Monthly Archives: June 2015

Vacations are for Slackers . . .

It’s summertime – have you taken a vacation yet? A recent national survey claims that 42 per cent of working Americans didn’t take any vacation days in 2014. Wow – keep that stat in mind the next time you have an interchange with a grumpy employee. Maybe he’s having a bad day in part because he hasn’t had time off from the job for a significant stretch. The United States is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t lawfully mandate paid vacation days for workers.

Some Americans are workaholics and others actually like their jobs so much they don’t take any vacation days. Workaholics and job-lovers together, however, we can assume to be a minority. Other Americans in low-paying jobs are unable or afraid to take time off (lest they lose their jobs), and other Americans are uncomfortable getting away from the office or workplace lest necessary tasks be forgotten or mismanaged by others. Other Americans, because of our incomplete system of health care coverage, end up using vacation days as sick or family leave days.

Most Americans – whether vacation-takers or not – live in obeisance to the dominant religion of the day: the troika of materialism, commerce, and consumerism. On the surface, it’s a good religion that feeds, shelters, clothes, and employs us. But when the religion goes overboard – too many hours worked is but one example – it breaks bad and damages societal common good.

jalbm neal

The Caddy Man

By the numbers, the three people groups most devoted to working are South Koreans, Americans, and Australians. Only South Koreans take fewer vacation days and holidays than American workers; only Australians work on average more weeks per year than Americans. The Caddy Man, actor Neal McDonough, perfectly describes (albeit unintended) the dominant religion in America. Speaking incredulously of those woosified Europeans: “They take August off – off!”

Once upon a time (in the 1950s), many commentators, confident of increased gains in productivity and innovation, foresaw a shorter workweek and increased leisure time for Americans by the last few decades of the century. Those predictions fell completely flat. Americans worked, on the average, 160 hours more a year in 2000 than in 1970. America, historically associated with the opportunity to work, now seems to be associated with the domination of work (for those who can find it). Consumerism, of course, has brought about work’s ability to rule.

According to Adam Sacks of Oxford Economics – an organization that serves the travel industry – the average working American leaves five vacation days unused per year. Sacks calls it a culture of work martyrdom: those who don’t use all their vacation are more virtuous than those who do take all their vacation days. Vacations are for slackers.

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The star-forming region NGC 3603 - seen here in the latest Hubble Space Telescope image - contains one of the most impressive massive young star clusters in the Milky Way. Bathed in gas and dust the cluster formed in a huge rush of star formation thought to have occurred around a million years ago. The hot blue stars at the core are responsible for carving out a huge cavity in the gas seen to the right of the star cluster in NGC 3603's centre.

Hubble Space Telescope pic

Vacations are also for those seeking renewal and rejuvenation. One of the first stories in Hebrew scriptures tells of the Creator God taking a day off at the conclusion of an extended work project. The moral of the story: creativity and rest go hand-in-hand. We are capable of creating and doing good work on little sleep; but, over the long haul, you and I need rest and downtime in order to be effective in relationships and in work environments.

When will we see a change in the way working America operates? The typical reward for good work is increased pay. While many appreciate (and need) an increase in pay, when will we see a culture shift that rewards employees’ good work with more time off?

 

 

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

For book clubs, community of faith study groups, and individuals, the Summary Version and Study Guide of JaLBM is now available at the Blue Ocotillo website and on Amazon. It’s a “Reader’s Digest” version (fifty-two pages) of the full-length original with discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Join the conversation about social and economic inequality – without having to be hyperpartisan – and let’s figure out how capitalism can do better!

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The Dresser Drawers of Fast Fashion

Do you ever have trouble closing your dresser drawers because of too many clothes? Perhaps the excess serves to remind you to sort through your clothes and bag some of them for Goodwill or Salvation Army.

Filmmaker Andrew Morgan says Americans consume and discard significantly more clothing items than two decades ago. Who knew? His new documentary on the clothing industry, The True Cost, explains yet another aspect of American overconsumption and its negative consequences realized in places of production like China, Bangladesh, and India. Prices for many clothing items have been trending down for the last two decades in great part because of China’s entry into apparel production. According to an article in the New York Times, US clothing and apparel expenditure in 1987 accounted for 5.4 percent of all personal consumption spending. By 2009, that figure was down to 3.1 percent. Even so, we (and others in different parts of the world) have purchased more clothes, because the prices are so cheap!!I-have-too-much-stuff

This is a good thing, right? Global economic competition means people in the developed world get more choices of garments and shoes at better prices and people in the underdeveloped world are able to work. This is the process that raises people out of poverty. Yes – it’s been going on for close to 300 years . . .

But it has to be done in the right way.  Although laborers had been abused long before the advent of the industrial era, labor abuse achieved systemic perfection during the era. Conditions in sweatshops have been exposed by countless writers from Upton Sinclair (The Jungle, 1906) to Naomi Klein (No Logo, 1999). The unseemly similarities between the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Manhattan killing 146 mostly immigrant garment workers and the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh killing 1,129 garment workers and injuring over 2,500 are simultaneously tragic and shameful. We may have eliminated the drastic labor abuses in the American garment industry (and today only 3% of the clothes Americans purchase are manufactured in US factories, compared to 95% in 1960), but when we purchase and wear garments produced in questionable conditions overseas, we are complicit. Fierce global competition does lead to lower prices, but it also helps create abysmal working conditions for laborers.

