About nancyabramsblogger

I'm recent college graduate with an English degree who recently made the leap from Catholicism to atheism, and feels like writing about why.

Consumerist Giving: When Your Donations Cause Problems

Eye of the Storm Image from Outer Space

In light of the major hurricanes that recently did immense damage to Texas, islands in the Caribbean, and Florida, and also the earthquake in Mexico, it’s time to talk about how to help in real tangible ways, and about a huge donation/giving snafu to avoid.

I stumbled upon this article the other day from CBS, and I can confirm that this is a real problem from personal experience. I did a lot of volunteering in college and happened to volunteer in areas of the east coast affected by Hurricane Sandy, so I’ve seen some of this firsthand, though not on the scale that the writer describes. TLDR: Charity can be very good, but not all charitable donations are helpful.

As the article explains,

“Generally after a disaster, people with loving intentions donate things that cannot be used in a disaster response, and in fact may actually be harmful,” said Juanita Rilling, former director of the Center for International Disaster Information in Washington, D.C. “And they have no idea that they’re doing it.”

The article goes on to describe huge piles of clothing donations blocking airport runways during hurricane disaster relief – runways that were needed to land planes full of actual life-saving supplies. It talks about a huge influx of teddy bears-thousands-donated to Sandy Hook after the tragic shooting at the elementary school.

Chris Kelsey, who worked for Newtown at the time, said they had to get a warehouse to hold all the teddy bears….As Kelsey said, “I think a lot of the stuff that came into the warehouse was more for the people that sent it, than it was for the people in Newtown. At least, that’s the way it felt at the end.”

He makes an excellent point. After disaster strikes, there’s a wonderful human urge to help and to feel like you’ve contributed in some real, tangible way. But we also have our own preconceived notions about what is helpful and what isn’t, and they aren’t always accurate.

I volunteered at a food pantry for a while and was one of the people who helped in the back room bagging groceries. We pretty much only dealt with food items, though occasionally we might get a donation of something like diapers. We were not, and never were intended, to be a clothing donation place.

Then the hurricane hit, and everyone wanted to lend a hand, and also a hand-me-down. This food pantry was completely inundated with clothing donations, I’m talking full trash bags piled to the ceiling, and we didn’t have room for them, or the resources to sort, clean, and distribute them properly. We started giving them away as much as possible, shoving them at people who didn’t want them or need them. I remember one week, because we had started giving away clothing donations, people who had come in for food assistance the week before came back with several boxes and bags of clothing donations. Thinking they were helping. That since we were giving away clothing, we must want more donations.

I thought this was a crazy problem to have. A food pantry inundated with the wrong type of donations, and lots of them. Then I read the aforementioned article about other hurricanes, which talks about people literally burning piles of donations because they were not the things people affected by the disaster actually needed, and these unwanted donations had rotted in a pile from not being handled in a timely, proper manner.

I told a co-worker this story and she was shocked. She said, why couldn’t they just pass the clothes on to someone else? Surely some people affected by the disaster must need clothes.

I told her, not necessarily. Because, as I recall from the hurricane, all the other charities in the area were flooded with donations after the disaster too, and again, not necessarily the things that were needed, or that the particular charity was set up to handle.

All you have to do to avoid contributing to this problem is to listen to the charities you are donating to. If they give a list of items they need, stick to the list. If they ask for a monetary donation or otherwise indicate that they will take one, it is almost always far more helpful to make a monetary donation. I know a lot of people prefer controlling exactly what their money buys, while others may prefer the personal touch of picking out an item to donate, but by giving money to a charity you trust, you grant them the ability to make bulk purchases that help a larger number of people than the four cans you bought plus the 2 nearly expired ones you took out of your pantry.

In case you haven’t seen it, the Adam Ruins Everything video on food drives is 100% accurate in my experience. Seriously, over 95% of what we gave out came from bulk purchases, not food drives. I’ve helped sort that stuff. A lot of what we got from said drives was expired, or just a weird item nobody eats. Rule of thumb: if you’re not sure how to cook it, someone else might not be either. Don’t donate that weird can of secret saucy surprise.

