Ask The Readers: How Does Your Annual Spending Compare?

I figure a lot of folks are doing their taxes these days, so it might be a good time to ask a budget and spending question. I’m curious as to how your annual spending compares to the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Here are the 2008 stats, find the number of people in your family and look at the column on the right.

2008 HHS Poverty Guidelines

in Family or Household
48 Contiguous
States and D.C.
Alaska Hawaii
1 $10,400 $13,000 $11,960
2 14,000 17,500 16,100
3 17,600 22,000 20,240
4 21,200 26,500 24,380
5 24,800 31,000 28,520
6 28,400 35,500 32,660
7 32,000 40,000 36,800
8 35,600 44,500 40,940
For each additional
person, add
3,600 4,500 4,140

I don’t know how many of you keep close track of your monthly spending, have a monthly budget or anything like that, but if you do, follow the steps below and fill out the survey questions.

  1. Find the Poverty line for your household size on the chart.
  2. Take your monthly or annual budget.
  3. Subtract from your monthly or annual budget any school loans.
  4. If you have a mortgage, subtract the Principal and Interest portion, and only include the taxes and home insurance. (Anything you’d continue to pay even after you no longer had a mortgage and completely owned the home).
  5. No compare your budget and the Poverty Guideline.

How do they compare? Fill out your answer in the survey below (it’s anonymous).

I know, kind of a bizarre question. I’ve posted on this topic before, but I’m working on some more financial related posts/articles and wanted to do a quick reader survey. Thanks for humoring me. Definitely post comments if you have any on the topic.

YouTubesday: Rare Repentance

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I was going to skip Youtubesday this week, trying to slim down the number of weekly posts, but I didn’t want to pass this up. Just one video today, and it’s a interview format so you might not get the fullness of the story. Here’s a brief write up about it. It’s sad that these stories are so rare, but we should cherish the ones we are able to share in.

Rare Repentance (ht)

“Least of these” ≠ “Unsaved”

(This is the first in a series of posts I’m considering for publication. Please take a minute to read the post and if your willing, leave a comment or use the stars at the bottom right of the article to give it a rating, your input will be extremely helpful. Thank You)

There is a dangerous and common misconception that is used in the church today. We use religious language and Biblical reference, but we do it in a way that gives us a dangerously inaccurate picture of the people we interact with.

We use the language of “Least of these” a lot in the church, especially when we are talking about “ministry” and “service.” This is not bad wording as it’s the language Jesus used when he told the Sheep in a parable why they were allowed to enter into His kingdom:
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Primarily we say the “Least of these” when refer to people in need, whether that be the homeless, poor, low-income, etc. This seems like a good interpretation since Jesus himself describes the least of these as people with real physical needs: Hungry, Thirsty, Needing clothing, Sick, in Prison.
The desire in the church to care for the “least of these” is an extremely important and worthwhile use of our time. In fact that passage appears to be the longest and most direct words of Jesus about Heaven and Hell. As a church that is frequently discussing the after-life this should be a priority.

The misconception and the wayward understanding too often heard in the church is an equating of the “Least of these” as “unsaved.” No where in the Matthew 25-where our language of the “least of these” comes from- is there any mention or inference that the people whom the sheep provided for where somehow “unsaved.” If anything Jesus says they are “brothers of mine,” implying they are part of the kingdom if they are anything.

Yet, in our churches today we talk about “ministries” and we tie so closely the idea of providing for folks physical needs with that of “saving people.” We create this idea that when you go to the soup kitchen you need to “tell people about Jesus,” as if they are unsaved, unchurched, and in need of your gospel. To be clear, there are a lot of people who do not know the love of Jesus, but there are just as many in the church pews and suburbs around you as there are in the homeless shelters and housing projects. Just because someone can’t make ends meet to put a roof over their head does not mean they some how do not know God or haven’t experienced the Holy Spirit.

We, the church, need to stop treating the “least of these” as “unsaved” and start treating them like the sister’s and brother’s in Christ that many are. Even more, we should be treating them as the Kings and Queens that they are, since according to Jesus, “Their’s is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Conclusion: Don’t stop the soup kitchen and homeless shelters, Christians need to continue providing for our sibling. If anything we probably need to step it up a couple notches since the most tangible way you can interact with Jesus nowadays is not in a church service or a song, it’s feeding him and clothing him (”When I was hungry you gave me something to eat.”). Yet, we need to stop coupling our service with our evangelism. We need to step off our high horse in service opportunities and recognize that many of those we help have deep and intimate relationships with Jesus and there is a great deal we can learn from them. Quite frankly, maybe we are the ones that need “saving.”

