Thinking Out Loud

October 29, 2010

Rethinking Rethinking Shoeboxes

Hey, give me a break.   I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Operation Christmas Child.   I just wanted to be “thinking out loud” and look at the thing from all sides.   That doesn’t mean I would never fill a shoebox.   I might just fill it differently.   Besides a good blog is nothing if not provocative, right?   Or would you rather not think at all?

This time around, comments are closed here, but there’s a link to the original November 24, 2009 post where you can add your two cents, or whatever the equivalent is in euros.

For many years now, I’ve been a huge fan of Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child project. To see the look of ecstasy on the faces of the children in the promotional videos is to really know the joy that comes with giving even something small.

To critique the program would be unthinkable. It would be like criticizing motherhood or apple pie or little kittens. But I have some concerns about this that I haven’t seen heretofore in print or online. So I thought I’d wade out deep into dangerous waters:

  1. A lot of people fill their shoeboxes with trinkets from the dollar store. When these items break — which they will — how will third world children deal with the disappointment that Western kids are accustomed to? Especially if they don’t own much else.
  2. Which begs the question, how are such items disposed of — sooner or later — in countries that don’t have an active recycling program? What happens to all those boxes? As barren and arid as some of those places are, dotting the landscape with red and green boxes seems a bit irresponsible. Maybe they can use the boxes for something.
  3. What’s the mileage on some of the trinkets and toys? Check out the country of origin, factor in the purchase point in the U.S. as an example, and then plot the destination point. We’re talking major carbon footprints. And not the Margaret Fishback Powers kind of footprints.
  4. What about the inequities of what the kids receive? One kid gets a cuddly Gund-type plush animal, while another gets socks. I would be the kid getting the toothpaste and cheap sunglasses, while my friend would get some kind of awesome musical instrument toy. Socks don’t make noise. I would learn jealousy and covetousness all in a single day.
  5. Which begs the question, is there ever theft? World wars have started over lesser things. Do kids in faraway places take the inequities into their own hands? Do they revere the licensed pencil case more than the one with geometric shapes and colors? Is there trading? If so, who sets the rules?
  6. Maybe not. Maybe they share better than kids in the West do. But somewhere along the line, it’s got to create a situation of personal private property. I live on a street with ten houses where everybody owns a lawnmower. We all could probably get by with one or two. What I really need is access to a lawnmower. But human nature being what it is, it rarely works that way unless you’re Shane Claiborne, or you live on an Operation Mobilization ship, or you’re one of the aging hippies living in the Jesus People project in inner-city Chicago. (Apologies to Glenn Kaiser.)
  7. What about expectations? If my kids don’t get what they’re hoping for there is always a great disappointment, and trust me, this year they aren’t getting what they’re hoping for. Reminds of me that old song, “Is That All There Is?” Some people get downright depressed after Christmas. BTW, anyone remember who the artist was on that song?
  8. What’s the follow-up for the giver? None. Unlike sponsored children — which is another discussion entirely — the gift is really a shot in the dark, unless in next year’s video you happen to see a kid opening a box containing a rather unique action figure and a pair of furry dice which you know could only have come from your attic storage the year before. (But furry dice? What were you thinking? The kid’s expression is going to be somewhat quizzical…)

Okay, so maybe the good outweighs any potential downside. I am NOT saying don’t do this.  But it’s philosophy that I majored in, so somebody’s got to view things from outside the box — the shoebox in this case — once in awhile. That’s why I call it thinking out loud.

Comments are closed here so that you can add your comment to the original collection on November 24, 2009. Click here.

January 22, 2010

When is a Distraction a Distraction?

II Timothy 2:4 is an interesting verse.    It says,

No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.  (NIV)

Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them.  (NLT)

A soldier wants to please the enlisting officer, so no one serving in the army wastes time with everyday matters.   (NCV)

A soldier on duty doesn’t get caught up in making deals at the marketplace. He concentrates on carrying out orders.  (Message)

No soldier when in service gets entangled in the enterprises of [civilian] life; his aim is to satisfy and please the one who enlisted him.  (Amplified)

I think the intent of this verse is rather clear.

In some of the advertising for this blog, I’ve used the phrase “faith focused.”   I don’t spend a lot of time talking about my family, or cute things the cat does, or some new technology breakthrough, or my affection for a particular sports team.   (The latter, in my case, being next to impossible.)

But sometimes the oddest things come to mind as possible blog topics.   Today it was when one of the compact fluorescent bulbs in our dining room stopped working.    This happens with great regularity, while the old-school incandescent bulbs seem to — like the Energizer bunny — keep on going.

The problem is that in the jurisdiction where we live, incandescent bulbs are being outlawed.    The compact fluourescents are to become the standard at some point over the next two years because they are better for the environment.     But they aren’t.

