Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Caaamper's Political Foray-Death & Taxes

Have you ever heard the old saying that only two things in life are sure things, death and taxes?  That may be just a cynical old adage, but I think it is close to being on the mark.  In our country today, we pay so many different taxes on any given day that it mystifies me why we don’t have more popular opposition than we already do.  Have you ever considered all the various taxes that are levied in your life?

Federal Income Taxes

State Income Taxes

Local Income Taxes

Social Security Taxes

Property Taxes

Sales Taxes

Excise Taxes

Gasoline Taxes

Various “Sin” Taxes

The list goes on….and on….and on….and on….and on.

Not to mention the other forms of government income that are not actually labeled as taxes:  Parking Meters, Speeding Tickets, Usage Fees at Parks and Government Facilities, Various Import/Export Duties & Fees, and again the list goes on….and on….and on.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in the necessity of taxes.  I believe in paying a reasonable set of taxes to maintain the form of government that we so much enjoy in the United States of America.  However, anytime I hear someone say that somebody else doesn’t pay enough in taxes, or they make so much money that they need to pay a higher percentage than the rest of us, I cringe.  We pay plenty of taxes as it is, but our governmental leaders cannot seem to live within the means they have been provided.  

Have you ever had a person that you know become a leech by ignoring basic financial guidelines…spending everything they have on frivolous things…refusing to live on any kind of budget…then coming back to you over and over again to ask you for money?  There comes a time that you realize that you are not doing them any favors by enabling their destructive lifestyle and you have to say NO!  No more!  It’s painful.  It hurts.  The person calls you greedy….and talks bad about you….trying to manipulate you into giving them what they want.  But, you just have to hold the line.

Obviously, a national spending/debt problem is not one that we can simply say “no” to and walk away.  We have a mutual problem.  We are so deep in debt that it is almost impossible to conceive the reality of it.  (I just checked the National Debt Clock:  $15,990,100,000,000.)  It’s almost 16 TRILLION dollars!  And, it is flying higher by the second.  Go to the website and check it out:  www.usdebtclock.org

We cannot just shut off the fiscal faucet.  We cannot ignore the responsibility that debt issue represents.  It is going to require that ALL of us sacrifice even more than we are yet ready to accept…we cannot even imagine the pain it will bring into our midst.  We will not be able to avoid it.  The gravy train is not far from driving right over the cliff.  We have to all participate in paying for the debt that has been created and it is going to really hurt.

However, before you come to me and ask me to give you more money….before you ask my wealthy cousins and uncles and friends to kick in more of their hard-earned dollars….show me that you can stop the bleeding.  Show me that you can create and live on a budget.  Cut….cut…cut.  If you can demonstrate that our extra tax dollars aren’t just chasing shadows, then perhaps we can really make a difference together.

Until our representative government can deal with their shopping addiction, I will resist ANY effort of the IRS to get more of my money or the money of my friends, relatives, and neighbors.  While I doubt either major party is ready to truly deal with this issue, I am convinced that the Democrats are clearly the most self-deceived on the issue.

For that reason, I am going to vote for Mitt Romney.
PS:  If you don't mind perusing a goofy short story on the issue, check out my post called "The Shakedown."  You can find it at this link:  http://caaampersthoughts.blogspot.com/2010/09/shakedown.html

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Muncie Boyhood-The Pinhead

As a boy in Muncie, I was surrounded by bowlers.  Not my immediate family so much as my extended family, especially my Aunt Joan and her two twin boys.  My first experiences rolling that heavy ball down that slick little hardwood floor was with them.  I think I might have bowled a 52 that day….and I felt good about it too.  In fact, the first time the gutter didn’t come into play I was riding cloud nine!  I wasn’t a league bowler like Randy and Sandy (Sandy’s name now is Gator), but I did enjoy the game from time to time as a youth.  I have a few stories that involve those heavy little pins.  I’ll share a few here…
Starting from the most recent…

As a young man, I was dating the woman who was destined to become my wife, but to my chagrin she had moved to Indianapolis and we were dating “long-distance.”  Now, keep in mind that this was before the days of cell phones and Skype.  Calling Indianapolis and talking for more than 30 seconds was expensive….plus, she wasn’t too coherent after 11pm when you could actually afford to talk.  As a result, we mostly got to spend time with one another on the weekends, and that was kind of tough.

