How Socrates Taught Me to Trust Jesus With My Money

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Growing up as a preacher’s kid, the importance of tithing eluded me. My tithe money to the church would help pay the salary of my dad, who would then give me money for allowance, from which I would then tithe, which would pay for the salary of my dad… To my young and self-absorbed mind, it seemed like an unnecessary financial loop.

Of course, as I became a follower of Jesus at age 19 and realized the importance of obedience and prioritizing God above other things, my attitudes shifted. Still, although I have surrendered many things and experienced great change and positive growth through my maturing Christianity, truly trusting God with my money was always just out of reach. Fear or selfishness would often win. The most obvious area where this would play out is tithing.

Financial immaturity or foolish mismanagement? Scale down on the tithing a bit this month. No need to be legalistically bound to an exact 10%! Unexpected medical bill? Oops, well I guess I “have no choice” but to skip tithe this month. After all, God, you could have prevented that trip to the ER if you wanted! Need extra money to buy Christmas presents for my ever expanding circle of friends, family, in-laws, co-workers, and acquaintances? Well, it’s for a good cause – celebrating the birth of Christ and sharing with others (rationalize, rationalize, rationalize).

Many Christians and many sermons focus on the second half of Malachi 3:10, “test me now in this,” says Yahweh of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.” Not as much focus is placed on the imperative at the beginning, the command to, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house…”

The longer I was a Christian, and the more steps to financial maturity and financial oneness with my spouse I took, the more my failure to consistently tithe a full 10% troubled me. I would go long periods of doing really well, and then blow it. Sometimes during those good stretches God would clearly bless my obedience and other times he would not. I began to realize what this signified about me – I really didn’t trust that God would be there for me and have my back, at least in this area. Or I would give up control only later to take it back. It also highlighted a core belief that I have carried for a long time – “I can ultimately only rely on myself to get my needs met.”

But one day, Socrates made it all come together. What? How did this ancient, non-Christian (pre-Christian) philosopher from Greece help me trust Jesus with my money? For a few years I have been teaching classes on the Seven Christian Virtues, the first four Cardinal Virtues originating in ethical Greek philosophy. One quote from Socrates that would always start off the series of classes would be, “It is not living that matters, but living rightly.” One day I decided to actually research the context of that quote, which led me to Crito, a dialogue captured by Plato between Socrates and Crito on the subject of justice:

Socrates
Then, most excellent friend, we must not consider at all what the many will say of us, but what he who knows about right and wrong, the one man, and truth herself will say. And so you introduced the discussion wrongly in the first place, when you began by saying we ought to consider the opinion of the multitude about the right and the noble and the good and their opposites. But it might, of course, be said that the multitude can put us to death.

Crito
That is clear, too. It would be said, Socrates.

Socrates
That is true. But, my friend, the argument we have just finished seems to me still much the same as before; and now see whether we still hold to this, or not, that it is not living, but living well which we ought to consider most important.

Crito
We do hold to it.

Socrates
And that living well and living rightly are the same thing, do we hold to that, or not?

Crito
We do.

As I used this excerpt to expound on that initiatory quote for my virtues class, a deeper truth dawned on me. Living well and living rightly are indeed the same thing. Here in America, very few people think of living well and living rightly as being the same. After all, we were raised on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, try to keep up with the Jones’s, are exposed to thousands of advertising messages a day designed to make us feel discontent, and stress over first-world problems on a regular basis.

I needed to radically shift my perspective.

If I faithfully pay the whole tithe, and have to eat ramen noodles and peanut butter all week, that is living well. If I faithfully pay the whole tithe and am not able to buy a single Christmas present this year, that is living well. If I am late on a power bill or have to work extra jobs to make ends meet, but I faithfully pay the whole tithe, that is living well! If I have to move my entire family into a one-bedroom apartment in an unglamorous part of town, but I am 100% obedient to God, that is truly a life lived well!

And now, for the first time in my life, I am truly and completely trusting God with my money.

