From Stardust to Stardust

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What better day to talk about life and death than on Ash Wednesday of the Christian Calendar? Ash Wednesday has for a long time been the Christian observance that resonates most with me. When I did my Master’s thesis on the topic of death and began questioning the fear of death we are so conditioned to have, one of my professors pointed to my young age and my likely distance from death to explain my lack of fear. You can take my word for it, though, I am no stranger to death. I’ve felt its presence slowly creeping and I’ve received word of its sudden grasp. 

Ash Wednesday does more than remind us of our immortality; well, it should anyways. Often the part of scripture that is recited does nothing more than remind us of our sin and impeding death. But, if you look at the surrounding scripture the story radically changes. Yes, it is a story of deceit, sin, and punishment; a story that was likely told to explain why one manifestation of life does not last forever. Let’s read around all of that, though, and in-between the lines.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

20 Adam[c] named his wife Eve,[d] because she would become the mother of all the living.

 To me, this piece of scripture illustrates the cycle of life and death- a cycle that would not be if it were not for death. In simple terms this says to me: you will work for your food that comes from the ground, the very ground that you were made from, and then when you die you will return to that ground and all of the other living things will continue to eat of the ground from which you were made and to which you have returned. 
 
This is all pretty cool to me, but let’s make it hot by thinking about what we are really physically made of: STARDUST!!!! Now, that is hot. If you don’t believe me because I study religion and not science you are rightfully skeptical, so here is confirmation from physicists: 
 
So, if we extend the narrative, all matter on earth is composed of some stardust and manifestations of life are embodied in matter, which gets its sustenance (in the form of food) from other embodied manifestations of life.
 
There is a fair chance that one day the earth will be engulfed into the sun, and so all of the stardust that embodied life on earth will become part of a star again. Mind totally blown?!?! Mine is. Again, if you don’t believe me just ask the pros,
 
 
What if the stardust we are made of is stardust that already has embodied life forms amongst the cosmos a long time ago, or it will again in the future? We are so incredibly connected through death not only to other earthly matter and life, as we eat and then we ourselves become a part of providing sustenance for new life, but to the entire cosmos. That is what Ash Wednesday is about to me. It’s not a sad reminder that humans messed up and therefore will die, it is an awe-struck moment of realizing how incredible and miraculous life is and that calls for deep gratitude for the death that sustains it. 
 
For stardust you are
and to stardust you will return.

Let’s be honest, by your standards I’m probably not a Christian and that’s ok.

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Before I tell you about all of my devious and radical beliefs, let’s celebrate my first week of eating vegan! It has been pretty easy so far, but I have already made a couple mistakes. My favorite almost oops was when I mentioned all the great frozen yogurt places nearby that I haven’t tried to a friend that was visiting, and then suggested that we try one. Oops! Good thing I realized that was a no-go before we headed out. I also forgot to ask for no cheese on my veggie burger at a restaurant and did not realize it until a couple hours after lunch.

However, I made an absolutely delicious mac and “cheese.” If you are vegan, or even if you are thinking about it, here is the recipe. I also successfully ate vegan at In-n-Out Burger; it was not incredible as it amounted to a couple slices of tomato and some onion wrapped in lettuce, but I was just glad I was able to find something to eat at a fast-food burger joint! Eating vegan has been way easier than I imagined it would be and I feel great. Now, let’s talk about the good stuff… why your grandmother would probably be worried for my soul if she knew what I believed.

I grew up Lutheran in Minnesota, a place where everybody still goes to church or at least claims to belong to a church somewhere. When I decided that I wanted to be a pastor, people were totally stoked. As I entered into seminary, after studying religion and philosophy for four years in undergrad, I already had the feeling that what I really believed was not going to pass the test. The divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and some sort of afterlife are pretty integral aspects of today’s Christian dogma for most denominations, including Lutherans. I threw those things out the window for good sometime during my first semester of seminary. Remember in my last post how I said that I believe life is sacred? I really mean that, and what that implies for me is that I do not have to hope for anything beyond this life. If I die and there is some sort of afterlife I’m all in, but I always felt like concentrating my hope and faith in that was a bit selfish and sort of rude to the miracle of life that I have been granted. When you think about it, though, this life is pretty darn incredible. I’m no scientist, but from what I understand the chances of any life-form existing are pretty slim and the chances of life evolving into me are pretty much zero, yet here I am and there you are. That is incredible. That is sacred to me. What is even more amazing is the way that all life is connected, not only to other forms of life, but the entire universe. Here is a really great article by someone who knows a lot more about science than me, and does a beautiful job carrying the sanctity that was once preserved for religion into science, and vice versa.

