Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Need for Greed

The capitalistic system that rules in the USA has blessed millions with financial resources that most of the world cannot imagine. I have not traveled a lot, but when I am in countries of the third world I try to always visit a grocery store. What a wake up call. My local Wal-Mart has more merchandise in the cookies and bread area than the entire supermarket in Black River, Jamaica. My friends in Uganda work for a week for what I can spend on a moderate lunch at my local Applebee's Restaurant. We are truly in a good position financially.

The main problem with capitalism is its greatest strength. When it is working properly. It works great. Wealth is almost limitless for those who work hard and make good decisions. In fact, that is exactly why the US is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.

But, as we think about the recession that seems to be just ending in America, we can see that there are some real problems- weaknesses- in capitalism. It is these problems that created the economic crisis that nearly ruined the whole world.

First of all, capitalism leads to greed. Getting paid, getting ahead, even getting rich are not inherently bad. However, having money can very easily cause a person to want more money. Having more money and wanting more money can become the most important things in life for people. Adding these issues together equals greed. Greed is always bad. Those who are greedy consider only their own needs, wishes and desires. The concerns of others become absolutely unimportant.

Secondly, greed leads to complacency. As long as what I want is taken care of, I don't care what happens to others. I can sit by and watch as things happen to those around me. Since it doesn't happen to me, it doesn't affect me. I can be completely apathetic to needs around me. Additionally, I lose sight of the importance of ethics and integrity in my own life. I will get what I want at all costs.

Complacent apathy can only lead to laziness. We become so unconcerned about things happening around us that we don't notice anything. When we don't notice we don't care. When we don't care we forget how to care. When we don't care we might as well not get out of bed in the morning. We lose sight of all motivation. Because I don't care, I become disinterested and unmotivated toward everything except my own specific needs and activities.

Finally, laziness- the consequence of greed- cannot help but beget the decline and ultimate fall of a society. As our leaders- financial, political and otherwise- get lax in their oversight of systems, and as we get lax in our oversight of our leaders, everything begins to fall apart. Our culture cannot- and will not- continue to exist as long as we are greedy, lazy and complacent.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Of Rants and Pet Peeves

Maybe I just frequent the wrong places, but I am getting a little put out about the grammar, signage and general ignorance of the English language in public places. Some of the things that you are likely to see include:
  • Congradulations!
  • The ubiquitous backwards N
  • Cards signed from the Miller's
The worst infraction that I have come upon recently is the overly polite gas station manager. Now I am stereotyping here. I experience this mostly in gas station convenience stores, but it also exists in fast food establishments, retail stores, restaurants and almost any other public location. The manager is overly polite because one or more of the following are true:
  • He/she is sorry that something is not working.
  • He/she is sorry that a particular product is unavailable.
  • He/she is sorry to inform you that something is not working or that she/he is out of a certain product.
  • The rules have been changed concerning cashing checks, payment options, hours of operation and/or where smoking and/ or loitering are allowed.
The problem with all of this is the note. There is an apology note posted somewhere so that you can know what the problem is and how sorry the manager is. Here are a couple of examples:

We are sorry to inform you that we are out of regular gas. Thank you for your understanding.

We are sorry for the inconvenience, but our urinal is currently out of service. Thank you. The manager.

You have seen these, right? Wouldn't a simple "Out of order," be just as effective? Do we really need a lengthy explanation and apology?

I was in McDonald's recently. I got a cup from the counter and proceeded to the drink fountain. It was like a telephone pole on a college campus. There were signs all over that thing. There was one that said, "Due to the fact that people are stealing our pop, we will no longer be offering free water cups. We are sorry for the inconvenience." Another one said, "Please forgive us, but free drink refills are only for McDonald's customers and only on the first visit. We regret this change." There was one that said, "Drinks are only for McDonald's cups only. (It really said that.) We can no longer allow customers to bring cups from home." I quit reading after I got through the one that said, "Only customers with McDonald's cups and pre-approved haircuts can use this drink fountain. I am sorry for those who do not qualify. Thank you for understanding. Signed, the manager." (It was not really signed and there was no name given for the manager.

