Monday, February 19, 2007

Adios, All-You-Can-Eat

Sara's Birdfeeder

In our last discussion, Craver commented that he struggles to spend time with The Few, as opposed to The Many. I observed that this is symptomatic of our "All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet" society.

In other words, we have access to a lot of relationships, experiences, technologies, goods, etc. In such a context, it's hard to focus on our own plate, to savor and appreciate what's there... to willingly choose "smallness of scale," where we can attend to details with creativity and passion.

A few days after our conversation, I opened up Jim Merkel's Radical Simplicity. Merkel is a former arms trader, who now works for peace initiatives. He shares an experience where he watched an indigenous group solve a problem together. It struck him...

"The elegant simplicity of cooperation and hard work was poetry in motion. This is what you do when you don't have a bulldozer, don't have cheap gas, and don't have a permanent war-time economy. These intelligent, creative solutions were outside of my box..." p.32

Sometimes I think we would be happier if we said "adios" to the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. So many people suffer from a sense of meaninglessness. So many people live in little boxes, that all seem to look the same. We even sell our lives for the privilege, going into mounds of debt; or we work long hours or even two jobs to preserve the box.

Then, in the process, our opportunities for cooperation, intelligence, and creativity fall aside.

If you post something about the All-You-Can-Eat phenomenon, tell me, and I'll link to you. Also, Week Two of the Relationship Exercise is now in the comments of the post "Relational Engagement." Be sure to check out Craver's new comment too... the continuing saga of Mr. & Mrs. Craver!

Sara's Creative Squirrel-Proof Birdfeeder. Photo by L.L. Barkat.


Pancake Day

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Blogger The Gatekeeper said...

I do not do well at an all-you-can-eat buffet. However, I do real well with the simple things in life. I'm such a simpleton. Book sounds good. I'll have to add it to my Books-To-Be-Read list. Oy!

1:32 AM  
Blogger bluemountainmama said...

food for thought (pun, intended!)...i can get overwhelmed with all the THINGS and choices out there- even just trying to pick out deoderant! there are SO many brands of everything! i think i would agree with gatekeeper- i don't thrive in an all-you-can-eat buffet environment...i get overwhelmed and burned out, so i tend to keep a smaller circle of friends and activities. that's probably due to my upbringing...we lived way out in the country on a farm, and didn't participate in all the "extra-curricular" activities that most kids did b/c of the distance. but we had BIG imaginations and a great childhood! i guess there is also a fine balance too, b/c we are called to go out into the world and be a Light and Witness to people- I think some Christians go to the opposite extreme and become reclusive and too self-sufficient to try to shield themselves from the "outside" so to speak. i believe we need to strive to make relationships and not get to where we only have an "inner circle" that we spend time with- usually other like-minded christians. good post, l.l.! i love coming here and having my brain exercised a little! :)

9:55 AM  
Blogger Lara said...

I LOVE this line of thinking. Here in the suburbs we have an enormous amount of choices in where to shop. Recently I've been choosing to shop at a smaller grocery store (as opposed to the GIGANTIC Meijer we have nearby). I'm much less exhausted by the trip and it takes less time. Oh, and I'm purposely avoiding those plastic produce bags. My mother saw an article about crocheted mesh bags for grocery shopping and talked about making them. I'm hoping I get one (I'm just as bugged about the plastic grocery bags as I am the produce bags - I thought of you, LL when my mom pointed out the mesh bags). Smaller scale in the grocery arena is just one small part, but it makes a difference.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Here's the problem with the all you can eat - no leftovers. But you can go home bloated.
Love this post. Love this thread.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Well, I’m here to defend the brilliant concept of the all-you-can-eat buffet. Whoever came up with the idea was a genius. What a great way to feed the whole group! Everybody gets their own thing.

The trouble is not in the availability of it, but the abuse of it, taking too much, skipping vegetables and throwing away good food. (I was going to go for funny, and accidentally ended up serious… sorry, if that confuses anyone.)

