Going Electric

I’ve been replacing gasoline powered contrivances now for awhile. The first to go was my lawn mower, which I replaced with an electric, battery powered mower. Not that I save an enormous amount in gasoline by using an electric mower since gas powered mowers don’t go through a huge quantity of the smelly liquid. Nevertheless, the electric mower is cheaper to operate since the cost of electricity is so much less than the cost of gasoline. Convenience is also a factor: I never find myself running out of gas and needing to make a trip to the gas station. I mow my lawn, I plug in my battery for an hour (maybe), and next week, I’m good to go. The additional pluses are obvious: no nasty smell and its much quieter.

My edger is also electric and also battery powered.

And another plus: no oil changes, and essentially no maintenance. The electric motors last forever and are much more reliable. No pulling a rope to start them, either.

And now, at long last, I just got rid of one of my gasoline powered automobiles and replaced it with an electric car. Ideally, we’d have gone out and gotten ourselves a Tesla, but unfortunately, what with two children in college, we can’t afford one just now.

So my wife and I just picked up a used Nissan Leaf, a 2011 model, for about 10,000 dollars to replace our aging 2004 Saturn Vue which on a good day might have gotten 18 miles to the gallon (it was 6 cylinder, AWD model). Now, instead of paying 60 dollars a week for gasoline for my wife to commute to and from work and run errands, we’re spending that much per month (at most) for charging the Leaf. It’s a more reliable machine on top of the savings in fuel costs: no smog checks, no oil changes and not as much to go wrong: no transmission and even the brakes last longer thanks to regenerative braking.

Is the range of a Leaf limited compared to a gasoline powered car? Certainly. But given that the overwhelming amount of my driving and my wife’s driving is local and amounts to less than 40 miles per day, its 80 mile range is plenty. Better, instead of having to sit in a line at Costco to fill up with gasoline (at 3.63 per gallon) we just plug the car in at the end of the day like we do with our cellphones. In the morning, my wife has a full “tank”, no waiting.

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Money Hugger

I’m not a tree hugger. I’m a money hugger; it is saving money that has led me to go green. Improving the environment was not my primary motivation.

The Antelope Valley, where I live in Southern California, is a desert—part of the Mojave Desert, to be precise, and home to Edward’s Air Force Base and the Mojave Air and Space Port where SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004. I’ve lived here for more than twenty years now and because we are a desert, we have very few cloudy days. In fact, we have more than 350 days a year that are not cloudy. Thus, this area is ideal for making use of solar power.

The Lancaster School District (for whom my wife works as a third grade elementary school teacher), along with the local community college (Antelope Valley College) and several private schools, businesses, hospitals, and other government buildings have converted to solar power. The simple reason for this is not because of concern for the environment so much as concern for their pocketbooks. By having solar panels installed, the Lancaster School District has saved literally millions of dollars annually on electric costs. And they managed this without spending a dime.

How? By leasing the panels. While ideally one would simply purchase and install solar panels, the upfront cost of them is still prohibitive for most individuals and businesses. But companies such as Solar City, Verango, and Vivant allow businesses and homeowners to enter into a lease agreement. The lease is usually for twenty years, which oddly bothers some people; I simply ask: is there some point in the next twenty years that you’re not going to be wanting to have electricity any more? You weren’t locked into paying Southern California Edison a certain amount of money for the rest of your life in order to keep your television and toaster running?

The advantage of Solar City, Verango, or Vivant—or any of their competitors—is that they charge much less than what Southern California Edison charges you for electricity. And that’s the reason to go with them: you save money. It’s really not complicated and from my perspective seems to be a nobrainer. Where before I was paying Edison 250 dollars every month (I was on a level pay plan), I now pay Edison about 1.50 per month and Vivant—my solar power provider—anywhere from 50 to 120 dollars per month. The math isn’t very difficult, you see; by going solar I cut my electric costs in half, at least, sometimes more.

To me, that seems like a good thing. Saving the planet, cutting the amount of money that might go to foreign nations with social structures and governments that I find reprehensible is a nice plus on top of the cash savings.

