I was recently part of a Bible study where the tone – and apparently intention – was quite different.

As the leader asked a series of programmed and predictable questions (literally from the back of the book), I noticed that almost everyone seemed to be looking at each other warily as if they were searching for the ‘right’ answer. And they seemed to share the assumption that there was – and should be – only one ‘right’ answer.

And, above all, that the ‘right’ answer should be comfortable and familiar and should certainly not challenge any of us in our thinking, and definitely not our values, lifestyle or behavior.

And I realized that most ‘Christian questions’ that I hear are like this; they make us and our faith smaller, not larger, more about ourselves and our concerns, and less, usually far less, about any divine destiny for ourselves, our communities and certainly for the world.

SOURCE: Christian Questions | Morf Morford | Red Letter Christians.

Morf over at Red Letter Christians doesn’t mince words when it comes to his spirituality does he?  I believe that he points out one of the biggest needed changes for most of us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. We just don’t ask the hard questions or anything requiring action outside of our immediate clan. We want a comfortable religion, one that fits like an old glove.

Looking to others for the “right” answer as Morf says is an all too familiar scene for me. I have come to realize that there really are no “right” answers. Right answers are most often dependent on your experiences and attitudes at a given time in your life. One person’s right answers can be quite different from another’s. All of us are at different levels in our spiritual journey. Simply stated there is no one “right” answer.

One thing that irritates me more than most others is how we want our answers to fit comfortably within our current circumstances. We want our world to be smaller, not bigger. I can recall one clergy leader who I personally knew  who constantly said that all God expects of us are things like taking care of your immediate family. He just never challenged us to get out of our comfort zones and do things for others.  In my mind that cheapens the words of Jesus and especially his actions. Jesus told us that all of humanity is our family and we should be as concerned about everyone as we are about our biological brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. But since this particular clergy was Lutheran and they do seem to have an aversion towards works I should not have been surprised at this approach to following Jesus.  I will sadly admit those words fit very comfortably within his congregation and in me for a time. It is easy to follow Christ when you don’t have to get out of your comfort zone.

When we make our version of religious faith small and about ourselves or immediate clan and not about divine responsibility for our communities and our world we are taking a much too easy road in our spiritual life. It is not about us. It is about loving others and yes even giving them the shirt off our backs or maybe some of our tax dollars if they need it.

Barns….

November 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

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One of my long time hobbies is to take pictures of barns, that is the old wooden barns of the past. This is a prime example of an elegant one in the Midwest.

Common Sense…..

November 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

2014-07-25_08-48-31Call them the invisible rich. How do they do it? Sure, money like that sometimes comes from an inheritance or another fortuitous break, but more likely it’s the result of diligence, smart choices and, well, deferred gratification.

SOURCE: Wealth-building secrets of the millionaire next door – Yahoo Finance.

Wealth-building secrets of the millionaire next door

It seems like there are thousands of articles and books lately to tell you how to become rich. But do any of them actually have anything unique to say? I am not going to go into the details about the above article other than to give you the topic titles.

* They Don’t Spend Beyond Their Means

* They Educate Themselves

* They Pick the Right Field

* They Save (and Invest) Early

* They Don’t Swing for the Fences

* They Keep Themselves Covered

* They’re Wise About Windfalls

* They Hang Onto Their Cars (and Houses)

* They Avoid Debt

To this old Midwestern boy all these things just seem like common sense. Sure some like picking the right field are more luck than anything, but most are achievable by most of us if we just stick to it.  I really don’t know what keeping myself covered has to do with anything but I figure I must have done a good job at it since I am pretty well covered today. :)

Never had a windfall except for the new fishing reel I got as a young boy from my grandfathers estate. Now I am not a millionaire but I think I do have enough to keep me going for the final years of my life. But to me the point of life is not financial wealth building (easy for someone to say who has enough) but more along the lines of morality building and trying to treat the other guy with respect whether he deserves it or not.

