Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Advent

Do you all have any great ideas about celebrating Advent in your community? I would love to hear!

Friday, November 24, 2006

I Feel Like Eve

I feel like Eve. The apple looks so good; I might do just about anything to have one. God placed the fruit in the Garden of Eden and told Eve to keep her hands off. My temptation is a little different. The apple of my eye is a 13-inch, white MacBook laptop.

Last week, a cute guy working on his Mac while sipping coffee in Starbucks told me countless reasons why the Mac is a vital necessity in my life. Writing would be so much more convenient on the Mac, and it would catapult my creativity. My i-pod would be compatible for music, and I could take the cute little computer with me anywhere. I must have one.

So, I have devised a plan. If everyone gave me an apple gift card for Christmas (this is a hint; all of you should be reading this article), it would bite a chunk out of the cost of my Mac. I could save each month and shoot to write these articles on my new MacBook somewhere around February. Wanting takes planning.

My three-year-old niece knows how it feels to really want something as well. As we sat on Thanksgiving morning and watched the Macy’s Day Parade, Sarah Grace shouted, “I want that!” after each commercial. The Disney Princesses Ocean Salon; “I want that!” A Barbie ballerina DVD; “I want that!” Dora the Explorer Talking Cash Register; “I want that!” When we heard, “I want . . . oh, never mind,” we knew that the Charmin commercial had thrown Sarah Grace off her consumptive track of desire.

A friend discovered a clever ploy to trick himself out of overspending. Personalizing his credit card cut his spending by 30 percent. Instead of printing a picture of his family or his pet on the face of the credit card, he decided to let Clark Howard’s mug shot glare back at him each time he took the card out to make a purchase. The twinge of guilt after asking “what would Clark Howard buy?” stopped his shopping before he could even reach the counter. It seems that we will try anything to cut the growing need to own more to gain satisfaction.

What drives our need to have more?

Many people keep quoting the verse from Psalm 37 that reads, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Does this really refer to any of our desires? We have manipulated this verse in such a way to support our temptation to have more. Whether we want a Mac, a Barbie dream house, a new job, or a boyfriend, none of these wishes are promised to us. Wanting does not guarantee receiving.

In 1 Chronicles, King David speaks out on behalf of his son, Solomon, as they prayed to consecrate the temple. King David told of all they willingly had given in order to build this temple for God. He prayed in 1 Chronicles 1:14-18, "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? . . . . And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.”

The “desire of their heart” was generosity. God meets our needs as our requests reflect the heart of Jesus. This Christmas, what is on your Christmas list? What can we generously give away?

The Chinese Buffet

The Chinese buffet is a marvel. Watching people approach the lanes of food leads me to wonder how they select their meal. Some people dress their plate based only on proximity. Everything on aisle one goes on the first plate. Everything on aisle two will sit on the second. Others base their selections on color. One friend of mine picks according to style; fried foods (crab rangoon, won tons, fried rice, and chicken legs) sit together. At the end of the meal, most people have eaten plate after plate of food.

We seem to have a culture of compulsive comsumers. Standing at the little restaurant on Ponce, I can watch thousands of Krispy Kreme donuts rolling down the conveyer belt, baptized under a waterfall of glaze. My brother and I watched ESPN’s coverage of the national hot dog eating contest, complete with competitors dunking hotdogs and buns in water to help them get more than one down a second. We see no limit to the amounts we consume. Value meals now include drinks with cups big enough to take a swim. No one notices how many times consumers return to the buffet line as long as they pick up a clean plate each time.

Our consumption is not limited only to food. I-pods hold literally tens of thousands of songs, each carefully downloaded by its owner. 800 channels now extend our surfing time with a remote, and it seems that we still find nothing on the television. New construction on houses shows homes with double or triples the square footage, even though families keep getting smaller. Unlimited credit limits and closets full of shoes offer us endless selections to complete all of our new outfits for next season. Campouts at Best Buy and E-bay promises show the PS 3 and the updated Tickle Me Elmo as our greatest need this holiday season.

Our day planners and blackberries reflect the same compulsive nature. The average child hops in the back of an SUV, changes from ballet slippers to soccer cleats, as mom orders dinner from Applebee’s curbside pickup on her cell phone. Some of us see church membership as an opportunity to serve and fellowship literally every night of the week. Appointments for a haircut and color, fill-in on our nails, pedicure, massage, and tan causes us to give countless hours to sit in a salon.

“We need a theology of enough.”

Those words of Melanie Hardison burned my heart as I read the most recent post on a friend’s blog. He referred to a conference in which she described the importance of the church practicing simplicity and sustainability. Instead, we give away our time and money to our never-ending need for more.

Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Practice Of A Life, describes her budding prayer life as she studied and practice the Daily Offices. This sacred prayer practice fashioned her day around prayer times, observed by Christians around the world for centuries. In fact, we can still go to the Monastery and celebrate the prayers with monks who live on a spiritual schedule.

This type of prayer causes us to stop during our day to focus on God. Then, our days are marked by connection instead of consistent chaos. Now, God is not another check mark of completed task in our day planner. Conversely, He the center of all that we do.

Thoreau believed the only way we could ever really live was separation from society as he discovered the reality of solitude. Can we, as followers of Christ in our culture, really “live as Christ” in the midst of the chaos?

