Thinking Out Loud

February 7, 2010

Move Your Money

Move Your Money.

It’s a simple, three word slogan that expresses the anger a lot of people in the United States feel right now towards their six largest banking organizations.  The result is a movement that started with an editorial from the founder of Huffington Post, is seeing both individuals and branches of municipal and state governments taking their money out of the large banks and “bringing it home ” to locally owned banks and credit unions.  [Check out this 4-minute promotional video on YouTube.]

Toward the end of the week, the campaign was gaining momentum across the U.S., but a check of the Church and Christianity blogs on Alltop showed very, very few Christian bloggers were commenting on this latest development in the ongoing saga of U.S. bank failures and subsequent recession.

That’s a mistake.   While no one believes more strongly than I in the need for  Christian blogs that will maintain a faith focus, when large numbers of people in our society are moved to collective action, we can’t pretend that it’s more important to write about predestination or baptismal regeneration or the parsing of some text in the ESV.   There is a groundswell of major economic activity poised to take place at the grassroots level in the next two to three weeks, and it’s important for Christians to be part of the overall discussion.

It isn’t easy to disentangle yourself from your bank.   There are all sorts of ramifications for automatic payments, debit cards, direct deposits, bonds, investments, home loans, mortgages, etc., that have to be undone at one end, and reestablished at another end.   There are fees and penalties for early withdrawls.  You have to be really, really convicted about your principles to actually do something like this.

While we’re instructed to do nothing out of anger, we’re also supposed to be people of principle, willing to do something out of conviction. It’s easy to comment on this living one nation removed from the action, in a country where both our banks and the system of check and balances that govern them is solid, and in fact no banks failed.    But what if I were living in the United States?

I think the payment of huge bonuses — the absolute squandering of government bailout money — is grossly immoral.   You can protest, you can write letters to the editor, you can post things on your blog; but the best vote a U.S. banking customer has is the vote they make with their savings and checking (Brit./CDN = chequing) accounts.   Not to mention VISA, MasterCard and all the various debit cards.

To “do justice and love mercy” means that every believer has the potential and the mandate to be an agent of doing justice in a corrupt and fallen world.    It’s wrong to do nothing.  It also raises the questions of the banks being used by Churches and Christian charities.   Ask your Church treasurer where the Church’s deposits are held.

So I would move my money, right?   No.   I would have moved it long ago.   I can’t believe it’s taking Americans this long to wake up to the need for collective action.

June 2, 2009

General Motors: Not in Deepest Sympathy

General_MotorsWe were an hour from home in Toronto picking up a large order from a Christian book distributor when the car simply failed to do anything at all when the ignition key was inserted.    After consulting a local dealer by phone, we were told that the ignition system had ‘locked up,’ but to keep trying, which we did, eventually producing success.   We drove the car to that dealer where they told us — for free — what needed to happen at our local dealership when we got home so that we wouldn’t be stuck again.

We booked the car in the next day to the closest General Motors franchise.   They were less than pleased that the Toronto dealership had “diagnosed” the problem.   There is a fee for that now, which is usually a minimum of a half-hour at normal shop rates.   Because the Toronto people had already “diagnosed” the problem, they had to fix it locally without being able to render the extra charge.

An hour later, the car was returned to me, but as soon as I started it, something was wrong.   The CD/radio was not displaying anything.   No FM station frequencies, no CD track numbers, and most importantly, no time of day, a feature I have come to depend on in a car.

Their argument?   How do we know it was working when you brought the car in?    A nice Catch-22 style stalemate.    However, I was not to be trifled with on this.   So they agreed that they would put the car back into a service bay and then determine if they could fix the radio.

But none of their service guys would open the hood.   In order for them to be paid, there has to be chargeable work being done on the car, which then goes on their timecard.    This type of goodwill investigation was not part of the shop service schedule.    Again, I was not about to be messed around, so some kinder, gentler mechanic pulled the radio and did some checking.

In the end, they couldn’t fix it.   An independent, local mechanic found a compatible CD/Radio at a wrecker, and $250 worth of parts and labour later, I had a working clock and music system.    The local representative for General Motors of Canada said they didn’t break it, they weren’t going to fix it, and they weren’t going to pay for it.

