Posts Tagged ‘money’

Yes, Toto, we’re in a brave new swirl.

January 28, 2018

Today while perusing a post on the Seeking Alpha financial network I came across what appears to be a very sensible explanation of what we see in the world of finance and business today.

This no-nonsense analysis is occasionally echoed by other writers on the SA site, most notably Mr. David Stockman, former budget director for President Reagan.

He was a high-flyer back in the day, the pre-Greenspan days.

But here I make reference to a different contrarian analyst, Mark A. Grant,  upon whose article I stumbled upon this morning.

From a distance, I’ve been following the contrarian school of thought ever since the fall of ’08. I say “from a distance” because I am neither an economist, nor a significant investor. I am a mere citizen who happens to be a consumer, an American, an author and a semi-retired person, age 66.

This contrarian school of alarmist financial analysis generally demonstrates a perpetual amazement; their astonishment revolves around the credit-mongering house-of-cards built by the central bankers of our preset world (the Fed, EuroCBank, Bank of Japan, People’s Bank of Japan, etc.). It’s not that the contrarians have much respect for of the central bankers’ delicate arrangement of interlocking currencies and trade incentives; rather, their astonishment arises from the mystery of why it has not yet fallen apart and produced a new crash.

You see, this new international construct is not founded upon traditional economics, but rather (as it appears to this layman) upon that (at the time) new-kid-on-the-block upstart school founded in the 1930’s by Mr. Keynes; it’s all about governments and banks perpetually tweaking national/international money spigots to produce certain desired effects.

Our current zombified house-of-cards scenario has been at work for a decade or so now, ever since the crash of ’08, with its aftermath of Great Recession or great whatever-it-is.

Getting back to the source of this present article: This morning I was reading Mr. Grant’s take on the present situation and comparing it for the umpteenth time to the contrarian undertow that continues to make perfect sense. This bearish complaint corner has been going on for so long I’m beginning to wonder if the fiat-wielding central bankers have actually managed to change, by their manipulations, the fundamental nature of money.

Maybe we actually are now in a brave new world where the old rules of debit/credit will never again apply.

With all these electrons flying around the planet–all these monetized digital representations of presumed wealth and bank-enabled assets–haven’t we truly ditched the old gold-backed world of currencies-dollars, pounds, francs, marks, drachmas, denarii, Euros, rubles, shekels, yen, yuan, SDRs and zlotys?

Could Bitcoin and such be nothing more than a flash-in-pan death-throes sparkle signifying the end of our great age of post-BrettonWoods expansion? 

Might this extended wave of central banks’ Quantitative Easing actually turn out to be the debt-driven tidal wave that propels us into a land that prime forgot, where all the rules and practices of days gone by are tossed aside forever in the liquidity flood and trash heap of history?


We’re getting to a precarious place now where the only solution will be to tear up the score-cards, balance sheets, and start over. The central governments of the world are forever indebted to the central banks of the world. It certainly seems that way to this observer. I’ll be surprised if we ever get back to what Mr. Smith called “the wealth of nations.”

We ain’t in Kansas any more, Toto. Exactly where we have landed is unclear. And it just might be that tapping our ruby-slippered heels of old-school analysis are gone with the wind.

When this whirlwind of fiat-instruments does wind down to a dull roar and all the chips fall where they may, who/what institutional entities  will have wrangled control of the new asset-spewing beast? Whatever that entity turns out to be–it (they) will be in a position to dole out the newly-zombified assets to the world’s surviving movers and shakers. I guess most of us out here in lala land will be quakin’ in our boots.

As for us commoners, we may all of us have to settle for a mere meal-ticket while the big chips get re-assigned.

A meal-ticket  on a card or a chip, of course.

What troubles me is: what new rules or allegiances will be demanded by the powers–that-be?

What will it cost us, John Doe/Jane Smith, to even get in the game?

King of Soul


Kiss George goodbye

November 12, 2017

You can kiss ole George goodbye.

He was great as a Father to our country. He was courageous as Commander of the Continental Army, when they ran King George’s redcoats back to England.

He performed wisely as our first President. Washington’s dignified leadership tempered the contentious impulses of our first politicians,  Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, et al.

