Saturday, December 28, 2013

America's Obsession with Convenience and the Demise of Quality

About 80% of the time I eat at a fast food restaurant (an average of once a month) I wonder how the establishment stays in business. A couple weeks ago I was talking with my dad and said something like, “I wonder if we were to offer some of the 'food' we gladly eat to a starving person in a developing country, if they would even be grateful to receive it.” Before I say the next bit I will say, I am not a healthnut, I eat a lot of sweets and really enjoy some candy that has nothing but artificial flavoring; but some of the junk we eat, if you stop to think about it, isn't really recognizable as food, doesn't taste remotely like anything occurring in nature (I'm thinking specifically about some frozen burritos I used to like while in college).

We want our food now, whether it's at a fast food joint or a sit down restaurant. Think for a moment, have you ever cooked? Don't most of the best things you prepare take time and quite a bit of it? If you're making a really good hamburger, is it done in 5 minutes? If you're making an excellent fajita, is it done in 10? If you're making a delicious southern meal is it done in 20?

Quality takes time and we have sacrificed it in the name of convenience. We have demanded food that is fast, cheap, and still tastes good (at least to some people) and to accomplish this the food is tinkered with a lot. What else should we expect?

Being a specialist takes time and a specific area of expertise but in our demand for convenience we first created supermarkets (which largely took away people specializing in baked goods, meat, cheese, etc.) and then went a step further and created the superstore (which took away people specializing in hardware, toys, clothing, etc.). Despite this, we criticize the employees of these establishments, complaining that they don't know where something is or they don't know something about a product. I know most people are assigned to a department and mostly work in that area (or at least I hope that is what happens), but even within that one department there's a very large variety of stuff (again, groceries have all sorts and electronics has everything from cellphones to tvs and dvds).

Within superstores our demand for convenience and cheap stuff has again done away with quality. I am not totally sure this is really the case, but someone who used to work in a John Deere factory told me that there was the line that made stuff for certain stores and then there was the line that made stuff for Wal-Mart (and I'm sure other superstores) and the quality wasn't the same. Also, if you talk to someone who knows jeans, they'll probably tell you even though you can get a pair of Levi's jeans at Wal-Mart for cheaper, you may not be getting the same quality as at some other stores.

About any of this, I can't really judge. Even though I hate Wal-Mart, I consider it a convenient evil and shop their anyway because, well, it's convenient and cheap.

I grew up in a home that didn't eat out much, my mom cooked from scratch almost every night. Yes, some of the meals were simple, but they were still good. As I've gotten older, I still don't eat out much and I enjoy cooking largely because I know I'll like what I make because I can control what goes into it.

Over the years we have learned to settle for less, we have made demands and they led to what we have today. So many are willing to settle for less that some things which are better quality have grown more expensive. A specific example is bread. Though I eat sliced bread and enjoy it decently for breakfast, I think it was one of the worst innovations to happen to America. Much of the rest of the world has really good, fresh bread for fairly cheap. While I was in Ukraine, one of the Americans I stayed with paid extra to get American-style sliced (frozen) bread instead of the fresh uncut bread you could get in every tiny store... and I thought they were a little insane for that.

I will end this by saying, when you can afford it buy fresh, buy local, buy from a small specialty store. Maybe someday our shouts for quality with drown out our demands for convenience and, in the process, maybe we will get to know our butcher, our grocer, our garden store owner, and computer specialist.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cha-Cha-Changes or What's New in the Life of Me

I got unconditional admittance to Appalachian State's Master of Library Science distance learning program (a fancy name for on-line classes) and will be starting classes in January. I got a transfer of departments/promotion at work. I am now a sales coordinator for Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn Wilkesboro (they're both owned by a hospitality company named Spectrum Hospitality Management), which means I have my first ever office job and first salary job. Okay, it's only half office work (which I am happy about) and the rest is setting up the conference rooms for meetings, parties, and events and then making sure the people are happy with everything.

The MLS program is only regionally accredited, which means I can only get a job in NC or VA, so for the foreseeable future I'm going to be within this general area (yes, for me “general area” means anywhere within two states). Maybe the far Northeast will have to wait for retirement or maybe after a few years of experience some small-town library up there won't care about the regionally accredited thing.