One time, we were out on a date with some other college-age couples and we were bowling.  It could have been the annual New Year’s event, but I’m not sure now.  Anyway, I was rolling my usual set which generally meant one or two strikes and one or two spares and a lot of pins left standing across several games.   It was fun, but I was in no way competitively skilled as a bowler.  However, I could once in a while rise to the occasion, and just an opportunity was given me.  Just as I stood to roll my next ball…after a particularly poor series of balls…she said to me:
“Mike, I’ll move back to Muncie if you roll a strike.”

I smiled.  Turned to the lane.  Laid down a smooth roll.  STRIKE!
Continuing to smile, I turned back to see her reaction.

She looked a bit perplexed, then said:  “I never said when.”
Ahhhhhh.  There’s always an out for the girls!

Another event that always brought bowling into my life on an annual basis was the annual New Year’s Eve Sing at my church.  The Fairlawn Church of Christ, being averse to the usual community celebrations that involved much consumption of alcohol on the holiday, always planned a church-wide singing devotional from 9pm to midnight on New Year’s Eve.  We would sing in the New Year.  Then, when everyone was just about sung out, we’d head to the Village Bowl…just about the entire congregation…to bowl from 1am to 3am.  While everyone else in Muncie was getting plastered, we were laughing, joking, rolling gutter balls, and knocking down a few pins.  I remember those nights with great fondness…and unlike so many of my friends….I can actually remember those nights.
Now, my folks weren’t part of the church celebrations.  They weren’t part of the church.  Neither were my sister and her often not so nice husband (that’s another story).  One year, my nephew (my sister’s boy) and I did the New Year’s Eve Sing and Bowling party while my sister introduced my mom to Kahlua. 

Apparently, my mom liked it.  She liked it a lot.
David and I bowled until 3am, then we made our way through the icy streets from the Village Bowl on North Wheeling back to the south side of Muncie.  We may have stopped at the Big Wheel for some breakfast, but I can’t recall that detail for sure.  I dropped him at his house and then drove the additional four blocks to my house.  I knew something was up when at about 4:30am every light in our house was lit up.

David told me that when he walked into his house, his stepfather was passed out on the sofa and his mom had passed out on the bathroom floor.  The scary part was that they had actually driven home from my house!  How they managed that, I’ll never know.
At my place, I parked the car as I contemplated the possible scenarios of why all those lights would be on.  Did someone die in the family?  Was there an accident somewhere?  What could it be?  That was all settled when I stepped inside and found my mom asleep on the couch with her head propped at a ninety degree angle on the armrest…no pillow…just cocked up sideways.  I had never seen her drunk before, and even then I didn’t really experience it…just saw the aftermath.  Dad was sound asleep in the bed, but still…every light in the house was blazing….and I mean every one…lights we never used were on.  It probably took me fifteen minutes to turn them all off.

The last bowling-related memory I’ll share did not even involve my visiting a bowling alley.  Nope.  I was just strolling through an open field behind my cousins’ house.
My Aunt Joan and Uncle Ralph had connections in bowling circles.  They were in leagues and I think my aunt even worked at a few different alleys.  Anyway, they ended up with a bunch of used bowling pins that were piled up out in a field behind their house out on highway 28.  I think the plan was to burn them in their fireplace.  When I got wind of that, I decided I wanted one for my bedroom.  Don’t ask me why….I don’t have an answer.  Why does any kid want any weird thing to display in his bedroom?  I just wanted one, and my Aunt Joan said I could have one.