When one does not believe in an afterlife, other than the body’s continued participation in natural cycles of life which we will get to next week, there is not much need for a divine savior in the traditional respect. I absolutely believe that Jesus was a human who lived a radical life by challenging social norms and a corrupt empire, and I think that is the saving message the gospels continue to offer the world. The entire Bible is filled with stories of people striving to live and we can continue to learn from these stories by allowing them to shape us and speak to the human experiences of suffering, injustice, loss, relationship, love, hope, faithfulness, fullness of life, and a host of other experiences. The stories of Jesus speak to me in particular because they are stories that show the courage of a human being who chooses to oppose societal norms that create outcasts and hierarchies while also challenging structures of power, which for Jesus were both the church and the empire. The vision projected by Jesus, one in which people lived for and with the “other” in whatever form the other takes, is a beautiful vision that I continue to strive towards. If life is sacred then every living being should be free to live life to the fullest; to support a system of life that dictates otherwise is straight up blasphemy. The stories of the Bible have absolutely helped me personally to understand what it is to love, forgive, and be in right relationships, which are things that I will continuously be working on in order to create a world where all living beings can live life to it’s fullest. So, since I am being honest and all, I do not believe that Jesus was any more divine or sacred than you, my dog, or myself. Jesus’ life was just as sacred as yours, and I think that is part of the message that easily gets overlooked in the church… possibly because many people would find it heretical but that is a minor detail for me these days.

Speaking of heretical beliefs, let’s talk about the Trinity. Obviously, without the belief that Jesus was divine the question of the Trinity is out of the question. I started to really question the Trinity before I questioned Jesus’ divinity because it is absolutely and undeniably patriarchal. Sure, we can throw in all kinds of un-gendered substitutes but it is the product of a corrupt system that has no grounds to stand on without that system. There are so many manifestations of God that are written about in the Bible and experienced in every day life, there is no possible way that they can all be contained in 3. Why limit ourselves? Why not let ourselves be amazed by experiences of God in all of their forms, figures, feelings, and whatever other ways this God thing has been encountered throughout history. I’m not an artist, but the way that I best articulate my encounter with God is through drawing out an image for you with my words. If I was an artist, this would totally be my first project. First, pretend you can see the vibrations that create the sound of a musical instrument and you see them in an array of colors. Let’s pretend it is a string instrument and you see an array of vivacious colors vibrating off the strings. Now, picture that as a continuous string, vibrating through every manifestation of life in the universe. If you can, imagine the source of the vibrations being a distant star, soil, and water. I might be totally nerding out here, but that continuous string vibrating through all life is 100% Holy to me. Somehow, that image is the best way for me to communicate my encounter with what is divine. It might not fit your definition of God, and that is totally cool. Part of my resolution to be honest is in hopes that we can all be honest about what we believe and have some really great conversations about it that include disagreeing. I am well aware of the fact that I am probably wrong, and maybe Jesus was God and there will be some sort of afterlife, but that and the perfectly valid beliefs presented by other religions just do not jive with me right now and my beliefs probably don’t jive with you. That is ok with me, and I hope it is with you, too. If not, let’s talk more about it and learn from each other.

