Thursday, December 27, 2007

Green Art

Here's the clandestine work of a group of environmental artists in the UK. I especially like "Moss Graffitti" and "Secret Worlds". Create a "moss paste" and paint a message or artwork onto a wall or a building - eventually your message will appear and last until the moss colony expands and/or takes over.

OR - Create delicate little interventions in public places for others to discover. Here's a little farm crafted into the side of an old brick wall along a public sidewalk. Imagine being the first to discover such a little landscape in a forgotten crack of a building? If I had created it, it would be hard not to stand watch seeing the reactions of people who discover it. Thanks to Megan for this site! This work reminds me of an urban (albeit more kitschy) version of Andy Goldsworthy - who must endure that most of his natural sculpture of twigs and leaves and rocks and water disappears into the wilds of nature once photographed.
Or: Check these folks out -
This club goes around and fixes up forgotten landscape areas - with or without permission - in order to beautify a neglected planting bed, discourage littering, and encourage care and community ownership. There are cases of some of their "secret" interventions being noticed by local residents who take over the care and maintenence of the tulips or sunflowers they start, including these kids who caught the guerilla gardeners planting sunflowers, but then decided to get in on the act right alongside. Cool!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The World Without Us

I love the concept of this book, "The World Without Us". What would happen to the world if all of humanity left the planet? What would happen immediately? What would revert after a thousand years? According to author Alan Weisman, New York City's subways would flood within 2 days, its streets would collapse within 2 years, and Manhattan island would revert to a forest within 500 years. Apparently, he's got the science to back it up. I haven't read this yet, but am currently waiting my turn, and I truly enjoyed the website. Check it out!

How unlike this scientific perspective is from Spielberg's vision of a flooded Manhattan in "A.I.", which includes 15 to 20 stories of buildings, including the World Trade Center, sticking up out of the ocean, some few hundred years from now. How sad and ironic that it didn't take any such thing as global warming to do in those particular buildings. (BTW - Wouldn't tidal forces make quick work of any of these buildings? Think of all of the weight of the water. I'd give 'em mere weeks to remain upright, not centuries. And: were the creatures that re-encounter the perfectly preserved Haley Joel Osment cyborg boy a super-evolved humanity, our own super-evolved self-replicated robots, or extra-planetary visitors? - but I digress...) Things fall apart; atrophy reigns. But in the case of the environment, does healing takes place? I feel a Kansas song coming on. Or perhaps another annual run through Ecclesiastes.

On a related note: my friend Craig just sent me this link where we can witness the sort of atrophy that Weisman surmises would happen if buildings were simply left completely alone. The current article of WebUrbanist takes us to 7 abandoned sites and sees the way nature has already taken over, in some cases a mere 20 years since humanity left the site. This REALLY makes me want to go exploring.

Some of you who know me well - know that I am a huge fan of the subgenre of science fiction labeled as "Dying Earth" - especially Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun" and Jack Vance's "Tales from Dying Earth". In both of these series, history hardly exists anymore because it has become ubiquitous. On a world so old that wherever you dig, every shovelful of earth turns up some unknown relic of the past, how do you track or explore or classify history? A relic becomes not a rare find; the ground itself is the Relic. The whole world becomes the museum - a museum can't contain it all.
I already am experiencing a strange quirk of this "overflowing container" effect in my own life. I'm guessing that we've already taken so much video of our kids (only 2 and 4 years old) that with all of the other things I will have to do for the rest of my life, I already question whether or not I will live long enough to ever watch it all.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Junky Car Club

I just joined the Junky Car Club which I became aware of from my new friend and fellow blogger, Michael Trent. My family's cars aren't really junky but they most certainly are not new. We have a 1988 Subaru Forester and a 1990 Saturn SC2. They're at that point where they might have cosmetic problems but we're not intending to fix them. I don't want to rehash the post Michael recently articulated at third place consultants - that moved me to join up - but I'm creating my own because there are many in my sphere of people who would love the desire and intent of the Junky Car Club: "Living with less so we can give more"

I love the idea behind this club for several reasons:

1. It provides some solidarity for those who could afford new cars if they wanted to, but simply would rather spend money elsewhere - like supporting ministry and relief work and other charities... and makes that something hip. I'll be getting a calendar. All proceeds go to feed the homeless and impoverished in L.A.

2. Yes, there are probably more fuel efficient cars available. I've experienced Prius Envy. However, the most environmental product in the world is the one you never use.

