Monday, December 29, 2008

To Be or Not to Be...Normal

Normality seems to be an idea lacking these days in circles of change, in places where people scheme and strive and struggle to bring about transformation and hope for our society and our cultures. No one seems to be looking to John and Jane Doe for advice on life; instead, it would seem as though we look to the next Mr or Mrs. Wow and Mr. or Mrs. Instant Change. This is a regular occurrence within human history; it is a rarity to seek to follow someone plain, someone simple. Someone normal.
Maybe a part of the problem is that history has erased the normality of those whom we call great; so, instead of seeing their normal lives, we see their lives of power, achievement, success, and transformation. And in seeing those aspects of their lives, we seek to emulate them in those ways. We seek to erase our own normality.
Yet, there seems to be a power to normality. To blending in with the crowd, to just being one of the guys (or girls). To relating to the masses as the masses instead of above, or in charge of, the masses. Granted, this is not always a blind following of the mob mindset though it is always an entering into the mob for the purpose of change and transformation.
I have been struggling with this for the past few months. I have been wrestling with what it means to simply be faithful. I think there is a relationship to this idea of normality and faithfulness. Most of the people that I know that are living lives of transformation and change are pretty normal, everyday John and Jane Does. Like the one they follow, they have no real desirable appearance. They're not wow people.
I'm not entirely convinced that Jesus was a wow person. I think that history has made him a wow person and erased his normality. Yet, Jesus of Nazareth was both normal and faithful. He was faithful to the Father's message of love, repentance, and kingdom living. And he suffered for it; obviously, he died for it. Yet, he didn't reap the fruit of joy until after he'd suffered - rejected by friends, whipped nearly to death, spat on, mocked, and, finally, crucified. On top of various attempts by authorities to stone him, throw him off of a cliff, etc.
I think that I'm just beginning to learn that there is hope in normality and faithfulness. To be honest, I'm getting a little sick of hearing the folks who want to be the next Mr. or Mrs. Wow. I want to meet the person(s) who are being faithful to kingdom values and love for neighbor in the simple doldrums of everyday life. I am finding that there is hope to fight the temptation to erase my own normality; there is still hope of escaping self-exaltation.
What if the very thing that we are searching for to transform the world is ingrained in our very nature? What if the simple fact of being neighbor, friend, brother, sister, oil change technician, water filtration system maintenance lady, or local librarian is that next big wow that we keep skipping over? What if the power of transformation is in the simple living of a faithful lifestyle of love for neighbor and kingdom of God living with the normal John and Jane Does next door?

Friday, December 26, 2008

architecture that jesus might like

npr's "speaking of faith" has recently done a story on the rural studio of the architecture dept. at auburn university called An Architecture of Decency. disclaimer: i am a proud AU grad and i love my home state of alabama. however, it's a beautiful story no matter where it comes from.

AU rural studio

Sunday, December 21, 2008

kentucky nativity

a few years ago mr brad flowers and i sat down to write a localized rendering of the birth of jesus.

here it is (again)


Zachariah was born in Harlan County. His wife, Elizabeth, was also born in Harlan County. In fact, her family had been in that county since before the Civil War, which is a long time for a group of people to stay in a place like Harlan. No one in Harlan knew them as Zachariah and Elizabeth; they were Betty and Z.

In addition to picking up a disability check for the coal dust that clouded his lungs, Z performed various services for his neighbors. A sign reading NOTARY hung above the porch. He was an official accredited minister. Z first received the call to full-time ministry sitting at the kitchen table, eating a piece of sausage, and watching preaching through the fuzz of their black and white TV, occasionally reaching across to adjust a knob or tug at the aluminum foil covered rabbit-ear antanae. It was during an impassioned sermon on Moses and the Pharoah and obedience. A commercial with the words 'no hassle' flashed across the screen like a burning bush. He, too, could earn a graduate degree from F.A.I.T.H, the Firsthand Account Institute of THeology in Alamogordo, New Mexico. They didn't care that Z had dropped out of middle school; the institute looks for men with spiritual knowledge, men with pure hearts.
For Z, the duties piled up. He started off as no more than a glorified justice of the peace. He found that when he opened his mouth to bless a young couple, or eulogize a dearly departed, he was filled with a new confidence. He could bring the crowd to tears; he could bring about repentance. People started to look to him. It was only a matter of time before he started official church meetings. He slowly became the Right Apostle Z, shepherd of the flock, The Pillar of Fire Church of Children Marching Toward Zion.

