Define Necessity

I originally saw this today on my FaceBook feed.  My friend Carol shared it on her wall, and I in turn shared it on mine.  But it’s so powerful  – and appropriate – that I decided to post it here too.

(Taken from Burning Babylon.)

I know no one really wants me to mention Christmas right now, but some of you are no doubt thinking about it already.  I love giving and receiving gifts as much as the next 15-year-old-in-a-30-something-body, but this year I need to change the way I do things; if not for the little boy in the picture, then for all his brothers and sisters in the world who need food more than I want all the stuff that clutters my house.


Decluttering: the first three weeks

As promised in the last post, here are some pictures from my decluttering spree.

I am a messy person, and while I’m trying to change that, old habits die hard.  I guess the fortunate thing is that it makes for a spectacular before and after picture.

The first thing I did was the entrance to our house:

It took me several hours, but this is the end result, and I’m happy to tell you that it has stayed looking like this since it was done:

Quite the change, huh?  The Dell laptop that was formerly in the corner is dead, so it got taken to our electronics recycler here in town.  All the paper got put out for recycling (and there was a lot of it, as you can tell), papers that needed to get shredded were shredded, and the rest was either given away or tossed.  Happily, there was very little that just got thrown away.

After that, I moved on to the china cabinet and entertainment center.  Our entertainment center came with the house, and it was just huge.  While it had some nice storage space, it took up a lot of room in our already small living room.  Jeff wanted to get rid of it, which was just fine with me.  Here is the entertainment center before:

And the china cabinet before.  Actually, it’s the contents of the bottom of the china cabinet spread all over the floor as I declutter:

Sadly, I forgot to get an after picture of each, but the china cabinet got donated to Habitat for Humanity’s Restore on June 25th, so that is out of the house and the room looks much better – and bigger!

Two weekends ago, I moved on to the bathroom.  I didn’t take a before picture because it just plain made me sad.  We have a small bathroom that has a lot of storage – if you want to store things in the cabinets above the shower, which isn’t practical for everyday living.  But the only good storage is in our medicine cabinet or the drawer and cabinet in the vanity.  In other words, not a lot of storage at all.  And because of the clutter, there were a lot of things being stored on the counter top, which just made the whole bathroom look really messy, even just after being cleaned.  So it all got decluttered, and most of that was given away to our local women’s shelter.

Medicine cabinet after:                                                    Drawer after:



Vanity cabinet after:

And here’s what went to the shelter:


So with all of that done, the living room is completely decluttered, and the bathroom is almost done (I just need to get to the cabinets above the shower).

I hope this will inspire you!


Decluttering as Reducing

So yesterday I wrote this big post on why we need to reduce our consumption.  I think that not buying the things you don’t need in the first place is most important, but after that there’s getting rid of the things you already have that you don’t use or need anymore.

I don’t know how much everyone who reads this relates to the need to declutter.  If you live in a house with a lot of storage space, this might not be important to you or seem as pressing, simply because everything already has its place.  We live in a small house that has little storage space upstairs.  We don’t have hallways, so there are no linen or coat closets.  Our bedroom closets are ridiculously small, just deep enough for the length of a hanger, and not very wide.  I love my house, but if there was one thing I could change in it, it would be the amount of storage space we have.

We have a full, unfinished basement, so I suppose that counts as storage.  But the way I see the basement storage is that it should really be for seasonal items:  Christmas tree, winter coats and clothes, that sort of thing.  The reason I think this now is because up until last year, we had a lot of stuff being stored in the basement that wasn’t seasonal, was perfectly usable, and hadn’t seen the light of day since we moved into the house in 1997.  Things had been stored in boxes and forgotten.  Over the years, we’d added more boxes and bags of stuff that needed to be stored and ended up there.

Last summer, I got tired of the clutter down there, and decluttered.  I made countless trips to the recycling center to drop off cardboard and plastic, took bags and boxes of stuff to Goodwill and Salvation Army, and threw away more than I was proud of.  It took me about six weeks (working mostly on weekends) to get it done, but I got a lot of the basement decluttered.  It felt good to do so.

Somehow, I was under the notion that I really didn’t have a lot to get rid of upstairs.  You know, the tiny house with very little storage.  I kept telling my mom that I just didn’t know what I’d get rid of upstairs.

Yeah.  Sure.  I’m apparently delusional.

So maybe it was just being ready to do it, or maybe it was actually looking at the mess in my house every day and thinking, “You know, if I had less crap around here, I wouldn’t have to do as much cleaning and picking up as I feel like I’m doing.”  Maybe I just needed a break from the basement decluttering.  I DO know that about a month ago, just as the weather got a lot warmer, I got into a funky mood because I was utterly sick of the routine, especially since the routine has a better focus on keeping the house picked up and cleaned.  Yes world, I am a slob.  I am trying to change that.  But I’m tired of cleaning all day on Saturday and feeling on Sunday like the house doesn’t look any better.  Why bother?

So about two weeks ago, I had this brilliant thought: start decluttering again.  But when you tell yourself, “Self, I’m going to declutter the house!” you might get overwhelmed.  Think about it:  It’s a big job, you don’t have any idea where to start, and if you’re like me, without a plan you’ll stand in your living room wondering where to start and deciding to chuck the idea because it’s just too much work.

