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Posts Tagged ‘risk’

What Makes A Culture?

Can an individual have their own culture, or must the aspects be shared by a group?  How much can be absent or altered without losing (collective) culture or (personal) identity?

When I think of culture, one of the first things to come to mind is food.  When I get a chance to visit another country, I want to experience their food: the tang in the air, the flavors, the different ingredients.  I’m curious whether food is mostly served at home or at a restaurant?  If Asian markets are any hint, pre-packaged foods are popular in China.  But Asian cooking involves all sorts of raw ingredients I’ve never heard of here in the United States.  Here also we have one of our cultures that only eats either frozen foods or fast foods or snacks.  But aren’t there still places in the world where cooking from scratch is an art?  Some cultures encourage bonding over sharing food in various degrees from a family meal to a family-style where the food is served all in giant platters into which people dip their hands to hospitality.  On the other end of the spectrum is the more formal dining experience, at a restaurant, with plates individually prepared, courses served.  There are cultures more receptive to buffets (my grandparents from Kansas *loved* them), or short-order cooking.  There is something special that some cultures encourage about preparing food together.  Some places esteem cooks highly, while others relegate the cooking of food to the lowliest classes (or women or slaves).  In some cultures dessert is a special treat, for holidays maybe – while some have a dessert at least once a day!  Which cultures care about nutrition?  Which about presentation?  Which about exotic flavors and innovative dishes?  Which focus more on comfort food and cravings?  What are considered comfort foods in various cultures?

I’ve noticed that different cultures have different modes of posture.  Some use chairs, and some cushions.  Some have sofas, others benches.  There are places where squatting is more common than sitting “Indian-style”.  Related to this, I think, is hygiene: how often do the people bathe, and by what means?  What are their toilet facilities like – or do they use fields, dig holes?  How do the people view health, view disease?  How do they treat it?  Do they use prayers or rituals?  Exercises?  Medicines?  Drugs?  Herbal remedies and nutrition?  Oils?  Mineral baths?  Other practices like chiropractors would employ?  Do they gather the sick together in hospitals or tend them at home?  Are there doctors?  How much treatment is limited to professionals?  Do they believe in preemptive medical care like scans or vaccinations?  At what points do they choose not to treat a person any more?

How are drugs and alcohol viewed?  Sometimes there are whole cultures built around the common experience of these substances.

What do people wear in various cultures?  What are the conventions; that is, is it normal for anyone to wear pants?  Robes?  Hats?  Certain colors or fabrics?  What is the style?  How often do fashions change?  How are they changed?  Does appearance matter as a form of art or more a form of modesty?  Is clothing more about the aesthetic or the functional?  How is clothing used to demonstrate distinctions in gender, age, class, employment, marital status, etc.?  Do people alter their bodies for the sake of appearance: foot binding, neck stretching, piercings, tattoos?

It seems to me that different cultures hold different ideas about acceptable risks.  Is it acceptable to let a child play near a fire?  Jump off a log?  Play where he might encounter a snake?  Get into a fist-fight with another child?  This is not exclusive to children, though.  In some cultures taking risks is involved in a rite of passage.  Risks are joined in together, to form social bonds.  Other cultures are much more conservative and careful, I think.  What do people put on the other side of the scale when they’re weighing risks?  Are fun and excitement of any relevance to them?  Competition?  Appearance?  Or do they only consider practical things like preparing for invasions or hunting for food?

Art is such a huge sphere for culture that I don’t even know where to begin.  Cultures have their favorite mediums, subjects, colors, motives.  I can only suppose that certain fonts are the preferred writing of specific cultures, since the fonts on grocery stores appealing to diverse cultures are unique and identifiable even in the United States.  People groups have their own favorite sounds of music, their customary scales in which their music is played or sung.  Some have more instruments than others.  Dancing varies from culture to culture in complexity and energy and purpose.

There are other forms of entertainment that vary depending on the culture.  Even the predominance of entertainment can be a mark of a different culture.  Sports are observed as entertainment, or played for entertainment; in some cultures it seems to be one more than the other.  Some sports are preferred by certain cultures, probably by way of other aspects of their culture (energy, reserve, risk) and inheritance (what did their parents play or watch?).  The complexity of toys, items used for play and entertainment, is also different in foreign places.  Some toys focus more on athleticism, others on skill and focus, and others do most of the work for you, performing for your enjoyment.  Toys can be scientific or domestic – little representations of the working world.  On the other hand, they can be silly escapes from the real world.

