Peace begins at home

March 14, 2006

Last week I participated in an interfaith panel that was part in an all-day conference on domestic violence sponsored by Lydia’s House, an organization the Society is proud to support. Now, these interfaith panels are usually (in my experience) a bit of a showcase: a series of speakers earnestly explaining why their traditions are clearly against bad thing X (or for good thing Y, depending on the topic). However, in this case, every person on the panel came out and admitted that domestic violence is not an issue any of our communities handle well. Traditional religions have a lot of patriarchal sexism that feeds the problem and keeps victims from coming forward, but liberal religions have our problems too: “empowered” women can be ashamed to admit they’ve been victimized and often blame themselves, and “enlightened” men don’t like to hear about a topic in which the overwhelming number of abusers are men. It was depressing how far we still have to go, but the honesty was refreshing, as what we all had in common was denial in our communities that domestic violence was “our” problem. Those of us who affirm equality don’t like to be reminded that it’s not here yet for many women, in all kinds of communities, including ours. It’s easier to talk about war and peace far away. But war and peace begin in all our homes.

Perennial issues

March 9, 2006

Spring update:
It’s here. On my walk to work today I saw that ‘the force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ is waving little green and yellow and red flags at the tips of the bushes and fruit trees. And it smells gloriously fecund out there.

What I’ve got out of the library this week:
Nonzero, the Logic of Human Destiny, by Robert Wright
The Left Hand of God: Taking Our Country Back from the Religious Right, by Michael Lerner (So far seems to have a lot in common with my platform address a couple weeks ago.)
The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong
–Thanks to those who recommended these books to me

Speaking of God:
There’s been a lot in the media this week about Missouri House Resolution No. 13, which resolves that “our forefathers of this great nation of the United States recognized a Christian God and used the principles afforded to us by Him as the founding principles of our nation” (etc., etc.), and therefore “we stand with the majority of our constituents and exercise the common sense that voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property are not a coalition of church and state.”

Now I could shoot at the fish in this barrel (or the vegan equivalent), for a long time, starting with the principle that when it comes to freedom of and from religious expression, what we need are not lawmakers who stand with the majority’s “common sense” but lawmakers who will stand up for the rights of minorities. If we’re just going to go with majority rule, we don’t need lawmakers at all—-the mob is much more efficient.

However, yesterday I heard of another piece of legislation making its way through the MO house, this one a proposed state *constitutional amendment*, HJR 39, “Religious Freedom in Public Places,” sponsored by Rep Bearden. HJR 39 is a short and more inclusive-sounding prayer-in-school bill that “reaffirms a citizens’ right to choose any religion or no religion.” However, as anyone who has ever been a child should know, public prayers are inherently coercive and isolating, “voluntary” or not.

People right now have the right to pray any time, anywhere, including in schools. Silently. If the intent is to commune with your god for comfort and inspiration, that is more than adequate. A god that is all-knowing and all-powerful cannot also be hard-of-hearing. Public, communal prayer is a powerful force with an important function in religious communities: to solidify religious solidarity, reinforce shared beliefs, train children and newcomers, and so on. Those who want to force public, communal, “voluntary” prayer on schoolchildren clearly have those functions in mind, not anyone’s need for comfort or inspiration.

And so I wonder if the clearly offensive HR 13 “Christian god” bill is not really just a smokescreen for HJR 39’s prayer-in-school bill. After all, if Missourians reject the official Christianizing of our state, perhaps we’ll be willing to “compromise” with “nondenominational” school prayers written and promoted by the majority.

Cold, shmold

February 28, 2006

Thanks to all those who came to the “Love Needs No Cure” vigil this past weekend. (The only decent article I can find about it is from Kansas! Click here.) Yes, it was damn cold, but worth it. This is an email that was sent out by Dennis Nicely, co chair of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Metro-St. Louis Chapter:

“As you’ve probably heard, more than 300 men, women, and young people showed up in support of the nonviolent protest before the conference began this morning [6:30-8:30 a.m.]. Around 11:00 a.m., I went to the site of the protest / LWO conference to see how things were going. There were about a dozen individuals still holding their signs. While I stood there talking to some friends of mine, two young men approached us. They had just come from spending 3+ hours listening to lectures about changing those who are gay. Both young men shared that their parents had brought them there and wanted them to hear how they can change. One young man, a high school senior, was there with his dad who is a Baptist minister. They drove to St. Louis from Arkansas just to learn how to change him. He was so happy we were out there. It was as if we were a sanctuary for him. The wind was blowing heavily and he was cold but he said he would rather be standing in the cold with us then to be in there where they were telling him there was something wrong with him. As I was getting ready to walk away, he thanked me for our conversation and asked for a hug. The other young man shared that he was a student at a local community college. His parents were also at the conference and want him to see he does not have to be gay. He picked up one of our signs and began walking with the others. He said it felt good to be amongst those who understood and accepted him for who he is without having to change. I understood. I have been there myself and have been blessed to have many friends and family members who accept me without expecting me to change. If for no other reason, I am glad we were there to provide a sanctuary for those young men. Peace, Dennis”