So the very first thing I did was decide that if this took me all summer, that was just fine.  I could focus on really getting rid of things in an area without feeling like I had to do it as fast as possible.  I decided on a ninety day plan, and that I would do one area a day.  Since I’m a list maker and like to cross off tasks as they’re done, I made my ninety day list.  Except that I only have thirty-three days worth of list.

Maybe that’s because I have such a small house.  YAY for small houses.

I started decluttering last weekend, and just the little bit I’ve done so far has made a huge difference in how I feel about getting the decluttering done, being in a rut, and how my house looks.  What I’ve discovered is that it’s probably OK that I only have 33 items on my list to do, because those areas are taking me longer to finish than I thought they would.  But so far, having finished just one area and started two others, I’ve recycled a lot of paper and taken four bags of items to the Salvation Army.  So far, I’ve thrown very little in the trash, but that will probably change.

I’ve had to be absolutely ruthless with myself and get rid of anything I haven’t used lately.  Most decluttering experts or organizational consultants advise people to get rid of anything they haven’t used for six months or more, unless it’s seasonal stuff like I mentioned above.  While I wouldn’t really describe myself as a packrat, because I can and do get rid of things I don’t use, I did find clothes in my drawer and closet that hadn’t been worn for years–in one case, a beautiful silk shirt that I haven’t worn in almost a decade because it’s way too big for me.

Probably the main reason I hang on to things is that I think, “If I throw this out today, I’ll need it tomorrow and need to buy it again.  That would be a waste of money.”  But after last summer’s major basement cleaning, I’ve learned two things about that: first, God is saying (at least to me, and I’d bet quite a few of you too), “Let those things go.  You won’t need them.”  And second, I haven’t needed anything I’ve gotten rid of.

Throughout the summer, I’ll post pictures of The Great Decluttering Project 2011.  Maybe it will inspire you to free yourself from the things you don’t need and really can live without.

On Reducing and Storing Up Treasures

In this great journey I call a blog, I’ve mentioned “reducing” a few times.  I think I would be hard-pressed to find a person in America who hadn’t heard “Reduce Reuse Recycle” about a million times.  Most people focus on the recycling part, and think that’s the most important.  And recycling is good, because it’s an easy start to becoming a better steward of the Earth.

But if we’re talking about what’s most important, then we need to read the three Rs as they are: First, reduce.  Second, Reuse.  Then, recycle whatever can’t be reused and you HAD to buy and couldn’t, therefor, reduce.  The National Resources Defense Council has a great post about it, but here’s what it says about reducing:

So do what you will if you are itching for something new — there are no environmental police here — but don’t kid yourself. Buying nothing is better for the earth than buying green.

There are exceptions, of course. If your current car or appliance is a terrible energy-waster, you may save resources in the long term by replacing it with an energy-efficient model. And it’s better for your own health and your family’s to replace products that could leach toxins, such as PVC baby toys.

More often, though, it is greener to follow the old dictum: reduce, reuse, recycle. I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before, but with the “green” word now co-opted in the service of sales, the three R’s are a phrase — and a principle — worth reviving.

R for ReduceReduce. “Reduce” means using fewer resources in the first place. This is the most effective of the three R’s and the place to begin. It is also, I think, the hardest because it requires letting go of some very American notions, including: the bigger the better, new trumps old and convenience is next to godliness.

But you don’t need to let go completely or all at once. “Reduce” is a comparative word. It says: cut back from where you are now.

When you shop, shop differently. Look for things that will last — things that are not just durable and well-made, but useful and beautiful enough to please you for a long time. The extra money you spend on their acquisition will be offset by the money you do not spend replacing them.

Don’t chase the latest fashions. They will age the fastest.

With electronics, extravagance may pay. A super-charged computer will still run the software that comes out two years from now, and a large monitor will accommodate the ever wider webpages that companies will be building then. Similarly, a cell phone with a full text keypad (or the iPhone) will see you through the text-messaging era that is upon us.

When you make a purchase, find out how to keep the item in shape. Then, maintain it accordingly and repair it when necessary.

In addition, try these ways of reducing your use (and abuse) of resources:

  • Buy products made from post-consumer recycled materials, especially paper and bathroom tissue.
  • Choose electronics and appliances that are energy-efficient. Ditto for cars, which you can also share.
  • Buy stuff made close to home. Less energy was used transporting them to the store.
  • Buy used. craigslist and eBay make it easy.
  • Avoid goods made with materials whose extraction or processing are especially destructive, such as tropical woods and most gold jewelry.
  • Avoid overly packaged goods. The packaging is a total throw-away.
  • Avoid things made with toxic materials, such as most household cleansers.
  • Cut back on water use at home.
  • Waste less energy on lights and equipment.
  • Eat less meat.

Reducing can be so difficult.  Americans are spoiled; we can buy premade dinners, cheap clothes, dust collectors knick-knacks, and just about anything our hearts desire.  We are so used to having whatever we want when we want it that we can be surprised that not everyone in the world lives just like we do.  We are products of our culture.

If we follow Christ though, we aren’t supposed to be products of our culture.  Romans 12:1-2 says

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Paul says we are to be living sacrifices, not conformed to the pattern of this world–our culture.  Just because our culture tells us it’s OK to consume too much doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for followers of Christ to do.

