Monthly Archives: October 2014

Just a Little Bit More Updating / Writing and Marketing Processes

Just a Little Bit More is now available on Amazon and the usually suspected places. What a journey – it was more than three years ago that a crazy idea invaded my soul telling me to write a book. To see this idea in book form and now categorized as a leading seller in Amazon (Kindle) categories “World History 21st Century” and “Economic History” is gratifying, if not mystifying. Of course, Amazon aids its own marketing processes with its various categories and sub-categories of descriptions; the categorizations facilitate the search process of finding a book, however, and no help is needed from the Dewey Decimal System. Guess how many books Amazon makes available to its online shoppers? A mere 8 million print books, and over 1 million ebooks. Yikes.

I’m very grateful to all those who have supported me thus far in the book writing, producing, and marketing processes. You are a formidable group; I’m indebted to each one of you. Those who read all 200 plus pages of the “small font” first edition (close to 300 folks) get gold stars for having done so. The consensus was in early and its lead position is unchallenged: the next edition must have a larger font size! Since I’ve been reading theology and non-fiction (almost) exclusively for twenty-five years, I’m quite accustomed to small font reading. (By way of comparison, check out best-selling The Black Swan by Nicolas Taleb – it’s the same font size as JaLBM‘s first edition.) I was happy to respond favorably to the feedback; the second edition of JaLBM is now available – larger font size and forty more pages with the exact same content. The ebook is available as well – font size variable! Thanks to ACTA Publications -Chicago for picking up JaLBM for national distribution; Blue Ocotillo, in collaboration with ACTA, remains the publisher of record for JaLBM.

I also know that some have had to “chew on” JaLBM a few pages at a time. Yes, it does cover some history and development of ideas. Thanks to those of you who wrestled with the issues and ideas presented and gave me your feedback. Special thanks to fellow author Jud Smith who told me, over dinner, that as an entrepreneur and business owner, he approached my work with some skepticism and trepidation. What would a first-time author who works as a pastor have to add (besides the predictable “love your neighbor”) to the societal conversation about work and economics? In the end, however, Jud says he was “converted” to the idea that capitalism – as it is now – can do much better. Special gold stars go out to three JaLBM readers of the first edition. Lee White, who (without being specific) is most likely more chronologically gifted than you are, said the font size was “no problem!” Lee says she remembers, as a young girl, Rockefeller and FDR being discussed at the family table in east Texas as her family lived and worked through the Great Depression and its consequences. Kevin Byckovski of Austin – one of the first to finish reading JaLBM in May, the month it came out – simply said “well-researched and easy to read.” Kevin shares a common trait (being an engineer) with one of my brothers, Mike Anderson, who says he polished off JaLBM in three days this past summer while on vacation. Smart guys in more ways than one!

Pastor Brad Highum and the folks at Abiding Love Lutheran Church in Austin enthusiastically took on JaLBM as a book study for six Sunday mornings this past summer. Their input was instrumental in helping put together JaLBM study guides for similar groups and book clubs. Brad reports that one of the classes this past summer started out with a participant comment: “Pastor, this isn’t light reading.” Brad responded with a pastoral wink of the eye and aplomb: “It’s not a light topic.” Social inequality and its causes, the persistence and reemergence of poverty in the US, and how to understand and uplift the common good – these are topics important to every single one of us. We typically have trouble talking about these topics with one another (watch a televised political debate or bring up these topics at the family Thanksgiving dinner – ha), without falling into the predictable red and blue ruts. Political solutions, yes, are needed and welcome – but the hyper-partisan ambiance currently in vogue mitigates mightily against these possibilities.

JaLBM, with help from the study guides, gives the opportunity for adult conversation – free of accusations and demonizing – while broaching these important topics. Why should the hyperbole (most of the time accurately described as such) spouted about on MSNBC and FOX News dictate our thinking and debate on these crucial issues? If you are a member of a faith community (church, synagogue, temple) or part of a book club, I hope you will consider JaLBM as a book to read, study, and discuss. And if so, may the ensuing conversations be fruitful and beneficial to our shared common good.

