Treasures in Heaven

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there  your heart will be also. [Jesus; Matthew 6:19-21]

So I just spent the weekend at my in-law’s house.  Let me first say that my in-laws are great people, real salt of the earth types.  My father-in-law spent 35 years working at the national headquarters of Canada Post, before that he worked in the defence industry.  My mother-in-law was a stay at home mom.  The Cleavers have nothing on these two.  But I learned something about them this past weekend that was a bit disturbing.

My father-in-law’s heart is stored in the basement.

Disposophobia, more commonly known as Compulsive Hoarding, is a newly recognized mental disorder.  It is the fear of getting rid of stuff, even if the items are worthless, hazardous or unsanitary.  According to the Mayo Clinic; hoarders collect items because they believe they will have some value in the future but compulsive hoarding impairs mobility and interferes with basic activities, including cooking, cleaning, hygiene, sanitation and sleeping.   It’s really just been in the last 10 to 15 years that psychologists have begun to treat hoarding separately from other closely related disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and most psychologists still believe it is just a manifestation of OCD and not a separate disorder at all.

Regardless, I have no problem pronouncing my father-in-law a hoarder.  Everything from years of Life Magazine (dating back to 1950s), broken telephones, old clothes, and practically every piece of mail he has ever received, from personal letters to bills, some dating back more than 40 years are stored in his basement.  And it is next to impossible to get him to go through any of it and determine what has value and what can be thrown out.  To me, that is the very definition of disposophobia.

But this isn’t just about my father-in-law.  Hoarding is a 21st century epidemic and from a spiritual point of view, it’s a symptom of a much bigger issue.  It’s about our human tendency to place value in the wrong place and on the wrong things.

Jesus it seems knew a thing or two about hoarding.  He knew that it would “impair mobility and interfere with basic activities.”  Most of all he knew that if you place undue value on things it would damage relationships.

He goes on in Matthew 6 to talk about the damaging effects of worry.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life  more than food, and the body more than clothes? [Matthew 6:25]

Worry, to me is what lies at the heart of hoarding and OCD.  It’s a matter of trust.  If you place your trust in Jesus and His Kingdom (or community) you don’t need to hang on to things in the same way.  When you release your hold on the things of this world you can more freely give them away to people in greater need thereby building relationships with people and furthering the kingdom.

One incident this past weekend drove that point home for me more than any other.  We found a box containing 4 winter coats.  All where is slight need of repair, lining was torn or they were stained in some way, but they were otherwise in pretty good shape.  He hasn’t worn any of them in years.  Winter is coming so we suggested we take them to goodwill so someone less fortunate could benefit.  He panicked!  Claimed that he might wear them again, that he needed time to look at them and think about it.  He came up with ridiculous scenarios in which he lost or damaged his current coat and needed one of these old ones in an emergency.  (There really is no limit to our human creativity under pressure but that’s a topic for another time.)  In the end my brother-in-law finally just picked up the box and walked out.

The bottom line is this; hoarders are really nothing more than compulsive worriers who don’t trust anyone, especially God.  Therefore they become their own worst enemy when it comes to experiencing true community and joining in the workings of the Kingdom of Heaven.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these  things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. [Matthew 6:31-34]

Release your worry and pray for the hoarders, Meekonomists seek first the kingdom and his righteousness.

Can You Picture That?

The Muppet Movie (1979) contained one of the greatest theological moments of my young life.  I now see the New Age under tones but being raised in a Christian home all I could see at the time was the emphasis on community and believing in yourself.  The fact that Dr. Teeth first sang this song in a church only adds to its message.

My favourite line? – “Even Santa Claus believes in you!”

Enjoy the video…

A Timeline of Passive Resistance

So I asserted the other day that Pacifism was a weapon, when deployed properly, against which there is no defence.  Allow me to illustrate what to my mind is the typical timeline of passive resistance.

Phase 1: Invasion/Takeover – A strong army invades or otherwise takes over the territory of a weaker party.

Phase 2: Victory/Defeat – Due to their superiority the invading army achieves rapid and decisive victory and moves to…

Phase 3: Domination/Subjugation – The invading party establishes its power base by setting up institutions it can control; government, business etc.  At this point it is no longer prudent to kill or torture innocent civilians because they need them in order to run those institutions.  The dominated party is now a quasi-slave to its new master.

