August 29, 2009

A Tale of Two Parking Lots

My friend and copyeditor Jane had an operation last week and seems to be facing a long hospital stay. This has given me much experience with the parking lot of UPMC St. Margaret. (Curiously, this hospital doesn’t have “Hospital” in its official name.) I hadn’t thought much about the functioning of its parking lot until yesterday.

Pittsburgh has had a lot of rain lately, and that day I drove to the hospital in a downpour. I couldn’t understand why the SUV in front of me was having such a hard time getting into the parking lot until I followed it up to the access gate. Normally, one presses a button on a machine that dispenses a card with a magnetic stripe and opens the gate. This time, the gate was raised, and repeatedly pressing the button had no effect. As I drove into the lot, the driver of the SUV, who was walking toward the hospital entrance, looked at me and shrugged. For a moment, I thought I might park free, but I did notice that the exit gate was not open. (Only later did it occur to me that I might have avoided the $3.00 parking fee by exiting through the parking lot entrance, assuming the gate was still raised.)

As I was leaving the hospital, I explained to the people at the information desk that I needed a card to get out of the parking lot, and one of the ladies there handed me one. In response to my asking why the card dispenser wasn’t working, I was told that it was because of the rain, an explanation that, in retrospect, was less than satisfactory. Was the dispenser unreliable in wet weather? Was the hospital helping drivers stay dry? (This seemed unlikely, as people would have to exit their vehicles eventually.) I was told that the dispenser doesn’t work when the gate is raised, which begged the question.

I took my card, inserted it into the machine in the lobby, along with $3.00, and received the card back, with my payment recorded on the magnetic stripe. At the parking lot exit, I inserted the card into another machine, which took the card and raised the gate.

Today, I began to wonder if all the parking lot machinery at St. Margaret was absolutely necessary. Parking at Mt. Lebanon’s St. Clair Hospital, for example, is somewhat simpler. Nothing is dispensed at the lot entrance. One pulls up to a gate, which then opens automatically to allow entry. Before leaving the hospital, one has to put $2.00 into a machine that dispenses a metal token. Inserting the token into a slot at the parking lot exit opens a gate to allow one’s vehicle to leave the lot.

In most respects, the St. Clair system seems better than that of St. Margaret. Less machinery is needed—no dispenser is required at the lot entrance, and the indoor machinery may be less complex. Moreover, the metal tokens are recycled, whereas the magnetic stripe cards are consumables. (They are obviously not reused, as they are time-stamped when dispensed.) Visitors don’t have to worry about carrying anything around the hospital related to parking until they are ready to leave.

Are there any advantages to the system at St. Margaret? Potentially, there are two. Because the cards are time-stamped—I assume the entry time is encoded on the magnetic stripe as well as printed on the card—the hospital can, in principle, analyze parking lot usage not only in the aggregate but also down to the behavior of individual users. Additionally, parking can be discounted. Because I drove Jane to the hospital for her operation, I was entitled to a $2.00 discount on parking that day, a discount implemented by writing on the magnetic stripe in the surgical waiting room.

Do the “advantages” of the St. Margaret system really matter? Do they justify the more expensive system than that of St. Clair? Does someone at St. Margaret really analyze the comings and goings of individual parking lot users, even thought the parking charge is independent of the time spent in the lot? Is it really important that surgical patients get a 67% discount, rather than free parking on the day of their operation? I doubt it.

August 21, 2009

Lutherans Vote YES!

The Evangelical Lutheran Church just voted to allow partnered gay clergy. In particular, the Lutherans voted to adopt the following (or something very close to it):
RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.
The vote was approximately 60% for.

August 20, 2009

Catching Up on Things Episcopal

Due to the press of other obligation, I’ve not gotten around to making some of the posts I have been meaning to write. My post “No Anglican Covenant” really requires some follow-up explaining why I believe an Anglican covenant is a bad idea in principle. Look for some activity on this front soon.

