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Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

3 ways of confronting the problem of diminishing attention spans through the Great Books

How many books do you finish? How many blog posts do you really read? I am guessing that you, like me, are busy and are tempted to skim just about everything. In a world of touch screens and endless entertainment, our attention spans atrophy into something that might look like childishness to our ancestors. But how can we build up the attention spans that we need for sustained thought in the modern age. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay said that the audience that they contemplated while writing their masterful defense of the new US Constitution in The Federalist Papers was a farmer in Upstate New York. In our day, it seems that most every time a politician opens his mouth, we find that he could not match that 19th-century dirt farmer. Our attention spans are diminished and might, it seems, be extinguished completely, but I want to recommend a course of treatment. It is simple: read the Great Books [editor’s note: “Great Books” is a term for the classics of Western Literature – for more see the endnote below]. Here are three ways reading these books helps us confront the problem of diminishing attention spans. 1. The Great Books are a mirror that helps us see the problem The Great Books hold up a mirror that helps us see the extent of the problem (which is the diminishment of our capacity for sustained thought). Reading the Great Books is challenging. The first book I teach to our seniors each year is Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is a challenge! Deep concepts, archaic language, demanding expectations (because Milton expects that you have read the other Great Books written before his – particularly the Bible). This is difficult, but we need to understand one powerful fact: people in every generation prior to ours have mastered these books because they are so important! What is the mirror saying about our generation? 2. The Great Books reward sustained contemplation The Great Books reward sustained contemplation where the reading of “chapters” is necessary. Have you ever read a page or two, or a paragraph or two, of a book only to get distracted? You retain almost nothing. Emily and I had an embarrassing situation like this early in our marriage. We decided to read The Lord of the Rings together. So far, so good, right? Wrong! We decided that we would read it to each other when we went to bed. Our first daughter, Maddy, had just arrived. I was working hard at the school. We were both exhausted. It did not go well. We actually dreaded the elf poetry and songs that Tolkien inserts. That knocked us out every time. Because of the brokenness of the reading, we missed so much. The Great Books reward sustained concentration and punish flighty drifting. Each year when I teach Paradise Lost, I tell the students that reading this book is like weightlifting. Reading it grows you. You leave it stronger than you began, but unless you devote yourself to reading a section, book, canto, or chapter your reward is diminished. This means that these books challenge their reader to make them a priority. They grow our attention span and by this they grow us toward fuller humanity. Very few people do things just because they are difficult – and most of those people need help. Hard things should be hard for a reason. They should eventually result in happiness or the hope of happiness. The Great Books can be challenging, but they reward those who discipline both their tastes and abilities. The experience of the Great Books makes everything else better and sweeter. Every time I am watching a movie where a husband stands between his wife and evil men, my mind starts drifting off to Odysseus stringing the bow and restoring order to Ithaca. Your life is richer for reading The Odyssey. So, the discipline that reading the Great Books rewards actually makes life sweeter and better. 3. The Great Books measure us  The Great Books measure us. We need to grow up to read them. We need to do this thoughtfully and with a sense of the frame of our students, but we should celebrate with them when they become men and women who complete the Iliad or the Aeneid or Moby Dick. As they accomplish this, they become a member of a community that stretches back in time to the beginnings of this civilization. They begin to love the same words that their grandparents and great-great-great (etc.) grandparents loved. Of course, the Scriptures are at the core of this “way of viewing the world.” In them, we find the stories that encompass our lives. A number of years ago, Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio was speaking at a conference and he made this point in a profound way talking about music, he said, “Tradition is something we have to live up to.” His point is mine. The great music of the past, measures us. It is not that we cannot add to it, but to add to it, we should first master it. Mastering it prepares us to find our own voice and to find that we have a voice worth heeding. The Great Books are a tradition like this. We speak best when we are disciplined enough to master the tradition. My hope is that you kept reading this post and that, hopefully, this post will encourage you to set aside some time to devote yourself to reading the Great Books. Start by doing the reading. It will stretch you and grow you, but you will find yourself stronger and wiser as you devote yourself to this worthy task.

