Tuesday, October 27, 2015

On Accidental Saints and Made For Goodness - Week 1

I can't always make it to church, and that means missing book group. So I'm participating via blog, at least on the weeks I can't make it.

Overall Impressions

The choice to read these two books together was brilliant. They echo each other using different voices for much the same message, and it's a good and powerful message. So far, I'd say the message is, "You are worthy - it'll be okay."

Nadia Bolz-Weber's voice in Accidental Saints - Finding God in All the Wrong People is humorous, at times irreverent. She uses swear words! She sounds like someone I'd like to have coffee with. It's refreshing to "hear" someone speak on Godly matters without the lofty speech that often makes books on the subject inaccessible to the average Joe.

Desmond Tutu's voice in Made for Goodness and Why This Makes All the Difference is grandfatherly. Kind, approachable, instructive. His text is a little denser than Nadia's, which is why I think it's a good thing that we typically read three chapters of her book to two of his. He has a much different outlook than Nadia (for some obvious reasons), but still manages to relate to the American experience.

What Spoke to Me

One of the best quotes from Accidental Saints is: "There is nothing we have done that God cannot redeem." It's really hard to internalize this one. Tutu helps a bit: "God already loves us perfectly; God cannot love us one iota more. Equally, there is nothing we can do that will make God love us one iota less." This, too, is difficult to internalize, but remembering God's love is perfect is helpful.

The next quote from Accidental Saints captures the idea that we are all complicated. I think this speaks to the idea that we're all marred by sin in some way, but also reflects the idea that we're all saints, too: "On All Saints' Sunday, I am faced with sticky ambiguities around saints who were bad and sinners who were good." This pairs nicely with one from Made for Goodness, which reminds us that even though we are all complicated, we're also all good: "There is not a single person that God gives up on, because God knows that we are made to be like God, who is goodness itself."

Nadia talks about her struggles with racism, and that resonated with me. She says that for all her anti-racism talk and liberal leanings, she can't get around the fact that she reacts differently to (for example) young black men she sees on the street. She also references white privilege and her empty outrage at the inherent racism in our society. She says she feels that if she could just "show the right level of outrage, it'll make up for the fact that every single day of my life I have benefited from the very same system that acquitted George Zimmerman." Tutu has a slightly different take on it: "If wrong was the norm, it wouldn't be news... Murder and mayhem are not the norm. The norm is goodness." This brought me hope. It's easy to feel discouraged watching the news. Whether it's local stories or international news, there are atrocities everywhere, and there's so much of it I can't do a thing about. I like this reminder that while it may seem that stuff is everywhere, there's also goodness everywhere. It's almost like he's speaking to her outrage, here.

Desmond Tutu devotes a lot of time to explaining that our efforts to "be good" get in the way of our recognition that we "are good." One of the things he says is, "Attached to that notion of "being good" are all the "oughts" and "shoulds" that we think will win us... God's love and divine favor." I've been in therapy a few times. One of the more recent was because of the stress I was facing with accepting a decision that meant our family was geographically spread out, and I was (temporarily) a single mom. I had stopped sleeping. I had almost stopped eating. I was consumed by anger and stress. The therapist worked with me using cognitive behavioral therapy - changing your thinking in order to better control your thinking. He talked about "musterbating" - allowing too many toxic thoughts into your head. "It must be fair" (no, it isn't always fair), "I must do the dishes" (no, you don't have to do the dishes, but maybe there's a way to remind yourself that you want to), "I must be understood" (nope, that doesn't always happen, either). Focusing on that stuff will drive you certifiably crazy. Tutu also said, "We cannot choose how we feel. We can choose what we do, how we act." I'm not sure I agree with this. I think you can make choices about how you feel. I think my therapy did just that. I think when we are angry, that's as much a choice we make as when we decide to move forward from a set-back.

One of the first things I highlighted from Accidental Saints was a quote about the saints in our lives: "Saint Paul describes the saints as "a great cloud of witnesses," so when they have passed, we still hold them up, hoping perhaps that their virtues... might become our own virtue, our own strength." I had never considered our (Episcopal) view of the saints in this light, but I like the idea. It was an "aha!" moment.

There's this, on leadership, from Accidental Saints: "I'm a leader, but only by saying, 'Oh, screw it. I'll go first.'" I wonder how much of corporate leadership is this "Fine - I'll go first" kind of attitude and how much is "We (meaning you) need to go this way." Is one way better in the corporate world? More effective? Is there room for high-level corporate leaders to "go first"? I'd like to say that going first is the best leadership... But honestly, I'm not sure the guys at the top can do that. Not in any "corporate vision" kind of way. Maybe they can sometimes. I don't know.

