Saturday, May 30, 2009

My 25 years as a Christian

I became a Christian 25 years ago this month. I had not, at that point, given much thought to my fellow human being. Being 19 years old and self-absorbed, I was more concerned with my own welfare than that of anyone else.

My conversion quickly changed my view of humanity. I feared that most of those I loved, not to mention those I didn’t even know, were bound for eternal damnation, and so there was an urgency in my soul to do whatever necessary to convince them of their need for Christ’s salvation.

But in the past few years I’ve become a misanthrope. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps it’s because I’ve let my spiritual life slip. My early days of Christianity were spent in hours a day of prayer and Bible reading. Most days now pass with little thought to either.

What’s turned me so cold? I can’t blame anyone but myself, but outside influences have their effect. Right after my conversion I gave up all secular pursuits except for college – and before I’d had time to graduate I gave that up too.

A few years in I started listening to classic rock on the radio and watching TV Land, but still shunned any current entertainment. By the ‘90s I was watching "Seinfeld" and listening to Kurt Cobain. Still, I read my Bible and prayed daily. I even entered Bible college.

But Bible college may have begun my undoing. It wasn’t that they were teaching me to abandon my faith, but with working a full-time job and studying for class and seeking a wife (I was in my 30s), I had little time to dedicate to my former Scripture reading and prayer. I determined I’d take it back up between semesters. But I didn’t.

Now, years past Bible college, I still don’t. I’m still at church every Sunday, but my passion lacks. In some churches I see accommodation. I have no problem with trying to reach people through new methods, but one of those methods shouldn’t be leaving out any part of the message that offends. Other churches are either not accommodating enough or they cling to ideas that drive people away. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no home for me.

I don’t wish to wallow among the ungodly either. They’ve become more and more brazen in their spitting in the face of the holy.

I actually attend two churches currently: The one I grew up in, which is formal, but doesn’t compromise the gospel, and one which I’ve found that has a contemporary service, but still embraces tradition. I like both these churches, so please don’t get the idea from two paragraphs up that I don’t like them. I was speaking generally, and I’m sure there are many churches I’d feel comfortable in. I wrote those words several days before I penned this paragraph, and was in certain mood then that I’m not in today. Still, I’d like the words to stand unedited.

I’m trying to work God back into my life, but I’m doing so amid trying to work physical exercise back into my life and trying to become a better (newlywed) husband, better son, better pet owner, etc. And I’m trying to figure out ways to make extra money in a down economy – especially considering that I work in the newspaper business – a shrinking industry.

So pray for me if you are of the mind. Encourage me if you can. And I’ll do my best to do the same for you.

My quarter-century of walking with Christ has had its ups and downs, but overall it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I entered this new life a few months before turning 20 assuming I had three choices: suicide, insanity or Christian conversion. Assuming I was teetering on the edge of the first two I reasoned I could try giving myself to God first. If that didn’t work out I could try insanity, and if that didn’t work, try death. After all, if death were a mistake I couldn’t undo it. Maybe I could come back from insanity, but maybe not. I could always give up Jesus if he didn’t cure my problems.

I’m happy to say that after all these years he still does. Even when I feel I’ve failed him.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Budgeting your household the easy way

Here's a picture of my budget I keep in my wallet. It's not as complicated as it looks, but it does keep me from overspending.

There are all sorts of methods that work for different people. Dave Ramsey and others recommend the envelope system, in which you put the money for each category into its own envelope. You can only spend money for food, for instance, from the envelope marked Food.

My system is somewhat like the envelope system, except that I keep all my money in my wallet. The multiple envelopes might work if you carry a purse, but I don't, so trying to stuff envelopes in my pants pocket isn't going to work.

Rather than using envelopes, I just write down on a piece of paper how much money I have in each category and when I spend $24.93 on a shirt I subtract $24.93 from Clothes. (If you don't have at least $24.93 in your Clothes budget, you can't buy the shirt.)

