Saturday, October 24, 2015

Book Review -- Law of the Jungle, by Paul M. Barrett

In the 1990s, Lawyer Steven Donziger took on Texaco in a class-action suit on behalf of poor farmers and indigenous people in Ecuador. Texaco, which had been drilling for oil in Ecuador for decades, eventually merged with Chevron. The class action suit, which sought reparations for environmental damages and illnesses suffered by thousands of Ecuadorian people, resulted in a $19 billion judgement against Chevron.

In his book Law of the Jungle, journalist Paul M. Barrett describes how Donziger's initial good intentions deteriorated into coercion, manipulation of evidence, and an eventual racketeering claim by Chevron against Donziger. Barrett gives a detailed account of the environmental, health, and economical grounds for the class-action suit against Texaco/Chevron, as well as the freewheeling, questionable tactics used by Donziger in the case. After winning the largest environmental damages award in history against Chevron, Donziger faced accusations of fraud, bribery, and other illegal and unethical acts.

I was impressed by the author's evenhanded approach to this book. Paul M. Barrett gives just as much attention to the injustices and tragedies suffered by the Ecuadorian people as he does to the racketeering claims against Donziger. Stating that "Donziger's deeds do not, however, exonerate the oil companies or the government of Ecuador," Barrett describes Texaco's failure to enact adequate safety and cleanup measures. Barrett points out that the oil company could have avoided costly litigation if it had ensured proper environmental and health standards.

Law of the Jungle is a great read -- a page-turner as engaging as any fictional political thriller. Unfortunately, the story is indeed true, and the suffering of the poor people of Ecuador continues. This book is a pointed reminder of the power of unchecked ego, and the high-stakes temptation to let the ends justify the means. I highly recommend this book to readers who are interested in environmental and legal issues, as well as anyone looking for in informative yet engaging book.

For more information about Law of the Jungle, click here. To learn more about the author and journalist Paul M. Barrett, click here.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Compassion International Textbook Fund -- Helping Kids Dream Big

Join the Compassion Blogger Network

Here in the United States, Labor Day weekend has passed and school doors have reopened. When the days start to shorten and the sunlight shimmers just so on the living room walls, I remember the challenges and joys of my own childhood school days. I realize now how blessed I was to be able to wear nice clothes and carry my new book bag on the first day of school.

Around the world, 80 percent of primary-school-age children are able to attend school. In the poorest countries, however, too many children are unable to go to school or even learn to read. For example, only 66 percent of children in the least developed countries go to school, and only 49 percent of secondary-school-age children are in school.

Girls are particularly affected by this disparity. Girls make up 53 percent of primary-school-aged kids and 52 percent of secondary school-aged kids who are not in school. Of the 130 million children who do not attend school and are functionally illiterate, 73 million are girls.

The good news is that caring people are helping children to break the barrier of extreme poverty. Compassion International is a faith-based, child-centered organization that works to release children from poverty. For a little over a year, I have been sponsoring a child through Compassion International. Her name is Joan and she lives in Uganda. In her letters, she often mentions her dream of becoming a nurse so that she can help the sick -- and I want her to know that she is worthy of that dream.

If you would like to learn more about helping children dream big, Compassion International's Text Book Fund is a good place to start. Donations enable Compassion to purchase textbooks and other learning materials for children at their child development centers. And while you're on the website, you can learn about sponsoring a child.

I have watched Joan, my sponsored child, express better and greater plans for her future. Every child deserves this chance to know that they are loved and valued!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Remember Human Trafficking Victims This Labor Day

In the United States, Labor Day was approved as a legal holiday in 1894. It is a day to pay tribute to the contributions of workers, and to remember the sacrifices that led to improved safety and working conditions. It's also a good day to learn about a form of labor that sadly still exists in the United States and the rest of the world: slavery and human trafficking. We can learn to recognize the warning signs of labor trafficking and help put an end to this practice.

