Your Money Where Your Heart Is: Why You Should Check Out Crowdfunding

I used to really look down on crowdfunding. I was real jerk about it in fact. Shouldn’t these folks knuckle down and “get a real job?” Rather than simply sitting on the internet and panhandling for money? I used to consider it lazy. And I owe all the crowd-fundraisers out there an apology.

Because I am an increasing proponent of crowdfunding.

By the time I was 13, I had bought into the myth of the American Dream that hard physical labor would bring about financial success. I believed that as an upstanding citizen it was my duty to join the work force ringing up a cash register or stocking shelves in retail stores (which I did and did well), or performing manual labor (which I genuinely enjoyed and my physique qualified me for). There is nothing wrong with these jobs in and of themselves. We all do what we need to pay our bills and eat, and have a cold beer or go see a movie if we’re lucky.  (If you love your job, more power to you brother! Life is too short to not do what you love).

However, as as result I found myself having an attitude of condescension towards people who found other ways to make ends meet that didn’t involve punching a time clock and collect a regular pay check. To get to the point, I thought struggling artists and artisans were foolish. Why couldn’t they just give up their dreams and become another wheel in the cog like the rest of us? We need to keep this capitalist machine rolling, damn it.

An interesting philosophy, capitalism is. If you’re girding up your loins in anticipation of a capitalism-socialism throw down, cool off, sir. This isn’t that kind of blog. But I do want to say this. A key piece of capitalism is voluntary exchange. Two parties agree that they will both benefit from said exchange and follow through with it. I believe this Superman pint glass is worth the $9.99 on the sticker. I will pay said $9.99.

So why was I so pissed off at artists or artisans who put themselves out there and engaged in this tenant of capitalism? Was it because I was jealous that others were making a living (at least in part) pursuing their passions while I sat behind a register at a gas station? Possibly. Or was it because I had it engrained in me that the only entities worth buying products from were the companies who were able to use focus groups and market testing to decided what the masses truly wanted? Frankly, I was wrong in either case.  Wrong until I was 27.  14 years of wrong.

These companies aren’t crazy about risks. People who are passionate about their home-developed board game, or their webcomic series? They seemed to be more inclined. Because passion involves risk. As recently as a decade ago, if you had a comic book you were trying to publish or an invention you wanted to sell at large (beyond your local community), you needed to approach large companies that acted as the gatekeepers in the industry. If your idea was considered marketable, maybe a publisher would cut you a deal or a company would buy the rights to your invention.

Now the internet has changed that. For the better.
Thanks to websites like Kickstarter, Patreon, or GoFundMe, large corporations only focused on the bottom line are no longer gatekeepers. Instead writers, illustrators, artisans, filmmakers, inventors, board game builders, and everything in between can ask the masses directly “Would you pay money for this?” Wonderful! No focus groups. Social media now allows for people to vote with their dollars in favor of folks who may work other jobs but are still trying to make their art and craft something profitable. When you support someone through crowd-funding, you are helping them pursue a dream. And they are dreams that I suspect are far more adventurous and rewarding than the American dream of a moderately sized house in a bland suburb funded by punching a clock in an office job one loathes (but, hey bud, if you do love that cubicle, good on you!).

Not only that, you will also find people using crowdfunding to pay for health care because the system has failed them, or teachers support-raising for school supplies because they work in districts that are broke.

Friends, when the systems and authorities in place seem unjust and hold too much power over you, find ways to free yourself from that power. And consider helping others do the same.

I do not use crowd-funding yet. So please don’t think this is a shameless plug for support.
But you should all check out the sites mentioned above. If you like what you see, maybe tell these folks with a couple of bucks.

Thanks for reading. You all rock.