While I am a pastor of a Christian (Lutheran) congregation, and look at the world through the eyes and understanding of a specific faith tradition, I didn’t write JaLBM as a faith manifesto. The book is imbued with theological perceptions, but it doesn’t use overtly theological language. It’s not meant to be read only by people of faith. It’s meant for societal conversation at the broadest and deepest levels. Thanks to fellow writers (and golfers) Michael DiLeo, Matt Cohen, Bruce Selcraig, and Kevin Robbins for steering me on the right path in terms of intended audience. Conversation between people who are different (in terms of political persuasions, faith and/or cultural traditions, socio-economic levels) is imperative as it conversely dissipates in our midst.

A colleague (Joaquin Figueroa) recently wrote me: “As you say, this story is an old history, but not very well known. It’s about a few enriching themselves at the expense of the many. And the worst of it – the few think they are doing the many a favor. I hope a lot of folks read your book.”

 

For a personally inscribed copy of Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, go to Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

Amazon has the paperback and the ebook. iTunes and Nook also carry their versions of the ebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ebola in Dallas, Health Care, and an Interconnected and Shrinking World

Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan travelled to the US on a tourist visa, arriving September 20. He came to visit his companion, Louise Troh, and their son. Many suspect Duncan lied when leaving Monrovia (Liberia’s capital) on September 19, claiming on a governmental health form issued at the airport that he had not had contact with someone stricken with Ebola. Multiple reports claim that a few days earlier in Liberia, Duncan had helped carry a seriously ill pregnant woman to the hospital (Duncan’s nephew, Josephus Weeks, denies these reports.) Whether Duncan suspected the woman of having Ebola or malaria remains undetermined. The woman later died of Ebola. Most likely, Duncan contracted the disease from the woman. Duncan himself died in a Dallas hospital on October 8; he was originally sent home on September 25 from the same hospital with significant pain and a 103* fever. Two days later, September 27, he returned to the hospital via ambulance – this time to stay – eventually diagnosed with the disease that would kill him. Back to the fateful day, September 25, when Duncan originally came to Dallas’s Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital: a man of color with no health insurance sent home, after a few hours at the hospital, to fend for himself. Yes, Duncan was a foreigner, but it wasn’t the first time a patient without insurance was sent away in such a fashion.

T.R. Reid, in his book The Healing of America (Penguin, 2009), says that the US health care system doesn’t work for everybody because the American health care is more so a market than a system. In a market, people with money are able to buy what they want; others are left out. Reid does a superb job of making the case that the principle of health insurance and the pursuit of profit, in today’s world, are inherently conflicted. Many US citizens are unaware that its country is the only one of the developed nations that doesn’t offer universal coverage to its citizens. The U.K., France, Japan, Germany, Canada, and Australia are among those nations that care for all of its citizens, regardless of income and wealth status. What do to about foreigners – in the country legally or not – with no means to pay for treatment, like Duncan, is a crucial question that has implications for every one of us.

Reid documents the US health care system’s unfortunate inefficiencies and wastes in comparison with other countries: we spend the most on health care per capita and per GDP (significantly so), spend more on administration costs, and our fragmented system lacks the decisive incentive to encourage long-term preventative care. Whereas some 700,000 US citizens annually declare bankruptcy due to health care costs, other countries (Britain, France, Germany, Japan) have none who are forced to do so.

For those under the impression that the “free market” is the mechanism to cure all of our ills (pun intended), Reid’s presentation strongly argues to the contrary. Reid encourages (and I agree) that America go forward in health care by doing what it has done many times before: to pragmatically look around (in this case, to other nations) to see what works best and to incorporate those traits and practices to make our own system – which is the best in the world for a minority of us – much better for all Americans. These mentioned nations use market principles within their systems, but in a controlled manner. We can certainly do the same. Reid says fixing our fragmented system is a moral and ethical obligation, and reminds us that we are better off when all of us – not just some – have access to good care.

