Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Hung Out To Dry

When our twenty-year-old dryer punked out last month, I faced something of a conundrum.

On the one hand, I struggled for a bit with the idea that we even needed a dryer.  Our unfinished laundry room already had multiple clotheslines stretched under the ceiling, with enough room for nearly a week's worth of washing.  It takes a full day to get things dry that way, but it does work.

For one weekly wash, and for the next, that was how I rolled, and it was unsurprisingly effective.  Of course, some towels, for pointed instance...dried into hard boards, all of the fluffy softness replaced with a faintly abrasive surface.  My jeans were similarly rigid.  Despite the Laconic appeal of such things, there's just no way my wife was going to tolerate towels so rough they'd annoy a desert mystic.

That, and I knew that once we got into summer, that area of the house gets quite humid, to the point of requiring a dehuey to keep the space from becoming unbearably musty.  Eventually, stuff wouldn't dry down there.

So a dryer it was.  The challenge, though, was finding a dryer that was just a dryer.  Meaning, it tumbles clothes and blows dry, heated air through them as they tumble, and that's it.  Dryers really don't need to do anything else.

But almost every dryer out there was farkled out the wazoo.  Meaning, they were stuffed full of utterly pointless gimcrackery.  WiFi enabled and with downloadable app connectivity, with chipsets and control screens and dozens of other utterly irrelevant and pricey features.  I could check on my dryer anywhere on the planet!  Why would I want to do so?  What's the use-case for such a thing?  Gosh, say the designers, don't worry your pretty little head about that. 

Almost all dryers were like this.  I found one that wasn't, one that best I could tell...simply a rebadged version of the same decades-old unit that had finally given up the ghost.  No electronic controls, just knobs.  All mechanical.  There we go.  Just what I need.

But there was a challenge:  It wasn't in stock most places.  There were plenty of the overpriced doohickey-laden critters, all of which were selling for hundreds...and in some cases, over a thousand...more.  The most simple, most affordable, functional dryer?  Most places, it was backordered.  

Meaning, people want it.  Every one they make, people buy.  I found one, but it took time.

And here, I see something of a market failure.  Because profit maximization often requires that a manufacturer manufacture not just products, but demand.  And all one wants in an appliance is that it does its job.

Or so I'd think, but I suppose I'm peculiar.  Perhaps we'd all rather pay more for irrelevant features, pointless connectivity, and counterproductive overcomplication.  Perhaps we prefer having our actual needs ignored, and replaced with synthetic desires.

Perhaps we enjoy being hung out to dry. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

On the Partisan Mind

Late last week, I woke early and puttered into southeast DC on my scooter.  I was headed to a formerly industrial area near the DC Navy Yard, where I planned to spend a day amongst members of a different Jesus tribe.

My own tribe is rather particular.  I'm a cradle Presbyterian, the child of a storied old church in downtown Washington.  It's the church of Lincoln, of Eisenhower.  The pastor who baptized me, and who was a regular guest at my house?  He preached the sermon that helped put the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.  Let me note, because history warps weird: that same pastor also marched with Dr. King in Selma, and fiercely opposed our misbegotten war in Vietnam.  

I've been part of the PC(USA) since before the PC(USA) was the PC(USA), and after years of conservative flight, we're now a very uniformly progressive gathering. 

The purpose of my day last week was to attend something called The After Party.  There, I intended to listen to the voices of evangelicals lamenting the toxic direction of American political discourse, and challenging how the partisan mind has seeped into the faith.  Two of the three primary speakers...Russell Moore and David French...have been vigorously outspoken about the poisonous impact of Trumpism on the Christian witness, and their presence was a significant draw.

It was, I will say, a very different experience than attending Presbyterian gatherings.  The event was held in the worship space of an evangelical congregation, which such spaces tend to be...a sleek conversion of a former industrial warehouse.  The seating, theater-style.  The tech, stunningly sophisticated, with a board exceeding the width of my congregation's sanctuary, gimballed cameras, and a primary ultra HD screen that spanned the entire front wall.  To my oldline sensibilities, such spaces parse as functional rather than sacred, but one has to appreciate the depth of the functionality.  

So it didn't look like most progressive Christian events.  Meaning, pastel fabrics wantonly festooned everywhere, like someone set off a grenade in a Michaels.