Phase 4: Resistance – The pacifist at this point slowly begins to erode the power base of the aggressor through passive and subversive acts such as avoiding work that helps the aggressor, refusing to purchase goods and services from the aggressor and even direct sabotage.  The aggressor’s only hope in defeating the pacifist is in recognizing the power of this resistance early and negotiating a settlement.  If the aggressor responds with more violence and oppression they will only drive the pacifist further underground and prolong the process.

Phase 5: Critical Mass – Sooner or later the pacifist cause will begin to be seen as a viable alternative for the oppressed masses and more and more people will be won over.  By now it is too late for the aggressor; any attempt to suppress the pacifist opposition will be seen as bullying.  If a pacifist leader is arrested or killed at this stage they will instantly become a martyr.  I don’t have scientific data to back this up but my best guess is that critical mass is achieved when the pacifist cause attracts somewhere between 20-30% of the population leading to…

Phase 6: Uprising – With roughly a quarter of the population rallying to the cause protests erupt spontaneously throughout the country.  At this point it is critical for the pacifist leader to keep his followers on message and prevent violence from erupting within his ranks.  It is critical to remember that even with a large number of followers you are still the weaker party in terms of fire power and entering into violent conflict will likely send you all the way back to phase one.  The aggressor will likely try to bait you into a violent encounter but if you have done a good job in phases 4 and 5 this will fail.  Your support will swell to well over 50% of the general population and finally lead to…

Phase 7: Overthrow – As the aggressor realizes they can no longer control the population through intimidation and the time to negotiate from a position of strength was three phases ago they will have no choice but to cede to your demands or leave the country altogether.

Now the real work begins, criticism and resistance is the easy part, governing is hard.


Meekonomics and Non-Violence

Non-Violence is possibly the least understood pillar of my theory of Meekonomics so let me take a minute to expand upon what I  mean here.

Often times when I speak of non-violence or more accurately, pacifism, it gets confused with passivism and I am accused of not caring about the plight of the weak and down trodden.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The push back from just war or just violence theorists almost always begins the same way, “but what if _______”, fill in the blank with whatever outrageous scenario you can think of.

What if I had a gun to your head?

What if I had a gun to your child’s head?

My honest answer is always the same; I don’t know, I’ve never been faced with any of these situations and I likely never will be.  It is for that reason that I do not condemn the choices people make when faced with an impossible dilemma.  But the bottom line here is that pacifism and non-violence are not the same as sitting on the sidelines and letting people get away with evil and disgusting acts.

Pacifism has been called the weapon of the weak.  Perhaps the most famous pacifist of the last century was Mohandas K. Ghandi.  At the risk of oversimplifying history, Ghandi over threw perhaps one of the most powerful empires in the world and led India to independence without firing a single shot.  Passive resistance and civil-disobedience, when deployed carefully and committed to fully are powerful weapons against which there is no defence.

When a stronger party enters into conflict with a pacifist the result is often and long and drawn out war of wills in which the weaker pacifist simply wears the aggressor out by refusing to play their game.

For example:  My high-school basketball team was regarded as one of the best in the province.  When we got the championships we were the heavy favourite and we would have won handily had it not been for a quirk in the rules set out by the Ontario Federation of Secondary School Athletics (OFSSA).  You see, since teenagers aren’t expected to be as accurate at shooting as college or NBA players, there is no shot clock at the high-school level.  Knowing this, when ever our opponent got control of the ball, they simply passed it around for as long as they could and ran out the clock.  As a result my school ended up losing one of the lowest scoring games in OFSSA history because our opponents were pacifists and simply refused to play the game the way everyone, referees and OFSSA brass included expected them too.

Pacifism in war, as in basketball games, renders offensive weapons meant to force submission, useless.  While at first it may look like the stronger party has won a decisive victory with minimal casualties, over time they end up looking like bullies.  That’s when the  power shifts and pacifist slowly but surely begin to gain the upper hand through the court of public opinion.  I dare say that no aggressor in history has ever won a long war against a large group of pacifist.  They may be driven underground for a time but by taking a posture of passive resistance they never have to surrender.

It took years, but Ghandi defeated Great Britten.  After renouncing violence and spending decades in prison, Nelson Mandela defeated white rule in South Africa.   The student protests in Tiananmen Square began a program of economic reform in China that we are only now beginning to see and understand.  And the Arab spring, now summer, with the exception of civil war in Libya, looks a lot more like a pacifist uprising than it does a violent transfer of power.