  • As we’re clearly seeing, they simply don’t last nearly as long as advertised, and this at something like ten times the price of their predecessors.
  • They cannot be disposed of in normal garbage.

I won’t even begin to mention the headaches they cause, the allegations of skin problems, and the fact that you can’t allow young children to stare directly at them without risk of partial blindness.

So for me, this is a justice issue.   It’s a moral issue.  People are being hoodwinked into buying a product they can’t afford in order to gain a benefit that isn’t there.   (Perhaps I should have added, “…by a government whose motives are suspect.”)   And aren’t we as Christians supposed to “do justice and love mercy?”   Aren’t we supposed to take a stand against oppression in particular and wrong in general?

I wrestled with this years ago concerning the issue of chemical weed spray treatment of lawns and gardens.   I wasn’t a rabid environmentalist, but I soon became one when I looked at the impact on health when allowing the pesticide and herbicide industry to operate unbridled.

I’ve known other Christians who got involved in the issue of non-smokers rights.    I know it doesn’t rank way up there with the pro-life movement, but I can see it as a kind of  “justice” or “fairness” issue that some believers would want to grapple with.   A non-smoker can’t walk into a smoker’s den and “interfere” by filling the room with fresh air, but the smoker can eradicate everyone else’s breathable air in just seconds.

Or are these things all distractions?   Should religious people in general retreat to the sacred hills and not engage discussions of secular interest?  Should I write only about the verses in last night’s Bible study, the latest praise and worship chorus, and challenges facing the modern church, and just not weigh in at all on other subjects?

Andy Davey – At The Dying of the Light

November 12, 2008

To The Publisher of the Free Magazines/Newspapers I am About to Trash


To the publisher…

I am very sorry that I was unable to distribute all the copies of your magazine you sent to me, but try as I may I can’t get people to pick up things from the rack inside the door.   Personally, when I visit a church or a Christian bookstore or something like that, I always look for those free newspapers and magazines, because I am a person who likes to know what’s going on in the Christian world, as well as being a bit of a newspaper and magazine junkie.  Even when far from home, I’ll still pick up local ministry publications, and missions things, because I like to read the kind of thing you publish.  But I will be the first to admit that I seem to be a bit of an exception.

I’ve even tried tricks like inserting some of your back issues inside your current issues.   I’ve stuffed copies in bags at our store before people knew I was doing it; trying to target people I thought might enjoy your articles.

Still, it really hurt to have to throw all this stuff out in the recycling bin today.   I feel bad for your advertisers, who were probably told that you print and distribute “X” number of copies.    Their message simply didn’t get out to our area.   But I know that you also receive donations, and I feel bad for your donors, because some of the money they donated toward your printing and distribution costs is now going into the garbage.    All in all, this is a great waste of ministry resources.    It’s not good stewardship.

recycling-binBut I have to end this by saying something that is going to hurt:   I never asked you send this stuff in the first place.   It was your decision to not to be a controlled circulation publication; it was your decision to mail copies in bulk to places you’ve never seen and organizations you never spoke with in advance.   Again, we never asked for all these things to be dumped on our doorstep.  And we have so many other things to think about, that getting your magazines or newspapers distributed wasn’t at the top of our list.

We were simply trying to make the best out of an awkward situation.    But after hanging on to these things well beyond their street date, I am afraid they are off to recycling.

November 10, 2008

Hope In Troubled Times

Environment, wealth-distribution, security, consumerism, global concerns….

In the newsletter which preceded this blog, I wrote a sort of mini-review of a book co-authored by a guy who lives in our local area, Mark Vander Veenen.   Hope in Troubled Times other co-authors are Bob Goudzwaard and David Van Heemst.   This  is not light reading; rather, it’s more reminiscent of my university texts.   I am still picking it up from time to time and pressing on into new sections of it.

hope-in-troubled-timesThe book deals with both the mechanics and underlying philosophy of confronting social, economic and political change.   Reading it in smaller increments, as I am, certainly provokes thought on a number of issues including: national identity, personal security, prosperity and consumerism, resource and wealth distribution, increasing terrorism, modernization, global economies, environmental concerns, etc.

This volume’s beginning can be traced back to Bob Goudzwaard’s book Idols of our Time which Mark translated from Dutch to English where it became a text for many years in political science courses taught by David Van Heemst.    What wonderful company:  the other two authors hold doctoral degrees and the book’s foreword is by Desmond Tutu, no less!

This is a book written by Christians, released in 2007 through a Christian publisher, Baker Books, but don’t expect to find scripture on every page, or any page for that matter.   But you can’t miss the hope for redeeming the world, even in our time.   A great gift for the academic or serious reader concerned about the ‘macro’ issues of our world.

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