Archive for March, 2011

Thesis Proposal

This thesis proposal has been the bane of my semester so far. It’s already 14 pages about the page limit (32 not 18), and I still have a feeling that my professor will tell me I need to “elaborate in some areas.”

I haven’t really talked much about my anthropology studies, cause for the most part they are just reading and reading and reading. (Though if you ever want to read a good ethnography, let me know. I’ll have recommendations for you). Anyway, here’s the intro to my thesis proposal. Does it sound uber-duber fascinatin?

Ordering Off the Menu: Political Economy, Agency, and Food in a Montanan Homeless Shelter

Food is a central part of daily life. Deciding what to eat, though, is not as simple as choosing an item on a menu. What we eat is determined by cultural, economic, and social influences. The anthropological literature on homelessness, however, has largely ignored the issue of food and nutrition, especially the area of how people who are homeless decide what to eat. This paper will approach food and homelessness from a political economic perspective, by looking at how social structures influence access to food, the agency homeless people have in determining what to eat, and the impact of substance use on those choices.  The researcher will conduct 15 semi-structured interviews at the {shelter}. to gain an idea of how these larger social structures affect food choices on an individual level.

This research is significant in that not only will it address a gap in the literature on homelessness, but it will also provide information that will aid local social service agencies. In February 2011, Mayor Engen announced a goal to formulate a 10 year plan to end homelessness in Zootown. Central to ending homelessness is an understanding of not only the causes of homelessness, but also the culture of homeless people. Poor health is one of the major issues which homeless people face, and understanding the processes that cause undernutrition, a key cause of poor health. Food and eating are important elements of homelessness, and anthropologists and the social service realm cannot ignore their role.


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Hi. No apologies about not blogging much lately, because I realize that’s annoying. But just FYI, I am writing my thesis proposal so posts might be scarce over the next few days/week. Don’t loose faith!

So last time I wrote about detachment. On a related note, I want to talk real quick about simplicity. I do believe that Christians are called to a life of simplicity. To live in solidarity with the poor, like Oscar Romero did.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21

On the other hand, I don’t believe that simple living requires austerity. It does not need to be an aesthetic way of life. There is moderation.

Give me neither riches nor poverty, but let me be fed with the food that is needful for me. Proverbs 30:8

I know I’ve been talking a lot about trying to resist materialism lately (see here and here). But today I’m just going to embrace it and tell you about one of my favorite things. I think part of simple living is not just taking material objects for granted, but appreciating what you do have, and cutting the stuff that you could do without.

I bought this quilt when I lived in Spokane doing JVC. Back then, I made $80 a month (plus money for room and board, though that wasn’t much either). This quilt cost me $25, over a week’s salary essentially. But it was worth it.

I wanted to have a souvenir of the experience (little then did I know I’d get to keep my then-boyfriend now-husband as a souvenir). At the time, I was working for Catholic Charities Spokane, one of the largest charities that side of the state. One month in the newsletter I saw an ad for the Quilting Ladies of Spokane.

These ladies have been sewing for 100 years. (I think some of them have literally been sewing for a 100 years). They don’t buy any of the material; a good amount of it is repurposed. For example, the backing on my quilt looks to be a bed sheet, not muslin. The liner is apparently reused liners from old electric blankets that no longer work. All of the quilts are just simple block quilts, and they range in size from twin to king. The twin ones go for $15 and the largest for $35. All of the proceeds go to Catholic Charities Spokane.

They only sell these quilts on Thursday, the day they set up in the basement of the Chancery to whirl away on those machines. I worked every Thursday, but one day during my lunch I biked furiously downtown to stop by, spend 10 minutes picking out a quilt, and bike furiously back.

It’s quite a site to see. There are piles and piles and piles of fabric squares, all arranged by color. In every room in the basement, there are women hunched over sewing machines. The operation is nothing fancy. Big cardboard boxes were full of the finished projects, with “Twin,” “Full,” “Queen” scribbled on the side in marker. I picked out the one I liked the best, hopped back on my bike, shoved a peanut butter sandwich in my mouth, and was back to work.

I love this quilt. I love the bright and sunny patterns. I love the kind of funky patterns, like the leopard print.

I wrapped up in this quilt during the cold winter months in Spokane. Its sunniness brightened up my basement room during my second year. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s special to me all the same.

What’s one of your favorite objects?


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I want to write a little about non-attachment. I want to write this as if I was floating on a little lotus flower in the clouds, but in reality I have Hoarding on TLC on in the background and am waiting on my husband to come out of the study so that I can tell him to turn up the heat ’cause I’m too lazy to get up.

So take everything I say with a grain of salt.

