Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It's not new news that obesity is a problem that's running rampant throughout our country and around the world, but it's certainly always interesting to see where our state ranks.

For me, this is the most alarming statistic in the entire article:

"Lack of exercise is a huge factor in obesity rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found last year that more than 22 percent of Americans did not engage in any physical activity in the past month. "

Wow. So have you exercised today? This week? This month?

Take care.

Mississippi ranked fattest in the nation

Associated Press
Aug. 28, 2007 06:18 AM

JACKSON, Miss. - Mississippians need to skip the gravy, say no to the fried pickles and start taking brisk walks to fight an epidemic of obesity, experts say. According to a new study, this Deep South state is the fattest in the nation.

It also became the first state to crack the 30 percent barrier for adults considered obese, with West Virginia and Alabama just behind, according to the Trust for America's Health, a research group that focuses on disease prevention.

Aside from being a butt of late-night talk show jokes, the obesity epidemic has serious implications for public policy.

If current trends hold, these states could face enormous increases in the already significant costs of treating diabetes, heart disease and other ailments related to extra weight. The leanest state in the rankings was Colorado, with an obesity rate projected at a much lower 17.6 percent.

"We've got a long way to go. We love fried chicken and fried anything and all the grease and fatback we can get in Mississippi," said Democratic state Rep. Steve Holland, chairman of the Public Health Committee.

Poverty and obesity often go hand in hand, doctors say, because poor families stretch their budgets by buying cheaper, processed foods that have higher fat content and lower nutritional value.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee - a self-described "recovering foodaholic" who lost 110 pounds and tried to put his entire state on a wellness plan - explained during a Southern Governors' Association meeting last weekend that there are historical reasons poor people often fry their foods: It's an inexpensive way to increase the calories and feed a family.

Lack of exercise is a huge factor in obesity rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found last year that more than 22 percent of Americans did not engage in any physical activity in the past month. The percentage is greater than 30 percent in four states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Mississippi's public schools already are taking steps to try to turn the trend around.

A new law requires at least 150 minutes of physical activity instruction and 45 minutes of health education instruction each week for students in kindergarten through 8th grade. Until now, gym class had been optional.

The state Department of Education also is phasing in restrictions on soft drinks and snacks.

All public schools are currently banned from selling full-calorie soft drinks to students. Next academic year, elementary and middle schools will allow only water, juice and milk, while high schools will allow only water, juice, sports drinks and diet soft drinks.

The state Department of Education publishes lists of snacks that are approved or banned for sale in school vending machines. Last school year, at least 50 percent of the vending offerings had to be from the approved list. That jumped to 75 percent this year and will reach 100 percent next year.

Among the approved snacks are yogurt, sliced fruit and granola bars, while fried pork rinds and marshmallow treats are banned. One middle school favorite - Flamin' Hot Cheetos - are on the approved list if they're baked but banned if they're not.

State Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds said he hopes students will take home the healthful habits.

"We only have students 180 days out of the year for seven hours in a school day. The important thing is that we model what good behavior looks like," he said Monday after finishing a lunch of baked chicken.

Bounds ate at a Jackson buffet that's popular with state legislators. The buffet included traditional, stick-to-your-ribs Southern fare: fried chicken, grits, fried okra, turnip greens.

Dr. William Rowley, who worked 30 years as a vascular surgeon and now works at the Institute for Alternative Futures, said if current trends continue, more than 50 percent of adult Mississippians will be obese in 2015.

Holland, who helps set the state Medicaid budget, said he worries about the taxpayers' cost of treating obesity.

"If we don't change our ways," he said, "we're going to be in the funeral parlors ... because we're going to be all fat and dead."

Here is the state-by-state breakdown of obesity rates, ranked from highest to lowest, released by Trust for America's Health:

Mississippi - 30.6

West Virginia - 29.8

Alabama - 29.4

Louisiana - 28.2

South Carolina - 27.8

Tennessee - 27.8

Kentucky - 27.5

Arkansas - 27.0

Indiana - 26.8

Michigan - 26.8

Oklahoma - 26.8

Missouri - 26.3

Texas - 26.3

Georgia - 26.1

Ohio - 26.0

Alaska - 25.8

North Carolina - 25.6

Nebraska - 25.4

North Dakota - 25.1

Iowa - 24.9

South Dakota - 24.9

Wisconsin - 24.8

Pennsylvania - 24.5

Virginia - 24.5

Illinois - 24.4

Maryland - 24.4

Kansas - 24.3

Minnesota - 23.7

Delaware - 23.6

Oregon - 23.3

Idaho - 23.2

Washington - 23.2

Maine - 23.0

Florida - 22.9

Wyoming - 22.8

California - 22.7

Nevada - 22.5

New Hampshire - 22.4

New York - 22.4

New Jersey - 22.2

New Mexico - 22.0

Arizona - 21.7 ---#42 (if I counted correctly!)

