Saturday, February 21, 2009

fish are friends (not food?)

If you've got a toddler living in your house, you recognize that line. Finding Nemo's character Bruce the Shark's 12-step program for "nice sharks, not mindless eating machines" begins with a pledge that concludes with the mantra: "fish are friends, not food." Nemo is Clare's current TV obsession; so Bruce the Shark's fish-friendly mantra has been repeated about three times a day for the past week during Clare's mid-winter break. (Don't worry, we've done other stuff too--fingerpainting, trips to the playground, a quick jaunt out to Princeton to say goodbye to friends moving overseas, that sort of thing. It's not all glassy-eyed TV coma around here.) She's a mimicry machine these days and so of course, not only is Bruce repeating his mantra three times a day, Clare wants to remind me too: fish are friends, not food.

We also made a short little shopping trip and picked up Eric Carle's Mister Seahorse for Clare. It's a beautiful book, with a cute little story about (of course) Mr. Seahorse and other various fish for whom the "daddies" are the primary nurturers of their offspring. [pause for tangential children's book critique: while I love the role reversal that is the theme of the book, the Mr. and Mrs. names for all the fish pairs irk me a bit, and when Mr. Bullhead tells Mr. Seahorse proudly that his eggs have hatched and he is now "babysitting," I can't help but hear echoes of a friend's anecdote about the absurdity of calling a daddy's care of his own kids "babysitting."] Mr. Seahorse, who keeps the seahorse eggs in his pouch; Mr. Kurtus, who sticks them on his head; Mr. Pipe, who keeps them on his belly; and Mr. Tilapia, who carries them in his mouth.

On this week's menu: pecan-crusted tilapia.

I'm not sure Clare will eat it. She might refuse on toddler-intuited principle. And hell, even my vegetarian baby sister will eat fish occasionally. (Pesky-vegetarian.) (Just kidding, mei-mei. You are a delightful vegetarian who makes a kick-butt curried butternut squash bisque.)

But the problem's worse than whether or not I can convince my toddler to ignore her Nemo-indoctrination and eat her fish, because the real issue to decide beforehand is whether or not I should. Aside from the fact that my Shoprite-bargain frozen tilapia fillets hail from China rather than sustainably managed US farms, (damn! should've known), the prior philosophical dilemma of how we define food and how to eat well are raised.

This is an ongoing negotiation for me. Not convinced yet that vegetarianism is mandated, I try to at least consume meat responsibly; this means, basically, eating less meat, and whenever possible, taking into account the practices that provide our meat. (These two things are mutually reinforcing, since free-range/organic/sustainable meat is more expensive.)

Fish are friends, not food: it's a curious mantra when you get down to it, the opposition of "friends" and "food" as categories. It reminds me of one of Mary Warren's seven multileveled criteria for personhood, specific personal relationship. She argues that even if you don't consider cats (for example) as "persons" categorically speaking, you're pretty likely to consider your own cat a "person," or something like a person, because you have a relationship with that specific cat. Now this makes sense, but by itself, the logic is inadequate. The big loophole of course is that we could turn it around and say, "I don't know you personally therefore you are not a person"--leading to a great rationalization for, say, killing people in a war. Just for example. We have a word for this of course: dehumanization. (Warren's proposal balances this criterion with several others, so this is not a criticism of her proposal as a whole.)

Fish are friends, not food: what kind of relationship is necessary with another creature to preclude categorizing it as 'food'? Pretty much everyone will stop short of human cannibalism; pretty much everyone would refuse to eat their own pet; pretty much everyone would refuse to eat other animals of the same kind as their pet. This is true even in places in China where dog is an acceptable meat for some dishes; I learned in Changsha that there is a particular breed of dog for eating, and it is not a dog one would keep as a pet--it has its own distinct ontological category. I wonder if people who keep aquariums feel queasy about eating fish. I bet most of them, like dog-eaters, accommodate by drawing more specific ontological boundaries.

What will I tell Clare? Will she connect the pecan-crusted tilapia fillet on her plate to Nemo and Mr. Tilapia, the good daddy fish with his mouth full of baby fish eggs? Or will there be an obvious and distinct ontological boundary provided, courtesy of the rounded edge of her plate--separating food from the rest of the natural world--to prevent her from making that connection?

