Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why I am giving up bottled water for Lent

A "Scholars Speak" article I wrote:

I do not drink tap water. In fact, in the last few years I really can’t recall drinking tap water (except in the most extreme exigency) at all. We own a water cooler and have five-gallon carboys of water delivered to our house. We also have a water cooler at work. On the rare occasions that I have forgotten to bring my water bottle to fill up, I have bought a bottle from the vending machines on campus. (At over a dollar a pop, you don’t want to do this very often.)

I am not an extreme germophobe or even very paranoid—since I don’t really drink soda or juice, I drink a lot of water, and I just don’t like the taste of tap water. And evidently I am not alone. Go to any supermarket and you will see an entire aisle of bottled water choices, all with enticing brand names. (My favorite is “Smart Water”—if only it really worked!) We have been convinced by the manufacturers of these products that bottled water will make us healthier, stronger, even smarter (although two of the major brands are nothing more than purified tap water). Trendy restaurants even have water sommeliers to advise us on the correct choice to complement our meal. This craze can be seen at its most sublime (or ridiculous) extent in “Bling H2O,” which comes in a frosted bottle decorated with Swarovski crystals. Price: around $35-50.

As we become a nation of bottled water drinkers, however, this habit becomes problematic in several ways. First, and most obvious, is the problem of the empties. Since a lot of bottled water is consumed away from home, not every empty plastic bottle makes its way to the recycling bin, even in California, one of the few states to include plastic water bottles in its bottle bill. In fact, according to the Container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of these end up as garbage or litter. When these plastics are incinerated, they release toxic chemicals such as chlorine gas. Second, the manufacture of plastic bottles uses crude oil. I drive a hybrid, not a luxury sedan or an SUV, because I feel it is a better choice for the world. Shouldn’t I operate under the same philosophy with regard to the water I drink? Shipping exotic bottles of water thousands of miles from their point of origin (Fiji, for example, or Finland or New Zealand) to the United States uses huge amounts of fossil fuels. Even more ironic: many of the empty bottles are shipped off to be recycled to foreign countries such as China, using even more petroleum.

When I think about this habit in the context of my faith, however, another problem arises. At the end of a recent church function, a veritable mountain of empty plastic bottles filled two large bags. Used once, their contents swiftly drained, they now were on their way to the recycling bin. I couldn’t help thinking about the money. Why, when we had perfectly good, free tap water, were we, as a church, buying bottled water, with all its costs (obvious and hidden)? It is, in fact, quite literally conspicuous consumption. Jesus teaches us by example to be frugal: after feeding thousands with the loaves and fishes, he instructs his disciples to go around and pick up the leftovers. When so much of the world struggles on a daily basis to obtain drinking water of any quality, our use of these products only reinforces the gap between us and our poorer brothers and sisters: if this trend continues, if only those who cannot afford bottled water are forced to drink from the tap, will there be the same impetus to guard the safety of public drinking water?

At the end of the classic film Casablanca, Inspector Renault dumps his ubiquitous bottle of Vichy water into the trash as a symbol of his newly found patriotism. This season of Lent, I am trying to put my principles where my mouth is: I am drinking… (gritting my teeth) tap water. Each time I fill my 20-oz bottle with tap water, I’ll put a quarter into a jar. At the end of Lent, the money will be sent off to the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund. And each time I’ll think about how lucky I am to live in a country where clean, safe water is just a turn of the tap away.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

This woman is brilliant. Just brilliant.

I have been blown away by the most recent post of our dear Doxy. One would not wish to diminish her brilliance by saying "as usual", but indeed, as usual, she states her case with eloquence, feeling, and a level of perception that few mortals achieve in this transitory life.

Good Grief! I am staunchly of the hetero camp but I would marry this woman in a heartbeat!

Dear Lord,
I wish for Doxy Dearest a man worthy of her--no punches pulled, out-and-out intellectual and emotional equality. I wish her joy and happiness to drive away the sorrow of her previous experiences.

And if that is not what she desires, well, I have a dog here who desperately wants to marry her...

What I am

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Friday, February 1, 2008

Feast of St. Brigid

Today is the feast of Saint Brigid, my name saint (I took it as my confirmation name) and we are having a feast of our own in celebration, with a couple of dear friends to enjoy it with us. (Quite fitting, as she is the patron saint of hospitality.) There'll be salmon with dill sauce, asparagus, and (of course) Murphy's Irish Stout. Bon bons for dessert!

Ni bu Sanct Brigid suanach
Ni bu huarach im sheire Dé,
Sech ni chiuir ni cossens
Ind nóeb dibad bethath che.

Saint Brigid was not given to sleep,
Nor was she intermittent about God's Love;
Not merely that she did not buy, she did not seek for
The wealth of this world below, the holy one.

(from a Life of St. Brigid by the seventh-century St. Broccan Cloen)

Padre Mickey over at the Dance party has a write-up of St. Brigid that cannot be missed! Go read it. And have some butter tonight!

Oh, and make sure you hang a hankerchief from your washline for good fortune throughout the coming year!


I just started reading a fascinating new book called Planet Narnia. The author, Michael Ward, argues that the main organizing principle behind C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia is in fact the seven medieval planets--the "seven heavens" of medieval cosmology. The book was actually sitting in my husband's office at--I went in for some trifle, idly picked it up, became engrossed, and just sat there reading it.

I've only read the first chapter, but I have to say it is one of the best written books I've read all year. As a great fan of the Narniad, I can't wait to see how he proves his thesis.

So this is about serendipity. I am teaching a class on the Renaissance and English Literature--way out of my field, but the professor who normally teaches it is on leave. So I am getting to read many things for the first time. One of then is Sir Philip Sidney's Defense of Poesy, a rather obscure apologia for poets (and indeed all makers of literature) in the face of Puritan attacks.

So I sat there reading Planet Narnia, and Ward is talking about why Lewis didn't just come out and tell people that there was an overarching theme for the Narnaid: his "precedents for secrecy." As a medievalist, he was naturally steeped in the ethos of the period, and (as Ward puts it) "Secrecy and polysemy were important features of the literature of that period." Earlier he quotes Owen Barfield as saying, "He [Lewis] stood before me as a mystery as solidly as he stood before me as a friend." And then a little later Ward quotes from the Defense of Poesy:

"Sir Philip Sidney neatly expressed the prevailing aesthetic temper of the period when he wrote 'there are many misteries contained in Poetrie, which of purpose were written darkly, least by prophane wits it should be abused."

Hmm... serendipity! Quoting Sidney on the same day I am reading him for the first time myself! Then I thought I'd better get back to work, so I went to the library. As I traveled the well-worn path among the stacks to the quiet mezzanine where I like to hide out and do work, the title and author of a book caught my eye: Romanticism Comes of Age by Owen Barfield. I must have walked by it a hundred times without ever really seeing it. I pulled it from the shelf and opened it at random and read the following:

"As users of language, the poet and the logician stand at opposite poles. To the logician the sound of a word means nothing at all, while to the poet it is of the utmost importance. To the logician those words are of most value which change their meaning as little as possible when they are used in different contexts; the poet likes the meanings which change most, and is always trying to change them further himself."

Another "defense of poesy." This is why I love this job!