Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Of Property Taxes And Moving

Driving home from work this evening, I heard on the news that one of the local communities surrounding our large urban community had just approved their city budget.  In doing so they had cut property taxes - again, for the 5th year in the row.  They estimated that overall their tax rate was lower than it had been 15 years ago.  This compared to our local, which has taken it upon itself to boost property taxes the full 8% it can without having to take the measure to a vote.

Jokingly upon arriving home, I mentioned to The Ravishing Mrs. TB "We should think about moving to Suburb X because they have cut their property taxes for five years running."

Her response was "I would be okay with that."

Oh, crud.

So I hop on the larger Interweb site that allows you to look at an estimate of your home values.  And I get the second shock of the day.  Somehow, the value of my house has magically "fallen" by $40,0000 from their estimate earlier this year - a 13% drop in 4 months or so (but still $17,000 less than what the county says it is worth).

I never really counted on the money, of course - long ago I learned the fact that the money is all theoretical until you have it in the bank. But I am a little shocked at how far it had dropped (and imagine if I had not gone in to protest my property taxes - man, would that have been a huge discrepancy!).

The whole thing makes the concept of moving a lot more silly, of course - now I really am buying and selling in the same market (and I am not sure how serious I was in the first place).  Still, an interesting and informative lesson in the dangers of suggesting a good idea and the shocking changes in value that can occur when you are not looking.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Living Wisely

My friend Reverend Paul over at Way Up North has been posting excerpts from Eugene Peterson's The Message, which is a more colloquial English translation of the Bible.  Yesterday the reading was from James 3:13:

"Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats."

The very first part of the verse caught me:  "Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom?  Here's what you do:  Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts."  Which brought to mind a question, after I had considered it a bit:  Does the Christian truly value living wisely?

I should think this is one of the places that Christianity could "shine".  We have the very word of God to guide us in the wise living of life - good heavens, we have a whole book - Proverbs - that is essentially devoted to wisdom.  And yet, somehow we look no different from the way the world lives around us.

It matters because wisdom literature is all the rage now via the Internet Meme.  I can post a quote from the Havamal (A collection of poems from the Viking Age) or any number of  laws or sayings from the Celts or the Sioux or even moving haikus from the 12th Century Tale of the Heike and be thought to be a wise man.  I can post a quote from Proverbs and be thought a provincial fool who believes in fairy tales and foolishness.

Remove the supernatural from Proverbs for a moment: just taken at its face, it is good advice.  Follow it and you would be on the road to a successful, wealthy life largely free from self-inflicted harm and fouls.  As good as advice as you would read in any of the works that I referenced above.  And yet somehow we as Christians fail to live according to Proverbs, leaving ourselves open to attack that we believe one thing but actively act as if we do not.

Take as an example Dave Ramsey.  You may or may not care for him (I enjoy his style; my children found him condescending) but his financial advice, even if disconnected from his Christianity, makes good sense:  Do not have debt.  Save.  Pay cash and avoid stupid credit.  Invest and save for retirement.  Any non-Christian Financial Advisor would tell you the same.  Instead, most Christians (including myself here) are not nearly that wise with our money and so we look exactly like the world in terms of our spending, our debt, and our finances in general.  Which begs the question:  If we claim we believe it, why do we not live it?

The reality is that we have the recipe for being thought wise, for living wisely in a world that is sadly lacking in wisdom. However, it will take an investment from ourselves that involves a lot less talking and a lot more living well by living in accord with God says, doing it humbly and silently.  If we live like that, we open the door to how and why we are living that way and where our wisdom is stemming from.

Or as the quote above says, "It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Star And Bit Player

I often confuse the nature of the role of my life in the lives of the others.

I think myself to be the starring role in their lives, a major character that move in and out of the scenes with the cameras trained on me and the people themselves wondering what I am doing when I am off camera.  In point of fact I am not the star: I am a bit actor or at best a character actor, there to fill a particular role or function or even of proof of plot concept, perhaps occasionally in the camera's main view but more often in the background of shots and for a much shorter time than I care to believe.

It is not a dishonorable thing, of course:  if my car is malfunctioning or my air conditioning fails, I am of course going to call someone to come in and fix these things.  But I would find it highly odd if the car mechanic got into the car after the repairs and came out to us with dinner or the the air conditioning repairman stepped in after repairs and sat down on the couch waiting to watch a movie.  At best I would look at them oddly and cough slightly uncomfortably; at worse I would ask "Exactly what do you think you are doing?"

Yet somehow in the exercise of real life, I think I am different.

I am not quite sure where this sort of confusion comes from.  I feel fairly certain that it has always existed - I can remember times even in my own youth that I struggled with the same sort of thing and had others struggle with the same sort of thing, but on a much smaller basis. I blame (perhaps not surprisingly) social media with its almost constant focus on me, me, me.  I can publish so much about myself and my activities, my thoughts and my opinions, all so quickly and painlessly and in real time, that of course everything is going to be about me in the lives of others:  I can blanket them with myself. The camera really is always on me.

