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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Compartmentalized

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One thing I learned at a very young age was not to talk about church stuff at school. Mention God or Jesus in elementary school and you immediately got pegged as a goody-two-shoes. But it wasn’t just church stuff. You also didn’t dare talk about your family. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers were off limits. If you talked about your mother, you were a Mama’s boy. If you mentioned a sister, you had to endure crass comments about them—or fight, which was forbidden. Even a father could set off a competition as you and an opponent—a politically correct term for your worst enemy—one-upped each other in an effort to prove that the father in question was better, bigger, faster, stronger.

As I matured, these simplistic rules gave way to more nuanced guidelines, but the fundamental lesson seemed to be the same: don’t talk about your life in one sphere while you’re in another sphere. So except for the most mundane banalities, we don’t talk about work in church; we don’t talk about family relationships at work; we don’t talk about our private lives anywhere. We become compartmentalized.

At church we think church thoughts and say church-y things: “God bless you.” “I’ll be praying for you.”

At work we think work thoughts and say work-y things: “I need it done ASAP.” “Call or shoot me an email if you need anything.” The unspoken part is “anything work-related.”

At home we think home thoughts and say home-y things: “What’s for dinner?” “Where’s the remote?” “Why can’t you learn to pick up after yourself?”

And in our private, innermost being we think private thoughts that no one—thank goodness—ever hears: CENSORED.

We live lives divided neatly into compartments. At least we hope to. Sometimes things go awry. Maybe it’s your eleventh grader who just told you she’s pregnant. Maybe your wife discovered your online pornography habit. Maybe your boss is hinting that your position is being considered for termination. Maybe your prayers aren’t being answered, and you aren’t sure you trust God.

When such things happen, there is spillover. Your private life suddenly affects your work. Your home life suddenly affects your religion. Your loss of faith affects everything. It’s quite natural to suppose that becoming healthy again means getting everything back into its compartment. But what if it’s not?

What if we were never meant to live so divided from ourselves? What if we were meant to live just one life, whole, integrated, and pure? What if we dismantled the compartments? What if we used God talk everywhere? What if we let others know about our pain and failure—not in a self-absorbed way, but transparently and naturally, as if we were talking with real friends who could share our burdens instead of talking to contacts we were trying to leverage or impress?

I’m not suggesting that we banish small talk or only engage with one another at some deeply personal level. I’m merely suggesting that each of us should be the same person in every context. It’s not easy. It requires integrity. It requires intentional effort. It requires being your own leader. Back in grade school, if I had had integrity—a certain knowledge of my identity coupled with a steadfast resolve to be myself—I would not have been intimidated by those who teased or threatened. I would have stood my ground, for courage arises from integrity. I am calling for integrity instead of compartmentalization.

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Going Green

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My daughter, Libby, just bought a new car, a green Honda Civic. She uses it to drive back and forth to work. She works at a daycare in our church, so she makes the same trip at least six times a week, sometimes more often. One of the main reasons she wanted to buy a Honda was the good gas mileage they reputedly get.

Libby recently graduated from college and has thousands of dollars in student loans to repay, so she has become extremely cost conscious.

Our family has been making the trip to our church for many years, and we have basically two routes we always follow. Both routes usually take the same amount of time. My wife prefers the highway route. I prefer the back-road route. We’ve gone back and forth about the merits of our favorite route over the years. She likes the sense of getting where she’s going fast on the highway route and doesn’t like the shabby industrial buildings along the back-road route. I like the sense of taking the shortest way, and—why fight it?—I like the shabby industrial look.

Newly cost-conscious Libby was not content with our impressionistic reasons for preferring one route to another. She wanted hard data, so she measured how long it took and how many miles she drove on both routes. She found that both routes take about the same amount of time. Confirming my impression, however, she found that the back-road route was about 3 miles shorter. (Google maps makes it 2.3 miles shorter). Since she travels the same route at least 12 times every week, choosing the shorter route could actually save a considerable amount of gas.

This is just the sort of calculation people all over the world are doing now. They are finding ways to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and making the calculation part of an overall strategy to cut costs.

So how much will Libby save? It’s not really easy to say. Since the trip takes the same amount of time regardless of route, the Honda’s engine probably consumes the same amount of gas. Moreover, the longer route has more highway miles, which tend to boost fuel efficiency. Just for the fun of it, however, let’s assume that the Honda’s average gas mileage of 35 mpg is constant regardless of route. Libby’s car will drive 2.3 × 12 × 52 =  1432.5 fewer miles in a year,  requiring 1432.5 ÷ 35 ≈ 41 fewer gallons of gas. At $2.80 per gallon, Libby will save 2.80 × 41 ≈ $114.80 in a year. By using the savings to pay down principle on her loans, she could end up saving far more. Go, Libby!

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