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.