Earlier that morning, Bill and I had an interesting discussion with a young pastor from a nearby nondenominational Christian church. He said he was intending to go to the conference, but instead he decided to talk with those of us outside. He seemed conflicted. He believed the Bible spoke against homosexuality, but he also recognized that it spoke against lots of things, and that there was a lot of unjustifiable picking-and-choosing going on. We were polite to him and he to us, and we shared a little bit about the many healthy, happy gay and lesbian couples and families we know. He wandered off in the direction of a mother and daughter who was holding a sign that said “I Love My Uncle Robert Just the Way He Is.” (Bill took a picture of them but it came out unflattering, so I won’t post it.) I hope that young pastor stopped to talk to them as well.

I hear the local television coverage was mostly biased and lame. What can I say? This year’s Turn-Off-Your-TV Week is April 24-30 (see here). Spread the news.

*And an addendum to Sunday’s platform. A. tells me that the “liberal vs. literal religion” schema has been popularized by Texas UU minister Davidson Loehr.*

For those with TVs

February 24, 2006

. . . And who are local, and who watch the early evening news (5 pm? 6 pm?): I was just interviewed by a reporter for local channel 4 about the Love Needs No Cure vigil (see previous post). It’s interesting being interviewed. You really get a sense of the divisiveness that mainstream news feeds on and feeds. I asked the reporter if he was going to talk to any medical or psychological experts about the therapy, and he said he was more interested in the “he said/she said” aspect of faith leaders talking about it. Versus the actual merits of either side, I guess. It seems once the technology of video press releases is perfected, we won’t need journalists at all anymore. That will be a nice cost savings for many media outlets. Anyway, I was trying hard to stick to my main point, that people “suffering from homosexuality” are actually suffering from homophobia, and that they need affirmation and support, not quack “cures.” But the reporter’s eye only gleamed when I said that the “ex-gay” movement is really a thin veneer for a political agenda to deny people their civil rights. I suppose it’s a divisive thing to say. But I don’t believe that promoting tolerance means tolerating intolerance. In formal logic (or semantics) that might seem wrong, but here on Earth tolerance and intolerance cannot co-exist, and to “tolerate intolerance” is to give up on creating a culture of tolerance. In any event, if the interview does make it to air, it’ll be 2 seconds of whatever the dumbest thing I said was. But it’ll still let people know that the Ethical Society is here and that we support gay and lesbian rights. Which would make me happy. So if you do see me on TV, don’t tell me any details. Sometimes ignorance *is* bliss.

Love Needs No Cure

February 21, 2006

[This is a letter I wrote to the Post-Dispatch last week. I don’t think they’re going to print it, so I offer it here. What it’s about is a fundamentalist Christian “therapy” {you can’t help but use a lot of sarcastic quotes when you write about this} that supposedly can turn gay people straight. A conference promoting this “therapy” is coming to St. Louis this weekend. For a lot of good information about this anti-gay movement, click here and especially here. **If you are in the area and would like to come to an affirming response to the conference, click here.]

The “ex-gay” movement described in several recent articles is a parody of both spirituality and social science. It is unethical and cruel to use bad science to prey on people who are truly suffering. The suffering is caused not by the “disease” of being gay or lesbian, but by the homophobia of religious fundamentalism. Therapy to “cure” homosexuality doesn’t work, because there is no disease to cure. There are only people feeling pain and fear, hoping somehow to avoid being rejected by their families and communities—not to mention the threat of eternal damnation. Many Christian denominations deny that being a gay or lesbian person in a loving relationship is a sin. I will leave that argument to my Christian colleagues, but being forced by fear to live a lie and to deny love must be hell on Earth.

Terrifying Cartoons

February 16, 2006

The Society is hosting an interfaith discussion on global terrorism tonight. One of the problems in the issue of terrorism is that it’s like pornography—people of good will can disagree on how to define it. I was reading about the riots supposedly sparked by cartoons of Mohammed (if you would like to see the original cartoons, click here), and at the end of the article was this notice:

“CNN is not showing the negative caricatures of the likeness of the Prophet Mohammed because the network believes its role is to cover the events surrounding the publication of the cartoons while not unnecessarily adding fuel to the controversy itself.”

