My $.02 on Gravity Payments 70K Minimum Salary

I first heard about this story in late July by reading this NY Times article. I also decided to read this article in Forbes, this one in Entrepreneur, and this one in Fistful of Talent.  Four articles is plenty for me to have an opinion.

Really, there are two pieces of this story that interest me.

Psychology – Price hears a psychology study and realizes his company can do better providing for people’s basic needs.  Fact: people who make 70K aren’t worrying about paying the basic bills.  “Price based the figure on a 2010 Princeton study he read, and an epiphany while on a hike with his friend who was struggling to pay her bills on an annual income of $40,000.” – From Entrepreneur.  Basically, just take a look at Maslow – employee’s have their basic needs taken care of and can then focus on other pieces like improving job performance, or saving, or creativity.

Maslow, Compensation, Benefits

Biblical Literacy – The man paid attention to this extremely disturbing biblical parable of the Workers in the Field that rocks me every time I read it.  Seriously, go read it.   The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t work like the USA works, and doesn’t work like we want it to work.  It won’t be “fair” they way we like to think of “fairness.”  Is Price a Christian?  Well, he grew up in a household of faith, but he isn’t anymore.  According to the NY Times –  “Mr. Price is no longer so religious, but the values and faith he grew up on are “in my DNA – It’s just something that’s part of me.”

Parable of the Workers

So, this crazy decision made his employees obviously uncomfortable.  No, it wasn’t fair within his company, and he definitely should have consulted other people on his decision.  It’s demoralizing to people who only got a slight salary increase for their already higher paying positions.  After all “ Giving large raises to lower paid, lower contributing employees may be well intentioned, but unless it’s paired with equitable raises for higher contributing employees, it is bound to cause dissatisfaction and turnover.” (As Forbes points out: Equity Theory!)  I can easily see other psychology principles coming into play pretty soon, like the fact that we easily get accustomed to the new normal – hello Hedonic Treadmill!

But, quite a lot of what I see in this is that we (journalists? Americans? pundits? fellow employees) continue to confuse the idea of labor value with personal worth, and at the same time, pretend that how much we earn shouldn’t/doesn’t affect how we see each other.

The change forced the employees to reckon with the way they judge their own worth and the way they judge the worth of other employees.  Suddenly, they’re all on the same “worth” scale, and so they cry foul, they see it as an attack on their personal worth.  If I’m suddenly making as much as the admin, despite my different duties and education, am I worth what I think I am?  Serious ego blow.  I think this is also a story about identity and the way we value people.

That, and the obvious workplace connection, is what makes me keep thinking about this story.   The Bureau of Labor Statistics gives us plenty of ways and formulas to help calculate salaries and benefits, but they don’t touch on how we as humans make meaning from that data and determine worth.  A lot of us take what the BLS says about labor value, and the emphasis on making money and spending money and determine that a salary is equivalent to their personal worth.  All you do is answer phones, that’s not worthwhile, you’re not worth a wage like that.  That’s not even close to true. My labor is worth a dollar amount, but my worth as a person is priceless.

What I think Price did is to try and make that discrepancy between worth and value a little smaller.  His method was flawed, imperfect and is causing waves, but I definitely applaud him for a radical decision and doing something.

Why I Participate in Lent

Three reasons I participate in a season of Lent; community, reflection, intentional living.

Artist Chris Clark's rendition of Jesus using quilting.
Artist Chris Clark’s rendition of Jesus.

This year, Lent takes place for the seven weeks between Wednesday, February 18 and Saturday, April 4.  There are 3 reasons for why I participate in Lent.

Lent is public yet simultaneously exclusive, private, yet simultaneously communal.

I love a good paradox, and Lent seems to be that.  Although the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter are more commercial, Lent has not become that way, and frankly, probably won’t.   A season devoted to giving things up? How can you capitalize on that*.  Therefore, I don’t have to listen to ads for Lent, buy special products for Lent, and start complaining about Lent decorations in late January.  More on Lent decorations in a minute.  However, Lent isn’t so foreign, at least in Catholic Massachusetts, that people don’t know what it is.  Nevertheless, few people care about Lent who aren’t fellow followers of Jesus, or practice any of the traditions.  Also, the significance lies both in personal change and devotion, as well as a communal acknowledgement of our collective necessity for self-discipline, change, and reliance on God.  Therefore, I find it public, but simultaneously exclusive; private, yet simultaneously communal.

Jesus praying in Gethsemene

Lent is a time for reflection.

