Tag Archives: Mormon

Industrial Tools in a Digital World: or what good is money to a cave man

I once found myself sitting at my desk with a magic check book. I could scrawl out numbers large or small to anyone (except myself) and those checks would clear. I was under the general charge to use those checks to help those in need, and records were to be strictly kept, but other than that, it was all up to me. I was the genie, I could grant wishes, and I really wanted to help. I wanted to do good, to tackle the troubles facing those within my reach and now I had the ultimate tool; a magic checkbook.phillysky

This office was right on North Broad Street in the heart of one of Philadelphia’s most blighted neighborhoods. I was positioned perfectly. I was right where help was needed, with all the money I could imagine, possessing more will to do good than I knew what to do with, and I have never felt more useless and impotent then I did during that time.

I didn’t even make a dent.

This isn’t to say I wasn’t able to do some good or help some folks here and there, nor am I fishing for support with self-deprecating comments. No. I really wasn’t able to fix a thing. I have never felt so utterly thwarted.IMG_0423

I wrote a lot of checks, but not as many as you might have thought. We did our best to be financially responsible by not replicating services available elsewhere and thanks to WIC, food stamps, section 8 and a plethora of slum lords I paid out a lot less on rent mortgages and food than others I have seen with similar check books. I paid for a refrigerator, a water heater, paid tuition, bought subway tokens, patched a hole on someone’s roof, and funded a lot of plumbers and electricians. I also paid for some mental health services. Those ones were tricky, not because the money or service was funny, but because I discovered that those who needed these services most were hard to track down. They kept going homeless and getting arrested or admitted to hospitals. I did pay for some phones. Those were probably the most useful things I wrote checks for.

There was one woman I knew who was battling Cancer. She was unable to work and didn’t own a car that ran. We used to sit in her living room, her reeling from the effects of chemo, me reeling from the stacks of unpaid bills that she kept incredibly organized in a stack next to the couch. She knew who she owed, when things were due, and how much she had, but what she couldn’t get was a straight answer from anyone on the phone. She would be in the ratty recliner queuing up the bill, I would make the phone call and use my best respectable white man voice to try to get some clue as to what number to put on my magic check. Mostly I was put on hold or lectured about financial responsibility or sternly warned about service interruptions.

There was this other retired woman whose inherited house was reassessed and she magically owed back taxes. Old age and epilepsy made getting a job a non-starter so she borrowed money from friends and family to scrape together taxes. Scraping included not paying her water or electricity. She had previously been on a payment plan for both, and these plans included the stipulation that should you ever miss a payment you would be required to pay all the fees that would have accrued had you not been on said plan. I wrote a check for $2,000 to get the water turned on and $1,700 for the electricity. She was incredibly grateful and as we flipped the switch and there was light, she stared off into space and asked, “What am I supposed to do when the tax comes due again next year?” The house wasn’t particularly nice.copandfire

There was the truck driver who was on a rent-to-own program to gain full ownership of his rig. He was forced to forfeit with two payments left because someone rear ended him at a stop light. There was guy in the carpenters union who was laid off for over a year and then billed for two years of apprentice school when he finally took a menial job outside the union. There was even a stripper who didn’t want to dance but was struggling to find a way to pay her bills when she had no other marketable skills. There were all sorts of stories and I wrote all sorts of checks, but what I was mostly unable to do was change anyone’s long term situation.

My endless checkbook’s funds were insufficient in the face of greater contexts.

