The Twenty Percent

Old habits die hard. I’m trying in 2016 to break the habit of preaching. The ethic among those in recovery is to share. It’s a good ethic. This post is a fail in that regard. A couple years ago I was in love with yelling at anybody in earshot that if they had a dollar they could tithe a dime. Most of my ire was directed at a particular friend who had kept up his hungry maw ways. The Calvary came for him, helped out, and he iterated.

by Ken Rockwell
by Ken Rockwell©

Next month, same thing. A poor-mouth speech about how he couldn’t afford his bills and the man was oppressing him and if he could just get that one big score or the man would cut him a check, he’d be straight. Next month, +1 iteration. It got old. He has a late model Cadillac. Whatever thrift store he shops at must have friends in expensive places. His clothes have that “Pimp Daddy” vibe to them. I thought I had him checkmated with the premise that everybody, no matter how broke, can tithe a dime on a dollar. I thought this move was brilliant. It isn’t. The point then was that you can’t really say you can’t afford to tithe. So . . . how did that work for me? Not so well.

Looking at all my income sources last year, I had a decent year. I made $4,000.00 above my 7 year average income. I had that job at Bing Maps and Uber Map Improvement which paid about double what I usually make. With all my bluster about having a dollar and giving a dime, how did I do? meep. Charitable giving was 2%. I gave 2¢ on each dollar I earned.

Let’s make things worse while that turd sits on the screen and reveals me to be the hypocrite. How about savings? Dave Ramsey in his book, “Financial Peace”, recommends that we save 15% of our income. Did I save $5,000.00? Nope. There is a difference between depositing money in an account and saving. I deposited $2600 in my investment banking account. I have $8.00 in that account. In a previous post I gloried in depositing enough money in that account to have Baby Step 1 done. $8.00 of that money is left. So, I have saved $8.00 (0.025%) of my $2600.00. Woo.

Here is what I shoulda, woulda, coulda done, what you can do (sorry, sermonizing). Live on under 80% of what you make. Give 10% to charity and save the other 10%. Yeah, I have that rant in my head, that our tax burden can be a big hit on our net income. If we pay child support that can be a big hurt on the budget. Minimum wage isn’t enough, the job you have isn’t enough. My bills average about $1100.00/month, or about a 40% of what I usually make.

The other turd in my life is that every time I compare my income and expense averages the claim that I can’t afford to live on 80% shows up as a lie. Last year I spent $1200.00 on dining out. I gave fast food restaurants 10¢ of my dollar earned, five times what I gave in charity. Another fine, oft spoken trope about us spendthrifts, if we just stop with the Starbucks and McDonald’s we could easily afford a 20% cut in our spendable cash. I know, we know. It’s not about knowledge. It’s about making the choice (again) and doing it.

You and I that run from paycheck to paycheck, always chasing bills, never quite able to get ahead, perhaps envying the 1%, we have to decide. Do we want to keep being miserable this way or are we willing to invest in a little more misery for the short term to make a change? No, no, I won’t listen to a rant about how if the 1% just cut you a check you’d be fine. Go look at my “Big Score” post if you have forgotten.

I have a nice little thing running. I get a job, I get money, I spend money, the job ends, I cry wolf, the Calvary comes, we eat wolf steak for a bit, rinse & repeat. I’ve slowly climbed from a cot in a church social hall as a client of Richmond’s CARITAS to sitting in the second bedroom of a single family home with all my toys. Yes, it’s a gap time and for now, I am broke as a joke. Some bills will not get paid until I find money for them. As things sit it looks like I might lose my cable TV and wired Internet access. It’s a pause in my growth curve. But as things sit it doesn’t look like I’ll fall as far as CARITAS.

The standing question I haven’t answered, though, is whether I will rinse & repeat or I’ll break my rhythm and do what I so proudly declaim as the right thing to do? Will I live on 80% of what I make, even now, as I am broke as a joke. One of those Twelve Step clichés: nothing changes if nothing changes. I totally get you reading this and snorting with sarcastic derision at me because it’s another iteration of, “I’ll do better this time.” Will I? Will you?

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No Valentine For Me

First Posted 14-Feb-2015

Wikipedia says St. Valentine was a third century Roman martyr buried on the Via Flaminia close to the Milvian Bridge in Rome. Very little is known about him other than folk attach the idea of courtly love to him. By Saturday, every significant other is supposed to have been fussed over in some way. Living in Richmond, VA, the expected ways include flowers, chocolate and dinner in a sit-down restaurant without the kids. My guy friends worry about bad consequences should they choose not to fuss over their significant other. Dry holes come to mind. Frigid weather in the northeast corner of the master bedroom also seem possible. Who knows.