3. I'm one who anthropomorphizes cars. As a small child I saw an emotive face in every grille. Now I still love quirky, character-laden, junky cars. They develop personalities and collective memories that new cars just don't have. Every dent and scratch is like a badge of honor. The favorite car I ever owned was the one I just sold: in 2003 I bought a 1988 Volvo 240DL Station Wagon on Ebay for $1,300. That's incidentally the same price I paid for my first car; in 1989 I bought a 1983 Plymouth Turismo for $1,300.

4. Many of my circle of friends drive junky cars. Some out of necessity, some by choice. Now there's an official ministry basis for doing so! Join up here: and let me know if you've signed up. Perhaps we can create a West Michigan Chapter. Well envisioned, Mr. Mike Foster.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Futurist Quotes

"The phonograph is not of any commercial value." - Thomas Edison, 1880

"Everything that can be invented has been invented." -Charles Duell, Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899

"There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will." - Albert Einstein, 1932

"Man will not fly for 50 years." - Wilbur Wright, 1903

"I think there is a world market for about five computers." -Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, 1958

"The Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market for itself." - Business Week, 1968

"640K ought to be enough for anybody." - Bill Gates, 1981

What current technologies are being treated like this?
What is coming that is going to change everything?

Reading these quotes changes the way I listen to science and technology reporting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Environmental Police? No thanks...

Sunday, I stopped a guy about to toss a stack of worship orders and lyric sheets in the trash and directed him to the recycling bin at church. He politely obliged, even thanked me, and expressed that he didn't know it was there. Good, another person aware. And he's a good-hearted soul, I really like this guy.

But why did I still feel like an environmental turd? It was important for me to raise awareness, and I was gracious, and he was cool with it. But I still groaned inwardly. Why?

Because I am aware of the "plank" in my own eye. (See Matthew 7:3)

I am fully aware that there is so much more that I can do to lessen my impact on the environment. Once you are aware of it, your responsibility grows. Am I willing to give up disposable diapers for my 1 year old? Probably not. I should be. Am I willing to let more of my yard go natural and mow less? Yes. Will I do away with my clothes dryer? Not with a 1 and 3 year old at home. Will I pay more for green electricity? Yes - we've enrolled in Consumers Energy's Green Generation program. And each decision gets weighed as you go on - the important part is that Creation Care should be part of each decision.

The important point I am learning is to advocate for Creation Care without getting preachy. If you ever get known as the "Green Guy" you're treading into dangerous ground - and modeling environmentalism for others. Sell your Hummer, fast, if you expect to have any credibility and integrity.

BTW - I'm currently sitting in an exciting presentation of a new concrete block company: EPI - that uses fly ash and crushed post-consumer glass. They are able to take glass with caps and labels - so the recycling is easy. They've taken 20 tons of glass from Kent County Recycling and made it into building products. Very cool... click the title of this post to check it out.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


For those of you who don't know, I'm a map geek. I love finding quirks and unusual conditions and out of the way places. I love the barren, icy rocks in the south pacific. The melting around Greenland and even further north is revealing heretofore unknown islands. What used to be the closest point of land to the north pole is no longer. The borders of states along the Mississppi River change as the river leaves oxbow lakes as it carves through the earth. Louisiana grows by miles annually because of the silt (and pollution) that is deposited at the Mississippi Delta. BTW, Did you know, there's a 5,800 square mile "dead zone" of ocean off the MS delta where nothing lives? That's the size of Connecticut. There's not enough oxygen in the water because of chemical reactions with all of our dumped out nitrogen, phosphorus, and hazardous chemicals. It's the largest dead zone in the world.

Here's a few more governmental map quirks that are closer to home for me: There's a whole US town that is separate from the USA, stuck on a penninsula, only bordering Canada. You might need to take a boat or cross two national borders to go see your doctor. Do a search on Point Roberts, Washington. There's a small piece of Kentucky that is separarted from the rest of the state by a bend in the Mississippi River. Search on Google Maps for Kentucky Bend Road, Kentucky. Which three states are the only states to have a geometric arc inscribed as part of their state line? You find it and post it here.
Since downloading Google Earth we've learned that we've intersected with a piece of a map history ourselves. Our house is coincidentally built directly across the 43rd Parallel. The nearest other Parallels are in Grayling, (44th) and Kalamazoo, (42nd). I discovered that and felt like I'd won the map geek lottery. I've threatened to paint it on the walls of the kitchen.

