Faulty Logic Leads to Lapse in Judgment

You ever get upset and do something completely irrational? I’ve gone almost an entire year without eating any chocolate (that wasn’t fair trade), but Saturday I almost broke that commitment. As I mentioned the other day, we were having a bad day with car trouble and all, and I was really struggling with how frustrating things have been lately. It hasn’t even been so much the circumstances that have created the problems, so much as I felt it was our convictions.

We have a conviction that debt is not a good thing and we are working hard to pay off all of our debt as quickly as possible. We have a conviction that ‘our money’ is not simply ours to spend on whatever we want but it is to be used to meet the needs of the community at large. These sorts of convictions have lead us to be hesitant about spending our money, hesitant about upgrading our car, and hesitant about doing other things that simply serve our own interest. All that to say, Saturday, when our car didn’t start, I had a clash within me between my convictions and my current situation.

I am a person of faith, which is what drives my convictions, and I was struggling with the fact that my efforts to be faithful had resulted in the current circumstances of a dead car, unnecessary spending on a taxi, being late and appearing irresponsible for a meeting, etc. Basically, I was mad at God. I had upheld my end of the bargain, why wasn’t God?

Here’s where I went wrong. Mad at God or not, my convictions have roots in more then just following particular rules. I care about my fellow human beings (which is probably why following a belief system that says ‘love your neighbor’ seems to make sense to me). The motivating factor in a lot of my good decisions, morals and convictions is love for others (I don’t often do the ‘good’ things though). Yet, this is where I almost broke my commitment.

I’ve chosen not to eat chocolate unless I know it was fairly made. That is, the reason I’ve chosen not to eat chocolate indiscriminately is that a lot of chocolate is made by enslaved children harvesting in cocoa fields in West Africa. They are why I choose not to eat chocolate.

On Saturday, I was at a workshop and after lunch they put out a bunch of snacks, all of which had chocolate in them. I was still mad that our car had not started, and I was brooding to myself about just giving up my convictions, seeing as how it had gotten me in the situation. Follow my faulty logic and I decided that because of the negative outcome of the car not starting (I was mad at God about that) I figured I might as well have a cookie, since that’s what I wanted. Have you ever been there?

Fortunately, I had enough sense to not do it (if only so that I could be honest about my selfish self-righteousness to you). I realized that those children working in the cocoa field had nothing to do with my car not starting. If following my convictions was only an effort to stubbornly follow some religious rules then they are worthless convictions anyways. However, if they are convictions based on my love for God and my love for my neighbor, then I should be careful not to so foolishly argue them away.

YouTubesday: Art, Ideas and Warming

I hope you all don’t mind that my Youtubesdays haven’t had much of a theme. I’ve just been finding, via different blogs, a lot of random videos I’ve found quite interesting and thought you would enjoy. I’ll try to give a brief enough description for you to not have to waste your time watching something, but these are all pretty good…

Fat Pet (:30)

Fantastic Art video. I wish someone would come and do this to my room (ht. Wooster). (4:50)

Movie Trailer, The End of The World. Coming Soon (ht. osocio) (1:00)

Time Banks are a brilliant Idea. (1:00)

Jonny Baker on Tech and the Emerging Church (ht. Gavin). This is 6 minutes long but I thought his points about the way church tends to be is really interesting. He suggests the alternative: Community is the Content.

Dead Car – No Community = Trouble

If there is ever a time you’ve longed for community, it’s in times of need. We’ve been having those a lot lately, no drastic, but frustrating. Ours has particularly been related to car trouble.
Our amazing and wonderful Honda Civic 1995 coupe, with an engine swap, that has gotten 36mpg on average for the life of the car, which was an awesome car in the Nashville winters, is struggling. A couple of occasions have been due to me leaving the lights on and the battery dying. Which, the effect of draining the battery, is probably the reason the car has had a hard time cranking over in the mornings. This has resulted in us asking the neighbors for jumps on two different occasions, complete strangers for jumps on others (again many times this has been completely my fault for leaving the lights on), and has resulted in three taxi trips to get to our destinations (yesterday was my first taxi trip ever). Needless to say, it’s been quite frustrating.

