Tag Archives: economy

Spiritual Economy

Early one Sunday afternoon, on my way home from church, I stop by one of the local secondhand shops to see whether or not there is anything that “fits” on the deep, discount rack. Sunday is bargain day.

I developed the habit of shopping at secondhand stores years ago, at a time when my chemical sensitivities were so severe that they prevented me from shopping in normal retail locations. At that time, a trip to the mall was unthinkable for my body because the majority of retail locations pipe artificial fragrances into their facilities, through the ducts of their heating and cooling systems, thinking that they are creating a more pleasant shopping experience.

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In addition to the scents piped into stores, there are also the chemical agents from new garments, treated with anti-fungals, flame-retardants, starches and fresh dyes, as well as the fumes from new plastics and packaging with which to contend. All of these factors combined can be a real problem for people with respiratory health issues or other sensitivities.

On this particular Sunday, while I am standing and sorting through items, I notice a woman across from me at the same, used-clothing rack. She is dressed very much as I am. I assume that she, too, must be fresh from church.

Gazing at me thoughtfully, she addresses me directly, “You know, you can really save a lot of money shopping here.” There is something hesitant about the way in which she opens the conversation—almost with an apology or embarrassment.

“Yes,” I respond quietly, nodding my head in agreement.

Then, she continues, “I am not used to seeing someone dressed quite so nicely across the rack from me.”

A kindness.  I take a leap of faith in answering her, “I am also fresh from church.”

At this point in the conversation she describes some of the discomfort she feels about shopping in a thrift store and going to church in name-brand, gently used clothing. I describe for her something about the path that brought me to becoming a regular, secondhand-clothing shopper. We both agree that it is the most economical way to shop for name-brand clothing.

I continue the conversation, “We have found that we are able to tithe more because we choose to continue to shop in this way. Also, this particular store is run by a charitable organization. So, I think that it is a good thing to both donate and shop here.  We are supporting a good cause. Not to mention that purchasing secondhand things is better for the environment.”

“Yes, I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective,” she admits. Her hesitancy is fading.

Then, I mention one of the ways in which we use our extra money to support others who are in greater need than ourselves.

“Yes. Yes, I could see that angle,” she says, considering what I have said. “Anyway, it was nice talking with you.”

There should be no shame attached to how we choose to economize and honor ourselves spiritually. Social norms often disregard the ways in which it is easiest for us to take care of ourselves, protect the environment and serve others, as we work to recognize our inherent Oneness.

Who Are the Homeless?

Walking toward me, a man with a serious limp asks, “Hey, do you know where the Salvation Army is?”  He has barely finished crossing five lanes of traffic before the light changes and everything and everyone starts moving at forty-miles-per-hour.

“You are just one block away,” I answer raising my voice above the wind.  “You cannot see the sign from here because of the curve in the road.”

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“Whoa, it’s cold up here,” he exclaims rubbing his ungloved hands together.

“Where are you from?” I ask, noticing an absence of scarf and hat as well.

“San Antonio,” he shoots back with a broad smile crossing his face.  There is a significant scar along the edge of his left jaw.

“And, you left that warm weather and sunshine for this?” I counter.  We have started to walk together in the same general direction.

“Yeah, I came up her for truck driving school.  And, then, all of a sudden-B A M.  I’m homeless.  I need me a clean shower and a shave.  Hey, are there any good jobs around here?  For twenty dollars an hour?  Like a forklift operator?  [He does not yet understand how different the market is in this region.]  I see it now.  I got it.  I got it,” he gently dismisses me.

“I hope everything works out for you,” I say in parting.

“Yeah, me, too,” he responds waving his hand.

An Economy of Trust II

Connections.  The connections I see when I drive over a newly constructed bridge in the United States have to do with pride in workmanship, integrity in professionalism—no matter where one stands on the socio-economic ladder—and an adherence to values as a culture that we, in general, strive to live, build, create and sustain not only for ourselves and our immediate needs but for the greater good of our posterity.  This is why the newer bridges I drive over are higher, wider and stronger.  We are thinking not only about ourselves and our immediate needs, but also about what is best in the long-term.

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In contrast, when an economy is fractured by corruption and moves into a state of duality—or another more complex configuration—(and I am unsure of the cause-effect relationships here) the very nature of base-line social connections at work, to one another and our concepts of integrity begin to change radically.  And, when an economy continues to function with a shrug or a nod toward petty theft and corruption, ethical numbness sets in.  In my experience, trust is lost in these cultures—trust in the economy and trust in social relationships.  Social connections in cultural contexts with active black markets are about making “friends” for purposes of personal economic survival or gain because what is needed–on a material level—cannot be procured reliably at a store or through official means of work.

Ethical numbness is a disquieting set of two words.  As things stand now, in the context of my regional backyard, I still hold trust that you and I will both stop at the next red light,  follow safety codes governing new construction, that the large collection of library materials, we hold in common, will be available for check-out and that the average person remains steady in honoring the principles of pride in workmanship, integrity to use work materials for and at work and that our commitment to service is genuine.  This is why I feel safe driving across a new bridge.

Ultimately, the only thing we as individuals may truly safeguard in any market is our personal integrity.  And, personal integrity has the opportunity to travel to work with us in our lunch pails every day.  Integrity means that the sausage, should I choose to purchase meat, is made of up of what is on an accurately labeled product.  Integrity means that the requisite cement bags and steel at a work site remain at the assigned location to be used in the designated building project.  Integrity means performing with professionalism for the hours we have clocked in to work.

Functioning in this way, with attentiveness to professionalism and integrity, often produces spontaneous purple waves of gratitude and amber waves of awe while driving down some new and beautiful stretch of road.

