Tag Archives: stewardship

the real thing

I have to admit. I’m one of those Americans who has never really cared much for the World Cup. Not that I’ve been against it. I just didn’t really ever give it the time of day.

Mexico fans in Munich during the 2006 World Cup

For example, four years ago, when the World Cup was in Germany, I happened to be in Austria. I did travel to Germany, to Munich, for a day trip. That day happened to be a victory for Mexico.  While I was walking through the town square area a whole crowd of Mexico fans, speaking Spanish, came pouring out of one of the bars near the Hofbräuhaus, celebrating Mexico’s victory. I was excited simply to be able to speak

Spanish with them, but I didn’t watch any of the game, or find out when the next game might be.

But this year is different. This year I was ‘evangelized’ to the significance of the World Cup by my friend and neighbor, Ralph, who was extolling the virtues of the truly worldwide competition. So, I made plans to watch the opening game, Mexico vs. host South Africa. We happened to be watching the game in Mexico at the home of Ron and Nadine. Ron is from South Africa. So, in Mexico, at a South African’s home, watching the opener. It was pretty sweet. I wore my Mexico jacket to show my support, and made a bunch of ‘biscuits’ (really more like cookies) to share for the 7AM start.

Ron and Nadine were there, as were Dave, Ralph, Kathy and Dave, Audi, Cruz and Ila. Cruz is three, Ila is .5 and both were decked out in their

Cruz watching the World Cup

Mexico jerseys, as was their mom, Audi. It was a big event, and we were all gathered, anxious to watch it.

About 15 minutes into the game (I think it’s called a match, isn’t it? Again, though I played soccer in high school, the whole competitive futbol thing is still rather new to me) Cruz, who had been watching, said “I want to play.” We, of course, had no soccer ball. For the remainder of the half Cruz kept asking his mom when he could go home and get his soccer ball and play.

This was the World Cup. This was the opening game. It only happens every four years. Out of the world’s countries, only 32 teams make it this far, to find out who is the champion.

We tried to explain this to Cruz, to no avail. “When can we play?” he asked again.

I’ve been reading a book called The Plain Reader. It is about ‘plain’ people, such as the Amish, who intentionally live a life that might seem strange to the ‘mainstream’ society. They don’t have tv’s, they are not fascinated by the Internet, they don’t need the latest iPhone. They do this, on purpose, to live a life that is more ‘real’ in the sense that it is lived as it is lived, not virtually, not mediated by some sort of technology.

Though I love working in the yard, and making things like yogurt, granola and bread from ‘scratch’ I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my iPhone (or to give up wanting the new iPhone 4.0). But at the same time, there is wisdom in the essays in The Plain Reader that I can’t argue with. A quality of life that all of our ‘time saving’ technology seems unable to provide for us, yet seems accessible to these ‘plain’ people.

During half time Cruz went to get his soccer ball. We kicked it around a bit until I heard so much cheering from inside the house that I had to go see what had happened. But, going back to the game on tv, I couldn’t quite lose the sense that maybe Cruz was the one who had it right…

throw it out

I’m not sure if this was the first time I remembered witnessing it, or if it is just the one that has stuck in my memory. I was in the Dominican Republic for the summer, working for an organization that hosted US high school and college students to work in the local communities for two-week increments.  Having had experience with similar work in Guatemala, I was there for the summer to help them get started in the work.

I worked on the staff with a Puerto Rican woman, men and women from the Dominican Republic, and a man from Guatemala. One night we decided it would be fun to watch a video (we had a TV and vcr) but the only videotape we had (this was back in the dark ages of video tapes, before the instant gratification of immediately downloadable movie possibilities) jammed when we put it into the VCR.

I assumed we were through. So much for the ‘watching a movie’ idea. I also assumed that it was time to throw out the video tape in question—it was broken, why keep it?

I was wrong.

Edie, the man from Guatemala, took the tape out of the VCR and opened it up.

I didn’t realize you could do that.

He then proceeded to splice the jammed part, and to re-roll the entire spool of tape. It wasn’t a quick process, but a few hours later, we were happily watching the only tape we had, ‘A Bug’s Life.’


Fast-forward almost ten years, to yesterday.  The location is Mexico, Baja California, to be exact. The context was a conversation with my friend Edgar who is Mexican and lives in the community here.

We were talking about cars, specifically mine, a 12 year old SUV with 155,000 miles on it that is beginning to have ‘issues.’ Friends from Southern California have been suggesting that it is more than time for the trusty Isuzu Rodeo (which I had never intended to be such a long-term investment) to be replaced with something new—something that will be reliable, won’t break down, with not so many miles on it.

It’s true—I have begun to have various issues with the Rodeo, and am wondering if it might be time to retire it. Those thoughts, combined with the government’s recent ‘cash for clunkers’ program that promises to offer me $4500 for a car that would be lucky to fetch half that price, have caused me to ponder if it is time for something new.

Edgar knew that I’ve had some problems with the Rodeo, and even had recommended a mechanic who came to my house and fixed some sort of loud noise in the engine (my understanding of car engines ends is limited to the knowledge that they are found under the hood) for a lot cheaper than the same work could be done in the US (and did I mention that the mechanic made a house call?!)

