Gold Enough to Hurt

Ecclesiastes 5:13-15

Here’s a man with more money than Davey Crockett, as Forrest Gump put it. His money could, apparently, buy nearly anything, at least if the allegations against him are true.

Jeffrey Epstein, recently arrested for trafficking underage girls, has definitely bought his own private island and a swanky jet aircraft. He stands accused of taking girls as young as fourteen in that airplane to that island and paying them a pittance to do as he would with them.

When he was prosecuted a decade or so back, Epstein was found guilty for largely the same offense and sentenced to less than a person might get for burglary. It seems that Mr. Epstein’s money could not only buy him all the things mentioned above but perverted justice as well.

Surely this wasn’t what Solomon had in mind when he spoke of a sickening tragedy:

There is a sickening tragedy I have seen under the sun: wealth kept by its owner to his harm. That wealth was lost in a bad venture, so when he fathered a son, he was empty-handed. As he came from his mother’s womb, so he will go again, naked as he came; he will take nothing for his efforts that he can carry in his hands.

Ecclesiastes 5:13-15

What If Accounting

Yesterday, I quoted from the song “Satisfied Mind.” Clearly, if the allegations are true, Jeffrey Epstein has not been able to purchase such satisfaction. In fact, his behavior evokes that of King David as he peered across the city and saw Bathsheba bathing. “I have all this, but I simply must have that. And I have the means to take it.”

Perverts of all sorts must look at the ultra-rich and think, “I could get away with so much if I were that person.” Epstein seems to prove this theory. Even today, as he has been arrested and charged, there’s no guarantee that his money, his notoriety, and his connections won’t get him out of the matter. His previous “slap on the wrist” outcome would seem to suggest that he will not feel the full weight of the law come down on him.

Look at film director Roman Polanski, a fugitive since 1978 after fleeing the country in the wake of his guilty plea for statutory rape. I’m not sure if it was Polanski’s wealth or his reputation as an artist that has allowed him to not only escape justice but to be rewarded with a Best Picture Oscar while on the lam.

But what if these guys do manage to use their considerable resources to cheat or at least minimize justice? Have they won? Of course they haven’t. I’m guessing that, at the last judgment, as many who have done horrible things and then repented are ushered into Christ’s presence, those who used their wealth to skate unrepentant like this will be herded off with the goats. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

Getting in Tune

I don’t have Jeffrey Epstein’s kind of money and neither do you. Instead, I have a decent sum in the bank. The bills are paid and tomorrow seems relatively secure. Honestly, that’s enough money for me to get myself into trouble, enough for me to keep to my own harm.

As infuriating and sickening as a news story like Epstein’s might be, it’s not our concern. Our concern is to hold whatever we have loosely enough that it does not cause us trouble.

It’s hard for the rich–even just the middle America type of rich–to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but we can do it even as we leave a legacy, both material and spiritual, to our children.

Those Lousy, Greedy CEO Types!

This morning I read a piece from the Wall Street Journal comparing the pay of CEOs with various athlete-actor-musician celebrities.Basically, the article, in the form of an infographic, suggested that the top people in each category make a ton of money and that the non-CEOs tend to make more. It prominently displays Howard Stern at $90 million a year with Robert Iger, CEO of Disney at $65.7 million. That’s a lot of money, any way you slice it.

Actually, I have a thought on describing large sums of money. We should say that Stern makes 3 MREs per year, while Iger is just north of 2 MREs a year. An MRE, of course, is not a military field ration but a Mueller Report Expense. The Robert Mueller special counsel investigation reportedly cost American taxpayers $30 million. That’s roughly a dime for every one of us.

Howard Stern’s 3 MRE contract represents 30 cents for every American. Put that way, 3 MREs (or $90 million) doesn’t seem like quite as much.

Do these people get paid too much? To answer that, we need to consider what they add to their companies and to the economy as a whole. If Mike Trout weren’t making $35.5 million or more than an MRE, he’d not only not be drawing people to sit in the seats at Angels Stadium and not helping to sell Angels gear as he clubs home runs for the local team, he’d be helping some other team to win. Is he worth almost 1.2 MREs? That’s a question for Angels’ General Manager Brad Ausmus, who earns considerably less than an MRE each year.