Similar statements have been made by most American mainstream media–By the same outfits that routinely show photos of Abu Ghraib, racially motivated police beatings, and countless images dangerous and offensive to women. These media outlets are not afraid of being controversial or inflammatory or offensive, but apparently they are afraid of being blasphemous. Imagine if the notices were honest enough to say “We are not showing the negative caricatures of the likeness of the Prophet Mohammed because we are afraid to.” Then more people might notice that when the media self-censor out of fear, we’re all being terrorized.

But the cartoons are not the issue. The small percentage of people who need to chant Death to Whomever and throw away their lives trying to destroy need to do so for a variety of reasons both rational and irrational, and they will accept any provocation to make their lives seem noble and important and exciting. At the same time, the vast majority of people in the Middle East are not out in the streets, though many are also angry; they are wishing the whole thing would just go away, or scared to death that they or their loved ones might be the next target of violence. Let’s remember those people. I know that I would hate to have Americans judged by our small percentage of women’s clinic harassers, book burners, and rioters.

A thank you to our members

February 9, 2006

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of breakfasting and lunching with prospective members, and I also met with a Wash U student who was visiting the Society as a cross-cultural experience for an anthropology class. Some of the newcomers had even come back after hearing last Sunday’s platform address on money! What I heard over and over as I chatted with these newcomers and visitors was how welcome our members had made them feel, how open we seemed to new people and new ideas, and how hospitable we were. I felt so proud I had to go blow my nose. Seriously, I was very pleased that these folks experienced us as not just preaching ethical values but trying to live them with each other and especially with those we don’t yet know. Thank you to everyone for your everyday hospitality and kindnesses. I’m honored to be a member of this community.

Squeaking through the snow

February 8, 2006

Snowy day, after the warmest January on record. What I will miss if global warming continues: the feel of snow compacting under your shoes, that little crunchsqueak as your foot rolls through. It’s the same squeak that Silly Putty gives if you chew on it, FYI, though I recommend you take my word for that. Walked to work today through a white world with the fat flakes falling straight down, no wind. I tasted some snow from off a branch; I thought it might taste like these St. Louis specialties I hear about: Ted Drews or fried ravioli or that pizza on a cracker. But it seems to taste like it does everywhere–cold and little metallic. Maybe my vegan taste buds just aren’t attuned . . .

I feel very lucky to be able to walk to work. I have tried to mediate before, but I seem to have only two states: thinking and sleeping. Wakeful calm resting mind is not something I’ve been able to achieve. I am considering trying knitting, but whether or not I master Zen and the Art of Knitting (no doubt already a book), walking seems to do the trick. We overlook so much in our cars–signs of changing seasons (and they’re always changing, of course), signs of our neighbors’ interests and even health (Why are her flowers dead? His mail is piling up–vacation or illness? What are all these colorful flags people have now trying to say?). . . . My commute is about a half-hour, and in that time I can admire the flowers painted on my neighbor’s garage and the eagle sitting on another neighbor’s chimney. I can write and forget a whole platform address, a poem, and a letter to a friend I haven’t seen in 10 years. I can daydream like you wouldn’t believe. Now that I know all the major cracks in the sidewalk, I can even read a chapter of Patrick O’Brien. Try that in a car–actually, please don’t.

A proper waking meditation would probably have less thinking and reading in it, but it works for me. I arrive at my destination red-nosed but calm and happy. I never arrive calm and happy when I drive anywhere. It looks like this month might actually be winter. But if you’re able, pull on an extra pair of socks and get out there. If you’re not able, get someone to take a walk and give you a detailed report. It’s interesting out there on the other side of the glass.

"Shout-out" to MoSP

February 6, 2006

Another reason for supporting Missourians for Single Payer Health Care. Opponents of single-payer plans spin horror stories of government bureaucracies and citizens dying by the score, strangled by red tape. They point to the famously complex plan proposed by the Clinton Administration. But today the Associated Press reports that Missouri is joining California and probably other states in suing the federal government over the fiasco that is the current Medicare prescription plan. If California and Missouri have become bedfellows, that must be one Bad plan. The reason why the plan is so bad–for consumers–of course, is that it was written by drug-company lobbyists.

I have spent many years uninsured, and I have spent years underinsured in “affordable” health plans that sent me to doctors whose offices were themselves health hazards. It’s stressful and often frightening to be in those situations. Howard Dean and General Motors agree on this issue; California and Missouri are equally fed-up with the current system. Polls show taxpayers are willing to pay more taxes to get a better health system. The snowballs are flying around Hell. When will enough of them hit Congress so that they’ll pull the lobbyists’ hands out of their pockets and let our nation insure all its citizens?

Signs of the times

January 31, 2006

Justice Samuel Alito has been approved, and Coretta Scott King has died. And yet it is another beautiful day, and daffodils are swelling along my street. Will they make it through the surprise frosts yet to come, or will they succumb, to try again another year?

