Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Curing Racism - Thoughts (not my own)

I am not the author of this piece. A co-worker of my daughter wrote this as a Facebook post. My daughter sent it to me, thinking I would like it. I didn’t. I LOVED it! That author’s name is Christy Garrison Guise. Hope you all find it as thought provoking as I did! (Side note: I reformatted it for readability. Copying and pasting multiple times messed it up, so forgive me Christy if I didn't get it right!) She writes:

I need some help.

My brain is arguing with itself (again) It all started when I was brushing my teeth. I kept thinking about hindsight and how it is 20/20 and where that fits in with everything. I began to think about this notion of heritage and pride and how people keep asking how we can have pride for a heritage that stood for slavery and hate.

I started thinking about the people that these monuments represent and whether or not they were good people or bad people. I started thinking about how maybe they did the best they could at the time. About how the environment in which they were raised conditioned them in such a way that they thought they were doing the right thing. Or maybe it conditioned them to not think at all. No. They should have known better. And then I thought "where have I heard that before?" I tell myself that all the time- when I think back to my youth and all of the mistakes I have made and all of the times my flawed thinking sent my my morals and my rationale askew. "I should have known better" I hear it when my parents shake their head at my parenting conundrums, as if I should know at 41 what they know at 70. "You should have known better" But mostly I hear it at school.


I don't profess to know the solution as to how we rid this world of racism and intolerance. What I do know is that what is happening now is not moving us closer to that goal. In fact, it seems to be making it worse. The racial and cultural divide in this country has implored us to view systemic racism in a certain light and to analyze the ways in which white privilege and institutionalized oppression has created a cycle that has been detrimental to our black communities. How the crime and poverty are a direct result of this perpetual cycle that feeds into our communities and makes progress difficult to say the least. How the children in these communities get caught up in lifestyles that stem from institutionalized racism and our lack of understanding plus, our unwillingness to recognize these factors, perpetuates the cycle even more and catapults these students into adult lifestyles that are riddled with drugs, poverty and crime- where they get caught up in an unjust prison system that thinks harsher punishment and zero- tolerance is the cure. A system that needs serious reform. Reform. That's interesting. I'll come back to that.

Now I agree with all of the above. I see it day in and day out in the faces of my students. The day the school system recognized that punishment is not the only way to deal with these students and that we, as educators, need to recognize the effects of trauma and how their environment contributes to their behavior and their negative mindset- I jumped for joy.

Finally! A call for compassion that uses empathy versus criminality to help students break out of their cycle of poor behavior, low self-esteem, and overall disregard for their education. A recognition that screaming and yelling and judging these students (and adults) on their actions without considering the systemic, environmental, and institutional causes- is wrong. The idea that we need to approach their behavior from a place of empathy, compassion, and understanding- that is the key. Yes!

(And now my brain goes haywire)

Wait a minute? If one's environment plays such a role in their development and can contribute to their negative behavior, isn't the same true for those who practice both blatant and sub-conscious racism?

But racists aren't oppressed, they are the oppressor. Are we sure about that? I know many people (including myself) whose eyes have been opened to the existence of white privilege and systemic racism. I know multitudes of individuals who were raised to believe one thing but now believe another. I have sat at dinner parties where passive aggressive comments reek of racism and rolled my eyes at comments meant to bolster the status of white culture. "They aren't bad people, it's just how they were raised" A pathetic excuse for bad behavior. Or is it? Do I hate white supremacists and Neo-Nazis or do I feel sorry for them? Or can I do both? Do I desperately want to punish them? Or do I want to reform them? Can they be reformed from a life in which they senselessly torture and murder other human beings? Isn't that why we want to reform the prison system? Because we believe that breaking that cycle is possible? (Told you I'd come back to it)

Is it possible to only look at the impact institutionalized racism has had on the oppressed or do we also need to look at the impact it has had on everyone in our culture? Have the racists in our society been oppressed by the very culture in which they were raised? Is there not only a prison pipe line but also a racist pipeline that feeds otherwise innocent children into a life of racism and hatred from which they cannot escape without help? That's ridiculous. Their behavior is a choice. Their ability to tell right from wrong has nothing to do with their culture or upbringing.

But Maybe we are all victims of this flawed and senseless thinking? Am I a victim of a subtle form of brainwashing that has conditioned me to view the world a certain way? Are racists victims of an environment that oppressed them into thinking that they are somehow superior? And if we are all victims, just in different forms, how can we purport to treat the actions and behavior of one set of victims with compassion and empathy and yet the other set deserves nothing but hatred and eradication? If we seek to eradicate the effects of institutionalized racism on the black community by using tolerance, empathy, and love on those who cannot help their behavior due to the trauma of their oppressed circumstances- shouldn't we seek to use those same tools to eradicate its effects on those who can't see their own racism due to the trauma of their own oppression?

If it has become clear that black children are still affected by the institutionalized racism brought on by slavery, are white kids subjected to those same affects just on the other side? I cannot and will not feel sorry for racists and those who seek to destroy human beings based on their race. Why not? I wonder what would happen if I took into account the oppressive nature of white culture.

(Here is where you sneer- at the notion that white culture could be oppressive to itself- but just like white culture can't profess to understand the black experience, I would encourage black culture not to profess to understand the white experience either. Just sayin.)

There are many that could tell you first hand about the pressures and expectations of white culture and how they directly affect your world view. Those who are raised and conditioned to believe certain things, find it difficult to break out of that cycle. We know this. We also know that anger doesn't break people of that cycle. Prison time doesn't break people of that cycle. Protests don't break that cycle. Riots don't break that cycle. It doesn't work for one side, which might mean that Punishment, or taking a "zero-tolerance" policy, won't work for the other side either. I will not compare experiences between white and black culture nor will I ever try to equate them. I would never ask people to forgive the behavior of white supremacists or to tolerate it. I just want to get rid of it.

