The unheralded in our lives

I was listening to a podcast this morning from Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA. It was delivered by their Senior Pastor, Louie Giglio and I am giving him credit for the general idea and also a warning; if reading about the Christian faith is abhorrent to you, I really wish you would keep going, but…

My thinking went back over my almost 57 years and all of the people God has placed in my path. I can remember elementary school friends who I have kept some contact with and teachers from the same period. “It was The War Between The States”, because there was nothing civil about it. That came from my fifth grade teacher and has stuck in my consciousness all these years. I imagine most of us have similar poignant memories that may be much more consequential. The thing that stands out more for me as a person of faith are the people who God knew I would need to be in my life long before I knew.

Most of these people were friends with special skills, but more importantly, very big hearts. I became ill 11 years ago at the age of 45 and was past my working days by the age of 50. My family would go through some very different financial twists and turns and those were painful and eye-opening. The most painful was being a fifty year old man who could not adequately provide for his family and had to be cared for instead of caring for others. When you read stories about the chronically unemployed and the psychological impact that it has on men and women throughout the US and the world, it is more real than you could ever imagine. We were never poor, homeless, unfed, or unsupported, just not used to receiving assistance or telling a child there was something that they could not have and I fully understand the difference between that and truly poor.

God had placed certain people in my path who were able to do things I could not, even if healthy. I had an amazing friend who builds houses that did so much to just help keep mine livable. I had a neighbor who wanted to teach his son the value of doing for others even when pay was minimal or none at all. A friend who had many contacts within the building industry who sent me people who worked for way below market fees because they knew my friend, not me. My parents were both able physically to be of tremendous help and became my legs, arms, chauffeurs, cooks, and many other things you don’t ever imagine not being able to do. I believe God kept them healthy, in part, because he knew how much I would need them. My Dad has been gone for about 15 months now and I know from my Mom that he spent hours on his knees, in tears, asking God to make me well and even when he started to lose some cognitive ability, would do anything I asked even when he was not really able. I had a pastor who would come up with funds to cover things that were just costs of living and those giving never knew exactly where it was going. He also made sure that I had a visitor from time to time who didn’t come to console, but to try to learn things I was learning from reading and watching the financial markets because that was my last career. He made me feel I was imparting something he could use or just wanted to know.

I could go on, but I think I have made my point, probably nauseatingly. I can tell you what I have learned over the past decade plus. Everyone you meet  is important to the God I believe in and should be to you. Not for what they can do for you, but because their life has no less value in the eyes of God than you. Never be too proud, or stubborn, to accept help from others; it will likely mean more to them than you. You can trust God to supply your needs; maybe not your wants or the way you would do it, but trust is an amazing value between Him, us and others. Share what you have with others, even if that is only a smile, encouraging word and God’s love. I learned that many of my assumptions about the less fortunate were born of arrogance, hate, ignorance, appearance, etc… I was wrong about every single one!

Finally, I would be remiss to mention the incredible lady who is my wife. I have to stop there because I can’t read through tears and the space taken up would make this a novel.

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Patience is a Virtue?

In the early days of humanity there was not a word for, or much need for patience. Our ancestors were busy fulfilling their first two or three levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It was usually a full day’s work to provide food, water, warmth, rest and then security and safety. If they had a significant other, they and the other may get around to belonging and love needs. I would assume they satisfied the love thing at times or we would not be here. I imagine at some point when we settled into clans, tribes, or communities there was one “chief” who satisfied his esteem needs, but I digress. Truth be told, I typically spend more time digressing than making a point, but I will repent for a few sentences and you will just have to decide which mode I am in at any given point. The point being there was no need for patience because there was not such an abundance of anything that delayed gratification was necessary. The word began to appear between 1175 and 1225 AD in Middle English as “pacience” and later in Latin as “patientia”. At some point during this time, a father said to his son; “hold your horses” indicating that they owned more than one and either needed to rest them or delay some action.

To make a liar of dictionary.com, the idea appeared in New Testament writing at least as early as 75-80 AD. John, the disciple of Jesus and early leader of Christianity, encouraged early generations of Christians to show patience in waiting for the return of Jesus. For thousands of years Jews had expected the Messiah to appear and establish His new kingdom on earth. The idea that He would be murdered, rise from death, and return to heaven without establishing said kingdom was not in the cards of Old Testament prophets. The first Christians expected He would return in their lifetimes, so by 75-80 AD there was an “antimessiah” movement that said Jesus was not the Messiah because His delayed return was not reasonable and therefore the early leaders of the church were telling lies. For anyone not certain by now, I believe everything John, Peter, Paul, James, Matthew, Luke, etc…said, believed, and wrote about Jesus.