“Men don’t mind their cars to have problems, but women like to just turn the key and be able to go,” teased Edgar. I thought about it. I definitely don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road, and since I haven’t a clue how to fix something that might go wrong, I reluctantly admitted that, at least in my case, he was right.

“How many miles do you have on it?” he asked me, as we discussed whether or not it was time for me to think of replacing it. “155,000,” I answered (listing each number separately, as my Spanish is good but not when it comes to big numbers).

“That’s a lot!” he laughed. “But in Mexico, that’s like new!”

With that one comment I was taken instantly back to Edie and the videotape, and brought to the heart of what had been nagging at me.

My 12-year old car is paid for. I don’t have a car payment. As someone who does freelance work and who lives without a steady paycheck, I’d rather not incur a new monthly expense if I don’t have to.  Aside from the less than stellar gas mileage, I really like my car. It works for me. If it weren’t for the pushing 200,000 miles, and the few ‘issues’ I’ve begun to have, I probably wouldn’t even be thinking about getting rid of it.

But, as an American, and more so as a Southern Californian from “the OC,” I live in the midst of a culture that seems to say “if it is old, throw it out.”

This is not entirely unreasonable. I need a car I can depend on, right? I need one that will be reliable. I do a lot of driving—I don’t want to be stranded along the side of the road, do I? I want to be able to drive up to Northern California to visit friends, or to continue driving back and forth to Mexico, without having to wonder, “Am I going to make it this time?” Plus, if I were to buy a new car I could get one with better gas mileage (which wasn’t even on my radar 12 years ago when purchasing the Rodeo), which would save me money and save the planet at the same time, right?

The truth is, the power window on the passenger side doesn’t work from the driver’s seat, so I have to lean over if I want to open it. My at the time very high-tech 10 cd-changer in the trunk, with a tape deck in the dash, has a tape stuck in it so that I cannot use it for an mp3 player. A few years back my wheels were chipping so I decided to spray paint them and though it worked at the time, it is beginning to chip. Plus, there is this ongoing noise that seems to be something transmission-related and all signs are pointing toward repair work that will not be cheap, even if it is done in Mexico by my house-calling mechanic.

So it’s not like I’m throwing out something that is perfect. There are, I think, sufficient reasons to justify replacing it.

But the problem is, do I want to be one of those Americans who throws something out, when I know that much of the world, including my friends Edie and Edgar, live in a world where they don’t have that option? Edgar would love to replace his 1994 Pathfinder with a cracked windshield. But he doesn’t have a government willing to give him $4500 for it or a life that would allow him to pay it off over a 6-year loan—but more importantly, he doesn’t live in a world that would make that decision seem reasonable.

Even as I write this, I’m fairly certain that if my Rodeo can, in fact, qualify for the $4500 cash for clunkers, and if I can find something I like that is within a price I can afford, it will be “Hasta luego Rodeo” and  “Bienvenidos new car.”

But my fear in so doing, in embracing an option that my world makes not only possible but even commendable, is that I will continue to distance myself from the world in which most of our planet, and many of my friends actually live.

exit row

(“exit row” was initially published on culture-voice.com)

I used to travel a lot. I mean a lot. Three out of four weeks I’d be out of town due to my work. I thought of myself as quite the savvy traveler. I looked down my nose at the ‘vacation’ travelers that would clog up the security checkpoints and ticket counters come summer. They moved so slowly. Did they have to bring everything they owned on vacation with them? Didn’t they realize that some of us were working.

It was around this time when I became an exit row sitter. I knew the system, and somehow at that point it hadn’t occurred to the masses that they too could request an exit row. It also hadn’t occurred to the airlines that they could charge extra for an exit row. So I partook of the knowledge from my frequent traveler status and got an exit row aisle almost every flight. It was so nice not to be crowded. So nice not to have the person in front of you practically in your lap for the duration of the flight.
After enjoying and taking pride in my travel savvy ways for quite some time I had a troubling encounter. As I was walking smugly toward my exit row seat I happened to notice the man sitting in the row directly in front of it—you know, the row that has no leg room and also can’t lean back, due to the exit row behind? This man had to be pushing 7 feet tall. He was in aisle seat, but still, there was hardly room for him to bend his legs to wedge them in. My smug glee melted as I sat down in my roomy seat behind him. I’m 5 foot 2.
The exit row was mine, fair and square. I’d asked for it, I’d been given it. I hadn’t stolen it from anyone. I spent way too many hours on planes in my life during those days, so it seemed almost like I deserved some comfort, didn’t I?
Yet I couldn’t shake it. The nagging sense of guilt. Not the bad kind of guilt, but the good kind. The kind that tells you when something isn’t as it should be. When you might be playing a part in what’s not quite right in the world.
The thing is, though it’s of course nice, at 5 foot 2 I don’t need an exit row. Sure, it’s cramped when the person in front leans back and you can’t even move your legs. No, I don’t enjoy being crowded on an airplane any more than the next person. Yes, I avoid middle seats like the plague. No, I’m not some sort of martyrous glutton for punishment.
But in a world where so few of us use such a disproportionate amount of the planet’s resources, is there perhaps a place for not taking up all the space that we can procure for ourselves? Is there room for knowing one could get an exit row, but choosing instead to leave it to others? Or is that just nonsense? Someone’s going to get the benefit of that extra 5.3 inches of legroom—it might as well be me, right? If I don’t ask for it, who knows who might? Maybe someone even shorter than me, who deserves it less! Or maybe some arrogant jerk business traveler who thinks he’s better than the rest of us peons crowded in?
Or maybe, just maybe, there’s something to be said for relinquishing what I ‘deserve,’ regardless of the outcome?