Utah - 21.1

Montana - 20.7

Rhode Island - 20.5

Connecticut - 20.1

Hawaii - 20.1

Vermont - 20.0

Massachusetts - 19.8

Colorado - 17.6

Friday, August 24, 2007

The BEST lunch spot

So, I'm going out on a limb here.

I was debating whether or not I should divulge where my new favorite lunch spot is, considering two things: a.) it's already pretty busy and b.) well, it's kinda mine.

After mulling it over a bit, I've decided to share the happy information with you.

Although it's not in the southeast valley, where most of my blog-reading friends are generally located, this place is worth it, simply because of its proximity to a fantastic bookstore.


My new "favorite," is Wildflower Bread Company, situated right next door to The Changing Hands Bookstore off of McClintock and Guadalupe roads.

Yes, I know, it's a chain restaurant, but it's a good one.

I think this was the first full hour I've ever taken for lunch, and when I left, I actually felt refreshed. Shocking, I know, but read on.

If you've never been to Changing Hands, it's slightly granola-y. Lots of New Age kinda stuff, where many of its clients bring their own cloth book bags and peruse volumes of texts focusing on topics (I'd guess) like homeopathic treatments, and being "eco-friendly." True, this is a bit of a generalization, but that's what I'm writing so if you don't like it, go read one of the fantastic ones listed on the right.

Anyway, there's something about a bookstore-- especially a quiet one-- that can just put you in a better mood, even if you don't buy a single thing. Just to see the hundreds of books that countless authors poured their time, finances and creativity into is amazing. I'm in awe of people who take the giant leap into authorship. I'd love to do it someday, but I'm waiting on God to give me a divine revelation on what to write about. After all, what's the point of writing a book if you have no audience or large group of people willing to plunk down $15 to read your random thoughts and beliefs?

That's why I'm sticking to the blog for now---it's free :)

So I wandered around for a while and was bummed to discover that there really wasn't any writing stationary there. I've been dying to find some pretty paper to scribble letters on for all of my pen pals, but no luck so far.

I almost bought a book by C.S. Lewis that was tossed on a shelf in the used book sale section in the back of the store, but decided against it, given my recent determination to cut back on spending. I need to start going to the library---how did I forget about that place anyway?

When my time was up, I left the bookstore, bidding a "farewell" to my newfound friend. I hope to visit her again soon...

I'm sure this is a big let down for all of you-- my "place" is not all that fancy or even that exciting. Still, you'd be amazed at the kind of refuge I found today away from the buzz of the phones, obnoxious conversations and work-randomness.

Hope you find your refuge or favorite spot.

Just don't take over mine :)

This is a really interesting article. Thanks, Obadiah, for sending it my way! The only slightly alarming thing I saw was this: "Sixty-eight percent agree with the statement, 'I follow my own religious and spiritual beliefs, but I think that other religious beliefs could be true as well.'"

AP Poll: God vital to young Americans

By ERIC GORSKI and TREVOR TOMPSON, Associated Press Writers Fri Aug 24, 8:47 AM ET

Among America's young people, godliness contributes to happiness.

An extensive survey by The Associated Press and MTV found that people aged 13 to 24 who describe themselves as very spiritual or religious tend to be happier than those who don't.

When it comes to spirituality, American young people also are remarkably tolerant — nearly 7 in 10 say that while they follow their own religious or spiritual beliefs, others might be true as well.

On the whole, the poll found religion is a vital part of the lives of many American young people, although with significant pockets that attach little or no importance to faith.

Forty-four percent say religion and spirituality is at least very important to them, 21 percent responded it is somewhat important, 20 percent say it plays a small part in their lives and 14 percent say it doesn't play any role.

Among races, African-Americans are most likely to describe religion as being the single most important thing in their lives. Females are slightly more religious than males, and the South is the most religious region, the survey said.