Architecture is probably a form of art, too.  But I think it transcends art in that buildings often serve additional purposes.  So, is the architecture of a culture about efficiency? Beauty?  Community?  Symbolism?  Do they use materials found at hand, or manufactured, or transported to the building site?  How big are they – are they too big for one family to raise themselves?  Do people try to live in the same place their whole lives, or are they ambitious for bigger buildings?  Do they live in natural formations like caves?  Do they dig out holes in the ground?  Do they live in trees?  By rivers?  Do they dig wells or irrigation trenches?  Do they build dams?  And how much do all of these things influence other aspects of the culture, like family and friends and food and business?

An aspect of culture in my own country so glaring that I failed to recognize it at first is materialism.  How many things do people own?  Is it a status symbol to own more?  Is sharing encouraged?  Do people show love through gifts?  How do people feel about financial sacrifice?  Do they invest in material things or in businesses – or adventures?  Where do they keep their goods?  Are things owned by individuals or groups or everyone?  Is there a distinction between land as property and removable objects as property?

Cultures have their own stories.  “Own” is here used loosely, because I have found common threads of story in many different cultures.  There are fables about the origins of things, and love stories, and stories of wars and sacrifice.  Some stories even have comedies, the sense of humor varying from culture to culture (and individual to individual).  What is seen as a hero?  Is it the man who slays the most enemies?  The man who rules the most living men?  The man who sacrifices himself?  Different cultures have their different monsters.  They have their own dominant fears, just as they have different favorite virtues.

Values shape cultures.  It seems that in America the dominant culture values independence, and speaking our mind.  I’ve heard of cultures that value the good of the whole.  Some value honor, others hold preserving life as a higher value.  Some value youth, and others value the elders.

Religions are often associated with and intertwined in cultures.  Is there one sovereign God?  What is He/he like?  Are there many gods worshiped?  Are certain animals or plants revered?  How is worship carried out?  Through song?  Pilgrimage?  Sex?  Sacrifice?  Sacred words?  Eating?

Cultures have often established their own rituals to recognize significant events like birthdays, coming of age, marriage, and other accomplishments (like graduation).  They have special ways of holding funerals.  They bring their own unique takes on holidays.  What fun, to see images and artifacts from Christmases in other places or ages!

Language is one of my favorite aspects of culture.  Is it important to the culture?  Is it precise or more personal?  Is it written or mostly spoken?  Is it tonal?  How appropriate are metaphors, slang, and profanity?  What are the customary greetings?  Besides the words spoken, what other gestures are included?  What gestures are seen as essential to good manners, and which ones are abhorrent?  Which ones are just the convention?  One tribe I heard of rubs its nose while thinking, but it is more common for my culture to scratch our head or chin – or to frown.  Does the culture encourage more or less expression of one’s own thoughts – or feelings?  Which is predominant: thoughts or feelings?  Is expression mostly communicated by gesture, action, word, or art?  Accordingly, are the people of the culture more generally reserved – or exuberant?  Are they loud or quiet?  Does everyone speak at once?  Do they take turns at anything they do?

How intimate are their friendships?  How many friends does a person tend to have?  Do they share their friends with their whole family, or is it a private affair?  How do they play?  Is playing part of friendship?  How do they show honor?  How do they respond to dishonor?  Is dishonor a casual joke or a serious offense?  How are reconciliations brought about?

There is diversity in any culture, large or small.  How is that balanced?  Is it suppressed or embraced?  Is there competition more than cooperation?  Do they try to come to unity, or to sameness?  Are differences displayed?  Analyzed?  Intentionally created?  What things are used to emphasize (or manufacture) what they have in common?  I know in some places religion does this, in others wars bring people together against a common enemy, and in others it is the common experience of standardized schooling that prepares them to respond in similar ways to things.

I don’t know if there are cultures without classes, but given that in most there are, how are relationships between the classes?  Is there mutual respect?  Is there resentment?  Are people generally content with the life to which they were born?  Do they practice cruelty or charity towards the classes that are more needy?  Is this voluntary or institutionalized?

How big is one’s sphere in their culture?  Who does a culture encourage friendship with?  Who does it encourage responsibility towards?  What are members encouraged to aspire to?  How much is proximity a factor?  What kinds of transportation do people use (walking, driving, biking, boating, flying, carting, carrying)?  Do people travel for social reasons or economic ones?  Or are there environmental reasons to practice a sort of migratory lifestyle?

