Wealth and Power

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Dear Friend,

I begin most of my letters here with a derivative of that salutation.  Dear Russell and Friends . . .  But the letter on my table is not from Russell.  It is from Steve Forbes, or rather it appears, from his desk.  I don’t know Steve Forbes but he asks me to join him by buying a magazine.  It is three and a half pages long, but a quick read due to capacious spacing and outsized font.  The first words that receive the inflation denote the thesis of the letter.  Mr. Forbes offers me something that he thinks I want:  wealth and power.

Is he right?  Before I discount advertising, I must assess its success.  It often works.  Very often.  And those who can afford Forbes magazine and even its peddled luxury wares are not less vulnerable. Perhaps they are even more so.

Mr. Forbes thinks that I want to read about the lives of billionaires.  In his words the magazine that bears his name is not all about business.

It’s also about enjoying the rewards of success.  Exotic supercars. Yachts to die for.  Hideaways that you can’t get to from here.  The private plane circuit, where wealthy flyers never see the inside of a terminal.  Plus, you’ll get ForbesLife, our guide to living the good life.

Is he right?  Is wealth and power a worthy goal?  Mr. Forbes is no fool, but I’ve been one.  I’ve been sorely tempted to mistake my gifts for entitlement.  I’ve been sorely tempted to direct my capacity toward temporary things that will not survive even my brief life.  I’ve been sorely tempted to seek approval, influence, and regard.  In truth – – I find power more tempting than wealth and view the latter as only the currency of the former.  I have been tempted and I have fallen.

One reason I follow Christ is so that I can answer Mr. Forbes with honesty.  Yes – – you’re right sir.  I do want wealth and power.  But, deep within me I know it is not enough.  Deep within me I know that it will not survive me.  Vanderbilt barely lived in America’s largest home.  So what can replace wealth and power as my desire? Following Christ has given me that answer.

Mr. Forbes and his team are no fools.  I’m not in the top 0.1% of income, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 1%.  I’m not in the top 0.01% of intellect, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 0.1%.  Honesty is not what I need.  I need humility.  By following Christ I see someone so much greater than me that I have no metric of comparison.  Yet he came to serve and to suffer with us (compassion defined).  Mr. Forbes may not be a fool, but I want to be.  I want to foolishly reject the call to wealth and power although I know that I could realistically attain a measure of it.  I want to foolishly love those who are poor and powerless.

Oh Mr. Forbes, you knew I would be tempted.  I am constantly tempted by goals that honor myself and not my savior.  Oh God – – please let me be wise and pursue your compassion.  Let me live differently as a steward of the capabilities that are only a gift from you.

Dear readers – –

1)  Does Mr. Forbes’ offer tempt you?

2)  Atheist friends:  how have you mitigated this siren call?

3)  Christ followers and those of other faiths:  same question.

4)  Any:  am I wrong to recoil from this letter?  I welcome your criticism.

 

Pascal  1:16

photo credit:  “Biltmore Estate 14-2” by Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg: Doug Coldwellderivative work: Entheta (talk) – Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

4 comments

  1. This won’t mean much, because I’m not yet earning an income—but I recoiled strongly to the excerpt you posted. I knew Forbes was a magazine that some rich people read—but I thought it was just about business and finance. Of course the advertising would be different and highlight things I cannot afford, but I’m still astonished that they actually put this into printed words. Supercars, yachts, and private planes? “The good life”? Wow.

    As someone who cannot describe myself as a Christian, how do I resist the siren call? For me, it’s easier than when I was a Christian. I don’t think that’s a Jesus problem; I think it’s a Christ-follower problem. The Christians I grew up with often don’t look much like Jesus. I visited my parents last weekend and said something about free clinic being one of my favorite parts of medical school. My dad rolled his eyes and said that school had made me a liberal socialist. I don’t think Jesus would have overturned tables in a free clinic, though.

    In the same evening, he mentioned that 3% of the people give 85% of their church’s budget. My parents received a letter thanking them for being in the 3%. “God keeps blessing us because we keep giving,” they say. And it sounds a lot like a Joel Osteen sermon, but I don’t dare say that. They despise his “prosperity gospel.” They care more about receiving God’s blessings than they do about showing Christ to others (unless showing Christ involves going on a cruise tour with the church’s concert choir). They seek his hand of blessing, but they fail to become his hands for others. When I no longer had the distraction of the type of Christianity I grew up with, I did a better job of recognizing suffering, and my burden grew. It’s hard to be wrapped up in wealth if you open your eyes to how most of the world lives.

    Also, I don’t think I’ve ever been more “blessed,” and we haven’t tithed in three years.

    Am I tempted by what the world calls “the good life”? Oh yes. I’m thankful for people like you who are fighting this battle before me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this is where skeptics and faithful can join in a common goal. I love my skeptical friends like Howie and Vance who care deeply for the poor. Likewise I grieve for my believing friends like your parents who are lost in this regard. I still think that your faith can be reformed. If you decide to tithe again your approach will be different. My history with avarice is interesting. My mother, raised wealthy, held money with an open hand. My father, raised poor, cared about it. My children have much more than I did materially. Mrs. Pascal and I prayerfully desire to raise them with compassion and to avoid spoiling them.

      Blessings my friend – – we are on the same path. I hope that in the future we will follow the same way again.

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  2. Hi Pascal!

    I hope your well. I just saw this post. I have an immediate response but it will take me longer than I have right now. Time to wake the baby – it’s a big day and I’ll tell you about it later. I’ll comment about this post in a few days and try to write a post myself. We’ll talk soon!

    –Russell

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  3. Wealth?
    According to a few studies, if you have enough money to pay your bills, have insurance, go on a few vacations, and take care of emergencies, then you will have significantly less stress than anyone that does not have at least that much money. After that point, wealth no longer has any bearing on one’s happiness or stress.

    Personally, I’d like our species to rid ourselves of this failed experiment we call money. I don’t see that happening in my lifetime. So instead I want only for the amount of money I need to meet the needs I have listed. I don’t currently have all those things. Yet my household is in the top .5% of earners in the world. That’s perspective. If I had any money beyond those needs, it would go to bettering our world. I have no need or want of it.

    Power?
    I have all I know what to do with. I can influence my little circle of the world and that makes a difference. I’m not sure anyone should have any more power than that. I certainly know I don’t want to wield any more than that. The power hungry people seem to be the ones that shouldn’t be leading, at least in my estimation. I’m not quite an anarchist, but I’d be thrilled if we dropped some of our neanderthalish power battles.

    Liked by 1 person

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