Thursday, March 29, 2012

Prosperity Gospel Truth

Sometimes, I don't mind being poor.

Not often, mind you; but sometimes!  Like when I learned today that a court settlement has finally been reached in the bizarre saga of the late, great Brooke Astor's estate.  Or when I read an article in the New York Times discussing the hard sell parents of private school pupils in Manhattan are getting from school administrators.

$40,000 Per Year Ain't Enough

Turns out, not even $40,000 per year is enough to educate New York's most pampered offspring in the city's most prestigious private schools.  While plenty of folks around the United States manage to scrape by each year EARNING only $40,000, Manhattan's plethora of One Percenters are having to shell out that amount - and more - so their kids don't have to mingle with the riff-raff in parochial schools or - horrors! - public schools.

Granted, New York City's public schools don't have a reputation that is arbitrary and undeserved.  But more schools than we think are better than we think they are, particularly those located south of 96th Street.  Better at least in terms of educational opportunities.

It's not necessarily a sin to spend $40,000 per year on private school tuition, or to spend thousands more per year in extra donations to help keep the lights on and the toilets operational at their elite schoolhouses.  And when you consider that families paying those kinds of dollars are probably living in boxy apartments costing millions, and paying ridiculous income and property taxes, $40,000 per year to make sure your kid can afford to top your own lifestyle when they graduate is a drop in the bucket.

Imagine all the stress and hassle it is to keep all that going.  When I was younger, I used to think that perhaps one day I'd be able to figure out a way to maintain that type of existence, but at this point, it's looking less and less likely.

So whether I mind being poor or not, it's a lifestyle I'd be better off adjusting to, rather than keeping my hopes up for something "better."

Brooke No Arguments Over One Hundred Million

Too bad Anthony Marshall, the octogenarian son of New York City's last grande dame of society and philanthropy, didn't share the same mindset about adjusting to one's portion in life when it comes to money.

In terms of dot-com wealth, his mother's estate, clocking in at $100 million, is hardly staggering.  But that fact says more about the heady sums of money today's One Percenters bring home than the pittance they and their sympathizers might consider the Astor fortune.
New York's socialite extraordinaire, Brooke Astor
Yes, "that" Astor.  Well, the second wife of the grandson, anyway:  Brooke.  She was short, thin, and not particularly beautiful, but her mother had taught her how to climb the social ladder anyway, and she excelled at that.  When her famously wealthy husband suddenly died only a few years into their chilly marriage, she wasted no time establishing herself as the doyenne of New York's vast philanthropic universe.  And it must be said that at least part of her ambitions were altruistic:  reasoning that her late husband's family had earned their fortune in New York City, and in some less-than-altruistic ways, their money should be re-invested back into the same city from which it had come.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, Brooklyn's Prospect Park, and other grand institutions in the city benefited from her largess over several decades of conspicuous charity.

Meanwhile, Anthony, who was no pauper, fell for an Episcopalian vicar's wife in Maine, and the two of them are believed to have set their sights on his mother's personal wealth and the trust fund she was, in their eyes, frittering away on poor people.  A few years ago, when Brooke was past 100 and stricken by dementia, Anthony (supposedly at his newest wife's bidding) tried to connive his mother into giving him greater control of what money she had left.  After all, that $100 million might not make a Silicon Valley venture capitalist turn his head, but even in New York City, with it's $40,000-per-year private schools, it can still go a long, long way.

Except that for Anthony, his machinations only got him as far as the courthouse, after one of his own sons contacted the Rockefeller family - yes, those Rockefellers - to see why his grandmother suddenly seemed to be living in penury.  Three years ago, Anthony was convicted of stealing money from his elderly mother, and although his case is still on appeal, nobody really wants him sent to prison.  His conviction helped convince the court settling Brooke's estate that he's not worthy of the greater authority he'd sought over her money, and that's what happened in the settlement of her will yesterday.

Still, it's a pretty ugly epitaph for someone who'd been one of New York's wealthiest women, and had built her reputation around money.  Money, and everything a lot of it can buy.

So, yes, sometimes, I don't mind being poor.  Might the problems we poor folk face on a daily basis be worth the agony we avoid by lusting too much after what it would take to, well, not be poor?

Our Lord Is Rich to His Own

Although, today, I was also reminded that I'm not as poor as I think I am.  Consider this verse Paul wrote to the Romans:

For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.  -  Romans 10:12

Now, of course, the riches Paul references in this passage aren't necessarily relating to money, or standards of wealth we mortals use to peg our net worth.  Some believers in Christ are indeed exceedingly rich in earthly goods, but we don't believe in the heretical "prosperity gospel" in which God rewards people who give certain sums of money to televangelists.

God's riches to us come in the form of salvation through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  They come in the presence we have of the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us, and the very grace He bestows upon us as heirs of His Kingdom.  And since God owns everything anyway, isn't the stuff that the One Percenters and Brooke Astors of our world enjoy simply on loan from Him?

OK, so maybe even all that stuff they have being on loan isn't the salve we like to think it is for those of us who are much poorer materially.  But remember, money's not the point.

"The same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him."    All of us who are together in Christ are guaranteed to be given in abundance the one thing that we most need:  salvation.  Salvation from ourselves.  From our sin.  From even our love of money.  

Two million years from now, that will still be true for us.  For the One Percenters and Brooke Astors of our world, it will only be true if they're redeemed by the blood of Christ.

Talk about your investment strategies!  This is the only true "prosperity Gospel," isn't it?

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