So, what has happened in the past 2000+ years with patience. We eventually developed methods of farming that in many communities there was more food grown than could be eaten and we had to develop methods of preserving. Weapons made us the unquestioned winner of the hunter games and again, we needed ways to preserve meat that was not consumed within hours of killing. Ditto for fishing. This phenomenon required that we develop an ability to push away from the dinner table or we would be too round to accomplish safety, security and that love thing. With advances in industrialization, people owned more than just the clothes on their backs. This required that our infamous shopper gene be tamped down so we would still have enough money to buy food, safety, etc… I am of the opinion that one of the greatest disservices we can do to our children is not teaching them patience. Young adults with no patience have trouble accepting no as an answer to anything. It is very difficult if your initial experience with rejection or dejection occurs at somewhere around 20 years of age.

I guess my big leave would be that we should work very hard to teach all of our children the value of waiting for stuff. It can make anyone work harder to get what they want. It teaches financial management and can deliver us from the collector of delinquent credit accounts. Patience goes a long way to “paying one’s dues” when entering the workforce. No one is entitled to a promotion, ever! Now that I have tested your patience by making this about two paragraphs too long, please hurry and do something productive.

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To regulate or deregulate

The use of words seems to be the direction of much of my abstracted thought of late. It is fascinating to my small mind that the connotation of certain words at any point in time take on personalities. Regulate, first recorded in 1620, from the Latin
rēgulātus (past participle of rēgulāre ) according to dictionary.com and its variants is a current example. When we hear the word, deregulation, we hear that something great is happening, or that something catastrophic is occurring. From the early days of the United States there have been debates about what the government should be allowed to regulate. In 1776, the general thought was that there was little the government should be involved in, particularly from a federal view. It was argued that most forms of regulation should be done at the state level and these folks believed “states rights” should almost always preclude federal regulations. Who decides the punishment for murder once we have agreed that taking of life should be regulated? How much latitude does a state have over commerce that does not take place in their state, but the goods must travel through their state? These debates continue and there is a very loud contingent on each side of the debate which gives the word it’s personality.

If you believe that banks are never properly incentivized to do the “right” thing because their primary concern is with profitability, you are likely a big fan of Senator Elizabeth Warren as just one example. If you are a large stakeholder in a bank(s), you probably equate her with evil, socialism, and other pejorative qualities. I have heard many orate on the benefits of deregulation and it’s effect on corporate profits since the current administration took office. I don’t want to get into the weeds of macroeconomic mechanisms because I am not certain I am qualified and, like most things, I am likely far to centrist on the topic to be entertaining.

I think there are regulations that a large percentage of us would agree are good for society. As humans we decided pretty early on that we would not condone the gratuitous killing of another human. We have always held that one’s property should remain as such unless there is an agreed upon transaction between the owner and someone who would like to own that property. So, before we decry or cheer deregulation, we would all be best served by finding out the specifics involved. Some are really good for us and some not, but it is not the word that should be villified.

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The Prosperity Gospel

I am going through the Old Testament of my Bible (Life Application Bible) and am currently in the section of “minor prophets“. They are so-called due to their relatively short story in time and not as a judgment on their stature or prophecy. Micah 2:11 states “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer, he would be just the prophet for this people!'”. I immediately related the verse to two phenomena I see in our world today. 

There have been a number of prominent and very successful television, mega-church, published preachers or orators who have said much the same as Micah’s imaginary prophet. In short, the message is pretty simple; follow God’s commandments and you will be rewarded with plenty here on earth. As someone who was raised in a Baptist church in the 1960’s, this is very different than “storing treasures in heaven”. It sound a bit more like bumper sticker theology “He who dies with the most toys, wins!”. To be fair, I have listened to some ministers with very sound theology based on my breeding and religion studies in college. They are also quick to suggest that God will richly bless those who live according to this theology, not only in the after life, but here and now. 

