An Ode to Lunch at the Carenderia

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Blessed be the invisible hand of the market

that prodded the opening of a dozen eateries

over the course of just a year: trusty old supply

meeting fresh demand like a May-December affair.

Blessed be the shopkeepers and their workers

fielding orders feverishly with no proper workflow

to speak of, just the beautiful mess of paying attention.

Blessed be the elderly couple selling diced turnip and

papaya, retirement far from their minds; and the

peanut vendor glad to be overwhelmed in the

noontime sun by a small mob, with their one-word

conversations of “Sweet,” “Salty,” and “Spicy.”

Blessed be the narrow, wet sidewalk made narrower

by all this pop-up commerce, and blessed the

city administrators—maybe customers themselves—

who have not yet thought to demolish the whole thing.

Blessed be the regularized woman on the way to

remitting cash back home; blessed especially the old

beggar and his special child, patient in their spot and

grateful with every gift; and the workmates jostling

and jesting, passing up the mall not only for something

cheaper and healthier but also to be nourished

by an unsanitized view of the different walks of life.

 

(3/27/18 )

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Missing out on the best stories

When I pause to consider all the great award-winning movies, all those glowing recommendations from friends or Netflix, and all those copies that I in fact hoarded in my hard drive but never have the time to watch, I realize it’s still about the now-proverbial modern-day fear of missing out. In the vastness of our world and in the expanse of recorded history, what if I never get to hear the most remarkable and most important of stories? What if I never come across the books that would have made the biggest impact on me?
I realize this is an existential and maybe even theological question. Because if there is such an entity as an all-knowing, sentient Goodness, then one thing we need not fear is that the best stories go untold. Instead we can expect that the best story will not only be told but also retold and memorialized. And who knows, in a twist that answers our deepest hunger for meaning, we may even be playing a part in it.

Livelihood vs. occupation

When you fill up forms these days, there is usually a field for “occupation.” But if you reach far enough in your memory to grade school, you will remember another word–livelihood–that seems to evoke a more rural meaning (as in “The chief means of livelihood among early Filipinos were fishing and farming”). Occupation sounds more urbane. Cooler. But when you consider their root words, guess which one implies the idea of thriving and flourishing, and which one implies merely something to fill time with, to keep one’s hands busy until retirement?

I love the following lines from Nancy Nordenson on livelihood:

“Far from my high school daydreams about the future, I am on a search for daily meaning as well as for daily bread, for living rather than dying. I want to cast my net on the side of astonishment…. I want to find God at work in me and through me. I want livelihood.
Livelihood: the word gathers up and bundles together the simultaneous longings for meaning, satisfaction, and provision. In the fullest sense of the word, livelihood means the way of one’s life; it means the sustenance to make that way possible; it means both body and soul are fully alive thanks to what has been earned or received by grace. On one level we make our livelihood; on another level we keep our eyes open and find it. –Nancy J. Nordenson

Maximizing shareholder value and considering the lilies

It is easy to deplore market capitalism and “modern city life” and the many ways they depersonalize people, but most of us who are well-to-do enough to bother about this concern actually live in the thick of them. (Or maybe it’s just that the other less urban voices are not as loud.) We have indoor plumbing, electricity, and grocery stores; we take for granted such conveniences as taxis, toothbrushes, and Internet connection; and we choose jobs based on what we believe are the best that employers can offer. And often the employers, incidentally, are multinationals.

Our condition refuses easy dismissal. We have to pay more attention to this than just the occasional comment about idealism as being something for the young.

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We may decry the obsession over the next best thing in gadgets and technology, but that is simply an effect of the all-too-familiar drive, year on year, to make products and services better, faster, more efficient in the companies where you and I work. As Norman Lear stated, “Maximizing shareholder value is the central disease of our time.” And even if your job is not in a multinational, it’s likely that the fruit of your labor is still part of this whole system.

In what ways should we engage in our culture? Just how should ordinary folks like us “cultivate the talents entrusted to them” while being “in the world but not of it”? How do we “render unto Cesar” without forgetting to “consider the lilies”? There must be some way to have better balance. Or to at least get a better perspective.

A Kingdom for Children

“In a world where significance and identity are earned by what we do, by what we have accomplished, by what we own, by what we earn, and where Christmas is about the lines we fought, the lists we finished, the gifts we were able to secure, the kingdom of God arrives scandalously, jarringly–even offensively–into our captive and content lives. In this kingdom, a person’s value begins before she had said or done the right things, before he had accumulated the right lifestyle, or even made the right lists. In this kingdom, God not only uses children in the story of salvation, not only calls us to embrace the kingdom as little children, but so the very God of creation steps into the world as a child.”–Jill Carattini

Wish Fulfillment, or Eternity Written in Our Hearts

“A wish may lead to false beliefs, granted. But what does the existence of the wish suggest? At one time I was much impressed by [the] line “Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.” But surely tho’ it doesn’t prove that one particular man will get food, it does prove that there is such a thing as food! I.e., if we were a species that didn’t normally eat, weren’t designed to eat, would we feel hungry? You say the materialist universe is “ugly.” I wonder how you discovered that! If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it you don’t feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time . . . In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something about us that is not temporal.” –C. S. Lewis

The religion of the broken heart

“Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties. Very different is the Christian ideal. Paganism is optimistic with regard to unaided human nature, whereas Christianity is the religion of the broken heart.” –J. Gresham Machen