Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why Christians Should Never Hate, and Why We Do Anyway

This is mostly a post based on Paul's famous statement of "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Romans 7:15. I've mentioned this verse before, but I do have a slightly different take on it this time. Basically, I want to use this verse and a brief explanation to try to explain why Christians are often perceived as "hypocrites".

My premise is this: If there is one thing a Christian should never do, it's hate or dislike or talk baldy another person. Yet, most of us fail every day of our lives.

I think the premise is pretty easy to understand, God is love, yet Christians and "the church" fail at showing this. Every day people are turned away from churches or their Christian families, or their Christian acquaintances, friends, or co-workers. Even Christians who are in the same church, life group, or Bible study may dislike or talk badly about each other. In fact, that may be the most prevalent spot for this type of malcontent.

Why do we act this way? Shouldn't we know better by Jesus's example? Jesus found the people who most needed him, the "sick" and said that he was the only doctor. Why hasn't our Healer already healed us completely?

The short answer, He has healed us completely. The long answer, we are on a journey. If we are Christians, we have eternity ahead of us. Part of our life here on earth is discovering, learning and growing. If we stop learning and growing completely, then something is very wrong in our lives. Yet, however hard we try, we are still so broken that even 100 years on Earth will not "fix" us, but only the grace of God. Because of Jesus, we are already healed in the eyes of God. Whatever the sin or the condition of our hearts, Jesus's blood has covered it in the eyes of God.

So what do we need to do about the sin that is still in our lives? Ignore it because it's covered by grace? As Paul would say, "By no means!" Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for us, so take a few minutes to think of some changes you can make in your life. Don't feel guilty for your failings, use them as an opportunity to continue doing what we were made to do: learning and growing through grace and knowledge. If the Spirit is working in your life to show you a sin you struggle with, work with Him, not against Him!

I think of the incredible growth that I've experienced in the past 10 years or so, and I marvel at how far I still have to go.

As one example of how far I've come, I used to deal strongly with feelings of worthlessness and shame. I have gradually realized over time, that many of those feelings were bound up in my own inner dialogue about other people. When I judged them internally, I was also judging myself. If they "should never wear that outfit" then what about my outfit, was it "good enough"? While I'm not perfect, I have come to realize that my inner judgments of others were causing me to see myself in a more negative light. So now I try to catch those judgments before they form and accept people for the beautiful and unique creations God has made.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

What is a Zoranian?

I hope that no one is offended by the name of the website for my blog. I'm not actually calling anyone a moron, it just rhymed. So what is Zoron or what is a zoranian (my web-moniker of many years). Well, it all started in the 7th grade (or maybe a year or two earlier). I don't remember the exact year, but I can tell you that I was in the foyer at the church I grew up in. It may have been our regular Sunday night meal/fellowship time. Or maybe it was during a youth group event or even our "All Saints Eve" celebration. I do know there were Tootsie Rolls that day for some reason, so maybe it was "All Saints Eve" (or Halloween to any non-liturgical denominations).

Either way, I was talking with one of my friends and asked whether or not they could hear the Tootsie Rolls singing. I am not schizophrenic, and was not actually hearing voices or sound, I was just bored and thought it would be a good conversation starter. Well, that discussion somehow led to me saying that I could only hear them because I was from another planet, the planet Zoron. Well, by the end of my 7th grade school year, the planet Zoron had grown in my imagination to be the planet just beyond Pluto, with 2 suns, and only women lived there because we exiled all the men to the planet's moon and visited and used them whenever we wanted something or wanted to have kids. Also, your eye color was different on the planet Zoron because of the two suns. So anyone who had green eyes on Earth had purple eyes on Zoron, etcetera.

So, that is why I've titled my blog, Zoron for Morons. It's a brief glimpse into the craziness that is in my brain for the people who don't live in my head and are interested. I think that we all have creativity and fun inside of us, but sometimes we end up squashing it because it's "not cool" or we don't "fit in". I would encourage everyone, regardless of their age, to pick one part of their life they are "ashamed of" and share it freely, openly, and proudly with a friend, acquaintance, relative, or neighbor. You might be surprised that your awkward conversation starter could open up a whole new world, literally!

Friday, December 05, 2014

It's Not Always About Race

Let me be clear here. I'm not saying there is no longer racial tension in this country. I'm not saying racial profiling doesn't exist or white privilege doesn't exist. However, there are actually two issues that are getting mixed up together in most people's minds: 1) ongoing police brutality and 2) black communities tend to have higher crime rates and lower income.