In fact, Jesus says

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

There are two ways we could look at what Jesus says here.  The first is to look at verse 20 as the most important part of the passage, which reminds us that we need to put our treasures in heaven, ie making Jesus the most important part of our lives.  And we should do that anyway.  But the other way is to look at this quite literally.  Don’t store up treasures on earth.  They can be stolen or destroyed.  They’re just temporary.  Instead, make Jesus the most important part of your life.  Where are your treasures?  Are they here on earth, things that can be destroyed and are just temporary?  Or is your Treasure in heaven, the One who is eternal?

Taken literally, as I think it probably should be, this is a plea from Jesus for us to remember what’s really important.  And if it’s really important for us to not make those things which can only be stored up on earth the most important part of our lives, then maybe it’s really important that we not buy them in the first place.

I’ve mentioned before how difficult it is to reduce our consumption.  What I haven’t mentioned is that reducing consumption is, I believe, a very important spiritual issue for the reasons I stated above.  Consumption isn’t just a cultural issue for us to rise above in the transformation and renewing of our minds, it’s also about what we are really, truly putting first in our lives.

Reducing our consumption does two things for us.  The most important is that it frees us from the power of the world.  Each time we choose to not buy the newest, greatest thing (car, cell phone, bike, shoes, clothes, paper, crayons, etc), we are making it that much easier to say no the next time we’re tempted to buy the newest, greatest thing.  Each time we say no to buying something we don’t really need, we free ourselves that much more from the grasp our culture has on us, and make it easier to hear what God is saying to us.  But reduction also makes us better environmental stewards, because we are not buying the products and therefor using less of the world’s resources.

Once could argue that manufacturers are going to make those products anyway, and those resources will get used to make the products.  But companies will not make products that don’t get sold.  Companies discontinue products all the time because they aren’t selling; for example, if all of us who follow Christ decided to not buy any more paper towels (because we are using reusable linen napkins instead), then all the companies who make paper towels would either quit making paper towels or seriously reduce the amount they could produce.  On the surface, this seems like a silly example, but two very important resources are used to make paper towels: trees and water.  Seventh generation estimates that about 544,000 trees are chopped down every year to make paper towels using virgin wood.  And to make wood pulp, a lot of water has to be used.  And after paper towels are used, they can’t be recycled, so they get tossed into landfills.  What a waste.

“A paper towel isn’t really a treasure,” you say.  But what do you reach for when your six-year-old spills juice on the floor?  What do you reach for to dry your hands when all your cloth towels are dirty? (Ok, I just wipe my hands on my pants, but that’s not really mother approved, so don’t do it)  What do you use at meal times to wipe mouths and hands after you’ve eaten all that barbecued tofu?  Paper towels might not be a typical treasure, but they are convenient in a world that values speed and convenience.  What would we do without our paper towels?!?!?!?

If that question really bothers you, I’d like to suggest that those silly paper towels have become a treasure.  And before it sounds like I’m blaming other people and not looking at my own actions, let me tell you that my heart is beating a little faster at the possibility of giving up paper towels too.

What we don’t need in our lives, we don’t need to consume.  God has promised to give us all of our needs, but that doesn’t mean you need an iPhone.  You need  food, water, shelter, and clothing to survive, and you need Jesus for spiritual fulfillment, and that’s it.

Does this mean that God doesn’t want us to have any nice things?  Yes and no.  I think he wants all of us to have nice things, but included in “all of us” are the people in undeveloped and developing nations, not just Americans.  It is sinful for us to have so much when others have so little.  I am sinful for having so much, and buying so much I don’t need, using resources that don’t need to be used, when my poor sisters in Haiti or Southeast Asia can’t buy food and sleep in tents in slums.  It is especially a sin because we are using their resources to make the stuff we don’t need, and now they don’t have the resources to make the products that they need to survive.

This is where I am now.  Over the past few years, I have heard God calling me to distance myself from the things the world offers, and I have definitely reduced my consumption on many things.  I still have so much farther to go, and I am so tempted by the things of this world.  It’s not easy, and I don’t know if it feels easier every time I say no to something I really want, but I feel freer every time I say no.  And I think God wants us to not feel so tied to this world, so that we can be more tied to Him.


Dear Birthers: It’s time to stop.

I really try to stay away from political topics that don’t have anything to do with stewardship, ranting only to my husband (who usually shares my opinions and rants right along with me) or parents.  A few close friends might get a a glimpse of my opinions every once in a while, but really, when it comes to politics, I consider myself a follower of Christ.  If you ask me to narrow it down more, you’ll probably get Green.  If I’m feeling particularly ornery at that moment, I say “Socialist.”  But usually, Follower of Christ suits me just fine.

I voted for Barack Obama for President.  Just as an FYI, I didn’t vote for him for US Senator from Illinois, and if I’d lived in the right district in Illinois when he ran for Senator in the General Assembly, I probably wouldn’t have voted for him then either.  But those were the days when I was pretty much a single-issue (more or less) voter and thought that the Republican party was the Chosen Party of God.  I was young,  get over it.

But back to voting for him for President.  The fact is, I thought he would make a good President and that he was a man of good character.  I still think those things.  On the other hand, I was also perfectly willing to vote for John McCain for President, up until he chose Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate.  McCain could have chosen several other women who have experience in US government–Elizabeth Dole, Christine Todd Whitman, or Kay Bailey Hutchison would have been excellent choices for the Republican ticket.  McCain was, and is, in my opinion, a man of decent character and would have made a good president.  But I wasn’t willing to vote for him knowing that, should something happen to him, Sarah Palin could become President of the United States.