Here in the United States we have many cultures living side by side, some whose “boundaries” are only a block or two from a significantly different group.  And with technology the way it is today, we can converse with people far away, travel quickly to see them, view photos they took, and purchase art created in foreign cultures.  How aware are people of other cultures?  (How aware are they that theirs is distinct?)  Are they interested in them?  Do they want to integrate good things from other cultures into their own?  Do they integrate foreigners?  Is this by means of cooperation or an initiation and instruction?  Are they willing to adapt their own culture?  Do they resist change?  Do they try to replace every culture they meet?  Do they replace the cultures of peoples they come to dominate?  Do they have compassion for foreigners or other cultures?  Do they feel superior?  Do they covet what other cultures have or are?

To an extent, family structure is different in cultures.  How do husbands relate to their wives, and what is expected of each within the home?  How do people come to be married?  How many wives may a man have?  How do parents relate to their children?  Who else bears the burden of child-rearing (community, grandparents, school, nannies)?  What kinds of discipline are used?  Are children seen and not heard?  Are they seen as trophies or contributors?  How important is extended family?  Is family more important than friends?  Are there specific obligations towards family members?  How does a family unit relate to the rest of the world?  How much is the government involved?

Some people view laws and government as providing order and security, or as being the at-the-ready conflict resolvers, while others expect the government to oversee all of the individual’s (and group’s) needs.  Some expect the government to enforce justice, and others are content with a system built on bribes.  Do the people believe it is their place to submit, or to reform, or to revolt?  In some places, the government is not only expected to take care of needs, but to take on big societal problems, and solve them.  Governments tend to look out for their own interests, but whether the peoples are ok with that or not is not so universal.  Some governments take in a vast number of citizens, whereas there are some whose range is limited to the immediate family of a Bedouin tribe.

Is business conducted in a personal way?  Does a person go door to door offering their goods or services?  Is there a public common market or do consumers seek out goods and services at specific phone numbers, websites, or stores?  Is a transaction considered between equals, or are service providers a lower class?  Are the servants recognized as members of a household or anonymous functionaries?  Is there a mindset of professionalism?  Who desires the professionalism – professional or consumer or both or neither?  How influential are corporations – the idea that no one person is responsible for the good or service being sold?

There is such a variety of technology, and tools, that are used in different societies, and these can be both representative and influential.  What things are used for communication?  For building?  Transporting?  How much of life is taken up by work?

What is the general schedule?  What is the work week?  How many hours in a day are work?  Is work a means or an end?  Which hours are devoted to sleeping?  When and how do people wake?  When do they play?  When do they have social activities?  Do they work together or finish their work and then spend time together?  When do they eat and how often?

If a group’s language is forgotten, and they move from the land of their buildings and ditches; if they stop playing with their old toys, and their clothing no longer distinguishes them clearly from one class to another – but they carry on a secret family recipe from the old, old days when all those things had been in place, have they lost their culture?  Can they share their recipe, market their spices and vegetables to other people groups, and still have their culture?  When do we say a culture has become distinct?  When do we say it has merged with another?

Should we try to preserve cultures?  Or is a way of life gloriously defined by the personalities and abilities and histories of the people who make up the group?  Is there a difference between dissolving a culture and replacing it?  What harms does the structure of tradition found in a culture cause?  What benefits does it provide?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A Very True Story

She stood on the edge, one foot raised above the rug.  That rug captivated her attention so that she first stared, turned shyly away, then went back to watching it ponderously.  She had to choose, and she couldn’t forget that.  But once she chose, she couldn’t know what the consequences would be.  She lowered her foot, close to taking the step, then drew back.

Daddy had made her a deal: If she stepped on the rug, she might get pinched – or she might get candy – or she might get both.  Without the step, no candy, for sure!

Her daddy loved her.  Whether pinch or candy, he would be doing good to her.  She trusted him, but she still hesitated.

She tried to figure it all out.  What did “might” mean?  Was Daddy making a rule with a punishment for breaking it – or was this different somehow?  Would Daddy pinch hard?  How much freedom did she have?  Could she go away and do something else (as if she’d be able to long forget ‘the deal’)?  Was the whole rug implied?  She wanted to be sure she wasn’t inadvertently getting herself into the risk.

She climbed on the couch beside the rug.  She sat on Daddy’s lap for a while, held from the portentous tapestry by his strong arms until she was ready to make her choice.  Then she was back on the edge, testing whether her chances were better if she made a covert move towards touching it.

Daddy spoke, “If you step, I don’t want you to do it timidly.  I want you to run out onto the rug and say, ‘I’m touching it!’ ”

A little more consideration, and there she was – feet across the rug, yelling like her daddy said.