Maybe I'm a little too sensitive at this point, but I say, "Say what you have to say and be done with it. Do not apologize for company policy. And to customers who may be offended: Grow up.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Praise of Vinyl

I came of age during the glory years of the long-playing 33 1/3 vinyl album. My high school years were colored by Frampton Comes Alive, Aja, Saturday Night Fever and Hotel California. These were the albums that we listened to, memorized and loved. For me there was also Red Headed Stranger, Some Girls and Bob Dylan at Budokan. Those were the days.

I had an 8-track player in my car, but I only used it to play the tapes that I recorded from my vinyl at home. When cassettes came along I could not get into them. They were boxy, inconvenient to play and had tiny print.

I remember clearly the first time I saw (and heard) a cd. It was 1985. I was at a friend's house. I was shocked that he was holding that disc so carelessly. He didn't seem to care that he might "scratch" it, or make it dirty. He treated it like it was virtually indestructible. But then... he put it in that funny looking drawer... he pushed play... he turned the volume up... and I had a religious experience. There were no pops, no scratches and no hiss. The louder he turned it, the better it seemed to sound.

But I had some problems with the cd. It was almost hollow-sounding. The artwork was too small. The size and shape of the disc (and its package) were not aesthetically pleasing to me. Not only that, I had thousands of albums and 45s that were suddenly becoming obsolete. (I have since found that finding replacement turntable needles is a real challenge.)

But the advent of the compact disc only heralded the beginning of the digital revolution. Now, it seems, the preferred way to access music is through digital downloading through sites like itunes, or streaming live over the internet. Again, I have problems with these avenues.
  • Downloading too easily leads to illegal sharing and bootlegging. (But, let the one without sin cast the first stone.)
  • Digital music is to sterile, hollow and "tinny."
  • There is no artwork that I can hold in my hands, tape up on my wall or show off to my friends.
  • Lyric sheets are extremely hard to come by.
  • Ear buds do not allow you to get the full spectrum of sound that giant, cloth covered speakers do.
  • Ear buds do not allow users to share their music in the communal way that listening with speakers do.
But, not only are the alternatives vastly inferior, there are many reasons that albums are better.
  • The artwork was designed for a 12 x 12 album cover.
  • Records sound better than any of the alternatives (even if there is a hiss and a few pops).
  • A record is a substantial item. You know when you have one. Unlike downloads which you may not know you own for quite some time.
  • Albums are very cheap. At garage sales and thrift stores you can get a classic album anywhere from $.25-$1.
  • And besides, I have too many to turn back now. I am committed all the way.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lenten Prayers II

During Lent we have been focusing on a time of self-reflection and repentance. Let the following prayer help you in your meditations, reflections and prayers.

Show me who I am, Lord.
Not the person that others see,
but the person that you know from my heart.
And Jesus, when I see who I am
help me to become who you want.
Search me and help me to see my faults, my problems, my sins.
Make me a person of integrity.
Help me to discover my inconsistencies,
my hypocrisies,
my jealousies,
my bitterness.
Help me to evaluate my priorities.
Protect me from desiring only what is
or pragmatic.
Remind me what you think is truly important.
Lord God, I pray that those things would become important for me as well.
Let me see your purpose for my life.
Do not let me be distracted by the interests of others.
Keep me from words, thoughts and activities that I choose just because they are popular.
If I can be popular I will not be disappointed,
but first of all, let me be your child.
May those who know me, know you.
May those who love me, be loved by me.
May those I meet, meet you.
May I be a person who lives for you,
and may I encourage one other to join me.
For your glory and in your name I pray.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Seasons of Reflection

I think that it is important for every human to spend some time reflecting on their lives. I try to regularly think about who I am, what I do, what I believe and what my priorities are. I believe that Socrates was right when he said that "the unexamined life is not worth living." People who let life happen to them do not live. They exist. A meaningful life is one that is purposeful and planned. I intend to live my life in just that sort of way.