St. Valentine recieves a rosary from the Holy MotherFor the grumpy like me, it seems like a kind of extortion. If we don’t step up and so something nice for him/her, trouble. I’m like the idea of not stepping up, of just skipping to the trouble, frigid weather and dry holes included. However . . . a big, big part of my journey over the last 14 years or so has been a reawakening to how much we folk are creatures of relationship. We need each other.

Feel what you want about it, all of us need other folk in our lives to make the life we want possible. It’s as if part of God’s design is that we flourish best among a group, within a set of relationships. I lived for a long time with huge trust issues. One of my core beliefs was that people wanted to beat me up. It comes from the grade school years when there was truth in that belief. My marriage was a war that I ended up losing. My way to survive was to do things myself and push people away.

I found myself in a holding cell for the weekend with one other guy. It was a one -man cell that had two of us. 72 hours with nothing to do. I didn’t trust him. What was I to do, though? We talked, for two weekends, over 100 hours. My jail time could go better or worse based on how I treated my cell mate. To have a holiday in which we are asked to step out of ourselves, to consider a selfless gift to someone we care about, to be asked to give without hope of return for just one day, isn’t a big ask. It pulls me out of my safe hermitage into the messy world of other people. We should be doing this more often than one day a year. It’s a great lesson I learned that we thrive far better in relationships than we do alone. But, at least on February 14th each year we honor chivalry and courtly love in the name of a martyr who died in Rome in the 3rd Century. It’s a small thing you can do with great love. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Remain True, Serve All

First Posted 12-23-2015

I was asked by someone I met through Tinder if I am “gay friendly”. Her daughter is going to marry her longtime girlfriend. I am not “gay friendly”. Homosexuality is a sin. Marriage is something between a hetero-cis-female and a hetero-cis-male. This puts me at odds with the majority mood of the country. It also gets me shunned by some. Outlier that I am, I’m good with that.

I wasn’t asked by God to go on annual mission trips to a nominally third-world country and put in a well or build a church or give a cinder-block home to a family that previously lived in a mud hut or be a prayer warrior against James P. Sullivan. I was asked to serve right here, in Richmond, VA, to people who live around me.

To serve those I am asked to serve it is almost assured that I’ll encounter someone doing something I think is taboo. To serve as I am asked to serve it is almost assured that I’ll be in places where the shiny teeth bunch believes I’ll be prey. I would be in good company if I reacted with horror and tried to make the folk in the scary places stop being so predatory and transgressive. Plenty do. My crowd isn’t the bunch that will quickly agree that they are doing something so macro-aggressive. More likely, we’ll punch you in the face and tell you to get the hell away from us. We don’t take kindly to being told what we already know–we are a hot mess and some of what we do causes problems for others. I’m not the one who feels fulfilled if I close another deal at the altar with another soul saved. I was asked to serve us, the problem children, the brats, the monsters under the bed. Thus, to do my job, to fulfill my call, I am going to be uncomfortable and perhaps afraid.

I also know from those I have served that my service is diminished if I bend my principles in order to be more palatable to those I serve. That’s the second part of my call. I am to remain true to Christ. He is my model. He is how I live. This means I’ll make some I serve uncomfortable because my faith conflicts with their values. So be it. If the tension created by my truth is strong enough to tempt you away from your lifestyle then maybe change is in the wind for you. It’s not what God asked me to do. I’m not the one who will hit you upside the head with a bible. I’m more subtle, more difficult. I’ll just do what I’m asked to do knowing that my service, my authenticity as a Christian may mess with you.

This too. In the places where everybody is chasing their tail trying to please everybody, offend no one, and increase freedom from distasteful rules, the strictures against what you can’t say or do are far more burdensome than places where people pretty much don’t care. These phrases are not new to those who live in these cultures: micro-aggressions, trigger warnings and cultural appropriation. These come from a crowd so wired for perceived threats that they self-incarcerate in safe-spaces that exclude everyone except those who fit a superficial profile of African-American traits–kinky hair, broad nose, thick lips, brown to dark-chocolate skin, fluent in Ebonics as a way to protect them from the dangers of those different from them. BOO!

