SANDAG Closed Session Dec 5: Please Support Transit and Do Not Appeal RTP Ruling

Dear Elected Representatives of San Diego County:

Thank you for your service to our region. I know each of you came into your positions with different goals and visions for change you hoped to effect, and you all serve many members of your respective communities with integrity and valor. Politics can be an ugly business, and preservation of soul and best intentions can fall by the wayside at times.

It is especially difficult, I would imagine, when devoted and engaged citizens disagree with your actions as elected officials. The sentiment of many nonprofit and volunteer community members, many of whom work full time jobs and are raising families, is that their voices and the advocacy they pursue are dismissed when more powerful interests are at play.

As a San Diego County resident, I sometimes commute by bicycle, take the Coaster when possible, but mostly sit in freeway traffic on a regular basis. I would GREATLY prefer to take functional transit than suffer the same traffic congestion on a wider freeway in the years ahead.

I have attended a few SANDAG meetings over the years, and have been dismayed to hear my comments dismissed by some Board Members as “not representative of the community” and/or “infeasible.” That despite the fact that some of the same Board Members have vocally bemoaned the small number of members of the public who attend and participate in public workshops and SANDAG meetings.

The transit and bike advocacy public is showing up in greater numbers over the past months. Many are regular, busy people who deem this engagement with you worth their time.

However, we are still being dismissed, both in the public comments some of you have made and functionally in the Regional Transportation Plans you direct staff to prepare, then approve. Our preferences are too often dismissed in the funding allocations of budgets we provide, yet you control.

I love San Diego County. I went to college here. I am raising my children here. My daughters and I love playing at the beach and camping in the mountains. Now that they are teenagers, I wish they could safely and conveniently go to the beach, shopping, or the movies with friends via transit, avoiding the dangers presented by cars. It is with this love for our natural and built environments, my family, and my fellow citizens that I approach my advocacy, and it is personally upsetting when my science-, data-, and law-supported views are so readily dismissed.

I submit these comments in my personal capacity, but I also serve on the board of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation. While CNFF has engaged in many SANDAG planning processes over the years, including privately funding infill and transit studies with our modest budget and presenting these as options staff could build upon, our input is largely unwelcome. Efforts to engage meaningfully are treated disparagingly by some members of the staff and Board, as though our mission to increase quality of life in the region and protect environmental resources is somehow in conflict with SANDAG’s mission. Indeed, had our straightforward, pragmatic input over the years been met with an attitude of collaboration rather than hostility, Friday’s meeting would be about moving San Diego forward rather than the topic currently on agenda. Unfortunately, I have come to believe some at SANDAG think their role is to increase roads; not mobility.

I am writing to quite honestly share from my perspective, because I maintain hope that you as our regional leaders will recognize signs that the winds are changing, and you will likewise adjust your sails to facilitate moving the region in a new direction (pun intended). We are reaching a critical point of climate disruption, public awareness, a “peak road” condition with disappearing open space, and copious helpful data from other populous regions with successfully implemented transit and infill scenarios. Rather than waste more regional resources, including time and money, in litigation, I encourage you to be wise leaders in these changing times.

If you vote on Friday to further appeal the 2050 RTP ruling, I will be a voice of dissent. I will be critical of that choice, but I hope you know better now the “why” and “who” of yet another San Diegan who has a different vision for our shared future. Regardless of your vote, I maintain hope that you will be open to new information in the years to come, and be willing to adjust your policies accordingly.

The younger generation among our population is more interested in mobility and online connectivity than car ownership. I hope you will represent the future, rather than dig in on transportation planning principles of the past that have created many of the problems that impact all of us today. There are many of us who wish to be partners in that process, and the benefits outweigh the challenges.

Thank you for your consideration of my contributions to this regional conversation.

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A heart for justice.

There’s a song that’s become popular in some churches over the last decade or so that includes a line… “Break my heart with what breaks yours…

I believe we are all made in God’s image. Being made in God’s image is a fundamental attribute of being human – not just for Christians, but for every person. And God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.

Most of my friends are justice-minded: opposed to oppression of any kind, though some issues resonate more than others based upon life experiences. This hatred of injustice and pursuit of justice is like God’s heart. In God’s image.

