Poverty Prevention: 5 car buying tips

64 Studebaker

’64 Studebaker “Wagonaire.” V8 and a wicked sweet roll back roof.

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Occasionally I wander off script and into the weeds. This is one of those days…

Automotive industry pitchmen and those who have just dropped big scratch on a new car insist, “An old car will cost you money!” Reality check: New cars are almost always more expensive to own than old ones. A lot more! Let me, a man who has owned far too many cars, make my case by sharing the financial results of my many automotive indiscretions…

Total Ownership Cost (purchase + repairs – sale price)

New (2 years old or less): 5 cars. Loss: $48,000 (avg loss: $9,600 per car)

Old (more than 10 years old): 6 Cars. Loss: $9500 (avg loss: $1580 per car)

Ancient (more than 20 years old): 13 cars. Loss: $1400 (avg loss: $110 per car)

Notice that every additional decade of age cut the cost to own by approximately a factor of 10.

Conclusion: Driving a beater will save you money!

Car buying advice for those on a budget

1) Don’t buy a car you can’t afford. If you can’t pay cash you can’t afford it!

2) Don’t throw away money on depreciation. If you buy a car that is anywhere close to new the depreciation will cost you piles of money.

3) Buy a car that is uncool. If you buy a car that is or ever was a status symbol you will pay too much.

4) Buy a car that was dependable when it was new. An undependable car is always undependable (like Rover or anything made in Europe with that cool engineering). Buy cars made in the right continents…i.e. any continent not named “Europe.” This will save you PILES of money for each part that will continue to break. If all you want is dependability then buy Japanese. However, the cost of Japanese cars on the used car market is relatively high because of their reputation for dependability. If you want cheap and dependable:

5) Look for old American iron that was well cared for. I have driven several hundred thousand miles on old American cars without a major breakdown.

In Summary

Buy a well maintained, fully depreciated car (10 years or older), that no one wants (like a 4 door), and you won’t get hurt financially. If the 1980 Cutlass that you paid $1200 for dies after 2 years of $50 bucks a month worth of repairs who cares! You are only out $2000. If you had bought a new Toyota Matrix (like I did) you would have spent close to $300 per month in payments, watched your car insurance double, paid 10X the $20 per year for tags on a Rambler from the ‘60’s and lost another $5000 in depreciation. Over the first 2 years of owning a Toyota Matrix it cost more than four times what the Rambler cost per mile to drive! Finally,

6) Don’t buy a car from someone who has to make a profit on it (like a car dealer). Oh yeah, and every mistake I have made buying cars was from making the decision too quickly, so…

7) Wait until tomorrow to buy that car you really want. Take a day to think about it. Take it to a mechanic and have them make a grocery list of things that are wrong (so you can negotiate and deduct them from the price). Go home and check online at kbb.com and edmunds.com for the cars value. Mostly, don’t rush and make an expensive decision on emotion. If you do it will cost you. You will buy something way too expensive (like the really nifty VW Passat I once bought) or miss something big (like a rusted out floor pan) or buy something just plain bad (like the’62 Ranchwagon I bought on a whim).

Or you could just do what my cousin did: after spending years driving new European status cars he found a really nice underpriced older Lexus 4 door. He paid $6000 for it. He has driven it for 5 years, made no repairs other than brakes and a battery, and is still in it for less than it’s worth. Now all you have to do is find a clean $6000 Lexus. Good luck with that.

But even if you are still reading, I’ll bet you a tenspot you won’t follow my advice. You will rationalize buying a shiny sporty new thing on the grounds that you will save money on repairs and the improved gas efficiency. You will go out and find a car you can’t afford. You will buy it from a car dealer who will make a fatty of a commission on you, and then even more when you finance this status symbol. Then you will pay thousands more in tax. All so that you can start paying the expensive annual tags and monthly insurance premium increases….but you have all that spare money sitting around, so you can afford the $10 bucks you now owe me.

Pay up.

Some of the Cars I’ve Owned…
61 VW Micro. A great car for youth ministry.

61 VW Micro. A great car for youth ministry. Here it is exploding with YL boys after a bikeathon.

48 Packard. Tons of chrome. The best sounding straight 8 ever.

48 Packard. Tons of chrome. The best sounding straight 8 ever.

A ton of steel and a half ton of chrome. It was illegally exported to Saudi Arabia.

The person who bought it illegally exported it to Saudi Arabia.

61 Rambler 6. I drove four Ramblers at a profit.

61 Rambler 6 with push button tranny. I have owned four Ramblers – all at a profit.

Volvo 1800 ES. Like all Volvos: Lots of electrical problems. Volvo was a mistake I made three times.

