Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 22, 2004
Taking Stock makes cents of real worth
Light One Candle
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Recently, I realized something that I would never have thought possible. Many of my friends are millionaires. I mean regular folks I grew up with or neighbours. They did well, they got lucky, and they made more money than they could ever have imagined.
In some cases, they presumed that since they were rich, they'd also be happy and that money would give their lives meaning. But it didn't. Never was that clearer than when the money was suddenly gone, when the bottom dropped out of the stock market.
It's for these friends and others like them that Rabbi Benjamin Blech is writing in his insightful new book called Taking Stock. One of the great paradoxes of life is how much time and energy we devote to acquiring something that is of no value in the life to come. Money, such a desired companion in the here and now, must be left at the edge of the grave.
And never did money seem more indispensable than at the end of the 20th century. The remarkable stock market of the late 1990s held out the promise of wealth for nearly everyone who could take advantage of it. People who never before expected such prosperity began to take this good fortune for granted. Our society, with its strong tendency to equate value with price, seemed more wealth-obsessed than ever.
Now, the first years of a new century have brought the cold light of dawn and the realization that there is no such thing as a risk-free investment or an ever-climbing stock market.
For many, especially the relatively inexperienced new investor, this has come not merely as a disappointment, but as a life-altering experience. All kinds of plans, from starting a family to preparing for retirement, have been put on hold. No wonder many people feel seriously disoriented.
In his revealing and very personal book, Blech tells us that he shares this experience firsthand. He too invested heavily in the market. He too counted on the soaring market to give him a sense of permanent security.
But as he makes clear, even after significant financial losses, he still has a great wealth to share: It's a wealth of knowledge and insight that comes from his immersion in the wisdom of a great spiritual tradition.
From the Bible, from sages throughout the centuries, from research findings, and the experiences of people he knows or has read about, Blech has written a persuasive case for putting wealth in its proper perspective. For all the time and energy so many expend in pursuing wealth, its place is far from the centre of what's most important in a worthwhile life. There are few people sadder than those who mistake their worth as human beings for the value of their portfolios.
My own Christian tradition reminds me of the figure of the "rich young man" in the Bible. Eager to do the right thing, he cannot face the challenge of giving up his possessions to the poor, to follow Jesus. He walks away because doing the right thing costs too much. Many have made this same choice and found disappointment instead of peace.
Taking Stock is a remarkably easy and genial book to read, but it is not one whose insights will be completely grasped after one reading. I found myself going back to it again and again. For while the economic crisis that inspired it will pass, the value of its message is permanent.
We are, each of us, so much more than what we make, save or inherit.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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