At first glance, some of us might not feel responsible for the health of a foreigner visiting on a tourist visa, but inaction or neglect can be deadly for the rest of the population. And it’s not only that Ebola or some other deadly disease might proliferate, as horrific as that would be in itself. We are weaker, more fragmented, and more vulnerable to social ills (violence, depression, higher rates of incarceration, teen pregnancy, obesity, shorter life spans) when social inequalities escalate. My book, Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, establishes and develops this argument in detail.

Thank God for brave public servants – from military personnel going to the front lines of the Ebola breakout in Africa to nurses and doctors fighting the disease in our hospitals here. More so than ever – in this age of modern globalization – we are interconnected and have a shared responsibility for the good health and well-being of all.

 

Just a Little Bit More is available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website and through Amazon (paperback and ebook) and other booksellers and retailers.

 

 

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The Hungry Ghost

Third article in a series . . .

The great religious systems of the world – and many regional indigenous strains – weave a harmonious montage against greed and materialism. This blog post is the third in a series highlighting religious unity against the type of values seen in the dominant religion of the land: the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumerism. These posts are adapted from the book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, available online and in your local bookstore. Ask for it!

Sikkim - Land of Discovery

The Hungry Ghost

 

The hungry ghost forages for desired consumables – its pinhole mouth and pencil thin neck feebly servicing its oversized paunch and ravenous appetite. Yes, it might get its hands on something to consume, but the consumable is immediately belched out as fire, smoke, and ash. Satisfaction continually distances itself, and the hungry ghost bewilderingly looks for more. Not fully alive, present moment surroundings mean nothing to the ghost – attainment of the next (supposed) fix trumps all other considerations. Constant craving from within dominates; the striving for more and more that satisfies less and less cycles onward ad infinitum.

One of the six realms or mind states within Buddhist understanding, the hungry ghost aptly depicts greed, addiction, and compulsive behavior in metaphoric brilliance. We might also contemplate the meaning of the ghost as we consider the embattled American economic landscape.

Most all agree that the economy is not as good as it used to be. What might be the solution? Ample opinions abound: cut taxes, invest in green energy, eliminate burdensome regulations, renew an emphasis on job training, raise the minimum wage, “drill, baby, drill”, and so forth. All these and others are, perhaps, worthy of consideration. Yet a common assumption behind all these proposed solutions lurks unawares: greater and greater economic growth. More and more growth is assumed without question – as if the limits that are part and parcel of the universe don’t apply when the issue at hand is the economy and our standard of living. Good golly, it would be nice for the incredible economic expansion of the last 200 years or so to continue ratcheting through the stratosphere . . . but available energy supply, increasingly complex pollution, and a burgeoning world population make for a system that can’t go on unquestionably as it has before.

“Just a little bit more” beckons – but when does enough get to be enough? Our credit card payment schedules, predicated on future income, in turn predicated on further economic growth, may well outlast us into the future: credit card debt as our touchstone to immortality. Economic growth has its limits, but debt does not. Buddhism teaches contentment with what one possesses today; contentment and gratitude for things like food, clothing, shelter, community, and purpose in living. Striving for much more? Beware of the ghost . . .

 

Click here for second article in series and here for first article in series. (This series of articles was originally posted in March 2014.)

 

 Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is available on Amazon as a paperback and ebook, and on iTunes and Nook as an ebook. Published 2014 by Blue Ocotillo Publishing, Austin, TX.

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Seeking Common Good and Kingdom Connection

I picked up the first printing (three boxes totaling 100 copies) of Just a Little Bit More from my local printer on the first Friday in May – the day before our synod assembly meeting in Austin. That next day, with more than 400 pastors and lay leaders gathered for the meeting, I sold about thirty-five copies of JaLBM. Some of my colleagues knew of the book and anticipated me finally having it in hand and ready for distribution; by this point it had been a three-year project in the making. For all my preparation, there was one thing I hadn’t readied: a go-to phrase when inscribing the book. And, no, I had neither thought to bring a Sharpie . . .