Modern-day slavery often occurs in plain sight, in businesses ranging from farms to nail salons. Domestic servants and door-to-door sales crews --whether foreign nationals or United States citizens -- may be victims of trafficking. According to the International Labour Organization, women and girls make up 55 percent of trafficking victims worldwide. Ninety percent of trafficked individuals are exploited in the private sector, and 68 percent of these victims perform forced labor in areas such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction, and domestic servitude.

Traffickers use tactics such as intimidation, lies, violence, and recruitment debt to keep trafficked laborers in slavery. The most vulnerable people --- migrant laborers and runaways, for example -- are often enticed with false promises of prosperity.

Fortunately, everyone can learn the warning signs of labor trafficking. Informed people can learn to spot the signs and report a tip without endangering themselves or the victims. Here are a few indicators, among many others, that a worker may be a victim of trafficking:

  • Worker is not allowed to speak without a third party
  • Worker does not have control over personal identification documents
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts or location
  • Appears malnourished or physically abused
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Reluctance or fearfulness at the topic of law enforcement
  • Vague or inconsistent information about employer
Find out more about reporting suspected trafficking at the National Human Trafficking Resource Center web page. There you will learn important information, including how to report a tip using the hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BeFree (233733). 

Knowledge is power, so let's set aside some time this Labor Day weekend to learn about this illegal and abusive form of labor. We really can make a difference!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Snow Monkey Named Carly: Lessons in Hope and Compassion

I have always been saddened and angered when I see reports of poaching and exploitation of animals. After the recent news coverage of the killing of Cecil the lion and the practice of trophy hunting, I searched for a way that I could join in the work to protect wildlife. I have always admired the conservation work of Born Free USA  -- part of the Born Free Foundation in the UK, which was founded by actress Virginia McKenna and her son, Will Travers. McKenna and her late husband, Bill Travers, portrayed Joy and George Adamson in the 1966 movie Born Free, which tells the true story of Elsa the lioness and her return to the wild.   

A couple of weeks ago, I read about the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary, which is located near San Antonio, Texas. The sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates abused primates including macaques or snow monkeys, baboons and vervets. The primates have previously lived as exotic pets in cages, or as laboratory animals. At the sanctuary, they can live in a natural, free-range environment that resembles their native habitats.

I decided to sponsor one of the animals at the sanctuary -- a Japanese macaque named Carly. Today, I received a special packet in the mail, which included a photo of Carly, as well as a certificate, a pin, and newsletters from Born Free USA.

Like the Japanese macaque in the image below, Carly has thick, grayish fur and loves to climb trees and forage for nuts, fruits and insects. In their native habitat in the mountains of Japan, macaques live in colonies and form strong social bonds.

Japanese macaques are native to the mountains of Japan.
Image by Yiannis Theologos Michellis via Flickr.

I read that before she arrived at the Born Free Primate Sanctuary in 2005, Carly had not been able to do any of these things. Kept as a "pet" in a garage, she spent all her time in a small cage that had been welded shut, with no sunshine, no climbing, and no fresh air. The floor of the cage was littered with rotting junk food and waste. Perhaps most damaging of all, Carly was isolated and had no social interaction -- and showed signs of malnutrition and abnormal behavior. At the Born Free sanctuary, months passed before Carly was able to bond with other macaques.

As I looked at Carly's picture and read her story, I was grateful to learn that she now lives with two other snow monkeys who had had similar traumas. In their huge enclosure, they can climb, eat, and socialize in a natural environment with a tree, grass, shrubs and a skyway. Eventually, Carly and her companions will probably live in the free-range section of the sanctuary. 

Snow monkeys grooming
Image by Petra Bensted via Flickr

I love reading and sharing this story of hope, healing and compassion. With hard work and dedication from Born Free USA and similar organizations, animals who have been neglected, isolated, and traumatized actually help each other heal. Maybe we humans can learn a thing or two from these beautiful creatures. Amid the horrifying stories of trophy hunting and poaching, we can promote healing and hope, one animal at a time.