But given the statistics lately it seems that most just can’t seem to live by the standards above. Maybe they should be teaching more about that in our school systems? I don’t know about wealth-building but I think I have done a pretty fair job of paying forward for all the good fortune I have had in my life. I might have had it tough in some regards, losing my mother in early life and losing hearing at mid-life was no joyride, but I had it a lot easier than many folks I came across in life….

 

Wanting a Gun….

November 13, 2014 — Leave a comment

2014-10-16_07-36-09“They want Peace, but they want a Gun to help get it with.” – Will Rogers, 9 February 1930

Yeah Will, nothing has changed much in this area since your day.  About the only thing different is that we have MUCH bigger guns now. It goes back to the old quote “If all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail”. I love this country but I simply can’t begin to understand its obsession with guns…..

A Dreamer Or A Fighter…..

November 12, 2014 — 5 Comments

2014-10-29_08-38-29I still vividly remember the election season of 2008. It was the year that I for the first time in a long time held out hope for a change in our political system. George Bush’s reign over the country was finally ending but the wars he put us in were still going full bore and still greatly affect us even today. He left the new guy with a total mess in our financial system. The worst mess in fifty years. I had confidence that this new-on-the-scene young guy could give us back our social conscience that George stripped away from us. I contributed frequently to his campaign and was totally overjoyed when he won the presidency even carrying my State of Indiana!!

I knew the GOP opposition to anything that seems progressive would come full force against this new president but I dreamed that he like FDR and several other democratic presidents before him would stand his ground and eventually win some hard-fought gains for our country and especially for those on the economic margins. I dreamed things would be better ahead of us as a country…

Things started out pretty well when this new administration went full bore to give us a universal healthcare system that much of the rest of the world had already realized. Of course there was drastic opposition to this plan as there is for anything of a progressive nature from the expected quarters. But I dreamed that our new leader would fight the fight… and eventually win…

Looking back, of course that is always easier than looking forward, I have come to realize that this first time president of color who reeked of dreams and hope was just not up to the challenge of the fights necessary to accomplish them. His fighter to dreamer ratio was just not up the job ahead.  In today’s world it takes a gargantuan fight to accomplish anything worth doing. A fight he, looking back, seemed incapable of doing. Yeah, he did get a very watered down version of universal healthcare that no one really likes, some because it went too far and for some because it didn’t go nearly far enough. I am part of the later group.

I have learned my lesson. In the coming presidential seasons I am looking for the fighter not the dreamer.  While dreamers are absolutely necessary they are just not the political leaders we need right now.  We need someone with a strong backbone and the tools necessary to push or maybe even ram change down the oppositions throat. We need a fighter who has a base level of dreamer within her/him and can back it up with some strong actions. The problem seems to be that those qualities are totally lacking in so many currently in the inner circles of politics.

This election cycle I am looking for a fighter not a dreamer to lead our country forward …..

2014-10-30_08-51-50America needs more Mark Zuckerbergs, not fewer. How to create them? There is no magic formula, but Henrekson and Sanandaji find the rate of billionaire entrepreneurs correlates positively with nations that have lower taxes, more venture capital investment, and less regulation. High capital gains taxes seem particularly harmful.

Worrying about those things would be a good start for Washington. While inequality hasn’t made it harder to get on the success ladder, it does make it more costly to stay stuck at the bottom. A more entrepreneurial U.S. economy generating more high-paying jobs will ensure more people are making that climb to the top rungs.

SOURCE:  Why America needs more billionaires – The Week.

I certainly agree with the title of this article. America needs more billionaires but it is how they accumulate those billions that matter and especially what they do with them later. Those who invent the “better mousetrap” create jobs and wealth beyond themselves are of great value to our country. Let’s look at a century ago when Henry Ford invented the assembly line. He made billions in today’s dollars but he also gave his workers wages much greater than the current standards. Everyone benefited from his new methods. Yeah, I admit that assembly line work is stifling but it was about the only good paying jobs available during those times.