Now that you know this, I hope it shows you that what I’m about to say next isn’t based on me being a Democrat who is standing up for my party, because I’m not.  I’m standing up against a lie, and I’m called to do so as a Follower of Christ.

You all know about the controversy over President Obama’s birth certificate and his eligibility to be President, or lack thereof.  (If you don’t, I have to ask how you’ve avoided it, because I avoid the news like the plague, and even *I* know about the controversy)  Orly Taitz and the people who agree with her, called the Birthers, think that Obama’s birth certificate from Hawaii isn’t real and that he was born outside the United States (I think Kenya, to be specific, since his father is Kenyan), and was therefor ineligible to run for President of the United States.  Hawaiian officials have said time and time and time again that the birth certificate Mr. Obama provided is a legitimate birth certificate from the State of Hawaii, making him a US citizen, but that didn’t seem to satisfy Birthers.  They continued to doubt and wanted to see the long form of the birth certificate.

Well, the White House released the long form yesterday.  The President shouldn’t have had to do that, but at this point, I think quite a few people were hoping that that would finally put the controversy to rest.

Apparently not:

Even after the White House released the long-form certificate of Obama’s birth, birther leader Orly Taitz—who has filed unsuccessful lawsuits seeking to obtain access to Obama’s birth certificate—sought to cast doubt on the document’s authenticity, suggesting that in 1961, Hawaiian officials would have classified Obama as “Negro” rather than using designation “African,” which suggests, in her view, a more contemporary concern for “political correctness.”

So now here’s my rant about the situation.

First, Ms. Taitz’s ability to read is in doubt.  The above paragraph is talking about President Obama, and nowhere on the birth certificate does it show his race.  It shows the races of his parents, Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Hussein Obama I, which are listed as Caucasian and African, respectively:

What Taitz seems to be saying here is that “African” is too “Politically correct” to be a term used for race in 1961.  The problem with this is that hospital records, to my knowledge, aren’t politically correct, no matter what year or cultural standards.  So while she sees the term “African” to be more politically correct than the term “Negro,” (hinting that the long form is a forgery) and assumes that the hospital would have just put “Negro” in as the President’s father’s race, it’s more likely that when Stanley Dunham was admitted to the hospital, she and the President’s father were asked to fill out a bunch of forms that asked a lot of questions, and he filled in the race blank with “African.”  Because he is from Africa.  Duh.

However, even if the President had been born in Kenya, as the Birthers are so fond of saying, he would still be a United States citizen by birth.  The following paragraphs, taken from U.S. Citizenship Acquired by Birth Abroad, describe how US citizenship is passed on to a child born outside the United States to at least one parent who is a US citizen.  I’m including the description of the laws for legitimate — and as much as I find it distasteful and it pains me to write this — illegitimate children:

Introduction The laws regarding the transmission of United States citizenship to children born outside the United States can be very complex. A distinction is made between legitimate and illegitimate childen for the purposes of citizenship eligibility. In addition, the laws that were in effect at the time of the child’s birth determine whether citizenship is transmitted in a particular case. Finally, depending upon when the child was born, he or she may have been subject to certain conditions subsequent, which were required for retention of citizenship….

The 1940 Statute also provided for more stringent requirements for prior residence where, at the time of the child’s birth, one of the parents was a U.S. citizen and the other was an alien. On or after January 13, 1941, in the case of a child born to a U.S. citizen parent and an alien parent, the U.S. citizen parent had to have resided in the United States or its outlying possessions for 10 years, at least 5 of which were after attaining the age of 16 years in order to transmit U.S. citizenship to the child.

In 1946, Congress modified the requirement slightly but only for the benefit of U.S. citizens who had served honorably in the U.S. armed forces during World War II. The U.S. parent’s prior residence requirement could be satisfied by residence in the U.S. for 10 years, at least five of which were after attaining the age of 12 years if the U.S. citizen parent had served honorably in the U.S. armed forces after December 7, 1941 but before December 31, 1946.

On December 24, 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (the “1952 Statute”) became effective. As under the previous statute, where both parents were U.S. citizens, one parent would have to have resided in the United States prior to the child’s birth in order to transmit U.S. citizenship. The meaning of residence previously applied under the 1940 Statute was essentially the same as under the 1952 Statute.

In the case of a child born to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent, the U.S. citizen parent now had only to be physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions prior to the child’s birth for 10 years, at least 5 of which were after the age of 14. “Physical presence” was different from the concept of “residence” which had applied under the previous statute. The physical presence requirement could be satisfied by mere presence in the United States even if the person had not established a legal residence there….

The 1952 Statute provided that an illegitimate child acquired U.S. citizenship from a U.S. citizen mother if the mother was a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth and had been physicially present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of one year. This provision did not adversely affect the status of anyone who had previously acquired U.S. citizenship. This provision is still in effect.

As the above birth certificate lists Ms. Dunham’s place of birth in Wichita, Kansas, there is no doubt that she is a US citizen, and so that status was passed on to her son, and would have been even if he had been born in Kenya.

I want to mention one more thing about Taitz’s beliefs about who should be eligible for the presidency:

Taitz says she’s not giving up her fight. She also claims Obama isn’t a “natural born citizen” because she uses a standard that requires both parents to be American citizens — a misreading of the Constitution which if enforced would have rendered several other American Presidents ineligible.