Discussions around the Hobby Lobby decision are, in my mind, two sides of the same slippery-slope coin. On one: people are genuinely afraid of being compelled to support something to which they are morally opposed. They take the argument to the extreme (beyond medical and legal realities), and sympathize with presumed pro-life employers who would be forced to fund employee abortions. Some of these are rolling their eyes at “liberals,” saying their arguments are invalidated by the “narrow” rulings. They’re celebrating what they see as a victory for religious freedom, which is a very American freedom. Some even think it’s appropriate for nonprofits to be treated like churches, some of which refuse to provide contraception of any kind for any employee.

On the other side: women’s privacy. Women’s employment options. Unintended pregnancies for those who can least afford them. My ability as a single parent to provide for my children without invasive conversations with employers. A whole new opening to awkward and unprofessional conversations between pretty young female employees and their male managers, who might not hold the same religious views as the company owners, and who might take advantage of conversations about presumed sexual activity. Erosion of doctor-patient confidentiality and access to medication deemed most appropriate (some people are allergic to many forms of birth control, for example, and some have to take it for reasons other than sexual activity – whether single or married).

The worst possible outcome for everyone: An increase in *actual* abortions because employers institute policies wherein they will not fund any form of contraception on religious grounds. (Monday’s ruling was clarified on Tuesday, indicating this is a very real possibility).

This is a travesty of justice. The implications double down on the notion that sex is for women to avoid. The government is endorsing employers’ moral control of straight female employees’ private lives, presumably enforcing standards of “chastity.” This is invasive, and assumes birth control is only for unmarried whores.

It may negatively impact any women applying for jobs, because most employers don’t list the full range and limitations of healthcare benefits prior to hiring. If a woman asks about contraception during an otherwise successful interview, assumptions will be made and she may be passed over. Or the hiring manager may be a male who is inordinately interested to learn the new young employee is presumably sexually active. There are so many unprofessional, awkward, innuendo-laden moments experienced as a woman that are not readily defined as sexual harassment in the workplace that will be exacerbated in this scenario.

One right within our country’s laws (freedom of religion) should not force those changeable standards on others. Christians cannot dictate chastity to the rest of the unmarried world, or even within the walls of a church containing humans with free will. There are so many layers of judgment, our rights as Americans, rights of others who do not subscribe to Christianity, and many discussions this week are triggering notions of authoritarian dominance that have nothing to do with God’s love and should have nothing to do with laws in America.

So, yes, my heart for justice is breaking, and I’m tired of *only* men establishing rules that only impact *only* women.

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Welcome home, we wish you were dead.

Congratulations, those of you who think you know all the inner workings of our government and the hearts and minds of President Obama, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his father. His welcome home party has been canceled.

All you lovers-of-American due process who have decided Bergdahl deserved to die as a tortured POW, who believe Obama probably set the whole thing up because he’s secretly a Taliban sympathizer, good job. This soldier’s hometown is afraid to openly welcome him home.

Your mind is made up. He shouldn’t have due process within the military’s protocol, because YOU’VE already decided he is unworthy of anything but a rotting, torturous death at the hands of the Taliban.

You can spend days obsessing over details and portions of “evidence” that “prove” the position of your already-made-up-mind that Obama was negligent to free him in exchange for Guantanamo prisoners (to date, President Obama has freed 88, compared to more than 500 released by President Bush).

You can ignore the parts of the story that don’t fit your narrative (leadership problems in his unit, for example, that his parents thought they were being ignored by Obama because they’re Republican Ron Paul supporters, that top GOP leaders were supportive of an exchange until it became a political hot potato, the intentions and heart of a father doing everything within his limited reach to keep his son alive and get him home).

You can ignore these or explain them away with a shallow, self-satisfied explanation if that helps justify your hatred and judgment of our country’s leadership – hatred you somehow find patriotic and comforting.

It’s unfortunate that this man, who has clearly suffered much, is doomed to a marked, dishonorable future, regardless of the facts (that none of us actually know at this time). If he commits suicide (as do so many of our soldiers) as a result of his past trauma and, more likely, losing in the Court of Public Opinion before he could even set foot on U.S soil, how much more of a waste will this exchange have been?

I can relate on one point: I am not thrilled that *every single one* of our presidents of the last 20 years or so have acted in flagrant violation of U.S. laws surrounding military action. However, even at my lowest point of disgust for President Bush’s wars, I assumed he was surrounded with intelligent advisers and was privy to information I was not.