With the new demands on his life he made time to do what he called his "priestly duties." He would enter his "holy of holies," which was his fanciful description of Betty's garden. He buried himself to the neck in the rich soil in order to be "brought low," so that he could "seek the face of the Lord." It became his habit to do this in the summers on Friday evenings with the cicadas for company in the warm thick air. He wanted to be prepared to exhort his flock on Saturday (Z's church had their Sabbath meeting on Saturday because that was the day the good Lord decided to take for his rest after making this Earth and that was good enough for them).

Z’s custom started with digging an oblong hole in the tilled ground. He would then lay down and pull the loose soil over himself. Once settled in the fecund stillness Z would pray and sweat furiously. As a rule angels did not show up. He did not have visions, nor did he dream particularly relevant dreams. He slept and slobbered and woke up smelling like compost. But this time in the gray area between prayerfulness and sleep, where all things are possible, Z had a visitor. It was big and blonde and bright like an illustration in a King James Bible. Its’ bulk hovered over the tomato and pepper plants not damaging a leaf. The angel declared that Z would have a son, and that his name would be John:
“Thou shalt have joy and gladness, for many shall rejoice at his birth. He shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many in the flock shall he turn to the Lord their God. He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Z rubbed his eyes, trying to wake himself and murmered, "what in the shittin' hell?" And becoming more alarmed he hollered loud enough to wake Betty. Seeing no response from the house he tried to run, but finding himself still buried he urinated and passed out.
The angel, somewhat deflated, sat down, squashing a zucchini, and shook Z to rouse him, "Look, because you can't wake your sorry ass up and see things for how they are, because you don't believe me, you’re gonna be mute until the day the child is born. Then, you’ll believe."
Z laid there the rest of the night too stunned to move and too afraid to attempt to talk. He came to church the next morning half an hour late. He didn't bother to shower. He gesticulated wildly to the audience. He opened his mouth to deliver the words he thought the Lord had given him, but nothing happened. He pulled the chalkboard out of the closet, writing furiously about a vision, a visitation. The people were not surprised knowing that Z often heard from God and that it was usually good. They were surprised when he said he was having a son and that he couldn't talk because of his disbelief. The people laughed uncomfortably waiting for the punch line. They joked about his age and potency.
He never started talking again, though. The punch line was slow in coming. No one really believed until Betty's belly started to extend and stretch the colorful floral fabrics of her favorite muumuus. Betty and Z were relieved and excited. A child, they thought, would make things much better.
About the same time Betty's muumuus started to stretch, another strange occurrence was taking place elsewhere in the southeastern part of the state called Appalachia. There was a girl named Mary. She was engaged Joe a boy from Barbourville who could trace his lineage all the way back to Daniel Boone.
Mary was sitting in the tattered velour lazy boy in the living room/dining room of her parents trailer in Happy, KY. Her mother worked the breakfast shift at the Big Totem diner attached to Harry’s gas and convenience store. Her father was currently staying elsewhere but rumor had it that he found steady work warehousing for a company that bought relics like coal mining tools to sell as art in New York City.
But, back to Mary . . . She was sitting in the Lazy Boy watching the TV and trying to decide if she would go to school that day. She had a bowl of cereal in her lap. Her Coke was on the table next to her chair. Right before the show’s last commercial break the screen went fuzzy. Mary reached over, split the blinds, light pouring through aluminum, to see if something had knocked the satellite off the garage. A voice came from the TV and she let the blinds slap back.
“Mary, wake up. You’re as beautiful as the day you were born. Not a beauty bought at the mall, but from God. There is a spark in you.”
Mary pushed back against the arms of the chair until it reached its maximum recline and tipped. She lay startled with her feet and the footrest pointing toward the ceiling, the remains of her cereal soggy on her chest. She scrambled to her hands and knees staring wildly as the voice started again.
“Mary, relax. This is good news. You are going to have a baby. This child will have your spark and more. He is going to change things.”
“Is this a trick. . . Joe? Momma? I told you I ain’t done it with him yet.”
“Mary, relax. I told you this child would be different. I have also been to visit your relatives Betty and Z. She will have a child as old as she is. Amazing things can happen.”
Mary shrank back sitting on her heels with both hands on her belly, crying and muttering softly: “god, I hope this ain’t a joke,” as the TV flipped back on in time for the weather forecast.
Mary had righted the chair and was sitting in it with her arms pulling her legs up to make a chin rest of her knees when her mother got home early from work.
“Hey, momma.”
“What are you doing? Do you think I go to work so you can stay home all day doing nothing?”
“Momma, stop. Things have been weird.”
“Are you on some kind of drugs?”
“No. It’s not. . .it’s just. Well, I think I’m pregnant.”
“What? In my house and me out working everyday. No, that ain’t gonna happen. Get out. Get your crap and get out.”
“Momma, stop. It’s different.”
“It ain’t that different you little tramp. I remember fifteen years ago pretty clear. Believe me, things don’t change that much. Am I stupid or what?”
At that she slammed her bedroom door. She sat on the side of her bed and waited, one hand holding up her head, the other lighting a cigarette. She took deep pulls not bothering to find an ashtray or open her eyes even.
Mary got a ride up to the gas station by the highway. She walked from there up to the main road, her backpack slung across her narrow shoulders. The bottom inch of her tight jeans darkened from dragging the still wet road. The sun was hot after the morning’s storm. Her t-shirt left two inches of her white belly exposed which she unconsciously rubbed with her right hand as she lifted her left, signaling her need for a ride.
Betty was waiting on the porch. She had heard that Mary left home the day before. She had been busy preparing the sleeper sofa, cooking some things that could be heated quickly, and sweeping the beetle carcasses off the indoor\outdoor carpeting on the porch in case Mary stopped by. It had gotten late. Z was already snoring in the back room. The bug zapper had been on for hours. Betty stood in the doorway sipping a glass of freshly brewed sweet tea.
An unknown pickup pulled into the drive. Betty sat down wincing. As the pickup pulled away Betty hollered, “Hey there, you sure are one lucky lady carrying that treasure. Tell me, why am I lucky enough to be visited by the mother of such a treasure. The moment I heard those tires on gravel this little guy started kicking away. You believe what God has for you.”
Mary stayed with Betty and Z for nearly three months before her mother finally called. She apologized and cried and said she loved her no matter what she did. She arrived the next day still wearing her brown apron and bow tie. Her eyeliner was smeared. There was a half a pack of smoldering slender, pink-stained cigarette butts in the ashtray. Mary went home happily.
Now finally it came time for Betty to give birth. She woke Z in the middle of the night with a death grip on the forearm and the rigid but steady words, “Z it is time.” He hopped up silently as usual. The birth went off without a hitch. Both Betty and the baby were radiantly healthy. Their friends and family swarmed into the hospital to congratulate the unlikely new mother and the quiet father, bringing casseroles and smuggling in cigars.When it came time to name the baby there was some confusion. Several people had already begun calling the child Little Z, or Baby Z, or even Z Junior. Betty announced that his name would be John. The collective head turned towards Z. He pulled out his pad and begun to write. As he turned the pad for all to see he surprised everyone including himself by saying in a scratchy voice, “His name is John.