The black experience and the white experience in this country are two totally different things. But there are many diseases that are completely different from one another but that have the same cure. There are many different types of addiction (some worse than others) but they all come from the same place and respond to the same treatment.

I am not trying to excuse anyone's behavior, I am simply trying to find a solution to correcting it. We don't need to rid the world of certain kinds of people, we need to rid certain kinds of people of their hate. And it is possible. Perhaps when any group of people people act out their circumstances in a negative way, the only solution is to counter it with empathy and compassion. Perhaps that is the foundation of "treat others the way you want to be treated". Maybe it also means "heal others the way you want to be healed". Because isn't that what we all want? To be healed? That is all.

(Thoughts and opinions are enormously welcome on this issue since it continues to baffle me, just don't misconstrue what I am saying by missing the point and thinking that I am equating victims. Or that I am saying "just be nice to white supremacists and everything will be fine". I'm not saying that and I didn't say the sicknesses were the same... just questioning the possibility that how we approach the "cures" is...)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Do White Supremacists have the Same Rights as You and Me? - My thoughts

Some really bad things went down this weekend. A white supremacists group was in Charlottesville, Virginia. They were met by counter-protesters and violence ensued. A man from Ohio drove his car into a group of counter-protesters killing a woman. Two police officers who were working security at the event were killed in a helicopter crash. Now the entire country is in an uproar over everything that has happened. And I believe rightly so.

I think this may be a very unpopular piece, and I debated for a long time on whether or not to pursue it, but here is why I’m writing today. On Facebook, pictures of some of the white supremacists have been posted with the caption, “Do you know me? Are you my employer? I was at a Nazi rally in Charlotte, VA.” This meme got me to thinking.

Let me first and very strongly say that I do not support anything this group of white supremacists believes. I think they are horrible for their beliefs. BUT, here’s the thing, do they have a right to believe anything they want? Do WE have the right to make their lives miserable because we disagree with them? Petitions have begun to have a University of Nevada man expelled from his school because he attended the rally. The meme that was posted on Facebook encourages employers to fire anyone who attended the rally. Death threats have been made against anyone who could be identified that attended.

My question is, “If we take these people’s rights away because we disagree with their beliefs, who is to say that OUR rights won’t one day be taken from us because someone disagreed with us?” The right to education. The right to holding down a job. The right to assemble. The right to believe anything we want to believe.

The rally organizers filed all the correct paperwork, attained the official permits to assemble, etc. The counter-protesters did none of these things. As much as most of us think their beliefs are disgusting and wrong, they do in fact, have the right to assemble. The organizers claim that the rally was going to be a peaceful protest, but when the counter-protesters showed up, the entire situation took a turn into violence. It may have been a peaceful demonstration, but now we will never know for sure. As long as the white nationalists caused no harm to anyone, they indeed have the right to do what they planned to do. Just because we don’t like what they planned, does not give us the right to stop them.

As wrong as I believe this group’s beliefs are, I also believe that their rights are not to be infringed upon. If they committed acts of violence, then they need to be charged and punished to the fullest extent of the law. But simply attending is not a violation of any laws. Your right to attend a rally of ANY sort is protected by our Constitution. The rights of white supremacists to attend a rally to promote “white power/heritage” is also protected by that same Constitution. YOU or I do NOT have the right to take that away from them.

If you pursue ways to keep them from holding a job, to attend college, to attend any rally they choose, YOU are in violation of the Constitution. I don’t agree with them either, but I do uphold everything the Constitution stands for. This country was founded on the principles of freedom and certain “inalienable” rights. No matter if we agree with them or not, their rights are protected by the same Constitution that allows YOU and I to believe whatever we want to believe too.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

People Need the Lord -My sermon from 5/21/2017

People Need the Lord

(Take a selfie)

That seemed a little inappropriate for worship didn’t it? Who does that sort of thing? Well, we’re going to be talking about the selfie kings and queens today.

But before I get started let me say a few words about how I’d like to proceed. Normally, when I get the opportunity to preach, my style is to take a scripture passage and dissect it into how it affects our lives. I try to tie the ancient writings into modern times and how we might allow them to change our hearts and minds and how we can apply them to our everyday living.

Today will be different. I am going to approach this in the opposite direction, starting with a modern dilemma and looking at how the scripture applies to it. Our entire service has focused on the theme of community. 

That theme speaks to my entire message.

I titled my message “People Need the Lord”. Obviously this should apply to ALL people. But today, I want to look at a very specific group. Namely, a group of people in the United States, born between the years of 1978 and 1998. They are more commonly referred to as “Millennials”.

Millennials. Who are these people and why do we find them so annoying? We know a lot about this group of people. I hear people talk about them all the time in so many conversations I am either involved in, or within ear-shot to hear. I hear it at my engineering office. I hear it at my finance office. I even hear it often in this church. So here is the general consensus about the “Millennials”.

First of all, “They’re entitled.”

They think the world owes them just for being who they are.

Second, “They want a trophy for just showing up.”

They’ve been receiving rewards whether they win or lose, have success or failure. And they have come to expect it.

Third, employers say that “They’re job hoppers.”

They change jobs more often than any other generation before them.

Fourth, we ALL know that “They want special privileges.”

And fifth,  “They’re easily sidetracked by technology.”

But I have to ask, what are these opinions based on? Are we RIGHT to be so negative about the newest young adults in our society? Based on the consensus, how can we be anything BUT negative?