But first, you have to determine how much money you'll put into each category. Lots of books and websites will give you about the same percentages, but I've found the best source to be the online budget calculator at Crown Financial Ministries. This calculator takes your income into consideration and bases the percentages on how much you can afford to spend on the fun stuff after the necessities have been taken care of.

First, enter your annual gross income, then enter how much tax is taken out. Since this site is a Christian ministry, there is a line for you to enter how much you'll give as a church offering, but if you don't contribute to a church you can enter any charitable gifts you do give or enter zero.

Once you've entered those three fields, the calculator will tell you how much money should be in each budget both annually and monthly. My only complaint with this calculator is that it doesn't give you weekly or bi-weekly amounts, and that's how most people get paid. I get a weekly check, so I just divide the annual amount by 52. If you're paid every two weeks, divide it by 26.

Next, take a blank piece of paper and write across the top all the categories you'll be spending (not saving or paying bills with). They should be: Food Auto Entertainment Clothes Tithe Medical Miscellaneous

Now, put whatever amounts the budget tells you underneath. (Some of these might get adjusted in a minute.) I put the weekly amount in a box, then write the amount I have underneath. Every time I get a paycheck I add the amount in the box to the total, and every time I spend from that category I subtract it. To the penny.

I'm an extremely late adopter and pay with cash whenever possible. One good thing about this is that you can watch the money leave your wallet and that makes it easier to not spend. But even if you do everything by credit or debit card you still can keep the list and subtract as soon as you buy, not when the credit card bill comes. Using cash, I'm able to reconcile any mistakes I've made by counting my money, then adding up all the categories on my piece of paper the day before every paycheck. Using credit cards, your budget might get skewed if you do some bad math or forget to record a purchase. Over time, this can get you way out of whack.

The money that goes into Housing, Insurance, Savings, Investments and Debt, should go into your bank account. Savings should go into an account that earns interest, though you should keep about $1,000 in your checking account for emergencies. Investments should go into interest-bearing accounts, too, and should be untouchable, as it is intended for your retirement. (If you have a 401k deducted from your paycheck, whatever comes out of it that is your contribution and not the company's match should be considered a portion of this category. Say you've got $20 in your Investments budget, and pay $17 into the 401k, you still have $3 to put into the bank.)

Regular bills
Now that you've got your budget in order it's time to tally up your bills.

Get a second piece of paper and list everything you pay on a regular basis: your utilities, Internet, cable or satellite and mortgage or rent. These aren't just monthly bills; put down your car insurance or anything else that is paid quarterly, bi-annually or annually. (Anything that isn't paid monthly should be converted to its monthly equivalent on your list.)

Add them up and you have your monthly expenses. Next, multiply that by 12 to get the annual number and divide it by however many paychecks you get per year, 52 or 26. (If you are paid monthly you already have the right number, so don't do anything.) This number is how much you have to deposit into whatever account you pay your bills from. If any bills change significantly from month to month you can either recalibrate when they change, or get the average from the last 12 months.

Making corrections
I said earlier you'd have to make some fixes to that original piece of paper. Here's how you do:

Things like cable TV come out of your entertainment budget, but you've calculated them in your monthly bill list. Go through that list and find things that belong on the other budget and subtract them. For a $60 a month cable bill, multiply by 12, then divide it by your number of paychecks if it's 52 or 26 and subtract that much from Entertainment. Do that for everything on the list and for things deducted from your paycheck.

You've already handled the 401k contribution on your paycheck, but look at any part of your health insurance that you pay and deduct that from Medical and take any parking fees from Auto.

That should have you set. Just add bonuses or overtime to Miscellaneous.

Did I say this was the easy way? It may not seem easy, but it's far better than spending beyond your means.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Chuck Norris on Obama's top 'faith moments'

U.S. News and World Report reported it, but Chuck says most aren't "faith moments" at all.

Horoscopes that don't foretell

Here at The Daily Planet we have to edit standing features days in advance. Today, we got a week's worth of horoscopes.