The poll's mission was to figure out what makes young people happy. And it appears religion helps.

Eighty percent of those who call religion or spirituality the most important thing in their lives say they're happy, while 60 percent of those who say faith isn't important to them consider themselves happy.

"If you believe God is helping you, then everything else isn't as important and you can trust that there's somebody there for you no matter what," said Molly Luksik, a 21-year-old ballet dancer in Chicago and a Roman Catholic who attends Mass weekly. "Just going to church and everything ... it's very calming, and everyone is nice."

Sociologists have long drawn a connection between happiness and the sense of community inherent to most religious practice. Lisa Pearce, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, said religion can indeed contribute to happiness, but she cautioned that the converse also can hold true.

"It's easier for kids who are happy and have things going well in their life to find the time and energy to participate in religion," said Pearce, co-principal investigator for the National Study of Youth and Religion. "It could be kids who have bad experiences in church end up leaving and being unhappy with religion."

The poll also asked young people to choose between two statements about their views of other faiths.

Sixty-eight percent agree with the statement, "I follow my own religious and spiritual beliefs, but I think that other religious beliefs could be true as well." Thirty-one percent choose, "I strongly believe that my religious beliefs are true and universal, and that other religious beliefs are not right."

The latter statement is more likely to be the position of young teens — 13 to 17 — and those who attend religious services weekly.

However, tolerance is the rule overall. That doesn't surprise the Rev. Paul Raushenbush, associate dean for religious life at Princeton University and author of "Teen Spirit: One World, Many Faiths."

Young people eat lunch and play soccer with peers from other belief backgrounds, while adults tend to self-segregate with others of like mind, he said. Sweeping immigration reform in 1965 transformed America into the world's most religiously diverse nation, and young people grew up with the second generation of the immigrant wave, he noted.

"This shows that it doesn't require a lack of conviction in your own faith tradition to think someone else might have a similar type of conviction in their own," Raushenbush said. "There is no sense of, 'This diminishes my faith.'"

Traci Laichter, 14, went to Jewish preschool. Her grandparents are Holocaust survivors. Her family keeps kosher and displays a mezuzah — a little box holding verses from the Torah — on the door of their suburban Las Vegas home.

Her faith is strong and she believes it will last, but that doesn't mean she thinks other faiths are devoid of truth.

"I believe whatever you believe is true to you and it really shouldn't matter what other people think," she said.

About 75 percent of those surveyed say God or a higher power has some impact on their happiness. At the same time, 90 percent believe happiness is at least partly under their own control.

"I think you do have control over how you are going to feel on a particular day," said David Mueller of Lockport, N.Y., a 20-year-old college student who attends an evangelical Christian megachurch called The Chapel.

"When it comes to events in your whole life, it's already somewhat laid out for you," he said. "You can stray off to another path. But where God wants you to go, you are going to get there."


The AP-MTV poll was conducted by Knowledge Networks Inc. from April 16 to 23, and involved online interviews with 1,280 people aged 13 to 24. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I've got my iPod absolutely cranking right now to drown out office conversations.

Seriously---why do people think it's even REMOTELY appropriate to talk about their sex lives or anything else in earshot of the boss or whoever else?!

I'm so tired of being subjected to such disgusting, worthless, crap....

What would you do?

Thank goodness for my iPod. It's now my new best buddy...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I'll admit it. I'm a "Zonie" as the article below dubs us Arizonans who like to invade the beaches of San Diego from time to time. Apparently, we take over the area during the summer months...and who wouldn't? Enjoy the beautiful weather, spend a few bucks on a relatively short jaunt, and never worry about buying overpriced real estate? C'mon! It's a no-brainer.

I was just there in June for the Rock N Roll Marathon (finished in 5 hours, thank-you-very-much) and had an awesome time. My limbs were a bit too sore to stick around for the beach or really anything else, but it was the perfect weather and locale for the event. Someday I'll definitely go back---can't get enough of SD in the O.C. :)

So check this out. The article appeared in the NY Times, but was reported by a San Diego Journal writer...

San Diego Journal

The Weather’s Fine, Hence the Invasion From Arizona

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

San Diego has long drawn summer visitors from Arizona like Richard Holland and his 11-year-old daughter, Haley, of Phoenix.

Published: August 22, 2007

SAN DIEGO — Bulletin: Phoenix and Tucson have been evacuated because of summer heat and monsoonal moisture. The emergency shelter is here, or so it seems, for the displaced Arizonans.