The attendees were a diverse mix of races and genders, as evangelicals tend to be.  There were also plenty of folks in their twenties and thirties, which was...different.  The oldline, progressive as it has become, remains remarkably and increasingly old.

It was a vigorous, intellectually bracing, remarkably grace-filled day of engagement.

I'm not sure, from my conversations and observations, if there was another mainline liberal in attendance.  

This got me to thinking about the partisan mind and progressivism.  

In this gathering, at least as my frank and remarkably civil conversations at table about queer folk and inclusion were concerned, I felt very liberal.  In mainline gatherings, I almost invariably feel like a conservative.  Decades of reimagining and reframing and deconstructing have created discourse my soul...often wanders from the heart of the narrative.  Justice is a worthy fruit of the Gospel, but when it supplants grace as our purpose, we are no longer telling the same tale.

There is a point, without question, when the partisan mind...the mind that divides, that is motivated by hatred and resentment, that embraces the useful falsehood...infects any movement.  This is true of left and right.  If we understand that Christian faith is not and cannot be a creature of the saeculum, that disciples of Jesus are committed to the Gospel first and foremost, then there are places where we set bounds against our partisanship for that highest principle.

Unlike the bat from Aesop's fable, which claimed allegiance to whatever party held power, the Christian witness is to affirm commonality wherever it can be found, but also to retain integrity of witness to our own tribe when partisan conviction subverts the call to grace and redemption.

Monday, April 22, 2024

The Unhomely House

I’ve got a slightly idiosyncratic sense of what the ideal home looks like. I know that American homes have, over my lifetime, grown considerably in size, as Americans themselves have grown considerably in size.

Back in 1969, when I was birthed, the average American home was roughly 1500 square feet of living space. As of 2022, that number was around 2300 square feet, down from a peak of just about 2500 in 2015.

One can, of course, get larger, sometimes absurdly larger, like a home that's on the market nearby.  It's in McLean, a wealthy Northern Virginia suburb, one bounded by the Potomac.  The closer to the river you get, the more expensive things get, and this is right on the river, all five acres, eight bedrooms, fifteen bathrooms, and thirty three thousand square feet of it. Yours for only thirty two million dollars, discounted from the original thirty nine million!  Such a bargain.

It’s the sort of house that realtors sell by commissioning bespoke videos to stir our champagne dreams. Shooting hoops alone in the indoor basketball court.  Wandering alone down staircases.  Standing alone in walk in closets larger than most New York apartments.  Drifting around richly in empty, immaculate room after room, none of which look lived in.

Honestly, this behemoth gives me the heebie jeebies.  It doesn't feel like a home. It feels like an abandoned museum. It feels as sterile as a mortuary, an anxiety-dream residence one wanders lost in.  

It'd feel...lonely.  It's faintly inhuman.

My general feeling about housing space is simple: I don’t ever want more home than I can clean and keep at least semi-presentable myself.  My understanding of presentable is rather more liberal than most other adults, I'll admit, but it's still a good metric.  

Can you imagine trying to clean 33,000 square feet of home?  Of course not. It'd be insane.  It is insane.

If it's more than you can manage yourself, it's more than you need.  

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Of Vocabularies and the Hallowed

I've got another book coming out early next year.  To my great surprise, it's not either of the books I'd been working on recently.  THE YEARS DRAW NEAR, my half-finished manuscript on faith and aging in America?  Nope.  IN THE SHADOW OF HER MAJESTY, my two-thirds completed Cyberutopian Regency Action/Romance?  Uh uh.  

It's a book I first wrote back in 2015 and self-published for the devotional use of my little congregation.  THE PRAYER OF UNWANTING, as it's now called, recenters the Lord's Prayer as part of a personal prayer life.  As the prayer that Jesus explicitly taught, it pushes back against our tendency to approach the Creator with requests for power and prosperity.  It gets us out of our individual and collective solipsisms, which is kinda sorta a prerequisite for being a disciple of Jesus.

As nearly ten years had passed since I wrote the first draft, I had some significant reworking to do, which is why it's helpful to have a competent and thoughtful editor.  Dated references were removed or changed.  Flagrant errors of reasoning or continuity were corrected.

One of those reworkings was a little unexpected.  Ever since I was an undergrad majoring in religious studies at  the University of Virginia o-so-many-moons ago, my go-to Bible translation has been the New Revised Standard Version.  It was my jam during my M.Div. and D.Min. studies.  It's the translation in my pulpit, and in the pew-racks of my little church.  I've commended the HarperCollins NRSV Study Bible to numerous folks.