In some respects, and to some extent in retrospect, the failure was mine. I was afraid of going big and swinging for the fence. Every month I would meet with approximately five other men who had similar checkbooks but with different jurisdictions. They were mostly suburban and they almost always spent more money than me. They were also older than me and more experienced. We would meet and talk about solutions, and principles of work, and the overall theme would be in wondering how we could write fewer checks or get people to stop asking for money. There was much ado about responsibility and self-sufficiency, both of which I was on board with, but as we talked each month they would bring up a small redundant set of scenarios, or even repeat certain family names again and again, and here I was talking about everyone and everything. They would repeat to me some principle about work having it sown value and that rather than handouts we needed to encourage people to take control of their own situation. I would talk about the woman with cancer, or the new taxes, or the carpenter, I didn’t share the stripper because that would have seemed salacious, and they would just repeat those principles. I found it very dissatisfying and I was branded a passionate young firebrand. Whether it was the branding or the caution toward frugality, I never did what I really wanted to do which was to just pay off all of these people’ bills with some sort of trust moving forward, freeing them from the crushing weight of the unpaid bill shuffle or the impending doom of bills yet to come. I wanted to just write some big numbers that would give these people more than just some wiggle room but the solid footing needed to build a skill or chase an opportunity. But I didn’t. No one told me directly not to do it, yet I remained afraid knowing full well how the others interpreted those principles and my magic was rendered impotent.IMG_2057

I remember that check book any time I read policy debates about public school funding, government entitlements, or healthcare. Any time I hear the statement that problems cannot be solved by throwing money at them, I hear echoes of those monthly check writer’s meetings. They sound the same and that same feeling I had there rings and resonates inside me with the same feeling of helplessness and I know that this discussion will fall short. I know this because I am no longer a young firebrand but rather I am a little older and experienced. I know better now and were I to go back to my former self in those meetings and with that checkbook, and in the discussions of policy now, I would write those giant checks.

I would agree that the problems of a post-industrial world cannot be solved by just throwing money at them- then- I would add that any solution that doesn’t include throwing lots of money at it, is incomplete and wrong.

We live in a 1st world country with 1st world problems and those who have the means to become world traveled know this. They point out that the impoverished in America have so much more than almost everyone else in the world. I haven’t been to those places but I get it. I understand. I realize that in some countries people walk miles to get water from a well in bare feet and toil with seeds and soil to pull out rice or yams to eat in their tin roofed shacks with dirt floors. I am reminded of these things or these places when Americans look at our budget deficit or entitlements or failing public schools. We are rich and we are wasting it and we need to stop the bleeding and become more responsible. I get it.IMG_3343

But I cannot tell that retired woman that rather than asking for $2,000 to get her 1st world water turned back on, that she should get a bucket and walk to the well. Because there is no well.

I cannot tell the man from the carpenter’s union to stop wasting his money on rent and use his skills to build himself a tin roofed shack. We don’t allow that here.

I cannot tell that dancer to employ her health in planting and harvesting because she has no land, no seeds, and no time.

And the woman with cancer. Were she in one of those places the answer would be somewhat more direct. She would go untreated and die. Because that is what happens there.

Truth is that in America people need money. If someone has some money, they must spend their time in accruing more in order to keep up with the clock because in America time has a cost. If you happen to have an abundance of money you can buy time, and spend it as you choose. But if you start out with no money you will at some point need to borrow or beg because you cannot afford the cost of living that time demands while you are spending your time in the act of accumulation. And that initial cost of time is the rub.

Time is the rub because it is so much more expensive than we realize and our 1st world has completely adjusted to those who can already afford it. It has taken us quite some time to get here, but we have arrived and if we just deal with now, acknowledging how we got here but willing to deal with the present, we have a lot of work to do and it is going to be more expensive than we realize.

For instance, schools are not only expensive to run, but opening up charter schools and options for parents, is mostly only open to those who can already afford the costs of changing schools, including the cost of time in researching and applying. Retraining those displaced from industrial jobs due to mechanization is not just expensive as it relates to tuition or instruction, but the time it takes to learn and get re-hired. Who pays the bills in the meantime? It is as if any one who finds themselves at zero is being fooled by the goose egg. There is no such thing just as time never stands still. Zero lasts only a moment before it becomes a negative and as soon as you realize you have hit the bottom you are in negative numbers.

So as I remember back to those days where I had the magic check book but was too afraid to write a tectonic check I also remember that one of the reasons I did not, one of the reasons why I felt so helpless, a foundational contributing factor to my in effectiveness, was that money wasn’t and would never be, enough. I knew it then. I couldn’t stop time. I didn’t have enough extra hands, enough hours, enough extra bodies or opportunities, to throw at these people’s problems in addition to throwing money. Because it was instantly obvious that this is what was, and still is needed.

