Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Pilgrimage Down Amnesia Lane

A few weekends ago, I was joined by a number of college buddies for a reunion of sorts as a handful of Penn InterVarsity alumni living in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania met at our house to catch up with former Staff Workers Dave and Shannon Lamb, some of whom we hadn't seen for upwards of ten or so years.

It was a fun time of reminiscing about the past and sharing about the foibles of life as we currently knew it. We also took time to hear about what Shannon was doing as a director overseeing a large region of multiple states and campuses with InterVarsity chapters, and as we shared and prayed for her ministry, a common theme that emerged was that not only we recognize how God used those people and that season of our life to spiritually grow us profound ways, we really wanted to other college students to be able to experience the same. Shannon shared about how the college society has evolved since our days - the era of Twitter and Facebook are very much the epitome of the "no depth of relationship" and "no commitment" spirit - but on balance, students were still very much looking for deeper answers and meaning, in their own way. I'm comforted that God has transcended societal shifts, cultural revolutions and campus upheavals - Christ is no less relevant than he was 15 or 50 years ago, and those like Shannon who minister to these students will be faithfully well prepared.

The other thing that I couldn't help be introspective about during and after the event was how God demonstrated his faithfulness to each of us who, now 15 plus years out of college, are going through life as adults. The issues that each of us are going through are not necessarily the same - some of us have children, some of us don't, some of us are married, some of us are single, and all of us are diverse in terms of our current vocation - but to each person I'm greatly encouraged to see where we are. God has indeed been faithful.

Despite the fact that many of us hadn't talked for years, there was something deeper that bound all of us, sort of like the platoon from Vietnam that did battle together and had our shares of victories and heartache. These were friendships that were forged and deepened through shared learnings, shared vision and a shared Christ-focused mission. I can only hope and pray that my children are able to be blessed by a similar college discipleship experience as I did.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Problem With Joel

On a Sunday morning before driving to church, I flipped on the television and caught the beginning of a Joel Osteen sermon. For those of you who don't know, Joel Osteen is the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, one of the largest - if not the largest - megachurches in the United States in terms of attendance. Despite his popularity, Osteen is heavily criticized in evangelical Christian circles for a message which focuses overwhelmingly on having a positive attitude and a "prosperity gospel" (a.k.a. "God loves you, and He wants you to be rich!") along with lack of Christ-centered theology, biblical exposition and clear message of sin and salvation. For many conservative Reformed Christians, opinions towards Osteen are even harsher, putting him in the league of uber-atheist Richard Dawkins. Well, I'm exaggerating now... I think.

The sermon that I caught was actually one about "Being Thankful". To paraphrase Osteen's sermon, we need to change our perspective:
One day a man walked into his pastor's office and told him that he had nothing to be thankful for. The pastor requested they do an exercise and put positive things on the left side of the piece of paper and put negatives on the right side. The man said, "I have nothing positive to put on the left column". The pastor said, "Fair enough," and then said, "I'm sorry to hear about the passing of your wife," and the man objected, "My wife isn't dead! I guess you can put that in the left column". Then the pastor continued said, "I'm sorry to hear that your house burned down," and the man objected again, "What are you talking about? My house is just fine"... etc. After the session, the man had a completely new perspective.

Do you complain about your shoes? Instead, be thankful you have feet. Do you complain about your commute? Instead, be thankful for your job. Do you complain about your church? Instead, be thankful for the freedom to worship without persecution, etc.

Instead of complaining about "having to" take care of your children, change your perspective. Instead say, "Lord, I thank you because today I "get to" take care of my children." Treat it as a privilege, not a chore. Do you know how many people wish they had children who can't? Change your perspective.
The sermon wasn't terrible in terms of it's general message. I thought it used some clever points to illustrate why we ought not to succumb to our tendency to complain and grumble. It wasn't the nightmare "Pray to God to give you millions of dollars, because our God is a God of plenty!" prosperity gospel sermon. If anything, it was a sermon about being content in all circumstances, in the spirit of Philippians 4 (although allusions to Philippians 4 or any Scripture was rare if not absent).