Ty Fischer's article first appeared on the Veritas Press blog and is reprinted here with permission. Veritas Press has a number of homeschooling resources built around a Great Books curriculum. 

Editor's endnote What are the "Great Books"? There is no one list, but the term is meant to describe a compilation of classics from Western Literature. Some lists are very long, topping hundreds of books, while others limit themselves to as little as 50, but the idea behind all of them is that these are foundational books – read these and you will have a better understanding of some of the key ideas shaping the world today. A Christian list would look different than a non-Christian, though a Christian list should contain non-Christian books. Placement is as much or more about a book’s influence as it is about its genuine insight, so pivotal infamous books do make their appearances. So what exactly might be on such a list? Here is an example: The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul Macbeth by Shakespeare Beowulf The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom The Heidelberg Catechism Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton Time Will Run Back by Henry Hazlitt The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther The Epic of Gilgamesh Divine Comedy by Dante The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien Animal Farm by George Orwell The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Christianity and Liberalism by John Gresham Machen Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift Gilead by Marilynne Robinson Lord of the Flies by William Golding Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer Desiring God by John Piper Aesop’s Fables by, well, Aesop Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie City of God by Augustine Here I Stand by Roland Bainton The Prince by Machiavelli 1984 by George Orwell Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne 95 Theses by Martin Luther Knowing God by J.I. Packer The Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain The Republic by Plato The Koran by Mohammad The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn The Odyssey by Homer Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe The Westminster Confession of Faith Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis John Adams by David McCullough Hamlet by Shakespeare A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift Ivanhoe by Walter Scott Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

News

Why do more today feel like have-nots?

Back in 1988 a Pew Research poll of Americans found that a majority thought they were doing quite well, describing themselves as “haves.” Just 17% said they were “have-nots.” Twenty years later there was quite the change: a 2011 Pew poll found that self-identified have-nots had doubled to 34%. So, why this pessimistic turn in Americans’ self-assessment? Is it because things have gotten so much worse? Well, no. Things have improved in big ways and little since 1988! Consider, for example, how many Americans had cellphones in 1988. It was under 5% of the US populace. Today 95% of Americans have a cellphone, and more than 75% of them have a smartphone. In other words, three quarters of the population are walking around with a device in their back pocket that their 1988 forbearers couldn’t even have imagined, but if they did, they would have thought this music-playing, direction-giving, movie-showing, call-anywhere, super computer would have to be a tool reserved for only the super rich. And yet we all have one. And when it comes to the basics, in 1988 necessities used to eat up 39% of the average American worker’s income. In 2013 that had fallen to just 32%, meaning more disposable income for most everyone. So, again, why do more people feel like they are bad off when, in general, things are actually improving? Well, maybe it has something to do with the growing popularity of the term “income inequality.” By one measure, this term is used almost twice as often as it was in 1988. And focusing our attention on how much more our neighbor has than us can make it hard to appreciate our own blessings (Prov. 14:30).

Daily devotional

March 28 – Baptism as a sign of the goal of God’s creation

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism.” – Colossians 2:11-12a    Scripture reading: Exodus 28:6-21 In the Old Testament, the high priest was the substitute and representative of Israel, symbolized by the stones on his shoulder and the stones in the breast piece of judgment. Wherever he went, Israel went with him and whatever he did, Israel did with him. The Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament high priest. In whatever He did, He functioned as the substitute and representative of New Testament Israel, the church, His body. Thus, when He died, the members of His body died with Him. Baptism is a sign and seal of our having died and been buried with Christ. Because circumcision in the Old Testament, made with hands, was an identity marker that members of the church had been cut off from the life of the flesh in the world and the flesh in their hearts – the old order of life – and had been placed in the church – the new order of life – Paul calls our having been buried with Christ in baptism the circumcision of Christ, one made without hands. It is a sign and seal that in Christ we have died to the life of the flesh in the world and the flesh that lives in our hearts. Thus, as circumcision was a reminder of what being a member of God’s covenant community entailed, so baptism reminds us of the same. If we are to be a blessing for the world, we need to daily die to the ways of the flesh of the world and the flesh of our hearts. Suggestions for prayer Ask your heavenly Father to show you where you need to die to the flesh so that you can be a blessing to those around you.