We cannot solve the problems of poverty by simply throwing money at them. Reality is that it takes money and then it takes more. Throwing money and throwing time.

Developed society has left behind the sweat of our brow and replaced it with allowances either purchased or granted. Because of this we cannot expect any progress within the lower half of society unless there is some sort of concession granted by those who control, or own resources. We will never solve poverty in the 1st world till more of those who can afford time, start spending it on helping those who can’t.

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Marginalization

I am a Mormon. You cannot tell that just by looking at me, but it is very much a part of who I am. I could even argue that it is everything that I am. But you cannot really see it.img_5762

There are plenty of Mormons who like to think their Mormonism is visible, that we glow, but this is simply self-affirmation. You can’t see it. It isn’t like Orthodox Judaism or some forms of Islam with proscribed hair and clothing. We don’t even have any actual symbols to announce our faith. No crosses, no Star of David, no half moon and star. Some of us have created symbols, like Angel Moroni lapel pins, but these came “from the streets” not from God. But we know our own. We know who we are because we are obsessed with ourselves.

This is arguably why many people do not like us. We do not sit quietly in a corner, we let you know who we are. We knock on your door and ask you to join us. Odds are, if you want to be left alone, we still won’t leave you alone. This is one reason why, even if I am personally leaving people alone, they still might throw beer bottles at me, swerve their motorcycle to run me off the road, mock my faith loudly during board meetings, accusingly tell me what I believe in job interviews, misrepresent me in classrooms, sing songs mocking me in bars, spit chewed food at me, or the ever hard to really pin down- deeply ignore me. I have experienced all of these things personally.

Sometimes it happens without the other person knowing my faith. They say something negative with no intent to upset me because they don’t know. But most people I know, know what I am, and when the digs come they are intentional. It will not happen, but theoretically, I could always choose to simply not be Mormon. People leave the faith all the time. It isn’t like my last name ties me to an ethnicity like say, Lifshitz or Austerlitz, though I should say that names are how I know Ammon Bundy and Manti Teo were born Mormon. I could hide if I really wanted too, but odds are if I ever became somebody I would get outed. We out our own all the time.

For instance Derek and Julianne Hough, Aaron Eckhart, Ryan Gosling, all born Mormon. Roseanne Barr’s family joined when she was a kid and thanks to my favorite Pop-up Video bubble, the singer Jewel was Mormon till the age of 8. This was my favorite insider Mormon joke because we all know you cannot officially be Mormon until you turn 8, but the point is we are self-obsessed enough that even if you leave us, we will find and claim you. Just the other week I got a text while sitting in church informing me that the real life Rudy, the guy the movie portrayed, had just been baptized a Mormon.

There are some good explanations for this obsession; both historically and due to what it is like to live as a Mormon day-to-day. For example the governor of Missouri signed an extermination order in 1838 authorizing the use of deadly force to remove all Mormons from the state. During much of those years Mormons lived as refugees fleeing from place to place relying on each other for survival. Identifying and sticking with our own was critical. Then we went and founded a city. Then we went and founded a whole bunch more. Salt Lake, Las Vegas, San Bernardino, all Mormon. But manifest destiny couldn’t be stopped and in 1857 the United States declared war on the Mormons in Utah and occupied Salt Lake. As a kid my family regularly drove past the army base originally established by federal forces to keep us Mormons in line.

But that was forever ago, everyone who lived in those days is long gone. Yet this era is such a part of the Mormon cultural legacy that to this day every congregation across the United States send their youth on small summer “treks” where they dress in 19th century clothing and pull rickety human powered wagons called “hand carts” for a week in the woods to ingrain in these kid’s minds what their predecessors endured. If you visit Utah in July you will learn that July 24th, “Pioneer Day” commemorating the arrival of Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley is celebrated bigger and louder than the 4th. We refuse to forget.

