"The one who know God eats, drinks and marries, not as ends in themselves, but simply as necessary things. I include marriage in this list only to the extent the Word dictates and only as it is suitable. For having become perfect, the one who knows God has the apostles as examples. One is not really proven to be a man by the choice of a single life. But one who has been disciplined by marriage, the raising of children, and the care of his household surpasses other men. When he cares for his household without pleasure or pain, he becomes inseparable from God's love. For he has withstood all temptations arising through children, wife, servants and possessions. But he that has no family is free of temptation to a large degree." -Clement of Alexandria, The One Who Knows God
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."
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.
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."
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.