Books Are Cool Again

Once upon a time people bought books in bookstores. I should know. My family owned a Christian bookstore chain. It was an idyllic, almost magical time when independent stores like ours and large bookstore chains like B. Dalton Bookseller, Walden, Borders, and Family Christian Stores—plus thousands of independent bookstores—dotted the landscape. Almost every town of any size had at least one. 

Today all those bookstore chains are gone, and the number of independent stores, both general and Christian, has shrunk dramatically. I could list many reasons, but there are just two that matter: the rise of Amazon and the appearance of e-books. Physical bookstores, even those owned by big corporations, just can’t compete with the selection, prices, and convenience of Amazon. And what can possibly match the instant delivery of a book to a device you’re holding in your hand?

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Twenty Years of Amazon

by Stan Jantz

It’s been 20 years since Amazon launched a website that changed the world. Okay, that may be overstating things a bit, but it most definitely changed my world. I was the happy owner of a large chain Christian retail stores, doing business the way booksellers had been doing business for centuries: stock a bunch of books, provide a nice environment in a good location with a friendly, knowledgeable staff, and you were pretty much guaranteed to be successful.

When Amazon.com was launched, I was curious, so I registered just to see how it worked. Remember, in 1995 there were no search engines, no Google, no ecommerce of any kind. Smart phones wouldn’t appear for another 12 years. There was just the Internet and email, and both were more novelties than necessities. So the notion of buying my favorite commodity through a computer fascinated me.

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Advice to Boomers: Think Like a Millennial

I had a conversation with my neighbor that got me thinking about the nature of work these days. My neighbor retired from his career as a radiology oncologist last year. He was just 62. As he has reminded me over the years, “I’m the doctor you don’t want to see.”

He certainly helped a lot of people extend their lives, but he also saw a lot of death. “All of those cases accumulate and finally they get to you,” he told me. Besides, he observed, if you do just one thing all your life, there finally comes a time when you say, “I don’t want to do that any more.” So he retired.

I suspect a lot of people in my Boomer generation are in this place right now. Those who can afford to retire have done so or are strongly thinking about it. Those who aren’t there financially wish they could be. I feel for those who are ready to retire but have no choice but to keep their nose to the grindstone. I have no words of wisdom for them.

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Do Capitalism and Christianity Fit Together? Let's Just Say It's Complicated

I like doing more than having.  Anti-consumerism just seems right to me. To be a lover of God and humanity more than a lover of things, to be a Christ follower who chooses abstracts like love and peace over crass commercial objects--this world view feels, to me, like a soft blanket I just discovered in my closet. On most days Henry David Thoreau feels legit. 

But my house is full of those same crass objects I claim to dislike. I bought a new messenger bag the other day when I already have two, and I was certain that the made-in-China wooden bird I bought for my kitchen table would make my house feel, you know, more bohemian. The capitalists who have custom-built their jacked-up mansions along the bluffs outside my city have also bankrolled dozens of charities and helped pay my salary as a public school teacher. In short, the paradoxes of capitalism are keeping me up at night, especially in an election year. To make things worse, most of the Christians I know don't see the paradoxes at all. 

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We Have to Occupy Something

What exactly is the purpose of Occupy Wall Street? Apart from a vague sense of it  being the liberal progressives’ counterpart to the Tea Party, and a coalition of unionists, anti-capitalists and mad-as-hell twentysomethings angry about the rising cost of Netflix and Facebook’s infuriating shape-shifting, it’s sort of unclear.

As a “movement,” Occupy Wall Street doesn’t reveal an organized grassroots agenda as much as it represents a general climate of anger, frustration, and antagonism against the “haves”–a suspiciously narrow (1%), heartless, no good very bad group whose entrepreneurial success and capitalistic success apparently oppress the 99% of us have-nots who are being unfairly kept from sharing in the 1 percent’s riches.

