Archive from December, 2013
Dec 2, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Amazon Drone and our culture of faster, mindless and more, more, more

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Dear Pope Francis,

A couple of things have coalesced into today’s blog post. As I wrote yesterday, I’m focusing on waiting this Advent. Waiting and noticing. I think walking with my nephew last week brought me back to just how much I miss during my revved up days. They can become pretty mindless if I’m not careful.

I think it’s an inherent risk in our culture. We’re bombarded with messages to ignore what’s really going on and just buy more stuff. We’ve just come through one of the biggest retail sales periods of the year — Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Not exactly a great kick-off to a time of waiting and noticing. But it happens because there’s money to be made when we’re mindless and consuming.

Which is why I think the story that had everyone talking today is so emblematic of our culture. Last night, “60 Minutes” aired a piece on Jeff Bezos and his company Amazon. I didn’t watch, but have heard enough about the story to piece things together. It apparently focused on Amazon’s efficiency and amazing ability to get stuff to the people who want it. During the piece, Bezos announced that Amazon was testing robotic drones to deliver packages to people within 30 minutes. That set off quite a stir. It was all you read about on social media today.

Jeff Bezos is a master at selling things to us. When he founded Amazon, people mocked the concept. Buy books online? Really? When there’s all those local bookstores? We all know how that has turned out. Amazon is now a huge seller of books — and many, many other things. It’s become one of the largest, if not the largest, retailers in the world. You have to hand it to Bezos. He understands people and how to sell to them.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m an Amazon user. I have been since its inception. I love the convenience and choice. I now read most everything on my Amazon Kindle. I’ve bought in. I don’t like to admit it, but I have. I also have to confess that if Amazon Droid becomes available in my area, I’d give it a whirl. The novelty factor alone would drive me to try it at least once. I’m only human.

But, that’s just it. We humans have put so much energy, creativity and resources into being able to have exactly what we want delivered to us as quickly as possible, that it’s staggering. And I can’t help but wonder, as I ponder this, if we couldn’t solve many of our global problems if we directed even a quarter of that energy, creativity, and resources into solving them.

Then again, there’s probably not a lot of money to be made in ending poverty, hunger, or ecological destruction. In fact, the opposite is likely true.

But maybe, out there, is a Jeff Bezos type  — or a few of them — with the qualities and drive to make real change.

I’d love to see that — even more than an Amazon Drone dropping a package on my porch.

Your friend,

Kevin

P.S. I’m not sure if Mike Wallace were around that he’d have sanctioned what amounted to an ad for Amazon on “60 Minutes”. From what I’ve heard, I don’t think the piece was at all critical of Amazon, or some of its practices, particularly with respect to its workers. Again, I’m an Amazon customer, so I can’t throw stones here, too much. But things like this trouble me.

Dec 1, 2013 - Liturgical Seasons    2 Comments

Appreciating Advent

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Dear Pope Francis,

I’ve got another confession to make.

I’ve never liked Advent.

Earth-shattering, right? I know. I’m comfortably into my adult years, was born and raised Catholic, and have tried to flow with the liturgical calendar as much as I can. But I still have never liked Advent.

Let’s face it, Advent is kind of the ugly duckling of the liturgical seasons. It’s much less solemn than Lent, and not as joyful as Easter or Pentecost. Advent barely distinguishes itself from Ordinary Time, and is dazzlingly overshadowed by Christmas.

Growing up, Advent was always something to be “gotten through.” Early fall was pretty packed, what with school starting, Thanksgiving, and Halloween. After those rushed by you’d be spat out, panting, into November. For us Canadians there was Remembrance Day. Americans had their Thanksgiving. And then, nothing but a yawning gap of several weeks of waiting. There might be a school Christmas concert or pageant to distract you, but most of December — and Advent — seemed to drag by at the slowest speed possible. It probably didn’t help that, according to my mom, I didn’t sleep between Halloween and Christmas. I don’t wait well.

Things haven’t really changed much since I’ve become an adult, though there might be different reasons why I haven’t been a fan of Advent. Even though I haven’t been in school for *cough* years, I’m still wired to get revved up come September. I start new projects, buckle down on old ones, and generally power through the early fall. Then November comes and the light starts to fade, it gets cold, and my go-getting attitude becomes more like “yeah, I’ll get to that, after a nap.” By December all my sap of inspiration has fled with the daylight, and I hunker down and dream of spring. Winter, particularly December through February, is a motivational desert for me. I have one speed, and it’s a slow, slow slog. This is probably the reason why I’ve never gone up much enthusiasm for Avent as an adult, either. Typically, I don’t have a whole lot of HOOORAHHH going spare this time of year.

That might change this year, though, and it’s thanks to my nephew.

I went to visit him last week. I had a couple of days off and thought I’d spend a bit of time with him. He’s six, and in grade one. I wanted to get a feel for what his days are like, so I volunteered to walk him to and from school for a few days. If you haven’t walked with a child lately, I recommend it. You’ll see the world in a way you haven’t for a long, long time. You learn all about what makes a good tree for a treehouse and what you find when you pry open a maple tree seed pod (fluff, water, and a flat green seed).

You can even learn about Advent.

We were on our way to school when my nephew remembered that the first Sunday of Advent was coming up. He was excited to get out the Advent wreath he made in Kindergarten last year (he goes to a Catholic school). I’d seen it last year. It’s an ingenious thing, with four paper tubes for candles stuffed with little tissue paper “flames” to be pulled out when it was their turn to be lit.

I’ve discovered that getting information out of little kids can be like putting a shredded document back together, but a few well-timed questions can sometimes give you insights into what’s going on in their little heads. I decided to see what my nephew’s understanding of Advent was.

“What is Advent?” I asked him.

“It’s about waiting,” he said.

“Waiting for what?” I asked.

(At this point he shot me a look like I was a three-year-old who couldn’t tie my shoes.)

“Waiting for Jesus,” he said.

“Ah,” I said. So what do you do during Advent?”

“You wait. You go to Church. That’s basically it,” he said. And then he began pointing out good treehouse trees again.

So, Advent. It’s time of waiting. Just waiting. Not a lot of hoopla required. Doesn’t even take a lot of energy. Just an intention and attitude of waiting.

I think I can manage that.

Your friend,

Kevin

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