Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Thoughts that aren't developed enough for a lengthy post yet

I'm stealing the idea for this post from another blog I read.

1. Why don't churches take better care of their ministers? I know there are exceptions, but it seems like for the most part Christians expect very much from their ministers without giving much in return. A lot of gifted ministers or ministers-to-be are turned off to or get out of ministry because they don't want to have ________ (insert the # of people in a congregation) bosses always take take taking from them and their families without any regard for the fact that ministers are real people with spiritual failings and needs for encouragement, prayer, love, and support just like anyone else in the congregation. Just because I give 10% of my income at church, doesn't make me the boss of the people who have committed to doing a job that often times undervalues them for the service they provide. I've got a lot of un-cohesive thoughts on this that might warrant a more fully developed post in the future... in the mean time, TAKE CARE OF YOUR MINISTERS, THEY AND THEIR FAMILIES ARE NOT AND CAN NOT BE PERFECT, SO DO NOT EXPECT THEM TO BE. In closing, just because you give a financial contribution to a church doesn't give you the right to treat the minister, his wife, or his kids at your congregation like your own personal spiritual servant.

2. Why is it that I can't ever seem to get all of the cylinders in my life firing at the same time? By firing cylinders, I'm basically talking about the different physical, mental, spiritual, professional, academic, emotional, and relational realms of my life. It seems like at any given time, I never seem to be able to excel at more than a few of these realms at a time. I'm not talking about the times when things are in the dumps and all I want to do is sit on my couch in the dark and eat candy corn while watching old reruns of Colombo. No I'm talking about the times when things are for the most part going well, but for some reason I can't seem to have success in more than two or three areas of my life at any given time. For example, the last few months have been pretty good for me professionally, relationally, spiritually, and physically. However, during that time, I've noticed that I've begun feeling a lot less comfortable about my financial well-being. Prior to a few months ago, I was feeling pretty good about financial things, but I was not in very good physical or spiritual shape. Please don't confuse this phenomenon with times of great self doubt or great self confidence. It's the in between stages of life lived in the milieu of that which is neither terrific nor terrible that throws me for a loop. It's easy to express feelings of great happiness and great sorrow of feelings of great achievement, and great failure. I'd like to write a book about the life in the middle, but the words to express it evade me. What is the appropriate response to life in between the extremes when things are going good but not great; when people have problems, but aren't devastated, and when blog thoughts are neither long nor completely underdeveloped?

3. Why do I always end up staying up late when I plan to go to bed early?

4. Why are blogs so popular? For centuries people have been keeping secret diaries that they haven't let anyone read until after they're dead and it's out of their control. Now, people put their innermost thoughts on the internet where anyone with a computer and modem can read them. What is the lure of writing something personal about yourself on the web so that others can read it? I participate in this madness and if you're reading this, so do you, but why?

5. What would Jesus like for me to know about him or life or me or someone else right now as I sit in my living room at 10:45 p.m. on a Wednesday night typing the last few sentences of a really random blog post?

6. Why do I all of the sudden like Indian (dot not feather) food so much. Oh what I wouldn't give for some creamed spinach on flatbread followed by curry chicken and fried spinach leaves with tamarind chutney.

I hope I haven't confused anyone, but as I said before, I don't have very cohesive thoughts on any of these yet.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Washing Machines and 500 Pound Desks

Around 7:30 last night there was a knock on my front door. I answer the door and it's a guy I go to church with who also happens to live about a block away from me. He says, "Hey neighbor! I was wondering if you could help me move a desk." So I say, "Sure... but you've got to help me move a washer and dryer first." We recently got washer and dryer hookups installed in our house and I needed someone to help me get the washer and dryer from the garage into the house. He agrees and without a lot of effort, we get my washer and dryer moved inside and proceed to his house.

We get to his house and, NO LIE, the solid oak or elm or cedar or granite covered in wood panel desk that is sitting in his front yard basking in the shade of a tree that probably wasn't even a sapling when the desk was built weighs 500 pounds.

Long story short, we break our backs/knees/arms/hands and get the desk up the stairs on his front porch and inside his house. We proceed to put it on sliders so we can slide it through the living room, down, the hallway, and into his office (they have wood floors).

We get the desk started down the hallway and everything is going good until we get to the door frame for the office. Come to find out, the desk is 32 inches at its narrowest and the doorways in his house are all 30 inches wide at their widest.

After about an hour of brainstorming, removing screws from the desk trying to get it apart with no luck (they don't make them like they used to), and a few glasses of ice water, we finally pull the desk out of the hallway and set it up on it's side in the middle of his living room. I wish my neighbor luck and leave to go home without having helped him accomplish anything.

Back at home my wife is doing laundry for the first time in our new house while my neighbor is still sitting in his living room trying to figure out the best way to incorporate a 100 year old 500 pound solid wood desk into his living room decor.