This is a habit I’m diligently enfolding in my life with intent for behavioral change and spiritual growth.  It also means a few more lines to my check charts.  While reading in Mala Power’s 1985 book Follow the Year with Ethan I loved these lines,

The first day of Lent is named Ash Wednesday.  In nature many things have to wither and decay and turn to ash before new life can spring forth.  Early Christians held that before each person can experience the new life of Easter Time, he has to let some of his faults and bad habits die away and thus ‘turn to ash.’

Which faults and bad habits will I let die?

Lent is a time of being intentional. 

I acknowledge all that I have, and give up some of it for a season.  I’ll be giving up taking baths (but will not give up ‘bathing,’ don’t worry), an activity I love, and instead donating money to Charity:Water in remembrance that what I often take for granted, others don’t have at all.  I also want to kick some of my worst eating habits, such as eating after 8pm by re-framing it as “fasting after 8pm” and like many others, eliminate sweet things from my diet in favor of simpler food.

Another, harder change, one of the aforementioned bad habits and faults, is that I would like to stop be-laboring the point with my husband.  I’m not a nag, really, but when I latch onto a thing I wish he would change, it’s as though I’m attempting to prove the folly of his ways for a dissertation.  One hundred pages seems like just enough space to cover why leaving socks on the floor is the worst, most despicable, trait in the history of mankind. That is, until you get me going about leaving tupperware in his workbag.  I’d like to replace this negative pastime with a more positive one – like doing one special thing daily, such as actually taking my fair share of turns putting our son to bed.

Will I decorate for Lent?  Likely a few touchstones will make their way into our house.  A few years ago I created these items and wrote a blog post about it.  Perhaps adding a few pages to my altered book will help me spend time in reflection.  Searching for “folk art Jesus” and “Mixed Media Icons” have inspired me to try and fill what is currently a void.  If you haven’t heard about creating calendar nuns for Lent, you might enjoy this cute, brief, story and craft.  This website also details traditions for Ash Wednesday, many of which are family friendly, and other Lenten customs.

Will you celebrate Lent? Practice Reflection? Give up anything?


 

My brother-in-law has written several posts about Lent that I highly recommend reading.

Give Lent a Chance!

Is Lent Really 40 Days Long?

Bible Reading Plans for Lent

*My pet theory about MacDonalds filet-o-fish sandwich is that it’s designed for the 7 weeks Catholics can’t chow down on burgers.  I don’t want to know if that’s true.

Keeping the Sabbath?

SAbbath KeepingMichael Sleeth came to speak at Gordon College, my alma mater, and I was giddily excited to see him.  I really enjoyed his book Serve God, Save the Planet, and have recommended it to many people since then (here’s the blog post I wrote about it.)

The focus of his talk though, was his newer book “24/6: A prescription for a happier healthier life.”  This book details the benefits and reasons for engaging in a weekly Sabbath which includes practicing several things (eg; hospitality, reflection, study) as well as abstaining from many things (eg: extended travel, commerce, hyperconnectivity, work (however you define it.)).

I agree with him on all those points.  But… bottom line – I can’t incorporate a “full-on Sabbath” into my life right now.  There isn’t a single day of the week that I can set aside to practice ALL of the recommendations AT ONCE (for multiple boring reasons you don’t want to read about.)

BUT, I do work hard at incorporating each principle throughout my week, and my long standing interest in the issue of rest and leisure (stemming from, unsurprisingly, my time in New Zealand wwoofing) means that in the past, I HAVE practiced “full-on Sabbath.”

Here is my short list of Sabbath practices and what they look like during my week, as a contrast to what they can look like on a single day.

Time for Reflection: Knowing that I would be busy during the school year, I purposely scheduled a time to reflect on the week, lessons learned, and changes to make, as well as a time to puzzle out interesting philosophical questions that arose.  For me, this meant giving up one of my son’s naptimes as a time for work, and instead allocate it as a time for reflection.  Adding on one extra hour of study to two other study sessions fixed the time difference with minimal sacrifice.

– No Emails on Saturday – (self explanatory, right.)

Limited hours on social media sites all week.  I have found that I am better able to manage my time, motivation, and productivity when I set aside time to browse ridiculous buzzfeed articles, watch movie trailers, and read blogs rather than taking “breaks” from study by indulging in 10 minutes here and there.  Inevitably I am distracted for much longer than I want.  Furthermore, I NEVER (okay, very very rarely) multitask between spending time with my son and the internet.  I know that won’t work for many others, but I have found it to be extremely free-ing to simply limit my computer hours to those when he isn’t around, or isn’t awake.

