Saturday, April 22, 2017
I would say that it all started forty-seven years ago with the first Earth Day celebration, but that kind of short-sighted view of history might miss the bigger picture. It was 47 years ago that people around the world "officially" started setting aside a day to think about and take action with regard to creation care and stewardship, but I feel like that day and those continuing practices have been taking place throughout history with human beings working in relationship with the land, and trusting this relationship, to a degree, to yield a bountiful harvest among other things. I believe this is a remarkably old idea; the Bible's opening chapters tell the story of a man and a woman working in a garden, naming the animals, and being entrusted with the care of creation, so again, it seems that this practice is not new as much as it is one of the most ancient practices of the world.
Each year Jamie and I try to think about ways we can "lower our footprint," live a little more simply, and do our part to care for the environment. We always have done this with a thoughtful focus not only on our own lives but on those of future generations as well. But now, with the arrival of Sylvia in our life, these steps have a more immediate and tangible inheritance being considered. What kind of world are we stewarding for our daughter's generation, and her grandchildren's grandchildren?
Here are a few practices we have historically engaged in as well as some new ones for 2017. It is my hope in sharing them, that there may be one or two you would want to start as well.
1) Consume less energy in the home. This takes various forms in our home, but one of the simplest is that we strive to turn off lights when we are not in the room. We also have devices that operate by remote like our TV plugged into a power strip, so we can turn off the power strips and reduce "phantom charge" as these appliances are constantly using a trickle of electricity any time they are plugged in. We have also converted many of our lights from incandescent to CFL and then to LED bulbs. Doing this is not only good for caring for the environment, but it also saves money.
2) Walk and spend time outside when possible. You know what else saves money? Walking instead of driving when possible. Thankfully, Jamie and I live in the middle of a town where we can walk just about anywhere we need to go locally. By doing this we are not only saving money on gas, but we also are getting regular exercise. And there's so much cool stuff to see outside!
3) Buy locally. Since 2013, Jamie and I have been members of a local CSA called Mountain Harvest Farm. The farm is run by a former Peace Corps worker (who also happens to be friends with one of my teammates at Nuru), and her husband. Buying locally means that we are supporting local businesses, the food we eat does not have to be shipped hundreds (if not thousands) of miles for us to enjoy, and as funny as it might sound, it tastes better too!
4) Plant a garden. Since 2007, we've had a little truck patch outside the house where we grow corn, beans, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, collard greens, brussels sprouts, and sundry other foods. Similar to buying local food, growing your own food tastes better. There's nothing quite like being able to pick and eat a tomato right off the plant. Also, as Sylvia grows, spending time in the garden with her will help her develop an understanding of our relationship with the land.
5) Buy renewable energy certificates. A little over a month ago, thanks to a friend's post on Facebook, we discovered Arcadia Power. This company allows you to purchase renewable energy certificates. We made the switch to paying our electric bill through Arcadia Power, and have seen very little difference in our monthly bill while we are investing in renewable wind energy. Switching to Arcadia from your current provider only takes about five minutes, and you can either switch to 50% wind power for FREE (you read that correctly), or go to 100% wind energy for typically $5-10 more than your current bill. Intrigued? Check them out!
6) Use an electric or reel mower. The year we got married, I bought a high-powered gas mower, and it was plagued with problems over the five years we kept it. Four years ago, we transitioned to a reel mower, and while we love it, our travel frequency made cutting grass (particularly in the spring) a bit more labor and time intensive. My friend Stu told me about his electric mower, and offered to let me borrow it and take it for a test drive. After that experience, we drove to Home Depot and invested in an E-Go Mower. That mower doesn't need gas, and it cuts better than any mower I've ever used!
7) Repair or replace heating and cooling units. With the addition of Sylvia to our family, we decided to take a look at replacing our furnace and air conditioner. I called Grogg's Heating and Air Conditioning, and they came to the house and gave us an estimate for replacing/repairing. During the visit we found out that our furnace was nearly 50 years old, and our air conditioner was nearly 30. We also learned about how much units have improved in efficiency over the last 30-50 years and we have invested in replacements from Grogg's. In addition to having more high efficiency units, Jamie and I have also practiced keeping the set temperatures a little higher in the summer and lower in the winter to both save money and reduce energy use.
