The Thoughts and Musings of Tom Allain

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it

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(b.1964)

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Archive for June, 2008

Thoughts on $4.50 per Gallon for Gasoline

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

In the last few months there’s been a great deal of publicity concerning the high price of oil and other fossil fuels. Maybe I’m treading in dangerous waters as a Prius driver, but it’s hard to see what part of this is surprising.

Since World War II the incidence of private car ownership has skyrocketed; before then you really had to have some wealth to own a car (and during the War there was essentially no production of cars). Also since the 1950s this country has build the greatest network of interstate highways in the world. This combines to make it remarkably easy to drive to nearly any part of our country; for my part I’ve driven cross country 3 times and found I could easily do this in about 5 days.

Additionally plane travel has gone mainstream. From 1937 to 1978 the Civil Aeronautics Board regulated routes, fares, and schedules. There were relatively few airlines and air travel was so expensive that it was reserved only for the wealthy or business travelers. Since then the government stopped regulating air travel; this has led to a dramatic drop in prices and an increase in the number of airlines. Air travel is much more affordable to a much larger population.

These two changes have led to dramatic changes in our lifestyles. We Americans are used to going to Europe or Hawaii on vacation, buying timeshares as a way to see new areas, and move away from family secure in the belief that we can be there in a matter of hours if necessary.

Now that oil, which everyone agrees is a limited and nonrenewable resource, is getting expensive, this may change. We may find in the next few decades that we are going back to being limited in our mobility. We are already seeing the growth of “staycations” instead of vacations (admittedly an easy thing to do in San Diego).

Meanwhile, our President and his cronies, continue to fiddle and count their money. Their solution is to find new places to drill for more oil. The amount of oil they will find is negligible and won’t make much of a difference. The idea of conservation or alternative sources of energy simply aren’t on the table.

This is not a good time to own a Hummer.

Happy Loving Day!

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Today is an important anniversary in the world of love, as well as the history of Virginia, where I grew up. On June 12, 1967 the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot prohibit couples from different races from obtaining marriage licenses. Sounds obvious now? It wasn’t once upon a time.

In 1958 Richard Loving married Mildred Jeter. Richard was white and Mildred was black; they lived in Virginia and could not obtain a marriage license so they traveled to Washington D.C. and married there. Upon their return to Virginia they were arrested; it seems it was against the law for them to even be married in Virginia. They violated the “Racial Integrity Act” (it wasn’t called the “Defense of Marriage Act” back then). In 1959 they were found in violation of the law and sentenced to prison but were granted a suspended sentence if they left Virginia for 25 years. They moved to Washington D.C. and filed suit. Finally it was heard by the Supreme Court and on this day the Court ruled unanimously that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional. You can read the opinion here.

Tragically Richard was killed in a car accident in 1975. Mildred passed away last month and they are buried together in Saint Stephen’s Baptist Church Cemetery in Central Point, Virginia.

God Bless them.

Old Men Dream

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

No, the subject of this post does not acknowledge the fact that my gray hair and beard allow me to order from the senior’s menu at Coco’s Restaurant and Denny’s without being asked if I qualify.

Old Men Dream is the title of the book I’m currently reading. It was written by and old and dear friend, Pete Fullerton. If you’re of a certain age you may remember him as the bass guitarist of the 1960s folk group We Five. I first met Pete and his family in 1983 when I was a student at St. Patrick’s Seminary. After some hesitation I got involved in the Youth Ministry Program at St. William’s and St. Nicholas’ Catholic Churches in Los Altos, California. The two parishes combined and hired Greg Kremer as the Youth Minister. Pete and his wife Sue were an integral part of the ministry and I soon became friends with them and their 5 children. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years.

When I first met Pete and Sue he was working for Lockheed and doing some charity work as he had time. A few years later they made the decision that Pete would devote his full time to the charity, Truck of Love. They do incredible work and I’ve been blessed to be able to support it; please check out their website. In 1997 after much prayer and discussion, Pete decided he wanted to live as a homeless person for a few months; Old Men Dream is his chronicle of this experience. Pete has always been a deeply spiritual man and he took the name “Old Man” from the Biblical Book of Joel: “Old men shall dream dreams and young men shall see visions.” As I read this book I’m finding that it’s surfacing all sorts of memories, and thoughts about his journey. Here they are in no particular order, save the order that they come out of my brain:

  • I’ve always been amazed at the simple courage Pete shows. We all claim to believe that God will take care of us and has our back, but Pete lives like he believes it. I’m ashamed to admit how much time and energy I spend making sure my stuff is safe. There is a point in his book where he is robbed of a few dollars and some food; it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re living on the lowest rung it doesn’t take much to be devastating. Rather than act with anger or seeking revenge Pete reflects on what he can learn from this and how he can use this experience. There is a unique cruelty in the homeless from stealing from each other but other homeless people provide the easiest, and perhaps the only reasonable targets.
  • I can’t even begin to list all the thing Pete has taught me but the lesson I use the most is this: everyone has eyes and I try to look everyone in the eye, no matter the encounter. Think it’s obvious? OK, next time you’re at a restaurant and the server reaches around you to remove your empty plate (so he can wash it), see how deliberate you have to be to see what he looks like. I try to pick up the plate and hand it to him; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. If Pete were a priest he would excellent at hearing confessions because he has the ability to extend his trust and love within the first few words.
  • This is related to the previous point, but he has the gift to make anyone feel important. I’ve done some work with the homeless and I know that for many of them the most crushing part of life isn’t hunger but loneliness. I find much the same in hospice. Just today one of my patients joked that several people don’t call her anymore because they assume she must be dead by now. Many patients feel the crush of loneliness because they are too sick to go out, but are also not visited as often because they are seen as “not quite as alive as the rest of us.” This is particularly true with people who suffer from Alzheimer’s or other dementia. They can’t carry on a conversation anymore and may not be the person we once knew, but they still have not lost their need for connection.

More later, I’m sure. If you want to buy the book, it’s available only through the Truck of Love website.