For more information on sponsoring a primate at the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary, visit this page

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book Review: The Underground Girls of Kabul, by Jenny Nordberg

In a society segregated by gender, women and girls in Afghanistan usually live in the shadows. From the moment a girl is born in Afghanistan, she is seen as a liability rather than a gift. As a teenager, she will likely find herself in an arranged marriage; as a woman, she will be unable to leave her home unless she is escorted by a male blood relative. When she ventures outdoors, she will be expected to wear a head-to-toe covering known as a burka, which has only a small mesh opening in front of her eyes.

In The Underground Girls of Kabul, journalist Jenny Nordberg uncovers a little-known practice among families without sons in Afghanistan. Some families temporarily raise their girls as boys, in order to obtain the family honor that goes with having a son. Known as bacha posh, these girls dress and live as boys, usually until they reach their childbearing years. Then they must change their gender identities once again, as their families negotiate arranged marriages.

In her book, Nordberg follows the stories of several bacha posh and their families. These underground girls experience the privileges and freedoms of being male, only to be forced into the shadows at puberty, where they must learn to stay indoors, speak softly and avoid eye contact with men who are not their blood relatives.

Ms. Nordberg explains that in spite of attempts to improve women's rights, vestiges of the harsh Taliban laws remain in Afghanistan. In fact, she notes that many of the Afghan rules that govern the lives of women pre-date Islam. One woman named Azita -- a former bacha posh and later a member of Parliament -- recalls learning how to walk slowly in a burka so that her ankles would not show. Another asks "how many people must I be" after many transitions from girl to bacha posh to bride to divorced woman after her husband announced that he was leaving her. In Afghanistan, a woman is considered still married to her husband if he initiates the divorce -- one of many impossible situations for women in that country.

I found The Underground Girls of Kabul to be a well-documented, fascinating look into a world largely unknown by the West. The author describes every conversation, every meal, and every household with such detail, I felt as though I knew these women personally. I highly recommend this book to anyone who seeks a greater understanding of the lives of women in Afghanistan.

For more information about the author, Jenny Nordberg, click here. You can find more information about the book at Penguin Random House.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books for this review.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Book Review: Versions of the Self, by Christy Birmingham

Words have the power to inspire and heal. Poetry often has an especially transformative effect on the reader. An example is the poetry collection titled Versions of the Self, by Christy Birmingham. In the preface, Ms. Birmingham writes, "I encourage readers to find brand new ways of seeing their surroundings, in the hopes that it makes the colors that surround them shine a little brighter."

Versions of the Self is divided into sections -- or "selves" -- of poems that explore relationships, growth and the poet's perception of the world around her. For example, the book starts with the section "The Self: I."  In one of the section's poems, "Bottom of a Waterway," resiliency of the spirit is reflected in these lines: 

"And, in turn, through our meeting of 
Weeds, water and whimsy, 
I tell my self that it is okay to start at the bottom - 

Other sections in this poetry collection include "I, Uncertain," "I, You, and Effects," "Us, In Friendship," and "The Future Selves." Within each section, each poem shares wisdom from the poet's personal journey. These lines from "See My Sense of Self" remind us that we can rely on our own wisdom:

"Here is my sense of self, 
Here I am strong and focused, 
Putting my needs first. 
I realize that it is a proud moment." 

I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful volume of poetry, and look forward to returning to its pages in the future. I highly recommend Versions of the Self  to anyone who loves words that uplift and encourage. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

It's a Start -- Why We Need to Talk About the Confederate Flag

A poem by Maya Angelou, at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial

Since the murder of nine African American people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the symbolism of the Confederate battle flag has rightly been a hot topic. The flag flies on the grounds of the South Carolina and Alabama state capitols, and is part of the state flags of Georgia and Mississippi. Elements and earlier versions of the flag can also be seen in the Alabama, Arkansas and Florida state flags.