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The fulfillment of Revelation 18: Iraq's current pursuit of wealth

Two days ago in the Wall Street Journal an article was written titled “The Great Iraqi Oil Rush” under an add for the CEREWEEK 2011 energy conference.  The writer is Bhushan Bahree and is the HIS CERA Senior Director whose job is to focus on global oil markets, OPEC, and the Middle East. This was written as a heads up for what will be discussed at the energy conference in Houston, Texas this week.  I found it fascinating because the writer presents Iraq’s aggressive plan to produce and export their oil.  Why is this so interesting?  Because of what the book of Revelation says about Babylon in the time of tribulation.  I am specifically referring to Revelation chapter 18 where it speaks of Babylon, located in modern day Iraq, being a powerhouse in economic commerce.

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A new focus

Poverty can be hidden, it can be covered, it can be pushed to the outskirts so it's not visible to the business class of a city, but it is still there. The reality of such tragedies hit me this week, and of all places here, in the capital city, in a sprawling urban metropolis, poverty can be seen at its worst. Well, in my imagination at its worst, but in the reality of things, those starving people living not two blocks from my house are the middle class of Burkina. Out in the villages, three, four hundred kilometers from Ouaga is where desperation is screaming at you everywhere you go.
Blaise's Barber Shop!  
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The Network of Consumerism

On this day saturated in the praise, worship, and deification of consumerism, I thought it be good to reflect on an old film that gets at the heart of where a society is embedded. When California is at a 22% unemployment rate (that figured factored by looking at the state average of unemployed plus those whose unemployment benefits have run out, those who have worked multiple jobs who do not have unemployment insurance, those are considered “discouraged” workers, and those who are small business owners who do not “show up” on the economic map), a national average of at least 15% unemployment (same equation used above, but we’re not considering those who are also too sick and or incapable of working due to mental illness), and an economy that does not seem to be “restarting” as quick as the propagandized pundits would hope, you would think that people would think twice about buying that iPad or X-Box. Yet, people have been camping out for the last week just to get “50%” off of something that was marked up to begin with.

Moreover, much of society has become increasingly selfish and self-centered as it relates to actual sharing and the spreading of wealth. Folks see the “poor” as lazy, ineffectual and a scourge on societal resources; of course until they themselves end up there, which seems to be happening more frequently these days.

We seem to capitulate to the insanity of spending more while numbing ourselves with the material goods of our day; only to need the next hit once the “second edition” is revealed. Now, I make no bones about me being a consumer as well. However, over the last few years my family and I have had a chance to step back and look at some of our spending habits in contrast of our love for people. As I have stated prior, our society and American Dream has become less about “life” and more about the love of things and the use of people; rather than the other way around.

This clip below is from the 1976 film Network. In an almost prophetic voice, the clip illustrates where our culture has gotten in relation to consumerism, materialism, and the dis-enlightenment of the American mind. As Neal Postman has articulated eloquently we as a society have “Amused ourselves to death.”

Thus, as we sit back and reflect on food, family, and friends, let us also begin to peer deeper into the habits of our American mind in relation to community and those who “have not.”

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Are You a Greedy Capitalist?

I’m at the Acton Institute and I’m thinking about greed.  Greed is the essence of capitalism, right?  Michael Douglas captured this sentiment as corporate villain, Gordon Gekko, in the 1987 movie Wall Street

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed – for lack of a better word – is good.  Greed is right.  Greed works.  Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.  Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

Filmmaker Michael Moore echoes this attitude in his movie Capitalism:  A Love Story, calling the free market system “legalized greed.”  Well, if Hollywood is correct, then a free market economy isn’t an option for the Christian.  Jesus is clear on the matter:  “"Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."  Greed is immoral.  But is capitalism based on greed?  No, and if you think so, you’ve bought into the myth.

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Entrepreneurialism and God's Mission

There comes a day when we sit back and ask ourselves what we are going to do with our lives. In a sense, I’m still asking myself that question. But many years ago, while studying Spanish as a university student in Paraguay, I felt a nudge, a call if you will, to spend time in cross-cultural contexts advancing the gospel.

At the time, I had no idea what that entailed. The only role models I had to look to were the missionaries I had met and gotten to know in Paraguay. They were either medical doctors or preachers. As a business student, it seemed I would have to leave behind my business interests and develop a new set of skills.

Thankfully, I’ve always been good with language and have enjoyed speaking and teaching so over the years, that became the primary focus of my ministry. But a few years into my overseas ministry, I began to ask myself some new questions about why couldn’t one be a businessperson and a kingdom builder at the same time?

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