Monday, March 29, 2010

A New Look at How Americans are Addressing Economic Conditions

Found this interesting article from  Thought I'd share it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

When Faith and the First Amendment Conflict

An interesting storm is brewing in Texas.  And we know what kind of dust and mud can be kicked up down there........

A college in Stephenville (SW of Ft Worth), is planning a performance of the 1998 play, 'Corpus Christi' which portrays Jesus and many of His disciples as gay.  You can read about it by clicking here.  In the play, Jesus and Judas share a passionate kiss and Jesus performs a gay wedding for two of his followers.  Ultimately, Jesus is crucified under a banner that reads, "King of Queers".  Alrighty, then.

Is anyone surprised that this little play might ruffle a few feathers and incite a mob scene or two.  Somebody wire Arizona and get the Earp brothers to Texas in a hurry.  There's gonna be trouble.

In 1999, some Muslim clerics, upset that Christians did not take what they considered a strong enough stand against the play, issued a fatwah (death warrant) on the author.  I remember the tempest at the time.

Meanwhile, back in Texas...... conservative Christians are lining us, crying, "Blasphemy.  Shut that play down," and the college administration is throwing up their hands, claiming, "First Amendment".  It's High Noon.

Nobody wins when something like this happens.  The college comes off looking like rabble rousers and the Christians come off looking like wild eyed extremists.  How very sad.

I am one of those conservative Christians.  'Corpus Christi' is in direct conflict with what the Bible says about Jesus, the Gospel and Biblical morality.  My convictions require me point out the affront.  My heart is broken that Jesus is presented in this light.  My God is mocked and I ache over it.

The letter of the law may very well be on the side of the college.  Christians must allow alternative, even contradictory views to be expressed.  Sometimes those views will sting.  Sometimes they will offend.  But we must take the high ground.

We are outraged when Christians are persecuted in other countries.  We decry the absence of freedom of expression in certain religions and nations.  We must not become what we loathe in others.  We need to occupy the high ground.  The eternity of millions is at stake.

Why in the world would we expect those who don't share our belief system to conform to it?  On the other hand, why would those who demand 'tolerance' of Christians deliberately incite?  That is disrespectful.  But let's face it, there is no greater example of iconoclasm than the American college campus.  There is something about youth, higher education, restlesnness and the first amendment that bring out the rebellion in our young bucks and does.  Has it ever been different?

Dear Christians in Stephenville:
You are justified in your sense of indignation and hurt.  But I urge you to reply by speaking the truth in love.  By all means, confront the issue head on.  Do so, however, with reason, dignity and grace.  Let the force of your argument and the power of the Holy Spirit be your plan of action.  Leave the flailing, video bites and castigating to lesser groups.  Jesus is Lord, even of the First Amendment of the Constitution.  The Truth will win out.  I guarantee it.

Dear Tarleton State University:

You are correct.  You are entitled to host a public performance of 'Corpus Christi'.  But is it wise?  Are you being true to freedom of expression, or hiding behind a technicality to deliberately offend your neighbors?  Sometimes wisdom directs us to subjugate our rights for the sake of community and good will?  Your coice. Exercise your rights or demonstrate discretion?  Tough call.

Dear combatants:

You are in the public eye now.  Choose your words and actions wisely.  We are watching.  You are each, both, in a position to win the argument and lose the war.  You are all in my prayers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Irony of Expensive Bargain Grocery Shopping

Anyone who has read this blog or flipped through IOU NO MORE, knows that I really believe in bargains. Saving money, spending less than you earn, are mantras I've chanted for years. But I've modified one of my long held tenets, bargain groceries.

The more I study, the more disturbed I become regarding what we're putting into our grocery carts, and ultimately into our bodies. Have you read the ingredients label on a can of tomato sauce or a box of cereal lately? If you were to take a few items in your cart, sit down and google the list of ingredients, you would be horrified at what you are ingesting yourself and feeding your loved ones.

