Minimal Materialism Is Still Materialism

I watched a short documentary on Netflix the other day called Minimalism. Essentially it’s a promo piece for a couple of young men who started a website and are trying to start a movement against consumerism. Both had terrible childhoods wrecked by substance abuse, among other things; both threw themselves into careers and consumption, promotions and paychecks, then realized that their lives were basically unhappy, unfulfilling, unlived. Both decided to substantially downsize and simplify, and both seem happier for it.

This topic resonates with me in a number of ways these days, and these two men are not wrong in the observation that money and consumer goods cannot make us happy. They are also not wrong that detaching from stuff and status can improve our happiness. But right off the bat I found myself struggling to buy into their message, for two main reasons. Continue reading

A New Mission

By now it’s pretty well gotten around that I’ll be leaving the role of faith formation director at the end of June. A number of you have said, “I can’t wait to hear what you’ll be doing next,” to which I reply, “Me, too!”  On the other hand, we have taken great leaps forward in the past three years, and I have never felt unappreciated or under-compensated working for the parish. It’s good work—it’s just not my work.

 I’ve made a discovery this past year: I have an evangelist’s heart.

I am competent at many things, and even skilled at some of them. I can be an administrator, a catechist, a communicator, an administrative assistant, and a laborer. I can do all sorts of things when needed. But I have an evangelist’s heart.

And, thanks be to God, I can write. I’ve known this for some time, and every staff or personal retreat I’ve been on for the past decade or more has resulted in me saying to my bride, “Whatever happens from here forward, I need to write.” I’ve been told the same thing countless times, by family and friends, acquaintances and total strangers. I’ve never made a successful go of writing on my own, however—I think primarily because, until now, I’ve tried to do it on my own. I’ve never really asked what God wanted me to write and waited for an answer.

I have always been the least rational and most emotional of all my male friends. I blunder through the world heart-first, find beauty in strange places, share too much, talk too much, and cry more than my bride. It’s embarrassing. I’m not good at casual friendships: most of the time I either go deep, or I can’t link a name to a face.  Any given week I love humanity and hate it, sometimes at the same time.

But when I share from the heart, when I speak or write about things I care about—faith, marriage, family—it moves people. When I talk about my own journey from part-time Catholic kid to an Ivy-educated agnostic with a porn problem to a faithful husband and father, it touches people. And I want to do that.

What’s more: God wants me to do that. (I finally asked.) No more pretending these gifts are weaknesses or wishing He made me differently. I am what He made me, and I’m only as free as I am obedient to His will.

It’s exciting: I feel like an apostle being called by Jesus to follow. And it’s terrifying: I don’t like reaching out to new people, because loving those people involves time, effort, and usually pain. Plus I can’t see my way forward. Peter and Andrew, James, and John dropped their nets and left their boats behind. Matthew left his post, his money, his whole former life. I have a primary vocation as husband and father. I can see no way to do what God is asking of me in my free time, and no simple way to make a living. I can’t see a logical next step.

So for the first time in my life, I find no solution other than utter abandon, to give everything to the Lord and let Him sort it out.

Dive in. Heart-first.

More Shave For Less

The old standby: Gillette Sensor Excel and Edge Shaving Gel

The Art of Manliness (AoM) website continues to be a favorite destination for my sons and me, for everything from well-researched writing on the history of manly honor to how-to articles on wilderness survival. It is not without flaws, of course: there is an undercurrent of hipster consumerism that manifests itself, for example, in the site’s frequent Huckberry giveaways. Huckberry is a free subscription site that aggregates interesting content and cool manly gadgets, products, and clothing, and every week or two, AoM sponsors a giveaway to drive traffic to Huckberry’s store. The merchandise is often quite nice, but how can a site touting manly self-sufficiency advocate for purchasing a $40 hardwood six-pack carrier (or a $120 “wallet” made out of old baseball glove leather) when any man worth his salt could make the same for the cost of a few bucks and a little elbow grease?

Nevertheless, if you pay attention at AoM, you might learn something that actually saves you money. For the past several months leading up to this summer, I’ve been wearing a full beard as opposed to my more typical goatee. When I finally decided to lighten the load on my face, I couldn’t find any spare cartridges for my razor — an old double-bladed Gillette Sensor Excel I’ve had for years now. I scraped by (see what I did there?) with the old cartridge until I got to Walmart to pick up some more. $20+ for ten cartridges.
My head rebelled. Must be discontinuing these, I thought. I should get the razor Brendan has; then we’ll use the same blades.
Brendan’s razor is a triple-bladed Schick Hydro 3 he got at Christmas time. It’s nowhere to be seen, though there are a few cartridge left on the rack — also $2+ a piece. I could get a newer model Gillette or Schick cartridge razor for $10-$20, and pay through the nose for cartridges you use three times and pitch, or go cheap and completely disposable. 
Secondhand Gillette safety razor
and badger brush, $12 total
Then I noticed a tiny box that read “Wilkinson Sword double-edged razor blades” — a 10 pack for a couple bucks — and I remembered something: a few evenings back, Brendan had been watching a video on the Art of Manliness site: How to Shave Like Your Grandpa. I turned my back on the Walmart rack and went home.
The video was helpful, as was the original article and several others on the site, and I learned a ton of useful (and useless) information. For example: who knew that most shaving brushes are made with either boar or badger hair, both of which provide an appropriate level of stiffness while retaining a certain amount of water needed to mix shaving lather? Badger is considered the premium hair for shaving brushes, but boar is more readily available — leading to a discussion about a side business to Brendan’s taxidermy work: Would hunters miss a few brushes’ worth of hair from their boars? Would a naked badger mount ever catch on?
Of course, the hipster element persists here too: an old-school wet shave is considered the pinnacle of…something…so you can spend hundreds of dollars on “silvertip” badger brushesmodern safety razors (or sought-after vintage models), organic and vegan shaving soaps and splashes, you name it.
Yeah, I didn’t do that. As I approach my 40th year, I like cheap and secondhand, and I like things that last. I found an secondhand Gillette safety razor at an antique shop in Rogers for $5, which I opened and scrubbed with hot soapy water and a toothbrush, then found a pure badger shaving brush with a chipped handle and its bristles intact at an antique store in Buffalo for $7 (“That’s luxury right there,” says Bren) — I washed that thoroughly several times with antibacterial soap. Blades were a $1 for ten; shaving soap was $1, I think, and after four shaves, I can’t tell I’ve used it. I’ve picked up a couple of other things, just to try: a tube of cream for a few dollars, a shaving “scuttle” for $2 at a secondhand store in Monticello, drugstore aftershave, that sort of thing. I’ve used one blade thus far for four shaves, and shaving twice a week on average, I shouldn’t need to purchase anything else (blades, cream, or soap) until Christmas, at which point, I’ll buy blades in bulk at a couple cents a piece.
Secondhand shaving scuttle and soap, $3 total
What’s more? These are the best shaves I’ve ever had. Incredibly close and smooth on the cheeks and jaw; the neck has taken more practice, but it’s closer than ever with no more nicks or razorburn that with a cartridge. It takes two to three times as long at this point — one pass it all is takes with a cartridge, because the second and third blades take off the first couple layers of skin.  But I’m getting faster, and when you know you’re saving money and can feel the difference when you do it well, a few more minutes seems worthwhile.
What’s pictured is all you really need: a razor and blades, a brush, a mug, and soap — and really, your palm can sub for the mug. $15 to $20 to get started. Bottom line: If you’re not gonna grow your beard out like my dad, then shave like your granddad — you’ll get more shave for way less money.