I don't think, as some Christians do, that Osteen is a wicked man out to willfully destroy the gospel. What I see when I see Osteen preach are missed opportunities. He mentions perspective, but never mentions just how this monumental heart shift is possible. He mentions being content without physical things, but never mentions the sufficiency of Christ and how the Word of God is the food a believer eats. He mentions the privilege of living, but never mentions the privilege of the Great Commission, and the purpose of mission. He mentions the wise counsel that certain men have given around perspective, but fails to mention that God's own son came as not a rich and powerful emperor, but rather a humble man of sorrows who was born a carpenters' son - that the the King of the Universe's circumstances included a death on a cross bearing the weight of God's wrath - all which He willingly bore.

I like preachers who are joyful in hope. I just think it's a tragedy for the thousands and thousands of people who hear this man preach never get exposed to the full and complete story and power of the gospel, akin to being fed gravy without the rest of the Thanksgiving dinner - it may taste good, but you're really missing the best and most important parts. It makes me less angry than disappointed and regretful.

Instead of joining the chorus of reformed Christians and conservative evangelicals that hammer him, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit continues His work in Joel Osteen - to progressively know Christ and the power of His resurrection and enable him to speak boldly, truthfully and lovingly to a world that needs the gospel. It's a prayer that all who call themselves Christians can use.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It Sure Beats Giving Kids Paxil

A new study outlined in a US News article suggests that a great way for kids to reduce stress during school is to walk to school. It seems to make sense to me, and I can attest to a similar phenomena when I walk to crosstown to my office from the train station.

In addition to the obvious cardiovascular benefits, I think emotionally there's something healthy about a sense that you're somewhat voluntary marching into a place (of some aversion) as opposed to being transported like pigs on death train to the slaughterhouse. There's a sense of power and self-determination which is mentally healthy as you set the pace and the route of how you want to get to school or work.

What's most meaningful to me is the "mental relaxation" that I go through during my walk before work. I like the fact that I'm not jammed with other people like cattle in a smelly subway car, while hearing grumblings and mumblings of their workdays ahead. Instead, I take in the clean city air... well, maybe not, but I take in the fresher air above ground and walk, taking in a mini-tour of Midtown while I think, pray or meditate about my day ahead, my life and envision "good" outcomes whatever that might look like. I think I also get a sense of appreciation and enjoyment of being alive, somehow, to see and hear everything around me.

I can't completely explain the phenomena of why I find that walking before work (and school) is effective. I suggest it has something to do with my ability to see the vastness and activity of the city (and by extension, the world) and recognizing that if I truly appreciate that I'm in relationship with a sovereign God who is in control of all of this, then I'm in good hands. It certainly goes beyond the fact that I'm saving myself $2.25 each time I do it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Laughing at Death

During our family summer vacation, we stopped by Connecticut and spent some time with family. While there, we decided to visit the grave of Sarah's grandmother (or halmuni for those of you who are proficient in Korean) to pay our respects. The morning before we were make our visit, I told Daniel and Sophia about our plans and Daniel's somewhat unconventional response to hearing about visiting the cemetery was "Awesome!" and "This is going to be great!"

That reaction wasn't quite what I was expecting. I probably anticipated a degree of fear - I can see why it's pretty spooky to walk in a field where scores of bodies are interred; or boredom - I'd appreciate that paying respects for a great-grandmother who you barely remember somewhat pales with a trip to the pool. Nevertheless, the reaction wasn't outright disrespectful, so I let it slide.

The visit to the gravesite went okay for the most part, and it did give me a glimpse of why the kids were so enthused. The kids did pay their respects, but the little explorer in Daniel soon had him walking around the cemetery screaming questions across the field, "Daddy, what's this?" or "Daddy, why is this one so big?" That wasn't as bad as Sophia, who instead of feeding her inquisitiveness by asking questions, just brazenly started collecting rosaries and other gifts left at grave sites by loved ones. Mortified, Sarah and I quickly put a stop to that and made sure everything was put back to place.

I was predictably more solemn in my attitude during my visit. I did look around a little but it was with sadness, especially as I observed family plots where one spouse had departed, leaving a second unfilled plot which the surviving spouse would put to use some day. I sadly looked at gravestones of people who died far too young, including one of a 14-year-old boy, and wondered aloud what tragedy ended that life so soon.

While I don't think Daniel comprehends the gravity of death at all, I wonder if he's (by ignorance as opposed to understanding) actually reflects an right attitude towards death under the promise of 1 Corinthians 15:54-57:
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The point isn't that death isn't tragic. We understandably and rightfully mourn and grieve over the departure of loved ones, and there's an element of sadness about leaving those behind when our time on earth ends - particularly if our time comes somewhat unexpectedly leaving our loved ones somewhat unprepared. I think the point is that for those who have put their trust in Christ, there need not be fear of nothingness, or worse, condemnation when death arrives.