For this crowd I am evil incarnate: WASP, from a bloodline that traces its origins to both Plymouth and Jamestown, over 30, hetero cis-male, conservative, Christian, convicted abuser and deemed racist. This is the crowd that by their choices creates the very oppression they claim to protest. The difference is the target of their discrimination, oppression and the unintended consequence of incarcerating themselves in their hate. This is why this space is the way it is. I am pugnacious because I am authentic. I am pugnacious because my values, my principles are at odds with those who claim to be for the peepul. And . . . if you can set aside all the crud you load on me without actually knowing me, you may find that my authenticity, my speaking truth to insanity, is more compassionate than locking oneself in a room to be only with those who don’t generate triggers.

My Christian brethren who obsess over darkness, who worry that it is Lucifer himself under their bed every night, and hide in the safe confines of a sanctuary doing the rosary and startling at every odd noise, these too need to calm down. They are a bit full of themselves. Too much of their prayer life is devoted to asking God for protection from him, from James P. Sullivan and his buddies. I have disappointing news for them. You are not that interesting. You taste bad to Lucifer. There are plenty of souls in his pantry far tastier. If these brethren really believe in Christ then Lucifer can’t really touch them. I’m wasting my breath, though. This paranoia over Lucifer and Sully is as pernicious a psychosis as believing that I, hot mess that I am, have an evil control over that hapless college student who happens to feel black and has yellow-brown skin and blue eyes. It takes more than a blog post for them to release their attachment to the monsters under their bed.

I’m not like that crowd huddled in a college library study room carefully allowing in only those who feel safe. I’m a lot more tolerant, patient, willing to work than that bunch. You don’t have to preface a joke with a trigger warning. You don’t have to go home and change to meet me if you are currently dressed in a pastiche of men’s & women’s clothing. Nor do you have to schedule your same-sex partner’s time around my schedule so that I don’t figure out that you mix nuts & bolts. Probably clean up the needles, pipes, bongs, roach clips & empties for me, though. Addiction is one on my naughty list. Otherwise, do you. Be you. We’ll be fine.

My core tasks are to serve all and be true. My service would be less meaningful if I back-peddled on my emulation of Christ. I can still serve you as you are. You can do the same. Here is the cool thing about this. It’s not something that requires you to be a member of my church or any church for that matter. You can come out of your safe space. You can be with us and learn that we are not micro-aggressive (more probably macro-aggressive and trigger-rich). You can drop the chains & shackles of your effort to avoid triggers. If you want to follow me, do as I do, just look around you for someone who needs a small act of kindness done with great love. Do that. Do the small act of kindness with great love. Having done it, be done with it. Don’t look over your shoulder, call the recipient, text them, poke them on FB, or Instagram or whatever. Do it and walk away with no hope of any return or influence on the outcome. Anybody can do this. Everybody should do it at least once and hopefully more than once, hopefully a lot.

I’m good with being uncomfortable. I’m in this for the long game. I don’t have to win today or even at all. I know that I am on the right side of God and eventually some I serve will turn in my direction. I know that there are plenty of my Christian brethren armed with bibles who are really good at that whack upside the head and cajole for the desired answer to the altar call. I don’t have to be comfortable. Our opposition is has no lack of brethren walking about with messenger bags holding copies of the Communist Manifesto or Mao’s Little Red Book at the ready for a similar whack upside the head and a cajole to come to a seminar on redistribution of wealth. I’ll leave the snake oil sales to those who feel that their service is through closing deals on heathens. I don’t have to sell Mao, Lenin or Cheezus to serve God. I’m no less of a Christian if you flip me off. I don’t have to be right. In the end, if it is meant to be, I’ll win anyway. If not, in the meantime.I’ve got plenty to do.

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You Do It

So, no kidding there are assholes and you can arrange your life in ways that push away all others so only the assholes are left. There are self-help books and whole bunches of fans of “The Law of Attraction“. It’s old news, that you get what you give. If you put out spiritual dung and behave in ways that are dissonant, your life tends to be filled with events and people who are spiritual dung and dissonant. I hope that is obvious. If it isn’t, go on Amazon and start reading. I don’t have to be the one to explain it to you.

oh-noOne thought that feels reasonable is to diagnose the problem as the assholes. If they would stop being assholes then we would be fine. But, and this is where codependents get into trouble, assholes are consistent. Relying on assholes to behave in desirous ways so that we can have the life we wish for is a recipe for disaster. By definition, assholes don’t behave in desirous ways. If they did, they wouldn’t be assholes, would they?