What’s been terrible is that we are in a new place and we really lack community. There is one person in the neighborhood whose phone number he have and I’d say 90% of our calls to him have been because of car trouble. You don’t want to strain your new relationships with problems, and yet it’s hard to no where to turn for help.
It’s given me some perspective on what a great many people in our communities face on a constant basis. Lack of financial resources often leads to unreliable transportation. I don’t know what the statistics are, but I know quite frequently the instability in reliable transportation leads to being fired from jobs, creating further financial strain. It’s a tough position to be in, especially when your unsure of where you can turn to for help. I pray my experience gives me sensitivity toward others in similar situations.

The lack of community has created such a strain on us as a couple and individually, feeling at our wits end, that you start to wonder how people make it on the day to day with so many constant unknowns. But, lest you are worrying about us, you should know, this story has a happy ending.

After our taxi drive getting us safely to our destination, the community we had been lacking slowly formed around us. A kind lady at the class we were at offered to give us a ride home. From there a couple gave us a ride to the community group, connected to a local church, that we were hoping to attend. We mentioned our car troubles and offers for help started pouring in. Right now someone has lent us their car. We were able to go to church this morning, and by God’s grace, we got our car started this afternoon, and will hopefully be able to get it to a shop tomorrow.
We love our car, and I’m hesitant to try and replace it. If we can make it through the winter, our car is the coolest, most efficient car you can find around. I also love that it took a broken down car to bring a community around us.

Book Report: Slaughterhouse Five

Seeing as Saturday’s don’t usually get much viewership (which is good, you should be out enjoying the weekend), I figured I’d use it as a time to catch up on a little homework. As a current full-time parent, I’ve tried to find ways to keep myself motivated toward certain goals, one of which is reading about a book a week in 2008. So far I’m right on track. What I’d like to do here is resort back to my middle school days and provide a brief book report on each of the books I read. These will by no means be exhaustive, but I will try to have some sort of consistency to them. I’ll give a brief synopsis of the book (I’ll try to avoid spoilers), I’ll give my thoughts on the book, include a quotes I found interesting, and anything else I think is worth mentioning. Hope it proves useful to you. Today, I’m going to report on Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

I choose this book for a couple reasons. One, Vonnegut passed away this past year and based on the number of people I know that where aware and mentioned his passing, I recognized he had an impact on a number of influential people in my life and I wanted to read some of what he’s written. Secondly, my brother considers Vonnegut one of his favorite authors, and Keane is also serving as my ‘professor’ for my book reading ‘class’ this year (basically he’s just helping me stay on track with my reading and book reports). Third, it was the only book on my list that was at the library I was at last week.

I enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five, but I did find it a bit bizarre. The writing style is pretty chaotic, no plot-line, or at least an extremely unpredictable one (which if you’ve read it might sound ironic since he tells you in the intro how the book will start and end). It basically tells the story of Billy Pilgrim a war veteran who, I think, has experienced some post traumatic stress disorder. The truth is, I’m not really sure what’s happened to him. The book involves him jumping back and forth throughout his life, time traveling of sorts, including a trip to some alien planet.

The quotes about the book on the front and back cover say two things I was confused by. One, they call the book a great ‘anti-war’ book. I can kind of see that in the way the war and scenes from the war are described, but I don’t see how it’s consider so ‘great’ in that category. Secondly, they call the book funny and humorous. I can see where you might find some of the things in the book funny, but given the condition the character Billy is in that seems to be creating these funny scenarios, I found it more pitiful then it was funny.

The one scene I did find extremely intriguing is when he watches a movie about the war in reverse. Basically he watches a destroyed city, wrecked planes, etc. as they get rebuilt, bullets and bombs are sucked out and back into the planes and then dismantled and put back into the earth ‘where no one can find them.’ I thought it was an interesting commentary on what are approach to war might look like if we finally recognized it for the disastrous effects it has on society.

I’d certainly recommend this book on the sole basis of it being one of the notable literary works of our time. I think I would have enjoyed it more had I read it in school with a smart English teacher who could help explain some of the deeper themes I know are there I just didn’t pick up on.