Volvo 1800 ES. A great car that I made money on. But like all Volvos: Lots of electrical problems.

68 Rambler Rogue

68 Rambler Rogue

A very nice ride

A very nice ride

Full size Jeep and a 240 Turbo coupe

Full size Jeep and a Volvo 240 Turbo coupe

I didn't own a Model T. Driving one was a birthday gift.

I didn’t own a Model T. Driving one was a birthday gift.

-74 VW Super Beetle. Sunroof & an AC that never worked well (I broke even).
-61 VW Microbus. Bought it in a junkyard. Put 60K on it. (Made $400)
-78 Honda Civic Wagon. Cute, but only a 60k mile engine. (Lost $200).
-88 Suzuki Samarai. They were brand new. A well engineered toy…absolutely no power. One rear ender totaled it. A new car (I lost 6k bucks over 3 years).
-87 Nissan Sentra. Kari’s car. Nearly as underpowered as the Suzuki. Another new car: (lost 8k over 5 years).
-48 Packard. Beautiful. Everything about it screamed quality. The straight 8 might have had the best engine notes ever. (Lost $1500 over 5 years).
-62 Rambler Classic. (pic). Great car. Push button automatic tranny, but no AC. (Made $600 on it)
-63 Rambler Wagon. Had AC. Fred Flintstone could’ve driven it though: I learned about rust when my foot went through the floorboard. (Lost $300).
-63 Ford Ranch Wagon. A terrible car straight from the factory AND worn out. I just wanted to buy a car that day. (Lost $200).
-71 Oldmobile Cutlass sedan. Another bad car. How did GM sell them? And why did I buy it??? (Lost $400).
-64 Rambler Classic. 3 on the tree. Good condition. No AC. It was such a good car I drove it 2 1/2 years anyway. (Made $500).
-64 Studebaker Wagonaire. A very cool car! Installed AC. Drove it 7 years and 70K. Lost $3200 (only about $40 per month!) because of money spent on the paint and AC.
-91 Dodge Spirit. Another Kari Car. Strong 6 cylinder. Went 140k miles before a major repair! (Lost 8k over 5 years: really good for a new car)
-93 Chrysler Grand Caravan. Kari’s kid hauler. A complete lemon. Even found a union statement under the carpet insinuating that employees were sabotaging cars. (Lost 6k over 2 years)
-74 Volve ES. Very cool car. In great condition. Someone offered more than I paid. I should’ve said no. Made $800)
-96 Volvo 850 Turbo Wagon. Great Seats, Great Motor. Loosened my fillings going over man hole covers. Kari’s. (Lost 3k in a year)
-84 Volvo 240 Turbo Coupe. A pretty cool car. AC, sunroof, 5 speed. After 2 yrs of constant repair I gave up on it. I ran into the girl who bought it 2 years later. She hadn’t spent a penny. Terrible AC. (Lost 3k in 2 years)
-87 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. A friend gave it to me for free. A nightmare of vacuum hoses and 10 mpg. I had three fender benders in it: did thousands in damage to each of the other guys. Scratched the paint on me. Mostly Kari’s while I drove the 240T. (Lost $3500 in 2 years)
-2001.5 VW Passat Wagon. V6. Leather. Loaded! Incredible technology. Broke weekly. I learned my lesson on new cars. (Lost $13,000 in 3 years)
-2003 Toyota Matrix. Kari’s car. Needed a rebuild at 170k! (And depreciated $9000 in the first 4 years)
-1998 Chevy Suburban. 4wd. Solid. Holds 8 kids but has power for 20…A gift from a friend!
-1968 Rambler Rogue. 290 V8. AT, PS, AC, power front disc brakes, solex windows, electric wipers/washers. A very nice little car. (I over paid: $5,000, spent about 1200k more and sold it for $6700)
-2000 Ford Expedition. V8, Power everything. Another gift. It has needed $2100 worth of work, but we have put 30,000 miles on it, which isn’t too bad.
-1991 Pontiac Firebird. A base model. Luke’s car. Total invested: $2050. Totaled last week while parked. Settled for $2440.

The Justice-ification of the Church: Where we went wrong and how we can do better

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Years ago a Catholic priest from India told me, “Ghandi said, ‘I look at Jesus and I want to be a Christian. But then I look at the lives of Christians…and I don’t want to be a Christian.‘”  The great scandal of the church, for Ghandi and for us, is the troubling lack of love shown by those of us who call ourselves “Christian.”

