3543– Monday, August 19, 2019 — Muhammad and the Christian Money Lender

koran

My name is Muhammad.  I was born in 570 CE.  My father died the year before I was born.  My mother died when I was only six years old.  I was raised by a succession of family members until I was in my teens.  I was then sent to live with my uncle Abu Talib.  My uncle was a merchant and it was hoped that I could learn a commercial trade from him.   We traveled far and wide over many of the trading routes between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.  When I was eighteen, I decided that I had learned enough from my uncle and that it was time to go out on my own.  This story is about how I became an independent trader.

arabic rugs

It was a beautiful sunny morning in early March.  I had decided to walk to the market place in Jeddah near where I was staying to see what wares and goods were for sale.  It had become my intention to buy and sell rugs.  I loved the beauty and craftsmanship that went into an Arabian rug.  I could always feel proud that these were my products and that I was making the world a more beautiful place by sharing these fine Arabian rugs with others.  I never lied to my clients and I never made false or exaggerated claims to any people.  I was given the nickname “al-Amin” meaning faithful or trustworthy.

I was walking around the market place perusing the various wares of the other merchants.  In one of the alley ways I noticed a booth with a sign that read: “المال للإقراض “ or “Money for Lending.”  Suddenly, I had an idea.  If I could borrow some money, I could afford to buy a few more rugs.  Typically, I was short of money to buy enough rugs for a trip.  It would be much more worthwhile going on a caravan with enough rugs for my potential buyers.

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I walked up to the booth and greeted the merchant.  “Ahlan wa Sahlan”, I said.   He replied: “Ahlan wa Sahlan, my name is Musa.  I am a Christian money lender and I am happy to make your acquaintance.  How can I help you?”

I thought about his question for a brief second.  “I would like to borrow some money to help finance my rug business.  I can only afford a few rugs now but if I had more money, I could buy some extra rugs.”

The money lender looked at me very carefully and then answered: “It will take two things before I can give you some money.  The first is the collateral for the money that you need.”

“I am not familiar with the term collateral Sir,” I responded. “What is collateral?”

“Well, it is something that you give me so that if you fail to pay me back the money that I lend you, I will be able to sell your collateral and recover my money.  It might be some jewelry or gold or rugs that you will provide me to keep until you repay me.”

“Mr. Musa, I do not have any collateral that I can give you.  I only have my good name.  I am known far and wide as an honest merchant who never cheats anyone.  I always ask a fair price for my goods.  People call me ‘al Amin’ because I always pay my debts and I am very trustworthy.”

“Hmm” said Mr. Musa.  “I guess I can ignore the first requirement for my money since you have such a good honest reputation.  Now all we need to agree on is the interest that you will pay me for the loan.  Would you agree to pay me back at five percent per month of the total amount that I lend you?

“Mr. Musa, I do not understand this interest. What is the interest for?”

“It is my profit or commission for helping you with my money.”

“Sir, did you not say that you are a Christian and are not Christians followers of Jesus Christ?”

“Yes, young man, I am a Christian and I am a believer in Jesus.  But what does Jesus have to do with us doing business.”

“Well sir, I thought Jesus taught his followers to help the poor and needy.  Did he not say, ‘Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back?’ Then why Mr. Musa would you want to take money from me for helping me?”

“Young man, you do not understand the ways of the world.  Many things are spoken by the prophets, but one does not always live by their words.  In a perfect world, I suppose one could follow the path trod by Jesus, but Jesus did not live in our times.  If you do not feel that my terms are fair, then you do not have to borrow my money.  Truth be told, there are not many other money lenders in this bazaar who will lend you money at any better rates.”

“Mr. Musa, I am very disappointed in the Christianity that you profess.  I think that this idea of interest is very unneighborly and even seems to me to be greedy.  I think a religion should not allow such greed to exist.  If I were establishing a religion, I would make it a sin to charge interest to help others.”

“O ye who believe! Devour not usury, doubling and quadrupling (the sum lent). Observe your duty to Allah, that ye may be successful.”  — Qur’an (3:130

Muhammad went on his way and left the merchant looking puzzled and scratching his head.  “There goes a man who will never amount to anything” thought Mr. Musa.