It is great that the year is automatically organized into seasons of reflection. There are times of the year that lend themselves to just this sort of examination. Let this be an encouragement for you to spend some time in prayer, meditation, reflection and contemplation.
  • New Year's. The new year's holiday is a time for resolutions and life change. Think about your resolutions and use them to improve your life. Be careful to make realistic and important resolutions.
  • Lent. This is the annual season in which Christians focus on denying their own desires in favor of serving God. We repent. We sacrifice. We strive to please God and be more holy.
  • Autumn. This is almost like a do-over for New Year's. The school year begins, and even if you are not in school, there is a natural rhythm that calls out for new commitment to doing your best and being excellent.
  • Birthday. Birthdays lead to crises. No one seems to want to turn 30 or 40 or 50. But we can, and should, use every birthday to make ourselves better, more informed, more holy, more educated, more healthy, more...
Reflect when you can.

Can you think of other times that call out for serious introspection and self improvement?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rev Wright and Bill O'Reilly

My favorite uncle, Jim Kneller, died a few years ago. I loved almost everything about Uncle Jim. He lived in Arizona so visits were always exciting, mysterious and special. They did not happen nearly enough. I could fill pages (books, maybe) with memories of Uncle Jim. He was great. But he had one problem. He loved the Fox News Network and especially Bill O'Reilly. I never understood this loyalty that Uncle Jim had. After all, there is nothing fair and balanced about the "fair and balanced" reporting of Fox News. In fact, although they proclaim that, "We report, you decide." Their reporting is such that we decide what they report we should.

But I decided that there must be something good about Fox since Uncle Jim loved it so much. That is when I noticed that there is a weekly column by Bill O'Reilly (Uncle Jim's favorite) in my local newspaper every Saturday. I decided that I would read this column every week in honor of Uncle Jim. Most weeks I end up scratching my head. Sometimes I am surprised at how much I am not upset or offended about what he has to say. At other times I get a little angry. Last week I finished the column and thought, "What the heck was that?"

I can only assume that it is because he has nothing else to write about that O'Reilly is being critical of Rev Jeremiah Wright, former pastor to then Senator Barack Obama. You might remember that in the summer of 2008, almost two years ago, Wright proved to be an embarrassment to the Obama presidential campaign when videos of apparently racist sermons came to light.

At that time I was not very concerned about the issue. I am sure that a part of my attitude toward Wright and his words had to do with my support of Obama. I was (and am) a supporter and someone who is unrelated to his campaign was not going to sway my opinion.

A second reason for my cavalier attitude, however, was that I am a pastor. I have an idea that although people in my churches generally agree with comments I make in my sermons, 1) I am not fool enough to believe that everyone agrees with everything I have to say all the time. 2) Even if they agree with me, there is very little change in people because of what I say. And 3) If everyone who has ever disagreed with me left my church (as the Obamas ultimately did), my church would be empty this week.

I thought then, and I still believe, that the pastor of a candidate should be a non-issue in a campaign. Even though we try to be, we are just not that important to most people.

So now, when I had all but forgotten about Rev Wright and his shenanigans, O'Reilly offers the Chicago clergyman some free publicity. Throughout the article he belittles Wright and his beliefs, but ultimately, he has played right into the wishes of Rev Wright and his ilk. I had no idea about the "Living Legends Tribute" that Wright has planned. I am sure that I would have never known about it. It would have completely escaped me that Wright was honoring himself, Louis Farrakhan and Father Michael Pfleger. And although I have no desire to attend the event and I would never support it, it is completely possible that someone will attend this fund-raiser thanks to the free publicity that Bill O'Reilly gave it.

Good job, Bill. What were you thinking?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lenten Prayers I

During Lent we have been focusing on a time of self-reflection and repentance. Let the following prayer help you in your meditations, reflections and prayers.

