Online Savings Accounts & Smaller Churches

While I have never in my life desired to be an accountant I do have a strange fascination with filing taxes. I organize for it pretty much all year long and I file as soon as I possibly can (except for the rare occasions where we have owed the government – in which case, I wait as long as I can – and don’t get me started on getting a return equaling giving an interest free loan to the government, I know that is the case, but there are other reasons that we try to make sure we get a return). Then once I have finished our returns I look to see if the boys or mom need/want/will allow me to help them. I’m not looking for any others because I fear it will turn the process from enjoyable to burdensome, so don’t view this post as an open invitation for me to do your taxes. 🙂 I should probably add here that I am not a tax professional and nothing in this post should be construed as actual professional advice – if you want tax advice you should go to a professional rather than me.

Anyhow, this wonderful time of the year has begun and tax forms are beginning to head our way. One of these coming forms is what I am now going to write about because the 1099-INT points to a subject that I would like to discuss. Since we were married twenty-nine years ago Pam and I have tried (sometimes more successfully than others) to maintain a savings account that contains an emergency fund. The purpose of this account is to quickly be available for when we face financial emergencies, not so much to actually increase in value. It is good that the purpose was about preparation rather than a substantial increase in valuation because, as you probably know, the annual percentage yields on most savings accounts have been so low that you really didn’t make any real money on them. For us this has meant that since the IRS changed the rule concerning the amount of interest at which the bank has to send you a 1099-INT (if you earn less than $10 interest in a year they don’t have to send you one) we have not receive a 1099-INT from our main bank (though you are still supposed to report your earned interest on your tax forms). In fact, I already know we won’t receive one this year either because we earned a grand total of $4.03 in interest this year on the largest of our emergency accounts. The the annual percentage yield on our banks savings accounts is a whopping 0.03%.

We also are members of a credit union that pays significantly more at 0.25% APY, which is significantly more than our bank but still not enough for them to need to send to us a 1099-INT.

Then along came the online banks and FinTech companies. This past year we started savings accounts with three online banks/FinTechs. These companies pay much higher rates of interest since they don’t have branches. Here’s what we are receiving rate-wise.

  • online bank #1 – 2.02%
  • online bank #2 – 1.75%
  • FinTech company – 1.80%

The reason I am writing about all this is because of the disruption that these online banks and FinTechs are making in the financial services industry. You see in the first month of being a part of online bank #1 Pam and I earned more interest, on less money, than we had in the previous four years total at our traditional bank. This wasn’t a huge amount (about $20), but still it was 48 times more than my traditional bank had paid me each month. I am pretty sure by the end of 2020 we will have earn more interest in our online bank #1 account than we have cumulatively in our traditional banks’ savings accounts for all of 29 years of our marital life.

Every now and then you need some disruption. We’ve seen it in other industries – 10 years ago who would have thought that you would have jumped into a stranger’s car instead of hailing a taxi (Uber and Lyft), or that I would randomly stay at a stranger’s house instead of a hotel or motel (AirBnB and VRBO) – and it is happening now in the financial services industry. This is why you are beginning to see the big banks do some of this too. For example, Capital One now offers 1.70% APY on their 360 savings accounts, and Goldman Sachs and American Express are doing the same thing. Smaller banks and credit unions have done this for awhile but you know when the big banks change is coming – they don’t do something unless they have to do so to stay competitive.

It is a reminder to me that just because I have always done something a certain way doesn’t mean that is the best way for it to be done any longer, or ever. This isn’t just true for savings account, transportation, lodging, and the other industries that have been disrupted in the past 10 years, and it isn’t always something big happening. Sometimes the disruption is a move to something smaller. Read about the phenomenon over the past few years of local, independent bookstores reviving – here’s a quick search of related articles. These independent bookstores offer something that people want and isn’t being offered by the big book stores and Amazon don’t/won’t/can’t offer. It is also why some small coffee roasters are producing coffee that is widely recognized as amazing (I’m looking at you Ruby).

