It’s the Most Optimistic Week of the Year

I love the week between Christmas and New Years. It is the most optimistic week of the year. Everyone is blissed out on Christmas joy, playing with their new toys, wearing their new clothes, spending their new gift cards. Many of us are off work completely while those who do have to go to work often have a much more relaxed atmosphere in the office. Everyone is just a little bit more chilled out this week. Read More…

Great Joy? I’m Calling Bullshit

Tragedies. We have all endured them. We have had family members whose stories have ended far too soon. We have had egregious sins and abuses committed against us and the ones that we love. We have stared horrific diagnoses in the face. And we have known the anxiety of being destitute and alone.

Tragedy is a part of human existence, the awful school shooting in Newtown CT being just the most recent reminder. There is no way to avoid tragedy. Try as we might, we can’t legislate it or pray it or hope it away. Murders. Floods. Wars. Abuse. From the very beginning, this has been the human story. This has been our story.

And it seems like we are always looking for a way to end it … or at least to avoid it. We vote for politicians who promise us peace and prosperity, who paint pictures of a rosy, tragedy-less future. We pin our hopes to a new job or a new house or a new relationship, thinking that it will make us happy. We lose ourselves in alcohol or marijuana or reality TV or Facebook or food or sports because we don’t know how to deal with the tragedies in our lives, in this world. Read More…

I Am the 1%

Over the past few months, I’ve watched the Occupy Wall Street movement with great interest. In all honesty, I haven’t known what to think. On the one hand, there is much in OWS with which I agree:

  • I agree that our politicians have been corrupted by corporate interests.
  • I agree that our consumption is way out of control.
  • I agree that unemployment, student loan debt, and poverty are issues that need to dominate our national conversation.
  • I have been appalled by the way some Occupy groups have been treated by police while they attempt to peaceably protest.

At the same time, there are things about Occupy that don’t resonate with me: 

  • I’m not sure why, but class warfare rhetoric just doesn’t resonate with me. 
  • I also am amused by the seeming double standard of protesters using their iPhones to tweet complaints about big corporations. 
  • I’ve struggled with the inconsistency of cities like Richmond VA, for instance, that have allowed Occupy groups to use free-of-charge the same park that it charged the Tea Party nearly $10,000 in fees to use. 
  • Most significantly, I am predisposed to distrust government solutions to problems, and – I may be wrong about this – but most of the demands being made by the Occupy groups accompany suggested government solutions.

In the last few weeks, however, I’ve started to think differently about the whole thing. Though it has had an impact in other countries, Occupy is a very American kind of protest. Its primary branding is related to the top 1% of America’s wealthy versus the 99% of everyone else in our country. The “We Are the 99%” posters are brilliantly effective. 

Here is what I’ve been wondering about. OK, so I am in the 99% in America. But where do I rank globally? It’s not just about America, right? We are a global community with responsibilities, not just to ourselves and our own national interests, but to all. So … who are the top 1% on the planet?

I did a little research (googled it up on my google machine), and here is what I found.

According to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic in his book The Haves and the Have Nots, to be in the top 1% globally, you have to make $34,000 per year. I am in the top 1%, and I bet a lot, if not most, of you reading this are too. Here’s the breakdown:

  • $34,000 per year – top 1%
  • $18,500 per year – top 5%
  • $12,000 per year – top 10%
  • $5,000 per year – top 20%

Does that change our perspective at all? Does that change the conversation?

It is so easy to vilify the other, the Wall Street banker, the politician, the corporate tycoon. It is much harder to admit that I can find myself among the other. It is so easy to target the greed of the wealthy and fail to see my own constant consumption.

Certainly, it is important to have prophetic voices that highlight the abuses of those in power. But maybe those in power aren’t just the Wall Street banking vice presidents in their $3,000 suits. Maybe those in power are also the soccer moms shopping at Target. Maybe those in power are me. And you. Maybe the finger isn’t just pointing at the politicians in Washington. Maybe the finger is pointing at me too. And at you.