But it isn’t just history, being Mormon today does draw some attention. While you cannot see my Mormonism, the fact that I have never tasted coffee, or alcohol, or that I was willfully a virgin at my wedding, have put me in some serious spotlights over the years, especially in high school and college. I weathered that storm, but even in the professional world I have had bosses question whether or not I could be an adequate host to important accounts if I was unwilling to drink at the bar with them or share a good glass of wine. I was of course willing to host clients at a bar, but I have learned through repeated experience, I repeat-much experience, that most people are uncomfortable drinking with a person who isn’t doing the same. Yet this one little thing which is such a miniscule part of my faith and an even smaller aspect of who I am as a person, has become my defining characteristic to a huge portion of my associates; clients, rugby teammates, neighbors, colleagues. It becomes rather annoying having that same conversation time and time again, “No not even a little bit. Nope never have. No it isn’t really that hard. Yes hats off to me and yes I still like karaoke.” My religious views on sexual expression influence what I watch in movies, television and online. I love movies and television, and the internet, but every Oscar season there is a large swath of nominated productions that I have not, nor will ever see. This makes me different than other cinephiles and makes me almost unable to meaningfully communicate in those circles.

Faithful Mormons are largely expected to marry other Mormons.

This can make things a little tricky if you don’t live around a critical mass of other Mormons. This is one of many reasons why so many Mormons want to live in Utah, or send their kids to BYU. They want some options, they want to fit in, and they want to be part of their people. Some of us feel this desire to be among our own very strongly, some of us are annoyed by the idea, but we all understand it. I am an American to the core, but having grown up in Utah, I have felt very much the expatriate living in other states. Looking back, at both my youth and my home state, I am a bit amused at how much I, and we, felt like ex pats even when we were living in Utah.

This is why the local Deseret News regularly prints lists of every identifiable Mormon playing in the NFL, the NBA, NCAA, Olympics, or on TV, or in congress. We take a special pride whenever one of our own does anything. I never watched the old MTV show Real World, till a Mormon named Julie went on the show and embarrassed me. I watched every episode of that season. There is a website, www.famousmormons.org that attempts to list every Mormon doing anything, the church puts out an official portfolio of monthly magazines (Ensign, Liahona, New Era, the Friend) yet you can find all sorts of extra Mormon themed magazines not published by the church, but more just published for Mormons by Mormons (LDS Living Magazine). We have created our own books, book stores, television stations, network of blogs (the bloggernacle), music, schools (SVU), all above and beyond what our hyper organized church produces and we cling to such even when we are already living amongst our own. We are self-obsessed.

But I get it. Sometimes I get tired being different and just want to relax with a group of my “brothers and sisters”. Sometimes I want to watch something like Napoleon Dynamite with hard to explain inside jokes. Sometimes I would like to see a doctor who understands why I might be a couch potato yet have this health nut styled prohibition on tobacco and alcohol, yet won’t drink green tea. I would love a dance company for my daughter to join that understands why she won’t train on Sunday. But I also want to live in New York.

So I get it.

Because I get it, I refuse to listen to any white Mormon who makes the complaint that black people think too much about race. I reject any critique coming from people like me regarding black colleges, black television, a congressional black caucus, or a black history month. It is hard being an “other” in America. I know this because I am one. And as one who has experienced how “hard” it is to be Mormon in current society, yet only glimpsed what it might be like to be black, I testify that America is harder on black people than it is on Mormons.

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Because We Vote Next Week and I Cannot Stop

I saw recently that Ammon Bundy and his cohorts were all acquitted, found innocent, of any crimes related to their armed takeover of a federal facility. There was no question as to whether or not it happened, they held press conferences, it was just a matter of whether a jury was willing to vote that they should suffer some consequences for doing so. The jury, a representation of us- we the people- let them go (not completely as two of the acquitted have other charges in a different state). I respect the idea that laws, due process and common consensus should rule society; it is part of our “American-ness”, but this instance highlights some things I find deeply troubling.Processed with Snapseed.

Ammon Bundy was set free. Brock Turner got a slap on the wrist. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president. These three may not truly be related and we could dissect the notion of fairness related to any and everything related to each instance or individual. We could do that. But I want to just stand back and take in the view for a minute. Because when I stand back I see other things too.

