navigate these murky waters.

Well, my primary purpose for this blog is to be a place where I can process out loud my own thoughts about these issues from my own reading, experience and thinking and hopefully get some feedback from the few friends and readers that occasionally read and comment. The secondary hope is that some of this will be helpful to other people. Sometimes I think that this secondary purpose would help give more clarity to my thoughts and writing. If I delve into ideas about civilization collapsing, how does that help you understand and live in the world more faithfully? If I go on about economic theories or obscure aspects of finance that I don’t even understand, how does that answer the ethical questions we face about what to eat and what to buy?

In some ways my recent excursions have subverted (or at least criticized) the big question always on the top of this website. The question assumes a certain stance towards the world concerning what we eat and buy. It presupposes that we are consumers and the question of utmost importance is how to choose the ethically correct (or least ambiguous) products on the shelves of our local big box store. I use to have a relatively simple formula for answering this question.

  1. Buy local.
  2. Buy sustainable/organic.
  3. What you can’t buy local try to get fair trade.

It is perhaps still a helpful start in some ways, but it misses the deeper issues that we face. It does not question the assumption that consumption is the answer to the question of making ethical decisions about how we participate in the world through economics and in particular through what we eat. Nevertheless the goofy question that started this ball rolling still haunts me. What do average people living in the world today do to make the most ethical decisions given the world as it is? How does faith, Jesus and the Bible speak to the kinds of ethical dilemmas that plague us? What are practical things that people can do?

I don’t expect everyone to become some kind of radical anarchist, join an intentional community, protest, grow all their own food, forage, dumpster dive, make everything they need, somehow drop out of the economic system and in the end move to a developing country just like me. I’m certainly not as radical as I like to think I am. I depend on the food system and other conveniences of civilization that all of us do. So, in some ways the questions for me are not that different than the questions for the guy working in a cubicle.

So, as I’m coming down off of a reading, writing and thinking binge, I would like to return to this basic question about Jesus and what he might have to say about food and our choices, including issues around consumerism, agriculture, environment, economics. However, I would like to keep in front of us where some of these things really hit the ground, like building and maintaining a composting toilet system which is something I experience every day. I’ve often said I want to get back to the Food in the Bible series for numerous reasons, but I think it fits in with returning to some of the reasons why I write and what I hope for. I’m not making any promises, commitments, resolutions or covenants. As usual, I’m just thinking out loud.

If anyone is out there, I would love to hear some ideas, thoughts or suggestions about what would be helpful to you for me to explore. Here are some questions I’d love to hear answers:

  • What are your questions when walking down the aisles of your supermarket?
  • Where do you face ethical dilemmas or questions about food or consumption that don’t have easy answers?
  • Where do you find your economic life in conflict with your life of faith?
  • What practical skills or knowledge would help with growing your own food, living more simply or living off the grid?

I really look forward to hearing your responses and hope they can spark some new conversations.

Affluenza: Treatment

The third part of the book Affluenza explores the idea that consumerism is a disease in terms of its treatment. While I have some reservations and criticisms, which I will address at the end, the authors put their finger on some very important issues and ways to change our consumer culture.

Aspirin and Chicken Soup: Come Together Consumerism tends to isolate us from each other. Emphasizing things that decrease our isolation and promote community will improve our quality of life and shift our priorities away from the currently destructive forces at work.

Arnold Toynbee “studied the rise and fall of twenty-two civilizations and ‘summarized everything he knew about the growth of human civilizations in one law: The measure of a civilization’s growth is its ability to shift energy and attention from the material side to the spiritual and aesthetic and cultural and artistic side.’ “ (187)

I bristle somewhat at the idea that what we need is simply more time to cultivate “the spiritual and aesthetic and cultural and artistic side”. All of these things have been commodified in the current system (think Christian bookstores, the self-help industry, art museum gift shops, etc.). It also begs the question how we will be able to shift towards more leisure time for these activities. Will all the people on the globe be able to have this leisure time equally? This would require some massive rearrangement of the current order of things. Perhaps recognizing values beyond the monetary system is a good step, but the idea that we need to emphasize these other values could also lead to an anti-materialist (Gnostic) stance that could be equally problematic (and in many ways is actually at the heart of the consumer religion (see William Cavanaugh’s chapter “Attachment and Detachment” in his book Being Consumed).

Fresh Air Others have pointed to a phenomenon dubbed “Nature Deficit Disorder”. This gets us closer to what I believe is at the heart of the problem and any potential solutions.

Lana Porter works a garden in a vacant lot in Golden, Colorado. “People tell me I should take care of my crops more efficiently…so I could spend less time out here. But that way of growing disconnects the grower from the garden. The whole point is to spend more time with the plants, taking care of things, and less time trying to reshape myself to fit the changing whims of the world.” (195)

Porter recognize the essential disconnect in our modern world that makes the consumer religion possible. The core belief of the consumer religion is that human beings are somehow separate from nature. Due to our superior brain functions and enlightenment, we have liberated ourselves from the constraints of the jungle (or according to “religious” belief we were somehow created above and apart from nature, endowed with the divine right of domination).

Nature is not “out there”; it’s everywhere. Finding out how well the timber was grown that went into your backyard fence is nature. (195)

This is exactly right. Cities are not somehow separate or apart from nature. They may be built on top of nature, but nature is as close as your feet and something you are always dependent on no matter how much concrete you can see out your window. Again, while the authors are getting at something very important they seem to skip right past the real question…Who needs a backyard fence? What are fences for? No matter where or how the timber was grown rates of deforestation will be unsustainable as long as we need bigger houses, fences and in general a growth economy with population growth and the exportation of the consumer religion around the world.

Healthy Again I’m skeptical how the authors’ regimen of treatment gets us to this chapter where we are once again “healthy”. Nevertheless, here is there vision for what it looks like.

“Do we want to be healthy?…Do we want to live in places that are safe? Do we want our children to grow up in a world where they are hopeful? Do we want to be able to worship [or not] without fear of persecution? Do we want to live in a world where nature is rebounding and not receding? No one disagrees; our vision is the same. What we need to do is identify, together, the design criteria for how we get there.” (246-247quote from Paul Hawken)

I think it’s a very important to recognize that in fundamental ways we all have similar wants and needs. There is a lot of commonality basic to human beings that can help us move forward. However, I also believe that there are some fundamental differences (perhaps primarily between those that have (power and wealth) and those that don’t) that can’t be overcome with a feel-good chorus of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” Yes, people want health, safety, hope, freedom, etc. but our definitions and understandings of what these things entail is far from common. The authors sum up the thrust of their book this way,

But the core issue of this book goes beyond consuming less to wanting less and needing less. (247)

Because I feel like the book did not adequately address the real causes of the disease (or spread of this religion), it is certainly not able to fully address the ways that we can address the problems. What does it mean for us to want and need less? It seems easy enough for a suburban family to answer this question by focusing on recycling and changing their light bulbs. By all means, continue recycling and using CFL’s, but let’s stop kidding ourselves that this will save the planet. We need some hard truths about the damage our lifestyles cause (which the book has evidence aplenty) and we need solutions that match those hard truths.

I would like to follow this post up with one that considers the metaphor of consumerism as a religion a little more in depth, in particular, how we might understand the causes and treatments in religious terms.