The truth is, "there is no way to eat and not to kill, no way to eat and not to become-with other mortal beings to whom we are accountable, no way to pretend innocence or transcendence or a final peace" (D. Haraway, When Species Meet, 295). But this admission is no blank check, as if by acknowledging that we live via the practice of consuming our others, we put ourselves beyond redemption and therefore accountability. It matters how we eat, by what lives and in what we ways we sustain ourselves. Recognizing that the category of "food" overlaps with the categories of other creatures with whom we have relationship (acknowledged or not, functional or dysfunctional, personal or not, sustainable or unsustainable) is part of what it must mean to well, and not blindly. Bruce reassures us: "I am a nice shark, not a mindless eatin' machine." We too can at least aspire to be more than mindless eating machines. That fillet in my freezer is a fish: once a living, swimming creature with physical needs and competencies and intents, different from my own, but no less vital from the fish's point of view. Perhaps that fish once carried his baby fish eggs in his mouth, like Mr. Tilapia of Eric Carle's story. If Clare can make that connection, how can I deny it? Certainly not without distorting reality for the sake of maintaining a false purity of boundaries in pursuit of the innocence Donna Haraway assures me does not exist--and which, in the end, if she learns anything from me, she will dismantle as an adult. Maybe it's too difficult a truth for a toddler to understand, that killing and eating cannot be hygienically separated...and yet, Nemo's mommy gets eaten, as do all his siblings, at the very beginning of that Disney narrative; and Bruce the Shark's mantra is bookended by Nigel the pelican's dry comment, "Fish gotta swim, birds gotta eat."

Friday, February 20, 2009


Awhile back I was invited to contribute to ACU Press's The Transforming Word, a one-volume commentary on the Bible. My essay is in the background knowledge section, on the topic of religion and science as it relates to biblical interpretation. It's a brief general essay aimed at making one very simple point: there's no good reason to assume that Christianity is or should be anti-science.
from the essay: "Dialogue permits exchange in a way that acknowledges the integrity of science and religion as distinct sources of knowledge while insisting that they cannot remain strictly independent. This type of relationship strikes a balance between the necessary autonomy of individual disciplines and the holistic nature of the human search for understanding. In dialogue, science and religion are equal partners investigating areas of common interest: the natural world, human nature, and the question of how God acts in the world.

But it is a little misleading to suggest that a single dialogue exists. In reality, there are dialogues between particular sciences and particular religions and theologies on particular topics. Conversations about human nature, for example, may engage biology, psychology, and anthropology, while conversations about nature may partner with physics and chemistry. The conclusions reached in these specific conversations may differ from each other, or there may be no conclusions reached at all. But this should be no surprise to theologians and Christians in general, who, after all, ought perhaps to be more sensitive to the limitations of human rationality than anyone else. Human reason is fallible, so all conclusions must be open to continued examination.

Finally, unpredictability in the dialogue between religion and science is a fact to be accepted, if the conversation is really to be genuine...We cannot afford to ignore that dialogue brings with it the possibility of disagreement, if it is in fact an honest conversation. Yet there is a positive side to this as well: dissonance often opens the door for renewed investigation and creativity. It is only when conflict is assumed to be a permanent and inevitable condition that it becomes detrimental to dialogue, because the motivation to find resolution disappears.

You can check out the list of contributors, etc., here. If you're looking for one great big giant book all about the Bible, this might be the one for you...:)

Monday, February 16, 2009

sometimes communal discernment sucks

You know in the abstract, "communal discernment" sounds so very peaceful. Like we're all sitting around humming "om" in the lotus position until we all get the same simultaneous epiphany. Hrmph.

I am, actually, very committed to the idea that dissensus is often more generative and creative and healthy than easy consensus. (Sheep achieve easy consensus. So do lemmings.) But voicing disagreements, hearing people out, and working out exactly what it is you don't agree with and why are painful and difficult tasks--especially when the issues at hand really matter.