Under Taitz’s misreading of the Constitution, Presidents Jackson, Jefferson, Buchanan,  Arthur, Wilson, and Hoover would have been disqualified from the Presidency because they each had at least one parent who was not a US citizen, and  in the case of Jackson, two immigrant parents.

Birthers, you have asked for proof of President Obama’s citizenship, and you have received it.  I’m under no delusion that you will accept the proof you’ve been given, in light of the rebuttals that have shown up around the internet in the past 24 hours.  However, you have your proof, and your perception of the facts does not make the facts untrue.  And so, Birthers, it’s time to stop telling people that President Obama isn’t a United States citizen; if you do so, you are willfully and deliberately spreading a lie.  For those of you who claim to be Christians, remember that the Ninth Commandment is “Thou shall not bear false witness.”

Dear Birthers: It’s time to stop lying.

Redemption and Creation

Happy Good Friday.  Let’s remember what we, as Christians, celebrate on this day:

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28][a]29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph,[d] and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.  (Mark 15:21-41)

Happy Earth Day:

“Environment is all of America and its problems. It is rats in the ghetto. It is a hungry child in a land of affluence. It is housing not worthy of the name; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit.”   (Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day)

As a Christian environmentalist, I feel it would be remiss of me to not celebrate both parts of today.  In fact, I’ve been looking forward to writing this blog post since the beginning of Lent.

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, this is the first time that Earth Day has fallen on Good Friday.  As one who believes that God calls His people to take care of everything He created, I think that this is an AWESOME holiday mash-up.

Jesus died to redeem us for our sins, but that redemption was for the whole of His creation, not just for humanity.  In Colossians, Paul writes:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  (Col. 1: 15-20)

In Jesus, all things were created.  Not just you and me and the rest of humanity over the globe, but every animal, every plant, every grain of sand and dust.  Every water molecule and gas atom.  All things were created through Him and for Him.  Jesus has supremacy in everything.  And God’s fullness dwells in Jesus, and through Jesus God reconciled Himself to all things on earth or heaven–every plant, animal, grain of sand or dust, molecule of water or atom of gas–by making peace through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross.

If we believe that on Good Friday long ago Jesus shed his blood to redeem us, then, according to Colossians, we must believe he died to redeem the rest of creation too.  So as we celebrate this Good Friday, let’s also celebrate Earth Day by remembering God’s creation.  God calls us to be stewards of the earth, not tyrants over the weakest in His world.  So let us now live like everything has been redeemed by Christ’s blood, because it has.

Observing the Sabbath

Today is Maundy Thursday, and as of right now there are about three and a half days left of lent for this year.  We’re almost to the end of the season of giving up or giving more, and I wanted to share with you and reflect on what I did this year.

I wrote in this post six weeks ago

Maybe this Lent is the time to start thinking seriously about the Sabbath and taking a day of rest as God commands.  It’s doesn’t have to be a Sunday, but you do have to rest all day long.

Since I’m trying to be a better steward of my time as well as the environment, and this is something I had been thinking about doing for quite a while anyway, I decided that during Lent I would actually observe a Sabbath day.

This was not easy, and as much as I believe that everyone absolutely should take a day of rest, I told very few people that I was going to do this.  Why?  Because people think that they must be doing something all the time, for one reason or another.  They’re behind in their work.  The house needs to be cleaned.  The kids need new clothes.  People who take a day of rest are lazy.  “I just couldn’t possibly, even though the Bible says we should.”  Guilt.

Guilt has been a major factor in me not taking a day of rest in the past, or doing a really half-assed job of resting.  For instance, doing a couple of loads of dishes and then puttering around in the kitchen for most of the afternoon on a Sunday.  Productive enough to be considered work–and keep away the guilt of not working–but not so productive that I feel guilty about working.

Oh yes, the guilt is a big one with me.

But the other factor was my ability to not plan ahead.  Wait, let me rephrase that.  I know how to plan ahead, I just don’t do it really well.  But I’m an ace procrastinator.

Over the past three years, God has been working on all of these traits.  Slowly, but surely, my ability to plan ahead and do work on schedule has improved.  When I was finishing school, I noticed that I was working more and more on a schedule and less on a “OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE LAST MINUTE!” deadline.  It was necessary, if I wanted to finish my thesis and graduate on time, but I noticed that after graduation, it carried over into other areas of my life.

In January, Jeff took a new job, and his training schedule required him to be in Chicago for eight weeks.  He was home on weekends, but during the week it was just me and Liam.  I don’t like dragging Liam places by myself, especially after a long day at work and school, and most especially when it’s freezing outside.  I had to plan ahead and get all my errands done on the weekends, which meant if I knew I was going to need essential items, like toilet paper or dishwasher soap, I had to make sure that I had enough to get me through the week by Sunday afternoon.  After doing this for eight weeks, the habit has pretty much stuck with me.

