Running UMUC in Perth

This was great last year, and looks even better this year!


The Real Santa Claus

I read this great article on Tom and Christine Sine’s site and couldn’t help but share it  –

By Samantha Evens of InnerCHANGE Cambodia


As a parent at Christmastime, I am more fortunate than most. My family lives in the Buddhist country of Cambodia, so we get to miss most of the commercialization of Christmas. Christmas isn’t even a day off here. But still, we sit at home on the 25th with our coffee cake and stockings in the tropical heat while our neighbors go to work and school.

No matter where we live, many of us are searching for new wineskins for the traditions we have inherited. Being in another culture and not having television has given me the opportunity to re-frame and rediscover the traditions that make up my faith without distraction. In the West, Christmas is a season fraught with empty sentimentality and traditions whose roots have been lost in time and eventually co-opted and commercialized to serve the goals of consumerism. But in Cambodia, I have space to sort through the intersection between my faith and the culture in which I grew up, and I can more intentionally choose with what traditions I will raise my kids.

As a child, I greatly enjoyed the anticipation of Santa Claus and the delicious agony of trying to stay up all night to catch a glimpse of reindeer. But as an adult, I struggled with whether I wanted to go down that road with my own kids, laden as it is with Coca-Cola ads and an emphasis on presents over the gift of God’s Son. Santa as we know him today feels so far from the baby born in poverty, who became a refugee in a politically violent age and a fragile, yet powerful, hope for a dark world. My indecision on the whole Santa thing led to me do a little research—my very own quest for the historical Santa.

Santa, or rather Saint Nicholas, was a real person, though it takes a little digging to sort through fact and fiction and figure out from which specific person he was actually derived. But as far as I can tell, the real Saint Nicholas is worth telling our kids about—more so, I would argue, than the overweight director of toy distribution working out of the North Pole that has evolved over time.

The original Saint Nicholas was a bishop from Myra in Asia Minor (today Turkey) around 300 AD. His parents died when he was young, and he gave away all his inheritance to help the poor and sick. He was also imprisoned for a time when the Romans were persecuting Christians and capturing Christian leadership, but was released when the Emperor Constantine politically legitimized Christianity.

The legend of Santa Claus came about when Bishop Nicholas decided to help a widower who had three daughters. The widower couldn’t support his daughters, and the girls didn’t have dowries, He felt the only way to save his family was to sell them into prostitution. Nicholas heard of this, and remembering the biblical value of giving in secret, left a bag of gold under the cover of darkness to provide for the dowry of the first daughter. When the second came of age, he left another bag of gold, and then once more for the third. Some say that he threw the bags of gold down the chimney.

Bishop Nicholas also helped free three innocent men from execution. The governor of the area had accepted a bribe to imprison and execute them, but when Nicholas found out about it, he physically halted the executioner before verbally upbraiding the governor until the governor confessed and repented. The men were set free.

Until recently, Saint Nicholas was remembered as a man who was generous to the poor, prevented human trafficking, and stood up against injustice in the name of Christ—all values that, I believe, are close to the heart of Christ, and values that I would love my children to embrace as they grow. The true story of Santa may be one worth telling after all. Justice and mercy in action are far more compelling than sentimentality any day. As we sift and sort the historical mishaps and debris that have collected around our important faith celebrations, we can bring new life to some traditions, discard some entirely, and in others, like that of Saint Nicholas, we may be able to rediscover with the light of truth.

A Garden Justice Story

I have posted on this issue in the past. It was first brought to my attention when I saw the farm destroyed on the DVD “Escape From Suburbia” (Sequel to The End of Suburbia). When I saw the DVD I thought it was the end of the story until I recieved an email from one of the activists involved saying that it was far from over. Here is the latest –

For Blog Action Day: LA’s South Central Farm

October 15th, 2008  by Susan Harris

Thousands of bloggers around the world are participating in Blog Action Day today by focusing on  poverty, a timely issue that got a lot more so in the last couple of weeks.  But don’t worry; my contribution to the event won’t be about Wall Street but about 41st and Alameda in Los Angeles, where the 14-acre South Central Farm once was the heart of a poor, mainly Latino community and fed 350+ families – until the powers that be allowed a developer to bulldoze it to erect a bunch of storage warehouses.

Yes, that’s the unhappy ending to the documentary “The Garden”, which chronicles the fight to save the urban farm.  The movie, by acclaimed documentarian Scott Hamilton Kennedy, premiered at the American Film Institute, where it won the highest award at its Silver Docs Film Festival. (See my review on GardenRant.)  Truly, you have to see the movie to appreciate the depths of corruption that led local politicians to support the bulldozing and the depths of racism exhibited by the odious developer.  The sight of the bulldozing of not just 400 garden plots but the livelihood, community and culture that had been created by them will break your heart.

But the story – and the fight –  isn’t over yet.  The 14 acres could be returned to garden if they win the next stage – the environmental review, which was demanded by South Central gardeners.  In it, they’re making the point that turning the land into huge storage warehouses will bring a swarm of noisy, polluting diesel trucks to the site, and that using the land as green space is far better for the environment.  But has it really come down to purely environmental factors?  Will the human environment be considered, including crime reduction and the sheer amount of food – really healthy food – that was grown there to feed poor families?  Let’s hope so.


On a positive note, some of the South Central farmers took their farming skills to Bakersfield, 120 miles north of LA, where they grow food that’s then brought back to the old neighborhood via a CSA (community-supported agriculture) – the cheapest one available to the neighborhood.  So for a fee, they can continue to get really healthy food, admittedly a poor substitute for growing it themselves.

South Central Farmers have also created a grassroots economic project aimed at bringing “green jobs” to the neighborhood, called “Bringing Food to the Hood“.  Its regular events around the perimeter of the old garden are all about food, music, teaching urban farming and nutrition, and keeping the spirit of the farm going.

And you’d better believe they’re using all their grassroots political skills and connections to lobby the City Council and Mayor Villaraigosa to stop the warehouses.  The long battle to save their garden has turned these urban farmers into savvy, experienced community organizers (a term that, incredibly, evoked derisive laughter at a certain party’s convention in St. Paul).


If you’re in Los Angeles, express your support for the garden to the mayor and City Council.  If you know someone in  LA, send them this article.
Help get this important and very entertaining documentary distributed.  Just contact the filmmakers.
Bring more urban farms to your city.  Here’s a good roundup about urban farming today.

Food For Thought

You may have seen this on the net/email, but it’s worth a look –

A weeks worth of food!

Photo 1 -Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

Photo 2 -United States : The Revis family of North Carolina (Sure hope mostAmerican
families eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less junk food than this family.)
Food expenditure for one week $341.98

Photo 3 – Italy : The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11

Photo 4 -Mexico : The Casales family of Cuernavaca
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09

Photo 5 – Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna
Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27

Photo 6 – Egypt : The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53

Photo 7 – Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55

Photo 8 – Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03

Photo 9 – Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23