These are just a few of the practices we have in place in an effort to practice good stewardship, and I thought I'd share them as an encouragement to you on Earth Day. In my view, stewardship is a daily practice, but days like Earth Day help us each to stop and consider ways we can make improvements. May we each continue in the longstanding tradition of stewardship, and may this Earth Day find you celebrating family and this wonderfully created world in which we live!
Wednesday, March 08, 2017
Today is International Women's Day, and all over the world people are advocating for and celebrating various endeavors aimed at improving the lives of women and girls, and because of that, I was tempted to not write and add to the mix, but then my conscience got the better of me. You see, the world needs every one of us to raise our voices for what is right and just and good for all. As the ancient Hebrew prophet Micah has said, "What is required of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."
When children do not have the opportunity to receive an education, and specifically 130 million girls, that's an injustice. When a person's place of birth can mean the denial of basic opportunities to have meaningful choices and improve their livelihoods, that's an injustice. When we choose to do nothing when we have the tools and the resources to literally transform lives, that's an injustice.
Jamie and I have been privileged to be able to travel to Kenya and Ethiopia with Nuru International and witness firsthand the impact that programs are making in the lives of women and girls. Last year on International Women's Day, Jamie was able to meet with Feven Yimer, one of Nuru's Ethiopian staff members who has been leading the design and implementation of Nuru's programs to address education in the southern highlands of Ethiopia. Feven moved from her nation's capital into a remote, rural area of Ethiopia because she was very aware of the opportunities that open up for children and girls in particular when they have access to basic education. In her team's design of programs she has successfully advocated for sex-segregated latrines in the public schools in the communities where Nuru is working. This gesture which may seem small, will open the door for more girls to come to school. Feven and her team have established book banks in local schools as well as in community cooperatives where children can check out books and practice reading and developing literacy in their native tongue, in their national language, and even in English. Feven is one of many champions for justice and incredible women Jamie and I have met in our travels.
Back in 2012, we had the privilege of meeting Mama Susan in her butcher shop in Mabera, Kenya. Mama Susan was skeptical and distrustful of Nuru when it first launched in her community, but then she witnessed the life change wrought in her neighbors' livelihoods when for the first time they had a surplus of food that they had produced, they had developed savings, and they were sending their children (boys AND girls) to school because they could afford uniform and book fees for the first time. Mama Susan began participating in Nuru's programs, and through the training she received, she not only improved her family's livelihood, but she was able save money to launch her own business, a butcher shop. She is just one of thousands of people whose life has been changed for the better by Nuru's work.
Last week, Jamie, Sylvia, and myself were able to spend time on Capitol Hill visiting the offices of our elected representatives as part of our efforts with an incredible organization started by Bono called the ONE campaign. Our purpose was very simple. We wanted to encourage our representatives to support legislation to make education more readily available for girls everywhere, AND we wanted to encourage them to not cut federal funding (which makes up less than 1% of our budget) for poverty eradication efforts globally.
Speaking of Sylvia, when I think about her in light of International Women's Day, I find myself desiring even more to be an advocate and encouraging others to do the same. Just by the grace of where she was born, she has access to incredible healthcare and education opportunities. I know that family and friends would rally to support us no matter where in the world she was born, because that is part of our shared humanity and part of what I believe it is to be made in the image of our Creator. But if we were born in another place, her education opportunities would be a question mark. If we were born in another place, we might have a significant hike just to arrive at a healthcare facility, and then, we might be disappointed and desperate to find that they had run out of medicine while we were waiting. Because we have access to a variety of healthy foods (some of which we have grown ourselves), Sylvia is able to receive nutritious meals from her mom through exclusively breastfeeding during these critical first six months of her life.
So today, if you are looking for an action to take in honor of International Women's Day (and even if you aren't), I want to give you three actions you can take. Truthfully, you can take these actions any day, but why not today? As an ancient proverb says, "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed." So here are the three actions.
1) Join ONE. Just sign up to become a member, and they will let you know additional steps you can take to be an advocate wherever you are.
2) Record a #GirlsCount video. Join the count and help create the longest film ever AND advocate for the 130 million girls who do not have access to basic education.
3) Donate to Nuru. Jamie and I have both directly witnessed the impact of financial support to Nuru's work, and we would love to have you join us in supporting this work.
