Thursday, December 7, 2017

Lifting the Fog

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Ephesians 5:11

It's foggy in Pittsburgh. It's the kind of fog that prevents you from seeing down the street, but not out your window. This creates a sense of insulation and isolation--that you're all alone in space rather than part of a large urban city. The fog is probably because of Pittsburgh's hilly topography, or the convergence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, or the unseasonably warm weather in the first weekend of December.

I found myself in Pittsburgh for a meeting of the United Methodist Women Be Just Be Green Jurisdiction Guides. We came from around the United States to set outreach goals and strategy, decide how to communicate our advocacy campaigns to our members, and plan our presentations for Assembly in 2018. Because our advocacy campaign is about methane and natural gas extraction or "fracking", we organized a visit to local communities in Pennsylvania impacted by the natural gas industry. We partnered with local activists and families and listened to their stories.

Fracking is the process of injecting water, chemicals, and sand underground to fracture rocks (like shale) to release gas. The process uses large amounts of water which,when mixed with fracking chemicals, becomes toxic. Fracking also releases methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

When fracking began to increase in Pennsylvania in the early 2010s, fracking operators claimed that the United States had a 100 year supply of cheap natural gas and that fracking could help lead to energy independence. They also promised jobs. What has happened instead is a devastation of land, air, and water in the name of progress. The majority of the jobs created were temporary construction jobs. It is very unlikely that natural gas will be used to heat our homes and power our vehicles for the next generation, as the supply has been overestimated. We may already have passed the peak of natural gas extraction. It is rapidly becoming too expensive to extract natural gas--the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) profit margin is closing.

What is clear are the health and environmental risks from fracking. Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, is in the top 2% for cancer risk from air pollution. Up to 14% of Pittsburghers suffer from asthma as compared to the national average of 8%-10%. Asthma acutely impacts children, and is a leading cause of chronic school absenteeism. Air pollution exacerbates cardiovascular disease and is a significant cause of premature death among those with preexisting cardiovascular conditions. Air pollution has been connected to autism, diabetes, and dementia.

We toured Beaver County, PA where Shell is planning to build an ethane cracker plant, the largest petrochemical facility in North America. This plant will increase demand for fracked natural gas which will be turned into plastic. It will also trigger the construction of an ethane pipeline system that will cross the Ohio river.


I was struck by a stone marker I read at one of our tour stops. The land where the cracker plant is being built was gained by treaty with the Delaware, Wyandot, Chippewa, and Ottawa Indian tribes. Its devastating to think of how we've abused the land, air, and water that was never ours to have.

We continued on our tour to Washington County, the most heavily fracked county in Pennsylvania. We saw fracking pads and waste water retention ponds within 900 feet of an elementary school. We heard about the mystery surrounding chemicals in fracking fluid and methane emissions, which the fracking operations fight not to disclose. We watched as several large trucks full of fracking waste merged onto a highway and wondered aloud what would happen if one of the trucks spilled it's contents.


We met a man and his son who live with a fracking well in their backyard. The man has suffered a brain tumor which robbed him of his sight in one eye. He has kidney disease and endocrine problems. His son is incontinent. He has learning and attention problems. He was burned by an unseen chemical in his bathtub water as a small child. We met a mother who's child has leukemia. We met a mother who has to keep air quality monitors in every room of her house to keep an eye on the particulate matter in her air. They can't drink their water. They're concerned about the animals on their farm. They are watching their land be poisoned in front of their eyes, but since the fracking well isn't technically on their land they have no legal recourse. No one can move because they can't sell their homes.

As our tour progressed, the fog lifted. The sun began to shine. And the shadows around the fracking industry lifted. I saw with clarity the lies, corruption, manipulation, and greed. The evil of putting profits over people was exposed. But I felt a small sense of relief that fracking wasn't going on in my backyard--my children were safe. And then three days after I returned home from Pennsylvania there was a natural gas pipeline explosion in Illinois that killed 2 people, a father and son working on their farm. If you don't think natural gas affects your community, think again.

