I remember back in seminary, when I had no money, how everyone around me, it seemed, was being offered a gas credit card. I had, for some reason, the part-time work of picking up the mail for our dorm and distributing it to the various mailboxes in the little closet off the main lounge. Every day, somebody would get congratulated for being given the opportunity to open up a credit card account for one of the gas companies. But not, ol’ Randy – who could have used that way of spreading out my cost of living. Nope – at that time there were no such things as debit cards, so every time I had to fill up my Honda Civic, at the cost of a whopping 50 cents/gallon, it would cost me an entire $5.00, which was way more than chicken feed back then…
I think our first credit card foray came at Cheri’s and my first Christmas together. We decided to go all in and buy an artificial Christmas tree from Dayton’s, along with some lights and glass ornaments. Actually, it was probably the nicest tree we have ever owned, and it lasted us about 15 years. Expensive? Well I can tell you we charged an entire $85 for the tree, which was put on our Dayton’s card, and we were given three months after Christmas to pay it off with no interest – what a deal! Of course, we didn’t do that, and then spent who knows how many more months paying interest and principal on the tree. Oh, and we also bought an actual normal sized color TV to replace the 13” black and white model Cheri had when she was in college. By the way, the tv lasted for 18 years, which isn’t a bad order either, and I expect we eventually paid it off too.
Credit is an alluring siren. You know what I mean – when Odysseus was on his long adventure home after the Trojan War, he and his crew came upon the Sirens, a group of supposedly pretty creatures, who had the ability to sing such entrancing songs, that they would coax the sailors to run aground on the rocks and perish. Odysseus, being a rather resourceful guy, stuffed his crew’s ears full of wax so they couldn’t’ hear anything, and then had them lash his to the main mast as they sailed past the Sirens. The crew couldn’t hear his begging to be released, and so they were saved. And yes today, we use the word, “siren,” as something that always captures our attention… Credit is like that. If you aren’t careful, or have stuffed your ears full of wax, you will hear those cards saying, ‘C’mon and use me! You have lots to spare…” except they leave out the part of the song that you will then have the obligation of paying it off at 21% interest, meaning each year you don’t pay it off, you are actually buying another 1/5th of the item…
I remember one day in the early 90s, when Adam was probably 4 years old, that somehow he received in the mail a guaranteed offer to open a gold Mastercard credit card. I can’t remember how high the credit line was, but it didn’t take Adam more than about two seconds to realize this could be the highway to his greatest desires. Do you know how many Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars you can buy for even $1000 credit? I was actually a bit stunned that a legitimate credit card company would extend an offer to a 4 year old, who sole income amounted to $1/week allowance, which, when he received it, burned a hole in his pocket until we went to Target and – sure enough – bought yet another Matchbox racing car to add to his collection… Fortunately, he didn’t quite have the writing skills to send the application back in, and then set himself on a road to credit ruin….
I don’t know about you, but I will confess that Cheri and I have had a rather long up and down relationship with credit and credit cards. I can tell you that in those times when it was “down,” it wasn’t a pretty picture. Now, we always paid our bills, and never missed or went short of any payments, but in those years when we really only managed to pay the minimum due, I’m sure we ended up on the wall of honor in some credit card company main halls. There probably is nothing that cheers the hearts of credit card folks than to have “minimum payment due” be the song that is sung for months and months.
Well finally, after years of really just wasting money, I found the path and followed it to once and for all pay off all the cards. To lift that financial burden off our backs was truly a wonderful feeling and experience. Now, we still have a few credit cards, actually, but using them is always done with the strategy of keeping our credit score up, as we pay things off in full every month, and surprise! We have money left over…
So, I was a bit befuddled when a few days ago, I received communication from our dear friends at American Express, telling me that, due to our excellent credit and great habit of taking care of our debts, that they wanted to increase the amount of our potential debt by raising our “credit limit.” It was if they were politely, yet seductively asking, “Oh Please! Won’t you just use what we have given you, and borrow more than you could possibly pay off? After all, we have to make a living, you know!” The most amazing thing is that they offered us a credit limit that was 120% more than my entire year’s salary when I began the ministry. Can you imagine anyone actually borrowing that much money, at an interest rate that is nothing short of loan sharking?
No thanks, American Express. We are doing quite well on our own, actually, and what we don’t have, we really don’t need. And that goes for Matchbox cars as well…
In our lives, we always have the opportunity to make choices. It should be the case that we make good decisions, although you know there are times when we just blow it, because we are living more accidentally, or short-sighted, than intentional, and weighing all the aspects. Sometimes we just hear the song of the Siren, and give ourselves over to dumb – and dangerous – plans. However, you and I are all far better off when we take stock of what we actually have, instead of what anyone else tells us we need. The air is sweeter, and the deep breath far more satisfying when we allow God to be in charge, instead of selling/buying a place in life for anyone else to occupy.
Blessings to you – stay wise, and content.
Word for the day: proscribe. Pronounced pro-SKRIBE. Kind of a fascinating word, that we probably hear from time to time. It’s Latin, of course, proscribere, which means to “write in front of” literally, or to actually publish before the community the truth of someone as an outlaw. It also means to exile, or to denounce as dangerous. In some cases, a “proscription” would have been a tablet that was hung in the midst of the community that named an individual with a sentence placed on him or her – it could also be the publication of property that was confiscated in order to pay a debt, usually coming from underhanded or thieving activity.
Not good to be proscribed. It really wrecks your credit score…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.