A commitment to the principles of Meekonomics is a commitment to support the way of non-violence and pacifism as it reflects the will of the people and influences world affairs.  “No blood for Oil”, indeed no blood for any commodity is the rally cry of the meekonomist.

The True Evil of our Time

It is impossible to have healthy, equitable, and  democratic societies when political and economic power is concentrated in a few gigantic corporations.  We have created a  system that is now beyond the control even of those who created it and whom it richly rewards for serving its ends.  – David C. Korten; When Corporations Rule The World

I’ve been waiting for somebody else to write about  this but nobody seems willing to put their neck out so I guess I have to.

You see; it’s not rich and greedy people who are ruining our society, it’s  rich and greedy corporations that have run amok and are beyond the control even of the people running them.  We’ve created a monster that is eventually going to kill us all.

Corporations are supposed to be chartered in the public interest.  The first corporations were given charters for a limited time, say 10 years, in order to establish a beach head in a local economy and allow individuals to come in and establish themselves.  The intention then was for small owner operated firms to come in and serve the public on a more personal level.  Somewhere along the line however
something changed.

I’d say it started way back in the 1600’s during the colonial era when corporations set up to help develop the new world took on a life of their own and some like the East India Company in Asia and the Hudson’s Bay Corporation here in North America became as powerful, if not more so, that the governments and people they were meant to serve.  The East India Company in particular raped and pillaged South Asia for nearly two centuries making its investors back home in England fabulously rich while leaving behind a devastated and impoverished sub-continent that is still struggling to emerge as a viable economy more than 50 years after the divestiture of its holdings.

During the 1980s, under the libertarian policies of Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher governments further abdicated their responsibility by eroding labour laws and deregulating entire industries.  Today the chickens have come home to roost.  The real power to direct our economy and our society no longer lies in the halls of government, no; now the real power lies in corporate board rooms thousands of miles away from the people they most deeply effect.

If the recent monetary crisis around the world has shown us anything it has been that governments are not really incompetent at fixing the problem so much as they are impotent.

The problem is that corporations, especially the big multinationals, have no interest in governing a people and developing society as a whole.  Their only interest is in making money.  Or to further quote author David Korten, “In an economy that measures performance in terms of the creation of money, people become a major source of inefficiency – and the economy is shedding them with a vengeance.  When the institutions of money rule the world, it is perhaps inevitable that the interests of money will take precedence over the interests of people.” [When Corporations Rule the World]

Even corporate masters who see the problem and try to do something about it are impotent.  The corporation itself is more powerful than its directors.  In what is called “breach of fiduciary responsibility” if a director of a corporation knowingly makes decision that adversely affects the potential for making money they can not only be summarily dismissed, but also charged with fraud and do hard time!

Think about it. If the director of a multi-national corporation has to decide where to locate a new manufacturing facility what do think they will do?  Locate in an area with a high minimum wage and strict environmental regulations or one with no minimum wage and no environmental policy worth mentioning?  Regardless of what their own moral compass may say they have a responsibility to generate profits for the corporation and will locate where the potential for financial gain is greatest regardless of human or environmental consequences.

And that my friends, is the true evil of our time.  Nameless, faceless corporations act very much like greedy humans but in reality they are not human at all.  They are legal shells with one purpose, and one purpose only; to make money and pity the mere mortal who tries to rein them in.

Watch Your Mouth!

FYI: Nothing turns me off your blog, twitter or facebook page faster than the gratuitous use of profanity or name calling!

Recently I unsubscribed from a blog I was following because the author called President Obama a “f__king asshole” and his liberal base a bunch of whiners.  Honestly I think that everyone involved in the recent fight over US monetary policy, including the president have been less than perfect in recent weeks but that is no excuse to stoop to name calling!

Similarly a few months ago I got into a heated argument and ultimately lost a friend because I chose to defend a person that I felt he was unfairly attacking.

It’s not that I disagree, it’s not about that.  My position on any one political issue is irrelevant here.  But when you use name calling and foul language to get your point across, you’ve lost something far more important that the argument itself, you’ve lost your dignity and your credibility walks out the door right on its heels.

I started to think about writing this post long before I heard that Standard & Poors had downgraded the US Credit Rating.  One of the reasons cited for the downgrade was the “three ring circus” atmosphere of the political system.  Democratic politics is supposed to be about debating good ideas to find the best one.  Not creating a polarized system of us versus them where people are branded as either bleeding heart liberals or cold and calculating conservatives.  Nothing gets done in an environment like that.