As a legendary figurehead  of American leadership he has served well for over two centuries.

Young George’s honest admission about the cherry tree incident  still inspires us to honesty and integrity.

But as the face on the dollar bill, his days are numbered.


Most of your purchases are (are they not?) far beyond the 1-$2 range. And, think about it, what can you buy with a dollar bill these days?  A sugar drink at a convenience store? Probably not. They’ll supersize you into greater quantities of go-juice with your gas and you’ll be whipping out the plastic stripe.

These days all that used-to-be-money is just  swiped stripes and inserted chips and electrons flowing around the globe.

And that old greenback—what is it really? Used to be a silver certificate, then a Federal Reserve Note. Now the Fed has got the legal tender’s stability all figured out, so that the value of a buck walks a fine line between what it was last year and a what the CPI will allow you now.

Which isn’t as much as it used to be.

So these days we have, and have had for quite a while now, a comfortably numb currency inflation. That Federal Reserve Note in your pocket appreciates at a predetermined rate of 1-2% per year, and this calculated depreciation compensates for the variability of our paper dollar’s value since we ditched the gold/silver standard back in the 1960’s.

But I think this waffling Dollar will be with us for only a little while longer.

How much longer?

Washington’s greenback will probably float around until such a time as BrettonWoods doth move against Dunce’nGame for the last time. Then the weight of the world will be too much to bear.  Tensioned Tectonic shifts in the world’s monetary plates will render our legal tender to disability status, and those Federal Reserve Notes slipping in and out of international accounts will no longer be the world’s reserve currency.

’Tis then the Treasury will nudge Ole George into retirement. He’ll be on Social Security like the rest of us, with direct deposit, never even seeing the checks, never handling the cash, merely reaping the debit presence of those positive credit numbers. ’Tis then they’ll gently compel Ole George into retirement.  Maybe they’ll give him a gold watch for old time sake.

So long, George. We’ve felt so fat and happy having your pocketbook visage to enable our consumer shopping excursions. Your accomplishments have been Notable, expansive and historic, like Norman Rockwell scenes from our magazine covers and dime store excursions in all those bygone petrol-fueled Main Street purchase excursions.

Fare thee well, George. But I’ll never forget the smooth, crisp feeling of your fibered texture between my digits. Ah, those were the days, the dollar days!

King of Soul 

A New Bretton Woods?

August 1, 2016

We were in Rome about a year and a half ago, as part of a traveling celebration of our 35th wedding anniversary.

One evening as we were lollygagging through the busy rain-slicked streets and sidewalks, we passed in front of a very special building. It was the Rome headquarters of the European Union, or “EU”.

I wanted to take a picture of the building’s entry, because that is what tourists do–take pictures of important places. Seeking a broader view, I crossed the street. While positioning myself and the phone to snap a pic, the guard across the street noticed my activity. He started waving at me frantically, indicating that what I was doing was not permitted.

Excuse me. I was taking a picture of a public building.

In America, we take pictures of .gov buildings, because we have, you know, a government of the people, by the people and for the people, which means, among other things that the people can take pictures of their headquarterses (as Golem might say.)

Is this not the way you do it in Europe? No pictures of the RomeEU headquarters?

Nevertheless, here is my smuggled pic:


If you squint at my little jpeg here, you may discern the guard’s upraised right alarm, a gesture of command intended to communicate a stop order on my touristic activity. It vaguely resembles another raised-arm signal that was in use in Europe 75 years ago, during the regime of Mussolini and that German guy who considered the Italian dictator to be his own puppet.

Or maybe I’m being too cynical about this incident. Maybe the guard was saluting me in some way, acknowledging my importance as an American tourist in the city of Rome.

Now, a year and a half later, this morning, seated comfortably in my own humble domicile, back in the USSA . . . I was pondering the idea of government–whether it is truly “of. . .by the people”, or is it something else? Is it, as many citizens insist during these times of tumultuous societal change, actually an institution through which the “1%” (or as they said back in the old days, the “rich and powerful”) project their oligarchical manipulations upon the rest of us?

I was thinking about this after reading online an article about how the worldwide financial system that has evolved.