My 2013 New Years Resolution: Stop Lying All the Time

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Honesty is a personal characteristic I have always taken much pride in. If you asked me a question and I didn’t tell you the truth I would either give the lie away with my face or feel guilty if you actually believed me and quickly vomit out the truth. I even decided not to become a pastor because I felt like I would have to lie too much about what I believed to both become a pastor, to my professors and candidacy committee, and to stay a pastor, to a congregation. When I was a kid I lied about silly things like the bus breaking down and having to walk all the way home from school, when really I was just out of breathe because I ran up the driveway; sorry it has taken me so long to confess that one, Grandma! Recently, though, I’ve been having trouble sleeping and I could not figure out why until this morning when I awoke after 3.5 measly hours of sleep and started thinking about my new years resolutions. “Lose weight, do a triathlon, go vegan, spend more quality time with my husband…” All of the usual resolutions ran through my head, plus a few extras like, “publish an article or present at a big conference.” Then I realized one thing: if I do not stop lying to myself and other people, which I realized I do all the time, I am not going to accomplish any of these things.

So here is my first confession: I lie every day, all of the time. If you asked me why I was vegetarian my reply was, “Well, there are a lot of reasons but one big one is for health.” That is not true at all, I just said it to avoid conflict or offending you. The truth is, the food system in the U.S. objectifies all forms of life in a way that I consider completely immoral and it makes me sick. It also makes me sick that even when I go vegan I probably will not be able to avoid foods that were made affordable and accessible to me by the exploitation of people. The U.S. food system is not only making people who eat an “American” diet literally and physically sick, it is making the entire world sick by using people and animals as a means to an ends that allows for a privileged few to pay less for the food that will eventually kill them and it is completely corrupting the free market system, making it so that the people who are being exploited to feed us cannot afford to buy food for themselves and their families. I believe all life is sacred, and when life is created, lived, and used for the sole purpose of being a means to somebody else’s pleasure or ease it is an act of blasphemy.  That is why I am a vegetarian, and I am going vegan to step outside that systems at least a little bit more.  There are other reasons, like health, but those are the big ones.

I wish I could say my lies stopped with the explanation of my diet, but they do not, so I am going to keep blogging, one time every week about something I have been lying about. Hopefully, I do not lie about everything and I will eventually run out of things I have been lying about and come up with some other ideas, but until then enjoy these confessions and feel free to make some of your own—even if it is about how you think vegans and vegetarians are smug hipsters who need to get over their snooty ideas about how to eat—I want to hear it. I doubt my confessions on this peon-of-a-blog will ever be as famous as Augustine’s, but I hope a couple of people read them and rather than denying what I say immediately because some of it is hard to swallow, actually think about what I am saying here and argue your own honest opinion if you still disagree, because my opinions change all the time by great conversations and maybe yours can, too. Also, can we please stop being sorry for what we think and why we think it because it might offend someone? That is exactly why I started lying but now I am done lying and I might offend a few people. I’m done being sorry for it though because instead of getting pissy and offended we should be able to have a serious chat about it and clear up any misunderstandings and try to come to an understanding of on another even in our differences. Like I said before, I believe that life is sacred which means that I believe you and your life are sacred, and so is mine. If you believe that too, let’s start acting like it and create deep and meaningful relationships in which we care about one another enough to tell the truth. That is all for now, but stay tuned for more confessions of this perpetual liar.

Vegan Sundays

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I have been through two vegan Sundays thus far, and most of the time I have gone through with ease. Each Sunday I did have dinner with others. The first Sunday I went out to dinner, which has been the biggest challenge, to Perkins. The only option I found was a salad with no meat or cheese and a dairy-less dressing. Last night I ate at a family member’s house and, to my luck, they had prepared roasted vegetables and a veggie burger.

I took the time each time a I prepared a vegan meal to think about where my food came from and found to eat vegan AND local would be a great challenge. My breakfasts usually consisted of fruit, which is not grown locally this time of year, and a generic brand of oatmeal which traveled many miles to end up in our kitchen. I also made pasta with avocado sauce, and I did ok on the pasta, which was actually a corn pasta, but the avocado was obviously not grown around Minnesota.

Eating vegan each Sunday has forced me to think more about the environmental impact of eating animals products which comes from the transportation and production of the food. It has also made me think even more about the way humans relate to, and even enslave, other creatures often without doubting our practices for even a moment as we eat. The dilemma will continue to challenge me… is it enough to be aware and personally express my gratefulness for the sacrifices that have been made in order for animal products to arrive on my plate, or is my personal conviction too great for me to continue consuming these products?