I do believe there is a certain amount of financial wisdom in scripture and it starts with the general idea of hard work. Without quoting, there are many references to giving your master (boss/company) a fair day’s work and receiving a fair day’s wages. There are certainly large variations in the sum received for such a day in our economy, but I suppose that belongs in a future discussion. Other common principles I see in the Bible are: 1. Give unto Caesar (government/taxes) that which is Caesar’s. 2. Give unto God (I don’t need a clarification here and if you do, then I don’t imagine you would have read beyond the first paragraph) that which is God’s. Actually this would be everything since he provided it, but I think that view deserves a greater treatment than I am prepared to present. 3. Do not be materialistic (“do not store up riches here on earth”) as you can’t take it with you. I think this suggests living within your financial means. While I am not certain these will lead to great wealth on earth, I do think that not seeking immediate gratification in “things” will leave more money at the end of the month and much less than is common today being paid out in interest to various types of credit vehicles. That is the short version of my first thought from the prophet of plenty of beer and wine. 

My second thought went to the politics of our time. Not only in America, but in much of the world, nationalism is in vogue. I think nationalism, shaken and stirred is really every man for himself. This is filtering down to levels that are pretty shocking to me. School guidance counselors, rather than parents, are often tasked with teaching our children values in school today. This would include kindness, sharing, concern for others, compassion, etc… I hear from elementary level counselors that when they appeal to a “troubled” child’s care or concern for others to amend their behavior the reply “I only care about myself or I only take care of myself” is much too common. If a parent approaches a Principal about some perceived slight of their child and the Principal reminds the parent “there are 19 (actually more like 26) other children in that class. The rules have to work for all”, the parent’s reply is too often; “I only care about my child, let the other parent’s worry about theirs.”.  

I realize my two thoughts are of a wildly divergent nature. My first thought is a type of “what’s in it for me”, but with a much more compassionate core belief system. Yes, I will get what is good for me, and maybe an abundance of it, but in the process, I will attempt to better the plight of everyone through the role of government and the church. The latter is a very myopic view of my neighborhood, state, country, and the world. As long as I get as much as I want for me and a select few, the rest be damned! When I listen, watch, or read anything remotely touching the world of politics and diplomacy, I see a very narrow view of “what is best for me?”. When I see natural disasters, human tragedy, and great loss, I see a lot of “what can I do to help?”. My Christmas wish would be that we would see a lot more of the latter from our “leaders”.

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A Birthday Gathering

My family is one of those that celebrates birthdays until they cease to occur. Yesterday we had a lunch to celebrate my son’s 34th and my wife’s next one. I may not have learned everything I should have in 58+ years, but revealing a lady’s age just is not done. Even those who are not prickly about their age, and I would consider my wife one of those, would prefer that people not share their age without purpose. Chris’ wife, three children (my beautiful grands) and my mother were also present along with Chris’ little brother.

The first sight I see is Chris working to assemble a Lego replica Cindarella’s castle. When complete, it will be almost 2 1/2 feet tall and contain 4080 legos. This may sound extreme to the uninitiated Lego observer, but to Chris it is, literally and figuratively, child’s play. When Chris was at Clemson and his brother, Brooks, still living at home they continued to have Lego days. At the height of their play, they probably shared some 200,000 tiny bricks, bases, characters, etc… Chris was being assisted by his oldest child and supervised by the two year old. His middle child is usually involved at different stages of building and the “blueprints” for this monstrosity comprise a book so thick, there will be many stages. It is truly a family endeavor and is the most normal thing in the world to me after watching both my sons and their friends spend hours putting their imaginations to work.

One of the gifts we had for Chris was a combo Xbox game with Monopoly, Risk, Battleship, and Scrabble. The first two are games that I watched, and participated in, games that lasted weeks going back to my adolescent years with my brother. Tim, my brother, and me would have to make additional money and houses and hotels for our extended life struggles of Monopoly. It is truly remarkable how some games are multi-generational and video games require regular updates and revisions. Chris’ first comment when seeing this gift, after thanking his Mom and me, was to tell his wife and mother that “William is gonna love playing Battleship!”. Again, 3rd generation in our family.

I guess my takeaway is that kids, of all ages, fall in love with things that engage their imagination, calculations, competitiveness, and childlike wonder. The idea that most of these traits remain with us long after we are considered adults is not news to me. I have maintained my childlike curiosity for almost 60 years now and can still enjoy a 2-3 day long game of monopoly. I know that is why I so enjoy reading, surfing news, and writing.

