suburban legends p1

War of the Worlds

I usually don’t read forwarded emails, mostly because I never get them anymore since asking the mother-ship a couple of years ago to stop passing them along. But it’s not that I wasn’t grateful for them—oh I was—and it’s not that I wasn’t enjoying and learning from them—I was doing that also. It was more the fact that I could no longer manage all the benefits and riches amassed from my e-life. Like, where will I spend the $250,000 check that came in the mail from AOL? Who do I enlighten and pass along to the real truth of why the chicken crossed the road? Who do I thank for gifting me with the world’s largest consolidated yo-mamma joke list? And how do I interpret the fact that it was forwarded to me by my best friend’s mamma? Or that chain letter—in existence since 1787—am I even worthy of being a part of such a time-honored tradition?

You get the idea, I’m sure.

So you’ll understand when this morning, opening up my inbox and finding an invitation to “Join the Resistance” and become a fighter in the “Gas-War” I was immediately brought to attention. And while it may be futile to confront the forwarding-world and it may be an inconsequential effort, I feel I must respond to the invitation and elaborate on it. If you haven’t seen it, the message contends that you and I, along with everyone we know, must stand up united against fuel companies who are raking in record revenues on consumers. Building on momentum from last years’ oh-so-memorable “don’t buy gas on a certain day” campaign, the latest movement suggests we isolate our impact this year with an embargo on specific oil conglomerates until the prices come tumbling down. In short, the memo is this: prices are too high. We want them low. Boycott Exxon/Mobil and shop elsewhere until prices drop back where they belong [insert arbitrary price].

The problem with said strategy is that today most gas stations are parented by a convenient store and those stores are, more often than not, owned by a family (often immigrants) who have invested their life savings on the entrepreneurial dream. A simple boycott of a name, therefore, is more liable to damage an individual than it is some distant malevolent corporation. The other failure may be found in the strategy’s inability to engage the principal concerns typified within the fuel debate: issues like chronic over-consumption, bull-headed buying behaviors that insist on large vehicles for small tasks, and the insistence that personal preference is a blind, inviolable right we have as consumers.

These types of rumor-like revolts are viral for a time but always short-lived because they never incorporate any level of personal accountability or sacrifice within the battle cry. Interesting—and equally frustrating—that nowhere within these calls to action are logical suggestions for creative partnerships through ride sharing, bicycling, walking or the re-installation of public transportation within the community. Interesting how our wallets are given priority over any sense of consciousness for the faltering environment in which we live.

herever an issue is economical it is also political. And wherever there is a political reality you can be sure close-by there is also a very personal reality. And the reality is that it is our choices—not our needs—that have put us ill at ease. We pump our cars full of cash because we’ve organized our lives around the fulfillment and protection of certain personal interests. Given priority and often going unchallenged, we thoughtlessly go to great lengths to secure these items without ever considering what our lives might be like otherwise. We choose to live far from work because we can afford to and want to, because schools are better, whiter, land is cheaper and houses are fancier. We enjoy lake cottages in other states and take long weekend trips to family distantly removed to higher paying jobs in far off places. Do you drive through the Grand Canyon on the way to the grocery store? The vast majority of us don’t need a sport-utility vehicle—we just like them. Just like we like to drive 85 rather than 55—although we know it’s far more expensive to do so. Wallowing in our complaints over hiked gas prices without a willingness to adjust our lifestyle, adapt or curb our consumption is like crying over the price of a coke at PF Chang's without a willingness to cook at home or maybe opt for a water instead. It's ridiculous. Nevermind the fact that Coke's end up costing us about $15/gallon. Hey we're thirsty and it tastes pretty dang good--so I guess nobody's looking into complaining about that .

I digress...

But don't get me wrong, I’m like you. I wouldn't consider myself or my ride frivolous. I drive an older vehicle because it was given to me and because I like it. It’s horrible on gas but far easier to keep than do without. I keep it not because I need it, but because I enjoy it. But like you also, I probably need to go to the mattresses and consider what I may give up so that I may give in and get on board with the real solutions to the problems that are presented and further perpetuated with every passing day.

I may be alone in the sentiment, but I’m strangely grateful for gouging gas prices. I’m grateful for conditions mandating we re-orient our lives and rethink the way we live. I’m grateful for an obvious sign-of-the-times signaling to us that our lives might be simpler, more community minded, healthy, and--dare I suggest--modest?

And I’m grateful that it’s becoming more and more clear that the life of less actually may offer something more.

f you’re a Christian then you intrinsically believe that you may have a hand in changing this world. You believe that—like Christ—you’re participating in the effort now. There are no sideline seats, no bystanders, there is no opting out. The Bible is an empowering read and we’re assured over and over again that we can do it--working out our faith--but it’s true—we do face opposition. We face discouragement. As though bailing buckets from the ocean we’re all challenged within by a plaguing sense that our efforts in changing this world may be inconsequential.

I always heard in Sunday school about the radical life a Christian leads. I was young then, but for some reason I still equate that radicalism with a lot of do's and dont's; like not hitting my friend, keeping my pog collection christ-like, or wearing my sister's Michael W. Smith shirt to school--real martyrdom. But somewhere between Sunday school skits and the adult life I stopped hearing or seeing exemplified much that seemed very radical, or even at all different from everyone else.

Okay it happens, our lives very easily become normal. But we've got to fight the tendency. We have to battle the belief that our lifestyle choices are so few. Inevitability is not the language of freedom. Following Christ means searching out our options about what to do, what to wear, what to drive, and where to live- because of course these too are reflections of faith. And We have to be more than whistle blowers who cry and bemoan what's wrong with life without ever offering a hand at fixing it.

Following Christ is about a great many things not the least of which is doing those things that most people just believe in. But it takes creativity. We--the christian community wherever we experience it--need to be dialoguing more, changing and adapting more (or being willing to at the very least) and leading the search for better, cleaner, more responsible ways to live in our world. We've gotta get out there.

If you're like me and you like to complain about Christians whose faith seems way too...well, Christian-- Then maybe you need to confront the misconception, the suburban legend that faith has something to do with our lives but not our lifestyle. Maybe our complaints with cultural Christianity would be better addressed if you and I looked inward instead and became a part of a far more challenging personal movement outward, pushing back the borders and redefining the defining lines that we should never have ever drawn around Christ in the first place. Perhaps we abandon pessimism--a cop out anyway-- and take on a larger vision of unexplainable optimism, experimentation, seeking for solutions, and seeing everything in new Light.

aybe they'll think us environmentalists, eccentrics, idealists, hippies, or naive religious nobodies. And maybe we should be.

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