The Guilt and Riches of our Ancestors: Take it or Leave it (Sort Of)


“Land was acquired back in the day through theft and murder …

I agree to a point that individuals shouldn’t be held guilty for the sins of the past. But if that is true, then individuals shouldn’t at the same time be able to benefit because of the sins of the past. [WHOAH!] [#WhyDidINeverThinkOfThis]

I don’t believe land can be owned by a person or a bloodline.”

~Mark Van Steenwyk [brackets mine]

When I shared this excerpt, a friend asked me: “So does that make purchasing or inheriting a home/plot of land wrong?”

My reply, revised a bit for a blog post, went along like this:

The above quote is definitely fairly radical, especially the lattermost sentence. The middle paragraph is of greatest interest to me. The lattermost sentence is, for me, an interesting application of the middle paragraph.

The middle paragraph resolves something that I’ve been chewing on. We needn’t inherit the guilt of our ancestors, but neither then should we inherit their ill-gotten gains.

To the question: I think that specifically avoiding buying or owning land would miss the point. Even renting is basically temporary land ownership. Inheriting wealth and using it to rent stolen land all your life is not really very different from inheriting stolen land and living on it.

In a way I think that Christians etc. have a useful mental model for how to think about this; we’re used to saying “everything I have is God’s, I should use it accordingly”. (Not that we’re great at living it out! But I digress.) The point isn’t, then, that everyone must sell everything and give all the money to the church (though doing so is a well-known and powerful approach/calling). But rather, you should live with a posture of humility and dedication, and be willing to and seeking out ways to leverage what you have toward the good of those the resources are intended to bless. With God, it’s all intended to bless those who are suffering, marginalized, poor, etc.

That goal isn’t too different than when we say “all this land and lots of this wealth I have was gained from genocided natives and enslaved africans (and people across the world who were colonized, etc.)”… you’re basically saying “nearly everything I have belongs to people who are now suffering, marginalized, poor, etc.”

All I have is actually God’s, who wants me to use it to serve the poor and oppressed. // Almost all I have actually belongs to people who are poor and oppressed.

It’s hard or impossible to parse out just how much of our parents’ wealth stems from theft and genocide and slavery vs. honest hard work. It would require mountains of historical work, calculous and economic modeling, etc. So refreshingly, a legalistic approach here is completely unfeasible.

What would definitely be “no dice” would be to say “I accept the wealth stolen by my ancestors – it is mine now and is for my enjoyment, but I reject their guilt and responsibility in having stolen it”.

Now, legalism certainly won’t work; no purity can be earned here; even if I were to do all the calculus and give back everything that was stolen, that wouldn’t be any different than giving back the money my grandfather gave me after he mugged and killed someone else’s grandfather.

As my spouse just wisely and succinctly summarized:

“Of course it’s sinful [to own stolen land]. But this is a sinful world so everything is sinful… we can’t avoid sin, but we just need to do the best we can.”

My brain’s understanding of “doing the best we can” would entail seeking to learn and follow the will of those to whom my wealth and land belongs. Following my metaphor; like a Christian who knows all is God’s would seek to know and follow God’s desired uses of the resources, a person who realizes that most of what they have is stolen would seek to know and follow the intent of those from whom it is stolen. Conveniently, a person can coherently be both of those things!

Admittedly, the latter realization is less perky. Honoring and giving to the grandchildren of someone murdered by your grandfather comes with a lot more pain and trauma than honoring and giving to a God who has willingly entrusted you with resources. But I suppose in both cases a deep need for mercy and forgiveness is present.

Speaking of mercy and forgiveness… as well as regarding intent of the bereaved: Native voices I know of are not asking all whites to pack up and leave and go back to Europe. As from Black americans, I hear a deep cry for truth and reparations, but “go back where you came from” is not something I hear. It is up to each to do their own integritous listening to the voices of these communities. There’s a book called What Does Justice Look Like?: The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland, written by native scholar and activist Waziyatawin. She first overviews what happened 1500s-1900s, and then lays out point by point her recommendations for reparations. “Without justice, many Dakota say, healing and transformation on both sides cannot occur, and good, authentic relations cannot develop between our Peoples.” (from author’s excerpt here)

She is one voice among many in her community. To continue my drawn-out metaphor: like a person of faith attempting to discern the voice and call/will of God through various and nebulous sources, a grandchild and beneficiary of the murderer has a tough task to try to listen to the many grandchildren of the murdered.

Engaging with and supporting reparations and reconciliation on a large scale is one valuable response, but it’s also quite distant. Personal-scale donations to good native+black-led efforts around these communities is a good “other half of the coin”. Painting houses on the Rez (like I did with my church and family ~15 years ago) is really not the ticket. Our group eventually quit going because natives running multiple different nonprofits out there said to us (“we don’t need your paintbrushes, we need your money”). Rebekah and I are sitting on the idea of paying “first rent”. Basically loosely/non-legalistically figuring out what it would cost to rent the space we live in, and “paying rent” to a combination of Native and African American nonprofit organizations. This wouldn’t earn us any purity or whatever… but rather would just be a way to say “hey this is theirs not ours… we should probs be paying them for our use of it…”.

