Tag Archives: what the . . .?

Un/Entitlement

I had an interesting exchange at our church’s food bank today. Of the foods we intended to drop off, we included several boxes of cereal that were a part of our “stash” as we like to call it. Yes, it would be safe to call my wife an “extreme couponer” (not the shelf-clearing kind . . . that’s just rude) and she’s gotten so good at it that we’ve built up quite a little stockpile of items; sauces & condiments, chips & chilies, soaps & shampoos, etc. Our stash!

Well, after the wake-up call the other day (Stepping Away From the Self-Righteous Abyss) I felt obliged to put our stash where my mouth (or, at least, my keyboard) is; and that included these several boxes of cereal. However, what we had done was remove the UPC code from the bottom of some of these boxes to be included in a rebate towards future purchases. (See, that’s how extreme couponing works!) As it turns out, the kind volunteers at the food bank said they wouldn’t be able to take the boxes because the people who use the food bank “won’t take it because they think it’s been opened.”

Okay, fair enough. Honestly, that was a concern we had before even going in but we thought we’d at least try. It was the next comment that actually caught us out of the blue.

“You’d be surprised at what we end up throwing out around here.”

Really? A food bank has food that actually goes to waste? That people actually don’t want?

Really??!!

That opened up a whole Pandora’s Box of questions swirling around my overactive imagination: Most obviously, “why?”

My trusting/hopeful self would then ask, “Could the food bank, like any other store, have food that spoils or goes past expiration date?”

Well sure, it’s possible.

My cynical/jaded self would then ask, “Has our society developed such an entitlement attitude that there is even free food that is not good enough for those impoverished to the point they find themselves with no other means of providing for their family?”

I’ve been on this earth long enough—and worked in the public sector long enough—that I have a definite opinion on the subject. I would like to think I’m wrong. But I can’t escape the thought that this gentleman wouldn’t have made that comment to me about, say, fresh produce or other perishables as he was handing me back my box of “opened” cereal. Was that just a hint of frustration bubbling underneath the words he spoke?

Again, I’d like to think I’m wrong, but right or wrong there’s something I think we, as a society, as a culture, as Americans—born into the top 2% of all the world’s wealth, whether we feel “rich” or not—need to see. Something we need to understand . . .

Other people don’t live like us. Other people don’t have a sense of entitlement that we do. They would love to have food, ANY food. Yet there are people in the world, GENERATIONS of people, who live like this . . .

I would like to think that, like any other “store”, the food bank occasionally does have food that spoils or goes past expiration date. But even that seems far-fetched given the amount of relative poverty I know is in this area I live; the amount of families, kids that miss meals or that thank God for the public school lunch program so they can have at least one healthy meal today.

I would like to listen to my trusting/hopeful side. I would like to think the best of people. I really would.

I just know too many of them . . .

Including myself . . .

Freaks

“All the best freaks are here,

They say all the best freaks are here,

Please stop staring at me . . .”

~~Marillion “Freaks” (from B-Sides Themselves, 1988)

My son spent another day at the County Fair yesterday, this time under the never-ending-patience of his grandparents. He woke up this morning and couldn’t wait to tell me all about the animals he saw, the rides he went on, and one other thing . . .

. . . a tent with the “Smallest Woman in the World” inside.

Wait, hold on . . . what?

“Yeah,” he said, “I went inside and I expected it to be a robot or something but it was an actual girl . . . a real person!”

Having a daughter of our own with a disability, my wife and I were understandably taken aback for a moment. “How did that make you feel?” we asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, kind of thoughtfully, “A little weird, I guess.”?”

“And why was that?”

“Well,” he answered after some careful consideration, “I guess I didn’t expect her to be a real person. I mean, she was just kinda sittin’ there listening to her Ipod and reading something. I didn’t know what to do. So I just said, ‘hi’.”

“And what did she do?”

Shrug. . . “Just said ‘hi’ and went back to reading. I think she was bored. It was just kinda weird.”

And I thought yeah, that’s a word for it. I thought carnival sideshows (or “freak” shows as they were more commonly known) went out of style decades ago. It really did seem weird that an old-tyme sideshow would be at a twenty-first century County Fair.

