Reflections on a Yard Sale

Yes, I confess.† I used to dread our biannual church yard sales, which are always on a Saturday, but take two days to set-up.† A lot of my distaste for them was the pressure of time while raising kids, the neglect of my own home and yard that would still have to be made up, and the tedium.† Iíve noticed a gradual and growing shift in my attitude over the years, and while my reflections are fresh in my mind from our most recent one today, I thought Iíd share some of them.

We live in a consumption driven, acquisitively orientated society.† No doubt about it.† I lament it oftenójust ask my kidsówhile knowing full well I am implicated in it.† Itís tempting to look at all the donations we have at our yard sale and think ďWhat a shame.† All this stuff people acquire and discard.† We live in such a disposable society, buying stuff we donít need and then tossing it out.Ē

I used to do that, and maybe Iím just projecting onto others; maybe no one else looks at it that way.† Without a doubt thereís some truth to it.† I see it differently now, though.† I look around and I see a high chair parents used to feed their baby in.† I see couches people used to snuggle on as they rested at the end of the day.† I see kitchen tables that people used to fellowship around, pray around, laugh around and sustain themselves with daily bread.† I see toys and games a child once opened with delight under a Christmas tree or unwrapped for a birthday.† I see clothes that protected people and kept them warm or cool or dry as they worked, played, worshipped or even hurt, hungered and grieved.† I see exercise equipment that at least represented hope if not reality, cups that helped quench thirst, pictures that used to hang on walls and brighten a room and vases that held beautiful flowers that brightened a day.† I see books that educated, fascinated and entertained.

Itís all there, and more, much more.† Above it all I see love. †We all know that the most precious gifts we have to offer are not tangible.† But, being the frail creatures of the tangible world of sense that we are, when we freely and joyfully give tangible gifts to one another, we are able, by doing so, to also give them intangible gifts.

Not all, but some of the donations were once gifts given or received in love.† Some of them were probably things that used to belong to departed loved ones that their family is finally able to give away as they struggle to move through their grief.† Some of them were originally purchased as a way to care and provide for someoneís family.† Some were bought in hopes (perhaps misplaced, but who knows?) of being better people.† Some were bought to do good work, to better care for creation, to spend time in genuine activities of re-creation.† Some, yes even some, were probably bought wisely, on a budget, when something else nicer, better, lovelier, but more expensive, would have been preferred, but the person wanted to save more for generous, cheerful giving or necessary provision. ††And now they have given them away, in hopes that others may find some value in them, rather than toss it in a landfill.

Of course some of the stuff was unneeded, was charged with money one did not have, was bought in an attempt to satisfy a selfish desire, or was put to bad use, but not all, probably not most.† Many of the donations we had to offer were bought by people seeking to fulfill real needs or to give as the best gift they could to someone they dearly love, and maybe even to save money to give more to God or to others, and the donations helped them to do just that.

On yard sale weekends, our fellowship hall is packed with shared humanity: our memories, hopes, generosity, longings and love as well as our greed, acquisitiveness, envy, discontent and self-inflicted pain.† Itís packed with the image-bearers of God and the fallen, broken, prideful rebels those image-bearers have become.

And itís packed with another kind of humanity, too: the humanity of church family fellowshipping and serving.† I say serving because I believe most of the people who come are sincerely glad and genuinely needful of the things they buy, and knowing itís not ideal, it truly helps our church continue to serve and worship God.† It would be nice to not have to use the proceeds for the budget, to give it all away to Lutheran Services for the Aging or ELCA World Hunger or Disaster Relief, or to Synod benevolence, and thatís a good goal worth striving for and remaining mindful about, but God knows our frame; He knows our need; and He understands our fears and weaknesses.

Iím not willing to concretely say that we have not been faithful in giving.† I only know that I havenít always, so itís likely in the abstract that others have sometimes also not been as faithful as they should.† But this too I know:† God is always faithful, and He provides in our unfaithfulness without ever approving of it, always prompting us to more faithfulness and more generosity.† We need, nay, we must move towards that with the help of Godís grace and the power of His Spirit, but we must also give thanks to God for His provision now.

I also say fellowshipping because thereís a chance to get to talk to church family you may not get to talk to that often, the sharing of stories and memories, and even a good laugh or two.† Most get the chance to sit down and share a meal with someone.† Thereís also the natural fellowship of shared labor, which doesnít always include words, and the appreciation one gains for the willingness of others who do all the setting up and preparing.† To top it all off, itís intergenerational fellowship!

One also meets members of the community.† Some of the same people come year after year, and many of them will stop and talk if you give them an opening.† In the slow part of the afternoon this past Saturday, I spoke to a man who seemed hesitant to say more than hello, but I pressed a little and the next thing I knew we had a 20 minute conversation.

Itís a different world for me than it was 5-6 years ago when I begrudgingly started working at them.† Go to one sometime and see for yourself.† Bring a fresh pair of eyes.† They really help!

Perseverance, or What’s It All About Alfie?

Sometimes I think the harder you fight the more resistance there is such that more energy is expended to accomplish the same amount.† It’s like jogging 3 miles, but every time you increase your pace the wind blows back in equal proportion, so that you still only jog 3 miles, and you do it in the exact same amount of time, but you’re more worn out and exhausted at the end.

Even if you increase in strength and stamina from the extra exertion, so that each time you jog you can run faster and faster, the resistance is just going to increase proportionally. Like Sisyphus pushing that damn bolder up the hill every day.† You gotta know by the 1000th year of that he was exponentially stronger than when he started.† Didn’t matter.† Push rock up; rock rolls down (lather, rinse, repeat, buy more shampoo).