Sunday I spoke about the fact that life is getting better for many people, despite the anxiety and fear many feel about the future. Today with Alito’s confirmation, some are jubilant and some are terrified, and most likely neither feeling will turn out to be entirely justified. And that belief of mine keeps me calm, although sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if the Supreme Court did go crazy for a while and start stripping away the rights we take for granted. Perhaps that would make us learn what it’s like to be citizens first and consumers second. Maybe we would even like it.

There is a new house going up on my block—one of those “monster” houses that are replacing torn-down older homes in older neighborhoods, the new ones twice as big, blocking out the light, paving over lawn for extra-wide driveways, replacing front porches with anonymous huge garage doors. Will these homes become the norm in these areas, or will they be a wake-up call that maybe there are other things to aspire to than looming over your neighbors?

Is the glass half-empty or half-full? The lawns and the light are disappearing beneath ever-larger houses in our neighborhoods, but forest destruction in general is slowing or reversing. Civil rights continue to be fought for and some are under attack, but the terms of the debate could not even have been imagined a generation ago.

The glass metaphor doesn’t work for me, because the only thing I am sure about life is that it is never still. A better question would be, Is the tide coming in or going out? Or maybe I’ve just been reading too much Patrick O’Brien.

I have a dream of a city

January 23, 2006

I now understand the “joke” about St. Louis weather, “If you don’t like it, just wait a minute.” Perhaps it wasn’t told right to me, but it didn’t seem all that funny. I mean, weather changes everywhere; that’s the nature of weather. But the 20-30 degree difference between one day and the next here does seem unusual, and it takes some getting used to. I’m not complaining, mind you, that we’ve had several over-60-degree days in January. Particularly as they tend to fall on the weekend—a nice trick.

It was just beautiful last Monday, when Bill and I joined a dozen other “Ethicals” at the MLK rally and march downtown. (There are some general pictures of the march at “March” might not be the right word. It was almost a jog—St. Louisians move fast! Although given some of the neighborhoods we went through, shockingly neglected compared to countless booming county neighborhoods, I can see why people are in a hurry for change in the city. For most of our route, there was no one on the sidewalks to see our march—we joked that we should be holding our Ethical Society banner behind our backs, as the marchers behind us were the only “audience” available. It would be great if there were no audience because everyone was in the street with us, but the reality is that no one was watching because there are so few people left there. And yet for all the deserted streets and empty or fallen buildings, there are signs of life—new residences going up, community centers blaring the “I have a dream” speech out the window to us from their PA systems. Hoping we’ll do more than jog by once a year.

But it was a gorgeous day, so sunny and hot that I had to take off my jacket for the long, inconvenient walk back to the Metrolink. Good thing public transportation isn’t necessary to revitalize an area. . . . (Anyone know how much the latest highway expansion is going to cost?)

The Penalty of Death for the Rest of Us

January 17, 2006

” ‘At no point are we not going to value the sanctity of life,’ said [a prison spokesman]. ‘We would resuscitate him,’ then execute him.”

–From an AP article about Clarence Ray Allen, killed by lethal injection this morning in California. He was 76, legally blind, and had a heart attack in September. The quote refers to the fact that Allen had asked not to be resuscitated if he had another heart attack.

Although the quote highlights the moral absurdity of the death penalty, this is not a simple case. This old and sick man was on death row for killing three people while he was in prison, by ordering a “hit” on them. I don’t know more than the AP article about Allen’s case, but clearly, “life without parole” would not have protected society this time. Solitary confinement for life might have, but that is usually understood as being as “cruel and unusual” as a death sentence—and unnecessary, most of the time.

There are so many practical reasons to oppose the death penalty: it falls much more often on poor minorities; it costs more money to kill a prisoner than to feed and house him or her for life; mistakes are made and innocent people condemned. But as a humanist religious leader, I hope we will not lean too heavily on the practical. The goal should not be to “fix” the system so that we kill the “correct” people. The goal should be to fix ourselves so that we do not need to become killers to find justice and peace.

I don’t know whether I believe that people who have committed truly evil acts “deserve to die.” I do believe that we do not deserve to become killers ourselves. And although we hire others to do the actual killing, deep down the knowledge infects us all, and it infects our society.

So far I have spared you all my poetry, but I would like to share this. It was inspired by two things: a photo of “execution groupies,” who party outside a prison where an execution is taking place; and my learning why a bee dies after stinging someone (it’s eviscerated), which seemed to me the perfect metaphor for why a state cannot kill without its citizens becoming, on some level, killers.
Warning: it’s not a pleasant poem.

Close-up of the Execution Crowd

They have the whitened eyes, stretched necks,
bared teeth of stampeding horses, screaming,
screaming their guts out with the true fan’s
visceral joy.

I feel their glee
coiled and venomous in my stomach.
I want to smash
their lawn chairs and coolers, bloody
their open mouths.