Rev. Dick Moes is pastor emeritus of the Surrey Covenant Reformed Church in Surrey, BC. He and his wife Elsina have five children and 14 grandchildren.

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Politics

The Bible and Pluralism

Pluralism is the belief that people of different cultures and beliefs can live together in harmony. But when their different values inevitably clash how do these differences get resolved? In this excerpt from Dr. Van Dam's “God and Government” he outlines a specifically Christian form of pluralism that allows for believers and unbelievers to live in peace together, because it recognizes that God and his law are supreme.

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When God gathered his chosen people, his demands were clear. They had to be completely dedicated to his service. However, God recognized that within his kingdom of Israel, there was not only his holy nation, the church, but, as noted earlier, there were also others who did not really belong to the assembly of God’s people. They nevertheless lived within the kingdom of God on earth as established in Israel. To these people the Lord showed great forbearance. They were not forced to become worshippers of the God of Israel nor did God give any command to that effect to Israel’s rulers. However, they were expected to obey the prohibitive commands of God’s moral law. They could not, for example, indulge in sexual sin (Lev. 18:24–30), blaspheme God’s name (Lev 24:15) or sacrifice their children to the false god Molech. (Lev. 20:2). The people in whose midst they lived, as well as the land, was holy and they had to respect that. Indeed, God had expressly commanded that all the idolatrous nations living in Canaan had to be wiped out for the land was to be holy (Deut. 7; cf. Ps. 78:54; Zec. 2:12). There was, however, no such command for territories outside Canaan that were later conquered to be under Israel’s rule. It is noteworthy that after David defeated Moab, the Aramaean kingdoms of Hadadezer (Damascus and Maacah), Edom, and the Ammonites, there is no hint anywhere in Scripture that he worked to remove all idolatry and false worship. Also no special attempt was made to compel these people to become worshippers of the true God. Since David’s office as a godly king over these gentile peoples roughly parallels the office of government today, this tolerance points to a principle that can apply to government today. Tolerance of false religion Indeed, state tolerance of false religion is not in disagreement with Scripture. God is long-suffering and patient. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). He allows the good grain as well as the weeds to grow together, until the time of harvest. Then God himself will separate the two in the final Day of Judgment (Matt. 13:36–43). Government can tolerate what the church cannot endure. Each has its own office and calling. In a modern pluralistic society, the following words of Christ are relevant: “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12). If one asks freedom of worship for oneself, then it should also be granted to others. As head of the church, Christ tolerates no ungodliness and sin. The church on earth must act accordingly. As head and ruler of his kingdom Christ is patient and bears with the weakness of the sinful human heart. His servants, the civil governments, must do likewise even as they are obligated to seek true righteousness and justice for the country entrusted to their rule. State is not the Church Besides the principle of toleration, there is the related principle of the civil authority being distinct from the religious authority in Israel. Even though church and state were very closely related, they were not identical. Each had its own jurisdiction. This has important implications. Even in Israel, which was a theocracy, there were clear limitations to what the king as civil ruler could do. Although the theocratic king had priestly and prophetic aspects to his office, he nevertheless remained in the first place the civil ruler in charge of the judicial and political affairs of the nation. Although the priests were vital in the theocracy, Israel as a theo cracy was not a priest state as found in other ancient near Eastern countries such as Egypt. Priestly authority was limited to all things related to the administration of the sacrificial service of reconciliation, including instruction in the ways of the Lord. And so there were clear distinctions. Religious matters were in the province of the priests and the civil ones were the responsibility of the king. Accordingly, in the time of King Jehoshaphat the civil courts were organized specifically along the lines of religious and civil matters (2 Chron. 19:11; cf. 1 Chron. 26:30, 32). We need to value the biblical principle that is involved here. Scripture gives no justification for a modern theocratic state such as we find in some Islamic jurisdictions. The Bible indicates that there is to be a clear separation of what we today call church and state, or spiritual authorit y and civil authority. Christ’s teaching affirmed this when he said “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). Such thinking is completely contrary to, for example, the Muslim idea of a jihad or holy war that is necessary to establish their kingdom in the here and now. All of this underlines the fact that the state is not given the duty to force people to love God and to worship him. The state is permitted to tolerate things that the church cannot tolerate. There is, however, more to this larger issue. Rule of Law Another important principle in considering the relation of church and state is the rule of law. The Davidic king was not to be autocratic and self-seeking, thinking himself to be more worthy than those around him. He was God’s representative in the theocracy, sitting on God’s throne (1 Chron. 