undies on the line

(Adam Walker Cleaveland’s recent tweet about line-drying clothes prompted me to resurrect this piece that I wrote a few years ago for Relevant Magazine.)

I have to admit, I just like the sound of it. Undies on the line. I mean, it’s true; they are there, on the clothesline, hanging in the breeze. But somehow the idea of them sounds much more glamorous, more adventurous, even exciting, than it actually is. Because they are just hanging there. That’s about it. They aren’t doing anything. Just hanging.

The reality of the situation is that I don’t really like air-dried clothing. I much prefer putting my clothes, along with a Bounce sheet in the dryer, cooking them for a mere 45 minutes and leaving them infused with that natural spring freshness. None of this air-drying stuff—where’s the spring freshness in that? But I am also in this phase, hopefully one that will stick with me to some degree, of trying to be a good steward of creation’s resources—not using time-saving-but- energy-wasting methods when there is an alternative that is more environmentally friendly. I know this might sound just a bit over the top, so lest you think I am about to move to a commune and weave my own clothes out of recycled coffee filters, let me do a bit of explaining.

I grew up in Newport Beach, Calif. It is not exactly the bastion of liberal tree-hugging politics. I also grew up loving what I referred to as “logger hoggers.” A logger hogger, for those unfortunate souls who did not have the opportunity to love them as children, is simply a semi-truck carrying a load of recently felled large trees. My experience of them happened during vacations, which coincidentally took place in wooded, mountainous areas. Seeing a logger hogger pass by our luggage rack-laden 1970s Hornet (yellow with fake wood paneling, of course), I would get really excited.

It was not until a weekend church retreat in the mountains as a UC Berkeley freshman that I realized these magical icons from my youth had a somewhat darker side. With a look of horror at my excitement upon seeing a logger hogger, an older, wiser and more environmentally aware member of the group explained the ramifications of clear-cutting and their connection to my beloved logger hoggers. So much for that warm, fuzzy childhood memory.

So, all that to say, when I talk about my newfound environmentalism, that is the context in which it exists.

Back to the undies on the line. The point is, why put clothes in a dryer that uses energy to run, when, especially in Newport Beach in May, there is plentiful, natural, already provided sunlight that will accomplish the same task while expending nothing? Financially it makes sense—you get something for free instead of paying for it. Not a bad deal. Environmentally it makes sense—you use an existing resource that is not depleted in the process, and you neglect to use a manufactured resource that is depleted in the process. When put that way, it seems so obvious, so simple really.

Are we as Christians, not called to be good stewards of creation? What does that fancy-sounding phrase mean anyway? Wouldn’t choosing to conserve energy be a way to care for the earth? Didn’t God command, in Genesis, that we are put on the earth to till it and keep it? I have been trying to think about what this might look like. My gut reaction is to think that it means care for, conserve, preserve. But I do know that there are those who see God’s command more in the light of having dominion over the earth as using whatever you want and not necessarily being concerned about the consequences.

But then I think, what if a friend loaned me something, say his car, and said, “Here, it is yours, use it, keep it, have dominion over it (OK, he probably wouldn’t say that, but you get the point).” If I were give it back to him later with the windshield bashed in, chocolate milkshake soaked into the passenger’s seat, a dented rear bumper and the stereo stripped out, what do you think his response would be? I’m just guessing here, but I don’t think it would be one of delighted contentment. I said you could use my car, not destroy it. Obviously, we would never consider (at least I hope not) doing something so brash, rude and just flat-out wrong to our friend’s car. So why do we think it is OK with God’s earth?

Which brings me back to the undies again. The thing is, I like my undies to be soft, and line-dried undies are, well, a bit crusty. Sure, using a clothes dryer is not in the same category perhaps as many other worse-for the-environment actions such as a tanker’s oil spill in a wildlife refuge in Alaska, but it is the principle of the matter.

So, I am in a quandary. How can I justify basking in my soft cushion of comfort, knowing that I am personally responsible for contributing to our environmental woes? Sure, it is one thing to cheer on the truck representation of clear-cutting forests as an uninformed youngster, but it is another thing to have experienced firsthand the successful drying of one’s undies on the clothesline and willfully return to the energy-consuming Bounce sheets.

There is an obvious solution; it is just that the one that makes so much logical sense leaves me feeling, well, a bit stiff.

‘undies on the line’ was initially published by Relevant Magazine