“Scared for health, afraid of death, bored, dissatisfied, vengeful, greedy, ignorant, and gullible—these are the qualities of the ideal consumer.

—Wendell Berry, from Our Only World

kmart storage binsMy wife and I spent much of a recent weekend going through boxes with the goal of reducing the pile down to a point we can actually use our garage for our cars rather than storing stuff. We had really good intentions to have this done before we moved.  But you know about that particular road to hell and the intentions with which it’s paved.  So the boxes were stacked high.  They are filled with things we at some time or another felt we would need or use again.  To be fair, much of the contents are sentimental…things to remind us of days gone by when children were babies and family members were still living.

However, if I dig a bit deeper into the archeology of our little garage excavation project, I come to the striking realization that there was a point in time that someone was faced with a decision: Do I buy this particular item or not?  Every single item now cluttering my brand new garage and now taking up my precious day off…EVERY ITEM…was the result of someone answering that question with a “YES”.

Wendell Berry’s sobering description of the “ideal consumer” is a mirror that provides clear and precise reflection of our affliction.  We, western consumers, are easily manipulated.  That, and we’re addicted to the purchase.

I’d like to challenge you to a little experiment.  Take the Wendell Berry quote with you and go pick up something you’ve purchased recently.  Touch it.  Handle it.  What was the motivation for buying that?  Does it spark joy?  How long before this item finds itself in a box in your garage?  Go to your garage and look at the things you have stored there.  Do you remember why you bought them?

I realize I’m getting a bit preachy. So I’ll stop.  However, today is “Black Friday Eve.”  Black Friday to me is the most vulgar of our American Holidays.  It’s unbridled and unapologetic consumption.  The picture above was taken at our local Kmart.  Two weeks before Thanksgiving, taking up huge amounts of valuable shelf space in the “holiday section” are rows and stacks of storage bins.  The irony is obvious.  Lets buy some bins to store the crap we bought before so we can make room for some new crap that we’ll need to store next year to make room for still more crap.  I’ve heard so many people complaining about the stores decorating for Christmas before Halloween, completely skipping Thanksgiving.  I don’t think retailers do this is because they are evil people with a corrupted agenda.  It seems that we all are skipping Thanksgiving.  The stores are only giving us what we think we want.

Today is actually Thanksgiving.  A day we’ve set aside for giving thanks.   Gratitude.  I’m particularly thankful for family today.  My gang all slept under my roof last night.  Other extended family are here for the holiday weekend to share food and memories and create new ones.  Others extended family members will be gathering around other tables doing the same.  There is much to be thankful for.  I wish all of you a joyous and very Happy Thanksgiving.  I hope you will be able to spend it with people you love.

And about this Black Friday thing looming tomorrow.  Skip it.  Extend your Thanksgiving.  And when you do go out shopping this Christmas, enjoy it! (But stick a copy of that Wendell Berry quote in your pocket before you go…and maybe a picture of your garage.)

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the gift of a power outage

ImageSummer’s going fast, nights growing colder
Children growing up, old friends growing older
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away…
The innocence slips away

 —Rush, “Time Stand Still”

The family had gathered around the TV at my parent’s home to watch Brave.  The cousins were all laying in front of the rather old, small, and definitely non-HD screen in the living room.  The adults were mostly watching various screens…cell phones, iPads, Kindles…listening to the movie in the background and smiling at the attempts at Scottish accents coming from sprawl in front of the TV.

Just about the time we had all settled in for the evening, the power went out. Pitch black darkness was met with groans from the kids (all done with new found Scottish drawls.)  My dad quickly lit the “coal oil lamp” and  placed it on the mantel.  As the children began to move around, searching for their own personal screens (iPods, phones, etc.), my sister-in-law gave us all a wonderful gift.  She asked, “Uncle Mike, what was you and Aunt Susie’s first date?”  That question began an evening of story telling around the pale flickering light of an old coal oil lamp.  

We went around the circle telling first date stories which led to engagement stories.  The children joined in by telling “most embarrassing” stories. Then my parents began to tell stories about their childhood and their parents and grand parents.  Laughter came quickly and often.  Questions were asked.  Experiences were shared.  Deep “family” conversation made the time fly by.  Mom talked about how the flickering light of the lamp brought back memories of her and her brothers sitting around the same type of lamp as children listening to her mom and dad and an occasional visitor tell stories.  Memories came rushing back for me as a kid sitting on the screen porch in the evenings listening to my grandfather pick out a tune on his guitar and tell some of those very same stories.  

It was hard to believe that 2 hours had passed so quickly when the lights finally came back on.  “Normal” filled the room as quickly as the lights had and we all moved toward our beds, plugging our electronic devices into their respective chargers so they would be ready to do our bidding (or we their’s) the next morning. I’m restraining the sermon rising in my spirit.  We all know that sermon already. I will say this…in contrast to the many evenings spent on some forgettable TV program or surfing the internet, this was an evening I’ll remember for a long time.   It was truly wonderful and a very fitting end to a wonderful holiday season.

Peace!

 

John

I left my house on Thursday to give someone a ride.  I hung out at a coffee shop killing some time while my passenger (we’ll call him John) visited a friend, Charlie.  After an hour or so, I went to pick John up again and take him to his new temporary apartment (arrangements that were necessary until his permanent housing becomes available).  I know that’s a quirky way to begin a post but I thought I would share the mundane way my day started.

Except that it wasn’t really that mundane.  A few more details…John’s friend is a poodle.  A poodle named Charlie.  The poodle is staying with a sitter while John waits for his new apartment to become available.  The sitter had called and said that it was time for Charlie to be groomed.  John called me this morning just before left the house to ask if we might add a trip to Charlie’s sitter’s house to our route.  He spoke about his poodle as if it were his child.  He talked about how it understood why he had to have it stay with a sitter and he knew the poodle would still love him.  This all seemed a little humorous to me.

Except that it wasn’t really that humorous.  John has HIV/AIDS.  An HIV/AIDS ministry in our area called and asked if I could give John a ride because he was being “evicted” from the apartment he had been living in.

Except it wasn’t an apartment.  It was a hotel.  I was taking him to another hotel (one in which most folk reading this would never stay).  He’s resigned to living in hotels until he is able to move into some new government housing that will be coming available in the next few weeks.  This ministry helps John pay for the hotel rooms which keeps him from basically being homeless.  Which makes you wonder where John’s family lives…one would think they could help John out through this tough time.

Except that his family has disowned John.  They live 15 miles from the hotel where he was staying.  His parents have “failed to live up to the title ‘parent’ for quite some time” according to John.  Which leaves John and Charlie the poodle and the good folk at the HIV/AIDS ministry, and someone else that might be willing to keep his dog, or give him a ride, or just be a friend, to be…what? family?  What I did doesn’t come close to qualifying as such.

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