The Bank Of Zippy

I’m not much for proselytizing, but this is a pretty great thing that I think most of the people (all 6 of you) that read this blog would be interested in…

Yes, that’s right, people, we are now open for business here at the Bank of Zippy. Get your microfinance loans here today!

Maybe some background would help: A friend of mine recently brought to my attention a website called kiva.org. The site basically links funding sources (that’s me) all the way through a tangle of connections to individual entrepreneurs in the third world.

This is starting to sound like some sort of spam email…let me start again.

Here are four people:

Nasihat Toshmatova Hafiz Allah Tahar Nighat Bibi’<p>s Group Mohamad Maki

You can read more about each of them by clicking on their picture.

For example, Nasihat (on the far left) was looking for a loan to invest in her fruit and vegetable stall in the market in the Asht region of Tajikistan.

Next to her is Hafiz, who lives in Kabul in Afghanistan. He’s starting a little grocery store to make money to care for his wife and child. His loan request was posted to the kiva.org site on Mar 11. By March 14 it had been funded by donors ($25 from the Bank of Zippy!). On March 15 (that was yesterday), in the 15th district of Kabul, he got his money in the form of an 18 month loan.

Then there’s the group of women in Pakistan and the 22 year-old guy from southern Lebanon.

They are all now in my loan “portfolio”, which was pulled from some money I had stashed in my Paypal account. Today I got an email that said that Nasihat got her money ($25 more from the bank of Zippy). She’ll be paying it back monthly and in 9 months I’ll have my money back and she and her three kids will be better off because of it. As time passes, I’ll get updates on how things are going with each of the four loan recipients. How great is that!

I feel like I’m sounding a little like an infomercial here, but I’m just trying to say that this is pretty cool and it seems like an amazingly simple way to have a profound impact on someone’s life. You can find out more here.

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The Story of Stuff

home-digger3.gifIf you saw the post from a couple weeks ago on plastic, you know that I’ve been thinking about my own consumption habits. I keep seeing plastic everywhere I look and thinking about the fact that it will last pretty much forever. That seems like a high price to pay for that plastic bag and the 45 seconds it takes for me to move my groceries from the checkstand to the trunk of my car.

So I’ve bought a couple cloth bags and have decided to be that slightly strange guy who brings his own bags to the grocery store.

In addition to that, I’ve been thinking about the things I buy, my addiction to gadgets, my storage shed full of junk. So this morning I ran across this video on Susan’s website and once again I’m going to steal and repost (I don’t think she’ll mind). It’s called the Story of Stuff and it outlines the consumer process in an interesting, funny, challenging way and gives a condensed overview of this monster we’ve created. It takes 20 minutes to watch but I promise you it will change the way you think.

The Story of Stuff

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Gallery: Prehistoric Days

Prehistoric Days: Climbing Rocks In Joshua Tree

One night a couple years ago we drove out to Joshua Tree late at night. We arrived after dark under a bright moon. Standing in the warm night, we gradually became aware of a deep droning sound that seemed to be coming from everywhere, or nowhere. The rocks themselves seemed to be singing. We walked in circles for ten minutes before we finally discovered the source: someone was playing a didgeridoo in the darkness. I know it was just some guy with a hollow stick, but I think I know a little bit what Jesus meant when he said the “rocks would cry out.”

So, anyway, my brother and I went out there last week and the week before. We climbed the rocks and otherwise entertained ourselves (I tried flying a kite at around midnight when the wind picked up, but the tail kept catching in the sagebrush so I stopped). Here are some pictures.

Oh, and the music is by Nathan Larson from the soundtrack to Palindromes. I’ve been hearing this piece around recently and I can’t get it out of my head.

