Friday, November 29, 2013

Combatting American Greed

I'm interrupting my current blog series to give vent to my disgust at U.S. consumerism which has reached a new low, and at the big store chains like WalMart, Target and others which aid and abet it.

What is that new low? Excessive consumerism (in the name of "Christmas"), driven by the emptiness of the American soul and the greed of corporations which seek to exploit consumerism for their own selfish ends, which have crossed a symbolic line by moving their so-called "Black Friday" sales onto Thanksgiving Day itself.

Thanksgiving ... that holiday which used to represent our thankfulness to our Creator for the blessings that He bestowed upon us as a nation. A holiday to gather with family, to rest (mostly), and to refrain from the usual busy day-to-day consumer mentality.

But no. Now we get to wait in long lines outside stores with "killer deals" on big-screen TVs, etc. Who has time to be thankful when we're so busy salivating over the latest "sale" and strategizing ways to bring home the newest toy?

I don't think I'm the only one. A lot of my friends have also expressed their disgust at this new, pathetic low. So, what can we do about it? Is "resistance futile?"

I don't think so. Here is a three-pronged approach for combatting consumerism and greed:

1) Boycott. Those companies which have (because of their greed) crossed this line should know not everyone out there will jump into their shopping cart with wads of cash wafting out of their pockets. Pick a company which honored the spirit of Thanksgiving Day (like Costco) and do your shopping there, instead. And,

2) Share. Let these companies know what you are doing. In this age of social media, you have the power. Tweet something along the lines of the following:
.@WalMart - I'm doing all my #Christmas #shopping @Costco & @REI this year, because THEY were willing to honor the spirit of #Thanksgiving.
Or, taken from another angle:
.@REI @Costco: Thank you for honoring the spirit of #Thanksgiving & stayed closed yesterday! @WalMart & @Target have much 2 learn from you.
Or Facebook, Google+, or your social media poison of choice. I think if enough people do this, perhaps they will reconsider next year. And, perhaps most importantly:

3) Give back. The most effective way to combat greed is to: 1) Be satisfied with what you have, and 2) Be generous with what you have been given. Change the mindset of consumerism by honoring the idea of Giving Back.

Giving Tuesday (Dec. 3) should make Black Friday (or whatever you call what happened on Thanksgiving yesterday) look like child's play. Select your charity(ies) of choice and give generously on Tuesday! Then share Giving Tuesday options and opportunities with your friends and family.

How do you feel about the new lows to which we have stooped? And what are you going to do about it? Please share your ideas!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pain ... and the Potent Power of Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving week. (And not simply because it's a short workweek!)

I know what you're thinking ... "It's the food." Well, I do love the food. But that's not the main reason, either.

My broken walking stick.
This year, in particular, I've been thinking about the power of Thanksgiving. A lot of things have converged in my life to help me in my quest to become more thankful. A good friend from my days in Southern California, a wonderful worship pastor named Dr. Doug Lee, has been blogging for the past few weeks about the blessings and challenges that come with gratitude. And it strikes me how spectacularly potent this particular discipline really is.

One of those things I mentioned which has converged in my life is a short period of trial. When I was in college I tore a muscle in my lower left back. Every few years or so it flares up and when it does it can be extremely painful. It flared up again a few months ago, and after a few days when it began to subside I thought, "Thank God that's over, at least for awhile!"

Then about three weeks ago it went out again. And this time, it was much worse than usual. A day or two in, I was using a walking stick to try and haul myself up off the couch and hobble around. I had salvaged this stick from the bad 2012 Lone Pine Canyon fire in Southern California, a piece of mesquite which had some surface burns on it but otherwise seemed intact. But as I was putting my weight on it to get out of bed, it broke. I went down -- hard. And I felt whatever was left of that muscle really tear as I went down.

Now I was in a pickle. For 10 days I could barely move. The muscle spasmed constantly. For a few days, the only relief I could get was flat on my back. But then even that became nearly unbearable. It hurt too much to move, and it hurt too much to stay still. I was having to do the kind of "hee hee" breathing they teach you in Lamaze class, just to keep from crying out. I was taking prescription doses of Naproxin (basically like double-dosing Aleve), applying heatpacks, anything I could think of. In order to sleep at night I began taking Oxycodone, a painkiller. (I thank God for this, but hate the side effects.) I could knock myself out for four hours that way and wake up without having moved. But then it was back to the spasms and pain.

In the midst of all this I began to realize how much I normally take for granted such simple tasks as sitting, standing, walking, even lying down without pain. The breakthrough came when I began to thank God for what the pain was teaching me.