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Pretentious Conservative

I am a long-time Republican; I consider myself to belong to the libertarian end of the party spectrum and I’m very disappointed, lately, in our party leadership. I used to consider myself a conservative, but I wonder sometimes if I fit there anymore. I am a strong proponent of individual liberty and subscribe to the notion that people should mostly be left alone to do as they please so long as they aren’t hurting anyone else. If consenting adults want to get it on, more power to them as long as you don’t make me watch.

I am a Christian, an ordained deacon, and I teach an adult Sunday School class. I’m also a trained theologian with advanced degrees from UCLA in Ancient Near Eastern languages (like Hebrew and some related dead languages: Akkadian, Aramaic, Ugaritic and the like). I’ve taught Bible and theology on the college level and I’m the author of multiple books on the Bible. I also write science fiction.

My wife is a public school teacher—third grade—and she loves Common Core. I’m puzzled by the widespread opposition to it among other members of my political party. I don’t think a lot of the critics really know what they’re talking about. But then, politicians and pundits rarely seem to really know anything about education and mostly they seem to do their best to screw things up and make life difficult for talented and dedicated teachers. No Child Left Behind was an utter disaster; but politicians love to micromanage things they don’t understand, especially when they find political advantage in it and criticizing teachers seem to be a current fad among the punditry and political classes.

I write a weekly newspaper column for a small northern California newspaper: The Ridge Rider News. I also write a blog—mostly every day—for the Jerusalem Post. I’m a strong supporter of the modern state of Israel; I worked there on a kibbutz two consecutive summers while I was an undergraduate in college.

I also have turned into something of a Green proponent, not so much because I worry about snail darters or owls (though I like owls and they use some of the trees at our church to nest and every year we have baby owls at our church; they are cute), but because I find that it saves me lots of money and I really appreciate saving money. That it is also good for the environment is a nice plus, of course. And the environmental movement has been good for us. When I moved to California, the air quality was bad—this was back in the 1970s. Now, despite huge increases in population and an economy that is much larger and more prosperous, despite huge increases in the number of automobiles and miles driven, the skies above us are mostly clear and blue; we haven’t had any first stage smog alerts in this century, now fifteen years into it. This is good: the smog checks and other controls have really worked and I find that delightful. The improvements in our nations water and air are thanks to the concerns of environmentalists and the legislation they worked to pass. And it needs to be celebrated and appreciated. People should recognize just how much progress has been made and how much better things are now than they used to be.

And concern about the environment is something that conservatives and libertarians should have, since dirty water, dirty air—these are things that hurt other people around us. If I pollute, if I waste water, I am harming other people. For instance, on a very micro-scale, since I have severe asthma, if someone smokes around me that is harming my health in a very direct, and very immediate way. Same with a car that belches pollutants: I’m causing harm to my neighbor: this is inconsistent with my political beliefs as a conservative and libertarian, and it also violates my faith since, as a Christian, I claim to believe that the most important commandment is to love others as myself. Doing harm to my neighbor, as Paul would say, is violating the core of my beliefs (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14).

The assumption, and perhaps it is a reasonable one, is that most conservatives would be the last people you would expect to see embracing solar power, electric cars, and recycling. Me, I think this is wrong headed. And yet, I must admit I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the green movement among those—conservatives—who I think should really embrace it.

So, this blog will now also include my journey of embracing being green and how much it has benefited me personally. Very Ayn Rand of me, I suppose: I’m green because, selfishly, it benefits me. Perhaps most conservatives haven’t noticed that they can save boatloads of cash by going green? I’ll be talking about some of the things my wife and I have done that have been very beneficial to our budget now and then in future posts.

Update: corrected the typo that Eric Miller pointed out in the comment. :)

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Problems with This Blog

It’s been nearly a month, I think, since I’ve been able to access this website, and this blog at all; and no one else could get to it, either. If you tried coming to this site, you just got an error message about the database being inaccessible. It all started when I updated WordPress on the site; something apparently went wrong. What was particularly annoying to me was the fact that the company that hosts my website not only failed to do anything to help me, they couldn’t even be bothered to respond to any of my emailed requests for help. They gave me an autogenerated “incident number” but then no followup whatsoever. Who is hosting my website? Yahoo. I must admit to being very disappointed with their customer service–after all, it was nonexistent. But they had no trouble billing me for this month, however. That’s never an issue.