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Popcorn – Your New Favorite Card Game

A couple years ago I was introduced to a fun, pick-up-and-play, multiplayer card game with an exciting mix of tactics and chance. It was being called ‘Flip It’ and was all the rage in the residential treatment facility in which I worked. However, I could find no external record of this card game’s existence. After many, many hours of personal interviews and internet research, I discovered that Flip It was a variant of a game called Moonshine – that edgier name being softened in certain North Carolina religious summer camps.

If you are spending time with loved ones over this holiday season and have a deck of cards handy, Popcorn (a re-branding of Flip It that pays tribute to its origins) is a great game for the whole family.

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Popcorn is a competitive, multiplayer card game. It is a fixed variant of a game known as Moonshine, which is a variant of Screw (which is itself perhaps based on a Finnish game called Paskahousu.) Popcorn uses a 54-card deck (standard deck of 52 plus jokers). It is named after Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, the most famous moonshiner in Western North Carolina.

Alternative name(s) Flip It
Type Shedding-type
Players 2+
Skill(s) required Tactics
Age range 12+
Cards 54
Deck Anglo-American
Play Clockwise
Playing time Various
Random chance High

Objective: As a shedding-type card game, the goal is to get rid of all your cards. The first player to do so wins the round.

Setup: A dealer shuffles a deck of 54 cards. Starting with the player to the dealer’s left and continuing clockwise, a total of three face down cards (“the basement”) are placed in front of each player, side by side. A player may not look at these cards. Next, three face up cards are dealt that cover the face down cards, forming “the porch.” Finally, the dealer deals a five card hand to each player. The remaining cards are placed on the table as the draw deck.

First Move: The player to the left of the dealer can play any single card or set (two of a kind, three of a kind, etc.) from their hand onto the table. They must then draw as many cards as it takes from the draw deck to return to a five card hand in order to end their turn.

Play: Play continues clockwise. The next person may now play a card equal to or higher in value than the last played. Multiple cards may be played at a time as long as they are the same value. If a player is unable to play a card, they must take the entire pile into their hand.

Once all cards from a player’s hand and the draw deck are exhausted, a player may use any of the three face up cards on their “porch.” Once the three porch cards are gone, a player may use one of the mysterious face down “basement” cards.

Rules:

  • Aces are high.
  • Playing a 2 resets the value of the pile. You can then play another card or set on top.
  • Playing a 7 forces the next player to play a card or set of lower value.
  • Playing a 10 clears the pile – all the cards, including the 10, are discarded from play.
  • Playing a Joker forces the next player to take the pile and lose a turn. The Joker is discarded.
  • Four of a Kind, no matter how many players contributed, clears the pile just like a 10.

Winning: The player who plays their final card instantly wins the round.

Emotions Are Everything

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It is a cliche that therapists ask the question, “How does that make you feel?” However, one thing I have learned about human motivation after 10 ½ years in the counseling field is that feelings, or rather emotions, are everything. You may be familiar with the behavioral psychology concepts of positive and negative reinforcement, but that is just surface level stuff. The internal mood states experienced by individuals are what really drive behavior and preferences.

That may sound simplistic, sentimental, perhaps even anti-intellectual. Nothing could be further from the truth. Emotions are powerful. Before the cognitive processing abilities of your frontal lobes were developed, before you were able to encode memories using language to assign meaning, you were experiencing the world emotionally, deep within the limbic system of your growing brain. Emotions were shaping your concepts of the world before you even knew you were distinct from the world.

People do things that create or result in positive mood changes. Now, a behavior itself might not be “positive” in and of itself according to certain standards or perspectives, but the individual subjectively experiences the mood change as desirable. When you listen to your favorite music, watch your favorite movie, or eat your favorite food, you experience a mood change. When I drink a cup of coffee, lay in a hammock, or hug my children, I experience positive mood change. The physical markers of this involve surges in neurotransmitters and other physiological responses.