Ask The Readers: How Do You Diffuse a Tense Situation?

10675300_aa37cabd63I’ve really been enjoying the dialog in the comment section lately. It’s so cool when someone comes across an old post and adds a thought, and then suddenly others who had previously added their thoughts join in. It reminds me of one of the reason I enjoy writing my thoughts on this blog, it’s the great thoughts and input I receive from you in the comments. That said, I figure it’d be worth starting a little series dedicated to just that, the discussion. And fortunately, it’ll get some questions that have been nagging at me answered (and provide me some needed help).

Today, I’m wondering what you do to diffuse a tense situation. There’s all kinds of tense situations we run into, political or religious tensions with acquantinces, butting heads with a co-worker, dealing with a toddler, resolving conflict with your spouse. I’m wondering how you deal with it, in one or all of those areas. Any stellar, yet rare, advice on how to diffuse tension?

We had a creative idea once for diffusing marital conflict, but neither of us has been very good at inacting it. We decided that if any conversation or argument started escalating, either one of us should break into the Chicken Dance. The other had to join in. How could you possibly be mad after doing an impromptu chicken dance with your spouse?! (patent pending)

How Do You Diffuse a Tense Situation?

Same Great Blog, New Location:

Trying To Follow Now at

(update: If your subscribed via RSS or email, no changes are necessary!)

Well folks, it was finally time to move Trying To Follow the blog to it’s rightful location at You probably got here by typing in the old url, but if you don’t mind taking a minute and bookmarking this new URL, it would be much obliged.

There’s a few obvious reasons for the switch to

  • It’s easier to remember
  • It’s shorter
  • I’m now more ashamed then I once was

Mainly, I intended to switch the url several years ago, but I had mistakenly locked it into the black hole that is Microsoft Office Live. Turns out it was easier to release then I thought (now that someone created a simple tutorial). But at the time I just couldn’t figure it out and Microsoft was of no help at all.

The old url will stay active for the next year, and the urls should all properly redirect to the correct page, but let’s stay fresh people. If you currently have my site hyperlinked on your blogroll or elsewhere, I’d love if you take a minute to change the URL when you have a chance. And if you haven’t added Trying To Follow yet, why don’t you consider it now?

Alright, sorry for the random housekeeping post. I’ll keep it short so you have the extra time to change your links, bookmarks and blogrolls. Go, do it now!

A Rant: Problems With Prayer

PrayerThis is going to be a thoughtless rant of sorts, so before I launch into it let me preface things first. I used to really enjoy my own personal prayer time (during high school), but in the past several years have had difficulty praying for any sustained amount of time on my own. But, that’s not what this is about. For a while, after that, I found it encouraging to pray in groups. This is not a rant against prayer itself; many from all different faith systems find prayer to be a very important and powerful act in their lives, I in no way want to diminish or belittle that.  But, blame it on my cynicism, or my wrestling with Jesus’ words, but there are some things about the way we choose (“we” because I’ve been guilty of it too) to pray that just annoys me sometimes. I wonder if it’s just my own preference, or if it’s a proper rebuke in line with Jesus’ on the Pharisees*, you’ll have to be the judge of that.

Set-Change Prayers

These are the times where the pastor or music leader asks you to bow your head in prayer while the band gets on or off the stage. If you were at a play or musical they would just fade the lights and make their transition. We like to spiritualize it. The worst is when the pastor is finishing his sermon, we bow to pray, and then toward the end of the prayer, magically, music starts to play. It’s definitely a top notch transition, but I find using prayer for this type of thing seems to diminish it.
A side rant on this is the fact that parents so often insist that their kids be still and silent during prayer times, and yet here we are watching grown adults use prayer time as their cue to get in place.

Performance Prayer

What this looks like is pretty varied, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Think of anytime you’ve been in a group with your eyes closed but then you look up and peek just to take a look at the person praying. This doesn’t have to be breaking out into song or speaking in tongues necessarily (nor am I saying those things are only a performance), but it is usually some for of performance that gives you the strange feeling they are doing this more for your entertainment then for God’s listening ear.