You hear this from addicts. If some sumbeach would behave as I want them to then I could stop using, stop being an addict. But, that sumbeach probably doesn’t and won’t behave so the misery will continue. I also hear this from yungins, that someone else is the cause of their misery so what has to happen is that the someone else has to change so that the yungin can be less miserable. It’s the same reasoning destined to fail. Remember this prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” You are not changing assholes. It’s what they do. So, the task is to figure out what it means to accept assholes as something you cannot change.

To the “Law of Attraction” folks. This is true up to a point. God made this world. He is in charge. We do have an influence over the direction of our lives. We can make things better or worse for ourselves by the choices we make. But there are things we cannot change. There are aspects of our lives in the hands of God. He made us, we didn’t make Him. So, yes, you can improve things a bit but ultimately, we are powerless. Our incantations and prayers only go so far. God does answer prayer. Whether he answers it in ways we desire is another matter. This amuses me: the thought that one could name God an asshole because he chooses to either ignore our prayer or answer it in a way we dislike.

It’s age-old. The more modern model for it is in the 12 Steps. You admit your powerlessness, surrender to God, do the inventory to identify what you can change, do the changes, offer reconciliation where possible, then seek ways to serve others. Another age-old practice: treat others as you wish to be treated, love God, love your neighbor and your enemies, serve others through small things done with great love. Not my ideas but ideas I live by.

And . . . sorry, I don’t want the world where there are no assholes. Most if the innovation that has occurred through recorded history has come because someone decided to swim upstream when everybody else was swimming for the ocean. This site is a celebration of assholes. We are where the malcontents live. Jesus was one of us, a malcontent who defied the church of his day. He died a martyr unjustly crucified by the Romans. If it ended there we would have forgotten him by now. It has not ended there. IMHO, the world is better for his defiance. You may not be able to change the assholes in your life. You don’t have to. Once you change the way you treat them so they don’t get traction by being assholes you may find that they move on to other targets. It really is that simple.

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It’s Eve’s Fault

My fellow blogger Aubrey Eicher posted an essay on Eve and the apple.” She writes, “When we love, we do not want to do anything to hurt the heart of the person, or in this case, God.” Which are fine words from a young Christian woman writing in 2015. We have at least five millennia of experience in what is and isn’t out of bounds behavior. If you doubt this, do something out of bounds to a woman and see what happens. Actually, don’t. There is enough out of bounds behavior without my encouraging it.

Smoked-RattlesnakeNeither Adam nor Eve had knowledge of how you love, what love is/was, and what is and isn’t out of bounds behavior. *Everything* is new, a first, including what it means to be a partner to someone. Aubrey says, “Surely, myself included, we would love to go back to the garden and slap the fruit out of Eve’s hand, and give her a piece of our mind, ‘What ARE you doing, you dumb broad, didn’t you hear what God said? Yes, Aubrey, she did. Eve didn’t have the benefit of a few thousand years of hindsight. Worse, not knowing of good and evil, she had no way to express nor process events and behavior that felt out of bounds. Adam could and probably did, do things that caused Eve duress. But it was all good (right?) because without knowing of good and evil there is nothing that is out of bounds. Last, a word from us, the malcontents, we know, she knew and it wasn’t enough, isn’t enough.

I find it beyond reason that the purported prior-fall Eden was entirely sunshine and lollipops. God created a world in which free will exists. This includes the freedom to use his creation for ill as well as good. C.S Lewis, in his, “Problem of Pain“, talks about a baseball bat being a tool for sport as well as a weapon. God made the baseball bat. Man makes a choice and it is either used for sport or for crime. He leaves it to us to decide what to do with His creation. Google News will give you plenty of examples of poor choices. I find it hard to believe that the lack of knowledge of good and evil would obviate the possibility of ill will. Either he made an Eden where free will was impossible, and thus made a couple who were not completely in His image, or he made an Eden where they didn’t know what was and wasn’t in-bounds behavior but could, out of innocence, still behave in ways that were transgressive. You could slap the fruit out of Eve’s hand and she would still be stuck with an impossible to understand feeling that some of what Adam did was not right. Enter the serpent. Eve had her reasons.

