Light a Candle or Curse the Darkness?

Is quality of life improving? Depends on the person or people and the place right? What about your quality of life, your family’s, your friends’, the majority of people who live in your community?

I’m conflicted. I believe the U.S. is in decline. And because both political parties approach government as a zero-sum game making bipartisanship a relic of previous centuries, I have no confidence that government will slow or reverse the decline. Health insurance and higher education inflation are major negatives.

Also, Edward Conrad aside (short rebuttal), growing inequality is a definite negative and there are still serious cracks in the global economy. Social security funds are supposed to dry up in 2033, right when yours truly will be 71. Wars and security threats abound and our military spending is unsustainable. And if Romney pulls off the upset, he promises to increase it in the short-term, inevitably adding to our unprecedented debt. And finally, my hair continues to recede like the world’s rain forests and UCLA hasn’t beaten USC in football since 2006.

But there are lots of positives for the other side of the ledger, the “light the candle” side. Medical research continues to march on, extending our lives and improving quality of life. Life for many in the poorest countries is gradually improving. Baby apps and my late-adaptor skepticism aside, personal technology has made life better. Writing on this laptop is a marked improvement on the typewriters of my college years. Watching t.v. without commercials, reading electronic newspapers on my iPad without getting ink-stained hands, the value of these things can’t be overstated. Cars keep getting safer, more efficient, and relatively more affordable. Appliances and homes are more energy efficient. Alternative energy technologies make energy independence and reduced military spending a possibility.

Related to that, wise consumers, in many sectors of the economy, are getting more value for their dollar than ever before. A personal example of that. Everyone is complaining about the cost of gas and related things like summer air fares. I just bought a plane ticket to visit Mother Dear mid-summer. I put the time in to get a great fare, $391, Seattle to Tampa. Let’s add in $80 for airport parking and $15 for in-air groceries (to and from) for a total cost of $486. Translating that to time spent working, at $50/hour, that’s 1.2 work days, at $12.50/hour, 5 work days.

What if I drove the 3,200 or 6,400 miles roundtrip? Let’s assume 32mpg for 200 gallons at $4/per for a subtotal of $800 in gasoline. Plus four long days means, 12 meals (@ $10/per) and 3 hotels (@ 90/per) x 2 (for the return)=$780 for a total of $1,580. And let’s add in $120 for an oil change, depreciation, and tire wear and tear. So I could spend eight days on the road at a cost of $1,700 or fly for $486. So I get to spend seven extra days with MD for $1,214 less.

The older most people get the more they succumb to selective perception. They get nostalgic for a Golden Age when young people had shorter hair, fewer tats, read more, and life in general was better. I don’t buy it. I’m not sure there’s ever been a Golden Age of anything. My goal is to light candles more and curse the darkness less.

That’s me in the second row excited to see Mother Dear

E Pluribus Unum?

I’m keenly interested in how people of different political, cultural, and religious points of view relate one to another.

I first became interested in how people deal with those whose politics are radically different than their own as a high school social studies teacher leading discussions about contemporary issues. I quickly learned to play the “devil’s advocate” since some of my students were right or left-wing ideologues whose positions were highly predictable.

Also, I’ve been fortunate to have two friends whose worldviews are very different than my own. In contrast to most people who tend to keep the peace by avoiding talking about subjects related to politics, religion, race, and sexual orientation, we tackle them head-on.

In the last few years the church my family attends have added two new pastors for two that left. They’ve taken a moderate, fairly apolitical church considerably to the left in a few ways including a gay and lesbian friendly “welcoming statement” and by embracing evolution.

Here’s an excerpt from the “Clergy Letter Project” that was read Sunday. “We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as ‘one theory’ among others’ is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. . . We ask school board members to preserve the integrity of science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge.”

I like the pastors and  strongly support the stands they’re taking, but I’m intrigued by how little effort they seem to be making to retain conservative members. Attendance is down a bit, so I assume some have left. My guess is there will be liberal replacements in the months ahead. In a year’s time I expect us to have the same size church, but we’ll be much more homogeneous.

Consequently, the church may lose some of it’s distinctiveness and potential to model the Kingdom of God on earth. Given the choice, people already tend to socialize with, live next to, work with, and recreate with like-minded people. If truly committed to following Christ’s example, it seems as if the church would be a counter-cultural institution, one where people’s faith trumps political differences.

And not one where political differences are swept under the rug, but where people commit to conversation and learn how to agree to disagree when necessary about things like gay rights, the causes of global warming, and the death penalty, all in the interest of modeling “another way”.

Am I too idealistic to think this is possible? The cynic in me can’t help but notice our church, like many, has two services, one formal with hymns and a traditional liturgy, and a hymn-free, informal “contemporary” one. The nucleus divides again.

In the end, will the small corner of the world that is Olympia, Washington end up more religiously, socially, culturally, and politically fragmented?