I'm not good at this. I like to think a lot but I like to think by myself. My tendency in a group is to stay in listening mode--to absorb as much as possible, and take it home to ruminate upon until I've analyzed everything to my satisfaction. Then, at that point, I have lots of opinions to offer with very good reasons attached to them. Then, at that point, of course, I'm all by myself--the communal bit of the discernment gets a bit lost in my processing. Maybe this is just the natural tendency of the academic mind, but I suspect that a great deal of it also still centers around my reluctance to disagree publicly with people. (The blog has helped...but I remain a G.R.I.T.S. after all. Next time I wear my "this is what a feminist looks like" T-shirt, I'm going to feel like a fraud without one of those Cracker Barrel G.R.I.T.S. ball caps to counter-message it.)

We've spent a good amount of time lately discussing what our vision for CCfB's future is, or can be. Unsurprisingly there is dissensus. Theoretically I still maintain that this is a good thing, but concretely, it also sucks. It also sucks that I still feel like I'm trying to play catch-up on the details, and that I have to try to listen and learn and think while policing my 2-YO's really loud comments about her goldfish (the crackers, not the swimming kind). It also really sucks that I'm missing next Sunday's discussion, so I'm putting down some (belated) thoughts about the bits of the discussion I have been a part of. Because that's what a blog is for.
  1. For me--and possibly for others who have been around from the beginning, or for long enough to have seen how CCfB has evolved over the last few years--there was an unnoticed and even in retrospect undiscernible point at which it stopped feeling iffy, and I began taking for granted that CCfB was just going to be there. (If there's any measure of "success" for a church plant, I think this should be it.) Losing that feeling of stability and being thrown back into iffy-ness is difficult. Panic is the right word for my initial response to that; that describes my initial post fairly well.
  2. I heard more than one comment to the effect that Sunday is the highlight of the week for many people. It is for me. That seems to me to be a clear signal that whatever we do, part of our shaping vision needs to honor that. I also heard this being analyzed as social time, being able to be together with people you relate to who are going through similar struggles and who share somewhat similar beliefs. I don't disagree with that necessarily--but at the same time I'm aware that part of CCfB's vision has always been inclusivity and not homogeneity. We are in some ways a diverse community--and in some ways we are not. I would like to see us continue to reach out beyond the comfortable 'image of the same.'
  3. House churches. Of course, we started out as a "house church" since we did after all meet in Joe and Laura's house. By the time we moved from there into our second location at the YWCA, we were really outgrowing it. If we go back to a house church model it will mean multiple house churches--a major decentralizing move. I left the small group discussion right as the invitation to those who have house church experience to share it was issued, so I don't know how that discussion concluded. But my 2 cents: I don't think it's the way to go. Particularly because so many people have stated that Sundays are the highlight of their week--if being together is what does that, and that's important to us, it seems obvious that not being together blatantly disregards that. Beyond that...well, I suspect that most people probably assume doing house church is easier than doing, um, church church. In my experience, it's not. It's harder. Creating liturgy--making possible a genuine and collective worship--is hard work even if you're in the best of all possible spaces, (say, for example, Calvary Episcopal Church) with organ and talented choir and multiple staff on hand to handle the details. People work hard every week at CCfB to transform the very mundane space of elementary school cafeteria into a space where God's presence is clearly signified. This isn't busy work--it's part of worship, and it's sacramental work to set up the chairs and lay out the red carpet on which our 'altar' bears it sacraments of bread and, well, most of the time, grape juice. Working this transformation in a cafeteria is hard enough; working it in your living room is damn near impossible. I've lost count how many times I was frustrated in China by having my careful preparation of our "sacred space" in our living room completely ignored by people putting everything from songbooks to feet on the coffee table serving as our altar, right next to the elements. Loss of sacred space slides easily into loss of sacred time. House churches get sloppy and lax and no one cares; besides, there's no one in charge to do something about it even if they did. Which reminds me of my first year in China, right out of Harding, discovering the hard way that I actually had theological convictions and opinions (and no one gave a crap about them). I was just the hostess: my job was to clean my house every week and make the communion bread (without sugar!!!) and scour the city for decent grape juice (hard to find in 1998 Wuhan). The boys would take care of everything else--except they didn't. And I was furious that the going assumption was that someone could saunter in late, assign worship leadership roles on the spot ("wanna do communion today? um, okay") because there was no forethought put to what should have been sacred time. I tried to organize things--to no avail. When no one's in charge, nothing gets done ahead of time. This is not how things go down at CCfB currently--or ever. We honor our time together and use it well. But the amount of forethought and planning that goes into that time happens between Sundays, and maybe we take it for granted, or don't realize that it's getting done. Or maybe it's not viewed as being as important as social justice involvement in the community, or the relationships between individuals that we all treasure as part of what defines us. But I think that's wrong. Without deliberate, purposeful time spent communally in worship, the consequence will be losing the source of spiritual nurture that so many people have straightforwardly stated they rely on week to week. We must find some way to make this happen--and this will be difficult, because in this we have relied on Joe and Laura both almost exclusively. I don't think it's impossible; there are plenty of talented people in our midst--though I think we will experience a learning curve as we adjust, and figure out who needs to pick up what. But we really can't afford to remain ignorant about this need or let it go unaddressed. Finally...I think house churches tend to become insular, turned in on themselves, and CCfB has always tried to avoid the tempation that churches have to look inward only and to be a locally involved, active community. In a crisis that's what you do--look inward. But it's also not CCfB. If we are going to make it through this transformation without losing who we are, I think we've got to try very hard not to forget this defining aspect of our communal identity. [I would rather see CCfB make a move toward merging with another body than shrink back in on itself in a mimicry of the form if not the spirit of CofC sectarianism (Brent points out, there's an Epicopal church in the neighborhood...:) It occurs to me that perhaps some of us are pretty sour on organized, institutional religion at the moment, and house churches may therefore seem all the more attractive, existing on the opposite end of the spectrum. I get it. But the opposite of organized religion is...disorganized religion. Appealing? Not really.]
  4. Maybe there has been some detailed discussion about taking care of Joe and Laura while they transition, but if so, I've missed it. Maybe we're all still panicking too much about what the sudden precariousness of CCfB's future means for me to have begun thinking outside ourselves to consider what it means for the Hays family. Sure, there's a limit to what CCfB can do--if we could do what we wanted then they wouldn't be going anywhere. But even beyond showing some gratitude for the work they have done and continue to do, I think we all ought to be mindful of the fact that they're taking a hit for us--making a sacrifice themselves because they won't ask us to sacrifice ourselves in attempting the impossible. If that's not Christ-like then I haven't seen it yet. And we ought to honor that by doing everything possible--including simply reminding them how much we love them, but making sure that we do our part financially as well. Picking up the increasing percentage of Joe's salary that MCofC is dropping starting in March is the minimum IMO. Churches should take care of their people. CCfB has done this for various members as there has been need--including me!--and this is no different.