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Joshua Tree

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I went to Joshua Tree with my favorite brother last weekend. Despite the fact that it was supposed to rain, we had great weather, if a little windy. Neither of us really got enough of it so I think we’ll go again this weekend. Of course, there will be pictures…

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Barack Obama on Talking About Truth

And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship — the grounding of faith in struggle — that the church offered me a second insight, one that I think is important to emphasize today.Faith doesn’t mean that you don’t have doubts.You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away – because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn’t fall out in church. The questions I had didn’t magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

That’s a path that has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans – evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike; some since birth, others at certain turning points in their lives. It is not something they set apart from the rest of their beliefs and values. In fact, it is often what drives their beliefs and their values.

And that is why that, if we truly hope to speak to people where they’re at – to communicate our hopes and values in a way that’s relevant to their own – then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.

Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome – others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

In other words, if we don’t reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.

More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical – if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.

Imagine Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address without reference to “the judgments of the Lord.” Or King’s I Have a Dream speech without references to “all of God’s children.” Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible, and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.

– from his website, Call to Renewal Keynote Address, June 2006

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Andrew Peterson on a Sudden Joyous Turn

I kept watching Aedan and Asher’s faces during certain parts of the movie, like when Shelob poisons Frodo and Sam feels that all is lost. The boys were looking upset, so I paused the DVD and talked to them about eucatastrophe. It’s a word Tolkien coined in his essay “On Fairy Stories” which means, basically, the opposite of catastrophe. He calls eucatastrophe the “sudden joyous turn”. It’s that moment when all seems lost, when evil seems to have finally overcome every good thing, when the hero can go no further. Then light prevails against the darkness. The good guys win.

When you’re writing a story, like I am now, you realize that there’s not much story if there’s nothing at stake. If there’s no evil, no enemy, no point at which the hero is at the end of his rope, then the thing falls flat for some reason. But if we want the good guys to win (and almost universally we do), why do we put our heroes through so much? Because we grow into what we are meant to be by walking through the fire.

I told the boys about how the story of Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate eucatastrophe. When Jesus, the perfect man, God made flesh, cries out and exhales his dying breath, the sky is black and roiling, the ground shakes, the dead emerge from their tombs and haunt Jerusalem, and the sheep scatter. But Sunday morning, more than just the sun rises. Everything changes. It’s not just a story, it’s the story. A sudden joyous turn, indeed.

– from The Rabbit Room blog

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Elmo Studd on the New Year

“2007 is gone.

We think 2008 it.”

– sign in front of Elmo Studd’s Building Supplies

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Gallery: The Plastic Storm

As you might have heard (or not – we here in Southern California assume everyone cares about our business), there was a big storm here last weekend. It rained heavily and the wind blew.

I went down to the beach during a lull. The normal scene of smooth sand and water was much distorted. The storm had brought in truckloads of what can be fairly called flotsam. There may have been some jetsam involved too. As well as some detritus.

Anyway, it was pretty terrible and it made me think of an article I’d read recently, which was forwarded to me by my favorite sister. The article was called “Plastic Ocean”. Read it now if you’d like, but be prepared to be freaked out.

That article, and then the view on the beach last weekend, has got me thinking about every piece of plastic I use. There are so many of them. And I’m constantly throwing them out. It makes me want to never use a plastic spoon again. And when I went to the grocery store today, I carried out all my groceries in my hands without any bag at all. Crazy.

I’d recommend not thinking about it too much, just for your sanity’s sake. In fact, forget you saw this. Put a (plastic) bag over your head or something.

Here are some pictures I took.

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The Singing Clump

These days I stay up late and, in the mornings, I sleep late as well. It’s nice to have a long evening but sometimes I feel like I’m missing out. The days go by so quickly. Not long ago I woke up early for no reason at all. There was no sleep left in me. It was still dark outside. I crawled out of bed.

As I showered, I thought about how nice it would be to see the early morning light slipping in around the corners of the mountains to the east. There is a large lake nearby where I sometimes go to walk the dog.I thought about it for a few minutes. Then I woke up the dog and got in the car. We got there quickly. No freeway traffic at that hour. Can you say “we” when it’s just you and the dog? I guess you can. I’m pretty sure that’s how the dog thinks of it.

