Golden years

Well, today’s donation choice is a no-brainer.

Earlier this year, NIH announced that over 113 chimpanzees at the New Iberia Primate Research Center would be retired from biomedical research.  It was welcome news, but the timing of the retirement was up in the air, as was the chimpanzees’ ultimate retirement destination.  In fact, only 10 of the chimpanzees were definitely headed to a sanctuary; the remaining 103 were to be transferred to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.  That seems a dubious “retirement” for research chimpanzees.

Today came the exciting news that NIH has agreed to transfer all 113 chimpanzees to Chimp Haven, in Keithville, Louisiana.

To accommodate the retirees, Chimp Haven will have to raise $2.3 million to build additional enclosures ($5 million, if you include funding for lifetime care).  They’ve got a promise of $500,000 from The Humane Society of the United States, and another $100,000 from the New England Anti-Vivisection Society.  But that leaves $1.7 million to raise!

So Chimp Haven is the star of today’s Advent Giving Calendar.  Please join me in donating to their Road to Chimp Haven campaign.

(Update, 1/4/13: I just noticed that Chimp Haven has an Amazon Wishlist, too.  And has received only ONE six-pack of the 20 requested six-packs of sugar-free Hershey Chocolate Syrup?!  I’m taking steps to correct this travesty immediately.)

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Reflections on Newtown

On last Friday, the day of the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, I was two days into a visit to my son and daughter-in-law in Nashville, Tennessee.  It was to have been a pre-Christmas celebration, fitted in before the celebration of the actual day that Karen B. and I will have with our dear friend Karen S, who arrives in California on December 25th to stay with us for a few days.  Now the shadow of all those deaths falls on us, on those we hold dear and on those whose loss brings unimaginable pain.  Eugene Peterson says that silence is sometimes the only response:  our silent presence with those who mourn, the only blessing we can offer.
 
When I am in Nashville, which is often, it is my custom to go to Saturday morning Mass with my friend Kathy.  It is a simple daily Mass at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Sylvan Park.  On a good morning there might be 20 parishioners present.  As I enter the sanctuary and take a seat, I notice that there is less visiting and more praying than usual, perhaps honoring the dead in their silence.  In the few minutes before the liturgy begins, I raise my eyes to the representation of Jesus on the cross that hangs on the front wall.  I think of the people of Newtown who have flocked to the St. Rose of Lima Church for the prayer vigil that began within just hours of the news.  No doubt there is also a crucifix image like this above their altar. 
 
Out of the depths of memory I hear the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was imprisoned and finally executed during the Nazi regime.  While in prison, and reflecting on how God might be present in the circumstances of the Third Reich (I don’t have my usual library available here, so forgive me if I’m misrepresenting DB’s context), he wrote in a letter to his best friend, “Only the suffering God can help.”
 
I also remember what one of my mentors, William Sloane Coffin, wrote (http://www.pbs.org/now/society/eulogy.html) in a sermon delivered ten days after his 24-year-old son, Alex, died in a car accident.  In intense grief, he gave us all these words I can never forget:  “My own consolation lies in knowing that…when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first  of all our hearts to break.”
 
Maybe we want to think of God as all-powerful and all-knowing, totally in control of everything and with a plan for each of us.  God the micro-manager!  And maybe that’s an idea of God that’s adequate for the everyday-ness of our lives, although (for me at least) that’s at best a debatable proposition.  How anyone could think that anything about the events of last Friday in Newtown are in any way a reflection of God’s will, or part of some divine plan, is just beyond my comprehension.  (Mike Huckabee, I’m talkin’ to you….)
 
From where I stand, the God who comforts is the God who enters into our human suffering, fully incarnate in our human life and our death.  God’s broken heart is somehow, in the great mystery of the Incarnation, joined with our own broken hearts.  And so, somehow, the crucified Christ on the wall of St. Ann’s in Nashville is oddly comforting to me, and I hope he is the same to all those who have that image before them in these days.
 
Amen.

The advent of athleticism, and a bunch of other good stuff

Grabbed from the GOTR web site.
Grabbed from the GOTR web site.

The last few days… First I didn’t feel like posting.  Then I didn’t have time to post.  Then I was all over the board about what I wanted to post.  And in between, I had the keen desire to go for a long, head-clearing run – but that didn’t fit into the last several days, either.

However, it did help me decide what to feature today.

I suppose I should first ‘fess up.  Most of the projects/programs/groups I’m featuring in this Advent giving “calendar” (I know… it’s a bit random and unreliable for a calendar) are personal favorites – groups for which I would love to volunteer or fundraise.  That’s my rigorous selection criterion.  Yes, I’ve also been checking to make sure they don’t have embarrassing reports on charity rating sites, but I’m putting them up here because I wish I could personally give them sackfuls of money or my own time.  And today’s choice is a group I’ve wanted to volunteer-coach for, for several years.  Maybe this is finally my year?

The group is Girls on the Run.  GOTA works with girls ages 8-13 to build self-esteem, healthy habits, teamwork and social skills, and a lifelong appreciation for health and fitness, and they organize the whole program around running.  How fabulous is that?  There are 200 chapters, or “councils,” around the United States.  You can donate to the national organization, or a local council.  Bay Area readers, here’s yours.

Something fishy

CohoSalmon_FlickrCreativeCommons_SoggydanDanBennett_BY_3.jpg
Photo credit, FlickrCommons/Dan Bennett.