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On Dirty Things

I really enjoy dirt. More specifically I really enjoy gardening with my bare hands. I could buy gloves if I wanted to avoid soiling my hands, but then I wouldn’t get to feel the texture of the loam and the grains of sand. I wouldn’t be able to let the soil slip through my fingers and experience how coarse and rocky the earth may be. I may not really grasp whether or not something could grow. Knowing the soil helps me decided what I want to grow. Something that needs a more acidic soil? Or something more basic. How much do I need to work the ground to plant these flowers or vegetables? There is an intimacy about dirt.

I’ve always loved dirt. When I was a kid, I would dig a hole next to the drive way every summer until I was 12. I didn’t stop because I had outgrown it, but because my parents forbade it after I put my little sister into it head first by her ankles. Fun times. Actually, I think I traumatized her and I owe her a sincere apologize. A thousand times over.

Over the years, I still found dirt to play with. As an adult (at least in the biological sense), I discovered gardening. Actually I took a summer job at a nursery and landscape supply company. Sometimes I cultivated small vegetable beds. Other times I tended to large trees with burlap wrapped root balls four or five feet across. College gave me fewer opportunities to indulge my green thumb and over the last few years I have been restricted to whatever pots of tomatoes and basil I can get away with in my apartment.

My faith community started a community garden this spring and I was invited to cultivate a couple plots. I was ecstatic. Tomatoes in clay pots can feel rewarding, but to till more earth and plant more seeds and perhaps see the copious green of many varieIMG_0703ties of plants sprout and mature stirs in me a feeling of connection with Creation. Yet the real blessing is that the food grown in the community garden is used to help feed people from the neighborhood through our faith community’s food closet.

I dream sometimes, and it is usually about things grand and impractical. I’ll fess up to that. (I’d also like to posit dreams aren’t dreams unless they feel impractical but I digress).

And when my hands are stained with dirt, my neck is red with sunburn, and I see the flowers on my young squash and tomato plants begin to bloom, I begin to dream. In that dream, I imagine what it would be like if more us left behind our stuffy jobs in cubicles surrounded by concrete. I imagine what would it be like if we walked or rode our bikes to the store or out to eat more often. I imagine a reality where we just interacted with the natural world more frequently.

Am I only the one who after a hike in the mountains or a morning in the garden finds much of privileged creature comforts rather… sterile? Does it all being to feel grey or artificial to anyone else?

And here’s a leap. Do you ever wonder if we would kill less, we would be entertained by violence less, if only we frequently felt dirt in our hands and under our nails? Do you ponder, like I sometimes do, that if more us spent our springs, summers, and autumns nurturing and cultivating seasonal life that only last until the first frost we would see the fragility of creation and catch glimpses of our own finitude?

What if adults playing with more dirt simply helped people hurting and wanting to hurt others see their own humanity and the humanity of others.

Not that dirt will extinguish the evil in the world. But maybe it would take the edge off.

Or maybe this millennial just has more impractical ideas and needs to stop playing in dirt like a child.

I think I’ll take my chances with the dirt.

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Peanut M&Ms and Dancing Kids: Some Words for My Grandmother

[The following are the words and benediction I gave at my grandmother’s funeral in Temple, New Hampshire. April 16, 2016.]

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

-Matthew 6:25-34, English Standard Version

When I remember my grandmother, there is just too much to say all at once. But when I really dig into the faint images and emotions of my childhood, I find peanut M&Ms. When I reach into my memory with the outstretched arms of an impatient grandson, I am sitting in the back seat of an old sedan, three years old eating a handful of peanut M&Ms while Grammy drives us back from the old Ames department store in Milford, New Hampshire. My grandmother introduced me to peanut M&Ms. And spearmint Trident gum. After every meal without fail.

Without a doubt, Georgie loved little things. From small trinkets to pieces of gum to tiny dogs, she found joy in small delights.

The small things seemed to worry her too! Towards the end of week of family vacation, she’d express concern that the milk in the fridge had gone bad, or if The Middle was going to be a rerun when she got home on Wednesday.

I say this not to make fun, but remind us that in all ways, she valued little things. If she got home and the milk hadn’t gone bad, it was a victory. And if the milk had turned, then it was an easy fix to go buy another half-gallon despite the previously expressed worry.