Today there are thousands of Henry Fords around who have made the latest things. Guys like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are to be celebrated for their entrepreneurial lives. But for every Jobs there are probably dozens who are getting richer by paying slave wages to their workers. In other words they are getting rich on the backs of those they employ. I believe that this condition is as bad or maybe even worse than it was a century ago before a stubborn progressive Republican president took on the robber barons of his time.

Who will take on today’s robber barons? Walmart is an essential part of many small communities including mine. I make frequent trips there every week as they are about the only place to shop now. They are widely known to pay minimum wage for most of their workers while their corporate profits continue to rise and their owners who for the most part inherited their stocks get vulgarly wealthy.

It used to be that corporations were based on a three-legged stool. The three legs were  customers, owners, employees. As long as these three entities were balanced a corporation was considered healthy. But now days the employee leg has been cut off almost up to the seat level. The stability of the stool is no longer viable.

America needs more billionaires that’s for sure….

I Can’t Do It For Them….

November 10, 2014

2014-11-06_09-28-42This is going to be an extremely soul-searching post for me. It has been a week since the GOP route in the mid-term elections and I have been thinking about my philosophical and political leanings. Two things seem now apparent to me that were not so just a few short months ago.

The first epiphany  is that I am not so much a Democrat as I am anti-Republican. There is just too much weight amongst the current Republican party in favor of the elite and so little for the average guy and almost nothing for the guy down on his luck. In my mind too many who currently represent the party believe in the mantra “I’ve got mine so screw you”. They seem to think that if you can’t do what they did then it is your own fault. Too many, like Mr. Ryan of Wisconsin, just have no empathy for others..

The Republican brand is quite simply tainted too much for me. I call myself a social progressive and a fiscal conservative. If only the Republican party would stick to their strengths of being a watchdog of the purse and get away from trying to enforce, or you could say mandate, various versions of 19th century morals on the rest of us. By the same token if only the Democratic party would get over the idea that throwing money at any situation will solve it.

The second epiphany is that I have come to understand that “I can’t do it for them”. That is I can’t help people who won’t help themselves. The majority of those who bothered to get out and vote recently were old and white like me. The young, the disenfranchised, the guy working one or maybe minimum wage job stayed home. He/she didn’t see it worth their time to make an effort to vote for the change makers.

I am probably a typical “bleeding heart liberal” in that most of the change I would like to see in this country would not affect me very much:

I want to see everyone have healthcare while I currently have very good coverage via Medicare and an affordable supplemental policy.

I want to see everyone who works full-time be paid a living wage while I am fortunate enough to have Social Security, a good pension from thirty years with the same company, and a savings account beyond most my age.

I want to see a strong safety net under those who might fall on hard times. I want to see that their families don’t get severely punished for something they had no control over while I, at least in my adult life, have never needed a safety net.

I just overflow with empathy for others where it seems most in this country are more into the survival of the fittest mode. Maybe empathy is a condition I need to overcome, I don’t know. I’m sure that many that I advocate for think they are helpless in changing things. They just can’t seem to realize that in the end their vote  has as much weight as the billionaires who they presently allow to control the money.

Maybe it is time for me to get off my empathy horse and not worry about all this stuff so much. I simply don’t know the answer to that right now. I imagine I have about one more decade on this earth. Maybe I should spend it differently than I have been up till now?

But I’m just a simple guy so what do I know….

 

Six Things Continued…

November 9, 2014

Being Pessimistic

2014 15897… Today’s Christians have a bad habit of seeing the worst in everybody and everything: A natural disaster is surely a sign of the end times. An MTV show reflects our hideous moral decline. A particular nation (obviously not one of our political allies) is being used as the Anti-Christ’s puppet to eventually invade and destroy the United States.