In this Seeking Alpha blogpost, Valentin Schmid, as “Epoch Times” examines our international monetary system. His analysis appears to be generated from  a well-informed position in the world of money, assets and power.

Mr. Schmid raises the question of whether  the current (worldwide) debt load can ever be repaid, because there isn’t enough “real money” to go around.

This got my attention, because I have been thinking for a while that there isn’t enough “real money” to go around.

Haha, as if I knew about such things. I don’t know much about money; if I did, I would have more of it.

Anyway, Mr. Schmid’s question is answered by his guest interviewee, Paul Brodsky, in this way:

   . . . “I would argue central banks lost the ability to control the credit cycle. Some relatively minor event could trigger a series of events that creates the need for a sit-down among global monetary policy makers who finally have to acknowledge publicly that their policies are no longer able to control the system, the global economy, which is based on ever increasing demand through ever increasing credit.

And what might occur is a natural drop in output. So you’ll see GDP growth begin to fall. Real GDP growth across the world maybe even be going into contraction and that would spell doom for these balance sheets. And this is not something I’m predicting or trying to time at all, but the natural outcome of that would be a sit-down like a Bretton Woods where arrangements are reconsidered.”

So what is coming is, perhaps, this:

To compensate for a stalling of global productivity, the movers/shakers of the world may  construct a new,  top-down rearrangement of the world financial system. The purpose of this revision will be to fix the problem of not enough money to go around. Such an extensive reconstruction as this would be has not been done since the Bretton Woods agreement that was promulgated by delegates from 44 Allied nations in 1944.

In a 21st-century world inhabited by billions of inhabitants, our  accessibility to natural resources has heretofore been determined by how many holes we could drill in the ground to extract natural resources; and how many acres of crops we could plant to produce food; how many factories we could build, and so on. . . building an economy to work toward  spreading the bounty around.

In the future, however, we will be moving to a “knowledge” economy. Wealth creation will not be about how much you can dig in a day’s time, nor how much you can plant, nor what you can cobble together in your back yard or over on Main Street.

Wealth generation in the future will be determined by what you know, so start learning now.

The first three essential  things to know are these:

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic.

Well gollee, maybe it won’t be such a brave new world after all.

However this thing plays out, if enough of us can master these three skills, .gov of the people, by the people and for the people will not perish from the earth, we hope.

Glass half-Full

Ole Uncle Sammy

April 18, 2016

My uncle Sammy worked hard; he worked every day.

He made good money, and he put some away.

He made a good living; but then he got older

Ole Sam carried the weight of this world on his shoulders.


I was told that in his gathering of wealth,

he had worked the land, done well, and maintained his health.

He managed to save a little more than he needed

so he squirreled it in the bank where his fortune was seeded.


He figured, you know, everybody’s got to eat

so he opened a burger joint, it was quite a feat,

because his humble, capital enterprise

eventually become a growing franchise.


And in America, you know, everyone wanted wheels,

so Sammy expanded into more wheels and big deals;

he got things going, built up a good team;

he was riding in style, living the dream.


But then ole uncle Sammy, one day, up and died,

so we laid him aside; he went out with the tide,

No longer an icon on tracebook, nor twittee,

maybe we’ll see him in eternity city.


Glass half-Full

Through the kindling glass: Uncle Ben in ’08

November 22, 2015

History is fascinating when you get into it.

Today I’m remembering the fall of 2008–that perilous time when the financial crash was pummeling down all around us. The reason I’m remembering this is: I’m reading on kindle Ben Bernanke’s book Courage to Act:

So I’m remembering.

My day job during that time was working with students at a local elementary school. The workday began every morning at 8 a.m. I have vivid memories of sitting in my old Subaru wagon in the school parking lot each morning, catching the latest financial news before going inside to punch in. I’d be sitting in the car during the last ten minutes of the 7 o’clock hour while listening to Marketplace Morning on NPR.

Not that I had any real money or assets to work with, mind you, just a little nest-egg house that wife and I had just about paid for, and a little spare change we had after the three young’uns had finished college, etc. just like most folks our age.