I managed finally to fix the problem myself; I probably would have done it quicker, but my father died on May 3 and I’ve been a bit distracted. The funeral was on May 20, in Westerville, Ohio. It went well, I got to see my sister and her husband, my mom and several other relatives. I posted something on my blog on the Jerusalem Post that gives some details about my dad: My Father.

In this same month, my uncle Harry died as well; he was buried the Friday before my Father was buried. My uncle Harry was 100 years old.

And then just today I attended the memorial service for Jan Carson, the mother of the keybordest at our church, Kathy Newman. My wife and Kathy went to college together and graduated the same year; she was a bridesmaid in our wedding. Kathy’s mom was a missionary in the Mali, West Africa with her husband Don. One year while she was on furlow, while I was attending UCLA doing my graduate work, she took a year’s worth of linguistic courses (Jan Carson was conversant in several languages), and since we both lived in Santa Clarita, we commuted together in my car down to the Westwood campus.

For years now they would come to our house ever Memorial Day and Labor Day for our barbecue parties.

So May has been a tough month and I’ve been distracted with more important things than this website; but, I finally have gotten around to fixing it. I now see that WordPress wants to update itself again, this time to version 4.2.2. I’ll post this and I’m hoping that this update goes smoothly.

UPDATE:

The update to WordPress 4.2.2 went smoothly. Yay!

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Because of Love

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

“I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.

“Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the farmers will plant them and enjoy their fruit.

“There will be a day when watchmen cry out on the hills of Ephraim, ‘Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’”

This is what the Lord says: “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’

“See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return.

“They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.” (Jeremiah 31:3-9)

He loves it! The first Hebrew word God uses here for love has the same range of meaning as the English word. It gets used for everything from how Abraham felt about his son Isaac, to what Esau thought about his stew. But just as in English, it usually describes how husbands and wives feel about each other and about their children. Sadly, most human love is dependent upon performance and can fade with time or disappointment. Not so with God. His love endures without end and exists no matter how the loved one behaves.

God promised to bring his people back home. Samaria was the capital city of Israel’s northern kingdom. Zion was a hill in Jerusalem. Ephraim, the largest tribe of Israel, became a synonym for the nation as a whole. They would all return, no matter where or how far they might have wandered. No matter where they were, God could still find them.

A second word appears in this passage that is usually translated loving-kindness. Whereas people marry because they have “fallen in love,” once married, they have obligations to one another that go beyond mere feelings that can ebb and flow. The word loving-kindness is used exclusively in that context: the obligations that exist between those bound by a contract like a marriage. Unlike human contracts, however, the ones that God makes can never be broken and can never end. Thus, God’s loving-kindness endures forever. God always does what is best for us.

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God is Good

“Yes, God’s Message: ‘You’re going to look at this place, these empty and desolate towns of Judah and streets of Jerusalem, and say, “A wasteland. Unlivable. Not even a dog could live here.” But the time is coming when you’re going to hear laughter and celebration, marriage festivities, people exclaiming, “Thank God-of-the-Angel-Armies. He’s so good! His love never quits,” as they bring thank offerings into God’s Temple. I’ll restore everything that was lost in this land. I’ll make everything as good as new.’ I, God, say so.

“God-of-the-Angel-Armies says: ‘This coming desolation, unfit for even a stray dog, is once again going to become a pasture for shepherds who care for their flocks. You’ll see flocks everywhere—in the mountains around the towns of the Shephelah and Negev, all over the territory of Benjamin, around Jerusalem and the towns of Judah—flocks under the care of shepherds who keep track of each sheep.’ God says so.

“ ‘Watch for this: The time is coming’—God’s Decree—‘when I will keep the promise I made to the families of Israel and Judah. When that time comes, I will make a fresh and true shoot sprout from the David-Tree. He will run this country honestly and fairly. He will set things right.’” (Jeremiah 33:10-15)

Only after the discipline of God has been planted, can we harvest the fruit of that plowing and recognize that God did something good to us. In the middle of the sorrow, when the nation was a blasted wasteland and the cities were rubble piles, it was impossible for the Israelites to see the presence of God, to discern any hope. The hopeful words of the prophets were just so many empty platitudes. As hard as it had been during prosperity to hear God’s promised judgment, so in the midst of judgment, it was hard to hear his promise of renewal.