He caught her up in his arms and gave her his choice.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Insurance is a guard against risk.  Term life insurance is provision for your family in case you die young – an unlikely occurrence.  Car insurance is coverage in case you get in an accident – which most people won’t.  What we call health insurance is not insurance.  It is a “benefit,” like a retirement plan.  Our system originated when companies were competing for labor without breaking the salary cap laws. 

We could have health insurance, an investment to pay large, unexpected expenses if they come up.  There are a few plans that cover only catastrophic needs.  These are not the kind provided by employers in our market today.  Of course, if employers want to pay for preventive healthcare and common doctor’s visits, that is their competitive option.  It shouldn’t be mandatory, any more than a salary cap should be mandatory. 

Employers could also provide grocery coverage: the planned, necessary expense; for each employee and his family.  The price of food would go up, and options would go down, and companies would do better to just pay well for their labor, letting the consumers determine the demand and value of food.  Consumers are less extravagant, more cost-conscious, and diligent to hold providers accountable for their products and services. 

What makes us think that paying rows of middle men for our health care payment system will result in saving money or improving care?  Are these middle men doing something I couldn’t do myself?  No – they’re distancing me from information about my options in health care and the shocking costs of some procedures. 

My solution is this:

1.  Do not require an employer to do anything for his employee that does not concern his job: cover injuries caused by the job and keep work environments safe. 

2.  Also eliminate what is essentially a tax break on the benefits provided by employers.  If wages are going to be taxed, so should the health care benefits and retirement plans. 

3.  Do not require insurance companies to have a minimum amount of coverage, nor any specifics.  Instead, enforce contract law: openness of the agreement being made and stiff penalties for either party dropping their end of the bargain.

4.  Do not require individuals to have health insurance of any kind.  If the problem is in collecting payment for emergency services rendered to the poor, this needs to be addressed in a wider question of bankruptcy laws and debt repayment.  Leaving individuals to the option of health insurance reduces the weight on the health care industry by discouraging unnecessary doctor’s visits and encouraging preventative lifestyles. 

5.  Allow increased competition by revoking the state line restrictions on insurance policy sales. 

6.  Reduce the cost to healthcare professionals by reforming the system that allows doctors to be sued without probable cause.  Our economy and government is almost completely biased against businesses in favor of consumers.  The customer is not always right; sometimes the “customer” is committing fraud. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Orion is out tonight, aiming his bow at the rising moon. We reunite each fall and winter, Orion and I. He is my companion in the stars, keeping the same hours as I. It’s chilly out tonight. Clear in that cool dry way that Colorado is known for.

I’ve been through a lot since last Orion and I were out together. My life is definitely patterned in seasons. Some years have had their own theme, but usually the lessons are shorter and more diverse. This year was a scattered year, learning things that built in each other but not in obvious ways. A soldier will learn to march and learn to shoot, and both are related in that they come in handy during battles, but they don’t really build on each other.

Last year when I was almost twenty-four I almost went crazy. I couldn’t believe the life I had; my life seemed inevitable, not chosen. And I didn’t know how to be a twenty-four year old in my situation. Never had my dreams imagined me here. Yet I came to the conclusion that I ought to be myself, trusting God, and not worry about what twenty-four year olds are supposed to be. So I have told myself many times these months.

I don’t miss the soul-searching that comes with autumn. It comes around each year, and I don’t regret it. Nor do I look forward to the restless questioning. My soul never seems satisfied in the fall, the season of Thanksgiving. This November opens with a focus on open-handed gratitude. That’s what I call it. Each day’s blessings are cause to rejoice, never a reason to demand more.

I don’t require more blessings, but I have learned to ask. Such was my summer theme: Hope. Do I have confidence in my Heavenly Father’s goodness, enough to discuss with Him what I want and rejoice that in Him all answers, yes and no, are yea? Will I dare holding out my heart to wait on Him? And when I did this year, oh! how the peace came in. Before, I was silly not to ask for His good gifts.

Spring was hard, an exercise in love. Love hopes all things. It holds on and does not abandon. But it speaks the truth and rejoices in it rather than in evil. Love means sacrifice in the sense of a drop everything to help attitude. It is consuming, on your mind all the time. God never promised love would be painless. Though love has to do with community, it often feels lonely.

This year has brought thoughts about truth and calling and compromise. Faith and that not-tame God have kept popping up. I asked myself what I was willing to suffer for Christ, and for the first time truly doubted that I would rejoice to risk life and happiness and all I’ve worked for. Rejection has been on my mind lately. I’m more honest about reality than I used to be: eyes open to the vanity and hopelessness apart from the work of God to grace us.

