Monday, June 25, 2012

Coursing Earth Energy

Today I worked with this lady who is a pantheist, though she wouldn't call herself that necessarily. She believes in an organic world where everyone's spirits are connected. She says things like the spirit leads her to make certain decisions. She doesn't plan anything in her life, she just follows the spirit.

However by spirit she doesn't mean God. She says the spirit is like an energy that courses through all of life. We are all god. It doesn't matter to her who created it all. She says, "I don't need to know who an artist is in order to appreciate the art. I just accept that it exists and I enjoy it."

After our conversation, I thought about that statement though. I think you can better appreciate and understand the art if you know the artist. When I go to the Getty, I certainly appreciate the beauty of the art but I cannot enjoy it as much as, for example, Prof. Chadwick, who has really studied the artists. He know the purpose of the art and the values the artist, etc. I love being a History and English major because I study different time periods and read the literature from those time periods and I understand it better. It becomes fuller and impacts me more.

Her philosophy really reminded me of J.D. Salinger when she said that she doesn't need to know the artist. Salinger was all about anonymity. In his short story, "De Daumier Smith's Blue Period" the main character, a boy posing as an art teacher, especially appreciated the art of a woman named "Sister Irma." She sent her art to him with no self-portrait and minimal information about herself. He admired her and found her art much more beautiful than those students who signed their art pieces and gave loads of personal information. Salinger loved an artist who made something beautiful and kept him/herself hidden. This is the kind of God my co-worker wants I think. I love this concept of a humble artist, but I must recognize that I cannot understand Salinger's art as thoroughly without knowing some things about him. His message becomes more clear because I know about him.

I do believe it is a noble goal to be humble when doing art, because all human creativity is given by God. It is a  different matter, saying God shouldn't or doesn't show himself as the artist/creator, than saying humans don't need to or shouldn't. Ultimately, I can appreciate any art as a gift that God has given to all of mankind, the gift of creativity and imaginitivity. Ultimately, whether it is human art or natural creation art, humans should praise God. A human artist should be appreciated for his/her work, but always remembering God gives humans their creative abilities.

When I studied Salinger's life, I found that his art and life are nearly indistinguishable. I think that is the nature of art. Life reflects art and art reflects life. I think we need both knowledge of the artist and his/her art to better understand the art. I don't doubt my co-worker's love and appreciation for the universe. That is common grace, however I do think that because I know God, I can appreciate it better, or at least I should. It's through special revelation (the word of God and the Spirit of God who gives me faith in the word), that I understand and appreciate general revelation (creation, which sings its artist's praise).

I told her that I am a panentheist, which means "all in God." I believe God created the universe and he is in and through all things (Acts 17:28; Eph. 4:6), the source and sustainer of life. Only God is God but everything exists only by his power. The universe depends on God's dwelling in it to exist, but the universe does not contain God. God is not bound to it.

My coworker doesn't like the idea of "God." She believes that God is man's creation, basically a societal construct. She says that she just accepts life a she sees it. She loves nature, the simplicity of the road, exploring the earth, but she says she just accepts it and goes with the energy flow, which is I think what she means when she says she follows the spirit.

It's confusing. But I don't think she cares about defining anything. She just wants to accept life but in accepting it she does construct her own beliefs. Her beliefs are very native american. She is a native, so I think it is her ideas that are her societies constructs.

I am amazed by how close she is. This conversation reminded me of Paul's sermon to the Athenians recorded in Acts 17. Basically the difference between our ideas is that she doesn't want to know the artist or the meaning. She just wants to live life and enjoy the beauty of life. She follows the energy flow, tries to stay out of the way of nature. She doesn't seem to believe humans are anything special.

She told me that she would hear the spirit talk to her in her sleep. She would wake up from the sound of someone screaming in her ear. The voice told her to leave Portland and go to New Mexico. So she started talking around, got connected with friends of friends of friends in New Mexico, moved there, got a job. She said she has been in Arizona for seven summers and she feels a sense of permanence. Everywhere else she ever lived, she felt like she was just stopping there for a while. In Arizona she feels like she has arrived.

I should have asked her how she came to believe this stuff, or how she even knows it's true. I never told her that I am a Christian. Is that bad? I thought that she would make all these assumptions about me if she knew but I admit I was a little ashamed to label myself. I was thinking on the drive home though that I should be more open about my beliefs. She was so bold and sure but also not overly aggressive. I mean she wasn't really shoving her belief down my throat. I don't think I was doing that to her either. She said she liked that we could just talk, discuss, and it wasn't like we were trying to convert each other. But that is untrue of me. I am always trying to convert people. Is that the wrong way to go about things? Maybe I should rather just say the truth and pray that the Spirit of God works.

I'm not sure if anything I said challenged her or impacted her, but I know she challenged me without knowing it. She challenged me to appreciate the universe more than I do, and to be more bold about my beliefs.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Food, Costs.

Money is god in America. This religion infests every part of our society, and the stuff we put in our bodies to sustain and energize us is no exception. I say "stuff" because we don't know where our food comes from, or how it is produced most of the time. Massive food producing corporations seek to hide their unethical business practices from the public, and keep us satisfied and silent with our cheap year round tomatoes, white chicken meat, dollar menu hamburgers and fries, and all of the other millions of products the food industry pumps out. Money is America's reason for everything. That famous biblical saying, "The love of money is the root of all evil" rings fearfully true when you look at the problems in our country.

This post is basically just my thoughts on the documentary Food Inc. that I watched recently. You can watch the film on Netflix. Directed by Robert Kenner, released in 2008, this is a film that unveils some of the well kept secrets in America's food industry, a secret that has tragic effects on our health and our environment. Whether this was the point of the movie or not, it shows how the love of money destroys life. 