During the last two years, I fell in love with salmon.  Not the way most people fall in love with salmon — poached, grilled, etc. (although I’ve been there, too).  I fell in love with the magnificent creature that is spawned in a small, woodsy stream, navigates increasingly treacherous rivers to spend a few years at sea, and then finds its way back to its natal stream to die.  Yes, I’m talking about a fish.  But what a fish!  Seriously, watch this PBS/Nature special, “Salmon: Running the Gauntlet,” which turned out to be one of the most-watched Nature specials ever (the full episode can be watched at that link).

And read “Grace Behind Glass,” a wonderful essay in High Country News, by Ana Maria Spagna.   This part always gets me a little misty-eyed:

A digital ticker above the emergency exit lists the number of each species that passes through the dam. So far today the video monitor has counted 238 chinook, 242 steelhead, 28 sockeye, three lamprey. The miracle, I realize, is not just that the fish survive, but that they’re shepherded past this dangerous place. By biologists, engineers, activists, judges and ratepayers. We’ve made mistakes, God knows. No surprise there. The surprise is that, despite rancor and derision, despite terrorist protections and antiquated facilities, despite our ignorance, even, about why salmon runs swell or deplete, we can still, collectively, decide to spend $107 million to try to get juvenile fish downstream. Just so they can come back up. What hard-wired instinct is this? In a world of such weight and trouble, to care for a creature shorter than my shin.

Most people close to me expected me to write mostly about gorillas and chimpanzees when I tackled interspecies justice in my dissertation.  But when it came down to picking a good animal to “think with,” it turned out to be fish, and I zeroed in on salmon.  One of the carrots I dangled in front of myself through the long writing process is that I would start volunteering with SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Watershed Network) one or two Saturdays/month when I finished.  Although I finished several months ago, I haven’t yet freed up the Saturdays – but I will!  In the meantime, I will tell you that this organization does great work, protecting and restoring coho salmon habitat, and training citizens to do the same.  And between now and December 31, your membership contributions will be matched and thus doubled.  As I said in the last entry, I love a matching donation campaign.

(Almost forgot to mention: for some truly gorgeous salmon images, check out Todd Mintz’s incredible photos of a sockeye salmon run in British Columbia.)

Animals’ Advent

animals christmas
For a sample of this creaturely cantata, click the Youtube link below.

I confessed at the beginning of this Advent “calendar” project that I can be quite Scroogey about Christmas.  But I do have at least one tradition: every year since 1986 when it was first released, I listen to Jimmy Webb’s “The Animals’ Christmas,” featuring Art Garfunkel and Amy Grant.  I am not ashamed to admit it: I love this CD.

I hope that one of my gifts to animals this year is that I finally go all-the-way vegan.  Yes, the Better Half and I have been talking about it for years.  And we get so close to the goal.  But then someone waves a little Cowgirl Creamery “Red Hawk” or Harley Farms pesto- or sundried-tomato- or cranberry goat cheese under our noses, and we discover that we are masters of the art of rationalization.

So 2013 is our year.

Meanwhile, there are things we can all do.

  1. Last February, an industrial chicken producer left 50,000 chickens to starve to death at a “farm” outside of Turlock, CA.  Most were indeed dead or so weakened they had to be euthanized.  But several thousand were cleared to be placed with rescue groups or sanctuaries.  Animal Place in Grass Valley, CA took almost all of these birds, cared for them, and worked throughout the year to place them all in permanent homes or sanctuaries.  The last five hens went to a new home today.  Animal Place is not a particularly big-budget group, and they do good work with what they have.  Donate here.
  2. If you lean toward the other coast, check out the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, NY, instead.  CAS rescues abused and neglected farm animals, and offers educational programs about “the devastating impacts of agribusiness and institutionalized cruelty on animals, people, and the planet.”  Donate here.
  3. Sasha Farm is the largest farm animal sanctuary in the Midwest, but it operates on a shoestring budget.  The terrible drought this past year reduced the amount of hay available, and at least doubled the price.  Help them feed over 250 animals by donating to their Hay Drive.
  4. Right across the bridge, in San Rafael, CA, the Humane Farming Association is working hard to stop the egg industry’s outrageous effort to make egg cages a national standard that could never be challenged by voter initiatives such as California’s Proposition 2.  HFA’s lobbying division, Humane Farming Action Fund, has been actively and effectively lobbying against factory farming since 1991.  My friend J. thinks of HFA every time she sees a nativity scene: “…imagine the holy family crammed into a factory farm stall!”  Well, that’s an image.  Donate here.
  5. The Farm Animal Sanctuary probably has a bit more name-recognition than these other groups, and I was featuring the others for that reason.  But I’m a sucker for a good matching-gift opportunity, and they have one: donate by December 17 and your donation will be doubled.

That’s FIVE organizations you can donate to (and I don’t work for any of them)!  This is my way of making up for a few missed days of Advent-posting.  Imagine you forgot to pull open the doors on your Advent calendar over a busy weekend, and you get to open several at once to catch up.

Now, feast your eyes on the awesomeness that is Amy Grant’s 1986 hair and parachute pants.  Then close your eyes and listen to “Carol of the Birds,” from the aforementioned “The Animals’ Christmas” (seriously – close your eyes, because the sound appears to lag behind the video and will start to drive you to distraction).

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