Again, I'm pretty sure that assurance of the hope of resurrection in Jesus Christ isn't currently the driving force behind Daniel's laughter at death. I'm hoping that there comes a day where it is. Heck, I'm hoping there comes a day where I can fully appreciate that, too.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sibling Superiority

A recent study supposedly unearths the "smoking gun" data which proves what many say is generalized conventional wisdom: First-born children are smarter than their siblings, while their younger siblings are more outgoing.

I've observed with this phenomenon and I would say that this is true more often than not. I'm a younger brother, and I would fully concede that my brother is smarter than I am while maintaining that I'm more outgoing. Based on limited data extrapolated from their relative inquisitiveness and desire to read, Daniel seems smarter than Sophia, while Sophia is clearly the more sociable and personable of the two. I'll keep Carissa out of this analysis as it's hard to make judgments from spit-up, drooling and gutteral gurgling sounds.

The article outlines the underlying cause theory which I think is pretty intuitive and can be largely traced to "nurture" versus "nature". An older child is for some time an oldest child, and thus experiences a great deal of educational attention from parents. Parents will often overcompensate with their first child, bombarding the poor kid with books, videos, academic calisthenics, games, visits to museums and other mind-cultivating activities. By the time the second kid comes around, parents are either/both (A) too exhausted with multiple kids to go through the same trouble or (B) convinced that they went overboard the first time around and cut back... a lot.

The younger child is emboldened by all the social settings that are now familiar because of their older sibling. In my family, Sophia will go to the same preschool as Daniel (which she's seen), play in the same playgrounds as Daniel (which she's done already with Daniel and his friends after school), and also know all the good excuses to feed her parents when she gets in trouble (which she's seen Daniel pull). All of this will be old hat for her, so she'll approach these situations with a level of boldness and audacity that a newbie wouldn't have.

Of course there are exceptions, and I have no intention of allowing this to be a self-fulfilling projection by withholding funds from Sophia's 529 fund because I don't want to waste money sending my moron of a second-born child to college. Nor will I refuse to allow Daniel to go to dances and his prom because he should stay at home like the loner the study says he should be.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Suburban Family Guy's 2010 Fantasy Football Kickoff

So I've decided to waste what little precious free time I have again this year by playing Fantasy Football for yet another season. I've already written in the past about the dilemma that Fantasy Sports brings to one's rooting interests, so I won't rehash that here.

I'm enrolled in three leagues, two of which I'm actively playing, the other which I've stocked the team exclusively with people with the last name Williams, Smith and Johnson (it's pretty funny that you can do this, and that team is actually pretty good). The two other leagues I'm playing in are intrachurch leagues which I'm also serving as "commish". The great thing about this is as I stay up scanning the free agent lists for prospects, I can unconvincingly tell my wife that I'm doing my part to engender Christian community and men's fellowship.

So without further, adieu, here's a tongue-in-cheek preview of our two Fantasy Football leagues.

The Emmanuel Classic (Chris Yeoh) - Chris is a new entrant to this league and earned jeers from his fellow owners for shamelessly plugging a commercial interest with his team name. Boo! Boo! What sort of monster would do such a thing? But before I rant some more, I'd like to remind our readers that you can save up to 30% on on electronics with free shipping with orders of $25. Please feel free to click on the banner ads adjacent to this post.

Mosquitos (Justin Dombrowski) - Justin, another new entrant, brings a great deal of energy into the Emmanuel Classic. I'm not entirely clear whether Mosquitos is a self-effacing shot on his height (Justin isn't exactly Manute Bol) or a gritty political commentary of the current tax code. As far as Justin's team ownership skills, we'll see if all that Westminster and Jewish Theological Seminary training paid off. Don't laugh, rumor is that Peter Enns is a deadly force in the intra-seminary leagues.

MoonWater (Rob Lien) - Rob's an interesting story - he was with Emmanuel way back at the beginning, left with his then fiance to Chicago and then pretty much lost touch with the church. Sure, when I was at Emmanuel, we made sure that we harassed him to send money as an alumni, but otherwise lost touch. We've recruited Rob to round out our league... and remind him that Pastor Drew would much appreciate his financial support later this year.