Let's take the first issue. We need to get a better system of checks and balances in place (which is what our country is built on). For example, in the Eric Garner situation, the internal police department has not fired or suspended this man despite clearly violating protocol. I'm not arguing that police officers shouldn't have the right to use force when arresting someone or that any specific laws were broken. But there is clear, visual evidence that an internal police protocol was broken, which contributed to a man's death. Arguably, the two other officers involved should have also stepped in to stop what was going on and they should face some type of fine, training, or administrative assignments.

However, I would like to present a few other cases to show that excessive force has been used across color lines. For instance, there's the case in Missouri of Jason and Laura Hagan, a homeschooling family who were being followed up with by CPS based on a previous complaint of a "messy house". When the Hagan's exercised their Fourth Amendment rights to refuse to let CPS in, the local Sheriff's office was called in. Without a warrant or justifiable cause, the parents and dog were pepper sprayed, tasered, and attacked in their own home (despite being on the phone with a lawyer at the time, so that was pretty dumb). A lawsuit has been filed, and the Sheriff has been fired.

Also, at least two Justice Department investigations have found systemic police brutality and use of excessive force (Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Cleveland, Ohio) without a specific finding of racial profiling or racism. In Albuquerque, for example, a homeless white man was shot (allegedly armed with a small pocketknife, but complying with police). I think the #blacklivesmatter should really be #livesmatter. If the local police are being excessive, it should not matter what color you are, they should be reprimanded and action should be taken internally. If that's not happening, then we need an external group to step in (whether that's the Justice Department, or some other entity). Cameras aren't going to help, and making it all about race is only going to cause more black lives to be lost.

Now, to fix the problem of inequality, you have to go a bit further. Why are most of the police brutality cases against black victims/suspects? Going back to a previous blog post, even the black President of the United States indicated a direct correlation between "some communities of color" and "high crime, low income neighborhoods". So, if you want to fix the underlying racial tension, that is the problem that needs to be fixed. I don't think that anyone is going to call our President racist, but isn't he indicating the same type of bias as the local police departments? If even the President assumes that some "communities of color" can be synonymous with high crime, low income areas, why would we be upset that police make the same assumptions?

So let's fix the high crime, low income areas. Obviously, the answer to that isn't easy. However, I think it's about fixing the education system, getting people off government assistance and into jobs, and providing support and resources for new parents in low income areas. The way the system works right now, we are encouraging young, low-income parents to have children (because they can't get most benefits otherwise) and then not giving them the support and education they need to raise their children. Then, we are encouraging them to work (because you can't get most government benefits without working) without giving them quality childcare, leaving tweens and teens wandering the streets without purpose. Our education system is failing, because it's expected to act as a substitute parent and child-care provider as well as educating our young people.

Here's one radical solution: Provide optional at-home preschool/parenting services for all low income families (with children ages 0-5) so parents can learn how to parent their own children. Increase the length of the public school day, while decreasing the number of "educational hours". The school day for elementary students should be 5 hours (required) with up to 4 hours of optional "childcare" provided at no cost after school. Class sizes should be 15:1 during "educational hours" with additional support for Kindergarten classrooms (10:1). "Childcare" coverage should include tutoring services, physical activity, and just letting kids play outside. School should also be "year-round" to prevent the "learning slide" and higher crime during summer.

In addition, we need to fix the Welfare system (again). Right now the system is set up to encourage single parents and renters and discourage homeowner's and stay-at-home parents. We should provide temporary, emergency support only, and instead of paying to rent low-income housing, we should provide low-interest loans to help get more families into stable housing and fix up areas of our cities with low-property values. Also, any man who wants should be able to get a job (similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps).

We should have a system in place to provide job related experience and training to anyone who is unemployed. If they've been incarcerated they need to be given a second chance through supervised training and experience. No more two years of unemployment for people who just don't want to work. Limit "unemployment" to 3 months, and if you haven't found a job by then, you'll be given one, which you have to work at to get paid. Also, stop paying for childcare. It makes no sense to me to employ the women of this country for $8 an hour and pay someone $10 an hour to provide childcare for them, And yes, I'm being gender specific, but that's because one of the main reasons for the high crime rate among black men, is that they aren't given any other roles. We've assigned them the roles of "dead-beat dad" or "at risk youth" and we've never given them a better place in society. Expect them to step up, and they will.