The best part of the day though, after enjoying my Mom’s chocolate eclair cake? The two year old being held by Bess (my wife to the grands and her siblings) pointing to G (me to the little ones) and being passed off for some snuggle time. Her big sis and bru still enjoy the snuggling in small quantities and I hope none of them outgrow that or their love for games and all things Lego!

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My camel’s back is broken

I hate politics because they produce nothing, accomplish very little good, and waste an awful lot of time and money in the process. Add on to that it makes us hateful when nothing else in our ecosystem would cause us to say such blatantly inappropriate things to friends and people we don’t know. We have got to get some adults in Washington before we are everyone else’s North Korea. Our POTUS is not going to recertify the Iran nuclear deal because he is an expert on nuclear energy, uranium enrichment, or some other solid factual scientific basis? No, because his ego tells him he can make a better deal than our last president who had some of the best scientific and diplomatic minds around working on this deal with most of the rest of the world. I am not arguing that it is a good or bad deal, but how are we going to have any impact when the rest of the world, including our allies are going to, likely, stick to the terms of the deal. This means any sanction we impose can be undone through dealings with multiple other countries. So we have Iran in a deal for the time being and we are taking our eye off the NK ball.

The same is true of the EO’s he signed yesterday to partially dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It (ACA) is one of the worst pieces of legislation we have ever been party to and is causing more hardship for many families than it is solving and is only going to get worse next year. I don’t know the answer, but that is what we elect congress people for. What will work the best for all Americans and with all of the money they spend on capitol hill, they can not reach an agreement that even comes close to doing so.

Am I the only person who wonders why Facebook’s, along with instagram, whats app, etc… stock and monthly users continue to rise, but our President’s favorite source of communication is stuck on the same level of avg. monthly users? If he started using instagram instead, I would really like to see what would happen to those figures. He just said, and I am watching, that the Iran deal was the worst deal ever made by our country. Hasn’t he claimed the same about NAFTA, The United Nations, NATO, and others fall into that same qualification? I am surprised he has not attempted to undo our deal for Manhattan and the Louisiana Purchase; surely he could have extracted more for the US under these deals. Congress could put an end to this, but they are too indebted to special interest groups and political party. Many of the changes being made by executive order, including those under the last administration, could have been headed off and avoided if congress would do what is right as opposed to what is expedient or “kicking the can down the road”. If our current president continues to stoke the fires of international conflict, they can and should remove him from the process.

As I said, I hate politics and what it has wrought to a country where after our recent spate of regional disasters the people of this country jump in to help their neighbor. That is who we are and there is nothing that comes out of DC that would make someone from another planet, and probably our own world, think we are at constant conflict with our neighbors. I am not a very smart person, but I could choose a group of reasonable people from medicine, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, nurses (especially) and if everyone were only interested in the final outcome being positive for the US, no lobbyists involved, no democrats or republicans involved put together a plan far superior to what we are living with today. And I don’t mean me specifically, but any of several people who have had a lot of interaction with the current system and are just reasonably educated, but mostly open minded.

Well, I got that out of the way for a while.

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Financial Education 1

When those who determine school curriculums were/are making those decision, why did FINANCE get brushed aside? It is left out until at least post secondary education and not even then if you decide mot to major in a College of Business area. I firmly believe that money does not make anyone happy once it has been used to meet some basic needs. People may use it to keep score, buy more toys, have bigger houses, etc…, but I don’t think more actually makes people happy. It is a very simple fact of life that you can not live without having an understanding of how money affects our lives and society in general. We have to understand money to buy food, cars, clothes, houses, etc… and for those largest expenditures, we have to understand financing, amortization, interest rates, and a number of other more complicated issues. Surveys generally find that respondents do not believe money, in and of itself, will make them happy, but a lack of enough to meet basic needs can cause great stress. I believe that if surveys asked how much of your mental free time is spent thinking about monetary issues, it would be well half or more. The best available study found that each doubling of your income correlated with a life satisfaction 0.5 points higher on a scale of 1 to 10. One study found that in the US, there is no discernible difference in happiness once income reaches $40,000.

graph of happiness and income

I believe this graph is a good representation of money on our happiness; it has diminishing returns the more wealth you have. So, I think it can be established that money is important in our lives to the point that it helps us meet our basic needs. Meeting those needs allow us to be happier than not having them and the better we understand money or finance then the more likely we are able to use our money to meet those needs. BUT, we fail to educate our average citizens on any part of personal finance unless we say that learning math counts; I don’t!