My clenched fist throbs
where I was stung yesterday.
I enjoyed watching the bee’s tiny death, payment
for my pain.

I suppose she didn’t know
her own nature: that her stinger
was no casual weapon but anchored
her to me.

Did she learn at last,
as she tried to leave the lodged thorn
that instead pulled her guts from her body until
the husk fell,
what had killed her?

Or did she merely feel her life unraveling,
and hatred.

It's a Little Easier Bein' Green

January 10, 2006

And it gets easier every day. Several people had follow-up questions about veganism after my address on Sunday. If you’d like more info on vegetarianism and veganism, there’s a great site at It’s run by the folks at PETA, whom I don’t always agree with–their radical fringe has hurt their own cause at times. But this site is very friendly and there’s a link at the top to a free vegetarian starter kit that you can order or download instantly, and it’s got health info, animal treatment info, recipes, tips for dining out, for families, etc.

Thanks to Reggie for sharing her experiences around food choices. Her thoughts prompt me to remind folks of one of my favorite phrases: The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good (Voltaire). Meaning, it is better to do what we can than to abandon the effort because we can’t do everything, and we should feel good about whatever we do rather than guilty about what we don’t. (Some people think pride leads to complacency and guilt is motivating, but I believe that good feelings motivate more action, while guilt makes us want to stop thinking about the painful topic–Opinions, psychological scientists?) In fact, perhaps we shouldn’t use labels such as “vegetarian” and “vegan,” as they suggest that a person either perfectly follows these diets or doesn’t at all. There are many people these days making incremental changes to a more ethical diet and lifestyle, and every small change does make a difference. In fact, it’s the millions of people making small changes, rather than the few making radical changes, that convince corporations such as McDonald’s to offer veggie burgers, or Starbucks to offer Fair Trade coffee.

Ideals into Action

January 10, 2006

I thought some of you might want to add your thoughts regarding a conversation we had at the end of our Board meeting last night.

You may know that we currently have a Long Range Planning committee working on organizing our programs, establishing evaluation procedures, raising revenue for our ongoing expenses, and looking forward to creating a climate of energy and enthusiasm here over the next five years.

What does that last line “creating a climate of energy and enthusiasm” mean?

To me, to others on the committee, it means helping and encouraging our members and others toward action based on our ideals.

It means promoting the projects we already do (such as through the work of our Ethical Action committee members and others) like the Women’s Self-Help Center, Room At The Inn, and Lydia House, as well as starting new outreach in partnership with other organizations that we can all share in, young, old and in-between, to promote good work in the community. It may also mean re-establishing some projects in the Society that have previously been started but, through no fault of the program, simply run out of gas in terms of volunteer effort. (I am thinking specifically of Forum for The Open Mind.) It may also mean joining with new groups that have been suggested by members but as yet have not been acted on such as the AMACHE program and Mentor-St.-Louis.

Of course, all of this is reliant on the interest of members in making it happen. We hope, through our Long Range Plan, to establish ways to make it easier. To promote a “can-do” mentality among our members. To fuel the enthusiasm by promoting from within, by communicating better, by listening more. But we need to hear from you. Sometimes to get attention, you need to raise your voice. And give the time it takes to get it started. We CAN help, we hope to create better mechanisms for assisting, but you be the guide.

It also means–to me and to some others–looking down the road in a larger way to how our Society can reach out in the community on our own–be our own agents for change and good. How can we utilize our endowment money, which was meant to promote Ethical outreach and Ethical Culture beyond our walls, toward helping others in this community? Toward better living for more people—both practical and ideal? Toward greater cooperation? Toward understanding? Toward peace?

What kinds of program or effort (think REALLY big here) would our members be interested in? What kinds of needs are there in the St. Louis community that are not currently being served by some other organization that we can uniquely provide? Who can benefit from our interest? From the talent and willingness among members in our community? From our money? From our desire?

Our discussion went back and forth between ongoing projects that currently exist that we can bring more to light in the Society and through which we can partner with other organizations, to this kind of down–the-road visionary type of thing that will really create something new and useful.

Ideas? Thoughts? Hopes? Dreams? What excites you? What are your passions? What needs do you see in the community that are not being addressed? For today–and tomorrow?



January 9, 2006

I thought I’d contribute a few personal reflections on food after hearing Kate’s platform address this past Sunday (January 8.) In case you missed it, in her platform she describes how becoming a vegan helped her recognize the need to encompass a variety of viewpoints to understand a larger picture. (I greatly simplify here, but I think that was the gist.) In particular, she relates the story of the blind men and the elephant as a larger example.

My own experience is a little different, but I think it also helped me discover some things about myself and the whole issue of food and living consciously. Lest I mislead, I most certainly did not arrive at any answers. Kate’s platform made me wonder how my little experience fit into the larger view. Hmmmm.

