Rethinking my Consumption

Sometimes you go chugging through life wtihout poking your head up to see what’s really going on. I think I get like that a lot. And once in awhile you see or read or hear or watch something that jolts you into taking another look at everything.

Matt recently pointed me to something that lots of people have seen but was new to me. It was a 20-minute video called “The Story of Stuff” and it rocked my world. I know there are those who for whatever reason will try to poopoo her statistics and minimize what this woman Annie Leonard is trying to say in this video. And it’s likely that I wouldn’t see eye-to-eye with her on everything. But I’m convinced that she is onto something that most of ignore, and if she’s off in her stats, I suspect (fear?) that it’s not by much.

I won’t pontificate too much on this because i think the video speaks for itself and I think it will prompt you to do some thinking. On my end it is seriously making the question whether I am enslaved to the “golden arrow” (watch the video). It’s even made me take a long hard look at whether I will upgrade my Mac on the usual cycle or not (gasp!).

I appreciate that the site also offers a very simple practical list of ten ways we can do things another way. I hope you can see beyond whatever your political leanings may be and allow this video to at least prompt you to reconsider what role you play in the story of stuff…

Centers of Influence

When I woke up in my San Diego hotel room the morning after the election, I found a complimentary copy of USA Today outside my door. Inside I found a map that fascinated me. It showed the election results on a map of the US county by county, red for Mr. McCain and blue for Mr. Obama. Regardless of how you feel about the results of the recent General Election, I think there is something to be learned from what that map revealed.

According to the map (I’ve posted an image above that is more complete than the one I found in the paper that morning), the vast majority of the US, at least geographically speaking, went to Mr. McCain. The map at first glance is almost entirely red. But the pockets of blue are what really made the difference. Those areas represent the major urban centers of the US. I’m talking about the big cities.

The cities may not represent the geographic majority, but they are without doubt the centers of influence in our nation. As the cities go, so will the rest of the country. I’m sure my analysis is incomplete and incomplete in some ways, but it just got me thinking that if we are going to reach our nation for Christ, a good portion of kingdom resources must be aimed at winning the hearts and minds of those who live in our great cities.

This is not a new revelation, and I am certainly not the first person to make this observation, not by a long shot. I mention it because our church is working through where we want to aim our energies and resources in the years ahead. As that vision reaches beyond our immediate community, this insight will help guide us.

If you are reading this and you happen to be a Christ follower who lives in one of our major cities, please steward your position well. Let your life and your testimony present Christ and his invitation of hope in a way that is winsome and compelling.

Hail to the chief

Last night was a historic night for the United States regardless of your politics. I hope that you can see that. Regardless of how you feel personally about Barack Obama or his politics, the fact that this nation put an African-American in the White House only 53 years after Rosa Parks’ heroic act of defiance is an amazing thing.

Mr. Obama was elected in part on the promise that he would unite us as a nation and combat the bipartisan polarization that has paralyzed America. Senator McCain made similar promises. Now one of the candidates has prevailed and I trust that he will do what he can to follow through. Whether he succeeds depends quite a bit on us as citizens.

Last night, listening to post-election coverage here in San Diego where I’ve been attending some meetings, I was dismayed to hear a McCain supporter’s response to the question, “Now that Mr. Obama has won the election wil you stand behind him as your new president.” That McCain supporter replied flaty, “No. I’ll oppose him just the same as the Democrats did to Bush. Two can play at that game.” Maybe that man’s sentiments are not reflective of most McCain supporters, but it is an attitude that is wrong.

I would like to call on all the folks at Harvest to join in supporting our new president. If you read this as a pro-Obama statement you would be mistaken. God’s word clearly tells us in Romans 13:1, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Let’s take that seriously.

Let’s give the new president a chance to govern. Let’s try for a moment to stop acting like Democrats and Republicans and start acting like Americans. For those of us who follow Christ that is not as difficult as it may sound because Jesus has given us a legitimate alternative identity apart from our political parties: that of disciples.

God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America (so presidential…).