And now that I’m facing twenty-five in the next several weeks, I must praise my God that I have a life that I run after. The friends I have are ones I choose. My weeks are spent doing things I believe are important, not just floating through an existence. Though twenty-five seems to have come upon me without my consent, the rest of my life is intentional. That is due only to the grace of God. He has helped me through some hard decisions. Some of my waiting and patience has ended, and other parts remain.

By many standards this year has little to show for it. I still have not written a book or started a successful business. No prince charming has swept me off my feet. Like Orion, I’m back and rising over the same horizon. But those who know astronomy realize that relative to the rest of the firmament, Orion’s position has changed. He will move among the stars and planets like he has not done in my lifetime. And a new year is here: the Hunter is chasing life down.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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“Hello down there!  Slow going?” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride

Slow going down here in the blog world.  I have two book reviews to post, and a blog written up about laughter, even one about football. 

“This is not as easy as it looks.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

My blog is published on two different host sites: Blogger and WordPress – neither of which have been cooperative recently.  Blame might be shared by my own laptop and internet provider, as well.  And when I have been on my computer, late into the nights and early mornings, my work has been directed towards by business, the one linked on the sidebar here but rarely mentioned.  It has a new name, new look, and even some new products coming just as soon as I can get the pictures taken. 

“I don’t suppose you could speed things up?” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride

Three years ago I started this business, hoping to learn a lot about business and accounting without going to school, needing something to do with the extra money I had lying around, and of course wishing to earn enough income to stay home full time.  Self-discipline is something I can do, but only with encouragement.  And sometimes, when things are just too hard, I actually need help. 

Large Mi-Re-Do Business Card

“Throw me the rope.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Some of my good friends have been encouraging me lately.  They also have their own business.  We had a long talk about believing in our products, about wanting to make sure that we’re not selling junk, but to be willing to settle for marketing goods and services that won’t revolutionize the world.  My brother asked me why I think people should have what I’m selling.  Questions like that make me think, and usually when I think, I get answers, which turn into the blurb about each item that appears on my website. 

Assistance has come in concrete ways, too.  Several of my friends have advertised for me and referred acquaintances to my business.  The friends above are going to print my government-regulation-required care and contents tags.  And my brother even offered to help with some HTML for my webpage

“I do not mean to pry, but you don’t by any chance happen to have six fingers on your right hand?” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride

One of the other goals for my business is to build relationships with customers (thereby changing the world – I just can’t escape that motive!).  Sometimes all it takes is opening the conversation, however unexpected or odd. 

“I’m not left-handed either.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Running a business is a risk.  Putting my creativity out in the world for judgment is scary.  I could lose money.  I could waste time.  But there is power in the unexpected.  That’s what I’m trying to offer on my website.  For sale is an eclectic supply of handmade and home-designed accessories that are unlike anything the rest of the marketplace has to offer.  Some taglines I’m using or toying with are: “Mi~Re~Do: Reviving Declining Melodies” and “Buy Mi~Re~Do.  Tilt your perspective.”  By thinking through the practical and aesthetic worth of my products, I’m trying to change the way my customers think about – and live – ordinary life. 

“Get used to disappointment.” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Still, it’s been three years, and though I’ve sold several items on Ebay, and ventured into Etsy, I have almost zero client base.  I have designed several business cards, and been too timid to hand them out.  Marketing is nonexistent.  And my room is overrun with unsold inventory. 

“I’d just as soon destroy a stained-glass window as an artist like yourself…” – Man in Black, Princess Bride

Artists and dreamers cannot be kept down.  We will keep creating, used to our disappointments but pushing forward anyway.  Companies will succeed because they persevere where others failed, and offer goods that others don’t.  When Buttercup cried, “We’ll never survive!” on the margins of the fireswamp, Westley the eminent business coach countered, “Nonsense!  You only say that because no one ever has.” 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Proverbs 22:7, “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”

 

The Bible is fairly clear that debt is a bad idea.  The Jews were allowed to loan money to each other, and even to take a deposit – but they could not charge interest.  Only outsiders were to be a source of profit to the Jews.  Proverbs teaches that giving to the poor is much better than lending to them; it is compared to lending to God, who will “repay” the generous man. 

 

Proverbs 19:17, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.”

 

Luke 6:35, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.”

 

With this in mind, I have chosen to be neither slave nor master, borrowing nor lending.  I don’t have a credit card, bought my car with cash, and prepay my auto insurance every year.  The most money I owe is paying my share of our family cell phone plan each month, and I try to never get even a day behind.  As a result I have a no credit rating, but I defy an economy built on spending tomorrow’s dollar.  Isn’t it rather foolish of them to base trust on the fact that people are NOT responsible enough to save money ahead of time? 