Doug wrote about this in his blog (much more eloquently than I ever could), pointing out how being able to thank God for trials gives Him an opening to work in our lives. And it was so true for me.  At first not much changed ... other than my attitude, but I realize now that was the true change I needed. (Like so many of us, I had been thinking of "my time" as my own, and the injustice of my back problems imposing themselves on my busy schedule really grated me. It wasn't until I realized that God owns my time and had appointed what I was going through for my good, did my attitude about my trials begin to change.)

Several days after this, the pain and spasms began to subside. I was able to walk again and even sit for short periods of time. While the pain is still there (particularly when I sit), it's bearable now, and I can sleep without painkillers. (My osteopath has done some "adjustment" which helped, and has also referred me to physical therapy. Looking forward to that!)

Anyway, Dr. Lee has graciously given me permission to use this space to summarize some of the things I've been learning from his focus on gratitude these past few weeks. (In return, I'd encourage you to become a regular visitor to his "Whole Life Worship" blog!) So, please return to this space tomorrow, where I will post a "Reader's Digest Condensed" summary of what I have learned from Doug's blog posts so far!

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Rude Awakening

Today is the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination. It is also the 50th anniversary of the death of my favorite author, C. S. Lewis.

C. S. Lewis
News of Lewis' death was eclipsed (understandably) in the papers by the JFK assassination, but both of these events, as it turns out, played a significant role in my life.

The assassination itself was the only of the two events I remember from that fateful day. At 6 years of age I don't think I would have recognized the name "C. S. Lewis" yet. I was just beginning to be an avid reader at this time, but I don't think Lewis' works were yet on my reading lists.

But, I do remember in stark detail the events surrounding JFK's assassination. I had just begun the first grade at Osceola Elementary School in Sylmar, California. We lived just a few blocks down the street from the school. My teacher's name was Miss Mendenhall. I have a visual memory of the classroom, the students, and Miss Mendenhall on that fateful day ... but mostly of Miss Mendenhall.

She had gotten called to the office and was gone a few minutes. We were laughing and joking and doing all the things a classful of students was wont to do when left to its own devices. But when Miss Mendenhall re-entered the class, there was sudden and stark silence. For she was visibly very upset, and crying.

And she didn't tell us what was wrong ... just shared through her tears that we were all being given early release that day, and were to go immediately home.

This was startling, and unusual, but in and of itself wasn't yet enough to rock my world. We had done a number of unusual things in first grade, including the "duck and cover" drills where we would scoot under our desks at a certain signal and huddle with our hands clasped over our necks. In case of nuclear attack, was the reason we were given. I remember this was vaguely disturbing, but not really yet having a full understanding of the horror of a nuclear attack (and the true futility of trying to hide from one under your desk), I did what most first graders are wont to do ... make a game out of it, then not really think any more about it.

But, when I arrived home that cool November day, and opened the side door into our small streetcorner home, I was suddenly confronted with something very much bigger than my view of the world, and quite difficult to explain. For there was my mom, bent over the washing machine.

And she, too, was weeping.

An event big enough, and serious enough, to cause both my first-grade school teacher and my mom to both cry must be very serious indeed. And as my mom slowly and tearfully explained to me what had happened on that fateful day in Dallas, I began to get a rough sense for how dangerous of a place this world really was.

You might ask, "So what does this have to do with C. S. Lewis?" If I began, as a young man, to be truly awakened to the fact that we live in a world where almost unthinkably horrible things can and do happen, C. S. Lewis was the one who gave me the most useful perspective on WHY they happen ... and what our attitude should be about them.

First, there is the very important principle that God must use pain to truly get our attention. And, believe me, our attention needs to be got: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."*

About the existence of sin and suffering, Lewis' razor-sharp logic concludes: "Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself." He helped me to see that tribulation was a necessary element of redemption. Therefore "we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees the world to be either redeemed or no further redeemable."

One other principle which Lewis drove home, and it's embodied in the words of the old hymn, "This world is not my home ... I'm just a-passin' through." ...

“Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”

God has created us for something much greater than this earth, in all its decaying corruption, has to offer. This "something" is hinted at in "All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul ... tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest — if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself — you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say "Here at last is the thing I was made for."

Ancient philosophers called this the "God-shaped hole," the thing He created us for, which can only be satisfied by Himself.

Most people my age can recount a series of additional "rude awakenings" since that dismal November day in 1963. Things (like 9/11, and the wars that still follow in its heels) that make us realize "this world is not our home" and put contrast to our deepest longings for "Peace on earth, good will to men." I guess the truly good news, for me, is that today I am exactly 50 years closer to the day when I will finally cry "Here at last is the thing I was made for!" than I was on November 22, 1963.

* All Lewis quotes from "The Problem of Pain."