– Time for friendships – I agree with Michael Sleeth (and others) that part of the Sabbath should be time spent practicing hospitality and strengthening friendships, and making new ones.  I am sure to set aside at least 1 – 2 nights/afternoons a week for time to actively connect with others.  Generally, I also try to authentically engage with others during these time on more than simply a surface level (ie: ‘tell me about your day’) – though, there is nothing wrong with that if not done exclusively!

Limited Commerce – The average American spends 45 minutes a day shopping, so I read in a recent newsource.  (Whether that’s online, or physical stores I’m not sure, I didn’t dig into the numbers, nor did I dig into whether it included services (like haircuts?) as well.)  That’s about 5 hours a week.  Since I make it my goal to spend less than 5 hours a month in stores, this one is waaay to easy for me to make a habit.  Of all of Sleeth’s suggestions, this one is the easiest for me to see the benefit of.

And you – what are your thoughts on the Sabbath? On rest?  On practicing these elements of life?  Is what I’m doing technically not Sabbath keeping?

Common Misconceptions about Simplicity

Simplicity

Simplicity can be quite complicated.

I realized this when a friend asked me for some of my thoughts about it during the Lenten season this past March.  (Simplicity is one of the outward Spiritual Disciplines practiced by Christians – but it can certainly apply to others as well.  However, in this conversation, I’m rooting discussion in my faith tradition.)  I started to write him a facebook message, but stopped after it stretched on for over twelve paragraphs. I can sum up what I think Simplicity is in one sentence –

Simplicity is a life stripped of excess; excess that separates us from what really mattersIn the context of Christianity, it’s easy to define what really matters – Loving God. Loving People.

But the practical business of partaking in this weeding process can be thorny.  First off, what is a weed?  Or rather, how do we recognize simplicity when we see it?

So that I better recognize what simplicity is – I started out by identifying 5 things simplicity isn’t.

Simplicity doesn’t mean Easy.

The first thing I determined was that simplicity doesn’t mean taking the easiest route.  It is always easier to do things the way they have always been done, to not question our decisions, our choices..  It is always simple to do what is most convenient – but that does not mean it will allow us to excise excess.  It is always simple to do what everyone else is doing, but does that mean we should all be doing it?

Simplicity is not always Cheap.

If simplicity ultimately involves loving other people then in good conscience it is difficult to participate in practices that enslave other people.  Because of the convoluted and global practices of trade these days – unfortunately much, but not all, of the time it is necessary to purchase something that has been made by slaves.  One of the biggest practices of simplicity involves the work of discovering how to avoid these things – and purchase items which reflect just labor.  This is usually more expensive than cheaper alternatives.

Simplicity involves Work.

One element of simplicity is investigating alternatives to current practices.  The mental work to decide to live simply is the first step, and hard enough.  Beyond that it’s hard to rethink habits, and to try new practices.  It’s always work to discover goods that are ethically made and sourced.  Furthermore, it is mental work to say no to upgrading your goods, and sometimes forgoing labor-saving devices in the practice of simplicity.  Relevant Magazine presents one of the biggest labor saving devices which is slowly eroding the practice of simplicity and silence.

Simplicity is not the same thing as Minimalism, or Sustainability.

Sometimes I get really into all the similarities between Simplicity and Sustainable living – forgoing upgraded technology, finding locally sourced vegetables, home cooked meals, thrifted clothing, one car lifestyle. I want to be able to say that these two things are the same – and there is some crossover – but they aren’t the same – because the Discipline of Simplicity is, again, rooted in faith.

The definition of sustainability is to be sure that the current generation doesn’t compromise the ability of future generations to live on the earth.  Sustainability’s goal is that people will have enough resources to continue indefinite life on this planet.  Simplicity is ultimately not about resources or goods at all, and Christian simplicity is not about this planet primarily – but about God, and People.

Simplicity is not just a state of mind.

I like what Richard Foster*, author of Freedom of Simplicity, writes –  “The Christian discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style.”  Although I can think about simplicity all day long, if I don’t change my habits it is nothing but talk, and nothing has been gained. Simplicity must be but into practice with small choices implemented one after the other.

What do you think about Simplicity – or have you even thought about it before?

*I am very indebted to Foster’s thoughts on Simplicity.  I cannot recommend Foster’s book highly enough.  His book was the first I read on the topic, and I think it is the best.

You might also like this post: About how to keep Holidays Simple by focusing on People.