 

I don’t want to lend money, either.  But living in modern America, to have any sort of normal life one must have a bank.  Banks are institutions that take my money and your money and loan it to others in order to profit from the interest.  The banking crisis of 2008 was precipitated by a ratio of loans to interest received that was too disproportionate to maintain a profit.  The expenses of banks were not being paid by the interest on loans because too many loans were “bad.”  Payments were not being made.  Banks can’t reinvest foreclosed property immediately.  Their funds became tied up, invested in non-liquid assets.  And this is not a bad thing except that they had been too greedy, and left insufficient cash in hand to meet the demands of their customers.  Some of their customers were the depositors, some the borrowers (small businesses were a big concern; apparently they function on future dollars almost exclusively), and many bank clients are paradoxically both.  That this is bad for the economy as a whole is becoming more and more evident. 

 

The practice of profiting from loans (associated with shady characters for centuries) to people in need is hurting individuals as well.  Obviously to give an interest-free loan, or even a “hand up” gift in hard times would be much preferable financially.  Traditionally this would be done relationally, by capable friends who would be able to assess the legitimacy of the need and the efficacy of the gift.  To those not in need loans ought to be less available.  Politically and economically the Levitical law on charging interest to foreigners corresponded to the idea of duties (benefiting the people directly, rather than the government).  To participate in the God -directed and –blessed economy of Israel, a Gentile could borrow money from a Jew, but the Jew was allowed to charge him for this privilege, taking the form of interest.  (This is as covered in the law; it is plausible that Jews could charge other things like duties or rent for market space.)  I suppose that business loans resemble this category, but it is not sound business to rely so heavily on borrowed cash. 

 

Here is where I would like to introduce the concept of investment.  What is commonly considered investment today is more accurately called “speculation.”  It is a risk, calculated or wild – a gamble.  Either a bank is taking a risk on a loan, betting that the interest yield will be profitable and that the debtor will not take off with the money; or an individual or institution is throwing money into stocks hoping the value of the stocks will go up, and that they can sell at a higher price in the future.  Investment is different.  Investment relies on dividends for profit.  Dividends are a share of the profits less than the total profits divided by all the “shares” of stockholders, so that some of the profits may be reinvested in the company for continuing productivity, like farmers not selling all of their produce, but saving some for seed and planting a portion of it the next season.  Sound investing is to give (as in not expecting or requiring the money to be returned) a sum to a company that one believes will be making profits long enough that dividends will meet or exceed the amount of the investment.  This happens over time. 

 

Another type of investment is in assets, which ought to appreciate through supply and demand.  This property ought to have inherent worth by reason of usefulness.  A few common kinds of investment are land, houses, and gold.  A person may also invest in a service, like education, which makes his skills greater and his labor more valuable.  Investing this way does not always require the sale of the investment to profit.  There can be “dividends” on this as well: rent money from rental property, use of a house or farmland, or application of the skills acquired through education. 

 

I understand how the sale of stock arose, and how useful it is.  I’m not opposed to that being an option.  It should not, however, be the common practice of banks, investment companies, or sound long-term investors.  There would be two reasons to sell stock: 1) You can no longer afford the investment.  Liquidity is more essential to you than long-term profit.  2) Your share in the company is losing value in a way that makes you think that no profit will ever proceed from it again.  In this instance, to sell is to take advantage of another investor, profiting from selling them an asset worth nothing.  Like loaning money or running a casino, it is preying on the risky ambitions of foolish men.  It ought to be legal in a free market, but it is not moral. 

 

All this to say that the ideal bank for me would be one that does not loan money, nor speculate in stocks.  Picture a community of people.  Many of them have money to spare, which they wish to store in a safe but accessible location.  They get together and store their money in a bank.  This bank is managed by a man who guards their cash and processes transactions: deposits, withdrawals, checks, debit cards, transfers.  To pay for his services, the depositors allow him to use a portion of the total money in the bank to invest.  At least a portion of the dividends, if not all of them, would pay for the building, the administrative fees, and the banker’s salary.  The investments ought to be diverse, and published to the depositors for review.  If there was sufficient concern that the investments were imprudent, the depositors could attempt to advise their banker or transfer their money to a more trusted banker.  Depositors would understand that not all of their money would necessarily be available for withdrawal or transfer at once, but at a contractual set period after such a request is made.  As always, more deposits are an insurance against a misjudged investment or a large withdrawal.  If the investments are consistently successful enough, a bank may offer its own dividends to all of its clients, or to those whose deposits are large enough (this is done today through “interest-bearing” checking accounts). 