As for me, I’m going to leave any further investigations and potential punishment up to the proper authorities who have access to privileged information, and who I’m sure will be speaking to the Sgt soon. I’m going to celebrate from the heart of a parent, finally able to gratefully wrap arms around a long-lost son. And I will not doom him for a list of presumed offenses and malintent ascribed to him based upon spotty information.

Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

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He wants them to leave Barrio Logan.

Chris Wahl, spokesman for Shipyards industry executives, wants Barrio Logan residents to move away.

Play at sunset. Shipyards presence is ever-looming nearby.

Play at sunset. Shipyards presence is ever-looming nearby.

Under the new Barrio Logan Community Plan Update, the foreign-owned companies Wahl represents can expand up to 20% by right, then go through special permitting processes if they want to grow further.

Nobody is kicking them out, the zoning for the Shipyards remains untouched, and the Navy has unilaterally stated it will not leave San Diego because of the Barrio Logan Plan (if you heard that condos were being built at the Shipyards or that the Navy was leaving, it’s because Shipyards representatives like Wahl lied about it).

Pollution and picket fences.

Pollution and picket fences.

The facts of the Barrio Logan Plan – assurances that existing Shipyards businesses are protected – are not good enough for the wealthy executives, however. They would prefer the residents move away and quit impeding their unbridled profits. They think the people who live there should disappear, because they don’t want to be forced to be responsible neighbors by submitting to sensible restrictions on future growth.

Chris Wahl said recently on KPBS Midday Edition, “…you can put community housing in any city or any part of the city.”

He also told KPBS in September 2013: “Everybody wants to have a better separation of uses, we are all on the same page on that,” he said. “But it can’t be at the expense of the shipyards and their future.”

‘Separation of uses’ means “We’ll stay; you leave.”

To San Diego’s credit, there seems to be support and sympathy for the Barrio Logan residents in their battle for a healthier future versus the Shipyards – especially when contrasted with recent deep disappointment in vocal, anti-density members of the Clairemont community.

Chicano Park: Barrio Logan roots run deep.

Chicano Park: Barrio Logan roots run deep.

Will this respect and sympathy equate to YES votes on Propositions B and C on June 3?

Is Barrio Logan a legitimate community of San Diego residents? Do they have a right to live and thrive in the neighborhood they call “home?”

If the Shipyards executives had their way, the residents would leave. Where would they go? Another area of San Diego that is equally affordable because it has poor air quality? Should they leave San Diego, en masse, and go… where? El Cajon? La Mesa? El Centro? Arizona? Certainly somewhere out of sight.

These colors don't back down.

These colors don’t back down.

A “no” vote on these propositions is an intention to erase this community; to support the false notion that Barrio Logan residents are somehow less valid citizens of San Diego. To vote “no” is to endorse the sickness of their children. To vote “no” is to agree with Chris Wahl and the executives he represents that the residents should move somewhere else. A “no” vote endorses lying and bullying to get a public vote in an attempt to overturn Barrio Logan’s hard won plan.

I hope you’ll vote YES on June 3. If you live in San Diego, you have until May 19 to register to vote.

You can also financially support the Yes on B and C campaign, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and tell your friends that a simple YES vote on June 3 will help right some of the injustices suffered by this culturally rich, valuable community.

They are San Diego, their children are our children, and Barrio Logan voices will not be silenced.

Barrio Logan knows how to come together.

Barrio Logan knows how to come together.

 

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Faux Transportation Planning in San Diego: Racism and Red Herrings

There has been fiery discussion in San Diego over the past two weeks regarding issues of increased transit and density to meet the needs of the growing urban community, and objections to density impacts by some members of the current population regarding potential changes to their neighborhoods.

Some of the discussion, including among my friends, has clearly indicated that many engaged citizens want to see improvements in density (urban housing), transit oriented development, and forward-looking planning, and many have criticized the vocal residents in opposition to potential height limit increases for being shortsighted NIMBYs.

While there are a number of areas within urban San Diego County that are already zoned for greater density – many in prime locations for redevelopment – there is a larger perspective that has been largely ignored in the recent conversation.

More of this, please.

More of this, please.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) serves as the region’s transportation planning agency. SANDAG is responsible to provide regional mobility for residents and comply with various state and local laws in its planning process. The Board is comprised primarily of elected leaders from around the County, and they occasionally provide leadership direction to staff. However, they primarily vote up or down (sometimes with proposed changes) projects and proposals prepared by SANDAG staff.

