Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Snowed under and over

Huge snow plows are clearing our streets of snow.  One must be careful however not to get too close as they pass!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

True wealth

Leaf on snow ridges
Oak leaves on snow

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or evening be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in the spring
-  John Burroughs

Monday, February 24, 2014

Statistic or tragedy?

At church this past Sunday we were reminded of the dramatic disparity between High School graduation rates of those white students in our state versus students of color*. We also heard of the great many students who qualify for free or reduced rate lunch in our school district. At my workplace I've discovered that about one in six of our state's young people are food insecure. Yet despite hearing these statistics, many of us are not moved to take action in order to right some of these imbalances.  Why is that?

Many of us are "busy" with work and a wide variety of interests and activities, perhaps including more time utilizing social media, yet we know if something were a high enough priority we could find time for it. We are simply not motivated to take action by statistics.  However, when someone we know personally is touched by a disaster it becomes much more meaningful and likely we might work to assist in some way.

Our neighborhoods, schools, places of work and worship become our "comfort zones". All too often we have little to no significant interactions with people who are of differing economic, racial or cultural backgrounds.  When many of the Minneapolis Public Schools have student populations that are well over 50 percent children of color, we know that the racial integration efforts of previous decades are now failing.

I received a button "They are OUR children, be the village", while at the Golden Valley council meeting this past week. At this meeting the council rescinded their vote to disallow a builder to develop a site for young people to receive mental health counseling. Unfortunately they were too late on this matter, as the builder had since decided not to move forward, given the prior negative response by the council.

We've got some troubling trends when it comes to racial and income disparities. For those of us in the majority, it benefits us to personally get to know people from other racial or cultural groups.  We then discover we are much more similar than we are different, and when we learn from and help another person we too then become a better person.

*  84% white, 51% hispanic, 49% black, 42% native american

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Volunteering can educate your heart

Are you interested in strengthening or enlarging your heart?  One of the best ways to do this is through volunteering, which can bring you into a relationship with others.  Xavier Le Pichon, has observed it may take a big awakening, such as Dorothy Day experienced at the age eight, during the San Francisco earthquake.  Once you develop companionship, walking with a suffering person, your heart gets educated.  They teach you a new way of being. We become educated by being in relationship with others.

There are a vast number of volunteer opportunities which can help us to become better educated by being in relationship with others.  Mentoring and tutoring are among the best opportunities.  To learn about volunteer openings in the Twin Cities check out Hands on Twin Cities.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fog and snow

Air temperatures above freezing develope a ground fog into the park yesterday morning.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Stand your ground is on faulty footing

I've long felt that the "Stand Your Ground" legislation passed in 25 states is on faulty footing. This law defends people who shoot others they feel are dangerous to them. Hence, they're justified in ending the life of another if that person is perceived as threatening.

Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners magazine has written an article "Stand your ground has no moral ground". He notes that such a law is based on fear, rather than the common good, and justifies taking life, while codifying fear.  Mr. Wallis believes that such a law supports racism and may often lead to wrongful deaths.  He concluded...

Two boys — among others — have been killed and their families ripped apart by gun violence. The law that is meant to protect fails them. Not only do Stand Your Ground laws institutionally legitimize racism by mostly white men carried out against mostly black men, instead of reconciliation and peace, gun violence and racial fears are allowed to win the day. Where just laws were meant to preserve the common good, unjust laws like Stand Your Ground excuse us from living out our best values. It is time to make that clear from our pulpits, starting in Florida.

Editor's note, I wrote about the phenomenon of "Stand Your Ground Squirrels" in an earlier blog. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cookies and job skills

It was great to read an article about the Cookie Cart in yesterday's StarTribune, Cookie Cart: Teens earn life skills at a bakery.  I'm pleased to report that our church has been enjoying cookies baked by Minneapolis kids for many years now. It has also been nice to see these cookies served at the Memorial Blood Center, as a treat for blood donors.  Personally, I'm a bit partial to their dark chocolate chocolate chip cookie.
For more information on the cookie cart, or to perhaps put in an order,, 612-521-0855.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Welcoming our mentally ill neighbors

Just a few weeks ago I was up in Ashland Wisconsin, helping to clean-up the estate of my older brother, Phil.  He passed away this fall from kidney failure, related to the medication he had taken to treat schizophrenia.  I was touched to visit with three of his neighbors, all of whom had glowing comments to share about Phil.  One of his next door neighbors had even returned the favor of snow removal after my brother's death, recalling how he had often helped his young family out with such acts of kindness.

So, it was disturbing to read an article, Fear and hostility block treatment for mentally ill.  People in he suburb of Golden Valley shared their fear and anxiety of allowing a day treatment facility for young people suffering from mental illness be built in their neighborhood.  What these fearful neighbors didn't seem to recognize is that the vast majority of people with mental health problems are not violent. Only 3-5 percent of violent acts are committed by people with a serious mental illness (Mental Health Myths and Facts).  Sadly, persons with mental illness are over 10 times more likely to be the victims of violent crime than those in the general population.

Somewhat ironically it may those who are protesting a possible treatment center in their neighborhood that we should be most concerned about.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Oversized refrigerators

The United States has well documented problems both with obesity and food waste.  It is estimated about 40 percent of the fresh produce we purchase is thrown out. This waste often ends up in land fills, producing methane, a major producer of green house gases.  The US is also second in the world, only to Mexico, in the number of its citizens who are over weight.  