Which brings me to Lent and planning ahead enough to take a Sabbath day.  In Genesis, we read the seven day creation account and that on the seventh day, God rested.  In Exodus, we read about how the Sabbath develops with the ancient Hebrews and how they must learn to plan ahead to observe the Sabbath.  While the chosen people were wandering in the desert, God sent mannah to them to eat, but He told them not to take more than they needed for that day, because any mannah left over would spoil.  However:

22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers[a] for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”

24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.  (Exodus 16:22-24)

Just a few chapters later, God spoke the ten commandments.  Here is the fourth:

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  (Exodus 2:8-11)

We don’t often think about God resting, but God makes it clear here that He took six days to create the world, and then took a seventh day to rest.  And so He says to us, “I’ve given you six days to do all your work, but I’m telling you that the seventh day is a day you must rest.  And not just you:  your children, the people who work for you, the animals that help you do your work, or any out-of-towners must be allowed to rest on the seventh day too.”  So we have to plan ahead, because even on the Sabbath there are families to be fed and clothed, and we’re supposed to have enough done so that there are clean clothes to wear and food to warm up for meals.

Yes, I can hear some of you saying, “Well, the Sabbath is under the old covenant, but we’re under the new covenant through Jesus,” or “Well, the Sabbath is under the Law, but as Christians, we’re under grace!”  But According to, there are almost 100 references to the Sabbath in the Old Testament–and about 60 more in the New Testament.  While I think it’s true that God wants us to live freely, and that some of the things we might consider “work” are OK to do on the Sabbath, even the New Testament writers say that God intends us to have a day of rest.

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.  (Matthew 12:1-13)

In this account, the first thing Jesus and the disciples do to “break” the Sabbath is to glean wheat from a field.  Well, they were hungry and needed food.  Then Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, demonstrating that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.  In a similar account in Mark, we read;

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”      (Mark 2: 23-28)

Read this again: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  If I’m interpreting this correctly, Jesus is saying that rest is a tool for our use, not the other way around.  So while it’s important to take a day of rest, helping people in need trumps the rest, and God understands.

Paul talks about being free from human rules in Colossians:

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.  (Col. 2:16-23)

“Let no person judge you with regard to a Sabbath day,” is part of the first sentence here, and then Paul tells us that we are free from human rules.  Through Jesus, we are free from human rules–but the Sabbath is a God-given rule.  So what are we to do?  Observe the Sabbath.  Rest, and don’t worry about what other people say about us taking a day of rest.  We’re not to pay attention to the world that says we’re lazy for resting, or makes us feel guilty for doing so, or tells us that we need to finish everything right this minute.  Does that mean, though, that we still need to observe a Sabbath?  Yes.  The writer of Hebrews says,

9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,[e] just as God did from his.   (Hebrews 4:9-10)

What did I take from all of this personally? Well first, I need to plan ahead and prepare more.  I’ve learned to prioritize what needs to be done.  When I leave work for the day or week, I leave work behind, so the only work I have to do at home are household chores.  I’ve learned to get more done through the week so that when Saturday rolls around (if I’m observing Sabbath on Sunday) I’m not running around like the proverbial headless chicken.  More than once, I’ve not gotten all the laundry done, and the last load to go in that night was Liam’s school clothes so he didn’t have to go to school buck naked on Monday.  More than once I’d wondered, after cleaning and doing laundry all day long, what I’d actually done because the house didn’t look much different.

I’ve had varying degrees of success with observing the Sabbath.  The first week, it was more of a whim, so I ended up doing some housework that day.  But after that, I planned ahead better so that I was able to take a full day off.  I’ve found myself doing more housework during the week, and my house has started to look better.  I’ve been more motivated to get more done, so small projects are getting taken care of, like cleaning and reorganizing my kitchen pantry.

The biggest obstacle to me, after doing this for six weeks, is the guilt I still feel on Sabbath because I’m not doing anything productive.  Never mind that I truly feel more rested and relaxed at the beginning of the week and am more willing to get more work done simply because I take one day off during the week: I still feel guilt for being “lazy.”

I’m still struggling with what work is too, and what rest really means.  The fourth commandment simply says that we’re not to work.  It doesn’t outline how were to rest.  I’ve heard varying ideas of what we’re supposed to do on the Sabbath, from making it a day of complete worship, to basically doing what brings us pleasure while still allowing us to rest.  Does that mean that it’s still Ok for me to putter around the kitchen on Sunday afternoons?  After all, while cooking is work, I enjoy doing it when I have the time.  And of course, my family has to eat, so if I enjoy preparing a nice meal for them, does that mean that it’s not really work?

Though I struggle with this, this is a struggle I’ve enjoyed, and I’ve seen some small changes in me that I like.  I am going to continue to observe Sabbath after Lent and see where God takes me.  I think that He will reveal more about who I am and who He is through the struggle.

If you don’t already observe a Sabbath day, I want to encourage you to do so.  Like any change, it feels weird at first.  On the other hand, God has always intended us to live with a day of rest, and it’s the world that gets in the way of that, if we allow it to do so.  So take a day off.  And if you really need to give someone a reason, tell them that God says so.

Wasting food

In an email from grist a few days ago, there was a Q/A on food waste:

Q. Dear Umbra,

Do you have a reliable source/figure for the total amount of food wasted by Americans?  I read somewhere that up to 40 percent of the food we buy may be thrown away. That means people spend an additional 66 percent on food products they don’t/can’t actually consume. Most of this “subsidy” goes to food processors, not to mention packaging, transporting, fertilizer, and, of course, agro-corps like Monsanto. Do you know if those figures are accurate?

Professor Ike
Wichita, Kan.

LA skylineSomeone has too much food on their plate …Photo: jbloomA.