I can't help connecting the dots and finding a link between our desire for cheap food and our ever increasing health care costs. Common sense tells us that we can't fill our bodies with all these chemicals and avoid the consequences. Ever wonder at the growing numbers of colon cancer victims, ADHD in children, obesity? We're killing ourselves with food. And not just at the dollar menu (Why is fast food cheaper than fresh food? That's another story).

I don't really want to throw blame, we all, the grocery chains, manufacturers, big agra, big government, big pharma, consumers,  carry some of the responsibility. And we all can play a role in changing our diets, our health and our future. But it will have an associated financial cost at a time when many, most, families are living on budgets so tight the cash can hardly breathe.

Our cheap groceries are making us unhealthy, yet we can't afford to pay the prices for healthier choices. What are we to do? This is what you might call, a conundrum.

I am a proponent (and participant) in what's known as the 'slow food' movement. I believe in eating fresh, eating local and 'eating with the seasons'. B and I drink only raw milk, eat pastured eggs, grass fed meat and even make our own cheese and butter. We grow nearly all our own fruits and vegetables. We are on a plan to remove ourselves from the current retail food system. I hope millions will join us.

If you are on a budget, you probably can't do it all at once. I get that. Eating right, is expensive. It is a tragic reality. I recommend small changes. Every bite of something good for you means that many fewer bad things are entering your body.

Try buying a pound or two of grass fed hamburger. Maybe a dozen pastured eggs from a local farm. Support your local farmers' market. Grow a single tomato plant, or bell pepper plant. Make a window box for herbs or plant some in your flower bed. Many herbs are as pretty as they are healthy. Get creative.  One or two small changes are a GREAT start

Read. Research what you eat. Investigate. Start slowly if your budget requires, but by all means start. Drop us a note for more information if you have questions. Alternatively, check out our other blog, "Our Edible Suburb". I truly want to help you save money, but spending a little more up front on groceries, might just save you a ton of money in medical bills. Chew on it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Random Thoughts on the Health Care Reform Vote

I was disappointed to see the result of the Congressional vote on the Health Care Reform Bill. It is unquestionably another step in relinquishing our rights and responsibilities and having them handed to our Government. That is always a poor choice, even when the motives may be noble.

Governments botch everything they touch. New infrastructures will be built, new taxes levied and ever increasing layers of bureaucracy formed. It is inevitable. And the bigger these things grow, the less efficient (read, more expensive) they become. Look at Social Security, which has become nothing more than a Ponzi scheme that is on a path to leave tens of millions of baby boomers (and subsequent generations) out in the cold.

I believe it is a tragic mistake to allow Government to take over health care. I pray that this fails quickly or is repealed by the next congress. It is bad business. There are less expensive, more effective ways to lower health care costs and improve coverage. Tort reform and and opening the door for interstate insurance competition are just two things that would create dramatic change overnight without added cost to the American people or the American Government. But we wouldn't expect a room full of trial lawyers career politicians to push a plan like that, now would we?

Having said that, I would suggest that the Church has been somewhat culpable as well. It seems to me that conservatives and evangelicals have often been so caught up in a right wing political agenda that we have neglected our responsibility to preach and teach God's word in a way that brings such a revival to America that our society changes from the inside out.

Sometimes, I can't tell the difference between a church service and a Republican National Convention. I see more tears and emotion at Memorial Day and Fourth of July Services than at Easter. I get the feeling that we are more excited about the freedom symbolized by the flag than the freedom bought on a cross.

Liberal and Mainline denominations have become virtual spokespersons for the Democratic platform. I am often dismayed at the emphasis on 'Social Justice' replacing a call to repentance. It's honorable to be concerned for the poor and disenfranchised, but it is cowardly and unbiblical to hand our individual responsibility over to secular government. What a waste of resources and a travesty of stewardship I see coming from the Christian left.

My heart aches to see Christians take up the Bible in one hand and a trowel in the other. I long for a day when we preach with revival fervor and work like crazy to change the culture at the same time.

I have a vision of health care, sustainable agriculture, education and commerce driven, not by political direction, but by devotion to the God of the universe and His great command to "Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself."