Gigantor (Alan Cummings) - Big Al is trying to wash off the humility of missing the playoffs last year, being edged out by "I know nothing about American football" Rich Kwon and "I'm only going to start playing in Week 4" Albert Song. Alan inexplicably got stuck with Matt Schaub again, but gets the benefit of Fantasy Football stud Chris Johnson. Props to Alan also for picking up good Christian brother Tim Tebow, who will pretty much be as valuable from a Fantasy Football perspective as my 3-year old daughter.

Dennis (Dennis Lee) - Dennis is our resident rookie, who I never had the pleasure of know at Emmanuel (we had left EPC before he had arrived). I've heard from my buddy Paul that he's a good chap and has been a great asset to the softball team. I'm not sure if naming his team "Dennis" is a rookie mistake, or an egomaniacal tip of the cap to Daniel Snyder or Jerry Jones.

Hamsters (Chin Ho Cheng) - If there's a personification of obsessive compulsion when it comes to Fantasy Football, it's our old friend Chin, who has no intention of being denied after getting upset in the first round of the playoffs last year. It's not that he makes tons of moves - it's that you just get the sense that he's five steps ahead of anyone else. If there's a breakout player any given Sunday, chances are Chin just picked him up. Remember what they say, "Fat man, happy marriage" is only slightly better known then it's also true axiom: "Lousy fantasy football team, happy marriage" - unless you're a masterful multi-tasker like me.

ANSKY (Phil Lee) - Phil, like me, is another alum who used the "we need to go to a local church for family outreach reasons" excuse to conveniently hide the fact that we were tired of hearing Pastor Charlie and Scott preach essentially the same sermon every six months. I'm kidding of course - we all know the reason why we stopped going to Emmanuel was because of our frugality in paying tolls. Anyway, Phil is a seasoned and capable Fantasy Football owner, and we can only hope he finds killer YouTube clips that capture the essence of a hard fought season.

Wyld Stallyns (Will Fehringer) - Will is pretty much Mr. Reliable. You can pretty much count on a good Latin-related slogan, a solid roster and a perfectly-timed quip in the heat of battle.

Team Singletary (Luke Lin) - You've got to hand it to Luke. Last year, in a fit of fandom chose a team exclusively of 49ers. He proceeded to win one game, recognizing that while it was a nice statement of his team allegiance, it doesn't quite work out so well if you actually want to win. This year, he's done pretty much the same thing. So either Luke is very committed... or very stupid. In a related note, Luke and his lovely wife just moved to Summit, NJ, so it's entirely conceivably he'll be playing in the below league next year. We'll see.

Pablo (Paul Huang) - My main man Paul is going to make some noise this year, which is one year later than he should've been. Let's be clear, I sincerely believe that Paul would have won the league last year if not for some dubious trades. But with the chief perpetrator of those heists out of the way, it's now incumbent on the rest of the league to try to fleece Paul. Paul, when you're ready to take an emerging and ready to explode Lee Evans in exchange of a quarterback-deprived Larry Fitzgerald, you let me know.

Beginner's Luck? (Rich Kwon) - Rich is a great story, which I actually turned into a movie trailer in an earlier post. Here's a guy who knew absolutely nothing about football who after losing to Team Singletary, barely made it out of the finals and then took out Chin Ho's Hamsters in the first round, before eventually losing in the Championship Game. Not bad. What's even more admirable is that this is guy who used to work in Finance who quit on his own volition to become a teacher because that's what he felt called to do. There's no joke or punchline here. Rich Kwon, I salute you.

Short Hills Sharks (Yours Truly, EPC Alum 2009) - easily the prohibitive favorite to win it all.

The Redeemer Montclair Classic

Team Swanson (Reverend Erik Swanson) - I have a great deal of respect for Pastor Swanson. As the associate pastor in charge of family ministries, he devotes himself to the critical cause of cultivating a strong faith within the children of our church. He works tirelessly meeting with parents and children, spending his time moving the Kingdom forward. This is a nice way of pointing out that he's done absolutely nothing with his Fantasy Football Team.

No Punt Intended (Andy Culp) - It's actually very impressive that Andy recently welcomed a baby boy but didn't hesitate to sign up to play Fantasy Football. Of course, being up at 2am in the morning lends itself well to opportunistic waiver wire free-agent pickups.