To recap: the serpent tells Eve that if she defies God and eats of the forbidden fruit she will gain the knowledge of good and evil. She ate and fed some to Adam as well. In all the sermons I’ve heard and retellings of this tale I can’t remember any time spent in the run-up to her choice. It’s narrated as a series of disconnected events, the serpent talking to Eve, then Eve eating, then Eve feeding some of the fruit to Adam, then feeling shame at their nudity, then clothing themselves, then hiding from and being found by God, then banishment and consequences. It is beyond reason to me that Eve was not talking to Adam through all this. On many Sundays in the sermon I’m told that Eden before the fall was a paradise where evil was impossible. Paradise for whom?

The bible is conspicuously silent on what Eve was going through in her early days. Or that Eve wasn’t processing the events of her life and trying to figure out (a) what it all means and (b) what she should do about it. It was all new to Adam as well. He had no frame of reference, save what God had been telling him, of how to live on God’s good side. Not knowing of Good and Evil, without the law, he had a hard time with Eve, who was not as rebellious as Lilith but was still crazy making. There was no one he could commiserate with, no parents to talk to, no fellow newlywed men to joke about married life with. He had to bootstrap all of this himself. Eve, younger than him, didn’t know either and for all it mattered, was dumber than a box of rocks.

There is another discredited narrative lurking about in Jewish folklore–Lilith. She, it is told, was the first woman, created of the same soil as Adam, and banished from Eden because the fight between her and Adam got so severe she fled to the desert, spewing threats and curses the whole way. One more element. We don’t have a story that connects Lilith to Eve. Lilith exists in Mesopotamian folklore and predates Judaism. If folk tales of Lilith and Eve exist they have not survived. Suppose these two women were alive at similar times, are we sure they never spoke? We can’t say because we don’t have anything to connect the two. But . . . this space is the realm of the bard. This is not a limitation here. This blog can say it, taking the privilege of the story teller, and proceed from there. We’ll say Lilith was able to fill in the details of the dispute over a salad of smoked rattlesnake, sunflower seed and kale dressed with a lime, cilantro and peanut oil vinaigrette served with a nice Riesling. Eve would hear that she wasn’t the first, and why Lilith lived in the desert, shunned.

This means that if she was to get along with Adam she could not merely defy him. She could not plant her flag on equal liberty with Adam and expect to gain his assent. There had been too many words between the angels, Adam and Lilith, too much done, to make that reasonable. Eve needed a new way to be with Adam. Could it be that if he knew what he’d done wrong, if he could be made to see the error of his ways, that there could be rapprochement in Eden and the strife of the past could remain in the past, leaving Eve safe?

Consider Eve’s position. She is newly made of Adam’s rib. She is physically a woman, fully capable of everything God expects of her. Adam has all these “should’s” and “spose-to’s” from his disastrous relationship to Lilith. He’s still seething at the mention of her. He feels entitled to being treated a certain way, full of rants about being respected and the proper place of a . Though she is physically mature she is still young to this life and so much is hard to sort out. Knowing the right thing to do isn’t straightforward. She has no history to refer to, no older kin to speak with. Her only source of reference is God, who is at a turn loving and paternal in frustrating ways, and Adam, who isn’t helping.

Eve has no friends save for these two men, one her father, the other her husband. They are men. They try when she wants to talk. But . . . guys are not girls and though they mean well, it’s not the same talking to them. Lilith is banished so getting to speak with her is extremely difficult. Eve and Lilith had that lunch but since then God has had angels watching her so getting out hasn’t been possible. Adam and God have no clue what it’s like to be a woman in this paradise. Instead, there are legion expectations and pompous, chest puffed, chauvinist ideas about what an ideal woman should be. Into this comes the serpent, who is wise enough to know when to shut up and let Eve talk.

God’s call to Eve was to be Adam’s helper. God keeps talking about children and that’s just disgusting. Adam has a lot to say about this, much of it conflicting with her conversations with God. God wants Adam to love him more dearly and wants Eve to help him with this. Adam seems to want sex (which, btw, could not have gone well at first, “You pee with that thing. You want to put it inside me and pee inside me? That is so not happening ever.” hot meals, a willing ear and someone to clean up after him. No mention of loving God in that. No shortage of what God owes Adam, though. So, here she is, newly made, newly married, to this creature who is inconsiderate, stubborn, resentful, angry at his ex, loudly declaiming that God owes him, and demanding of her. The serpent says that if Adam knew the difference between right and wrong maybe he’d understand the error of his ways and stop being such a prick.