***update to #4: apparently this was agenda item #1 for the first major discussion of the transition team folks. Have I mentioned that I love my church? I really do.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

P.S.: sometimes all six verses of "Just as I Am" are comforting.

So, I had a bad week this past week; I couldn't concentrate, couldn't focus, couldn't think very well and certainly couldn't write. I was totally exhausted from the moment Clare came elephant-thumping (the pitter-patter of little feet stuff is all propaganda, folks) into the bedroom to help us greet the dawn until falling back into bed at night--exhausted but unable to relax and get to sleep. I got through the days by deliberately overdosing on caffeine in various forms. Then, Thursday night, I drank a bottle of wine (unaided) and ate some macaroni and cheese comfort food, slept like the dead and woke up Friday feeling relatively awesome. I must have seriously frakked up neurochemistry.

Anyhow, after that unexpected jolt back into normal physical functioning, for which I'm ever so grateful, I'm a little more even-keeled. Brent said something absolutely sensible to me in the midst of my resveratrol (read: red wine) consumption. He often says absolutely sensible things, so that's not remarkable in itself. I often disregard these things, which is stupid but unfortunately unremarkeable as well. This time however I had ears for hearing it.

So, here's the thing. I added a whole layer of personal crisis on the stay-or-go question on top of the real CCfB crisis, which was maybe not totally unjustified, but a little blown out of proportion. Brent's sensible comment was: CCfB is still what it is, and if that's not connected enough to the CofC to satisfy people, then there are a whole bunch of other things they're not going to hire you for anyhow. So why sweat it. And this is so obviously true that I stopped sweating it right then and there. I resolved a long time ago that the CofC was going to have to take me "just as I am." I do not want to find myself feeling compelled to dissemble, evade and deny my theological convictions in order to land a job, keep a job, or just in general stay a part of the church tradition that I consider my home. Just as I am--or not.