I wouldn’t be surprised if small churches aren’t this disruption in modern Christian faith in the near future. For the longest time in American Christianity (specifically, but not exclusively, Evangelical Christianity) the mega-church model has been the goal for so many churches. I’ve heard the saying “if you aren’t growing, you’re dying” or “healthy things grow” in various church conferences and events more times than I can remember. I’ve discussed before some of my struggles with such a mindset (HERE), but it can basically be summed in the mindset that healthy things mature, rather than necessarily grow. There are a lot things about big churches that can offer a great deal to help people mature as disciples of Jesus Christ, but there is also much that smaller churches can offer that larger churches don’t/won’t/can’t. Being a small church may be an advantage that Christianity in America needs right now. So many of the voices that I admire in Christian writing and thinking right now, voices that I believe are speaking prophetically, producing maturity, and calling disciples to deep faith, are involved in small communities of faith. This could just be me connecting to people from smaller churches, BUT it might be something about smaller churches that is more conductive to producing this type of mature faith. Just because the big church has been the model of success in the church for the past 60 years doesn’t mean that it should be the model now, and that model may be being disrupted during our present age.

As I have written before small churches are wonderful things.

The Center of the Crucifixion Story is God Asking Where God Is

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ).

Matthew 27:46

It amazes me that at the center of Christian faith, the death of Christ, is God the Son crying out that God isn’t there with Him. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

He didn’t respond in some super “manly” manner. He isn’t like Mel Gibson’s William Wallace crying with his last breathe “FREEDOM!” Or Russell Crowe’s Maximus in the moving Gladiator saying that he will have his vengeance in this life or the next. No “give me liberty or give me death” from the Son of Man. No, instead of dramatic heroism by Jesus, we see the God of Christianity hanging on a shameful cross pleading “God why aren’t you here?” By Jesus being there to ask that question Jesus has placed God in the middle of our suffering and our questions of God’s presence.

“Where was God when this happened?” It’s a phrase that runs true with so much of life. I am sure you have heard it before. I think most of us have asked it.

C.S. Lewis wrote:

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

“The Problem of Pain”, p. 90

I think He is “rous[ing] a deaf world” to the fact that He is in the pain with us. We just often don’t know He is there already. Maybe it is because we are hoping for movie heroics rather than the God Who defeats evil by bearing the pain of its best shots. Maybe it is because we are so overwhelmed by the suffering that we can’t tell the face of the One Who freely chose to enter the suffering with us. I don’t know why I often can’t tell He is there in the midst of the pain. I just trust that He is there, and from what I have experienced in the passed I have every reason for that trust in Him being with me. Ebeneezer, thus far has the Lord brought us. He is Emmanuel, God with us, even when we suffer, hurt, and even when we shout “where are you?” The God Who has gone deep into the pain and evil in the world to say “where are you God,” has made it where He is with us when we asked that same question.

The Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel put it very well in his classic memoir “Night“:

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

For God’s sake, where is God?

And from within me, I heard a voice answer:

Where is He?  This is where – hanging here from this gallows…

Night“, p. 86

Where are you God? I believe He is even in that question.

The Terrell Family Message Thread as an Example

Recently while talking with a group of guys that I regularly meet with to discuss our faith we broached the following question.

What example would you use for your relationship with God as it is right now?

Now the pastor in me wanted to discuss the two biblical examples that God Himself uses again and again for His relationship with us. These are:

  • The relationship of a spouse with another spouse
  • The relationship of a parent with a child

Over and over again God uses these examples. For example, you can interpret the Song of Solomon as a love song between God and His people, much like a love song between two lovers. Smoother example is quite possibly Jesus’s most well known parable, the parable of the prodigal son (which is really more about the Father’s love than the son). In this parable God is described as a father who runs to his son who has left him home but now begun to return.  You will see examples all throughout scripture of these two analogies for God’s relationship with us. These are main interpretive motifs for me for understanding what God says through scripture, He talks as a spouse and as a father.

Still neither the relationship of spouses nor parents and children were initially what came to me when I thought of what my relationship with God was at present. Instead I thought of the Terrell Family Facebook Message Thread.

Oh how I loved Homestar Runner and Teen Girls Squad.

I’m not sure when we started our family message thread, which Noah renamed “The Terrell Girl Squad!” in a nod to Strong Bad‘s “Teen Girl Squad” (which we as a family love). I assume it started when Adam went to college as a way for our family to talk throughout the day, but the message thread is so long that I’m having a hard time finding the end of it. I know it goes back at least 4 years – I stopped going backwards after that the fourth year.