“The invention of money opened a new field to human avarice by giving rise to usury and the practice of lending money at interest while the owner passes a life of idleness.” — Pliny the Elder

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” — Mark 10-25

 

3547– Thursday, August 15, 2019 — Buddha and the Duck   

buddha

My name is Siddhartha Gautama.  I was born into a rich family.  I was living a life of privilege with servants and maids to cater to my every whim.  I had no need to work to earn money since we had more gold than we knew what to do with.  My days were full of eating, drinking, playing and indulging my whims.  As I grew older, I could see that my life was going nowhere.  It had no meaning or purpose beyond my daily pleasures.  I soon decided that I must leave home to find out what life was really about.  I left home when I turned twenty.  My goal was to find the true meaning and purpose of my life.

It was a sweltering day in July, and I was trudging down yet another long dusty road somewhere between China and India.  I had been walking unnamed roads for many months now.  The only meaning I was finding was the dust and sweat covering my skin from my exertions on these unpaved rural roads.  I was getting more and more depressed as my journey now seemed fruitless.  I was about to conclude that life was hopeless and that I would never find my meaning or purpose.

As I came over a rise in the road, I saw a duck waddling across the road.  I called out in jest “Hey, Mr. Duck why are you crossing the road?”  I started to laugh when all of a sudden, I thought I heard the duck say, “Why do you think stupid?”  Clearly taken aback, I looked around to see where the voice had come from.  “What are you looking for dummy?”  This time I was sure that the duck was talking, and it was looking directly at me.  I began to think that the summer sun was addling my brain.  I spoke “Ducks cannot talk.  You are an illusion.”  “Well, now” said the duck, “another human who thinks they know everything.”

duck on road

“Okay, just supposing that you really are able to talk, why are you talking to me.”  “Well, you asked me your dumb question, so I thought that I would reply to you.  Most of the time, it is not worth bothering talking to humans since their only thoughts are about sex, food, drink and money.”

“I am not like everyone else.  I am traveling in search of the meaning and purpose of life and particularly my own life.  I do not care about sex, food, drink or money.”

“Ha” said the duck.  “You think that you are so special that you have a meaning or purpose ordained by the gods for your existence.”

“Well, you raise an interesting point Mr. Duck.  I simply assumed that we all had a purpose for existence.”

“You humans are always assuming things.  You think that the world and everything in it are made for your purposes.  You believe that you are the center of the universe and everything revolves around you.”

“I think instead of crossing this road, I will also journey down the road and look for the meaning and purpose of my life” said the duck with a funny cackling laugh.

“You are making fun of me” I replied.

“Why is it funny to think of ducks looking for the purpose and meaning of their lives?  Should it be any funnier than humans looking for the purpose and meaning of their lives?”

“You humans are all the same.  You think that you are so important.”

“But what,” I replied, “If there is no purpose or meaning to anyone’s life?”

“Maybe, there would be no worry, no power trips, no greed, no lust, no hate, no war” replied the duck.

“Are you saying that the problems humans have come from a search for meaning and purpose?”

“I am not saying anything.  I am only walking to the other side of the road.  I will be on my way again.  I hope you have a good day.”

“Good day to you as well Mr. Duck.”

The duck continued on his way across the road and through the brush until he was no longer visible to me.  His last question had left me in a quandary.  What if all of my discomfort and unhappiness came because I was searching for meaning and purpose?  What if these were truly irrelevant concepts to the universe?  What if I stopped this search and could simply BE as the duck was?  Eat when I was hungry.  Sleep when I was tired.  Walk when I felt like it.  What would a life without purpose and meaning be like?

Free the mind from disturbances.  Get rid of entanglements.  To simply be.

“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.” — Buddha

“Life has no meaning.  Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life.  It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”  — Joseph Campbell

 

 

 

 

 

 

3551– Sunday, August 11, 2019 — Win- Lose or Can Win-Win Save Us?

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Here is a question for you.  It deals with the following hypothetical situation.

You are at a garage sale.  You do not know the seller.  You spot a vase that he/she has marked for sale. The price is $5 US dollars.  However, you suddenly realize that it is an ancient antique Chinese vase and you know that it is worth at least $50,000 US dollars.  What do you do?

  1. Buy the vase for $5 dollars and sell it for as much as you can.
  2. Tell the buyer that the vase is worth at least $50,000 dollars.