Until - at least for the self aware - that moment comes when the realization occurs that this really is not the case.  My role really was ever only that of the fourth officer or Star Trek Red Shirt or repairman, there to move someone else's life along - and once it is moved along, the ship course changed or the monster having demonstrated its method of killing for this week's episode or the air conditioning blowing cool air, my role is complete.  I may be back for other cameo appearances or I simply may disappear, to show up in the list of uncredited actors that almost no-one ever really stays for.

I can feel hurt or confused or even angry about this, but in reality there is little cause for me to feel so.  I made the cardinal mistake of believing that my life bore a greater import in the lives of others than my opinion warranted.  The fact that they do not "recognize" my gravitas and significance is no failure of theirs - they are, after all, truly the stars - but of my own confusion about the nature of my role in their lives.

Because in the end, of course, it extends to the greatest argument I can ever have within myself about my role:  I am, ultimately, a servant, not a star.  Servants never forget their roles no matter what circles they move in.  Those who are see themselves not as servants but as main characters often do.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


The void between worlds
is not farther apart than 
the void between hearts.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

On The Past

In reminiscing with a former colleague this week, I realized there are two sorts of people and situations I have a great deal of difficulty letting go of.

The first is those people and situations that have hurt me.  I have realized, in talking with this former colleague, that I tend to cling to my bitterness. I hold on to my distaste and disgust with those that have hurt me.  Just speaking about them - years, perhaps, after I have seen them - is enough to make me sad and angry and enraged all over again.  And it is like once engaged, I cannot let go of it - I wonder how they are doing now, and (truth be known) perhaps even take a bit of secret and nasty pleasure if things are quite as good as they should be.  There is no good excuse for this of course, just the angry revenge of the powerless against those whom they made to suffer their tempers and speeches and attitudes and actions, things that affected my life in ways they should not have.

The other set are people and situations where I feel I should have done differently, whether by better behavior or different choices.  The spots where I failed others.  The spots where I feel like I should have made a different decision and chose not to.  In some ways those "Roads Less Traveled" Frost left us with, but just as often the roads that we traveled a distance and then, turning our back, went back the way we originally came. In these, perhaps, the situation is reversed:  here it is I that made others to suffer my tempers and speeches and attitudes and actions, my indecision or even my wrong decision.

How is that these things become lodged so deeply in our being that we cannot seem to rid ourselves of their tenacious grip?  How many times have I said "I am done"  only to find myself slinking back in the corners of my mind to the person or situation I have just foresworn (for the fiftieth time)?  Against others, is that I still seek some method to have my revenge, even if it is to dance on their graves?  Against me, is it that I somehow continue to seek an outcome that never came to be in hopes that somehow the situation can be made different? (It never can, of course.  You really cannot step into the same river twice.)

The past is meant to instruct, not to hinder.  And I have received instruction in both types of situation -but with that instruction comes the past that I can never really seem to release.

And yet, I have to.  The past that I think I see, that I think I relive, is really nothing more than a shimmering in my own mind rather than a reflection in a river - the river moved on long ago and what I think I am seeing is really something I am seeing with my eyes closed.  It has simply become time to open my eyes and step in, letting the shimmers dissolve in the sparkling daylight on the river that is, not the distant echo of the days that were and have long ago flowed out to the sea.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Life You Do Not Have To Retire From

I think I know most of my readers to know that this is goal we are working towards (or have achieved, in some cases).

It cuts across the grain of most Western - or at least maybe American - thoughts of retirement.  To most, retirement means the ending of something you have to do and moving on to the things you want to do. Which, if someone really sat down and thought about it, would seem to be rather backwards - after all, one invests almost half of their life working towards the point of being able to spend the last quarter of their life (if they are lucky)  doing what they "love", perhaps only to find out that doing what you "love" is not really doing what you want at all.

How much better to work your way into a life that you enjoy every day, not just in the latter parts of it.  To be engaged both early and late in the same sorts of things, to find that your life has become one long labor of love instead of a series of chopped up movements, hermetically sealed from each other in ways that the past cannot inform the present or the future.

For most (me included) it remains more of a dream to be realized that a reality to be lived.  Because be clear:  to do this means to sacrifice at some level.  It means staying true to yourself rather than being bewitched by that which society and civilization tells you are the appropriate paths to take.  Sometimes it probably means working harder and longer than anyone else and being willing to live in ways that the most could not imagine to get the ultimate results that most only dream of.

And to those who are not there yet, it means fighting.  Every day.  Fighting against the mind-numbing, spirit-sapping call of consumerism and mediocrity, of the concept of being taken care of rather than taking care of one's self.  To save where others spend, to make do where others buy, to go without when others cannot live without.

Ultimately, to live such a live is to reclaim freedom - freedom from "wants", freedom from dependency (and not just material - those that have such a life often seem just as free from psychological dependence on others), freedom from the concept of life as we have come be told "it is" in modern Western Society.  It is, some ways, the ultimate act of individualism in a culture that has come to demand the embrace of the consumer, riches driven society in which we currently live.

"Only a few prefer liberty - the majority seek nothing more than fair masters" Gaius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust), The Histories 

Monday, September 11, 2017

To Remember

There are moments in life,
the scarcest blink of an eye, 
when the past immutably disconnects
from the future.