Off we marched….Randy, Sandy (Gator), Jeff, Chuck, and myself.  I picked out my pin.  Boy, was I excited about it!  I couldn’t wait to show my mom!  I couldn’t wait to show my friends!  No one else in my neighborhood had a bowling pin in their bedroom!  I was sure of it!  I was thinking that maybe I could make a lamp out of it.  I was so proud of it that I was tromping through the field with that pin propped right up on the top of my head like a tall, hard, weirdly balanced crown.  I was holding it lightly in between my hands and walking ahead of the twins. 
For some reason, Randy had carried a basketball with him on this mission, and as he bounced that ball back and forth in his hands he was struck with a brilliant idea.

It would be funny to knock that pin off of Mike’s head!
So, he threw the basketball and hit the pin toward the top end.  It flips out of my grip, but it doesn’t simply fly off and fall to the ground.  No….that probably would have been funny.  Nope, that crazily balanced piece of iron-hard wood flipped.  The balance of the weight was in the bottom and that flipped completely over and slammed into my forehead….and I went down.

The next thing I can really remember is reclining on my Aunt’s sofa with a packet of ice on my head.  I had a knot that was about as big around as a half dollar that stood out from my forehead about a half an inch.  I moaned.  I ached.  I was mad at Randy.  (I think I’m over that now….I think.)  And I no longer cared about making a bowling pin lamp.
I never saw that bowling pin again, but now, as I write this, I can see my reflection in the mirror and I can still see the place where that evil piece of wood nailed me.  There is still a little knot right where it impacted. 

I guess that means  I’m still a bit of a pinhead.     

Friday, August 17, 2012

"This is Your Time!" A sermon


The link above goes to an MP3 of a sermon that I had the opportunity to deliver on December 4, 2011.  I thought I'd place here on the blog for easy access in the future.  If you choose to listen, I'd love you hear your feedback.  I had originally delivered this message to about thirty men during a Men's Breakfast, but several of the guys requested and suggested that I share it with the whole church.  As a result, I was given the pulpit for a sunday.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Caaamper's Political Foray-Politics & Religion

Pre-Statement:  As I create these politically-focused articles, I want to say up front that I reserve the right to change my mind.  I am slightly hesitant to write these because the climate for political speech is so heated and volatile right now and there doesn’t seem to be room for respectful disagreement.  I don’t mind if you don’t see things the same way that I do, and I don’t mind if you post comments to express that disagreement.  However, I do expect all comments to be thoughtful, respectful, and devoid of vulgarities.  If I find them to be offensive, I very well may delete them.  One last thing, please understand that I hold no animosity or hatred toward any group, and just because I may find a certain lifestyle preference to be wrong, or because I may be against certain policy positions doesn’t mean that I’m “phobic,” hateful, or bigoted.  Let’s be real.  We all have things in life that we find to be against our views, but that doesn’t mean that we hate the people who participate in them.  Further, I don’t believe that you hate me if you simply see things differently.  Okay, on with the show.

Politics & Religion

When we were children, our parents would often say that the two things you should never discuss are politics and religion.  Arguments are sure to follow any deviation from this rule.  Lately, however, it seems that our country is disregarding these rules with a passion.  (Anyone want a chicken sandwich?)  In my view, there seems to be at least two factors at play, and both are bogus.  First, there seems to be a view that if you are a Christian, then you shouldn’t have a voice in public policy.  Second, some Christians seem to believe that they need to defend God.  At great personal risk, I’m going to give you my opinion on both of these points of view.  It is ONLY my opinion.
Here is the First Amendment of the US Constitution:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is one of the foremost and most basic laws of the United States of America.  Most of us who have lived our whole lives with this law cannot imagine a life without it.  (We should also keep in mind that not everyone in our world enjoys the same privilege.)  However, this law is problematic for the dogmatic and opinionated.
Can we all at least admit that the “dogmatic” and “opinionated” are not unique to conservatives or liberals, Christians or non-Christians, Democrats or Republicans?