As I prepared for this message, I spent the past 2 weeks reading article after article about this group of people we call Millennials. I’ve also spoken with several people in this group, and asked the question, “what do you look for in a church?” And, you know what? I learned a few things.

I’d like to look at the data collected by the census bureau and several research groups concerning Millennials. Looking at the myths we hold dear and whether or not we are right to hold them.

MYTH #1: Millennials have it easier than previous generations.

It is commonly believed that the millennial generation is full of lazy, entitled and selfish people. Or that they all started with a leg up on every other generation.

That is statistically untrue.

We have just recently come out of one of the worst recessions. Which was in no way caused by millennials–but they are dealing with the repercussions.

Millennials have 40% more unemployment than Generation X’ers and 25% more than Baby Boomers, at comparable ages. And for younger millennials from ages 18-29, the rate of unemployment is double the rate for those over 30. And 1 out of 5 millennials are living in poverty.

MYTH #2: Millennials are lazy.

For the laziest generation, they sure like to start their own businesses. We have experienced the worst recession in recent memory, massive layoffs, and tons of corruption. Starting their own businesses is the best way to take control of this situation. After all, we have seen how big companies can turn their backs on employees as soon as trouble starts. Millennials see this as the answer to big corporate America.

Compared to Boomers and Gen Xers, Millennials are creating companies at twice the rate previous generations did, and they are starting their own businesses a lot earlier than past generations: at the average age of 27, while Boomers waited almost eight years later to start their businesses at 35.

MYTH #3: Millennials are job hoppers.

The myth of job hopping sounds legitimate if you still believe that they are incredibly selfish. We now know that a life long career at a single company is nothing more than a pipe dream today. We have seen pensions disappear and lifelong employees get laid off in droves. The gold watch retirement banquet is as extinct as the dodo.

When looking at the other generations, millennials are actually more loyal to their first jobs. In fact, they are staying with their first major employer on average 3-6 years, as opposed to Gen Xers, who stayed for less than a year on average.

 MYTH #4: If millennials go to college, life will be good!

Going to college has always been a big part of the American Dream. No matter who you were, it was the path to a better life. And they believed it. They are now a highly educated and a highly indebted generation.

MYTH #5: Millennials should stop wasting their time and get a REAL degree.

For some reason, the other generations think millennials are majoring in more creative and less practical degrees. It’s thought they are pursuing degrees that will not get them hired instead of majoring in STEM subjects. 

But that is statistically untrue, especially compared to past generations.
Millennials actually have the highest concentration of STEM degrees across generations, with almost half of all millennials studying a STEM subject. 

MYTH #6: Millennials are financially irresponsible.

Now that college is almost a requirement and the cost has increased by 200-300% most millennials are in massive debt.

At the same time, Millennials start saving almost 10 years earlier than older generations did. They now start their first major savings account at 23 years old, compared to 26 for Gen X and 32 for Boomers. In fact, 62% of millennials are saving 5% or more of their income, almost double the rate of other older generations at that age. 

MYTH #7: Millennials are delaying making major commitments.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to many that this one is, in fact, true. Millennials are actually delaying traditional milestones like moving out, getting married and buying homes.

15% of millennials are still living with their parents. Leaving parents later in life is also pushing back other milestones, like getting married. Of people aged 18-34, over 65% more millennials are not married compared to their parents’ generation. Although college-educated millennials are more likely to be married, it is still at the lowest point overall.

Now let’s look at their attitudes toward the church and religion. 

According to Barna Group, among young people who don’t go to church, 87 percent say they see Christians as judgmental, and 85 percent see them as hypocritical. A similar study found that “only 8% say they don’t attend because church is ‘out of date,’ undercutting the notion that all churches need to do for Millennials is to make worship ‘cooler.’ 

In other words, a church can have a sleek logo and Web site, but if it’s judgmental and exclusive, if it fails to show the love of Jesus to all, millennials will sniff it out. Their reasons for leaving the church have less to do with style and image and more to do with substantive questions about life, faith and community. They’re not as shallow as you might think. If young people are looking for congregations that authentically practice the teachings of Jesus in an open and inclusive way, then the good news is the church already knows how to do that. The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird.

Let me say that again. The trick is to keep worship “weird”. I find good news in this statement. The Brethren have not been called “weird”, per se, BUT we HAVE been called “peculiar”, which is 10 times better in my book.

Now let’s go back to the scriptures passages Sandi read for us today and see how they apply. In the letter to the Ephesians she read, “you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.”

When we hold these false ideas about an entire group of people, how can we ever build a community that includes them? They will always be on the outside. Have we hardened our hearts because we choose to believe the worst about our young adults?

In the Philippians passage Sandi read, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

How does bad-mouthing Millennials regard them as better than ourselves? 

We need to intentionally regard our young adults as better than ourselves.
The entire service today focused on the theme of community. We are to be a “community” of believers. We are to include people who love the Lord. We are to find people who NEED the Lord and share the Lord WITH them, and bring them into the community. But how do we do that?

One way is through things like our Eli Project. The project matched our children and youth with an adult who was their “secret” pal. Today, the secret is over. The young “Samuels” will find out who their “Eli” is. The point is to use this introduction to kickoff what we hope will be a long lasting relationship between the generations. For Millennials, they too should have relationships with older adults.

One of the reasons I have focused so much time on the Millennials is that they comprise 40% of the population. And down the road, it is this generation that we are going to hand our church down to. If they are not part of our community, how do we pass it on? Let’s face it, we who currently make up the church are getting older. If we don’t start the process of including the future generations very soon, we won’t have a church to pass down. Nor will we have anyone who wants it.