But the fog is lifting. There is hope. There are dedicated activists like Moms Clean Air Force, Clean Air Council, and Protect Our Children fighting to shine light on this industry and protect our common land, air, and water. There are resources like the Oil & Gas Threat Map that can help you assess your family's risk. Don't be afraid to educate yourself about fracking, speak to your representatives, and write letters to the editor. Speak truth to power. The only way to make change is to do the hard work. We cannot turn a blind eye to our brothers and sisters suffering in Pennsylvania, or Texas, or Oklahoma. But if we work with one another, we can lift the fog together. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Ask a Pastor's Wife

It's time again for Ask a Pastor's Wife!
I asked my Facebook friends to submit their questions, and they did not disappoint.
If you have any more questions about clergy family life, post them in the comments below and I'll answer them in future posts.

My answers are in italics.

Question #1
How do you mentally prepare yourself for appointment season?
This is the first time we've been appointed somewhere that didn't have a clear ending date. At our first appointment, we knew my husband would be moved after 2 years, so we were able to plan, pack, and prepare our hearts accordingly. This time it's much different. The rumor mill and church politics can produce anxiety, not to mention distract from the purpose of itinerant ministry, but it's part of the deal. Moving would be easy if we knew the church we were moving to would be a good fit for our gifts and graces, but it's nearly impossible to know that until you've already arrived. 

I've said before that I don't mind moving and that usually I enjoy the details and challenges of setting up a new home. But I'd be lying if I said that with each season's passing I didn't repack my decorations a little more carefully, not sure if the next time I open the boxes will be in this home or another. 
My kids have taken our moves in stride so far. But this will be the first time my youngest daughter will remember moving, and my middle and oldest daughters are getting older and more attached to friends and routines. It's only going to get harder from here. 

So we pray. We pray that the bishop and cabinet are carefully and prayerfully organizing moves. We pray that if we are moved, it's to an ideal match for our gifts and graces. We pray that the kids will find friends, that the schools will provide an excellent education, and that our new community will embrace us all. And if we are to stay, we pray that we can continue to be effective and achieve the goals the church has set for themselves each year.
And in the meantime we keep serving right where we are, up until the day we move.

Question #2
How do you manage family and having to split your husband's time/attention?
It's a balancing act, no different that what other working families go through day to day, I imagine. But it's easier to manage the demands on our time when we know we're living out our calling and doing what God has equipped us to do. 

Todd and I have flexible work schedules, so it's rare that one of us can't be home with the kids while the other works. When it happens, though, it's pretty stressful and reminds us that living far away from family is hard and lonely. 

Our family runs on a different routine: we spend more time together during weekdays and less on weekends. My husband has evening meetings 2-3 nights a week, so we try to keep certain days as sabbath. This tends to change with the church seasons. And what works for us now likely won't in our next church/es. As the kids get older, it will get even more complicated. But it's part of the gig. 

After 15 years of marriage and 6 years of ministry, we're learning to prioritize self care so we can be wholehearted parents and spouses. For me, that might look like getting a pedicure or having a kid-free lunch with a friend. For my husband, that might mean a round of golf or going to see a movie by himself. I used to think self care was an outrageous extravagance, but now I see how critical it is to our well-being.

Question #3
What are your hobbies?
 I like to read, write, and cook. I don't watch much TV, but I'm a news and political drama junkie: The West Wing, Veep, The Daily Show, and  Last Week Tonight are shows I never miss or rewatch regularly. 
Many of my passions have been inspired by things I've read, so I tend to stick to certain topics (environmental/gender/economic/racial  justice, faith/theology, family) and authors (Sarah Bessey, Brene Brown, Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Shauna Niequist). 
I've had to turn my cooking up a notch when I went vegetarian this summer--it's taken some time to adjust my cooking so that I'm not fixing multiple meals each time we gather at the table. But I'm enjoying the challenge, especially when I have a bit of time to meal plan at the beginning of each week. 