A Vegan Sabbath

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For my Education class this semester we are assigned to journal every other week on our experience with the practice of creation care that we have chosen as well as our readings. Since this blog has been left relatively untouched for quite some time I thought it would be a good place to do my journaling.

The creation/earth care practice I have chosen is to eat vegan every Sunday. I have been vegetarian for a couple of years now and I saw this as an opportunity to push myself a little further into thinking about the sacrifices of life I depend on, i.e. the food I eat. I am excited to eat vegan each Sunday, I think it will not only be a sabbath experience for me but a sabbath for the other creatures that produce the food I typically consume throughout the week. While the creatures will not receive an actual sabbath, unfortunately, it is a way for my to offer my thanks and acknowledgment that they have unwillingly made, and reflect on whether or not my consumption of their products is something I can keep doing without experiencing a major ethical dilemma.

My two biggest obstacles will be eggs and cheese. I depend on those two things greatly for protein and flavor. I am hoping to experiment with different options for eggs in baking but cheese substitutes are a little weak, so I will have to learn to go without.

What I am most fearful about is being a bad guest. Often times when we eat with others they prepare a special vegetarian dish for me, I would feel rude not to accept their offer just because it contains dairy or eggs. Perhaps we will just have to avoid being guests on Sundays for a while, or I can offer to bring my own food! My only other fear is breaking the news to my husband who is entirely supportive of my decision to be vegetarian. I fear that he will think eating vegan, even for one day a week, is taking it a little to far even though it is not a lifestyle I will force on him. Who knows…. maybe this will be a good way to ease him into it in case I decide to go entirely vegan by the end of the semester!

R.I.P.

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Osama Bin Laden is dead, I’m sure you’ve heard. I could not help to write because I am severely disappointed with the response to this news. The response is not one of hope or of love, but one of hate. My heart broke as I read the responses of my generation as the news takes over facebook statuses, and probably twitter. Many replied with asserting that justice has been served along with a big helping of American pride. Perhaps some people will sleep better at night knowing that this “mad-man” is no longer a threat but I predict that America’s response to Mr. Bin Laden’s death is a threat to ourselves and to the world.

We ought to offer condolences and peace to those who feel like they have lost something. Swallow our pride and make room for peace. There will not be peace when we respond to hate with hate… nothing will change. Perhaps it is justice by some definitions of the term, if we seek justice that demands “and eye for an eye.” However, if it is compassion and peace that we seek, a door to it has just been slammed in our faces not by Mr. Bin Laden’s death but by our own response to it.

I cannot condone his death nor his life, so this is not a judgement against those individuals or groups that caused it.

Nor do I write this in offense to those who have suffered in any way as a result of Mr. Bin Laden’s actions. This as a call to reconciliation and forgiveness as an opportunity for such has been presented to us. We know the power of social media, let it be used for peace.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Bin Laden.

Let’s Eat….. Real Food.

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After a couple days of intense paper writing and studying, I took a little time to relax today and watched a few things that I can’t help but think are related. I watched a news clip about two girls who committed suicide together in Marshall, MN, I watched the movie “Easy A,” as well as the documentary “Food Matters.” The conclusion I came to was that America is depressed and fat. However, I think there is a solution which is suggested in the documentary.

We don’t eat well, and though it be cliche, we are what we eat. What we are eating is depleted of nutrients because of what we are not putting back into the soil with artificial fertilizer. After we purchase the nutrient deficient foods we bring them home and cook them, further depleting their nutritional value. The lack of nutrients in our food leads to lack of nutrients in our bodies which makes room for depression and disease. Instead of restoring the nutrient we lack, we take pills to mask the symptoms and go one pretending we are healthy. Did I mention that we pay a LOT for these pills? Not to mention the insurance we pay for to help us pay for the pills? When what we really are lacking is vitamins and nutrients that will heal us holistically and cost a lot less in the long run. What we should be eating is a LOT of raw, organic vegetables and fruit, grains, herbs… REAL FOOD! Supplements, and even a daily vitamin, are a good way of assuring that our dietary needs are being met.

I always made fun of my mom for downing the vitamin C whenever she feels a cold coming on, arguing that it doesn’t make a difference. But, as usual, mom was right.