I’m not sure how to conclude, so instead I’ll hold in tension those two quotes:

“Of course it’s sinful [to own stolen land]. But this is a sinful world so everything is sinful… we can’t avoid sin, but we just need to do the best we can.”
~ Rebekah, my wife.

“Without justice, many Dakota say, healing and transformation on both sides cannot occur, and good, authentic relations cannot develop between our Peoples.”
~ Amazon excerpt for What Does Justice Look Like?: The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland

Why I have found it hard to have sincere theologically liberal/postmodern faith

Saying, as I sometimes do, something like

“I can’t tell you whether My God is THE God, but I can tell you that My God is My God”

sounds fancy and good… but is actually really hard FOR ME to live out.

People of what I’ll call [warning: buzzword ahead]”indigenous” faith, as I have experienced, do this all the time. A pan-african drum troupe’s leader told the audience “every faith, all Gods worshipped, are true”. A Dakota who prays to and sees spirits and ancestors also worships Christ the son of God, and minds hindu Gods and wisdoms. A Mohican told us the story of the Celestial Bear (Ursa Major / “Big Dipper”) whose blood gives us a red sky, but I don’t think he’s saying that those stars are ONLY a bear and not whatever other people’s faiths hold.

I, on the other hand, don’t know how to get excited about and motivated by my faith unless it’s the only  true faith. I feel like my moments of religious experience, faithful passion, etc., are vestigial/residual. I cry when I pray a doctrine (e.g. God is present in all people, loving and loved through us all) that I learned when I thought the Bible dispensed truth.

Different people see God through different lenses. Different people see Rebekah (my spouse) through different lenses. I see someone who is tender, warm, deep, wise… James sees her as proficient, efficient, competent. But it’s the same Rebekah. But how far does that really stretch? Mono vs. Triune vs. Many? Different structures for afterlife, etc?

I KNOW that James and I are observing the same set of matter that consists Rebekah… but are Hindus and I actually observing anything that is indeed the same? How could they see millions and I see 3? We see different parts of the same elephant… a classic reference. But when I hear that, I’m saying “okay, well, I don’t want to worship a trunk (‘snake’), or a leg (‘tree’), I want the full truth”. I tell myself something humble sounding like “far be it from me to tell God which parts of God’s self to show me”. But at that point I’m already checked out. My reassurance does me nothing. With Rebekah, I get the full her; I know the whole picture. I may experience some things more, but I even hear about the version that James interacts with. Rebekah shapeshifts, but not so much as to go from being 0 to 1 to 3 to 330,000,000 people…

It’s tough for me to get excited about a God who is just one image (i.e. a Christian one) of God, even when I say “but that’s the image of God that God chose to show me”.

With Wave and Particle Duality (where we see that light behaves as both a wave and a particle, even though those two things are different) I just assume that there’s an UNDERLYING reality that manifests as following both of these contradicting patterns (wave = widely spread out / particle = in one tiny place). An underlying reality like… a “waveparticle” (I just made that word up). But as soon as I acknowledge that, I’m interested in the UNDERLYING reality… I don’t want to sit there and stare at the wavy part only…

Just like how the proposition of functioning as specifically a Christian is hard for me. I’m observing that the likelihood of me having found the 1 religion out of thousands out there that happens to be true approaches nil… but it’s tough for me to say “but this one’s mine so I’m going to focus on that”.

I do this in marriage though.

Rebekah is the most ______ (superlatives superlatives superlatives) in the world. Without having cause to believe she’s truly actually objectively the best out of all the ones out there… I can nonetheless unwaveringly say she’s definitely the best.

Indigenous people [whatever that means] – it seems to me – can do this with religion/faith/belief. Quite handily.

Whereas I feel like theologically liberal euro/western culture is basically merely — as I feel I am — milking the emotional remnants of a faith-nostalgia while finding ways to be okay and feel okay while not actually believing anything.

Meanwhile various sects claiming exclusive truth squabble over who has it, all believing themselves the lucky winner. So no, I can’t just go back to that.

I guess in a way I’ve been trying to be like my understanding indigenous faithful people… approaching religion to draw strength but not being hung up on exclusivity. And in a way, I feel like it’s not really going so hot. I feel basically faithless.

I have a dear friend who believes he’s got exclusive truth… not because he has evidence that it’s exclusive (he’s fairly open about the lack thereof), but because he can’t figure out a way to believe it’s true at all if it’s not exclusively true. And I kinda can’t blame him.