I’m thinking about this question today because of the staggering number of people who hold determined positions on the pay of CEOs, athletes, actors, and so forth. Maybe you’re such a person, the sort of person who has determined opinions on these things but can’t understand that a reduced tax refund doesn’t necessarily indicate higher taxes. Here’s an apparently good but in the end irrelevant such person.


And then there are people who will defend one group of high earners at the expense of the others.

So if you have strong opinions on these matters, then let me ask you a few questions:

  1. How much should the best left-handed starting pitcher in baseball earn?
  2. How much is enough for somebody who presence on a movie poster draws in a considerably larger crowd?
  3. How much is enough for someone who can keep a Walmart moving in the direction of Amazon rather than in the direction of Sears?

These people might be overpaid, but can you prove that they are and quantify by how much? If  not, then perhaps you’re not ready to share such strong opinions.

If this entry doesn’t seem very Tune-My-Heart-ish, that’s by design. Wait until what I have tomorrow.

The Rumpelstiltskin Effect

If it is possible to spin gold out of straw, a la Rumpelstiltskin, we are well equipped, with fifty square bales of wheat straw piled up next to our garden area. Penny is determined to plant the bulk of the garden in these bales. The process might be something that I’ll take up at a later date, but today, I would like to consider the idea of turning straw into gold, or, as Dire Straits sang, “Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.”

After we took delivery of the bales, Penny felt some concern. We dropped $350 on these things. Straw bales, it turns out, are not cheap. At some point, we have to think about spending more time and money on the growing of vegetables than on what those things would have cost at the grocery store or farmer’s market. Have we reached that point?

You can’t plant your artichokes in the middle of the grass, so we have to do something to prepare a bed for planting. We could spade it up by hand, which is a titanic undertaking and sure to leave our backs aching for days. We could buy a rototiller, which is probably not the best way to prepare a bed and would run us about as much as the straw bales if not more. We could build raised beds, which would involve a good deal of lumber plus some trucked-in soil, plus a lot of work. The bottom line is that there is no free lunch–or at least no free bed to plant your lunch veggies into.

We can’t magically turn those straw bales into a side of beef. We can’t even get an unreasonable amount of vegetables from our seeds. But we can get plenty, even after investing a fair bit. Proverbs warns us about trying to turn straw into gold.

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.–Proverbs 28:19-20

Similarly, when we’re in too big a hurry, when we’re looking to get rich quick–whether those riches be in gold or in asparagus–we’re behaving foolishly.

Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.–Proverbs 13:11

If we’ve been wise with this approach to planting, then the harvest will be plentiful. It won’t make us rich, but it will yield a profit. And when the season is done, the straw will have composted, leaving our soil richer and better prepared for next year.

We’ll keep you updated.Square Hay Bales.

So You Want to Win the Lottery?

All that glittersI’d love to have a bucket full of money come my way. Wouldn’t you? Every day, it seems, I watch people clog the checkout at QuikTrip as they agonize over their Lottery ticket purchases or gleefully collect the $25 they “earned” after buying $50 in tickets. (And they typically give that “winning” back for more tickets.)

In case you’re tempted by the lure of easy money, consider the fates of 21 Lottery winners who wound up being Lottery losers. This one is typical.

David Lee Edwards split a $280 million Powerball jackpot with three others, a win that came while he was unemployed and living in his parents’ basement. After taxes, he received a lump sum of $27 million. He bought a $600,000 house, a $1 million fleet of cars, a $78,000 watch, a $1.9 million jet, 200 swords and other medieval weapons, and a $4.5 million fiber-optics installation company. He also married a woman 19 years younger than he was.

Within a year, he had spent $12 million. The house was soon lost to foreclosure, his wife was arrested for stabbing a boyfriend, and David died at age 58 in 2013.

A jet and 200 swords? Wow. Beware of what you hope for. Jesus warned his followers about the lure of wealth: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). In my experience, when we serve God, the money, though not in epic quantities, will come along for the ride.