My husband, Randy and I were vegans for a brief time when we had our first child. We left veganism behind and became vegetarians shortly after our daughter was born for two reasons: It was difficult for him to eat vegan with his corporate fellows and while traveling on a regular basis, and we couldn’t find convincing literature on the nutritional value of raising a young child as a strict vegan.

From vegetarianism, we morphed to our current mode of eating; that is, sort-of vegetarians. That means, for us, vegetarian at home, eating as others do when we are out. And we are out often.

This evolution/devolution to sort-of vegetarian may seem like a backward march in regard to consciousness about living healthfully, environmentally, and caringly for other people and creatures in our world, except in some ways, for me personally, it wasn’t.

What happened to me, when we became vegans and then began raising our family as vegetarians, was that I became consumed (yes, consumed) with food issues. Organic foods. Budgetary concerns for buying organic foods. Food coops; (getting the organic and local foods quickly, if not easily.) Selecting grocery stores. (Not necessarily within an environmentally effective distance.) Reading labels. Learning to cook vegetarian. Learning to cook quick vegetarian. Nutrition. Health. Discussions with friends. Disagreements with family.

Exhausting? Sometimes, yes. But also invigorating. I was learning new stuff. Feeling like I was doing good things. Contributing in a small way. Yes, it was coupled with a little of the feeling of superiority Kate mentioned in her platform address. Many of my new friends also happened to be vegetarians. With them we could talk about this stuff for hours, and sometimes did. When you start eating green, and combine that with raising kids who are eating green, it becomes…..(dare I say it) like…a…religion.

Many of our discussions revolved around the usual stuff I mentioned above, along with getting kids to eat food that isn’t always their first choice. (An issue in any family. Seems to multiply with grains, beans, cheese and vegetable-only options.) It’s particularly challenging as they age and the lovely children you raised to be independent thinkers start thinking independently. But I won’t bore you with those details, that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

I had grown up in a family with a gourmet-loves-to-eat-out-at-the-best-restaurants father, and a mother who hated to cook and whose overriding mantra whenever us kids would complain about what there was to eat (or not) was, “We eat to live, we don’t live to eat.”

Contradictory messages, indeed. Couple those messages with my twenty-year background as a professional ballet dancer and choreographer where not-eating is seen as a badge of honor, throw in a dash of new information about factory farms, free-range beef, pesticides, growth hormones, illegal immigrant labor, GMO’s, obesity, political control of food distribution in third world countries and….well…

It all became overwhelming.

These conflicting and sometimes contradictory early messages then, served as the backdrop for my later, adult/parent role as food provider. On one hand, providing good, healthy, quality food for my family was important. On the other hand, I felt guilty about thinking and spending so much time preparing and acting on food. Yes, guilty.

I imagine that you can take my story, substitute anyone else’s background, regional upbringing, life experiences and interests many times over to find a new story for each person regarding how they have come to think (or not) about the food they eat and the choices they make. And those choices, for many people, will be based on different assumptions and lead to different actions.

Food is fuel. End of discussion. Food is love. Good food, good. Food is power. Bad food, bad. Food means we are “good” people. Food means we are “bad” people. This food is “good,” that food is “bad.” Food means… substitute the good/bad cultural label. With the exception of some cultures, where food has no good/bad connotation, but means literally, life.

The bottom line for me is that I just got tired, bored with myself, frustrated, and anxiety-ridden, with being so preoccupied with food and food related issues all the time. And yes, I felt guilty. It seemed to me that only in Western cultures do we have the luxury to choose to NOT eat. To choose organic over mass-produced. To choose to buy local or from South America. I felt that my consciousness had become a self-consciousness, a tag that made ME feel good (or bad) and that had lost the original purpose of food—sustenance.

Of course, realizing this about myself, didn’t fully make all those things I had learned go away. It ain’t all about me. Some of that information made sense. And you can’t go back.

I remain both value-conflicted and food-conflicted. I admire those who don’t put ANY thought into what they eat; they just eat, thank you. They save their energy for protesting war, for providing jobs for others, for providing shelter to battered women, for organizing clubs and activities and even food pantries, and many other things. I admire those who put a LOT of thought into what they eat, recognizing that we must do our little part at the top of the food chain to promote healthful, responsible food consumption, to protect animals, our planet, our children, and still have time for other concerns. I admire people who have become excellent cooks, combining balanced nutrition in amazingly creative and delicious ways for the purpose of bringing people together. I admire people who just eat—and move on.

Most of all, I just just wanted to quit thinking about food. But unfortunately, one must eat.