And of course there’s good old atheism (and its variants) right around the corner. Which is basically a religion with zero Gods, no less exclusive a claim than any of the others, and not qualitatively more defensible.

Finding myself, ironically, somewhere I’ve found myself continually: with the conclusion that there’s no good place I can be. Tempted to say that the ancient/indigenous way is better/best… but even if that’s true I’m not sure I could get there…


Capitalist gov’t is an absurdly large mercenary guard service.

squirrel with ak47.jpg

Some economic musings. Don’t mind me. I hold this all pretty loosely. Thought experiment follows:

I drafted this a few months ago and wasn’t going to publish it, but in light of Trump’s tax dodging, and people’s response saying he’s just “keeping what he earned”, I figured I might as well hit the “publish” button.


In a world without any weapons, it’s easy to steal from someone who has lots of food/possessions. Non-human animals in nature work like that; if a squirrel has 1 billion acorns, they will be ceaselessly stolen until the point where the squirrel has only the acorns it can defend with its bare teeth. Let’s say, 100 or 1000 acorns. (Let’s call this scenario “Squirrels in Nature”)

How can the squirrel accumulate more acorns, then?

Weapons. The squirrel now has a spear. Or a bow an arrow. Or an AK-47. It can guard substantially more acorns now. Maybe ten thousand acorns. But still not a million or a billion. (let’s call this “Stone Age Squirrels”.)

Militia/guards. The squirrel hires his own troop of independently contracted guardsquirrels. On a good day, with his hefty posse, they protect his million acorns. But on a bad day, the captain of the guard stages a little coup, kills Bob the squirrel, and is the new (albeit probably temporary) owner of all the acorns. (Let’s call this “Feudal Squirrels”.)

Well-reputed militia/guard services. Bob the squirrel needs a guard service brand he can trust — one reputed to prevent this type of coup. An armed organization so large that it has more to gain by building a reputation of faithfully guarding acorn piles than it could ever gain by stealing them. So large, perhaps, that competing military entities are thousands of miles away, and unlikely to ever overrun and plunder the territory of his own. His ten million acorns are very safe. (Let’s call this “Imperial Squirrels”.)

Business is the means whereby acorns are accumulated.

Government is the means whereby they are guarded for whoever has accumulated them.

Some people think that governments “play robin hood” by taxing its rich constituents and creating services for all its constituents.

Here’s what I’ll say to that:

If government were to “get out of your life”, you would be a lonely squirrel with bare teeth, or maybe an AK47.

You would be terrified.

To defend yourself better, you would perhaps form a pact with your neighborsquirrels to protect each other, so that you were not SO lonely of a squirrel. You might agree to how that protection would work, what support was required of the constituents, etc. Guess what you just created. Yup … Government. A cooperatively owned and governed guard service.


A reason the wealthy pay more in taxes [OR SHOULD, AT LEAST!] is because they have the most to benefit from a guard service. If there were no conglomerations of martial power, I could guard my little house with my spear or AK-47 well enough to de-incentivize any individual thief from breaking and entering. But your real-estate, manufacturing, or technology megacorp? It needs so much protection that if somebody halfway across the country or world conquers your hotel or factory or even takes your ideas or information, you’ll be covered.

That is, perhaps, why the population gets real mad when you think you should pay a flat tax. [or when you completely dodge taxes!] 95% of your assets would need police forces to protect them from individual thieves, whereas maybe only 10% of mine (macbook, car, bike) do.

At this point, the U.S. is serving as the Huge Guard Service for vast chunks of the world. Whether that’s a good thing or bad is outside of scope here… but you’d better believe that the fees paid to it (taxes, etc.) are [OR SHOULD BE] paid by the people who benefit most from the protection.



The scariest thing about humankind

The scariest thing about humankind is this:

  • Our ability to scale.

Or in other words,

  • Our ability to concentrate resources and power. 

Or in other words,

  • Our capacity for removing boundaries for the expansion of power.

Or in other (nerdier) words,

  • Our capacity for removing negative feedback loops (“damping effects”) regarding the concentration of resources and power, making us subject to to positive feedback loops (“runaway effects”).

A capitalist economic society/system is often described in terms of “survival of the fittest”, modeled after the highly potent process of evolution in nature. However, there are some very dangerous differences that a capitalist economic system has by comparison to survival of the fittest in nature:

Nature is full of damping effects:

  • If an elephant gets too large, it will run too slow. It will be eaten by lions.
  • If a population of gazelles gets really large, the population of lions will swell, and then diminish the gazelle population.
  • The same is true with populations of plants and the bugs that eat them, and with the birds that eat the bugs… and the eagles that eat those birds.
  • If you get too many apex predators (birds).