I took the Long Walk Route this time which included parking at the far end, hiking up to the top of two consecutive hills, down the other side, across the bridge, along the water, through the gate, up the hill. Stop. Enjoy the view. Walk back the way you came.

On the outbound leg of the walk, in the gray light, I passed a tall clump of reeds the size of a small house growing at the edge of the lake. At the time, I mostly ignored the reeds, although I did notice some coots and a family of mallards mucking around in the water. Noticing them reminded me to remind the dog that he isn’t allowed to eat coots or mallards.

On the way back, the sun was just coming up and there was beautiful red glow in the east. On the hillside above me, the first shadows of the new day were receding, burrowing back under the rocks and sagebrush. In the air, unseen, was the sound of a giant blackbird choir. I knew they were blackbirds, not because I could see them, but because I was raised well, brought up to recognize such things, for which I’m grateful. (Thanks, Dad, and happy birthday.)

By the sound of them, the blackbirds were happy to see the sun. I didn’t blame them. I was too.

I walked by the reeds at the edge of the lake and realized that the singing was coming from right out of the muddy heart of the clump. Not a bird in sight, but the air was full of their chorus. I stopped and watched for awhile. Not a sign of life from the bush. Except, of course, that song. There must have been hundreds of birds in there.

What does it all mean? I don’t know. But I’m glad I woke up early, even if I was tired all afternoon.

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I’m Considering This…

In 1900, The British Medical Journal reported that peasants of the Pskov region in northwestern Russia “adopt the economical expedient” of spending one-half of the year in sleep: “At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep. Once a day every one wakes up to eat a piece of hard bread. … The members of the family take it in turn to watch and keep the fire alight. After six months of this reposeful existence the family wakes up, shakes itself” and “goes out to see if the grass is growing.”- New York Times, The Big Sleep via More Than 95 Theses

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Gallery: Salton Sea

I decided to drive to the Salton Sea last weekend on Sunday afternoon. Now if you’re a Southern California resident you should have already started feeling tremors of fear just reading that sentence and this is why: you’ll remember that it was the end of the Thanksgiving weekend and you know that there are basically 5 ways to leave and to re-enter the Los Angeles area. And, yes, the 10 freeway to Palm Springs and the Salton Sea is one of them.

So I drove happily to the east, noting somewhere in the back of my brain the acute absence of fellow travelers going my way on the freeway. Like the calm before the Katrina, anyone with any sense was not going east out of L.A. at 2pm in the afternoon on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This is like jumping off the back of the boat at midnight in the Southern Ocean. You can pretty much guarantee that it’s going to be a long time before you’re home and in bed.

And it was. The hordes of returning holiday travelers hit the bottleneck about the time I was leaving and the mess still hadn’t let up at 8pm when I decided to head home. I don’t know if the pictures that I got were worth the pain, but I had a pretty nice day and saw some nice country. I also listened to a good podcast from here on the drive out. And then on the way home I made a loop through Joshua Tree, which is always good for the spirit.

So, anyway, here are a couple pictures.

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More from St. Petersburg

You will recognize some of these images if you’ve looked at some of the galleries that I posted a few weeks ago. This is a slide show I put together after the trip to Russia in September.

For more information about The Harbor program, you can visit their website. The music for this I stole from Andrew Osenga and Bliss. I hope they’ll forgive me. Go buy their records. You won’t regret it.

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On The Value Of Things, Apart From Me

“The world exists, not for what it means but for what it is. The purpose of mushrooms is to be mushrooms; wine is in order to be wine.  Things are precious before they are contributory … Creation is God’s living room, the place where He sits down and relishes the exquisite state of His decoration … God made the world out of joy; He didn’t need it; He just thought it was a good thing.”- Robert Farrar Capon, quoted in Everything Must Change by Brian McClaren 

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Valrey

In April of this year I visited South Africa. While in some ways Africa is on everybody’s mind right now, I have this feeling that we are all also a little tired of it. Especially when it comes to AIDS in Africa. Been there, done that, is the basic idea.

