Feeling broken, car-free, and good ministry in DC

Not much blogging today: I’m at home with a pulled back and throbbing knees. A day in bed with Advil and a heating pad, grateful that there’s not memorial service to do or sermon to preach. (I’ve done both in great pain; it’s nice not being essential and on-call all the time.)

En route to the kitchen for some cereal and wanted to comment. Our dear, faithful 1994 Geo Metro, dubbed Cricket (because it was small, green, and chirped) has gone to heaven, making the Boy in the Bands household car-free. It was a good car, if rather dinged and damaged in its last days, but it was reliable and got great gas milage. A good and faithful servant.

Now, I rather think not having a car is the proper Unitarian Universalist option, hybrids notwithstanding. Giggle and rue amongst yourselves.

Do note: If you have a car — drivable or not — that you want to donate, and you live in the metro DC area, consider giving it to Beacon House, ” a neighborhood based organization that supports at-risk youth and families of the Edgewood Terrace community in Washington, D.C.” It was founded by Unitarian Universalist colleague, the Rev. Donald E. Robinson. This ministry deserves more national recognition.

Beacon House

London’s bus campaign for Washington

Bus-loving people will have already seen the London ‘My other car is a bus — new advertising campaign — I only wish I could get one of the bumper stickers!

That said: Washington’s buses could use some more practical help, especially with the capacity of the Metrorail system being stretched towards breaking.

We all know that rail is “sexier” than bus, but that’s were the room for growth is — affordable growth anyway — and buses are more convenient and practical for a large segment of the populus than the rails anyway. (Neither home nor work is less than a twenty-minute walk from a rail station, but there’s a bus that goes very close from one to the other. I would have to drive if it wasn’t for the bus.) Time to treat them with some respect.

We could be more like London: encourage pride in our strikingly extensive and relatively modern system and provide more information for potential users. WMATA buses are quite difficult to use if you don’t already use them. It took far too long to get free system maps printed (and as it is, you have to ask for them at subway stations). The experimental downtown route direction maps were printed too fine, without adequate direction, and are already outdated. Weekly bus passes are sold at too few many shops. Bus stops are inadequately marked. There are several problems, and they are all resolvable.

A good starting palce would be to adopt London-style “spider maps.” These combine realistic local neighborhood maps (centering on a rail station) with stylized radiating bus routes. The format is based on the famous London Underground map. Hubby and I found the concept invaluable in our visit last year, and once implemented the bare details can be printed at the individual stops — far more helpful than the truth-bending minute-by-minute, long-distance-train-style schedules currently posted.

Since a picture is worth more than my feeble description, here’s a link to get some spider maps to review.

Spider maps by borough

Reprise of “involuntary simplicity”; more ideas

I got a very thoughtful comment this morning on my “Involuntary Simplicity” article from March. I think my commentor had a few things worth saying, so the link.

A few more thoughts.

  • I am not a vegetarian, but a lot of Universalist Christians are, and they get there from a moral direction. I just can’t imagine never having ham again, or declining interesting cultural tidbit. So, as a step, I’m giving a “preferential option” towards vegetarian food. I make or order it when I can. I’ll eat meat when I want it, but not as a default and not in large amounts setting. I also avoid meat that is simply the animal version of tofu: pale and very mild tasting, or needs a lot of seasoning to be savory. The ethically dubious boneless chicken breast is at the top of the list; I’ll avoid it, but eat, say fried chicken livers.
  • I try to eat locally and fairly produced food. Given the transportation costs of, say, bringing organically grown produce from Holland or Chile, I can hardly think of them as enviromentally responsible. Better a little chemical fertilizer on vegetables from Pennsylvania.
  • Never shop Wal-Mart. Do you need the full list why?
  • Ask your friends for help making ethical buying decisions.

Celebrating Buy Nothing Day

I know the culture-jam-istas are sometimes derided for making pointless drama in the face of our American culture of consumption (seen also in Europe, but when it comes to consumption, who can do a better job than Americans?) and today is the main day of observance.

Yes, I’m observing Buy Nothing Day (another site, for the UK); it isn’t hard to do when you have the day off and can clean up your apartment (some to repent to bad purchases and put them on the apartment building’s swap shelf) and plot out some long-overdue theology projects. We have plenty of food in the house; if I’m going to go outside today, it’ll be to get some sun.

But little of this attitude comes from the hip-n-edgy cultural left; it comes from a rather old fashioned frugality, and a resistance to be treated as a revenue stream by those merchants who use contrived family obligations to urge me to spend unwisely.

But if the reportage is accurate, Americans will spend unwisely, and that means using credit. Much has already been written on that on other blogs. But what to do?