Let's look to our culture to make the changes and not the government. Support programs to educate low-income youth. Support Big Brother/Big Sister or Habitat For Humanity, or whatever local programs in your area help with education and job placement. Ask your Senator to make changes that help this country, but don't rely solely on their progress, start making your own. All lives matter, so let's fix the two separate issues: police brutality, and the "low income/high crime communities of color".

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Who, When, and How to Stay Home

I saw an article today that claimed the average cost of childcare for a baby or toddler was over $11,000 per year for one child! I also saw an article talking about how dangerous it is to stay home with your children for your long-term career plans. Then, of course, there is Obama's now infamous comment of "That's not a choice we want Americans to make" regarding at-home parents. I think the most difficult thing to do is make a clearly rational and financial decision on this topic without making it all about dollars or desires. Here are my steps, when we found out we were pregnant with our first child.

  1. Crunch the numbers, how much will each parent bring home "net" after taxes, daycare, work-related expenses.
  2. Decide whether additional income can be made to bridge that "gap"
  3. Decide how much it is worth to you to know that you are the one raising your children.
  4. Look at long-term career path goals for both income earners prior to making a final decision.
Of course, the best option, would be if our country actually had a program for paid maternity leave. I think the ideal time period would be some type of multi-payer system (it could be adopted on a state-by-state basis, but I don't think any state would opt out). So employers and employees would pay in some type of "tax" and this would result in paid maternity leave. It probably should be rolled into OASDI, but nobody will be on board with that. My suggestion, for all the high-powered political pundits reading my blog would be up to 12 months at 50% of the previous 12 months wages per child. This could be maternity or paternity or some combination. It's pretty similar to what Canada offers, and I think it would be a huge benefit for working parents.

Since our country doesn't have paid maternity leave, here are some tips for crunching the numbers. First, if there is a two-income household and you already have a child (or more than one) - run the numbers to see how much net income each person would really "lose" in order to stay at home. Here's a step-by-step method so you don't leave anything out. I'll add in a "sample family calculation" too. Know your gross income - for my example person A makes $40,000 and person B makes $50,000. Figure out your tax "savings" - if you use an online tax preparer, you can usually do this anytime in their "planning section". If not, you can estimate based on your marginal tax rates. For instance, based on person A or B's income alone the marginal tax rate on each dollar of income would be 15%.

Don't forget to factor in state taxes, local taxes, and any additional costs of "working". So for instance, the net salary for person B would be $50,000 gross minus $13,600 taxes (15% marginal + 6% state + OASDI) minus $1200 per year commuting/parking minus $1,000 per year work entertainment (higher clothes, lunches out with co-workers, playing the lottery, etc.) So overall, person B makes $34,200 "net income". Now, if both parents are working, you have to factor in childcare costs as well. Let's say there is only one child at $180 per week. Now the "net" is closer to $25,000, and this is for the higher wage earner staying at home. If one or both parents do not have good benefits as far as insurance, this will need to be taken into account as well. However, most employer sponsored plans are not significantly more for spouse plus kids compared to self plus kids only.

Let's look at person B. We'll say that they have slightly lower commute and entertainment costs, since it's a lower paying job. $40,000 - $10,880 taxes - $1100 total commuting/parking/entertainment - $9,360 childcare comes out to $18,660 per year. Or just over $1,500 per month. With two kids in daycare at $150 a week each, it would end up at about $1,000 per month.

 Can you give up two brand new car payments and drive used for awhile? Can you downsize your house if you over-bought? What sacrifices are you willing to make? Another option is to consider what income can be earned by the "at home" parent. Is there one parent in a position to work from home at a reasonable wage? If you can earn $20 an hour for 20 hours a week, you've already overcome the majority of the "gap" caused by staying home. Is one parent in an industry where shift work is acceptable? Working three 12-hour shifts overnight or on weekends can easily more than make up the difference. Is the sole-income earner eligible for overtime or a second job? Is there part-time job the "stay at home" parent can go to with free childcare? Is the "at home" parent willing to put in the time and effort for other extra income (or savings) opportunities such as couponing, tutoring, babysitting, or direct selling?

Now, you have to compare whether that "net" salary is worth the cost of someone else raising your children 40-50 hours a week. If it's not, or if you aren't sure, it's time to look at which options will work best for you family and for how long. Maybe you say that the higher wage earner can work overtime but only for 6 months, then the lower wage earner will be able to find part-time employment at a preschool. Maybe you decide that you can lose the income for 5 years but then need to go back to work.