Insert object of disdain here…

You see them everywhere. Window decals of Calvin urinating on the object of someone’s disdain. I think those stickers illustrate a very interesting human tendency to create polarities and choose sides. Think Mac vs. PC, Nikon vs. Canon, Cubs vs. Sox, Ford vs. Chevy trucks (sorry Dodge truck fans), just to name a few. And while I’ve defintely taken my stand on one side of several of those rivalries, I have to admit that the real differences between the two things being compared can actually be quite few.

So what is it in us that makes us so passionate about our preference for one thing over another, even when they are really not that different? I mean, have you watched a Cubs fan and a Sox fan go at it lately? And even between things where there are substantive differences, such as Democrat vs. Republican, the passion with which people stick to their sides does not always seem to arise primarily from issues. I wonder how many people on either side of the political aisle could clearly and intelligently articulate their party’s or their candidates stand on all the key issues of the day.

As I’ve reflected on why we feel so strongly about the sides we take, I think maybe some of it has to do with a deep human need to belong to, or identify with, something. That affiliation is certainly more rewarding when your side wins some sort of contest (World Series, election, etc.). But even when your side is losing, it seems important to us as humans to care passionately about something, whether that fierce loyalty makes logical sense or not. Just talk to any Cubs fan and you’ll begin to understand. Sometimes our present loyalties are rooted more in our history. We love what we first knew, or what someone important to us taught us to love. We can arm ourselves with a list of reasons why, but in the end it is not so much about reasons as it is about how we see ourselves or who we want to be loyal to.

This has led me to consider how much the loyalty that I feel toward Christ and Christianity arises from a fresh and informed conviction day after day, or it is just a mindless defense of the side I’ve chosen. Am I a Christian simply because I was born into a Christian family and took for myself the faith of parents I deeply love and respect?

And I certainly hope that I can lift up the beauty and virtue of Christ and his way of life without having to resort to the conversational equivalent of having Calvin urinate on something or someone else’s treasure.

Now, if I could just apply that same line of thinking to the way I feel about Apple computers, maybe I’d have more friends. 🙂

The Gift of Giving

About a week ago I received a letter from someone named Matt Dalio of the Dalio Family Foundation. He was writing to encourage me to join him in a growing movement to make Christmas gift giving more charitable.

He lamented the runaway consumerism and materialism that marks the Christmas season. He wanted to find a way to nurture the beautiful practice of gift giving while without fueling the shopping craze.

His suggestion was that we ask our friends and family to give a charitable gift in our name instead of buying something for us. He suggested going to the web site to find out more.

That site points to another site called that makes it so easy to give an online donation to over 1 million registered charitable organizations. I searched and found that our good friends at GRIP were registered!

It may be a bit late for this Christmas, but maybe it would be a beautiful way to promote the true spirit of Christmas next year by starting early and getting the word out. Hey, I figure that means more time at home with loved ones instead of out at the mall amidst the craziness. Sounds very appealing to me…


We Remember What We See

My brother Steve always jokes that I have a terrible memory. Quite often when he hears me give a sermon illustration using a childhood memory, he’ll call or write to give me the historically correct version of the event I was describing. I’ll be the first to admit that his memory is far better than mine. He actually remembers the sounds and smells of the airport the day we landed in the United States for the first time!

It may be true that my memories are not always historically accurate. They may only be my subjective version of what happened and not the factual truth. But it strikes me that it is my perception of what happened and not just the events themselves that shape who I am. Even if the actual facts may be lost to me forever, my version of history stays with me, becomes my autobiographical reality, and continues to exert its influence over my life.

It may be cliché to say it today, but attitude matters. All memories—in fact, all history—is arguably subjective. Historical events pass through a filter of selective retention and we remember what we want and how we saw it. We like to say that the events of our lives shape who we are. I would argue that it is our attitudes about those events that shape who we are.

Our attitudes even shape our memories. A family could experience financial ruin on a single terrible day, and one sibling will recall it as the day that they lost all hope in the future while another will remember it as the day she realized how much she’d taken her blessings for granted. Two siblings who live through the same historical event approach it with different attitudes and emerge with radically different memories.

How has your attitude shaped the memories you hold onto? How historically accurate are your memories? What difference would it make today if you realized the shaping power of attitude?

Addendum – 10.05.07

I was recently reading a friend’s blog and he had this quote that I thought really spoke to this present post: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” — Anais Nin