Having made pilgrimage to the Holy Land this spring, I was astonished at how small it is: The events in the Gospels can mostly be seen from each other: Bethphage, the village from which Jesus had the disciples borrow a donkey and her colt, is on the Mount of Olives. From this hill you can look across the narrow valley and over the Brook Kidron at the walls of Jerusalem and the gate Jesus rode through on the day we call Palm Sunday. The temple, from whose courts all four Gospel writers record Jesus casting the money-changers, was just inside the city wall. When Jesus entered the temple and focused on the failings of the religious establishment rather than shake his fist at the Roman occupiers whose Antonia fortress stared down into the Temple grounds, Jesus set the stage for the crowd’s turning on him when he stood before Pontius Pilate five days later. You can walk the Via Dolorosa, along which Jesus carried his cross to the place of crucifixion in minutes. The spot where Jesus was crucified and where he was buried are also remarkably close – so close that both the location of the crucifixion, Calvary, and Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb are under the same roof today. It is stunning how little geography God used in the great saving acts of his Son.

Scandalous also is how small the distance between, “Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and “Crucify Him!”

In the Gospels this took five days. In the Episcopal Church our liturgy places both the Palm Sunday and Good Friday scripture readings on the same day. My guess is that this is, in part, an acknowledgment that many will not prioritize attendance at the commemorations of our Lord’s redeeming acts in the Paschal Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. But it is also an acknowledgement of basic human nature: The distance between celebrating someone and demonizing them is also remarkably short – because, as humans, we have a remarkable capacity for…small.

With just a little dollop of disappointment we can move from kindness to vitriol in a single motion. We look for scapegoats, rush to judgments, and hold others in bondage with binary thinking. We litmus test and sort people into categories of our own devising. And we wish those short of wholehearted endorsement of the platforms we embrace cast into outer darkness. A few exhibits:[1]

  • Several months ago at lunch I overhear the animated conversation between a socially active pastor of another mainline denomination and an atheist college professor sharing our table. The pastor labeled group after group, “Evil!” until the atheist professor finally asked him, “Where’s the love, man?”[2]
  • A student asked me to breakfast the next morning and confessed (tearfully) that he was considering leaving the seminary. He was trying to grow in prayerfulness and was told that his pleas for his fellow students to act in love toward others was evidence of insufficient commitment to the social causes espoused by his peers. He was certain he would never gain their acceptance.

A progressive friend posted on Facebook several weeks ago, “I am uncomfortable that my church’s stance on every issue seems to completely mirror the culture.” I think he is right…

…but I am not nearly so nervous about aping the culture as I am about the next exit on this highway: the justice-ification of the church.

The conflation of church and culture is surely foolish, and I think, also small. But there is a great Protestant tradition of church by focus group. What I cringe at is the way Christians (progressive Christians in particular, but we are not alone in this), have managed to systematically turn social causes into “justice issues.” We do this with seemingly little self-awareness of the ramifications of these crusades. When we label an issue “justice” we stop working for sensible public solutions and begin brandishing swords. This is never so clear as on social media…

We call the press, issue positions, and forward polemics on our Facebook feeds.

But in the public sphere in a pluralistic society there will always be those who do not endorse our worldview. Can we make room for them? Can we “seek to understand before being understood”? Can we begin with the presumption that people are generally of good will and work from there toward solutions? What if, instead of “justice,” we argued our great disagreements starting with, “How do we find a ‘win’ for everyone?” And, “What will lead to human thriving?” Or better yet, remember that the church is first and foremost a place to worship Jesus Christ. How did the church become ground zero for the activism industry?

“But Matt,” you say, “justice is biblical. The Old Testament prophets spoke truth to power.” Yes, but you are not a biblical prophet, and this is not 2600 years ago. In our day “justice” is not helpful because it can never make room for another. Enraged justice usually results in the shaking of fists and mobs with torches in the night. When we drop the “justice” card then someone is guilty…and they must be punished. “Justice” is not served until the evil is purged.

When we label a disagreement “justice” it generally ends one place: “Burn the witch!”

But I do see examples of hope in the emerging generation of leaders: Two weeks ago a friend who is active in LGBT politics asked me if I would organize a meet and greet between an LGBT political action group and evangelical pastors. Yesterday seventeen young evangelical pastors and thought leaders met with Matthew Vines and others engaged in promoting same-sex marriage. While there was clear theological disagreement, it was a time of relationship building, healing, and mutual respect. Here is another: Next week I will be at a luncheon in the Roman Catholic bishop’s office to discuss spiritual unity between evangelicals and Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is a short way down the hill to Jerusalem. It is a short way from the cross to the tomb. It is a short way from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify!”

But it is also a short way the other direction.

Going from “Crucify!” to “Hosanna!” is the exact same distance. It does take more work, but the Prince of Peace went up to Jerusalem and was crucified so that no one else need be.

