The BBC reports researchers in Kenya have documented a 94% reduction rate for malarial mosquitos consumed by tilapia, a fish commonly used as a food source in many parts of the world.</p>
The research is the first formal documentation of the ability of tilapia to consume larvae at a signficiant pace. I mentioned the use of tilapia in a church school pond in Uganda last year. After the pond was stocked, the fish reduced mosquitoes in the immediate vicinity so that it was virtually mosquito-free. However, there is an obvious limitation. The fish are effective only in the immediate area. In addition, mosquitoes breed in standing water and puddles where it is not possible to introduce fish, so their effectiveness is limited to bodies of water suitable for the fish to survive.
The BBC reports researchers in Kenya have documented a 94% reduction rate for malarial mosquitos consumed by tilapia, a fish commonly used as a food source in many parts of the world.</p>
I suppose it’s a measure of our time that a call from United Methodist bishops to practice respect when holding church conferences evoked a blog post that claims a United Methodist clergyperson “lied through his teeth” in a conference years ago.
The bishops asked United Methodists to engage in respectful conversation as the quadrennial all-church meeting known as General Conference approaches. It’s a pressure-packed meeting in which policies for the global church are considered, budget is approved and church-wide programs of mission and ministry are presented.
As many other denominations in this contentious age, United Methodists are confronted with theological and cultural issues that evoke deep-seated emotions. Among these, how to respond to homosexuality is one of the most prominent.
Neither church members nor clergy are one mind, but a majority of delegates have voted at past General Conferences for restrictive language that prevents the ordination of practicing homosexuals and states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The church also affirms the sacred worth of every person and calls upon families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends and to commit to ministry with and for all persons. A recent survey reveals that people in different regions of the United States hold widely different views on this issue. However, when asked how important it is for the church to address disagreement on homosexuality, a minority say it’s important to do so.
There are other contentious issues and sometimes the words used to characterize those holding opposing points of view have been harsh to the point of doing harm. It’s this harsh, harmful speech the bishops have called delegates to avoid. It’s a modest, appropriate request.
In 1739, as it became clear the Methodist movement was taking on a life of its own outside the Anglican Church, John Wesley, the movement’s founder, instructed his followers with a set of general rules. Reduced to their simplest form, they are: First, do no harm; Second, do all the good you can; Third, love God by attending worship, hearing or reading about the Word, receiving Holy Communion, praying individually and as families, searching the Scriptures, and practicing fasting or abstinence.
This is the heritage of the people of The United Methodist Church. It’s remarkably fresh and contemporary. The bishops have called us to honor our heritage and behave as we’ve been asked historically to behave.
These are not the values of the majority culture. We’ve seen the incivility of that culture, its disrespect for the sacredness of human personality, its willingness to make violence a form of entertainment, its language that demeans and diminishes. I have not experienced what the blogger in the link above has experienced, It would make me skeptical too. Such experience shape us and culture infiltrates faith. I do believe we in the church have learned the cultural language of skepticism and despair. We can repeat it by rote. We can even live it out, if we choose to. Sometimes it feels like a a culture of despair it’s killing us because it speaks in words that Gary Gunderson calls the language of death. This language is about division, competition, entropy, despair, disease, fear, separation, lovelessness and confusion. He says “It takes discipline to avoid the vortex that spins us into the center of fear.” I think it kills our creativity, our excitement, our energy, our curiouslity. It puts us on the defensive. It nurtures fear and separation. This is not the language of life. It’s certainly not what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of abundant life.
Conversations using the language of death can only spiral downward. Personally, they leave me in the dumps. I’m interested in getting to the top of the hill to see what’s on the horizon–to glimpse the future. And I know I’m not alone. I think the only way to look toward the future is to put the language of death behind us. The bishops haven’t asked us to avoid discussing our differences, they’ve asked us to show respect and compassion for each other even when we differ. It’s not an impossible task. If it is, we’re beyond repair.