Joe, being eighteen years old, was required to register for the draft. The US was spreading democracy and, apparently, needed his help. There were concerns about security at home and abroad. The war was going badly. The unrest across the country was typified by the violence breaking out on University campuses. This unrest bred fear and fear caused the powers that be to make demands on the people. Liberties needed to be curbed for protection. In this spirit, the President was re-initiating the draft.
Joe traced his family back to Lexington so he made his way there with Mary to take care of some paperwork. They were planning their wedding for later in the summer when they could get the money together. She was over 8 months pregnant now and the long journey along I-75 was made longer with the bathroom, stretch, and rest breaks. For most of the trip Mary sat right next to Joe in the middle of the bench-seat, her legs straddling the stick-shift housing and her painfully swollen feet propped up on the dash.

Finally, late in the night, they made it to Lexington, but the long journey had brought on Mary's labor prematurely. The last part of their trip had been the most exhausting - hours of sitting in traffic while Mary's body shuddered under each heavy contraction. Joe's white-knuckle hold on the steering wheel and his taut, worried face flexing in rhythm with Mary's pain-throws. The city was flooded with people and cars. There was no way to pull over and rest, no place to go once they were part of the gridlock. When they finally made it there, the UK maternity ward was packed to overflowing and they were eventually turned away. Just a few hours later, in the back of Joe's pick-up, on the third level of the parking deck, Mary gave birth. Their tears splashed into the puddles of blood and water mingling in the corrugated troughs of the truck bed. For a moment Joe forgot that this wasn’t his child. He looked on Mary and the baby with a fondness and compassion and love that he could never have willed. In the months and years to come Joe would still find times where he resented Mary, entertaining the thought that she had been with another guy, the father of this child. He was bitter about the talk that went on behind their backs - gossip and slander. But he would always come back to this moment in the truck. The heroism of Mary, the closeness that such a painful experience forges. Out of this dark, solitary pain came a light and companionship that was as warm as skin and as invincible as it was fragile. They padded Joe's toolbox with blankets and lay the baby down.
It was early morning and the sky was turning from black to blue in the pre-dawn light. On the wrong side of town some sanitation workers were doing the rounds. As they wrestled the overstuffed trash bins into lines on the corner of 4th and Chestnut, they noticed someone calling for them. They could barely hear the voice over droning hydraulics and the piercing bleepbleepbleep of the truck. She was standing across the road in an empty lot and as they caught sight of her she seemed to be glowing with the clarity and brilliance of the rising sun.
Without even thinking they clamored and crammed into the cab with the driver - too scared to approach but too enchanted to look away. Three huge men, dwarfing the wretched insides of the garbage truck, startled but fearfully frozen. As they watched they could see she was trying to talk to them. A quivering hand slowly wound down the window.
"Don't be afraid,” she said,
"I want to tell you some wonderful news. A message for everyone: This morning a liberator was born at UK, the one we've been waiting for. The one who will set things right by bringing real justice and love to this city. Here's the will find a baby wrapped in a blanket, in a brown pickup, in the UK hospital parking deck."
And suddenly she was gone. Just then the radio starts blaring, all static and buzz. After several seconds the white noise gave way to the most wonderful voices - men, women, young, old, black, white, hispanic. They were singing with all the passion, energy, and spirit of a church choir...
"Glory, Glory, Glory,
To God in heaven,
& Peace, Peace, Peace
To the one's He loves on earth"

The radio cut off as quickly as it had come on. The sanitation workers were left staring at an empty lot in the quiet stillness of early morning. For a few minutes, the only thing to move was a piece of trash that skipped along the gutter. After some minutes of silence, Benny, the most outspoken of the men, and the most religious one among them spoke up.
"Let's go to the hospital and see what he Lord is up to!"So they went quickly, after all, they hadn't finished their route and a couple of the men had second jobs to get to later that morning. After walking up several ramps they finally discovered Joe, Mary, and the little one. All three were sound asleep under blankets and jackets in the bed of the pickup. Mary stirred, startled by the three strange men staring at her baby. But soon their warm smiles and fantastic story of what had happened put her at ease and she was comforted by their loving-kindness. After visiting for a while and sharing the story again with Joe and Mary and the others who were coming and going with the hospital staff shift changes, the men returned to the remainder of their route.