I would love to see God's people on the left and on the right ask for a 'Mulligan' and start over using God's Word as a guide for our behavior and doctrine. If we would return to Him, we will begin to see this country change, one life at a time. It will spread to homes, communities, States and finally national level. We can see crime reduced, poverty banished, needs met, divorces abandoned, literacy improved and justice roll like rivers.

Imagine a future that does not require Republicans and Democrats, but leans on something we used to call, common sense. It sounds crazy. But I still believe.

One more random thought: while I think the health care reform vote, if implemented, will be bad for America, I don't believe it will usher in the Apocalypse. I have lived under Socialized Health Care before. It is inefficient and ineffective. It is demoralizing to doctors and nurses. But it is not the end of the world. It is not even the end of America. There are bigger battles, greater needs.

Wake up, Church! Stop being the puppets of politicians left or right. Don't be distracted by the good, when you are called to do the great!

I have more rambling thoughts and even some practical solutions, but not today. It's time to get ready for work.

I am frustrated, but I cannot despair, because Jesus is Lord!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Iditarod Finish Eerily Similar to Quest

The top two finishers of this years Iditarod are the same as the top two in the Yukon Quest, only this time Lance Mackey finishes first and Hans Gatt is second. Well done to both of them. And I suspect we are going to see a lot more Iditarod hopefuls begin competing in the Quest as well.

I'm lovin' it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Man With Two First Names

I’m terrible with names.  Heck, I’m terrible with anything requiring memory these days, but I’m especially bad with names.  Having said that, I’ll likely remember the name, Oliver Chester, for a long time to come.
Frankly, I never should have met the man.  I owe the introductions to my beloved bride who has a soft heart and the ‘gift of hospitality’.
Last evening, after a particularly stressful day at work, I arrived home and we sat down to a quick dinner before B would have to rush out to a neighborhood Bible Study she attends on Tuesday nights.  We had just finished the blessing, when the doorbell rang.  I sighed and made a face.  I was quite prepared to ignore the intrusion and do what I do best, eat.
Brittan, normally the shy one, said, “I’ll get it,” and disappeared.  
For the next ten minutes or so, I grumbled into my plate while muffled voices wafted my direction from our front porch.  The door was open and I could tell the visitor was male.  The tone and cadence suggested the conversation was pleasant and non threatening.  So I remained in my chair and pouted.
Hunger finally overcame my patience and I was just about to get up and dispel the interloper when I heard, “Sam, we have a guest for dinner.  We need to set another place.”  You cannot begin to guess my innermost reaction.  At least I hope you can’t.
Enter Oliver Chester; single father, door to door salesman, dinner guest.
Oliver is unremarkable in appearance.  He is average height and marginally above average in weight.  He is soft spoken, enjoys laughing and wears his after shave a little too heavy.  I noticed that his finger nails could use a trim and that he loves his daughter very much.  He demonstrated a gentle spirit and was somewhat apprehensive about sharing our table.  He is a fairly new Believer in Christ and in case it needs to me mentioned, he is African American.
As his story unfolded, I was smitten afresh with the magnitude of the Grace of God.  God’s grace in Oliver’s life, and in mine.
Oliver was taught to cook, cut and sell drugs when he was seven years old.  His teacher was his own father who also advised him that school was a waste of time and that he needed to make money.
Needless to say, his slope was slippery and facing decidedly downhill.  His slide ended him in jail.  It was there that grace worked its strange magic. 
As a reward for his good behavior, our penal system allowed Oliver conjugal visits from his drug addicted girl friend.  Those visits rewarded him with a daughter, whose name I believe is, Olivia.  The drugs took the life of the girl’s mother and Oliver became a single dad.  A single dad behind bars.
Fatherhood, despite his incarceration, was Oliver’s wake up call.  There, in the bowels of the gray bar hotel,  he became a man.  And along the journey to manhood, he met Jesus.  Between the brown eyes of his baby girl and the nail scars of his Savior, Oliver’s fate was sealed.  He is a man redeemed.  He is not in search of redemption, he has arrived.
We listened has he described his sales job, which he is using to get on his feet.  His dream is to open a BBQ restaurant, “OC’s”  where he will cook up ribs slathered with his own signature sauce.  I have a sneaking suspicion his dream just might come true.  And I hope one day to have a dollop of OC bbq sauce stuck to my own chin.
After supper, my soft hearted wife looked at me doe eyed and convinced me to grossly overpay for subscriptions to two magazines we will never read so that the Chesters can chase their dreams.  Then she loaded our guest down with doggie bags of stew, rolls and diet Doctor Pepper (with cherry). I signed a copy of "IOU NO MORE" and stuck it in his hand as well.  I have no idea why, it just seemed right.
As he left, Oliver said, “It’s going to take me all evening to wipe this smile off my face.  Please remember OC and pray for the Chesters.”  I will not quickly forget.
The book of Hebrews says, “Remember to welcome strangers.  By doing so, some have entertained strangers, unawares.”  I don’t know whether or not Oliver Chester is an angel, but I’m pretty sure he has one on his shoulder.  And I’m darned certain I am married to one.
Amazing Grace.  How sweet the sound.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Different Taking on Creative Saving