But I don’t think we are. In fact, I think people are already acting in ways that give life.
I heard a report today that Nothing But Nets which seeks to provide bednets for kids in malarial regions has raised $13 million in barely one year. It’s become a grassroots movement. Those who started it had no idea it would take off like this. In this instance people are setting aside those contentious things that we can’t agree upon and rushing toward life, something we do agree on.
But that’s not all. The bishops identified seven vision pathways for church renewal they are holding themselves accountable for. In response, the general agencies of the church that carry out various ministries suggested four areas in which they will collaborate with each other, with annual conferences, local churches and other partners to address both internal and external ministry by the church. The four–attracting new leaders for the 21st Century, creating new places (communities of faith) for new people, engaging in ministry with the poor and working to end the killer diseases of poverty–are generating positive conversation, curiosity and energy. These are actions people of the church said they’d like to happen, and they’ve said they’d like to see them addressed collaboratively. They are biblical. They respond to Jesus’ call to become disciples and follow him.
As the leader of a general church agency, it’s not my place to advise delegates how to vote, how to behave or what’s important. That’s not my purpose here. I am responsible for implementing the mandates of General Conference. But I care deeply for this community of faith and feel passionately about it. As a private individual I have hopes. And I’m sharing personal hope. Maybe I’m naive and my hope is in vain, but I hope the delegates to General Conference come with a vision of what could be–a world in which leaders lead with integrity and global vision, one in which alienation and hostility are transformed by hospitality and compassion, one in which people searching for meaning and purpose recieve an invitation into a faith community, one in which grinding poverty is addressed by empowerment and justice, and killer diseases are prevented and healing is offerred to everyone. Big hopes. Hopes worthy of our conversation, even the commitment of our lives. I also hope we honor the bishops’ call and respect each other even when we differ. And I pray we look to the future where we may catch a glimpse of God calling us to help create a renewed and transformed world; and to be a people who do no harm, do all the good we can, and love God. I hope we speak the language of life.
I’m changing blogging platforms.
I’ve been swamped with work lately and have not blogged as frequently as in the past. And I’m looking into changing blogging platforms and that’s taken time. It’s a major change. I’m loooking at WordPress primarily because it’s accessible, has many plugins and looks like it will transfer my iBlog files.
There’s a lot to write about, of course, so I’ll get back to more regular postings as I get the background work completed in making this changeover.
The Guardian reports on U.S. students graduating from the Latin American School of Medicine.
The Guardian reports this morning on the graduation of eight U.S. medical students from the Latin America School of Medicine, a creation of Fidel Castro on the outskirts of Havana. The Cuban medical system is one of the most advanced in Central America in many ways. However, it operates with equipment that in many places is far from state of the art. Despite its time-worn physical plant and technology, patients from around Latin America, and some from far distant nations, come for treatment and get good care. The graduating U.S. students may face challenges gaining licenses to practice in the U.S. but the commitment they express in the article to serving the poor illustrates the emphasis of the Cuban system on humanitarian service. It will be interesting to follow these students and see how they progress in the U.S.
TIME reports on the new sanctuary movement.
We are taught
–Bishop Beverly Shamana
Hospitality and welcoming the stranger are central to the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. TIME reports on faith groups offering sanctuary and experiencing renewed energy despite controversy about immigration in the U.S. Mainline communions have a long history of working with immigrants and providing sanctuary, and it has always been controversial to detractors.
But TIME reporter, David Van Biema, says “solid biblical underpinnings make [the] issue particularly promising for the resurgent religious left, and it may peel conservative Protestant Hispanics from the right.” He is referring to the scriptural admonition in Leviticus 19: 33: “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
A key historical example of sanctuary important to both Christians and Muslims is the story of the Ethiopian Negus in Aksum harboring Muslims at the time of Mohammed. The historical account says Mohammed wrote to Negus, the “king of kings” in Ethiopia (known in history and parts of the bible as Abyssinia), asking for sanctuary for these refugees from Mecca and Negus, after questioning them, agreed. The story is valued by both Islam and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Perhaps it was a controversial act, but it is remembered today as an example of interfaith respect and hospitality. In controversy about illegal immigration today in the U.S. it’s inevitable that the description of the sanctuary movement is framed in polarizring language, but it’s also indisputable that the biblical mandate is clear, and the historical experience puts the sanctuary movement on solid biblical and traditional grounds.