Jesus grew up and Mary loved him. She loved him and raised him and it wasn’t easy, her being a teenager and all. Joe struggled to keep things going but between the local ‘God’s Pantry’ and food stamps, they kept food on the table. When Jesus was old enough Joe would take him to the various day-labor sites on the weekends. This allowed Mary to pick up some work as a Wal-Mart ‘Associate.’ Joe was a good learner and could turn his hand to almost anything if someone gave him a chance. Jesus watched him carefully, listened well, stayed out of the way, and eventually learned to help out some – picking up trash, fetching tools, buying cigarettes for the workers. All the people that met him thought Jesus was a “sharp little tack”, and more than one friend of Joe’s remarked Jesus “was something special.”
Mary would tell stories to Jesus when she put him to bed. Stories her Daddy and Granddaddy had told her about the mountains and the first ones that came through Cumberland Gap. She sang some of the songs she remembered and made up the parts she had forgotten. So he grew up and went to school and walked the dirt road from the four-lane to the trailer park every day to catch the bus. As he walked he would go over the stories his Mom had told him and imagine he was a part of the drama, picking up sticks and rocks and discarded cans to engineer the props. A couple of his favorite stories were actually about him. Mary would recount the story of Jesus birth and how they had been driving all day and how Joe had worried about going to war and how amazing it was to see those trash-guys approaching the truck in the half-light of early morning. Jesus loved to hear about the wild preachers that had spectacular things to say about him when he was just a few days old.
A couple of these preachers were Ol’ Simmy and Miss Ann. As Mary would recount it to JC, Ol’ Simmy came bursting into the church whoopin’ and hollerin’ about the time that had come and how he had waited so long for “this chile’.”
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh Lowwwwwwwwd-ah,
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh LOWWWDD-AHHHH!,
MMMMMnnnngggggggg LOWDYYYY!!”
He gathered JC in his arms and gazed lovingly at the child. After several minutes he started rocking and groaning, gradually setting a rhythm, swaying to music so one else could hear,
“Ohhh Lord, You’re lettin’ me go
Jus’ like you said,
Jus’ like you said,
I’ve seen the hope, you’ve let me know,
Jus’ like you said,
Jus’ like you said,
There is a light and you’re lettin’ it show,
Jus’ like you said,
Jus’ like you said,
Ohhhhh Lord, You’re lettin’ me go….
Mary always stood and swayed as she told this part to JC and, even as a toddler, he would rock along.
Simmy prayed when he was done singing. In a small storage room at the back of the church he prayed a prayer Mary would never forget.
“This boy’s gonna expose the frauds and lift up the righteous folk. He’s gonna see right through us all. He’s gonna inspire and be despised. He’s gonna break our hearts….he’s even gonna break his momma’s heart.”
Mary never told JC this part. She was afraid it might be true.
Ol’ Simmy had barely said “Amen” when Miss Ann started banging on the closet door with the front legs of her walking frame. Even though he couldn’t actually remember meeting her, JC loved Miss Ann and her renowned commitment to being at the church day in day out. In fact, when her husband had died she started a prayer ministry called “Miss Ann’s Prayer-Line” and spent 8 hours a day praying for everyone and anyone who called or came by the church. The elders of the church eventually set her up with a cot in the coat-room so she could keep an eye on the place 24/7.
When she saw Jesus that day she cried out and hugged Ol’ Simmy. She parked her walker and shuffled over to Mary with arms out to take the child. Continuing her tottering gate, she made it to the front steps and called out at passers by, repeating many of the things Ol’ Simmy had been saying. She spent the next couple of days calling every number she had collected through “Prayer-Line”, leaving messages on answering machines that usually only found their end with the impatient tone of the machine cutting her off.
Jesus loved these stories. He became fascinated with the House of God. He counted the days between their yearly journey to visit the folk in Lexington. His fascination became obsession and he began to believe he ought to be interested in “the Lord”, that somehow he might need to question things relating to God, Life, and even his own family. This worried Mary and Jo so for a time she stopped telling him the bedtime birth-stories and she instead read Psalms from a bible Miss Ann had given her.......