Dearest Ike,

It’s true that in the U.S. we waste an unappetizing amount of food (while somewhat ironically still adding to our waistlines). Estimates of how much food we toss vary, but according to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It), we’re wasting around 40 percent of the total.

Or take this from an article in The Economist published in late 2009:

[T]he average American wastes 1,400 kilocalories a day. [Kilocalories is another word for what Americans generally just call “calories.”] That amounts to 150 trillion kilocalories a year for the country as a whole—about 40 percent of its food supply, up from 28 percent in 1974. Producing these wasted calories accounts for more than one-quarter of America’s consumption of freshwater, and also uses about 300 million barrels of oil a year. On top of that, a lot of methane (a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) emerges when all this food rots.

World food prices hit an all-time record high last month. According to analyst and author Lester Brown, “Soaring food prices are already a source of spreading hunger and political unrest, and it appears likely that they will climb further in the months ahead.” As the AFP notes, “Rising food prices have been cited among the driving forces behind recent popular revolts in north Africa, including the uprising in Egypt and the toppling of Tunisia’s long-time president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.” In that light, our misuse of food seems even uglier than ever.

Despite the soaring global food prices, a recent USDA report recently showed that U.S. food costs are at an all-time low of 6.9 percent of household budgets. This is a lower percentage than almost any other country in the world. As American Wasteland‘s Bloom notes in his blog, “That cheapness has a real impact—we don’t tend to value that which is inexpensive. And by most any definition, something that’s 7 percent of our budget is cheap. And each individual item is only a fraction of that percentage, providing little economic incentive not to waste.”

Now, I’m not sure where you got that 66 percent statistic, Ike. But what I am sure of is that when we waste food, we waste other precious resources along with it. In a recent study conducted at the University of Texas, researchers determined our food-tossing equals the energy equivalent of 350 million barrels of oil per year. And that’s an admittedly low estimate, as the researchers used a 27 percent food waste rate to make calculations.

“Of course, as we here at Grist rant weekly, we pay for that kind of food in other ways—skyrocketing medical costs, environmental degradation, and the abuse of animals and farm workers. Now we can add the waste of precious fossil fuels to that list,” writes Bonnie Azab Powell.

From farm to fork, whether it’s plate waste or overproduction waste, it’s high time we reign in what we waste. “Waste not, want not,” goes the old saying. This is especially important as global oil prices fluctuate and drought and other unfavorable growing conditions for staple crops like wheat persist this year.

Volunteer or support a food recovery group or food recycling program, like the one at DC Central Kitchen. These groups get food from restaurants, supermarkets, caterers, and hospitals before it goes bad and give it to people who need it.
Take up a new hobby and start gleaning. Gleaning began with people picking harvest leftovers. For more on the history of gleaning, check out The Gleaners and I, a beautiful documentary film by Agnès Varda.

Get Off Your @ss

Consider pre-gleaning food at super markets that might otherwise end up going to the landfill. Yes, I mean freegan Dumpster diving! Composting is another great way to keep food from just being wasted and sent to the landfill, where the oxygen-free setting produces methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Start composting your own food scraps and regenerate the soil instead. Check out my video on countertop composting and this Grist composting slideshow.

Waste-cutting expert Bloom says it’s also good to plan meals ahead of time, make a detailed shopping list, don’t go for impulse buys, and make sure you actually eat your leftovers. Also, the freezer is your friend and will keep things longer, as long as you remember to eat them.

Readers, what do you do to avoid wasting food? Don’t let your good ideas go to waste, share them in the comments below.


We are champion food wasters in my family, though for about the past year I’ve been trying to be as mindful as possible about buying only what we will use, using as much as we can, and wasting as little as possible.  Some weeks are better than others, of course, but we have been better about reducing food waste in our home.

Umbra asked above what we do to avoid wasting food.  What I’ve noticed, on the days I clean out the refrigerator, is that the majority of the wasted food in our home is produce that I bought for a recipe that I never got around to using, or something “special” like strawberries or blueberries that I was saving for some reason.

So, one of the things I have started doing is this: when I grocery shop, if I’m about to put something in my cart that went to waste in the last month, I don’t buy it.  For example, I can’t tell you how many heads of lettuce I have seen spoiled in the past year.  So if I cleaned spoiled lettuce out of the fridge before grocery shopping, I don’t get lettuce on that trip.

“Special” items are a little different.  While I’ll still follow the example above, the other thing that has helped me with this is moving them from “special” to “everyday” in my head.  Instead of waiting several days to eat the items, because I know if I use them now I won’t have them later, I use them when I want, happy to enjoy them when they are fresh and delicious.

I’ve also tried to be more mindful of leftovers.  I am fortunate enough to work close enough to home that I can go home for lunch most days, so for lunch I will eat leftovers.  Or instead of cooking a new meal every night, we have leftovers for dinner.  Yes, this can get boring, and if there are enough leftovers I’m pretty sick of that food by the third (or fourth!) day, but this reminds me to not make such big portions in the first place.

Another thing that has helped me is having an upright deep freezer; using it, I can store leftovers that I might want to pull out for a quick dinner in several months.

But sometimes, food spoils before we can get to it.  We use to just throw those items away, but about two years ago, we started composting.  So now we can throw all the spoiled (non-meat) food in the composter.  Last week, we started vermicomposting (composting with worms), so we can put plant matter in with the worms now as well.

