Justice for Harambe Means Saving Other Lives

On Saturday, May 28th the staff of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens in Ohio had to make a terrible decision. Both they and the country now mourn the loss of an endangered western lowland gorilla, Harambe. While the public makes a collective call for justice, we must remember that our moral outrage over neglectful parenting will not resurrect Harambe. Shouting our opinions on social media will not resurrect Harambe. There is nothing we can do to change what happened. The zoo had to make a decision and they had to make it quickly. It is not a position that I envy. I will not speak about whether they were right or wrong, but only where we can go from here. I respect zoo director Thane Maynard for his ability to handle the response from the public while also comforting zoo staff during a difficult time. I have no doubt that Harambe was loved; not simply as a creature to admire, but as an individual with his own presence and personality.

While we are all shocked at this situation, we must remember that gorillas are threatened every day. They are at risk due to human population growth, logging, mining, and road building. They are the victims when humans engage in violent conflict. Their young are left behind when their mothers are killed. They succumb to the same diseases that kill us. Gorillas, as well as other apes, are dying in the wild due to our own negligent behavior. We can sit in judgment of the child’s mother. We can sit in judgment of zoo staff. But who wins that game? It’s much easier recognize the failings of others than to recognize our own. We are all guilty.

Let’s not make decisions based on ignorance. We should seek out information from those who are knowable about primate behavior, as well as primate threats in the wild. Social media is abuzz with comments made from a place of misunderstanding. A misunderstanding of conservation, a misunderstanding of primate behavior, and I think, a misunderstanding of the child welfare system. I do not claim the public should not be outraged, but when we speak or act, we should do so from an educated perspective. Anything otherwise could be detrimental to the welfare of endangered species.

I do sometimes struggle with the idea of keeping great apes in captivity. At the same time, I think the public romanticizes life in the wild. Gorillas are not living wild and free as they should be able to do. Would you feel free if you were continually at risk of being killed for meat or having your home bulldozed? This is the reality they face. Perhaps we will learn that zoos were not the best place for our ancestral cousins, but the wild has not been kind to them either – for we are there too.

If we truly want justice for Harambe, we are going to have to work for it. If we are angry about the incident that took place at this zoo, then we should outraged at what is occuring every day and we should DO something about it. We have to be willing to educate ourselves and analyze where we need to change. We need to be aware that the choices we make have an impact on wildlife, including gorillas. This tragic event has shown us the public does care about the welfare of the great apes. We should use this as an opportunity to further educate our communities on the threats to ape populations, as well as what they can do to help. What better way to honor Harambe than to save lives?

Things you can do:

For more information on the threat to apes and what you can do, please visit: The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the Mbeli Bai Study.

For information on how palm oil (a common ingredient in products you probably have in your home) is a threat to the orangutan, please visit: Orangutan Foundation International.

Slut Shaming Creates Sex Objects

woman in lace
Beth Moore, a popular Christian teacher with millions of followers, once released an article  wherein she berated women and girls who dare to wear bathing suits at the beach. In her opinion, women who do not cover their chest are doing so only to get attention from men, in particular, her man. She has strong words for those who choose to wear clothing that most of us would consider appropriate beach attire. She believes this is a call for modesty, but it sounds an awful lot like slut shaming.

Fundamentalists have a long history of trying to dictate what adherents, especially women, should and should not wear. My experience is with Christianity and Judaism but conservative Islam also exhibits an obsession with female attire. I am quite a modest dresser. All of my clothing covers my arms and chest. Dresses cover at least my knees, if not also the ankles. I don’t even wear sleeveless shirts. But I am a woman and I should not have to hide that fact behind baggy clothing or suffocating necklines. As a child I was often shamed (not by my parents, thankfully) for being a girl by constant attention on what I was wearing and how it might affect boys. This obsession with modesty shames girls and creates sex objects.

By calling girls out and making a big deal of what they are or are not wearing, those like Beth Moore actually help to create a culture where women are perceived as objects that need to be covered lest men notice the fact that they are indeed, women. When constant attention is directed at your body and how it must be covered, it’s easy to believe that you are defined solely by that body. You are not your thoughts, ideas, your action, or what you contribute to society. You are a set of breasts, a pair thighs or an ample bottom. You are in object, one that needs to be covered, but in object nonetheless.

I am not implying that women should not consider what they wear or how others may perceive them. But we should allow girls to be female without shaming them for it. Breasts are normal. They’re not scandalous. They feed babies and provide a soft place to cry. Why should we, as women, have to pretend they do not exist? Why should Beth Moore get to call girls names because they are not hiding? We should be able to wear a bathing suit at the beach without another woman insisting we are trying to steal her husband’s attention. We want to be valued for what we contribute to society. This cannot be achieved by women shaming each other. Let’s not raise girls who are so ashamed of being female that they believe they have no other value. Let’s focus on other aspects of life, rather than harping on whether her skirt is long enough or her collar high enough. In short, let’s treat them like human beings.