The NRSV was reworked in Twenty Twenty Two, and became the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.

Some of those changes were trivial, and many are entirely comprehensible.  But some of the updating seemed less a matter of improvements in linguistic scholarship and new textual resources, and more a matter of taste and nodding to contemporary culture.

Of more significance to my book on the Lord's Prayer: among the changes in the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition was a rewording of the teaching of that prayer in the sermon on the Mount.   I had an entire chapter dedicated to reflecting on the underlying meaning of "hallowed be thy name," with a focus on the word "hallowed."  I'd used the NRSV for all scriptural quotations throughout the book, which presented something of a problem.

In both Matthew 6 and Luke 11, it no longer used the word "hallowed," replacing it with the more awkward phrasing "Let your name be revered as holy."   Clumsy though it might be, "be revered as holy" is a conceptually accurate effort to transpose the Greek Ἁγιασθήτω into English. It means the same thing, even if multiple words are used where once there was but one, so it's not a question of mucking with the meaning.  

Rather, I shall surmise, it's because the word "hallowed" is slightly archaic, something we don't say often in day-to-day conversation.  That's a point I reflect upon at length in the chapter, and a fair observation.  

But then again, it's part of the prayer as it's PRAYED IN THE LITURGIES OF ALMOST EVERY ENGLISH SPEAKING CHURCH IN THE WORLD...sorry, all caps got stuck there for a moment.  And there's just no way anyone could figure out the meaning of an uncommon English word they're unfamiliar with, after all.   Oy gevalt.

As it was, it blew a giant hole in that entire chapter.  I had a choice, then.  I could reconceptualize and rewrite it because the translation that I'd used had been changed to no evident purpose.  

Or I could simply change the translation I used.  

With some regret, I chose the latter.  For consistency, I then systematically updated all of the scripture references in my manuscript to the New International Version, which is a perfectly valid and scholarly translation.

Not a big deal, in this cut-and-paste era.  No harm, no foul, and I still use the NRSVue on regular occasion.

But it did get me to thinking:  If in our faith we called to live out a discrete culture that does not conform to the expectations of broken and fractious humanity...must our choice of language be axiomatically governed by that which ain't the Beloved Community? 

And why would we expect contemporary discourse to have words for that which is holy?

We have those words.  And learning unfamiliar words isn't a chore.  It's good for mind and soul.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

China, America, and Climate

There are things about the American response to China that make little sense to me.

On the one hand, sure, they're not a republic.  I prefer the liberties of speech, movement, and action that are for now still my birthright as an American.  As frustrating as the squabulous ruckus of democratic process might be, there's still much to be said for the protection of individual liberties.  The forcible suppression of religion and ethnic minorities is morally unworthy.  The silencing of those who hold a society to account for injustices and corruption leads only to rot and failure.

Yet most of America's beef with China seems to be economic, which is simply absurd.  Sure, the Chinese are now a global manufacturing powerhouse, supplanting the vastly weakened American industrial base.  Sure, most of that capacity once belonged to us.  But why did that happen?

Remember in 1992, when the Chinese invaded America and took all of our factories by force?

Of course not.  China didn't steal our industry.  American CEOs did.  Wall Street did.  Eager to plump up profit margins and fatten their own absurd salaries, folks like Tim Cook at Apple simply shipped America's industrial might to China.  The Chinese weren't about to say no.  I mean, why would they?  Can you blame them?  For them, it was all win, because they're playing the long game.

I mean, we know they are.  Chinese leadership isn't thinking about the outrage du jour, third quarter profits, or fretting about vacillations in poll numbers.  I mean, why would they care about poll numbers?   Ahem. 

They're looking to what they feel will benefit China not just ten years from now, or twenty five years from now, but a hundred years from now.

Which is why it's instructive to look at how they're approaching the climate crisis, and engagement with renewable energy.  

We Americans are in a reactionary cycle, pushing back against electric cars and solar and wind.  I'll admit that electric cars are a silly solution.  I mean, sure, they're quiet and fast, but dude.  Efficiency, thy name ain't "car."  Buses and trains and a functioning public transportation infrastructure are exponentially more efficient and sustainable.  Back when America was rising to its mid-twentieth century economic height, that's how we got around.  It was at least a viable option, which it is not now in America.  

