Monday, February 23, 2009

Happy Mardi Gras! From New Orleans Bread for the World

As a former resident of New Orleans, I couldn't let the Mardi Gras season pass with some form of acknoledgement. Carnival becomes so much a part of your life that you miss it when you're gone. (There was one year when it was canceled because of police strike. See newspaper headline in picture at left). Who better than offer us Mardi Gras greetings than New Orleans Bread for the World and Sister Jane Remson? In her monthly newsletter, Sister Jane provided us a history of Mardi Gras, which I reprint here.

Mardi Gras, literally “Fat Tuesday,” has its roots in the Christian calendar as the last hurrah before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.
What is less known about Mardi Gras is its relation to the Christmas season, through the ordinary-time interlude known in many Catholic cultures as Carnival.(Ordinary time, in the Christian calendar, refers to the normal ordering of time outside of the Advent/Christmas or Lent/Easter seasons).

Carnival comes from the Latin words came vale, meaning “farewell to the flesh. It likely has its roots in pre-Christian traditions based on the seasons As early as the middle of the second century, the Romans observed a Fast of 40 Days, which was preceded by a brief season of feasting, costumes and merrymaking.

The Carnival season kicks off with the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings’ Day and, in the Eastern churches, Theophany, Epiphany, which falls on January 6, 12 days after Christmas, that celebrates the visit of the Wise Men bearing gifts for the infant Jesus.
In cultures that celebrate Carnival, Epiphany kicks off a series of parties leading up to Mardi Gras.

Traditionally Epiphany is when celebrants serve King’s Cake, a custom that began in France in the 12th century. Legend has it that the cakes were made in a circle to represent the circular routes that the Wise Men took to find Jesus, in order to confuse King Herod and foil his plans of killing the Christ Child. A coin or bean was hidden inside the cake, and whoever found the item was said to have good luck in the coming year. In Louisiana, bakers now put a small baby, representing the Christ Child, in the cake; the recipient is then expected to host the next King Cake party.

There are well-known season-long Carnival celebrations in Europe and Latin America, including Nice, France; Cologne, Germany; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The best known celebration in the U.S. is in New Orleans and the French-Catholic communities of the Gulf Coast. Mardi Gras came to the New World in 1699, when a French explorer arrived at the Mississippi River, about 60 miles south of present day New Orleans. He named the spot Point du Mardi Gras because he knew the holiday was being celebrated in his native country that day.

Eventually, the French in New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras with masked balls and parties, until the Spanish government took over in the mid-1700 and banned the celebrations. The ban continued even after the U.S. government acquired the land but the celebrations resumed in 1827. The official colors of Mardi Gras were chosen 10 years later: purple, a symbol of justice; green, representing faith; and gold, to signify power.

The name Mardi Gras comes from the tradition of slaughtering and feasting upon a fattened calf on the last day of Carnival.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

I (heart) Fair Trade Flowers

How are you celebrating heart day? Perhaps your sweetheart would appreciate a box of chocolates and a dozen roses. But stop and consider this: Valentine's Day also provides you a great opportunity to put the concept of fair trade into practice. When you make your purchase decision, make sure that the product has fair trade certification. This primarily ensures that the grower of the cocoa, sugar and flowers were paid a fair price for their products.

So instead of buying the commercial brand of boxed chocolates, you might consider purchasing the special products offered on this day by these popular providers of fair trade chocolate Divine, Equal Exchange or SERRV.

What about flowers? Most of us are already aware about fairly traded chocolates, coffee and tea. But fair-trade flowers are not as widely known. Fair-trade flowers have only been available in the U.S. since August 2007, due primarily to the efforts of TransFair USA.

For flower farmers, fair trade certification means more than just a fair wage. It requires that farms provide employee benefits including 12 weeks maternity leave and child care. Read more about the growers.

But the wages are important too. Did you know that for every fair-trade flower sold by the Hoja Verde flower farm in Ecuador, the cooperative is able send one more child to school? Most fair-trade flowers come from three countries: Ecuador, Colombia and Kenya. See list of producers

One World Flowers: A Local Connection

Where can you buy Fair Trade flowers? In Albuquerque and Santa Fe, you can buy them at La Montañita Cooperative. Or you can buy them directly from the local fair-trade business that supplies the flowers to the natural grocer, One World Flowers. Here is a partial list of online retailers and supermarket chains nationwide that offer the flowers.

Alaina Paradise, who launched the business in March 2008, said the concept is catching on very quickly.

This is the first Valentine's Day for her business. And it has been extremely busy. The first thing you see when you log on to the company website is: Happy Valentine's Day to all of our wonderful and loyal customers! One World Flowers is unable to accept any more orders for Valentine's Day through our website because we have sold out of all of our inventory.
One World Flowers believes in supporting sustainable business practices, human rights compliance, and fair compensation for workers in countries all over the world.

"Valentine's Day has been absolutely outstanding for business," said Ms. Paradise, a graduate of the University of New Mexico's Anderson School of Business.

Ms. Paradise, who is a licensee of TransFair, offers a wide variety of bouquets and other products to her customers.

"We're excited because this holiday is making such an impact on the farms," said Ms. Pardise, who obtains her flowers almost exclusively from suppliers in Ecuador. "When the farms are doing well, they're able to employ more people and sustain the fair-trade business model.

So as you consider what to give your sweetheart this Valentine's day, also keep in mind the countless workers who labored growing the products that the two of you will enjoy together on this special day.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Conversation on The Emerging Church

The Center for Action and Contemplation invites you to come to the first large gathering of Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Evangelical, and other Christians seeking to explore the emergence and convergence together. You will be inspired by provocative speakers and spiritual leaders and engage in in-depth conversation about our shared quests for:
  • A fresh understanding of Jesus
  • Spirituality that links contemplation and action
  • Social justice and holistic mission
  • Authentic community
The line-up of speakers is very impressive: Father Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Shane Claiborne, Alexie Torres-Fleming, and others. Read more about the presenters

Read accounts by these authors and others in the Oct-Dec issue of Radical Grace (pdf format)
See clips of Richard Rohr's webcast on the Emerging Church

They will participate with us in three days of spiritual enrichment, challenge, and shared exploration as we envision what the Christian community can be and do in this generation and generations to come. See Schedule

And the conversations will continue after the conference, with Theology professor Dr. Bryan Froehle and Mennonite Pastor Anita Amstutz moderating a Post-Conference Continuing Conversation. Read More

Bread for the World is one of the organizations that have been invited to set up a display. Please visit our table.

Other Useful links:
Venue and Accomodations
Logistics and Visitor Information
Suggested Reading