We need to include  Millennials in our community, so perhaps we need to understand them a little better.

So let’s look at some data ABOUT Millennials and their views on church and religion.

Interestingly enough, Millennials are MORE religious than all the other generations. More of them pray than the previous generations. More of them see how God interacts in their lives. More are trying to understand who God is.

BUT, they do not trust the institutional church.

Their faith looks far more like their great grandparent’s than what we see in today’s church. They are religiously “conservative” believing the current church has strayed off the path into religious “liberalism”.

Recent research from the Barna Group and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network found that 67 percent of millennials prefer a “classic” church over a “trendy” one, and 77 percent would choose a “sanctuary” over an “auditorium.” While they have yet to warm to the word “traditional”, millennials exhibit an increasing aversion to exclusive, closed-minded religious communities. For a generation bombarded with advertising and sales pitches, when young people sense that there is more emphasis on marketing Jesus than actually following Him, they want no part in that. Millennials “are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion.”

Let’s ask ourselves a question or two to find out where we stand.

1.) Is our church real or is it relevant?

For a long time now, I’ve been saying that we need to relate better to the next generation. We need to make the scriptures relevant, or the next generation will never come through our doors. Here’s what the research says, “Millennials are looking for authenticity. Unfortunately, a lot of churches today are striving to win over young adults by being relevant.” Consider what Leadership Journal Managing Editor Drew Dyck identifies as the potential point of connection:

“Millennials have a dim view of church. They are highly skeptical of religion. Yet they are still thirsty for transcendence. But when we portray God as a cosmic buddy, we lose them (they have enough friends). When we tell them that God will give them a better marriage and family, it’s white noise (they’re delaying marriage and kids or forgoing them altogether). 

When we tell them they’re special, we’re merely echoing what educators, coaches, and parents have told them their whole lives. But when we present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God, it just might get their attention and capture their hearts as well” 

 “Young adults are used to Photoshop. They want reality TV. They want to see real people and what they go through.

They want REAL, not RELEVANT. I’ve been wrong all this time.

2.) Is our church setting a place of action or rest?

One of the ways churches can help point people to God regardless of their facility’s architecture is by bringing nature into the church setting. 

Millennials say nature helps them connect with God and it helps provide an antidote to a need they voiced in research—the need for respite.

Our culture is highly fragmented and frantic, and there are few places to take a breather and gain much-needed perspective, while ironically, most churches offer what they think people want: more to do, more to see. Yet that’s exactly the opposite of what many young adults crave when it comes to sacred space.

Most church buildings today are places of action, not rest, and spaces to “do” rather than “be.” 

With so much emphasis on being the hands and feet of Jesus and putting love into action—all of which is well-intended activity designed to help people grow as followers of Christ—church buildings still need to be a place where people can experience Jesus’ invitation: “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

3.) Is our church being Jesus?

“Every young adult is trying to figure out what they exist for. What’s my purpose in life?” We need to talk with millennials about real things—here’s why you should stay sexually pure until marriage. Here’s why it’s good to tithe.

This kind of real-world teaching gets at another aspect that attracts Millennials: challenge. “Twenties want to be challenged to think about difficult messages, they don’t just want to have easy topics each week. They want to dive into difficult-to-understand topics and passages and explore how they apply.

Millennials want a role to play. “They don’t want to sit on the sidelines and observe. If they’re going to be part of a church, it must have value and meaning. In generations like the Boomers, people attend church out of some moral obligation to do so. Millennials won’t have any of that. If it doesn’t provide meaning and value to them, they won’t participate. They’ll go and find something that does have meaning and value.”

What better place for young Christian Millennials to feel they can truly make a difference with their gifts and talents than at their churches?

4.) Is our church helping Millennials find mentors?

Millennials don’t feel the same sense of obligation to attend church that previous generations may have. At the same time, being part of a faith community can provide young adults with exactly the mentorship and guidance they crave from older adults.

Barna’s research shows that young adults who remain involved in a local church beyond their teen years are twice as likely as those who don’t, to have a close personal friendship with an older adult in their faith community . They’re also twice as likely to have had a mentor other than a pastor or youth minister.

“Mentoring and discipling this next generation is everything,” says Aspen Group CEO Ed Bahler, a founding partner of the Cornerstone Knowledge Network. Baby Boomers, Bahler says, hold all the financial, intellectual, professional and relational capital. “The golden opportunity for the Church is learning how to tap into all of this capital and leverage it to equip the next generation to lead in the church.”

Effective ministry to Millennials means helping young believers discover their own mission in the world, not merely asking them to wait their turn. It also means calling out Millennials to share their knowledge about how to navigate life in this digital age. The term “reverse mentoring” describes the reciprocal sharing between young and established leaders.

5.) Do worship “styles” matter?

Traditional or contemporary worship? High church or low church? A plurality of elders, board of directors, or staff-led church? Millennials don’t care.

Millennials won’t attend churches that try to answer questions nobody is asking.

6.) Where is the church’s priorities?

“When the faithful saturate their schedules with Christian events at Christian venues with Christian people, the world has a hard time believing we hold the rest of the world in high esteem.” ~Gabe Lyons

What is important to Millennials? How a church responds to the lost in the world, both locally and globally. How a church responds to the poor, homeless, needy, and widowed. If you want to ensure your church has very few Millennials, answer the questions nobody is asking, spend most of your resources on your building, and have programs that do little to impact anybody outside the church walls.

The next generation is pessimistic towards institutions…the church included. Millennials are not going to give their time and resources to a church that spends massive amounts of money on inefficient and ineffective programs.

Millennials are not looking for perfect people…Jesus already handled that. Millennials are looking for people to be real and honest about struggles and temptations.