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I.O.U.S.A. on short list for Academy Awards

15 Docs Continue in 2008 Oscar® Race
Beverly Hills, CA — The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 15 films in the Documentary Feature category will advance in the voting process for the 81st Academy Awards®. A record 94 pictures had originally qualified in the category.

The 15 films are listed below in alphabetical order:

“At the Death House Door”
“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
“Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh”
“Encounters at the End of the World”
“The Garden”
“Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts”
“In a Dream”
“Made in America”
“Man on Wire”
“Pray the Devil Back to Hell”
“Standard Operating Procedure”
“They Killed Sister Dorothy”
“Trouble the Water”

The Documentary Branch Screening Committee viewed all the eligible documentaries for the preliminary round of voting. Documentary Branch members will now select the five nominees from among the 15 titles on the shortlist.

The 81st Academy Awards nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 22, 2009, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2008 will be presented on Sunday, February 22, 2009, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.

Monday, December 15, 2008

god's livelihood

spotted this story at Mark Sayers blog

as a family we have been try to incorporate gratitude in to our morning and evening prayers.  too often our prayers become a list of things we would like God to 'get done'...this story blesses us because it reminds us of the primacy of praise and thanksgiving.

In his early years, before he went public with his teachings and disciples came from far and wide to learn from him, the founder of Chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, was an incessant traveler.

Dressed in the clothes of a simple villager, he would travel from town to town and from hamlet to hamlet, asking questions. “How are things?” he would inquire of the water-carrier yoked to his pails, of the market-woman minding her stall, of the child playing in the doorway of his home. “Is there enough to eat? Is everyone healthy?” “Baruch Hashem, blessed be the Almighty, all is fine” or “Thanks to the Almighty, things are improving,” these simple, G-d-fearing and G-d-trusting Jews would reply, and the traveler would depart with the gratified step of one who has found what he was seeking.

One day, Rabbi Israel arrived in a village and made his way to the study hall. There, in a corner, sat an ancient Torah scholar over his books, wrapped in tallit and tefillin. This was the village porush (”ascetic”), who led a life of holy seclusion. From sunrise to sunset, not a morsel of bread nor a sip of water would pass his lips; he spoke to no one and never lifted his eyes from the sacred tomes. For more than fifty years he had kept to this regimen, utterly removed from the mundane cares of material life.

So why was this stranger pestering him? “How are things?,” he was inquiring, “Is there enough to eat? Is everyone healthy?” The ascetic made no reply, hoping the stranger would go away. But the stranger only leaned closer, and his questioning grew more insistent. Impatiently, the ascetic waved him away, pointing him to the door.