What If $30 a Year Could Help Eliminate Slavery?

I don’t often talk about donating to organizations (maybe I do in your opinion), and I’m not suggesting that here. We currently live in a world that creates problems, and then creates organizations and campaigns to fix those problems. It seems a bit backwards to me.

About one year ago I decided to stop eating chocolate, at least chocolate I wasn’t sure was ‘fair trade’ (or if I found it in a dumpster). I went the majority of the year without eating chocolate period, which wasn’t too difficult. The reason I stopped eating chocolate is because I was confronted with the reality that the majority of our chocolate was harvested by children in forced labor in West Africa.

flickr image by roboppyThe solution to the problem of labor slavery to harvest cocoa is to choose to avoid those products. For now that means choosing smaller, more transparent companies, particularly those companies that carry the Fair Trade label. That has been the decision I’ve come to. Unlike coffee, which I don’t like and can easily avoid, I’m really a sucker for brownies and so when I choose to purchase chocolate I’ll be sure to choose the fair trade variety.

Your probably asking now where the $30 comes in. I’m not sure how many times you purchase brownies, or other chocolate through out the year, but we’ll just take an estimate. Let’s say that because chocolate isn’t all that good for your health, and because buying fair trade is more expensive, that you choose to purchase a chocolate bar about once every two weeks (am I being modest?). Choosing to buy the fair trade bar (at your local coop) will probably cost you around a dollar more per bar. It seems steep considering it’s probably double the cost of the other bar, but when you look at it in the overall scope, every other week, in a year your looking at about $26 to go from forced labor chocolate to fair trade chocolate. Seems like a pretty nice donation to me.
In the same way, you could eliminate a source of major unpredictable chemicals in your food buy choosing organic milk. Yes, each gallon is considerably more expensive then the store brand, but depending on how much milk you drink (maybe a gallon a week?), your looking at around $100 a year. Seems like a decent donation to chemical free bodies.

I think it’s important to be thinking about our consumer choices in this way, because they have a much bigger impact then we think. We tend to separate our purchasing from our giving, but I think we should start thinking about them together. Consider buying fair trade chocolate and coffee this year. Keep track of the cost difference and consider it as part of your annual giving (don’t know if you can count it on your taxes though). The world will be a better place for it.

Links: Anarchist, Toys, Kanakuk, Hypocrites, Air Travel

A collection of links I found interesting this week:

A new survey of U.S. adults who don’t go to church, even on holidays,
finds 72% say “God, a higher or supreme being, actually exists.” But
just as many (72%) also say the church is “full of hypocrites.” –USA Today

How I Budget For Our Mortgage

I’ve been talking about the house and budgeting a bit and I wanted to get into some discussion about budgeting and housing. This will be more about how I ‘think’ about it it terms of my budget more then anything, you’ll find it will kind of pan out the same. I’m not doing anything magical, but I still think the discussion is important.

I’ve mentioned before that in our month to month budget we’ve allotted $400 to cover rent and all utilities (internet, phone, gas, electricity). In the past we’ve lived with other people, making this possible in multiple different renting situations. Now, we’ve purchased our first home, but I still see it in a similar way.

Each month we have a $400 budget to cover the cost of our utilities and other recurring house costs, like taxes and Mortgage insurance. Even though tax and MI is added into our mortgage payment each month I think of them separately because they are costs that will be recurring even after we’ve paid off our mortgage.

The rest of the mortgage payment, I think of as an investment. Currently, my wife and I are making a lot more money then we ever have before and a ton more then we’ve needed to live on our month to month budget. The question, as I’ve asked before, is what to do with that money. After considering it last fall, we felt that it would be wise to invest that money in a house. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

We could’ve taken that money and invested it in the stock market, or we could have given it all away, but the opportunity to pay off a house and never have ongoing housing costs (minus the $400 or so recurring) seems like a wise investment.

So, in my month to month budget we obviously have a mortgage payment, but I’ve only been considering the recurring costs as part of the equation. It might seem silly, but it makes sense to me. (did it make any sense to you?)