Monday, February 15, 2010

Our Own Private Mardi Gras

For Lent, Ron and I are giving up beef.

All beef, including the occasional Carls Jr. teriyaki six-dollar burger with grilled pineapple, crisp red onion, and two slices of Swiss on a sesame seed bun.... (Can you hear my sigh?)

I don't understand, though, if, by giving up beef, we're giving up a vice or a virtue. I'm not sure how personal sacrifices for Lent are supposed to work: are we called to give up something bad for us, or something health-neutral that we really like?

For instance, smoking. If someone gives up smoking for Lent, shouldn't they do that anyway? If someone derives personal benefit from giving up, say, smoking, does that count as a bona fide Lent sacrifice?

Or take chocolate. For most people, sacrificing chocolate would be a health-neutral act. For some, foregoing rich, soul-satisfying chocolate for six weeks could also create intense cravings. Is this what meets the Lent sacrifice criteria: something you really, really want, but isn't that terrible?

I don't know the Biblically-correct answer. But I do know why we're giving up beef for the six weeks of Lent.

Neither of us craves beef, but we certainly like it. In an average month, we likely dine on beef six or seven times, including two fast-food burgers (especially a luscious Carls Jr. teriyaki six-dollar burger!). At home, we enjoy a savory, medium-rare roast that can used for sandwiches during the week. Steak kabobs with veggies are our specialty in summer. And once in a great while, absolutely nothing tastes better than a thick top-sirloin steak grilled on our Weber kettle barbecue.

So yes, we like beef now and then. But we're hardly beef-aholics, and we don't need either the calories or fat.

But we're also giving up beef because its destructive impact on our environment. Beef has been called the Hummer of food, and rightly so. Per Science News in 2009:

"From a climate perspective, beef is in a class by itself. It takes a lot of energy and other natural resources to produce cattle feed, manage the animals’ manure (a major emitter of methane, a potent GHG), get the livestock to market, slaughter the animals, process and package the meat, dispose of the greater part of the carcass that won’t be human food, market the retail cuts, transport them home from the store, refrigerate them until dinner time, and then cook the beef..

"Currently, although beef accounts for only about 30 percent of the industrial world’s meat consumption, it contributes 78 percent meat’s GHG emissions there. Pork, at 38 percent of consumption, contributes only 14 percent of this meat's GHGs. Another 32 percent of the meat consumed worldwide comes from chicken, but getting these birds from farm to fork contributes only 8 percent of meat’s carbon footprint in the developed countries"

Also, beef production requires an enormous amount of water, which is an increasingly precious commodity in the U.S. and around the world. A vegetarian website observes:

"... probably the most reliable and widely-accepted water estimate to produce a pound of beef is the figure of 2,500 gallons/pound. Newsweek once put it another way: 'the water that goes into a 1,000 pound steer would float a destroyer.' "

Further, most American beef is so riddled with cancer-connected synthetic hormones that the European Union has entirely banned importation and serving of U.S. beef since 1989.

Ron and I are giving up beef for Lent because we like it, and want to sacrifice something we enjoy. Because we might be a bit healthier without it. But also because less beef consumption would conserve both water and energy, and lessen the amount of greenhouse gases released into the environment. We want to be good stewards of God's creation.

So I pose the question: is giving up beef a bona fide Lent sacrifice for us? Or just something we should do for all the benefits mentioned above?

I don't know the answer.

But I do know that tonight, before the six-week Lent clock starts ticking, we're firing up the Weber and enjoying two of juiciest top-sirloins imaginable, synthetic hormones be damned.

Call it our own private Mardi Gras! I wonder... should we run out and get some confetti, beads, and a King cake, too, for the festivities?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Pastor Who Married Us Was Wrong

The pastor who married us was wrong. Based on long years of counselling and on a battery of premarital quizzes, he openly worried that we were too different... too "incompatible."

After a candlelit dinner at home last night to celebrate our two decades of marriage, I gave Ron one of those attractive, designed-for-a-man Hallmark cards.