That was many, many years ago.   I have never set foot in a GM dealership since, and I currently have no intention of ever owning another GM vehicle.

…At this point, you may be wondering where this fits into the Christian theme of this blog, or the idea of grace in general.   “I’ve always enjoyed this blog;” you’re saying, “But today you seem pretty angry.”

It doesn’t fit.   Being a Christ follower means that I probably restrained myself from other forms of protest.  It also means that while I harbour nothing against the the individual service manager and his mechanics,  I can disagree violently with the ‘system’ that they represent on the basis of the Biblical concept of justice.    (I would extend the argument and suggest that I’m not sure that any Christian can carry on employment in a workplace that has unfair trade policies.)   It means that, in terms of that car, I am “forgetting what lies behind.”

gm_10bil_moreSo how do I process the news of this week concerning General Motors?  I know a number of people who are GM employees, who have enjoyed a unique, special, privileged opportunity to work with wages and benefits others can’t begin to imagine.   It bothers me to think those same employees possibly wouldn’t pick up a tool to check a vehicle that arrived in a service bay working and is now not working, but in fact, we’re dealing essentially with the same company.   The parent company establishes the rules. I know these people socially, but in their workplace, they would have had to tow the company line.  The end of that unique opportunity for those employees is a consequence of the company’s overall attitude.

I don’t want to see people unemployed, but those employees had a great ride, and are now dealing with the impossibility of the economics they enjoyed.   There were a number of flaws in the GM model, not just as I experienced in the service bay, but in sales, marketing, product development and of course compensation paid to its staff.

No matter how iconic a company is, if the model isn’t working, eventually, the chickens will come home to roost.  Do you bail out Coca Cola or Kelloggs or — perish the thought — WalMart because they are American icons?  At a certain point you have to let the company die, or else nobody has learned anything.   You end up with — and this is where traces of morality enter — economics without consequences.     Companies can take all kinds of risks even if the model won’t hold together in a tough economy because, when the dam breaks, the government will be there with a rescue and bailout.

Sorry.  If you offer that to GM, you have to offer it to everyone.   On Monday, June 1st, 2009, the governments of the United States and Canada should have simply let General Motors die and then let market forces rebuild an new auto industry from scratch.

No, there’s not a lot of grace in that.   But there is a lot of justice, even though it would have hurt.    As of now the taxpayers of both nations own ‘stock’ in a monster-sized company which may or may not succeed long term.   This had better be the greatest comeback story on record, but I fear history will record it differently than that.

April 18, 2009

Andy Stanley on Getting from Here to There

principle-of-the-path

After nearly five years of watching the North Point videos and downloading audio sermons, I realized I had never read one of Andy Stanley’s books.   There’s something especially interesting about reading a book when you can hear the author’s voice speaking inside your head.    That was the first thing I noticed reading Andy Stanley’s The Principle of the Path: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want To Be (Thomas Nelson, 2009).   It was like purchasing a book on CD, only to discover it’s being read by the original author.

While Andy Stanley would be the first to tell you that he believes in the “one point” sermon, rather than the more popular “three point,”  this is not a one point book.   But there is one recurring truth throughout:  “Direction, not intention, determines destination.”    If that sounds a bit lightweight to some of you, the book continues to add additional precepts through ten chapters with new variations on the theme building to a crescendo in the final pages.

The teaching delivered in Principle of the Path comes with a healthy serving of anecdotal stories from Andy Stanley’s life, as well as people he has known or counseled.   His autobiographical moments are marked by genuine transparency and humility.

Using mostly Old Testament passages from the lives of David and Solomon, the book combines scripture with practical truth that is applicable to marriage, parenting, finances, relationships, career and even faith itself.

Who is this book for?   Ideally, someone starting out in life has the most to gain by reading this now.    But realistically, most of the readers of this book may already be down the road of life, perhaps even at a point of midlife crisis.   And some may already qualify for a senior’s discount at some stores.    Somehow, Andy has managed to capture some truths that can be processed by people at all stages of life’s journey.

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