  • Corporations are not allowed to act as predators each other. Proliferation of WalMarts does not trigger a swelling in the population of a company whose niche is to raid walmart stores.
  • Corporations can quickly switch niches. Unlike aphids, if the thing they were doing is no longer available to do, they can reorganize and take on a different challenge. “AT&T” is “American Telephone and Telegraph”. “3M” is “Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing”. And Google… Google is whatever it wants to be this month! Unlike cacti or freshwater fish, they can quickly add (or acquire!) the capacity to fill a new target market OR IF THEY DON’T, THEY JUST GET BOUGHT BY SOMEBODY BIGGER!
  • Those are literally the 3 things that keep species’ populations under control and dominance limited in nature: 
    • Predator populations swelling.

    • Prey populations diminishing / niche exhaustion.

    • Inability to merge



SO. then we are just subject only to RUNAWAY effects among corporations.

  • Bigger corporations ->
    • better lawyers
    • more lobbyists
    • ability to price-gouge in limited space and time to destroy smaller local competitors
    • more capital to buy less huge corporations — within or across niches.

Dear libertarians out there… who it seems don’t like antitrust… and who think The Market is the guide for all of that…


But before that, let me say,

I GET IT! I LOVE the idea of the free market emulate the ways evolution in nature keeps each species adapted and optimized to its surroundings. And I hate the idea of putting an inefficient beaurocracy in the way. I LOVE the way supply and demand guides production quantities. Let me say that again so you know I care and validate you… I LOVE the way supply and demand guides production quantities. That would have been great when Mao was (probably accidentally) starving the heck out of his constituents! He just didn’t know that the people were hungry! Supply and demand would have helped!

Okay. Now that you know I care. … I’m going to spend even more time convincing you that I understand, that I care:

Government cronyism really DOES screw up our economies and lives! Look at our addiction to corn syrup… corn puffs… corn everything… because it’s so darn cheap because it’s subsidized!

I hate cronyism too. But let me say this:

Laissez-faire / hands-off economics works great for grass, gazelles, and lions. (In the CIIIIIIIRRRCLE of LIIIIIIFE!)


If we’re going to:

  1. protect corporations from their competitors (and individual citizens) physically raiding/looting/conquering them
  2. allow them to switch niches, and
  3. allow them to buy each other

(measures I generally agree with!)

…then we NEED SOMETHING ELSE to stop our current spiral of concentration of power into fewer and fewer companies.

ALSO, libertarians and libertarian-tempted-thinkers: keep in mind that point #1 above is NOT laissez faire / hands off! As soon as a larger force like a government prevents people from stealing each others’ stuff, it creates the “conditions for growth”. It really does. Because in a society like that, most people are generally spending more time creating wealth and less time stealing and protecting it. And that’s generally / arguably / potentially a good thing… but ONLY IF you also create conditions to prevent runaway growth!

Humans generally have unique, non-nature-like capacity for scalable growth, and capitalist governments’ protection of private (and corporate) property causes it to occur specifically within business corporations. (In communism, we can get similar effects but more directed toward governments).

Here is my sense of the 2 things we need to do to prevent the runaway corporate growth:

  • Serious “early-and-often” Antitrust
      • So what, then? We’ll live in a world with 2 companies per niche? 2 oil companies, 2 ag companies. Are we sure that’s okay? AND since companies can span niches… maybe that just means 2 companies in total!
      • ALSO, BE AFRAID because think about what happens when a company is bigger than the U.S. (and/or bigger than China). What happens when a company is so big that it can successfully boycott the biggest nation!?!? Good heavens. I’ll tell you what happens then. Then we can’t do antitrust at all. … Unless all the nations merged into one to do the boycott. Also reasonably terrifying.
    • So… yeah. I’m thinking early-and-often antitrust is needed. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I much prefer that over the world being gobbled up into 1 giant ACME congolomerate, and nations themselves become figureheads and cultural niceties.
  • Every measure possible to keep companies out of government.
    • Yup. Every. Possible. Measure.
      • Companies can’t give a dime.
      • Individuals have flat campaign giving caps.
      • No PACS (super or with any other prefix) can advertise.
      • Unions don’t get to give either. (we gotta be fair here. our point is to combat runaway giving.)
      • Lobbyists may not receive any compensation. Or maybe it’s that they can’t give any money to the candidates.


We need to take these measures because if we don’t, the current runaway growth of corporations will have nothing – literally nothing – to stop it.

The horrors of a world with only one company (or a handful thereof) can only be imagined.

  • But I’ll say this: the past and present can show us horrors of scenarios — whether for coal miners or jim-crow-south sharecroppers — where your life is owned by a single company; where you always owe money to the overpriced “company store” so you can never. stop. working. … where the law exists to bring you back to your boss if you ever try to run.
  • In terms of the environment, we must remember that corporations have almost unilaterally pushed for looser environmental policy, and governments have pushed toward more constraints. Runaway corporate power could generate runaway greenhouse gas-driven warming (sometimes called the “Venus effect”).
  • In terms of war, I imagine corporations with all the power and armies and WMDs of todays nations, but accountable only to their shareholders… I could see them warring for resources or for customer-bases. I’m not fully certain that megacorporations commanding armed forces would be worse than today’s nation-states are, but I’m quite certain that I don’t want me or my children’s children to find out.

