Sunday, March 18, 2012

Forgiving Student Loans?

I’ve basically been keeping my mouth shut about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Since their goals were never clear, I really didn’t want to get into any major discussions, only to find out later that what I thought they said wasn’t really what they said. But, there’s one thing I’ve heard over and over since the movement began, that of forgiving all student loan debt.

Apparently (and I could be wrong about this) there are a number of the participants, who have college degrees, but are unable to find jobs. I’d really like to do a survey of those participants, to find out how many of them have a college degree and what field of study they received their degree in. But, as much as I’d like to know that, I’m not about to drive almost 2,000 miles just to find out. I guess I’ll just have to wonder.

I suspect, but I don’t know, that many of those who can’t get a job with their degree have a degree which is not highly marketable. Since two of my kids are in college and the third graduated just a few years ago, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to talk to college students in the last few years. It amazes me how many of them have elected to study to receive unmarketable degrees. What do I mean by that? I mean a degree in a major where there are few to no jobs. Apparently nobody ever talks to college students about whether there were any jobs out there for the degree they want to study; they just tell them how much people who work in that field can make.

Really, our educational system is doing a disservice to those students. I don’t know what percentage of our current college enrollment is studying to receive degrees which aren’t highly marketable, but I know that there are plenty of them. Yet, the universities continue to motivate students to study those fields, as if gaining the degree is enough, in and of itself.

If I understand correctly, the justification for asking for these student loans to be forgiven is that the degrees which they got with those loans aren’t worth anything. Since they can’t get a job, they feel that they shouldn’t have to pay. In fact, I’ve even seen petitions going around, which are asking for congress to pass a law forgiving all student loan dept.

While I can definitely sympathize with those who haven’t been able to get a job with their college degree, I can’t go as far as to say that their debts should be forgiven. Maybe I could if I knew that those student loans had just paid for their tuition, fees and books; but I know better. Those college students aren’t just paying their college expenses with the loans, but their living expenses as well. Even that wouldn’t sound so bad, except I know what college students think living expenses are.

I have a lot of problem with forgiving loans which students used to pay for their Mustang or Camaro, buy the latest computer of their choice, fill out their wardrobe and party over Spring Break. That’s what living expenses means to a college student. Why should those debts be forgiven? What makes their car purchase so special that they shouldn’t have to pay it back? Do the people who are signing those petitions have any idea of what they are signing?

C’mon now, let’s be reasonable here. Those things shouldn’t have been part of a student loan to start with.  Borrowing that money to spend on those things was their decision, nobody else’s. There’s no reason to forgive those loans. So, sorry folks, I’m not signing your petition. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine’s Day… Humbug

I guess I’ve always had a cynical streak. I look at things and wonder where they came from, who started them, and more than anything, what their motivation for starting them was. Take Valentine’s Day for example. The cynical side of me would think that this holiday, like many American holidays was started for the express purpose of selling greeting cards, flowers, and candy. If it wasn’t started for that, somebody sure decided it was a good day to use for that.

In actuality, the holiday of Valentine’s Day, more properly called St. Valentine’s Day was started by the Roman Catholic Church in 500 AD to commemorate St. Valentine. Although it was removed from the “official calendar of church holidays” in 1969, the celebration of Valentine’s Day is still accepted by the church. So, I guess we have to say “Thank you” to Pope Gelasius I for giving us this day.

Yet, why do we need a special day to remind us to act in love towards those that we claim to love? What’s wrong with us that we can’t act and feel loving the other 364 days of the year? Not only that, but how is one day of being romantic and loving supposed to make up for all those other days of forgetting? It seems to me we need 364 days of being romantic and loving per year, and maybe one day of break. That might even serve a purpose, the one day of break would help to remind us of how valuable that person’s love is to us, and we’d appreciate it more.

