Mac, Money, and Excess

Make sure you read my Facebook status on what I've been up to and how the family is doing. The last thing I want to do is not blog for a couple months and then jump right into a philosophical treatise. But this news story has been spinning around inside my head since I first heard about it.

Dr. Dre is a billionaire. Yup, that's right.

How many dollars is a poor white baby worth? How many dollars is a poor Guatemalan baby worth? How much is being seen with the latest iPhone in your hand worth? Which would you rather have, the latest Beats headphones or the cure to cancer? I seriously think a lot of society would pick the headphones.

And I don't say all this in the "Christian Children's Fund" half hour-long TV commercial type of guilt tactic way. I say it in the real life, every day, I really suck at this, how do we make the world an okay place to live type of way.

Although I am an avowed Apple addict, news of their latest purchase has me scratching my head as to the worth of money vs. image vs. my life priorities. In case you haven't heard, Apple has purchased Dr. Dre’s Beats Audio for $3.2 billion. Yes that's with a capital B. 

Beats Audio is the brand of the chunky headphones you see celebrities and top end athletes wearing. It is also a streaming music service (such as Spotify) that could reinvigorate the 10-year-old iTunes store, and maybe above all… really cool… providing access to a demographic that Apple has lost.

1. CNN Report

2. Public Reacts

Quickly browse through these videos. Can you believe $3.5 billion?

3. Commercial back when iPod had its swagger

Now I don't blame Apple or Dr. Dre really. This is market capitalism baby! And although I don't like all of what has come from capitalism, we can see that through history humanity hasn't ever come up with anything better. What breaks my heart is I don't know what to do about it.

I see Dre and Tyrese celebrating and part of me can't help but smile. But part of me wants to scream, "There is something so much more valuable for you then $3.5 billion!" The way that Dre acts, and his language concerning his success would not be surprising to most of society. How can the kingdom of God intersect with this attitude?

And part of me wants to yell to all of our high school students, "There is something more than the latest headphones and the latest iPhone!" But Don Draper and the rest of the ad execs on Madison Avenue, have learned so much about psychology, sociology, and impulse buying that most of us can't see past the next iPhone, Nalgene bottle, or Avenger Movie. (dare I say Bethel Worship CD, Christian?). 

How do we avoid from buying into this? I completely admit, I want every new Apple product that comes out. With how good advertisers have become (whether it's traditional marketing and advertising or more grassroots or even more guerrilla style) do we really have much control at all?

Should I give up on my hopes of seeing societal change in what we value?  I don't think many of us even realize how dysfunctional we are. How do I best play my part in making that change come about?

A Change Is Gonna Come

Posted on May 12, 2014 .

For Zoe (Befores and afters for the New Year)

Elizabeth Taylor-actress

Soundtrack for today's blog (clicking doesn't change page)

Darling daughter! Happy new year! You will be 11 years old this year. I can't believe how mature you are getting already. I am writing this blog post to you, but I am not going to have you read it for a couple years yet. If you find it before then you'll probably get mad at me… Oh well hehe... Hopefully some of my friends that read this blog will get some wisdom out of it and pass it to their daughters.

I am so proud of who you are. You work so hard at school, and you work so hard at home. You treat others kindly and I know that you want to try to be who Jesus wants you to be! What more can I want? Nothing.

But I am scared. You are going to junior high soon and I know that you will be faced with all kinds of messages, problems, and challenges that you can't even imagine now. The beautiful, simple, innocent world that you live in will be so different in a few short years. 

So... I have something that sounds very brutal to say to you. The world does not care about you. Culture does not care about you. Most of your friends don't know this, and most of their parents don't realize it, but the same forces that are trying to get you to be prettier, listen to the latest music, watch the latest movies, wear immodest clothes, send naked pictures on your cell phone, and have sex with boys, are the same forces that will hate you if you get chubby, don't have much money, get pregnant, get a sexually transmitted disease, or act too much like a "Christian."

