My Money is in Jail

So, this morning finds me writing this blog post on my Windows 7 workstation. Most people know my aversion to Windows workstations – and should find this an odd combination.  After all, I have my iMac — why would I move over to a workstation that I use primarily for playing games? Well, at this moment, the iMac has not been behaving properly – shutting down after a few minutes of work. It looks like it may be a graphics card, or perhaps the dreaded Logic Board. Either way, I had decided to replace the iMac with a more powerful machine. No, its not this Windows machine or even another machine running Windows. I will be installing a Mac Pro workstation on my desktop this morning. But what I wanted to tell you isn’t about the Mac pro – but rather the process in which it was purchased.

Mac Pro workstations are not cheap machines. The configurations can run somewhere between $8000 US to upwards of $12,000 US. The configuration I settled on is somewhere mid-range of that. With the sale of my late father’s house, I happened to have enough funds to cover this, and made the decision to purchase. Shortly after I made the purchase, I received a notification from Apple that my charge had been denied by my bank, Wells Fargo. I have been with Wells Fargo for close to fifteen years now, so this seemed puzzling to me. It was late in the evening, so I did some online research of my account, and discovered that I had a daily limit of spending for my account type. I could only purchase approximately 1/5th of my Apple purchase per day. So, I spent some time finding out where I could make a bump in my daily limit. I discovered a blurb of text, buried under approximately six layers of links, that directed me to call the Wells Fargo customer assistance line. So, I followed those directions…

My conversation with the service agent was pleasant enough. When I queried on how to up the limit to purchase the computer, I was placed on hold – presumably the individual was asking a supervisor about the manner in which this could be done. For all I know, he was laughing his ass off at my idiot question – I have a free checking account with Wells Fargo. When he returns to the phone, he informs me that I cannot have my daily limit changed, unless I would like to purchase the Premium Plan for $15 per month. Then, I could “negotiate” a change to my daily limit. What the fsck? I can “negotiate” upping my daily limit on spending *MY* money AFTER I pay extra for the PRIVILEGE of being able to ASK? I was a little more composed when I asked him this nearly identical question. That was correct, I was told. I politely thanked the young man, and hung up the phone.

Currently, I have enough in my account to pay for MULTIPLE Mac Pros of the configuration I was requesting. And yet, here I was being denied the capability of using my funds in the manner in which I choose. By the bank that was being charged with protecting my funds from theft. And apprently protecting my funds from me as well. Or, as I stated to Pam:

…my money is in jail. Apparently, its crime is existing in large quantities, and I can’t even get visiting hours.

I contacted Apple to determine if there was a payment plan – and was told that there was not.  The only payment options were those listed on the site. Its even there in plain text for me to read (if I had done so). No six-level deep clicking of links. But the Apple agent was helpful.  She noted that this happens all the time. She suggested that I purchase Apple gift cards at $2000 apiece and use those to pay the large majority of the configuration, and then charge the balance when I was below my daily spending limit. This worked as she stated, but I was still a bit pissed at having to handle this process. It wasn’t Apple’s fault – rather its Wells Fargo’s desire to treat my money like it was theirs and not mine.

The process is completed, and here sitting next to my desk are the boxes that contain all the aspects of the Mac Pro configuration that I purchased. I will utilize the early part of the morning setting it up, and connecting it to the network. However, I am left thinking about the state of banking here in the United States. Many of us use banks for our paychecks. Many of us have our savings and retirement accounts in banking systems – Wells Fargo being among those. When I drop my money into these banks, am I still the owner of my money?? My experience obviously points to “No”. And in a society where the pushback is to use Debit and Credit Cards rather than cash — I have to start speculating on the level of “why”?

Spending on a credit card or debit card is rather easy to do — a simply swipe of the card. But do we keep track of these transactions?  Or do we let the bank do that for us?? I remember when I had to write a physical check, there was a little balance ledger there to use. I always viewed it as a nuisance. Now I begin to wonder…  The idea that people don’t know enough about their balances leads me to think that over-charging on an account may be more common than one may think. Who benefits from that?  The banks do – with over-draft fees. Use your ATM card in an ATM that is not your bank’s? Be prepared for an extra fee for doing so. And if you are unlucky enough to have an account that has to have a minimum balance…there’s a fee for that too. And it will be charged to your account — even if there are no funds there to cover it.

What the fsck?  All these fees and rules concerning how you can spend your money – the amounts you can spend – where you can get it from. I don’t know about the rest of you — but this sounds an awful lot like being handed an allowance from my late-parents. That stopped for me when I was 16 years of age. I can only look at this and see that my cash is definitely in jail…when I am using Wells Fargo.