Stumble Upon includes TIME magazine’s list of fifty best websites. It’s a fascinating collection. Blip TV is one of the fifty. Blip aggregates video. If you haven’t seen Goodnight Burbank, a satirical look at a news program, it’s as good as any satire on the screen.
Oh Don’t Forget is a reminder service that allows you to program calls to your cellphone to remind you of tasks. It’s unique.
Grand Central allows you to program multiple telephones to ring so that you don’t miss a call on the office phone or cellphone. It goes a step beyond call forwarding.
There’s much more, some practical tools and others just for fun.
A profile of hospital chaplain the Rev. Margaret A. Muncie offers a glimpse into the difficult work of chaplaincy and also offers an example of good feature reporting on religion.
A profile of the Rev. Margaret A. Muncie, chaplain at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, by Jan Hoffman in the New York Times is moving and well-written. The Rev. Ms. Muncie is a skilled pastor who works with people who follow many different religious paths and she does so with respect and sincerity. She represents an example of the strength of a trained clergyperson who understands her own theology and the faith perspectives of others. She also demonstrates compassion that cuts across difference and gets to the humanity of people in compromised positions due to illness, grief and the uncertain health outcomes that weaken our hope and make us feel alone.
Jan Hoffman writes with an understanding that reveals the complexity and humanity of Chaplain Muncie. Despite my criticism of media in the post preceding this, I cite Ms. Hoffman’s work as an example of good journalism. I was emotionally moved by her profile while not feeling I had been manipulated or otherwise led to a place I didn’t want to go. It’s a good example of writing about a Mainline clergyperson and the expression of pastoral skills and personal faith written without taking us into the controversy or sensationalism that is too often the picture of the mainline church.
It’s good reading and inspiring work.
Christine Gorman on Health Media Watch blog offers some constructive criticism about media and health writing.
I’ve written a fair share of criticism about the media in this blog. I think the issue of sloppiness–my own first and others secondarily–ought to be challenged. Especially in our media environment where messages travel around the world in seconds and have immediate influence.
On the Health Media Blog, Christine Gorman consistently writes about journalistic sloppiness and points out how it affects us. Sometimes it’s not harmless. And sometimes it doesn’t pass unnoticed and easily forgotten. In this post she points out how a sloppy headline about Parkinsons is misleading. It could convey hope to persons affected by the condition while the cited study is limited. It’s not a trial, nor even a safety study about the use of medication. The headline is misleading.
In a different medium, I’ve noticed a local television station’s “tease” about an upcoming segment employs a similar tactic. Sometimes they say a common household item can cause great harm or they hint, for example, that drinking coffee can prevent some the effects of some menacing disease. While there is a kernal of truth in the story, it is much less significant than the tease implies. But the point doesn’t seem to be to give us important content. The story can’t be told adequately in this brief way. Sometimes I wonder why they bothert. It’s the electronic equivalent to the print headline.
In a second post on why scientists dislike journalists Gorman makes the pertinent observation that information is not the same thing as knowledge, and opinion, the saltier the better in the post-information age, demonstrates that not all content is information.
It’s almost hackneyed to write that the paradigm is changing. But it’s true. And as change overtakes, television news formats are tinkered with and adjusted to retain viewers. From the outside, it appears editors and managers are casting about trying to find a formula that works in a highly competitive envionment. I suppose this is part of the cause for the decline in quality local television news.
In this context, Gorman’s observations are helpful. She puts such practices in context and reminds those us who write content that others rely upon that trust is easy to lose and difficult to gain.