 

This is slightly simplified.  A larger bank would obviously employ more than one investment manager, for example.  I don’t know all the laws involved.  Many banks, I believe, were begun by one wealthy man (or a few partners) who put up his own money to ensure both initial liquidity and sufficient funds to participate in the market at a profitable level.  In fact the whole idea is similar to a trust, in which multiple parties get together in order to make investments too large for their individual capital.  (If I wanted to invest in gold, I am pretty sure the smallest portions I can buy in a portfolio situation are ounces, so if I don’t have enough extra cash to buy one ounce, I cannot invest in gold.  But if my brother and I pool our investment money, we could afford the ounce and participate in that market.)  Trusts are strictly regulated by contracts defining shares, inheritance, selling out, and management. 

 

I don’t think owning stock in a company should be restricted to corporations or investment firms or banks, nor should it take an expert to understand the buying and selling of stocks.  There is a place for the investment firm that lets investors manage their own portfolios as well as for an investment bank such as the one I describe.  If a client is benefiting from the bank-like services of an investment firm, it is fair enough to let those employed by that company control the investments made, even if in the form of creating a list of acceptable investments or advising on investments (veto power), for the security of their business and thus the continued availability of the demanded services. 

 

My idea here is not brand new.  Think of what banks are called.  You can still find some today called such and such “bank and trust,” or “investment bank.”  I want a bank that does not loan money, and one that does not speculate in stocks.  Do you know of any? 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Marriage is like dancing with no music.  There is still an art, and still the beauty; there is also that dimension of more going on that you have in dancing.  But instead of the music being enough to give a girl an idea of where life is going, there is none; she must simply follow.  Give and take, go and come.  Trust.  Responsibility.  Cry for help.  Confidence.  Smile her delight.  Swing out, spin in.  Submit.  Dance. 
 
The hobbits watch in dreamlike fixation as a woman beautiful beyond their experience weaves her way around the table, in and out of the kitchen, gracefully dodging a man equally unique to the hobbits: big, clumpy, capering and energetic.  Styles so different, the two manage to make a fascinating dance of contrast and complement. How do they make it work?  What force prevents collision? 
 
Tom Bombadil sang about his lady when he thought no one was listening, and when he knew they were following, straining for his every word.  He praised her as beautiful and trusted her to be ready with hospitality.  Brave and free, each with few friends, the couple shared life and interests with each other.  Perhaps many nights were spent crafting a tale to spell his lady.  He gave her gifts and she did the washing.  They each remained who they had been before they met, but they sacrificed things and changed also, making a brand new life together.  When the hobbits asked Goldberry about her husband, she spoke with quiet respect, “He is the master.”  Perhaps there is no satisfying explanation of Tom Bombadil because he was a man who needed to be known rather than described.  There are no memorized steps of the dance with him.  Their house is full of the comforts of community: ready beds, generous tables, and long conversation by the fire.  Goldberry and Tom knew the value of relationship. 
 
Main characters in Lord of the Rings are unmarried.  Nine companions, the fellowship of the Ring, had the freedom to risk their lives and tramp across the world because they were not married.  A man or two was moving towards marriage, dreaming of the woman he’d left behind.  Tolkien was a real romantic, the kind who understood the pull of adventure and of chivalry, as well as of courting and of marriage.  This last is not too common in literature, that real married couples would be glimpsed in story and lifted up for their simple virtue and hard submission.  Immensely happy in marriage to Edith himself, this author did not shy away from representing marriage in his stories. 
 
Another example is found in The Fellowship of the Ring before the hobbits encounter Tom Bombadil.  Still in the Shire, they meet a hobbit couple, the honored Mrs. Maggot and her intimidating husband, Farmer Maggot.  It’s a dreadful name to inherit, let alone acquire, so Mrs. Maggot must have loved her husband, and made the most of it.  She too embodied hospitality.  Spin in.  Feeding a large working farm and family of sons and daughters, she didn’t mind at all to include three hungry strangers at her table, presenting them with heaping helpings of farm fare, mushrooms, and good homebrew.  Farmer Maggot was a good provider, a defender of his property – maybe less because of what it grew than of whom it harbored.  And when in the service of doing what was right he risked his own safety for newfound friends – this round hobbit reminiscent of the American rednecks – his wife stood at the door and cried out for her husband to be careful.  Swing out.  This isn’t just something people say.  Do you see women encouraging their husbands to do the right thing even though it is dangerous?  Do you hear people in unhappy marriages nervous about the other’s safety?  No, it comes from a heart of love, natural – yes, and common but only because the simple heart of marriage is common.  Isn’t that how it should be? 
 
