Author Archives: Jason

Buridan’s Ass

I mean donkey.  I can often see both sides of an issue.  I am often paralyzed by tough issues because I see so clearly multiple perspectives.  Here is an example.

There was an article in our local paper on October 20th about Schwarzenegger eliminating from the state budget a subsidy for child care.  Here is the article if you care to read it.

This is not an original dilemma, but the thought in my mind was two fold.

Thought 1.  Why did the woman pictured have that 3rd child?  Why is she asking the tax payers to help her raise it?  Aren’t subsidies for child care an incentive to have kids that you can’t afford?

Thought 2.  These kids should have the best care that is available to them.  I think my Lord has called me to help take care of the poor.  How dare I have these heartless thoughts about the least of these?  Take care of the poor is the most frequent theme in the whole bible, is thought 1 consistent with being a Christian?

The Tytler Cycle comes to mind when it comes to thought 1.

Is anyone not paralyzed when it comes to tax payers helping the poor?

What 5 Cents a Can is Worth

I have been recycling with my kids for four years.  Taking my kids to the recycling center has provided us with some great experiences. Here are some of them in the order they are occurring to me:

1. Money does not come from Mommy and Daddy’s pocket. Whenever we are shopping and the kids see something they would like to purchase, they used to ask me to buy it for them. I would say, let’s save up your recycling money. When we are shopping with the kids now, the first thing they say is, “I can use my recycling money.” Or, they use discernment. “It’s not worth using my recycling money.”

I even have intentionally made sure that it is one of the kids that hand the receipt to the person that hands the money over. The money goes straight to them.

2. Delayed Gratification. Shortly after we began recycling, Camille wanted a box of 4 pairs of princess shoes that cost $20. I made a chart with 20 boxes that we could check off as I helped her to save up for the shoes. She had $7 to start. I expected that we would make several trips to the recycling center over the course of 2 or 3 months and then we would go buy the shoes. Some generous friends and neighbors contributed their used bottles and cans and the next week Camille had over $20. It did not go exactly as I planned, but Camille used her own money to buy the shoes and she had to wait a little while before she could get them. Both kids have had to wait for the things they want as we collect our recycling.

3. Boundaries. The kids have to help sort the recycling. Most recently, James did not help. Instead of pulling the empty garbage cans close to the car (his job) he stayed in the car. After reminding him several times that he had a job to do, Camille and I finished the job without him. Once Camille had the receipt that we take to the cashier, James began fake crying, “Now I won’t get any money.” There were two levels of emotion going on with James at that moment. He was thinking, “If I cry, maybe dad will let me have my share of the money anyway.” On a deeper level, James was thinking “What is the boundary here? What can I get away with? How big of a push over is my dad?” In the short term, he was hoping to get the money. In the long term, he feels more secure knowing that there are consequences for him not doing his job. He cried for real when he did not get the money, nor the piece of candy the cashier hands out to kids.

4. Saving. When Camille was first starting making her own money I told her along the lines of, “If you go to the bank and give them $1 and then you go again and give them $1, the bank will know that you have $2.” I was not worried about teaching her about interest. I wanted her to be aware of how to save. She was sold. She socks away money like crazy. It is interesting to see my kids personalities. I will be curious to see how James takes to the idea of saving money.

5. My Favorite Shirt. Sharolyn was shopping with Camille. Camille wanted to buy me a shirt for my birthday. With Sharolyn’s help, they bought a $5 t-shirt for me from Old Navy. Camille used her recycling money. To sum up this one: I provided the bins to store the cans and bottles in. I drove Camille to the recycling center. I provided every aspect of the opportunity for her to make her own money. The money, however, was entirely hers. She chose to spend some of her money on a gift for me. Instant favorite shirt for me.

For me this one also connected on how money works with me and God. He created me, gave me the abilities I have. I make money with them. The money is entirely mine and yet all of it is only mine because of God’s provision. So whose money is it really?

These are some reflections that I have been storing up for the past few years while I have been taking my kids recycling. I would love to hear any of your ideas or thoughts.

On Unions

On Unions

I am a member of two labor unions: The Association of Pleasanton Teachers and the American Federation of Musicians Local 6 (I play trombone).  In the last few months, I have been synthesizing some of my experiences where I have observed the importance of unions, and also their potential negative side effects.  I would love to hear what my friends and colleagues have to say about some of my jumbled thoughts.

