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Debt Traps – Finance and the Poor

Urban decay in Camden, NJ, Author Phillies1fan777, Source English Wikipedia (PD)

The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov. 22: 7).

There are financial traps into which the poor routinely fall.

Affordable Housing Crisis

Over the first of these traps, excessive housing costs, the poor have little or no control.  The lack of affordable housing is at crisis levels, nationwide [1][2].  Low income families (already living paycheck to paycheck) run the constant risk that a single unexpected expense will topple their fragile financial structure.

Recurring Bills

Even recurring bills such as those for gas and electricity must frequently be paid in part or on a rotational basis.  The gas bill is paid this month, the electrical bill next month, the water bill the following month.

Despite the federal government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), many of the poor spend 25% – 30% of their income on utilities [3].  Interruptions in service are common.  Meanwhile, debt from overdue bills and associated late fees mounts.

Phone Bills

The poor may be forced to relocate frequently, so cell phones are viewed as an essential means of maintaining contact.  Phone bills, however, can run as high as rent.

Vehicular Expenses

The argument that the poor should not own a vehicle is likely to fall on deaf ears.  A vehicle is often viewed as housing of last resort.

With a vehicle, of course, come maintenance and repair costs.  In an effort to economize, some will “scrimp” by failing to pay vehicle insurance and/or registration.  This can result in substantial fines.

Unexpected Expenses

Unfortunately, life regularly throws curveballs.  The washer breaks down.  The roof develops a leak.  The car needs a new transmission.  There is downsizing at the factory, and the primary breadwinner in a family is laid off.  These events can be catastrophic for the poor.

Predatory Lending

It goes almost without saying that the poor are targets for predatory lending [4].

  • Payday loans with their exorbitant interest rates are a great temptation to those living paycheck to paycheck.
  • High late charges are common on the credit cards marketed to the poor. The “teaser” rates on such cards routinely skyrocket after a single late payment.
  • The poor are lured into signing installment contracts and balloon mortgages they do not properly understand and cannot afford.

Read more…

Tarot, Astrology, and Crystals

Tarot cards, Author Roberto Viesi (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

According to a 2017 Pew survey, a growing number of millennials describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, often using the phrase “spiritual but not religious” [1].  They reject traditional religion in favor of astrology, tarot, meditation, crystals, and so called energy work.

Generic “Spirituality”

A combination of factors has contributed toward the shift toward generic “spirituality”.

Whatever their particular background may be – Jewish, Protestant, or Hindu – young people today feel that organized religion does not fully represent (or satisfy) them.

Their faith of origin does not provide the guidance, purpose, or sense of community it once provided parents and grandparents.  And it does not align with their beliefs about the LGBTQ community, women, or the environment.  Religious and political scandals have further disillusioned them.

A Menu of Beliefs

Instead, young people select from a menu of beliefs – keeping what they like, and discarding the rest.  Seductive affirmations like “I love myself”, “I am beautiful”, and “I am powerful” round out the mix.  This spiritual version of fusion cuisine requires little commitment and no sacrifice.

The internet allows groups of like-minded individuals to connect.  That provides validation. Read more…


We often grumble that life is not fair.  An Ohio boy recently turned that complaint on its head.

Having won $15,000 in livestock premiums at the Huron county fair, 7th grader Diesel Pippert promptly donated his winnings to St. Jude Children’s Hospital [1].

How many of us would have done the same?

St. Jude, it should be noted, is a leader in the prevention and treatment of catastrophic illnesses in children.  It is the pre-eminent pediatric cancer hospital in the nation.  Because of donations like Diesel’s, no child is denied treatment there based on a family’s ability to pay.

And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10: 7-8).

[1]  WLWT News, “Ohio boy donates $15k in fair winnings to St. Jude Children’s Hospital”, 8/19/19,


Screen Culture, Part 5 – The Surveillance State

Central London mural by Banksy, Author ogglog Source (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)

This concludes our series on the spiritual implications of today’s computer culture.

In [the novel] ‘1984’ [by George Orwell] the dictatorship was always surveilling you.  Now, young people want to be surveyed.  They want people to know where they are at all times.”

-Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Surveillance and State Control

All the information collected is used to influence our choices – whether commercial or political.

But choices that may seem innocuous now can have enormous repercussions down the road.  Jews in Germany did not expect to be persecuted by the Nazis.  Urban residents in Cambodia did not expect to be persecuted by the Khmer Rouge.

Under the guise of democratization, screen culture has actually created a powerful means of centralized control – a mechanism easily subject to abuse, whether by profit-driven corporations, bureaucratic forces, or the military state (including some future dictator). Read more…

Screen Culture, Part 4 – Privacy

NASA supercomputer, Author NASA Ames Research Center/Tom Trower, Source (PD)

In this series, we examine the spiritual implications of today’s computer culture. 

“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

-Edward Snowden, whistle-blower who leaked confidential NSA information

Data Collection

Cell phones encourage a lack of respect for other people’s boundaries.  But computers are not always so obvious about invading our privacy.

Everything we do on a computer – whether on a laptop, ipad, or cell phone; using a credit card, ATM card, or electronic toll booth pass – produces a transaction record.

Every page with a Facebook “like” button we browse is collecting data, whether we hit the “like” button or not.  The millions of websites running Google ads or using Google analytic software all track information.

Our political leanings, church membership, medical concerns, and sexual interests are recorded and catalogued. Read more…

Screen Culture, Part 3 – Addiction as a Marketing Tool

Laboratory rat, Author Janet Stephens, Source (PD as work product of federal govt.)

In this series, we examine the spiritual implications of today’s computer culture.