Here they come, seemingly all of southern Arizona — Zonies in the local vernacular — with their children, their friends, their cars, their strange folkways, a mass exodus from one kind of sand to another, as if propelled by desert winds into ocean breezes.

Make that hot desert winds. “Because it’s like a thousand degrees in Phoenix,” said Haley Holland, 11, walking in from a morning on the beach as her father and friends sipped drinks on the deck of their rental cottage atop the Crystal Pier.

The joke in Arizona is that if you are trying to find your friend in July or August, look on the beach here. In some hotels, three-quarters or more of the summer guests are Arizonans, who fly one hour or drive five or six to exchange triple-digit temperatures for San Diego’s breeze-kissed 70s and 80s.

“You can sit on this sand and not burn your butt off,” said Jim Phelps of Phoenix, who regularly settles into an oceanfront hotel.

Calling them Zonies is done with only the utmost affection, of course: the bad driving, crowded beaches and restaurants, jammed parking lots, clueless ocean swimming, touristy attire and endless requests for directions.

“Zonies go home” bumper stickers are a thing of years past, or so says the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, which smiles through the invasion.

Arizonans account for 11 percent of overnight visitors, more than any other state but California. They spend $970 million annually, a hefty chunk of the $6.9 billion in annual tourist spending.

Or as Richard Holland, Haley’s father, put it: “They loan us their city for a couple of months, we pay them to enjoy it, we leave. It’s a nice deal.”

All the economic support, Mr. Holland suggested, justifies any inconvenience he and his lot may impose. “When I cut across seven lanes of traffic to make that exit in 100 yards or less, I figure my Arizona plates give me diplomatic immunity,” he said.

The ribbing follows the longstanding American tradition practiced by residents of many tourist zones, to poke fun at visitors and blame them for ills (think of the “bennies,” a term of disputed origin, that Jersey Shore residents gripe about all summer).

The San Diego-Arizona connection, though, pits two fast-growing Sun Belt regions jockeying for stature. It seemed easier to make fun of Phoenix before it surpassed San Diego in population, in 1997, according to the Census Bureau. Phoenix is now the nation’s fifth-largest city, with 1.5 million residents, and San Diego the eighth, with 1.26 million, the latest census estimates say.

David Moye, a San Diego writer who has blogged about the annoyances posed by Zonies (as a teenager, the Zonie girls didn’t always go for “townies” like him, he said), attributed picking on Arizonans as an effort by San Diegans to feel superior.

“There is a lot of angst, aggression, seething personalities among natives, partly because we are always in the shadow of L.A.,” Mr. Moye said.

“When you have good weather all the time,” he added, “you have to find something to be cranky about, if you can’t blame the weather.”

Jason Smith, a waiter in Coronado, just across the San Diego Bay, said the Arizonans were “nice enough” — got to keep those tips coming — but “sometimes they act like they are locals, like they’ve been coming here so long they feel like they own the place and don’t care if they crowd the natives out.”

And they have been coming for a long time.

Of course, there is also somewhat of a reverse flow; legions of Southern Californians have relocated to southern Arizona, seeking relief from exorbitant housing costs. And Phoenicians and Tucsonans have been known to make sport of “snowbirds” descending on their region from the Midwest and the East in the winter.

Nicole Nottoli, proprietor of the Big Kahuna’s ice cream stand on the Pacific Beach boardwalk here, estimates 60 percent of her business comes from Arizonans, and she can easily pick them out.

“Those big hats, touristy dress, pale skin,” Ms. Nottoli said.

And there is the matter of air-conditioning. Arizonans just love it; coastal San Diegans prefer the natural kind. So imagine the looks when the Zonies ask for the AC to be turned on or up at restaurants and hotels — and then search for the heat when the “bone-chilling” nighttime temperature dips below 70.

Mr. Phelps pleads guilty. He said he was staying in one of the few oceanfront hotels that provide air-conditioning: “That’s the reason I like that place.”

As he and his friends talked and joked in a shopping mall elevator recently, a longtime San Diegan turned and asked, “You’re from Arizona, aren’t you?”

“We still don’t know how she knew,” said Mr. Phelps, who, for the record, was wearing a dark print shirt tucked into khaki shorts that, well, did not quite completely blend in with the T-shirts-and-jammers crowd.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Yes, finally---a new look. I'm still playing with it and need to figure out how to put links on here, but I'll get there eventually...