Sal's Saints (Sal Perednia) - Sal did an admirable job of doing some real time analysis during his draft and picking up some defensive gems. Sal, who's married to an Englishwoman, had to explain to his wife that Christian Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Kaka weren't available in this Football league. I understand that this led to a broader discussion of why Europeans don't just call American Football "soccer" so we're consistent in defining soccer as: "The professional sport that we really don't care about."

STRIKEforce (Dennis Martenz) - Dennis wins the award for most phone calls to sheepishly ask me questions around how to draft and position his roster. I admire that dedication, which is a great contrast from some of the other managers who (cough) still have injured, retired and dead players in their starting lineups. I'm predicting that Dennis will surprise some people this year. If he plays Fantasy Football as well as he plays the mandolin, then look out.

Naked Mole Rats (David Noll) - David is the "non-evil twin" member of the Noll Patrol. He's a good kid, and we all anticipate that he'll learn a great deal playing with the big boys in a Fantasy Football league. Of course, you could argue that without a spouse or kids, he has a built in advantage in this league. Or handicap, I'm not sure.

Chatham Coasters (Ming Chang) - I've got to hand to Ming. He knows his sports, but was sort of dragged kicking and screaming into the league.

Pretentious Preacher (Peter Noll) - Peter's is another member of the "Noll Patrol" and another one of our junior members who hopes to learn the trade of Fantasy Football from the big dogs. I actually think that the opportunities for discipleship are great in intrachurch Fantasy Football. The older men are doing a terrific job of showing examples of humility and good stewardship of time. Maybe not so much.

Fantasy Baseball? (Abe Houng, co-managed by Justin Maurer) - I have to hand it to Abe. For a guy who supposedly doesn't know anything about football, he's making a lot of shrewd moves. I liked his moves in part because they allowed me to blow him out on Week 1. Now Justin is supposed to be the co-manager of Abe's squad, which means in theory he's supposed to be helping him win games. Apparently Justin's definition of "helping" is to sit idly and observe in amusement. I think a co-manager is going to get fired soon.

Haste The Day (Len Noll) - Len's got a nice squad, with Giselle Bundchen's husband leading the way. I'm thinking that "Haste the Day" is some allusion to eschatological interpretation that the first loss of the season for his fantasy football team is another sign of the breaking of one of the seals spoken of in Revelation - which I'm pretty sure is outside of mainstream orthodoxy. I'd like to point out that Len is a Ruling Elder at Redeemer Montclair. I think Redeemer Montclair is a church in good standing in the PCA, but maybe I'd better check again.

Team Vlaanderen (Reverend Randy Lovelace) - Pastor Randy Lovelace is a killer, an absolute killer if you get him on an cycle. He's also passionate about his college football, being a big SEC fan. His squad features Eli Manning (Ole Miss alum) and Jason Witten (Tennessee)... and that's about it from the SEC. He'll somehow tolerate having players from lame conferences, such as the ACC (Reggie Wayne and Anquan Boldin), and Big 12 (Michael Crabtree and Jamaal Charles). I'm pretty sure he won't be applying his sermons around extending mercy within the church when it comes to Fantasy Football.

Los Cranford Finest (Carlos Almonte) - Now Carlos has followed suit and showed some town pride by giving some props to the fine town of Cranford. What's that, you ask? Well, Cranford has the honor of being the 34th best place to live in New Jersey, according to New Jersey Monthly. I'm going to ignore the snide remarks from some of you non-Garden State readers that being the 34th best in New Jersey pretty much places it 30,215th in the country.

Short Hills Sharks (Yours Truly, The Commish) - easily the prohibitive favorite to win it all.

See you all at midseason for the update.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Apron Strings Slowing Breaking

Earlier this week, we sent Daniel to his first day of kindergarten, and while I was far less vocal than my wife in terms of the depth of emotional trauma involved, I have to admit that it certainly pulled on my heartstrings a little. It didn't help that earlier that weekend when I was saving some backup files, I stumbled upon some videos of Daniel when he was six months old, barely able to crawl reaching for colored blocks, knocking them down and looking inquisitively at the world around him - which at that time was the living room.