If you haven’t already done so, call your family members and call a truce on future spending. Prioritize what experiences you want this Christmas, and if gift-giving and gift-receiving is high on the list, consider your values carefully.

Sure, this may not be news to many of my readers, but perhaps you’ve let your ideals be undercut by familiar and familially-safe practices. But what’s unwise for you and your family financially can still do a lot of damage. Play it safer and opt out of the pre-Christmas binge.

Later. I “celebrated” some more by putting a substantial additional payment on my credit card. The credit card I don’t use for purchases any more.

Involuntary Simplicity

When I reviewed my statistics, I discovered the phrases that pulled in the most visitors is “voluntary simplicity.” Indeed, my denunciation of voluntary simplicity as a toy of white, middle class liberals is #30 in the Google.com search for “voluntary simplicity”! (that article)

Recently, I read a review of the magazine Real Simple that denounced that magazine as practicing minimalism, not simplicity. It is about the appearance and aesthetic of simplicity, rather than the thing itself. Isn’t that itself an example of kitsch? Certainly, if applied in the realm of religion, it would be denounced as hypocritical.

I believe in “involuntary simplicity” — part of a proper reading of a life’s vocation that leaves no other alternative. I’ll admit being incompletely simple, but who said simplicity in and of itself was a good thing? The good associated with simplicity seem to be the harmony derived from not craving luxury, and living in proportion to the needs of others. It is the corrective of gluttony. William Barclay, the popular Scottish theologian, and professed universalist, wrote in his interpretation of Philippians 2:1-11 in Great Themes of the New Testament about two things Paul said the church at Philippi must give up: strife and vainglory.

The word for trife is eritheia. . . . [The word] enters the world of municipal and national politics; and it describes the spirit of the man who is actuated by no other motive than the motive of ambition; he has no idea of contributing to the public good. His one aim in seeking office in whatever society he may happen to be is his own honor, his own prestige, his own prominence, and his own gain. Eritheia is selfish and factious ambition.

. . . .

[On vainglory.] The word is henodoxia, literally ’empty opinion.’ Suidas defines it as ‘any vain thinking about oneself.’ Kenodoxia is that conceit which is founded on a false view of oneself.

Following this, Christian faith is an calling to involuntary simplicity as an aid to keeping my own sense of self in proportion. It need be followed in proportion to the ways we indulge our spirit of self-delusion. A “minimalist” masquerading as one following a simple life really leads a live out of control, and no amount of spending at the Container Store is going to fix that. So enjoy what you have, if you have it, and don’t be precious or pretentious about it. And don’t lust for things or people, which degrades yourself and the other.

So enough with the preaching. Here are six practical suggestions for ‘involuntary simplicity.’

  1. Limit your wardrobe. If you know you aren’t going to wear something, give it away. If you’re tempted to buy a garment you don’t have express plans for, don’t. Look at your wardrobe as if you were traveling and had to carry it everywhere. What would you value? What is dead weight?
  2. Simplify your diet. People get more precious and pretentions here than with clothes. Do you talk about your eating more than your faith or other core beliefs? Consider connecting with your ethnic heritage by eating what your ancestors did, and in the proportions they did. Old cookbooks, and especially those written in times of shortage and war, are very telling about what people valued. Lastly, if and when you “eat out” do you usually eat above your means? Do you ever order food to impress someone else (even the wait staff) ?
  3. Pray for one another. Jesus bid us to not heap up prayers; God accepts a simple address. Use this simplicity and freedom to be more generous with those you pray for. If a stranger asks for prayer (perhaps that’s a Southern thing, but it does happen) ask for a name (first name will do) and a specific prayer request. And then pray like you’ve never prayed before. When you pray like others really, really matter, you begin to live like it, too.
  4. Take time and be honest with yourself. Find something you know doesn’t work in your life, make a plan to change it, and follow through. It doesn’t need to be big, but you need to complete it. This is about being truthful, and in being truthful, you have to start with yourself. When truth wins over falsehood, the systems that allow falsehood to continue are weakened.
  5. Open your home in hospitality. Have friends in from out of town. Welcome people over for a meal. Host a meeting. When we do this, we take some of the punch out of “social space equals commercial space” and we reclaim ourselves as something other than consumers.
  6. Make a habit of valuing honest work. Increasingly, we value work in society by its remuneration rather than by its good effects for people. Offer verbal thanks for a job well done by someone who isn’t otherwise well respected. (Like that really good experience I had in the DMV last week. Who knew?) Exceptional good service deserves a letter of commendation to a superior. Remember that nurse who was so diligent and kind when your parent was dying? Remember him in the written word as a sign of your thankfulness, and of the good work done.
  7. Allow the “next big thing” to pass without comment or purchase.

Enough said.