Keep things the same in the garden, tolerating Adam and his anger toward women, toward Lilith and by extension, Eve, trusting God to work it out, or . . . disrupt, defy and in the defiance maybe get this lughead to come to his senses. Yes, the price was death but as in many of these broken relationships, physical death may be threatened but it is the spiritual death long ago initiated that has destroyed the souls of those involved and made physical death seem comforting. Plus, the serpent kept telling her that she would not physically die, not really. She would know from Lilith that the price was more probably divorce from Adam and banishment. So, it became a choice miseries.

Eve chose to eat of the apple and lived to suffer another day. Adam it seems, became a farmer and settled down enough to father Cain and Able. For Eve, good enough. She could live as a farmer’s wife and let the raucous early days of her life fade into fond family stories. For the rest of the story you can read your Bible. It’s all there.

Eve’s sin is still the sin of hubris. Though, not the sort of pride I’ve heard in so many sermons on so many Sundays. No, the old lie the serpent tells us and that we still fall for that we are alone, that no one else understands our problem the way we do, and that we have to take care of it ourselves. It is a pride that comes from fear overtaking our trust in God and in turn letting Him open our eyes to the hidden love and solutions possible once we stop being so scared and proud. Eve was young, thought she had to figure it out for herself, and listened to the serpent as he talked her into feeling isolated and desperate. It doesn’t justify her sin. It’s maybe like Chris Rock said about OJ Simpson–it isn’t right but you can understand.

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Define Poor

As I sit in the office I set up in the spare bedroom in my house without a job, with less than $40.00 of accessible cash, it’s easy to label myself as poor. If I don’t figure out how to pay my cable TV bill soon I’ll be stuck watching Netflix and will miss the new Season of Mythbusters. Horrible, right?

wretched_man-213x300This still sticks in my head like a stray cocaine addled ex-girlfriend who won’t leave. When we say we want to end poverty, what do we mean? Half of the world lives on less than $2.50/day. I feel impoverished because after I buy my cup of coffee from Starbucks I’ll only have 23¢. Who is really poor? Am I poor because I don’t have enough cash to buy my usual list from our local supermarket? Those people who live on $2.50 a day, are we saying those are the poor folk?

Let’s just make that claim. That for things to be fair everybody has to live on more than $2.50/day. Thus the answer is to dump cash into their country so that everybody can have oh, maybe $10.00/day to live on. We’ll make some sort of UN resolution that imposes sanctions or whatever on nations that we consider wealthy and force them to give their wealth to our designated poor countries so that everyone can have their daily Alexander Hamilton. Good plan, no?

Best Laid Plans

No. The places in the world where we in the first world have diagnosed the problem as a lack of cash and thus the solution is to empty the coffers of the first world into the third are cesspools. The sudden influx of cash breeds crime & corruption. The well meaning, utopian ngo’s & government officials responsible for administering the flood of cash are too easily corrupted. Something like 90% of the money sent is swallowed up in costs and corruption. I know, a rapid fire paragraph of seeming glittering generalities. Don’t believe I’m factual? Check out Dambiza Moyo’s, “Dead Aid”. Go read the old news articles on the Symbionese Liberation Army and their food drop. Ask a local soup kitchen how many of those in line for a meal are regulars the staff suspects are not as down in the mouth as they claim. Redistributing assets to make things fair too often escalates the unfairness.

Lists seem to be a fad among bloggers. They show up well on the little 4.3″ screens of everybody’s iPhones. I am a bit mobile unfriendly on this site. I tend to write long, at least 1,000 words or so. You have to scroll down (so fustrating) to read all of one of my posts. +1 way in which this blog is a pain in the ass. Before I finish this I have a list below for you:

Things Alan Owns
# Item Days to Earn @ $2.50/day
1 1 Can Bustello Coffee 1.5
2 Oscar Meyer Beef Franks 2.0
3 ½ gallon Soy Milk 2.0
4 Whole Chicken 4.0
5 Melita Drip Coffee Maker 5.0
6 Peet’s Coffee Whole Bean Major Dickenson’s Blend 5.2
7 TFal Pot & Pan set 50.0
8 Microwave Oven 36.0
9 Convection Oven 37.0
10 Vacuum Cleaner 40.0

These are just a few small things. I also own a laptop (600 days), a smart phone (160 days) and live in a single family home (240 days for one month’s rent). I drive an old car that by the standards of my friends, is a hoopty. At $2.50/day it would take 14 years to earn enough money to replace it. One mechanic offered to fix everything broken for 2 years wages. I have friends paying a mortgage on $250,000.00 homes. For 80% of the world 100,000 days (274 years, 14 generations) would pass before they could pay that off.