Next week we will celebrate the forgiveness of both human and institutional sin on the cross. We could join Jesus in the way of that cross, extending our arms in love to all who are near. Perhaps if we did that, those who are far will see and notice. And the scandal of the church will be swallowed in the scandal of the cross.

As that old Indian priest said that day, “I implore you. Make Ghandi wrong. Be Easter people. May the love of our Lord Jesus Christ so shape and form you that all the world would see his mercy.

 

[1] Out of politeness I will only use examples from my own tribe. Evangelicals and Catholics will be able to think of many of their own examples.

[2] These evils included fracking, pipeline building, driving petroleum based cars, failure to recycle, and the fact that Darren Wilson had not been lynched. (The pastor was white.)

 

Parenting to grow great teens

Being parents has been one of the true life-joys for Kari and I the last twenty years. Youth ministry veterans Ken and Julie Moser like our children so much they wanted me to come lead a seminar on parenting teens.

I am not sure how much credit we can take for the people our kids have chosen to become (Kari can more than I can to be sure), and I fear that setting myself up as some sort of parenting “guru” might jinx them.

The slides and notes from parenting seminar at the “Q Event” in the diocese of Qu’Appelle is available by clicking on the photo.

Click on pic to download pdf of slides and notes

(Click on pic to download pdf of slides and notes)

Guest Post: The Black Holocaust Never Stopped

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I don’t do many guest posts. Today is an exception. In the wake of Ferguson and the vitriol at the looting but not at the killing that precipitated it, I want you to hear my friend Warren Stewart’s voice. I want you to hear how it feels to be Black in American right now. Today.  Warren is not a reactionary. He is a kind hearted, conservatively educated, middle-class, married guy of good will struggling to raise his kids. He is a Christian, a pastor, and the son of one of Arizona’s most highly respected and moderate African-American clergy. If Warren does not feel there is a place for him in our culture, we are really in a tough spot. Please read this with an open heart and then take the risk of letting it start conversations…

 

Why do black people have to explain why racism still exists in America? You tell us. We didn’t create it. It must be amazing to be a part of the majority and privileged demographic in America. To never have to be concerned with racism, prejudice, profiling, lynching, slavery, etc. is a privilege.

I am told that it shouldn’t be called “racism” because we are all a part of the human race. Yet American history tells us Black people (slaves) were not even seen as human, only three-fifths so, in the 1788 American congressional documents.  When you are not viewed as fully human what other word is there other than “racism”? And yet I and many of your Black friends hesitate to comment on issues of race because we don’t want to offend our White friends.

Racism in America has never gone away. People of color have been written out of our history books – this is where racism begins: It is taught. Children are never taught our positive influence on history. And if children are taught, even Black children, to forget about Black history no wonder people of color don’t seem to matter in our present day.

Blacks have not arrived because we have the King holiday. We did not arrive because of the election of President Barack Obama. Those are not America’s apology for slavery. They are not our 40 acres and a mule. Having an African-American President has only opened the curtain to reveal that America still has stage 4 racism cancer.

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From Joseph Boston’s fb page.

The Black Holocaust has never ended. Jews had their horrific holocaust at the hands of Hitler and it was over. Our holocaust has never ended. Black people are still marked for sifting, extinction, and death. We have been trained to kill each other. We are targeted by the police. We have never had relief from prejudice and racism. We still feel the injustices of Emmit Till, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown every time another Black life is taken. If a White boy was gun downed by Black police officers they would be in jail now.

Our holocaust has never ended. Slavery has merely taken on a new form through the prison system (free labor). Our economic bondage is maintained by tying school funding to property values and then filling our neighborhoods with government approved predatory lenders. The Black eugenics plan (abortion) has killed more black lives than slavery. HIV/AIDS has killed more Black people then any other demographic. Africa, one of our world’s richest continents, has some of the poorest living conditions in the world. And in America the police act as the new KKK executing young Black men on the street and leave them there for 4 hours as they did when they hung us from trees in the South.

I am outraged. I am outraged because I still experience racism and others act as if it does not exist. I’m frustrated with my own people because we allow ourselves to be influenced by the demonic messages of hip-hop. I am upset because the media portrays us as less than (3/5) human whenever possible and demonize us as thugs. Mostly I am tired of having to explain that racism still exists. Here is my question, Do you value people of color as fully human other than entertaining you on a stage, field, or court?

I have wonderful White brothers and sisters in the faith and I am thankful for them. They understand and are genuinely concerned about what we go through. It is only through the gospel that has brought down every dividing wall that separated us that we can be unified in Christ in our diversity (Ephesians 2:11-18). But diversity and unity has to move from a conversation to integration in a masterful mosaic for the Messiah to be glorified.

