Black Friday – But Not Void

As I stepped out into the brisk 20* F weather here in Chicago this morning on my way to the train station (where I am currently sitting), I realized how thankful I truly am. Yesterday I was able to have Thanksgiving dinner on the floor of my brother’s unfurnished apartment. I enjoyed the fellowship with his roommate’s family from St. Louis who so generously cooked our meal and cried with me a bit when the Dallas Cowboys missed a chance at overtime by 5 feet. I am very thankful for the limited number of laughs and jokes we are able to share each year with our neighbors here in the U.S. – A sense of closeness exists on Thanksgiving that I wish existed in daily business – Brotherhood at the grocery store when guy’s attempt to pickup last minute items for the big meal. Such a wonderful day – quickly swallowed whole by the “dark day” to follow.

Today is appropriately dubbed “Black Friday” here in the U.S. – Not “Good Friday” or “Crowded Public Places Friday”, but “Black Friday”. Today an average of around $375 per person is spent on holiday gifts for friends and family.

The reality of consumerism that takes place in American culture today begins to sink in as I take the train from the Chicago suburb of Palatine to downtown Chicago – an hour long ride stopping to pickup/drop off passengers of all ages. We pass through about 10 crowded Chicago suburbs with an average population of 75,000+ in each suburb. This means that in less than 30 miles of transit, I am in the presence of $281,250,000 that could potentially be spent today and this makes me think, “I wonder where all the profits are going?” $5,000 can build a new water well in a village where people don’t have the luxury of the most essential element to health. (CharityWater.org). One well can provide water for 250 people. This means that if, even for one day, the total population of this 30 mile trek of Chicago suburbs put our consumer-driven pockets together we could provide healthy water to over 14,000,000 people.

Photo by Scott Harrison (@scottharrison)

Don’t worry, I am not going to start ranting about how greedy and needy all of rich America seems to be around the holidays – Nope, I just want to point you in a direction that can make a difference in the way you purchase your gifts this holiday season.

What if we bought exactly what we wanted, but made a deal with ourselves that we would only do so if the company’s agreed to give back to those who really need it (rather than want it)?

Want to get a trendy pair of shoes? What about art or jewelry? Do something unique this year – Check out more here.

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The Outcasts – Why I Believe

He is born to teenage peasants under questionable circumstances. His mother gets pregnant before marriage. He is born among the dung and straw of a stable. He’s placed in a feeding trough. His brothers and sisters think he’s crazy and after the first sermon in his home town, the people he grew up with form a mob and try to kill him.

So who does he identify with? – The Outcasts

The people of the land who aren’t ‘good enough’, clean enough, wealthy enough, or pure enough to be part of the establishment.  He’s invited to dine with the elite and the rich, which he does numerous times (always using them to make an example), but he also eats with the lowest of the low and he really enjoys it.  He enjoys them.  He touches people with infectious skin diseases, he lets questionable women touch him, he lays his hands on dead bodies and he engages in conversation with promiscuous women alone in the middle of the day.  His entire life is about the stripping away of power and control.  Jesus always chooses the path of love, not power.  Inclusion, not exclusion.  Connection and solidarity rather than rank and hierarchy.  Touch rather than distance.  Compassion rather than control.

He comes on a donkey, not a horse.  Weeping and broken, not proud and triumphant… He teaches about a conflict that he sees as inevitable – A conflict between love and controlling power.

His vulnerability is with purpose; there is a weakness that is actually strength and there is a strength that is actually weakness.

This is the reason I choose to follow the example of Christ and not the example of the American Christian church.

influenced by R. Bell

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Alone on a crowded street

As I walked the sidewalks of Dallas heading into the arena, I realized something; we have been given a set of platinum level tickets to this game.  This will be nice, I haven’t had tickets on the platinum level since the ’08 season. These tickets are not the closest-to-the-action seats, but overall I would say they make for the best luxury experience at the AA Center.

I neared the arena in an organized line of fellow Mavs fans, I noticed the business man on the sidewalk, directly in our path.  It reminded me of being a child and finding a long line of fire ants, taking a twig and placing it in their path… Any of you who grew up doing this know – the ants scatter, completely shocked that their perfectly structured food line had been interrupted – but within a matter of time, their line reforms, confident as ever to create the most efficient route around the object that once completely rocked their world. I thought to myself, “this is not an ordinary businessman that these streets tolerate.  This man is not hustling tickets outside the arena for some extra money. This guy is really stirring up some ants.

As we approached, I looked him in the eye as he asked for a few spare cents.  I continued into the stadium, the luxury, the comfort and as a good fire ant always does, I took the same route back to my car, this time with a much more congested (and drunken) crowd.

There he was, the business man with his hands out and a tag line “spare cents for food” saying it so fast it was almost incomprehensible, making sure the maximum number of ears would hear as any good marketer would. I passed by and heard the fans behind me heckle him saying, “Man, I wish I could do that.  I wish I could just stand around and get free money” and then muttered a few remarks regarding socialism and blah blah blah.

A million thoughts came rushing to my mind – This business man is working harder than I will ever work.  This man is working late hours.  This man is working to eat.  This man is hurting in ways I cannot know.  This man is almost invisible.  This guy is alone on a crowded street.  This boy is someone’s son.  This soul is in a battle – just like mine and just like yours.

This man is a Christian’s business.

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Social Networking Frontier

About a year ago I found myself sitting in a college classroom, a student at the time, tweeting about my passions.  Within months I had thousands of followers and one of my professors asked me, “Josh, would you mind telling the class how to use twitter”.  This actually led me to ‘teach’ several college classes about social network marketing and how to use social networking tools for business growth and customer/volunteer involvement all while I was still a student!

Later in the semester, I began to put these ‘theories’ to the test.  I started a 100% online non-profit organization — www.ragamuffinLife.org : Twitter @ragamuffinLife — it served no other purpose except to plug volunteers into the very needy refugee and homeless communities around the U.S.  and that is exactly what happened.  Within a few weeks, I was contacted by numerous interested volunteers and simply connected them to non-profit organizations in their local areas that I knew were working with these groups.  I used the power of the internet and social networking to create a very useful organization.  This organization was formed without a business plan, without a set structure, without membership registration, without a budget and it continues to grow.  I am contacted by several potential volunteers each week asking “how can I help”, “where can I get involved in my area”.  This social networking non-profit has served thousands of interested friends in a matter of months.  I am telling you, with the right mindset and understanding of social networking, your non-profit organization can thrive and grow as this social media (non)fad expands.

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