She was around for every Christmas. And when my sister and I used to lie overwhelmed and exhausted amidst shredded wrapping paper and boxes, she’d ask “What’s wrong?” to which we of responded “I’m bored.”

“How can you be bored with all these presents?”

She never said it with judgement and condemnation, but always love and maybe a little confusion. Her grandchildren had far more little things to derive joy from than she had growing up. And maybe it took me until adulthood to appreciate that. But she took joy in even watching us say “I’m bored.” Because we were her grandkids.

My wife’s and my wedding reception was held in a barnIMG_0637 in August of 2013 outside of Philadelphia. And as the late afternoon turned into evening, the barn became an oven. So we opened the large barn doors and people moved outside, while much of the younger crowd kept sweating and dancing. My father said to my grandmother “Why don’t you come out here where it’s cooler.” And she said “No, I want to sit here and watch the kids dance.” Now the dancing I’m sure was not at all reminiscent in style (or modesty depending on the alcohol consumption by some of our guests) or music to what she had grown up with, but she enjoyed watching these twenty-somethings dance none the less. She took joy in little things.

I want to always take joy in little things. In coffee milkshakes, in sunny walks, in short conversations about nothing on the street corner, at kids dancing. I do not want to let anxiety and worry rule my life, but I want to trust that God has left enough small things to help me smile throughout the day. Enough small things to push through the more trying parts of life so I can go to bed that night anticipating what other small things will spark joy in my soul the next day.

And Christmas and Thanksgivings and birthdays will certainly carry their fare share of tears and grief. But along side those will no doubt be more not-so small joys at her memory.

Good bye Grammy, thank you for so many little things like Peanut M&Ms, and the not-so little things like holidays, birthdays, and long weekends. We all love you so much.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
-Revelation 21:1-5, ESV

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The Life and Times of Jacob Travlers

Chapter 1: Dragons and Evictions

The snow from the previous night grew heavier in the morning sun. The door to the Drunken Dragon shook and heaved as those inside dug their heels into the tavern floor and pulled, hoping to overcome the frozen snow and ice that cemented the door in its frame. Droplets cascaded from old eaves. Then with one muffled chorus of huffs and grunts, the bank spilled through the tavern door while half a dozen sweaty men spilled into the sunlit morning. The last great blizzard of the season had passed and the spirits of thaw were at work. The storm had swept through the village and the patrons of the Dragon had spent the night emptying barrels of ale and telling fairy tales, heroic epics, and insufferable jokes and gibes. The morning sun burned away the dark, snowy clouds, and poured into the Dragon’s dining room casting shadows every which way. Men and women gathered their coats, tied tight their boots strings, and began to cut a path through the snow to their respective homes and hollows.
Jacob set his tricorn hat on this head and draped his scarf about his neck. “Well, Master Thor, it has been one eventful night but I must return to my brother’s house.”
“Master Travlers, don’t let ol’ Maggie kick you out without a fight. Be a scrapper, boy,” said the burly proprietor from behind the bar. Jacob nodded and stepped out into the snow. His boots sunk into the heavy terrain just above his ankles. With heavier feet, Jacob marched out of the village towards the river, towards the mill. His brother’s mill. With lanky strides, he tromped down the road reminiscing about the stories and songs of sprites, knights, ogres, and vagabonds that had been told the previous stormy night. His sigh turned to cloudy vapor before him despite the morning sun. If the sprites and mystics and magics were real, Jacob Travlers would have given his coat and scarf thrice over for their aide in what likely waiting for him.
Soon his brother came into view. Esau was thicker and more muscled than Jacob and it showed as he shoveled a path from the house to the mill. He stopped his labor and shouted. “Where’ve you been all night in this blizzard? Caught up into the mountains by frosty shades or hungry beasts?”
“Snowed in at the Dragon with the best and brightest of Norshire,” Jacob hollered back. He approached Esau only to be met with stern grey eyes and furrowed brow.
“Margaret wants to talk to you.” Jacob looked to the frozen ground at his feet. “Don’t worry she’s simmered down since last night,” Esau continued. “She was worried about you when the storm came through. We both were.” Jacob fidgeted with his scarf. “Jacob, it was just a broken plate. Winter seemed to go on for ages until this morning, and our stores are running low. Both of us were anxious and the plate only lit the tinder.” Jacob said nothing. “Go on inside and eat something. I’ll follow you in a minute.”
Jacob started towards the house. “How many days do I have to leave, brother?” he asked over his shoulder. Esau didn’t answer but continued shoveling.
“I’ll… I’ll be in in a minute. Just need to get the mill door clear.”
Jacob came upon the door to the house and knocked. “Come in,” echoed from the kitchen inside. As he pushed in the door, the smell of bread and grease enveloped him. Eggs, rashers, and biscuits were set on the table. It was a warm and inviting presentation. The scowling woman in an apron who turned to meet him was neither.
“Breakfast smells wonderful, Maggie,” unsure if he should take a seat at the table or not.
The woman took a deep breath as if trying to find words to say, only to then hand him a piece of parchment from her apron. It was old, ruddy parchment and look far from magisterial. However, written in globby ink was a brief note. Or more appropriately, notice. Jacob Malachi Travlers, you are hereby evicted from Travlers’ Mill and adjacent grounds. Please vacate within a day’s time.”