The planning processes are lengthy and are, by design, data driven. Data like: who rides existing transit? Where do people live and commute? How will San Diego’s population grow in the upcoming years? What areas are primed for such alternatives as increased cycling infrastructure, and will people utilize the investments?

SANDAG enjoys an expansive budget, and awards funding for regional projects, such as those promoting active transportation. They do not technically enjoy land use authority to drive transit oriented development (TOD), but can award or withhold funding from cities within the region who show or lack smart growth leadership. In the SB 375 greenhouse gas reductions framework, it is SANDAG’s responsibility to show leadership in this regard.

SANDAG's attitude about input from citizens.

SANDAG’s attitude about input from citizens.

There is a great deal of discretion in the upper levels of staff leadership at SANDAG regarding allocations of staff resources. While there are multiple projects the massive agency promotes at a given time, some are quietly prioritized.

The I-5 corridor is one such SANDAG priority. SANDAG is currently pushing the region toward expansion of the I-5 freeway, pairing it with some supportable coastal walk and bike trail and lagoon health improvements (though some of these lagoon deficiencies were actually caused by inadequate environmental mitigation of previous I-5 projects).  Its partner in this effort is Caltrans, which has funded a Coastal Commission staff member for a little over five years.

Many SANDAG projects require a public input process by law. Projects mysteriously prioritized at the upper echelons of SANDAG staff enjoy the greatest dedication of resources in the outreach process.

Public outreach and education are done in the name of gathering feedback, but other than gathering the comments and formally replying to them, they do not substantively alter the predetermined goal: widen freeways.

Last April, I attended one of their large public meetings on the PWP/TREP (Public Works Plan/Transportation and Resource Enhancement Program). I was appalled at the public resources on display at this overblown dog and pony show – my tax dollars lavishly spent on a sham of a public process.

How much money has been spent to play up the most attractive portions of the North Coast Corridor plan and related elements – the most attractive portions, of course, representing the smallest SANDAG investment (widening the freeway costs the most)?

SANDAG’s desired I-5 widening and related good PR projects also require amendments to the Local Coastal Plans (LCPs) of all coastal cities impacted by the project. As such, SANDAG staff has been faithfully making regular presentations at the Planning Commissions and City Councils of these cities, updating the LCP decision makers on the progress and details of various elements, though rarely discussing the foregone conclusion of widening the freeway during these information dumps. Rather than each city carrying the responsibility to develop its own LCP amendment and risk rejection by the California Coastal Commission, SANDAG and Caltrans are developing one LCP amendment for the North Coast Corridor. Staff essentially pitched it to the coastal cities as their only option to save resources, though in so doing these cities abdicate local control over project impacts to their residents.

Coaster

If you build it, they will come. But only if you build it right.

The current version of the I-5 corridor plan and its elements commit the region to widening the freeway, but does not commit to a date-certain for double tracking the Coaster, let alone the modeling of a transit first alternative. Instead, the assumption is that based on their ridership data, only Low Income Minorities (LIMs) use alternative transportation. In a case of applied racism, LIMs’ lower-priority needs are assumed to be met by providing buses on the to-be-expanded freeway instead of efficiently expanded rail. Poor people aren’t entitled to go anywhere quickly, so efficient transit isn’t a SANDAG priority. Perhaps the Coaster will be double tracked sometime around 2035.

As in the case of the double tracking of the Coaster, SANDAG’s long range plans contain some extremely supportable transit network expansion components. However, their implementation strategy is to almost exclusively widen highways FIRST, and push implementation of the rail components to some unnamed, noncommittal point in the future. They claim paid HOV lanes will fund rail expansion, refusing to consider that a commitment to a first phase complete transit system with reliable service in our urban areas would offload our existing highways and also provide an ongoing revenue source. They consider unconstrained scenarios and deem transit-first approaches to be the most desirable, then deem them infeasible.

Someone at the upper levels of SANDAG is not only setting the staff allocation priorities, but project implementation priorities, and the lion’s share of resources are dedicated to widening highways. Highways are the goal, so fully integrated transit is “infeasible.”

Returning to the recent example of unhappy Clairemont residents, the controversy is a prime example of the problem with piecemeal, line-by-line trolley expansions absent a commitment to integrated regional transit. SANDAG throws just enough money at siloed projects to set them up for failure: a self-fulfilling prophecy to prove their claim that “San Diego isn’t ready for transit” and justify more sprawl.