I think both sides of most issues, especially the most heated of those issues, have begun to take the path of trying to berate those who disagree with them into political silence.  Bully them into oblivion.  I will freely admit that some voices in the faith-based arena have taken this tack.  However, as a Christian, I can certainly feel the pressure to shut up placed on “my kind” by those who disagree with views generally held by followers of biblical teachings.  Often, this is defended because some in our country have felt bullied by Christians, so when the opportunity arises they feel justified in returning the favor.  Let me just point out that if you are bullying a bully, that just makes you a bully too.
Frankly, I think we, as Christians, should shut up though. 

It is not our calling to dictate public policy to people who do not hold to the teachings of Christ, and often we are bringing disdain on the God we follow by the very words we utter.  But, that’s not my primary point here.  As citizens of the United States of America, Christians do have a right based on the first amendment to participate in the debate of public issues.  It is fine to disagree, but please refrain from trying to quell disagreement by bullying people.  Additionally, please don’t try to bully me into accepting your position on an issue by calling me names or ostracizing me from society.  As our parents used to say, two wrongs don’t make a right.
This brings me to the second issue…the apparent perceived need that some Christians feel to defend or protect God or faith in Christ.  This is why I think we generally need to just shut up.  God doesn’t need us to defend Him.  He is quite capable of defending Himself all by Himself should He feel the need.  Christians are called to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I (Christ) have commanded….”*  That is our mission.  We make disciples of Jesus by teaching them….not bullying them…not berating them…not legislating them…TEACHING them.  It is a voluntary process.  If they don’t want it, we don’t try to make them.  If they don’t want to mold their lives to the teachings of scripture, then we don’t beat them over the head with the Bible.  Jesus said to “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”**

In conclusion, I think that Christians have every right to participate in the US political process.  They have a right provided by our constitution to state their views and should be respected as much as any other group in doing so.  However, I think they should often refrain from doing so and instead focus on their higher mission.  They should teach and not berate.  If they take care of the poor…if they clothe those who need clothing…if they feed the hungry…if they house the homeless…people will respect their views.  If they speak first… before they care…, they lose credibility…right or wrong.  Again, another reason that I am hesitant to write this particular series of blog articles.  Maybe I need to take my own medicine….because I freely admit that I am a Christian.

*Matthew 28:18-20 (words of Jesus)
**Matthew 5:16 (words of Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount) 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A God's Eye View

A view from the Marriott in Waikiki.
As I write this, I'm in another hotel room....kind of up high.  I'm not as high as the picture from the balcony in Waikiki that I've posted above, but high enough to get a nice view of a golf course and a nearby lake.  It' beautiful!  I love great views!  The view from the balcony in Waikiki is a favorite of mine, but it's also a reminder of when I discovered my fear of heights.  You can see from the picture how the balconies sort of wrap around...well...I couldn't stand to be out there more than just a couple of minutes at a time before an unreasonable and unwelcome fear of falling would come over me.  I even tried sitting down so my shoulders were below the railing, but to no avail.  I had to go skulking back inside.  This was new to me.  I'd never experienced it before.

Being up high, if you can stand to do it, can give you a whole new perspective on things.  Things that seem so huge and so important when you are at ground level become small and insignificant when you're looking down from above.  Take another look at the picture.  See those tiny little cars?  How about those people walking on the sidewalk?  The aerial view can also let you see how things interact.  You can see how the traffic flows from street to street in relation to each other street.  You can see the ebb and flow of foot traffic.  There is so much detail visible to you from above that you just cannot see when you are standing in the middle of it.

Do you ever wonder what God sees from his perch in the heavens?

There is a street in Owensboro, Kentucky that I travel down from time to time.  It is a street that isn't all that different from many other streets all over the country...or the world.  There are businesses.  There are cars.  There are people.  And, there are churches.  In one short stretch of maybe a quarter of a mile, there is a Catholic Church, a Church of Christ, and a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  They are all just next door to one another.