Whatever you choose to do, Jamie and I thank you in advance, and we look forward to seeing the outcome of our work together to bring meaningful choices to even more of our brothers and sisters around the world. May your own life be enriched by your choice to make a difference!
Monday, February 13, 2017
Every year, Jamie and I spend time together setting goals and reflecting on how we fared on our previous year's goals. In past years, I feel like I have personally been able to get those goals to paper with a moderate degree of speed, but this year, it seems that we both have been carrying our goals and our reflections in our head more than we have been putting them to paper. It has been a time of major transition as we adjust to what it means to be a father and a mother, but we still have our goals, and we are making some headway. I'm sure every parent transitions into this new role in a series of adjustments, and maybe those adjustments become more accurately described as adaptations as life takes on new color and dimension with new life.
One theme of our goals that has endured as long as we have been together has been the theme of simplicity. One could also call this goal the goal of making space. As I think about it, that's definitely an aspect of simplicity, and one which it seems there is dire need of in our lives. Whether it is making space in our homes or in our habits, all of our "habitations" or places and spaces in which we dwell, are very easily filled.
We each have been granted a gift (among many) from our Creator limited in scope from our birth. That gift is time. We have a limited number of days in a week, and hours in a day, just like we have a limited amount of space in our homes. Without some degree of intentionality and development, our time and our spaces become packed, congested, cluttered, full, and sometimes even suffocating. We can get caught up in checking our Twitter feeds, our Facebook streams, and our emails as our mobile devices continue to send us notifications from a wide array of apps and tools. We can gather more and more activity and more and more material goods, and crowd out the space for enjoyment of these activities and goods.
So what is the solution to the problem of filling our habitations with activity and clutter? I believe the answer lies in simplicity. What do I mean by simplicity? For me, I believe simplicity means exercising my ability to say no to busyness, say no to activity, and say no to holding on to items that could be bringing joy to others, and that have served their purposes in our home and life (books and clothes probably rank highest here). Simplicity also means saying no to distractions. It means refraining from checking email, Facebook, Twitter, or other 'news feeds' before or after a certain hour of day. (Jamie just recently made me aware of how I've slid into this habit over the last few months, and I'm grateful for her insight.) It means keeping the TV covered up for the most part, and making watching television into a special occasion or treat.
As a result of this line of thinking, Jamie and I have (among other things) made a habit of going through clothes and books and giving them away so they can have new life and bring more people joy. Each year, we give away bags of clothes, and the incredible thing is that we have never seemed to run short of something to wear. Each year, we take a hard look at the goods we have been blessed with, express our gratitude for them, and say goodbye to some of them.
And while this is healthy and good, I'll have to admit, that making space, whether physical or in time, is also challenging. When we looked back on our year last year, there was so much happening. And after a time of incredible busy-ness, at least for me, one of the hardest things to do is to slow down and to make space. Busy-ness becomes the norm, and then it feels weird to have space where something isn't happening whether it is a project moving forward or a new goal to conquer. But, I know that I need that space--we all do. It's probably one of the reasons that God gave humanity the practice, the space, and the commandment of Sabbath.
May we all create space for enjoyment, for reflection, for simplicity, and slow down on our desire to fill all of our moments with activity and acquisition. May we each slow down for a few moments to enjoy being present to what is happening in us and around us, caring for our souls and our world in the process.
Monday, January 16, 2017
For the last several years, I have tried to take a few moments on Martin Luther King Day to pause and consider the life of Dr. King and his example of service. Each year I also try to share a recorded excerpt of one of his speeches. The one below, is not only a reminder to do our work, whatever our lot in this life, with excellence, but also to become servant leaders, wherever we are.
As Dr. King says in the last moments of the recording above, "Man has not begun to live until he can rise above his individual concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity." As you and I start our 2017, we each have an opportunity to recalibrate and refocus. As a world and as individuals, we are much more aware of the needs of both our local and global neighbors, and we are much more aware of what we might do to rise above our individual concerns to those of humanity. In fact, sometimes it is downright paralyzing because we are so aware. There are so many problems in our world; where does one start? I believe where we start is less important than simply starting. Once we start, we will become more attuned to the hopes and needs of others just by practicing care for our neighbors.
