Sunday, June 8, 2014

Change or Die

It was Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong who, years ago, said that "Christianity must change or die" in response to the question of where the Church fit into modern society and the issues of racism, poverty, women's equality, and homosexuality. Those words would prove to be prophetic as today the Church finds itself in a crisis. With atheism and alternative spirituality on the rise in the United States, the Church finds her pews increasingly vacant. Young people who identify as Millennials are leaving the Church in droves and the Pew Research Poll indicates that the reason is because of the Church's stand against homosexuality and the harsh treatment of gays and their gay friends.

Waking up to this reality has been difficult for the Church. While some of the most extreme fundamentalists are holding on to the Phelps-style "God Hates Fags" dogma, the more progressive sects and denominations are beginning to realize that what Spong warned of years ago, has come to pass and they now seem willing to at least talk about the issues. Some of the change seems to be happening simply because more and more young people are willing to come out to their parents as being gay, and fewer parents, fearing chastisement for being hateful, abusive, bigots on social media, are willing to disown their children when they come out. PFLAG, which is an organization of parents with gay children is reporting a sharp increase in membership, and it was only yesterday that I found a link on Facebook to an article about a Southern Baptist minister in California who has led his church to leave the Southern Baptist Convention because his congregation has decided to openly welcome members of the LGBT community. This decision was primarily due to the fact that the pastor's son had recently revealed to his father that he was gay. It seems the more gays that people know, the less likely they are to judge or be afraid of them. All of a sudden, gays become real people--friends, family members, neighbors-- and not some sub-human abstract abomination from the Old Testament.

Yesterday I attended the Tulsa Pride event with a dear friend and one of the booths I encountered was from the College Hill Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. College Hill has been known as one of the most theologically and socially progressive churches in the entire state for decades and has been on the cutting edge of social issues such as racism, poverty, women's equality, and LGBT rights, throughout it's entire
history as a church. It was through my aunt, who is an elder there, that I first encountered the church and was taken in and sheltered by them after I divorced after 18 years of marriage and then partnered with a woman. Because of my family's and church's rejection, I had nowhere to turn for the support that I needed during a difficult and painful time in my life. The wonderful, loving, and caring people at College Hill embraced Steph and me and took us in as their own. In May of 2001, Steph and I were joined in Holy Union at the College Hill Presbyterian Church. We later removed our membership from there because the 60 mile drive there and back got to be too much to handle, but our hearts always remained with the people and our memories of their love and outreach to us will always be fond.

While watching the parade, I was also struck by the number of Tulsa churches of various denominations that were represented--Episcopal, Presbyterian, Unitarian, and even Methodist were all united in their love and support for the Tulsa LGBT community. Their voice was so loud that it served to drown out the hateful voice
of the crowd of anti-gay protesters carrying their ugly placards admonishing us to "REPENT" or face an eternity in hell. Apparently these Christians worship a different god than the one of the folks at College Hill.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ten Simple Ways to Get Off the Grid

A few years ago I was introduced to a new concept that people all over the U.S. were adopting in response to the economic crisis that was brought on by the imbalance of wealth due to corporate oligarchy. At first, I thought it was impossible for the regular person, like me to live off the grid. I thought it meant making radical changes like moving to the country and growing organic fruits and veggies and raising chickens, and converting entirely to solar power, none of these things being practical or affordable in my situation. However, over the years, I'm seeing how Steph and I have been slowly but surely moving into an off-the-grid way of life without even realizing that's what we were doing, and we're actually loving the simpler, less expensive, more fulfilling benefits. I thought I'd share a list of ways that we've been moving off the grid that have made it much easier and simple to adopt into any lifestyle.

1. Kill your television. That's actually the first thing we did. When we downsized into a smaller house, we decided not to renew our cable television contract. We have been without cable or satellite T.V. since the summer of 2009, and not only has it saved us thousands of dollars a year, it has actually helped us curb our spending in other ways because we're not constantly bombarded with commercials and messages about how worthless our lives are if we don't have that iphone or the newest computer, or that new car, or the latest designer drug that we're supposed to ask our doctor about but we don't even know what it's for. We own a very nice flat screen digital T.V. and we have Netflix, Youtube, PBS, and other internet apps that provide us with all the movies, television series, music, and entertainment that we require at a fraction of the cost of what cable T.V. with 1000 channels that you never watch provides.

2. Don't run to the doctor for every complaint. Not having medical insurance makes it difficult for us to run to the doctor every time we have a runny nose. Like Steph tells our doctor all the time, "You're an expensive date." As a result, we've learned a lot of ways to not only cure what ails us at home, but we have adopted a healthier lifestyle that prevents illness. We've learned to eat healthier and have found some homeopathic cures for common complaints that are far less expensive than the trip to the physician and the accompanying Rx. Plus, laying off the magic antibiotic cure for everything has actually strengthened our immune systems and we find now that we get fewer colds and flu or other infections.