One day every eye will see Christ’s body united. One day we will stand before God and there will be neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek. We will all be one in Him. (Galatians 3:28; Revelation 7:9).

But that day has not yet come.

#ClassIsInSession #Racism #Ferguson #MikeBrown

 
*Originally posted on Warren’s blog: http://warrenhstewartjr.wordpress.com
 
Note from Matt: Reconciliation is hard work. It doesn’t happen between groups…or when we label “ those people on tv.” It happens one life at a time. You can be a reconciling presence or a dividing one. Each of us chooses every day. Again, I encourage you to take a risk and let Warren’s piece start some conversations.

The Polarization of America: Whatever happened to Average Joe?

 

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Thoughtful author and mega-pastor, Tim Keller, describes a seeming contradiction: How can conservative evangelicalism be experiencing slow growth when the wider culture is growing noticeably more secular? Keller’s answer: It is an indicator of an increasingly polarized America.

“…the number of the devout people in the country is increasing, as well as the number of secular people. The big change is the erosion in the middle…

I have been saying this for years. But finally somebody with a big-boy microphone said it – the middle, if not gone, is going fast.

“You don’t so much see secularization as polarization, and what is really disappearing is the middle.‘”

Here is how a disappearing middle plays out… 

-Politically-

In Arizona one would think that Republicans vying for their parties’ nomination for governor were the Hatfields and McCoys. For six months my inbox has been the sawed off shotgun of spam – Republican on Republican attack ads in every direction. And then the emails from the Democrats arrive. Both sides making sure we know the truth – “those guys” are ruining America! Accusations are fired indiscriminately, like buckshot. Want to win a political race? Run to a partisan sideline and attack your opponent. The middle disappeared.

-Religiously-

This loss of common ground is occurring in religion as well. It is seen on university campus’ as the forces of puritanical secularism rally to deny religious freedoms on even broad creedal bodies. A prominent clergy friend once said, “Twenty years ago I was decently left of center. Now I am the exposed right flank and wondering if there is still room for me.” A once self-proclaimed liberal the exposed right flank? What happened? In his church the “right” may have “quit,” but the middle disappeared.

It is true politically. It is true religiously.

It is also true socio-economically…

-In Our Neighborhoods-

When I was growing up the difference between the wealthy and middle class was a fourth bedroom and room for a second car in your carport. The poor lived in two-bedroom homes two blocks away. Rich or poor, no one was really too far from the middle.

Americans once shared a lot of common ground: Most folks went to church. Most kids went to public school  – even if the school was not good. We all bought clothes at the same mall and food at the same grocery stores. Parents stood together in the streets after work and talked about “our” kids. It was a community of the middle. We were all “Average Joe’s.”

Today in that same neighborhood the children of the one car carport/three bedroom homes are on free and reduced lunch and the parents can’t afford to water the lawns. In the two car/four bedroom homes most of the kids are in $15,000 a year private schools. They do 6 figure remodels of those homes every seven years. (Now before you light me up for being anti-wealth let me assure you that I have nothing against wealth. Neither did Jesus, by the way. Jesus was not anti-wealth. He was pro-generosity. What I am having issue with is the disappearance of Average Joe.)

Average Joe, and his wife Average Jane, were America’s sane, moderate middle. They paid taxes, worked the same job until retirement. They raised nice kids who got in trouble a few times, but who would surely grow up and follow in their average parents’ footsteps.

But along the way Joe and Jane’s kids surprised us. The kids grew up into Katie Cause and Kevin Consumption-polarized and polarizing. Perhaps it was economic pressure. Or fear of change. Or political winds. Whatever the causes, Katie and Kevin picked “sides” in the culture wars and retreated to them. We could have not have done a better job of rearranging our lives around our socio-economics and our politics if we had set out to. Last week a thoughtful clergy-blogger, Fr. Tony Clavier, worried out loud that our religion has become mere cover for our political aspirations.

-The Disappearing Middle-

But here I remain. In the increasingly empty middle.

And I am not leaving. I’m compulsive in my centricity.  I even joined a church who calls itself the “via media.” But I am looking around. And from here the “middle way” looks like the no man’s land between the trenches in the Verdun. Nothing but bullets, bodies, and folks running for cover.

There are some benefits to being in the middle, of course. Occasionally one gets to be a bridge. Which isn’t always as fun as it sounds. Bridges get walked on. And in times of war booby trapped.

