Reading Together, a Novel Priority

It seems that anything is possible over coffee in a quiet cafe.

Even studying a biography 600+ pages long by three mothers whose combined progeny number fourteen.  Fourteen souls to care for, wash for, cook for, run about for, and yet, three mothers laid aside a portion of time, of energy, of brain, to read and discuss together.

When you’re in the thick of it, in the swirl of parenting young children, a coffee with adults is luxurious.  Add to it conversations of depth, on history, theology, politics, and it becomes downright heavenly.

We are reading Eric Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who plotted to assassinate Hitler, eventually dying in a concentration camp.  There is so much to respond to, so much to think over, and it’s a true gift to do so with friends.

Most of my day is spent in cooking, feeding, and cleaning up from cooking and feeding, peppered with laundry and reversing the chaos of toys wrought by my toddlers.  I find myself ever so grateful to add the discipline of study and reflection into my duties; it has become a priority, and this is due to the ladies who have banded together with me.  We are happily obliged to one another to keep up, keep going forward; make reading an important task, which clearly, it is.

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Affirm My Narrative, Please.

The priest said that he had only ever met the victims.  He wondered where all these crummy types were who were willfully hurting, using, and oppressing his parishioners.  It seems they were all elsewhere; he’d only met the people grievously injured by them, righteously bearing their crosses of undeserved suffering.

The most dangerous thing you can do in a relationship is to challenge someone’s narrative; to challenge their story about themselves, however gently you might do so.  Our narratives are tailor-made, and the tailor is too often deceived.  We remember with affection all the good we do (or intend to do, someday); we glance away from our errors, our sins, the ways we’ve pained others, besides, we remember how provoked we were, and really, it’s understandable.  If only people knew how much we constrained ourselves they’d appreciate our self-control.  Too often our friends nod comfortingly, they empathize, they echo back to us, and they soothe.  It’s seen as the good office of the friend, to be supportive no matter what.  Affirm my narrative, please.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

-Proverbs 27:6

As iron sharpens iron,  so a friend sharpens a friend.  

-Proverbs 27:17

 

What a good and painful gift it is to have a friend who lovingly dares to pierce our narrative; to say, “No, the plot did not twist in that way; you were at fault and you remain so.”  Then we have to play back the reel, removing our pride-tinted glasses and/or our blinders.  We, if we are brave and humble even for a moment, have to see our narrative ring false.  If we can bear that without shoveling excuses or justifications over our turned shoulders, we approach honesty, then guilt, then repentance.

But it could, and it often does happen, that instead we dig in our heels; we believe our narrative as infallible.  We regard the wounding friend as the enemy; we see their words as weapons and not instruments of healing.  We seek and find a soothing balm in understanding friends; ones on “our side”.

The friend who dared, who risked on our behalf to enlighten our darkness; they are left to watch us carry on in most-certain wrongheadedness and willful pride.  They have a double portion of hurt, for they offered in love to help us see that which was destroying us.  They tried to deliver the medicine for the sickness; unpleasant medicine, to be sure, but needful.  They were then wounded in turn, in anger, for daring to question our narrative.

Lord have mercy on us and make us humble; finding in the wounds of a friend Your own loving correction and faithful leading.  Make us brave to see clearly, and to love fully.408196_10151676557058352_643068089_n

Multi-Level Marketing Hurts Relationships (ack, I said it)

I was waiting for my kids’ bus in the hot May sunshine, my toddler lounging in his stroller, both of us wilting a bit.  A lady with a tot of her own approached, waiting for her kids as well.  We struck up a conversation, and within a minute there was a glossy Mary Kay or Herbalife or some-such catalog pressed into my hand.

“Um…I actually don’t use much on my skin other than coconut oil…I…uh…”  She wouldn’t take the thing back.  “Just look it over!  Let me know if you need anything; you can return it to me later if you don’t want to order”.  Right.  Thank you for saddling me with this catalog that I think you probably even had to buy, and which I will guiltily put into the trash, because this stuff is all expensive.