O Lord,
When I think about your greatness, your holiness,
I am reminded of all the ways that I am unholy.
I sin against you regularly.
I come short of your standards, your expectations for me.
I miss the mark in what I think, what I say, and what I do.
There are things that I know I should do-
reading the Bible, praying, being kind and loving to others-
That I do not do.
Forgive me when I fail to do what I know I should do.
But I also have sinned by the things that I do.
I have violated your Word and your way over and over again.
I have been jealous.
I have envied.
I have lied.
I have cheated.
I have stolen.
Lord, there is not much good about me.
My thoughts are often centered on sin.
I want to succumb to temptation.
My willpower is low.
I feel worthless and hopeless.
Forgive me when I knowingly violate your will.
Forgive me when I find that I have already sinned.
Forgive me when I feel self-assured and independent.
Remind me that I always need you.
Remind me to turn to you, to rely on you
And to expect you.
Forgive me and build my resistance to temptation.
Keep me from wandering from your way.
I pray this now- and always- in Jesus' name.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Purpose

I think that critical self-reflection is important. It was Socrates who told us, "The unexamined life is not worth living." You and I have a serious need to think about what we say, do, believe and think. We should hold ourselves accountable for our plans and decisions. Unfortunately, too many people do not have plans. Life moves somewhat aimlessly from day to day, event to event, crisis to crisis for them.

My 2010 Lenten journey has been especially filled with this sort of introspection. I want to be the best person that I possibly can be. It is important for me to have a focus and an end in mind to my life. I want to know where I am going, and how I am going to get there.

Several years ago I evaluated my purpose in life. (This evaluation corresponded roughly to my fortieth birthday and a "mid-life crisis.") I studied, thought, meditated and prayed about what I should be doing with my life. I believed at my fortieth birthday that I was roughly half way through my life. I was trying to discover what to do with the last 40 years of my life.

I believe that God has a purpose for every person, and therefore, I felt a need to discover God's purpose for the rest of my life. I discovered three things. Here they are in no particular order.
  1. I am supposed to raise up leaders for the church, especially among young people. To that end, I have focused more of my time and energy on students- children, teens and young adults.
  2. I am supposed to teach the Bible and foster a love for it among God's people.
  3. I am supposed to renew worship in the United Methodist Church. This does not mean that I have to get people to change their preferred musical style, but that they would get a new understanding of what worship means.
That's it. I'm down to about 33-34 years. I'm going to make the most of them, though. With God's help.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New Year's Resolutions 2010 and Lenten Reflections

I know that the year is well under way, but I wanted to make sure that these resolutions would stick. So far they have. In previous years I have posted my resolutions early in the year and then provided an update about mid-year. This year I was not going to post them at all, but Lent got me to thinking.

Lent is a time for reflection and introspection. We consider our sinful nature, our mortality and how to get closer to God. We try to improve ourselves, make sacrifices, get and be more holy. For six weeks in the spring we try to improve ourselves. And that is what reminded me of my New Year's resolutions.

There is one other problem with posting my resolutions now: I already can see some of the problems I am having. I will reflect on some of those problems in parentheses.

So... Here I go:
  1. I will blog at least twice each week. Although I generally average more than that, in recent months I have not be as faithful. In 2010 I commit myself to write at least twice a week and I will maintain a goal of three to four times each week. (Consistency continues to be a problem, but I am improving in this area.)
  2. I will read the New International Reader's Version of the Bible. (Unfortunately, it turns out that I do not like the NIRV at all. However, I am continuing and on schedule.)
  3. I will organize my house and life. (I am, so far, a dismal failure at this point. I do have good intentions, but not much motivation or cooperation.)
  4. I will get back on track in my devotional and prayer life. (Again, I am making progress, but there is much work to go. Sadly, there was- and is- a need to get back on track.)
  5. I will take more chances or risks in life.
  6. I will write 1-3 John, Jude and Jonah. (Oddly enough, so far I have got a good start on Jonah and I have copied Psalm 51.)
There you have it. Look for updates later.