A few reflections on San Francisco

Now that I'm back in action, here are a few thoughts from the week:

1) Evangelicalism is changing for the better. If this week provides reliable evidence, Evangelical culture is shifting to focus significantly more on social justice and significantly less on homophobia. I had a really good experience w/YouthWorks and enjoyed working and playing alongside folks from across the theological spectrum. Gaps can indeed be bridged and I've come away feeling that our similarities this week were more significant than our differences. Seriously though, can we start singing some different praise choruses?

2) It really sucks being a teenager. (Unless you're popular and attractive. Then it's awesome!) The good news for the average teen is that things tend to flip-flop when you hit 18. Life really does get much better as an adult when the hormonal storms pass, your head and body size become proportionate, and people start judging you for who you are rather than what you look like. (I assume. I'm guessing that's going to happen at some point. Maybe when we're all old and ugly?) Stick it out a few more years.

3) San Francisco is overrated. Man, the weather there is horrible: cold and foggy all year, apparently. The city itself seems pretty cool and there's a lot of great architecture, but I'll take New Orleans or Seattle or New York or Portland. Maybe my impressions have been unfairly shaped by spending the whole week in the Tenderloin. Homelessness and addiction and poverty there is as glaringly bad as anywhere I've been outside of Vancouver's Hastings Street and the Third World:

4) I've gotten attached to Seattle, Capitol Hill, and life in the city. I found myself comparing everything unfavorably to home (except Grace Cathedral, which is way awesomer than St. Mark's Cathedral).

5) Teen Mission Trips--hormone fests though they may be--aren't as silly and condescending towards the poor as I sometimes assume. Lots of important lessons were learned, I think, by the gentle dunking of these suburban youth into the kiddie pool of urine and cheap booze that is reality in the Tenderloin. Across the summer it seems that a lot of actual help was provided to the organizations we served with as well, so there's some element of win/win. Then again, I wouldn't be me if I didn't note that my view is that volunteer organizations in the US are essentially a patchwork of band-aids that give us an excuse to avoid organizing our gov't in such a way as to address our problems coherently and effectively.

6) I really need some time off.


dave paisley said…
Interesting observations, Tim.

On point 5, though, I agree that volunteer stuff is a ragtag assortment of bits and pieces, but you have to realize that anything the government organizes is run about as effectively as the DMV.

Think about it - is there a single function provided by the government that you feel is well run? Compassionate? Caring?

(Thinks: Homeland Security, Medicare/Medicaid, USCIS, IRS... DMV, Liquor Stores... no, no, no).
Tim said…
Hi Dave,

Thanks for the comment. My old friend Wes will probably be smirking on this comment, b/c we've had this discussion so many times.

To preface my comments, most of my views on the need for a bigger gov't are colored by my experience in NZ, where gov't was bigger and more effective than it is here, volunteering was all but absent outside of churches, and social problems were far more limited than they are in the US. (The same could be said for almost every other Western country.)

Most of my excuses for why the US gov't functions inefficiently have to do with the limitations we place on it. In brief, I think that the American assumption that "gov't is the problem, not the solution" is a sort of fundamentalist idea that has it's roots in our revolutionary identity. It's caused us to set up a 'checks and balances' system more concerned with avoiding abuse than actually accomplishing the tasks of gov't. To this day, we worry more about keeping politicians from screwing us over than encouraging them to do their jobs. (It's a political culture of scarcity vs. a culture of abundance, in our Bishop's terms.)

Our cultural distrust of gov't consistently undermines our gov'ts ability to function, as we refuse to fund it properly or give it permission to work. We won't give gov't the necessary funds and permissions to fix viaducts (for instance) and when there's a problem, it's the same old chorus of boos and hisses and libertarian propaganda. It's important to remember that Gov't's problem is always our problem in America. We're a democracy, and Gov't's an expression of who we are as a people.

I really think that if we funded our gov't properly things would improve in a number of areas. Things wouldn't be perfect, and certainly we need to be critiquing the way our money is being spent (war, building the great wall of mexico, etc.), but we're shooting ourselves in the foot socially by underfunding/decreasing the size of gov't. What we need are rational suggestions about ways we can shift our investments from stupid and destructive ventures (war, farm subsidies, limiting taxes on the rich, etc.) to intelligent and helpful ventures like healthcare improvement, low income housing, disaster response, infrastructure improvement, international peacemaking, etc.

My anecdotal evidence would be based on gov't run healthcare, which Angel did her thesis on--while Medicare, Medicaid and the VA systems all have gotten bad names in recent years, I would again argue that their issues have been largely a result of underfunding by our bumbling current administration (and previous administrations). Studies have consistently shown above average health outcomes and user satisfaction with these systems. In other words, while gov't run healthcare isn't perfect, it's better than the average result of privately run healthcare. I'd say the same would be true of all social services...

Enough for now, time for work!
Mark Pritchard said…
Yowch, I can understand how someone who spent a week in the Tenderloin in August would think the weather in San Francisco is terrible. A, it's always like that in August, and B, the Tenderloin is, as you hinted, not the most attractive, uplifting neighborhood (though the tourists experience the same thing since their hotels are adjacent to the 'loin). Hope you have a chance to come back when it's a little sunnier -- the six weeks starting around the second week of September is summer.
Tim Mathis said…
Hi Mark, I'll try to make it back at a better time.

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