At the risk of sounding Taoist, the solution must be to find an appropriate balance. Some of us are wired to lean more towards the few or towards the many. And that’s alright, as long as we are aware of the relationships around us and strive to love our neighbor.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Martin Stickland said...

Bird feeders and buffets, oh my poor belly is now hungry.

You have a very valid point though L.L

I do with I could leave such constructive and meaningful comments like the other guys!

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Craver that there needs to be balance. Also, blue mountain talked about the extremes. We can't be so small scale minded to the exclusion of others. How does that look to the new person in the neighborhood or at church who's trying to fit in? That can be a really hard spot when surrounded by cliques of people who have no room left on their friend "card" It is also dangerous to surround ourselves with only like minded people. That can breed a sense of superiority. Deep family relationships gets first, but reaching the world for Christ is right up there. You can't reach the world, or your neighbors if your not looking to build relationships with them. Balance is the key, you have a few close friends that you can share anything and everything with who will hold you accountable, but not to the exclusion of "the world". I have been thinking a lot about the whole "smallness of scale" idea. Thanks.

12:33 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

The odd thing about "smallness of scale" is that is doesn't preclude largeness. In other words, the Peruvian farmer may have a large farm, but he keeps the fields small, based on how the soil and water, etc. function in that space. So, the placement of a deliberate boundary helps the farmer care appropriately for that space. But, he may have multiple fields.

In our lives, I think the questions become where to put the boundaries for optimal growth and how to creatively care for the spaces inside the boundaries. To me, the "All You Can Eat" phenomenon largely neglects these questions. Or says, maybe, that they shouldn't exist at all... as if boundaries are a prison instead of a form of freedom.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Jennwith2ns said...

I WANT THE BIRDFEEDER. Our squirrels, God's creatures though they are, do not need to cash in on the birds' buffet. I sort of see how your intelligent Sara constructed it--but not quite.

Heather--once a college roommate of mine had the moxie to ask a waiter at an Indian restaurant if she could take home the portions of her "all-you-can-eat" buffet which she had put on her plate but not eaten. He looked a little put out--but then said yes. So you know, bloating AND leftovers is sometimes a possibility.

LL--thanks for adding me to your bloglinks. I feel honoured.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

The owner of a printing company used to occasionally take walks around and greet his employees by name, sometimes asking for updates on things mentioned in previous conversations about the kids, hobbies, etc.

I did not work for his company. But we shared a warehouse, and my job had me interacting with some of his employees from time to time.

To the best of my knowledge, his man ran his business well and was usually in the offices taking care of the big clients and working with the upper echelon (the less) of his employees, but it impressed the socks off me that he knew my name, was aware of my faith, and initiated passing conversation with me and so many (the more) others who had little impact on his company.

We may each have different ideas about this concept of the more and the less. Would anyone like to offer how Jesus or a biblical hero's actions might serve as an example for us?

4:42 PM  
Blogger Al Hsu said...

I was just at a Chinese buffet the other night for Chinese New Year, and my tendency is that I want to try everything. I don't want to miss out on anything. So for me, it's a spiritual discipline to say that I don't need to try everything. I can selectively narrow my focus to sample a few things and then try other dishes other times.

And we've also recently shifted to using our own canvas tote bags at the grocery store. The funny thing is that the checkers automatically start bagging things with the store bags, and we have to be really intentional about stopping them and saying, no, put the stuff in our tote bags.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

L.L., Yes. We lose alot in spreading ourselves so thin. We could be so much better off if we'd think in terms of doing a few things well, than many things scattered. This seems like a disease with so many of us Americans. We have to do this. Do that. Then something else. And finally crash.

Something to be said for the simplicity of earlier times and other cultures. Maybe more like a kingdom of God culture. When we can thoroughly enjoy one thing at a time. And throw multitasking out forever (as I get older, I try to avoid multitasking asap).