Celebrating 25 Years of Christianity

25 Years of ChristianityA brief recount of the last 25 years of my Christian life.

My mother told me I accepted Jesus into my heart when I was 3.  I can’t remember this incipient moment of faith – so I’ll just imagine that it was marked by the sound of trumpets in heaven.  Since those first wobbling days of faith I’ve been able to participate in so much of what is part of the evangelical subculture of the last 25 years in America.  VBS (Vacation Bible School), Missionettes (the Pentecostal’s version of Girl Scouts), Youth Groups, Missions Trips, listening to DC Talk and other Christian bands, Purity Vows, Christian Summer camp, Church hopping, the Emergent movement, Christian college, having a faith crisis… and the list goes on.

My own relationship (with Jesus, with Christianity) has gone through at least 3 distinct eras – each had unique traits, and although there was no cut and dried transition.

Music and Memorization:

My first days of faith were spent in memorizing scripture, at home, at private school, and at church.  Sunday School mornings I did crafts such as glue rocks together to mimic the cairns placed by the Israelites on the floor of the Red Sea.  I sang praise choruses and serenaded the stars above my front porch with my own renditions of “Jesus loves me” and the hymn “There is power in the blood.”

Christian Identity, Group Participation

By the time I was a sophomore in high school I had attended five different churches, half a dozen youth group retreats, committed and recommitted to reading the Bible daily and been part of several awkward “See you at the Pole” attempts.  My historical understanding of Christianity was excellent (if I do say so myself).  As a teenager, I was constantly wrestling with questions of identity like What am I good at? How can I fit in? What makes me unique?  Because of this, my Christian life at this point involved a lot of clinging to verses about being loved and accepted.  I also needed the security of other Christians, such as youth groups and Bible study to bolster me.  I read the Bible on my own, and attended church, and had also begun to make the first few steps toward interpreting my own faith, rather than accepting others interpretations.

Knowledge and Interpretation.

Attending a Christian college was my first introduction to different modes of thinking about and wrestling with Christianity – my first introduction to ways of attempting to intersect the Bible and Jesus with literally everything there is in the world.  My first introduction to the quote “All truth is God’s truth” and the myriad of arguments for and against that statement, and al the qualifiers that go along with it. My first introductions to Christian feminists, Social Justice Advocates, Theistic Evolutionists and more.  There were years of questioning What is Truth?, and listening to others answer the same question.

Post college I began reading Christian books other than the Bible because I chose to, not because they had been assigned. A huge turning point for me, and Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” and “Simplicity,” the late Dallas Willard’s “Renovation of the Heart” and NT Wrights “Surprised by Hope” have all been fairly groundbreaking for me, increasing both my knowledge and love of God.  I also began thinking of my faith as belonging to a larger community – and also the necessity of participation.

My faith has informed my values and worldview – but at the same time my experiences and interests have needed to be interpreted in light of this faith as well.  These two things have worked together to make me the Christian that I am currently.

The next 25 years?

I am constantly reminded by other bloggers and books that life is a narrative and people re-frame our stories in light of our current self-conception and the zeitgeist of our era.  However, Christians are unique in that they have been grafted onto a centuries old story that starts with Creation.  Christian stories and narratives are part of something larger, much larger.

On a more practical level, sometimes we tell our stories in terms of our emotions, our friendships, our actions.  We’re the center of the story.  Sometimes we look to tell our story to see how certain themes run through them – I think in telling my story today, I was attempting to make sense of the unfolding cognitive realizations of Christianity.  The movement from simple songs to complex theological concepts.  In truth, if we call ourselves Christians, then we aren’t really the center of our story – Christ is.  As a friend of mine once said in regard to Christians: “Everyone should be able to write an autobiography where Jesus is the main character.”

How do you tell your life story? Your Christian journey?  What do you choose to emphasize each time?

Book Review: Serve God, Save the Planet

Serve God: Save the Planet – A Christians Call to Action.

by. J. Matthew Sleeth, MD.

Hey all!  I read this very enjoyable book and wanted to share it with you.  I think it’s particularly useful for Christians who are interested in Green stuff to have a book they can hand to their skeptical, or simply overwhelmed, friends as a useful and enjoyable handbook to say – Hey – I don’t agree with everything he writes, but this guy covers all the basics you might want to know about Creation Care.  This book is engaging, thoughtful, well written, and most of all – easy to read.  (Important when giving people books to read – unless you know they want a challenge.)

Check out this quick review – which I cut and copied from my Good Reads account.


