Friday, November 20, 2009

Used Cars and Junk Food ...

Hey buddy, wanna buy some snake oil for what ails ya? In the late 1800’s a new miracle cure was “discovered” in the form of snake oil. Its actual ingredients were mostly a toxic blend of chemicals with the exception of the large amount of opiates in the mix. The liquid heroine did as promised in so much as it made you forget whatever symptoms you were suffering from for a while. Then it gave you something not printed in the fine print (lawyers had not invented fine print yet), it gave you worse problems than you had before. I sometimes wonder why our society will accept second rate goods that satisfy the short term needs, at the entire expense of the long term.

Its like the prayer you hear so often … “Lord, give me patience, NOW!!!!” We want everything we want, and we want it now. But like the hard lesson to learn - “there is no free lunch”; we realize there is a cost to everything we want. But we prefer to pay our costs on credit rather than in cash. Credit hurts less, at least until the bill comes in. Then when in panic from what we have spent, we remember our get-out-of-jail-free-card – the minimum monthly payment – a mere fraction of what we owe (by my calculations that fraction would be multiplied over 10 years to pay the debt). Give me now, pay you later; and then it mystifies us as a nation when our national debt gets out of hand.

What is it about instant gratification that so entangles us? This idea permeates our culture. You can find it everywhere from how we shop, to how we eat, to how we travel to our needed destinations. Some call it convenience, others call it how a society advances, I just call it – “the gimmee’s”. With the notion of “instant”, we sacrifice most of the things that lend actual value to something. Think about it. How good are instant friends? How long lasting are instant romances? How well constructed are homes made instantly? I’ll give you instant messaging, and instant coffee; but my point is the same – cutting down the time it takes to build something – has an almost proportionate adverse affect on the quality of that something.

Allow me to demonstrate my premise. If I could offer you a dining experience at the nations favorite McDonald’s for some “grade A, prime USDA, beef”; or offer you the same worded menu from a much lesser known, smaller chain of restaurants called “The Palm” located in most major cities, catering to a gourmet steak crowd. Where would you prefer to dine? Depends on the time you have perhaps? Depends on how you are dressed perhaps? Can’t say money, cause it is my treat. If you have a little more time, and are not still dressed in your pajamas, The Palm offers a substantially better meal.

And here is the kicker; it is not just that you can hardly compare the quality of the taste of the food between the two restaurants. It is that the quality of the nutritional value is extraordinarily better at The Palm, than at McDonalds. A film-maker made a documentary called “Supersize Me” where he ate nothing but McDonalds food, supersized whenever offered by the employee behind the counter for 30 days. He nearly died. You could not only eat at the Palm for 30 days, if you balanced your selections, and insured you ate vegetables as well as the meats there, you could probably improve your overall state of health after eating nothing but their menu for 30 days. Their selection includes the finest foods from many food groups, and is prepared very well.

But in fairness, you just can’t make food that good in less than 5 minutes. You can’t have it sitting in a warmer waiting to be eaten for an hour and achieve the same quality control. The only way to consistently deliver food fast and cheap is to streamline the menu, and the cooking process, until what is left, looks just like McDonalds. It takes time to properly age, cut, and barbeque over an open flame, a filet mignon steak. A frozen pre-prepared burger patty made of mysterious ingredients purported to be pure beef, cooked in a friar and microwave is done in seconds. Arguably they will both kill you over time if that is all you eat, but you can see how the effects of time and effort make a difference in the end product of what you consume.

But our learned behavior of instant gratification goes well beyond how we eat and where we dine, it infects how we shop and what we buy. The cardinal sin for a vendor is to be out of stock on an item. This is the primary driving condition to move your customer to another vendor. Even a higher price will not drive customers away as quickly as being out of stock. People will pay more, if they can still get it now. If they have to wait, they are likely to look elsewhere. So once the shelves are properly stocked, the attention moves to the consumer. Everything is ready to be taken home now, but the consumer may not have the funds to cover ALL the items they have been trained to want by a barrage of media advertising targeting their demographics. This is why credit was invented. People get to buy, stores make money, banks make a fortune, the rich get richer, they pay for more advertising, and the cycle repeats over and over and over again.

OK fine instant gratification is part of our society or culture; surely it is not a part of our religion is it? Yup. We look at God as “instant Santa”. We look to prayer for “instant healing”. We like our religious ceremonies to start on time and more importantly to finish on time so we can get to lunch as our hunger arises. Even in our religion we carry over our attitudes of give it to me now. Why can’t I be perfect now? Why can’t God come now? Why isn’t my marriage or my family perfect already? The idea of long-suffering is about as foreign to us as is the Quran to a Christian. Indeed we know nothing of “long-suffering”, our entire society and governmental structures are designed to keep us from knowing anything about the word.

But how long did the world suffer in the agony of extreme evil before the flood washed it away the first time? How long did Abraham wait for his promised son and promised land? How long did Israel toil in slavery waiting for a deliverer before Moses arrived in the court of Pharaoh? How long did we await the Messiah the first time? And since then, how long? Nothing of extraordinary value comes in an instant; it comes in time frames sometimes beyond our boundaries of mortality. And during all this time of waiting, it is our Lord who suffers the most. It is He who is most pure who misses the companionship of His children who refuse to come home. It is His heart that breaks waiting for us to discover what He longs to offer us – an real and immediate escape from the pain that infects our lives.

But even accepting His gift takes us time to get used to. It too is a process of change, not the work of an instant as yet. Our humanity is simply not equipped to deal with it all at once. It is like taking a starving African child from his desert home where he has not eaten in weeks and then feeding him a feast all at once – it would kill him. He must eat slowly, with small quantities at first, until his digestive system has time to repair and rebuild. It takes time to enter a condition of starvation; it takes time to exit it. Were we to see all the evil that infects our lives at one time, the revelation would kill us. It would literally break our diseased hearts. This is why Moses could not look on the face of God. In that glance Moses would see purity and by definition would reveal in himself the evil that still plagued his life and soul. Evil cannot stand in the presence of God and so Moses would have fallen. It was enough to see the back of God.

It is the work of the evil one, to convince us to take less than we deserve. He packages it well. He is a master marketer. He makes the counterfeits sound better than their originals, but they are always lacking. Who would rather have a used Ford, when they could own a new Mercedes? Who would rather choose a Big Mac over a Filet Mignon? Who would rather have a dresser from Rooms to Go, or a hand carved Italian Armoire with designs from an artist of the Renaissance? It is not about finer things as much as it is about how we have been trained to want less than what God offers. We are trained to take the quick, the fast, and the cheap. How disappointing to a God who would create nothing less than perfection for us to occupy for eternity.

Next time you are confronted with the temptations to accept a cheap satanic counterfeit for something God would have you really enjoy, why not go for the gold standard. Marriage, unity, intimacy, and vulnerability beat any kind of cheap sexual thrill that destroys relationships and ruins a body before it has a chance to experience what divinity intended. Gourmet foods of a balanced nature are far better for mind and body, than the fast crap you can pick up from an open car window. Mild repetitive exercise is so much better than perpetual couch potato. Waiting for an item you cannot now afford, keeps your precious cash in the bank, and may teach you to prioritize your wants, your needs, and perhaps forego what is merely learned marketing behavior …

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