A website that I could spend hours on is This utility shows a global map with countries in relative sizes to hundreds of variables: population, wealth, tourism, environmental factors, trade, refugees, etc. It also shows interesting factoids about each map and statistical anomolies. Some of them are obvious, some quirky, and some extremely sad. Check out the following:
Land Area.

The map we all know. Note: Japan has 6 times the population of Australia. Compare this map to that of relative population. But first look at these others:
Carbon Emmissions - 1980

The USA and Europe are fat and happy and gross. Note: Africa barely shows up except where there is a strong European influence. Go on the site and see how Carbon Emmissions changes in the year 2000. But wait, I have more!
Tons Recycled

While we are the biggest users - we appear to be the biggest re-users, too. Shame India doesn't even show up. Japan recycles as much as China does - it has to, it has nowhere to put waste. I wonder which country is representing relatively well in South America?
Two more - then you go play there:
Preventable Common Deaths
Africa and India take it on the chin. Haiti is nearly as large as the USA. Australia is non-existent.
Since that one is a major bummer - here's a fun, quirky one:
Number of people named Chang? no...
it's Shipping Container Ports

China ships more far more goods (internally and externally) by shipping container than the rest of the world combined.
Have fun with the site... there are hundreds of variables that each tell a global story.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


I've been able to keep old things out of landfills by posting to the Grand Rapids chapter of This service is based on the old adage, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." You post an item that you no longer want but that somebody may want for whatever reason. People post back that they want the item and when they can come get it. You pick who you want to give the old desk, shelves, torn card table, costume, or books to. There's an honor system that you will not re-sell the items you pick up - which is a principle you must agree to to sign up. All you need is a yahoo account.
One Saturday this summer, I had 9 items get picked up from my garage! Plus I got to know a whole bunch of people, including a woman who needed old card tables to have a rummage sale to raise money for a local stray animal shelter. My card table would have otherwise gone in the dumpster. You get the idea.
Like craigslist, there's probably a chapter in your neck of the woods.

Friday, November 2, 2007

How Walkable is your House?

Here's a little google map add-on that measures how walkable your home and neighborhood is. This is not only valuable for real-estate and community but can help measure holistic greenness of your location. Do you need to drive everywhere you go? Or can you walk to restaurants, the drugstore, hardware stores, bus stops, etc.? My house scored a 43; however they somehow missed the main public bus stop on the corner. On the other hand, they counted an adult video store as a nearby movie theatre - not sure I want those walkability points, thank you very much.

BTW - I am really proud of Susie's Cafe just down the street, represented by the coffee cup near the center of my walkability map. It's become a great little neighborhood Third Place.

I'm proud to have them in the neighborhood, and want to see them thrive. One Saturday night after midnight I needed to finish up worship graphics and send them in to church, and our home wireless was down. I went over and sat outside the closed Susie's with my laptop and sent the graphics in to church. They've got a great breakfast, too. Go, Susie!

mindshift innovation: "Little Green Lies" - Green Romance and Reality#links

mindshift innovation: "Little Green Lies" - Green Romance and Reality#links

Rex is right on with this. Who is going to take the risks involved to climb the learning curve and pull this off?

The focus of a client's decision to do or not do a LEED certified buildings, let alone a Platinum one, would no longer be on up front cost if as an industry we could solve and reduce the incredible amount of wasted effort and non-value-added work that seems to be part and parcel of the status quo that architects, engineers, and contractors labor within. Just look at how slowly the industry is adapting to the new CSI specification format. It's been in place for 4 years now and we still have contractors who do not want us to use the new specification format. We still design and construct buildings under a century-old model.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Happy Halloween and the Neighborhood

Growing up, Halloween was my favorite holiday. I loved the fantasy of everyone in effect being something they were not. You could tell a lot about a person based on what they dressed up as. I usually procrastinated about what I'd be, so at the last minute, it was: grab one of my dad's shirts, stuff a pillow inside, grab mom's eyebrow pencil for stubble, put on old torn pants, tie a bandana to a stick, and hallelujah, I'm a bum. I'd come home with a pillowcase full of loot, most of which usually remained there until at least Valentine's Day or my mom finally threw it out.