This is a common misconception about Millennials. While they do not like paternalistic leadership, they place a high value on learning from past generations.

They value wisdom and insight. It is a valuable treasure, and they will travel long distances to acquire it.

Millennials aren’t standoffish towards those who have gone before us. They place a high value on learning. But they want to learn from sages, not dads.
Love the people “out there” more than you love the people “in here.”
Millennials are desperate for a church whose heart breaks for the lost and broken. A church where reaching the lost is THE mission. Not A mission. Not part of a mission. THE mission.

7.) Do we actually make community a priority?

Millennials want a church that values smaller, not larger. Smaller in the sense of community. Deeper intimacy. A place to be known. A place to be loved. Most churches talk about community. But few churches make it a priority.
Community exposes layers of selfishness and sin. At the same time, community peels back deeper layers of God. Millennials want this type of community.

Now that I’ve talked about who the Millennials really are and what they are looking for, it’s time for the GOOD news! Our church already provides everything the Millennials are looking for. Our biggest obstacle, as I see it, is that we have been simply misunderstanding them all this time. We have been carrying misinformed negative opinions about an entire generation. We don’t need to develop new programs, or change worship styles, we simply need to extend a hand to them. We need to get outside our 4 walls and invite them to experience our love and the love of Jesus. We only need to be ourselves and care for them as much as we care for anyone else within our community.

And what I think is a huge opportunity, is that we are in a timer of transition. We are searching for a new pastor. Does it make sense to include the thought that we should also be searching for the next generation? Perhaps even looking for a pastor who is also searching for them?

I may have spoken exclusively about Millennials, but we know that ALL People need the Lord. He’s alive among us and we only need to share Him with others. Our community is alive and well and we have opening for an entire generation to join us!


Most of the statistical data in my sermon (and a lot of verbiage) is taken directly from these websites.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Why do Some Businesses "Cook the Books"? - My thoughts

The inspiration for this post actually comes from a very unexpected source. In the show “Les Miserables” there is a song that contains the line “Cooking the books”. Yeah, out of the entire show, that’s the 3 words I got from it…lol. Now, I know this phrase means “manipulating the company’s accounting to hide profits”, whether that be from legal sources or not. So this started some wheels turning. WHY does a business owner “cook the books”? If they are engaged in illegal activities, it becomes easily understood. But why would someone not engaging in illicit business practices do it?

The only reason I can imagine in answering this question is that they are trying to hide their profits to avoid paying taxes. We have thousands of laws forcing us to pay taxes and we have thousands of laws concerning the penalties for evading the paying of those taxes.
As I began researching this topic, I discovered that the scope of my thinking kept getting wider. For example, why does cigarette smuggling across state lines happen? Because one state levies hefty taxes on the product, while another does not. The product’s cost does not vary much between states, but the price difference comes down to the taxes on the product. I remember when I lived in Pennsylvania, near the Delaware state line. Delaware has no sales tax, while Pennsylvania does, to the tune of 6%. So, for ALL major purchases (except cars which require registration, and therefore post sales taxes) we drove to Delaware to purchase that product. So even for the most law abiding citizen (specifically me), we do what we can to save ourselves money by avoiding paying unnecessary taxes. Where we live now in Virginia, one county has added a “restaurant tax” while the neighboring county does not. I think twice before I choose a restaurant these days because I travel between counties on a regular basis. I may choose to pay the additional tax, but it does get evaluated each and every time.

So my main topic is really focused on how we crack down on businesses who “cook the books” to evade taxes. It is currently estimated that there is $500 billion in lost taxes due to evasion. The majority of this gap is caused by small businesses and sole proprietors. So to make up for the loss, lawmakers are always considering raising taxes to make up the loss. But in actuality, this only causes those who already comply with the law and pay their taxes to incur an additional burden for those who do not comply. And if the burden is great enough, will it not create a temptation to either begin evading the additional tax, or in many cases, force these businesses to fold and close their doors? This in turn creates another loss in taxes because there are no sales being made by a closed business.

How much money does the IRS spend to investigate tax evaders? Do the penalties imposed make up for this cost? How many more laws do we need to stop tax evaders? I know many small business owners. I would say nearly all are upstanding citizens who pay their taxes as required. But none of them is quiet on the requirements of complying with the taxation and all the other regulations they must follow that drive up the cost of doing business. We all complain that the cost of living increasing and our salaries as employees not keeping up, but did you know that every regulation and law that gets passed by our government causes the cost of doing business to increase? So to recoup this cost, prices must increase. And since the price increase is to make up for government meddling, it does not include increases in salaries. So think about it, if you don’t get an increase, will the business owner go to jail? On the other hand, if the taxes aren’t paid, or the regulations aren’t implemented, the business owner might end up there. So where is the business owner going to put his/her money? If you owned the business, where would you put it?

We hear so many complaints about businesses that move jobs overseas where labor costs are lower, moving money reserves off-shore to avoid paying taxes, incorporating in foreign countries to avoid paying taxes, and gigantic companies who pay very little or no taxes at all. What do all these things have in common? REDUCING COSTS AND INCREASING PROFITS!!!

I believe TYCO is one of the best examples of a company avoiding taxes. This conglomeration has so much revenue that they will move their papers of incorporation to another country if the tax consequences make it worthwhile. Originally incorporated in Massachusetts, they moved their incorporation to Bermuda to greatly reduce their tax liability on their profits. American taxes were just too high. When Bermuda began raising taxes, they were swift to head to Switzerland to benefit from far lower taxes. But then, only a year later, Switzerland decided they could benefit from increased taxes. Next stop: Ireland!