Our circumstances dictate what we hear, what we see, what we think we know. When times are good, rejoicing comes naturally. The world is bright and happy. All circumstances are interpreted in the best possible way. When the score is in our favor, every missed basket was “almost there” and “they’re hot tonight.” But when the other team is ahead, the same missed basket becomes evidence that “they can’t hit anything.”

The “sprout from the David-Tree” was a promise fulfilled when the Messiah came and Jesus brought in the kingdom of God into the hearts of his people. Just as everything was awful, God promised that someday soon, everything would be wonderful. God is more than our circumstances. He asks us to stand where he’s standing and learn to see things from his perspective.

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Fresh Start

“And now, here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to start all over again.
I’m taking her back out into the wilderness
where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.
I’ll give her bouquets of roses.
I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.
She’ll respond like she did as a young girl,
those days when she was fresh out of Egypt.
“At that time”—this is God’s Message still—
“you’ll address me, ‘Dear husband!’
Never again will you address me,
‘My slave-master!’
I’ll wash your mouth out with soap,
get rid of all the dirty false-god names,
not so much as a whisper of those names again.
At the same time I’ll make a peace treaty between you
and wild animals and birds and reptiles,
And get rid of all weapons of war.
Think of it! Safe from beasts and bullies!
And then I’ll marry you for good—forever!
I’ll marry you true and proper, in love and tenderness.
Yes, I’ll marry you and neither leave you nor let you go.
You’ll know me, God, for who I really am.
“On the very same day, I’ll answer”—this is God’s Message—
“I’ll answer the sky, sky will answer earth,
Earth will answer grain and wine and olive oil,
and they’ll all answer Jezreel.
I’ll plant her in the good earth.
I’ll have mercy on No-Mercy.
I’ll say to Nobody, ‘You’re my dear Somebody,’
and he’ll say ‘You’re my God!’ ” (Hosea 2:14-23)

God wants to rekindle the spark that had gone out of their relationship. Despite the infidelity, the other gods and goddesses, God was willing to make a fresh start of it. He intended to sweep Israel off her feet once more, just as he had once done years before in those heady days when he rescued them from the slave masters of Egypt.

“Jezreel” in Hebrew means, “God sows.” It was the place where Jehu slew the priests, prophets and followers of the false god, Baal. Israel would finally and completely turn to God and away from all their make-believe false gods, with their false promises and empty words who had done nothing for them but taken their faith, their hope, and their money, leaving them destitute and alone, with nothing.

Hosea’s relationship with his wife Gomer served as the picture of what was going on between God and Israel. The initial joy in Hosea’s relationship with Gomer was long gone; she had spent all her time with other men. She had gone back to her old prostitute ways. But Hosea still loved her and was willing to take her back. He wanted to forgive her betrayal and infidelity because she meant more to him than his own feelings. Hosea’s life became a picture of what God had suffered from his people, and what he wanted to do for his people, the Israelites. Hosea forgave Gomer’s adultery. God forgave Israel’s idolatry. They meant more than the pain they had caused.

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Relationship

Attention all Israelites! God’s Message!
God indicts the whole population:
“No one is faithful. No one loves.
No one knows the first thing about God.
All this cussing and lying and killing, theft and loose sex,
sheer anarchy, one murder after another!
And because of all this, the very land itself weeps
and everything in it is grief-stricken—
animals in the fields and birds on the wing,
even the fish in the sea are listless, lifeless.
“But don’t look for someone to blame.
No finger pointing!
You, priest, are the one in the dock.
You stumble around in broad daylight,
And then the prophets take over and stumble all night.
Your mother is as bad as you.
My people are ruined
because they don’t know what’s right or true.
Because you’ve turned your back on knowledge,
I’ve turned my back on you priests.
Because you refuse to recognize the revelation of God,
I’m no longer recognizing your children. (Hosea 4:1-6)

How can you have a relationship with someone you don’t even know? If you don’t love other people, then you don’t love God—and vice versa. Not loving people results in all the crimes God listed. The crimes were merely symptoms of the underlying disease: an unfaithful and unloving heart.

Those who were in positions of leadership—particularly those tasked with the responsibility of teaching, had failed to live up to their calling. Priests and prophets had turned their back on God’s revelation to his people. They did not concern themselves with what God had told them: they ignored the Bible as it existed to that point, and consequently, they had no idea what it was that God expected of them. They mistreated the people around them, and had no idea who God was, what he cared about, what mattered to him.

