Saturday, May 23, 2009

You were blessed with a voice, so use it!

For all the revolutionary things I come across in my experiences, I don’t blog nearly enough – which just makes the posts I do get around to writing that many times more heavy and laden with lots of information. Sorry about that.

It bothers me that all the really fascinating things I learn about – moral courage and social entrepreneurship, Paul Farmer and liberation theology, taking the core of your “religious” beliefs seriously and public service – I learn about outside the classroom, church, and mainstream media. That some of the best public health measures could actually be things like what Scott Harrison is doing with charity:water – gathering support and raising money to install wells in Africa so that people can have easily accessible, clean water. Development in Gardening, which helps people in developing countries start their own gardens so they can improve nutrition for AIDS patients and community members in general. Or Oxfam America, which not only works on international development projects, but also advocates for Congress to put money towards helping women in developing countries adapt to climate change. And the hospital and public health infrastructure Paul Farmer has built in Cange, Haiti, that I am reading about in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains. And then Irshad Manji, professor in the NYU Wagner School of Public Service and Director of the Moral Courage Project, who invited me to a private viewing of The Stoning of Soraya M.

The last time I cried as much as I did while watching The Stoning of Soraya M. was when I watched The Passion of the Christ. Except, it was worse this time, and not because my hands were tied with rope. The Passion…well, most people have heard about the story of Jesus…He died for our sins on a cross, He was ridiculed for calling Himself God. He was a great person. But Soraya was also a great person, and yet she was killed too, for no good reason. Not just by her community, but some of her own family members, as well. Leading up to the event, people in Soraya's community had uneasy feelings about the accusations and following through with the stoning. They knew that there was something wrong with the situation, and yet…the stoning still happened.

This story is about more than “stoning.” It’s not saying that the stoners should be punished, or the Islam faith rejected. Firstoff, the takeaway from tonight’s film screening and discussion is that we need to stand up for things that we find wrong in society, as Zahra did. She is the reason the book was written, and the reason this film exists. She used her moral courage to take advantage of a journalist in town to bring to light a horrible situation, that of suppressed women’s rights and an unconscionable practice that still exists today called stoning. Two thousand years ago, Jesus said “let him who is without sin throw the first stone.” Nobody could throw the stone because nobody was without sin. Too bad people still haven't learned this lesson.

Yet there is a moral fiber that runs through virtually every religion, and Islam is no exception. Irshad Manji has made that clear with her book The Trouble with Islam Today. What happened here (and that I believe has happened with many Catholics and other Christians) is that people strayed from the fundamental truths of their religion. Religion fosters groupthink, which is bad. Belief in God and spirituality should be a personal endeavor. Just as Muslims should know the truth about the Quran, Christians should know that the Nag Hammadi texts exist, and that there are gospels which may be just as valid as the four gospels that made it into the Bible (which only cover the Outer Mysteries).

In Mountains Beyond Mountains (a book that describes the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, who started the non-profit Partners in Health in Haiti and potentially may be in charge of USAID's Foreign Assistance Efforts), there are many memorable quotes by Farmer but one of my favorites is, “You want to talk crucifixion? I’ll show you crucifixion, you bastards.” The way I understand this is, we shouldn’t merely be worshiping Jesus for dying for us. Yeah, that’s great, we can give all our selfish thoughts over to him and know that we don’t have to be damned for eternity. But the main point we should get from Jesus’s life is how to treat others. The stories in the Bible aren’t one-time deals that we should just read over and over again. They are really happening, today and every day of our lives. The destitute – the people of Cange, Haiti, living in poverty and misery – that Paul Farmer found to be of great faith, they are the people we should be looking to help. Women all over the world who are considered to be of lesser importance than men, and innocent, righteous, loving women who are stoned to death for no reason – they are the ones we should be paying attention to. Not just living here in our comfortable lives, going to church every weekend and having fun with friends. How can you live with yourself in good conscience, knowing awful, horrible things are happening to people in this world because people have a skewed view of who God is?

I'd like to leave you with these lyrics, from a Follower-of-Christ perspective:

But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way
-Casting Crowns

"The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyles. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." -DC Talk

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sustainability in the School System

In an email reply to @MCiscart re: bringing composting into the school system, I suggested these resources:

That's great you're planning on bringing composting into the school! Definitely check out what Brooklyn Academy of Science & the Environment has done - they have an entire high school class on sustainable agriculture, and even grow their own crops, pick them, and prepare them in meals. Their website is They have a really excellent program, I encourage you to contact someone from that school and ask about their sustainable ag class, maybe you can get some ideas from them. Also you can get info on composting from East New York Farms (

And not to advertise or anything, but just to put it out there...Another thing you could do is look into The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education ( - they work with schools to integrate sustainability into the curriculum. They even have a workshop coming up for teachers, curriculum designers, administrators, grade level teams - Monday July 20 to Friday July 24 (9am-4pm), with Sunday July 19th being a pre-req introduction to sustainability (9am-3pm) at the Cloud Institute, 307 7th Ave, Suite 1201, NY NY 10001. The M-F fee is $750 and Sunday is $100. Questions can be directed to Program Manager, Marie-Claire Munnelly at or (212) 645-9931 ext. 822.

I'd love to hear your ideas; if you need more help contacting anyone let me know; I'm pretty well connected in NYC ;)


FYI - One other thought: there is a petition to bring back composting to NYC - yes, they have stopped funding for it! :( The petition is here.

Message from MCiscart:
I maybe looking for some help on bringing composting program to public schools and am looking for science teachers or any teacher who believe in going green and educating our future adults not to go green but to make informed decisions. Currently working with a head start program in Jersey that's going green with composting. If you like to hear more on my plans and thoughts let me know. I can use any and all constructive criticism.


Since this is a post on "sustainability in the food system" I thought I'd add some information I learned recently regarding the NYC Department of Education's Office of SchoolFood, in relation to farm-to-school initiatives. I spoke with Bill Doherty,, 718-707-4478, and he said he is the go-to person if there are any schools interested in pursuing farm-to-school programs within the NYC school system, as all of the food has to come through SchoolFood. If any schools are interested, just let him know and he will find farms to partner with etc. and set it up.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Theologies of Sickness, Equality

A Theology of Sickness by Robert Lewis Foley, Sr., D.Min., D.D. (pdf)
I. absolutely. love. this. document.

A Theology of Equality by Reverend Dr. J. Albert Bush, Sr. (pdf)
This. one. too.

Faith-based health initiatives such as the one at the Bronx Health REACH are the way to go. (Note: the Bronx Health REACH website will be updated soon to include an entire toolkit, similar to the form of the NHLBI Faith-Based Toolkit. I was just reading these documents now and had to share.)

Oh yeah, and this Community Gardens: Blessed be the Soil that Binds (pdf) looks like a good, quick resource on connecting spirit and soil. Thanks to Rose Hayden-Smith (@victorygrower) for posting this on Twitter!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

GE foods

I attended the Brooklyn Food Conference today and here is some information on GE foods that I learned:
The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (IAASTD) has issued a report on GE foods (which has not been endorsed by the US...their reports can be found here).
Additionally, the Union of Concerned Scientists' document, "Failure to Yield" seems like a great report on GE crops.
There is a "National Organic Action Plan," which is a citizen-based group that defines "organic" and emphasizes crop diversity.
Kathy Lawrence from School Food Focus said that the primary purpose of introducing GE foods into the system was to solidify the market share for a few multinational corporations, not to feed the world. She says it's been proven that organic agriculture could indeed feed the world.
In addition, the National Family Farm Coalition is working on legislation to block the introduction of new crops into the food system.