So today, on MLK Day, may we each start somewhere. And if we have already begun, may we remember Dr. King's life and example and continue. And whatever our lot, may we faithfully live out our calling, so that others will be inspired to live out theirs as well.
Friday, January 13, 2017
As I sit down to write this post, I'm a little in shock. My mind is swirling with memories--laughter tears, and long, meaningful conversations that won't happen again on this side of eternity. Last night, I learned that one of my oldest friends, and one I had not seen in person for a very long time, died of a heart attack. He had just recently turned 43 years old.
Frank was a proud West Virginian and a proud Mountaineer. He had grown up in some of the hill country of West Virginia (Elkins), and had moved to some of the river country (Parkersburg) our senior year of high school. And while we both knew each other then, we really became good friends our freshman year of college at WVU on the basketball courts and in the residence halls.
Frank had a deep appreciation for music, and probably had the biggest music collection of anyone I have ever known. And he knew the music too--every album--he could tell you about the artist and explain the nuances of the songs. He was a huge fan of all kinds of music from Pearl Jam to Cyprus Hill and just about everything in between. Back in college we would spend hours listening to and talking about the latest albums, and he would be among the first to acquire them at the Discount Den in Morgantown.
Frank and his sister Angie introduced me to the Forest Festival in Elkins, and because of them, I have been able to introduce it to members of my own family as well. Frank was incredibly generous with his time and was always willing to help out a friend in need. When I was installed as a chief in my tribal community nearly 17 years ago, Frank was among a select few friends from outside my tribe who I was privileged to invite to our land and have him witness that historic moment. Frank was a history major in his undergrad too, and so there was something special about having this friend share in a piece of history.
I believe it was through Frank that I discovered just how close Pittsburgh was to Morgantown as he would invite a group of friends to travel with him to explore the city. I can remember many drives to Pittsburgh while we were in school. Frank also believed in being well-dressed. In fact, he and a couple of other friends took me on a "fashion emergency" trip (before it was a thing) because my wardrobe and style could "use some work." We definitely had a lot of awesome road trips together.
And wow, we could spend HOURS on the basketball court. We would play hoops outside til dark, or head to Stansbury Hall (the courts where Jerry West played) and shoot hoops until we got kicked out of the building. In fact, many times we would shoot hoops and then listen to tunes and talk about the games we played--we would even try to come up with creative plays. And actually, there was a time where me, Frank, and my roommate at the time (Andy) got invited to play in a prison by a dude we were playing who happened to be a prison guard at a supermax prison in Pennsylvania. That game was pretty unforgettable--everyone in the prison came out to watch the game with us "outsiders" and we got SMOKED--I think we lost by 30+ points. I have lots of great memories with Frank on the basketball court, and he was a strong athlete.
Frank was always willing to speak truth to me (and to anyone) whether it might hurt or not. He never did it out of malice, but always to help people be better human beings and better friends. I remember one occasion when I had told him that I was going to come to a cookout he was hosting, and as I was walking there I ran into two other groups of friends at two different times, and ended up not making it to the cookout. He called me out for not honoring my word. At the time it really stung because I really valued keeping my word (and I still do). He told me he knew that I had the intention of being there but that if I commit and I don't follow through it hurts people, and that it wasn't the first time I had done it and that he wasn't the only person I had done it to. He told me that other people understood my intentions were good, but that I was hurting my friends and friendships when I didn't follow through and honor my word. Frank made me, and everyone he met a better person.
We went through our share of hardships together. One of the foremost burned into my mind happened during 2006 and 2007. Frank's dad and my mom were both diagnosed with cancer. We would see each other at the hospital often as our parents were going through the last stages of their fights with cancer. And as Frank was watching his dad fight hard in a losing battle against cancer, he was also getting ready to marry the love of his life, Dena. I remember going to their wedding in Ohio, and all of the sadness and joy being swirled together. Frank lost his dad, and I lost my mom within days of each other. Loss is always hard, but enduring it as you are starting a new life with someone and adding to your family is a difficult path to walk. Frank always walked the path bravely though, in every area of life.