Lecture Prayer

This is similar to Performance Prayer (maybe a sub-category), but in the form of a lecture or lesson. This is probably the most annoying type of prayer to me and yet one that happens frequently.  Pastors do this a lot, using the prayer before or after their sermon to add to the lesson they’re giving. And we seem to do it a lot in large group settings.  I’d liken it to a student in a classroom, raising their hand to speak with the professor, standing up and, rather then dialogging with the professor, launching into their own speech to their fellow students. It’s not that giving examples or illustrations to others is bad, but when we do it as a “prayer” it diminishes the point of prayer completely. If prayer is supposed to be a conversation with God, then conversations or lectures directed toward others should be left out of it.

The “I’ll pray for you” Prayer

This one actually isn’t a prayer at all. It’s an excuse to not action or it’s simply used as a Christian cliche or facade (something we are supposed to say). This isn’t a new thing, James rebuked this in the Early Church. It’s an oft repeated phrase when church groups go to the soup kitchen or on missions trips, when tangible help is not outside of our means, but outside of our willingness to respond. In the church, it’s fallen to the same sort of apathy, a cliche line we tag on the end of a conversation or a concern someone shares. It lacks relevance and, to me, seems to be one of the areas the church claims divine involvement, but I see very little tangible evidence.

I could be wrong about all this, “I’ll pray about it” and let you know. 😉

[photo credit]

When Personal Life Gets Crazy

As the readership of Trying to Follow has grown, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to figure out the balance or line between what I share here and information I find more personal. I think this is an ongoing struggle of our generation, and all those individuals who are embracing new technologies like blogging, texting, twitter, and more. We want an audience, but when what you write is in the public domain, and a large part of your audience is unknown, it can be difficult to know how or what to keep out of the conversation.

All that to say, I might be taking a temporary break from substantive posting. For that I do apologize. If anyone is interested in writing a guest post let me know.

We are going through some very exciting changes in my family, just not sure how to blog about it. Personal email material maybe…

So, to keep you from disappointment I leave you with this:

Estimate completion date: 2010


YouTubesday: Lost Generation, Don’t Divorce Us, Human Rescue Plan, One Question

(If You are reading this post via email the videos will not show up. If any of the titles are interesting to you please visit the site and view them here, just click on the link above)

Lost Generation (hat tip)

“Don’t Divorce Us.” ht and ht

Human Rescue Plan/Sean Penn (ht)

Fifty People, One Question: London (ht)

Fifty People, One Question: London from Fifty People, One Question on Vimeo.

Economy Straight Talk

So, the economy stuff has been on my mind lately. Both the big picture of the effect on our nation, and the local picture as it affects our community, neighbors, family, friends, and us. Often though, what I think about is the church.

I realize I often cast pretty radical and extreme visions for what I think the church and/or ‘Christians’ lives should look like. I’ll be the first to claim hypocrisy in my inability to carry it out at times as well. But, I can’t help but look at the current state of our country and feel like we as a faith community have again missed an extreme opportunity to be a radical “set apart” community that the world couldn’t help but recognize.  Instead, our churches are facing the same economic slump as everyone else. For all our “Christian” financial planning and preaching, we, on a whole, have been living beyond our means and far beyond our basic needs, just like everyone else.

I also find it ironic when Christians choose to speak about on the political front. I received no emails of concern or outrage when the government threw together a 1 Trillion dollar bailout in October, but now I’m getting emails left and right. I see two possibilities: 1) after seeing the first ones dollars disappear in thin air we are a bit more skeptical, or 2) it has something to do with the political party of the current administration. Who knows, I just find it ironic when we choose to jump into the political ring. On that related note, I was extremely convicted when I came across my xanga post after the 2004 election (sorry, you’ll have to dig up the link yourself), let’s just say I was as shocked as some of my conservative friends in ’08.

Seeing and hearing about people around me lossing jobs, others being let go, foreclosures and the rest, I can’t help but wonder what is the churches response. Or, what is my response? We are pretty secure in our job and home position, so how do I live out my faith and convictions in these times? What role do I play? I think I have the same tendency as everyone to start stockpiling for safety and thinking only about me and mine. But, I think our faith challenges us to live differently, but I’m not sure myself what that looks like.

Any Ideas?