Saturday, August 4, 2007

Faith Leaders Gather for Retreat at Best Friends (Animal Sanctuary)

[ if this is of any interest to you, i would strongly encourage you to check out ]

August 3, 2007 : 2:41 PM ET

“In a world of increasing violence towards others, ourselves, and the planet we call home, we believe it is absolutely essential to reclaim and recover a commitment to compassion for all living things.” Rev. Michael Bruner.

It was the first evening of a two-day retreat at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for a small group of religious leaders from around the country and beyond. Feeling particularly inspired, one of them, Rev. Michael Bruner, professor of religion at Azuza Pacific University, jotted down some ideas for the preamble to a proclamation to which the group hopes thousands of faith leaders from many countries will eventually add their names. Most of the group were meeting each other for the first time, and Michael Bruner’s “jottings” raised a cheer from everyone.

“You get the feeling that you’re part of something that’s going to be very big and very wonderful,” said United Methodist Church Pastor Jonathan Massey of Chandler, Ariz. “We’re ready to take the next jump into the rights of other living beings. It’s a major step spiritually and ethically.”

Rabbi Robin Nafshi, of the Jewish Community Center in West Orange, N.J., said kindness to animals is an important part of the Jewish faith. “We are taught that we have an obligation for their well-being and to avoid causing pain whenever possible.”

The group dove deep into some of the issues that have divided people of faith in their attitude to animals – like the question of whether non-human animals have souls. But the group quickly concluded that theological debates of this kind really don’t address the issue. Rabbi Nafshi pointed out that all living beings are endowed by the Creator with “nefesh”, the breath of life. “They are sentient beings, and that’s what matters most.”

Imam Qasim Ahmed, Founder and Director of the Islamic Learning Institute, Inc., added that “An animal is a living, breathing being we have a responsibility to care for. We humans are born into the heavenly state…It is disobedience that removes us – In order to make a difference for the animals, we must focus on the humans…on bringing the humans back into the obedience state. Animals are not disobedient ... so we can learn from the animals. The animals have always been there [in a heavenly state].”

Several people noted that even raising the subject of animal protection can be challenging. A few were heard to say things like “I can’t really say ‘that’ from the pulpit.” Rev. Zandra Wagoner, professor of religion at the University of La Verne, pointed out that historically there has always been pressure in Christian traditions to toe the line and not rock the boat.

“I have no doubt that if this initiative takes flight and becomes a real conversation within our faith communities,” she commented, “there will be backlash. And sadly the Christian tradition has a long history of dealing with conflict through censure, excommunication, firing, and defrocking.” She said that any initiative will need to include encouragement of faith leaders to be courageous. “There is so much pressure to be mediocre, middle-of-the-road, don't-rock-the-boat ministers and priests. It will help if there is a critical mass of religious leaders who are advocating on behalf of the animals.”

The two-day retreat included participants from overseas, who joined in through a webinar hookup.

In the breakout sessions, groups worked on subjects like Companion Animal & Community Welfare; Commercialization & Exploitation; and Wildlife Preservation & Protection – with the goal of determining benchmarks for how people of faith and leaders of faith might be called upon to support animals from a spiritual perspective. For example, the Wildlife Preservation & Protection group suggested a boycott of companies that benefit from deforestation; the Commercialization & Exploitation group said leaders of faith should help expose corporate cruelty; and the Companion Animal & Community Welfare group pointed out that while millions of homeless animals are still being destroyed in shelters each year, people of faith are obligated to put compassion into action for all of God’s creatures.

When the various groups came back together to report on their discussion, there was much passion laced throughout their reports. One in particular had everyone sitting right up in their chairs. With a voice that would have done justice to the Ten Commandments being delivered on Mount Sinai, Father Larry Evans of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Jersey City, N.J., read from the draft text of the Sports & Entertainment group:

“We, as people of faith, have been called upon to care for the most vulnerable among us. And because animals are sentient beings who are dependent on us for their quality of life and wellbeing, we call upon all people of faith to reject arenas that harm and exploit animals and instead choose to support sports and entertainment venues that are both educational and beneficial to animals.”

The retreat concluded with many of the religious leaders expressing gratitude for being called to this very important work of the soul and, particularly, for being introduced to other like-minded faith leaders; “Until now,” said one, “many of us thought we were alone in seeing the connection between animals and faith. Now we know there is hope and we believe there are many more of us out there.”

When members of the group have completed their work on the proclamation, they’ll be inviting religious leaders of all faiths and denominations to add their names to it.

“Every major religious tradition holds that we are called upon to protect all living beings,” said Paul Berry, executive director of Best Friends, “and never has this been more urgent than now. Here at Best Friends, we’re delighted and inspired by the enthusiasm of these leaders and the colleagues they represent. And we want to help them, in every way, to bring the message of kindness to animals to their congregations.”

There’s news about animals and religion at, where we’ll also be updating the continuing discussion that began at the recent gathering.

Photos of Larry Evans and Michael Bruner and group shot by Rebecca Preston
Photo of group at the blessing by Michael Delgado-Hand

Friday, August 3, 2007

Lake Superior Changes Mystify Scientists

[ as always, clipped with utter disregard for copyright laws; it ain't like i'm gonna profit. ]

Aug 3, 5:59 AM (ET)

(AP) Empty boat slips at Presque Isle Marina on the northern side of Marquette, Mich. . .

MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) - Deep enough to hold the combined water in all the other Great Lakes and with a surface area as large as South Carolina, Lake Superior's size has lent it an aura of invulnerability. But the mighty Superior is losing water and getting warmer, worrying those who live near its shores, scientists and companies that rely on the lake for business.

The changes to the lake could be signs of climate change, although scientists aren't sure.

Superior's level is at its lowest point in eight decades and will set a record this fall if, as expected, it dips three more inches. Meanwhile, the average water temperature has surged 4.5 degrees since 1979, significantly above the 2.7-degree rise in the region's air temperature during the same period.

That's no small deal for a freshwater sea that was created from glacial melt as the Ice Age ended and remains chilly in all seasons.

A weather buoy on the western side recently recorded an "amazing" 75 degrees, "as warm a surface temperature as we've ever seen in this lake," said Jay Austin, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota at Duluth's Large Lakes Observatory.

Water levels also have receded on the other Great Lakes since the late 1990s. But the suddenness and severity of Superior's changes worry many in the region. Shorelines are dozens of yards wider than usual, giving sunbathers wider beaches but also exposing mucky bottomlands and rotting vegetation.

On a recent day, Dan Arsenault, a 32-year-old lifelong resident of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, watched his two young daughters play in mud on the southeastern coast where water was waist deep only a few years ago. A floatation rope that previously designated the swimming area now rests on moist ground.

"This is the lowest I've ever seen it," said Arsenault.

Superior still has a lot of water. Its average depth is 483 feet and it reaches 1,332 feet at the deepest point. Erie, the shallowest Great Lake, is 210 feet at its deepest and averages only 62 feet. Lake Michigan averages 279 feet and is 925 feet at its deepest.

(AP) Dan Arsensault of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and his daughters Bree, 5, left, and Andie, 3. . .
Yet along Superior's shores, boats can't reach many mooring sites and marina operators are begging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge shallow harbors. Ferry service between Grand Portage, Minn., and Isle Royale National Park was scaled back because one of the company's boats couldn't dock.

Sally Zabelka has turned away boaters wanting to dock at Chippewa Landing marina in the eastern Upper Peninsula, where not long ago 27-foot vessels easily made their way up the channel from the lake's Brimley Bay. "In essence, our dock is useless this year," she said.

Another worry: As the bay heats up, the perch, walleye and smallmouth bass that have lured anglers to her campground and tackle shop are migrating to cooler waters in the open lake.

Low water has cost the shipping industry millions of dollars. Vessels are carrying lighter loads of iron ore and coal to avoid running aground in shallow channels.

Puffing on a pipe in a Grand Marais pub, retiree Ted Sietsema voiced a suspicion not uncommon in the villages along Superior's southern shoreline: The government is diverting the water to places with more people and political influence - along Lakes Huron and Michigan and even the Sun Belt, via the Mississippi River.

(AP) John Hubbard, of Burt Township, Mich., checks the water levels at the harbor's only. . .
"Don't give me that global warming stuff," Sietsema said. "That water is going west. That big aquifer out there is empty but they can still water the desert. It's got to be coming from somewhere."

That theory doesn't hold water, said Scott Thieme, hydraulics and hydrology chief with the Corps of Engineers district office in Detroit. Water does exit Lake Superior through locks, power plants and gates on the St. Marys River, but in amounts strictly regulated under a 1909 pact with Canada.

The actual forces at work, while mysterious, are not the stuff of spy novels, he said.

Precipitation has tapered off across the upper Great Lakes since the 1970s and is nearly 6 inches below normal in the Superior watershed the past year. Water evaporation rates are up sharply because mild winters have shrunk the winter ice cap - just as climate change computer models predict for the next half-century.

Yet those models also envision more precipitation as global warming sets in, said Brent Lofgren, a physical scientist with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor. Instead there's drought, suggesting other factors.

Cynthia Sellinger, the lab's deputy director, said she suspects a contributing factor could be residual effects of El Nino, the warming of equatorial Pacific waters that produced warmer winters in the late 1990s, just as the lakes began receding.

Austin, the Minnesota-Duluth professor, said he's concerned about the effects the warmer water could have.

"It's just not clear what the ultimate result will be as we turn the knob up," he said. "It could be great for fisheries or fisheries could crash."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Wasatia Movement - An Alternative to Radical Islam

This is a very interesting and inspiring article, the likes of which you probably won't find in any of the domestic media. Some like to place the blame for this squarely on the media itself, while ignoring the fact that this country has become more insular and self-centered with every passing decade -- something that can scarcely be attributed to media alone.

It's really rather sad and tragic that it takes something like genocide or a terrorist attack for most folks in this country to take any notice of the non-Western hemispheres, the people who live there, their beliefs and ideologies, and how terribly poor (in a LOT of ways) most of them are. It may be human nature to focus on one's own yard & neighborhood to the point of excluding the REST of the world, but then greed/lust/malice/pride/etc (i.e. sin) are also in our nature, right?