29:23) and therefore a servant of God who needed to submit to God’s law. The Lord even stipulated that when the king assumed the throne of the kingdom then he “is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left” (Deut. 17:18–20). In this way God’s will would be done for his chosen nation in his kingdom. With all the plurality that may have existed in Israelite society, above it all was the law of God. It needed to be heeded for the well-being of the people. Israel’s rulers were not the only ones who were accountable to God. Pagan ones were as well. For example, Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that God had put him in power (Dan. 2:37–38) and so God warned the monarch through Daniel that unless he acknowledged God’s supreme place and repented of his sins in ruling, he would be driven from the throne to live with the wild animals (Dan. 4:24–27). There was accountability that had to be acknowledged. Today, rulers are to be servants of God in the first place and as such also have an obligation to heed the abiding principles of God’s Word for the good of society. Thus, when government makes decisions pertaining to morals and issues on which the Word of God gives clear direction, it should not set itself above the norms which God has revealed. It is the duty of government to restrain sin and evil (Prov. 14:33; Rom. 13:4). How does the calling of the church factor into this obligation of the government? Church is not the State Clearly the task of the church is to preach the gospel and administer the reconciliation that God offers to humankind. The church’s “job description” was given by the risen Christ prior to his ascension when he said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20). The church is to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation and gather God’s people together. The state must give the church the freedom and opportunity to do its calling of spreading the gospel. That gospel includes the proclamation of Christ’s kingship, a message the state must hear from the church or its members so that it understands its servant role. The church’s task with respect to the state is not to make official pronouncements about the political issues of the day and to get involved in crafting government policy. The church as an institution has neither the charge nor expertise to do so. It is also not the task of the church to try to rule over the government (the Roman Catholic ideal). The state has its own God-given responsibilities. However, the church does have the duty to train and equip its members so that they can function meaningfully in today’s secular society as citizens of Christ’s kingdom and so influence also politics. Scripture is certainly relevant for the affairs of the state, but it is not the calling of the church as a corporate body to interfere in the political process and attempt to apply the biblical principles to the government agenda. That is the responsibility of Christians in all walks of life, also those involved in politics. All of this does not mean that the church should always remain silent. There can be unusual circumstances when the church needs to speak up by means of the pulpit or otherwise in order to protect its God-given mission to preach the gospel and condemn sin where sin needs to be condemned. There can also be occasions when the government invites input from interested parties on new legislation which is of great interest to the church. Churches should then participate and make a case for the application of biblical principles on the issues of the day. In summary, the church’s duty is to preach and safeguard the gospel and seek the spiritual well-being of its members. The resources and gifts of the church should focus on these central concerns. With respect to its task over against the government, the church must also lead the way in instructing its members to be good citizens and to be obedient to those in authority over them. Furthermore, the church is called to pray for those who rule over them (1 Tim. 2:1–4). Such prayer includes the petition that the state may continue to protect the freedom and ministry of the church so that the gospel can continue to be proclaimed. When that proclamation is blessed, it will eventually have a salutary effect on society and government. In our current age of secularization, it is easy for the people of God to grow weary in seeking the best for those who rule over them. But, one must realize that there are usually no quick fixes to the dilemmas of evil and sin in society and often incremental change is all that is possible. But the church need never become despondent. It has every reason to be encouraged for an important truth is that God is supreme ruler over everything already. In a broad sense his kingdom encompasses the entire universe. The battle against evil has been won (Col. 1:13–20; 2:15). One day God’s kingdom will arrive in full perfection when all will recognize him as Lord and Master.

