Brokenhearted Theology, Ramblings

hybrid cars and the church

My roommate Mike and I were talking last night.  Both of us graduated last semester, and Mike now works at a company that designs and installs solar energy systems, and he is very learned when it comes to energy/environment issues….so I always feel like I learn a lot from him about such things.  Anyways, we went grocery shopping and started talking about Superbowl commercials.  I hadn’t watched it, but he had, and mentioned that there were several commercials for Hybrid cars, which got him excited. 

So we’re talking about hybrid cars…and all I know about hybrid cars is that, well, they’re a cross between regular fuel burning cars and something that’s more environmentally sound, and that they’re expensive.  And that’s about all I know. 

 So Mike and I were talking, and I was asking him to explain a bit more about what a hybrid is, and the effect that they have on cars, mileage, environmental impact, etc.  He said that hybrid’s can increase a car’s mileage by about 10-15% most of the time.  In the next year, a bunch more hybrid cars will be released, including SUV’s such as the Ford Escape.  And they will increase gas mileage by about 10-15%.

I know/knew that Mike really likes hybrid cars, and wishes that he could have afforded to buy one when he bought a car a few months ago.  But as we were talking, I couldn’t help but remember an article I had read a few months prior, talking about how beneficial it was for a company to be considered “green.”  The article wasn’t talking about the benefits to the environment, but instead to the company (market share, fiscal numbers, PR, etc).  The basic gist was that companies are doing everything they can to make people think they are “green” and eco-friendly without the good of the environment really being their goal.  It’s much like the current “fair trade” phenomenon.  It’s hard to buy anything that’s not fair trade, or shop anywhere that doesn’t offer “fair trade” this or that.  There’s definitely a trend in popular culture to feel like you’re helping a cause by buying “fair trade.”  But I’m getting off on a tangent….back to hybrid cars.

So, anyways, I have all these doubts about big corporations actually taking the needed steps to help – whether it be buying fair trade beans from a small village in South America, or building a car that will be more environmentally sound.  So this conversation was begging me to ask Mike the question – are hybrid cars a solution to the problem, or are they really just a slight-of-the-hand stall tactic to prevent the needed change from taking place because the needed change is so drastic, so different, and so costly?

Mike thought about it for a moment, and said that the hybrid cars can’t be the answer, and seemed to agree with me that there might be a downside to the hype around hybrids – that they might actually be preventing the change that our world so desperately needs from taking place, because they offer a quick fix that people can rally around.  Now don’t get me wrong, from what I’ve learned, I think that hybrid cars are probably better than driving fuel-only cars – I would prefer to drive a hybrid car, but I hope that people don’t see them as the final solution to energy/fuel problems in our country/world. 

But it feels to me like everyone is cheering for a doctor cleaning and putting a bandage on an small open wound, all while ignoring the internal bleeding that’s taking place.  Are hybrid cars really helping the situation?  Obviously, in the short term the answer is yes….but if you consider the long term/big picture situation – could it be that hybrids are actually delaying a real situation to our fuel dependency issues by masking the deeper issues?

In the midst of this conversation, I had to use an analogy to explain my jumbled thoughts to Mike.  I told him about a church that recently launched a video venue to offer an “alternative environment” for people to worship in.  The video venue was not launched due to space issues in the sanctuary….instead it was an attempt to grasp at relevance towards culture.  Coffee, donuts, and circle tables instead of pews and hymnals.  But even in the video venue I guarantee that the same legalist/consumerist/materialist/etc mentality is present.  It is so easy to “change” without really changing anything.   

Churches across the country are taking similar steps to grasp at cultural relevance by launching a video venue, by livening up the music, by lighting more candles, etc etc.  But so many of those churches are failing to make the changes needed to actually address the problem.  Why do so many people think twice about entering a church building, or why is the church the last place some people would look to if they are hurting?  I told Mike that I thought there were deeper issues that needed to be addressed if a church actually desired relevance – a church would need to rethink how it comforts the hurting (emotional), cares for the needy (physical), and speaks to the soul (spiritual/theological).  Much like new hybrid cars don’t really fix the multifaceted problems of fuel dependency, or a band-aid doesn’t stop internal bleeding, launching a video venue doesn’t fix these problems that have alienated the American church from those outside of it’s walls. 

So what exactly am I saying or suggesting….I’m not even sure.  But I think it’s important that to remember that hybrid cars….band-aids….and video venues are not inherently bad.  Hybrid cars can make cars 10-15% more efficient.  Band-aids can help heal wounds, and video venues can work towards changing someone’s perspective on the church.  But the deeper issues at play cannot be ignored, and we should not be so quick to rally around an easy fix.  Temporary solutions are sometimes needed…but it cannot be at the expense of researching/developing/journeying towards real solutions to the real problems. Otherwise a temporary fix – a hybrid car, a band-aid, or a video venue – will just further mask the real problems that need to be addressed in order to move forward.

 For further discussion/reading…

An article by Bob Hyatt from Next Wave on the emerging church


2 thoughts on “hybrid cars and the church

  1. Churches are under as much economic pressure as anyone else, especially the big ones. It goes with our culture.

    Only God is really interested in digging deep enough to solve the real problems, and that takes time. He’s willing to take the time, but few people are. People are used to the TV pace: flash, bang, the problem is solved just in time for the next commercial.

    God knows that this problem is connected to another, that one to two or three others, etc, and he goes about deftly pulling the threads to untangle the mess. It’s a remarkable process. He’s after the deep problem, the whole problem, whatever it might be. He’s not economically motivated, but motivated by what’s best for the people involved.

    What do people coming to church need to see? God, at work in others. Day by day.


  2. Thanks for this post… very similar thoughts have crossed my mind, both specifically on the hybrid cars/energy efficiency question, and also on the analogy to the “emerging church”. I like hybrids, and i believe they are useful, not just in increasing fuel efficiency but in transforming American attitudes about what transportation means, and they’re also much cleaner and help to reduce air pollution. A step in the right direction, IMHO.

    Yet it’s true, sometimes the latest technology is prounounced to be the savior of our environmental problems, when really the solution is much more about social/cultural shift that can sometimes be aided well by technological advancement, among other things.

    I was really suprised and somewhat elated to hear Bush’s pronouncement in his State of the Union speech last month that America is addicted to foreign sources of energy. (Could this really be happening?!? A President whose family dynasty was built on wealth gained in the oil industry admitting to a fault in one of the most fundamental pillars in the American economy?) But I was really cynical and disappointed moments later when he subsequently announced that the solution was to increase spending on research of hybrid and fuel-cell technology. No mention was made of changing the way we continue to foolishly plan and build our increasingly suburban nation, which has forced people into automobile dependency and a denuded sense of place and cultural identity. Certainly the short-term goal of reduced oil dependency is to be commended, but God help us all if technology continues to be promoted as the “answer” to these problems.


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