November 29, 2014 has been my best day for follows in the two years the blog has been up.
Archive for November 2014
I’ve had nearly 10 follows this week, which is amazing because I haven’t initiated any follows on WordPress in months. I follow back (usually), but I just haven’t had time to be proactive. It’s always cool when people discover me without my help. Author interviews, critiquing my fellow Christians, and book promotion seem to be a good combination for blog promotion. Now if I can just translate it into book sales ….
Check out Paul’s website. Lots of lovely images.
Mike owns a major car dealership in the Southeastern states. He’s a wealthy man. He’s also a devout Christian who considered going into ministry rather than inheriting his father’s dealership. He uses his wealth to fund charity. He is a Barnabas.
Mike was asked to join an alliance of other car dealers in a three-state region to help “maximize profits and assure customer service.” He thought that was a good idea, so he agreed to join. Over the next six months, he gradually became aware that this alliance was fixing prices for repair parts. If you thought your dealership was charging you too much for a part and you called around, you’d find that all of them were charging the same amount. Mike then checked the wholesale price and discovered that you could get these parts for a lot less than you might think. You just had to know where to call and be a dealer so you could order those parts. Mike checked with his parts people and realized that they were now overcharging customers. It wasn’t just a small amount of profit either.
Mike spoke to some of the other dealers and they all insisted they were struggling to stay in business and needed this “healthier” business environment or they would go under. The problem with this was that Mike had been to several of their homes and businesses and knew they weren’t hurting.
He knew what the consequences would be if he did what he was going to do, but he also knew that God was pulling at his conscience, telling him this was a dishonest business practice. On the other hand, he had agreed to join the alliance and to abide by the terms of membership. He had to decide if he was going to obey God or obey man.
The alliance gathered for a quarterly meeting and Mike announced he was withdrawing from the alliance and changing his parts prices. He was informed that if he did this, he would be sued by the alliance, that he would have to order parts from outside the district and that they would do everything in their power to destroy his dealership. He took a deep breath and said “Okay. Do what you think is best. But … you three over there who are church deacons, what you are doing is dishonest and God has told me to tell you that what you do against me will come back against you.”
He then walked out of the meeting and did what he felt God was leading him to do.
The next year was ROUGH! Lawsuits, supply issues, vandalism on the car lot. For the first time since Mike took over the dealership, the company lost money and sales were drastically down. In order to stay in business, he got innovative and started to sell other brands of cars in addition to the dealership brand he’d dealt in for years. The dealership continued to shrink, but the other brands carried him through. Meanwhile, the alliance members seemed to be doing very well. Mike began to doubt his decision, but for Bible verses that kept showing up suggesting he was right to obey God. Several years went by with very flat business. Mike lost the lawsuits; although the judge said he had a point about the price fixing, he had violated his contract with the alliance. Mike sold a bunch of investments to carry the company through the lean times and to pay the lawsuits. He told my pastor — a lifelong friend — that he figured he could hold off bankruptcy to get his last kid through college.
And then the economic crisis hit. Everybody went into panic and Mike was worried. People don’t buy cars in recessionary times. Still, he had a comfortable savings balance (because he’d already been planning for lean times) and what investments he still had hadn’t been hit all that hard. In the midst of a deep recession, his business started to pick up while the members of the alliance — starting with those three deacons — one by one closed their doors. People were looking for lower prices and Mike’s prices were cost plus a reasonable profit while theirs were not reasonable. Word of mouth spread and soon, while still in the midst of a recession, the company’s sales figures were what they had been before the dark times. Today, Mike owns not just one dealership, but five because as his business restored, he was able to buy those failing deaderships at fire sale prices. In fact, two of those owners came and asked him to buy them out and apologized for their part in the alliance. They are now managers of their former companies and Mike is letting them buy those companies back through an employee buy-in program. And getting into those other brands of autos now appears to be an inspired idea because Government Motors discontinued a lot of very popular lines that significantly harmed his competitors’ market share. Several members of the alliance, including the three deacons, were eventually charged with fraud and price fixing and some of them did jail time.
Like Shadrach, Mechach and Abendigo, Mike was asked to stand up for the Lord even though it meant a walk through fire. And God has blessed him for his obedience, but this story isn’t really about him. It’s about the three deacons and the two men who apologized. The deacons knew they were doing wrong and God had a word with them through Mike. They still chose not to hear it. Mike visited with two of them after they were found guilty, before they went to jail, and they were still unrepentant. “It was business. It had nothing to do with my faith.” Though Mike was never called to testify, they are certain he turned them in. The two men who apologized were also Christians. They knew they were doing wrong too. When life disciplined them, they repented. Mike says they have shown themselves to be better men since. “Everybody else was doing it,” they said. “I was afraid to rock the boat.” They both testified against the alliance, but were themselves never charged with fraud because the prosecutor considered them not to have been principles in the scheme. They were just along for the ride, which Mike believes is accurate. There were a lot of members of the alliance who were along for the ride, as Mike was for those first six months.
It’s easy to say “This is how the world does it. I’m just going along to get along”, but Christians are called to a higher purpose and God knows what we do not. Mike was preparing for a slow decline into bankruptcy for standing on his principles. He is now richer than he ever was because he was in a perfect condition to take advantage of a financial crisis to grow his business. There are people who think he had to have been dishonest to have grown during a recession, but in surveys of what his customers like about his business, the number one selected item is “honesty.”
“In the world not of it” means that when the world wants to go a certain way and we know that it is is wrong, we don’t follow the world, even if we know the world will give us consequences for that decision.
