Thursday, May 30, 2013

False Choices - Ecology vs. Economy

Yesterday, Exxon Mobil's CEO, Rex Tillerson made a statement that has to make any thinking person scratch their head.  A group of shareholders presented a proposal that the company adopt a plan to reduce its carbon emissions.  As part of the discussion Tillerson said, "What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?"

Is he actually saying that we can trash the planet without humanity suffering?  Or is he saying that short term profits are worth more than the long term health of the planet?  Is he denying that climate change is real and that it is caused by human activity (in opposition to over 97% of climate scientists)? 

Whatever he is implying... he's wrong.  We are not making a false choice between human suffering and the health of the planet.  They go hand in hand.  If one suffers, both suffer.  If one is redeemed, both are redeemed.  Now it may be that working for the health of the planet will require hard work, changed priorities, and new technologies.  Difficult perhaps, but in the long run good for humanity.

By the way, the shareholders rejected the proposal by nearly 3 to 1.

Monday, May 20, 2013


You've probably seen the photos going around on the web of Walmartians... folk supposedly shopping at Walmart, often dressed inappropriately and often with body issues that take them far outside of the stereotypical beauty models in our culture.   One set of photos and captions came through my inbox yesterday.  I laughed... and I am ashamed that I did.  It's pretty much that simple.

Friday, May 17, 2013

new tires

We had to replace the tires on my spouse's Honda about a month ago and decided to try out a set of the new low rolling resistance tires to see whether they really impacted mileage.  We have a 35+ mile commute each day so even a small increase would be helpful so it felt worth the try. 

We went with the Nokian eNTYREs as our tire dealer gave us a good price and had good things to say about them.   Our first trip with them was from our home to Oakland to see our daughter and son-in-law.  I was impressed.  Handling was much the same as the previous tires (I forget what they were).  They were a little quieter.  Most important, mileage did increase although it was difficult to tell exactly how much since the mix of highway and city was different for those five days.  Since then as she's been doing her typical driving we have seen a significant increase.  Her typical mileage with the previous set of tires was about 28 mpg.  Since we replaced her tires with the eNTYREs, it has been between 30 and 31.  I'm very, very happy with that number.

I have no idea how they would handle with wet roads or snow, we essentially have neither... especially this year when our rainfall was about 25% of normal which is still technically "semi-arid."  For her situation, I am really pleased with them in every way.  The real question will come when I need tires for my GTI.  I don't know whether they have the size for my car and I'm not sure that I'd be willing to sacrifice my stellar handling for a few miles per gallon... but I might... and that will be a decision to make.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Compassion vs. NIMBYism

Greater Santa Barbara is a beautiful place to live.  The scenery is breath-taking.  The weather is close to perfect.  There is wonderful produce and incredible locally produced wine available all year long.   Traffic is reasonable.  Culture is available.  There are scores of great restaurants.  There are also downsides... housing is limited and because of systemic issues like Prop 13, the cost of housing is prohibitive for many.  Many folk who live here are literally one pay check away from homelessness and once you fall off the ledge, it is next to impossible to get back up. 

As a result of all of the above, we have a significant population of folk who live in their vehicles. Many of those folk have full time jobs that do not provide enough income even for a minimal apartment in the area.  Many have children who attend local schools.  Some are senior citizens who for whatever reason have lost their homes or apartments.  They live in RVs, in vans, and even in cars.  Most are permanent and longtime residents of the area who have fallen on bad luck and through no moral failings or fault of their own have no other way to live in a community which they have called home, sometimes for their entire lives.  So they search for safe places to park and sleep.  Mothers search for a streetlight, strategically placed so their children can do their homework by streetlight.

Unfortunately the powers that be decided years ago that it wasn't good for folk to sleep in their vehicles so every few hours the police knock on the window, waking everyone from what is never a sound sleep in areas that are often not safe, and force them to move.  Those who work, show up at the job without a full nights sleep.  Children go to school tired and stressed.

Some years ago Catholic Services began a program allowing some of these folk to park in church parking lots.  The program grew beyond their resources and it was passed on to another non-profit who shaped it into a program that has received national attention for the positive impact it has.  Rolling Stone wrote about it.   AARP magazine mentioned it and there is a video interview on their website of a person living (quite well and happily so) in a van.  Santa Barbara city and county and the city of Goleta each recognized the need and have passed laws allowing churches to participate in the program.