I remember going trick or treating around my neighborhood in North Haledon, NJ, a neighborhood I moved away from when I was 15. To the left of us were the Beckers, then the Moores, then the Levajacs, then the Schmiels. To the right of us were the Wolfs/Pollacks/Dykstras and the Micklauses. Across the street, left to right, were the Corvos, Capps, Inzones, Lathams, Saweys, and Ackermans. All of these families must have made a big impression on me because I still remember their names and can picture their homes and faces 23 years later, more vividly than any other place I've ever lived. Halloween was the annual ritual of "My how you've grown!" and "What are you dressed up as this year?" It built community. People didn't move around back then. Half of them must be dead by now.

With our kids, I'm trying to create that sort of appreciation for our current neighborhood, which is a dead-end street of 5 homes in Grand Rapids, MI. We are fast friends with 2 neighbors and know all of the others by name, but haven't bothered to talk to people out on the main street. It's very different. One single guy has Tourette's Syndrome and is pretty reclusive. Another house is owned by a Vietnamese family who has two houses and seems to be here less than a quarter of the time. On the corner is an older widow who until recently had her son living with her, a good guy, but who had been a sex offender and couldn't be near kids. She'll be selling soon and moving into a retirement home. Out on the main street, people have moved in and out and I haven't kept track. At any rate, most of us don't emerge from our houses except by car - unless the kids or dogs are involved! Then we're walking, playing, and visiting.

Tonight, it was raining and chilly in Grand Rapids, and our kids had colds. Bummer. So it was off to the mall to trick or treat, of all places, the bane of every new urbanist and community planner. You know, it wasn't all that bad. There were families from all walks of life, jugglers, magicians, and cheerful high school volunteers in costumes giving away candy. We were able to interact with more people than I expected we would. It helps that our kids are among the 100 cutest on the planet. But of course it wasn't the same.

Those of you who know me, hold me accountable for this: we're bringing small gifts to the neighbors this Christmas, and having a block party or a barbeque or something this summer.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

CentrePointe Lives On...

In January of 2007, I was part of a decision to close a church plant, CentrePointe, in Kentwood, MI. This "coffeehouse in a warehouse" church was the best faith community I have ever been a part of. It was creative, experimental, talented, had a heart for lost and unusual and "discarded" people, and was a safe place for smart people to explore spirituality on their own terms at their own pace. We would call off worship quarterly just to serve in the community on Sunday mornings. The worship was often gripping, and we did not shy away from difficult topics. For 5 years, I led the worship design team, a team of teams which brainstormed the worship service every week from Tuesday to Sunday - and along the way we designed some very unusual, compelling worship experiences. Many church planters got their feet wet at CentrePointe, and we can point to 17 families that are now on staff at churches or church plants who spent time in ministry at CentrePointe.

For many reasons, not the least of which was financial, we felt called to close our doors. We were without a pastor for the third time in our 11-year history, some key leaders and givers had moved away, our strip mall lease had escalated beyond our shrinking means, there was a tragic divorce between two key leaders, and a number of other leaders were on the verge of resigning because they were plain tuckered out. Some onlookers in our denomination felt it was about time the "black sheep" church wrap up its crazy experiment, yet others felt we were the best thing going and were more apt to say, "How dare you shut it down!" We prayerfully decided to give all of our stuff and people to another denominational church plant that appeared to have similar values to our own. This was hardest on people who had come to faith at CentrePointe, and who couldn't fathom being part of another faith community. Not everyone has stuck it out at the new place, but many have.

Last week I received a request from Eileen Crowley, editor of Liturgy Magazine, to use an image from a CentrePointe worship service in her publication. This was a service we designed around the song "Bring Me to Life" by Evanescence. The text we used was the story of the 4 guys who brought their paralyzed friend to life by busting through a roof and lowering him into the presence of Jesus. We suspended a mat in the space and had modern-day construction debris strewn about and as centerpieces on the cafe tables. The band rocked the song to within inches of the radio version. We were challenged to go out and that week thank the people in our lives who "brought us to life" by modeling Jesus or introducing us to Jesus. Then we were challenged to think of whose mat are we currently carrying. Who has God placed in our lives, that like the 4 friends, we had to do whatever it took to bring into the presence of Jesus? We each got a small length of rope to remind us to pray for this person and be with this person. I had mine on my dashboard for over a year.

So, thanks, Eileen! We're glad CentrePointe can live on through your magazine. It was cathartic for me to see something we did 5 years ago live on in this small way.

Environment and Hypocrisy

Last week I presented on sustainability and church buildings at the Worship Facilities Conference and Expo in Atlanta, GA. It was a lot of fun; our talk got applause, and we were congratulated by the US EPA's director of EnergyStar for Small Businesses and Congregations. I'm glad it has become part of the dialogue regarding church buildings, excess, and utilization. There are over 10,000 buildings currently certified or registered with the US Green Building Council as LEED certified, and only 13 are church buildings.

