Thinking Out Loud

September 22, 2018

Handicapped Access: Mixed Feelings

Filed under: Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:14 pm

Depending on how search engines pick up today’s headline, this could be blogging suicide. How much of a Grinch do you need to be in order to deny people in wheelchairs access to things to which everybody else has access?

But the fact remains that as we as a society try to do to the outdoors what we’ve already done to the indoors, certain compromises will be required.

That’s what was in my thoughts were a few weeks when we returned to an area which has always held very strong memories known as the Waterfront Trail. We live on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Well, actually we live in a house on the north shore. Uh, technically we’re more like 2-3 miles north. So we have access to beaches and parks along the shoreline, including a section of partly wilderness-y trail. It’s been far from ignored; much work has gone into maintaining it over the years, but you do get the effect of being removed from everything urban.

So it had been awhile, and some friends had never seen it, so we went for a hike.

The changes were more shocking than anything. In order to provide a fully accessible experience, many trees had been cut, paths had been widened, and the entire route had been reconfigured at one point. To me, it had lost much of the heart of what had made it special over the years.

Yeah, I was being a jerk about the whole thing.

But here’s the key point: To our friends, who had never seen it before, it was beautiful. These are the memories that they will always have, having never seen it before…

I write all this because they’re now doing the same type of thing in a beautiful section of ravine that I’ve always held as the best place to experience a worship moment. One of my favorite places in the world. I know it’s never going to be the same, and I lament the loss of its natural look. Hopefully they don’t go as far as to put down asphalt or add artificial lighting, but I realize we do need to share the space with those who otherwise wouldn’t get to see it.

Plus, given different circumstances, that could be me in the future.

And I would probably want to see an approximation of what I remember, than never get to return again.

So the conclusion is: Ambivalence. It probably applies to much of life.


February 20, 2018

The Parable of the Shopkeeper

Once there was a shopkeeper who sold very expensive widgets, some of the best widgets you could buy. While people came from all directions to purchase his widgets, he had only two customers who he would consider regulars and they would both arrive every other Friday.

One came in usually shivering in the cold. His cloth coat just wasn’t enough to keep the winter temperature from getting through. Fussing with a packages of tissues for a runny nose, he would usually buy two or three or sometimes four widgets, paying the price that was on the sign above the counter. Occasionally, he would say he was buying four, only to find himself short on cash, and have to put one back.

The other arrived in a luxury car, the car was obviously quite warm, because he never shivered. He would buy in multiples of ten; usually sixty, eighty or a hundred and he never paid the price on the sign. Instead, the shopkeeper would sell him product at a generous discount, or he would charge him for 60 but give him 20 free, for a total of 80.

Until one day.

The shopkeeper had been listening to the words of the one called The Master or sometimes called The Teacher. He had some interesting stories, but none about shopkeeping or widgets or retail pricing. But there was a tone or a tenor to his teaching that seemed to reach beyond the specific stories and have all manner of ethical ramifications.

So one of the alternate Fridays rolled around and the first customer came in and asked for four widgets. “This is your lucky day;” he told him. “You only need to pay for two and you get two free.” The customer was quite pleased. He asked if he could pay for three and get six. “Absolutely;” said the shopkeeper, adding with a wink; “Remember, I said today is your lucky day. But we have another lucky day coming up two weeks today!”

Then the second regular customer rolled up in his expensive car. “I’ll take a hundred widgets today;” he said; so the merchant went to the cash register and keyed in 100 at the price on the sign above the counter and told him the total.

“Wait, that’s not right;” said the wealthy customer, “That’s full price.”

“Today;” said the shopkeeper,  “We’re offering generous discounts to people who truly can barely afford to buy, but people of means like yourself, are able to pay full price and today are paying full price.”

The customer was in a state of shock and —

–and what do you think happened next?  …

Three days ago, we asked the question if offering certain bonuses to some customers but not other customers was the type of thing that Jesus had in mind when he gave the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings, inspiring James to write about what we call The Sin of Partiality.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

The gospel is all about inclusion. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Accept the one whose faith is weak,”and while he was speaking to something specific, accepting the one whose pocketbook is weak is also a good fit.

The widget salesman’s decision to rethink who was getting preferential treatment in his shop was well founded; it was a very Jesus thing to do.

But the retail economy does that. It rewards volume buyers. The grocery store near our house offers “multi pricing;” giving those who buy two (or four) a much, much better price than those who buy one (or two). It’s unfair to those who live alone such as singles or seniors; or people on fixed income; or couples where one has a diet restriction that means they can’t share the same meal items or meal ingredients.

My wife and I automatically boycott “multi” offers, which is hard because they are many each week.