This national discussion about the Confederate flag is long overdue. Some see the Confederate flag as a relic of a long-ago Civil War. The flag, however, has a much more recent history as a hurtful symbol of racism, segregation and violence.

The Dixiecrats

In 1948, President Truman -- a Democrat -- proposed civil rights legislation that included provisions to repeal the poll tax and make lynching a federal crime. The Democratic party also included a civil rights plank in that year's Presidential campaign. Southern Democrats who opposed these measures formed a segregationist political party known as the Dixiecrats, who adopted the Confederate flag as their symbol.

Although Truman was elected in 1948, the Dixiecrats won in Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana. The Dixiecrat party no longer exists, but the party's legacy continued in the form of resistance against desegregation. In the years that followed, people who happened to be African American and who simply wanted to vote, go to school or sit at a lunch counter faced intimidation and violence -- including four little girls who were killed in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.

Desegregation Opponents

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its famous Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision. In that ruling, the Court overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson "separate but equal" doctrine and declared public school segregation unconstitutional. The Confederate flag once again appeared as officials in Southern states defied federal desegregation efforts.

In 1956, Georgia legislators voted to incorporate the Confederate flag in the Georgia state flag. John McKay, one of 32 legislators who opposed the flag change, stated that the flag "telegraphs a message." In April 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace ordered the raising of the Confederate flag over the state capitol. Wallace was about the meet with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to discuss the state's refusal to desegregate the University of Alabama campus. The Confederate flag still flies on the grounds of the Alabama and South Carolina state capitols.

Which leads us back to last week's senseless tragedy in Charleston, and the increasing recognition that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred and violence. Simply put, it has no place over government buildings or grounds. Political leaders from both parties -- including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley -- are finally acknowledging the public revulsion at this symbol. Walmart, Amazon and eBay are refusing to sell products that contain the Confederate flag.

A little late, but it's a start.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Air We Breathe

In his new encyclical on climate change, Pope Francis calls for "a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet." It is easy to feel helpless and hopeless when we hear predictions about global warming, ocean acidification, drought and extinctions. Hand-wringing is understandable as the very air we breathe seems fragile and in peril. This week, however, is a great time to speak, write and tweet to public officials on the subject of climate change -- and engage in that "new dialogue."

Congressional Climate Message Day, for example, takes place on Monday, June 22. Citizens can call or tweet their senators and representatives to support a fee on greenhouse gas emissions. On June 23, nine hundred volunteers for Citizens' Climate Lobby will meet with senators and representatives in Washington, DC to support the greenhouse gas fee. You can find out more about Congressional Climate Message Day here, on the Citizens' Climate Lobby website.

Solar energy producers - a key component in efforts against climate change -- are in jeopardy in many statesThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that coal and other fossil fuels are major contributors to greenhouse gases, which trap heat and lead to global warming. As the Snake River Alliance points out, solar and other renewable energy sources are vital as utilities phase out coal-generated power.

Here in Idaho, residents will attend a public hearing this week on a proposal from electric utility companies that could undermine competition form solar power companies. The utilities want the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to shorten the length of contracts with independent power companies from 20 years to two years -- a move that would make financing nearly impossible for solar power companies. The general public can attend the Idaho PUC hearing in Boise on June 24, or learn about submitting written comments here.

Wherever you live, you can speak up on behalf of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the creatures and plants that share God's creation with us. No need to travel or speak in front of large groups -- just take a breath and start where you are. Hope you'll join us!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

EPA Proposes Pesticide-Free Zones to Protect Honeybees

It's no secret that honeybees play a crucial part in creating our food supply, and that these pollinators have been dying at an increasing rate. From April 2014 to April 2015, commercial beekeepers reported a 42.1 percent loss of bee colonies, the second highest loss ever reported. Chemical pesticides -- particularly the class known as neonicotinoids or "neonics" -- are thought to be a major cause of these losses, known as bee colony collapse.

