Archive for April, 2007

Driving ambition

April 13, 2007

When we moved here three years ago, we had downsized from being a two-car family to being a one-car family.  This wasn’t too terribly difficult.  It was just me, my wife, and our one year-old son.  Three years later, and we’re now a family of five (and holding firm at five, God-willing and self-control willing!).  We’ve remained a one-car family.  Which we’re very proud of.  We want to do our part to be good stewards of God’s creation, and we view this as one small step.

We’re also proud that not only have we been a one-car family, but the one car that we *did* have was one of the smallest and most fuel-efficient vehicles available.  We had bought a new 2001 Toyota Echo back in 2001.  36MPG in the city and 40MPG on the highway.  Six years after we bought it, we were *still* getting that kind of mileage.  That’s really handy when gas doubles in price on you.  And when you’re making 3000 mile round trip drives several times a year to visit family and expand the family. 

We were proud that we fit all five of us and all the necessities of a young family into such a small vehicle.  Damn proud.  Probably too proud, which perhaps has something to do with why our vehicle has been removed from us.  But that’s more idle theological speculation than I’m game for at the moment.  On our last trip, we even fit all five of us, all our luggage, and our 80-lb. pit bull mix, Marley, into the car.  Come to think of it, pride *must* be involved with the loss of our vehicle.  But it was good while it lasted.

So we’re used to having just one car.  Normally, that meant that *I* had one car to take me to school, while the wife & kids stayed put at home. 

We’ve been without a car since Monday evening.  I expect we’ll be without one for at least another week.  We really don’t go anywhere other than school and the grocery store.  Yet there has been a very compelling internal push within us to get another car.  ASAP. 

We’ve done just fine this week.  I can take the bus to school without much difficulty.  No connections, and it’s about a 30 minute ride and a 15 minute walk.  I think it’s criminal to have to pay $2 for a bus ride, but other than that, it’s really not a difficult situation.  Our neighbors across the street have kindly lent us their vehicle tonight so that I could go to the grocery store and stock up on necessities for the next few days, so we don’t have to borrow their car very often and abuse their kindness. 

So why the rush?  If we never go anywhere, and we have our basic needs met, why the almost irresistable urge to go out and get another vehicle?  It’s really rather disturbing, but also fascinating.  How deeply the automobile is ingrained in our personal and cultural psyche!  How difficult to wean a culture off of a product like this!  IT really is like an addiction.  But an addiction to what?  Freedom?  Independence?  Self-assertiveness?  Mobility?  Escapism?  Realism?  So many different and contradictory possibilities…


April 12, 2007

Every now and then, orbits intersect.

Not interstellar orbits, but human ones. 

Every now and then we are brought into contact with people whose lives we would never know of.  We’d never see their faces in a crowd.  Never hear their voices or pause to wonder where they live, who they love, and what keeps them going. 

Car accidents are one opportunity for these sorts of intersections.  Not the sort of thing we’d choose.  Then again, most people spend a good deal of their time trying to avoid these sorts of random intersections.  We prefer our cocoons unshaken.  Our carefully constructed realities are rarely resolute enough to handle the sudden influx of another person’s reality. 

My wife and children were in a car accident the other day.  They’re ok – everyone involved in the accident is ok, thankfully.  But for the span of a couple of hours, we were up against people we’d never known, would have never known if they hadn’t hit our car and brought our lives into contact. 

Our car was pretty much totalled.  Being a one-car family, that makes for a huge inconvenience.  Our insurance company has been predictably unhelpful and unsympathetic, despite the fact that we aren’t at fault.  The insurance company of the woman who hit us has been much more polite and responsive, truth be told.  Not that it means much – nobody is willing to pay for a rental car for the next week as we wait for the adjustor’s decision. 