I have asked many people this question.   A good friend of mine says he would tell the seller.  He maintains that honesty and not taking advantage of people is the right thing to do.  Another gentleman, whom I met at my three-day Jesuit retreat this year, proudly told me that it is a case of Caveat Emptor.  He would buy the vase for five dollars and sell it for at least $50,000 dollars.  Just as an aside, my friend who would tell the seller the value of the vase drives a used pick-up truck which he bought for under $10,000 dollars.  I noticed my acquaintance at the retreat drove off after the retreat in a $75,000-dollar Porsche Cayenne.  Not sure what to make of this contrast but it is interesting.

Many people have taken one side or the other on this issue.  I was running the other day and suddenly I thought “I would buy it for $5 dollars, sell it for $50,000 dollars and then split the $50,000 dollars with the original seller.”  The original seller would be happy, and I would be happy.  I realized that with a little thought, I had come up with a win-win and not a win-lose situation.  I wondered why I had not thought about this solution at first.  No one I had described the situation to had thought about it either.   It made me reflect about a number of battles that I have seen over the years while living in the Wisconsin North Woods.  These “battles” have often become quite acrimonious with a great deal of animosity and bitterness between the combatants.

  1. The battle between Indians and locals over fishing rights.
  2. The battle between snowmobilers and cross-country skiers.
  3. The battle between power boaters and canoers.
  4. The battle between bicyclists and ATV riders.

The most recent battle up here in Northern Wisconsin is over CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Food Operations) versus small family farms.

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In each case, the situation plays out as follows.  1st. We have the hostility between the two groups or sides over some interests or goals.  2nd. We have a town council meeting called to help ameliorate the conflict.  3rd. Each side gets to air their grievances or make their claims for their group at the council meeting.  4th.  The town council comes up with a solution that a:) neither side is happy with or b:) one side wins and the other side loses.  Seldom if ever is there a recourse to a win-win scenario.

Now my ex-wife once explained to me before our divorce that there is not always a win-win solution.  I concede that is the case.  However, I will also argue that all too often we do not sit down with the other side and look for a win-win solution.

Further hampering the problem, is that these issues often become political.  The Governor, Mayor or some other political authority will convene a committee to study the issue.  The committee will seldom be knowledgeable experts or authorities, but instead will consist of a group of people with political influence or with a vested interest in a particular outcome (usually having to do with financial interests.”

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A case in point is the recent committee that was convened by the Governor of Arizona to come up with a DCP (Drought Contingency Plan).  After twenty years of ignoring the water problem in Arizona, the Governor was forced by the Federal Government to come up with a written plan to better manage the dwindling water supply in Arizona.  Arizona’s Governor appointed thirty-eight members to the steering committee.  It was billed as a “bipartisan” committee of citizens with a broad range of perspectives on the water issue in Arizona.  The committee was divided into the following groups:

  • Municipal leaders from cities and public works groups (8 members)
  • Agricultural interests (6 members)
  • Home Builders/Development (5 members)
  • Tribes (3 members)
  • Industrial (1 member)
  • NGO (1 member)
  • Miscellaneous (3 members)
  • Legislative Leadership (4 members)
  • Central Arizona Project Board Champions (2 members)
  • Governor’s Office (2 members)
  • United States Bureau of Reclamation (1 member)

Two co-leaders were selected to run the steering committee.

If you look at the backgrounds of the committee members, you will find mostly managers, lawyers and career politicians.  There is a scattering of individuals with some background in conservation, but they are a small minority.  Fifteen of the committee members are politicians.  What you will not find in any noticeable numbers are biologists, conservationists, environmentalists or ecologists.  The very experts that one would think would be more important to solving a water crisis than for instance five real estate developers.  Speaking of real estate development, after the committee finalized their plan, the Pinal Council for Economic Development stated: “There is no reason to stop economic development in Arizona.  We have plenty of water.”

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Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr said that the plan, far from being groundbreaking, represents another run at “business as usual” for the state.  As the Arizona version of the drought plan is now written, she says it’s propping up what she sees as unsustainable growth and unsustainable farming practices.  Many critics have noted that the plan has little or no conservation component.  It is a plan to subsidize more water drilling in the aquifer.