The trendy blue card looked oddly stark, though, and short on heartfelt sentiment, so I covered the inside with a list of things I love about him.

Things he does. Things I admire. Things we do and are together. Things he does for me and for our family. Small things. Big things. Thoughtful things.

My list brought rare tears to Ron's eyes.

Likewise, he selected a pretty, poetic card for me that he signed "You are my everything."

Sure, we've had our disagreements. Moments of angry frustration. Times when either or both felt disappointed or smothered or bewildered. But we never doubted that we belonged together.

Meeting with us in his small church office, the weary, middle-aged pastor reported results of our premarital tests with a deep sigh, "Well, I have good news and bad news...

"The bad news is that you two are very, very different. The good news is that you know it. And you're fine with it."

Indeed, we do know it. And we're fine with it. Just fine.

Friday, February 05, 2010

What Makes You Happy?

What makes you happy?

That's the subject of a puzzling new book, The Happiness Project, by a youngish woman who embarks on an ambitious quest to seek out tasks that make her "happy."

(She concludes that cleaning closets, "acting energetic," and exercising are on her happiness short-list. In reality, what also makes her happy is writing at length about herself doing tasks. But I digress... )

The question is a serious one these days for people mired in the busy rat-race of the world. But the question is not:
  • What makes you content?
  • What gives you peace?
  • What brings you joy?

The question is... What makes you happy? The dictionary here on my desk defines happy as "feeling or showing pleasure," which, to me, implies a temporary condition. A fleeting feeling of bliss, far more temporary than, say, contentment, joy, or certainly, peace.

I've fought blood pressure battles for over decade, and have taken mild medication for most of that time. At my doctor's behest, I bought a good-quality blood pressure wrist monitor (see photo above) five or so years ago, and have used it sporadically... sometimes diligently, sometimes forgetting it altogether for months at a stretch.

While I feel great these days, and less excitable as the years drift by, blood pressure is again, and always, an issue. And my doctor is rightly peeved that the monitor has recently gathered dust.

I dusted it off last week, and bought new batteries for it. And like the author of the The Happiness Project, I've started a project ot studying what makes me happy... feeling pleasure, relaxed, devoid of stress... via measuring my blood pressure at all times of day and night, in a variety of circumstances.

Here's what I've observed via blood pressure reading, thus far, that makes me happy:

  • Reading interesting books when the house is quiet.
  • Writing for personal pleasure, usually not about politics.
  • Cooking creatively for someone who enjoys it.
  • Doing things for my family that makes them feel listened to, supported, and/or loved.
  • Listening to most praise music and many kinds of jazz.
  • Sitting on the couch with Ron later at night, talking, laughing, watching dumb TV shows or baseball scores, winding down from the day.
  • Hugs. Hugging. (And other acts of affection, of course.)

(My blood pressure falls, too, while I'm eating. Seriously... I measured it. No wonder I like eating too much... This pleasure is more of a problem, than positive attribute, in my family.)

Cleaning closets or any other part of the house, garage or yard will never be on my bliss list, although our house is tidy and well-organized. Nor will exercising or crafting/sewing or most shopping . Or hanging out with unkind folks or those who take themselves far too seriously.

Now, none of my "happiness" factors are particularly original. Frankly, my inner critic finds them embarrassing, more than a little mawkish and oh-so Lifetime-ish. But like my talents and flaws, my green-gold eyes and milky skin, my arthritic knees and chubby thighs and big feet... they're mine. All mine. Given to me by an infinitely gracious God.

Contentment, though, is not a perpetual state of bliss, but rather, a tension between taking care of one's responsibilites within community and world, and savoring moments of happiness that allow us to refuel to face our stressful, imperfect world. And, of course, contentment isn't possible without an ever-growing relationship with our God...

My advice to anyone else confused about "What makes me happy?" Get a blood pressure monitor. Like a polygraph test, it's a truth teller. And truth detector.