So maybe it wasn't the wine. Maybe I just have an awesome husband who, in addition to being able to absolve sins and stuff, can absolve anxieties as well.

Happy Valentine's Day, babe. I'm glad I remembered to buy you some chocolate. Thanks for sticking with me.

Friday, February 13, 2009


I know it's actually tomorrow, but St. Stephens Preschool is celebrating today, and Clare and I have spent the last couple evenings at the kitchen table making 43 valentines for the intermediate class of 2's and 3's. Yes, I said 43. We did it too. It took some time, and I'm now completely out of stickers, and our construction paper hearts with random stickers on them (Easter stickers, NYC stickers, cowboy stickers, ABC stickers, animals and birds and flowers and everything in the world except, you know, hearts!) are not going to win any arts-and-crafts prizes, but she put the stickers on them her own self, and proudly posted them into her friends' paper bags this morning. It was delightful.

So, that's great and all, and I like how having a little kid's perspective on Valentine's makes it so sweetly about friendship and inclusion--it's a nice break from the cloying romance and chocolate version, which of course puts my back up not only because I, like practically every other woman I know, has had some dreadful and traumatic Valentine's Day experience to poison it, but also because all the romance and chivalry and whatnot is so dependent on notions of the feminine and masculine and I would prefer to trash the medieval pedestal rather than climb upon it. But really, V-Day was redeemed for me when I participated in PTS's production of the Vagina Monologues, three years ago now I guess (it was B.C.--before Clare--by about 4 months). I like the irony of taking a day that consistently places women in that submissive recipient position and making it about empowerment.

If you've never seen the Monologues or have no idea what V-Day is, check it out. Chances are there's a production near you.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

It's a hard thing to have a blog specifically for processing the stuff you find hard to talk about (or lack the audience for talking about with?) and then find yourself with the need to process something that you feel is too iffy for the blog, for whatever reason. This is partly why I try not to remember how many people I know who seem to read this blog (for whatever reason; it kindof mystifies me) even though I've discovered in doing this that I need to feel that there is some kind of "audience" for these words in order to have the motivation to set them down...but I digress. Get used to it because for this post I'm not aiming for coherence or any kind of narrative structure or any kind of thematic point whatsoever. I just need to barf it all up. That seems to be my motif this week. I'm over my physical stomach bug at this point, with its attendant nausea and the vomiting so violent I wet my pants every time I hurled, but I'm a bit soul-sick and there's no cure for nausea of the spirit. Other than just trying to get it all out, I guess.

It's been a week since CCfB learned that we were losing Joe and Laura. Like everyone else, I guess, my first reaction was simply anger. Not at them; it's clear that they are doing the only possible and sensible thing given the situation. My anger is more for them--born out of a sense that they deserve better than to be dropped without ceremony at a particularly vulnerable time. Secondarily, I feel a bit of the same on behalf of CCfB as a community, that we deserve better than to be dropped without warning at a particularly critical time. But even that is secondary to just being plain pissed off, with the frustrated sense that, in the body of Christ, we're supposed to be about taking care of people, not shoving them out the door with apparent indifference to the personal and communal consequences.

For all of that it is only fair to say that I know pretty much nothing about how and why Manhattan CofC chose this time to begin termination of their financial support for CCfB, and my anger about it--I know myself well enough to know this--is more about my personal tendency for coping with grief than it is about anything anyone has actually done, or not done. Like all the women in my family, I do mad a whole lot easier than sad. Hand me a tragedy and I'll hit you back with some righteous rage. It's not, probably, the most balanced way to handle shit, but I have never claimed to be balanced.

So was mad for a few days and then I was throwing up, and then everyone else was throwing up, and that kind of eclipsed things. It wasn't till I was sitting in church today that the sadness actually hit, and then I found that I couldn't trust myself to speak enough to answer the question, "how are you processing things?" I figured it probably wasn't going to be helpful to have someone start weeping on the front row, so I took a few minutes in the back to compose myself. It's nice to be known as such a die-hard coffee addict that no one thinks twice when you get up in the middle of church, just figures you're going for a refill.

So now I'm sad, which I find much harder to handle than mad, and having spent some time on the train in transit without the distraction of Clare, I'm realizing just how much of a crisis this is--for me, a realization I've been staving off with the help of anger (and vomit).