Economic Lottery & The American Dream

It is day two of my trip home on the Greyhound bus. I am crossing the expansive landscapes of many large states, pondering the artificial boundaries separating the various people of the United States. We sway and move to the inaudible music of the road passing beneath us, together for purposes of travel, while trying hard to remain apart out of respect for each others’ sense of space.

Sometimes there is conversation—sometimes not. Many passengers have spent days on the bus, traveling to see family and friends. Frequent breaks for passenger pick-up and drop-off, the humane stretching of our legs and the respectful nod toward nature seem to serve mostly as cigarette breaks for the majority of passengers.

At one stop, watching most every man and woman file off the bus for a ten-minute cigarette break, I am virtually alone when I hear this giant of a man in the seat kitty-corner and behind me exclaim with amazement into the empty air, “You’re all a bunch of smokin’ b*tches.”

I smile at the forthrightness of the observation and turn to give him a quiet nod of affirmation. My compatriot is as big and black, younger than myself, with jet-black lashes that are so thick, long and curly they look artificial. He could be a line-backer.

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Spirituality

At one stop, where we have enough time to purchase something to eat, I note my non-smoking, line-backer friend has picked up a salad for dinner. Turning to him, I comment on the obvious, “It is really hard to eat healthy foods on these trips.”

He nods as an over-sized, plastic-fork-full of salad travels the distance to his mouth. I wonder how he keeps his frame going on iceberg lettuce, bits of shredded carrot, a few slices of cucumber and three anemic cherry tomatoes. He and I do not appear to have anything in common, except that we both do not smoke and seem to favor healthier foods.

“Eavesdropping” on a conversation between two wiry, retired veterans—one white and one black—both hard-of-hearing and diabetic, I learn that one of the men is traveling across country, back to the east coast after a visit to Vegas. This means days on the bus. After the conversation finishes and one veteran gets off at the next stop, I plop down beside the remaining vet. He draws a curtain of privacy around himself by plugging in his ear-buds and listening to tunes. With the shift in seats, I can hear a melody seeping from around his ear-buds, so I decide to do the audacious thing and ask about his music.

“What are you listening to?” I pipe up.

Pulling one ear-bud from my side of his head, he turns to introduce himself, “My name is Martin,” while extending his hand. “‘Part-time Lover’—you know that song?”

Taking his hand in my own, we shake. “My name is Julian. Just like a guy’s name. Can you call up anything by The Gap Band?”

“The Gap Band, you like them?” Martin asks, expressing a subtle level of surprise.

“Yeah…something with a heavier beat. I am not a huge fan of late, Stevie-Wonder songs,” I confess. My truth is out.

At this point, my line-backer friend starts the call and response, “You like The Gap Band?”

Martin finishes scrolling through his options, “Okay. Here it goes.”

We listen quietly (Greyhound rules), “You dropped a bomb on me, baby. You dropped a bomb on me…”— as an extended three-some. More conversational popcorn happens. And, at some point, I am asked about what I do.

“I am a writer.”

“Hey, me too,” my line-backer friend responds. “I have two books coming out.”

It is then that I understand why the economic disparity in wages and in living conditions remains intact and largely unchallenged in the United States.   We are a bunch of madcap gamblers. The majority of Americans and United States émigrés still hold a fundamental belief and trust in the ability of an individual to better his or her personal lot, through skill, creativity, luck, originality, invention, investment, avarice, altruism, parsimony or some combination thereof.

Whether we call ourselves writers, musicians, politicians, do-gooders, investors, bankers, hard workers or adventurers, we live in a nation of risk-takers. My sense is that the majority of Americans would rather play and pay for a high-stakes, all-out win than go through the process of changing our economic system. In accepting this condition, we fail to assist those who may never possess a winning scratch card, and we lose the opportunity to devise a more equitable way of compensating people for the hours they work.  We are, as my fellow writing peer might say, a bunch of gamblin’ b*tches.

Homeless with the American Dream

“Dude, I can help you with that,” one man is leaning over another seated man filling out an online registration form for homeless services at one of the public library’s computers.

At the adjacent computer terminal, I drop into a chair to check email.  My skin is prickly from the long, hot walk to the library, and I am looking like a boiled lobster while trying hard not to overhear the conversation next to me.

“I got it bro,” the response comes.  “But, thanks for the help.  Hey, man, you know about this place?” the seated man asks gesturing to the screen.

“Yeah, they got a ten-o’clock curfew.  That’s alright.  What I don’t like is the showers and beds and sh*t. They’s all communal.  I ‘m real clean.  I can hardly stand to shower there, let alone sleep.  I got to get me a job, so I can have my own place—my own shower.  You hear me?  Family sent me ahead, ya see?”  (There is a formal recounting of all of the immediate and extended family members relying on this man’s ability to find and retain employment.)

“Yeah, yeah.  I hear, ya.  Who’d ya say was hiring?”

“There’s that warehouse.  They’s taking applications.  Do you need me to help you with that?  I can help you.  I got me a bar of soap and found a stream.

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Cleaner washing in that stream than some of those places.  I know they [the local Christian charities] mean well—but germs, man, I’m really funny ’bout germs.  Family is counting on me.  You see what I’m sayin’ bro?”

“Yeah.  I got it,” the seated man replies.  “Thank you, though.”

“I’ll catch you later.” The other man moves away, returning to perch on one of the library’s high stools facing the windows looking out onto the pedestrian traffic on the street.

Exhaling, I finish my computer session, grateful for the home I have.  Gathering my things together, I exit the building to breathe the hot, heavy air and begin my walk home.  I consider how alone the man with the extended family must feel,  I hope Grace keeps him safe.