And Yet…

Before my cynical soliloquy sends you to the medicine cabinet in search of antidepressants, let me assure you that I actually have hope for a renewed common ground. It comes from our young adults – those misaligned Millennials. At their best, they have the ability to hold deep convictions but without the need to coerce into their camp those who don’t share them. Among the over thirty the word “tolerance” is generally code for “progressive.” For many young adults, who have grown up in diversity, it means, gasp, the ability to have real, actual friendships with those with whom they disagree.

Average Joe and Average Jane are gone. I am fairly certain they are not coming back. But look who is beginning to move into the neighborhood! Their grandchildren, who are less interested in consumption and, although they care deeply for their causes, have a distaste for demonizing others.

And, if you are tired of living on the fringes and looking for a new friendlier place, there is room here in the middle of our block for you…

Parenting To Make Disciples: Overcoming fear and perfectionism

 

Photo credit: Babble.com

Photo credit: Babble.com

 

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Are you nervous about how your kids will grow up? Are you trying hard to give them all the right opportunities? Does parenting feel like a high-stakes game of “Whose kid is more awesome?” If so, be encouraged. We made 10,000 mistakes and our kids still turned out ok.

So much parenting advice plays on our fears. We see the results of this being lived out in young adults as they struggle with the fruits of our fear-based parenting: Questions of identity, lack of community, confused calling, and sense of entitlement in an increasingly complex world. Is it possible to parent without fear? Our advice: Feel free not to play along – refuse to drink the “experts” Cool Aid.

It takes a fair amount of hutzpah to give someone else parenting advice, but we get a decent amount of street cred by knowing that we have made a mind-bending amount of parenting fails and still having adolescents who are turning into nice young adults – heck, we’ve even had people tell us they joined our church because they wanted their kids around ours. And our kids actually are pretty swell: They are kind. Thoughtful. Motivated. They love God. They seek community (both multi-generationally in church and in age-appropriate ministry groupings). They lead and serve others. And they are doing these things without much prompting from us. How did we do it? Was it dumb luck? Were we experts in child psychology? Were we blessed with compliant children? Actually, it was none of the above. We are ordinary people who did a few grace-based things that we thought were right. Here, in no magical order are…

10 things we do as parents that seem to have worked:

  1. Keep the end in mind. When our kids were young we sought the advice of parents whose young adult children we respected. A surprising number talked about “parenting for the future.” It was freeing to remember that what we were  not after eight year olds with the most activity ribbons, but self-directed, moral, responsible, God-following thirty-year olds. We parented alongside friends who were forever fretting: “Are they meeting the right kids, playing the right sports, learning the right version of Mandarin, eating sufficiently organic meals, will they try sex, will playing that video game turn them into a basement-lizard crackhead?” It was exhausting. So we relaxed. We lowered the bar early on. Our big goal for early childhood was that by age four our kids would know, “God loves you and Mommy and Daddy do too.” That was it. Instead of club sports and video games we kicked them outside and let them engage in kid-organized play. We let them be bored. We, gasp, put them in the “wrong” schools.
  2. Realize they will become you. All of us become our parents. Knowing our kids will become what they see, we watched what we said and, especially, what we did. In Christian Smith’s groundbreaking book Soul Searching, he describes the belief system of Americans as a shallow, touchy-feely, do-goodism masquerading as faith. The bombshell is not just that this is the belief system of both secular and many churched Americans, but that the source of that theology is parents. It may be trendy to blame the church, but the number one reason kids don’t love God is not the pastor. It is us. So we tried to grow in our faith and our kids noticed. And, because children live what they learn, they developed the habits of faith too.
  3. Love each other. It is (or should be) a given that we parents love our kids. Want to raise secure children? Love your spouse. It creates a stability that allows them to take healthy risks later.
  4. Live grateful, generous lives.We made service and ministry hallmarks of our family. We opened our home and family and let our kids see us sacrifice time and money for other’s benefit. We involved “those people” in our family. Most parents try to avoid “them.” Don’t. Have your kids in school with kids who are different from them. Have “them” in your home. In the small youth group that met in our house last night, kids from twelve different countries were present. This is not about serving the “less fortunate.” “They” have values that we wanted our children to learn. Educational research tells us that heterogenous groupings (differing abilities) are more effective than homogenous groupings (i.e. all the smart kids in one place). Our kids are broader and more able to cope in a diverse world as a result. More than that, it fights the creeping narcissism of our culture when your kids grow up involved in things that are for the good of another for another’s sake.
  5. Use lots of words. Ask good questions and listen. Talk. Read. Create a word rich environment. The dinner table is critical for this. Skip the baby talk. And don’t be afraid to praise them when you see them doing something admirable.
  6. Remember the goal is adults who walk with God. This is not the same as having the appearance of walking with God. Rule following is not nearly as important as a heart that wants to walk with God from love. We worked on teaching them to learn to love doing the things Christians have always loved doing: Read the Bible, pray, be in mutual surrender with other Christians, gather to worship, serve, etc. But experiencing being the beloved’s of the God behind these practices is the goal.
  7. Tell the truth. There are plenty of things we cannot and should not tell our children, but we tried remarkably hard to be sure that our kids could count on our word. (BTW, we took this one all the way to Santa Claus. We said, “Santa is really fun pretend. Sort of like your dolls are really fun, but still pretend.” You may not want to do that. It made us pretty unpopular with other parents when our kids spilled the beans.)
  8. Don’t need them to “like” us. Instead, be people they can respect. Parents seem to be confused in the Facebook age of “like.” You don’t need to be “cool.” You don’t need the latest slang. Kids are like sharks – they can smell a parent’s desperation. The impulse to be liked is in all of us. But what kids need now is a parent. So, rather than need to be liked, be someone who is courageous to talk about their life. Be someone worthy of their respect. …But do like
  9. Develop their gifts and dreams. Not ours. Encourage experimentation and risk taking. But before they can experiment with chemicals and sex, help them experiment with their God-given gifts and dreams so that they can begin to taste their calling. Help them to prefer adventure and risk to safety and security. Faith and fear do not go together. As a result, our kids have done a bunch of things that we would never have dared attempt.
  10. Have lots of honorable people in their lives. Hillary Clinton was right, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The successful families we were watching were all people who knew that they needed other adults in their kids lives who were saying what they were saying, but just happened not to be them when they said it. Surround them with healthy Christian adults, young and old.