The Safe Parking program has stiff requirements for the participants and is very well supervised.  It is not designed to help vagrants or the stereotypically homeless.  Instead, it provides a safe haven for those who are living in their vehicles so they can begin to put their lives back on track.

Cambridge Drive Community Church applied to the city for the appropriate permits to allow overnight parking in our lot of up to five vehicles (although the church was only planning to allow one at this time).  We can see no negative impacts on our neighbors and indeed we believe it will help to make our neighborhood safer.  We cannot see any negative impacts on the community while at the same time believe it provides us an opportunity to do the ministry to which we are called as a church.  We received the permit according to city law.

Many of our neighbors have supported the plan.  Multiple times I have heard people say, "Isn't that what churches are supposed to be doing?" A few have observed, "My father (sister, brother) is living in a van. I'm glad there are safe places for them to park."   There also is a NIMBY backlash.  Some neighbors have been spreading misinformation about the program, telling neighbors that we will be having vagrants camping in the church park and that we will be bring undesirable criminals who are "not like us" into the neighborhood.  Their implication is clear that these folk will damage property, rob homes, and molest children.  They have even passed out flyers at the local elementary school.

What according to the city law is a simple administrative procedure now will include a hearing before the zoning commissioner.  I don't see any legal reason to withdraw the permit but that is what they are hoping will happen.  If that hearing does not go as these folk want, we are told they will likely appeal the hearing to the entire zoning board.   I expect that if that does not go as they want, they will try to get the city council involved. 

I'm frustrated... angry... that these folk think they have the right to define our ministry...  and ready to stand for compassion and for the gospel.

Two scriptures come to mind -
Mt. 8:20, "Jesus replied, 'Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.'" and 
Luke 10:25-37 
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Thursday, May 09, 2013

still pro-choice... but

My daughter Alexis and her husband, Christian are pregnant.  She's about 23 weeks now I think.  I am excited and really looking forward to becoming a grandparent.  My only grief comes that they live in Oakland, CA and we in Buellton... it is a bit more than a 4 hour drive in reasonable traffic so I won't get to see Kiddo (their name for the one who is coming) nearly as often as I'd like.

Two weeks ago we had the wonderful experience of being present while Alexis had a sonogram and we saw Kiddo, moving around inside his/her warm and safe place.  I teared up.  I have dreams and hopes and fears of all of the potential futures there in Kiddo.  Sitting in the waiting room, I saw a number of young women, obviously pregnant, waiting their turns.  Most were with partners, but one or two were alone.  Most seemed excited, a few scared, and one or two were less obvious.

I couldn't help but wrestle with the question of abortion as I thought about the joy of our experience and the pain an unwanted pregnancy is for some young women.  I couldn't help but think of the wonderful visions we hold and the terrible ones held by some other women in similar circumstances.  And I couldn't help but think that while Kiddo is becoming a baby, Kiddo isn't one yet.  At the same time, I could not and cannot deny that Kiddo is well on the way.  This is not just a mass of cells or a growth... there is a potential here that is awesome and wonderful beyond words.

So... I am still pro-choice.  I cannot make a decision for a young woman about the rest of her life when I have not walked in her shoes and felt her fears and despair.  I know that pregnancy is not a simple condition and that pregnancies are lost for "natural" reasons all of the time, many times with nobody even knowing that a pregnancy had occurred.  Our reaction to those losses is not the same as the death of a baby and there are good reasons for that.   But I am also reminded that an abortion is not like a haircut and isn't and never should be a simple decision.  What is happening here really is miraculous.  So, I am also pro-life.  In my best of all worlds, there would never be another abortion.  In my more realistic hopes, abortion will be extremely rare but when it happens, it will be safe, affordable, and accessible.  More importantly, all will know that as a society we have done all we can to make that choice unnecessary.

All too often, those who label themselves pro-life are really pro-birth and see no need to provide care for the woman while she is pregnant nor for a child once it has been born.  As a society we do little to address the structural issues that force a woman to make a decision she may not feel the need to make were circumstances different.  We must address those issues as a nation if we really want to lessen the number of abortions.  There should be comprehensive sex education for kids so a girl knows how her body works and doesn't.  We in the Church should be speaking to them about the values of sexual relationships and the responsibility that goes with that without the stupid overlay of abstinence only (which of course works... until it doesn't).  And contraception should be affordable and easily accessible.  Let's make unwanted pregnancies rare.  Sure they will still happen, but we could make them much less common than they are now.