She glided in and briefly rested on the golden fennel. Her wings fluttered as she hesitated on one spike before flitting to another. Then she flew to the butterfly bush, moving deliberately from one tiny petal to the next drinking in nectar before she swept away as quickly as she had come.
I checked the fennel and felt as happy as if I were a grandparent. Three eggs had been deposited. Tiny and pearl-like, they contrast clearly with the bronze spikes. This is is what we’ve been working for.
We planted parsley first and got some traffic. But the fennel has been a great addition. We’re trying to attract butterflies to a backyard garden so we’re planting those flowers and herbs that provide food and nesting. And so far, we’ve been successful with swallowtails, which we’ve concentrated on because they’re prevalent in our part of the state. Three additional eggs were laid the next day so we’re now carefully watching six caterpillars.
At first they are tiny specks so small they’re barely visible. But they develop quickly. After a couple of days they look a bit like bird droppings. (Which is a nice camouflage, when you think about it.)
They gradually develop a colorful exoskeleton that blends in well with the green parsley but isn’t so complementary to the bronze colors of the fennel.
Upon emerging from the egg they start eating. They are voracious eaters. Last week this guy (or gal, how can you tell?) ate a whole fennel plant. We added to our plantings because six eaters will clean our garden.
After they eat their fill they find a place to attach and go into the chrysalis stage. Then they emerge looking like this.
I see the phrase “oil field trash” in the New York Times today. Too bad. We can be better than this.
“Oil field trash” is an epithet applied to lower middle class whites who work at the most menial and dangerous jobs in the oil patch. It was applied to me as a third-grader in a dusty West Texas town. My dad was an oilfied roustabout, also known as a roughneck. Oilfield famlies like us were among the nomadic poor. We travelled from place to place following the re-location of drilling rigs prospecting for oil. Our lives literally revolved around the location.
At this level oilfield people don’t own homes, they rent. They don’t take part in civic affairs because they move when the well comes in or proves dry. They aren’t members of the PTA, the local church, Boy Scouts or Rotary, or whatever the social glue is today. We lived at the margins of society, and at the margins of the constraints of society.
This was long before oilfield work paid high salaries and even before freelance workers could qualify for health insurance and Social Security. But the phrase sticks in my craw to this day. It’s classist and perhaps racist.
I note this because an article in the New York Times this morning highlights a quote from the book, Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil, by John Ghazvinian. The Times reports that Ghazvinian spent six months traversing Africa looking at the scramble for oil in 12 nations and he writes about the their putschists, preachers, kleptocrats, activists, child soldiers and foreign “oilfield trash” — that is, pot-bellied white men bar-hopping “with 19-year-old Naomi Campbell look-alikes.”
I’m disappointed the characterization is highlighted by the Times editors, but not surprised. Long ago I came to the understanding that it’s still OK to stereotype lower middle class white working people. In the social totem I grew up in Rednecks are higher up than white trash who are higher than oilfield trash.
I know Jeff Foxworthy has made a fortune claiming his redneck roots. And I know that some working folks call each other by these epithets. It’s long been recognized that one way to drain the power from negative typecasting is to claim it and use it. It’s controversial, as when African Americans claim the N word, but it’s a way to insulate against the exclusion and inferior social location imposed by the majority culture.
This isn’t much ado about nothing, as I see it. To characterize other human beings as trash is beyond the pale. The men Ghazvinian saw may behave badly, even trashy. They may be beer swilling, obnoxious, overweight, miserable human beings, but they’re not trash. It’s a dangerous thing to denigrate the humanity of others. It’s worth remembering only a few years ago Hutus justified genocide against Tutsis by reducing them to “cockroaches” and calling for their extermination. The less classist, racist stereotyping we have, even in benign form, the better.
When we denigrate the humanity of others, we degrade ourselves. Besides, I’m not willing to be called trash anymore and I don’t think anyone else should be.