In other words, we placed high value on effort, risk, faith, and service, and a lower one on club sports (never played one), academics (although they signed up for plenty of AP courses on their own), and fighting their battles.

How about you? Do you have any tips for young parents who are embarking in this lifelong adventure?

For another post on parenting: The Secret Sauce for Raising Great Teens

 

Defending an Unfettered Free Market? Christians give up the moral high ground yet again

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 “Unfettered Free Markets Suck.”  

-Adam Smith’s great, great, great, grandson

I have just finished Barry Asmus and Wayne Grudem’s book, “The Poverty of Nations.” In it they argue that prosperity is best arrived at by unfettered free markets, clear titles to property, and the rule of law – all of which make risk taking entrepreneurship possible. I agree with titles and law. I take issue with their first premise: the unfettered free market. I think that defending the unfettered free market is a mistake, especially for Christians. Before I attack it, here are some common arguments for the free market:

1) Free markets allocate resources efficiently. No one person or government can allocate resources the way competition, working freely, can.

2) Free markets take advantage of all of the information in a society, generating stability. No one bureaucracy can adequately plan the way every consumer’s needs can, stimulating through the mechanism of supply and demand, the fulfillment of consumer’s needs.

3) Free markets generate creativity and promote innovation. Steve Jobs says, “I can make a better phone” and we are all better off.

4) Free markets limit the abuse of power by keeping it distributed widely, into the hands of each and every consumer.

These all contain at least an element of truth. And, although I am acquainted with both Barry and Wayne and think highly of them, I would like to push back against the idea of unfettered free markets…[1] Unfettered free markets are simply not, to use a common colloquialism, “all that.”

1) Competition is imperfect. Agents in the UFM (unfettered free market) will naturally conspire to decrease competition – oligarchies anyone?

2) Bidding is also. The UFM assumes that we are all equally free to “bid” for services. Children and future generations, for example, are not. Companies can and do work against their own long-term interest for short-term gain (Chinese air pollution reaching American shores and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch come to mind).

Photo credit: Lea Kelley

Photo credit: Lea Kelley

3) Cost divergence = markets that aren’t really “free”: The UFM assumes that the nominal cost (what I pull out of my wallet to buy a car) and the real cost (all of the expenses of driving my car: cost to build the roads, lost opportunity cost of land under the freeway, pollution cost of car, cost of administering and policing the roads) are equal. They are not. A government was probably involved in taxing consumers to cover the real cost. Societies’ must provide infrastructures. Do you want that infrastructure planned and inspected by disinterested parties or the company profiting from the bridge you are driving on? Thought so.

4) Socialists are happier. If the UFM was the best economic system then people living in them should be “happiest.” In fact, that is what Dr. Grudem and Mr. Asmus tell us. Unfortunately, the evidence does not bear that out. (http://goo.gl/FZSKVL) Bloomberg reports, The “happiest people,” year after year live in Northern Europe: 1) Denmark, 2) Norway, 3) Switzerland, 4) The Netherlands, 5) Sweden. All are tightly controlled economies. The U.S. ranks 17th.