This blog post discussed reasons for the runaway affect we’re already seeing, discussed the fact that it is an unfettered runaway cycle with catastrophic possibilities, and discussed what I think needs to be done about it.

To recap:

  • The idea of business mimicking the “survival of the fittest” we see in nature is appealing. Supply and demand, and The Market, truly are powerful effects that can accomplish swiftly what bureaucracies cannot. It is tempting to think that if we remove the regulative interventions of government, those forces will create balance, efficiency, and a flourishing economy that benefits all.
  • This idea, however, is severely flawed, for the following reasons:
    • Businesses do not experience several key damping effects that species’ populations face:
      • Companies do not have to shrink when their niches shrink, as they can switch niches much more rapidly than animal populations.
      • Modern companies are not regulated by the proliferation of predators that normally keeps a growing population in check. Modern capitalist governments actively apply incontestable force to prevent the raiding or takeover of firms or their locations. Even a very libertarian government is not “laissez-faire” or “hands off”, but rather, is applying a strong force in favor of property accumulation. I find deep, or “anti-antitrust”+”anti-social-net” libertarianism to be highly misguided in that it believes it can safely apply the above martial property-protecting force without applying forces to constrain that runaway effect in which property and power beget more property and power for the increasingly few individuals and corporations that hold them.
  • The above “runaway effect” must, I believe, be countered by socialist-capitalist hybrid policy in the world’s most powerful governmental agencies, before those agencies are no longer powerful enough to constrain the worlds’ largest corporations, or we will suffer a one-world-company distopia or whatever bloody revolutionary chaos it takes to break it up. I believe those needed constraints are:
    • “early and often” AntiTrust… I’m not sure how it would work but I’m imagining something like a forced version of how Google is always internally breaking itself up into little competing companies.
    • election reform; i.e. extreme constraints on the degree to which money (corporate or union) can influence government… and in general efforts to make the government accountable to and representative of voters on a per-person rather than per-dollar basis.

7 Reasons I’m TOTALLY a Music Nerd

I took this random internet quiz recently that was supposed to tell you “what kind of nerd are you”. I was expecting, of course, to answer questions about math and Star Wars/Trek and anime — but what I didn’t expect was a ton of questions about music, or that my music nerdiness would rank pretty high!

I was kind of surprised at first… but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I’m a TOTAL music/choir nerd. And here are 7 reasons to prove it…

1. I get realllll cranky about flat singing.

The most recently famous instance, of course, is Idina Menzel’s ear-shattering “high” note during a live performance of “Let It Go” on New Year’s Eve 2015.

We had the TV on during our family card games and I literally FLINCHED when she hit (or didn’t hit) that high note. Seriously. I like have a bodily trauma memory of that event. It will be forever emblazoned in my soul. I wince just thinking about it.

WARNING: This is a PAINFUL video… for a music nerd.

(For the record — I do feel bad for Idina Menzel. I know it was cold, and that’s a high note, and belting is SO hard on the voice, and everybody makes mistakes, and it sucks that hers was really public… but that doesn’t erase my ear-trauma. Sorry, Idina.)


2. I went to a college with a Lutheran Choral Tradition.

g choir robes padres

Yep, that’s me rocking my big fancy choir robes like it’s 1699… no big deal. We’re just a big deal. #GustavusChoirRules #StOlafDrools

P.S. Those are my awesome parents. They know that being a #musicnerd is where it’s at. (They both did music at Lutheran Choral Tradition colleges, too!)😉


3. The ONLY video I’ve uploaded to YouTube is “Snippet of Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom'”.

Yeah… I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

…But really — it’s BEAUTIFUL! Gives me chills every time! Just listen!

P.S. Shout-out to my sister, who’s in that big swath of Gustavus choir altos somewhere. =)


4. I can totally rock the solfege.


Also known as solfeggio in Italian, this is the do-re-mi names for the main scales in Western music.

And yes, I can do do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do OR do-ti-la-sol-fa-mi-re-do, OR EVEN some chromatic action with the do-ti-te-la-le-sol-se-fa-mi-me-re-ra-do. (Thank you, Mr. Haskett and Mr. Duncan!) (Also, I did not look those up until AFTER I wrote them out. That would be cheating.)


5. To me, “sounds like a monk chant” is a compliment, not an insult.

As a singer with basically no vibrato and a good ear for sight reading, I’m basically tailor-made to sing complex medieval and Renaissance music because it’s alllll about the parts and not the singers.