“There were other ones too,” my son piped up.

Excuse me??

“Yeah,” he continued, his enthusiasm gaining momentum, “there was a ‘snake-skinned angel lady. And I think there were others too, I just didn’t see ’em all.”

“Did you go see the snake-skinned lady?” we asked.

“No. It was seventy-five cents to see ’em,” he said, “seventy-five cents, each!”

Wow, I thought, your whole life on display for seventy-five cents. Each. But who was I to judge; even though I feel a little closer to the situation having a daughter who is regularly stared at—discreetly by the adults but more openly by children her own age—but gawk they do.

Still, maybe it was by their own choice that these people found themselves in this travelling sideshow. Maybe it’s all they can do with their “talents” given that society is by-and-large going to stare at them anyway: Might as well get paid for it. Maybe they’ve been coerced into this lifestyle and there are forces at work much larger than any of us, on the surface, are supposed to be aware of. But an out-and-out “freak” show? In today’s modern, civilized society? As my son says, it’s just “weird”.

Oh, but modern-day freak shows we do have! They’ve just been digitized and moved into our living rooms as network entertainment. A quick run-through of the “medical” shows advertised on TLC this week will give you an idea: “The World’s Fattest Man”, “The Woman With Giant Legs”, “My Shocking Story” (This week featuring an eight-limbed baby, whee!).

What are they if not our own privatized sideshows; instead of inside tent walls, now discreetly hidden behind locked front doors and drawn shades?

We, as a society, can now maintain the outward appearance of civilization because all of our quirks, oddities and vices have been quietly moved indoors; behind closed curtains and away from the judgmental eyes of our neighbors and other self-righteous watchdogs. We warmly greet friends in the grocery aisles unaware of their discomfiture that they’ve just gotten done watching “The Girl With No Face”. We sit beside the usher in church unaware that even as he’s singing praises his mind is filled with the humiliating pornographic images he’s currently downloading to his computer and can’t wait to get home to. Quirks. Vices. Habits. Addictions. I’ve got mine. You’ve got yours. They’ve got theirs.

We’re forgetting how to interact as a society. Yet we’re also forgetting that our seemingly enigmatic online or network interactions still have real world impact. Sure, the carnival sideshows may be a disappearing symbol of the past, but the modern world is still rife with examples of our tendency as a fallen species to be drawn to the lurid, the odd, the perverse, and the different. From the beautiful women on the porn site, to the eight-limbed baby on TV, to my own daughter . . . we still stare. Sure we’re embarrassed; ashamed even. Yet we stare on.

And when it comes right down to it, who are the perverse? Who are the odd; the abnormal; the “freaks”? And if we can honestly answer that, why do we think its okay?

D.Faults

My lovely wife asked if she could read some of my post drafts earlier this week and, of course, I said yes. And so, I’ve been waiting over the last couple of days for any kind of feedback, wondering how she would take my feeble attempts at humor and meager exercises in pithiness. This morning the clouds parted, the sun shone through, and my wife says, “I read some of your posts yesterday . . .”

“. . . you don’t seem very happy.”

Wha . . uh, huh??

Ummm, okay.

“Your humor’s lame.” That I could’ve handled.

“You’re not as deep as you think you are.” That would’ve been okay, too.

Even, “your writing sucks,” wouldn’t have been surprising.

But, “You don’t seem very happy.”? Not what I was expecting.

So I read them again for myself; trying to read them through her eyes. There’s not a lot, I’m not that prolific. But I read them all, and you know what?

She’s right.

What I thought were witty attempts at humor with just a touch of weary cynicism were at times biting; bordering on annoyance and anger more often than I wanted to admit. What was going on?  What was I thinking?  Why am I doing this? Is it to provide a living, breathing document of my struggles and hopefully, eventual reconciliation between my public-oriented job and my chosen faith—as I’d always envisioned it to be? Or is my subconscious simply trying to exorcise my inner resentment and cynical, jaded demons?