The Discussion Questions

1. I rarely think of myself as a saint. Mostly, I realize how broken I am - I'm so mean, sometimes. Often, even. I've said before that if my mom, my aunt, and my husband are praying for you, you're going to be okay. While each of these people is merely human - they each have their flaws - I also know that they can be my strongest supporters. I've always felt their spiritual health was really high, even when they were in crisis or questioning their faith.

2. I think I'm often in places where I say the wrong thing, or I react the wrong way. I think loving (in a Christian kind of way) the people around you helps you empathize with them more, and might help you not say the wrong thing, but I think getting it right 100% of the time is impossible for humans. I think Desmond Tutu answers this better, by encouraging us to not try to say the right thing or do the right thing, but to remember that we are good, even when we're not.

3. Figuring out just what crap I've had exchanged for Jesus's blessedness is pretty hard. I know I've got a lot of crap. Figuring out which has been more or less directly exchanged is a tall order. I suppose, I could say that there have been a few times when I said exactly the wrong thing to someone... And those people chose to keep talking to me, to be my friends, to forgive me. I guess that's my crap for His blessedness.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Big Deal About Some Washington, D.C. Bike Lanes

If you're following me on Facebook, you've already seen most of this. This post lays out the background information, both sides of the argument, and my stance in it.

The Current Situation:

There are bike lanes all around this piece of Washington, D.C., but few that connect the areas with a lot of bike lanes to the areas with few bike lanes, and fewer continuous north-south bike lanes nearby. The marker is for New York Ave. and 6th street, northwest. Solid lines are bike lanes, dotted lines are "bike-friendly streets" - places where Google has noted there are bicyclists, though I question their equation of large numbers of cyclists to "friendliness." 6th street is like a bike-lane desert.

In 2014, 12 bicyclists and 16 pedestrians were hit along the stretch of 6th street under consideration, and 14 bicyclists and 7 pedestrians were struck along the portion of 9th street under consideration, according to FOIA data cited by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA). So, bicyclists and pedestrians do use the street, but not safely.

On 6th street and M street (jut north of the marker on the above map) is a large church of long-time congregants, the United House of Prayer. The New Bethel Baptist Church is at 9th and S. Northwest D.C. has seen a lot of gentrification.

The United House of Prayer enjoys street parking, where about 75 cars can park diagonally on Sundays. The proposed changes to 6th street would allow only parallel parking, meaning the loss of an unknown number of parking places.

The Proposals:

There are four proposals for adding bike lanes to either 6th or 9th streets in northwest Washington, D.C. They all allow for some street parking, at least at "non-peak" times, which would presumably include Sunday mornings.

Here's my favorite proposal, which provides for protected bike lanes in each direction, two or four lanes of travel (four in peak times), and 2 lanes of parking during non-peak times. The plan for 6th street north of New York Avenue looks the same as this, which shows 6th south of New York Avenue:

The Conundrum:

Gentrification has forced many of the congregants to the suburbs. The churches may see a concerning situation where congregants are far from their church and have trouble parking once they get there. They are arguing that this loss of parking impinges on their freedom of religion.

The city has adopted Vision Zero, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths. Protected bike lanes are a major portion of this vision.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) asserts in their post on the recent public meeting that while concerns about gentrification are valid, using the proposed bike lanes as a proxy for this argument is inappropriate.

My Stance:

As Christians, we are told to protect the vulnerable. This extends to vulnerable street users, such as bicyclists and pedestrians. The benefit of being "strong" (in the majority, supported by your environment, and physically secure) is that you can afford to help the weak. As Christians, we are commanded to do so, even at the expense of our comfort.

As Christians, we are told that we are the stewards of our environment. While biking isn't free from environmental harm (tires are a petroleum product), it is more responsible than driving. As Christians, we should be encouraging bicycling and walking as means of transportation.

As Christians, we are told to love one another, above all else. The importance of community and inclusiveness is reinforced through scripture. Our public policies and behaviors should reflect these values.

Unfortunately, the behavior of the those representing the churches at the public meeting did not represent Christian values. Besides holding their right to park above others' right of physical safety, they shouted down and cat-called opposing viewpoints.

I hope that should my church find itself in a similar situation, that we will demonstrate the Christian values we claim as our own.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Busch Gardens Williamsburg, VA - Review & Tips

We went to Busch Gardens theme park over Columbus Day weekend. Here's the review.

What if Some Members of My Party Don't Like Roller Coasters?