So color me a believer in some government regulation of economies. Unfettered free market systems regularly create long-term nightmares that people band together and elect governments to solve. Drive up the I-95 toward Philadelphia. It looks like a scene from the movie Soylent Green. Consider also the chemical companies in East St. Louis. Those companies spent 100 years gerrymandered out of the school district of their plant workers so that they didn’t have to pay for schools for their own employees children…even as their toxic sludge oozed up into the basements of those schools. Humans can and should band together to make sure that some decision-making is centralized for the common good – automobile safety regulations, and eliminating lead paint on children’s playground equipment come to mind.) The issue is to figure out which regulations are “doable” (like lead paint) and which are not (a $30/hr. minimum wage) and then give government the teeth for enforcement. A government with no teeth is no government (Insert name of any one of dozens of countries with ineffective/corrupt governments here).

Regulating human selfishness is, by the way, biblical:

1)   “The love of money is the root of evil. The UFM assumes that I will love money and my self-interest…not God and neighbor. Do we really want a system that glorifies our sin nature, rather than one which acknowledges but works to moderate it? (1 Timothy 6:10)

2) Scripture assumes that humans, because of sin, are not “free,” but natural oppressors of other humans. (See Amos 2:6-7, 4:1-9). Has an unfettered FM really insured human thriving? Ask the employees of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. O wait, we can’t.

3) We are told to “Bear one another’s burdens.” (Gal 6:2) Let’s employ the hermeneutic principle known as “the clear meaning of words: “Bear”: to carry.” “One another’s”: someone else’s. “Burdens”: That which is heavy.

4) Generosity, the “re-allocation of wealth,” was commanded of individuals (Deuteronomy 23:24-25) in early Israel…but the early government was too weak to provide services. To maintain a completely individualized system leaves aid unevenly distributed-a burden upon those in places with more poor. In an era with more social organization we can do better.

5) There are numerous injunctions to create government. Scripture repeatedly advises the appointment of “judges” – administrators of law and social organization (2 Sam 7:11, 1 Chronicles 17:10, 1 Chronicles 26:29, 2 Chronicles 19:5.) This starts when Jethro sees a need (Exodus 18:13-27). He then creatively solves the problem by generating a new solution: judges for disputes. Why can we not utilize this same method in economics?

6) Did I mention that Jesus told us to share? More than once, too: (Mark 10:21-22, Luke 6:20-21, Matt 25:34-36, Mark 12:41044, Luke 14:12-14, Luke 16:19-25, Luke 11:39-42, Luke 12:16-21).

The question is how best to administer sharing and some regulation for the common good. In Acts, the church gave that task to deacons. Are church buildings and local deacons the most efficient way to care for the poor? Perhaps in some places. Probably not in all places.

And then, there is still that question as to where the “happiest people” live. Again, the data says that Dr. Grudem is wrong. It is NOT the places with the most open and most unfettered free markets, but specifically those places in which markets have some public controls to protect consumers.

The sad thing for me is the way much of the American church defends partisan policies (no economic limits or regulations…Somalia comes to mind) as if this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do I really need to say that it is not? I recently posted on FB my joy that a friend, a music minister at his church, and brought to the U.S. as a 9 year old, received Deferred Action to be able to work. Christians railed against this…against a Christian music minister being given the freedom to  work in the market as the result of his parent’s illegal actions 15 years earlier. It generated 120 comments in 24 hours.

And we wonder that Christians are no longer seen as crusaders for good? O how we have fallen. In the 1840’s 1/3 of active abolitionists were ordained clergy. The church, once seen as a bastion of care for the less fortunate, is now seen as a tool of tax and charity avoidance. God’s people are commanded to care for the widow, orphan, and alien (Jeremiah 22:3, Exodus 12: 49, Mal. 3:5, Ps. 82:3, 68:5, 10:17-18, Ex. 22:22-23)  …And yet we argue for a free market for all…unless, of course, you might not be able to produce papers when stopped for Driving While Brown.

Julian the Pagan, in his (362 AD) campaign to revive paganism wrote, “I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by our priests, the impious Galileans (Christians) observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence. They support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”

Where did this spirit go? Once upon a time we Christians were known for our love and self-sacrifice. We were known as great defenders of the week and great lovers of those in need.

Will the church reclaim a moral high ground? One in which we love our Lord and His least, last, and lost more than we love protecting our markets, our assets, and our borders?

 

 

[1] Barry is a great guy and a friend of Young Life. Wayne is also a very nice man, a best selling author, and has a most amazing array of memorized Scripture.