Perhaps it is not surprising that our refrigerators have grown about 3 cubic feet in size since 1980.  Having a refrigerator provides consumers with more space to stock up on food, which then can easily lead to overconsumption and waste.  Whether it is our house, garage or refrigerator, we tend to fill our space, however much we have.

So if you're thinking of upgrading your refrigerator, please keep in mind that small is beautiful, and that bigger is certainly not always better.

You can read more about this issue in an CNBC article, As waistlines grow, so do our refrigerator sizes. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow striation

It is fascinating to see the many striations that sometimes form on the snow.  They're complemented nicely by sparkling crystals, highlighted by the morning's light.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Change is possible!

I was delighted to learn that a petition started on may of helped to prompt United Airlines to stop using styrofoam coffee cups on flights.  The petitioner, Dominique Kalata, received the following response from United Airlines...

Dominique Kalata: United is stopping using styrofoam cups on flights, starting in March!
I got a tweet today from United saying:
"@dominiquekalata Hi, we've replaced our Styrofoam cups with an Eco-friendly alternative. Read more here: . "
The new cups, according to United, are made of 50% recycled materials and are fully recyclable.
Thank you everyone! We showed that when people come together we can made a difference and positively influence change. I'm sure all of us, working together, helped move things along at United.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Continuing cold

This morning we wake to -8 degrees, yet another subzero low in the Twin Cities. That makes it 42 subzero lows this winter thus far.

So, what does one do when it gets this cold?  Bundle up, get some exercise and perhaps have a bit of fun is the answer for some. Mark, my walking friend helped me out with an experiment by throwing a cup of hot water yesterday morning.  The water vaporized when it was dispersed in the frigid temperature.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Amazing icicles

I just learned from an article in the Washington Post, Icicles: A symbol of winter and a scientific mystery, that icicles share a common distance between the ripples that form along their sides, which is about one centimeter.  There is no understanding as to why this occurs with such consistency.

Curiously, it turns out that salt is common denominator for icicles being able to form these ripples.

Icicles on the sea caves at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The color of (a) sound (board)

Pictured above are the colorful switches on a soundboard. I shot this picture earlier in the year
while enjoying a Saint Paul Chamber concert at Wooddale Church, in Eden Prairie.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Recognizing and responding to hungry children in our midst

A tutor and mentor at a Huston-area school discovered there were students who were only getting small  cold cheese sandwiches because their parents couldn't afford lunch trays.  So he decided to donate $465 to pay for the delinquent meal accounts, so that these students could have a full lunch.

Having worked in the mentoring field I recall countless mentors sharing how amazed they were at the often desperate life circumstances of the children they mentored; be it poor quality education, dangerous neighborhoods, inadequate nutrition, or simply a lack of adult supervision.

In a society where neighborhoods have become increasingly economically segregated, many good intentioned people simply have no concept of how challenging the living environments are for people living on 'the other side of the tracks'.

Thank God for this generous volunteer who noticed and responded to the needs of disadvantaged children.

You can read the full story online, Houston school volunteer notices kids' meager lunches, pays $465 to cover delinquent accounts.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A push for more composting

It was great to see that Hennepin County is pushing the city of Minneapolis to compost more of its waste, rather than burning it (Hennepin County drops trash-burning request, pushes Minneapolis on composting).  With an estimated 30 percent of trash being organic material, there is a lot more that can be done in the area of composting.  At our home we've long practiced composting and enjoyed the benefits to our garden along with the reduced amount of waste.

I will be continuing to encourage our lutheran church and children's learning center to be better at composting.  We certainly do generate a lot of coffee grounds, among other things.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Reducing energy through adjusting your water heater temperature

Following is a message I am relaying from The Earth Day Network Team...

Did you know that the average water heater makes up 14-18% of a home’s total utility bill, costing each household up to $600 a year?

Make the pledge today to reduce your water heater’s energy consumption and lower your utility bills!

So why do water heaters use so much energy? For one, most are programmed to heat water up to 140⁰F—a temperature so hot that it can burn you.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to change that. By simply turning down the thermostat on your hot water heater to 120⁰F, you can cut energy use and save money. If just 1/5 of the households in the US made that change, they could collectively save up to $1.3 billion!

Make sure to consult your owner’s manual to find out how to turn down the thermostat safely. If your thermostat is already set at 120⁰F, a simple water heater insulating blanket can also save you money.

Join us by pledging to reduce the temperature on your water heater. It’s good for you and the planet—and it’s easy.

Don’t forget to tell your friends and family. And share your story on Twitter: #ActOfGreen 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A ministry of auto mechanics

I chuckled a bit when someone from church suggested I ought to consider going into the ministry after my last children's sermon.  The reason for this amusement is that I've long believed in the "ministry of all believers".  Ordained ministry is by no means the "be all and end all"of how people can act upon their values and beliefs.

An article in the Minnpost, Social worker wanted to help the needy- so she became an auto mechanic, provides a great example of someone who is actively practicing her values in the world.  Cathy Heying discovered simply praying over cars in need of repair wasn't as effective as enlisting volunteers and renting a garage to affordably service vehicles.

As we enter February, here is an early Valentine's Day message from 1 Corinthians 13

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
 -The Message