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Beginning… Again.

My grandmother died this spring. She was one of those special people that has always been there for the important moments like birthdays, graduations, Easter, Christmas, July 4th, Memorial Day. This is my first experience with this kind of grief, the grief of losing someone who materially is no longer present in this existence. It brings with it so much uncertainty about the future. It is as if I have to reimagine how to live my life. As if I am being forced to begin again. And that’s weird.

There is just something about beginnings. They’re not something we always welcome, nor are they occurrences we wish would never happened. Sometimes we desire them immensely and they cannot arrive soon enough. At other times they feel like that uninvited guest who showed up at the party and started playing Oasis and poorly performed Journey covers on your guitar (My guitar wasn’t even outside of my bedroom. How’d you find it?!). It’s like they showed up just to make you irritated at best.

Some beginnings seem relatively predictable. The first day of college or on your first grown-ass adult job are beginnings. I expected my wedding day to feel like a beginning. I was surprised when it didn’t feel that way. Then I was slightly caught up in a sense surreality when I woke up the morning after my wedding day next to my dozing bride and realized that this was the real beginning of my marriage. Beginnings: sometimes they show up on schedule; other times they have layovers on their way to a cheap resort in Puerto Vallarta. Crazy.

And then some beginnings do not feel like beginnings. Some beginnings feel like endings. Several of you just rolled your eyes and started singing Semisonic to yourself. Me too. Real trite garbage, yes? The real problem with these beginnings is that they take place within a much larger story, or stories. I’m in my late twenties. I have over two and a half decades of a story already in motion whenever I face a “new beginning.” Beyond that, I come from a family that has its own story, within the context of a region and ever changing culture with yet another story. And then there’s the planet! Archaeology, geology, anthropology, paleontology! So many -ologies to build an even more extensive story! Now start thinking about what we know about the universe beyond our own planet. Hot damn! That’s a vast, unfathomable story.

And yet we still talk about beginnings. Good story tellers know that most stories do not begin at a stand still. What is one of the most iconic aspects of all seven of the Star Wars films? That opening crawl. The score of John Williams tears triumphantly through the air and we are glued to nothing more than rolling text for 45 to 60 seconds, all to read about what is happening in the galaxy far, far away before the story even begins.

Because our beginnings always start in midst of the grander scheme of things, in the vast story. Our grief and our joy and our boredom all occur in a universe that is already rolling and expanding.

I will keep grieving until grief ebbs and flows into joy, and I will press into this new beginning; just another chapter in a volume of other beginnings.

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