I enjoyed reading this book as a Christian response to “going green.”  The author is a very engaging writing who used a lot of personal anecdotes, and well as, I think, sufficiently reminding U.S. Christians that they are rich simply by dint of being born in the US – doesn’t matter what quintile you fall into.  You can’t get out of this, so you’ve gotta engage it. 

I like how the author didn’t shirk from the “hard stuff” (eg: population control), and provided specific ways to reduce your carbon footprint etc.  I like how he related first world actions directly to our third worlds brothers and sisters – I think this is the most important point that Christian sustainability and green advocates need to make.  Putting aside the (unfortunately somewhat) more controversial topic of global warming for now, we absolutely must address “our” own selfishness that allows us to ignore others suffering and lack of most basic resources like water and food – in our own favor of exotic foods and belief that our money is ours to spend as we will on whatever will make our lives most convenient, enjoyable, and ‘cool.’

Overall I thought he presented a very balanced portrayal of all the aspects that make up “saving the planet,” Energy, Food, Materialism… etc.

All that being said: two things bothered me; the author is certainly no Biblical scholar and interprets several Bible passages in a literal way which many theologians agree should not be interpreted as such. I, of course, applaud his use of many verses and having a Scriptural base for his position on the environment, however I wish he hadn’t overstepped his own knowledge by wading into theological territory.

Going back to my introduction however, I do wish he had addressed his unique position in being a person who, no doubt, earns a fair bit more than most/all of his readers and has had that cushion of wealth to fall back upon as he was making lifestyle accommodations – even ones that ended up saving him more money.  Even if he had discussed more often the difference between people in his own income bracket, that would have been nice.  I’m not saying numbers, I’m just saying he never really acknowledged that yes, all U.S citizens are privileged but he (and family) are particularly privileged.

350.org – Do the Math – Boston’s Orpheum Theatre

Do the Math – We are greater than Fossil Fuels

I attended my first rally ever last night – The Do the Math tour with Bill McKibben.  Rumor has it it will be the biggest stop on the tour, filling up (most of) the Orpheum Theatre’s 2700 seats.

The bulk of the rally concerned a recap of the three numbers Bill McKibben talked about in his viral Rolling Stone piece this summer.  The numbers are 2, 565, and 27… well, some other large number.  Really, I think they are important, but the concepts behind them are better than actually remembering the numbers.

First, that if the global temperature rises about 2 degrees celcius (from what it is now) we’re in for a wildly bumpy ride of horrifying weather patterns that could kill millions and cost billions to clean up and recover from.

The second number (565) represents how much fossil fuel we can burn before we raise the global temperature two more degrees.  The third number, which is 5x the size of that second one, represents how much known oil that we have access too (hard or easy to get to) that fossil fuel companies are planning to burn. Already.

Dismal, right?

What’s the strategy that Do the Math puts out at this point – Divestment.

Stop investing in oil companies.  Get your college to stop investing.  Get your church to stop investing.  Your company.  Yourself.

That was the rally (in a nutshell.)

There are two important points I want to make about the rally – one is for do-gooders in general, and one is specifically for Christians.

Do Gooders – No matter how little you drive, how much you recycle, how few things you buy – if there are not structural changes to policy change, business operations, and even the mundane things like investment strategy there will be no progress in this issue.

This is the old “one person” vs. a “group of people” debate.  (I love having this debate – even more than I love having the nature vs. nurture one).  That is – is it more important to change hearts or is it most important to change policy (ie: group think)? –  Trick answer – both!  For me, I think it’s most important to change policy in your public life, and hearts in your private life.

Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the world – Archimedes

Christians. The thing that really gets me about this cause is that the people who will be most affected by climate change are the poorest, most vulnerable people in the world – that is, the people Jesus expressly said to care about.  They’re subsistence farmers, desert dwellers – people eking out a living.  I know that America is on a shaky recovery, expensive gas… etc etc etc.  I know, also, that Christians are some of the most skeptical people about this “climate change hoax” as they sometimes call it.  That’s nice.  Forget about that, lets talk about how big oil companies still screw over poor subsistance farmers even if there isn’t such a thing as climate change.  It’s a win win to protest this if we’re serious about taking care of poor people.

The effects here (in the US) of changing policy hurts first and foremost big business (who can afford it and will innovatively recover, I have no doubt) and secondly people who are poor, but not abysmally poor.  The deaths here will not be from starvation – they will be from freak storms.  That’s first why I back this movement.  (The second reason is of course, the biosphere changes, but I’m not going to go into that (right now).)

Like Bill McKibben said last night (paraphrased) – What we’re asking isn’t radical.  We’re just asking for a planet that works as good as it did when we were born.