First, it's impossible to avoid realizing now how much harder it's been to remain a real part of CCfB after our move to NJ than I thought it would be, and admitting that really, the last few months, I'm barely there. There's not much I volunteer for anymore, because I know how unreliable I am and I figure it's worse to say you'll do something and not than to not confuse the issue by volunteering when I shouldn't. I would love to be on the teaching rotation again, but my attendance, while theoretically every other week, gets preempted by everything from stomach bugs to choir concerts and somehow, inevitably, it seems I am there one Sunday out of four every month. Realizing this makes me sad.

Second. I've been very conscious the last few years of what a haven CCfB has been for me as a somewhat alienated theologian within the Churches of Christ. (side note: "alienated theologian" is a reference to a bit of commentary in Paul Tillich's Systematic Theology, vol. 1; it's not a complaint, just descriptive of the odd relation in which theologians often find themselves with respect to their ecclesial communities.) On a personal level, being involved in a church in which I did not feel obligated to hide either my interest in theology nor my actual theological opinions offered a kind of healing I didn't even know I needed until I experienced it; being able to preach, to create liturgies, to pray--all that offered a healing that I knew I needed and had never been hopeful of getting. On a pragmatic level, being a theologian hopeful of gainful employment someday in the future and hoping that CofC schools would consider me a candidate, CCfB functioned as my official tie to the institution. (For my non-CofC readers, in a denomination with no denominational structure, an institution that exists without any actual institution-ing, the only way to be officially CofC is to be a recognized member of a CofC congregation.) For years now I have been able to say "I'm a member of a Manhattan CofC sponsored church plant" when inquiring minds wanted to know. Now my dodge won't work anymore. Personally, I think CCfB as a community needs to go its own way at this point, and not regret the loss of official (=financial) ties to the Churches of Christ. But what that means for me personally is that I am now faced with the necessity of finding another way to validate my ties to the CofC world--or entertain a question I was hoping to avoid for at least another decade: is it time for me to leave the Churches of Christ? I am not ready to face that question. Part of the CCfB crisis for me is that it seems I cannot avoid it, because my haven is disappearing.

Finally. As if the above were not existential/spiritual/pragmatic-career-choice crisis enough, I found myself crying on the way home when I realized that there's a reason I introduce Joe to the people he's met here in Summit, not simply as my friend, but as my "pastor." Because he is, has been. And, though this may sound odd to you, he's the only pastor I have ever had. Things are different when you're a PK, and married to a priest. And in losing Joe and Laura for the reasons we are--we simply cannot support a full-time minister on our own yet--means that it's not just that I am losing my first and only pastor in exchange for some unknown replacement. There is no replacement. There is no successor. I am losing my pastor.

I have no doubt that CCfB will continue. And I have no doubt that the future is a beautiful one. I wish that I could be a stronger participant in bringing it about, but the truth is, I probably can't be--though I plan to stick around, at least. Despite my confidence in this community that I dearly love, the unwanted unwelcome truth is that CCfB will no longer be the haven for me that it has been, and I have some hard questions to confront.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The American Way of Life, Obama, and a short list that ends with poop