We use this thread to talk about what we are experiencing around us, to get each other’s opinions and wisdom  concerning subjects, to share info, to raze each other a little, and to talk about serious and deep subjects throughout our day. I’ve never tried to average how many messages we exchange a day but it is 11:52 a.m. as I am writing this and we have sent 45 messages (many of them very brief – one or two words) thus far today. This message thread shapes how I experience a large part of my day.  I get excited about sharing parts of my day within the family message thread and hearing about what has happened around my family. I interpret much of my day based on the conversations that happen in this thread.

  • If a project I have been working on gets a little closer to fulfillment, I look forward to sharing it with the Terrell Girl Squad. (For example, we added Christmas wreath lights to the house today and the family had input into what color these should be – the answer is boring white.)
  • If I read something interesting, I look forward to sharing it with the Terrell Girl Squad.
  • If I just saw WISCONSIN MAN (a guy in our neighborhood who always dresses from head to toe in Wisconsin Badger gear and we shout in heroic voices “WISCONISIN MAN” whenever we see him), I look forward to sharing it with the Terrell Girl Squad.
  • If I have a question that I am struggling with, I look forward to sharing it with the Terrell Girl Squad.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

My family, through the constant conversation of the “Terrell Girl Squad” message thread, shapes how I experience and understand my day. It is like my family is with me throughout my day. This is why it helps me to understand my relationship with God.

Paul encourages us to “pray continually“. I believe part of praying continually is this ongoing dialogue with God concerning what is happening in our days.

    • Jesus, I just read this fascinating statement in the book “White Trash” that states that national myths don’t develop without us forgetting parts of our history. What parts of my life have I turned into myths and what parts have I forgotten.
    • Jesus, I’m feeling pretty (insert emotion here). Why is that and died it mean anything?
    • Jesus, I haven’t seen WISCONSIN MAN in a long time. I hope he’s ok.
    • Etc.., Etc., Etc.

In such a way we begin to be see and interpret our day through Christ. We recognize that God is involved in all that is going on around us and we see things through His eyes.

Thus my family’s constant conversation through a Facebook message thread is helping me to understand how my relationship with God should be. Who says Facebook is good for nothing. 😉

Pawns are the Soul of Chess

Listening to a podcast today I heard the following phrase “The pawns are the soul of chess.” I had never heard the phrase and I found it fascinating. The phrase comes from François-André Danican Philidor, a famous French chess player. Francois was one of the first to realize that pawns instead of being weak, almost throwaway, pieces were more important than the back row seemingly high-value pieces. I am no expert on chess but I love Francois’s thought concerning pawns. Many may love and concentrate on their queen, or have intricate plans for the use of their bishops and rooks, or love the power of their knights, but Francois insisted that “the winning or losing of the game depends entirely on (your pawns’) good or bad arrangement.” Apparently in chess, as in life, the little things are the most important.

2.3 Million Choices

This is why our small choices matter so much. winning or losing in life depends so much upon the good or bad arrangement of our many small choices. Those small choices when arranged properly add up to wonderful things. The Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed by methods that we still don’t completely understand, but the most likely scenario is that 30,000 workers through incredibly strenuous and monotonous labor moved and placed 2.3 million two to thirty ton blocks of stone. Nothing special other than the incredibly result of a lot of people pulling and working together.

Many years ago anytime our boys would leave the house Pam started telling them to “make wise choices”. Because, even though we can’t control everything about our lives, if we consistently “make wise choices” things go better in life and if we consistently make unwise choices then the opposite is true. Pawns may be the soul of chess but our small choices determine the soul of our lives.

This is true in faith:

  • small choices to forgive small things tend to lead to being able to forgive the really big things
  • small choices to serve in small ways tend to lead to being able to serve in big ways
  • small choices to pray in small ways prepares one to pray in big ways
  • etc, etc, etc

It is true in our families:

  • making consistent, small choices for our marriages tend to lead to healthier marriages.
  • parenting is all about small choices – uncles, aunts, and grandparents can do the big fun things, but the small choices that parents make define who the child will become (personal side note here, I personally think one of the best small choices you can make for your kids is a consistent bed time.)
  • Our families’ finances are all about small choices.

This is basically true of almost every aspect of our lives. The issue is that making consistently good small choices it much more difficult than making a good big choice once in a blue moon. The big choices come around much less frequently. The small choices come by every day, if not every hour. That is why they are so important. That why true servants serve in lots of little ways. True loving people love in lots of little ways. True leaders lead in lots of little ways. Etc. Etc.