The North County Sprinter is one such example. Despite the availability of other rail cars used in the United States, they implemented cars only used in Europe, on incompatible old freight tracks. Then, they outsourced maintenance to slash costs. In retrospect, it was built to fail.

I generally advocate for light rail expansion over freeways-dependant bus rapid transit (BRT) for a number of reasons. The trolley and Coaster are more pleasant to ride and are vastly more efficient than the bus, and would, if fully operational, attract more ridership. Buses are slower and are subject to the same stops and starts as traffic, which can frankly be nauseating and lend itself to scheduling abnormalities. They are generally more expensive to maintain over time than rail (the buses themselves and wear and tear on roads), and perpetuate fuel-based transportation and greenhouse gases.

SANDAG promotes BRT over rail almost as a rule (remember the LIMs, referenced above?). However, SANDAG can’t even do BRT properly in San Diego.

SANDAG treats "LIMs" - Low Income Minorities - like garbage.

SANDAG treats “LIMs” – Low Income Minorities – like garbage.

The current battle over height limits and the trolley expansion into UTC is another project SANDAG seems to be dooming to failure. Building a new line parallel to an existing line (coastal rail) that has not yet been built out is a wasted and obviously controversial investment. Instead, SANDAG should connect the Coast and Amtrak rail service via a tunnel from Sorrento Valley and Rose Canyon with a two-track single-platform station underneath University Town Center to serve commuters from the north (there are more of these) as well as the south. It would shorten the line, eliminate much of the grade for all trains (including freights), and would be more efficient, which would save operations costs in the future.

Given its clear commitment to highways expansion prioritization, it seems SANDAG *wants* transit to fail in San Diego. More taxpayer-funded roads is the equivalent of sprawl development profits on the taxpayers’ dime. Road widening does not meaningfully reduce traffic congestion, and only temporarily benefits drivers. Following years of congestion-exacerbating construction, the traffic returns to its prior frustrating overcrowding within two to three years. Cue the renewed efforts of SANDAG to widen them yet again.

While I support higher density and smart planning and realize that the interim stages can be frustrating and inconvenient,  the case of the project proposal that so recently upset Clairemont and some UTC residents is a red herring. We need our leaders to lead intelligently, stop inhibiting urban progress (true smart growth), and stop wasting money on this faux approach to transportation planning.

Considering the vast public relations and staff resources committed in recent years to widening the I-5, I wonder: What would a similar outreach program look like if the top-down decisionmaking was pro-transit (not a little line here and there, but a complete regional solution)?  Who decides where and how those staff resources are allocated? There are certainly a growing number of engaged, bright citizens advocating for a dedication of our funds, managed by SANDAG, to be dedicated to rail and other transportation choices over highways expansion.

I dream of a regional transportation agency that engages with the community planning groups, educates them to regional possibilities of comprehensive, functional transit to connect neighborhoods and city centers, takes back feedback for ideal routes and maximized opportunities for increased density, and brings the collaborative solution to fruition. That’s the opposite of what happens now, and it’s a travesty of taxpayer waste, backwards planning, increased pollution, decreased quality of life, and impoverished democracy.

More light rail = preservation of San Diego's beauty, and more of us out of our cars to enjoy it.

More light rail = preservation of San Diego’s beauty, and more of us out of our cars to enjoy it.

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Central High, Tuscaloosa

The year-long ProPublica study of resegrigation is powerful, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the past week, as well as some of the related Race Card Project follow-up stories I heard on the radio.

There are black kids in America who have never had a single classmate outside their race, and the data indicates their opportunities are, in fact, far below those of children who attend racially diverse or primarily white schools. It’s jarring.

cannot relate from a race perspective, but I can relate to growing up with limited educational opportunities in an economically depressed part of the country. We made the most of it, but it did not, for many of us, provide the ability to achieve our full potential.

I took most of the advanced classes in my northern Maine high school offered at the time, though I only took the minimum two years of French (the only language available with live instruction). I took Physics and Algebra 3 and Chemistry. We didn’t have AP classes. I loved drama club and music, but there was not public school music program that taught me to read music for singing. I managed to get the highest SAT score of my class, or so I was told at the time. I gave the message at Baccalaureate.