Question #4
If you had a day to yourself what would you do?
Such a lovely question. I'd answer differently depending on my location, but let's assume I'm at home in central Illinois. I'd sleep in and let my husband make lunches and get the kids off to school. I'd have some free time to read or write (or both!). I'd plan a nice dinner and head to the local farmer's market to source some fresh ingredients and maybe a bouquet of flowers. I'd have a lunch date or coffee with my husband or a friend at one of our favorite local places. Once the kids came home from school they'd play nicely together until dinner was ready. We'd eat outside or picnic near the lake and share about our day. We'd take the dog for a walk and watch the sunset. My older girls would help the youngest bathe and dress for bed. We'd snuggle up for stories and prayers. Then my husband and I would watch a movie or show together and have a beer or glass of wine.

It doesn't sound like much, but it's the intentionality of this day that appeals to me--being able to take some time for me, to tend to important relationships, to be quiet and still for just a minute, and to enjoy some natural beauty. Most days I get to do at least one of the things I listed, and over the course of a week I might check off several more. Life is pretty good!

Thank you again for your questions! 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Shareholder Report

This summer I purchased a share from First Fruits Homestead, a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. Every other week for 14 weeks I received a box of locally grown fresh produce for an up front investment of $200.

CSA Week 13, photo credit First Fruits Homestead
I got to see where my food was grown, I became friends with my farmers (or farmHERS), and my family got to try new foods and new recipes. Overall, it was a great experience.

Here are the top 10 things I learned with my first CSA share:

1. Garlic Scapes are a thing. You will get a lot of them early in the season. Learn how to use them here.
2. Eat the salad greens first.
3. Elephant garlic is not garlic. But it's tasty in it's own way.
4. You will not be able to eat all the tomatoes, cucumbers, or zucchini you receive. Learn how to preserve or can these things for later. I made and froze tomato soup and bread and butter pickles.
5. Get the kids involved in finding recipes. We like these 3 plant-based diet cookbooks: Oh She Glows Everyday, Forks Over Knives Family, and The CSA Cookbook.

I highly recommend supporting your local farmers by purchasing a CSA share.  Use this site to find a CSA near you.

What's you favorite recipe to use with your summer produce?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What is saving your life right now?

I've been absent from the blog for a while. I'm having a hard time making space for myself to write. I've been overwhelmed by travel for work, church commitments, and the typical day-to-day demands of a family of five. But one thing I've been making time for is listening to podcasts. They're amazing--I can listen while working or driving or cleaning or walking the dog. I learn something new every time I listen. My current favorites are Pod Save America, Lovett or Leave it, Pod Save the People, With Friends Like These, No Place Like Home, The Shauna Niequist Podcast, and For the Love.

Each week on Jen Hatmaker's For the Love podcast, she asks her guests the same question (originally from author Barbara Brown Taylor): what is saving your life right now? And each week when I listen I find myself answering along in my head. Though the question sounds a tad dramatic--my life isn't in any danger, after all--it's been a helpful mental health check-in. I'm not sure about you, but since last November I feel like the world's turned upside down and I'm still trying to get my bearings and decide how best to respond.

So, here are 5 things saving my life right now:

1. Cookbooks. I'm learning to use the food I get every other week from my CSA share so nothing goes to waste or the compost bin. I've been exploring how to incorporate a plant-based diet into my normal cooking habits and have been eating vegetarian for most of the summer. My favorite right now is The CSA Cookbook.

2. A new skincare routine. I'm bad at makeup. And I've struggled with my skin off and on since Ava was born. So I made a commitment to start taking better care of my skin and learn how to do a basic makeup routine. But of course there's a catch: everything I use must be non-toxic. My current routine is washing my face with Norwex makeup removal cloths and applying Tarte BB Tinted Treatment Primer with a Beauty Blender. I'm also trying to regrow my over-tweezed eyebrows by applying castor oil twice a day. So far, it's working.

