Miss Woodhouse's Musings

…about life, the universe, and everything. Don't panic!

Let’s Chat About Money

God is a God who values logic and critical thinking. We see evidences of this in the Bible, such as the verse in Isaiah 1:18 where the Lord calls His people to reason with Him. In this case, the Hebrew word carries connotations of discussion, debate, conversation. The definite thrust of His call is that He wants to talk with His people, for His people to use their minds and talk through deep issues of salvation with Him.

 

This week, I’ve been studying the parable of the Shrewd Manager, found in Luke 16. The story itself is fascinating: a manager is called in by his boss and fired for mishandling his master’s funds. Because he sees no other options for his future, the manager moves quickly to lessen the debts that people owe to his (now former) boss, before any of the debtors find out about his loss of position. When the boss finds out about the ex-manager’s actions, he praises him for his good thinking! Even more amazingly, Jesus then goes on to look at His disciples and say, for all intents and purposes, ‘be like the manager.’

 

Say what now?

 

I’ll be honest, and admit right here right now that I was flummoxed by this story for many years. Is the ethical Jesus teaching us to cheat people even after they know that we are untrustworthy? Is He telling us to BE untrustworthy? This is all so confusing.

 

When you feel up a creek without the proverbial paddle, it is a good idea to look at the context, the situation in which the story is being told.

 

The parables preceding the story of the shrewd manager all deal with people who are searching for something they’ve lost. Loss taught the hearers about true value. In one case it was a sheep, in another a coin, in still another it was a child, but they all hold a uniting thread: they held value to the one searching for them. And the result of being found? Much rejoicing.

 

So, it seems a bit odd when Jesus shifts His storytelling to the disciples, and tells them about such a dishonest (though savvy) manager. But the real kick of the story comes in the application. Jesus turns His lesson into a series of if/then statements: IF you are faithful in little, THEN you will be faithful in much. IF you are unfaithful in little, THEN you will be unfaithful in much. IF you cannot be trusted with earthly riches (little), THEN who would trust you with eternal treasures (much)?

 

Ah, it makes more sense now. Take away our indignation at the manager’s dishonesty, and you are left with a story about a very smart man. He lost his job, no way around that. He knew himself well enough to know he wasn’t strong enough to go get real work, and he wasn’t humble enough to beg for his living. The only smart option was to create a situation where he looked good, his old boss looked good, people felt indebted to him, and the stakes would be too high for his old boss to undo the actions.

 

All in all, it was a brilliant plan. Which brings me to another question…when was the last time you used logic and critical thinking to that extent for any reason? What about for the Kingdom? When was the last time you plotted to make someone unsaved come to church with you? What was your last game plan for evangelism? Ouch. If you’re anything like me, the answers to those questions aren’t going to bring about any feelings of pride and joy.

 

However, Jesus doesn’t stop there. In all His infinite wisdom, He throws in another lesson application. “No man can serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and money.” At first read it is a seeming nonsequitor, but there’s a reason for the placement. Jesus just told His followers that they should be shrewd. He told them that they should wisely manage their earthly wealth to gain friends here on earth, and eternal treasures in heaven. But Jesus also knows that the siren call of money is strong, and that even those with the best intentions of use can fall prey to its evil enticements. How many ministries can you think of that have experienced set backs or fallen altogether because the leaders took the money they were managing for the Kingdom and funneled it into their own pockets instead?

 

This is the trap, this is the warning. Be shrewd, be sharp, be wise, be trustworthy with little and much…but remember that if you are serving the master of money, you aren’t serving God. In fact, Jesus further polarizes it by saying that you will LOVE one and HATE the other.

 

For me, this parable comes back to my rallying cry for Christians: don’t check your brain at the door! Jesus never asked us to put down our wisdom and take up our crosses to follow Him. In fact, wisdom is a gift He bestows on us, so let’s not waste it. Be as sharp as serpents, as harmless as doves, and may we never lose sight of the true treasure of all our eternities: the Kingdom.

Leave a comment »

Growing, Growing, Gone

The story starts as any good story should, with Once Upon A Time. Only, this was not the beginning of a lovely fairytale, but rather the start of a horror story. And Once Upon A Time…it was the name of a little bookstore. In a tale worthy of a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie, the little children’s bookstore operated well on a busy little corner in an area of town that only had one grown-up bookstore a little down the way. When it came to entertaining the literate child, Once Upon A Time was the place to go.

Enter the big, bad wolf. In this story, we will call them ZanyB. Or, how about ZBrainy? Either way, they moved in RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET. Poor little Once Upon A Time, it couldn’t compete with the megachain’s low prices, extensive retail line, and playhouse atmosphere. A short time later, Once Upon a Time came to an untimely The End. The only satisfaction I find in this sordid tale is that ZanyB went defunct in 2001. It’s only a slight consolation though.

Why, then, am I telling you a tale in which all the characters died over a decade ago? The answer is simple: it is happening everywhere…and it is happening in vicious force right down the street from me. In order to protect myself from the (unlikely) risk of a lawsuit, let’s set up some pseudocharacters. The pawns in this game of sale are as follows: PetshopA, PetshopB, and PetshopC. See? Nice and simple.

I have the honour of knowing the owner of PetshopA. He is a regular customer, and someone that we look forward to seeing at night. I love going into his storefront, and his store is where I take my puppy to be groomed. It is the quintessential local store: in a shopping center just a blocks from my neighbourhood, with good prices and a nicely varied selection of products. All good and well. Now, there is a superpetstore a few miles thataway (nods head vaguely in some direction), but we aren’t even going to worry with that now. No, the store we are worried about is thisaway (points in the opposite direction).

Just so you don’t get too confused, allow me to provide a handy diagram! Only the stores vital to your understanding are shown, so of course I pointed out where Starbucks is in the scenario. Just because you’re going to need coffee at the end of this.

Our Setting

Are we good? Good!

Continuing with the story…PetshopB has been around for a long time. A really long time. And it is a decent sized store too, several times larger than PetshopA. Because they are far enough apart, there isn’t really a lot-lot of competition. Some, but they have enough breathing room.

Enter PetshopC. They are building a new, two story monstrosity RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET from PetshopB. Anyone else remember reading the words RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET in all caps before? (Hint: see second paragraph.) But really, they are constructing a new building less than 100 feet from the existing pet store.

At first, my anger was directed solely towards PetshopC. How dare they pick that particular corner! We are already over saturated (oh yes, and there’s an Animal Hospital too, which sells pet supplies as well). We don’t need them in the least…and PetshopA owner assures me that there is not enough demand in this area to support yet another pet supply store.

However, as time went on I found myself getting more angry at city planning. Are they really so greedy that they would put a superfluous store on one of our busiest roads just to make a little more money? The answer is “apparently so.” This particular road is already a parking lot in the afternoon/evening as everyone jumps off the interstate and tries to come home. Plus, the main ingress AND egress for a neighbourhood is right at that intersection too. As is one of the main entrances/exits  for one of our largest shopping centers. The LAST thing we need on that road is more turning traffic holding up and blocking already congested lanes of traffic. Oh yeah, and we are in a recession. Perhaps someone should have informed city planning of that little detail before they agreed to this.

Not to mention that the building is ugly. And huge.

I told you it was ugly.

In talking with Mr. PetshopA last night, he predicted that PetshopB would last about another year. In all honesty I think that is being very generous, but I will bow to his expertise in this area. Besides, the holidays are fast approaching, so PetshopB may survive a little longer than expected due to holiday revenue. But one thing is for sure: no one is expected both businesses to last, and we expect that PetshopB will be the one to suffer loss.

I hope I’m wrong, really, I do.

(But I don’t think so.)

2 Comments »

The Extra Mile

Every Starbucks has at least one person like her. She says she’s homeless, she tells us that she lives with her goddaughters. She comes in to the store while she waits for the bus. The situation is enough to touch your heartstrings.

Until you are around for a while. Then, you begin to see a few disturbing things. She begs customers for money (something that we must forbid on Starbucks property, and she has been told many times that soliciting customers for money is not allowed). Then, she comes up to the registers and asks us for free pastries and free coffee. Not just asks, but begs. Then, she takes the money she begged from the customers (for coffee) and takes it to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets. I’m not in any position to judge her life, but it is off-putting and disturbing to people who don’t like seeing their niceness used for a different purpose than they intended.

We really, really want to help her. Deep down, we all want to be generous. Unfortunately, it’s one of those situations where if you do one nice thing, then she expects more and more and more and more.

We haven’t seen her in a while, but the other day she came back. Instantly, she started in on us. First, she targeted me (she is good at figuring out who is the newest and least experienced). I’ve no authority to give out free merchandise, so I passed it off to my shift.

I’m a coward, I know.

My shift is a wonderful, soft-hearted, giving person. However, she knows the history and trends even better than I. She offered to look in our donation bin for some nice pastries, but that was all she could really do. My shift returned with several slices of coffee cake from the night before, neatly wrapped up.

The woman thanked her profusely, and went to sit down in a comfy chair. Coincidently, this chair was next to the table of the only other person sitting in the cafe. He’s a regular, and we figured he was safe from her begging seeing as how he was deeply embroiled in a cellphone conversation.

Within 5 seconds, the woman called across the cafe to my shift, asking for a plate and fork. My dear shift grabbed the requested items, and took them across the cafe to her.

Less than 20 seconds later, the man at the table gets up and comes to the counter, still on his cellphone. He usually comes in with a woman, so we assume that he’s getting ready to order her drink. He stares at the board for a minute, obviously perusing his options. Then, he orders a grande latte.

As any good barista should do, my shift asked if he wanted any flavouring in it. He shrugged at us, gave a little smile, and quietly said that he was getting for the woman in the chair.

My shift and I weren’t quite sure how to react. On one hand, it was really sweet of this guy to buy her a drink. On the other hand, 20 seconds to get a guy on a cellphone to buy her a pricey drink had to be a new record. We look at each other for a moment, and then shrug. My shift gets the milk steaming. I go back to mopping the floors. The customer looks at me, and holds out a $5 bill.

Here’s where I make my decision: if the customer wants to be nice, I’ll let him be nice. However, I’m not going to charge him for the drink. I smile at him and shake my head; I’d take care of it later when I got my food for my 30. He smiles back, then frowns a little. He continues to stand there.

I go back to scrubbing mats. My shift finishes the drink, and hands it to him. He once again tries to pay, but she tells him “no” as well.

Sweet man, he honestly wouldn’t take our no as an answer. He stood there insisting on paying until we rung him up. Then, he patiently fixed her drink up with sugar according to her specifications. Specifications, I might add, that she yelled at him from across the cafe. He even came back up a minute later to get her a spoon because she wanted one to “drink” her latte.

She left a little while later, leaving her plate, spoon, fork, and empty cup littered around the cafe. I never did hear her thank him for his care and consideration.

However, it blew me away. It was a sweet gesture, done quietly and without show. Not only did he reach out to this woman, but he did more than the minimum required by the situation. He could have gotten a tall; he bought a grande. He could have gotten plain coffee; he bought her first latte ever. He could have accepted our refusal to let him pay; but he paid anyway. He totally amazed me that day.

Our customers are, hands down, the best in the world.

I wish I could be more like that at work. I wish that I didn’t have to filter situations through a more jaded screen. I have no problem doing “x”, but I know that should I do “x”, next time there will be a loud demand for “x+y”. The next time, “x+y+z”, and so it goes.

But this one man, he’s not there enough to risk seeing her again for a long time. He reached out and touched her life that day, and I can only hope and pray that it made a difference to her.

It certainly had an impact on me.

2 Comments »

Going For The Gold

While the elite athletes of the world were up in Canada winning gold medals, I was working on a more important gold award. That’s right folks, my Starbucks gold card came yesterday!

To earn this card, I had to make 30 swipes on my registered Starbucks cards. Yup, no problem. The new card is cute, but the International Space Station called last night to complain about the glare. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the pretty new card:

Starbucks

It is shiny! What’s even cuter than the card with the darling little stars is the card that brought it to me:

…where they wrote me a cute little note. Best of all, it comes with a free drink coupon!

So there you have it! Make sure that you don’t just throw away the note from Starbucks- you don’t want to miss out on every great benefit the new Gold Card Program has to offer. Happy star earning!

And remember, after reaching gold, every fifteen stars you get one of these in the mail:

Yes, this is all very exciting! Now, I’ve got to go get some coffee.

Leave a comment »

The People You Meet At Starbucks-1

This is the first post in a series I’ve been working on for some time. We meet so many different types of customers, making each order a new adventure. However, many customer “types” share similar characteristics, so I thought that it would be fun to clue you all in about what I see as “typical” behaviours in certain customers. So, here we go with the first installment- check in Saturday for the next edition!

Office Drone (Mark 1)
This specimen is a Starbucks junkie in their own right. All it takes is for the boss to glance sideways at a coffee mug and this assistant is gathering crumpled $20 bills and credit cards from everyone in sight and half listening to orders. Since this is a paid break, the drone is in no hurry to return to the office. Good thing too, because half listening to orders makes for a confusing time at the register.

They consult their hastily scribbled notes to discover that the “shorthand” they used to save time didn’t really help them at all. Was that “chocolate” Frappuccino the one with coffee or without? What size was that 5 shot cinnamon dolce latte supposed to be again? But never fear- this drone is not worried about making mistakes. Life is what it is; besides, they brought in their own special to-go tumbler with their order pre-written on the side. At least one drink will be right!

1 Comment »

Overdue

Warning: this post contains a long-winded English major talking about business and budgets. Read at your own risk! The author assumes no responsibility for misinformation, because the city’s information is confusing, and she refuses to go to business school just to understand it. All the best- Miss Woodhouse

I’m missing a library book.

Wait, stop! Please don’t pass out!

Okay now? Good; I’ll move on.

Here’s the deal: it’s somewhere in my room, and I will find it. Hopefully, I’ll find it tonight. It’s just that it’s a small little paperback, and I have a lot of books. No, really, I mean it. A lot of books. Too many books, if there is such a thing. (I don’t believe that there is, but others have a differing opinion.)

What I find amazing is that if I go buy the same book as I lost for the library with the same ISBN, it’ll cost me about $6. Seriously, and that’s for a new copy. They, however, want me to pay $16 dollars to replace the book, with no guarantee that they’ll get a new copy to replace the one I can’t find. They can make $10 or more on this transaction! Arg.

But this post is not meant to focus on my inability to organize. No, this post is on the ridiculousness  of libraries. First off, library fines don’t go straight back into the library budget. They instead go into the city coffers. I have a bit of an issue with that. If I get a speeding ticket, then I expect my money to go to the city. If my book is a little late, then I expect my money to go to the library.

Apparently, this is a tough concept for the city to handle. Or maybe not.

Before I delve too deeply into this mess, allow me to confess that I am not a business-type person. I don’t fully understand the workings of city government, and all the information I have is gleaned from conversations with librarians and a PowerPoint that you are free to view for yourself here. But never fear, dear readers, this ignorance will not stop me from expressing my opinion.

Our city, by its own admission, has higher library fines than average. More to the point, its fines are much higher than the cities surrounding it. According to data from 2007 (not great, I know, but it’s the most recent I could find), other cities are between $.10-.15 per item. We are at $.20.

Now for the big numbers. Annually, residents pay somewhere in the neighbourhood of $300,000 yearly in fines. Now that I see those numbers, my $16 seems so insignificant. Wow, $300,000? That’s a lot of late books/movies/cds!

This is the part where my head begins to hurt. Library fines (which I’ve been told don’t go directly to the library), only make up 2% of the annual library budget. Breathe for a moment and soak up that information. Our libraries have a 15 million dollar budget? They don’t seem to buy all that many new materials, so I’m assuming that the bulk of that goes to building upkeep and salaries. It may look like a lot of money, but then realize you are spreading that out among 10 buildings. Not such a liberal budget after all. Anyway. It is also 13% of book purchasing yearly- sorry, but doing that math makes my head hurt. Feel free to work out what the annual book buying budget is and post it in the comments!

So, if I have this right (and again, I might not), the fines we pay make up 2% of the total budget, and that 2% of the budget only cover 13% of book buying costs. Is anyone else having flashbacks to high school Algebra word problems? Then we will quickly move on.

Now, in 2007 the libraries began using a collection agency for accounts seriously in arrears. Considering I have about $50 on my card right now (I’ll drastically reduce that by finding this silly book), I’ve been a little nervous about that agency. (Editor’s note: make that $47.60. Yuck.)

I shouldn’t be. According to my source material, 454 accounts in 2007 had fines amounting to more than $72,000. At first I thought that all 454 accounts added up to $72,000, with the average account having a $158 total fine. No, apparently these are individual accounts with $72,000 each. I don’t know if that is even possible, but unless the slides are poorly written that’s what they say. That would make outstanding fines over $32.5 million, and that seems unreasonable to me. Maybe it is the $158 instead, but who knows?

Here’s my problem- if our yearly library budget is $15 million (and again, math is not my strong suit), and the city managed to collect the some $30 million in unpaid fines (we are still very hypothetical here), that extra money would not go to the library. Instead, that money would go to the city coffers, $15 million would go to the Library budget (making Library fines support them 100%), and the other $15+ million? I guess that the city could do with it whatever they choose. This, my friends, is what I don’t see as fair.

So now my head hurts, I know WAY too much about library budgets, and I still don’t know where that book is. If only I knew how to hack one of those grossly overdue accounts. I mean, if you owe over $72,000, what’s another $50 or so? Oh well, off to dredge the room….

(Just kidding! The book is found, returned, and the debt settled. More money for the city, I guess.)

Leave a comment »