Pawns are the soul of chess and our small choices determine the soul of our lives. So make wise small choices.

Now I Fee? The use of “f” as a Long “s”

Because of the Thanksgiving Holiday and all the wonderful things that are a part of it (mhmmmm leftover smoked turkey sandwiches) I’m running a little behind my normal sermon preparation. So at the moment I am sitting at the Mission Coffee House, after not being able to access the internet at Emy J’s and finding Zest Coffee & Bakery closed for the day, listening to a young man and a young woman talk about his possible engagement to another young woman, while I work on the message for tomorrow (yep I am late this week). If you are curious it is my ease-dropping self’s belief that she is really into this guy because she is smiling a great deal, playing with her hair, leaning in a great deal, and trying to convince this guy that an engagement wouldn’t be the best thing at the moment. I’ll put my headphones back on so that I’m less tempted to be creepy.

“Now I FEE”????? That changes the meaning of the song a little. 🙂

Anyhow one of the things that I love about preparing messages is that I inadvertently learn random things that aren’t a part of the message. Today’s random lesson is that at one time the letter “f” was often substituted in print for the letter “s” to signify that this should be a long “s” sound. Many of you, if not most, probably knew this already because the few who read my blog are amazingly smart people (which confuses me as to why you would read my blog). I learned this factoid when I was looking for a photo of a hymnal version of “Amazing Grace” specifically to discuss the line “was blind, but now I see”. I found the photo attached to this post and started to use it as an image slide for the message tomorrow until I zoomed into the specific line and noticed the “fee”.  Of course, I had to chase this rabbit and see why it was printed as “fee”. Here’s a Wikipedia article discussing the Long S.

It is a good reminder that language changes because it is organic in nature. This is incredibly important to remember when we are talking about scripture because the temptation is to take our modern meaning of a word or concept and place that on the lips of biblical authors. We always have to go back as far as possible to understanding what they were saying/writing in their time and discovering how that relates to our times and life. In many ways we are exactly the same as Ancient Near Easterners and in other ways we are completely other than them. My general rule of thumb is that if it costs me nothing then I am interpreting the verse wrong. 🙂

Now to get back to my image slides for tomorrow’s message.

SIDE NOTE – The guy just said “I’m basically dating my mother” loud enough for me to hear through my headphones. This just got too interesting to ignore, so I am going to pack up and go home to I get away from the conversation. 🙂

The Gratitude of the Dependent

Miroslav Volf wrote a wonderful little book that I read a few years ago with a focus on giving as a very human response to the fact that we receive from God. The book is titled “Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace“.  The basic point of the book is that we are not indeependent creatures but dependent upon God’s giving and therefore as non-independent creatures the appropriate response on our behalf is to follow in the nature of our Creator and also act in giving manners.  We give in gratitude for all that we have been gifted.

So much of Christian faith revolves around the fact that we are the receivers of God’s gracious gifts and our response to those gifts.  We are dependent. Christian faith begins with this fact, because it begins with the acknowledgement that we need the Lord’s forgiveness (the gift of not receiving just punishment for our sins against God, our fellow humans, and creation).  If you claim to be a Christian but aren’t a dependent recipient of God’s grace then you are misinformed concerning what Christianity really is. We are dependent upon  His grace and mercy. We are not independent creatures.

That’s what I love about Thanksgiving. Yes being with family and friends is great, the food is wonderful (leftover smoked turkey sandwiches truly make me happy for the week after Thanksgiving), and a nap during a Thanksgiving football game is a beautiful thing, but what I love most about Thanksgiving is the recognition that we are not independent creatures. We live and function because of the that which we freely receive from God. When I realize that I exist within God’s gracious gifts I then have a responsibility to use those gifts to help others. “Freely (I) have received; freely (I should) give.” If I wasn’t dependent upon Jesus then I could make the argument that others should take care of themselves because I took care of myself. Yet as a dependent creature I can’t make that argument.

The 4th of July may be what we call Independence Day but Thanksgiving is our collective US of A recognition that we are dependent. Thanksgiving is our Dependence Day.

Thanks Dependence Day to all of y’all.


Hard to Talk Restaurants

WARNING – This might just be a grumpy old man post.

As the son of a woman who has hearing difficulties, the spouse of a professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) who deals with an autoimmune issue that affects her vocal chords, and the father of one SLP and one CSD student very loud restaurants bother me.