This excerpt is reprinted here with permission. To get a copy of “God and Government” email info@ARPACanada.ca for information (the suggested donation is $10). Or you can get a Kindle version at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.


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Economics - Home Finances

“Honey I blew the budget!”

A FEW THOUGHTS ON GETTING BACK IN THE BLACK AFTER TAKING A PLUNGE IN THE RED “Honey I blew the budget!” Do those words sound familiar to you?  Were you one of many Canadian couples that made a New Year’s resolution to build a budget and live according to it?  And February 14th came along and you blew it?  Or perhaps the budget was blown before you even started because your Christmas spending made the budget a non-event? Or perhaps it is a much less dramatic event that got you off to a bad start: you just can’t seem to stay within the amounts you had agreed on. How to start: prayer Let’s see if a frank discussion of some potential issues can benefit us all.  Before we do that I believe that everyone should begin their budget process with prayer.  Pray that God would grant you the courage you need to be honest with yourself and your spouse as you build the budget. Also pray that God will grant you a sense of satisfaction with the gifts He does grant. Pray that God remove the sense of covetousness from your heart. Pray that God would forgive your sense of entitlement if that is something you struggle with. A sense of entitlement? What do I mean with that last line?  In my business I often hear the following excuse when a couple comes to me and they are having serious difficulty making ends meet. Often it is because one or both of them have what I call “a strong sense of entitlement.”  They say things like, “We deserved that one-week vacation in Mexico because we both worked very hard these past three months.” Or, “I deserve that new dress or new suit, because I have not treated myself to anything new for a long time now.” Or perhaps you blew it on Valentines Day; you dropped in at the flower shop on your way home and purchased a dozen roses for your wife and then, when you got home, you told her, “Honey, I am taking you out for dinner tonight!” So you take her to that very special (read expensive) restaurant downtown.  The dozen roses are $25 and the dinner was $100.  But your entertainment budget for the month was $30. So what do we do now? Well, the temptation now is to reduce your contribution to the church for the month because the church, after all, has lots of other people that can pay. No easy way, but there is a way So, how can we deal with these kinds of blown budgets?   Discipline.  One word only. Discipline. There is no easy way to deal with this temptation.  Once again, let me urge you to pray.  In John 15 Jesus encourages his disciples to bear good fruit and He also says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (verse 7).  You see! Jesus clearly says it.  Of course we need to keep this in its context. Jesus is saying this in light of His other comments regarding the bearing of much fruit.  I take this to mean that there is a relationship between what we are to ask for and bearing fruit. So, pray that God will help you in your struggle with covetousness.  Or ask God to grant you His peace and satisfaction so that you are truly at peace with what He gives you and you don’t just use that Visa credit card that makes it so easy to grab “stuff” that God has not granted you. Looking at the grocery budget But let’s move on, because there may be other ways we can help you with your budget. Let’s take a hard look at your grocery budget. Do you really think $800 per month is what it takes to provide a family of five, two parents and three children, with all that is needed? Perhaps we can find a way to do this for $500. This is not always the most fun part of running a household but perhaps you can make it a little more enjoyable. First, it’s vitally important that you plan a menu for every day of the week. If you know that Monday you are going to have chicken and rice and a vegetable for dinner, then the two weeks before you can keep an eye on the flyers and purchase that chicken when it is on sale at one of the grocery stores.  