“Devices like iPhones and BlackBerries invite (demand!) constant use.  They are like packets of cigarettes that ask us never to leave them alone or bottles of pills that seek to change our minds and punish us when we try to withdraw from them.”

-Richard Watson, Future Minds:  How the Digital Age Is Changing our Minds, Why This Matters, and What We Can Do About It (2010)

Intermittent Reinforcement

Behaviorist BF Skinner discovered that we respond better to intermittent reinforcement (rewards).  Marketing which targets the individual employs such behavior modification.

Programmers use intermittent reinforcement along with confirmation bias (our tendency to feel good about information that confirms our existing beliefs) as marketing tools – some might say weapons.  We click on more of the things that make us feel good than those that do not.

Screen culture deliberately induces addictive, obsessive/compulsive behavior.  The technology, in effect, enslaves us.

Freedom in Christ

This is not what God wants for us.  “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3: 17).  “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5: 1).

This series continues next week with Part 4 – Privacy


Screen Culture, Part 2 – A Focus on Self

Young people texting at a party, Author Tomwsulcer (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

In this series, we examine the spiritual implications of today’s computer culture.

“Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.  Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other.  We’d rather text than talk.”

-Sherry Turkle, Alone Together:  Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2017)


Algorithms intentionally tailor our online experience to the individual.  Yahoo News is personalized.  The Huffington Post and the Washington Post are, also, exploring personalization.  Facebook and Google invisibly edit out information we may find unpleasant or unimportant.

We see what we think we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.  We hear no opposing voices.  Democracy, however, requires discourse and compromise. Read more…

Screen Culture, Part 1 – Brain Function

Holding a cell phone, Author, Source (CC Attribution 2.0 Generic)

“Stare into the Lights My Pretties” is an insightful and disturbing documentary about the impact computer technology has had on our culture. 

The film, which was written and directed by Jordan Brown, can be viewed online at  The topics it covers are discussed in this series, along with their spiritual implications.

“What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.  Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it:  in a swiftly moving stream of particles.  Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words.  Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

-Nicholas G. Carr, The Shallows:  What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2010)

Memory and Concentration

The speed of communication, the multi-tasking, the constant bombardment by stimuli associated with computer and cell phone use erode not only our attention span and concentration, but our memory and thought processing.

We are less able to distinguish between what is relevant and irrelevant, less able to absorb and retain information.  This leaves us permanently distracted.

Superficial Thinking

While it is true that video games can increase what is termed “fluid intelligence” (the ability to think rapidly), they do not increase genuine knowledge.  Nor do they increase our empathy; improve our ability to understand complex issues; or enhance our capacity to generalize and draw conclusions.

The result is superficial thinking.  We are no longer able to consider serious subjects for the length of time required or recognize their larger implications.


How we spend our time matters.  That brings us to prayer.

Time spent in prayer reconnects us with God, strengthening our relationship with Him.  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).  Prayer centers our lives, putting the affairs of the world in proper perspective.

When we select entertainment and diversion over prayer, we are cheating ourselves.  Worse than that, we are cheating God.

This series continues next week with Part 2 – A Focus on Self



Border patrol agent providing water to an unaccompanied migrant child, Author US Customs and Border Protection, Source flickr (PD as work product of federal govt.)

Immigration is one of the most contentious issues facing this nation.

There are those who view migants (legal or illegal) as nothing more than interlopers – a threat to American values and a source of crime, drugs, and unfair labor competition.  There are others who deny that migrants – no matter their numbers or their intentions – pose any challenge at all.

Neither political party has offered a viable solution.

Against this backdrop, a striking article in ProPublica describes the experience of one border patrol agent guarding immigrant children [1].

Politics aside, the observations are deeply disturbing:

  • Conditions in confinement are worse than publicly acknowledged. But a growing acceptance of intolerable conditions is the norm.
  • Border agents place their jobs at risk if they speak to journalists without permission or complain to supervisors.  This enforced silence interferes with Congressional oversight, and deprives agents of an opportunity to express their concerns.
  • Stressed agents either view migrants as criminals (and treat them accordingly) or feel helpless to deal with the chaos.  In an effort to continue doing their jobs, agents become increasingly numb.

Read more…


Footsteps in the sand (notes and camera angles omitted), Author Lies Thru A Lens, (CC BY-SA 2 Generic)


“One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each, I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints;
other times there was only one.

During the lowest times of my life
I could see only one set of footprints,
so I said, ‘Lord, you promised me,
that you would walk with me always.
Why, when I have needed you most would you leave me?’

The Lord replied, ‘My precious child,
I love you and would never leave you.
The times when you have seen only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.’ ”

Many are familiar with one or another version of the inspirational poem “Footprints” by Mary Stevenson.  But a new technology is uncovering footprints of another kind.

Lidar is a device which surveys the landscape using pulses of infrared laser light.  Operating in much the same way as radar, lidar reveals the heat signatures of long gone structures now buried beneath the earth and overgrown by vegetation.

In Egypt, lidar has located the unique fingerprint of a home similar to those found throughout the Holy Land in biblical times [1].  This home is associated with the Shasu of Yawheh, a Semitic people present in the Levant from the late Bronze to the early Iron Age.

The Shasu were first identified as enemies of Egypt at the Temple of Soleb [2A].  The name Shasu of Yahweh appears in texts dated to Amenhotep III (14th Century BC) and Ramesses II (13th Century BC) [2B].  Ramesses II is thought to be the pharaoh associated with the Exodus.

Some scholars identify the Shasu with the ancient Israelites [2C].  The lidar evidence would provide physical proof of Israelite presence in Egypt, something long disputed.

[1]  National Geographic, “Buried Secrets of the Bible with Albert Lin”, S1 E1, “Parting the Red Sea”,

[2A, B, an C]  Wikipedia, “Shasu”,