The opposition to solar, wind, and other renewables?  It's borderline psychotic, and an ideological dissonance.  If you can draw power from the sun that falls on your own land, why is this a bad thing?  If the wind that rustles through your trees can light your home, why would we have beef with that?  Why would we want less efficient bulbs and toilets?  And why are we so programmed to desire large, energy-hogging homes and cars?  Since when were thrift and ingenuity problems for conservatives?

Yet here we are.

The Chinese aren't on the same course.

The Chinese are building electric cars, sure.  But they're going all in on the whole thing.   Unfettered by legal constraints or...paradoxically...environmental regulations, they're building a vast high speed rail network.  They're turning their newfound industrial might to the mass production of solar panels in unprecedented quantities, so many that industrial concerns in the West are up in arms about anti-competitive practices.  It's a battle they've already won, as 80% of the world's solar is produced in China.  They're preparing for a harsher climate.  They're also preparing for the era when fossil fuel supplies are fading.

They're not competing with us.  At this point, we're not even playing the same game.  

Do certain Americans assume this is because they're "woke?"  They're Marxist, which is why I'd rather not live in China, but the CCP is Chinese first.  China is on many levels deeply conservative, which is why...after some naive initial missteps...the communist party there has survived.

They are preparing, with the vision of a culture that spans millennia, for a future that will come.

And we are not.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Gate

How does one create the most gracious and effective threshold for entrance into a community?

The adult ed class in my little church is reading our way through CALLED TO COMMUNITY, a thematically sorted collection of essays that explore what it means for Christians to journey in the faith together.  It's produced by PLOUGH, the publishing wing of the Bruderhof.  

The Bruderhof, if you don't know 'em, are radical Mennonite communists, and if you're a radical Mennonite communist, doing life together well isn't a tangential concern.  When you share everything in common, and expect every member to freely and wholly embrace that ethic, doing community badly means things get real bad real fast.  

The book presents a rich array of perspectives from across the theological gamut of Christian faith, but the focus remains consistent throughout: how do we do this Jesus thing together?  It's designed for a year long study, but I've condensed it into twelve weeks, which means that our conversations are both rich and dense.  We don't touch on every essay, or every concept within every essay.

This last Sunday, the discussion cracked along energetically, but as has been the case in all of my class preparation, there were things I'd prepared to discuss that we didn't get to.

One of those things came in an essay by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, an advocate for/participant in intentional communities and the new-monastic life.  I'd read him a few years back as part of my doctoral work, and enjoyed encountering his voice again.  What struck me were his reflections on how an individual enters a monastic or intentional community.  

Such communities aren't unwelcoming, and frequently have robust ministries of hospitality.  They're open to strangers.  They're friendly and kind and active in the world.

But they are also, by design, hard to join.  There's no hard sell, no effort at bait-and-switch to suck the curious into their common life.  Entering into membership requires significant work.  In order to join, there are substantial expectations of the seeker.

“Only if these seekers are persistent should they be invited into the community..." as Wilson-Hartgrove puts it.

Which, if one is interested in "growing an organization," can seem a little counterintuitive. "All are Welcome," or so the mantra goes in my dying oldline denomination, and you'd think that'd bring 'em in.

On its own, it does not.  Low thresholds for entry produce low levels of commitment.  Low levels of commitment produce a weak shared culture, and a weak shared culture lacks collective resilience.  Monastic communities being the fiercely focused things that they are, demands on the curious are frequently placed early.  

Some Zen Buddhist orders, in particular instance, often make a very pointy point about not being welcoming, in a Fight Club sort of way.  You've got to prove you are worthy, prove you're not a dilletante, prove that you're willing to sit out in the cold and endure being yelled at to go away.

Which, as I consider it in the context of my genuinely friendly little church, isn't at all how we roll.  Nor would we want to.  Visitors are genuinely welcome.  All of them.  We like talking with new folks.  I mean, really.  I hear some pastors lament that their congregations are a circle of backs, and visitors drift alone and ignored through fellowship hours.  My little church is not that way.  At all.

People are welcome to worship, and to join us in fellowship.  They can get their hands dirty in our gardens.  They can help us feed the hungry.  They are, in that place, genuinely our friends, and beloved.  They can stay in that place as long as they like.

When it comes to joining...which isn't that hard, truth be told...I find myself increasingly not pressing the matter.  Just welcome, include, accept, and befriend.  Show interest.  Visit. 