My whole point being that increased taxes push businesses to make decisions they may not make otherwise. The point of business is to make a profit. If that profit is threatened, the business owner will do whatever it must do to protect itself. All the things we complain about concerning businesses are caused (in many or most cases) by our government trying to take what the business is working to keep…PROFITS!!! As individuals, we do not have the option to make these huge moves to protect our money, but large corporations do. However, this does not make the business evil or greedy. This just makes them do business in the best way they can.
So let’s look at what might be done to resolve some of these tax “avoidance” problems. First, perhaps we could do away with taxes on businesses, and many of the regulations we currently have. This may sound absurd, but if you think about it, many small businesses never get started because they cannot afford to comply with all the regulations placed on them, so many jobs that COULD be created, are not! Second, they can’t make a decent profit because taxes burden their bottom line, especially when starting up. Third, repeal NAFTA and all other treaties that allow “free trade”. I used to agree with free trade until I learned that the whole point of tariffs is to place foreign goods in the same “price range” with American products. Many products that arrive in this country were manufactured in places where wages are so low, the workers barely get by. If we tax these goods, raising the price to match American made products, there would no longer be a need to ship jobs overseas to reduce costs. The tariffs level the playing field and reduce the need to lower labor costs just to compete. We ENCOURAGE shipping jobs overseas by creating an expensive business environment!

Now we could ask, why don’t American companies produce less expensive goods to compete? Why don’t the companies absorb the costs instead of passing them on to the consumer? Good questions! Well there are many costs to running any business. In our country, the largest cost to most businesses is salaries and benefits. Are you also going to require a $15/hour minimum wage? Are we going to hear about how unfair the employees are treated because they don’t make enough in their paycheck? Complaining that American made goods cost too much and then increasing business’s costs will never create lower prices. Forcing an “across the board” wage increase hurts our economy. Many argue that by increasing wages, we give more money to people who will in turn spend more into the economy. The theory sounds good, but by increasing the cost of doing business, prices will go up. Now some others argue that huge corporations can actually afford to absorb the increased costs. They are obviously just greedy, money grabbing, bean counters. And I may agree with you on this. BUT, how about the SMALL businesses that are owned by the “moms and pops” who are simply trying to put food on the table for their own families? How do these small businesses, who typically have lower profit margins than large companies, survive the increase in business costs? Many don’t and close their doors.

In Seattle, Washington, the minimum wage is increasing to $15/hour over time. Preliminary numbers show that there has been no net loss in jobs as was predicted. This is GREAT news! The nay-sayers of minimum wage increases were wrong! So let’s look how this worked out: Because large businesses have more employees, they have a longer period of time before hitting the final destination of $15/hour. If you have fewer employees, you have to increase wages sooner. Since the minimum wage increase hit mainly restaurants, we’ll focus our attention there. Some of the smaller “mom and pop” restaurants did in fact, close their doors. BUT, the good news is that the big chains were able to pick up those lost jobs because of the increased business that came from the closed restaurants. The small places closed because they couldn’t raise their prices, but were forced to increase the wages paid out. So why couldn’t they raise their prices? Because the chains were able to keep their prices low and raising prices would drive business away. Why could the chains keep prices lower? Because they have more time before they have to increase wages AND the additional ability to spread the higher cost across their other stores nationally. Once their competition (mom and pop shops) is gone, what is to stop them from raising prices? The market just became a monopoly and as we all know, monopolies get to set the price to anything they want. We have destroyed small businesses with a “one size fits all” solution. We have increased the power of the huge companies that we complain about by legislating them into a better position.

So, perhaps this is a bad example because the wage increase was localized and not nationwide. Well, if the wage increase was implemented nationwide what would happen? The biggest competitor of big companies is small business. So let’s implement a nationwide minimum wage increase. As a huge company, I have huge cash reserves. My competitors, the small businesses, do not have this going for them. If I hold my prices down for a year after the wage increase, it will cost me in the short term, but since my competitor cannot sustain this strategy, they will go out of business. Once gone, I can increase my prices and the market, which regulates pricing through competition, is no longer stopping me from doing so. All those wage increases? You’re going to be paying them back in the form of higher prices across the board.
A “living wage”, implemented thought minimum wages is ALWAYS followed by increases in the cost of living, which in turn eats up these increases. There is always a lag that tends to be blamed on other factors because once the higher prices come into play, the Presidency and many seats in Congress have changed hands. But the numbers bear this phenomenon out. The government likes to play “the blame game” and the blame is always shifted to someone else when things go terribly wrong. So always look at the long term affects of when laws were implemented and when the results came in. It is very consistent that one follows the other, including the blame being passed around.

So the second idea is to reduce constant government meddling in business. Capitalism in its purest form has always regulated costs and benefited the consumer. We can point to problems with dishonest business practices that “required” the government to step in. But if you research the events prior to the problem, you will almost ALWAYS find other government actions that lead to those problems. I have researched many different problems that required government regulation, and in every case, I always ended up finding previous regulations that led to allowing a business to take the actions it did that now needed to be fixed. Here is a GREAT example of this practice: “The breakup of AT&T (or Ma Bell as it was called)” The breakup was required because AT&T had become a monopoly and began price gouging, and had the ability to prevent any competition from ever getting started (YEAH!!! Federal intervention! Our saviors!!!) But if you trace it all back, constant regulations written over decades, which favored AT&T’s technology over its competitors, knocked the competitors out of the market. The entire monopoly was systematically built BY our government! The federal action to break them up was actually to FIX what they had done in the first place, trying to fix their OWN mistakes. Capitalism is ALWAYS blamed as the reason for greed and corruption within large corporations. But if the market was allowed to function as it was intended WITHOUT government interference, it would in fact, take down big businesses that get out of line. All regulations favor someone over someone else. Those who can implement the regulations first, come out on top, and since regulation implementation requires money, it ALWAYS favors large companies OVER small ones with fewer resources. So if you want to blame big companies for our problems go ahead. And if you want the government to save you, good luck with that! Big business usually benefits from government action, while destroying small business who by the way, is the entire reason why our country has enjoyed so much prosperity. Small business owners make up nearly 80% of our economy because Capitalism works that way. The fewer small businesses we have, the more big businesses can run amok and dictate YOUR income.