The Anatomy teacher told me once when I had a cold that my raspy voice sounded sexy, which made his class awkward thereafter. I respected the Chemistry teacher’s ability and her teaching approach was good, but she was a neighbor and at one time my Airedale Terrier beat up her Schnauzer and we had to get rid of my dog, so I held a grudge. She also was not a fan of my Christianity, and objected to me starting an after-school Bible study on campus, so that was a bit of a chilling effect on our teacher-student relationship. It’s not like I had the option to switch to a class with a different teacher.

The high school guidance counselor said: “Well, Sara, you seem really bright and you have your head on your shoulders. I’m sure you’ll do great.” Thanks for the pep talk, but I actually could have used some skilled guidance. I decided to only apply to Point Loma Nazarene with my healthy dose of academic over-confidence (I knew my education was lacking, but figured I was still competitive) and keep my pre-med options open (wanted to potentially be a missionary doctor), but eventually focused on Psychology. I still thought I’d eventually pursue my master’s and maybe even doctorate, but ended up with another hapless academic advisor who answered my questions with: “That sounds good.”

After three years of college, marriage, becoming a mother at 21, working part time a couple years, then becoming a single mama of two without her degree in my early 20’s, I felt extremely fortunate to land a decent-paying job as the receptionist for a San Diego tech firm. I had no doubt in my mind after a week of Welfare to Work that I only landed the job because I had some college education, showed aptitude and confidence, and (probably primarily) am white. I have no idea how a couple of the single mothers I met fared, especially one Latina with two young sons and no diploma, nor how they could manage working and caring for kids in this expensive city.

Even at around $15/hour, sharing a moldy two bedroom apartment with my Mom, receiving WIC and food stamps during the times I qualified, and receiving a partial childcare subsidy when my daughters were in preschool, I was frugally living paycheck to paycheck. That was with the privilege of being white, sharing living costs, and having some higher education (which should have been far more robust had opportunity been available).

I think of other kids who are growing up now doing the best they can in under-resourced schools, many with fine teachers who are also doing the best they can for their students. I think of those who also face added race stigma and extremely limited family resources, but who are certainly every bit as capable as me and more, I think our country is doing far too many people a disservice. The American Dream is a farce if it’s not available to those raised here with aptitude and willingness to work for it. AP students at Central High, featured in the ProPublica coverage, have apparent aptitude and willingness to work, but only two of the students attained the AP credit last year.

I’d love to put my smart kids in private school – they would thrive in the right environment, perhaps with less homework and a great deal more learning – but they’re doing pretty well. My eldest, especially, is interested in astrophysics and should probably be in a strong STEM program. They have a diverse group of friends, they take private music lessons, and I feed them giant breakfasts. They’re too often weary and frustrated with wasted class time and redundant homework, but they have far more opportunity than was available to me.

They enjoy far, far greater opportunity than the kids at Central High. We are doing America’s children a disservice. If only a small percentage of our brightest students are given the opportunity to achieve their full potential, how can America’s future be bright?

From ProPublica's The Race Card Project: Share your Six Words on Race and Education http://www.propublica.org/article/six-words-on-race-and-education-in-america

From ProPublica’s The Race Card Project: Share your Six Words on Race and Education
http://www.propublica.org/article/six-words-on-race-and-education-in-america

 

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The donkey.

Jesus gained celebrity during the three years he traveled on foot teaching his chosen disciples and people he encountered. Some of the masses came to him for healing after hearing of similar miracles, some probably came just to see what all the fuss was about, some came armed with questions with the intent to entrap him, and others because they believed him to be the long-awaited Messiah prophesied to free them from generations of occupation and oppression.

They didn’t know what to expect, but they expected something big.

Jesus’ words and massive following were compelling enough not only to worry the religious leaders and cause them to plot for his death, but some of those he had healed, too. If you’re shaking up a corrupt power structure, you’re probably doing something right.

It’s strange that someone so gentle (other than knocking over tables of people making money in the temple, it seems Jesus was completely nonviolent) would cause such a stir – both among his massive following and those threatened by him.

What is humility?

I awakened early this morning thinking of the Palm Sunday donkey and humility.

One of the reasons I became aware that my Evangelical upbringing had some faults was the recognition of crippling guilt I’ve carried for years, despite knowing such shame is contrary to the life-giving teachings of Jesus. I remember it from the time I was small – severely scolding myself when I recognized even a hint of arrogant or selfish thoughts. I have since learned this is not unique to Evangelicalism, but many from other Protestant denominations and Catholics (current and former) also report living with nagging guilt.