At my local bank, they have a giant banner of an attractive professional woman beaming her broadest smile while containing the slogan, "Saving is the new spending."

That's a great sentiment.  Unfortunately, it is merely wishful thinking.  My research indicates that with high unemployment, anemic interest rates and high debt levels, saving is at virtually an all time low.  That is an unfortunate reality.

For my money, I think David Bach is one of the best sources for creative saving.  I've read all his books and while I don't agree 100% on some of his priorities, (eg. he says 'pay yourself first', while I advocate giving to God first), I really like his ideas on ways to save and making it 'automatic'.

I also stumbled on an article over the weekend that has a slightly different take on saving.  So in the spirit of offering a wide variety of viewpoints to encourage thinking and good money management, I'm linking to it here. I want to send up a big thank you to Yahoo Finance for posting it in the first place.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sleddog Diversion Continues - Iditarod Starts Today

Ok, so mushing has nothing to do with money management and frugal living.  I get it.  But it is, and probably always will be, my favorite sport and hobby.  Today, not one, but two of my top 6 races of the year get under way.

First, The CanAm Crown in Ft. Kent, Maine.  I lived less than 50 miles from Ft. Kent, I have driven my dogs on parts of the trail, I've owned several CanAm finishers and I've worked as a volunteer there many times.  I have wonderful memories of the Portage Checkpoint, where I have spent many a first Saturday in March unloading drop bags, tending to dropped dogs, checking sled bags, inflating air mattresses and I don't know what all.  I would love to be there today.  On the other hand, it's going to be sunny, warm and downright Spring like in Georgia, so I think I'll manage to cope.

The other big event, probably the best known sleddog race in the world, the Iditarod, kicks off in Anchorage, AK later today.  Saturday is just the ceremonial start, but the hoopla is circus like.  I've never been, but I would dearly love to take a long vacation and be in Anchorage for the Fur Rendezvous and stick around for the start of the Iditarod.  That would be a dream come true.

So, dear reader, you can expect a few more mushing posts over the next couple weeks.  But fear not, sleddog season will end soon.  Then I'll move on to something racing! :-)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Streeper Wins Rondy

The Anchorage Fur Rondezvous final results found the top three finishers in the same order they finished after day 2.  Blayne Streeper is this years winner (well done, Buddy).  Arleigh Reynolds was a solid second with Jason Dunlap finishing third. 

One of the really coolest things for me, was seeing Jeff King finish fourth in his first major speed mushing event.  King was driving the Streeper Kennel's second string.  His finish says a great deal about his versatility as a musher and says remarkable things about the athletic depth of the Streeper Kennel.

Well done to everyone who finished and to all those who made the race happen and to all the media outlets who kept fans like me informed. 

On a personal note, I am really longing to stand on the runners again.  Seeing Jeff King, who is a few months older than I am, do so well, inspires me to think that I can still get this old body in shape to race again.  Other commitments conspired against me this year, but one last race WILL happen.  Of this I am certain.  My Bucket List demands it.