Check out this BEAUTIFUL song that was one of my favorites from college. We sang it every year in chapel on Ash Wednesday, and I still try to listen to it every year.

Oh yeah… and it’s like 13 minutes long. And in Latin. #musicnerd

Or check out this AMAZING women-only chant song about the Virgin Mary. (Hat tip: PK directed it for CinCC one year.) I literally bought this on iTunes and listen to it in the car sometimes. (Also it has a sick alto part, which this girls choir totally rocks.) #musicnerd


6. I have a favorite version of “Ave Verum Corpus”.

In the (totally not real) words of Jeff Foxworthy, “If you argue with your friends about whether the Mozart or the Byrd version of Ave Verum Corpus is the best… youuuu might be a music nerd.”

Since there are so many different renditions of Latin church texts, there are similar arguments about versions of O Magnum Mysterium, Ubi Caritas, the Magnificat, and dozens of others. (Let the debates ensue in the comments…😉 )

For the record, I am #TeamByrd on Ave Verum all the way, although I do really like the Mozart, too. Listen to both below! Who’s the best? You decide! (But it’s totally Byrd.)


Aaaaand reason number 7 why I’m a total music nerd…

7. I literally have nerd bling to prove it.

nerd bling 2

Yyyyyyyep, that’s a photo of me in high school… with a bunch of medals won at the Kansas State Academic Decathlon competition in 2010… the subject of which was the Renaissance and a large part of my success at which was due to several events in Renaissance music. (Did I mention I still own and listen to the sample CD they gave us? It’s got a killer cover of Absalom Fili! #likeyado)

Sooooo here’s some great music!

Aaaaaand since I’m a TOTAL music nerd, that means I now have to share some of my favorites with you so you can appreciate them too!!! (Though how I can pick just one I don’t know — I love my whole ALBUM of the Moses Hogan Chorale…) So here are a couple faves from Moses Hogan, Pavel Tschesnikoff, Herbert Howells, and F. Melius Christiansen.

Moses Hogan:
This has a cool little bit at the beginning about the history and the legacy of the Moses Hogan Chorale. Also, GOOSEBUMPS THE WHOLE TIME!!! If this doesn’t move you, you’re dead.

Also definitely listen to more of the Moses Hogan Chorale here… literally my favorite choral album.

Pavel Chesnokov
Okay. Like the most beautiful, mysterious piece ever is Chesnokov’s Spasenie (Salvation is Created), sung in its original Russian… but since I’m only featuring one I have to share O Lord God because it’s one of the first pieces I sang in Chapel Choir at Gustavus, so it has sentimental value. (Thanks, T Sletta!)

Herbert Howells
This song is so, so haunting and delicate. It affected me deeply when we sang it in college. The story behind it is also really sad — Howells’ 9-year-old son died of polio and this requiem was written for him.

F. Melius Christiansen
And, because I’m a Gustie and you can’t not mention him, here’s good old F. Melius Felius, as I like to call him. 8-part fugal Protestant hymns. Like ya do. This video isn’t the best ever quality, but as it’s our anthem I just had to share a Gustavus version of Praise to the Lord, directed by the indefatigable Dr. A. =)

(And, I GUESS here’s a PRETTY GOOD recording from THAT OTHER SCHOOL too…😉 )

SO — are you a music nerd too? What are some of your criteria? What’s your favorite Ave Verum Corpus or Lux Aurumque or any other choral piece? Share in the comments! =)

Your Chewing Gum is Made of Plastic, and Other Things I Didn’t Know

In this post, I finally read about how plastic is hiding in plain sight in all SORTS of things that we wouldn’t expect, and why that’s kinda not good. Curious? Let’s dive in!

Plastic Kills

Plastic Free - Beth TerryToday I’m reporting back on Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry.

The impetus for this book is the author’s experiencing of one day stumbling upon a photo on the internet of a baby albatross. It was dead and had decomposed to the point where you could see inside its ribcage… to the stomach full of plastic pellets. Its parents had tried to feed it, but they unknowingly fed it so many tiny plastic bits (that looked like fish eggs) that the baby bird starved to death.

plastic bird stomach
Not the same photo, but a similar one.

I mean, it’s pretty horrific, if you think about it: starving to death because you’re filling your stomach with something it can never process. Ugh.

It was an emotionally impactful moment for the author, and she decided to start exploring plastic: What was it? Where was it? Why didn’t it eventually go away? How did it relate to her? This book is the result of that questioning process.

So… what about plastic?