With whatever I have learned, I am going to educate anyone interested some small amount of knowledge that will allow them to, minimally, understand what is needed to survive your personal financial needs. The one basic tenet of finance for the least productive individual to the largest government or company in the world is that expenditures should be lower than income. The vast majority of governments have abandoned this tenet because reducing spending would cost the politicians in power votes the next time they need them. Everyone wants the budget balanced on the back of someone else. This phenomenon exists in families and companies, but those entity’s are generally constrained by their lack of liquidity or ability to borrow money. I think a basic rule for anyone with any income should be to set aside 10% of their paycheck for emergency purposes or the “rainy day”. We then must realize that a new driver for us golfer’s or a Kate Spade bag for the fashionista do not constitute emergency’s. Every individual, family, company and government should have a budget with this emergency fund included. If you can not live without that driver or bag, you need a budget line that sets aside enough to purchase those items without borrowing in the form of a credit card, preferably.

I will delve into credit, interest, delayed gratification, and that part of way too much of our budget for a lot of people, but being uneducated about these issues contribute to the misuse of credit by many people in our society. I would really like for as many 16-20 year olds read this series as have read Khan Academy lessons, but I know that is not going to happen. One, because I am not going to promote it to that extent and then, because there is no class that anyone needs tutoring help for, they would have no real need to read this material. But, I will leave it all for my grandchildren who won’t need it for 8-10 years.

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The tune of my life

I am a lover of music as I think most people are. Some are obsessive about it and if one has to be obsessive about anything, that seems like an OK topic. I was born and raised in a Baptist church, went to an Associate Presbyterian college, roomed with an Episcopal minister’s son as my roommate for most of my undergrad and married a Methodist young lady who spent much of her life going to a “Christian Church” (The Disciples of Christ); that is a denomination. So, there are not many types of hymns I have not sung and brutalized. I learned when trying to perform the “shag” (that is a dance folks) with my current bride, who was a music major, that I was a beat off musically and based on the fact that I was off by several mentally, I don’t really think I was surprised. Now that we have my musical ability established; I am reasonably certain I am the only male who was asked to “unjoin” a reasonably small protestant church choir, I am going back to hymns.

I heard a young lady in a Houston shelter for those displaced by Harvey leading whoever wanted to participate in some christian hymns and her joy at just being alive was inspiring. I also saw clips of Harry Connick Jr. playing and singing some hymns in a church gathering and also at a shelter. He has a good heart and showed it after Katrina and has not forgotten what the people of Houston did for New Orleans. Now I am going to give you some facts about the one song that I likely know more of the lyrics than any other; Amazing Grace!

  • John Newton
  • 1773
  • 20-30
  • 1885
  • 10,000,000

John Newton was an atheist who was converted to Christianity, became an Anglican Priest and a poet. He penned Amazing Grace to accompany a New Years Day sermon in 1773. It is possible the verses were chanted as opposed to being sung in that original unveiling. Over the following 100+ years it was likely sung to 20 or 30 different tunes, which was not unusual for songs during this time period that had similarly measured verses. The biographer of Mr. Newton, Jonathan Aiken estimates that the hymn is performed about 10 million times annually. This all has a meaning to me that may be difficult for anyone else to understand in the same way, but remember I am at least a beat off.

My oldest son was not a very good sleeper, at least not when the rest of the world realized it was time for sleep. This led to many nights of rocking for many hours for both my wife and me (probably a lot more for her, but I don’t remember it that way since she is not looking over my shoulder). When rocking Chris, I would attempt to sing, you know soothing the savage beast and all that. Now I have always been a big Jimmy Buffett fan, or parrothead, but could never remember more than a few words to a lot of songs. As previously stated, I grew up a Baptist and you could not reach a certain age without knowing all six verses of Amazing Grace. So, to wrap up this story that was not supposed to be this long, between Chris’ birth and third birthday (at least) he song was more likely performed 10 million + about 2,000 more by me. This is just one of the amazing hymns that really became folk hymns in the early history of the US; I would love to hear people’s recollections of the tunes of their lives.

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