We can adjust.  I can take the bus.  We can borrow our neighbor’s car.  God is good.  But I can’t stop thinking about the woman who hit us.  A young woman – how young I can never say for sure.  17?  25?  Young.  Mournful.  She had just purchased the car.  Now it was demolished.  Her insurance rates would go through the roof.  Probably beyond her ability to pay.  She lived on the other side of the river, out of state.  How will she get to work now?  How difficult will her life be now – and for several years to come – all because she wasn’t able to hit the brakes fast enough? 

God is good.  My family is safe.  While we’re barely scraping by, we know we’ll be ok.  It’s easy for us to give thanks for our safety instead of being consumed with worry about how we’re going to make ends meet.  But I don’t know that about the woman who hit is.  I don’t know if she can see the big picture as readily.  Or if her picture actually just shrank down because of the difficult situation she finds herself in now.

Lord, be with her.  Bless her.  Hold her.  Open her eyes to the beauty of life in you.  Give her peace and assurance that she will find a way.  That you have made The Way.  Thank you that you kept her safe as well as my family.  And someday, whether in this world or yours, I pray we’ll have the opportunity to sit and talk and share about this intersection of our worlds.

Blood Diamond

April 1, 2007

It’s our actions that make us good or bad.

Disclaimer: This entry discusses and discloses the conclusion of the movie Blood Diamond.  If you hope to see the movie and don’t want to have the ending spoiled, I suggest you skip on to other reading.  I heartily recommend the book of Ecclesiastes.

The scene is  Heart of Darkness (or Apocalypse Now, as it has become known) in reverse.  Fleeing from the insanity of warring, murderous rebels, Danny Archer (DiCaprio) & band stumble into an idyllic oasis of tranquility, peace, and love.  In the midst of a nation ripped apart by civil war, our heros accidentally stumble upon the only piece of land not caught up in it all.   They are surrounded by children – the victims and perpetrators of horrible acts of cruelty and murder.  It is a place of rehabilitation.  A place of hope and goodness.

Having a cold beer in the middle of this jungle oasis, Archer and the headmaster of sorts, Benjamin, engage in a brief, relatively terse and surface level discussion of man’s true nature.  Is it, as Benjamin argues, basically good, with outbursts of evil that mar but can’t fully eclipse the good?  Or is it as Archer argues (while lying to the headmaster about his profession and reason for being in the area), that man is basically bad, though good things occasionally happen?

Which indeed?

The movie leaves us hanging – though you wouldn’t know it at first glance from all the melodramatic candy coating that is piled on at the end.  Archer dies, and before his death heroically saves the life of Solomon and his son.  Of course, we don’t know what Archer would have done if he hadn’t suffered a mortal wound and knew he was going to die before he could get on the plane to freedom.  He admits himself that he considered stealing the diamond and leaving Solomon and his son high and dry.  Considering the web of crosses and double crosses that Archer has to alternately weave and escape, it’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t double-cross and use these two just as he had ultimately double-crossed and used everyone else he knew in the movie. 

But because he knows he’s going to die, he has the opportunity to do something heroic.  The viewer is left to decide whether this was simply bad luck or fate, or if Archer was really good under all the pretenses he dressed himself in.  Of course, the movie not-so-subtely encourages us to forgive Archer in his death and find him a tragic hero.  As though in the final four minutes of the 140 minute film he finds redemption and his true self and we can rejoice with him.

Or not.

If man is to be judged (Daniel means “God is my judge” in Hebrew) simply by his actions, which actions do you choose?  Do you choose the one good act in a lifetime of evil?  Especially if that’s your last act?  Or do you choose the preponderence of actions?  Who is the judge, and what are the criteria upon which he judges?

The movie of course removes the issue of judgment – at least in any sort of final or eternal sense.  “God left this place a long time ago” Archer muses in a moment of tearful bonding with Maddy.  Of course, in the back of your mind, you’re wondering whether or not Archer has gone all weepy simply in hopes of bedding Maddy.  I’m sure that possibility would move a lot of guys to get in touch with their emotional side.

