Monday, March 28, 2011

A Slight Departure

So much for First World Subsistence Living, at least for 24 hours.

Last October Jay and I went to the Flavors Culinary Event in Nashville sponsored by the American Liver Foundation. We knew that there was one in Memphis in the Spring but hadn't really planned on going to it until a few weeks ago. Things sort of fell in to place (it was the kids' Spring Break, we had childcare lined up, a Confirmation Retreat meant that I didn't have to teach Confirmation that night, Jay doesn't have Monday class until 11:00) and we decided that we might regret missing given the ridiculous amount of fun that we had in Nashville last Fall.

And it did not disappoint. As always, the ALF people were lovely and wonderful. The Mid-South Division Vice President of the ALF has no reason to know who we are but she does, and she always treats us like old friends. She even listed us as sponsors for the event even though we didn't pay any more than anyone else did.

Other highlights:
  • Our chef was from '37 at Harrahs in Tunica and prepared a menu that was just unreal. Here's the rundown: Duck confit risotto with smoked duck breast and black port cherry sauce, Tomato tartar with greens and lemon vinaigrette, Cauliflower Bisque with lobster tail, Thyme crusted lamb with sauteed arugula and bordelaise, and Orange and lemon zest cookie with vanilla bean ice cream and candied macadamia nuts. Heaven.
  • The LIVEr Champion this year was a woman named Amy Pollan whose husband, Benji, required a liver transplant due to Hepatitis C that he had contracted at two years old when he received a blood transfusion after a car accident. It wasn't diagnosed until he was 34. He got a transplant, the virus came BACK, he had more treatment, and they're still waiting to see if it will return again. They have two young children like Jay and I do, and it was great not only to hear their story, but to be able to thank them both personally for telling it.
  • One of the major sponsors of the event was a 70-year-old retired bigwig from FedEx who received a liver last December. He was an inspiration to see. He had no problem cheering himself on and basking in the recognition he received for pouring a pile of his own money into the event. It looked like his whole transplant team was there, too. He hopped from doctor to doctor talking about how well he was feeling. It was great.
  • Jay totally got pimped by the doctor who did Steve Jobs' liver transplant. It was a little annoying that he singled out Jay, who would like for people not to notice that he's a different color than everyone else, but it was still slightly cool to shake hands with the guy who replaced Steve Jobs' liver.
And of course it was great to spend time alone with the hubs. We carried our indulgence over into this morning when we went to the Trolley Stop Market for breakfast.

Oh, and Gina rocks my world. She took care of her two as well as my two, whom she treated as though they were her very own. I have a wonderful little village, I tell you.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Simplifying

One of my projects over Lent has been inspired by the folks over at Simple Mom. She's identifying one "Hot Spot" for each week and challenging her readers to declutter that spot. So far I've donated about 5 garbage bags' worth of stuff to RIFA and gathered enough stuff for the Montessori Yard Sale that I could stock it without anyone else's contributions. It's been a great exercise in simplifying...really thinking about what I need and realizing that what I don't need might be better and more intentionally used by someone else.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Choosing Poverty?

I was talking to an acquaintance the other day about my Lenten discipline. She stated that it was easier for her to have compassion for people living in poverty in other countries than it was for her to have compassion for people living in this country who "choose to be poor."

Of course no one chooses to be poor, but I've heard enough political and religious (!) rhetoric surrounding poverty and joblessness to know exactly what she means when she says that some people "choose to be poor." You know, those welfare moms who just keep having babies because they can get more government aid. And those folks who would rather sit and home and collect welfare checks that go out and get a job because that's just too hard. I don't doubt that there are such people out there who have given up looking for jobs, or that there are single women who are tired of struggling to make ends meet and decide that having another baby is a sure-fire way to get more money. And let's not forget young men and women who decide that the only way to break the cycle of poverty is to sell drugs.

But I say let's not pass judgment until we've been a mile in those shoes. It's easy for those of us who live in relative comfort to look down our noses at those people who'd rather lay in bed all day than go look for a job, especially when we haven't had the door slammed in our faces a million times, or when we haven't had to miss multiple days of minimum-wage hourly work to take care of a sick child--and then be fired.

If you believe that there are folks out there who choose that life, go ahead and read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed and see if you think you can manage any better than she did.

Or take this challenge from Urban Ministries of Durham:


Or watch Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days episode where he and his girlfriend try to move to a new city and live on minimum wage for a month.

Go ahead.