If you know of any charities that are doing good work to help the victims of these recent natural disasters, feel free to share in the comments!

Always donate responsibly.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

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Catholic Superstitions and Extreme Prayer Claims

animal, art, backlightSuperstitions exist in many cultures, but I don’t think enough has been said about the very superstitious and bizarre things people do in mainstream religions.

A Catholic relative told me recently about something she’s doing to try to sell her house faster, and it reminded me of the many weird things I used to do as a kid, and that I saw my parents doing.

She said, “I haven’t had any offers yet, but my friend told me when she was selling her house, it helped to take a pot of dirt and get a statue of St. Joseph. You put the statue in the pot upside down, and then you put dirt over it, and he helps you sell your house.”

I’m very proud of myself for not laughing at her in that moment. Apparently, this practice is so widespread that there are “kits” for it, sold at various Catholic websites. Here’s one I found at discountcatholicproducts.com

st joseph kit

There’s even a whole website dedicated to this St. Joseph statue nonsense: https://st-josephstatue.com

My parents’ house is full of similar Catholic paraphernalia, and you can find many of these things in the homes of other devout Catholics too.

Scapulars – most notably the brown Carmelite scapular – may promise special priveledges to those who wear them and devote themselves to certain prayers and practices. This one, in particular, is said by some Catholics to keep a person out of hell.

Image result for brown scapular

Brown scapular

 

Relics – these are some of my personal favorite freaky Catholic artifacts. There are 3 classes of relics. A third class relic is an article that the tomb of a saint has touched. A second class relic is usually an article the saint wore or used. I had a 2nd class one for Blessed Kateri, and it was a minuscule scrap of turquoise fabric, so small it was barely large enough to make out the color, encased in a shiny metal relic-holder. First class relics are usually a tiny bone fragment, supposedly from the saint him or herself.  Apparently, Catholicism does not promote or really allow the buying and selling of relics in most instances, however, it is permitted for a Catholic to buy one to “rescue” it and bring it back to Catholic use. This loophole, when you think about it, creates a market where non-Catholics sell to Catholics. As a result, “relics” may or may not actually come from the saint in question, and need to be vetted. This article on Forbes has more information on the sale of relics. Granted, this is from 2008, but a search online for relics today does list some eBay results, so they are definitely still being bought and sold.

 

Prayer cards and prayer candles are also common Catholic paraphernalia, and people like my parents tend to collect a lot of them over time, as they each pertain to a different saint. In Catholicism, different saints are patrons of different things. For instance, St. Lucy, usually depicted holding eyeballs on a plate, is the patron saint of the blind. So if a family member has vision trouble, prayers to St. Lucy for her intercession (in other words, for Lucy to go talk to God on your behalf) are a very normal behavior. You might bring a relic of St. Lucy to someone getting eye surgery if you should be lucky enough to have one, or you might light a St. Lucy prayer candle for them.

 

Image result for st lucy

St. Lucy

 

When you read into some of the saints’ stories, you kind of have to wonder how people can believe this stuff. Even the Wikipedia page for St. Lucy currently points out that there are several different versions of her story circulating.

 

Novenas are another type of prayer that sometimes come with extreme claims. When a family friend from church was out of work, my parents prayed a special novena (9-day prayer) that was supposed to help her magically find work. This is a common practice you can see recommended on Catholic forums, with people often completely attributing their success to the prayer.

Then there was a special prayer my family always said to St. Anthony while we looked for lost items. (St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost items and lost souls). I can’t write the prayer here because it’s in a lost Italian dialect that’s not a written language, but the only part of it I knew the English translation for was the beginning, where it calls to “St. Anthony, naked.” Not sure why naked is in there, (and who’s supposed to be naked, St. Anthony, or the person praying?) but my family and I would run around the house searching for our cell phone, or missing report card or baseball game tickets, reciting the prayer over and over. When we eventually found it, we’d yell, “Thank you St. Anthony!” As if our searching had nothing to do with it turning up.

Do you have any stories about weird superstitions or religious practices? Feel free to share them.