There is SO much information in this book — I could never remember it all, but thankfully the book is organized as sort of a reference manual, so I’m sure I’ll be referring back to it. Here are some of the main “big picture” things I learned:

  • Most plastic NEVER goes away. EVER. To me, this is the same kind of “whoa”-ness as when I read the very first book in this project (like a million years ago) and realized that we have NO safe way to dispose of nuclear waste. We also have NO safe way to dispose of most plastic because IT NEVER BIODEGRADES. Like, when we think of decomposition, it’s not just that stuff sits around and slowly vanishes, it’s literally being chemically broken down by other organisms — basically eaten. So when a tree log decomposes, it’s becoming fungi food. Or when an animal decomposes, it becomes fly food. But most plastic doesn’t EVER decompose, because it’s not anything’s food!
  • Plastic’s longevity (aka FOREVER) is surprising considering our “disposable” attitude toward it. It’s cheap to make… so we feel like it’s “disposable” — but again, it NEVER goes away! Every bit of plastic that’s ever been made is still present SOMEwhere on the earth, as Wikipedia cites, “down to the molecular level.” So that plastic spoon I used to eat my soup after church this morning? I threw it away after using it once, but it’ll still be here — unchanged — when I’m dead. I will turn to dirt before that spoon does. And I used it once. As the author puts it, “Why create disposable containers and packaging out of a material that lasts forever?” (p.28) Well, because…
  • Plastic is flexible (literally) and cheap, so we give it a low value. Many objects in our society are valued based on the rarity of the material or the time or skill it took to make the item. Since plastic is in high supply and easy to mass-produce, that means we think of it as cheap — and it is cheap, monetarily and temporarily. But it’s costly in the long run, because someday we’re going to have to deal with all this non-biodegradable, non-edible, chemical-absorbing matter with which we’re blanketing our planet…
  • But can’t we recycle??? Well… only to a point. Recycling is toted as an environmental “solution,” but the problem is that each time we re-formulate a recycled material (whether paper or plastic), it’s lower and lower quality (it’s called “downcycling”) until eventually it won’t hold together anymore and needs to be discarded. The problem is that even after that much use, remember, plastic is still a polymer (aka holding together) at the molecular level — so even once we can’t recycle it anymore it’s still plastic and it will still last forever.
  • Things I didn’t know were made of plastic: most fabric (“synthetic” = made of plastic), every writing utensil I own, most carpet, many glues, books (plastic coated cover paper), toilet paper (ouch), and even chewing gum (p.206) – GROSS.

WOOF. I don’t know about you, but that feels a leeeeeetle bit terrifying. It’s so ubiquitous, and it’s never going away.

And you know what? I can’t honestly say anything to make it better. There’s not really a “happy ending” to this book…

So NOW what?

Despite the looming-ness of the plastic problem, this book does a GREAT job of keeping a positive, encouraging, non-shaming tone, which is important when you’re dealing with a topic where your reader realizes they are literally CLOTHED IN the problem. It can feel really overwhelming. But Beth Terry really takes time to say, “Hey — small steps. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t get paralyzed.” I really appreciate that about this book — it’s so user-friendly and accessible.

That said, and while I really do support personal steps to be thoughtful about plastic consumption, as Barack Obama is quoted as saying at the conclusion of this book, “We can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed the lightbulbs in my house. It’s because of something collective.” (p.309)

Yes, we started composting at our house. Yes, I stopped buying new clothing and have tried to shop only at thrift stores or on Craigslist for already-made items. Yes, we buy in bulk from the co-op using reusable containers as much as we can. Yes, I’ve been more aware when I’m using or buying a plastic object. Yes, I’ve even started washing out and reusing plastic Ziploc bags, even though I hate the smooshy feeling of washing warm, wet plastic.

BUT. Two things.

  1. Not everyone can afford to do those things. (Heck, not everyone even has access to a grocery store let alone a co-op.)
  2. Washing my plastic bags won’t save the world.

It’s REALLY important to remember that for things this big, change comes both at the personal level AND at the big, systematic level. I really like one idea from the book: the personal changes are daily reminders and conversation starters in the pursuit of bigger, wider change.

And especially because, as I learned in All Our Relations, environmental issues often disproportionately impact poor communities and communities of color, it is IMPERATIVE that we not buy a $30 zero-plastic water bottle, pat ourselves on the back, and go back to sleeping well at night. Environmentalism is not about assuaging our personal anxiety; it’s about working to care well for our fellow Earthlings (and ourselves!) on a large scale.


To me, one of the biggest messages of this book is that even when something is “out of sight, out of mind” it still has an impact. When we put something in the trash (or even in the recycling), we forget about it. It’s done. But “trash” doesn’t mean “gone” — we can’t discard something outside the environment. Likewise, just because I don’t live on an Indian reservation or in Flint, Michigan doesn’t mean I can shut my ears and go back to my nice, clean tap water. Life is relational; ecosystems are relational; so our environmentalism needs to be relational, too, and advocate for all our relations.