But don't rush it.  Don't grasp, or be anxious.  Let God give the growth.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

A Thicket of Spears

Three years ago, I put bare-root asparagus into a four by eight plot in my front yard.  

I've always enjoyed asparagus, and when my wife suggested one evening that she thought it'd be fun if we grew it, I needed little further encouragement.  While you can grow asparagus from seed, the best way to get it going is transplantable rootstock, and so that's what I ordered.  The little brown tangles arrived in the mail, bare root plants often nothing more than yard detritus.  Into the ground they went, and the waiting began.

Lots of waiting.

Asparagus are sturdy, long-yielding perennial fernish critters, cousins of the lily, and a well-established plot can provide a few tasty weeks of early spring sweetness for decades.  But like so many good things, they require patience.  The roots need years to establish, and if you harvest the spears in the first couple of years, you'll cripple or kill the plants.

So I've been waiting, these last two years, gently weeding in spring and summer, cutting back the dead stems in fall.  In winter, I've tucked the roots under a blanket of leaf-mulch from my yard, and fed the soil with the wood-ash from my fireplace.  Those years have flew, as years are wont to do when one gets older.  This year, I sampled my first harvest.

When the first spears stabbed up through the mulch in early spring, I snapped them at their base, and munched on them right there in the garden.  They were, as all who advised me suggested, quite delicious.  

For three and a half weeks in early spring, we ate all of the produce of that modest little patch.  Every effort of those roots, devoured.  I could have pushed for a week more, but after returning from a short family trip to Texas, the spears had explosively regrown.  

After weeks of being cut back, every growth devoured, every effort stymied, the plants were stronger than I'd ever seen them.  Spears as thick as my thumb had shot up a foot in a matter of days, growth so vigorous and rapid that it felt like one could almost see it.  I'd been so concerned about weakening the plants in the years of their childhood and adolescence that I was surprised at their vitality.

Weeks of traumatizing and retraumatizing them had done nothing more than piss them off.  Their growth felt a little defiant, a little fierce, as living things so often can be when we face a challenge from a position of resilience. 

"Respect," I may have muttered to them, as I weeded around the phalanx of green.

It was time to back off, and let them grow.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

A Spoonful of Singing

It was a bright spring morning, still a little crisp, but with the promise of warmth.  As the morning light spilled into my little neighborhood, I heard the sound of singing.  

It wasn't, truth be told, the most tuneful noise.  It rode in with the arrival of a garbage truck, and the vocalist wasn't particularly concerned with either tonal or lyrical accuracy.  His voice, a baritono alto, was belting out bits and bobs of some popular Latino music, and what it lacked in precision and consistency it made up for in exuberance.  

As the truck rumbled down the hill towards our house, the singer came into view.

They weren't stopping at every house, as this was evidently a garden waste pickup, and so the truck was booking along at a healthy pace.  He was young and eager and wearing headphones, hanging as far off the back of the truck as he could, one arm extended out to catch the breeze.  It slowed as it approached the house of a neighbor who'd set out the correct materials.

As they approached the bins, he leapt off, still singing along to whatever he was listening to.  Grabbing a can, he dumped it rhythmically into the maw of the crusher, clearly timing his motions with the music.

He returned the bin to the curb with a playful flick, then ran to his place on the truck.  He leapt up to grab the rear bar with all the pleasure of a child jumping aboard a merry-go-round, and as the truck pulled away, he leaned again into the wind.  He extended his arm and open hand to play through the rush of air as he disappeared down the street, still serenading the morning like a trash truck Julie Andrews.

It's amazing how an attitude can change the flavor of our day.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Front Yard Gardening

It's been a good spring, because it's been spring this spring.

The last four or five years, late March and early April have been inordinately warm.  Temperatures in the high seventies, sometimes kissing eighty.  The soil has heated early, and in response I've gotten my garden going early.

This year, though, it has felt as it once regularly felt.  The air still has a wet chill about it most mornings.  The vaunted April showers have come, and the wild admixture of fescue and chickweed, bugleweed and clover and creeping Charlie that comprise my front "lawn" are fat with green growth.