The moral of the story: Sometimes life isn't fair, but you should always answer your door when appliances need moving and someone knocks on a Sunday evening.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Cul-de-Sac = The American Dream

According to a story on NPR this morning, it looks like we should've bought a house in a Cul-de-Sac... or maybe not.

Cul-de-Sacs: Suburban Dream or Dead End? by John Nielsen

Next time you take a plane flight, take a look out the window. If you're over a city, you'll see roads that form a grid connecting homes, offices and stores.

But if you are flying over the suburbs, you'll see roads that look like trees. The trunks are great big feeder streets with branches splitting off. At the ends of the branches are what look like circular leaves.

Those are the cul-de-sacs, the dead-end streets that have become a symbol of suburban life. Since the end of World War II, millions of cul-de-sacs have been built on the fringes of American cities.

The Lure of the Cul-De-Sac

In recent years, however, the cul-de-sac has fallen out of favor with urban planners and architects. Some cities have even banned them.

To understand why, I recently visited a cul-de-sac in Carderock Springs, Md., where I lived when I was in the sixth and seventh grades.

Traveling with me was Jeff Speck, an urban planner who works at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Behold "the American dream, circa 1960," he said, surveying my old neighborhood. "One, two, three, four, five houses surrounding a circular drive. Each house looks inward at the donut hole of plants in the middle. Each house is very carefully designed with windows on the front and back and not on the sides, so they don't really see each other."

Now, I had some trouble finding my own house because the trees are so much taller now. But some things haven't changed. First, you can still hear the rumble of traffic on the nearby freeway.

"And the other thing we hear are the birds," said Speck. "And that's actually the Scylla and Charybdis of the suburban condition. On the one hand, you do have this feeling of a close contact with nature, because you don't have cars going by every minute within the community. The only cars that come by are going to be the ones that are parking nearby."

Suburban Isolation

On the other hand, there's the problem of having to drive you car almost everywhere. Or, in Speck's words, the uneasy feeling that "your car is no longer an instrument of freedom but a prosthetic device."

Driving is the only way to get from a typical cul-de-sac to a restaurant, a store or your office. And on the roads that funnel back to that main trunk, the traffic is usually awful.

That is one reason urban planners such as Speck do not think much of cul-de-sacs. Neither do anti-sprawl activists, many architects and some city managers and mayors.

If these critics have a leader, it is probably William Lucy, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Virginia. He says a national debate is brewing about the future of the cul-de-sac.

"The era of the cul-de-sac is certainly threatened; it’s a battleground," Lucy says. "The professionals tend to think that the connected neighborhood is the good neighborhood. And the developers and the realtors are more of a mixed mind."

Some of the earliest American cul-de-sac communities were built in Radburn, N.J., in the 1920s. By the mid-1950s, they were everywhere. Developers learned that cul-de-sacs allowed them to fit more houses into oddly shaped tracts, and to build right up to the edges of rivers and property lines.

"Going over the lines had two problems," Lucy says. "One, it was expensive to try to traverse the obstacles. Second, it made connection to other neighborhoods or other subdivisions, and that was contrary to the notion of safety."

Safety Hype

Lucy says safety has always been a big selling point for cul-de-sacs. From the beginning, builders noted that they gave fire trucks extra room to turn around, and that they prevented strange cars from speeding by on their way to somewhere else. Ads for cul-de-sacs often pictured children riding bikes and tricycles in the street.

These days, those images seem grimly ironic to people who actually look at safety statistics. For example, Lucy says cul-de-sac communities turn out to have some of the highest rates of traffic accidents involving young children.

"The actual research about injuries and deaths to small children under five is that the main cause of death is being backed over, not being driven over forward," he says. "And it would be expected that the main people doing the backing over would in fact be family members, usually the parents."

Armed with such arguments, critics of the cul-de-sac have won some victories in recent years. In cities such as Charlotte, N.C., Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas, construction of cul-de-sac-based suburbs has basically been banned. In other places, cul-de-sac communities have been retrofitted with cross streets.

Safe in the American Dream

But one important group still appears to be in love with the cul-de-sac: homebuyers.

Theres Kellerman, a realtor who lives and works in Carderock Springs, says buyers still line up to live on dead streets.

"When I put ads in about a house that has just been listed, if it has a cul-de-sac I say: 'Cul-de-sac location -- location within location,'" says Kellerman. "It has no through street, [so] nobody will race by -- not even the teenagers that go on their little racing sprees, because they can't go anywhere."

A recent study backs up Kellerman. It showed that buyers will pay 20 percent more for a home on a cul-de-sac.

Even cul-de-sac critic Jeff Speck says he understands the attraction. In recent years, he's helped design some well-known grid-like "new towns," where it is possible to walk to places like a corner store. But for some cul-de-sacs -- like the one in Carderock Springs -- Speck says he would do some extra driving.

"I am not embarrassed to say [that] if I could afford this I would happily raise a family in this environment," he says.

And Speck says this isn't just an American dream anymore. He says that in countries like the Philippines and China, and in parts of the Middle East, cul-de-sacs are fast becoming all the rage.