If you put together a planned menu for the entire month, you have a great weapon that you can use in your battle with the budget.  If pork comes on sale this week and you know that there is pork planned for next Thursday’s dinner, buy it now when it is on sale, and freeze it. Or if your family regularly has oatmeal for breakfast, (I know, oatmeal is old school, but it’s healthy and it’s cheap) then find a store that sells oatmeal in bulk - leave the individual packages on the shelf and buy it in bulk. You will easily save 20 per cent. As I said earlier, grocery shopping is not always the most fun, but what you can also try is to band together with one or two of your friends. I know, for example, that here in Alberta one of the grocery outlets will give you a $25 gift card when you buy $250 dollars of groceries.  So join forces. Go to the store with two or three of you. Make sure you all have a list - impulse buying is dynamite on grocery budgets (it blows them up!). When you go through the check-out, ask the cashier to sub-total at each person’s purchases. That saves you the hassle of having to total it up at home.  And then share the gift card on your next trip. Try to purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season (when possible).  In the summer and fall, find a farmer’s market and buy some extra beans and carrots and freeze them. Don’t improvise In my experience though, it is not the grocery dollars that destroy a budget; it is the impulse buying. It is the idea that I must have a new 40 or 50-inch television, even if that means it goes on a credit card. Or, it is the new stereo for the car or the new cellphone with all the latest technical stuff. Or even just the cellphone plan that we just have to have - the one with unlimited texting! - or the cable plan that has all those sports channels. or the new chesterfield and chair that we just have to have. The unexpected expenditure Some other things that can blow a budget are things like a hot water heater that bursts, or a furnace or a refrigerator that packs it in. Now these truly are valid items that need to be dealt with. But once again, a few tips may be beneficial. Check out the nearest used furniture and appliance outlet or go through the local free “buy and sell” magazine. You may be surprised at how often you can find a very good used furnace or a refrigerator (I have a used hot water heater stored away just in case).  The wealthy in your town or city often will be replacing perfectly good mid-efficiency furnaces for a high-efficiency furnace and often you can buy their used one for as little as $200. Insurance There are some other areas in which we can save money as well.  One of the areas I often look at with my clients is the cost of all their insurance.  Call to a few other brokers and see if the premium you are paying to insure your home really is the best premium available. If you are not in BC or Manitoba, check the rate on your car insurance as well. Another high cost is the cost that many young people pay for life insurance.  The life insurance industry will go to quite some lengths to show you why you need a million dollars of life insurance and a further $200,000 critical illness policy.  But I would suggest that you look at that more carefully.  Also look at the type of life insurance that you have.  Ask the insurance salesman why he might be recommending whole life or universal life insurance when a 20-year-term policy at less than half the price may be all you really need. You won’t live like your parents Another mistake we often make is we compare what we have to what we had when we were still living with our parents.  But remember, our parents have been working for 20 plus years and are often at the top of their pay scale while we are starting at the bottom of the pay scale.  Once again, at risk of sounding repetitious, be satisfied with what God grants you. Greed and covetousness are sins that are spoken of in many places in God’s Word and these are sins that we need to fight against daily. So, if we go back to our initial statement, “I blew the budget,” don’t despair. Ask God to bless your attempt to start the process again. And do not be afraid to start a third or a fourth or even a tenth time.  Living within a budget is a tough thing to do and it does require some determination.  But when it works it works well....