Richard Stearns calls it the "web of poverty."
While it is true that systems that oppress the poor must be challenged to achieve any lasting escape from poverty, even righting all of the systemic wrongs in a community does not automatically liberate the poor from their shackles. There are other, more subtle factors at play. After decades of entrenched material poverty, many communities suffer from poverty of spirit as well. They have lost faith in themselves and given up after too many heartbreaks and disappointments. My World Vision colleague Jayakumar Christian calls this the 'marred identity' of the poor. After a lifetime of exclusion, exploitation, suffering, and want, they no longer see themselves as people created in God's image with creativity, potential, and worth. They have lost the last thing that can be taken from them--hope.
He also says this:

There is no space here to do justice to all of the various theories on why people are poor and how they can move toward wholeness, but it is important for you to understand that poverty is highly complex and that there are no simple and quick fixes. And when we prescribe one particular 'pill' because we see just one particular symptom, the poor never seem to get well. In fact, they find themselves gulping down handfuls of pills prescribed by too many would-be doctors with too little real understanding of their lives. The poor are not lab rats on whom we can experiment with our pet theories; they are human beings with rich cultural and personal stories of their own. They have hopes and dreams, tragedies and triumphs in their lives. They need us to love them first and then listen to them. They need us to see their assets and their God-given abilities. Mother Teresa once said, 'When we see [those in poverty] as God sees them, we will glimpse His image in their faces--Christ in His most distressing disguise.'
Doesn't sound like something I'd choose.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Money

One of the things that Stearns talks about in his book is tithing. And of course I have lots of thoughts and questions about it. I agree that we are to give to God our firstfruits, and that the money that we give should be the first thing to be paid out of the budget. I don't do that, but I think it's the right thing to do.

Here are some of the statistics he shares:
  • The total income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion dollars.
  • It would take just a little over 1 percent of the income of American Christians to lift the poorest one billion people in the world out of extreme poverty.
  • American Christians, who make up about 5 percent of the Church worldwide, control about half of global Christian wealth.
  • If every American Christian paid his or her tithe, we would have an extra $168 billion to spend in funding the work of the Church worldwide.
  • Less than 40 percent of the $168 billion (only $65 billion) could eliminate the most extreme poverty on the planet for more than a billion people.
Wow.

Which led me to think...How many of us, when we go to visit a new church and are considering becoming members, ask to look at the budget? How many of us who are active and long-time members of a church take a regular and careful look at the budget?

I ask this because the budget of a church tells a lot (maybe everything) about the church's values and and priorities. And if I'm going to give 10 percent of my income to that church, then that church's priorities had darn well better align with mine. What if my church spends the lion's share of its budget to maintain an enormous and ornate building? What if my church spends its money to replace the computers every two years and to ensure that every staff member has an iPhone and a brand new iPad? (I'm just making this up as I go along. Forgive the silly examples).

What if, on the other hand, the church created and abided by a budget in which a full half of its income went to missions? What if they decided not to own a church building so that they could keep property maintenance/management costs down and give that money to local programs for those living in poverty? What if they used part-time staff and lots of lay volunteers to be responsible for the leadership of the church so that other money could go to community development projects? That's a church where I would be glad to fork over my 10 percent. (That's not to say that I don't do that now because I don't agree with my church's priorities. I just haven't gotten my own financial house in order).

Which leads me to the question, Does a tithe, to really be a tithe, have to go to the church? Or can it go to other agencies and organizations whom I believe to be doing the work of God in the world.

Ideas?

A Conundrum

I have a wonderful friend, Gina, who has outfitted Joshua for the last 4 of his 5 years. Her older son is 1 1/2 years older than Joshua, so Joshua borrows his clothes and then we give them back for Gina's younger son, Henry. I am profoundly grateful for Gina's generosity since I have rarely had to buy clothes for Joshua--that's really huge.

In an attempt to be frugal with Clare's clothing, I have relied heavily on consignment stores and consignment sales. Unfortunately, the awesome consignment store in Jackson recently closed, which leaves consignment sales as my only option. And when are those consignment sales happening? During Lent, of course.

I had originally justified shopping for kids' clothes during Lent by convincing myself that it's for my kids and not for me (I have already wept a tear over not shopping for myself at the upcoming sale in which I am also a consignor). But to be true to what I'm doing as a mother I feel like I should have to forgo buying clothes for my kids as well. But if I miss these sales then I'm stuck buying full-price clothes, and I really feel like that's a poor use of money too. I can't stand paying full price for clothes (unless they're from Sew Sassy) that my children are going to wear for 6 months max.

I looked to see if there were any other sales after Easter, but of course there aren't. So I guess I'll shop and chalk it up to another fail, along with my art purchases and my van.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Thoughts

Last night I finally finished Richard's Stearns' The Hole in Our Gospel. He's the President of World Vision and he has quite the story to tell. He had spent his life climbing the corporate ladder until he was the CEO of Lenox, and then he got the call from World Vision that they wanted him to serve as their President. He's traveled all over the world and seen the unimaginable in all of its corners. He presents all sorts of statistics about hunger, poverty, deaths from preventable diseases, and the effects of AIDS in developing countries. At the same time, however, he encourages readers NOT to be overwhelmed by these statistics. Becoming overwhelmed, he says, can give us the impression that there's nothing one person can do to make a difference. But each of us can do something to change the lives of people who know such despair.