I see Officer Johannes Mehserle found not guilty of murder when he shot a hand cuffed Oscar Grant on camera at a subway station. I see George Zimmerman being found not guilty of chasing down an unarmed Treyvon Martin and shooting him dead. I see no charges filed at all when Officer Timothy Loehmann shoots and kills a 12 year old Tamir Rice who was carrying a toy gun. I see no one charged with anything when 2 officers shot and killed John Crawford as he carried a BB-gun he picked up off the shelf in Wal-Mart. I see a jury fail to agree that Michael Dunn had committed murder when he fired his gun 10 times at Jordan Davis, killing him, for playing his car stereo too loud. I see Dzhokhar Tsarnaev setting off bombs at the Boston Marathon, shooting police officers, and being brought to court alive. I see juries fail to convict six officers of anything when they put a live Freddie Gray into a van, only to have him emerge from the vehicle in an injury induced coma.

When I stand back and look at the big picture I do not see an America where black and white people are treated the same. I should mention, or make clear, that when I say “America” I mean two things: we the people as a day to day society and the official systems through which individuals interact with government and laws. Both of which are America and it appears that on the whole, something is off. I feel a lot of things are off, but when it comes to race, this offness, no matter the situation or subject in which it begins, bleeds over into and onto everything. Take murder for instance. Murder cases are inherently troubling without regard to anyone’s racial identity, it is hard to prove who did what and why, and due to potential severity of the legal consequences, convictions and punishments get tricky. But it really does appear that when a black person is involved, the tricks normally go against them. Then there is rape. Our deeply sexualized culture and country make accusations of rape a bit tricky. He-said she-said, facts and intentions, all things any individual- let alone system, could easily get wrong. Yet when black people are involved in any way, it appears that more often than not, they are thought of or treated as if they are wrong. Politics and partisanship is full of all sorts of wrong. It would be so if everyone and anyone involved were exclusively white- yet when anyone is black, there is something special in the attack.

Barack Obama won. He would surely have been hated no matter his skin, just like Bush before him. But remember back when his pastor was questioned? Called a racist? Accused of hating America? In that ugly campaign the candidate’s love for country was questioned because he attended a church where the pastor questioned America’s love for black people. Standing back looking at the big picture I wonder the same thing and share that pastor’s question. Back then, those who cared about churches were offended at Jeremiah Wright. In isolation, perhaps the offense would be fair. But I am not isolated and today I see those same church caring people excusing a candidate whose whole premise is that America is currently bad. Trump’s America loses everything is bad at everything is currently failing and those who accused Barack Obama of hating America, currently fail to accuse Trump of the same. But that is not race that is politics. Right? But then there was also Skip Gates and Treyvon and Michelle’s convocation speeches and  shootings in Charleston and then Obama talks about race and is sub sequentially accused of seeking to divide America, we the people and our system, along racial lines. So much so that Glenn Beck goes on national television and declares that Obama hates white people. Kanye did that to Bush so Glenn had a precedent, but where Kanye was referring to a cataclysmic disaster where black people were left to die without resources, Mr. Beck was referring to the President criticizing the police for arresting a black Harvard professor with a cane who was trying to break in to his own home. Kanye also snatched the mic from a harmless little blonde girl on stage at an awards show so I suppose it’s the same thing right? But you see, Kanye, and folks like Kanye, have been saying what Kanye says for decades, centuries really. But people like Beck weren’t going on television and saying things like Glen said so openly, till Obama.

No. That isn’t true. People like Beck have said that stuff all along but now people who say it are nominated for president. Now, today, someone who has questioned the sitting president’s nationality, his religion, his dedication to America, and who has himself been sued-as in federal court- for racial discrimination, and bragged on tape that he sexually assaults women, and publicly mocks those who are protected by Title IX (an act of congress), is not only excused, but nominated for president.

Now Trump is not a nominee without trouble. Many in his party are against him. Yet from back here with this big picture view, it still feels odd that the Republican Party sticks with him through mockery of the handicap, refusal to disclose tax records, accusing Mexican immigrants in general of rape and murder, encouraging violence against protesters, insinuating the need for violence to protect against alleged minority voter fraud, and all of that is tolerated for this man? He is touted for speaking his mind and pushed to the front? The President makes mention of racism and he is dismissed as racist?