3. Tulsi Sweet Rose Tea and Tranquil essential oil blend. These are my go-to items when I'm starting to feel anxious and overwhelmed. Works every time.

4. The West Wing. I started at episode 1, season 1, on November 9. It helps me remember that this country is greater than the person in the oval office.

5. Water. Being near it just heals my soul. I've been able to breathe in the waves of northern Michigan, Seattle, and southern Illinois this summer and I cannot explain why, but it grounds me every time.

What's saving your life right now?

Friday, May 5, 2017

What I learned from arguing with a pig farmer

Recently I was invited to preach at a church near me about the importance of creation care. I carefully crafted a sermon that I thought was equal parts faithful, educational, and challenging. Though I was terrified for my first preaching experience, I thought it went well. At the very least I didn't die of embarrassment or pass out from nerves. I received positive feedback on my appearance (that's a blog post for another day), my speaking voice, and my message. I was thanked for my work and for teaching the congregation something new. Several people pledged to increase their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. It was an encouraging day.

A few days went by and I received a phone call from one of the pastors. It seems one of the members of the congregation was enraged by my message and the pastor thought he was in need of  a follow up. So I gave him a call.

What happened next was perhaps the most formative experience I've had to date about how to have a difficult or emotionally-charged conversation with someone with which you disagree. Here's what I learned:

1. Listening to understand and listening to formulate a response are not the same thing.
I like to debate, and I like to win. But when you're trying to form or maintain relationships with people, you need to suspend this desire. The best thing I could do in this situation was to make sure the person felt heard. So I listened. This can be disarming to the person you're disagreeing with, because they're not expecting this grace.

I took time to let the pig farmer explain why he was so angry. I didn't interrupt. As it turned out, he wasn't even sure why he was angry. So I was able to ask some clarifying questions to direct our conversation.

2. How you say what you say matters.
I like to be right. And I felt deep-down that this gentleman was wrong. But instead of using a sarcastic tone or superior attitude, I remembered that he deserves the same respect and grace I do. I recently watched a Ted Talk by Sally Kohn in which she said, "You can be politically right but emotionally wrong". Your tone, attitude, eye contact, and body language can determine the outcome of a disagreement just as much as your words can.

My desire was to build a bridge with the pig farmer, not to win a match. And because this was technically a work interaction, I stayed in professional-mode. I gave him the benefit of the doubt--maybe he was having a tough day personally or professionally. Perhaps he was caught off guard that I actually called to talk and he was unprepared for such a conversation.  

3. Ask, "Why do you feel that way?"
In a recent episode of Ana Marie Cox's podcast With Friends Like These she talked about putting on her journalist hat during difficult discussions. She said that asking this question often shifted the tone of the conversation because a person stopped defending ideas and started embracing feelings. This can dramatically change the conversation. It can also yield important reasons why a person holds a particular view: a painful event from his/her childhood, a anecdote from a friend or family member, a deeply held fear. The listener can then begin to feel compassion for the person and perhaps see where this person is coming from in a new way. 

I asked the pig farmer this question late in our conversation. I should have started here. Some of the most useful parts of our conversation came from this line of questioning. I could hear the pain in his voice as he explained how difficult it is to make a profit in his industry and how a changing world and economy terrified him. It was then that I saw him as a real human person and not a stereotype.

4. Restate/explain/clarify your position
People hear things wrong. People connect dots that you don't intend for them to connect. So you may need to say, "let me make sure I understand what you're saying."

It turns out the the pig farmer has misheard me. He was so worked up about something I said early in the sermon that he missed an important connecting point later in my message. I offered to email him my manuscript. He declined, but I was glad I could offer that clarification.

5. Acknowledge that you both have rational, valid points even if you disagree.
This is perhaps the place where relationships are made or broken. Even if we disagree on a topic, we might have the same end goal in mind. We may each have a different vision of how to achieve these goals, and that is OK. It's important to find what we have in common and end on a positive note.

