Reflection on a Pack of Gum

If you steal a pack of gum from a supermarket, who are you stealing that gum from?

Is it the supermarket? Is it the gum company? Is it the packaging company? Is it the farmers who harvested the sugar for the gum?

I don’t know. I don’t know that it matters.

A lot of people point to the Ten Commandments as if they are easy to understand, but even the easy ones are difficult to understand.

Do not steal.

That seems pretty easy, but when the Israelites received that commandment, there wasn’t a real monetary system. When an Israelite stole something from his neighbor, he was stealing something that his neighbor needed to survive – food, cattle, tools. In America, that very rarely holds true.

When a gang member peddles stolen cars, who is he hurting? He is the victim. His community is the victim. The person he sells the car to is the victim, not Ford or Hyundai or Honda.

Stealing now is not a sign of criminality, a sign of immorality, a sign of godlessness. It is a sign of a broken system. It’s a symptom. We need more curative treatments and less band-aids.

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Selfishness is Boring

From time to time, I get tired of writing.

I think I stopped writing in February because I got it in my mind that I was going to write a book, but I never found time to write a book and so for a month I just haven’t written.

I was going to write a book about all of the horrible things I do because I thought that if someone wrote a book like that, it could change the world. (I was on an honesty kick. It was inspired by some of my friends’ kicks which include but are not limited to: sincerity, innocence, desire, rationality. All of my friends have kicks.)

I have a friend who believes that we are all selfish. For a long time, I resisted that. I thought that was a tragic idea.

I’m pretty sure she is right, though. And I don’t know that it’s all that tragic anymore. Most of the time, being selfish helps me make decisions. When deciding what I want to have for dinner, for instance, it is easier to simply consider my own desires rather than how my business going to a certain establishment is going to affect their monthly profits. But when I interact with other people on a personal level, that’s when selfishness starts to be a problem. Unfortunately for me, interacting with people is approximately 99% of life.

I hate it when people play favorites. But I play favorites, too. I hate when I can see how funding is affecting an organization, but if I ran an organization and another organization gave me money, I have to say that I would act favorably towards my funders.

Selfishness is not really that big of a deal. People wanting power is not something that is worth talking about. The real issue is when we let the conversations about selfishness and power and greed consume us – when we spend all day pointing fingers at other people.

Jesus once said:

How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:42)

A lot of people think this means that after we judge ourselves, that we can judge other people. Some people think this means that there is such a thing as moral high ground.

There isn’t. We all always have the plank in our eye. That’s the issue.

I think real change comes when people stop talking about selfishness and power and greed and start talking about how we can love people where they are. I know that sounds hokey, but I don’t know how else to say it.

SOPA and The Difference Between Boycotting and Stealing

Readers of this blog know that I don’t write a lot about politics. I think my politics category has less than five posts. Friends of mine will know that I’m bit of an enthusiast, though. I’m not a straight up fanatic, but I love talking politics with more politically-minded friends.

Yesterday, I was talking with some friends about SOPA because of the whole Wikipedia blackout thing. SOPA is an interesting bill. It was introduced in order to crack down on piracy – the illegal downloading of copyrighted material online. That’s a problem. But SOPA gives a lot of power to the government to censor sites, and that strikes a chord with some people. And not a minor one, a major chord.

I don’t know enough about SOPA to have an intelligent opinion on it. But I do know enough about piracy to have an intelligent opinion on it. I’m going to be honest. Not everything I do on the internet is entirely legal, but I try to pay for my music and my streaming when I can. But in the end, I think piracy is wrong. At least legally. Piracy is no different from copying an entire book for yourself. What is important about the book is not the physical shell it’s in; it’s the intellectual property.

People who pirate have a couple of arguments.  First, they argue that the people they pirate from are much wealthier than pirates are. True. But so are the people who own IKEA, and it would be stealing to take a chair from there. I don’t know if this is much of an argument.

Second, they argue that pirating is a way of pressuring record companies and big corporations to be fairer to the artists. I was walking listening to an album that someone had let me copy (ironic, right?) when it hit me. This argument sounds legitimate, but it’s not. In no other realm do we allow this kind of behavior. If we dislike something a corporation is doing, we have a right to disagree and there are actions we can take to pressure them. Boycotting is one of those actions. Stealing is not. If we are so fed up with the music/television/movie industry, why don’t we boycott them, listening to only independently produced artists instead or only watching independently made films? It’s because our moral reasoning is really just justification for our actions. We want to be able to watch movies or listen to music for free. So we say we are doing it in reaction to the big bad corporations. Boycotting would do the same thing. And it wouldn’t be stealing.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

In fifth grade, my class held a contest to see who could read the most books. I had the credentials to win this contest. In the third grade, I had set the record for most books read over the year. It was somewhere in the sixties. And some of those books had been long. The Hobbit was on that list. Every summer, I participated in the library’s reading contest. It took me a week or two to get to the t-shirt reward for 1,000 pages read. I was not a reader to be messed with. It’s what I did.

That’s why it hurt so much when I lost the fifth grade contest.

See, there’s another lie that the world tells us. It’s that if you put in the work, if you do the right thing, and if you are a good person, then good tings happen. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. 

I was listening to a podcast from Shane Hipps. He was talking about all of these righteous people that don’t get to experience the fruits of their righteousness. One of the stories was about Dirk Willems, a sixteenth century Dutch Baptist. Dirk Willems was being chased by a magistrate who wanted to execute him, and Dirk went across a thinly iced river. Dirk made it across, but the magistrate wasn’t so lucky. Dirk, feeling compelled to turn the other cheek, went back and saved the magistrate. The magistrate then captured him and executed him. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people.

Dirk Willems saving a magistrate and condemning himself

We are trained to believe that we should do good things because they lead to good rewards, but sometimes they don’t. We should do good things because they are good. I may not have won my fifth grade reading contest, but I did read a bunch of books for it, and that was good because it was good.

1000 Ways to Be a Horrible Person

There’s a show on Spike called 1000 Ways to Die where they showcase a bunch of really strange ways people have died. The entertainment value is practically nonexistent. And the production and acting are even worse than that of those bad Lifetime shows. Still, the show is a bit like a bad train wreck: when it’s on, I feel compelled to watch it for a while.

To make it so that you don’t feel bad about watching the show, the writers for the show characterize every single dying character as morally reprehensible, as if we should be happy about the death.

Death is a silly thing to be happy about. And the show uses no witnesses so it’s impossible to get a fair indication of a person’s moral fortitude.

All of this usually gives me a very sick feeling.

The worst part, though, is we do this all the time in the real world. We try to explain bad things happening to people as having to do something with their character. It doesn’t. Us thinking that way has to do with our character.