The Root of All Evil Makes a Strong Tea…

A few days ago, I logged on to Facebook and glanced over to the right where the “News” stories are usually loaded. I was shocked to see a headline that stated some preacher I had never heard of before was claiming that God wanted him to have a $60 million dollar plane. I laughed it off at first, but was curious enough to click on the article and read it. What I found was enough to turn my stomach. Here was a preacher claiming something of a vision through a concept called “prosperity gospel” and he had a congregation willing to shell out the dollars for whatever he wanted. The cry for a jet was only the latest cry of desire from this guy.

::big sigh:: So this hit me from a pair of different angles. First off, what in the Nine Hells was this thing called a “prosperity gospel”? Second….well, let’s deal with the so-called “prosperity gospel” before I move on to the next thought – because that’s really a far more meaty topic.

Wikipedia is where I turned for assistance. A lot of people – particularly at the college I work for – disparage and degrade people who utilize Wikipedia, but I find it a useful STARTING point when trying to find out about something you have never heard of before. However, in this case, it will also be the stopping point here — because this is not the main topic I wanted to get into. Wikipedia defines “prosperity gospel” as:

Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, or the gospel of success) is a Christian religious doctrine that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will increase one’s material wealth. Based on non-traditional interpretations of the Bible, often with emphasis on the Book of Malachi, the doctrine views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver his promises of security and prosperity. Confessing these promises to be true is perceived as an act of faith, which God will honor.

Ok, I get where this is coming from. Shower money on the preacher — and God will shower money on you. Sort of a religious “trickle-down” theory except that the cash has to come from the bottom of the well before it starts to trickle back down. Essentially more like a Ponzi scheme in reverse, if you ask me. But that satisfies my curiosity for the moment…

MoneyPigMy second area of thought was “why aren’t there rich Pagans like this around?” You know, people who could INVEST into wonderful things like Book Publishers, LAND, festivals, temples, sanctuaries….all with an eye towards growing the larger Pagan community?? I honestly don’t see a lot of these types of folks within the Pagan community. What I see are people who work their tails off to make a living, and hopefully have a little money leftover for whatever they want. And…

And its here that I feel like I step out of a suburban environment to stare into a wide, empty, desert landscape that goes on forever and forever. Devoid of life. Nothing but dried and dead vegetation, rocks, and reddish sand as far as the eye can see. In short, I am not sure what else to think past this point.

I can speculate on why there doesn’t seem to be that many “rich” Pagans out there. I could speculate on why there’s not that much philanthropy taking place. Or perhaps it is, and it just takes place in a very quiet manner so as not to draw attention. But then, I have to start to try and define what a “rich” Pagan is.

I remember when I was unemployed for nearly two years. It was not that long ago. Just four years into the rearview mirror. I remember what it felt like to get my twice-monthly stipend from the government. How groceries were a carefully planned exercise, balanced against mounting bills, fuel needs, and the constant need to find something at home to do. “Rich” is one of those terms that is very subjective, fluid, and difficult to pin down.

Perhaps a better cut of the grain to try is looking at why this preacher’s situation is not happening within Paganism? Well, a very quick and easy point is that Pagans – for the most part – are very much against a standard form of authority. In short, its difficult for Pagans to hand the reigns of their spiritual lives over to an authoritarian figure such as this. I know that this is true for myself – and yes, I am generalizing to some degree as well. I am not decreeing it a “law” that all Pagans think along these lines…but if you are hammering me over that being a mandate of any sorts…well, you’re making my point for me.

So, what gives? Are Pagans tight-wads? Are our finances just that tight? Do we just not care enough outside of our own personal Spirituality to set dollars aside for some cause or another? Well, the answers do not seem to be that readily available — and watch out here — I don’t think the answer SHOULD be readily available. I just don’t see where that is much of anyone’s business, know what I mean?

What? Then, why am I asking this question? After all, if its no one’s business what you or anyone else spend their money on — why am I asking this question about where all the “rich” and philanthropic Pagans are? Because its food for thought.

See, I am not trying to make you spend your money on ANYTHING. Have you noticed that I have not mentioned any push for money? Not even my own push for finances to help keep the podcast running during my two-years of unemployment (well, that is until now). Because I am not trying to get you to spend your money on ANYTHING. Merely trying to stir up the idea of thinking about what you are PASSIONATE about supporting – without stating it openly (and there I did it again).

Let me try and state this another way. Do you believe in something passionately? Would you be willing to hand over five or ten (dollars, pounds, loonies, euros, whatever) every month or so to make it happen? Even if it didn’t happen in your lifetime? Merely because you believe its something that should happen for the future Pagan generations? After all folks, most of us are on the back-end of the first generation of Pagan folks…the second generation is already here and upon us. The younger twenty-somethings, and teenagers… We’ve talked about leaving them a better planet…a better place. We have managed to do so with our books, our writings, our beliefs, the freedoms and social changes we have scratched so hard for.

Yeah, I get that money is something that we don’t really care much about. We’d rather give our services and goods through trade. But money is what makes things work in mainstream environments. Money is not the root of all evil. However, the root of all evil makes a pretty strong tea….