Pam and I enjoy eating out. We do it more than some people we know and less that others. I suspect we are eating out on average one meal together per week. Our tastes vary from local Asian inspired food (I’m looking at you Samoeun’s Happy Wok) to higher end restaurants in our area (thinking of Christian’s Bistro here). Tonight while visiting Adam in Minneapolis we ate at Revival, a higher end chicken and waffles place.  Like so many of the higher end places now it was going for an industrial look with hard surfaces and sharp angles. I know it is the style. I know the look is a part of the resturant. Still those angles and surfaces make it difficult to talk in those places.

That’s where my grumpiness comes in. The acoustics in places like this stink. I love the food at Christian’s Bistro or Father Fats in the Point area but they suffer from the same situation. The surfaces and angles make it loud and the sound muddled. This becomes difficult for people with hearing issues (i.e. my mom), people with speech issues (i.e. Pamela), and frustrating for those who love people with hearing and speech issues (i.e. me). The sounds bounces all over the place. I’ll stop complaining now, but I do wish that many of these hipper restaurants had better acoustics for conversations.

SIDE NOTE – the chicken and waffles at Revival were EXCELLENT. The shrimp and grits were meh. Pam’s shrimp and grits and better than any I have ever had at a restaurant. There was a batch that I had at a hotel in New Orleans during the weekend of my D.Min graduation from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary that was the best I have ever had and it was just a treat that the hotel was freely giving out to its guest. Mhmmmm. I still dream about that small bowl of shrimp and grits.

I Tried To Buy These

I couldn’t get the lady down to the price I was willing to pay but I was hoping to get these at a price that was low enough to justify a practical joke. If I had been able to buy all nine of these mannequin heads I was then going to randomly mail them to various friends. I thought it would have been a great and creepy prank. Imagine receiving a box in the mail and then opening it up to discover these looking up at you with no explanation. I have some friends who would get a kick out of it.

The pipes bombs being mailed have changed my mind concerning these prank. For some reason I no longer think that receiving an anonymous mannequin head in your mail would be as funny. I’m really thankful that the seller wouldn’t come down to my price. In our current climate my practical joke would not have been as cool.

Seriously, who knew that there were so many mannequin heads for sale?

Of course, my thoughts on this might change in a year and oddly there is a surprising number of mannequin heads for sale on Facebook Marketplace. So who knows, a year or two from now some of y’all might get the great prank of a creepy fake head arriving in your mail.

How much fun would that be?!?!?!?


Potluck Tomorrow

I assume that everyone who reads my blog posts knows that I am a Baptist minister (pastor of a small and wonderful church and chaplain through a great company). As a Baptist minister I am fairly sure that my spiritual love language is the language of potluck. I really do love them.

Not so much because of the food, though I do love that also, but more because I believe there is something God honoring and wonderful about them. At a potluck everyone brings something that they like, like to make, or like to serve. Some people spend hours on it, while others spend minutes. Some people make something, while others buy something. There isn’t really any rhyme or reason, no really plan or agenda, people just bring what they want to bring and something wonderful comes out of it.

For example, I am an OK cook but Pam is the one who really shines at cooking in our home. She is amazingly creative and very skilled. She wasn’t when we first were married (we used to thing that hamburger helper was fine dining) and she didn’t really have any family experience with creative homemade meals. She developed it on her own and has gotten better with the years. Anyhow, she’s the real cook, but there are a few things that I make better than her.

Two of things I make better than her are salsa and chili dogs. So that is what I am bringing tomorrow for Tapestry’s potluck – Chips & Salsa and Chili dogs. Not a normal combination, but when you add it with all the other things that everyone else will bring it will lead to a wonderful meal. We feed each other with our small gifts and great, God honoring things happens.

I’m sure there is analogy in there somewhere but I need to stir my hot dog chili.

Merriam-Webster on the Word “Asshat”

I have posted before on the humor I find in the word “asshat” and how Pam and I use the word “butt fedora” for the same purpose because neither one of us are big fans of cursing or vulgarities. To Pam sent me this interesting article from the Merriam-Webster “Words at Play” section concerning the history of the word “asshat” and the reason for their inclusion of it in their dictionary.

To quote Merriam-Webster concerning the growth of the use of the word:

It’s traveled pretty far into the language in just a short amount of time.

May you have a “butt fedora” free day.