Thursday, September 30, 2010

Don't Read That!

It is Banned Books Week, so I thought I'd share some banned titles (and reasons for banning) that surprised me.

Negatively portrays the logging industry

Portrays racism

Too depressing

Contains offensive words

Offensive language: "hell" and "damn"
(The greatest irony -- banning a book about the evils of banning books.)

I don't flaunt banned books, but I like Banned Books week because it reminds us to think. There are definitely books that are inappropriate for certain age groups, and there are books that even some adults would not feel comfortable reading. If you are an adult, then you can simply choose to not read a book that is offensive to you. If the concern is for a child, it is the role of the parent to help determine what is age-appropriate reading. I think we need to be careful not to shelter children too much, though. Of course The Diary of Anne Frank is depressing; it was written during the Holocaust. Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird contains racism; standing up to that racism was the focal point of the book. Explaining the context of the book seems to be a much better solution to me than banning the book entirely.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Small Things

I just read an
article and then saw a segment on the NBC Nightly News about poverty rates in the US. They didn't surprise me, but they still broke my heart. Poverty rates in the US are up, the highest they've been in over 50 years. 43.6 million Americans are considered by the government to be living in poverty, though in reality this number is much higher because of the outdated method of calculating the poverty line (from the article, "The US government considers an annual income of $21,756 to be the poverty line for a family of four").

I wish I was writing because I had a fantastic idea about how to work on a large level to eradicate poverty, in the US and worldwide. Unfortunately, this isn't the case, but I felt I had to write something. All I know to do are little things. Make donations of money, food, and clothing, no matter how small. Volunteer at a local shelter or food pantry. Pray. Love. As Mother Teresa said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Love Our Neighbors

I wrote a short post last month about interfaith harmony, but recently read an article titled "Fellow Americans' Suspicions Frustrate US Muslims" and want to share some of it. 
Nine years of denouncing terrorism, of praying side-by-side with Jews and Christians, of insisting "I'm American, too." None of it could stop a season of hate against Muslims that made for an especially fraught Sept. 11. Now, Muslims are asking why their efforts to be accepted in the United States have been so easily thwarted. ... U.S. Muslim condemnations of terrorism have failed to persuade other Americans.
 Some Americans are protesting Park51, threatening to burn the Qur'an, and vandalizing and shooting at US mosques. Why aren't we loving our neighbors?
...ignorance about what Islam teaches is widespread. More than half of respondents in a recent poll by the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life said they knew little or nothing about the Muslim faith.
"I think that part of the reason the general American public is not listening is the common human impulse to fear and mistrust what we don't know or understand," said Abdullahi An-Na'im, an expert in Islam and human rights at Emory University School of Law.
We fear what we don't understand. And we protect ourselves from feeling fear by emitting hate. It's a tragic tale that has happened countless times before in history. 

But, we can fix it. If hate comes from fear and fear comes from lack of understanding, then let's increase our understanding. Take a class, read a book or website, or have a conversation with a practicing Muslim. Islam is a peaceful religion, and Muslims are our neighbors. Let's show them some love.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Get Out!

This is my article for the October edition of my church's newsletter, the Spire.

I recently checked out a book from the public library called Get Out! 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-Ups to Get into Nature and Build a Greener Future by Judy Molland. It is a short, easy read for adults who care for children. Experiencing nature is important for children’s physical, cognitive, social, and spiritual development, and this book helps adults to nurture children’s interaction with nature.

Get Out! has five sections, and below is one of my favorite ideas from each.

Get Started: Cool Ways to Embrace Nature Today
15: Get to know local trees. Autumn is the perfect time to observe the trees in your yard or local park. Go on a walk with your child and pick up leaves as you go. Ask your child to compare the leaves’ colors and shapes, and learn what type of tree they came from.

Go Further: Projects, Plans, and Outings
52: Take nature and wildlife photography. Molland says that “everyone from small children to adults can do this, and it will develop the habit of looking closely at the world.” This is a great way to explore God’s earth with your child, and the photos can be family mementos.

Get Smart: Be Green Consumers—and Eaters!
75: Donate and purchase used clothes. The church rummage sale is the perfect place to teach your children about the environmental and economical benefits of recycling clothing. Help them to pick some of their old clothes to donate, and then take them to the rummage sale to buy a new item that they need.

Get Active: More than Just the 3 Rs
102: Make art. Molland suggests that you “see what you and your kids can make with old bottle caps, old wrappers, ribbons, bows, milk cartons, and toilet paper rolls.” Children are naturally creative and can make beautiful art out of common items that we might usually take for garbage. As I child, I loved creating crafts from bits of things that I found around the house.

Get Involved: Take a Green Stand
140: Defend an endangered species. Help your children learn about endangered species (on websites for Kid’s Planet, World Wildlife Fund, or the National Wildlife Federation) and then choose one to help protect. By making a small donation, you can adopt an endangered animal. The money goes to help protect the species, and your children usually receive additional information and a picture of their animal.

Get Out! provides fun ideas to help adults bond with their children and learn about the environment. As we help children to grow closer with nature, we are also helping them to grow closer to God.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Humanity at the Grocery Store

I went grocery shopping on Friday. This doesn't sound like anything out of the ordinary, but I rarely shop -- for anything. My amazing husband, Jason, does the majority of our grocery shopping. My desire to decrease my materialism paired with losing the salary from the job I left when I decided to give the University of Pittsburgh thousands of dollars each year has made not shopping a necessity. I occasionally use the internet to buy something we need, and once in a while I pop into the grocery store, but weeks go by without me buying anything.

So, when I do go to the store, it is always a bit of a shock. I also decided to go on the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend. Great plan for someone who gets overwhelmed by crowds, specifically rude, determined, grocery-shopping crowds. I am always amazed (read: disgusted) by the way people behave in the grocery store. They don't look where they are going with their carts, then don't say "excuse me" if they bump into you. They walk briskly as if they are on a very important mission. Why are all of you people in my way? Don't you know that I have some very important grocery shopping to do? And I need to get out of here quickly. It is very important that I buy this food as quickly as possible.

*Sigh* Why do we act like this? As though we own the world, everyone else is in our way, and that everything must be done so quickly? These feelings are contagious, and so another reason why I don't go shopping is because I can't stand how I start to feel and even act. Rudeness in others brings out my own rudeness and negative thoughts. It's terrible. How blessed are we to have a huge store filled with food, medicine, and hygiene products within minutes of where we live? I know I often take this for granted, but it is absolutely amazing when you think about it.

So, that is what I decided to do on Friday at the grocery store. I thought about my blessings, how thankful I was for each item I placed in my basket. And I smiled at other people, said "excuse me" even when it wasn't my fault, and tried very hard not to let others' negativity impact me. And then I noticed some others doing the same things. A gentleman said "pardon me" as I almost bumped into him, and he let me walk in front of him. I noticed two women with full carts on line at the self-checkout. The store was very busy, lines were long, and employees who bag groceries were scarce. Woman #1 was starting to scan her items, and woman #2, a complete stranger, offered to bag the groceries for her. Woman #1 was stunned and very gracious in expressing her thanks. Woman #2 said that it was no big deal, that she was happy to help. I smiled.

The positive things can be just as contagious as the negative. Sometimes we may just have to look a bit harder for them.