“Rabbi,” the stranger now asked, “why are you denying G-d His livelihood?”

The words had their desired effect: the old man was roused to indignant attention. G-d’s livelihood?! The audacity of this uncouth peasant! “What are you saying?” he demanded in a thunderous voice. “How dare you disturb me with such blasphemous babble!”

“Only what King David, the sweet singer of Israel, proclaims in his Psalms,” replied the Baal Shem Tov. “Tell me, Rabbi, what is the meaning of the verse , ‘And You, the Holy One, who dwells by the praises of Israel’1? “

“We mortal beings,” continued the Baal Shem Tov when the porush made no reply, “subsist on the sustenance that G-d provides us in His great kindness. But what does G-d ’subsist’ on? On the praises of Israel! When one Jew asks another, ‘How are things’ and his fellow responds by praising and thanking the Almighty, they are nourishing G-d, deepening His involvement with His creation.”

be patient

last night we took time in our weekly gathering to ponder patience. 

so much to do. 

so much that needs fixing. 

such deep need for a savior. 

yet we are expected to wait for the fullness of the kingdom Jesus inaugurated.  we shared about our impatience and the frustration that comes with expectation.  we were reminded of the need for gentle urgency and the steady grace of being co-laborers with God.

i spotted this prayer and thought it put words to our time last night:

why wait?

Why wait for the gift that has already come?
Why wait to meet the guest already here?
Why wait for the child already born?

In the wait we see the beauty of the gift
In the wait we encounter the true presence of the guest
In the memory of the wait we know the child who holds us

Friday, December 12, 2008

advent conspiracy

I don't know how to post videos onto here, or else I would try to make it easier for you to view the Advent Conspiracy video. But what I can do is help you know how to find it--go to site, and then click on the video entitled "Enter the Story". I found it on someone's facebook page...good challenge as we are in the midst of the countdown to Christmas. (13 days from today). But of course, Christmas isn't really the only time we can think about these sorts of things. But definitely the time of year we are intentionally looking for meaning, and so naturally our hearts are more in tune to messages that lead us to the meaning. I don't share this video because I have it all figured out. The only reason I haven't spent much money yet is because I've always been one of those last minute shoppers. I hate shopping. But I have to admit that I haven't made any decisions to put my money and time towards more meaningful investments, either. There's still time for all of us, though!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

kentucky must pull itself up

below is an excerpt from an article in lexington's herald-leader, written by tom eblen.  he offers some solutions to our many problems.  as we think about the welfare of this city, these bits certainly should contribute to our understanding, prayers and efforts:

"So what do we do? Hunker down and wait for better times? Or do we use this crisis as an opportunity to make tough choices and take bold action?

It seems nothing focuses thinking like a crisis, and I was intrigued by some of the ideas I heard Thursday. Although these ideas would require a lot of political will, they wouldn’t cost a lot of money. In fact, many of them would save money in the long run, while making life in Kentucky much better. Among the ideas:

■ Follow the example of Ohio and other states and pass tough laws to rein in businesses such as payday lenders, rent-to-own merchants and check-cashers that prey on Kentucky’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

■ Enact laws and tax policies that promote the creation and growth of “micro-enterprises” — small businesses that allow families to support themselves and local economies.

■ Follow the lead of 34 other states and create a state earned-income tax credit for poor Kentuckians, similar to the federal tax credit in effect since the 1960s.

“What we know at the federal level is that it’s the most effective anti-poverty strategy out there to raise low-income folks to middle class and keep them there,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “It is a very minimal cost to the state. … Ninety percent of those refunds are spent in the communities where those people work and live.”

■ Raise the age for compulsory school attendance from 16 to 18. Kentucky has one of the nation’s highest percentages of people age 16-18 who are neither in school nor working. “If you’re 16 years old and not in school and not working, you’re lost,” Brooks said.

■ Put fewer non-violent criminals in prison, especially young adult offenders. Brooks noted that it costs $4,000 a year to educate a teenager in Kentucky, and $60,000 a year to keep one in prison.

■ Follow the example of Lexington and other cities and enact a statewide ban against smoking in public places. It would send a bold message throughout Kentucky — and around the world. More than that, it would make Kentuckians healthier and save a fortune in future medical costs, said Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley, a cardiologist from Glasgow.

■ Give Kentucky high school graduates a passport along with a diploma, encouraging them to travel and learn more about the world, said Kris Kimel, president of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp.