Nearly 4,000 Terrorist Attacks in U.S.

In the last couple weeks, there has been a great deal of talk about terrorist attacks and refugees. Since 2011, Americans have been more fearful about becoming the target of terrorism. With the latest attack in Paris, Americans are once again wondering if we are at risk. This fear is an excuse for politicians to try to prevent refugees, fleeing terrorism in their own country, to enter the United States. The Tsarmaev brothers, Muslim immigrants, killed six during a bombing in April of 2013. They entered the country as children and years later, carried out an attack against Americans. But there is more.

Did you know there have been nearly 4,000 other terrorist attacks in the United States? From 1877 – 1950, American citizens lynched 3,959 African Americans living in the South (Equal Justice Initiative).

Researchers found they were 12 states where lynchings were most common: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia (Equal Justice Initiative). These numbers do not include hangings or mobs after trials, where those who were convicted were publicly punished. Hate crimes that were eventually prosecuted were also not included. Lynchings were the result not of crimes that had been perpetrated and supported with evidence – they were the result of sex between a black man and a white woman, a black person walking on the sidewalk, a black man not addressing a white man with the term “Mr”, a black person accidentally bumping into a white woman, or having found himself in the unfortunate position of having walked into a room with a number of white women present (Equal Justice Initiative).

Lynchings were celebrated events, attended by families, and even children. Crowds would gather to watch a black person be tormented, mutilated, or burned. Sometimes they would participate. Vendors sold food and body parts of the victims could be collected as a souvenir. Like all terrorism, there was a goal. The aim of lynching was to terrify, control, and dominate non-whites living in this country. Violent and cruel lynchings were used to force blacks out of cities and communities where whites did not want to live next to those who they believed to be inferior or dangerous. Lynchings were used to silence and suppress civil rights activists who were seeking equality or humane conditions for minorities.

Lynchings were not committed by outsiders. As has often been the case with terrorism in this country, they were perpetrated by Americans. Before we work ourselves into a frenzy or hand our lives over to the likes of Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush, perhaps we should take a look what has been and continues to be our most dangerous terrorist threat. Racism, fear of people who live or look differently, quickness to violence, and lack of concern for all our neighbors – those seem to be a much bigger problem. We need to acknowledge our own flaws and quit trying to pin imaginary crimes on the people who are not committing them. Out of control fear has nothing but devastating consequences.

Why I dislike Adoption Fundraisers (Usually)

I say “usually” because there are exceptions – when a young person wants to adopt from foster care, when a family seeks to adopt a child with severe medical needs, etc. But these are generally not the fundraisers I see on Facebook or crowdfunding sites. Rather, it’s the families who want to adopt an infant or a very young child from abroad. I find it not only tacky, but also indicative of how Americans (as well others) perceive the idea of adoption. We’re truly clueless. Our culture glorifies the idea of taking a baby away from an underprivileged mother and giving it to a more privileged parent. We crowdfund for adoptive parents but where are the fundraisers for the original mothers? The author of this article, Nicole Chung, explains it much better than I ever could.

We need to support original families and their communities. We can direct our financial support to meet public health needs, promote women’s health, educate children, provide infants and youth with necessary medical care regardless of whether or not their families can pay for it, de-stigmatize and wholeheartedly support single parenthood and kinship care and other alternatives to adoption, and address the many economic and social factors that ultimately lead to family separation. There’s no reason that adoption can’t exist alongside systems that prop up families, help them stay whole and together, and allow more parents and communities to keep and raise their children.

I am married to a man whose teenage parents chose to parent rather than seek out adoptive parents for their child. They provided a wonderful life for him. They are a happy, stable, family and his parents are absolutely wonderful in-laws. I’m not claiming that this was the right choice and others are making the wrong choice. I’m simply saying that we need to  re-evaluate the systems we have in place in order to offer support for parents who would keep their children if they had the resources. We should place an emphasis on that support.

If you’re interested in this topic, you can also listen to Kathryn Joyce’s interview with NPR on the topic of religious communities and adoption. She also wrote a book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoptionwhich covers that same topic, adoption during the baby scoop era, and infant adoption today here in the United States and in South Korea.

Reading Through the Bible – Genesis

This year I’ve made a goal to read through the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible (known as the New Testament). There are a number of interesting Jewish interpretations  of Torah but I’m not going to get into much of those at this time. I’m simply going to read straight through to get a reminder of the basic story lines and principles found within.

Starting at the beginning, it seems that the earth already exists. Of course, we realize the Bible is not a scientific book (obviously) but even from a theological perspective, this should mean something to those who hold to literal interpretations of the text. Another interesting note in the commentary is that the word בָּרָא, translated as the verb “create” never means to create out of nothing. At least at the start, the Bible does not assert that god created the world from nothing which is a complete contradiction to what creationists claim.