As always, all opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

My Secular Wedding

just married_signWedding planning proved to be far more time consuming than I ever imagined, but I’m back, happily married, and planning to return to blogging now that I have actual free time.

The wedding happened recently this summer, and it was completely nonreligious. I was still somewhat worried going in about how my family would react to the lack of religiosity. God was not mentioned even once in the ceremony, and our officiant happened to be a woman (we didn’t specifically look for a female officiant, she was just the person we happened to like best after we talked to a bunch of local officiants). We generally tried to be ourselves in every aspect of the wedding planning from food to music. We had a “first look” and took some photos before the ceremony. We also finally said “fuck it” and moved in together a few weeks before the wedding.

I have no regrets. The wedding was beautiful, and generally a good time. If you are considering getting married in a nonreligious ceremony despite having religious family and friends, my advice is, if you are out about your non-religiousness, go ahead and have whatever wedding you want.

Contrary to my fears, I’ve had no complaints about the lack of religiosity, even from the most religious people who were there. The comments we received were wholly positive. Our family and friends appreciated how personal the ceremony was, and I think it was a treat for some of them to experience a wedding outside of a church setting. We were told our ceremony was beautiful over and over again, and I think for the relatives who don’t know us as well (we had some slightly estranged folks come), the personal touch made it that much more special. One aunt actually came up to me afterward and said she loved that we were married by a woman rather than a man.

The ceremony was short and sweet. My parents both walked me down the aisle. The content was about us as a couple. Our officiant talked about how we met and said some generally pleasant things about love and marriage. She talked a little about the tradition of wedding rings, and she kept it light yet personal. My husband’s brother read a quote from Bob Marley. My cousin gave another reading about love. I’d say the ceremony took 20 minutes maybe, including the time for the procession, which I really appreciated because it didn’t drag. We didn’t have to stand for a crazy long time, and our relatives didn’t seem bored since we didn’t have to listen to an awkward homily or participate in an hour of sit-stand-kneel -communion-kneel-sit-stand as you do in a Catholic wedding.

Maybe the reason it was all received so positively is that weddings are celebrations, so our guests came expecting to have a good time. Then again, maybe people who disagreed with the way we did things just kept it to themselves. I’m fine with that too. I had a wonderful time.

For those of you who followed my posts in the past year or so, few and far between though they were, I have decided to change my last name after serious deliberation. Now I’m getting ready to start that crazy process, so there’s that.

If any of you have wedding stories, secular or religious, feel free to share them in the comments.

Happy thinking,

Nancy

 

 

Christian Blog Says Close Friendships Are Bad

brunette, fashion, friendsI’m still Facebook friends with a lot of my former homeschooling friends and acquaintances. Sometimes they share articles and posts that I have a hard time not saying something about, so I write about them here instead.

Someone I knew from a homeschooling organization shared this post in all seriousness with a comment that went something like, “Yes! This is me! This is extremely important.”

In short, the post she shared argues that friendships that get too close can be a problem. I think what the author is trying to say is that God should be number 1 in a person’s life, and friendships can become such a big part of one’s life that a person can rely on the friendship in times when he or she should turn to God.  But the way she goes about saying it sounds a little different. At the beginning of the post, she gives examples of friendships in which women are so close to each other that they can’t imagine making decisions in life that would put that friendship at risk or make it more difficult for them to spend time together.

I understand how that could potentially hold someone back from making big life decisions. But none of the friendships she gave in her examples sounded toxic to me. They sounded like close, sisterly bonds. Like women offering each other their unwavering support and companionship as partners for life in a purely platonic way. The way this post nonchalantly devalues human relationships is something I haven’t even thought about much in relation to religion, but I suppose when your goal is to be in this supposedly incredible relationship with your creator, if you compare that relationship to human friendships, you’ll end up devaluing those human friendships in the process.

I do understand where this is coming from, at least to a point. God is supposed to be number 1 in a Christian’s life. Anything that distracts one’s focus from God is considered an idol or false deity. As a kid, I was told these were things like television and video games.  I always thought for adults a major false idol was often money. However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Christian make this point about friendship before.