Musicians’ Union

It seems that every time I do a non-union gig, something weird or unusual happens.  Something as little as making announcements during my warm-up time, being asked to show up and hour early (without overtime) before a concert for some last-minute rehearsal (I said no), or being told the wrong start time, and consequently staying at a church service for an hour after the stated end time.  (I stayed, and received no extra compensation for my time.)

All of these stories come to mind when I agreed to play for free at the church I attend with  my family this Easter.  When I said yes to my church, I felt like  tried to check my “union” attitude at the door and wanted to serve Christ’s church however I was needed.  Then I received the first e-mail about rehearsal times.  4 hour rehearsal on Tuesday, 2 1/2 hour rehearsal on Saturday, call time an hour before the 8:00 first service.  My part in all of this consisted of playing five 3-4 minute long tunes, about 20 minutes of music total.  My union sensibilities crept back into my mind.  Much of the rehearsal time was spent with the vocalists working out parts around the piano.  My thoughts were 3 fold:

1) If I were being paid and hourly rate, they would have had me come 2 hours later during the 4 hour rehearsal, and rehearsed the vocal stuff without me.

2) There are many people in the church who donate much more of their time and expertise than I do, and that humbles me.  We are currently without a music pastor, and many lay musicians are maintaining the high quality of our program.

3) I am glad I brought a good book to read.  (I am an orchestral bass trombone player, I know how to come prepared!)

On Sunday, I am embarrassed to say, I arrived a couple of minutes after the 7 AM call time.  No need to worry, as rehearsal as far from commencing.  the first thing that was rehearsed, at 7:20 once all forty musicians were in place, was a vocal solo accompanied by a single keyboard.  This went on for about 10 minutes or so.  After 7:30, the whole ensemble did a sound check for a couple of minutes.

In contrast, when I arrive at a union gig, it almost always starts and ends on time.  Announcements are made after the clock has begun.  They are brief.  On the rare occasion that service goes overtime, I (and everyone else) get compensated.  Our time is given a great deal of respect.

Teachers’ Union

This brings me to my membership in the teachers’ union.  In the 1980s the teachers in Pleasanton went on strike to demand more respect of their time, their professionalism and of course, to demand more money.  Teachers are constantly being asked to do things that are not in their contracts.  Much like the requests made of me at a non-union gig, teachers are asked sometimes to go on overnight field trips, spend non-paid hours filling out detailed report cards, bring home essays to correct, etc.  In this context, I bring up that Pleasanton teachers were recently asked to work 2 fewer days and take an equivalent pay cut for the upcoming school year.  For teachers who had gone on strike to gain the pay, benefits and respect that we current teachers enjoy, this was  a tough pill to swallow.  The pay cut would preserve programs for students, and jobs for our fellow union members.  How responsible for providing programs to students are teachers?  Are we entirely responsible, and should we carry a burden for a large chunk of the budget cuts through a cut in salary?  (We would be providing a tremendous benefit to the community at no additional cost to the community.)  Are we somewhat responsible or not at all?  I found myself solidly on the side of “take the small pay cut for the good of our students and the teachers that were given lay-off notices (pink slips) for next year”.  I had trouble understanding why any teacher would be again saving programs within our district.

The Connection

I had a better understanding as to how some of my teaching colleagues could vote against taking a pay cut to preserve programs after this recent Easter.  Since I was not being compensated for my time, it was easy for those in charge not to use it efficiently.  If I don’t say to my church, “You can’t do that again next year, or I am not playing,” then they have no incentive to be more time efficient.

Similarly, if teachers simply say, “Don’t cut programs!  Take some of my money!” this will automatically become the first choice for fixing budget problems.  Other solutions will be skipped and avoided.  It was remarkable to me when a young pink-slipped teacher voted NO to this pay cut, when he of all people had something to gain (the likelihood of his job).

I have been bouncing back and forth on these ideas.  If you carry the “no cuts for teachers ever” idea too far, you can end up hurting students by allowing programs to be cut and newer teachers to be laid off.  If you offer and inch in pay cuts today, you might be asked for a mile tomorrow.  I am trying to find a balance between these opposing concepts.

Where We Are Now

The teachers in Pleasanton agreed to forego 2 days worth of salary and we will have a 2 day longer Summer… IF the communty matches our efforts.  We traded less money for more time (furlough).  The caveat is that the community has to come through as well, and a parcel (land) tax that will be put to the voters in Pleasanton on June 2 has to pass for the teacher 2-day furlough to occur.  I like this approach because it ensures that everyone in the community will sacrifice, not just the homeowners and not just the educators.