………………

A friend’s dad offered to drive me home from summer camp along with his daughter.  It was a two-hour drive during which he played back-to-back Amway motivational tapes.  I came home marveling that anyone who wanted to have everything they ever wanted, especially a mansion with horse stables, could certainly do so, if only they’d believe, reach their goals, become a Diamond, or a Super Duper, or a some-such.  I visited their home a year later and was sort of struck dumb by all their homemade posters with motivational phrases plastered all over the walls.  They lived in a very sad little home; I wondered when their ship was going to come in.  The posters said it was right around the corner.

…………………

I’ve been to my fair share of “parties”, even hosted one Pampered Chef one, mainly to please a friend and to eat snacks, but I felt like a heel.  I know how I felt when attending one; flipping through the catalog and thinking, “What is cheap enough that I can buy and not disappoint my friend by buying nothing.”  As I saw people I loved filling my living room I wondered if they were thinking the same thing, feigning the same “interest”.

There is a specific cringe I feel, and I don’t believe I’m alone in this, when anyone announces via social media that “I’m starting my own business!” and it’s one of the myriad of multi-level marketing companies.  Always the glowing triumphalism, the certainty of a changed life, the financial compensation to come, the invitations to parties, e-parties (which, I mean, there aren’t even snacks!!), and on and on.  After a while it seems my Facebook feed is one long infomercial.

And then there’s the heart-to-heart with a friend when all of a sudden they’re recommending one of their products as the solution to your problem, and you just feel sort of…used, targeted.  Like some marketing strategy or salesperson just butted-in where the intimacy of friendship was filling it’s healing, commiserating role.  C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Four Loves” remarks on the disinterested nature of true friendship, to be understood as not wanting the friendship for anything other than the friendship itself.  It is not a means to any other end.

“A friend will, to be sure, prove himself to be also an ally when alliance becomes necessary; will lend or give when we are in need, nurse us in our sickness, stand up for us among our enemies, do what he can for our widows and orphans.  But such good offices are not the stuff of Friendship.  The occasions for them are almost interruptions.  They are in one way relevant to it, in another not.  Relevant, because you would be a false friend if you would not do them when the need arose; irrelevant, because the role of the benefactor always remains accidental, even a little alien, to that of Friend.  It is almost embarrassing.  For Friendship is utterly free from Affection’s need to be needed.  We are sorry that any gift or loan or night-watching should have been necessary–and now, for heaven’s sake, let us forget all about it and go back to the things we really want to do or talk of together.  Even gratitude is no enrichment to this love.  The stereotyped ‘Don’t mention it’ here expresses what we really feel.  The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that having been given, it makes no difference at all.  It was a distraction, an anomaly.”  -C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves”

I do not disparage here the products themselves; I have no doubt that the clothing or the make-up or the essential oils or the purses, or whatever they are, are of high quality.  I do not doubt even that my friend’s lives have been enriched by their use.  I do not make argument against them developing true friendships with others they’ve met and interacted with in their meetings.  I take issue with the pyramid-like nature of the marketing.  Downlines reek of graft and greed, no matter what words are used to describe them, such as “teams” or “communities”.  And the carrot dangled before them of wealth, health, and all other pot-at-the-end-of-the-rainbows, all demand a price, and often that price is the health of the participant’s relationships.

One particular area of discomfort for me are the companies that supply “life-changing” supplements, oils, etc at extraordinarily high prices.  There is a strange philosophy at work there, something to the effect of:  this ____ can change your life, it is very expensive but so worth it, if you get enough people to buy it from you it’ll be basically free for you, and they’ll be changed too so you can feel good about your compensation from their purchases and their subsequent downlines.  My question is, if the product is so important for human thriving, why not lower the price of it and sell it via traditional means so that it doesn’t depend on burdening human relationships and can be more accessible to those who would benefit from it?

We have all been shocked and disgusted by the pharmaceutical drug company CEO Martin Shkreli who raised the price of life-saving AIDS medicine by 5,000% in an act of wanton greed.  Was it good for share-holders’s profits?  Sure.  Was it good “business”?  Maybe on paper.  But the cost to those who could benefit from the drug is much, much too high, literally and figuratively.  This is an extreme example, but hear the heart of it; “good business” may in fact, be bad.

I have been terrified to write this article and avoided it for several months, because many people I love and cherish are involved in multi-level marketing.  I risk the offense because I think some may be unaware of how their business is affecting their relationships in a negative way.  None of us wants to feel like a potential customer, potential downline, potential anything, other than friend.

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