So I ran across this article in the New York Times regarding one school district's approval of teaching about homosexuality in sex education classes in middle school. I definitely don't agree with the addition of this lesson, and I also wonder if they've offered an "opt out" to parents who don't want their children exposed to this. I wonder if this is something I should expect my child to be exposed to someday in the public school system, if we choose to send him/her there.

We can't necessarily change the culture, but we can certainly stand up for what we believe in.

So what do you think? Has this gone too far? What would you do if you heard that your local school district could approve something like this?

Lessons on Homosexuality Move Into the Classroom- NY TIMES
Published: August 15, 2007


After five years, one legal defeat and a challenge on the way, Montgomery County, Md., is at the frontier of sex education in the United States. This fall, barring last-minute court action, the county will offer lessons on homosexuality in its 8th- and 10th-grade health education courses.

To school officials, the lessons are a natural outgrowth of sex education and of teachings on tolerance and diversity. They consist of two heavily scripted, 45-minute lessons for each grade and a video demonstrating how to put on a condom. The lessons’ central message is respect and acceptance of the many permutations of sexual identity, both in others and in one’s self.

School officials said they were not seeking to promote a political agenda, beyond tolerance and a kind of cultural literacy. “Our charge starts with educating students,” said Betsy Brown, who supervised the curriculum’s development in consultation with the American Academy of Pediatrics. “This is part of education.”

But critics, who have filed lawsuits seeking to stop the lessons, contended that the Montgomery County schools, just north of Washington, have gone too far. John Garza, president of the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, a group leading the opposition, said parents can block television shows they deem morally questionable, “but then we have the schoolteacher affirming unhealthy behavior.”

Montgomery is a mostly well-educated, politically liberal enclave. But opponents of the new curriculum, portrayed as a vocal minority by school officials, may be more in sync with the mood of parents nationally.

According to a 2004 national poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and National Public Radio, roughly three out of four parents say it is appropriate for high schools to teach about homosexuality, but about half say it is appropriate in middle school.

WHEN asked about the issue in greater detail, more than 50 percent of high school and middle school parents supported teaching what homosexuality is about “without discussing whether it is wrong or acceptable.” Only 8 percent of high school parents and 4 percent of middle school parents said schools should teach “that homosexuality is acceptable.” The survey had a margin of error of 6 percentage points.

Montgomery County may be ahead of the country on sex education, but it may also just be out there, stranded on its own.

The controversy illustrates how fraught the road can be for educators who venture beyond academics to influence students about sensitive social issues, risking not just lawsuits, but also losing step with parents and voters. In New York City, the controversy 14 years ago over the “rainbow curriculum,” which included the book “Heather Has Two Mommies” as a first-grade text, cost Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez his job.

“It’s a myth that our schools don’t teach values about lots of things,” said Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing, which promotes discussions about sexuality. “We don’t put communism, socialism and capitalism on an equal footing in our classes on government.”

But for a raft of reasons, many of them unconscious, teaching about sexuality is different, said Susan K. Freeman, a historian at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

For many parents, boy-girl dating may not mean that their child is sexually active, she said. By coming out as gay, though, “they’re announcing their sexuality.” Parents make a tacit assumption of sexual activity, and “that presents a problem for a lot of people,” she said.

The Montgomery County lessons begin by defining terms like “prejudice,” “homosexual” and “transgender,” and warn students not to assume that because they are not yet attracted to the opposite sex, they must be gay. The eighth-grade curriculum tells gay students that “concerns about how family and friends will accept the situation are reasonable, and fears about being teased or even attacked are not unfounded.”

In the 10th grade, the lessons, which presume that sexual identity is innate, again discuss the stresses of coming out, but add, “Many people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender celebrate their self-discovery.”

Kevin Jennings, the executive director of the New York-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said the curriculum could reduce bullying over sexual identity.

“I don’t know how denying information to young people about sexuality or sexual orientation does anything to promote their health and well being,” he said.

Mr. Garza objected to schools teaching that homosexuality is not subject to change and failing to mention higher rates of some venereal diseases among gay men. “When you get into these hotly contested areas of moral judgment, that’s where the school needs to get out of it, or at least teach all sides,” he said.

Monday, August 20, 2007

jp 08/20/07

The weight of the world
Rests firmly on her shoulders,
No time to turn back now
Gotta add a few more boulders.