Any seer worth her salt ought to be able to send us horoscope columns two, three years in advance. Now, that'd be worth reading.

At a previous paper where I was wire editor/page designer/headline writer/page proofer all the horoscopes began "Born today, ..." then said something about the person born on that day. We wrote a headline, "Born today, you are bright and industrious" or whatever.

I always hoped for the day the copy read: "Born today, you aren't gullible, or easily taken in by charlatans." My headline would have been: "Born today, you weren't born yesterday."

Alas, it never happened. I guess that's because those people are reading their horoscopes.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Identity withheld -- or is it?

Today's Remlap Reader's lead story is that of a woman found dead in her car in a Walmart parking lot. The story says her identity is being withheld pending notification of her family, yet she's described as in her 40s, and a police spokesman notes that her family reported her missing on Saturday. Further, her vehicle is both described and shown in a photograph. Hmmm. Reckon her family can figure out who she is?

When words don't mean what they mean

"If you patronize a store it's a good thing, but if you patronize a person it's bad," I said to my fellow copy editor.

He's long wanted to know how "manipulate" got a bad rap. Clearly, one can manipulate an engine to get it to run. If nobody manipulated anything nothing would ever get done.

"Every Friday when they give me a paycheck it manipulates me to keep coming back to work," I said.

"I've given up trying to understand the language," he said. "I just keep trying to fix it."

Monday, May 4, 2009

Where did the caboose go?

I don't know when I noticed that freight trains no longer had a caboose, but the end of the end-of-the-train has me cross.

This info is all from Wikipedia, so take it for what it's worth, but apparently railroads were required to put a caboose on every freight train, for safety reasons, until the 1980s. To save money, the railroads argued that they could put a device on the last car that would monitor conditions and warn other trains of it's presence.

Well, there you have it: A machine beats man. John Henry must be turning over in his grave. (I mean the John Henry of streel-driving legend, not the John Henry of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles fame. Although he might be miffed, too, considering the season-ending episode where we find out he's a machine on the side of humanity.)

It's impersonal is what it is. I live near a train track and have to cross it whenever I want to buy gas, pharmaceuticals or groceries. And clothes or books, too. And it never fails that no matter what time I walk out the door I hear a train whistle.

If I'm going to have to wait on a train it would be nice to at least see a human face at the end of it.

(Photo by Sean Lamb -- Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Outside Looking In - News about Alabama

Today's "Outside Looking In" looks at what The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have to say about Alabama. There's change (and not), Jewish scholars at black colleges and why Sun Ra had an "Arkestra."

People leaving church just because they lose interest, Pew poll says

A Pew Forum study shows that people don't leave church because they get mad, say for pedophilia in the clergy, or for doctrine. They just lose interest and drift away.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Robber wallet will prevent theft

Among the many things my friends make fun of me for is the fact that I carry a "robber wallet."

This is a second wallet that has a small amount of cash in it that I can fork over to a robber should, heaven forbid, I ever am faced with the situation.

I started this practice when I began working night-shift in a city. (I'd lived and worked only in small towns before that.)

The practice is pretty simple: All you do is buy a new wallet, then put your old one in your other back pocket. Put a few small bills in it, then save the fake credit cards they send you in Visa or MasterCard offers and stick them in there to make it look more realistic. (You'll have to change these out every so often as they are generally cardboard and will start to wear out. And make sure they say "Your Name Here" and don't actually have your name or personal info on them.)

One of the things I'm mocked on is that, in my fear of the robber, I'll forget and give him my real wallet. That's possible, but those of you without robber wallets have a 100 percent chance of giving up everything in your billfold. I at least have a chance of not doing it.

The only bad part of carrying a robber wallet is that once you start you can't ever stop. If you say to yourself, "This is a safe place," and leave it at home that might be the very moment you get robbed, and you'll kick yourself for the rest of your life.

Not being a woman, I can't advise on this for the opposite sex. I suppose thieves want to grab the whole purse and not just a wallet. Maybe a purse-carrier can advise me on this.