In 1 Timothy 6.17-19, Paul tells Timothy this, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

This passage is about me and just about all of us here in America, for we really are rich in this present world. That wealth must not make me – or us – arrogant, but so often it does. Somehow, it needs to drive me – and us – to put our hope in God. And I – and we – need to find ways to invest in others so that we can take hold of a life that is truly life.

It’s a good thing that it’s Advent because these are the kinds of issues this season conjures up in my heart. Goodness. Generosity. Sharing. These are the words that are resonating with me. I’m looking for ways that I can take what I have been richly given and use it for the good of others … not just here in America, but around the world:

  • We are talking to our kids this Christmas about consumption and not needing more stuff just for the sake of more stuff.
  • I am thinking about the people across the globe who have had a hand in what I enjoy, be it the clothes I wear, the technology I use, or the food I eat. And I’m trying to give thanks for them and pray for them when I remember them.
  • I am looking for needs to meet. I am hoping this Advent season to do some small but significant things in the lives of others, generously sharing what I’ve been blessed with so that others can enjoy God’s blessings too.
I’m in the top 1%. Given that I am an American, there is almost nothing I can do about that. It simply is reality. However, there is much that I can do for the sake of others, and that is where my focus is now.

How about you? What’s on your mind this Advent season?


Northern Exposure

I am back from my excursions to the north and am very happy about it. 2008 was an interesting year, and I’m quite happy that it is over. When we were driving into Chicago, it dawned on me that we had visited the third and fourth largest US cities in 2008 – Chicago and Houston. At the beginning of 2008, we weren’t planning to do that, but it happened. I told the kids that maybe in 2009, we could visit the first and second largest US cities – NYC and LA. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Instead, so far in 2009, I’ve visited my first and second most hated US cities – Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Of course, this has everything to do with football and not the cities themselves. However, Pittsburgh struck me as a dirty, old, and depressed city, like it’s golden days were back in the 50s. On the contrary, I was impressed with Baltimore. It was clean and seemed alive and vibrant.

In the last week of January and the first week of February, I will be making a southern tour, heading to Nashville (yawn), Atlanta (insert expected “Hotlanta” reference here), Montgomery Alabama (where?), and Phoenix (woot. woot.).

I have always prided myself in my ability to drive calmly in bad weather. I’ve never really been shaken by snow or even ice. As we entered Michigan on our Big Vacation, the snow began to fall. And I slowed down. Way down. At one point, Vanessa leaned over and said, “You know that a car from Florida just passed you, right?” That was enough to make me speed up … a little.

Speaking of driving up north, I can tell you with confidence that there is something I do not miss about – potholes. Maybe it’s the weather in Arkansas or the newness of our infrastructure or some combination of the two, but we simply don’t have potholes here. Chicago, Grand Rapids, Meadville, Pittsburgh … it was like driving across moon craters. Ugh.


Happy Christmas

This has been a different Christmas.

Lots of driving. Lots of weather. Lots of worrying. Lots of kids.

I am not much of a tradition guy, as people from churches I have previously pastored could attest. But I do love Christmas traditions. I love the routine we’ve crafted as a family over the last 12 years. A Christmas Eve service at church. Opening a present of PJs on Christmas Eve. Having very excited kids wake us up when they see the Christmas explosion that happened under the tree while they were sleeping. Stocking presents. Breakfast casserole and scones. Under-the-tree presents, one at a time from youngest to oldest so that we can all enjoy everything everyone has gotten. Family phone calls. Watching A Christmas Story on TBS.

This has not been a traditional Christmas. And it has felt weird because of it. Vanessa and I were talking the other day about why we just couldn’t seem to get into the holiday mood this year. We ended up deciding it was because few of our traditions were going to make it into this year’s celebration.

But I’m ok with that. Today is Christmas. My house in Arkansas is flooded. My mom and sister are in Iowa. My dad is alone in Virginia. We opened stockings in Michigan and under-the-tree presents in Pennsylvania.

But it’s Christmas. And I love my family. And Jesus. So it’s a happy Christmas.


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