Since there, he's sharpened that inquisitive mind towards trains, dinosaurs, animals and other things that catch the fancy of a typical five-year old boy. He makes witty and precocious comments, my favorite recent example being when Sarah and I are discussing the best way to get Sophia to stay in bed through the night, Daniel walked over with his cup of orange juice and with the seriousness of the National Security Advisor interjected with, "Listen, do you want a ruckus? Because if you make her stay in her room, you're going to get a ruckus. Then she'll wake everybody up." To which Sarah and I just looked at him with an incredulous look of "who invited you into the family governing monarchy"? The growth is physical as well - this past weekend the kid hiked up to the South Mountain summit and back down without being carried or pulled. Our little guys is growing up.

It also reminds me that not only is he getting wiser and capable of making his own decisions, he will be less "captive" to our influence. And while I don't find myself or my wife infallible, I pray that he would make right decisions and that he would have a heart which would reflect God's own and be able to filter that which is right and that which is wrong, no matter what his peers might think.

There will be other milestones going forward, and with each advancing milestone - whether it be sleep-away camp or college - the separation anxiety is just going to get worse. For us, that is.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Transformative Power of Grace

I wish I could say that it's easy for me to forgive people and "extend grace", but that wouldn't be true. I don't think I'm alone when I say that the visceral reaction is to want vengeance, which we can make sound better by calling it "justice". It satisfies the law of the jungle within us, where someone hurts us and we hurt them back. Or even better, we all probably thirst a little for the "Chicago Way", as Sean Connery's character puts it in "The Untouchables":
"You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way!"
Humankind's propensity to extract an eye (or more) for an eye makes me all the more amazed when I read stories like the one about Reverend Kim Shin Jo, a pastor who was formerly a North Korean assassin sent to kill the president of South Korea. Kim was captured during a firefight with South Korean security forces where almost all of his comrades were killed. While interrogators understandably passionate about beating the living daylights out of him to gain information (though certainly the death of 30 of their brothers-in-arms kept them enthused about harsh interrogation techniques), a South Korean general befriended him and showed sympathy and forgiveness. Moved, he eventually settled down and became a pastor.

If we're really "results-oriented" people, you'd think we'd be naturally inclined to choose the approach which is not only the right thing to do from a Christian standpoint, but it's often more effective. It's amazing to see how much more powerful gentleness and grace can be compared to harshness and vengeance in terms of changing hearts. That's not to say that there isn't a place for justice and discipline, but an acknowledgement that our natural tendencies lean towards retribution as opposed to more effective gracious responses.

In this day where some Americans inexplicably question providing aid to flood victims in Pakistan or why the US is bothering to help build infrastructure in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the transformative power of grace phenomena should be remembered.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tightening the Belt... or Not

A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek shed light on an interesting phenomena: in this time of economic uncertainty, consumers are are tightening the belt in some areas and opting to buy generics, but at the same time splurging for luxury items. What gives?

Some of it seems to stem from an increasingly savvy consumer. People recognize that the same Crest toothpaste they buy from the dollar store is the same they'd buy from CVS, so why not save a buck? They also recognize that there's very little difference between Tylenol and store-label acetaminophen. But despite being savvy, there also becoming more discriminating. Luxury items which are either functionally different or outward status symbols seem to be on the upswing. While the article cites that much of this is irrational "I saved $5 on toiletries yesterday so I can splurge on a $799 television" (yup, someone needs remedial arithmetic), "The dealer gave me a great deal on the BMW - $1000 below MSRP!" (or you could've gotten a Honda for $10,000 less) or as cited in the article, "I bought the iPad because I can't afford a new iMac" (uh, how about not buying anything at all if you're really worried about paying the rent?)

I think another factor plays into people's shallowness or the desire to look rich without being rich. People want to enjoy using latest toys and gadgets and sharing with friends over Twitter and Facebook how great they are, and the luxury items are also carry a not so subtle "look at me, the crappy economy's not affecting me." But in the privacy of one's own home, nobody will know of the medicine cabinet full of generics, or the fact that you saved a bundle at Dollar Tree. Or maybe the marketing machines are just too effective into sucking us into buying things that we really can't afford. The line between "wants" and "needs" have been blurred - when people say they "need" their Starbuck's each morning, that's a feather in the cap for that Starbuck's marketer.

If this is indeed the "new abnormal" as the article suggests, then maybe we're in a slightly better position than we were a few years ago when we were in the "irresponsible credit purchase" phase of the economy. But not by much.