I was a religion major in college. Religions, all religions, have always fascinated me. I love learning about the many diverse ways that we attempt to reach God, and I believe there are as many journeys to God as there are people who have walked this earth. That being said, I believe in a universal truth, but from a culturally relativistic perspective. Meaning, I don’t believe two directly opposing views can both be truth, but I also believe that views which appear contradictory but are not directly opposing may also be true. We’ve all probably got it a little bit wrong and a little bit right.

In my studies of Buddhism, one of the most fascinating topics to me was the idea of non-attachment. I’m over simplifying here, but essentially, to reach Nirvana or enlightenment, one must be come completely unattached to all desires. Stories that chronicle the lives of the Buddha prior to his life as Siddhartha Gautama (the historical figure) tell of his journey of non-attachment. Immediately prior to his life as Gautama, he allowed his wife and children to be eaten by a Tiger, and thus had reached perfect non-attachment. He was completely free from all desires.

Most Buddhist teachings don’t encourage tigers eating children, but the theme of non-attachment is very central to Buddhism. When I was diagnosed with IC, I started thinking about how and what I was attached to.

I joke to John often (and my mother-in-law made the same comment!) that I am basically living in a permanent Lent. No alcohol, coffee, chocolate, those have been hard to give up. Are they bad things? Maybe not the best, but certainly not bad. What about taking four classes? How about dancing? What about sitting and lying down? Now those things are definitely not bad things. But when my IC began, they are things I had to give up (obviously not completely; I don’t sleep standing up).

I had become attached to so many things in my life. I didn’t even realize how attached I had become until I was forcibly detached. I was not willing to give up these things because I was attached to them. Even though they were not harmful, they were things I didn’t realize how much I desired until they were gone. All the changes I have gone through would have undoubtedly been easier if I had not been attached to them in the first place. I was attached to the idea of being spontaneous, of easy going. I was attached to the idea of being a girl who could take a shot of whiskey, of someone who cherished her morning cup of coffee, and liked her food the spicier the better. It was not the simple act of no longer eating Indian food or diving into a chocolate cake that was hard, it was severing my attachment to what these things represented to me. Ease. Fun. Freedom.

Mainly, my desire was to lead a normal life, one that was free and easy. A normal life is not a bad thing. But it was an idea that I was terribly attached to.

So would non-attachment have been a better path? There is much I am still attached to. My husband, my family, my friends, my life. Those are not things I am willing to detach from.

I want to segway into discussing the idea of attachment in Christianity. There are lots of verses and such that I could point to to parallel the Buddhist idea of non-attachment with similar themes in Christianity. Store your treasures in heaven not on earth, etc. The idea is there. But I am going to contrast, rather than compare, because it’s my blog and I can.

Ignatian spirituality emphasizes the idea of desire, the direct opposite of non-attachment. Wanting vs. not wanting. Focusing on rather than ignoring our cravings.

But the question here is: what should we crave? What should we desire? Desire in and of itself is not beneficial. In the same vein, non-attachment in and of itself is not beneficial. Being detached protects us from pain when that which we are attached to is no longer available, but detachment can prevent love from growing as well.

Desire is only beneficial when we desire certain things. So sayeth a Jesuit priest:

Desire helps us find our way. But we first have to know them.

The deep longings of our hearts are our holy desires. Not only desires for physical healing, but also the desires for change, for growth, for a fuller life. Our deepest desires, those desires that lead us to become who we are, are God’s desires for us. They are ways that God speaks to you directly. source

Our desires show us what we want to be, what we want to become. But it’s pretty obvious that not all of our desires are good. And even things that we desire that are inherently pretty good (like chocolate or finding a spouse) can lead to pain when those desires aren’t met.

So we need to look at what we are truly desiring, deep down, what is at the root of all of our desires. And what is at the root of those desires is likely something we can find in God. Focusing completely on becoming unattached isolates ourselves from God, from life. But there is value in detaching ourselves from desiring what is not truly God. I can desire to have a “normal life” all I want, but that desire is one that is not likely to come true, and so the more I desire it, the more I open myself up to hurt and disappointment. But I am still free to desire God.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

So what do you think about these spiritual paths? Desire vs. detachment? Are there benefits to both? Are they irreconcilable? What are your insights?

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I missed one.

Hamilton Radio Shack offers free gun with new Dish Network service


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Headlines you will only see in Montana

Best quick takes ever. I thank my sister-in-law for the inspiration. Before that I was going to do something lame like 7 things I’m grateful for. Not only are all these headlines real, they’ve all occurred since I’ve been living in Montana, and near to where I live.


Mountain Lion surprises children at Upper Miller Creek busstop

It’s only funny cause they survived.


Woman Fends off Bear Attack With Zucchini

This one even made SNL.