There are other examples, men and women whose wedded bliss was interrupted by wars, disease, or accident.  Take Frodo’s parents.  Rumors ran wild that Drogo didn’t get along with his wife, and that she thought his girth was too large even for a hobbit.  They died together, though, out boating – and as far as the Gaffer was concerned, that was their only crime.  It left Frodo to the wildness of youth, an orphaned rascal living with an extended family too big to take good care of him and to teach him responsibility.  This again was the implication given by the sturdy gardener, who had carefully raised his own son under his eye and apprenticeship.  What an unlikely beginning for the Ringbearer, whose sense of responsibility called him into the darkness, surrendering forever the possibility of home!
 
Elrond’s marriage does not appear to have been happy.  His wife early (well, thousands of years into their relationship) grew weary of their home and left.  Why didn’t she stay for him?  Why didn’t he go with her?  Should he have gone, the Halfelven whose work was so large in preserving the Middle Earth for which his father had risked much more than happiness and comfort?  Should she have stayed, enduring without music, just for the following?
 
Many characters seem to have lost their mothers or fathers early, including Samwise, Frodo, Aragorn, Boromir & Faramir, and Eowyn & Eomer.  It was a hard time, and even marriage did not guard against sorrow and loss.  This is evidence that Tolkien’s ideal of marriage was not unrelated to the real world in which he moved.  His stories exemplify love and commitment in the midst of the hard times to which we can relate. 
 
Another splendid example of the exertions of marital love and the roles each person takes is the marriage of Earendil and Elwing.  Earendil, on behalf of his people, sought to reach the undying lands and plead for the help of the Valar.  He was lost at sea, hopeless, when his elven wife flew to him in the form of a white bird with a silmaril at her breast, and, lighting the way to Valinor, saved her husband and delivered his mission from doom.  He initiated risk, and she accepted the separation and the danger.  In this story the husband led the way on a mission to save the world (as all husbands should), and she supported him with strength of her own and encouragement.  I believe the story goes that the couple now above Middle Earth sails till time ends, in the heavens, her silmaril doomed to light the way for all men as the evening star. 
 
Many people in Tolkien’s tales are related to Luthien and Beren, who stole that silmaril from the crown of Morgoth.  Luthien was the daughter of Thingol (a high elf, one of the first to see Valinor) and Melian (a Maia).  Their marriage is another inspiration.  King Thingol loved Melian and worked his whole life to make her happy.  But he also respected his bride and took her advice.  This position Melian wielded to moderate her husband’s temper, thereby making him the best man, father, and king that he could be.  Ruling together, they preserved and protected a kingdom of peace, beauty, and, until fate started to unravel the spell of protection Melian had woven around Doriath, of justice. 
 
Thingol and Melian’s marriage is somewhat reminiscent of Celeborn and Galadriel, both strong and wise, with strong claims to the leadership of their people.  Yet they ruled peacefully side by side, together attending councils of the wise.  Again they both offer hospitality, but are cautious to protect their country against harm, for love both of land and of friends inside.  All the wives in Tolkien are beautiful, and all the husbands are valiant.  But not all the men are wise, nor are all women hospitable.  Celeborn and Galadriel represent together the best of Tolkien’s ideal.  They are happy and sad, serious and celebratory.  They are wise and strong, beautiful and kind.  People love them and follow them, not only in war, but also in peace.  Memory is important, and yet there is always curiosity to meet new things.  And so it ought to be in marriage.  Such I believe was Tolkien’s experience. 
 
My favorite marriage in Tolkien is one that hadn’t yet taken place.  Eowyn was independent; she was not free – not because she was a woman at home, but because she wanted things impossible for her to have.  Faramir pushed, and she took a small step away.  He pulled and she came close.  Before she knew what was happening, the simple steps were increasing in difficulty until she cried out, “My hand is ungentle!”  The princess grew frightened in the face of love and submission, though she had stood proud as the shieldmaiden of her king even against an enemy as terrible as the Lord of the Nazgul.  She cried out to one who seemed to know what he was doing, who was leading her into a place where she was less confident, where her only choice was to follow.  And the crying out was trust.  Her heart changed, or at last she understood it.  She chose freedom, stepped willingly away from her independence, and chose to love, like her partner, to see things grow well.  “Then I will wed with the White Lady,” he laughed.  She smiled her delight, and on the wall of the city their hands met and clasped, and they faced darkness and light together. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn 

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