I’ll have to say, my wife and I won’t go out on Monday to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Not because I don’t love her, but because our work won’t allow us to. So, we celebrated Valentine’s Day early. Then again, we don’t limit ourselves to celebrating our love for one another only on days where somebody tells us to. I don’t wait for Valentine’s Day to buy my wife flowers; I do it some other day, especially if I can surprise her with them. Besides, have you noticed how much higher flower prices are on Valentine’s Day?

I’d like to propose something new to you. Instead of just celebrating your love one day a year, how about making it one day per week? Pick a day of the week that’s going to be your personal Valentine’s Day as a couple, and make sure you do something special to express and celebrate your love for one another. If you can do more than one day, that’s even better; but make sure you do the one.

By the way, if you need any romantic ideas, check out my other blog at:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Prayer Overcomes Drugs

I’m sure you’ve heard about the violence that’s going on here on the Mexican side of the border. Battles between the various drug trafficking cartels have become a small-scale war. Whole towns have been abandoned, or are in the process of being abandoned by their citizens. Kidnapping, extortion, and muggings have become a daily event. Hundreds of people have lost their lives.

In the small town of Nuevo Progresso none of this is going on. I say small, because the town is only six blocks long. This border town exists for one purpose and one purpose only, to separate Americans from their dollars. The main street of the town consists of tourist traps, dentists and pharmacies, with a few restaurants and bars thrown in. The town exists, more than anything, for the Winter Texans; retired people who come down here to avoid the cold up north.

Just like all the other towns here on the border, the druggies started moving in and trying to take over. There weren’t any shootings or kidnappings, but extortion was on the rise. The pastor of the biggest church in town decided to do something about it and gathered his people together to pray.

Before going on the streets to pray, this pastor met with the head of the narcos (drug traffickers) in town. He said that they wanted to set up a spiritual road block, using the slang term that the narcos used. Now, when they do their road blocks, it’s to steal from people, but what this pastor proposed was to stop people on the roads to pray for them. He asked the head narco for his permission to do this.

Before you react with a “he doesn’t have to ask anyone to pray” sort of reaction, I’ve got to say that this pastor was being very astute. He could have made an enemy of the narcos, or he could have co-opted them in his plan. By asking their permission, he guaranteed that they wouldn’t bother him or his congregation while praying for the people.

The head narco asked him when, where, and how his people would be dressed. They set a schedule for every Thursday evening, and the people would wear the same color shirt to be distinctive.

Right from the start it was a success. They had so many people asking for prayer that it caused a traffic jam. That was okay, because it didn’t hurt the rest of the town. So, the church kept praying, specifically praying that God would protect the people from the drug lords and their minions.

After two months of praying every Thursday, the Mexican Marines surrounded the town. They arrested the police (many of who were working with the druggies), the judge, the transit police (traffic cops) and went into the houses where the narcos had people they had kidnapped in other towns. In one clean sweep they removed all corruption and all the criminals. Obviously, they had excellent intelligence.

For three months that town was under martial law, while the municipal government was reformed. Then the marines turned it back over to the people and left. Here, several months later, things are still peaceful. While other towns have shootings, kidnappings and extortion, Nuevo Progresso has peace and prosperity.

“Are they still praying?” You might ask; of course, every Thursday evening you can see the congregation of that church, out on the streets, praying for everyone they can; and God is with them.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Celebrating the New Year?

As long as I can remember, the idea of celebrating the coming of the New Year has seemed a little odd to me. I mean, what is so special about that fact that one year has ended, and another is beginning? Did some major event happen on that day? Are we commemorating something great in our history? Does something change (besides the number we use for the year) when a new year begins?

As far as I know, I’m the same person I was yesterday, with the same failings, the same problems the same bills and the same life. I’ve gained little in knowledge and experience since yesterday; actually, if anything, all that’s happened is that my body has just gotten one day older. What’s so special about that?

