Solvent as Sears?

Ecclesiastes 4:13-14

My mother’s first job was with Sears and Roebuck. She worked in the catalog department in the huge warehouse and store that used to stand just east of Kansas City’s downtown. Her favorite tale of those times is handling a return of some chickens that had died in transit. Sears doesn’t issue a catalog anymore. They don’t sell chickens or much of anything these days.

But there was a time when they were the big roosters in the retail barnyard. The slogan, “Solid as Sears,” was not a punchline in those days. Fifty years ago they were the biggest retailer in the world. Today, much diminished even after merging with another former giant, K-Mart, they’ve sold off most of their brand assets like Craftsman and Kenmore, and seem to be circling the drain. The question is when, not if, they will eventually collapse completely.

Since we don’t have kings these days, we can maybe apply Solomon’s ideas to companies–or maybe to ourselves.

Better is a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer pays attention to warnings. For he came from prison to be king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom.

Ecclesiastes 4:13-14

Multi-Variable Math

It’s interesting to me that this text introduces three variables. He might have said it’s better to be poor and young than rich and old. Instead, he throws in that wisdom variable. Is it better to be a wise old king than a poor wise youth? I’m not sure, but clearly your wealth and position won’t help you if you are a fool.

Is it better to be young than old, all other things being equal? I think I’d opt for that, although I’m not sure Solomon would agree. Is it better to be rich than poor? We needn’t dignify that question with an answer. Clearly it is better to be wise than foolish. It’s the combination of these things that makes this passage a little tricky.

No Fool Like an Old Fool

Sears seems to have behaved foolishly, or maybe they’re just going the way that companies go after a 125 years. And what about people? Is it natural for people to become foolish, utterly stuck in their ways and resting on whatever success and position they have accrued over their lives? It certainly seems common, but there’s no reason to believe it to be natural.

From an early age, we are urged to do the right things. Stay in school. Work hard. Don’t do drugs. Save for retirement. Maintain a financial reserve. Floss. We’re admonished that if we do all of these things, then we will enjoy success. By and large, that advice is solid.

What a shame then that people follow that advice, attain a position of influence and respect, accumulate sufficient financial status to not worry, and then cease to listen to anyone around them. Such people wind up losing their influence and believing that their assets will render them important. If it doesn’t work for a king, it won’t work for mere commoners.

Getting in Tune

Most people who read this are not millennials. You’re mostly O4Cs (Over 40 Christians), and many of you have done a lot of the things that were impressed upon you over the years. Perhaps you have a secure job, good benefits, money in the bank, and all your own teeth. Congratulations.

Now that you have arrived or can at least see the destination to which you’re en route, don’t stop listening to wise counsel, especially the counsel of God. Solomon urges us to be wise, suggesting that whatever we have gained over the years, even to a crown, will likely be squandered if we’re not heeding warnings any longer.

Today, Sears stock is selling for $.29 a share. In 2005 if was over $50. Be glad if that wasn’t in your 401K.

Getting Advice from the Dead

I know a woman who wants to avoid going to the doctor until after she loses weight. “I know what he’s going to tell me,” she protests. “He’ll say you need to lose weight.” Does she then act on this knowledge and begin to control her weight? Of course not. Instead, she grabs a doughnut or three.

Occasionally I give advice to my students, and it’s almost always super profound advice. “Get your work in. Come to class. Read the instructions.” These are not new things. They don’t need somebody with a doctorate to bring this piece of wisdom from Mt. Olympus. They’ve heard the advice before, probably even knowing that it’s right. Do they then act on that knowledge and begin to start owning their education? Of course not. Instead, they catch up on the urgent developments on Instagram.

When Saul, facing yet another attack from the Philistines, doesn’t know where to turn, he goes where you or I would go: to a dead person. He enlists a medium to conjure up Samuel to get advice, because, you know, when God stops talking to you, the best way to get Him to start talking to you again is to do something that’s He’s expressly forbidden.

Samuel appears to the medium, which apparently freaks her out a little. It’s not completely clear whether Saul could see Samuel or not, but the Bible does indicate that directly or indirectly Saul was at least conversing with the man. Before we dismiss Samuel as needlessly cranky in the exchange, we should walk a mile in his shoes. This would require being dead, so that will be difficult. His response is blunt and unrelenting:

Since the Lord has turned away from you and has become your enemy, why are you asking me? The Lord has done exactly what he said through me: The Lord has torn the kingship out of your hand and given it to your neighbor David.–1 Samuel 28:16-17

Samuel had to be thinking, “You didn’t listen to me when I was alive, so why are you asking me for advice now?”

Like the overweight woman, like my students, believers have a tendency to hear only the advice that they want to hear. They ask for help, hoping that they’ll get a word different from the one that they already know is what they need. When that unrealistic advice isn’t forthcoming, they check their social media and eat a doughnut or three.

So the bottom line here seems to be this: If you need to lose weight, don’t go for advice that you’ll just ignore. Instead, do your homework, attend class, and maybe eat one doughnut. Okay–I’m not the source for any good advice.

Get Fit with 10 Easy Rules!

make-disciples-92814-1-638In a post at Health.com, Catherine Benedetto shares the “10 Rules Fit People Live By.” Besides ending that title with a preposition, I find Benedetto’s prescription just a trifle simplistic. Take for example, her second rule: “Maximize Inner Motivation.”

To do this you need to be absolutely clear about why you want to get fit. “Figure out what’s really important to you,” Harper urges. “Do you want to lower your blood pressure? Fit into a size two? Or do you just want to feel better?” Motivation that lasts can’t come from an outside source—like your doctor or a loved one who wants you to slim down. It has to come from a personal, deep-rooted desire for change.

That all sounds reasonable enough, common-sensical enough that you really wonder why it found its way onto the pages of a website. I can imagine someone reading that and saying, “Yeah! That’s so right. I need to get inwardly motivated.” What this article does absolutely nothing about is giving practical advice on how to maximize inner motivation. Pretty much all of the platitudes that make up the other 9 rules for fit people follow that same pattern.

Of course, a fitness blogger isn’t the only person who might be tempted to dispense bland, simplistic advice. Notice that Jesus did not take his followers out to the Mount of Olives and say, “Go and provide generic ideas to all people.” He told them to make disciples. Discipleship, like effective fitness coaching, requires a lot more effort than a 10-rule list. It will be messier, but it will produce results.