To be honest, I think I feel a little that way.

Well, nothing changes that like a little firsthand experience. American churches send over short term teams to try to do some good. I don’t know that Africa benefits a whole lot, but maybe we do, which maybe makes it worth some of the hassle and expense. In any case, I went there for work and ended up being changed a little in the process, trying to figure out what to do with what I saw, trying not to get mad at God, trying to find the grace in the middle of the struggle. I wrote a little about it here and then this week made a video about it.

This is for Valrey and Jonas and Motlope and for all the others out there without a voice.

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Turkey, Stuffing, and Dutch Blitz

…and a lot of lounging around.  It was fun. There are a few pictures here

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More about Delgado Guitars

Here’s another little fun project that came from the Nashville trip.

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A Strange Tour

I have been fortunate enough to travel fairly regularly over the past few years. Enough so, in fact, that I have pretty much given up on buying souvenirs. There are only so many places in one house that you can put little useless knickknacks. The wooden giraffe goes on the windowsill. The tiny little painted box from Russia (too small to hold anything) goes on the bookshelf. The orthodox icon from Romania next to the Russian box.

Quite a while ago, I started dealing with this problem by collecting small rocks or handfuls of sand. This seemed like a better way to remember the place, especially considering my accessory interest in geology. I’ve developed a pretty good collection by now which represents some of the places I’ve visited, although not all (the pebble I grabbed from inside the Great Pyramid in Giza has somehow gone missing — I’m trying to decide if I should be worried about this — and I have nothing from my several trips to South America).

All of this has resulted in a shelf full of baby food jars containing sand, which you are welcome to examine if you ever come over to my house, which leads me to the geeky part of this post. Last night I was playing around with Google Earth (rapid travel! no pesky jetlag!) and made up a partial list of the locations where I’ve gathered samples (yes, for many of these I also gathered GPS coordinates — how embarrassing).

So, while this may not be at all interesting to anyone else, I am presenting today the Google Earth file (download Google Earth here) which will allow you to tour along with me to a few places in the world which have been significant to me and from which I have brought home a small piece. So I present to you, the Sand Tour (make sure your “Terrain” option is turned on).

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Delgado Guitars

I visited my friends in Nashville, Tennessee, last week. Manuel makes guitars and Julie writes music and teaches on the side. A good time was very much had by all of us. I took some pictures which I’ll probably post here eventually.

In the meantime, I made a slide show of some of Manuel’s photos to show a little bit of the magical process of making a guitar. He approaches each project as if he had a personal relationship with the instrument-to-be. It’s fun to watch. He’s always looking for business so if you’re interested in handmade instruments, contact Manuel Delgado here.

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Gallery: St Petersburg, Russia

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St. Petersburg is a complex city. There are hard surfaces and sharp edges everywhere. Beauty and sophistication. Warm pastels. Darkness. Closed faces.

We walked around the corner to the door of our apartment and a man was lying in the gutter, his head on the curb. It was the middle of the afternoon. He was dressed well and wearing good shoes. No one was paying any attention. Should we help? There was the feeling on the street of studied indifference, of some inscrutable narrative being played out. Why? What were we missing? I stepped carefully, holding my breath, half expecting a trapdoor to open under my feet or something to explode. We stood nearby for awhile, unsure, and then decided to go inside and lay our things down. Climbing to the 5th floor, we looked out the window and he was gone. Where did he go? Had I imagined him? Like dark water, the city seemed to have pulled him under, not a ripple left behind. He stayed in my mind all evening.

Here are a few of my pictures (another gallery from a previous trip can be viewed here.)

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Link: History of Religion in 90 Seconds

How has the geography of religion evolved over the centuries, and where has it sparked wars? Our map gives us a brief history of the world’s most well-known religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism.

Link via Boing Boing

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