What we know is what we will live. Christians today are all priests, with direct access to God. But to whom much is given, much is required. It is impossible for us to worship God in spirit and in truth if we know nothing about the one whom we claim to be worshipping. The religious establishment in Hosea’s day had forgotten who they were worshipping and they imagined that it didn’t matter: that all that counted was their enthusiasm, their sincerity, their rituals. But we can’t love someone we don’t know.

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Unrequited

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
As they called them,
So they went from them;
They sacrificed to the Baals,
And burned incense to carved images.
“I taught Ephraim to walk,
Taking them by their arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.
I drew them with gentle cords,
With bands of love,
And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.
I stooped and fed them.
“He shall not return to the land of Egypt;
But the Assyrian shall be his king,
Because they refused to repent.
And the sword shall slash in his cities,
Devour his districts,
And consume them,
Because of their own counsels.
My people are bent on backsliding from Me.
Though they call to the Most High,
None at all exalt Him.” (Hosea 11:1-7)

Love for our children comes naturally. So does our frustration with them: from three AM feedings to teenagers not coming home until three AM. Matthew’s gospel quoted the beginning of this passage in Hosea where God discussed what it was like raising his people from their childhood. Matthew applied it to Jesus’ time in Egypt, where his parents had hidden him until Herod the Great was dead. In context, Hosea’s prophesy spoke to the fact that God had rescued his people from Egyptian bondage because of his great love, and that he would likewise and for the same reason, send them to Assyria as punishment.

Egypt and the bondage in slavery, stood as a symbol of sin. The New Testament authors used the Exodus as a picture of salvation from sin. Even in the Old Testament, the prophets recognized that just as God had saved them from physical bondage, so he had the power to rescue them from spiritual bondage. The Exodus was their salvation experience, with the history that followed a picture of their lives as the people of God, suffering the rigors and backsliding and discipline of a God who loved them and sought to transform them into what they needed to be.

Israel’s Exodus out of Egypt, being baptized in passing through the Red Sea, and receiving the commandments from God, was paralleled in the life of Jesus, coming from Egypt, baptized in the Jordan by John, and preaching about the kingdom before dying for the sins of the world and rising from the dead. Despite how hard it is to raise children, they’re still worth it. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. God thinks that we are worthwhile.

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Knowledge

“‘How can you say, “We know the score.
We’re the proud owners of God’s revelation”?
Look where it’s gotten you—stuck in illusion.
Your religion experts have taken you for a ride!
Your know-it-alls will be unmasked,
caught and shown up for what they are.
Look at them! They know everything but God’s Word.
Do you call that “knowing”?
“‘So here’s what will happen to the know-it-alls:
I’ll make them wifeless and homeless.
Everyone’s after the dishonest dollar,
little people and big people alike.
Prophets and priests and everyone in between
twist words and doctor truth.
My dear Daughter—my people—broken, shattered,
and yet they put on Band-Aids,
Saying, “It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.”
But things are not “just fine”!
Do you suppose they are embarrassed
over this outrage?
Not really. They have no shame.
They don’t even know how to blush.
There’s no hope for them. They’ve hit bottom
and there’s no getting up.
As far as I’m concerned,
they’re finished.’” God has spoken. (Jeremiah 8:8-12)

It is easy to overestimate one’s knowledge. A college student in his or her second year is called a Sophomore. It comes from two Greek words: sophos, wise, and mōros, stupid. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, because people easily believe that they know more than they really do. Seeing how much more they know than others, they become proud.

A genuine education has been obtained when the student realizes how little he knows—and how little he can ever know. Humility is the consequence of genuine knowledge, because only then can we see how small we are and how big the subject matter is.

The Israelites had received a little knowledge of God; they’d gotten some of his words. They mistakenly imagined they knew it all. Instead, they knew nothing, and what little they did know, they didn’t even use. They simply patted themselves on the back for what they’d gotten, as if what they had gotten was merely a pretty shiny jewel that sparkled and they could enjoy the light show.
God concluded that they didn’t deserve their scholarship any more. He would send them back to captivity in Babylon. They hadn’t learned anything yet—and their test scores were abysmal.

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