I find it troubling that the election of a black man, with an almost spotless pre-election personal record, has apparently led us directly to the nomination of the most scandal ridden candidate in history to succeed him. Those who support this candidate would consider Trump an improvement. He is their hope and change. I am taking time, while back here looking for perspective, to look inside myself as well. Am I too much an apologist? Am I blind to the dark side of those with dark skin? Blind to Barack’s faults?

I understand those incensed by Obamacare. Insurance continues to be largely unaffordable. I get those who are disgusted that under his watch the Wall St. disaster went largely, or completely, un-punished. Those in power were “bailed out” while average people continued losing homes and jobs. I appreciate those who are enraged at the record number of immigrants President Obama has deported. I even understand those who look to his failed leadership or abilities in regards to our legislative grid-lock. I accept those critiques. I get that anger. But those are in large part, excepting the Obamacare complaint, not the issue I hear being shouted. No. I hear of his hate for this nation, his weakness abroad, his complete lack of character. He is called Muslim, or evil, or socialist, same diff and he must be replaced. Perhaps I could find this trajectory more palatable if Trump was less repugnant. But he isn’t. He isn’t and this shouting against him in this vein is not coming from the obscurity but from the party of Lincoln. It looks and sound like a lascivious white lunatic is preferred to black man.

But then “they” prefer him to Hillary as well. She is most definitely white. So I must be seeing this wrong.

And then Bundy gets off.

After one lonely New Black Panther at a polling place with a stick goes to court, is prosecuted for two years and major political players step down. After all of that, the new candidate encourages vote patrolling and a militia of white men with machine guns invade federal property and a jury acquits! In this current mass shooting climate they are acquitted? No one doubts they were there and they did it but the jury simply says its okay? I wish I was confused but sadly I’m not. I think I see something. Right in front of us. Why do so many who look like me not see it too?

And here is what hurts me even more.

So many don’t know that Ammon is a Mormon name. Distinctly so. I am one too. The thing that I am most, above all others, is Mormon. I suspect someone named after such a prominent character in our faith’s foundational scripture sees himself that way too. I see Bundy over there, and me over here, and I sometimes wonder where the rest of “our people” stand. I am no prophet so I understand myself not being completely surrounded. I have not intentionally, though I am open to the possibility, that I have drifted somewhere off kilter, setting myself aside. Maybe it is me. But then there is him, and while he is definitely not in the center, he appears to have much more of a posse. Ammon Bundy, Glenn Beck, Donald Trump, Republicans, Libertarians, all appear to have more of my people than not only Obama, but they have more of my people than me. Not me as a person but me where I stand. Seeing what I see. Not in this party or that but looking at the same view. My perspective. I cannot help but imagine that if our current election was Trump vs. Obama, my people would still pick McMullin. They, we, would vote for a third-party-nobody because he is one of us, and still complain that Obama is preferred by blacks because of race. They would understand why Ammon would take up arms, but then not have sympathy for Treyvon being pursued by an armed vigilante.

 

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Philly Skyline: a new addition

It felt like going home. I didn’t grow up there, I don’t live there now, but it still feels like my home.

Philadelphia has a new spire in its skyline and the weekend I spent there recently was one of the more “Philly” sorts of weekends I could have imagined.

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It was full old friends, old buildings, new buildings, and new restaurants. But mostly it was that one new building.

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What once required a lot of car pooling and a three hour drive to DC is now a subway trip for them… and an all day flight for me.img_7283

it was worth the trip.

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Missionary Misadventures: Olympics

The ’96 Olympics in Atlanta brought out crowds like we had never seen and we had to capitalize. We called our display “Big True”, an 8 foot tall display of Arnold Friberg’s illustrations of the Book of Mormon. We set up this wall of images and used it to strike up conversations with the crowds of revelers. We thought it a great tool.IMG_5937

A Black man wearing a tunic and kufi walked by, paused, and then began looking closely at each individual image. He stood back a moment, then turned and looked me in the eyes.

“Excuse me, but where are all the Black people? How do you have images of hundreds of biblical people and not one Black person?”

