Friday, March 18, 2011

Redistributing the Wealth

I follow the RSS feed for Dave Ramsay's Radio Show (blog). I don't listen to every post, only the ones that are interesting to me. Today, I saw one that was about the concept of wealth redistribution and decided to see what Dave had to say on this. He entitled the post, "This Isn't a Fixed Pie." I couldn't agree more. I had simply never heard it said that way before.

Now, before I begin to explain my position, allow me to start by saying, I am NOT one of the 11,000 families at the top. Within the past couple of years alone my husband has lost his job three times, our house has been up for foreclosure auction, and we've had to sell off some personal items just to be able to afford groceries. However, had someone come to me at any time during that and said, "Tell you what, we're going to go take some money from someone else and give it to you so you can pay your bills," I would have told them "No thanks!"

This is not an issue of pride. I have no problem accepting help freely given (and in fact, I did just that a couple of times). But I don't for one moment think it ought to be mandatory, and I think taking someone's money without their consent is still stealing, no matter if you do it yourself or if you elect leaders to do it for you.

So, do I think poor people should be poor and the wealthy should be wealthy and that's that? Not exactly. As Dave said in his talk show, the problem here is we're assuming this is a fixed pie. To put it another way, we've got a recipe in our hands for making pie, and we're fighting over how to divide a single pie once it's made. Why shouldn't we just MAKE MORE PIE?

To be clear, I'm not talking about printing more money. I won't even start to get into the idiocy of that concept.

What I'm talking about is teaching people how to make money. You don't have to take wealth from the rich to do this. People can make their own wealth without stealing it from others. Lots of people have done it.

Many of you may have seen Dani Johnson on ABC's Secret Millionaire a few weeks ago. (If you didn't, I highly recommend you catch an episode or two. Her episode is still available to view here.) Here's a woman who understands what I'm talking about. She was homeless. She started a business out of the trunk of her car. She is now a millionaire.

But the wealth doesn't stop there. Folks tend to forget when they're discussing this kind of thing, that those people who make all that money are doing good for more than just themselves. How many people do you figure someone like Dani Johnson or Dave Ramsey employ? Even more than that, these two millionaires in particular are in the business of teaching other people to do what they've done and get to where they are.

I should add a disclaimer here. I have never read any of Dani's books or watched any of her videos (other than the Secret Millionaire episode mentioned above), so I can't really say whether I would agree with her methods or not. On the other hand, I have read some of Dave's books and my husband and I took his FPU class and are working through his "baby steps" on the way to our own financial peace.

So, getting back to the issue at hand, what then should be done for the poor? I think the first basic thing is we need to teach people how to handle money. Is this a perfect method? Absolutely not. Is it a good one? I think so. The fact is that most people who have made a mess of their finances have done it because they either didn't know what they were doing or they didn't have the drive, discipline, or sense of personal responsibility to make the most of what they had. Handing these people money won't keep this from happening to them again. If anything, it will perpetuate the problem by teaching them that someone else will bail them out if they screw up.

If we can get as many as possible to be self-sufficient and take care of their own finances and build their own wealth, then the charity of those of us who enjoy helping others should be more than enough to help those special cases where more is needed.

That's how I see it anyway.

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Church

So I’m pretty sure we’ve found our new church home. The first place we tried seems just about perfect for us—unheard of. Other times we’ve shopped for churches it has taken months (or years) to find anything, so I was fully prepared for a long, and at times disappointing, search. I’m thinking this must be a God thing. I’m also thinking I should not be surprised.

The new place is pretty amazing so far. We visited on a Sunday morning and filled out one of those little visitor cards that most churches request visitors fill out but never follow up on. The worship music was a delightful mixture of old classic hymns and newer praise songs, but each and every one had lyrics that avoided the typical cliches and instead proclaimed biblical truth about our amazing God.

Then came time for the sermon. They’re currently going through a series on God’s plan for families, and that week was discussing marriages. The pastor pulled no punches, unafraid to discuss the things which are often considered taboo in a church, and also maintaining a balance between addressing the husband’s role and the wife’s. Rather than sitting through the generic sermon it could have been, I found myself taking notes as the pastor drew some parallels and connections I had not heard before and enjoyed the whole service thoroughly.

That evening they were having a “newcomers dessert,” which was billed as a chance to meet the pastor and ask any questions you may have about the church. So we signed up, cause hey, sounds good to me!

When we arrived that evening for the dessert, we were asked to put on name tags and then went through a small buffet-type line where they had cookies and brownies and such and lots of fruit. Very yum. At the end of the buffet line the pastor himself was pouring drinks. For a guy who runs a 1000+ member church, that’s pretty impressive to me. Not only that, but he greeted personally each person to come through, asked their name, and made a little small talk with each.

Pastors out there, take note. This is how you should welcome new people to your church.

Once everyone had gotten some goodies, the meeting began. The pastor asked several questions about topics ranging from “what is your favorite fruit?” to “what is the one factor that is most important to you in choosing a church home?” After each person answered the latter question, the pastor addressed each of our responses (on which he had been taking notes) by scoring the church on each of those items. Surprisingly, he was pretty candid. He spoke honestly about the things he feels the church needs to improve upon and mentioned several programs which are doing well now but may not be shortly (exe., one student said the youth program was most important to him, but the youth pastor just left to be closer to a sick relative and they’re about to go through the long and oft difficult process of finding a new one).

He then opened up the floor for questions from those of us in attendance. Again, he addressed concerns candidly, assessing both the things the church does well and those in which it needs some improvement. He talked about the challenges of reaching out to people in the particular area in which they are located, and spoke about the plans for the upcoming grand opening of the new building (which we have witnessed is sorely needed as the current space is pretty well maxed-out and they’ve had to put some programs on hold for a lack of space).

After the meeting dismissed, the pastor and several of the elders spent some time talking one-on-one with anyone who cared to hang around. Chris asked him about the specific theological issue that had caused us to leave our prior church and his response was well thought-out and very much in line with our beliefs on the matter. He even went so far as to include some evidence for the viewpoint that I had not heard before (which is shocking since I work for a group that specifically studies this particular issue and others like it).

We left feeling that not only did we have a bit of a grasp on where this church currently is, but also where it is headed. We were also informed about upcoming “starting point” classes and the steps laid out to help us get connected and involved. “This might just be the place,” we concluded on the way home.

A few days later, we received in the mail a letter. Wait, you mean they followed up on the little card we dropped in the offering plate? Amazing! Yes, it was a form letter, but I don’t hold that against anyone as I agree that it's the best way to communicate the same information repeatedly as new people come to the church. It said thank you for visiting and mentioned several avenues for getting plugged in, and included contact information for asking any questions we might have. At the bottom the pastor had written us a brief personal note and signed the letter. Again, it was a personal touch that tells us that this church is committed to reaching out to newcomers and helping them feel welcome.

Yesterday was our second Sunday. There were some technical glitches and the like, since they’re currently using their older sound system while the new one is being installed in the new building. These were handled with grace, honesty, and a laugh. (I’d rather see a church that is not afraid to mess up and say “oops,” than one that tries to pretend that everything is perfect.) Again I found the sermon to be both informative and challenging. The people were friendly and we signed up for the starting point class which will begin in a few weeks.

I think we have found our new home and I’m excited to see what next week will bring!

Verse of the Day