The film gives many examples of unethical acts that food companies have committed while following the basics of capitalist economics. Increase production while lowering costs of production, so more people will buy and the company will increase its profits. However, another rule of economics is that nothing is free, everything comes with a cost. By lowering the monetary costs of production in order to raise monetary profits, the costs to workers, animals, consumers, and the environment have increased. The film gives many examples, and I will paraphrase some of them.

We all know Tyson chicken, the red label that you see everywhere in the meat aisle. Tyson's chickens have been genetically engineered to grow from conception to slaughter in 40 days, and since consumer's prefer white meat, these chickens are engineered to have abnormally huge breasts. Naturally, it takes three months for a chicken to grow from egg to adulthood. Their unnaturally muscular bodies combined with the rapid rate of growth, causes the chickens to be basically lame. Their bones and internal organs can't grow at the rate of their bodies' muscle and fat. Tyson also requires their farmer's to grow these chickens in windowless packed chicken coops. These animals live for a miserable 40 days and then they are slaughtered and shipped to our supermarkets for our consumption. 

Tyson not only disrespects its animals, but they have also treat their farmer's  and workers tyrannically. The men who pick up the chickens in trucks to bring them to the slaughter houses are generally Latino men, mostly undocumented workers. They feel that they have no rights, but the company likes that. They can pay them little money and the workers are easily replaceable. Tyson contracts with farmers who build poultry houses to raise chickens. The average cost to start a Tyson poultry house is about $300,000, and on top of that, every year Tyson requires farmer's to update their farms with costly new machinery. If they don't get the new machinery, they lose their contract and the investment they made would be a waste. On average, a chicken farmer contracted with Tyson will make about $18,000 a year. Farmer's are locked into contracts because of their debt, and they have no say in how their farms are run. Chickens are abused while farmers and other workers are controlled and enslaved to the company because that's how cheap meat and large profits are made. 

Another one of the leading meat producers in America is a company called Smithfeild. In the past they have advertised in Mexico, luring immigrants to their meat factory promising lots of money. They bus immigrants to their plant and work them for very low pay doing very unhealthy and disgusting work. Meat packing is one of the most dangerous industries to work in because of risks of infection, large machinery, etc. Workers are trained to do one task all day. Even with gloved hands, handing bloody pig flesh all day causes infections under the workers' finger nails so their finger nails fall off. It's disgusting work, but that's not the worst of it. Since immigration paranoia has risen in the past several years, police have been arresting about 15 of these factory workers every night. They don't arrest all of them at the same time because that would slow down the production of the factory. It's the (mostly Mexican) workers who have been slaughtering and packing your bacon for ten years who are suddenly arrested, while the company that hired them is held guiltless. Money is more important than human survival, more important than justice. 

The rich make the laws, and the poor are exploited and hammered by the law, because many of the law makers and the big business owners are the same people. Food Inc gives many examples of this. Monsanto is a seed producing company that has patented genetically engineered seeds that are resistant to pesticides. Monsanto seed buyers are required to sign a contract with the company promising not to save seeds for the next growing season, so they will have to buy new seeds every year from the company. Justice Clarence Thomas is an attorney for Monsanto as well also a supreme court justice who wrote a law that made it illegal for farmer's to save their seeds. Wendell Murphy was a North Carolina senator who also served on the board of directors at Smithfeild. Margaret Miller, chemical lab supervisor for Monsanto also worked as FDA branch chief. "Our industries are dominated by the people who are meant to be its regulators." Money dominates our laws and the hearts of our law makers. 

The film offers a typical solution, encouraging outraged viewers to remember their power as consumers and to buy local and organic. Every time we buy something, we are in a way voting for the product and giving money to the companies. It is a consumer's responsibility to vote for, or support companies that are seeking to treat animals, workers, consumers, and the environment with respect. 

I find myself outraged by companies who abuse workers, animals, and the environment and still I buy from them. I am outraged by the fact that money is god in this society, but how important is money to me too? I think we need to take some responsibility as buyers for our support of these companies, because basic economics shows us that the consumer creates the demand and producers fill that demand. We insist on buying our $2 milk, but what are the underlying costs of that to human lives, your health, etc? 

I don't think that changing what we consume will fix the entire problem because some people just can'f afford to shop organic. The fact is, in a capitalist society, money does control our lives, so I understand that sometimes our consumption is more controlled by the companies than the other way around. I also know that the deepest problem is the love of money, the fact that money in our society is more important than human lives, the environment, animals, the law, etc.

However, I still believe I can change somethings as a consumer. I have seen the power of consumers bring an organic section to grocery stores like Fry's (Ralph's), and the demand for organic food brought a Trader Joes to Prescott. I do not want to give my vote to bid business anymore. Because I have the means to change the way I consumer, my conscience tells me it is morally wrong for me to keep supporting those companies. I also really do love organic food better anyway.

Buying from local farmers and organic markets requires a change in life style for some of us. It could mean more cooking, more deliberate buying, creating a new budget, and maybe eating less. Even though some people can't do this, a lot of us can. Even if there aren't organic supermarkets where you live, like Trader Joes, Sprouts, Whole Food, etc, there are most likely farmer's markets in your city or surrounding cities. I recently found out there is a farmer's market every Friday in Prescott Valley. I plan to shop there from now on. So when you can, shop organic. 

We like cheap food because it's easy on our wallets and it often tastes good, but what about the costs for workers, our health, the environment? Is money the only thing we think of when we think of costs? It shouldn't be. We should weigh all the costs, and not let money be our only reason and our god.