Maybe the numbers are roughly even for each parent, but one parent has a true desire to stay home and the other parent says "daycare is fine by me". Maybe one parent is stuck in a dead end job, or really want to change careers in the next few years. Maybe both parents are "upwardly mobile" and decide they want to work while they are a hot commodity and stay home with the kids later. These are all non-financial parts of a very difficult decision. It's important to be as realistic as possible. It's also important to keep in mind that the time period you are looking at will depend on how many children you have and how long you want to stay home with them. Staying home with one child for two years is a big commitment, but staying home until your youngest child starts Kindergarten may be a 10 year commitment if you have 3 or 4 children.

Make a financially-wise decision, and make a family-wise decision. These are your children we're talking about...

Monday, December 01, 2014

Christmas Resolutions

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, we are starting to count down the days to the next big holiday: Christmas. Most of us have already experienced some form of holiday anxiety such as what to buy for those people who don't need or want anything or where to go shopping or when or whether or not to involve the children in tradition X, Y or Z. I am not here to tell you what you should or should not do this Christmas to ease your anxiety. I will, however, share my strategy for doing so.

My first plan of action is to set a clear focus or a few clear goals for the holiday season. My main goal is to keep Christmas from being just about receiving gifts and make sure my attitude reflects the true "reason for the season". A secondary goal is to keep in mind that I want my kids to end up with an overall picture and goal and not every step (or day, week or year) along the way will work out exactly as I planned.

For instance, we want giving to be a primary focus for our children, so we have already participated in several giving events. Our oldest is 4 years old, and he and his younger brother "helped" us shop for Operation Christmas Child and "helped" us pack the boxes. Honestly, I almost gave up on Christmas at that point. We were tired and stressed out while shopping. The boys were making more of a mess than helping with the packing, and I wondered if they would ever get the point of what we were doing.

Then, as we drove to drop off the boxes, we talked about where they were going and explained that the boxes would go on trailers to a warehouse and then be shipped to another country where little boys and girls didn't have any presents for Christmas. I think D got the point, because he asked about it again a few days later and asked if we could go to the country to see them open it. Maybe that's when I started to realize that I was missing out on the point a little bit myself. Rather than making him see my side of giving to others, I should just be giving him the opportunity to see my faith in action and let him see my faith rather than hear it.

We also took the Christmas season as an opportunity to de-clutter (we needed to at least make room for the Christmas tree) and give back to those in our community. So our 4 year old got to ride along with his Dad to donate some of our extra toys to Goodwill, hopefully in time for them to be turned around for another family's Christmas. We also purchased a few "Angel tree" items.

The second step I would suggest is to have honest communication about family traditions. For instance, if your family goal is to make giving more important than receiving, but you have four different wish lists for each of your kids, you probably aren't going to make it to that goal. On the other hand, if being at home with your family and feeling less stressed is on your list, maybe you need to re-evaluate the annual Christmas "trifecta" of visits to Gran and Granpa's, then the aunt and uncles who don't come to Gran's, then the step-parents from your husband's side of the family.

It's important to keep in mind that our extended family members probably will not care as much about us missing out on the third annual Christmas potluck/snowball fight as much as they will notice our bad attitude during said event. It's completely appropriate to decide beforehand that you can't attend every event and send a heartfelt Christmas card and gift (if appropriate). I know it's easy to get sucked into making it "fair" for every family member. In reality, we should be making it "fair" for our immediate family members. If we are dragging a toddler and preschooler to 3 different family events in a four-day "Blitzkreig" then we're teaching some very unhealthy habits. On the other hand, if seeing every single family member in person and giving them a hug is at the top of your wishlist, then by all means, Blitz away.

Also, do keep in mind your extended family may have a different priority this holiday season and respect their desires without caving in completely. I would love to skip gift giving all together, but my two boys are the  only grandchildren on both sides of the extended family. I shouldn't limit the joy that the grandparents receive by giving fun gifts just because I'm anti-clutter and millions of toys. I've tried to give hints and suggestions for one or two higher priced items or items that can be consumed or experienced, because we live in an 1100 square foot house with limited storage. However, limiting their gift giving too much would be rude, since it's their primary method of celebrating the holidays.

Above all else, keep in mind the reason for the season. If you're a Christian, you should be excited and celebrating the Savior's birth, not stressed and grumpy. Try to spread a little Christmas cheer during your last minute shopping rather than dreading the holidays. For those of you who have lost a loved one or child and are struggling this holiday season, keep in mind that even God experienced your pain while Jesus suffered and died on the cross, and because of that, we have hope. For those who are not Christians, may your days be merry and bright, and may you find peace on Earth.