Even so, as I learn more and more about sustainability, I recognize that there are an infinite number of ways to be more environmental at home, personally, and holistically.

I've been teased for being an "extremist" for tearing the plastic windows out of my junk mail so I can recycle the paper envelopes. And yes I've tried to get off every junk mail list I can.

We built a home in 2002 with as many environmental features as we could afford, and it does work almost as well as we had hoped - so there's an element of putting our money where our mouth is.

But then I meet someone who hasn't owned a car for five years, or who only uses a push-mower, or who commutes to work on a bicycle daily (rain or shine), or who doesn't own a clothes dryer. There's a guy in New York City who is doing a year-long experiment on whether or not he can be completely carbon-neutral for a year. And he lives on the 11th floor. And he and his wife have a pre-school child. Another great example is Matthew Sleeth who writes brilliantly on Christian spirituality and the environment in "Serve God, Save the Planet" which is in my favorite links on the right. But he doesn't just talk about it, he lives it.

There's always more that can be done to leave a smaller footprint on the earth. And as you learn more about the possibilities, you realize how far there is to go. It's funny how much trying to be more environmental is like trying to hate sin and honor God. (Maybe because that's precisely what it is? Whoa. Think about that.)

People treat me like some sort of "expert" in the area of sustainability and, folks, I have a long, long way to go. If you think there's hypocrisy in the church, try an environmental group meeting. What strikes me the most is that we're all at different places in living our lives in a way that is kinder to Creation - and that we have to have grace in teaching eachother and humility in learning from one another. Again - this sounds like a faith journey - and just maybe that's because it is.

I recently heard a statistic from the book "Unchristian" by Davin Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons that surveyed the attitudes of unchurched youth ages 16-29 and 87% believe the church of Jesus is hypocritical. I think that is low. I know, because I've been a church insider all of my life, and we are 100% hypocritical. I am a hypocrite. In fact, I've never met anyone who is not in some way a hypocrite, churched or unchurched. If we could live, work, and communicate with grace and love, and not judgement, there would be far fewer claims of hypocrisy because we would not be setting ourselves up to fall down. We're all "in process".

Cool how all of this dawned on me in a new way because of recently re-examining my life and how to live it - from an environmental perspective.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Information R/evolution

Check this out: not only is it entirely true, in my opinion, it's also great film.

If there was every any doubt as to the internet's effect on how we are wired, think, and process and store information. What an exciting time to be alive! I've subscribed to professor Matt Wesch's YouTube feed.

Blogging - And so it begins

It's about time I've done this - with so many thoughts about culture, technology, the church, design, environmentalism, and change.

Here's a start: an apparent paradox.

In discussions or presentations about the emerging church, I've experienced some leaders speak of buildings as though they are a dirty word. And many should be. There are some monstrosities out there that get used for 90 minutes a week, tops. During the latter part of the 20th Century, the mainstream church seemed to have a scorecard of "Butts", "Buildings", and "Budgets". Bigger in each category must equate to success. Very little mention was made of transformation, of servanthood, of environmental record, of influence, of social programs, or of even area crime rates or truancy stats. (Interesting metrics to track for a church!) Does God only bless through numerical growth? So it is no wonder that the building got thrown out with the bathwater when discussing the excesses that some claim the North American mega-church was and is capable of. And it is easy to accept: Yes, the church is not a building, the church is people! I buy that 100%.

Contrast this with the mass customization and designer-awareness of the experience economy we live in. Go to Target - you can buy dozens of types of toilet brushes. (Does there need to be more than 3 types of toilet brushes?) In this design-aware culture, clearly design matters, and environment matters. Sustainability matters. Sustainable environments matter. For churches, environments that foster communication and relationships matter. Worship spaces that aid the spoken word, for music, places that allow people to concentrate, learn, pray, and in the words of Fay Jones, "think their highest thoughts" matter. People can want to build relationships in one, and want to be left alone in another. People can want to linger in one, and want to leave another.

So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, which is more on target:

More than ever, the missional church must view itself as a force, not a fortress, and the building they are in is somewhat incidental to their mission, if they have a building at all.

With today's design-savvy culture and knowledge of what makes for a good environment, worship and gathering space matters more than ever; it cannot be neutral.

... probably one of those both/and postmodern things...