Thursday, December 30, 2010

Expediency and Truth

When I was a kid we lived in the projects. One day I bumped into a classmate and we decided to hang out. She went to ask permission of her folks while I waited a couple houses down.

A little girl ran down the block, tears streaming down her face. I asked if she was alright. She looked up as she passed by, sniffled, and went into her home. Her mom soon came out the door, looked both directions, saw me, and stormed over. She grabbed me by the arm and started shaking. “Tell me you’re the one who hit my daughter, or I won’t let you go”. I could feel her fingers digging into my flesh.

So I considered the options. And I lied.

She pushed me away, and stomped back into her house. Even as the pink finger marks and discomfort dissipated, the guilt from lying burned in me. I vowed never to give in that way again, no matter what it cost.

It cost plenty.

You stand against bullies, and get the stuffing knocked out of you.

You counter friends who pick the easy way out. They tear you down to defend their turf, and you lose a friend. It’s like a battlefield amputation. Messy.

Once we start choosing expediency over truth, it’s that much easier for expediency to win the next time. When we celebrate Christmas our tendency is the same. We blur the edges and soften the reality. Gifts are fun. Singing is wonderful. Babies are small, helpless, and cute. But the truth is, Jesus isn’t a baby anymore. He’s not “safe”. We serve a risen Christ, One who will judge the earth with perpetual and massive judgements. We belong to the God who created everything, a consuming fire. Not some helpless child, who needs a diaper change.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Don’t Eat All Your Seeds

A blog discussion showed up recently asking if rich, middle class, or poor people were temperamentally different. I considered my rich uncle and what set him apart.

First. He worked very hard.

Second. Uncle saw opportunity where some of us might not. He grew up in a small mining community where he and his brother were butchers. A comfortable enough profession. They started buying up mining sites by leveraging their incomes and getting loans. Of course there were risks and deal making involved. Strikes, legal issues, overhead. My uncle plunged in and dealt with politicians, bankers, the educated. He learned to pilot a plane, play golf, and make a dignified impression. He was willing to act quickly and gamble it all.

Third. My uncle thought of money and time as commodities used to increase value, not to spend solely on pleasures. So in his 90's Uncle still painted his garage, and Aunt still cleaned their home. They were willing to go through the discount racks at better stores to purchase clothes, or travel that extra 15 miles to a small town hairdresser for a $20 dye job and trim.

Most of us like our comfort and so remain where we are. It takes huge effort to break free from the status quo. We have to fight the naysayers, those that ridicule big dreams, accusing us of being snooty, and perfect the social skills needed to navigate unfamiliar territory. Plus we may very well have to move away from the ‘hood.

I was amazed as we drove through a rough area of Philly recently, to notice amongst boarded up and abandoned houses, Direct TV on every rooftop. A prime example of exchanging the present for the future.

Moral: If you eat all your seeds you have nothing left to plant.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Letting Go

My dad brought an ancient Gingko log into the backyard. It sprouted leaves every spring. Without any roots mind you, or branches, but somehow through capillary attraction it sucked up moisture from the soil and pushed forth a few fan shaped leaves. Dad never got around to carving it before he died, but it became one more thing the salvage guys carted out.

Tightwads by nature hold onto things. There’s even a technical term for it. Sunk cost fallacy. It’s the too small clothes kept in the hopes of losing enough weight. Odd bits of string. Scrap paper. Little stubby pencils that barely fit in the sharpener anymore. We invested capital in these things and by jingo we want our money’s worth.

Eventually it leads to clutter.

This may sound blasphemous. There comes a point when it’s not worth holding onto. Face facts. Granted, the pencil lead has a tad more life in, it but the eraser is shot. The new pencil erasers are drying up even before you get to use them. You won’t lose those 50 pounds. I’m sorry, it’s true, you won’t. And if you lived to be a hundred, you won’t need more scrap paper. Junk mail will always come to your mailbox, you’ll always have a fresh supply.

It has spiritual implications. We hold onto habits because they’re comfortable. We hold onto stuff as a buffer for the future. We don’t really believe God will provide when we need it, but have to stockpile to insure protection against every contingency.

The first step is to admit you have a problem. “Hello my name is______, and I’m a packrat”. The second is to realize you have sinned by seeking to control your world, and to admit you need God’s help to overcome fears and put sin to death.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ten Tips for Frugal Finesse

A friend visited recently. Her father had weathered the Depression and kept his parents and siblings afloat through it and during WW2. No small feat. She mentioned financial disciplines he insisted she follow during her early earning years. At the time they seemed restrictive. But these enabled her to purchase a house for less than market value in cash. Her cars the same. Pretty amazing. Which got me thinking. If I could do anything, what lessons would I want to pass on to my kids?

1) Save up for what you need.
2) Spend less than you make.
3) Make a distinction between wants and needs.
4) Try to fix it before you replace it.
5) See if you can do without before you fix it.
6) See if you can get it for free.
7) Use conventional objects in unconventional ways to fulfill a need.
8) Learn skills from books, online, or from other people.
9) Do your best, but don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake.
10) Every once and a while give yourself permission to have fun.