Monsanto – the company that would slap a patent on Mother Nature if it could – sells its genetically modified (to guard against pests) and expensive cotton seeds to farmers in India. Most likely, you have some garments made from Indian cotton in your dresser drawers; India is the second largest producer and exporter of cotton in the world. Indian farmers currently (and historically) suffer from high rates of suicide. Monsanto (of course) denies that the high price of its seeds (manufactured in part with Indian companies) and associated farmer debt are linked to the recent rash of suicides. To be fair to Monsanto, there are other contributing factors to the suicides, such as alcoholism and personal domestic problems.

The Monsanto publicity department works hard on promoting an image of hard-driving multinational company stretching the bounds of science for the benefit of all humankind. But remember, Monsanto is the company that not only spies on, bullies, and sues its own customers, but it also owns the patent rights to “terminator gene” technology – the capability to make seeds sterile (and consequently force farmers to buy new seed every single planting season). They vow, however, not to use the technology . . . Right. Sounds kinda like Iran saying it won’t enrich uranium to weapons level grade. Which of the two do I trust less: Monsanto or Iran?

I have digressed – but it was purposeful digression. Remember the clothes we dropped off at Goodwill? Only ten percent of those items will end up on hangers inside the store for resale. The rest of it gets split into three areas: recycled rags and insulation, Sub-Saharan African resale markets, and landfills. The garment industry is the second most polluting in the world (behind the energy industry with its coal, oil, and gas), and globalization has made it possible to produce clothing at such low prices that many now consider clothing to be a disposable item – giving rise to the term fast fashion, akin to the term fast food.

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Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936)

Theologian Paul Tillich, decades ago, accurately described the modern age we live in:

Man is supposed to be the master of the world and of himself. But actually he has become a part of the reality that he has created, an object among objects, a thing among things, a cog within a universal machine in which he must adapt himself to in order not to be smashed by it. (From Theology of Culture, Oxford University Press, 1959, 7-8.)

Fast fashion looks to be as unhealthy as fast food. Slow down, search for quality, make it last, reuse or remake it when possible, recycle, and – oh yeah – buy fewer items.

 

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

For book clubs, community of faith study groups, and individuals, the Summary Version and Study Guide of JaLBM is now available at the Blue Ocotillo website and on Amazon. It’s a “Reader’s Digest” version (only fifty-two pages) of the full-length original with discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

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“Just a Little Bit More” Study Guide and Summary Version Now Available!

Quick link to Study Guide and book purchase page http://www.blueocotillo.com

jalbm svsg picThe fifty-two page summary version and study guide companion to Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is now available! Ideally suited for book clubs and faith community education groups (high school to adult), the summary pamphlet is akin to a Reader’s Digest version of the full-length book with the addition of discussion questions at the end of all eight chapters. Now readers of both the book and the summary version can enter the same discussion on social and economic inequalities and consider together what can be done to uplift the common good.

From Dr. Craig Nessan of Wartburg Seminary and his review of JaLBM in the April 2015 edition of Currents in Theology and Mission:

How did we as a society arrive at our current state of extreme wealth disparity? T. Carlos Anderson, pastor of St. John’s/San Juan Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas, presents with measured judgment his findings based on extensive historical research and astute cultural analysis. Anderson proposes a return to the value of egalitarianism and practice of economic democracy as the way of deliverance from the regressive and even violent inequality under which we suffer. The reader is provided incredible detail and documentation of our current economic, cultural, and religious crisis. He expresses confidence that as in previous eras the pendulum finally shifted to correct the drive to economic excess through the mechanisms of political democracy, so our awakening to the present crisis can lead to an urgently needed corrective in our time.

From Dr. Phil Ruge-Jones of Texas Lutheran University:

Anderson’s book is an extensive chronicling of the people, movements, and streams of thought that have led us on the quest to want just a little bit more. In the role of a theologically aware social critic, he reminds me of Niebuhr. He is deeply embedded in the Christian tradition, but has listened carefully to many other voices and thus speaks a reasonable, balanced, and authoritative public word. Anderson shows us the way back toward a commitment to egalitarianism that has become lost over the last century.

From Rev. Kathy Haueisen, author of A Ready Hope and 40-Day Journey with Kathleen Norris:

A masterpiece . . . I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to live in a world with a more equitable distribution of the world’s assets and resources. It ought to be required reading for every church leader.  

Thanks to the book clubs at First English Lutheran (Austin), Living Word Lutheran (Buda, TX), Triumphant Love Lutheran (Austin) and Holy Cross Lutheran (Houston) for reading and discussing JaLBM.

Thanks to Abiding Love Lutheran (Austin), St. John’s/San Juan Lutheran (Austin), and Chapelwood United Methodist (Houston) for doing adult education sessions with JaLBM.

Thanks to ELCA Campus Pastors And Staff (Regions 3, 4, and 5) for the invitation to present JaLBM and related themes at their 2015 Mid-Winter Retreat.

Other churches in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Chicago are planning to carry out study discussion groups of JaLBM in the fall of 2015.

For the month of June: Purchase book (regularly $14.95) and the Study Version/Study Guide (regularly $6.95) together for $16.00 (plus shipping and handling, and sales tax for Texas residents). Offer available only at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website http://www.blueocotillo.com.

A few centuries ago a well-known Jewish rabbi offered this prayer to the Creator of all there is: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What does the intersection of common good and God’s realm look like today? Put JaLBM on your summer reading list and prepare yourself to participate in or lead a study/discussion group with the purpose of seeking out answers to that important question.

Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes.

 

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