Thursday, June 04, 2015

Federally Recorded Blessings

I'm not the biggest fan of the federal government. I don't mean that in any revolutionary kind of way, but I don't like the scope of what they do and what they have their hands in. And that feeling has persisted across administrations, and is irrespective of the party in charge.

That's the backdrop to the letter I got from The Federal Government telling me that I would be contacted by Federal Agents - honest to goodness G-Men - in the coming weeks.

Those who know me might expect my Constitutional-federalist, libertarian, individualist hackles raised. Off to the law I would go, to decipher exactly what minimal statutory and constitutional authority these privacy-flouting Census agents actually had. My answers would be kept narrowly within the boundaries allowed by our Constitution, the text of the relevant statutes, the presiding SCOTUS jurisprudence (if I felt it was well reasoned), the Anglo-American common law tradition, and the Holy Bible. Basically, I'd be like a clich├ęd POW in a movie: Name, Rank and Serial Number only. And really, aren't Census agents just wanna-be ATFE agents that even the Federal Government wouldn't trust with a gun?

If that's what you thought, then you're wrong. Even I'm not that cranky. My hackles were kept firmly in place. Data are useful, and while I wasn't about to spill every last secret I wanted to keep private, the scope of the household survey data seemed reasonable. Also, I didn't want to be a jerk to some Census worker whom I knew was probably a contractor looking to pick up some extra income (and in all seriousness, I would hope I wouldn't be a jerk even if they were actual ATFE agents).

However, I proceeded to lose the letter. Not because of any latent AnCap reflexes, but just out of sheer laziness/disorganization.

No matter, the Census agent proceeded to show up at my home. It (truly) wasn't a good time to talk, but made myself available to talk in the coming days on the phone in the late afternoon. She gave me another copy of the letter (which I lost), and politely asked me to review it so that I would be more ready for the conversation.

A few days later, she called at nearly the exact time I said would be most convenient for me. I settled in for the grilling, not really sure what was going to happen or how long it would take, but genuinely wanting to help.

There were a few standard demographic questions up front, and then it got right down into the business of defining my household. And not just who was in it.

"How many rooms does your home have?"
"How many of these rooms are bedrooms?"
"How many full baths?"
Etc. Nothing too interesting*. But then,
"Does your home have a permanent heat source?"
"Yes."

A little later...

"Does your home have air conditioning?"

In central North Carolina? Of course! "Yes."

As the questions kept coming, and they came in detail, I stopped thinking about my home as something altogether ordinary-
"Does your home have any windows boarded up?"
-and instead saw it as an extraordinary blessing.
"How often do you feel unsafe in the area within half a block around your home?"
In my subdivision? "Never."

As the survey went on, I started thinking of the people that gave answers that were different from mine.
"In the last twelve months, have you gone without hot water?"
"In the last twelve months, have you ever been uncomfortably cold for more than a day?"
"In the last twelve months, have you lost electricity for more than a day?"
About the only question I could answer in an unfortunate way was that I had seen (or likely seen) a roach in our house at some point before, although I wasn't really certain.

Those questions kept popping up in my head for a few days. This morning, I got into my car, and it started like it pretty much always does. I drove to my job that pays enough for all my material needs, and a great many other things. I have a wife that I love, and that loves me. I have the world's best Beagle. I have supportive family and friends. I'm writing this on my desktop PC, though there are at least four other devices in the house I could write it on.

Monday was Memorial Day. We have the blessing of a day off to go to the beach, grill burgers, buy a car, and just maybe spare a thought for the unspeakably great sacrifice of those who died in terror and pain at a young age for the safety of others.

Today, and every other day, I can be thankful that the Creator of all existence sacrificed for me personally to reconcile me to Him**.

It's almost out-of-fashion to tell people to count their blessings. Indeed, sometimes it's pious and insensitive to demand it of others. But I was put in a position to have my blessings smack me unexpectedly across my face (from a Fed, no less), and I'm thankful for it.
Our church recently changed their order of service to collect offerings during the service, as opposed to simply having boxes at the rear of the church for deposits. I think it's a great move. It is a mysterious and sacred part of worship to offer back to the one who has everything, and provides everything. And we conclude the offertory by singing the classic Doxology. While it's easy to fall into habit or sentimentality with more liturgical elements of a worship service, it's beautiful truth whenever we take the time to pay attention.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow

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* What a giveaway. As if having multiple full bathrooms is anything but astonishing compared to the historical norms of humanity.
** For myself and countless others. But as it is rightly said, if it had only been for me or any other single person, He still would have.