Every one of the other missionaries took a big step backwards. They all looked down at their feet. No one was prepared, nor wanted, to field this question or deal with this man. A crowd of Judases.

He was looking right at me. He wasn’t smiling. Why me? Judases.IMG_6011

“Um… Well… You see these are images from the book of Mormon which happened thousands of years ago in the ancient Americas. It’s the story of two groups of people, one brown and one white. The two groups found it hard to get along. Eventually the brown folks killed off all the white ones, because the white people were wicked, leaving only the ancestors of the American Indians. The Black people didn’t show up till a couple thousand years later when the Europeans brought them over against their will.”

My companions looked at me in terror. The man looked at me, back at the images, then smiled and asked, “How much to buy one of those books?”

The other missionaries told me it was the worst answer they had ever heard.
I’m not convinced it wasn’t the best answer I had ever given.

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For Christmas I Want More Christ-like Behavior: from everyone

I like stuff, especially nice stuff. Sometimes I focus on “stuff” or things, because inanimate objects can be subjected to scrutiny without rebuffing the scrutinizer. People, or society, do no such thing and not only despise scrutiny, but too often dish it out in inhumane ways. I may be guilty of this myself, but for today’s Christmas wish I’m ignoring my own faults and look at others.IMG_1647

For Christmas I wish people with money would stop complaining about those with less.

Even those of us, especially those of us, who work hard yet still struggle to almost hold on to middle class, should stop complaining or worse yet blaming poor people for the problems of the world.passed out subway

I wish we, all of us, would stop that. It isn’t Christ like. This is Christmas.

Those in poverty are not without their faults, nor are the middle or the rich. What the poor are without is comfort and power. Why would those of us with something, no matter how little, resent those with less? The idea that the poor are the source of modern American troubles is not only false, but in my mind, a morally indefensible idea. WE, the collective we, including the rich and the middle are all guilty of moral corruption and I am tired of the demonization of those who inhabit the bottom rung of society.couchontheblock

I can think of nothing crueler, nothing as polar opposite of charity and kindness, than to abuse (in any way) those who suffer in poverty. For Christmas I wish we as a nation would be more Christ-like.

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Just a Little Bit More: reluctantly

Seeing is believing. Television producers know this. So do newspapers, this is why they print photographs. I am not, nor was I before last weekend, one of those conspiracy theorists who think the moon landing was staged; I am one of the reasonable folks, a believer if you will. But I learned something all over again last weekend when I got to see firsthand something I already believed in. I learned it against my will. I had other plans. Recreational ones.IMG_6347

I had already done my part, I was done. A sign-up sheet had been passed around in Sunday School and I could see that there were plenty of people in the room to fill the available slots. I signed my name on an open space and passed the clipboard on to the person next to me. I silently nodded my head up and down showing approval of the great work to which I had just committed myself. Yes, I am a good man and I had just signed up to do my part.

My part was to drop off empty grocery bags on people’s porches for a community food drive. I was given a route of approximately 200 homes and a stack of bags to deliver over one weekend. The home owners were informed that if they wished to participate in the food drive to simply fill the bag with non-perishable food items and leave it on their curb the following Saturday. There was another group of people, who signed their names on a different space on the sign-up sheet, who would then drive around the neighborhoods picking up filled bags of food to then go drop off at the municipal food pantry. This food would then be given out to those in need, homeless, unemployed, or just plain hungry.

I loved the idea. This was, and shall I say is, a great example of religious congregations working together with municipalities, to involve the general community in helping the needy. Sold! I’m a believer. I read the flier and was all in, no printed picture or images needed. Done.IMG_5968

Done, just like I was after dropping off 189 paper grocery bags. I didn’t do it all alone; I made my two young daughters help. They were fairly willing participants. We all drove to the assigned neighborhood, I gave them each a stack of bags, and told them the first one to finish their side of the street was the winner. The prize was only a round of applause but they weren’t disappointed. The feelings felt from participating in something good were reward enough. Good kids, good dad, all done. Nice job.