Court grants workers’ comp to man mauled by grizzly after smoking pot. High vic was feeding bears.

Not cool on many levels.


Bear safely removed from downtown tree

This picture is going to win a Pulitzer.


Chicken coops around western Montana attracting more bears to town

Darn chickens.


Herd of bighorns bring traffic to a halt near Bonner Interstate I-90 exit

Montana’s first  traffic jam.

….and the best for last


Moose chases Hamilton woman, daughter, dog down street

You’re welcome.


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Oscar Romero

Way back when, in the days of my Jesuit Volunteering, I lived in the Oscar Romero house.

It looked like that. Except it wasn’t sepia in real life.

It also had really ugly wallpaper and a weird candelabra that we didn’t realize was plastic until the we took it down to paint over the wallpaper that spring.

The house only had one shower for 8 people, but other than that, it was a good house.

Our house, Casa de Romero, was named after Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated today March 24th in El Salvador. He was shot while saying Mass.

Romero was a champion of the poor and oppressed. He was a proponent of liberation theology, essentially a belief institutional sin. Meaning entire governments or companies could be guilty of the sin of oppressing people. Liberation theology taught a “preferential option for the poor,” meaning that the poor should always be considered in decisions of policy making and the like. Liberation theologists believe that it is our duty to begin building a just society on earth, to build God’s kingdom in the present. The Catholic Church has not fully embraced liberation theology, as it was a movement often associated with violence since it sprung out of the violence in Latin America late-mid 20th century. Pope Benedict has asserted that there should not be a preferential option for the poor, as all are equally deserving of God’s grace.

Think what you will about liberation theology (like everything it probably gets some things right and somethings wrong) the point is that as Christians we are called to love God’s children regardless of factors such as economic status, social status, or any status. We absolutely cannot ignore those who are the poorest among us.

I’m no expert on 1980s Latin American politics, so I won’t try to explain all the reasons why Romero was murdered. But basically, it was his love of the poor and belief that their voices should be heard that made him an international figure, and thus a target.

There is a poem that was read at Oscar Romero’s funeral, and is often misattributed to him. (It was really written by Bishop Ken Untener). A verse of this poem was written on one wall of our house, and after long days at work, we’d plop down on the couch and stare idly at it. I only consciously read it through a handful of times, but the words have sunk into my heart. We knew we wouldn’t change the world in a year, but we had to have hope that we were working towards something greater.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

God’s work is not done. It was not finished in the last pages of the Bible, or in the yesteryears of great famous saints. It continues today, but it will not finish today. We must continue to fight the good fight, the fight to spread hope and love and justice to the poor and all of God’s people.

And so I leave you with a few quotes of Oscar Romero, and one Jon Stewart clip in case you are wondering how Romero is being remembered today. I also highly recommend the movie “Romero” if you are interested in learning more about this great advocate for peace.

“Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.”

“Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world.”

“I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally.”

“Aspire not to have more, but to be more.”

The Daily Show on Oscar Romero

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Don’t Mess With Textbooks
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I’m going to turn into a crotchety old lady, and I’m practicing now. I already have a chronic illness, but unfortunately my husband is allergic to cats. So I guess I will have to resort to writing letters to the editors.

Which I did.

You can see it here:


Don’t want to click over? Fine. Though you really should to see the funny comments people wrote.


Each year in Montana, thousands of AmeriCorps members and members of affiliated programs serve communities throughout the state, providing invaluable services such as education, health care and environmental preservation.

In Missoula, programs such as the YWCA and Poverello Center Inc. rely on the services of these volunteers. In return for their service, these volunteers receive a small living stipend and an education award upon completion of the program.

What does our congressman say in response to this service? “No thanks.”

Rep. Denny Rehberg has proposed the termination of the AmeriCorps program, which would result in the loss of over $15.1 million in funding for the program in Montana. Six thousand seniors in the Senior Corps would lose their living stipend, colleges would lose an opportunity to inspire responsible service-oriented citizenship without the Learn and Serve program, and young college graduates would lose an opportunity to gain necessary job skills. AmeriCorps provides a variety of necessary services to Montanans, but just as importantly, it encourages service, benefits the economy and reduces unemployment.

In addition to voting to terminate this program, last May Rehberg voted against a bill (HR 1338) to “recognize the important contributions” and “acknowledge the significant accomplishments of the AmeriCorps members.” Rehberg not only doesn’t see the need for service in Montana, but he even refuses to encourage it.

AmeriCorps is an investment our country and our state’s future. By proposing its elimination, Rehberg has done all of Montana a disservice.


Unfortunately they didn’t use my catchy title, “Congressman Says No Thanks to Service.”

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