This post literally discourages people–especially women, if you read between the lines–from having best friends. I sincerely hope that most women who read this don’t take it to heart.

According to the post, there’s a reason these too-close friendships are forming these days: it’s because LGBT people exist, and are being acknowledged by the community at large.

The disintegration of the family and blurred lines of gender and sexuality have left our society with less and less stability. What can you rely on if your sexual preferences continually change and marriage and family relationships become increasingly unreliable? Under these conditions, friendship becomes crucial. In fact, the world’s model BFF is, by all accounts, a functional savior — someone who rescues you from the instability and trials of life, someone with whom and to whom you belong, who is committed to you “forever.”

So um–because LGBT people are gaining awareness and rights, straight people suddenly started becoming best friends? I highly doubt that the prevalence of close friendship is a development of the last 50 or so years.

After that gem about how LGBT people somehow fit into this, the post seemed to discuss these close “friendships” in ways that don’t exactly sound platonic. For example, in the list it includes of 15 ways to know if your friendship has gone too far, 5 of them sound like they’re describing something a bit more serious than even best friendship:

  • Do you experience jealousy when your friend spends time with others? Do you feel a sense of possessiveness toward her?

 

  • Do you prefer to spend time alone with your friend, and are you easily frustrated when others join in?

 

  • Do you have frequent sleepovers, often preferring to share the same bed?

 

  • Do you operate like a couple? Do others see you as inseparable?

 

  • Are you more physically affectionate toward this friend than other friends? Are you physically affectionate in a way that makes others uncomfortable?

Not gonna draw any conclusions about the author from these, but seriously, this is uncomfortably homoerotic for a clearly homophobic blogger.

The conclusion of the post killed me, though. This is some sad stuff. She writes:

A Christian friend understands that, ultimately, she has nothing irreplaceable to offer you and that you have nothing irreplaceable to offer her. Instead, you can link arms together with the goal of pushing each other toward the wellspring of Christ.

Can you imagine how you’d feel if your closest friend said something like this to you? Rather than say that human relationships are good, but a Christian’s relationship with God is greater–a point most Christians would agree with, and that up until now I would never expect anyone to take to this extreme–this post says that human relationships are replaceable. I guess grieving people can rest easy now. Their loved one can be replaced like a dead goldfish.

Have you encountered anything like this before? I’m curious, and a bit concerned that these ideas might be popular among some groups.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

 

Elizabeth Warren Speech: Muslim Ban is About Religious Tests

Image result for women's march protest

Click this link to watch Elizabeth Warren’s speech about the executive order this weekend. Some highlights:

“President Trump’s order has nothing to do with security. …This order is not about terrorist threats. This order is about religious tests. And the United States does not impose religious tests, period.”

To understand what’s actually in the executive order, check out John Green’s video.

This executive order, to put it bluntly, serves to bolster the far-right extremists who feel threatened by the presence of religious others. It’s an entirely fear-based move, and there is no reason to believe it will do anything real to improve safety in this country. What it will do, though, is separate families and keep refugees from getting back on their feet.

We must fight this. Call your representatives and urge them to fight the executive order. Click here to find out who to call and how.

I called the representatives for my area and had 3 different experiences. One had nobody in the office at the time (it was after business hours) but allowed me to leave a voicemail. Another had a full inbox, so I jotted down their number to call again. A third actually still had someone in the office even though I called around 6:15 PM, and he assured me that my representative had put out a statement against the executive order and even called it what it is: religious discrimination and a ban on Muslims. I highly recommend that you write down your thoughts before calling so that you are ready to speak your point clearly. This really helped me not freeze up too, since I don’t exactly make this kind of phone call every day. I don’t really have the time to protest right now, but I can make a few phone calls and you probably can too. I especially urge you to call if you live in a red state. Let me know how it goes if you do!