As a result of the book, and of my own discipline of doing my best to live only with what I need (I know, I've already blown it), I've become much more interested in the problem of hunger, both in this country and around the world. I've been poking around at Bread for the World and ONE. I was already getting emails from ONE, but I often deleted them before reading them since they got bogged down in all of the other junk email I was getting. So today I unsubscribed to about 20 email sources. I hope that this will make the emails that I get from ONE and Bread for the World stand out in greater relief when they show up in my inbox.

Anyway, both sites have given me more to think about, as have the different pages on Stearns' website that give concrete ways that individuals can take action to address hunger and poverty.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In Which I Discover that My Van is Really a Tank...and Then Cheat

Yesterday I backed into a telephone pole. I hit it so hard that I didn't even notice that I had spilled my entire cup of coffee in my lap until about 5 minutes later. I hit it so hard that I knew my back bumper must be crushed. But when I got to my next destination and got out to inspect, I realized that there was only a 3-inch long vertical gash in the bumper. When I wiped the dirt off, it was hardly noticeable.

But I decided that this was the opportunity to take care of several body-work issues at the same time since we never got the car fixed after hitting a deer last December. So I called Jay to let him know that I was going to call a Claims Agent at our insurance company to get the repair work started, and then Jay mentioned "deductible."

Oops.

Paying for a non-necessity. Of course I can justify it. I'm simply being a good steward of what I have by taking care of it. 1) If there's unseen damage, it's better to have it repaired now than find out later that there were issues I didn't know about. 2) I wouldn't want my bumper to get rusty where the paint stuck to the telephone pole.

Oh, how easy it is to justify. If I was being really true to the spirit of what I'm doing, I would spend the next six weeks worrying about those things instead of actually taking care of them. That would be true to my discipline--worrying about something that I couldn't take care of right away, and feeling that angst and concern.

But I can take care of it. And I will. And I'm making a BIG exception here that I can only make because I live a life of privilege and contentment. There's my confession.

And I've already purchased pieces from the art show that I mentioned. They are beautiful, and Jay is technically buying them. But let's be honest, he hasn't even seen them, and I'm the one who's been in contact with the artist about purchasing them. Again with my life of privilege.

It's easier to cheat than I thought. Easy to pat myself on the back for not ordering my Sunday NYT on my Nook. Hard to stick with the discipline when I can so easily justify the big things that I want.

Feeling like a poser.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Lenten Reflection


I tend to be a little bit behind, so I didn't discover this powerful video until last year. But I went back to several times during Lent last year, and was glad to remember to watch it again this year.

I'm a little late to the David Crowder Band, too, but now I'm a fan!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Taking Things for Granted

There are already a few things that I am aware of that I will be sacrificing for Lent. In the spirit of not purchasing anything that isn't necessary, I will be giving up:
  • The new running shoes that I was going to buy as I train for my first 5K. The race is the Saturday after Easter, so I will probably forgo them altogether since it's probably not a good idea to run 3 miles in shoes that aren't broken in.
  • Haircut, eyebrow wax, and pedicure I was going to get in anticipation for the Flavors of Memphis event on March 27. Good thing I haven't given Molly her dress back from the last Flavors event. ;) Maybe I should do that. I don't like this much. My hair is dry and split and desperately needs a trim. My eyebrows are neanderthal, and my feet are not pretty. The dinner was going to be my excuse to do all of that. Not anymore! In fact, the only reason I'm allowing myself that one luxury meal is because we already paid for it.
  • Books, books, and books. I would love to have these books that I found on Simple Mom's recommended reading list, and my friend Sarah also recommended a great-sounding book called Chasing Francis. But those will have to wait. Jay asked last night if I could accept gifts, but I think that goes against the spirit of what I'm trying to do.
It's a good thing that the only coupon from Living Social that came in today on my email was 10 units of botox. Wasn't hard to delete than one.

These are just things I take for granted. When I want them, I just go out and get them without thought of price, convenience, or impact.

Now I will think about them. Especially as I get ready for my first Saturday of fasting tomorrow.

Edited to add:

There's one other thing... in keeping with our family tradition of only hanging art in our house created by local artists or people we know, I was really looking forward to this Senior Art Show at Lambuth. I know I'm going to love her work, and I imagine that we will want some of it to come home with us. In this case I may have to accept a gift from Jay.