I imagine that week after week those folks drive in and out of their church driveways, passing right past one another...over and over again....and likely they don't give one another the time of day.  There is too much DIFFERENCE between them despite how close they are to one another.  (Of course, I have no first hand knowledge that this is the case.  I'm imagining the scenario based on personal observations of other places and other people.)

I wonder if they ever even take the time to even wave at each other? 

Now, consider this from God's perspective.

He's looking down from above.  He sees them go in and out, week after week...never speaking...never interacting.  Does He wonder why his children can't get along?  Does He turn to Jesus and say something like: "I wish they'd at least talk to each other!"

I suppose I have a fear of the heights of God's perspective too.  I'm afraid of what that view might reveal in myself.  How often do I let my differences drive me to disregard or disrespect my brother or sister in the worldwide family of humanity that God created?  Do I disregard and disrespect them because I disagree with them?

Take a few minutes and think about what our petty squabbles must look like from God's balcony.

You might say, "These differences are NOT petty!  They are real and important and huge!"

I'm sure that's true from the perspective here on the ground.  But....try....for just a short little while....to consider that the perspective from heaven might make things look a little more insignificant than you and I may think.

And, then wonder what could happen if those three churches in Owensboro held a huge, joint pitch-in dinner some Sunday afternoon....and at least talked to one another.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Caaamper's Political Foray-An Introduction

Now that the Presidential election is upon us, everyone seems to be spouting their own particular political beliefs and doing their best to convince….or bully….their friends, associates, neighbors, and any remote strangers walking down the street into believing that they are correct.  If you dare to disagree, you just might lose a friend…or, maybe…be raked through the coals in the national media….boycotted….strung up on a pole and flayed alive, or you might even end up a joke on some late night comedian’s excuse for a political commentary.

So, with that in mind, I am considering a foray into the political thought process.

However, I’m not going to splash my opinions all over my friends’ Facebook newsfeed.  I’m not going to call those who disagree with me “stupid” or “bigoted.”  And, I’m going to try real hard…and probably fail to some extent…to not paint whole groups of people with the same paintbrush.

What I am going to do is own up to my own personal views.  I’m going to try my best to explain what I think about various current event issues, and how I’ve come to those conclusions.  You can be free to agree….disagree….or ignore these views as you wish.

I tend to keep most of my political views fairly close to the vest.  Most people will realize that I lean to the right, but I’m not a total Kool-Aid-drinking conservative.  I have a few liberal ideals.  The thing is that I just don’t really like those labels.  I don’t want to be snuggly tucked into a political and social box.  I think some of the left-leaning ideas are just plain crazy….and I think some of the right-tilting concepts are bonkers.  Does that make me a Moderate?  Well, maybe in some ways.  I prefer to think of myself as someone who is rational and thoughtful with a splash of idealism mixed with practicality.  How do you label that one?

Anyway, over the next few weeks and months, you can peruse…or not…my thoughts on Gay Rights, Abortion, Illegal Immigration, Taxes, and any other issue that may spur me to write.

Just don’t get all mad at me.  I’m not a hater.  Really, I’m not.

Oh, one more thing.  I reserve the right to change my mind.  I get really ticked off when some politicians are accused of flip-flopping because they aren’t keeping the same view at age 50 that they had at age 30.  So what?!  I’ve changed my mind many times, and I’ll probably change it even more times in the coming years.  The views I will share are only the most current ones created by what I’ve observed, studied, and learned to date.  If something changes my view,….well….I’ll change my view freely, willingly, and without concern as to whether someone will think I’ve flip-flopped.  Frankly, if you never change your views, I think you’re just a stubborn bonehead, and I’m not sure I’d trust you anyway.

You can feel free to post a comment either in agreement or disagreement.  I don’t mind opposing comments as long as they are respectful, rational, and not obscene.  If I find any of those characteristics lacking, I just might delete your comment.

Look for the fun to start soon.