Also, if you attended any of the many protests of the past few weeks or even called about a different issue, I’d love to hear about it too. The one thing keeping me going is seeing the strong reactions of people nationwide. We won’t stand idly by while the president legislates harmfully. To everyone from the protesters to the lawyers working for free to help people affected by this executive order, thank you for fighting for the true spirit of the United States.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

What to Do With an Anti-Choice Gift Card

hobby-lobby-1I’m pretty sure my mom wasn’t thinking about politics while Christmas shopping, but she gave me a gift card to Hobby Lobby in combination with some other knitting related gifts. It was really sweet of her because I do enjoy arts and crafts but um–this is Hobby Lobby we’re talking about.

Yeah, that Hobby Lobby.

Since the money has already been spent at this business I’m not super fond of, my plan now is to use the gift card but make an equal or greater donation to Planned Parenthood or some other organization that supports reproductive rights, sex ed, and sex positivity.

hobby-lobby-2

If you know of any good organizations, let me know in the comments.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Toy Donation Woes: Race and Baby Dolls

3 Red Covered Present BoxMy office recently participated in a Christmas donation program, where people signed up to buy presents for various children in need. Participants were each given a child’s name, age, gender, and a small wish list with gift suggestions. The child I was assigned was a 7-year-old girl who wanted a baby doll, books, and a digital toy I wasn’t familiar with. We really only had to buy one gift per child, but I decided to get her a baby doll and a couple of books since children’s books at her age aren’t very expensive, and I figured, how hard can it be to choose a baby doll for a 7-year-old? It turns out, when you don’t know what the child looks like/likes, it’s kinda difficult. I wound up just upping the number of books and getting the kid a significant stack.

I will start with the caveat that I probably could have found a better selection if I’d had more time. I had about a week to make the purchase and didn’t have time to drive to the nearest Toys-R-Us that week, so I stopped at Target on my way home from work to do some in-person shopping, then wound up browsing Amazon. I realize those aren’t necessarily the ideal places to purchase toys–but they do carry them, and it’s not like there was no selection. One side of an aisle at Target was covered in dolls. It was just not the selection I expected.

Since she had specifically asked for a baby doll, not a doll that looks older than that, I’m excluding dolls that look old enough to be walking or talking. Those dolls were actually pretty diverse. At my local store, with these criteria in mind, there are pretty much only 2 types of baby dolls when it comes to appearance:

Dolls that look like this:

blonde-blue-eyed-dollblue-eyed-doll

 

And dolls that look like this:

black-baby-doll

It was early December. The shelves were fairly full, and I couldn’t help but notice that there were really no baby dolls that looked like me. I’m a white brunette with brown eyes. I was hoping to get a baby doll with an olive complexion and dark hair and eyes. A doll that doesn’t look like it’s genes come from any particular country. I knew I was over thinking this. I’d had plenty of blonde haired, blue eyed dolls as a kid and loved them as a kid. But I also live in a town with a huge South Asian population, a significant Latino population, and just general diversity. It shouldn’t be this hard to find dolls that look like my neighbors, you would think. So I decided to go to Amazon.

There was better selection all right, but in other ways, boy was Amazon a bummer.

This is the first doll I found that looked like me. I’ve included the description because the name of the product threw me for a loop.

brown-hair-brown-eyes-baby-doll

Why is this doll labeled “Hispanic”?

It could be from so many different places. It could be biracial. It could be white. It could be middle eastern, and yes, it could be Hispanic. Why is it labeled with an ethnicity at all?

Am I over thinking this? I don’t have children; I don’t know what kids actually like, but I was a bit disturbed that the first doll I found that looked like me was labeled something other than what I am, and that apparently to be white, you have to look like you’d do well in Nazi Germany.

I realize stores probably put toys on shelves based on what sells the most, and websites have to tag things in ways that make them easier to find, but I’m flabbergasted that in a store in my town, despite the diversity, there were only two types of dolls when it comes to appearance.

I couldn’t purchase a baby doll for this child because as an adult, I was too hung up on race. I’m a bit embarrassed by that.

Have any of you had strange experiences Christmas shopping that made you stop and think about why something is the way it is? I didn’t even touch gendered toy aisles in this post, but there was definitely a girl’s section and a boy’s section at my local Target.

Feel free to leave a comment! All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy