We Americans have many choices, too many I think. If you walk into almost any supermarket, you can find a gazillion different types, brands, and colors of ketchup. A trip to the fast food restaurant offers a bewildering array of food and drink choices from triples to doubles and super size to small. A Super Walmart Center has so many choices of products and sizes that it can take a long while to find what you want. I find that I often get lost looking over the shelves when I'm looking for a specific product. I simply can't see what I want amidst all the choices. Sometimes there are so many choices I feel paralyzed and can't make a decision what I need or what I want.

What a contrast with our lives in Niger, where there are often few choices of any particular product. Is ketchup in town today? If it is, you will likely find only one or two brands, and it doesn't compare to American ketchup. There are no "fast" food outlets, and restaurants have some choices but not many. There are no Super Walmarts or Home Depots. There are only two "supermarkets" in the whole country, and neither has more than six aisles or has more floor space than a basketball court.

Our African friends are extremely poor and cannot afford the luxuries we buy, like ketchup and meat, or Cokes and toilet paper. They think we have it all. We can get the best health care available. We can buy anything we like to eat (as long as it's available in the country). We can travel freely from place to place without too much hassle. We can take a vacation, something only the rich can afford. They often cannot afford even the $1.60 they need to pay for malaria medicine. They eat millet (bird seed) three meals a day. They don't have adequate public transport or good roads and don't own cars. They often can't afford to travel anywhere.

Sometimes after four years in Niger, we come back to the US and are dazed by the choices here. We want to experience the things we have done without (cold season fruit or nice tennis shoes, for instance) and so are tempted to buy things we don't need or can't use (at least all at once). We want to pack four year's experience into one year at home. We're also tempted to buy something when we see it because "it might not be there the next time." This mentality comes from being in Africa where if you see it you'd better buy it because it might not be around the next time you go to the store. This applies to necessities as well as the little extras of life.

If anyone thinks we don't have enough choices, look at the world of telephones. We have land lines with a confusing array of local and long-distance servers. We have cell phones that come with text, photo capability, and a huge choice of ring tones. Each company or server comes with different options. Or you can use a phone card to do your calling anywhere in the world. Then there is the latest choice of bundling your phone service, tv, and internet all together. Where is all this going? Who can keep up with it? What ever happened to Ma Bell?

Then there's the way we use the word "choice." I deserve to have choices. We want to "choose" our destiny. There are choices of lifestyles and family situations. "The choice is clear," says the commercial. Some people even use the word to refer to eliminating an unwanted person. That seems more like a lack of choice to me, kind of like what my African friends experience every day of their lives.

One of the ways I define poverty is "lack of choice." When people have few choices, it's usually because they have little means or resources to make choices. So I'm not opposed to choices per se, as long as the choices are not evil or immoral or harmful. I just think we as a nation have more than our share of choices. We don't need them all. We are drowning in choices. When we have so many choices that either we're paralyzed, not knowing what to choose, or we want to experience every choice imaginable, something's wrong.

This is another reason I like Aldi's. It's not a huge supermarket. They sell only the top 500 or 600 items sold in the US. They generally only sell their brand of any item. There may be a normal or deluxe variety of each item (like ketchup), but that's it. There isn't a bewildering variety of items on the shelves. In fact, there aren't any shelves, just items in boxes like in a warehouse. You bag your own groceries, but it doesn't take long to get throught the checkout counter, even when there's a long line. You can't get speciality items, but you can get the necessities.

Another thing that bothers me is the number of choices of English Bible translations. Don't you think there are enough of them out there? Think of the alphabet soup of Bible translations we do have: NIV, NKJV, RSV, NLT, The Message, NASB, Darby, Young's, Amplified, NCV, TEV, ISV, Berkley, ASV, etc., etc., etc. Then there are all the variations of Bibles in each version like the Student Bible or the Men's Bible or the Study Bible. Do we really need all these versions and variations? I know language changes with time, and the translations may need to be upated after a period of time, but it seems like we've got enough out there to suit the choice and taste of any individual who speaks English! Get this: In the Zarma dialect of Songhai, there is only one version of the Bible. Granted, there are only about three million people who speak that dialect of Songhai, and many don't even read it due to illiteracy or lack of interest or difficulty in understanding it, but there is only one version. Thousans of languages in the world don't even have one translation of the whole Bible in the language. I would love to make a proposal to those who translate and publish Bibles. Let's have a moratorium on any new translations of the Bible in English for ten years. Let's then take the money we save from all those translations and let's spend it to give the rest of the world that doesn't have access to the Bible in any version a chance to hear the greatest message ever told in their own language. Is that too much to ask? I'm afraid the answer is yes, but I can't help but make the proposal. It seems to me like the time has come for something like this. And if Christians don't do it, who will? We need to strategically place resources where they can best be used.

I know, this was a long blog. And I've probably offended some of you. But can't we do without some things so that others in this world can have a few things? Think about it.


Pet Peeves

One of my pet peeves is shopping carts all over the parking lot of a store or mall. Why can't people return their carts to the store? In recent years, mall managers and store owners have taken to installing "parking garages'' for shopping carts in the parking lot. It's so convenient, I can't figure out why anyone wouldn't take their cart to the "garage". They could get some exercise that way and help save other people some headaches.

Have you ever seen a shopping cart careen across a parking lot and slam into a car in a high wind? Have you ever seen a cart jump a guard rail and crash down a hill, creating a hazard for traffic and people alike? And worst of all, have you come into a parking lot and turned into a narrow space between two cars only to find a cart or two parked there in the way. That drives me crazy. Who could be so insensitive and inconsiderate as to leave their cart in a parking space when the cart has its own parking garage not twenty paces away? It's a sign of the selfish, me-first attitude that pervades this country and many of its people. I know we can all make excuses: not enough time, not feeling well, having a bad hair day, etc. All the excuses seem pretty lame to me.

Every culture and country has its weak points. This lack of consideration for others and me-first attitude is one of the weak points of the USA.

As someone who has lived overseas half my life, I can't help but compare cultures. Of course, not everything is perfect in other lands, but there are definitely things in the USA that I can't stand, and shopping carts in the parking lot are one of them. This kind of bad habit leads me to compare the US unfavorably with other countries. The US is my home, and I do love my country, but I don't like all the customs and practices of my culture.

One of the reasons I like Aldi's is the way it deals with shopping carts. If you don't have an Aldi's in your area, you are deprived. It's kind of a stripped-down version of a wholesale grocery. The concept of the store originated in Germany, where everything is efficient and fine-tuned. The shopping carts for the store are all chained together outside under the awning. In order to get a cart, you have to slip a quarter into the chain holding the lead cart to the others. When you have inserted the quarter, the chain releases immediately, and your cart is free. If you want your quarter back, you have to take the cart back to the "parking garage" after you've finished shopping and slip the chain back in the slot. The quarter pops out, and you retrieve it. Guess how many people leave carts in the parking lot? I have never seen a stray cart in the parking lot of an Aldi's. Isn't that ingenious? I think all stores should have a system like that. It would cut back on some parking lot blues.

Sometimes big problems have simple solutions, but everyone has to be willing to do their part. Sometimes that involves a small, temporary sacrifice (like paying a quarter for a shopping cart). Maybe people ought to pay a quarter if they leave their cart unattended in a parking lot. The way we demand our rights in this country, however, does not make me optimistic that this parking cart problem will be solved soon.

Let's all do our part and return our carts to the "parking garage." And I challenge everyone out there to make little sacrifices to make our country a more considerate, more humane, and less selfish place.