It’s important to remember that as we try to become better stewards of the earth God has given us, waste has no place in good stewardship.  I say this as a reminder to myself and to you, because every bit of food that is wasted is food that could have fed someone else who is hungry, or used resources that could have been used for something else.  If you find that you waste a lot of food, maybe a good solution for you would be to drastically reduce the amount of food you buy each time you go to the grocery store.

What can you do to reduce food waste in your household this week?

Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Disaster relief

As you likely know by now, Japan was hit by an earthquake and the resultant tsunami earlier today.  Hours later, tsunami waves hit Hawaii as well.  Right now, tsunami warnings are in effect all over the Pacific, and include Canadian and US West Coasts.

Please pray for the people of Japan who lost loved ones in either tragedy, and for the Japanese government as it rebuilds the nation.  Pray also for Hawaii and her people, and for all the people who might later see the tsunami.

When things like this happen, we often want to do more than pray though, and that’s not only good, it’s what God calls us to do.  While some of you might be able to actually go to the places that have had these events happen, most of us aren’t able to do so.  But we can give to those charities that help with disaster relief all over the world.

Here are some of the charities that you can give to who will help, not only in Japan and Hawaii, but are still helping in Haiti, South East Asia, Africa, and all over the world where natural disasters have happened.  you can donate to any of these organizations and know that your gifts will reach the people who need the most help:

World Vision Disaster Response Fund

American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund

Doctors Without Borders

Catholic Charities (for help in Hawaii)

Salvation Army Disaster Relief

United Methodist Committee on Relief

International Red Cross/Red Crescent

These are just a few of the organizations that will be responding to needs from this earthquake and tsunami.  These organizations are also still helping in other places, like in New Zealand as they continue to recover from last month’s earth quake in Christchurch.  If you are reading this and know of other organizations with international disaster relief funds, please let me know, and I will do my best to update this post with those links too.

If you can, please give.  It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, but every but helps, even if it’s only a few dollars.  And some of these organizations have donor matching programs, so that you gifts are multiplied.


Lent: Giving up or giving more?

Lent begins in two days.  Many of you who read this blog observe Lent every year and have already decided how you’ll be observing it this year.  Some of you reading this post don’t normally pursue any kind of spiritual discipline during Lent (it’s OK, I admit I’m not the best about doing that myself, so you’re in good company), or you have done in the past and have wondered why you might bother to continue doing so.

Lent is the forty days in the Church calendar leading up to Easter. Our reason for observing or celebrating comes from, as I understand it, two places in the Bible.  The first is remembering how the Hebrew people wandered in the desert for forty years before being allowed to enter the Promised Land.  In the second, we remember how Jesus spent forty days on the mountain, fasting and being tempted at least three times by Satan.  The idea for us, as modern Christians, is to remember those who sacrificed and to participate in sacrifice as a spiritual discipline.

Traditionally, we give up food, drink, or something else that we are willing to sacrifice for those six weeks.  The first Lent I really observed, I gave up chocolate.  I don’t remember what I’ve sacrificed every year, but the most memorable of Lents was my freshman year in college when I gave up all sweets and soda.  The reason I remember this is because I had the mother of all caffeine withdrawal headaches for the first week of Lent.

That wasn’t terribly conducive to spiritual discipline.

What I’m going to say next is going to seem judgmental.  I apologize for that, because it’s not meant to be that way.  But why do we give things like chocolate, sodas, sweets, or anything else up for Lent?  What is our ultimate purpose?  Is it to give up something that doesn’t really mean much anyway, only to take it back on Easter?  And if that’s all that we make of Lent, if what we sacrifice isn’t truly changing us spiritually or encouraging our walk with Christ, should we even go through the motions for those forty days?

I ask those questions because Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).  Following Jesus requires that we deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily, not just for the six weeks before Easter.  How does giving up chocolate, or soda, or sweets, really make a difference in how we follow Christ?  A lot of us give up something, but we do it just for the sake of saying we did it, and don’t use the time as a way to examine who we are and what we can become without those things.


Since this blog is about stewardship, I want to propose that during Lent this year, instead of giving something up for six weeks, let’s give it up for good.  Or maybe, instead of giving something up, we start a new practice that we don’t quit after Easter.

Are you giving up food or drink?  Then perhaps this is the time to give it up for good.  Kick the chocolate or caffeine habit, not for six weeks, but for the rest of your life.  Or instead of giving up coffee for good, maybe give up getting your coffee at Starbucks every day–use the money you would normally use for that triple shot to give to your church or your favorite charity.

Maybe now is the time to start taking better care of God’s creation.  Why not begin the process of reducing your consumption (quit shopping for things you don’t need), reusing what you can (need a place to store dry beans or craft supplies?  Reuse yogurt or butter containers instead of buying a new container), and recycling what can’t be reduced or reused.

Maybe this Lent is the time to start thinking seriously about the Sabbath and taking a day of rest as God commands.  It’s doesn’t have to be a Sunday, but you do have to rest all day long.

Or perhaps now is the time to start giving more of yourself to the church.  What are your spiritual gifts, and how can they be used in your faith community?  I can guarantee that your church needs you to use your spiritual gifts somewhere, and no act of using those gifts is too small.

Most importantly, be thoughtful about what you’ll be doing to observe Lent.  Listen to God and what He’s telling you to do.  Allow Him to work in you and change you during this time.