It’s okay to be different, Christians. That’s what we’re here for!
I look forward to exploring how a centrist who believes in the “common betterment of the greatest number of fellow citizens” can reconcile a civil libertarian stance. We’ll come back to it next week.
Again, I think its probably a propos here to point out that my political views are different than those of William Orwell Steele. On the issue of civil liberties, though, I think his position and mine are pretty closely aligned. What puzzles me is your apparent belief that my more-or-less Utilitarian philosophy is somehow incompatible with impassioned advocacy of civil liberties – because I see them as perfectly complementary.
Recall that I said I believe elected officials in a democracy have a duty to strive for political solutions that provide the greatest benefit for the largest number of their fellow citizens, without thereby infringing on the rights of the minority. In my view, that last bit is every bit as important as the first part. If you can’t come up with a political solution without stepping on the minority’s rights in the process, you haven’t managed to achieve an acceptable solution at all. Of those rights, I hold the most important to be free speech, and preserving that right is of the highest importance to me, personally. That’s not in aid of some vague, selfless crusade, either. As a writer, the freedom to write about whatever I wish is central to my identity. Without the freedom to point out that the Emperor isn’t wearing pants, you, me, and every other aspiring scribbler on the planet is relegated to the status of mere entertainer – a jester in the service of le roi, fit only to lampoon the foibles of his most risible chamberlains, but never, ever to impugn the dignity of the king himself.
I completely agree with that.
The freedom to say what you please – and to act as you please, too, so long as no other person is harmed by your behavior without their explicit, advance permission – is key to what it means to be an American. It’s built into our self-image; a part of our cultural DNA. That’s why I was so apalled at my fellow citizens’ reaction to the 9/11 attacks: it seemed like they were lining up to abandon the Bill of Rights in exchange for the mere illusion of greater personal safety from terrorism. The rise of civil asset forfeiture as a routine butress to civic coffers, granting the NSA and the FBI sweeping exemptions from the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, prosecuting journalists for disclosing classified information, serious, chronic, widespread prosecutorial overreach under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, increasing militarization of civilian police forces, the warrantless use of law enforcement facial recognition and license plate databases, have all exploded since September 11, 2001. But, as the Boston Marathon bombing demonstrated, none of these Constitutional transgressions has done anything to make us safer from terrorism. They have merely added to the climate of fear and oppression in this country, without providing any demonstrable benefit to society as a whole.
As a radical centrist, I’m convinced we need to roll back these infringements on civil liberties, before we become too accustomed to them. That’s an essential element of preserving the rights of the minority: pushing back against the curtailment of civil liberties, and embracing greater, rather than lesser liberty of speech and action. The Westboro Baptist Church bigots sicken me – but I’m grateful that my nation sees the importance of allowing them to speak, regardless of how hateful their speech is. There’s a saying among the Ancient Internauts: “The proper response to distasteful speech is more speech, not less.” I’m all about that. You don’t defeat a philosophical opponent by forbidding him to talk – you beat him by allowing him all the rope he requires to hang himself in the court of public opinion.
As a Baptist myself, I wince every time the Westboro Baptists do anything. I’m embarrassed as an American and as a Christian by their existence. They are not representative of what Biblical Christians, Baptists or fundamentalists believe. They give all of us a bad name and reflect badly on the God they claim to believe in. What they believe does not have a basis in God.
I assume you’ve read Plato’s Republic? It made me want to take a bath – and it wasn’t so much the staggering conceit of his proposal that “philosopher kings” would somehow magically be wise and benevolent rulers, as it was his complete contempt for civil liberties that made me want to wash off the slime. A police state, with poetry as a capital crime, rigidly-enforced social immobility, and a total lack of regard for human aspiration as a central governing tenant – and that philosopher king governance model – sounded a lot like Soviet socialism to me. I think we both know what a profound failure that experiment was. The thing is, while economic central planning was key to the Soviet collapse, I think the Politburo’s restrictions on social mobility and free speech were at least equally responsible for the fall. Governments are like Tinkerbelle. When the people they supposedly govern stop believing in them, they simply go away.
I try to keep posts in this conversation to 1000 words, so I’m going to break it here and post my response next week. Thom has given me much to think about. Lela
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. When I was a kid, it was because I liked the colors. Orange is one of my favorite colors and I love (Lower 48) fall leaves. When I became a Christian, it took on special significance. Christians are told to be thankful for everything and to rejoice in all circumstances. That isn’t always easy, but Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to reflect on all in our life that we should be grateful for.
Yes, there’s the standards — roof over our head, job that allows us to pay for the roof over our head, family, friends, a yellow Lab warming our feet while we type ….
Sometimes though, it’s good to be grateful for what we don’t consider to be blessings. Oil is $3.59 a gallon here in the great state of Alaska. To heat my home with oil costs $16 a day. Last year it cost $20. That’s annoying and it’s frustrating. Annoying because when I bought my home 12 years ago, oil was $1.60 a gallon, so it cost me $5 a day to heat my home. Frustrating because this is Alaska and if anywhere should have affordable home heating costs from petroleum sources it should be here. We’re sitting on the oil, afterall.
But, today is about thankfulness. The high cost of home heating has caused us to use wood for more than ambiance. It’s a family affair. We all participate in the nightly ritual of bring in the next day’s wood. It’s a time of family cooperation that teaches our son good work ethics and that is actually kind of fun.
So today, though I might wish it to be different, I am thankful for high heating oil prices.