But here’s why the memory of those news reports clings to my unfettered mind so tenaciously. Those fateful September days of seven years ago released megalithic destructive financial forces of mayhem and immense complexity that changed forever the economic world as we kno(e)w it.  Perilous WallStreet cluster-fuds suddenly opened a flood of financial and fiscal confusion unprecedented in the history of the world. The only thing that compares to it would be the crash of ’29, but of course that was then and this was now.

In Uncle Ben’s book, Courage to Act, through which he strives to shine a light of transparency into the workings of the Fed and its relationship to the financial powers that be, he explains, in chapter 12, the demise of one particular entity (the AIG insurance conglomerate) that fell during that month’s frantic rearrangement of dominoes. He describes the problem this way:

 “AIG FP’s risk was compounded by the difficulty in valuing its highly complex position, in part because the securities that the company was insuring were so complex and hard to value.”

This universal fragility about value (or sudden loss of value) of toxic assets would be something akin to a global computer-virus, but in the financial world. Nobody knew how, when, or where, the infection of overnight falling  asinine asset prices could obliterate the richness of previously fat portfolios. It was like Ebola on WallStreet.

During that third week of September of 2008, the bankruptcy of investment bank Lehman Bros, and then the unraveling of worldwide cluster-fudded AIG, damn near brought the whole house of WallStreet et al etc cards of down.

I guess US Treasurer Hank Paulson and a few other arm-twisting high-flyers later put the fear of dog into Congress and into whomever else was in charge of this country at the time, so that the gov-softened crash landing of worldwide money tranches wasn’t nearly as bad as when something like that happened in ’29 and the whole dam American economy fell apart.

As I told you before, I was just a detached observer at the time, September 15 2008, a regular guy with no skin in the game trying to figure out what the hell was going as I heard about events on the car radio.

Now reading Uncle Ben’s memoir, I see a little more clearly what was going on behind the scenes. I guess his transparency mission is being realized; at least it is on me.

I see the light. I think I understand. Fear, as Joni Mitchell once sang, is like a wilderland.

Fear is a big part of this whole things fall apart deal that we see in life sometimes.

In the case of the investment banks and Wall Street and all that derivative-induced shenanigans that came unwounded in fall of ’08, it was fear of losing value on a massive scale, fear of diminishing assets on a global scale, and hence fear of metastasizing money-loss on a megadential scale.

But hey, there are worse fears in life. . .fear of dying?

Speaking of death, we could say that old folks are generally closer to it than young ones. But the fear of death can be, I feel, softened somewhat by the sense that one has lived a fulfilling life, or maybe an adventurous life, or perhaps a prosperous life, whatever attribute of the good life floats your boat.

Here’s something Uncle Ben wrote in his memoir about the old-timers on Wall Street during that fateful fall of ’08:

“For Wall Street old-timers, the events of the (Lehman weekend) weekend would evoke some nostalgia. Two iconic Wall Street firms that had survived world wars and depressions, Lehman (Bros.) and Merrill (Lynch), had disappeared in a weekend. I felt no nostalgia at all. I knew that the risks the two firms had taken had endangered not only the companies but the global economy with unknowable consequences.”

Unknowable consequences. That’s what you get when a bunch of old (or young) wise guys play fast and loose with a world-class pile of other people’s money.

But hey, that was then and this is now; it could never happen again.

At least not the same way.


Glass Chimera

BRICs in search of mortar

October 1, 2015

When Pat and I were raising our three kids we attended at least 12 graduations that I can remember.

The first round of matriculations came after each one completed kindergarten. Those first three ceremonies were joyous events for us young parents.

The next round was celebrated after each child finished 8th grade. With educational goals moving right along, we were again so very happy, as were the emerging adolescents.

The high school ceremonies were, of course, a biggie, in all three instances. Each young scholar’s participation signified, within those symbolic processions, certifiable progress toward educational and life goals.

The crown jewels for our young adults and for us proud parents were the three college graduations, with one at Duke and two at University of North Carolina.

What a grand preparation for our offspring in their proficiencies to go forth in technified 21st-century world!

In every one of those symbolic processions through which our young ones paraded with their classmates up to a podium where they received diplomas, very graduate had a flat item mounted on their head. Hanging from that flat item was a tassel.