Now, William Glasser observed that while we can directly control our thoughts (cognition) and actions (behavior), we do not have direct control over our emotions or physiology. But we do have indirect control. If somebody is experiencing a negative mood state and finds a way to experience a positive mood change, the reinforcing of that behavior will be magnified. The more powerful the mood change, the more the behavior will be reinforced. A teenager seeing their favorite band in concert and belting along with their favorite songs is experiencing a powerful mood change. A gambling addict pulling the lever of a slot machine experiences a powerful mood change. These are emotional highs.

Of course, other factors such as worldview, core beliefs, core values, temperament, and genetics mediate what we experience as “positive” or “desirable.” An identical behavior will result in “positive” mood change for one person and “negative” mood change in another. For example, somebody may light up a cigarette and feel rebellious, satisfied, cool, connected, and/or energized. If it were me, I would feel unsatisfied, contaminated, unhealthy, and seedy. People who overeat feel full, nurtured, and safe when they indulge in food. People who restrict themselves from food may feel powerful, in control, and confident.

Abandon your simple ‘mad, sad, glad, scared’ list of feeling words and go deep. If you want to start to understand your own behavior better, start to analyze the exact emotions you experience when you engage in that behavior. For example, when I listen to my favorite music, the songs that really do it for me, I tend to feel a combination of mournful, sensuous, validated, and powerful. Get a thesaurus if you need so that you can accurately identify the specific feelings involved in your mood changes.

Divine Wind & Plum Wine

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A couple months ago I walked into a Starbucks and saw a guy studying from a premium Bible at one of the tables. “Is that a Cambridge Clarion?” I blurted to the stranger excitedly. He confirmed that it was. “Nice!” Later, as I saw him hard at work, we began a brief dialogue and I asked him if he was in seminary or perhaps writing a sermon. He told me that he was actually preparing to move to Japan that upcoming Thursday to be a missionary – indefinitely. Wow. Here was a young man setting off on a divine adventure, leaving relationships, home, and native language – doing something courageous that I have only dreamt about doing but cannot due to family, vocational, and financial reasons.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Japan is 1.5% Christian. That is not a typo. I love the people, the language, the cultural aesthetics, the history, and the food of Japan, but it is one of the spiritually darkest countries on Earth. Despite the many ways that Japan has thrived and prospered, I detect a pattern of fatalism and ennui when examining their pop culture art, which I believe reflects the spiritual undercurrent of the nation.

One recurring theme in Japanese pop culture art is uncontrollable, world-consuming destruction. Perhaps this is a remnant in the cultural consciousness of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla is an obvious symbol. Others include the enveloping headless forest god of Princess Mononoke, the rampaging No-Face spirit in Spirited Away, and the Tokyo and Neo-Tokyo obliterating destructive force of the titular Akira. Another theme is boredom or feelings of emptiness as motivation to engage in violent or extreme actions. Both student Light Yagami and the Shinigami Ryuk cite boredom as contributing to actions that eventually result in mass killing in the manga series Death Note. Not one but two murderous antagonists in the videogame Persona 4 cite boredom / emptiness as reasons for their diabolical actions. Even satirical manga superhero One-Punch Man struggles with the drudgery of lacking meaningful challenge. No wonder. English writer and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple states that people who are bored, alienated, or not spiritually anchored may find that “danger absolves one of the need to deal with a hundred small problems or to make a thousand little choices – danger simplifies existence.”

In March of 2011, I awoke in the middle of the night. I was trembling, shaking uncontrollably, much to the alarm of my wife. I thought my body was cold, so I tried to bundle up with extra clothing and get back in bed. It didn’t work. I wasn’t cold, my body was just trembling. I had no idea what was happening to me and I begged for God’s help. After quite a while I was able to stop shaking and fall asleep. In the morning, I read that there had been a devastating earthquake in Japan, followed by a tsunami. It happened at the exact same time that I woke up, half way across the world. As the ground in Japan was shaking, so was I.

Interpret that however you wish, but when I shared this mysterious occurrence with a Japanese friend of mine, she later told me how encouraged she felt upon hearing it. To her, it meant that God still cared about Japan and the Japanese people, and perhaps he had good plans for that Land of the Rising Sun.