5:58 PM  
Blogger christianne said...

Ah, Craver. I am so glad you asked about Jesus. :)

That's because all this conversation, as I was scrolling my way down through it, got me thinking about a book -- actually, two books -- my hub and I are reading right now: The Forgotten Ways, and the Shaping of Things to Come.

These books are all about the missional church movement. It's all about, to put it crudely, down-sizing in order to do more. Alan Hirsch talks a lot about how the church today is large and inorganic, trying to meet the perceived needs of the masses but reaching only a paltry few in reality. He vies for smaller clusters that are after the context important to a people in order to reach them there. Kind of like how Jesus met the woman at the well, the man at the pool, the lepers on the road. And kind of like how the church began in houses, not in gargantuan cathedrals.

Well, I suppose this comment ended up talking about the church more than Jesus. Sorry about that. But not really, because I think it's all in an aim to get after Jesus's heart for people and the growth of His kingdom on earth. Plus, He made an entrance toward the end there.

I'm inclined to believe Hirsch is on to something -- enough to perhaps change my whole world.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Inihtar said...

You make a good point. . . but, in terms of relationships, not everyone has an existing intimate circle of family or friends that they can build on and cultivate. Or there are circumstances, physical distance for instance, that make building on existing relationships difficult. Sometimes, reaching the smallness of scale you talk about requires starting out with an all-you-can-eat buffet, and then whittling down the contents of your plate to the few items you really enjoy. Does that make sense?

9:01 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

Inihtar-You totally hit on where I'm at. I've recently been trying to intentionally develop friendships in my neighborhood. This means going to "coffee" once a week where there are 6 to 12 women. I realize I have to get to know the whole group before I'll know who I'd like to get to know even better. It's been a conundrum for me in this smaller scale paradigm. Yet I know it's right. Maybe the smaller scale in this is that I'm looking at only my immediate neighborhood and not the city at large.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I LOVE this conversation. I've been thinking about these ideas in terms of stewardship, taking care of each part as a way of taking care of the whole (a new working definition). As I was talking about this with friends, one conclusion we have come up with is that the process of stewardship may be more important than the product. Said another way, thinking through the choices we make may be as important as the choices themselves in these matters.

Don't shoot me if this came out sounding very enabling and relativistic. I'm just at the beginning of these thoughts, really.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...


Great post. I confess that I didn't quite get your smallness of scale post last week and so I avoided commenting. I was tempted to pretend that I "got it" by posting something like "Ah yes, the smallness of scale is so important in helping us sub-contextualize our global experience in a local setting..." (all the time, nodding knowingly as I write this).

All that to say - the all you can eat buffet analogy - now that's something I understand! Seriously, I think that there is something paradoxical about the "all you can eat" world that we live in.

We're wealthier than prior generations but possibly more selfish. We live longer now but with less contentment. Technology enables more connections to other people but more live isolated lives than ever before. It seems to me that volume (all you can eat) or size (largeness of scale?) doesn't necessarily translate to more fruitfulness and joy. We still need God to bring context into the big and small parts of our lives to make it meaningful.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Shammickite said...

It doesnt hurt to have choice, and to sample those choices, that's the only way to make worthwhile decisions. It doesnt mean you actually have to be a gluttonous consumer.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Martin Stickland said...

Thanks for the Birthday wishes L.L!

4:01 AM  
Blogger Mark Goodyear said...

As you know, my wife and I intentionally downsized by moving to a rural community.

L.L. you talked about Peruvian farmers (Taoists?) and "the placement of a deliberate boundaries." That's my problem! I don't like boundaries. I like possibilities.

I've been raised with this perverted vision of freedom that leads to gluttony, rather than decisions.

So much to think about here. I'm also thinking about Michael Hyatt's posts around the New Year about setting specific goals. Saying yes to everything is a little bit like treating the world to a buffet of me.

Not that the world shouldn't have a buffet of me. I'll be the Sushi section.

3:30 PM  

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