My main point started out on taxes causing business owners to “cook the books”, but I was not able to separate the additional costs placed on businesses by the regulations and laws placed on doing business. Both go hand in hand to forcing business owner to “cheat” on their taxes, raising prices, etc in order to reduce their costs. Those who remain honest, often cannot stay in business. Violating other laws is often too obvious, but evading taxes can often go undetected. So for all the reasons I listed, some businesses find it necessary to “cook the books”!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Does God have a special someone for us to marry? - My thoughts

The above article is quite good, as far as "advice" goes. I agree with becoming more Christ-like, pursuing God's will for my life, etc. BUT I totally disagree with the idea that God will “give” you a spouse. Perhaps many people (including Christians) who are single are just not desirable for marriage because they are jerks, or come across as “desperate”, or a host of other reasons. I know so many Christians who are so convinced that God will “give” them the relationship they want, that they declare a person as “the one” after their first date. I know one guy who found the girl God wanted him to marry 5 times, until she wasn’t, and then SHE wasn't, and then SHE... After the first date, “she’s the one”. After a few more dates, SHE decides that HE isn’t.  He went through a string of women he was convinced God gave him to marry, and none of them were.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:8, “I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” 

Paul is telling us that marriage is a CHOICE. He leaves this completely up to free will. He is also telling us that it is better to remain single if you can, but if you desire companionship, you should fulfill that by getting married. (Some say “burn with passion” is referring to an uncontrollable desire for sex. Since sex outside of marriage is wrong, getting married resolves the issue.)

So if Paul says getting married is an individual choice, why would we believe that God will “give” us the spouse we want? I totally agree with the author that we should always be seeking God’s will for us, and to seek God to fall in alignment with His desires for us. Becoming more holy may even make us more attractive to potential spouses (not a reason to desire being holy however). A Christian woman WANTS to marry a man desiring to be more Christ-like, as does a Christian man wants a woman who is striving to be the same. Our pursuit of being like Jesus should never end. But believing that God has one man, or one woman in mind for us makes no sense to me. Marriage requires compromise, forgiveness, humbleness, and a plethora of other Godly attributes. Your spouse will never be “perfect" for you. You will have to forgive them for mistakes. You will have to compromise your desires with your spouse’s. You will have to humble yourself to serve them. I believe there are many people who will make fine spouses for each of us, but we have to have these Godly attributes for the marriage to function and stay alive.

I’ve heard so many people say that “everything happens for a reason.” I agree, and sometimes that reason is because you made bad choices. "God works things out for good for those who love Him." If both husband and wife pursue God in their marriage, He will bless it. That doesn’t mean it will be perfect, or easy, or smooth sailing, but it DOES mean that you can work through anything as a team united in Christ’s love.

For those who “know” the person they had one date with is “the one”, why don’t you get married after that first date? Why date at all? Dating is a time of testing, to find out if this is the person we believe we can spend the rest of our lives with. There are things about my wife that can simply drive me insane, but because I can forgive, compromise, and simply accept her faults, I have no problem getting passed those things. I am no peach all the time either. She also has to do those things to keep our marriage intact.

One last question, and perhaps this is where my entire questioning of this idea comes from, if God gives Christians their spouses (and I assume God doesn’t make mistakes), why is the divorce rate among Christians EXACTLY the same as among non-Christians?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Gorilla is Killed when a Child Falls into its Habitat

The above meme was posted on Facebook, so I felt the need to write about this incident. There is so much hate and outrage going on right now.

Here is a link to the news story about what happened: 

It is so easy to blame the parents for the death of this majestic animal (gorilla). I believe most of the hate is because an animal lost its life as the outcome. We are so distraught over it that we are looking for someone to blame. The mom is the easiest target so let’s direct our hate toward her. But before we do (I know, too late), let’s look a little deeper as to what is happening:

My questions are, “How did a 3 year old get into the gorilla’s habitat in the first place?” “What was the problem with the barrier that allowed such a thing to happen?” “Is the zoo not responsible for keeping the animals separated from human beings while the humans are on THEIR property?” “If a 3 year old can get through their barrier, how well was it actually designed?” “How much responsibility for this should be assigned to the mom?”

It would not surprise me to find that most of the people who are blaming the mom for letting her child wander off are the same people who fight for the parents who want their so-called “free range kids”.  Or the same people who would scoff at keeping their 3 year old on a “leash”, calling it inhumane. “How dare you put a leash on a child?” “How dare you charge parents with neglect for letting their kids play without constant supervision?” BUT, “That child should have your hand every single second you are in the zoo. You cannot blow your nose or let go for even a second to get something out of your pocket, or snap a picture, or anything else you are allowed to do at a zoo. Let me ask you this, “When you take a picture of anything, are you eyes ALSO on your child? Most people’s eyes work in tandem, so if one of your eyes is looking at something, your other eye is ALSO looking at the same thing. I know my kids never left my sight even for a moment. And I am the perfect parent because I am aware of my child’s exact location 100% of the time. My toddler has NEVER left my sight and NEVER gotten into something they shouldn’t have gotten into. My toddler KNOWS the dangers of walking off and therefore has NEVER done that. We are ALL perfect parents until that one incident when we’re not. I rejoice that none of the incidences my kids got into ever brought harm to them. We did have to call poison control on one occasion, we had a few runs to the emergency room, but we never got called “bad parents” because of it. Probably because it happened at home and not at the zoo, and because an animal never had to be put down.