Tales of An Almost Bowler

So many wonderful people in Rockdale County comment about this article, and they have gotten to know little bits about me through it. When I run into someone in the grocery store, at Starbucks, or in a restaurant, they are so kind about the article. Yet, I feel that I must make a confession. A small detail about me might change the way you feel. Dear readers: I am a bowler.

Many of you may be shocked, but it is true. In fact, I have seen most of you at the lanes (that includes you, Mr. Russell). My weekly habit started off as a funny alternative to a usual night out. Eventually, it has turned into a weekly occurrence. The lanes, the left wall that was once a mural of the Dinky, the balls, and the hip shoes keep pulling me back.

Do not assume that my bowling implies that I am skilled at the sport. Bowling, like most other sports, leaves me with a pitiful score. My goal of breaking 100 shines as my beacon of hope most games. Every week, nonetheless, my bowling partner always seems to do worse than I do.

Most would assume that finding such a pitiful bowling partner would make for an exciting time. The first time we bowled, I was thrilled to win at something requiring some sort of athletic skills. My big brother would be proud! As I continued to win, it became less exhilarating. I am convinced that he is losing on purpose. How can someone with athletic skills and a competitive nature be that terrible at bowling? Also, his horrible bowling skills are following a pattern. He consistently bowls just a few pins less than me on most of the frames. Then, he falls behind by a huge margin. He finishes out that last frame with at least a spare and a strike every game. In the end, I will win by less than five pins.

He keeps telling me that he really is terrible, but his words mean nothing. Having someone lose because they feel sorry for me and my poor skills or he just find it more of a challenge to see how small of a margin he can create between our scores mimics my game, even though it is an awful one. My whining for him to “play for real” just makes him laugh. “Just let me be bad at it!” he says.

In our ongoing debate about the ultimate bowling charade, it is clear that nothing will change my mind. Every time he tosses the ball, I find more evidence to support my theory. If he hits a strike, it proves that he really can bowl. His mistakes and bad throws show him faking it again.

Are we ever so convinced that we have God figured out that we drown Him out completely?

In the midst of our world today, so many of us are overwhelmed with the mass amount of suffering and tragedy we find. Natural disasters, personal losses, and continual disappointments further implement our hidden theory that God is not good. How can you be God really be good if we feel this alone?
Jesus told us, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:32-33).

My friends, take heart. If we let go of our hidden agendas and open our eyes to see God, then we can start to see the reality of His goodness. He is good; you can trust Him on it.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

It's Official!

A friend told me once that I am not "official" until someone gets offended.

Most of my posts on this blog are really my articles that run in the religion section of our local newspaper. Apparently, the one listed below got one reader hot under the collar.

A woman called me this morning with her number blocked to make sure I knew what a terrible person I was for writing the article on Starbucks. "I can't even believe you would write about Starbucks (I know it was just a little story and everything), but they DO NOT SUPPORT OUR TROOPS!!" She was furious.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Stop and Smell The Coffee

Starbucks is my third place. It is my home away from home away from work. Even though their marketing campaign offers no white ribbons to us third place winners, we find great comfort in their purple chairs, smiling faces, and dialing doses of caffeine.

Around this time of year, my order consists of Wild Sweet Orange teas, hazelnut lattes, or the house blend. As Christmas approaches, the calendar pulls me closer and closer to the Anniversary Blend and a gingerbread latte. Starbucks has been my safe haven while living in so many different places. Now, in Conyers, I go there to see friends, work quietly, or just sip a cup of great coffee.

If you find yourself at Starbucks on 138, make sure you say hello to my friend, Russell. He absolutely loves his job, and he is one of the few people I know who really loves to go to work. The updates of what happens at Starbucks over the course of a day are no less than inspiring. Sometimes I dream that all of my life was as tranquil as my moments in the coffee shop.

On Tuesday, Russell was working drive-through early in the morning. After arriving at Starbucks at 5 a.m., he proceeded to fill the orders of friends starting their day. One patron commented that he knew the woman in the car behind him, so he offered to pay for her coffee along with his own. His act of kindness inspired her to pay for the car behind her. Russell told me that this chain of generosity continued for over twenty more cars.

Each driver seemed touched by the decision of the stranger heading off to work one car ahead, and he or she felt compelled to mimic that same kindness. Starbucks, this week, pulled over twenty residents of Conyers out of their normal routines as they prepared for long commutes and an even longer day. That morning, the giving away became the norm.

When Russell shared his experience with me, I was moved. However, part of me could not help but ask how the chain was broken. Who finally decided not to return the favor? The last recipient still does not know that cup of coffee already was paid for by the car in front. She was on her cell phone and missed the chance to talk to Russell. He would have smiled, sincerely asked her how she was doing, and then he would have told her the story. His face would have illustrated just how special that morning had been for him. Instead, she continued to talk, paid the amount she knew by heart, grabbed her cup, and headed off to work. She failed to put that conversation in her pocket to conduct commerce with one of the best people I know.

How many blessings do we miss because we are too distracted by our day? Today, I walked into a high school filled with young lives on the brink of great change. This afternoon, I will grab a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop that invites me to join the circle of friends gathered around the tables.

Stop today and see all that is happening around you. Maybe one of you will even bless the stranger behind you with a simple act of kindness. Your story may never be told, but someone out there will not forget it. Thank you, Conyers, for making Russell’s day. Thank you, Russell, for telling your story. Let us join in on the generosity that changes people.