The mortar board.

Each young person sauntered forth into our world of work, information and progress, with a mortar board upon their head.

What is a mortar board?

In the oldest sense of this phrase, a mortar board is a flat, hand-held board; it is used to carry a small amount of mixed “mud” (mortar). The actual mortar board, in the real world of constructing walls and buildings, has, attached to it on its underside, a hand-sized vertical handle that enables the bricklayer to carry the board and its mortar payload easily. The worker can then move from one position to the next while carrying an amount of mortar suitable for efficient work in   joining masonry blocks and/or bricks together as a constructed wall.

In the symbolic universe of education, however, a “mortar board” upon the graduate’s head signifies that the person is equipped to build structures of a different kind.

With the competencies acquired through education, the graduate can, metaphorically, build progress, prosperity, businesses profitable or non-profit,, institutions, knowledge bases, etc.

I was thinking about the mortar board this morning. I was considering its meaning as a symbol, as I have just explained to you. . . but also as an actual implement of constructive work in the real world of building houses. My thirty+ years in construction provided many occasions in which I literally carried a mortar board for hours at a time, while constructing house foundations.

Then this morning, while reading about some new developments in the world of finance and investments, I thought about mortar boards of the metaphorical meaning, which is why I write to you now. There is something interesting going on in the world now, pertaining to mortar boards.

What I read that is so fascinating is an article that I came across in an online news source, Deutsche Welle, that I had never seen before today:

I gather from reading it that the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are gathering resources to fund an investment bank for purposes of financing infrastructure in their countries and also in the “emerging” countries.

If this banking alliance is successful, there will be in the future at least a certain amount–if not a huge amount–of divergence from those countries’ heretofore dependence on the West’s (USA, German, British, French) banking powerhouses, not to mention their central banks and international largesse like IMF and so forth.

I mean, there it is right there in the pic on the Deutsche Welle site: Putin of Russia, Modi of India, Xi of China, Rousseff of Brazil, gathered with many other national leaders in Ufa, Russia to lay foundations for the BRICs to get new “mortar” supplies for laying their necessary infrastructures in days to come.

Watch out, WallStreet!

Watch out, City!

Your days of hegemony in world finance and dollar dominance may be numbered.

These (formerly-called) Developing nations are now in the forefront of development and they need tools for constructing their infrastructure-deficient economies.

Wall Street’s obsession with high-frequency trading and risk-averse bubbly speculation is becoming more and more irrelevant in a bold new world of expanding overseas financial needs– Markets that are populated by young people–far more young people demographically than we have here in the good ole US of A.

Millions of young people with mortar boards in their hands and on their heads, applying for money mortar to construct sturdy infrastructural walls in which their own institutions will supply credit and new opportunities to initiate and develop new wealth.

Not old Western wealth recycled.

King Dollar, step aside! The handwriting for national developments across the world is on the wall. You are being challenged by the 4 R’s: rubles, rupees, reáls, renminbi and probably eventually SDRs.

Better read what those hands are writing on their freshly-mortared walls!


Glass half-Full

Oh, Elizabeth!

December 21, 2014

Oh, Elizabeth!

Every straight-suit conservative cultivates this fantasy

of her,

this indomitable lady whose brazen eloquence bankers yearn to


so they can


her wild-eyed policy pronouncements impotent to


in breaking-news neo-new deal doses of rolling socialist


and boundless bureaucratic, sycophantic, stultatory regulatory


But with unbridled, yeah I say unto thee unfathomable,


she sails forth as some queenly masthead of Democratic


flinging seaspray aside, sluicing salty flashes of populist


She reigns as Regulator extraordinaire, tossing all semblances of mediocre laissez-faire


while, with squeaky clean midwestern vesture she thrusts bankerly reserves


the bus, for us huddled masses of underemployed, chronically annoyed, lean and


burdened occupiers yearning to be free, so we can be

a tower

of turbulent ferment that even now doth foment in yon seething streets, with fleeting beats,  this very


You hear

it? This eloquent Liz hath spoke! and now she doth poke her legatory finger in the


being now a


While wily regulators and owlish pundulators still yet yearn to

shower her

with love, yet she doth sally forth with that sensational senatorial


of old. She doth provoke us from her lofty tower

of power. Yeah, she doth it at this very


Glass Chimera

The Economist Illumination

April 13, 2014

I never really understood much about international finance and economics until this morning, when I read a special, long article in this week’s The Economist. In the printed edition, the text begins on page 49; it is entitled The slumps that shaped modern finance.