The apocalyptic and hopeless assessments about our world—and Christianity—propagated by Christians themselves are pathetic and worrisome. Do we have nothing to be thankful for?

We treat our faith as if it’s in a rapid decline, as if the “glory years” are over. Really? The past was Christianity’s brightest moment? When racism, segregation, sexism, war, and fear plagued our country—this was the high point of Christianity?

Christianity is about bringing an uplifting and energizing hope—but we’ve turned it into a fear-based horror story.

SOURCE: Six Things I Wish Christians Would Stop Doing | Stephen Mattson | Red Letter Christians.

This post is a continuation of last Sunday’s discussion. This week it is about Pessimism. The first thing I thought about when I read these words above was of the old man I encountered in Times Square during our recent visit. Here everyone was having a good time being dazzled by all the lights and music and in the midst of it was this guy who wanted to tell everyone they are going to hell for having a good time. There are far too many people who identify Christianity by the pessimists among us certainly that includes this guy.

When I regularly attended the adult Sunday Bible study at a small church a few years ago I occasionally got a heavy dose of how bad the world is from several of the others who attended. Being it was a Lutheran church and they still seem to hold a mighty grudge against Catholics they were often the topic of conversation but there was plenty left for several other groups. There was much criticism about this group or that because of their actions or beliefs. They were the enemy…. The glory days are over….

If only more of us  were enthusiastically bringing the uplifting and energizing hope to those we  were condemning. Too many of us say we like the ideas of Jesus but stop short of actually putting them into practice. Shame on us…

I need to end this post by saying that the words above apply to all of us in one degree or another but it is the degree that matters. Yes there are many optimistic Christians out there, I like to think I am usually one of them but of course that is not always the case. I get down on the world just like everyone else from time to time. Each one of us must always be conscious of what kind of Christianity we project to the world. Are we mainly looking backwards to what Christ did for us or are we looking forward to putting his words into actions? That is the critical difference….

Thanks Stephen for bringing out these thoughts in me….

 

2014 15927

While I was writing tomorrow’s post I had to get into my NYC trip portfolio. When I saw this picture of the Empire State building I had to include it in my SearchOfAmerica and on this blog as well. I still remember the pictures of all the steelworker who seemed to dance around on those iron beams. It is hard to believe that only five men were killed during its construction. If you ever get to NYC be sure to go to the observation deck for an awesome site of the city. It is very much a part of the heart of America…

2014-10-27_07-54-31It’s an early battle, so it is premature to say who will win in the long run. Apple appears to have created an ingenious and obviously superior mobile payments system. But retailers control their own checkouts — they get to say who pays with what, not Apple. And Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is backing the retailers’ system via a company it is partnering with called MCX.

Apple Pay is an elegant, universal, simple-to-use system that can be used by any retailer. You just touch your finger on the iPhone Touch ID fingerprint scanner, wave your phone near the NFC checkout device at the store, and approve the payment.

What Apple gets and what no one else in the industry does is that using your mobile device for payments will only work if it’s far easier and better than using a credit card. With CurrentC, you’ll have to unlock your phone, launch their app, point your camera at a QR code, and wait. With Apple Pay, you just take out your phone and put your thumb on the Touch ID sensor.

SOURCE: Wal-Mart Is At War Against Apple Over The New iPhone Payments System — And Apple Is Losing – Yahoo Finance.

Let’s face it, many people resist change at every opportunity. Innovators must have a serious sense of bull dog to get things into the main stream. As Steve Jobs once said people don’t know what they want until you show it to them and Apple has been very successful at that. I believe that Apple Pay and systems similar to it will eventually replace our old magnetic strip credit cards and maybe even cash to a large degree. Those who are battling against this trend will eventually be forced to come around.

I am old enough to remember the VHS vs Betamax wars of a few decades ago. This was during the time that video recording via magnetic tape was coming on the scene. Eventually VHS won the day and Betamax disappeared. The same thing will likely occur with this latest technology.