And there were many more ideas that legislators should consider when they return to Frankfort in January, regardless of the economic outlook.

“There isn’t one answer,” Kimel said. “There are many, many answers. It requires a commitment to relentless innovation and relentless experimentation,” because we never know which ideas and strategies will work.

There’s never a better time to act than now."


Billy has been working hard (in his role as Vice President of One Horizon) to get this screening going...

KILOWATT OURS: A PLAN TO RE-ENERGIZE AMERICA is an award-winning film that provides simple, practical, affordable solutions to America’s energy crisis and shows how we can save electricity, save money and make a difference for ourselves and the planet.  Visit for a short sneak preview or to locate a TV broadcast or community screening in your state.
The film has reached more than 50% of the public TV viewing audience nationwide this fall.  More stations are added weekly so visit or check local listings to see if your station is planning to show the film.

Film’s inspiring message of energy conservation reaches key audiences, prime time!
Washington, DC, WETA, 12/28 at 6pm
Louisville, KY, KET2, 12/14 Sun 6pm, 12/26 Fri 3:00 PM
NE Kentucky, WOUB-Athens OH, Channel 20.1, 20.2, 44.2, 12/15 at 9pm, 12/16 at 2am
NE Kentucky, WOUB-Athens OH, Channel 20.3, 12/16 at 3PM, 12/20 at 8pm
NE Kentucky, WOUB-Athens OH, Channel 44.1, 12/16 at 9pm
Statewide, KY, KET3 Instructional Television (visit www.ket.ort/tv/schedules/stations_ket3.htm, 12/15 Mon 11:00am, 12/27 Sat 12:00am
Statewide, KY, KET1, 12/30 Tue 3:00am, 12/30 Tue 9:00pm
Charlotte, NC, WTVI & WTVI-DT, 12/5 at 1am, 12/5 at 4am (if you are in Charlotte and would like more waking hours to view KO, please contact viewer services and ask for a rebroadcast at a more decent hour)
Athens and SE Ohio, OH, WOUB, Channel 20.1, 20.2, 44.2, 12/15 at 9pm, 12/16 at 2am
Athens and SE Ohio, OH, WOUB, Channel 20.3, 12/16 at 3PM, 12/20 at 8pm
Athens and SE Ohio, OH, WOUB, Channel 44.1, 12/16 at 9pm 
Richmond/Charlottesville, VA, WCVE, WHTJ, 1/8/09 at 10pm
Western West Virginia, WOUB-Athens, OH, Channel 20.1, 20.2, 44.2, 12/15 at 9pm, 12/16 at 2am
Western West Virginia, WOUB-Athens, OH, Channel 20.3, 12/16 at 3PM, 12/20 at 8pm
Western West Virginia, WOUB-Athens, OH, Channel 44.1, 12/16 at 9pm

If a broadcast is scheduled in your city, the Kilowatt Ours nonprofit organization has several opportunities for you to help get the word out about this important documentary: 
· Email this announcement to your community contacts and/or post it in your organizations’ newsletter and website. Kilowatt Ours has materials to support the following efforts at <>
· Host a viewing in a home or community setting. Please contact
· Consider a donation or sponsorship to support this effort and bring this film to a wider audience. Donations of $25 or more entitle you to a DVD and bulk rates are available.
If the film is not currently scheduled in your community, you may wish to contact the viewer services department at your local public television station to find out if they are planning to show this hopeful film that inspires energy conservation and change for most people who see it.  
Kilowatt Ours’ is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  Sponsors include:  Turner Foundation, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, The Sierra Club Foundation, Johnson Controls, Mother Earth News, Utne Reader, Stonyfield Farm, and Renewable Choice Energy.  For more information, visit

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

zero impact

Liz sent us this article - a very compelling argument...

Multiplication Saves the Day  by Bill McKibben

In my last column for the magazine I wrote about numbers. Now I'd like for us to do some math.

Let's assume, generously, that 5 percent of Americans are deeply concerned about climate change- concerned enough that they will change all their light bulbs, scrimp and save to put a solar thermal hot water system on the roof (or really scrimp and save to put some photovoltaic electricity up there), unplug all their vampire appliances when not in use, cut the number of car trips that they make in half and use a hybrid for the remaining journeys, buy only local food in season, use a clothesline to dry their clothes whenever the temperature tops fifty degrees (1,016 pounds of carbon saved right there), cut their air travel by two-thirds and learn to enjoy the pleasure of "staycations," take showers with an egg timer so they don't stay under too long (350 pounds of carbon), and do all the other things that every website recommends for reducing your carbon footprint. And then let's assume that they go buy offsets for the rest from a company like NativeEnergy, which will use the money to build windmills on Indian reservations.