The next Friday I found myself carrying a rolled up blanket to a neighborhood outdoor movie. I had been looking forward to this Friday, not for the movie, but because it meant it was almost Saturday. I was especially happy for this Saturday because I had no plans and a green light from the powers that be to spend my plan-less time doing only what I pleased. I was beholden to no one and I meant to capitalize in some unplanned fashion even if it meant doing nothing. I worked hard that week and I had earned it. I wandered around the grassy area till I found an open spot next to my good friend Gary and his family. I spread out the blanket, gave my small people permission to go eat some unhealthy things, and got a fabulous idea.

“Gary! What are you doing tomorrow morning!”

I blurted out the question the moment inspiration hit me. Hiking. We should go hiking. Gary is always looking for something to do, I needed some recreation, he’s a cool guy, perfect scenario.

Gary looked up from his blanket and gaggle of kids and replied, “I’m finishing up that food drive. Why? You wanna come help?”

My inspired idea popped and fizzled like “get well” balloon at a funeral.

“Um-Uh-Oh yeah. Ha, ha, no. Ya see we dropped off bags last weekend. We already helped. No, uh, I was gonna see if you wanted to go hiking in the morning.”IMG_6372

I had forgotten that Gary was the guy who had been asked to coordinate this whole food drive project. He didn’t really volunteer for it but didn’t bat an eye when they asked him to do it. He didn’t frown or fret at my stammering, he just smiled and declined the hiking and repeated his invitation for me to help.

My mind quickly retorted “Dude. Didn’t you just hear me? I said we already did our part. We are done man!” While this was in my mind, something, perhaps the memory of my mother’s advice to be nice, it didn’t come out of my mouth. Nothing came out, I just sort stood with an empty stare. He took opportunity of the pause to cheerfully explain that there was still plenty of work to be done, he had dropped off bags too but wasn’t sure there would be enough people at the food pantry to handle the response so he planned to show up there just in case. He said it the same way you recount math; matter of factly, no guile. It caught me off guard. He didn’t make me feel bad, or even guilty, though I did feel a little bit of that as I stared at my deflated hiking idea on the ground, but it didn’t come from him. It came from me.

I said yes.

He said he would pick me up at 10.

The next morning at 10:15 I saw it. I saw it and I believed.IMG_6371

Cars started showing up with bags full of groceries and drivers full of smiles. Some cars came with two bags, a couple came with twenty. I pitched in carrying bags and cans inside where the food was separated, organized and shelved. People would drive up, others would scurry about carrying and sorting, and the stack of food grew and grew. Gary was counting the bags as they came in, comparing that number to the number of empty bags distributed. Five percent. Five percent is the ratio of how many people donated compared to the number of bags left on porches. Gary had hoped for ten. By the time we wrapped up that percentage had grown to seven. In that seven percent I saw something I would have missed had I gone up the mountainside as planned.IMG_6369

I saw potential for the greatness of humanity.IMG_6374

I saw it in the smiles of the drivers delivering donated food. I saw it in the stack of food that filled the racks inside the pantry. I saw it in Gary and his clipboard. I got to see that if you drop off empty bags on the porches of strangers, they will in fact fill it with food to give to the homeless. That is amazing. I did not consider seven percent is a huge return, until I considered the amount of food that percentage produced. It was a lot of food. For and from strangers! It was wonderful. It was wonderful and I almost missed it. I almost missed it because I considered myself to already be a believer. I didn’t need to see. I wasn’t Thomas and I had already done my part. Oh, but how glad am I that I got to see. How glad am I that Gary gave me that little push to do a little more.

Before he pushed me, by just inviting, I think I was experiencing a seven percent return of goodness on that food drive. My kids had participated, we got the bags onto doorsteps, it was good. That seven percent of good didn’t compare to the good I felt and saw Saturday morning. All because Gary gave me a chance to do just a little more than I signed up for, just a little more than just my part. I saw it and my belief went to a new place.IMG_6373

Imagine if all those neighborhoods had done just a little bit more. Or maybe if they could just see what I saw. Imagine what the whole city could do with just one more little invitation. Imagine the country or the world if we were all asked to go just a little bit past that seven percent, if everyone could see that good that could be done. It would almost be enough to make me think we would never need to do such a project ever again.

If just a little. A little bit.

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