But there is some good news. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a rule that would create temporary pesticide-free zones to protect honeybees. The rule would prohibit the use of 76 active ingredients in pesticides, including neonics, on blooming crops where commercial bees are pollinating, according to Reuters.

Advocates on both sides of the issue have criticized the proposed rule. Environmentalists point out that the rule does not go far enough because it does not restrict the use of seeds treated with neonics. Pesticide manufacturers such as Bayer and Sygenta claim that mite infestations -- not pesticide use -- are the cause of colony collapse.

There is much evidence, however, to support the argument that neonics are a major factor in the loss of bees. National Geographic notes that neonics can make bees more susceptible to certain parasitic infections, and can alter bee behavior and prevent them from supplying their hives with food. According to a study published in Nature, bees even appear to become addicted to the neonic pesticides imidacloprid and thiamexotham.  

The new EPA rule could be in place by spring 2016. Yes, there is still more that we must do to protect bees. This proposed new rule by the EPA, however, is a positive first step in keeping these important pollinators alive.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Inspiration Around the Corner: The Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial

Statue of Anne Frank at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial

On Monday mornings, I enjoy walking along the Boise Greenbelt with a friend from church. The Greenbelt offers some tranquil scenes on the Boise River, such as the Pioneer Footbridge:

The highlight of today's walk, however, was the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial:

Designed by Idaho architect Ken Karst, the memorial blends the natural riverside environment with a 180-foot Quote Wall. You can read the words of poets, philosophers, children and others -- words of faith in humanity that echo Anne Frank's hopeful spirit. I particularly like this quotation from poet Maya Angelou:

Donor walls and pavers bear the names and thoughts of supporters of the memorial:

The memorial statue of Anne Frank portrays the young girl pushing back a curtain as if looking through a window. As I looked at the statue, I felt as though she was welcoming us to this place of hope and healing.

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people are truly good at heart."
Anne Frank

Idaho offers many natural and cultural attractions. If you visit the Boise Greenbelt, do take the time to visit the Anne Frank memorial. The experience will inspire you and stay with you long after you leave.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Remembering on Pentecost Sunday

When I was a Political Science major at the University of New Hampshire, I was particularly interested in issues affecting Central America. One of the political figures I admired most was Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, who spoke out against the injustices and human rights abuses in El Salvador -- and who was assassinated in 1980 while he was celebrating mass.

Yesterday, I was happy to learn of his beatification ceremony, and pleased that this brave man was being honored and remembered. I am not Catholic, but I was moved by the images from the ceremony in San Salvador. 

I was ashamed to realize that as the years passed since college, I had forgotten some of my early heroes such as Archbishop Romero. In fact, during my college years, the words and deeds of these people led me to contemplate a call to ministry -- a call I stashed in the back pocket of my mind.

"He is not a distant God – transcendent, yes, infinite,

but a God close at hand here on earth." 
Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980)

Two university degrees and years of freelance writing later, that familiar stirring of the spirit from years ago has returned. I sat quietly in our garden this Pentecost Sunday afternoon, letting my mind become still as I watched the beauty of the day come forward. When I released the busy-ness and put away the to-do list, I heard and saw more and more sounds and sights that I had taken for granted:

Sometimes it was the rustling of the breeze or the splashes of light in the leaves

Or underfoot in brilliantly colored ground covers

Like an old friend, I am becoming reacquainted with this calling. I have many questions. Has my calling changed over the years? What does it want to tell me? 

"But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, 
whom the Father will send in my name, 
will teach you everything, 
and remind you of all that I have said to you."
John 14:26 (NSRV)

 "When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, 
and it filled the entire house where they were sitting."
Acts 2:2 (NSRV)

Pentecost Sunday reminds me of the constant presence of the Holy Spirit. An afternoon sitting still in the garden reminds me that the Spirit is always near, if I take the time to listen and look. I am grateful this day for the reminder of heroes, old friends and new adventures. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Second Spring in the Garden -- What's New

I'm taking a break to catch up on what's new in the garden. Will you join me?