Thursday, March 10, 2011

Well Goodie for You, Abraham

Matthew 19 tells us that inheriting eternal life hinges on one's willingness to leave behind siblings, parents, and children to follow Christ's radical call. No, you may argue, inheriting eternal life hinges on asking God to forgive us for our sin, and asking Jesus to come into our hearts and be our God. But I submit this for consideration:

"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are last will be first, and many who are first will be last." (Matthew 19: 29-30)

For another example of "eternal life means more than saying the right prayer," see Matthew 25:31-46.

But back to Matthew 19. Obviously I'm not so much concerned about receiving a hundredfold in exchange for obedience to Christ. Nor am I concerned that disobedience will result in an eternity in hell. I'm concerned that, when Jesus tells us that something will result in eternal life, it must be pretty serious. And so it's pretty serious that Jesus tells us that we must be willing to leave home, family, and livelihood for his sake.

And as I've thought about what I wouldn't be willing to give up in my life for the sake of obeying Christ's call to a complete reversal of values, I have come up with one thing. But it's a biggie: The health and safety of my family.

Jay's continued health is dependent on being near specialists and hospitals and, one day, crack transplant teams. And my kids? Forget about it. If I had been Abraham, I would have laughed right in the face of Almighty when I was commanded to sacrifice my child. I would have said, "Look, Friend, this has been a real trip, but this is where you and I part ways. I'm out."

So if those things are non-negotiable for me, am I ready to be radical? Am I really ready to submit to countercultural, reversal-of-values obedience? I don't know.

And what does health and safety entail? If I find out along this journey that God is calling me to give up my life savings, the treasure that I have "stored up on earth," does that compromise the health and safety of my children? What about college funds? (Let's face it, my dad's the only one who's been filling up those coffers) But does that compromise their health and safety? Do I cheat them somehow?

Questions I am pondering.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lent

On Christ the King Sunday last year, my pastor took a quick detour to the Parable of the Talents, where he asked us to consider that maybe the servant who buried the talent was the most faithful of the three. When the youth group was discussing it that evening, they characterized it as “Sticking it to The Man,” which I thought was pretty accurate. Ever since then I have had an ache in my heart, wondering how—and if—I ever Stick it to The Man. Or if I just ignore the parts of the Bible where Jesus calls us to be completely countercultural. Where he calls us to sacrifice everything (no, really, everything) to follow him. Where he calls us to abandon anything (Right. Anything) that keeps us from giving our hearts fully to him. Or if I am just like everyone else, Christian or non-Christian, who lives in relative comfort, not really rocking the boat, not really doing anything that screams, “Jesus is my Lord! I trust Jesus ALONE! Not money! Not stuff! Not anything else! Just Jesus!”

And I have to conclude that, really, there’s nothing about my life that says, “Look, I’m following a radical teacher who tells me that I have to be willing to give up everything to follow him. Nope. There’s really nothing that much different about me, except that I go to church several times a week and really think there’s no better way to talk theology than over a beer (because really, there isn’t). I’m good at talking theology. But my life is not radical.

I started thinking more about this radical obedience to Jesus when my youth did the 30-Hour Famine for World Vision. Then I started reading Richard Stearn’s book The Hole in Our Gospel. He’s the president of World Vision and has an incredible story to tell. He says that the hole in our gospel is that we skip over the part where Jesus tells us that whatever we’ve done to the least of these, we’ve done to him. And when we’ve turned our backs on the least of these, we’ve turned our backs on him too. And then my friend Jason posted this, which just made me sick to my stomach.

For these last months I have felt this ache in my heart, this unsettled feeling that there is something more to my life, to my family’s life, than this complicit participation in a world where 10 million children die in Africa each year because of preventable diseases. Where children in our own country look forward to getting their school breakfast on Monday morning because they’ve had nothing to eat since lunch on Friday. How dare I call myself a follower of Jesus in the midst of my own comfort and complacency.

During the next 40 days of Lent I will be doing what I’ve dubbed, “First World Subsistence Living.” During Lent I will only be consuming what I need. I will not buy clothing, home improvement “stuff,” cosmetics, Living Social/Groupon/SnagMob deals, or anything else that isn’t essential. I will not radically change the kinds of foods I consume, but I will be eating only what I need to eat. No desserts, no lattes, no snacks, nothing rich/decadent. If I go to restaurants I will eat simply: salads, small portions, etc. On Saturdays, when I usually allow myself to eat whatever I want without worrying about calories…I will fast from sunup to sundown. Someone asked me tonight how I will know what’s “nonessential” and my answer is that I will be accountable to myself. I will approach each situation with intentionality, keeping in mind the spirit of what I’m doing and why.

I trust that during this journey, which will also include lots and lots of prayer and scripture reading, I will have a clearer picture of how I (and my family) am to respond to the upside-down-world call of Jesus.

I’ll let you know how that works out.