The next day, a number of my congregants at St. John’s/San Juan Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Austin were kind enough to purchase the long-awaited tome. To close out the first week of JaLBM’s availability, good friends Paul and Marsha Collinson-Streng hosted a book signing party inviting and gathering other good friends. I sold those first 100 copies that very first week. Still at this early point in the process, I had no go-to inscription. I inscribed those first copies with appropriate words of gratitude and support, tailoring individual remarks as needed.

A go-to inscription is especially useful when an author is signing multiple books in rapid fashion. T. Carlos Anderson is a unique pen name, but any confusion at a large scale book signing event between the small-time, first-time author of JaLBM and a mega-selling author like Malcolm Gladwell won’t be happening any time soon. All the same, a sui generis inscription, besides being efficient and giving the impression of situational mastery, adds an additional touch of character to one’s work.

“Seeking Common Good and Kingdom Connection.” Sometime in June, when I was distributing the second round of 100 books, the tie-in between common good and God’s kingdom* came to me. I immediately googled the phrase and discovered only one other theological commentator using it. A researcher and blogger for the Acton Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, calls for societal common good construction via just laws and conscientious moral choices from individuals. Yes, of course, I fully support such thinking and try to live accordingly. There are a few libertarian ideas I like (less reliance on military interventionism in foreign lands, as one), but the uncritical approbation of the “free market” as the arbiter of all things good and just is simply unacceptable. Such a faith fails to take human nature’s degraded tendencies seriously. In Just a Little Bit More, I name the uncritical acceptance of the free market an ideology and label it a bad religion.

We’ve now been living with and under thirty-five years of the elevation of fiscal policy over social policy in the United States. Consequently, we’ve become a market society where market values and considerations trump other ones. The pendulum does swing back and forth; the long-running New Deal era culminating in LBJ’s War on Poverty exemplified the pendulum’s opposite arc, the welfare society. Is there a better balance to be found between the extremes? Here’s a crucial question: Which do we value more – human rights or property rights? A far-reaching common good, yes, includes the contributions of a wide-ranging and robust market system, but not at the expense of its very participants. Eric Fromm rightly critiqued consumerist society years ago: “We must put an end to the present situation where a healthy economy is possible only at the price of unhealthy human beings.”

Jesus claimed that the Divine Realm is in our midst. When and where the gifts of love, cooperation, reconciliation, and compassion are shared – individually and collectively – the Divine presence is more pronounced, and less ambiguous. The common good is uplifted as well. The connection between God’s kingdom and common good is mostly tenuous – but I think we can say it does occur, especially when the needs of humans come before the needs of capital. Yes, the “free market” has fed, clothed, sheltered, and employed millions, mitigating the effects of poverty for many of these; its veracity and utility are indisputable. But the exaltation of property rights above human rights oftentimes leads to the co-opting of market forces by greed and duplicity, life being defined by one’s possessions (the goods life), and abuses and injustices brought about by the myopic pursuit of profit.

The common good is set up by just laws, aided by works of individual and collective charity, and enhanced by positive market forces. Crucially, however, the common good must also be protected from negative market forces (and human destructiveness). The market is not entirely self-regulating. To trust that the market is entirely self-regulating is to endow it with divine-like status. “Seeking Market and Kingdom Connection”? I won’t deny that it’s possible, but I won’t be using such an inscription anytime soon for my book. I already have a much better one.

 

 

Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website and through ACTA Publications, Chicago, IL.

* Kingdom, of course , is a word fraught with links to male domination. Empire, as an alternative, doesn’t work for me as it is fraught with allusions to worldly kingdoms and ambitions – Babylon, Rome, etc. I like divine realm best of them all, and use it interchangeably with kingdom.

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