Sunday, March 8, 2009

Us Valley Folks

Eight counties comprise the San Joaquin Valley, including all of Kings County, most of Fresno, Kern, Merced, and Stanislaus counties, and portions of Madera, San Luis Obispo, Tulare counties. The San Joaquin Valley is home to more than 3 million residents. The largest cities are Fresno, Bakersfield, Modesto, and Stockton. At its northern end, the San Joaquin Valley borders the southern end of the Sacramento Valley. To the west, south, and east, the San Joaquin Valley extends to the edges of the valley floor.

I probably need to put this disclaimer out right up front.  As a current resident of the San Joaquin Valley I am a transplant from Southern California.  Yes, surf, skateboarding, Hollywood and Vine, The Shrine Auditorium, Whittier Blvd, El Monte Legion Stadium, Olvera Street, Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm are all in my past.  Should I misstate at least some history, you may attribute it to that upbringing.  Also, as an itinerant, having moved almost 20 times in our life and having lived on both coasts (Woodbridge, VA) my world view is a little different than the native San Joaquin"er".  

By words, pictures and maps you can get a basic understanding of who we are.  As a matter of fact those belonging to the  the Episcopal Church are not much different than those other Valley people.  But what I would like to focus on is who we will become in the next few years.  

The Valley is a very conservative, Republican based geographic location.  As one drives up and down the valley via either Interstate 5 or US 99 one can still see signs of "Get Us Out of the UN" and "Impeach Bill Clinton".  Nowadays there are more signs about "Abortion stops a beating heart".  So the large portion of valley folk are and have been very conservative.  This comes from the huge migration years and years ago from the mid-west.  Folks from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and other farmers moved here during the dust bowl.  They were farmers then and they are farmers now.  Farmers are very pessimistic and as a rule, conservative in their outlook.  Until the last thirty years or so there were no big cities.  Places like Manteca and Bakersfield and Stockton were tiny specs on the map.  The combination of the lure of "California" and cheap home prices has filled the cities with places like Stockton and Modesto and Manteca and Tracy and Bakersfield all growing into the hundreds of thousands.  The "bucolic farm town" and the quaint dairy village" are all but gone.  This influx has brought "new ideas and a new way of thinking" to the Valley.  Currently there is a clash of cultures going on here that is quiet, but nonetheless changing.  

What does that all mean for us in the the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, now?  What does it mean for the larger TEC?  Well, I believe that we are the epitome of the "Big Tent".  Yep, the valley is a place where everyone can have an opinion, and generally does.  When the court cases are settled, the property is all returned, the focus is "re-focused" we will need to once again build the big tent.  For those who might think that the valley would somehow suddenly go ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative we ask that you re-think that thought.  We are a group struggling with all the issues of the Episcopal Church and we are willing to continue that struggle. Do we have all the answers? Nope! Are we going to agree on everything? Nope. In fact I am hopeful that we start with the idea that we are a big tent and that there is lots of room for discussion and dissension.  That we can in love and charity work on the myriad of issues that we think about, care about, pray about.  Here is the change I am looking for.  At the end of the day we will do two things: Everybody gets to pass the peace and everybody sits down at the table.  I mean everybody! 

If the big tent idea is going to work, or continue to work, it must work here.  It is easy in a homogeneous parish or diocese to say that it works because the differing opinions are not as sharp and the holders of those opinions are not as strident.  We are a diverse group of people with as many ideas.  We are thoughtful but we are also thought-provoking.  We do not change our minds easily or quickly.  Our moves are grindingly slow.  But, we are a loving and caring group that does enjoy a good picnic, a neat carnival and of course the ever popular potluck.  We are gregarious and we believe the Eucharist is the center of our worship.  If the big tent can still work it must do so here.  I do not know about Fort Worth, or Quincy or Pittsburgh.  San Joaquin is the grounds on which to pitch the big tent and make sure that everyone gets underneath it.  Not just for show, but because we say what we mean and we mean what we say.  If the big tent works here it will work everywhere.  There is some talk of breaking us up -- that may certainly solve the problem but it will get no one anywhere closer to recovering the big tent idea.  No, it must be rebuilt right here in San Joaquin!

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