Lucky for me, I have a spouse who actually knows quite a bit about parking. Repeat after me, "It's not a parking problem, it's a transportation issue." (this goes right next to Will's colleague's mantra that he taught to his kids: "It's not a traffic problem. It's a land use problem).
Don Schoup, an expert in the field of parking has written a very long and expensive book solely about parking. Summary: free parking is bad, or as one reviewer puts it, "free parking is like a fertility drug for cars."
What I don't understand is why the church cannot champion ways of getting around other than cars, given that large portions of our constituencies (the young and the aged) cannot drive themselves. The question is not "where will I park?" but "how will I get there, and how can I make sure everyone else who needs to get there, get's there?" Maybe we need HOV spots for parking: don't stop here unless you've got at least one other person with you.
The Ominvore's Dilemma is not a new book anymore, but if you have not picked it up, you must. I honestly can't think of a book of non-fiction that has sparked so much thought for me about matters that we all deal with every day, namely eating. I think of myself as a reasonably enlightened person in these matters -- we belong to a CSA, usually buy organic, avoid factory meats --but Michael Pollan's book taught me a whole lot more, both challenging some of my assumptions and confirming others. He's also just a great writer, with sentences that occasionally leap off the page for me. Damn, I wish I could write like that.
We just got back from LA, and no, it was not Los Angeles that provided the most disturbing window into contemporary culture on this trip. It was the flight.
The plane was clean and as comfortable as coach can be. The staff were extremely gracious and attentive. The attendants did not glare at my children for being children, and they applauded their patience when we arrived.
However, I was appalled at the selection of television programming that was on the screen for everyone, including my children, to see, whether they wanted to or not. Did someone think children just don't look at a screen that is constantly on throughout the flight, as long as their parents don't give them the headphones? Did they think Desperate Housewives is appropriate for an audience of all ages? Somebody wasn't thinking when they programmed this episode, which began with a woman putting a gun to her head and committing suicide, and continued with a seduction scene, complete with the couple ripping clothes off and lying down on the kitchen table. Mercifully, my children were not paying any attention at that particular moment, but I am deeply concerned that United, or NBC, or whoever selects this programming, thinks that it's fine to have this broadcast on every screen on the plane. There is no "turning it off" in such a situation, and the old "if you don't like it, don't watch it" argument just doesn't cut it.
I know that airlines get most of their $$ from business travelers, and this is clearly who the programming was designed for. But if they don't want to be kid-friendly, they'd better stop putting cute kids in their ads.
What topic do you most dread talking with your child about? For most people, if you mention "the talk," everyone assumes that sex is the subject. But I think the "facts of life" that are most difficult to impart are sometimes not related to sex at all (though I do dread the day I have to talk with my daughter about staying safe as a woman, even with people she knows). At some point I know we will have to talk climate change with our kids, and explain just what kind of future they may face and how many opportunities our generation missed to do anything about it.
The first of those kinds of conversations happened just this week with Katie -- the "talk" about the realities of this messed up world. I was unthinkingly listening to NPR news in the car (I do realize, much of the time, that I need to turn it off now that little ears are very attentive, and understanding much more). They were describing yet another bomb in Iraq. Katie broke in,
"Fifteen people were KILLED?!"
Long pause from me. "Yes, Katie. It's very sad. It's in a place far away called Iraq. There's a war there "(I chose to leave out her own country's complicity for the moment.)
"Oh. Were they bad people who were killed?"
"No, Katie. They were probably people who do bad things and good things, just like everyone else."
"But if they were bad people, it's OK, right?"
"No,it's sad even when bad people are killed."
"Well, because everyone does bad things and good things. And even people who do lots of bad things can change, and later do good things. So even if a bad person is killed, it's sad, because they won't have a chance to change their life and maybe later do good things."
"Oh. . .. but they could still do good things in heaven, right?"
At this point either a bird flew by or we reached our destination or maybe I just changed the subject. But how do you explain war to a child when you don't believe in war as an effective tool for bringing peace? Is a five year old even capable, in the way of Matthew's parable of the wheat and tares, of understanding that God's arc of justice is longer than ours, that good and evil are categories to be applied to deeds, not whole human beings?
The hardest sermons always happen in the car, with no prep time.
OK, I get it now. When I was in school, and, well, younger, I never understood those stories about people who just never get to the doctor or dentist, who wait until their condition is truly debilitating before doing anything about it. Between children and work and travel and other family obligations, I now understand how hard it is to carve out enough time for that stuff, especially when it's more than a 30-minute check up (and is it ever that fast?).