Oh, I know that New Years is celebrated around the world, in many different cultures and religions, and that it has been for millennium. The date on the calendar might change from place to place, but it’s still a new year’s celebration. Still, that doesn’t make it seem any more special to me.

Some of the customs of the New Year’s celebration seem just as strange. The idea of staying up late, having a drunken party to bring in the new year is probably the strangest of all. I think it must stem from ancient times, when the people were afraid that the sun wouldn’t come back, or some such thing. Yet, as educated, technologically and scientifically aware people, we still bring in the year with all the drunken hoopla we can muster up. Are we afraid that the new year won’t actually come?

Or, here’s another strange one; how about the custom of setting off fireworks on New Year’s? Where did that come from? It almost seems like an offering to the sun god, so that it can keep its eternal fire burning to warm the earth and give us light. Actually, the idea of setting off fireworks reminds me an awful lot of the Aztec story of the sun god jumping into a bonfire, so that he could burn.

Here’s another custom that’s always puzzled me; the idea of making New Year’s resolutions. We all know that most people break those resolutions before the week is out, so why make them? Does making it a New Year’s resolution make us any more likely to complete it? It appears not, so why bother?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to change and better ourselves. The idea of making a resolution to change some fault in your life is a good idea; but, making it just because it’s another year doesn’t seem to make much sense.

Really, I’m not trying to be a Scrooge here, saying “Bah Humbug” to the New Year, or even to the New Year celebration; I’m really not. I just don’t get it. There was a saying that was popular a number of years ago, and maybe still is in some places. It went, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” I like that. We really don’t need to wait for the New Year to have a new beginning; each and every day brings us that opportunity. Life is full of new opportunities; all we need to do is grasp hold of them.

A little over 2,000 years ago, a baby was born in a little town called Bethlehem, in a place then known as Judea, and now known as Israel. That baby was a gift sent to all mankind, giving us an opportunity for a new beginning. He came, grew, became a man, taught, and ultimately died, for one purpose, the purpose of giving us the opportunity to come into relationship with God the Father, the Creator of the Universe. The opportunity to have hope; to have love; to have a new life.

Many people look at the gospel story and only see a mean God that is trying to send people to hell. What those people don’t understand is that God doesn’t send anyone to hell; all those who go there go of their own free will. No, God is actually trying to stop us from going to hell; that’s why He sent Jesus.

Yet, this same God loves us so much that He doesn’t try and impose His will on us and make us go into His presence. Oh, I know that many people think that He does, and quote the Ten Commandments as proof of that. But, those commandments aren’t given to restrict us, or impose God’s will upon us, they are given for our benefit, not for God’s benefit. He tries so hard to avoid imposing His will on us, that He has prepared a place for those who don’t want anything to do with Him; a place totally outside of His presence. This place is called hell; and actually, it was never intended as a place for mankind to go to.

This same God, the one who created you and I, the one who sent His Son to die for us, wants to have a relationship with you. What’s wrong with that? Why is that so hard to accept? Why not have a true new beginning this year, one with Him?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

When Politics Enters in the Church

You know, there’s a lot of talk in our age about the constitutional separation of Church and State. Most of the time, what’s talked about really doesn’t have anything to do with what was written in the constitution; and in fact the phrase “separation of church and state” isn’t in the constitution; it came from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson.

But, that’s not what I want to spout off about right now. Christians can and should be involved in our political system; if in no other way, than at least as informed voters. We owe that to our country.

But, what about the politics that exists in the church itself? I’m not talking about informing church members of the issues, nor am I talking about animating people to vote. Maybe a better way of expressing it would be to say the “office politics” in the church. You know, the maneuverings and games people play to gain a position, or even more importantly gain a title to impress their friends and family.

The Bible doesn’t talk about democracy in the church; it presents the church as a theocracy. Yet, in many denominations, there is voting for department heads, deacons, and even for whether or not the church keeps the same pastor.