Color Blind Privilege

That’s one aspect of this. What I feel as poverty is wealth by a large percentage of the world’s population. This happens every once in a while and makes the news. Someone from a remote corner of the world where they hunt & gather is flown to a place like New York City and they have a meltdown. Something as simple as a small corner grocery is such an abundance of food at such extraordinary prices that they cannot believe what they are seeing. For most of their lives if they don’t go hunt something today they don’t eat today. And here they are among millions of people staring at the shelves of a small grocer with enough food to feed their village for a long time. And it’s just one small store. Walmart? OMG! Walmart makes them run in tears from the store. Walmart makes their head explode.

Yet these people have lived in hunter gatherer cultures for thousands of years. They are doing something right. Something else to consider–UN Relief and other foreign aid efforts have sent several trillion dollars to African nations over the last half-century or so. You would think that by now everybody there could be assured of their daily Hamilton and four times the amount of money they live on. Yet, over 50 years the cash has fostered incredible corruption and violence as the money is stolen by those who are able. Those for whom it was intended for absorb yet another sandpaper dildo shoved up their dignity. Go read Dambiza Moyo’s, “Dead Aid” if you want to hear more about this. I met someone from Uganda who giggled that when we send cash and food they just eat it and leave us good hearted folk with nothing to show for our well intentioned generosity.

I hope none of what I write here is news. If you want to know why I don’t give to UNICEF or respond to those heartbreaking TV ads for various NGO’s feeding the poor it is because mercy is one more thing that scales badly. Once governments get involved and there is substantial cash in play it’s hard for the establishment to be humble and do the right thing. To often their SumYung HotTea wants a fur coat and gets it for an equivalent price of 20 years salary for a lot of the world. Instead I’ve advocated working small, in our own neighborhoods, seeking to foster the gifts of my neighbors. Yes, yes, this does come from Robert Lupton’s, “Toxic Charity“. I like the book.

As we sit in our local café and bemoan the miseries of the third world it is easy to take another sip of our doppio-half-caf-soy-hazelnut cappuccino (2 days wages) and accuse the rich of our first world of having too much. I have a suggestion I make frequently. Grab somebody sitting next to you in that café and ask them to hold your table. Go outside and give $20.00 (8 days wages) to somebody who looks like they need it. Each time you feel the urge to shake your fist at the evil rich, do a small act of kindness with great love. Then do another and keep doing them.

Rome was an empire for 1400 years. For the first millennium it was an invincible force. Then a no account bastard Nazarene son of a carpenter was born in Bethlehem. At about age 30 he was crucified by the Romans at the request of the boy’s church leadership after being accused of blasphemy. Followers of this no-account boy were tormented, murdered, brutalized in the most vicious means imaginable. What could not be done by any in a thousand years was done by a few who sacrificed themselves over 4 centuries. His Way leached its way into the heart of Constantine.

Rome was sacked repeatedly until it fell for the last time around 440AD. You will hear that followers of Jesus of Nazareth were not the ones who brought down the great Empire. It was the Visigoths. Maybe so. Four centuries of speaking to the hearts of those in power, four centuries of asking them to follow the way of a ragamuffin boy from Nazareth, had its effect. The kingdom of Jesus lives in the hearts of billions of followers. Rome is a ruined city tourists visit to eat pizza and stare at fallen sports arenas. I think that carpenter’s boy won.

That’s my answer to those smoking Galious cigarettes, sipping that organic, fair trade latte and eyeing the “kill the 1%” protest sign proudly hung on the café wall above the flyer for river tours of the Douro. Christianity won against Rome by invading its heart. We won by small acts of kindness and uncommon grace.

You can be part of this revolution. No flags or riots needed. You know the drill. No, that old six word prayer is only a small part of it. I care more about these simple things: Love God with all your heart, mind and strength. Love friends, family and enemies alike. Forgive first, beyond 70 times 7. Wash feet. If you don’t understand what I mean by washing feet, ask one of us who follow Jesus. We invaded Rome’s heart and live in it rent free. I’ll take that as a win you can be part of for less than a day’s wages.

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