Up the hill of darkness
She climbs wearily to the edge,
Looks deep into the pit
Of loneliness, feet creeping toward the ledge.

Her smile can fool you
Like the Queen of Hearts,
She seems mostly happy
But she’s only playing a part.

Inside, there’s a place
Just yearning to be filled,
Somewhere along the way
She thought the Light had been killed.

But all along it’s waited
Burning dimly among the shadows,
A strength waiting to be discovered
To bring freedom from the gallows.

Still she will trudge on
Oblivious to this source,
Bearing her burdens without hope
Without direction on her course.

Someday I hope she finds her way
Back to lighted ground,
Free from weighted shoulders
Free from hands bound.

Until that day I’ll wait
And pray for one more call,
To bring her back to the place
Once traveled by one Saul.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Universities Install Footbaths to Benefit Muslims, and Not Everyone Is Pleased
Published: August 7, 2007
As the nation’s Muslim population grows, issues of religious accommodation are becoming more common, and more complicated.

DEARBORN, Mich. — When pools of water began accumulating on the floor in some restrooms at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and the sinks pulling away from the walls, the problem was easy to pinpoint. On this campus, more than 10 percent of the students are Muslims, and as part of ritual ablutions required before their five-times-a-day prayers, some were washing their feet in the sinks.

The solution seemed straightforward. After discussions with the Muslim Students’ Association, the university announced that it would install $25,000 foot-washing stations in several restrooms.

But as a legal and political matter, that solution has not been quite so simple. When word of the plan got out this spring, it created instant controversy, with bloggers going on about the Islamification of the university, students divided on the use of their building-maintenance fees, and tricky legal questions about whether the plan is a legitimate accommodation of students’ right to practice their religion — or unconstitutional government support for that religion.

“It’s an awkward thing,” said Alexis Oesterle, a junior. “If I’m sitting with Muslim friends, I wouldn’t want to bring it up. In this country, at this time, it’s not so easy to discuss the issues of Muslims in American society.”

As the nation’s Muslim population grows, issues of religious accommodation are becoming more common, and more complicated. Many public school districts are grappling with questions about prayer rooms for Muslim students, halal food in cafeterias and scheduling around important Muslim holidays. As Muslim students point out, the school calendar already accommodates Christians, with Sundays off and vacations around Christmas and Easter.

“Starting about two years ago, school attorneys have been asking more and more questions about accommodations for Muslim students,” said Lisa Soronen, a National School Boards Association lawyer. “These issues don’t get litigated very often; they’re usually worked out one by one.”

Nationwide, more than a dozen universities have footbaths, many installed in new buildings. On some campuses, like George Mason University in Virginia, and Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich., there was no outcry. At Eastern Michigan, even some Muslim students were surprised by the appearance of the footbath — a single spigot delivering 45 seconds of water — in a partitioned corner of the restroom in the new student union.

“My sister told me about it, and I didn’t believe it,” said Najla Malaibari, a graduate student at Eastern Michigan. “I was, ‘No way,’ and she said, ‘Yeah, go crazy.’ It really is convenient.”

But after a Muslim student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College slipped and hurt herself last fall while washing her feet in a sink, word got out there that the college was considering installing a footbath, and a local columnist accused the college of a double standard — stopping a campus coffee cart from playing Christmas music but taking a different attitude toward Islam.

“After the column, a Christian conservative group issued an action alert to its members, which prompted 3,000 e-mail and 600 voice messages to me and/or legislators,” said Phil Davis, president of the college.

Mr. Davis said that after a legal briefing, the board concluded that installing footbaths was constitutional, and that the college hoped to have a plan in place by the next school year.

Here in Dearborn, the university called the footbaths a health and safety measure, not a religious decision. And it argued that while the footbaths may benefit Muslim students, they will be available to others, like lacrosse players who want to wash their feet.

Still, the plans are controversial.

“My first reaction was, ‘Where’s the money coming from?’ ” said Emily Hutfloetz, a senior. “I feel like it’s favoring one group of people.”

On her Web site, Debbie Schlussel, a conservative lawyer and blogger in Southfield, Mich., posted, “Forget about the Constitutionally mandated separation of church and state ... at least when it comes to mosque and state.”

And in an editorial, the student newspaper, The Michigan Journal, worried that opponents would turn their hostility “on Muslim students at the university and Islam as a whole.