I have to say, none of this is biblical. The biblical example is to seek out the people who God has chosen and prepared to fulfill whatever position, or complete such-and-such a task. The closest we come to seeing a vote in the early church was when they chose Mathias to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the original 12 apostles. Even then, they didn’t vote, but sought out the two best candidates and asked God to show them which one of the two was the correct one (through casting lots).

When politics enters into the church, spirituality, the Bible and God’s will tend to get kicked out. Oh, people might talk about them, twisting them to their own purpose, but that isn’t the same as allowing God to be sovereign in the church.

Yes, we live in a democratic country, and I realize that most Americans would say that democracy is a godly system; but I have to disagree. While I am perfectly willing to agree that democracy is the best political system for running our country, that doesn’t make it the best for our church.

The moment we start voting for people, we invite the process of the political campaign; along with all its lies, manipulation, and posturing. Now, I realize that most churches don’t have any sort of overt political campaign for deacons, there is still a hidden campaign going on in the background. How is that? Because we are unknowingly inviting that person who wants to be a deacon to put on a mask and pretend he is something other than what he is, so that he can be voted in as a deacon.

It becomes even worse than that when we take this same problem out of the local church and put it into the context of a Christian organization. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a denomination, a para-church organization, or a ministerial alliance. There are always factions, differences of opinion, and differences of agenda to deal with. By voting in leaders, we set the stage for all the political manipulations and posturing that one could imagine.

Oh, I know, everyone says that they are voting to seek God’s will, and it would be great if that was the truth. But, let’s be hones with ourselves. How many times do we say we are seeking God’s will, but really seeking our own? Or, how many times do we say that something is God’s will, because it is our own; convincing ourselves that our will is also God’s will?

If godly men and women get together and seek God’s will, then use a system of voting to poll the opinion of what is God’s will, that can be helpful. Even then, we must take into account that God only has one will; if John and Susan think that two opposing opinions are both God’s will, one of them isn’t hearing God too good. The only way this kind of vote can work is that everyone continues praying and seeking God, until all come into agreement that so-and-so is God’s choice, or that such-and-such is God’s plan. Then, and only then, does a vote truly mean something in the church.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Our Ability to Deceive Ourselves

Of all the human perversities, the ability to deceive ourselves is possibly the most perverse and definitively the most interesting to observe (albeit in a perverse way). We can convince ourselves of almost anything; taking a lie, and repeating it to ourselves enough times that we are convinced it is true. More than any other place, this ability shines when it comes to justifying our own actions.

All too often, we see clearly the slightest error of another, while being blind to our own. Not only blind to our errors; but, quite often we are unable to even accept the idea that we could possibly be wrong.

This clarity of vision, into the error of another, is probably the most clear when we see in that other person an action or attitude that we don’t like in ourselves. We may become infuriated with them for their obviously wrong behavior; meanwhile declaring in a loud voice how we are innocent of that same action. It would almost be comical if it were not so sad.

Jesus said:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 6:41-42

Being a Christian doesn’t automatically relieve us of this ability at self-deception; in fact, I’ve seen many a Christian who could teach unbelievers how to practice the fine art. We can even take it a step farther than them, by convincing ourselves that things which God has written in the Bible apply to others, but don’t apply to us.

One of the ways we do this is by saying that we live in a different culture, or a different time frame; so, the commandments of the Bible don’t apply to us. Another is to say that “grace” means that we don’t have to obey God (or at least his commandments), because they are in the Old Testament, and we are believers of the New Testament. Funny, I always that that both parts were considered part of our Bible.

When the world sees us acting this way, they call it hypocrisy. You know something? They are right. It is always hypocritical to try and hold others to a different standard than what we are willing to live ourselves.

Actually, the scariest aspect of this ability to deceive ourselves is when we convince ourselves that what we want is what God wants. We don’t really say it that way, of course; it’s usually phrased as, “God told me…” which gives it as much power as if it had come down with Moses from Mount Sinai. When God has told us to do something, we can break every commandment that exists to do it; after all, God said so.