I wholly embraced the notion of original sin, believed it tainted every aspect of my life, and doubted even my good and helpful intentions toward others from childhood. It is intrinsically rewarding to help others, so is the good feeling – or some internal gold star – the motivation? I believed I couldn’t trust my own thoughts and assumed they were rooted in vanity or some other base cause. I considered others better than myself, which is vaguely scriptural, but I applied it to a fault.

I tried to embody humility from thoughts, to behaviors, to how I modestly dressed, and even how I held myself. I had a pretty happy childhood, but those obsessed-with-perfection parts were miserable.

Self-flagellation is obviously unhealthy, and is not God’s intention for a life of wholeness, freedom, and deep joy – the kind of joy and hope that’s possible even in times of loss or sorrow. It’s hard to live a powerful life of conviction and love when filled with doubt and thinly veiled self-hatred.

It’s ironic how trying to live perfectly according to the rules of religion, including spoken and unspoken rules of church culture, can backfire. Such attempts at humility not only carry the consequences of misery at the time, but they are in vain. There’s no such thing as bootstrapping Christianity.

A byproduct of habitual attempts at perfection is an undercurrent of anger and entitlement. It’s not how we were created to live – constantly scolding ourselves to keep our thoughts and actions in line with a strict list of regulations – so naturally our God-like inner selves rebel against it. We’re trying to judge ourselves preemptively so none of our peers can judge us, and we can somehow prove our worth to God.

The longer we keep up the act, the further we stray from the teachings of Jesus, and it becomes fertile ground for all kinds of hatefulness and judgment against others who do and do not claim to be Christians. The thought that God might be loving other people and extending grace beyond human rules is frustrating if you’ve put your whole life’s effort into heroically living by those rules.

It starts to sound a lot like how the rules-following Pharisees hated Jesus.

Many of Jesus’ followers believed he was the long-awaited King who would save Jewish people from earthly oppression. They were justifiably angry. Their political situation was unjust: they were being taxed by a greedy emperor who whose armed forces were occupying their land, preventing them from living in freedom and prosperity, and only tolerated their religion to prevent an uprising. The taxes they paid didn’t include any social safety net benefits for them; only enriched their occupiers and paid the salaries of soldiers, tax collectors, and local rulers who carried out the oppression.

Jesus was not ignorant of the anger nor the injustice of these people he loved, but he only addressed these responsively, not proactively. His harsh words were instead reserved for corruption and abuses carried out in God’s name and in God’s place of worship. He did not instruct his followers to avoid politics, but he said “My kingdom is not of this world.

Jesus chose to ride a humble donkey, not a war horse, for his Triumphal Entry. He confounds our notions of humility and justice, breaks all the rules, and frees our hearts.

I often pray for God to right injustices – not some time in the future, but now. I witness the hypocrisy of politicians who claim to be Christians (especially if a megachurch invites them to meet the congregation around election time) but speak lies and enact policies that perpetuate injustices impacting children’s health, poverty, and unequal treatment under the law. Especially if these oppressive policies benefit their campaign donors.

I am angry, and I long for justice.

Jesus commanded his followers to care for those treated unjustly, which is also the most productive use of righteous indignation. God has such love and tenderness toward children, the poor, the imprisoned, the burdened, and the hurting. If we love God and carry a spark of God’s heart in our chests, we care for these, too.

The Triumphal Entry itself was subversive – the people’s King being welcomed and honored thwarted the notion that the governmental and religious leaders were in charge. Jesus riding a donkey challenged the singing, cheering crowd’s presumptions of his kingly intentions, though it didn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm.

This Palm Sunday, I am opening my heart to whatever culturally subversive teaching God wants to plant and grow there. It will likely be rooted in love for people, including myself (God’s pretty consistent in that regard), but I won’t limit it with my expectations or a list of traditional rules.

I will use the voice God has given me to bring heaven to earth in whatever ways I am able. I will use it to put a voice to the heart given me for such a purpose.

I will work to increase justice, love mercy and kindness, and walk humbly with my God.

As a bonus, it’s gratifying to do this work with like-minded and like-hearted others, and today I am so grateful to know so many wonderful people who are passionately working to this end. Justice might not take a form we expect, but we are doing good work. May God bless it and grant peace in the meantime.

justice

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