And then we need to think about cultural supports for children and families.  As a culture we need to put in place serious, serious supports for families with young children and especially for families with special needs children and adults so that facing a future with a child with issues doesn't equate to financial ruin.  We need affordable, quality childcare.  We need structural supports that allow parents to be a part of their children's lives such as family leave and flexibility in work hours.  We need positive adoption policies and processes that allow parents to surrender children without legal repercussions.  We need to work to alleviate poverty which is associated with higher rates of abortion.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Awareness or If a Tree Grows...

office palm tree
I am amazed at how unaware I can be.  I arrived at my office after a week's vacation on Tuesday and there was a palm tree.  I had no idea how it had gotten there.  Now, we're in process of redesigning our landscaping and that includes removing some palm trees along the side of the sanctuary building.  I was not happy to see this tree next to the office.

Now, one of the joys about a small church is that we have folk who take ownership.  One of our buildings has needed an external paint job for a few years and one Saturday a month or so ago, a church member showed up, scraper in hand, and began doing the prep work.  The need was obvious and he just embraced the task (thanks Greg!).   Since then he has begun priming.  Back to the tree, I was sure that someone had decided that the area in front of the office is ugly (it is) and that things are moving too slowly in the landscape project (they are), so they planted a large and expensive palm tree.  It was neatly dug around the tree and everything looked carefully done.  So, I sent an e-mail to the board member responsible for the grounds. "Did you plant a palm tree?"  "No.  I hate palm trees."  So, I asked the nursery school directors if they had had anything to do with planting a tree.  "No..." 

Nobody knew anything about a new tree having been planted.  And here's why... there was no new tree.  This tree stood outside my office door and every day I pass by it and every day, I did not even notice it was there.  I can't say whether I am more amazed or embarrassed.  How could I be so unaware of my surroundings as to be surprised by that tree after 11 years?  What made me notice it on Tuesday after not noticing it for so long?  And most importantly, what else have I missed?  Missing a palm tree is no big deal, but there are issues that are very, very important.  Have I missed any of them?  Have I walked by and not noticed another's pain?  Have I misread the intentions of others?  Have I not noticed the people in my life?  I don't even know... and that worries me.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


I have to admit that I'm a typical American in that I rarely use all of my vacation time.  As a sole pastor, it just seems easier to skip it than to try to arrange everything for the time away.  Of course, the downside is burnout.  This year, I'm committed to trying to get away a bit more and have at least three of my four weeks already planned.

Last week, I had a vacation.  I did come into the office one day, but I also got out of town.  Cheryl and I went to see our daughter Alexis and her husband Christian.  We spent some wonderful time together and got to go to Alexis' anatomy sonogram (she is in her 22nd week of pregnancy).  Tears came to my eyes as I saw my first grandchild.  It was just sublime.  I'll write more about this later as it deserves it's own post.

Alexis and Christian were not on vacation so Cheryl and I had a little free time to kill and one afternoon visited the Oakland African American Museum and Library.   The museum part is small but I was deeply enriched by our visit.  The lion's share of their exhibits are videos of various leaders in the African American community sharing their stories and their thoughts.  I was struck by the amount of change our culture has experienced in the lifetime of those amazing people... and the amount of change still required.  One man, a retired chief of police for Berkeley, shared that in the 1940's he wanted to be a probation officer.  When he tried to apply for the position he was told that they had their quota of "colored" officers - 1 out of 400.  He went on to become one of the first black police officers in Oakland and eventually progressed so far as to become the chief of the Berkeley police department.  How far we've come...  Another, an associate pastor at the Allen Temple Baptist Church, share a story of "walking while black," and being rousted by police officers because of his skin color.  I thought of my friends stopped by police for DWB, driving while black, and of Trayvon Martin and of a Florida police officer who brought photos of him to use as targets at a shooting range... how far we have yet to come.  I highly recommend a visit to this little museum if you're ever visiting the east bay... and the best part is that it is free!

I brought my guitar and some gear with me and Alexis and I sang in worship on Sunday morning at the church they're attending - Shell Ridge Church.  I was struck by the realization of how little I get to play guitar these days (I'm playing bass in the church band) and how much I miss performing with my daughter.  Another issue to address... I need to play more guitar.

This summer I'll take a week and when the baby is born I hope to be able to have two but will settle for one.  Hopefully being more intentional about using my time off will help to keep me on an even keel.  More important, I'll get to spend some time with my grandbaby.