I’ve been subscribing to, and reading, that “newspaper” (as their editors call it, while we Americans think of it as a magazine) for several years. But I have always labored to figure out what the hell they are writing about. In surveying many past issues, I have contented myself merely to check out the obituary, which is always on the last page. Then I would thumb through in a backwards, right to left, fashion to glean a little from what’s going on in the literary and arts world.

Perhaps my years of reading The Economist with so little comprehension have prepared me, unbeknownst to my cognitive mind, for the light-bulb moment I had this morning while reading their concise, 6-page history of financial crises. Be that as it may, the light of understanding finally shone in my head when I read, on pages 51-52, their explanation of the Panic of 1857.

“I think I understand . . .” Joni Mitchell had sung long ago, “fear is like a wilder land.”

Long story short, when investors think they are going to lose a lot of money they are overtaken with Fear, so they go hog-wild. Maybe that means the bulls retreat while the bears gather, but the hogs go crazy destroying the place.

Or, as the ’60s radicals use to call them, the “pigs.”

But I wouldn’t call anybody a pig. Maybe . . . a walrus.

Anyway, here is what’s interesting about the Panic of 1857: America was at that time an “emerging nation” that had expanded its explorative and technological frontiers beyond its ability to keep all the accounts straight and well-balanced. Consequently, the Brit financiers panicked, and all the money people around the world followed suit, including us.

Today, the shoe is on the other foot. We Americans are like the well-established powerhouse that the Brits were in the 19th century, while today’s “emerging” powers, the so-called BRICs and a few others, are in a position similar position to where we were in 1857, or 1907, or 1937.

Maybe the other shoe is about to drop, maybe not.

If you want to know something about how this plays out historically, I recommend you check it out. If you want to read it online, here it is:


Pax Statismo, and Anarcho

March 28, 2014

In the modern industrial era that began about 200 years ago, a zeitgeist god named Kapital rose up to dethrone the god of the former age, Monarchy. Very early on during the Kapital dynasty, the Marx demigod happened along and he figured out that Kapital god had some real vulnerabilities that would ultimately lead to Kapital’s downfall.

So the Marx whipped up a revolution that ultimately would dethrone Kapital and replace him with a new god for the new age, Communo. As it turned out, from about 1905 until long about 1989 the Kapital and the Communo were at each other’s throats constantly everywhere you look.

But early on during the struggle between the Kapital and the Communo, the Keyneo demigod happened along and detected some serious vulnerabilities within Kapital’s corpus that, if infiltrated, would ultimately enable the Communo to sucker punch  Kapital into mayhem and oblivion.

Meanwhile, changes within the demographic of Communo’s domain morphed him/her into a new multigodural entity. The demigod MediaMad dubbed the new chimera god Statismo. The thing about Statismo is that nothing really matters to him/her. No noblesse oblige, no limits, no antiquated outdated obsolete faith or sentimentalities and for sure no sacred damn cows.

One result of Statismo’s evolving infiltrating insidious insurgent machinations was that institutions of the former Kapital and Communo realms began to topple slowly, one by one, two by two and whats-it-to-you, etc. For instance, one sacred cow of the faltering Kapital was that feral relic, the balanced budget, which had formerly enabled Kapital power throughout the the West and sometimes the East by preserving and extending and colonializing the value of Kaptial’s four currencies: gold, oil, paper and electrons.

Statismo had determined that the balanced budget had to come down, along with several other sacred damn cows like marriage and family and so forth and so on etcerata etcetera etcerata . This devolution would make the way clear for the New Order. Thus the Kapital Void and also the Communo Cloud could be flooded with Statismo Stato.