Yesterday I spent 3 hours in the dentist's chair and needed a ride home afterwards (cracked tooth). Next week I get my very first colonoscopy (I know, too much information!). I seem to be packing in all the unpleasant procedures into an otherwise stressful month anyway. But I'm afraid if I let things go too long, I'll be in worse shape. I know too many pastors who look ten years older than they are. No wonder the Board of Pensions is pushing wellness.
Men are statistically worse about this than women, which makes even less sense when you consider that usually it's the women who have to arrange for child care. Maybe that explains the scary statistic I heard on MPR this weekend: the average age of widowhood in this country is 55. Yikes!
God, it's good to be home! This was my longest trip in some time away, and while it was worth it, I'm aware that my children seem to grow an inch every time I"m gone. A word about what I was doing all week: I was a "facilitator" at the Transition into Ministry conference sponsored by the Lilly Foundation in Indianapolis. The Lilly family (made wealthy by Prozac, among other things) gives millions of dollars every year to religious institutions in America, and recently has taken on the task particularly of supporting clergy more directly through sabbatical grants and educational projects. The "TiM" project is actually a variety of projects which are experimenting with new ways of supporting young clergy as they first enter ordained ministry. Some of the participants are in their first year out of seminary, some have been at it for 3-5 years. Some are clearly in their 20's, others are my age (let's just say I'm not in my 20's anymore). Some were in "regular" calls but with particular programmatic support , some are doing "residencies" of 2-year term calls with special supervision and small group support. Events like this are always heartening to me, because I see such engaged, intelligent, spiritually intent people in the ministry from such a variety of contexts. This year is the 10th anniversary of my ordination, and being around these folks makes me feel I will continue to be in good company as I go on in this work.
Craig Barnes has a very funny piece published somewhere (one of his books? Christian Century?) about deja vu in ministry, in which you rehearse the same conflicts and the same tired debates in different churches, different years, over and over again. For him, it's the youth having pizza in the "church parlor." For me, it's always been about volume. The music being too loud has come up nearly every year of my ministry, at least once. Usually it's about isolated incidents rather than a general pattern, but the incidents still come up with regularity.
The other volume issue is kids. The complaint, of course, is that they are too loud. This one is thornier for me, because while it's also related to specific incidents, it's also about general patterns of how we welcome young children in worship and how we help their parents to both worship and respect the worship of others, particularly when the "others" involved have hearing issues themselves.
I know from experience that it's awfully hard to keep children quiet, and that they are particularly good at being loudest during the least acceptable times -- the prayers, the sermon. I also know that parents are accustomed to their children's voices in ways that other people are not, and that hope springs eternal when you think that one more moment, one more toy, one more reminder will quiet them down again. But of course, sometimes they don't. Parents are too distracted to have an accurate sense of time, and those looking on feel that every second is an eternity -- an eternity in which they are not able to hear the sermon or prayers, and are only focused on their own frustration.
As the pastor I'm usually asked in some way to address the issue, but here's the funny thing: I myself rarely notice. Unless it's my own child's small voice crying "mommy", I can always tune it out. But that doesn't help those who are trying to hear me. . .
Yesterday our facilities committee and architect presented to the congregation a concept design for a possible building expansion at ECLC, the product of months of work and many many meetings. I hesitate to evaluate how it went, just yet. Suffice to say it reminds me of how hard it is to bring 650 people along on a process that can't possibly include that many people every step of the way. There needs to be so much trust for anything to happen.
It's also a stark reminder of how much transportation rules our lives in this country. We spend billions as a country on where to put our cars. This is where my professional life and my husband's intersects: land use, transportation, human behavior, how our spaces shape our behavior.
My favorite parking story from Will: the number one honor at UCLA, given only to those members of the faculty who win Nobel Prizes? Free parking, anywhere on campus. That's America.
Now I''m in Indianapolis at a conference (more on that later), where, predictably, there seems to be more space for cars than people. Honestly, the crosswalks are half the usual width here, while the streets have twice as many lanes. Bizarre.
OK, do all my favorite authors have to come out with new books AT THE SAME TIME? Augh!
I now have on my wish list new (OK, relatively new, in some cases) books by Anne Lamott, David James Duncan, Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver and David Cunningham (my former landlord!). This could take me all year.