Hal Downs, president of the Michigan chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, “The university claims it’s available for Western students as well, but, traditionally, Western students don’t wash their feet five times day.”

“They’re building a structure for a particular religious tradition,” Mr. Downs added, “and the Constitution says the government isn’t supposed to endorse a particular religion.”

The American Civil Liberties Union says the footbath issue is complex.

“Our policy is to object whenever public funds are spent on any brick and mortar component of religion,” said Kary Moss, director of the Michigan Civil Liberties Union. “What makes this different, though, is that the footbaths themselves can be used by anyone, don’t have any symbolic value and are not stylized in a religious way. They’re in a regular restroom, and could be just as useful to a janitor filling up buckets, or someone coming off the basketball court, as to Muslim students.”

Then, too, Ms. Moss said, the health and safety component is not normally part of religious accommodation cases.

“This came from the maintenance staff, which was worried about the wet floors,” she said. “We were also aware that if the university said students could not wash their feet in the sink anymore, that could present a different civil liberties problem, interfering with Muslim students’ ability to practice their religion.”

Some Muslim students seem bothered by the controversy, saying they might not have considered footbaths worth fighting for.

“I think this was the school’s way to try to draw more Muslims, by showing that they were welcoming,” said Zahraa Aljebori, a sophomore at Dearborn, who said she never even washed her feet in the sink.

As at other campuses, Dearborn’s Muslim Students’ Association chapter has pushed for, and won, halal food and a “reflection room,” used mostly for Muslim prayers, but occasionally by Christian groups. But it did not ask for the footbaths, said Farhan Latif, a graduate student and adviser to the group.

“The idea came from the administration, and we were consulted,” Mr. Latif said. “And we were surprised at the hate mail that came in after it got into the media.”

Monday, August 06, 2007

Juarez, Mexico: Part IX

The end of the week came in almost a blink of an eye. We had our final day of work projects and VBS and dragged ourselves back to the dorm, feeling tired and hungry. Our final evening was to be spent at an extreme sports park in the main part of the city before we headed back for the last small group of the trip.

I spent most of that night talking with Delfina, the pastor's wife and playing with one of their daughters, Melody. The little girl played on the "big" playground and asked me to swing beside her on the creaky swing set. We swung higher and higher and as we did, her grin grew bigger and bigger.

I pointed to the large ants crawling beneath our seats as we finally slowed down to a stop. "Como se dice?" I asked the girl (literal translation: what does one call this?)

"Hormegas," she said, and I continued to our conversation on that note.

I took in that moment in the park, realizing there were likely only a few more left for the week. Here I was in Mexico, building incredible relationships and just enjoying my time with them. No cleaning, no cooking, no formal job to get up and go to. Just simply loving on the families and children. Bliss.

After our time at the park, we headed back to the dorm covered in dirt and grime, as usual. It was 9 p.m. and time for the final activity of the week that all of the leaders knew about: feet washing.

I wondered how all of it would go, considering my recent conversations with several girls in the group. While chatting about a past pedicure, I had several girls tell me about how much they hated for people to touch their feet.

Boy, were they in for a treat tonight, I thought.

We all sat in the circle as the California pastor talked about the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet. The one thing that stuck with me is that he used the story to illustrate the fact that Jesus served those with whom he was closest. Yes, he served others outside of this group, but his most intimate gesture, the most humble gesture he gave was for his close friends and companions.

So the leaders began the foot washing. We removed each others dirty shoes and socks and washed each others' feet in a white, plastic basin and dried them with a hand towel. When our feet had been washed, we went back to our seats. As one person finished, another from the group would walk up and assume the foot washer position.

It was an amazing sight to see---big, burly football players washing the feet of guys they'd probably not speak to in the normal high school setting. Girls washing the feet of others whom they hadn't even spent time with during the week.

It's an activity that makes you more introspective about your life, how you treat others, and more importantly, fellow believers. Do you humble yourself and serve them or complain that they're not pulling their weight at the church? Do you forgive them even though they've wronged you? Do you give them a chance even though they seem like they have a polar opposite personality to yours?

The foot washing activity was supposed to happen in the middle of the week, and I know those who put it on were disappointed that it didn't happen at the time they had originally anticipated, but it was obvious to me that God had saved it last for a reason.

We were to leave there with this message: Yes, to love is to serve. We're called to love others and serve others, but how much more should we serve our fellow brother or sister in Christ?