Who is "culture"? Who is "the world"? It's not a specific group of people. But at any given point in time we all perceive there to be a group of people that are smarter, more attractive, more cool, and more excepted than we are. We all feel that there is some group that is "in charge." Then, we all make choices as to what we will do to be accepted by this imaginary group.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
— Proverbs 31:30

No matter how pretty you are, no matter how beautiful your clothes, no matter how perfect your make up is… It will all go away. You will get old. You will get wrinkly. And you will not be "pretty" like the world tells you you should be.. Want proof? Here are some pictures of some of the "prettiest" people ever. They had millions of dollars to buy all the latest things… And they still got old and wrinkly

Madonna - singer

Rita Hayworth - actress

Goldie Hawn - actress

Cher - singer

Not only will the world lie to you when it comes to your looks... will also lie to you and tell you that money and possessions will provide you with lasting happiness. Actually, "the world" just wants all of your money, and it would chew you up and spit you out.

I know it's hard to imagine, but almost all the companies that produce music, movies, cars, phones, clothes, perfume, and jewelry, don't care if you end up without any money or even if you end up dead. They just want you to buy their product. Sit down for an evening and pay close attention to the commercials on TV. "The world" will tell you that you need a super fancy car and a new smart phone every year. T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint advertise "zero dollars down" while Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti make us feel like giving a car for a Christmas present is something we should consider doing.

Original iPhone and iPhone 5s. 

Even though your daddy is very enamored with all things Apple, are we really getting that much more with the iPhone 5s than we did with the original iPhone? Look at this picture? We have calendar, pictures, camera, texting, maps, weather, Internet, phone, and email all on the original iPhone? Do I really need thumb scanning security? Probably not. It's a phone, not a nuclear missile launch protocol.

In area after area, what is trendy, profitable, or worth knowing today, will be forgotten and discarded tomorrow. All across our planet and all across time, humankind has a tendency to invest their hearts and lives into things that are temporary.

I want you to base your self-worth on something more lasting than what the world says you should. I want you to have a value system that looks at the reality of things, not at what the companies that are making money off of you say you should.

Zoe, I know all this stuff sounds scary, but I will be here for you and we can work through it all together, okay? I love you and I want you to have a great year!

Michigan Central Station, Detroit, MI - bustling transportation hub for decades

Olympia Cotton Miil, Columbia, SC - One time World's largest cotton mill now vacant

Olympia Cotton Miil, Columbia, SC - One time World's largest cotton mill now vacant

Posted on January 4, 2014 .

I Want to Know What Cool Is? (Sarcasm?)

So I've been promising a post on infidelity. Said post has now been worked on for five days and is 12 singlespaced typewritten pages. I need advice on what parts I should and shouldn't post, so I am now having a few people help me through the content of it. Yesterday I posted this while I was working on it, "The blog I'm working on about infidelity is like giving birth and having an episiotomy. Although I don't know what an episiotomy or giving birth is like." If I were to continue with the childbirth analogy today…  I have to go to the operating room. It's time to get this thing out of me with a C-section. Gross, huh?

So, today I am going a completely different direction… "I want to know what cool is?" There may be a touch of hidden sarcasm in that comment, and there might not be. I'm saying that to keep those of you who think you're too cool to to discuss what cool is on your toes. I might be one step ahead of you. Or I might be the nerdiest quadriplegic you've ever heard of.

Before you go on, you need to start playing one of the four songs of above. They are pretty freaking cool, and some of us base our coolness in music. Some of us base our coolness in our clothes. Some of us base our coolness in our lingo.  Some of us based coolness in our attitude.

But regardless, at some point in our lives, be it in junior high or be it when we are 51, we start to ask ourselves questions. Am I cool? Who is cool? If I'm not cool, what do I need to do to be cool? Should I try to be cool? Is it cool to not be cool?

So now this is my question… In which one of these pictures am I cool?

I know I know… It's not a fair question because I look so stinking preppy in the picture on the left. Preppie might not be cool to you. But you have to remember that I was in law school when that picture was taken. And I do look rather Dead Poet society, don't I?

