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The Greatest

Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl yesterday has sparked a lot of comments on the greatest athlete ever. TB12 is definitely the greatest quarterback ever; without exception or qualification. In fact, most every athlete of this generation is light years ahead of the past generations because of nutrition, training, and devotion. However, honorable mentions would definitely include Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.

But I don’t care about athletics that much. It’s just a game, but I thought I’d make a little list — just a simple list — of the greatest in their fields. This is a matter of taste and opinion. But here is the list — and I’ve taken The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit out of the equation because he is, obviously, not the greatest but the ultimate, and likewise I’ve removed biblical answers from possibilities. Also, this list is horrifically skewed toward white males. Part of that is the nature of history, and part of that is the nature of taste. For example, while Jane Austen is many people’s favorite writer, I have a hard time getting through four pages. J. K. Rowling is many people’s favorite author, and she creates great characters and a great world, but her abuse of adverbs precludes her from being the greatest writer. Again, this list is my list and so it will skew in my own demographic.

  1. Greatest singer — Frank Sinatra
  2. Greatest chef — Jacques Pepin
  3. Greatest writer — Charles Dickens
  4. Greatest leader — Winston Churchill
  5. Greatest actor — Tom Hanks
  6. Greatest Artist — Michelangelo
  7. Greatest journalist — Walter Cronkite
  8. Greatest theologian — N. T. Wright
  9. Greatest band — U2
  10. Greatest Star Trek Captain — Picard

Honorable mentions: Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones, Julia Childs, Alton Brown, J. R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, Papa Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Meryl Streep, Wil Smith, Helen Mirren, Caravaggio, Monet, Edward R. Murrow, St. Augustine of Hippo, Fleming Rutledge, Millard Erickson, R.E.M., The Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, James T. Kirk, and Benjamin Sisko.

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On COVID-19 Vaccines

I plan on taking the vaccine as soon as I can.

Now, being a healthy middle aged person I don’t expect to get one anytime soon. But when I can, I will. I know that some of you are suspicious of it and I understand those sentiments, so I am not judging you or anyone else. I do not believe in forced vaccinations for COVID-19. I am simply sharing my thought process.

For certain this process of thinking about it is skewed by the fact I’ve been vaccinated several times throughout my life. Indeed, I think it would be accurate to say I was vaccinated half a dozen times before I could read. These vaccines have made me and others healthy and made the world safer to live in. Vaccines have saved untold lives all around the world and nearly eliminated things like measles, mumps, rubella, whooping coffee, tetanus, and polio. Without vaccines, we all would know someone who had died of these diseases, or we would now be dead ourselves.

But that is not the only calculus in my head. I’m also factoring in probabilities. The risk of having a negative effect from a COVID-19 vaccine is much smaller than the risk of getting COVID-19, and it is smaller than the risk of dying from C-19. In that sense, I perceive rolling the dice on a vaccine is really not that big of a gamble.

I also think about the effects of a potential vaccine as compared to other things I’ve done to my body. I snorted a whole package of powdered candy when I was fifteen. I had a headache for a week. That was probably worse for me than a vaccine. For a skin cancer they once gave me a radioactive cream to put on my face. That wasn’t very fun. I’ve had fillings, root canals, and all kinds of metals put into my mouth permanently. And while I’m on the dentist side of things, the X-ray they take of my mouth is probably way more dangerous than a vaccine, as was probably most of the food I ate in college.

Pixy sticks, weather eaten or inhaled, are probably riskier than a COVID-19 shot

Now if I compare the vaccine’s risk to other dangerous endeavors, the risk factor becomes even more mitigated. I have flown thousand and thousands of miles in airplanes, often in bad weather. I have shot firearms and disarmed threatening people of their firearm. I have thrown knives, axes, and stood over open pits leading to the abyss. I have been attacked with weapons at church, robbed on the street in Dallas, not to mention driven cross country a half-a-dozen times. I’ve driven in Los Angeles. I’ve been caught out on the lake when a lightening storm sparks to life. I have handled snakes, trod on scorpions, and watched a bear eat through trash. I swam in a lake that smelled so awful from industrial pollution people held their nose when driving by.

I have wrestled flesh and blood as well as spirits in high places.

I don’t think a vaccine is the most dangerous or risky thing I’ve done. Not even close.

Of course, all of this pales in comparison to the greatest single reason I will take the vaccine as soon as possible. I want life to return to normalcy, and my society needs me to take the vaccine to do it. By immunizing myself I lower the risk for grandparents, heart patients, diabetics, and asthmatics. The vaccine will make church small groups, unfettered seating, and hugging at church a part of life again. By taking the vaccine, I make the possibility of watching the new James Bond movie in a theater a reality and then having a giant bowl of spaghetti in a restaurant afterward a definitely doable event. I make it safe for grocery store workers. I relieve the burden on the health care professionals who are currently stressed to the level of near exhaustion. By doing my small part I make the economy stronger. I make America stronger. I make the world stronger.