"For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. 
The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, 
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land."
Song of Solomon 2:11-12

So it's been a little over a year since we moved from south Texas to Idaho, and we're enjoying our second spring here. We are happy to see the return of some favorites from last year, including the ornamental onion in the back flower bed. You can see its purple blossom (think giant chive) in the picture above -- and a butterfly even settled in for the photography session!

We were surprised to see Spanish bluebells in the front yard in mid-April. We honestly don't remember seeing these flowers last year, The honeybees love them, too...

Last fall, I cut the peonies to the ground, and they are growing even more abundantly than last year. Here are some buds reaching through the cage...

Cutting the peony foliage back in the fall is worth the effort. Can't wait till these buds bloom into showy, creamy white flowers that will look lovely in a vase...

We planted Montmorency cherry trees last year. They're beginning to bear fruit...

And so are our plum trees..,

Honeysuckle is blooming near the side of our house...

And another surprise in a hidden corner -- lily of the valley, the flower of my birth month, May!

"Sweetest of the flowers a-blooming'
In the fragrant vernal days
Is the Lily of the Valley
With its soft, retiring ways."
(from The Lily of the Valley, by Paul Laurence Dunbar)

I hope you'll take a break and join me for another stroll through the garden in the near future. The rose bushes and Lewis' mock orange have yet to bloom. The back yard will smell sweet, and the afternoon breeze will be delightful. See you then!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Just Me, Bragging About My Husband

Just have to brag about my talented husband John, who has had a passion for photography for most of his life. I am proud to share his latest endeavor as he participates in a photography contest at If he receives 100 votes, his photography will be included in a digital display at the Louvre museum in Paris!

John during our trip to Sedona, Arizona
John's subjects range from landscape and architecture to animals and people. I hope you'll visit John's page and vote for his photography.

One of John's favorite sayings is "Creativity heart and soul," I am so proud of him because he certainly puts his heart and soul into his photography, and his enthusiasm inspires! Thanks so much!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Remembering Our Stories at a Women's Seder

Today the women's group at my church sat down to a women's seder meal in honor of Passover. It is Holy Week at my church, a time that manages to be both busy and reflective. The seder meal gave us a chance to gather together in celebration and prayer.

During this seder, we remembered the stories of women in the Bible -- women such as Miriam, who hid her baby brother Moses by the river to protect him from Pharaoh's orders to kill newborn Hebrew boys. It was Miriam who danced in celebration after the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea.

"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron,
 took a timbrel in her hand; 
and all the women went out after her
 with timbrels and with dances."
Exodus 15:20 

Image by Joshua Bousel via Flickr
As we drank from the four cups, we followed the footsteps of the Hebrews' deliverance from Egypt. As we dipped herbs in salt water, we tasted tears -- our own tears and the tears of our sisters from ancient times, We spoke the names of loved ones who had passed away, learning that speaking the names out loud keeps them alive in our hearts.

We remembered the stories of those who came before us. We remembered our own stories and looked ahead with wonder to those who will come after us.

Image by paurlan via Flickr
I was struck by the intermingling of the past, present and future during this meal, and I thought of the ways in which we keep memories alive. Every year we speak the names of those who perished on September 11, 2001. We speak of past horrors, such as the Holocaust of World War II and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in order to keep history's lessons alive.

I think of the modern-day Miriams who are leading us forward -- women such as 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners Ellen Johnson SirleafLeymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman and their nonviolent work for women's rights. I think of the promise we see in young women such as teen-aged Malala Yousafzai, who continues to speak up in favor of education for girls.

These women's names will be spoken by future generations to keep alive the struggles for women's and children's rights around the world.

Today's seder meal reminds us to remember and speak the stories of the past. Years from now, our younger sisters may speak our names and gather strength from our own stories.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bill in Congress Would Prohibit Mandatory GMO Labeling

The debate about labeling GMO foods can't seem to stay out of the news. The overwhelming majority of consumers would like GMOs (genetically modified organisms) to be labeled, according to an ABC News poll. Much of the concern comes from the development of so-called Roundup Ready plants that are genetically modified to resist the chemical weed-killer Roundup. These plants allow greater use of herbicides on food crops and produce seeds that are sterile, forcing farmers to buy new seeds from Monsanto every year.