Okay, add it up, carry the one, dum de dum, here we go, yes-the impact on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is, hmm, zero. Okay, not precisely zero. Every bit helps. But if your concern is somehow slowing the onrush of global warming in the short window of time the scientists give us, then the number is close enough to zero that it gives you pause. Even if that 5 percent then hector their in-laws, each of whom somewhat grudgingly does half of what they could, the net effect is still, well, right around zero.

I mean, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, said recently, "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late." By "action" he did not mean going down in the basement and adjusting the knob on your water heater to no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. James Hansen, our premier climatologist, recently said that "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm." It is true that if you clean the coils beneath your refrigerator it will run more efficiently, and it is also true that it won't do anything to "preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted."

I am exaggerating here to make a point. Of course I believe in energy conservation. I've got a plaque that says I built the most energy-efficient house in Vermont, I drove the first hybrid Honda Civic in the state, I subsist mostly on food from my Champlain Valley. I'm typing this article with electrons currently assembling themselves on my roof. All these things are good I highly support them. Please do them too.

But in a world where we need massive change at lightning speed, the usual equations are turned upside down. We're used to thinking that being practical is what really counts-that you can only reduce carbon by, in fact, reducing carbon. Hence the light bulb, or the farmers' market, or the hybrid car. If we think globally, to use the hoariest of green clichés, we should act locally. In the fight against global warming, though, the practical acts are for the most part symbolic, while the symbolic acts might just save the day. Say you have a certain amount of time and money with which to make change-call it x, since that is what we mathematicians call things. The trick is to increase that x by multiplication, not addition. The trick is to take that 5 percent of people who really care and make them count for far more than 5 percent. And the trick to that is democracy.

We naïvely believe that it takes 51 percent of the people to make change in a democracy, but it clearly doesn't-5 percent is plenty, if those 5 percent are engaged in symbolic action that can force the kind of legislative change that resets the course for everyone. In the civil rights movement, for instance, the strategy was not to desegregate the country one lunch counter at a time-there were way too many lunch counters. Instead, you use the drama of the fight over one lunch counter to help drive the Civil Rights Act, which puts the full power of the federal government behind the idea that anyone can order a hamburger wherever they want to. And here's the thing: I bet less than one-quarter of 1 percent of Americans took part in a protest during that great movement, but it was more than enough.

If people who care about climate change mobilize politically, 5 percent will be more than enough too-it will persuade senators, congressmen, and presidents to back strict legislation that will set real caps on emissions and fund real research on the technologies we need. If such laws pass, they would change the behavior of 95 percent of Americans, including reluctant in-laws. This kind of equation isn't hypothetical. Two years ago, I helped organize a march across Vermont that called on our leaders to work for deep cuts in carbon emissions A thousand of us walked the sixty-mile route-one Vermonter in six hundred. And yet that was enough to get all of our legislators, including the conservative Republicans, to sign on to our pledge. A year later we organized fourteen hundred demonstrations in all fifty states to call for 80 percent cuts in carbon emissions by 2050. They were the most widespread rallies about climate change to date, but even so they hardly reached one-quarter of 1 percent of the population. And yet the next week both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton put our goal at the heart of their platforms.

So here's the thing. Along with spending a lot of time figuring out how to make your own life practically green (because, it's true, how are you going to face your kids if you don't?), spend at least a little time figuring out how to engage in the symbolic political action that might actually add up to something useful. In the United States check out and; since you're a citizen of the globe as well, you also need to help us at Putting up a clothesline is a fine idea: 1,016 pounds of carbon, remember. But if you join Project Laundry List to fight for the idea of clotheslines, you become, in essence, an Amway salesman for positive change. Yes, your Prius definitively rocks-but even if you can't afford a Prius, you can accomplish considerably more by joining Al Gore's campaign to push for the rapid conversion to renewable electricity, which can power the next generation of hybrid cars

It's not, I warn you, as immediately satisfying as installing a new tankless water heater or greasing the chain on your bike. You have to keep reminding yourself: multiplication, not addition. You have to keep reminding yourself that atmospheric physics and chemistry don't give you points for doing the right thing-they only care about how much carbon is in the atmosphere. We have so little time that we can't waste any of it. Screw in a new light bulb? Sure. Screw in a new global treaty? Now we're talking.

© 2008 Orion Magazine

Bill McKibben is the author of Deep Economy, a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, and cofounder of