Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Meaningless, says the Teacher(dave)

I had a guy recently talk to me about the key to amassing wealth. It wasn't a get-rich-quick scheme, it was a careful, informed, patient way to build up your assets over time, so that you will one day not have to work, and can live the lifestyle you want. Building an empire, some call it.

And there's nothing wrong with wanting to be financially secure. This is sound advice. But the more he talked about it, the more troubled I became. This guy (who is a Christian, by the way) going on and on about how he wants to get to the point where he never has to work again. He kept using comparisions between "the rich" and "the poor", and kept speaking with great disdain for the "rat race", intimating that only fools would want to stay in the middle class.

I asked him, "So what's the point of all this?"

"Well, to not have to work again, for one thing."

"So you work for thirty or so years at this method, stocks and all, and then you're rich?"

"The guy who wrote the book was a millionaire by 46!"

"So what if he had died when he was 43?"

My friend looked like a puppy who'd just been flicked in the nose. He blinked for a second. "What do you mean?"

"He works with this solid plan in mind to be rich by this age, and after that to live a life doing what he wants, but dies before he reaches it. Then what does he have?"

"I don't think you understand, Dave."

"No, I understand, and all these techniques sound solid. Like you said, it's common sense. What I'm getting at is, if you can't use any of this money, what's the point?"

"I must not be explaining it right. You see..."

And round and round we went. For about 30 minutes. Ugh. In the end, I promised to read the book and give it back to him. Which I will this weekend. But all the time, in my mind I heard a voice. The voice of the Teacher. (Not the really big "T" kids, not the Divine Teacher, just the uppercase Old Testament "Teacher".) And the Teacher said one word: "Meaningless."

After talking with my friend, I went back that night and read Ecclesiastes. All of it. Have you ever sat down and read all of Ecclesiastes in one sitting? Do so. It'll blow your mind. Because first of all, it doesn't really seem like it's a Bible book. It seems so pessimistic from the outside. But that's why you have to read it all the way through. And when you do, you'll see a few themes:

1) Everything we're taught to value by society, school, even family, is meaningless. A chasing after the wind. Riches, fame, pleasure, power, laughter, comfort, entertainment. Nothing. Dust. Meaningless. Because we'll all die.
2) There is no justice in this life. Good people suffer, evil people reign. Fools succeed, wise people fail. No justice *in this life*. Justice is after death.
3) There is only one way to be happy. One. Eat, drink, find pleasure in a good day's work. Then you call sleep satisfied. If you are married, enjoy life with your mate, all the meaningless days of your life. This is your lot in life.
4) In the end, there is only one course for a man to find true fulfillment: Fear God, keep his commands. That's it.

There you go, the Cliff's Notes for Ecclesiastes. But like I tell all my students, if you only use Cliff's Notes to study, the best you can hope for is a 70. You have to read the book to do better.

So read the book, kids. Read all the book, really. But I like Ecclesiastes. It's a trip.

I'll read the money book, because I promised to do so. And I'm sure there will be ideas in there that I will find useful, and will incorporate. But really kids, and some days I would deny saying this, I know that i can live my entire life making less that six figures, and still be totally satisfied and happy. Riches are a burden (that's also in the Book). I just want to find something fulfilling that I can make a difference in the world by doing. And I don't think that being rich is necessarily part of that. I guess that's why I was an English major.

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