Crops at sunset
Image by jovom via Flickr

The World Health Organization recently stated that glyphosate -- the active ingredient in Roundup -- probably causes cancer. Food safety advocates have been pressing for mandatory labeling laws, and one would think that this announcement would put these laws on the fast track for approval.

Not so fast. In spite of this announcement, a bill known by critics as the DARK Act was re-introduced in Congress that would actually prohibit the state and federal governments from requiring GMO labels. Critics of the bill call it the Deny Americans the Right to Know or DARK Act because the proposed law would indeed leave consumers in the dark. Today Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) re-introduced the bill, officially called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,

With the news that a widely used weed-killer probably causes cancer, it is more important than ever for consumers to make informed choices about the food they put on the table. Labeling GMOs would give consumers an important decision-making tool.

There is a way to add your voice to this debate. The Environmental Working Group, Food Policy Action, and Just Label it have created a petition to stop the DARK Act. You can read about the petition and sign it here.

You can find out more about the DARK Act at the Environmental Working Group. At Food Policy Action, you can learn about this and other food policy issues.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

World Water Day 2015: A Thirsty World

We know that water is essential to life. We need water to drink, to grow crops, and to wash our hands -- and it's often a matter of simply turning on a faucet. In may parts of the world, however, it's not that simple. Today is World Water Day, a great day to discover and appreciate this precious resource.

As the United Nations points out, 50 to 60 percent  of the adult human body is water; that figure jumps to 78 percent for babies. Our health depends on the availability of safe drinking water as well as clean water for personal hygiene and food preparation. Some of us must go to great lengths to provide water for our families. Women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions spend up to a quarter of their days collecting water

Adding to the stresses of water shortages and poor sanitation is the privatization of water by corporations. When water is privatized, rates often go up in order to maximize profits, and a company will have exclusive distribution rights for up to 30 years, notes Public Citizen, Corporations that privatize water, after all, are accountable to shareholders instead of consumers. These are just a few reasons why privatization of water is probably not the best idea.

But you know what? Keeping water in public hands and investing in clean water and sanitation in developing countries is an economic plus that benefits all of us. Every dollar invested in improved sanitation creates a a 5.5 to 1 return, according to the United Nations.

We do live in a thirsty world -- a world that thirsts for dignity, love and respect as well as H20. Access to clean waster preserves health as well as dignity.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
for they will be filled." Matthew 5:6 (NRSV)

Let's set aside some time today to learn more about water and its vital part in our lives. Here are some resources to get started:

World Water Day 2015

Top 10 Reasons to Oppose Water Privatization

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why I Love Communion

On the last weekend of every month, my church has worship service on Saturday evening instead of Sunday morning. The lowering sun shines through the stained glass, and the fact that it is evening seems to make the service extra special. I look forward to the Saturday service every month, especially because it includes communion.

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, 
he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 
"This is my body, which is given for you. 
Do this in remembrance of me." 
Luke 22:19 (NRSV)

As I wait to walk up the center aisle to receive the bread and grape juice, I am moved as I see fellow church members standing in line. Some are alone in their thoughts, while others stand arm-in-arm. We walk together and as individuals to the communion table. We bring our tragedies, celebrations, insecurities and accomplishments, and are equally welcomed and fed.

I was baptized in this church two months ago during an evening service, and communion was especially sweet that Saturday. Walking up the aisle with baptismal water still dripping down my forehead, I was keenly aware that I had become a member of a body as well as a church. 

This evening, we once again gathered for our Saturday service and received the bread and grape juice. We do this every month in remembrance of the One who was broken for us, and we bring our broken hearts, broken lives and broken communities to Him. We are fed, and the restoration begins.