A couple of full disclosures are necessary here.

First, I own and manage a retail store and we do have a year-round “Buy 4, Get 1 Free” program that covers well over half the items in our store. It’s flexible, there are modifications throughout the year, and I don’t think it excludes people from the margins, but at the first sign of complaint, I would sit down and talk with them and work something out.

Second, we do have a situation from time to time involving one or two people who are like the second customer in today’s opening story. We appreciate being able to participate on volume deals. I think we are able to obtain competitive prices. They might feel they’re doing us a favor, or supporting us in an industry that is often in survival mode. We feel we’re helping them get pricing that is compatible with what they have already seen online. Sometimes there are complications in these orders, and then we have to eat some extra expenses. There are days I’m not sure who is blessing who, or if it’s totally mutual. But I often think about the principle behind the story above and wonder if we’re doing right. I don’t think saying, ‘Today you’re paying list price for all these items’ is a viable option in this case. But I fret these issues.

Also, we have a policy to never offer to one person a deal we’re not prepared to offer to anyone making a purchase at a similar quantity. Or even if they aren’t a similar quantity. The last such deal involved 40 units of an item, but I ordered 45 and sold the extra 5 to 3 different individuals for the same price as the larger customer had paid for the 40. It seemed like something right to do.

In the story, it’s pointed out that The Master aka The Teacher doesn’t say anything directly about retail marketplace ethics, though he wasn’t very charitable to some profiteers at the Temple. But the key word is directly. I think Jesus sets us up with other ethical teaching that asking the proverbial ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ question in a wide variety of situations isn’t usually a stretch…

…The story is all mine, as far as I know, so don’t go searching online for the ending. If you have one, feel free to leave a comment.




May 8, 2009

Lotteries: Winning Has a Price

Filed under: economics, ethics — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:38 pm

lotteryA month ago The Toronto Star carried an article about a man who won the $14M (CDN) grand prize in a Canadian lottery and how his life since then has become increasingly complicated.   [see From Jolly Butcher to Disillusioned Millionaire.]    It’s a frequently echoed them among lottery winners.   One suspects that — like various other contests — coming in second or third might be a safer option.

Most people who read this blog are Christians, so the odds are — pun somewhat intended — that fewer of us actually play the lottery and therefore there isn’t a lot of connection or emotion attached to this particular topic.   It is, as Mrs. W. often says, “SEP;” which stands for “someone else’s problem.”

But when I read the story, I wrote a letter to the editor at The Star. Most bloggers have enough creative outlet online that writing letters to newspaper editors is probably considered somewhat passé.   I gotta admit, it takes a lot to get me worked up enough to write one.    However…

There needs to be a cap on lottery winnings.

Furthermore, you don’t have to play the lottery to be concerned about an issue like this.    Finally, you don’t have to feel that an issue like this abandons all connection to one’s faith.   If pharmacies are selling a pill that can be harmful, Christ-followers should be among the loudest calling for its withdrawl from the market.

Doing justice.   Loving mercy.    Protecting the weak.   Highlighting truth.   Warning the naive.   Helping the hurting.   Etc.  Etc.  Etc.   Forty people winning $350,000 instead of one winning $14M.    Changing the “we need big prizes to attract more players” mentality.   Being willing to temporarily set aside the addiction issue to address the fairness issue.

Here’s what I wrote:

Saturday’s front-page piece on lottery winner Jose Lima reinforces the need for there to be a cap on lottery winnings.  There is only so much one individual can enjoy before that same “good luck” turns into a negative force.

Lottery companies will insist that it’s the large amounts that attract players, but that’s simply how the public has been conditioned.    Clever marketers could just as easily stress the potential number of winners rather than the size of the big prize.    The charity lotteries have been doing that for years.

There hasn’t been a lottery ticket in our home for about fifteen years — and that one was a gift from a customer.   But I think you’re allowed to feel passionate about things affecting the larger society, even if they aren’t part of your personal routine.

If you got here from a “lottery” tag, you may have sensed already that this is one of those “Christian” blog pages.   Lottery ticket buying can definitely be a form of addictive behavior.   Don’t be afraid to get help if you need it.     Sometimes, it’s easy to think that the only hope for a change in our personal situation would be something like winning a lottery.    Christ-followers often don’t play the lottery, not because we’re more holy or more righteous, but because we’re learning to trust in God to meet our daily needs and help us through lean economic times.

We believe that God has revealed a lot of who he is and what he’s like in manifesting his presence here on earth in the person of Jesus Christ, who, while he was fully God, also lived here as fully human.    And we’re told in his human situation, he was “tempted in every way that we are.”   Hmmm.   Do you think Jerusalem had a lottery or a casino?

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