That’s a very Jesuitical argument; that the ends (what we claim God told us to do) justifies the means (what we want to do). Nowhere in scripture do we see an example of this; however we see lots of them in the church. God never violates His Word or His commandments to have His will done.

So, how do we avoid deceiving ourselves? By submitting to God, to His Word, and to godly people who can tell us when we are wrong. It doesn’t do any good to only submit ourselves to godly friends, because all too often they will put friendship above godly correction. No, we need people who will tell us the truth, especially when that truth is that we are not doing as God would have us do. Then, when we receive that advice, we need to accept and submit to it.

Then, and only then, can we avoid deceiving ourselves.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What Type of College Education is This?

Recently, I’ve been doing some freelance writing for some online companies. This has grown out of the need for us to re-evaluate the way we are earning money, since my wife’s teaching contract didn’t get renewed.

So far, the freelancing I’ve been doing has been writing informative copy for business web sites. I work, as one of many writers, through an online company which seeks out and receives orders from clients, then posts them for the writers to complete. Writers who work with the company have the option of selecting and writing on any of the posted jobs that they are qualified for. All in all, it’s a pretty good system, and the little bit of writing that I have done for them has been very profitable.

I say “little bit of writing” because there hasn’t been enough work to really make much of a difference in our overall income. So, I got hunting around on the Internet for other similar companies to write for. All of them have an application process, and expect the writer to write something for evaluation.

Just the other day, I completed this process for a company that I had never heard of before. Their online application process was a little more complicated than others I had tried, but as they said that it was “educational writing” I wasn’t overly surprised.

Well, lo and behold they approved me as one of their writers. At first, I thought it would be much more interesting writing than the things that I had written for companies web sites. But once I looked at it, I ran head on into a real ethical dilemma (at least for a whole 30 seconds).

Every writing job I was able to find on this web site was posted by a student trying to get someone to write their homework assignments, term papers, essays, and even theses for them. That wasn’t exactly what I had expected to find; I had been expecting to see jobs posted by the professors and institutions, needing work written for them.
How can these people think that they are doing the right thing, to have someone else do their homework, so that they can get their degree? What kind of disasters are they going to be in the workplace?

Could you imagine going to a doctor who had paid others to write his term papers in college? He might not know the difference between a kidney and a liver. Or, how about hiring a lawyer to represent you who had depended upon the writing ability of others to get him through school? If he wrote a letter to a company, complaining about their treatment of their client (you) he’d probably get laughed at, instead of making the company feel threatened enough to take action on your behalf.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that someone who pays another to do their studying, research and writing deserves to receive a college degree. As a college professor, I would be insulted to have one of my students turn something like that in. If I could prove they did it, I’d have them booted out of school. If they don’t want to think, they shouldn’t be in college anyway.

There’s something deeper there than just academic education, it’s called integrity. Anyone who is that dishonest in their schooling is likely to be just as dishonest in the workplace. They’ll be the one who clocks out early, or steals something from the office, or charges the company for extra expenses on a trip. They’re also the ones who will refuse to accept the responsibility that is part and parcel of their job.

As a former employer (that’s read “boss” for those who aren’t sure), I see much of the hiring process as looking for the person who has the right character to be a responsible worker. Yes, technical ability is important, but it’s really not as important as character. There are a lot of people out there who have technical ability in whatever field. But, there are only a few who will go that extra mile for their employer.

When it comes down to it, the only thing a company has, that can make it stand out, is its employees. Excellent employees make for excellent companies; while mediocre employees can only produce a mediocre company. Anyone who expects others to do their work for them isn’t an asset to the company, but a liability. Good managers get rid of them quickly.

So, are these students helping themselves out, or are they setting themselves up for failure? To me, I’d have to say the latter; they might succeed for the moment, but in the larger picture, they will never make the grade.