Economics - Home Finances

Do we need to tell our mortgage banker about our school payments?

BEING CHRISTIAN AT THE BANK A reader recently sent in an interesting and somewhat difficult question about home purchases, school fees and tithes. Now most people in Canada don’t pay school fees, and don’t tithe to their church so the question I was asked was how these “obligations” might impact the affordability of a home and whether we, as Christians, have a duty to tell the banker about these “obligations” when we apply for a mortgage. Just to be sure that we all understand the question, let me rephrase it with a more concrete example. Joe and Mary Joe and Mary have 4 children, one of whom is beginning school in September. Joe earns $4,700 per month. Joe and Mary have been renting a duplex or what is also known as a side by side. They have managed to save $40,000 for a down payment for a home purchase and have found a house that they would like to buy. It is an older home but one that has been well maintained and appears to be well built.  The house is for sale for $260,000. They have offered $240,000 and their conditional offer has been accepted. Now they will need to qualify for a $200,000 mortgage. Joe has done some research and knows that the banker will want to know what his total monthly debt payments are, or what could be called his “obligatory payments” and the banker will also want to know what the monthly costs to run his home will be. And of course he needs to be within the banks ratio in these two areas. Debt service ratios Now what are these bank ratios? There are two, known as the GDSR and the TDSR. The Gross Debt Service Ratio (GDSR) is the percentage of gross annual income required to cover payments associated with housing (mortgage principal and interest, taxes, secondary financing, heating, and 50 per cent of condominium fees, if any). The GDSR should not exceed 32 per cent of gross annual income. The Total Debt Service Ratio (TDSR) is the percentage of gross annual income required to cover payments associated with housing and all other debts and obligations, such as payments on a car loan. The TDSR should not exceed 40 per cent of gross income.   So the important thing for us to remember is that the TDSR must be less then 40 per cent and the GDSR must be less then 32 per cent. If either of these two conditions is not met then Joe and Mary do not qualify for the $200,000 mortgage they require in order for them to be able to buy the home they have found. So let’s crunch some numbers and see what sort of situation our couple is facing. Joe earns $4,700. A $200,000 mortgage requires a payment of $1,190 per month (at 5.25% amortized over 25 years). The property taxes on the home they would like to buy worked out to $150 a month. The average heating bill was $150 per month.  So $1,190 plus $150 plus $150 equals $1,490 for housing costs. His monthly housing costs of $1,490 divided by his income of $4,700 gives us a GDSR ratio of 31 per cent. So, he qualifies here. The TDSR is a different matter. According to the banks guidelines he needs to include all debts and obligations in his calculations including any car loans. Joe and Mary do not have a car loan. But we should add the church and the school into this total, right?  Church and school add an additional $870 per month to the total.  So $1,490 plus $870 equals $2,360. $2,360 divided by $4,700 is 50 per cent. Now here is where things become interesting.  His application as it stands now will be rejected. However, does the banker consider the donation to church as an obligation or just a desire or a hope? What is our responsibility here? If we do not include the $470 to church the total becomes $1,490 plus $400 or $1,840. Divide that by $4,700 and the ratio becomes 39 per cent. Now we qualify. What should we do? The ethics of this question are one part of the equation. The other is, can Joe and Mary make ends meet if they were to qualify? If the banker grants the mortgage because he does not consider the donation to the church as anything more than a hope or a wish, where might this leave Joe and Mary? First the ethics. We might be tempted to hide the truth of the situation. Maybe we neglect to tell the banker that we consider the contribution to church as an obligation. I think we can all readily see and agree that this would put us outside of the Ninth Commandment. That's the one that deals with bearing false witness. So it should be obvious that we would tell the banker about the obligation to church. If the banker grants the mortgage anyway because he considers the payment to the church as a donation that has no legal obligation tied to it, what should Joe and Mary do? Bankers have years of experience that suggest that when the TDSR is more than 40 per cent homeowners often get into financial difficulty. So maybe Joe and Mary should decline the mortgage and save for a few more years so that they have a bigger down payment. Now before we go into all the argumentation about rising house prices, the effects of inflation and the fact that I may be asking the impossible here, let’s just go back to a few other principles that we have learned.  In an earlier article (“Budgeting Basics: Everyone needs to budget” July/August 2009) I tried to make the case that we all should have a budget. We should not just have a budget but we should run our household within that budget. So, if Joe and Mary have been living within their budget and their budget has allowed them to save the $40,000 they needed for the down-payment, then I am sure that their budget (and the records they have kept which illustrate that they actually live within the budget) can easily be used to satisfy even the most conservative banker that they can make all their obligatory payments, because Joe and Mary also have learned to live prudently and economically.  Mary is an avid “coupon collector.” She is known as the queen of collectors at the grocery store.  She also has learned to dress her children very well, even though they are not always wearing the “name brand” items.  Joe and Mary do not have cable television and they do not have a cell-phone either.  They manage with one car. They enjoy reading and the entire family makes excellent use of the local library. The only two pieces of reading material that come into their home at a cost are the Clarion and the Reformed Perspective.  Both Joe and Mary have the reputation of being hard workers and also of always being aware of the specials on anything they might need to be buying. So, I would conclude by saying that yes, we must honestly tell the banker about our obligations, also our obligations to the LORD, and we should also have lived prudently, within our budget, maintain good records of our prudent living and then trust that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and He will continue to maintain His promises to His covenant children....