My contention is that we need win-win solutions.  We cannot ignore economic development, but neither can we ignore our environment.  We cannot sacrifice the future for the present or vice versa, sacrifice the present for the future.  However, the solution to many of our problems requires a win-win format that is not governed by money and political interests.  If our country keeps allowing the politicians and lawyers to make the rules, we are surely headed down the path of oblivion.  There is an anti-intellectualism and anti-science bias in this country which I believe is gradually destroying our ability to make decisions based on science and facts.

“The citizen cannot cease to need or to be at the mercy of experts, but he can achieve a kind of revenge by ridiculing the wild-eyed professor, the irresponsible brain truster, or the mad scientist, and by applauding the politicians as they pursue the subversive teacher, the suspect scientist, or the allegedly treacherous foreign-policy adviser.”  — Richard Hofstadter

 

3559– Saturday, August 3, 2019 – Jesus:  An Untold Story

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My name is Jesus.  The story I am about to tell you is true.  It happened to me one sunny day in June.  I had risen early that morning and my apostles were either out with their fishing or others were still in their beds.  I had been notified the day before that a friend of my grandmother’s was ill and most likely dying.  I decided to visit her and see if there was anything that I could do to ease her suffering.  She was an elderly woman and I doubted whether I could help her very much, but I thought I would at least try.  Her name was Ketziah.  She was named after one of Job’s daughters who was a distant relative.  I had not seen her since I was a little boy.  I remember her as a fun loving and very happy woman.

My journey started out in Nazareth.  Ketziah lived in Cana, a journey of about 10 km.  Walking, slowly, I thought it would take me about 2 hours to arrive there.   I left early to avoid the daytime heat which in June can reach 95 degrees or more.  The road to Cana passes through flat agricultural land and pasture lands.  Dotted with a few olive groves and many flocks of sheep, I was enjoying a quiet reprieve from the usual chatter with my apostles and particularly the throngs that often gathered around me when I preached.

I started to pass through a small rocky outcrop when suddenly a rough bearded man jumped out from behind a large boulder.  “Stop” he yelled.  I greeted him with the traditional greeting of “Shalom.” I asked him what he wanted and how I could be of any help to him.  He replied, “Your money or your life.”  I answered, “I am very sorry stranger, but I have very little money to give you.  I have less than a quarter shekel and I need that to buy lotion for a dying woman.”

“I don’t care about the dead, only the living.  And since I am living, I want whatever money you have, or you will surely forfeit your life today.  If you die, it will be senseless, since I will get your money anyway.”

barabbas

I stared at the stranger and suddenly I could see the future.  Our lives were intertwined in ways that I would never have imagined.  I spoke “Stranger, I have the gift of seeing the future.  Some people say that I am a prophet and that when I call upon my Father, he can make things happen.”  I see that you and I will have business together in the future.”

“I do not care about the future or the past, I only care about today.  And today, you are here with some money and I am here with some hunger for food.  I am beginning to tire of this conversation.  You had best decide shortly which is more valuable to you, your money or your life.”

“Stranger, my life is forfeit anyway, for so it has been prophesized.  But your life is hanging in the balance.  If you kill me today.  You will surely lead a short life.  If you let me pass, you will live to an old age, albeit your life will never be a happy one.”

“Friend, you make me laugh.  Are you saying that if I kill you, you will somehow find a way to kill me?”

“No, I am saying that our fortunes are intertwined, and that I will someday give up my life for yours.  If you kill me today, it will never happen, and you will die sooner than you would like.  Your death will be very unpleasant.”

The bandit thought about this situation for several minutes.  What had at first appeared to be a rather risk-less endeavor had now turned into a situation with conceivably frightful consequences.  If this man could really see the future, his own death might depend on what he did at this present moment.  Were the few coins this goy had really worth the chance that killing him might bring his own death?

“I have thought about your words friend and I have decided it is too nice a day to kill you.  I will let you be on your way.  Just remember to be grateful to me for my kindness and offer whatever prayers you can for my long and healthy life.”

“Stranger, I assure you that today, you have saved your own life as well as mine.  We part now but we will meet again.   Please tell me your name before we go our own ways.”

Friend, everyone knows my name.  I am famous far and wide.  I am the spawn of the devil and the bane of rich people throughout the land.  I have taken more shekels from taxpayers and Pharisees and hypocrites than I can count.”

“I am the son of the father.  My name is Barabbas.”

 

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