Don't worry - there's plenty to keep them busy, too! The lines for the roller coasters (especially the Griffon and Mach Tower) tend to be pretty long. They do a good job of keeping the line moving and there's good stuff to look at, so you don't really realize you've been waiting for an hour to get on the ride. While the scare-lovers are waiting in line, the non-scare-lovers can ride bumper cars or check out the live animal exhibits or play fairway games. Or point and laugh at their roller-coaster-riding companions as they scream their heads off.

Why Should I Go to Busch Gardens Instead of the State Fair?

Just kidding, you should do both. While Busch Gardens is much more expensive than the state fair, you won't find roller coasters like those at your state fair. You'll eat better at Busch Gardens (they have salads and vegetables, in addition to some more traditional fair foods), though you will pay more to do so. Also, Busch Gardens is really clean, and it's clear that the people who work there actually enjoy their jobs. That makes a huge difference. The people running the various boutiques took ownership and pride in their shops. One commented on the Hallo-Scream shenanigans, with a gentle complaint about the screaming 13-year-olds "running through my store." She wasn't having it.

Basic Logistics - What to Take, What to Leave

The stroller (obviously). 

If you have a kid in a stroller, you'll be fine, though the stroller can't go on the scary roller coasters.

A drawstring shoulder-bag. 

Bags are allowed, and it's really nice to have one place to stash your stuff. Put your cell phone and wallet in there, so you can leave it with someone or in a locker before a ride where it might go flying.

Food and Drinks? 

I don't think you're allowed to bring your own in. Food and drinks are pricey, especially the beer ($8.50 for a metal bottle of Bud Light). You will get hungry and thirsty, but if you plan ahead a bit, you can make good choices at the dining areas. Also, at the gift shops, if you buy a Busch Gardens water bottle for $8, you can refill it anywhere, all day long. I wish I had done that - I could have been drinking a lot more water!


If you're a smoker, don't fear. There are smoking areas spread throughout the park. I mean, it's run by the same guys who make Budweiser. They won't keep you from having a smoke-break... But they also won't let you smoke right by the kiddie rides.

Pay for VIP Parking? 

I wouldn't. For starters, if you're worried about walking too much, Busch Gardens is not the place for you. You will do a lot of walking, all day long. What's a little further to your car? Secondly, when the VIP parking is full, they don't stop taking your money. So, you could end up paying for VIP parking, and still park in the next town over. If you end up parking far away, there'll be a tram to take you to your parking area, so it's not like you'd have to walk for miles. Speaking of your parking area, take a picture of the sign with your country and number with your cell phone, so you don't have to remember it all day.

Pay For a Quick Pass? 

The quick pass lets you hop to the front of the line for rides. There's a one-time option, and an all-day option. They're really expensive, even the one-time option. We didn't get them and I don't feel like we missed out. Besides, like I said, the lines are entertaining, and they keep moving.

The Rides! Oh, the Rides!

There's lots out there on the rides. Some of them are really pretty terrifying. I loved it, but that Mach Tower was a religious experience. Seriously, I'm not sure I've ever prayed so fervently in my life. I cried at the end. It's an eternity of free-fall from 240 feet high. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse, the tallest in the U.S. is only (only! Ha!) 193 feet tall.
Yup. We're in free-fall.

That's the relieved grin of someone with a new lease on life.
These are people too smart to go on the Mach Tower

 Photo Ops!

There are lots of cool places to take photos.

Very appropriate choices of placement

Busch Gardens Does Hallo-Scream in October

It's pretty normal during the day - some Halloween decorations, and I think the haunted houses were running, though that's not our shtick, so we didn't go. You can get some pretty amazing body art, too,

At night, it gets really dark. The lights are dimmed, there's fog everywhere, and people dress up in costumes and scare park-goers. There are warnings during the day that Hallo-Scream may not be appropriate for small children. No, really. I'd recommend this only for kids 10 and older, maybe a brave 8-year-old. It's really dark, with a lot of flashing lights, and a ton of noise (mostly in the form of dub-step). People jump out at you screaming and waving things. It's kind of overwhelming and disorienting, even for the grownups. It would be a pretty cool date for high-school or college students, though. They all seemed to really be enjoying it.

To the park's credit, some idiot was dragging their terrified first-grader through the park, and a guy with a fake chain-saw jumped out and scared the kid half to death. So, the chain-saw-guy stopped and showed the kid that it was just a toy - no blade - and that he was just a normal guy, and the family got a photo with the still-terrified kid, mom, and chain-saw-guy. Not sure if that was park-provided training, or just really good common sense on the part of chain-saw guy, but good for him.