3. Eat less meat. This actually goes with the previous suggestion about adopting a healthier lifestyle. Although I am an unapologetic omnivore, and will never go completely vegetarian or vegan, I have found that I don't need as much meat and/or animal products in my diet as I have been eating. I don't need to eat meat three times a day, and there are some days when I don't eat meat at all. According to the 2012 National Census Bureau Food & Nutrition Report, the average American consumes about 200 pounds of meat per year.  That's about 50 more pounds of meat per person per year than in the 1950s. And our dairy products consumption is about 600 pounds per year, mostly consisting of cheese. It's easy to see that the meat and dairy industries are making huge profits at the expense of our health and at the expense of humane treatment of industry animals. The healthier and more humane alternative is buying meat and animal products from local farmers and ranchers. It's more expensive in the short run, but if you're eating less meat, the extra cost may
balance itself out in the long run. One thing we do is buy our eggs from a friend who has her own chickens. Her farm fresh eggs are about .50 more a dozen than what I buy in the grocery store, but it's still cheaper than buying meat and you can't even compare the taste, nutrition, and freshness! We've also learned to adopt vegetarian alternatives for our protein sources such as beans, nut butters, etc. We save lots of money and we're a lot healthier for it.

4. Make your own laundry soap. Yes, it's true! We make our own laundry detergent and not only is it much cheaper than the stuff you buy at the supermarket, it is less irritating to the skin, easier on the clothes, and gets the clothes cleaner. Here's a laundry soap recipe that is very similar to the one we use. We buy the ingredients on the detergent aisle at the supermarket. One batch lasts our family about six months and costs us about $10 a batch. Compare that to $20 to $30 a month for the commercial stuff and you can see the instant savings. Also, whenever possible, dry your clothing on a line. It saves energy, saves wear and tear on your clothing and makes them smell great!

5. Buy locally. Whenever we can, we support local business--local restaurants, bakeries, services, clothing stores, furniture, etc. When you support local business, you're taking money away from the corporate conglomerates and insuring a better future for your family and community.

6. Buy refurbished. Not two weeks ago, my old, reliable Dell desktop with Windows XP caught a virus (due to the lack of XP support since April of this year), and died. Because my financial resources are limited, I didn't have the money to go out and buy a new computer so I went on Ebay (on Steph's computer), and searched the electronics pages for licensed Microsoft refurbished computers. I am now typing my blog entry on my new refurbished Dell Latitude laptop with Windows 7. It cost me all of $204.97 and if I take good care of it, will last me as long as my beloved Dell desktop.

7. Ditch the expensive cell phones and cell phone plans. I understand that lots of people are married to their cell phones and find it necessary to have all the latest bells and whistles and gadgets. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, I will tell you that for me they're a waste of money and an expense that I simply can't afford right now. I have a cell phone. It's an LG blackberry style phone that has some apps and several other
features. I use a Net 10 prepaid plan and get unlimited calls and texts for $35 a month, and if I want to add internet access, I can add it for $15 more a month. At this point, I haven't found that necessary, but when I do, I can still get an Android type phone with all the bells and whistles from Net 10 at a fraction of the cost of the phones put out by the big guys and still on a prepaid plan that's much more affordable.

8. Live in a smaller house. In August of 2009, we moved from a nearly 3000 square foot, 5 bedroom house to a 3 bedroom 1930s bungalow cottage with 1250 square feet on a corner lot. At first, it was a huge adjustment for us. We were used to a lovely, elegant, expansive place to entertain guests and it provided the needed privacy that our large family required. However, as the kids started moving out one-by-one and the economy tanked, the rent and utilities became much more than what we could handle, and we were forced to downsize. The rooms are much smaller and fewer, and we had to ditch some furniture in order to squeeze ourselves into a home that was half the size of our previous one. However, after a couple of years of cottage living, we enjoy the charm and warmth of our home and we're much fonder of the lower rent and utility bills. We have the added benefit of a charming front porch on which to entertain, and have found that our smaller, more intimate gatherings and entertainment is more compatible with our new, gentler, off-the-grid lifestyle.

9. Buy from thrift and antique stores. We have found a wealth of treasures in our local thrift and antique stores and not only do we get some very nice quality clothing, but we've also found furniture and housewares at a fraction of the cost of what they would cost new. Plus these items go very nicely in our cottage home. In addition to finding things at a lower cost, you are also helping to support local business.

10. Learn how to cut and color your own hair and do your own nails. I admit it, there's nothing like the feeling of going to a salon and getting the full treatment, but the price for it negates much of the pleasure.
Because I wear a short hairstyle, going to the salon to have my hair cut and colored every six weeks or so, was getting to be much more than I could afford, so I went on line and found a tutorial on how to do both. I've been cutting and coloring my own hair now for several years and at a huge fraction of the cost. Plus, my hair is always the right length, because when it starts to get too long, I can grab my shears and cut it then and there. The same goes for fingernails and toes. I've learned how to give myself beautiful manicures and pedicures that look almost as good as the professional ones, again at a fraction of the cost.

These are just ten very simple ways to start taking yourself and your family off the grid. You can probably think of even more, but these are a great place to start!