While I was thinking about the Anglican covenant, Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina published his address to the clergy of his diocese. This definitely requires a response. Recall that, soon after Lawrence was elected the first time, I wrote an essay opposing his consecration. I suggested that Lawrence would subvert The Episcopal Church. After a failed attempt to achieve the required consents, he was elected a second time by his diocese. This time he reassured Episcopalians in more convincing words that he would not be a subversive bishop. His reassurances were sufficient to guarantee his consecration. One now has to question the sincerity of Lawrence’s declarations of loyalty to his church. He his sounding a lot like Bob Duncan in September 2003, and we know how that ended!

Various diversions have kept me from fully engaging either of the foregoing projects, not the least of which was my visit to the emergency room of St. Clair Hospital because I was experiencing chest pains. Happily, that turned up only a minor problem from a medical standpoint, and my life is back to what passes for normal.

Another diversion has been more creative. I just finished a poem titled “I Was a Proud Southern Christian,” an autobiographical piece about my spiritual odyssey. (Notice the tense of the verb in the title.) Anyway, the poem may be of interest to Episcopalian readers. And as long as I’m plugging a poem, I should mention another church-related poem from earlier in the summer. Christopher Wilkins, a former vice president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh and very good friend, was ordained in June. For the occasion, I wrote “Christopher Becomes a Deacon.” Christopher escaped a crazy diocese and joined a sane one, one in which a non-conservative could be ordained. Of course, the Diocese of Pittsburgh is now returning to sanity. Thanks be to God.

Anyway, stay tuned for more essays on things Episcopal. Meanwhile, look for the “No Anglican Covenant” logo, which is now gracing a number of blogs. Does your blog need one?

August 6, 2009

No Anglican Covenant

I have never thought that an Anglican covenant was a good idea. Although some ground rules about how Anglican churches should behave toward one another would be welcome—see “The Covenant We Do Need”—“covenant” is really too grandiose a term for such an agreement.
No Anglican Covenant logo
In reality, the push for a covenant is about stopping theological development within the Anglican world and, should progress rear its ugly head, to punish the purveyors of it. Of course, The Episcopal Church is the most obvious candidate for discipline, but other sacrificial lambs await on the horizon.

Reading, thinking about, and, finally, writing about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s latest words concerning our Anglican future has convinced me that (1) Rowan Williams has an exulted sense of purpose that is a menace to Anglicanism, and (2) nothing good can possibly come of the Anglican covenant effort. Its potential for mischief, on the other hand, is limitless. As I said in “Reflecting on the Archbishop’s Reflection”:
In fact, what Williams and other primates have been doing is portraying themselves as conservatives, preservers of the Anglican status quo. In reality, they are revolutionaries, trying to hoodwink the naïve and the over-courteous into abandoning the fellowship that has been the Anglican Communion in favor of a radical centralization intended to enforce doctrinal uniformity. This is the underlying purpose of the Anglican Covenant. Terms such as “mutual responsibility” are thrown about by the archbishop as a kind of spiritual blackmail intended to intimidate churches such as our own into giving up their birthright of ecclesiastical autonomy. Williams derisively dismisses “mere federation” as though it were not what the Communion has been these many years.
I am hopeful that the recent General Convention resolutions and what may be a new militancy within the Church of England will help make approval of any covenant by Western churches less likely than it had seemed only a few weeks ago.

Having spent far too much time writing my response to Archbishop Rowan Williams, I am not yet ready to write the definitive denunciation of the Anglican covenant process. I am, however, ready to suggest that Episcopalians and other moderate and progressive Anglicans must begin now a campaign against any Anglican covenant, lest our churches approve whatever comes along out of simple but misguided Anglican civility.

As a tool for the resistance, I offer the anti-covenant logo displayed above. I do not claim to be a graphic artist, and therefore realize that others may be able to devise a more exciting logo for the campaign. There is, however, something to be said for simplicity.

I invite others to use the No Anglican Covenant logo to show your opposition to the dangerous innovation that is the Anglican covenant. Because I realize that my graphic may not be suitable for all occasions, I offer a larger version of it here, from which you can generate your own appropriately sized graphic for the Web or for paper documents.

Update, 10/8/2010: For additional versions of the No Anglican Covenant logo and information about using it in other contexts, click here.