Thursday, October 30, 2008

Presidential Candidate Rally in Defiance, OH (30 Oct 2008)

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother and father arguing back and forth over whether Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter would make a better president. I was seven years old, and I remember it well. In particular, I remember our trip to Florida that year at Christmas time. On our trip down from Michigan we made a swing through Plains, Georgia, then President-elect Carter's home town.

Whether by design or not, the President-elect was having a meeting at a local elementary school, if I remember correctly, so my parents drove us over there and we stood outside and waited for the opportunity to personally see the man who had just been elected President of the United States.

How exciting it was to see Jimmy Carter wave to the crowd and be a part of it! It was very formative for me, to see that a man from a little town like mine (I lived in a little farm town called Mayville, MI at the time.) could actually rise to be the most powerful political leader in the world.

So, when we got an invitation to attend a McCain for President rally in nearby Defiance, Ohio today (Oct 30, 2008) I decided (though I have a lot to do) that we had to take the opportunity. We have been doin a lot of things in homeschool about campaigns and the American political process, so the whole trip was filled with teachable moments. From the discussion of campaign finance on the way up to spotting the secret service come out before Sen. McCain arrived.

The current President of the Ohio District of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod lives in Defiance. I called him after the event and he told me that the last presidential candidate to visit Defiance was Dwight David Eisenhower. I heard a number of people around us say, "This is great for Defiance." Indeed, it is. Times are hard around here and a visit from a presidential candidate says loud and clear, "You are important." I think it was really important for the people of this area to hear that, as simple confidence can do a lot for a community.

Thanks to Sen. McCain, Sen. Graham, and Sen. McCain's wife and daugter for coming to northwest Ohio and giving my, I pray, the same sort of memory--and encouragement--that I had as a young boy from a small town.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Joy of Reading

Reading literally opens new worlds.  Watch the joy of discovery in this clip of my youngest daughter as she reads her first short story from Hooked on Phonics:

Sadly, this joy is denied many children. In my area of Ohio, for example, there is a surprising literacy problem. I am pondering ways in which my congregation may assist the community in this regard, and thus provide what is truly the opportunity of a lifetime.

Yours in Christ,

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More on the Financial Crisis and Christian Contentment

I friend commented in another forum about my post, "Financial Crisis and Christian Contentment" with the following comment: 

I read your blog...I think the fundamental problem with the financial markets is trust. There is none. All of these banks were playing hot potato with these unknown financial instruments and now they have no trust in the value of each other's assets or the people they have to deal with. Hence, no lending occurs.

I agree with your idolatry hypothesis on the household level, but I don't think it scales up. Even people like me, who have no debt and are good savers, are hurting in this economy. 

It's a helpful comment. Here is perhaps the beginning of my response...

I agree that trust is a key issue, perhaps the key issue, as the whole economy runs on trust, but I think it does scale up as well as down. Sen. Obama said as much the 2nd debate with Sen. McCain (and Sen. McCain has basically said the same thing in other venues). Back in 2001 we were told to "go shopping" and we did, both as individuals and as a a nation. The government took on piles of debt and encouraged us to borrow our way out of recession. We bought couches and tvs, etc. with home equity, or if we didn't have that they let us borrow for it anyway. The recent "stimulus package" in my view is just more of the same: take out the national credit card so people can buy tvs and video games or toys. I don't know what to make of the current Wall Street bailout yet, but I'm deeply troubled by the degree to which we are a debtor nation. 

That's the citizenship side. The other side of this for me is the ecclesiastical side. The Scriptures from beginning to end discourage the kind of reckless indebtedness we have been encouraged to undertake and for a variety of reasons, from the idolatry issue about which I wrote to the want of mercy. Theologically, both are huge issues, and the latter stems from the former. If one is consumed with riches (i.e., one's whole life and trust are built upon one's financial status) then riches or wealth (the Greek "mammon" encompasses all of this) is one's god. The 1 Tim 6 passage states what everyone knows, whether they're a Christian or not: you take none of your wealth with you past the grave. In addition to the idolatry issue is the related mercy issue. If a Christian (St. Paul was writing in particular to Christians.) is loaded down with debt he is unable to show hospitality and mercy. If, for example, a Christian gave in to the temptation to put a huge new 50" plasma tv on credit at Best Buy and the next day his neighbor loses his job and can't buy food, then the indebtedness at the very least impedes his ability to be of help to his neighbor. On the issue of materialism I am afraid that Christians have been just as guilty as non-Christians, and that is a tragedy. I won't command people outside the community of faith, but for the Baptized it's one thing to have the money and buy the big tv; it's another thing if you don't have it and you borrow effectively at your neighbor's expense. 

My case is not particularly egregious, but I think quite frankly that I have sinned, and my family and neighbors are suffering the consequences. We borrowed money for "all the right reasons." I was going to be a pastor with a special expertise in missions, so we borrowed with the idea that it was "for the greater good." I think now that I took things a bit too much into my own hands. We should have approached the financing of my Ph.D. the way we later approached the funding of my son Brenainn's adoption costs: "Lord, if this adoption is your will, please have mercy on us and provide the resources."

Here's the short story of how the adoption funding went . . .

Two summers ago we needed $1,196 dollars to pay for the "home study" and state-required education class for prospective adoptive parents. So, we had a garage sale, and people from the congregation, along with other friends, gave us stuff to sell. Our quietly uttered prayer was, "Lord, it would be great if we could pay for half of the home study." Well, my wife worked her tail off and baked cookies and the kids help sell pop and all kinds of knicknaks for five and twenty-five cents a piece. After a long, exhausing weekend we added up the nickles and quarters, again, hoping for maybe $500.

Needed for home study and adoption education class: $1,196
Net garage sale proceeds: $1,200

That night I cried in front of my wife and children . . . and confessed that I doubted.

I could've just taken a loan, but with my grad school debt it was just the wrong thing to do. Like grad school, it would've been "for all the right reasons," but, to quote a friend, "we would've missed out on the miracle." Now, two years, several garage sales, lots of hours for my wife at a part-time job, and lots of donations later, the adoption costs of over $30,000, including our trip, are almost fully paid for. In two years God has provided the rough equivalent of my yearly salary.

"Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief." --Mark 9.24

Financial Crisis and Christian Contentment

It has been v-e-r-y easy in the last few years to overextend ourselves financially. I, for example, stupidly allowed my family to take on a pile of consumer debt in 2002 when my student loans ran out and I was trying to finish my Ph.D. coursework. I should have held to principle: "No, you cannot go into debt to buy food and clothing and pay the rent." When we got to the point where I had to use the credit card to pay for necessities I should have taken leave of school to work for a while, or simply take a call to the parish as I finally ended up doing. In certain ways I am still paying for the decision to live on credit, and many, many millions of others are likewise paying for overextending themselves. 

I have been thinking a lot about this over the past few weeks as I have watched my parishioners lose jobs and income, and as I have watched our nation finally begin to reap the harvest of debt overload. Though my wife and I have worked hard to pay down our debt, the hole that I allowed us to dig has made it all the more difficult. I am sure that the national macroeconomics will mirror my family's microeconomics: we piled up a lot of unnecessary and unsecured debt; it's going to take us a while to get out of this.

As I was preparing my homily last week on Ephesians 5 and the Christ's call to "wisdom" I couldn't help but think of the national financial crisis to which I and so many millions of others were participants. A passage from 1 Timothy 6 struck me particularly hard. It effectively calls overextension what it really is: discontent. And discontent is--deep down--idolatry.
 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. --1 Tim 6.6-10 (ESV)