Frank was 43 years old. And now his wife, sister, and mom (and many others) are grieving his unexpected death. For my part, I had hoped that we might be able to connect the last time I was in Parkersburg--I was hoping he would be able to meet my daughter and wife. And learning news of his death makes me want to be even more committed to do everything I can to live as long as I can on this earth with Jamie and Sylvia. I know our time of departure from this life is not entirely up to us, but I want to do everything within my power to ensure that my choices are not limiting the quality and quantity of the time I have left.
May we each savor the moments and memories we have, and as we are able, make new ones to cherish and treasure in this life, and Frank, may you rest in peace my brother.
Tuesday, January 03, 2017
I don’t often pick up fiction books, although when I do I usually enjoy them. They are much more fast-paced and typically easier to digest than a textbook, and they give creative perspective. I stumbled upon The Road by Cormac McCarthy while reading a blog called The Art of Manliness. The blog by Brett McKay has a ton of helpful tips for men that often are passed from father to son (but not always) like how to tie a Windsor knot or how to make conversation with others. It’s a great blog by the way, but that is content for another post. J Brett had written a post about The Road, and said that he has read it every year as a bit of a tradition. His post inspired me to check out the book.
I probably should have been more aware of the book long before Brett’s post though. The book was made into a movie in 2009, and it also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. Reading this book evoked images for me of something like a Mad Max or Book of Eli post-apocalyptic world. The land was cold, and the people left on earth were struggling to survive.
The story is one of a journey of survival for a father and son through a wasteland. A journey filled with people who were bent on evil—robbers, cannibals, and many other unsavory and untrustworthy people. The father had made it his mission to protect his son and keep them both alive for as long as he could.
He used a metaphor with his son to emphasize character, “Carrying the fire.” People who carry the fire, are not cannibals, they are the good guys. The father and son reminded one another regularly that they were the good guys as they struggled to survive, and struggled to do the right thing as they traveled the road.
For me, the book, while a sobering look at love for one’s family, and the hard choices many people have to face for daily living, was more of a book about character and love. How will I raise my child to be a person of good character? What kind of person am I becoming by my own routines? How am I making the most of the limited time I have on this earth to care for others?
I recommend The Road, but I don’t think I’ll make it an annual reading. It is a dark and gripping story of a world that has largely lost its way and lost hope, but through the love of this father and son, a cold and unrelenting post-apocalyptic world seems like cannot hinder the power of virtue to shine forth through the darkness.
Whatever the darkness that may encompass our own lives, may we ever be mindful that faith, hope, and love abide, and even more so, may we, as we are able, seek to push back the darkness and live as ambassadors of hope.
Monday, January 02, 2017
Sometimes the hardest part of goals is coming up with them.--actually taking five minutes and writing down what you want to accomplish. But then, once you've made a list of goals, or maybe just set one goal, the appeal of waiting til tomorrow slips in. All of the reasons not to pursue the goal start calling out to you.
"I'm too busy."
"There's no time."
"What if I fail?"
"I'm making soup"~because as an old friend once told me, that's about as good as any other excuse. ;)
I'm sure you can come up with a few additional ones too. And maybe, some of these reasons are correct. More than likely they are just excuses meant to distract you. Set an intention in your mind and your heart that you will not be knocked off course by excuses--you can do this!
If these reasons are not excuses, and they have some merit, then it means you might need to think through your goal a little more, and make sure you have something tangible--if your goal is too ambiguous, then it is harder to know if you are making progress. Also make sure it is realistic--working on a project for 25 hours a day is not a realistic or possible goal, right?
Here's something I've learned through the years that has helped me set and achieve goals more effectively--making SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. So how do we make SMART goals? For instance, how could a person love their spouse better or get in shape? We know that there are people who run marathons multiple times per year--are they just naturally able to go out and run 26.2 miles (rarely, but I guess it's possible). So how does one do it? I would say it is kind of like eating an elephant (not that I believe in killing or eating elephants), you do it one bite at a time.
So let's think about a goal like "I want to be more healthy." That's a little ambiguous. How could we make that a little SMARTer?
Here's one idea. "I will walk for at 30 minutes per day, three days per week."
Will this goal make me more healthy? Yes.
Is it specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely? More than likely, yes.
May we each set and achieve goals that will help us enjoy life more, love others better, and savor the wonder of each new day! May God speed you toward realizing your goals!