Well, folks, that’s the end! I’ve completed my investigation into Imperial Geography (for now). I answered my questions about why the US government offered tree claims to homesteaders, what happened to the land when European settlers came en masse to Turtle Island, and why environmentalism matters for real people today. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought it would, but I’m so thankful for all I’ve learned, and I’m sure it’ll come right along with me as I dive into my next reading / learning / blogging project… which I’ll tell you about in another post.😉

Hopefully I’ve given you some things to think about — I know I’ve got plenty. Thanks for reading along with me!  ~Rebekah


Sometimes it’s cool to look back and see the path of how we’ve grown.

As I approach a lot of big transitions (among them the graduation of every student I’ve ever taught, the completion of several large work projects, and a job change), I found myself appreciating how my artwork captures my emotional growth over time.


Today was a stressful day.

Between balancing two separate work clients, recently deciding to quit both of them to pursue more standard employment, trying to prepare for the transition and wrap up a couple major projects, begin my job hunt, AND, ya know, do the rest of life, all of a sudden it sort of came to a head today as I began to feel the feelings of overwhelm creeping into my body.

So I did what I know is good for my soul — I got out the ink and made some art.

stress no.2 - 2016

Any of you who have seen my art or follow my art blog know that my artwork is very emotional and impressionistic. And, knowing the state of my life right now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this particular image came from.

But it also tickled my memory, because I created a somewhat similar piece of art a few years ago.


Four years ago, in the spring of 2012, I was struggling. I was 7 months into a teaching job that was *supposed* to be exactly what I had wanted in a teaching job — middle schoolers, racial and economic diversity, subject-based teams, even a decent starting salary. And I was sinking.

I hadn’t quite figured out why, but I knew that something was wrong, and I could feel myself drowning as I tried to keep my head above water in the classroom. But the overwhelm kept creeping in.

One day, in sheer desperation, my non-verbal brain took over and somehow remembered where I had buried an old sketchpad and a set of oil pastels, and I drew this:

stress no.1 - 2012

I literally hadn’t done any artwork since high school, really, but somehow my body just made this happen, in the middle of my crazy, crazy stress.


It’s interesting now to look back and compare the two pieces of art, the two snapshots of myself. There are some elements that are basically the same — the nondescript person, the blue spheres, the chaotic shapes outside — but even just looking at the art you can tell some things are different. In fact, the pictures can tell you nearly as much as I could by remembering.

stress 1 and 2

The person on the left is tiny, infantile, literally in the fetal position, as if seeking protection. She seems to be cocooned in a bubble, but the bubble is tiny and almost recedes into a pinpoint compared to the large, aggressive, jagged shapes that seem to fill the landscape. Inside the bubble is calm blue, but everywhere around are vibrant, loud colors and shapes that threaten to pop the bubble and cause the person to curl up tighter.

The person on the right is standing strong, holding a line. Some sort of energy emanates from her center, seeming to protect her, or at least help to hold the boundary. Outside the circle of calm, chaotic shapes and shadows swirl, but the warmth and the focus of this painting is on the person, standing firm, arms outstretched, exuding calm blue and hopeful yellow light. Although it seems that the bubble’s edge is broken in places, the person seems to still be in it, and a burst of dark and light around her right hand seems to indicate active resistance.

See? That’s just me psychoanalyzing my own artwork. (Lol.)

But since it’s my life, I can tell you the actual story.

Four years ago, I got broken by teaching. Totally wrecked. I felt like I had failed. Not only was I miserable at that job, but I had to live with the fact that I had studied for over four years and dragged my new husband to a faraway state — for nothing. I don’t know if I was actually diagnosably depressed, but it was a pretty low time in my life. I didn’t have a lot of emotional resources. I felt pretty helpless and hopeless, and you can see that in my drawing.

Today, I’ve got a few old scars but those are proof that I’ve come out the other side. Now that I know what it’s like to be stuck in a job that’s a terrible fit, I’m not miserable and I don’t feel stuck, because even the jobs I’m leaving are a much better match for my personality and skill set. Moreover, I know I have a sense of agency to change things if they aren’t good for me. And the transition I’m about to embark on will help me to grow even more, both professionally and personally, as I move on to the next thing I want to learn. Yes, I’m feeling stressed today, but I’m aware of my stress, I know why I’m stressed, and I can deal with it standing up instead of crumpling into a ball. (Most days!) Sometimes it breaks through and gets to me, but with a lot of hard work I now have deeper emotional resources to be able to fight back and keep moving through the overwhelm. (And sometimes, I know when I need to take a break!)

Anyway, I don’t really have like a moral to this story — I just am thankful for what I’ve learned and for such a vivid opportunity to reflect on one piece of growth in my life. And I thought I’d share with you all, because sometimes it feels like the internet sort of skims over the tough stuff in life. But the thing is, sometimes the tough stuff is the stuff you’re most proud of.

Fight on, fellow warriors. Fight on.

stress no.2 - 2016