Of course the analogy breaks down because we don’t move a fixed distance, and what looks like getting nowhere builds character and hope (if we have eyes to see), but that is hard.† Especially when most people in your life only have a snapshot of you.† You come into their picture only regarding specific expectations and needs.† For them, those expectations must be met in full, to their standards, on their timelines, and are all high priority, front burner, world-ending-if-not-done-right-and-on-time issues, and your value to them is based on how well you meet those expectations, no matter how unrealistic, and they do not see the depth and density of your life, care what else you’re doing or about healthy balance.

Our lives are motion pictures but we see one another in still frames.

Let us now praise Crony Capitalism and its offspring: rapacious consumption, driven workaholism, false identity, burn out and debased culture.

“I believe in love, Alfie.† Without true love we just exist.”

Obama, Oil and Politics as Usual

The primaries have come to NC, and I have to tell you, I never thought I’d pull for a Clinton, but if I weren’t for McCain I’d have to vote for Hillary. Obama is slick, inexperienced and elitist. He’s like one of those infuriating Sprite ô commercials that tell you “Image is nothing” while using the image of sports stars to sell it to you.

He models “politics as usual” with his empty rhetoric of “run against Washington,” and “vote for change” that uses sound bytes, charm and slogans to pander to voters who think a president can solve all their problems. (Frankly, I already have a Messiah. )

Let’s look at oil, for example. One of his ads claims:

“Since the gas lines of the ’70s, Democrats and Republicans have talked about energy independence but nothing’s changed — except now Exxon’s making $40 billion a year and we’re paying $3.50 for gas. I’m Barack Obama. I don’t take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists, and I won’t let them block change anymore.”

As reported at the “Chicago Tribune’s” blog this “ad is factually correct. He does not take money from oil companies. A 1907 federal law bars all corporations from giving money to political candidates. However, oil company employees can make donations.” Further, “Obama has taken at least $263,000 from oil company executives, family members and employees since entering the presidential race last year, including $46,000 last month. At least $140,000 has come in chunks of between $1,000 and $2,300, the maximum permitted under federal law.”

He is perfectly willing to take oil money and then dumb down the debate about energy while attacking an easy corporate target. This is the worst sort of political maneuvering. He points to an “enemy,” grossly oversimplifies and distorts the issue and says “They are to blame for your problems, and I am the solution.”

I am not a fan of giant multinational corporations. I am way more Paleo-conservative than neo-conservative, but the oil companies are not responsible for the high cost of gasoline at the moment. Anyone who really wants to education himself on the subject should visit the Energy Information Administration, and especially read their Primer on Gasoline Prices.

According to professor of economics, Mark J. Perry, oil companies only receive about 10% profit per gallon, and he says that figure comes from the EIA itself . By contrast, the government received about 20% in taxes. According to economist Thomas Sowell “The government collects far more in taxes on every gallon of gasoline than the oil companies collect in profits. If oil company profits are ‘obscene, as some politicians claim, are the government’s taxes PG-13?”

Another “lie” by misrepresentation is the unquestioned assumption that oil companies make all their profits from the sale of gasoline. The fact is that gas profits are not “windfall” or out of balance with profits by other industries. The factors that really drive the cost of gasoline, like increased demand, global turmoil, commodity speculation and supply are mostly outside of any one government’s control.

To the extent that our government has any influence, Congress has the greatest, but that body is currently controlled by Democrats hoping to get a Democrat elected President. If you listen to the House Energy Independence & Global Warming Committee’s ” Hearing on Oil CEOs and Price Issues,” you’ll get a real feel for the complexity of the issue and the limitations of government. Even so, Congress still has a bigger role. They are participating in Obama’s “politics as usual,” though, and sitting on their hands to help him win the election.

Imagine for a moment that oil prices became stable overnight. Imagine further that oil companies began selling gas at cost. How long would it take them to be broke? If you look at the EIA’s page for petroleum, Americans probably consume about 400 million gallons of gas a day. That’s 146 billion gallons a year. That’s 14.6 billion dollars in profit, from gasoline sales.

If, suddendly, they did not have that revenue, and did not try to recover it by increasing prices on other products, in about 10 years or so, there would be no oil companies, besides OPEC. In the meantime there’d also be no R&D, no investment in refining capacity, no exploration for new supplies and no investment in alternative energy, all things oil companies spend profits on.

The point of this is that the oil companies are not Satan and Obama is not Jesus Christ. By acting as if this issue is really very simple and characterizing the oil companies as the “enemy” Obama is engaging in the worst sort of typical election-cycle pandering.

Of Markets and Men

When are we going to realize that if men are not moral markets can’t be. The idea of markets, of freedom in general, are moral, but their operation will only be as moral as the people who use them. Free markets don’t make men moral; moral men make free markets.

I support free markets, but just because we are a capitalist country doesn’t mean we are fated to allow the market to dictate all our choices, or that we should leave God’s work up to the “Invisible Hand.” “We are His workmanship, created for good works in Christ.” He called us, His disciples, to be his hands in this world, not a system. We can do that by establishing an economic and political system that maximizes freedom, but not by pretending the system creates morality.

The moral life is not one of striving; rather, it is one of surrender, surrender to the Lordship of Christ, over men and markets.

This does not mean government has to replace markets. There are other, self-imposed, alternatives to government intervention, but the advertising paradigm and profit maximization are so pervasive and accepted that no one will seriously consider challenging them.

I listen to a listener supported radio station; Hillsdale College which refuses to accept any government money; bookstores that refuse to sell porn even though it would sell well, a small businessman who refuses to take the money and run when a big company wants to buy him out and close him down, there are many examples of people voluntarily not doing something even though doing so would turn a bigger profit.

Once people stop making choices based on principles other than profits then they cease to be free markets and we become slaves to them.