So if God’s out of the picture, then why do we care?  Why the distinction between good and evil in the first place?  Man becomes simply who he is.  He truly becomes nothing more than the sum of his actions – or in rare instances, a specific, defining action by which all his other actions are nullified or forgiven.  But we have this drive in us to label good and evil.  I haven’t met anyone who is willing or able to simply give up this distinction in favor of a vast, unjudged is

We’re stuck with this monkey on our backs of wanting to define good and evil.  We try to relativize it, but we know we can’t, not ultimately.  Whether you think pistachios are delicious or not is a relative matter.  Murder is not.  As much as we would like to get away from it, we reinforce a set of moral baselines that insist that some things are bad, always. 

Archer apparently makes peace with himself.  Most others who follow this philosophy of  “our actions make us good or bad” will not.  Because we can never really be sure if we’ve done enough good.  We can remember much of the bad.  But how much good is enough?  How much tilts the balance of the scales in our favor?  And who do we need to prove our goodness to?  Ourselves?  Others?  God?  So many questions without answers, just that damn monkey screeching on our back and digging his claws into our hearts.


Selling a house

April 1, 2007

We’ve been trying to sell our house for almost a year now.  Trying reasonably hard, and beginning to get much more focused on it, as we’ll be moving sometime in the next two months or so.  Over the last year, we’ve had quite a few people come by to look at the house.  Real estate etiquette says that you shouldn’t be at home when other people come by to look.  Seeing people in the house adds another layer of first impressions that can – theoretically – dissuade a potential buyer from a property they might otherwise be interested in.

Having three small children at home and one vehicle for the family, it’s not always possible for my wife and kids to get out of the house for a showing.  Other times when we’re all at home and preparing to leave for said showing, the viewers and their agent arrive 30 minutes early, and there we are – finishing stuffing dirty clothes into inconspicuous places and attempting to hide the evidence of three children under the age of 5 in the house. 

Some people are fine with having us there.  Some agents are fine.  They’ll make small talk.  They’ll compliment us on our house.  They’ll ooh and aah over the kiddos.  Others are visibly unhappy that we’re there.  They don’t really say anything – even if spoken to.  There are forced smiles.  It’s awkward. 

I think it’s moronic to have to pretend that someone doesn’t live in a house when they clearly do live there, as evidenced by lots of furniture and other gear normally associated with somebody carrying on their life.  I am irritated that the real estate profession has deemed it undesirable for people to actually be living in their own homes when other people want to look at it.  Our particular agent has been good about telling us not to stress out – if we’re home we’re home, if we can get out, go for it. 

We’ve also indicated that we won’t show the house between 2pm and 4pm, when our kids (and my wife, hopefully!) have naps.  Most agents have been good about this and have scheduled around it.  Apparently one rather self-obsessed agent grew irate when our agent told him he couldn’t show the house at 3pm.

“But I want to show it at 3pm,” he astutely reiterated.

“I’m sorry, is there another time that you can show it?  They aren’t able to show it between 2pm and 4pm” our agent insisted.

“They must not want to sell their house very badly!” was the clever agent’s response.

I want to sell my house.  But I am still living in it in the meantime.  I’d think anyone with half an ounce of common sense would understand that.  And it’s certainly not like we’re some sort of decor or cleaning degenerates.  We get great comments back about how nice the house looks, how clean it is, yahda yahda yahda.  If we are home when someone comes by to see it, we stay out of their way and let them look in peace.  We don’t follow them around in order to point out the countless amenities they might overlook if we left them alone. 

Just another example of a material culture’s continued emphasis on the dehumanization of interactions and transactions.  Pretend that it’s not actually between real people.  It makes it easier to jack your price beyond reasonability, or offer a laughably low offer.  It makes it easier to demand everything you can possibly think of as part of the deal.  Don’t work together.  Don’t cooperate.  Dominate.  Win.  Blech.

I look forward to selling our house.  I look forward to not having to sacrifice weekends and evenings at the drop of a hat in order to clean, organize, and evacuate the premises.  I look forward to stability again.  In the meantime, I try to be reasonable.

If you happen to come and look at my house for sale, please try to be reasonable as well.