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The nature of wealth

June 11, 2013

I can't stop thinking about the April 13th birth of Margaret Laura Hager, the first grandchild of George W. Bush. I was surprised to learn he had no other grandchildren. Me, I have so many grandkids I can't keep track of the current number. The former president is from my generation, we both had our first child in 1981 (in his case, twins), but somehow his family stopped growing and mine didn't.

The comparison of his life with mine has me pondering the nature of wealth.

On the surface, George Bush is the wealthy one in that comparison. He comes from money and power. Before he was rich and President, his father was rich and President. His grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a Wall Street executive and a U.S. senator. His great grandfather, Samuel Bush, was president of a steel company and cohort of the Rockefellers.

My family resume doesn't look like his but I have two living 94-year-old parents, a beautiful woman who loves me, two awesome daughters married to two men I actually like, more grandchildren than I can count (and another one due any minute), and even have one great grandchild... yep, little A.J. is the first of everything on both sides of his family: first child, first grandchild, first great grandchild, first great great grandchild. The poor kid doesn't have a chance—everybody wants to spoil him.

At family gatherings I'm so overwhelmed with felicitous feelings about my family I have a tendency to become quiet and just sit in a corner somewhere, watching my offspring, pride and love washing over me, basking in the wonder of the Lord's blessings. In moments like those—nothing against the former president, just an observation—I know with absolute certainty that I am wealthier than George Bush.

The nature of wealth changes as we mature. Wisdom, if it comes (it doesn't come to everyone), annihilates the pleasure we got from immature scrabbling after things we formerly considered important, leaving us surprised and bemused by our newfound clarity about what truly mattered all along.

Two and a half thousand years ago a Greek writer named Euripides drew an unfavorable comparison of wealth and character but missed the larger point: character, family, love, righteousness—these things are not merely better than wealth, they are wealth.

True wealth.

Nowhere was that more evident than at Liberty High School in Pickens, South Carolina, last Saturday, where valedictorian Roy Costner tore up the speech he wrote for his graduation ceremony and recited the Lord's Prayer instead... in defiance of an atheist organization called the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) that spends enormous amounts of effort and money fighting any mention of God in public places.

The FFRF is based in Wisconsin but they've been battling this South Carolina school district over their school board's tendency to pray before meetings, which gives you some idea of how obsessed the FFRF people are about imposing their viewpoint on the world. South Carolina is a long way from Wisconsin. As atheists they presumably believe that praying to God is useless, but somehow those prayers are sufficiently effective to bother them one thousand miles away. One can't help wondering what makes them so doggone afraid of God that mentioning His name drives them into such a tizzy.

Comparing their comments to Roy Costner's leaves no doubt about who is wealthy and who is not. Here's the FFRF:
"The valedictorian who so insensitively inflicted Christian prayer on a captive audience at a secular graduation ceremony, is a product of a school district which itself set an unconstitutional example by hosting school board prayer."
"Insensitively inflicted a Christian prayer?" They make it sound like a skunk sprayed the family picnic.

Here's the 18-year-old:
"I asked God exactly what He wanted me to do. I was trying to think of a prayer that would suit all denominations. That’s why I went with The Lord’s Prayer... We are not in a country where we have freedom from religion—we have freedom of religion.”
On Tuesday we saw another example of someone with true wealth. Wetumpka, Alabama, Tea Party President Becky Gerritson testified before the House Ways and Means Committee. She was emotional, passionate, and full of righteous anger. She lectured the assembled congresscritters on their neglect of their duties, the value of America, and their lack of character. The contrast between Becky Gerritson and the politicians she called to task was stark:
"I’m not here as a serf or a vassal. I’m not begging my lords for mercy. I’m a born free American woman. Wife, mother, and citizen. And I’m telling my government that you’ve forgotten your place. It’s not your responsibility to look out for my wellbeing and to monitor my speech. It’s not your right to assert an agenda. Your post, the post that you occupy, exists to preserve American liberty. You’ve sworn to perform that duty, and you have faltered… The individuals who sought to intimidate us were acting as they thought they should, in a government culture that has little respect for its citizens. Many of the agents and agencies of the federal government do not understand that they are servants of the people. They think they are our masters. And they are mistaken. I’m not interested in scoring political points. I want to protect and preserve the America that I grew up in. The America that people crossed oceans and risked their lives to become a part of. And I’m terrified it is slipping away."
Those are the words of a wealthy but charitable woman trying to share her wealth with paupers. And here's one of those paupers, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Washington), who decided it was his job to defend President Obama and the IRS by attacking Becky Gerritson and the other witnesses:
"If you didn’t come in and ask for this tax break, you never would have had a question asked of you."
In other words, according to McDermott, IRS harassment of people for utilizing their First Amendment rights was never the problem—the problem was people expecting to have constitutional rights in the first place. And if that's not dumb enough already, Mr. McDermott proceeded to ask the stupidest question in the House since Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) wondered if Guam was going to tip over:
"If there was an organization promoting taxpayer funding for abortions, wouldn’t you want to know what they were using that political money for or what candidates they were backing?"
There is such an organization! It's called Planned Parenthood, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt entity that promotes taxpayer funding for abortions, doesn't have to reveal its donors, gives more than 99% of its campaign contributions to Democrat candidates (through its PAC, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund) but still claims to be non-partisan, and because it's classified itself as a charity, its secret donors get to deduct their contributions on income tax returns.

Becky Gerritson wasn't asking for all that—she just wanted her Tea Party group to be a 501(c)(4). She didn't want taxpayer money and she didn't expect contributions to be tax deductible.

This isn't the first time Rep. McDermott made an ass of himself. He makes a habit of it. He earned the nickname "Baghdad Jim" after visiting Iraq in 2002 and collecting $5,000 to side with Saddam Hussein against George Bush. What a guy.

Watching this puffy-faced slack-jawed imbecile insult and patronize red-blooded patriotic Americans is like watching a monkey throw poop at the zoo. The shame isn't the flying poop. The shame is that a monkey is in the zoo. State of Washington, 7th congressional district, that's on you.

In spite of the incivility and obtuse partisanship she received from the congressman, we don't need to feel sorry for Becky Gerritson. At the end of the day when we all look in the mirror or lie in the dark wallowing in self-judgment, gauging our own net worth, some of us experience the satisfaction of being wealthy in the ways that matter and some of us are Jim McDermott.

Such is the nature of wealth.

"Wealth stays with us a little moment if at all: only our characters are steadfast, not our gold." — Euripides

"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of." — Confucius

"It's pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness; poverty and wealth have both failed." — Kin Hubbard

"Wealth—any income that is at least one hundred dollars more a year than the income of one's wife's sister's husband." — H. L. Mencken

From Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA       

June 22, 2013 - It seems that the world tries so hard to make us believe wealth comes from monetary assets. As we grow and if we're blessed enough to experience God's grace, we realize our hearts are set for eternity. We treasure the things that are forever; people, love, actions that produce eternal rewards. It's interesting that the most important things in life are those which are the most under attack. The family unit, marriage, the lives of our unborn children, Biblical manhood and womandhood. – Samantha, Michigan

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