I appreciated Kate’s use of the allegory of the blind men and the elephant to help us recognize that we are just part of the greater conversation on so many issues . But as regards food, in my case, it made me realize all the more clearly how my little step toward gaining a larger understanding has in some ways caused me to straddle the fence. (Is being sort-of vegetarian like being sort-of pregnant? If so…will time cure my ignorance?)

I gather at this point I have two hands on the elephant.



On a different topic….

I’ve posted my commentary above in the “Uncategorized” space on our new blogsite, rather than in the “President’s” section, as these are obviously personal reflections and have nothing to do with board business for the society. As this blogsite is new and there are (as yet) no guidelines, I thought I’d try a little bit of everything in posting, but put personal thoughts in the uncategorized area and business-related items in the President’s area. That is, while I have my half year left as your President. Then it will be someone else’s turn.

That means (probably) a little bit of the above, a little bit of business as comes up that I think people may be interested in commenting on, and anything else anybody suggests.

For now, board meeting tonight, so business later.


Walking Weirdoes

January 5, 2006

I was raised in New York City, the walking capital of America (sez us). As the national news showed in December during the transit strike, New Yorkers can walk for miles to get where they need to go—across bridges in freezing weather, dodging cabs all the way. So when we found a place to rent in St. Louis within two miles of work, shops, library, gym, I smiled and put on my walking shoes.

And the first day I walked to work. Side roads, sidewalks, a calm bridge over the interstate, a nice walk. It felt a little like one of those post-apocalyptic movies, as I was the only person not encased in metal that I saw, but otherwise it was fine. I looked forward to my walk home. After work, however, I discovered that things had changed—specifically, to pitch black. This useful through-street with the sidewalk has no street lights.

The next day, we decided to walk to the gym, as driving two miles to walk on a treadmill is too ridiculous, aside from an environmental nightmare. So we set off, with a map that showed broad streets and even short-cuts through a couple malls. What we found was a combination of no sidewalks, sidewalks that ended abruptly, often at trees (apparently they are meant for commuting squirrels), or sidewalks with nice smooth ramps into intersections with no crosswalks or pedestrian signals (apparently meant for suicidal wheelchair users). The shopping centers have nice new sidewalks around their perimeters and between the stores, but only cars are welcome in or out of them.

Because I am “bloody-minded,” in the British sense, I will continue to walk to work, using a flashlight on my way home, and to the gym, hoping on and off discontinuous sidewalks and dashing through traffic like a lost animal. But I feel a little like a lost animal, in this new habitat of pseudo-urbanism. And I expect that I will continue to be lonely on my walks, and I no longer wonder why.

The Present I Really Wanted

December 29, 2005

Now that I have my two front teeth, all I want for the holidays is a news source with a research department–or even just a freelance fact-checker. This morning on the radio I heard a typical 30-second “story” about the economy, with a quote by a lawmaker to the effect that cutting taxes increases government revenue. No follow-up, just the quote, then on to the next “story.” I realize economic theory is complicated, but how about 15 more seconds to say that “Four out of five leading economic journals found this not to be the case in the 1980s,” or, “This seems to be true in Brazil but not in Mexico at present”–or whatever somewhat reliable facts exist? (I made those two statements up.) I don’t find this sort of simple follow-up anywhere except sometimes on The Daily Show on the Comedy Central cable network (or click on the link for free video clips if your house is also cable-free). How sad is it when comedy shows are doing the most fact-checking?

Short thoughts on torture and long thoughts on ANWAR

December 21, 2005

To torture or not to torture. What most bothers me about this debate is the “What-if-someone-is-about-to-blow-up-a-building-and-we-only-have-5-minutes-and-we-have-an-informant-who-won’t-talk?” argument. Aside from the fact that torture is ineffective, aside from the fact that condoning torture by Americans makes it much harder to protest torture of Americans, the problem with extremist hypothetical arguments is that they can be used to “justify” anything. Anything. Basing our human and civil rights on our worst nightmares will leave us with no rights at all.

* * *

Well, it looks like ANWAR has been spared again. But maybe it shouldn’t be. I never thought I’d say that, but I was very impressed by Peter Maass’ arguments (“The Price of Oil,” in Dec 18th’s NY Times*) that until Americans use less energy and more alternative fuels, our insistence on keeping Alaska pristine is a “Not In My Back Yard” stance. –Because the oil will have to come from somewhere, and most likely from somewhere that will take much less care when they extract it than we would in ANWAR. Maass: “We demand clean beaches and untouched wildernesses at home but live in an energy-intensive fashion that leads other countries to sacrifice their waters and forests.” Ouch.

Actually, ANWAR might not be the best example for Maass’ argument, because it likely doesn’t have enough oil to justify drilling there in any event, but the argument in general is important– especially if it’s true, as Maass reports, that being an oil exporter doesn’t even help lift a poor country out of poverty.