In a weekly news roundup a British commentator for The Economist said that the members of the Republican Party in Congress have spent that last year shooting down every single proposal put forth by the Democrats and thus made the country “un-governable”.  Heading into a presidential election next year the strategy for the Republicans will be to point to the chaos and say that Obama and the Democrats are incompetent.

But the question isn’t about competence.  It’s about co-operation.

The American political system is based on checks and balances that prevent one branch of government from becoming too powerful and imposing its will on the country.  But when the branches refuse to work together it’s as if the two parties are standing there with guns pointed at each other, neither one willing to give an inch for fear that the other will blow their head off.  That’s not a political debate, that’s a civil war!

Funny thing about civil wars; no matter who wins, the country itself is always destroyed.

I cannot stress this enough. When you disagree with someone, don’t just automatically brand them as one of those people, write them off or call them names.   Take a second to listen, try to understand their point, maybe do a bit of reflection and then respond.  And always, I repeat always, remember they are people just like you, who have looked at the same evidence you have and come to a different conclusion.  That doesn’t make them wrong any more than it makes you right.

When you start calling people names it only proves that you’re out of answers yourself.  Maybe you just need to shut up and listen.

Nature vs. Nurture

It’s an age old debate.  Are we a product of our nature or nurture?  Do we consciously decide to act a certain way or as a popular song so proudly states are we just born this way?

I started pondering the point recently when reading an article on the character traits of introverts vs. extroverts.

The author, a self-professed introvert, stated that being introverted is not a choice or a lifestyle, it’s an orientation.  While I can see the temptation here, I’m an introvert too; I honestly think that calling behaviour simply the result of an orientation is a bit of a cop out.

Instead, I thinking there are three different types of human traits; Physical, Leanings and Personality.  The first two are written in your genes.  You can alter your appearance and learn to counter act your leanings, usually with great effort and an awful lot of pain or discomfort but you will still tend to pass them on to the next generation.  Personality on the other hand is completely learned through observation and reinforced by the feedback you receive.

Take me for example.  I have green eyes, (physical), I’m left handed (leaning) and I’m an introvert (personality).  Leaving out the fact that today with cosmetic surgery I can alter my appearance my genes still carry the code for green eyes and it is very likely my children will inherit that, there is nothing I can do about it.

Our leanings are also written in our genetic code somehow but if identified at an early age they can be countered and re-taught.  Around 1910, when my grand-father began reaching for things with his left hand and attempting to pick up a pencil or work other fine motor skills with it his horrified parents proceeded to tie his arm behind his back and forced him to develop his right arm first.  In the 1940s my father was also corrected, although less barbarically, and taught to use his right hand.  But by the 1970s when it was my turn society had grown to accept left handedness so I was allowed to develop more naturally.  But when it came time to learn to play catch my father demonstrated with his right hand and I thus developed the particular oddity of writing with my left and throwing with my right.

For the sake of argument let’s assume that the fact that I am left handed is 50% natural and 50% a product or my environment.  Had I neen born in 1910 or 1940 I would like be right handed today.  But the fact that I am introverted is 100% environmental.

A child born to introverted parents is taught, both overtly and just through observation of the people around him to behave in a certain way.  All three children in my family, myself and two sisters, are introverts because both our parents are.  My oldest sister however is a little less introverted than the rest of us because, as the first child, she was paraded around a bit more, encouraged to step out, represent the family at school and in other social settings and lead by example.  We know from scientific studies that as we grow older certain traits do become hard wired into our brains but that is not the same is being born that way, it still had to be learned at some point.

I’d be interested to see studies on adopted children and how they develop.  They obviously are going to look like their biological parents and will likely even share the same leanings but I bet that the personality of these children will more closely mirror their adoptive parents than their biological parents.  My first girlfriend was adopted and although she looked nothing like the rest of her family, she and her adoptive mother were very similar in the way they interacted with the world; her personality had clearly been learned from her adoptive environment.

So even though I appreciate what the author of this article is saying about how we introverts see the world I maintain that introversion is not something I was born with.  Now that I’m approaching 40, it is something that is hardwired into my brain that I can’t really help but I can choose to try and counter act it in certain situations.  If left alone, which is what introverts want most of the time anyway, I will slip back into my introverted ways.  It’s not the way I was born, but is the way I have learned to function.