And so the work of the garden has begun.  The asparagus are rising, sweet and tender and tasty, particularly snapped and eaten right there by their plot.  The overwintered garlic looks robust, although I'm a solid month from digging for the bulbs.  The beets were planted into a four by eight section in the week before Easter, and potatoes went into their half barrels.  The blueberries are beginning to flower, as is one of the two little apple trees I put in two years ago.  I spade-turned and reseeded the sidewalk-adjacent patch of sunflowers from seed I'd saved last year.

I've added another 64 square feet of raised bed space for this season, which brings me to just under three hundred square feet of bed space.  That's right at the edge of what I can manage without spending every waking moment in my yard...not that I'd mind that, particularly.  All of that takes place in my front yard, right out there with the sidewalk and the street.

We Americans tend towards backyard gardening, bustling away in compartmentalized isolation, but I prefer gardening out front, for two reasons.

First and most practically, it's where the sun is.  Our back yard is blessed with dozens of trees, which means light falls only sparsely on the small section of moss and grass between the patio and the woods.  It'd make for a terrible garden, because there's no point in trying to grow things if you don't give them light.  It's also low and prone to getting more than a little swampy, as it's where...absent the storm drains...a stream would naturally flow.  That treed area produces a lovely harvest of fallen leaves for the compost pile, and makes for a great location for said compost, but otherwise, its function is as a place to sit and relax while the dog romps about.

You grow in the light.

Second, it's more public.  More social.  It's friendlier.  As an introvert, this might seem like a peculiar thing to take pleasure in, but I do.  When I'm out planting or weeding or harvesting, I see my neighbors.  There they are, walking by, with their dogs or with tiny people in strollers.  I say hello.  Sometimes, they stop and chat for a bit, or ask about what's coming up this year.  Often, they'll share what they're growing, or talk about how they'd like to start a garden themselves.  I get to know faces and voices.

Yesterday, as I was harvesting asparagus, a little family I've talked with several times before meandered by on their regular early evening constitutional.  We chatted, and they asked what I was doing, and then I offered them newly sprouted spears from the wet earth.

"So sweet," he said.  "Really tender," said she.  It was a lovely little moment.

Growing out where it can be seen makes a difference.  It shifts and shapes our expectations of how we connect with both neighbor and creation.  We grow in the light, after all.

Monday, April 1, 2024

All The Things My Watch Does Not Do

I've begun wearing a watch again.  I stopped, two decades ago, because I could no longer see the point to wearing a watch.  As all folks did at the time, I had gotten myself one-a-them newfangled cellphones, and my phone told time.  Right there on the front of my Nokia, there was the time.  So I had a pocket watch, and it also made calls.

And then texts.  And then, my phone started to be able to do everything.  Photos, videos, and apps upon apps upon apps.  

The idea of a straightforward timepiece...or even one of the chunky multifunction Casios that geeked along on my wrist during the eighties and nineties?  Why bother?  A watch had never seemed more superfluous.  I stopped wearing it.

Then, back in August, my father died.  On that day, sitting by his cooling body and waiting for the mortuary folks to arrive, my eyes lit upon his watch. 

"Oh," I thought. "I should hang on to that."  So before they arrived to take his remains away, I took his old Timex, and placed it upon my wrist.  It has remained there since.

What it does is tell the time, and remind me of Dad.  It has one control, a little twisty knob on the side.  Push it in, and the watchface illuminates in soft green light.  Pull it out, give a twist, and you can set the time.  It ticks, a high gentle percussion of metal on metal, as tiny cogs and gears do their work.  That's about it.

But there are lots of things it does not do.

It does not nudge me with haptics to notify me of texts, or of news, or to get me to think about anything some semi-sentient algorithm thinks I should be thinking about right now.

It does not track my heart rate, or my blood pressure, or my biorhythms, and does not report said data to a large corporation.

It does not know my location, nor can it report said location to a large corporation. 

It does not need charging, not ever, although the little battery within does need to be replaced every year or so.

It does not require me to have anything else.  It does not require WiFi, or a signal, or a connection. It is complete, in and of itself.

It does not require me to lie about having read terms of service.

It does not ever need an update, unless by "update" you mean twiddling that little knob to correct the time.

It does not distract me from the world around me.

It does not encourage me to take out my phone, or make me think about my phone, or add in the slightest to the gnawing Skinnerian itch that we all now feel. 

Again, all it does is tell the time. I find there's a pleasure in that simpleness, and a deeper pleasure still in being a little freer from the chattering, inescapable distractions that are inexorably driving us all a little insane.   

Sometimes, the greater joy lies in what is not done.