Here’s the The thing about Statismo revolutionaries:  they don’t give a damn about budgets, fiscal responsibilities, deficits, profits or prophets. When the gods of Kapital and Communo have completed phases I, II, and possibly III of their deathly video-game brouhaha, all hell can break loose and the way will be clear for Pax Statismo and ultimately his doppelgänger twin Anarcho.

Vive la revolution! But this time with no liberte, egalite, nor fraternite.  That was yesterday’s news, even in 1789 when this whole scenario was hatched in the minds of neo-platonist-confucianist-ex-post-facto-nihilist philosophers.

But hey, have a nice day! This will take a while. Put your seat belt on. As for me and my house, I’m waitin’ on Pax Christi.


Balancing Contentment and Discontent

March 2, 2014

Paul of Tarsus, a founder of what has come to be called Christianity, spent most of his life promoting–not  himself–but  the work of another person, Jesus Christ. In so doing, Paul built a foundation of faith upon the redemptive cornerstone that Jesus had laid at Calvary. That foundation has been expanded and strengthened over the last two thousand years, and is now known as Christianity.

How did this one man, Paul, make, by his life’s work, such a lasting impact on the whole world? For starters, he traveled all over the eastern Mediterranean teaching and expounding one very important message, which eventually became known as  the Gospel. While he was doing all that, he endured, and survived, a myriad of dangerous situations. Paul was an adventurer who got into trouble just about everywhere he went, went through life constantly misunderstood and misinterperted, came perilously close to death on several occasions, suffered through shipwrecks, snakebites and being the object of riotous mobs.

He was a nonviolent revolutionary, whose life mission was to enable  the world to be delivered  from doing bad shit.

And yet, in the midst of all that Paul said and did to establish the work of Christ in this world, do you think he was a happy man? Did he go into eternity with a satisfaction that he had done the best he could to live what he believed?

In a letter to his friends in Philipi, Paul wrote:

. . . I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

I heard a pastor speak about this morning. His sermon, using Paul as the example, was all about contentment and discontent. There is a tension, you know, between these two–being content or being discontent. It was a very good teaching about learning to be content in this life. Of course, we all want to learn this principle, don’t we? as Paul did, or we will spend our life being miserable.

And who the hell wants to be miserable? Not me. So yes, I want to learn that lesson that Paul learned, and wrote about–that lesson that was passed down through a couple of centuries and was renewed in my hearing this morning when Mickey expounded on it.

I want to be content in this life. I mean, who doesn’t?

So there I was sitting in church this morning hearing encouragement through the mouth of a contemporary preacher about the wisdom that Paul had recorded in a letter two centuries ago. It was encouragement to learn more about finding contentment. That’s good advice.

On the other hand, Karl Marx taught that religion was the opiate of the people. If I am accepting, through my faith in Christ, contentment,  I am copping out? Should I, instead of cultivating contentment, allow my periodic discontent about the injustice and cruelty of this world propel  me to burn zealously in this life as an activist to stop injustice and end violence and prevent the cruel exploitation of helpless people and eliminate the income inequality gap? So I’m thinking about this tension between desiring contentment, and allowing discontent to become a productive motivator to make life somehow better. Paul said he had learned to be content, and yet he was not content to sit on his duff and watch tv or surf the net (just kidding), but rather he allowed a little personal discontent about the sorry state of this world to motivate himself to go into the world and try to change it for the better.

Meanwhile, while I was listening to Mickey’s lesson about Paul’s contentment, I remembered the subject of the last article that I had been reading this morning before I closed the laptop and drove to church. It’s called  “The Winter of our Discontent.” You may want to check it out if your are interested in economics–real economics, not this hyped-up QE stuff that the Fed has been dishing out since 1987.

Of course, the article by Eric Parnell that I just linked above for you doesn’t really have much to do with Paul of Tarsus or learning to be content. But what’s curious to me is that the spiritual lesson and the economics article, both of which I encountered this Sunday morning, were both dealing with the tension between contentment and “discontent.”

And that got my attention. This is the kind of incidental interlude that contributes greatly to my cognitively dissonant celebration of life!  I want you to know that I can be content about what the Lord has given me to do in this life, while still appreciating the motivational value of a little discontent and disruption every now and then.

Now go; be well and prosper, but don’t get too comfortable with our success.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, to publish soon