I discovered through our conversation that the pig farmer wanted to be more sustainable but that it wasn't always possible because of regulations or budget. But he listed several things he does at his farm to try to tread lighter on the earth. I do whatever I can to reduce my impact on the planet, too. I go about it a different way than he does, but we both are doing what we can. That's common ground. That's relationship building.

I've not spoken to the pig farmer again, but I am grateful for the lessons I learned from our conversation. And I'm hopeful that I could learn more about his industry and build a relationship with him in the future, as I have space in my friend list for a pig farmer.

So, how do you have difficult conversations? What would you add to this list? 

Friday, April 21, 2017

How I Know What I Know {Earth Month Series}

This is post 3 of 5 in my Earth Month Series. You can find post #1 here, post #2 here, and post #3 here

People ask me all the time, "How do you know all of this stuff about the environment?" The truth is I'm self taught. But you, too, can know what I know by checking out the following links:

Social Media/Websites:
I've linked the websites below, and you can find social media links to follow on your preferred platform on each individual page.
The Story of Stuff

1 Million Women

Be Just Be Green

Climate Progress

Faith in Place

Interfaith Power & Light


Yes! Magazine

Environmental Voter Project

Moms Clean Air Force

Climate Reality Project

Books (that I've actually read):
 Climate Justice: A Call to Hope and Action

How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature

The 6th Extinction

A Hopeful Earth: Faith, Science, and the Message of Jesus

What should be added to this list? What sites and books teach you?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Top 5 Reasons I Love my Plug In Hybrid {Earth Month Series}

This is post 2 of 5 in my Earth Month Series. You can find post #1 here and post #2 here

Last August my husband and I purchased a 2013 Ford C-Max Energi. We had strict criteria in finding a plug-in hybrid and this ticked off all the boxes for us, from price to cargo to seating capacity to fuel economy. It has been one of our wisest purchases, and also one of our most researched.

So here's a quick roundup of the top 5 reasons we love our plug-in hybrid, aside from the obvious carbon-saving reasons:

1. We save a lot of money on gas.
The money we've saved on gas would cover 2.5 car payments, and we haven't even had the car for a year. Some days we're able to use only the battery without switching over to the gas engine. But even when we're on longer trips we get nearly 40 miles per gallon.

2. It's fun to drive.
The car is small and nimble but still feels solid and safe. It's quick off the line. It's easy to maneuver into parking spaces. In short: it's everything my minivan is not.

3. It fits the whole family.
This is the main reason we chose the C-Max over a Chevrolet Volt--seating for 5. And I can even fit a week's worth of groceries in the trunk. The are places to put all the odds and ends that a young family accumulates--snacks, drinks, books, etc. It's not the car we'll take on long road trips, but it's just perfect to drive into town for dinner or to run errands.

4. Tech features.
We're enjoying the Ford Sync system. Todd and I both have taken lots of calls in the car and it's very convenient and safe to do so while driving. And our inner data nerds love that we can control and follow the car's stats through an app on our phone. It's as close to The Jetsons as we can get in 2017 within our budget.

5. Less maintenance.
We've only needed one oil change since we've bought the car. And aside from a recall repair we were made aware of a few months after getting the car it's only been in the shop once for a minor issue.

We're glad to be early adopters of this plug-in technology, signaling to the auto industry that people really do want these kinds of cars. It's evident that the market is changing with the Tesla 3 and Chevy Bolt coming out soon with vehicles that get over 200 miles range on a battery charge. And with the advent of increased wind and solar technology, it will become cleaner than ever to power this car with every passing year.

What's are your hesitations with plug-in or hybrid cars? Or why do you love yours? Post your comments below!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Why the Future Energy Jobs Bill Should Matter to People of Faith {Earth Month Series}

This is post 2 of 5 in my Earth Month Series. You can find last week's post here.  