It’s generally the liberal middle class that wants the strongest protections for the American environment, but even if we (I put myself in this class) follow green-buying ways, we still tend to use a lot of energy—probably more than many poorer conservative folks who use words like “eco-terrorist.” Think you’re a good energy steward? Test yourself at You’ll probably be unpleasantly surprised. I was, and I’m a vegan who walks to work. That means I’m twice as “green” as the average American, but humanity would still need 2.4 Earths if everyone lived like me.

This is the holiday season, with lots of love and goodwill and cheer and wishes for peace. Why do these good feelings and ideals require so much stuff? And create so much trash? What would a low-impact holiday look like? I admit I’m afraid to try one myself–Would it be depressing at first? Would my family be disappointed? But we’ll all need to re-imagine a lot of our lives, and what we “need,” and even how we celebrate. That is, if we want to save everyone’s backyard, not just our own.

Happy Holidays, and an Imaginative New Year.

(*Thanks to Jim R for forwarding Maass’ article.)

The Six Commandments Commission

December 20, 2005

I just received an appeal from the Ten Commandments Commission (, a group dedicated to promoting “Reverence for God’s unchanging standard.” They are also selling a gold-plated commemorative pin.

Interestingly, the commandments aren’t listed in the brochure or on the website, that I could find. Perhaps this is because “lack of agreement among various divisions within Christianity and Judaism makes it very difficult to reach a consensus about how the Ten should be printed for display in public locations. Usually, the preferences of Jews, Roman Catholics and some Lutherans is overruled, and the Protestant format is chosen,” as I learned on (, a site about the history and different views of the commandments. It’s nice that the commission chose not to take sides in the different versions debate, but it does call into question the “unchanging standard” claim.

Having finally found a couple lists of the biblical commandments, I might consider joining a Six Commandments Commission. Ethically, I’m against being cruel to one’s parents, adultery, killing, stealing, perjury, and coveting. However, ten commandments’ advocates are usually seeking to incorporate the Bible into American law, and I’m not sure I’m ready to throw adulterers and sassers in jail—perhaps a fine, to go toward free marital and family counseling clinics. The destruction of the American economy that would accompany the prohibition of coveting might also be a problem, but I do look forward to banning war.

What about the other four commandments? (These are from the most commonly used version)
I. “I am the Lord Thy God. . . . Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Since this is from the Hebrew Bible, it would seemingly outlaw not only atheism, agnosticism, paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism, humanism, etc., but also call the Christian trinity into question. I don’t see the point of offending that many billion people at once.
II. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” This would outlaw not only all art, religious or secular, but all photographs, textbook illustrations, etc. We would have to teach medicine without pictures, program our digital clocks without diagrams. (It also of course strictly prohibits gold-plated commemorative pins of the Ten Commandments.) As much as I would like to outlaw TV, this seems extreme.
III. “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.” This outlaws, depending on your belief system, swearing, praying, and/or using “God” on money. I could get behind this one, but again, why make that many enemies?
IV. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . . Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work.” This would make Saturday the Sabbath in America, since the ten commandments are a Jewish document. It would also make the 5-day work week illegal. I like the idea of a day of rest and no shopping, but I’d fight for a shorter workweek before a longer one.

Obviously, I’m being flip, but I don’t intend to offend. I’m sure the folks who want the U.S. to “follow” the Ten Commandments don’t intend to offend, either. They just want to feel safe, to feel they understand their kids and their neighbors and the world better, and to feel they belong in an evolving culture. But by forcing a discussion that should go on in churches and religious history classes into politics, Ten Commandments proponents force us all either to offend each other or to violate our deepest convictions by keeping silent.

So how ’bout it: “The Six Commandments Commission—Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Not being angelic in America

December 8, 2005

We’ve been watching the miniseries “Angels in America.” It begins in 1985, in New York City. In 1985, in New York City, my summer job was in retail. One afternoon one of my work friends asked me to do him a favor: run across the street and pick up his prescriptions from the drugstore. I said sure, and then he handed me a paper bag stuffed with money. The prescriptions cost over $300, and it didn’t look like a lot of pills: maybe a week’s worth. His asking me to run that errand was the closest he ever came to saying “I have AIDS,” and I never asked him anything more than “How are you?”–And we all know the answer to that must be “Fine,” even when you’re dying. I went off to college and my friend went to the hospital and never came out. I never visited him. I think I was too young to believe that young, handsome, wonderful people die. And I was afraid. Not of catching his disease (I knew better than that), but of seeing him sick, of remembering him as sick, afterward.

There was a time I was afraid of dying people, the way you’re afraid to crawl out on a weak tree branch–because it’ll take you down with it when it falls. But it doesn’t work like that. If anything, you’re left hovering in midair.

I miss my friend. I miss all the moments I missed with him, beautiful or ugly.