Between work and the MLS program, I have the feeling I'm not going to have much of a social life for the next two years...which I don't really have one now, so it won't be much of a change. :)

I have about 20 pages of a middle school/young adult story written and a couple pages of some other stories started. I'm hoping to set a few hours aside each week to write when I get my own apartment. No, you can't read them yet. Stephen King told me you have to wait until the first draft is done and I agree with him (I read a memoir by him about writing). Feel free to try to pressure me to write and maybe I will.

Oh, and I got married and have 5 kids. I know, it was a surprise to me too. Drank too much chocolate milk one night and that's what happened. Perhaps that last sentence isn't true, but I did get a plant and named her Cordelia. She's quite pretty.

I hope all of you are well. I hope your new year is filled with hope, with challenges and triumphs, adventures and cozy moments, with acknowledgments of simple joys, and love.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

An Explanation for Soulmates, Kindred Spirits, and Opposites Attracting

God is the totality of goodness, a more complete person than any human could ever be, encompassing all (good) aspects of what makes up personalities. What if our soulmate, our kindred spirit are those whose souls contain the same echoes of God, those same aspects of God that he instilled in our own soul? Our soul sees the same reflection of God in another as we see in ourselves and delights in the familiarity, bonds together because they are made of the same stuff. What if the reason why opposites sometimes attract is because we recognize those aspects of God in another that we are lacking in ourselves and we are seeking a complement, so that by joining our souls we can be made more whole, more fully understand the God we seek to know?

This can be a good thing. In soulmates and kindred spirits we find an understanding heart, someone we can relate to close to perfectly, who views the world as we do, and looks towards heaven with similar eyes. With our opposites we can learn more about the world, we can become more intimate with aspects of God with which we are very unfamiliar, our souls can become more rounded.

It can also be a bad thing.

Without God or with minds shut to his guidance, kindred spirits can unite with ours and determine that the rest of the world is weird or strange, we can convince each other God is just so and nothing else, we can focus together on some aspects of God and not realize there are others that we are completely ignoring.

Without God, when opposites attract, it may be that we are seeking to make ourselves more whole, more rounded, to fill a hole that we cannot fill because it is different and other than our self. But though with God this person can help make us more whole, can help to round us, can help to fill the hole inside us that we do not fully understand; without Him the pieces just won't fit, they may eventually jar and clash together because we each cannot understand why we're both still so incomplete.

Maybe “soulmate” should not only pertain to the kindred spirit types, maybe a mated soul can be an opposite. Kindred souls you can lay one on top of another and they will match, they're hard to distinguish as more than one soul so, in that sense, they are one. Opposite souls you put side by side and they help to fill in each others gaps, you look at them and see a completeness, in that sense, the two make up a one. As a lover, a spouse, I think there would be advantages and disadvantages to both, each would help you grow in different ways, each would challenge you in different ways.

In friendship, I think it is important to have both types, those you can comfortably blend with and those who help to fill in your gaps.

P.S. I know people are never fully kindred spirits or fully opposite spirits, no matter what there will always be little parts that do not match up...with whatever type you are matching.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

God's Hope in Man

 I originally wrote and posted this for my old blog in 2009, but I wanted to share it again on here.

I know “the Lamb was slain since the foundations of the world” but it still seems that, though God knew man could never fully make it on his own, he expected us and keeps expecting us to do better than we have done and better than we will probably do. I have heard people say, and also have gleaned this idea myself from the Old Testament, that Israel was God’s chosen people but they also were meant to bring other people into this God’s People. They were meant to be a Lighthouse in the world to shine God’s light and bring other peoples to him. I am not aware of how many “God fearers” and converts to Judaism there were throughout the ages, but from how prejudiced the Jewish people appear in the early parts of the New Testament I think it is safe to say they somewhat failed in being a lighthouse to the world. I think God hoped more of them, though he knew how things would go.

I wonder if now God looks at us, his followers and mourns the fact so many of his hopes have not come to be. I know He knew how it would be, but I can’t help thinking he “hoped against hope” things would be better than they are; that his Children would rise to occasion on all occasions, would grasp at every opportunity to show our appreciation for his love by showing love to others, and would open wide our arms in giving to show our thanks that he has given us so much. I am not judging everyone, for I personally know some believers who are giving much of themselves in their efforts to show God’s love, but so many times we do not give our second cloak, so many times we neglect to feed the hungry for some silly reason, so often we sit by while there is work we could be doing. Christ gave us the power to move mountains for the sake of his cause of showing God's unending love and yet instead of moving mountains, we often do not stir a finger to help someone in need.

