Last Thursday night the census bureau called me. Needed to ask me a few questions. The woman on the phone then proceeded to ask me to verify every single piece of data that I had previously put on my census form. I laughed under my breath through the entire call.
Weeks ago we received a letter informing us that we would be receiving the census form.
We then received a postcard stating that our census form was on the way.
Then came the actual form.
Within a few days we received more correspondence reminding us to make sure and send back in our form.
I sent the form back in.
Then came the phone call.
Now, I have no problem with the government getting a good head count. But is this not overkill? I looked all over for some statistics to try and quantify this. Here is the best I could come up with. The government is hiring 635,000 census workers, to count 300,00,000. That's a worker hired to count 472 people. Or how about this: the census cost a little more than 60 cents per person in 1950 ($91.4 million). It is projected to cost nearly $47 per person in 2010 ($14.5 billion). That’s a whopping 7822% increase in cost per person. During the same time, the population rose by 100% (i.e., doubled) from 150 million to over 300 million. But the overall cost of counting it (the census) rose by 15,800%. When did counting become so costly?
Here is my idea. Mail everyone the census. In the packet promise to give every household who fills it out and turns it in $20. Now, all that is left is to find the few people who didn't do it. And you have more than half your budget to do it.
On Monday, my father underwent a prostatectomy. I went to Tyler to be with my parents during the surgery and his first couple of days of recovery. They had no idea I was coming, and I feel the surprise was well received.
I arrived Sunday evening, and very quickly we all headed to bed since my father's surgery was scheduled for early Monday morning. May parents headed to the hospital around 5:00am and I went around 6:00am. At the front desk they informed my that my dad was still in pre-op and I was welcome to join him, but only two people were allowed back at a time. No problem, since it would just be myself and my mom (and possibly my brother who lives in Tyler.) However, when I got to the pre-op area I was greeted by a crowd. There was the usual suspects (mom, brother, my dad's sister who lives an hour away), but that was not all. Several people from my parent's church had arisen at an ungodly hour to be with my dad for a few minutes before he went into surgery.
After my dad was wheeled away, everyone moved to the waiting area where we were joined by many more people. Friends my parents met when they first moved to Tyler (I was a year old), the only preacher I ever knew growing up and his wife, my best friend's parents, etc... It was like old home week. Everyone wanted to know about my wife, kids and job. We talked about our experiences with the same dentist (we've all been to John Scott). Laughed about people we all know. I almost felt guilty enjoying myself so much while my dad underwent cancer surgery.
Later that afternoon, as I sat in my dad's hospital room, I had time to reflect on the events of the morning. The day began with worries about my dad's cancer and impending surgery. It ended with him resting (about as comfortably as possible after a surgery) in his hospital room. In between, I experienced real love, concern and community.
This is how we want things to be. What we hope for. That people will be there for us when the chips are down. But so often we think this just happens. That people either show up or don't because of some cosmic happenstance. But that's just not true. Look at the facts.
My parents have lived in the same town for 36 years.
They have attended the same church for 32 years.
My mom has attended almost every bridal and baby shower held during that span.
My parents bring food to those who are sick, host the single parents and their kids for swimming at their house, and throw a killer New Year's party.
Don't get me wrong. My parents aren't the most theologically sophisticated people you will ever meet (that is not a put down by the way), but they know how to stick with it. They have stuck with the same church and same people for decades. Everyone who showed up weren't people my parents have shared all their darkest secrets with, my parents are too private for that. But they are people with whom they have shared life, long-term.
Community isn't an accident. It is not simply a product of a charismatic leader. Rather, community is the result of the slow and often repetitive process of staying with people. Community is not first and foremost something that happens or we strive for, it is something that grows out of showing up in people's lives. Again. And again. And again. And again. And again.