My original desire in writing was to point up the nerve-wracking, wearisome, often frustrating world that we—the ones who have chosen customer service as our bread and butter—live and sometimes even thrive in; interweaving my struggle to come to terms with, and even have a cohesive relationship, between my work and my faith. But, reading through my as-yet-unposted drafts, you might start to believe that I truly do think the worst of people. That my opinion would be that if given the choice of right and wrong, good and evil, noble and self-serving, we as a species would bend to the self-serving, evil and “wrong”. Because, in my opinion and as some people would say, “it’s the way we’re wired.” Or, as I like to say, it’s our default. And thinking of people in this way is apparently MY default.

Ugh. What a wonderful way to go through life. Especially when you don’t know it.  Yet when it’s pointed out to you it’s so blatantly obvious you can’t help but go, “oh, crap. Yeah.”

So . . . “You don’t seem very happy.”

No, I don’t.

And I’m glad she’s pointed this out. I’m glad that, what I thought were passable attempts at witticism—attempts to make other people happy—only pointed up the lack of joy and happiness in my own life . . . pointed up by the one closest to me. And I guess she should know.

And that makes me happy.

What am I missing?

I woke up in a horrible mood today.

Last night we went to our local county fair.  It should have been a fun time for all; especially as I’ve got two children who love rides, animals, vegetable displays and all the free stuff the vendors hand out to entice a conversation with weary (and wary) adults.  And don’t get me wrong, the kids had a great time overall.  In between bouts of dad constantly yelling, “Get down”, “Get back”, “Come here” (or as Bill Cosby puts it, “Come here!…  comeherecomeherecomeherecomeherecomehere . . . come HERE!!”)

I felt like I was herding cats all night and I came home exhausted and strung out.

Oh, then I didn’t sleep well ‘cuz I felt like crap all night over the way I acted.  Which, when I finally crawled out of bed this morning, got me thinking about how I too often act at work towards surly customers and needy employees.  (Well, not all of them, but those are the ones that usually elicit a reaction out of me . . . usually negative.)  Which spiralled me further into my funk.  Which got me thinking about how hard it is to be attempting to live out the fruits of the spirit within the parameters of “retail customer service.”

Like a dog chasing its tail, my thoughts spiralled around the, “it shouldn’t be this hard.  Well, if God were truly in your life it wouldn’t be this hard.  Well, I’ve asked him to lead in my life and I just have to have faith he is.  Well, maybe you didn’t do it right.  It shouldn’t be this hard!  Well, maybe I shouldn’t even be in this line of work if it’s this hard.  Well, maybe you’re in this line of work for a reason.  Well, this line of work is driving me, and my family, crazy!  Well, maybe you’re doing it wrong.  IT SHOULDN’T BE THIS HARD!!”

Yet it is.

And all this leads me to wonder, in my morning funk and depressing stupor, what am I missing?

I’m currently reading Francis Chan’s book “Forgotten God” for the second time.  Yet, this time it’s incredibly hard to get through.  I feel as though I’m just going through the motions; slogging listlessly, page by page, reading out of some sense of “duty” rather than for the joy and experience I should be feeling.  And again, I can’t help feeling I’m missing something.  I’ve been at this a long time now.  Time and time again, I’ve come before God with my faults and foibles, sins and shortcomings, laying them at the foot of the cross; earnestly praying for the forgiveness I so desperately need and the guidance and wisdom I so desperately crave.  And I rise from my prayers feeling . . . .

. . . . no different.

As Chan puts it in his introduction to Forgotten God, “It doesn’t make sense that Almighty God would have children characterized by fear and insecurity. He put His Spirit in us so we could be known for our power (Acts 1:8; 2 Tim. 1:7).”

What am I missing?

Or, maybe I’m just having a bad day.  The weather is gorgeous this morning.  The kids are quiet.  The coffee’s good.  Maybe in my quest for the answers to the “big things” in life, I’m missing all the little things that are supposed to give me pause, give me a slight centering or at least cause me to just stop and take a breath.  Could that be a “still, small voice” I hear?

Naw, just my six-year-old wanting “purpa grape joos”.

But still . . .