Wednesday, May 6, 2015

In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash

When the chips are down, where do I place my trust? Of course, being a Christian, my answer should be God, but for most of us, that wouldn’t be the truth—at least not the whole truth. So what do I trust? I think in my case it is a combination of God, myself, money, and other people.

After examining my heart, I concluded I was doing better with money than I initially feared. I can’t find the quote, but J. P. Morgan once observed that money granted one a certain Buddhistic quiescence. This is true. It is easier to sleep at night knowing the bills have been paid and that something still remains to cover future liabilities. However, I have lived long enough to understand that money can never be completely trusted. I was unemployed during the recessions of 73, then again during the recession of 82. I lived through the wretched stagflation of the seventies that basically ruined what should have been the best decade of my life. I watched friends and coworkers slammed by the dotcom crash of 2000. I knew a man, a knowledgeable and skilled investor, who lost a fortune in that year. I don’t think he ever recovered. During the real estate boom that ran from 1995 to 2005, some my neighbors tried to turn the increasing equity in their homes into their own personal ATM by means of Home Equity Lines of Credit. When home values crashed in 2006 many were left underwater, unable to extricate themselves from debt. In 2008 I lost about 40% of my holdings in equities. Fortunately I had about half of my money in bonds and cash, so I was able to recover. Other men I know who are really smarter and more successful than I can ever hope to be sold out at the bottom in 2009 to preserve what remained. They have never recovered.

It is obvious that the borrower is slave to the lender. The person who takes on too much debt in the mistaken belief that money buys happiness will likely learn a painful lesson. But those who successfully pursue money in the belief that it will bring happiness are equally foolish. I have seen people, rich people, become servants to their money. If money consumes your life, you are walking in folly.

I think my biggest problem with God is me. Like most American I was raised to be self reliant, as my mother would say, “Not to be beholden to anyone for anything.” Whenever I was knocked down I always got back up. My self talk when I faced what I believed to be an unfair situation included the story of the U.S. Army Rangers who assaulted the German gun positions at Pointe du Hoc during the D Day invasion of Normandy. The German Army and a whole lot of guns were at the top of a 100 foot cliff. At enormous cost, the Rangers climbed that cliff and captured the German position. I would remind myself they didn’t ask for an even playing field. When my wife, then my girlfriend, discovered the quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, “That which does not destroy me makes me strong.” She laughed, instantly thinking about my approach to life.

There is a problem with trusting in self. Whatever I have in the way of mind, will power, and emotional strength exists in a body of flesh. When I was 37 years old, I injured my lower back while working on my car. I never completely recovered. Whenever I attempted some stupid demonstration of manly strength (usually in work situations) I ended up in a doctor’s office with back spasms. When I was about 45 years old, arthritis in my knees forced me to give up the practice of the martial arts. In my early 50s I developed a heart arrhythmia that has required daily medication. What waits in my future? Alzheimer’s? A wheelchair? I don’t know. Ultimately, I can’t trust myself.

How about friends? I am fortunate. I have some friends who have proven themselves over 40 years and more. They have stood by me in good times and bad. They have put up with my eccentricities when they would have been justified kicking me in my butt. I believe I am developing new friendships that will blossom and mature over time into real blessings for them and for me. Always remember the friends with whom you share your life are precious. They are there to lift you up and push you forward when you are too tired or weak to take another step in your own strength.

I didn’t expect much from “work friends.” I have frequently compared particular work situations to a psychology experiment in which the researchers come to the startling realization that if you place a group of rats in a sequence of smaller and smaller cages while giving them less and less food, sooner or later the rats will start biting each other. However, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that a few of my “work friends” are still there for me even though many years have passed since we shared life together in a factory or a laboratory.

My biggest disappointment in the area of friendship has been the Church. I have come to realize that in spite of all the family of God rhetoric, most “church friends” are just that and nothing more. When you are a member of that particular church, they speak and act as though they are your friend. However, once you no longer share church membership they are out of your life, forever. In some instances, when I have attempted to reconnect with church people I believed to be my friends, they politely and gently encouraged me to go away.

So why don’t we trust God? I expect for most people, including myself it is a combination of things like the deep pain of some personal disappointment. We ask God, “Why did you let this happen to me?” In some cases we fear that God is out to deprive us of some good thing we greatly desire, like a mate. Sometimes I think our distrust of God is a form of buyers’ remorse generated by an inaccurate picture of God painted by one of his salesmen. Finally, I think I tend not to trust God because I can’t see him and I don’t make enough effort to get to know him. How can I trust someone any further than I know him?

I hope that I continue to grow in my understanding of God and my trust in God. Where else can I go?

He has the words of life.

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