I am not asking you to come to the same conclusion I have come to. All I ask is that you operate from a place of reasoned thought and logic rather than fear and misinformation. When I do the work of thinking about it and analyzing the risk and benefits, it is not even a hard choice.

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A Book Review — A Book To Make You Smarter

Some books you read for the joy of it.

Some books you read because you want to learn something.

Sometimes, a both does both. That is the case with Christopher Manske’s excellent new book, The Prepared Investor. It was an unexpected pleasure.

I was eager to read The Prepared Investor because I wanted to learn. Markets, investing, and financial planning are all things that I, as a middle-aged person, need to start thinking about a little more seriously. It started as a learning project. As I read, it turned into a joyful experience. The Prepared Investor is a guide to financial planning and investing, but it is really about human nature and history.

Manske indicates in the book it took him a decade to write it, and the research and skill at storytelling show he did his homework. He is as comfortable telling about Napoleon’s escape from Elba as he is referring to tables and charts of marketplace indices. But more than this, he shows how things such as leadership (Napoleon), terrorism, or social unrest play a very important role in financial stewardship. Take for example this excellent observation from 1970.

While it is easy to find articles about the Kent State shooting itself, its much more difficult to find the Wall Street Journal’s description of the stock market published the day after the tragedy: ‘Stock prices took their steepest dive since President Kennedy’s assassination.’

P. 160

The Prepared Investor is filled with this kind of cause-effect analysis. Without giving too much away, the point of the Kent State example is observing how markets react to unfamiliar actions of a dramatic nature. The lesson to be learned is an investor, regardless of ideology or politics, should recognize the responses people and markets make to various stimuli and then, knowing what history says will happen next, make appropriate investments to capitalize on it.

Manske is talking about wealth. I read the book, however, and thought about spirituality and maturity. We live in very unsettling times where something dramatic happens almost daily, and everyone knows about it instantly. Recognizing their patterns of behavior can help me identify how these variations impact my daily life and work. People respond spiritually much the same way they respond financially — when uncertainty comes, they withdraw to ‘bunkers’ of safety. Manske spends a lot of time on analyzing 9-11. I remember those days well. I never saw as many people in church as I did the month after 9-11. But, when the crisis abates, people return to their normal patterns. Within two months of 9-11, church attendance declined to below numbers of what it had been before the crisis. We held several special prayer services right after 9-11 and the church building was filled with people, elbow to elbow. A year later, we held a special one year anniversary service and only about fifteen people showed up. People return to normal, and sometimes it is a new normal, and that normal comes much quicker than most people anticipate.

It is human nature at work, and that is the background for Manske’s work.

There are three features of the book that were helpful.

  1. The outline is easy to follow, and he uses “Action Steps” as a checklist for those wishing to implement what is being learned.
  2. Charts and graphs. Then more charts and graphs. And now some charts and graphs about the charts and graphs. The Prepared Investor is loaded with this kind of data, and if you like that, there is plenty to enjoy.
  3. My favorite part was the long chapter near the end as a timeline of Manske’s own notations in real time about the spread of COVID-19. As a reader, I would be interested to see his contemporary notes right now as we spike. If for nothing else, this part of the book documents in historical fashion what has already happened, because people forget and they bend their memories toward ideologies and preconceived notions rather than reality.

The Prepared Investor is a quick read coming in at 209 pages. I read it in one week, and a big part of my leisure time during that week was making pies and chicken and dressing.

Who would like this book? People who love history will want this book, so too would someone who has a little bit of savings and is wanting to invest it well, People who are interested in human behavior will like it as well. Manske is well read and references everyone from Yuval Noah Harari to Henry Kissinger to Quentin Tarantino.

Who should read this book: I think every graduate of high school and certainly college would benefit. It would make a great Christmas present or graduation gift. In fact, it probably should be on your list of books to read this year simply because the knowledge, though fine tuned to finance, is really universal in nature. This book will make you smarter and wiser.

Theme Song?

I worked a little this morning on the last Elijah sermon (in three weeks) and a few other housekeeping things, but for the most part me and the rest of our church staff are taking today off as our Independence Day break. Therefore, I have the time to [FINALLY] write that blog which has been in my head for about a week.

With July 1, we crossed over the halfway point of the year 2020. It has been some humdinger of a year. We are all praying for a better second half — for COVID-19 to be tamed, the economy to turn around, peaceful elections in November, and for the Seattle Mariners to win the World Series. But . . . we aren’t yet to that happy ending. So, my question is, which song do you think best describes 2020 so far? Which is your theme song?

I have given you ten to choose from various genres.

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