Here's a short list of the easiest things I've done over the years to green up my lifestyle and household:
  1. Buy the squiggly light bulbs. Duh.
  2. Tack the city's recycling info sheet on the fridge right next to the trash can. I've been amazed at how many items I've automatically gone to the trash with, and then stopped when I realized that they were recyclable and I just hadn't made the connection.
  3. Washing in cold water only. It really does get clothes just as clean, so unless there's a reason to sanitize in hot water, I don't.
  4. Buying a CSA share. We loved our first summer at Honey Brook, but the year after waited too long and couldn't get a share. After that we were too transitional to figure it out. This year we're splitting a boxed share from Honey Brook with our neighbors (who, if you're a Calvary person, you of course know, but I like to be careful with putting people's names on this blog unless I have permission, or know them well enough to not care if they hate it.) If you're not local, you can check out to find a CSA near you.
  5. Cloth napkins. Brent's mom finds a reliable abundant supply of these at estate sales, so they are free (to us), washable of course, a lot nicer to look at than paper, and do a better job of getting Clare's hands and face clean.
  6. Hanging the tote bags for the grocery store on the door handle. It's the only thing that cured my constant forgetfulness when I was trying to cultivate the habit. Now it's a habit, and the tote bags live in a less intrusive place. They are so much easier than either paper or plastic, IMO, because they hold a ton more stuff and there is no worry about breakage. I can almost always bring the groceries in from the car to the kitchen in one trip. Nice when I'm generally also herding Clare into the house at the same time.
  7. Sigg bottles. Thank you Sylva's Nana! I love mine, Brent loves his, Clare loves hers. We have lessened our demand for wasteful plastic bottles and are better hydrated to boot.
  8. Always printing on both sides of the (recycled) printer paper, or, if using less than a full page for multiple copies of something, squishing it down and using half sheets to hand out. Joe's made fun of my CCfB handouts for this (but in a mostly nice way. I think.)
  9. Using and loving Method products. Like the wood floor cleaner and the mop with the reusable cloth you toss in the wash. And the dishwasher pellets. And laundry detergent. And rediscovering how awesome baking soda is for kitchen and bathroom cleaning, and laundry.
  10. Breastfeeding. Think about it. No bottle, no formula packages...
  11. The Diva Cup!!!! I can't tell you how happy I am with this. Been using it for 2 years now. How many tampons have I not used in that time? No idea, but what I really love about it is the luxury of actually forgetting I am on my period for hours at a time. Seriously. Comfortable, simple, easy.
  12. Putting the poop in the potty before putting the diaper in the pail. Yep, Clare's not pooping direct yet, but her poop goes in the potty. Turns out this is 'sposed to be how you handle all 'sposies.
So, I was thinking about this in the shower (perhaps washing with the Holy Cross Monastery's blackberry sage soap inspired my holier-than-thou thoughts?) and this was my short list. It's not really meant as self-congratulatory at all, because all of these things are very small things. Not like getting rid of the family car, or something. Plus, one thing I really wish I could list, but can't: cloth diapers. We didn't do it because of our living situation (communal laundry seemed an insuperable stumbling block), but it would have saved us tons of money, Clare would perhaps be potty trained already, and of course, no enormous bags of stinky disposable diapers piling up week after week.

I would love to hear back from some of you if there are other easy, simple things you've done that you would include on your own list.

But there's a larger point lurking here as well, and that is, these little things represent a deliberate modification of what we might label "JTB's Way of Life." I may have bitched about this phrase, "way of life," on this blog before--I don't remember. I don't remember because I bitch about it so often that I'm like one of those absentminded professors, or preachers, who keeps telling the same anecdotes to an audience who's heard it all before. Because I hate it. I especially hate it in the specific version we hear so often, "The American Way of Life." My automatic reaction to this phrase at this point is to snort derisively and mutter, "and WTF does that mean anyway?"

And then, damn it, Obama went and used it in his inauguration speech. And worse, defended it. And worse, said we won't apologize for it. If I were a cartoon character, my eyes would have bugged out and there would have been funny sound effects accompanying my "whaaaaaa?" headshake.

Because "The American Way of Life" is never defined, simply invoked--whenever we need an ironclad, ask-no-more-questions reason for doing, you know, X (fill in the blank: go to war, torture people, enact a law or amend the constitution get it.) Our American Way of Life may be a blank concept, but it's a sacred blank concept, and one that you can properly consider the possibility of consigning your eternal soul to hell for defending, if that's what it takes.

But here's the thing. While Obama's inauguration speech overtly praised and promised to defend Our Sacred American Way of Life, it also more subtly made a case for the ways in which we must redefine that way of life and the reasons why. So...I'm on board with that, and kudos to the man once again for some kick-ass rhetorical strategy. Once we have a collective way of life that doesn't require apologizing for, I'm all for defending it without apology.

It seems to me that there's an assumption that making any kind of real change to how we live means massive inconvenience and difficulty, and so people avoid even contemplating it. Let's just not think about it, because if we did, then we would have to change, and that would just be too much to ask...I mean, really, that would be asking us to Change Our Way of Life. But my point is that redefining The American Way of Life doesn't have to be scary or too difficult to bother contemplating. There's not a single thing in my opening list that has made the quality of my life worse by doing it. There's not a single thing on that list that even qualifies as inconvenient. Sure, it takes a little work to remember the tote bags. But they work better. For me, and for everyone else too.