I would call my wife and I extremely responsible parents. We were always aware of where the kids were when we went to stores, or the mall, or anywhere, because, you know, we leave our homes to live life. And with my first child, she NEVER got away from us when we were out. I never once doubted my skills as a parent because child #1 was the “perfect little angel”. We raised her that way. However, along came child #2. We would go to a department store, and I briefly let go of her hand to see what size a shirt is and BAM! She is no longer anywhere to be found. She thought it was funny to hide inside the clothes rack and not answer when we called. As it turned out, she was within 5 feet of our position, but we couldn’t find her. She did this several times, and each time she got a lecture (and at times punishment) about the dangers, but come on, she’s 3 years old. My oldest NEVER did these sorts of things and it made me so confident that I was the perfect parent. #2 made sure I knew there was no such thing. I never lost her at a zoo, but how many times do you go to a zoo as compared to a store?

For those who say, “When you go to a zoo, you're around wild animals, so you need to be extra cautious.” How many of you would go to a zoo if you knew there was a possibility that the wild animals could come into contact with you or your child? You would all be screaming about how irresponsible the zoo was! No one would visit there because of safety issues! When you go to a zoo, you assume that all the safety precautions are in place so that there is absolutely NO danger to the visitors. If all of you go onto a higher level of awareness at a zoo versus a park, then you are obviously a far better parent than I ever was. I remember watching cartoons as a kid where Bugs Bunny walked up to a lion’s cage (at a zoo or circus) and was able to put his hand inside and touch the lion. Would you visit that place? As a matter of fact, a child crawled into the cage in that or another episode. Do we assume that is not possible when we go on an outing? I’ve seen a situation where a woman scaled 2 safety fences to get a picture of a polar bear and was mauled. Now we have a case for calling someone stupid. Or another case of a drunk 35 year old scaling fences and being harmed. But if a 3 year old can get inside an enclosure, the fault is not necessarily with the parents.

Here’s another thing to consider. She was not there with just HER children. This was an outing with some additional kids. Did you know that when teachers take field trips, they do occasional “head counts” to make sure all are present? Why is that? Answer: Because kids of ALL ages tend to wander off occasionally. Is it the teacher’s fault if one turns up missing? Or is it the child who wandered off? Once you have more than one child to watch, your attention is now divided. It becomes impossible to keep track of every move they make. In this case, I think dad was along (why is no one blaming him?). So 2 children are easily watched, but add a third child, and even two adults cannot watch each one 100% of the time. So should we say that you are an irresponsible parent if you ever allow yourself to get into a situation where there are more children than adults? Ever have a sleepover for one of your kids? Do you know what they are doing 100% of the time? 

Has a child ever choked on a toy that was too small? How irresponsible, right? Just because one child is 10 and one is 3, you obviously don’t allow the 10 year old to have toys which could be a choking hazard for the 3 years old, right? And if you do, you make sure the 10 year old is in a habitat that the 3 year old can’t wander into, right? I can build ridicules scenarios all day long. NO ONE watches their child 24/7. This is a very unfortunate situation where an animal lost its life. You can be angry, you can be sad, you can feel however you feel. But to hate on a mom who probably already feels bad, does not help the situation.

Don’t get me wrong. There are terrible parents out there. I’ve seen plenty of them. My mom worked in a hospital and has seen tons of kids go through there for all sorts of accidents. Most happen when the parent isn’t watching. Does that make them bad parents? Not at all! Accidents happen. This one at the zoo just had very unusual circumstances. Personally, I have several scars. I received each one when my parents weren’t watching. My most prominent one was when I was in my bedroom with a brother or two, all safe and sound. I was told many times to not jump on my bed. Guess what? I jumped on my bed! When I fell, I hit my face against the headboard, right above my right eye. Apparently, lots of blood, and today, 52 years later (I was 4 at the time), I still have the scar from that night. Did that make my mom a bad parent? She warned us to not do that. She made punishment for the offense known to us in a public display when my brothers did it. But I did it anyway. Obviously it was my mom’s fault for not sitting in the bedroom with us instead of doing something else, because moms have nothing else to do.

I am not an advocate of watching your child 24/7. They need to explore the world, and yes, that will include some dangers and injuries and scars. We do our best to protect them from the “obvious” dangers, but if we actually believe we can protect them from everything, we are already showing signs of being a bad parent.  Why don’t you keep your kids in a bubble, and never leave the house? Because it isn’t realistic! Think about it, you are exposing your child to danger every time you leave the house. So stay in!

These are just some of the thoughts I’ve had on this subject. So rather than hating the mom because of her “bad parenting”, perhaps we need to examine our own parenting skills. It would be easy for me to say that if you have just one child, you’re not a real parent because you can focus your attention fully on that child. But if you have 2 or more, you will find out how hard it is to know what both are doing all the time. But I won’t. We all have moments when we fail, and even moments when we don’t fail but things still go horribly wrong. Yes, I am saddened by the need to kill this gorilla. But I cannot hate someone because of an accident that lead up to it. Perhaps she is a terrible parent, we don't really know, but one incident does not define how good or bad of a parent you might be. Otherwise, we are ALL bad parents, because we ALL have had failures.

I am including the following link to an open letter written to the mom. I thought it was extremely well written and expresses some real heartfelt compassion.