My body has changed so much since the accident. One of the annoying things is that since I no longer have abdominal muscles, my stomach pooches out into an annoying thing that they call "Quad Belly." I had a very flat stomach before the accident, but three weeks later I looked down and I asked my therapist, "what the freak is this?" She said "that's just quad belly. It's your internal organs just not being held in buy your abs anymore." As if it were no big deal. I wanted to cry. Since I have this belly, I can't wear the medium or large T-shirts that I wore before. Now I have to wear double X or triple X even though I've only gained 3 pounds. This limits the stores I can shop at, so Old Navy is my go to. My hairline has also receded the point that I just wanted to shave it off. Since I don't have abdominal muscles, I can't quite talk as loud or as full as I did before. Then there are the obvious ones… I can't walk so my legs are thin from atrophied muscles. I can't use my hands so they look funny in the gloves I have to wear so I can still grip things.

You'd think with all these changes that my self-esteem might have taken some hits. That's really not the case. Sure, I've definitely been humbled, but that's more through my life situations then through my changed body. Almost losing my wife and family was much more humbling then not being able to walk. God has given me so much grace … at the end of the day, I still just feel like me. I have learned a lot about pain, overcoming, frustration, loyalty, grace, forgiveness, patience, determination, and organization since my accident.

This brings us to some questions on cool. Who is cooler, an organized person or an unorganized person? Before my accident (and before my increased need to make sure things around me were organized because I can't just wing things anymore) I thought being unorganized was cooler. I thought being spontaneous and being unorganized went hand-in-hand, and I love my spontaneity. But when I make a plan, things unfold accordingly, and I have everything in place so that all my bases are covered, organization feels way cooler than disorganization.

Think about how American capitalism appeals to consumers. Cool is king. Providing crushing pressure from a multibillion-dollar marketing machine for us to try to be a standout, be a star, be an individual is the ultimate marketing strategy. You don't need to listen to the album that artist made, customize your own playlist. Get the phone that you can customize all the buttons, screen, and trim on. New phone! New phone! New phone! New tablet...bam! New laptop...bam!

It's the same with fashion. Be a one of a kind.. Wear these $190 jeans (that 25 million other people have). Do you like whiskey? Drink this kind of whiskey. It is for people who know who they are… Top people… Original people… Cool people.

The obvious irony is that when millions of people are all being original in the same way… No one is original.

An unusual twist to this is the hipster (scenester) ironic (anti)cool. It goes something like this, "we are going to show you (convention) that you don't control us. We are going to pick clothes that don't look good (guys in painted on skinny jeans) and facial hair that makes us look like sex offenders and we are going to prove to you that we're not afraid to go out in public like that. But all that this does is provide a counterculture that is just as exclusionary as culture is.


Two hipsters walk into a bar. The first one did it before it was cool, and the second one did it ironically.
Real 2013 American Apparel model

Real 2013 American Apparel model

So maybe you have a greasy ironic mustache. Maybe you spent $300 last week at Urban Outfitters buying jeans and a pair shoes. Maybe your American Apparel T-shirt is a little bit softer than my Fruit of the Loom. But have you seen the American Apparel models?

When it comes down to it, the older I get, I see people desperately trying to fit in, desperately trying to be cool as some of the least cool people I know. I'll stick with my six-year-old Old Navy hoodie.

But before I get too big for my thrift store britches, I have to remember that if I love Jesus, I'm also responsible to these passages…

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
— Romans 12:3
For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
— Luke 9:25
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
— Romans 12:2
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
— Luke 14:7-14

So… Even though I've been a little bit sarcastic in this post, how do we as Christians deal with "cool"? At various ages we all have the need and desire to fit in and be cool. Hopefully as we mature that need fades into the background more and more.

Hopefully we can get to the point as a culture (or at least as the Kingdom) that we all just wear the clothes that we like and we all listen to the music we like we all use the lingo that we we like without paying so much attention to Madison Avenue or to the culture (or the counterculture) around us.

Posted on December 23, 2013 .