In November 2016, after more than two years of intensive negotiations, Illinois’ General Assembly passed the most significant piece of climate and clean energy policy in the state’s history. The Future Energy Jobs Act (SB2814; Public Act 99-0906) moves our electric sector toward a more modern, low carbon economy. This bill is a victory for people in every community across Illinois who deserve more jobs, lower electric bills, and healthier air to breathe. It’s also a victory for businesses in Illinois in the clean energy sector and across the economy, and a signal to companies across the nation that Illinois is fertile ground for growth in this field--a field growing 12 times as fast as the US economy. 

The narrative on the bill has incorrectly focused on aid given to a pair of nuclear plants*, but this bill is all about the future with major emphasis on energy conservation and clean renewable energy. Approximately 70% of the funds from the overall legislation will focus on kick starting clean energy, which dwarfs the dollars going to aid the two nuclear plants, and will help chart the path toward a clean, modern energy economy for decades to come—bringing tens of thousands of new jobs, billions in private investments, cleaner air and needed savings on monthly electricity bills, statewide. 

What's especially exciting is that this bill will open up opportunities to people in low-income communities who too often have been shut out of participating in the clean energy economy. This bill invests more than $750 million in low-income programs, including the Illinois Solar for All Program to prioritize new solar development and job training in economically disadvantaged communities. Specific programs will deliver job training and creation for returning citizens (ex-offenders) and foster care alumni.

So why should this matter to people of faith? Because this bill stands up for environmental and economic justice for our neighbors and is a way to work toward healthier communities for all. Illinois leads the US in the number of fossil fuel burning plants located in communities of color. And low income residents use a higher percentage of their total expenses on energy than higher income families do. This legislation helps level the playing field, rids our air of pollution, and brings jobs to communities often left behind.

But this legislation needs your help. Though the Future Energy Jobs Act takes effect on June 1, 2017, it's in danger of losing its funding. The funds, called the Renewable Energy Resources Fund (RERF), are in danger of being swept into other programs because of the budget crisis. Sweeping these funds sweeps away the hope of lower utility bills, workforce development and job training, and cleaner air. I encourage you to call your state representatives about HR234/SB234 and ask them to protect the RERF funds.

While we wait for more solar and wind energy, you can still become a smart energy consumer. Learn how to use your smart meter or enroll in a Peak Time Rewards program or Power Smart Pricing program through Ameren. Or email me about bringing a Smart Energy Workshop to your house of worship.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Top 5 Meatless Monday Meals {Earth Month Series}

  Let's kick off my Earth Month series with a post about food. Because I'm never not thinking about food.
         Going meatless for one meal a week is perhaps the most important way my family cares for creation. It takes a lot of resources to raise animals--and the corn/soybeans to feed those animals. Intentionally going meatless for one meal a week (or 15% of your weekly food consumption) minimizes water usage, reduces greenhouse gases, and reduces our fuel dependence. Meatless meals also reduce heart disease and stroke risks, limit cancer risks, fight diabetes, curb obesity, decrease overall healthcare spending, improve the nutritional quality of your diet, and even cut your weekly grocery budget. This is one way I live out the Faith in Place mission to educate, connect, and advocate for healthier communities.
Here is a round-up of my family's favorite meatless meals. I hope you find quick and easy meatless inspiration here. And please share your family's favorite meatless meals in the comments below!
1. Grilled Cheese and Soup or Salad: Our favorite"fancy" grilled cheese recipes are Sweet and Spicy Carmelized Onion BBQ Grilled Cheese, Tomato, Mozzarella, and Pesto Grilled Cheese, and Cucumber and Goat Cheese Grilled Cheese.
2. Mac & Cheese: We have two favorites, Gnocchi Mac & Cheese and Crock Pot Mac & Cheese.
3. Pad Thai: Easy to throw together and always a hit with the kids: Easy Pad Thai
4. Pasta: We especially like to make these cheese ravioli dishes: Ravioli with Sun-dried Tomato and Basil Sauce and  Easy Ravioli Bake (I add a layer of frozen spinach to mine).
5. Meatless "Mexican" meals: Lots of variation here, but our favorites are Cheesy Enchilada Rice Skillet, Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas, and  Roasted Veggie and Black Bean Burritos.