Skip ahead to Adam and Eve. The story from a Christian perspectives takes on literal meaning but in other traditions, there is room for interpretation. Adam and Eve eat the fruit of knowledge, thereby learning wrong from right. One could say this marks their entry into adulthood. Just like Adam and Eve, we too one day reach adulthood where we begin to know what is right and what is wrong. We’re then held responsible by our families, friends, communities and governments to act accordingly. As Adam and Eve had to leave the safety and security of the garden, we leave our homes and start our lives as adults in the wider world.

It is unfortunate that so many interpretations of the Biblical text are left to literal understanding, as when you look at the stories form different perspectives, they make a hell of a lot more sense…and they are slightly less disturbing.

At this point, looking superficially, we see Genesis degrade into lying, murder, worldwide genocide, more lying, child sacrifice, citywide genocide, offering up one’s own children for rape, incest, deception, seething jealousy, family conflict and general bad behavior. The most appealing theme in all of Genesis, I think, is that of brotherly reconciliation. After having stolen his birthright and blessing, Jacob meets up with his brother Esau (both the sons of Issac; Grandchildren of Abraham) twenty years later with fear that he and his family may be killed. Rather, his brother greets him with a hug.

Later, Jacob’s son Joseph is sold by his brothers who despise him. Jacob is understandably distraught but has been lead to believe the young boy is dead. Many years later, the men meet their brother in Egypt and after a few tricks to determine their character, Joseph tells them he is their long lost brother. Jacob is reunited with his son.

I noticed the tales of Abraham are more detailed than the first few. Once the book opens up to Jacob and his children, there is also more emotional drama. The reader is told of Jacob’s despair when his child is missing and repeatedly the text mentions Joseph crying in regards to seeing his brothers again.

That isn’t to say these stories aren’t still gruesome. This the same family wherein a daughter is raped, the boys murder the perpetrator (and his associates) and take all of the women and children in his clan for their own. The same family where envy for one brother leads them to consider killing him and then decide eh, they will just sell him instead. They also tend to lie. In short, they’ve got problems.

4 Good Reasons to get Rid of Your Stuff

Sorting through our possessions (or those of someone else) can be tremendously difficult. It can bring up feelings of pain, fear or loss. I believe the benefits, once we can see them, outweigh all the work and negative feelings. I’m now in my second year leading a group of about 100 people as we decided what adds value to our lives and what does not. For me, it’s my third year and I know that my husband and I have donated over 2000 items. That may seem like a high number but I assure our house is still full of “stuff”. There are a number of personal reasons that may motivate you to consider how much you own and whether you really need every item. But going through our things and donating what we don’t need isn’t’ just about us, it’s about others as well.

1. You don’t need it. Someone else might.
– Many of us don’t need half of what we own. While we’re holding on to objects that only weigh us down, there are millions in this country (and billions worldwide) who don’t have enough. By donating items to a local charity you may be providing a family with something they truly needed. My donations go to a local organization that uses the funds from sales to help city residents in emergencies by covering bus fares, utilities, medication and household needs. Most towns probably have such a service. Instead of keeping the things we do not need, why not make sure someone else is able to get something they do?

2. Your relatives have less burden if you die.
– When my grandmother died she had already sold or donated most of her possessions. She left behind things that used or that she knew her children and grandchildren could keep. A lot of people do not do this and their families are forced to sort through an entire house worth of things which takes a huge emotional toll. Not only do they have to sort though it, they have to decide what to do with each and every item, perhaps feeling guilt over anything they choose to give away. The more you own, the bigger the burden for your family if something should happen to you. This goes for young people too, not just our parents and grandparents.

3. You have more time to focus on things that are important to you.
– It has been said that the less you own, the easier it is to keep your house clean. I can personally vouch for this. I do find that since we’ve decluttered a large number of items from our home, it is easier to keep things clean. Organization is a hot topic. Pinterest is full of tips on how to organize each room of your home. You can watch television shows or pick up books devoted to teaching you how to best organize your possessions. Organization is all well and good, but pushing around the same junk over and over just wastes your time. Getting rid of it leaves you free to spend more time with your family or friends, invest in a new hobby or volunteer in your community.

4. You’ll have more money.

– I hear numerous stories about people who decided to declutter their lives and ended up making money. I personally do not sell my items but I do give them to charity. This is one way you can give. I also find that once people really invest in simplifying, they realize that material possessions were not bringing them the happiness they wanted. Before buying anything new, they give it more consideration and choose only what they really need or what they find beautiful. This allows them to save money which they can then use to work towards getting out of debt, cushioning savings or giving to others. You’d be surprised at how giving away your things can change your perspective on what you do and do not need.