Wednesday, February 27, 2008

el Maggie in Asia

I am writing to you all from the Hong Kong airport, trying to mentally prepare for the flight back to Canada, which will begin in a couple of hours. I've been in Asia for a week and a half now, and have just got over the jet-lag in time to turn around and do the 12-hour time change in the opposite direction.

The purpose of this trip was for work meetings in Indonesia. The meetings were in Yogyakarta, a mid-sized city on Java Island. I found Yogya to be pretty concrete and bustling - everyone drives a motorcycle, and those who don't drive motorcycles sit on the back of their friends' motorcycles (or, if they happen to be a small child, in front; or, if they happen to be an elderly woman, on back, side-saddle).

For my mini-vacation after the meetings, I headed to Bali for a few days. I felt very sophisticated jetting off to Bali for a long weekend, let me tell you (a fact which probably belies my lack of sophistication . . .). Bali has beautiful beaches and green green rice paddies. The people there are Hindu, while the majority in Indonesia are Muslim.

I was a bit nervous about travelling alone, but I found it to be actually quite easy. It really re-affirmed how spoiled Anglophones are, as we can go anywhere in the world and people will know our language. I also never felt truly harassed, the constant "where you from? What your name? How many time you in Bali?" didn't really border on anything dangerous - my closest call was to being forcibly manicured, and I managed out of that one. At the end of the day, I am infinitely more wealthy than any of the Indonesian people who tried to hustle me on the streets, and I have come to comsume a slice of their paradise, so who can blame them for trying to sell me an hour of para-sailing, an over-priced silk scarf, or a massage on the beach?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

God doesn't want me to be pretty

Through the blog of a friend, who belongs to a pastor’s wives blog roll, I’ve discovered a woman who is married to a Baptist pastor in Chicago. She is a completely different kind of Christian from me, and probably would not even admit that I deserve the title (and/or would pray fervently for my soul, if she knew about my spiritual state). Anyway, I appreciate her optimism and delight in the world around her, and her solid simple faith in the Bible as the word of God. These are all things which I lack, and while I am happy with my honest doubts, I fear I would look like a grumpy cynic were I to dismiss anyone else whose spiritual walk was not wracked with similar ambiguity.

This woman is leading a woman’s Bible study on "A Woman and her Appearance" which she posts on her blog. Basically, she has looked at various Biblical passages and come to the conclusion that God cares about our appearance, and He wants us to look beautiful and womanly. I, to put it mildly, disagree. In fact, the first sermon I ever gave at Ecclesiax (back in the days of innocence, before I became de facto pulpit supply) was about our bodies – about our need to accept them and then to move beyond them. If I believe anything about God’s interaction with humans, it is that He sees our souls, and that he wants us to do likewise when we look at other people.

I believe that every person has inherent worth, and a focus on beauty separates us from this truth. In our society, old people are considered ugly – but I can’t accept that God does not love old people, or that he wants women to try to hide the outward evidence of their life experience. Also, poor people are often not as beautiful as rich people, because what we consider beauty is a luxury taking time and money - Jesus was pretty loud and clear about his preference of the poor over the rich.

I do not embrace many absolutes in my faith, but from what little I understand about God, I am pretty sure He does not want me to put my energy into trying to be pretty.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

hope's in the bag

I am, as my regular readers might have noticed, a bit of a pessimist. So, it is with great delight that I am able to inform you that I have noticed a trend that is ENCOURAGING, and in relationship to human wastefulness, nonetheless! I am talking about the proliferation of reusable shopping bags. I have been reusing plastic bags or carrying cloth bags for years (my mom started using them in the 90s). Just 5 years ago, I would get confused looks from store clerks, and they would insist on wrapping my meat in a plastic bag before putting it in my cloth bag. The worst, I remember, was when Grandma took Sim and I to Disney World many years ago - if we had a large plastic bag from an earlier purchase and were buying something from another kiosk, they would put it into a smaller Disney-branded bag, even when we tried to say we'd just put it in the bag we were already carrying.

Now, though, I see more and more people with reusable bags. It's more common for store clerks to ask if I want a bag, rather than assuming, when I am getting just a few items or an already carrying a bag. A lot of this spread seems to be related to the President's Choice black bags with green logos on them - they've somehow become cool. I knew the tipping point had come when I was walking across the parking lot in the grocery store and saw your average cool looking 20-something guy (cell phone, flip-flops, baggy shorts, golf shirt with the collar up) heading towards the store swinging his black grocery bag. If cool male university students are doing something that's somewhat inconvenient, as opposed to a more convenient option, you know it's become mainstreamed. . .

Despite my glowing optimism, there are still an awful lot of plastic bags going out of Loblaws every time I am there. We are making progress, and I think we're ripe for the next step - make people pay for every plastic bag they use. The plastic bag tax in Ireland actually reduced plastic bag usage by 94%! Plastic bags are the type of environmentally harmful thing that really only exist for convenience - we're starting to change the culture to favour environmental responsibility over disposabal convenience, and this trend will only continue if we consumers took a hit in the wallet every time they wanted a plastic bag.