God expected us to be his mouth, his hands and feet, to be his ambassadors to the world. He hopes so much that we would rise to the occasion and realize what an honor he is attempting to give us, how much faith he has in us to “do him proud.” God knows we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, so let us try not to let him down.

I will briefly say some more positive things. Thank you you thousands and millions of kindhearted, hardworking souls; thank you for so often rising to the occasion and making your Father proud by being the means by which he has blessed and saved millions of people’s lives. Thank you for the example you have set for us and also for all the good you have done in secret which only God and the one receiving it knows of. Thank you for fulfilling your calling and being a Lighthouse to the world, for causing eyes to be drawn to the good you have accomplished and so causing eyes and thanks to be lifted up to heaven.

Thank you, God, for believing so much in us and giving us the honor of bearing your name, your love, and allowing us to often be the means by which you bless this wonderful, dreadful place in which we live. Thank you for having hope in us and the good we can do, even when we have lost hope in ourselves. Thank you for not giving up on us; please help us to not give up on ourselves but to remember we have the power which created the universe at our back, just waiting to help us accomplish all that which you mean for us to accomplish. Thank you for your love and being willing to entrust it to just feeble, twisted beings. Thank you for being our strength and for untwisting our souls when we allow you to and that we will one day have a new body that is not wasted from years of sin. Thank you for your Son; his willingness to live a life in flesh, then to die a horrid death, and for raising him up that we might have the assurance we too will one day be raised.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Being Used

One of my co-workers throughout the week kept bringing up the fact that his church had volunteered him to drive a bunch of kids in the church van to go see a lighted Christmas village and he didn't seem too happy about it. During one of our breaks he said, “I know why they chose me, it's because I'm single and they won't have to buy another ticket,” to which one of my other co-workers said “They're using you,” then I mumbled “So, it's church.”

If we stop to think about it, if we believe in any cause, secular or not, don't we expect to be used or, at least, shouldn't we? The nature of most good causes do not allow them to fend for themselves, they don't produce the the needed revue to propagate themselves, most are very dependent on volunteers. Yes, if some of them are well put together they can be self-sustaining in terms of resources and finances, but even they require a lot of time and effort; in other words, humanpower.

During my year in AmeriCorps, my group was used and we were sometimes very overworked; if you were to work out how much we got “paid” (in terms of our living stipend), based on the number of hours we worked, it was a few dollars below minimum wage. But it was for the cause of conservation, of fighting fires that could destroy property, of combating chaos in the aftermath of natural disasters. We expected to be used, we volunteered for it.

When you join a church, a group combating cancer, raising awareness of domestic abuse; if you really believe in the cause, expect to be used up, to be called upon, to invest your time and emotions, to try and rally others to your cause. Hopefully, you can also expect to be emotionally rewarded and fulfilled as well.

The church is “using you,” exactly, and I expect to be used.

P.S. My co-worker's mom is one of the chief members in charge of the childrens church, which is the real reason he was probably volunteered for the outing. Also, they paid for his dinner, which he's always a big fan of free food.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Lord Supper Thought I Shared Today

Daniel spoke of the Lamb saying:

“I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven

there came one like a son of man,

and he came to the Ancient of Days

and was presented before him.

And to him was given dominion

and glory and a kingdom,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him;

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

which shall not pass away,

and his kingdom one

that shall not be destroyed.”

John spoke and said:

Between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

And the Lamb says through the Psalmist:

The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;

today I have begotten you.

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,

and the ends of the earth your possession.

You shall break them with a rod of iron

and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”

The Lamb spoke through Isaiah saying:

“Listen to me, O Jacob,

and Israel, whom I called!

I am he; I am the first,

and I am the last.

My hand laid the foundation of the earth,

and my right hand spread out the heavens;

when I call to them,

they stand forth together.

Luke spoke of the Lamb saying:

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And Paul spoke of the Lamb saying:

Though he was in the form of God, (he) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Verses in order they were used:
Daniel 7:13-14
Revelation 5:6-14
Psalm 2:7-9
Isaiah 48:12-13
Luke 2:7
Philippians 2:6-8