Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Variety of Fortunes

I was in a situation yesterday that provoked my thinking about a variety of fortunes.  I understand most of us never use the word, fortune, in the plural.  We never talk about “fortunes.”  Instead we employ the singular word, “fortune.”  But when I thought about it, I realized there are a variety of fortunes.  Let me explain.          

I think it is obvious there are two major ways the word, fortune, is normally used.  Probably the most obvious is to talk about monetary wealth as a fortune.  If I am a billionaire, like Warren Buffet, then appropriately they can be said, “to have a fortune.”  Some people really are stinking rich!  Some executives earn more in a year than most people earn in a lifetime. It does seem absurd to me to think that some people earn multi-millions of dollars annually.  It makes my salary look like chump change!  And I know I have earnings above the average American.  Compared to a very poor person, I suppose it is correct to say I “have a fortune.”  But I don’t think about it this way.          

Does this mean “having a fortune” is relative?  That question suggests that I have a fortune only if I think I have a fortune.  Probably most of us---with the exception of people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates---do not think they have a fortune.  I can even imagine someone like me saying, “I feel fortunate to have what I have.”  But in the same breath, I add, “but I don’t think I have a fortune.”          

All this suggests that it is tricky when fortune relates to money.  What is a fortune to one person is not enough to be a fortune for another person.  I conclude that we probably always will refer to money this way---I have a fortune or, no, I don’t have a fortune.  Maybe understanding fortune in a different way leads to a different result.          

The other major way the language of fortune is used is to refer to something like Fate or Destiny.  Certainly many people have an idea that their lives are “fated.”  “It was meant to be” would be the street version of saying life is fated.  We can think our fated life is either fortunate or not.  We can also talk about destiny.  Destiny is a kind of fortune.  My destiny might hinge on the winds of good fortune.  In that case, I would say, “let ‘er come!”  Or alternatively, my destiny might not bode very well.  In that case we talk about misfortune.  

I think I have experienced both in my life, so I am one who tends not to see Fortune as a Fate or Destiny driving my life.  I am too committed to my own sense of freedom---free will---to believe that my life is fated.  Of course, it seems true that I am fated to die.  But I certainly have a great deal of freedom to decide how to live before I die.  Death may be my Destiny; mortally I am fated.  But I have incredible freedom on the way.  In many ways, life is what you make of it.

In addition to money and Fate, I think there is a third way to talk about fortune.  Let me designate this the spiritual view of fortune.  I will talk about the spiritual view of fortune in two ways.  The first way of being spiritually fortunate is to talk about friendship.  I value highly my friendships.  I don’t know that they are rare like gold is rare.  But they are quite valuable to me.

Good friendships are not a given.  Of course, I realize in this Facebook world, people have five hundred or more friends!  But of course, I also do not think most of those five hundred passes the real friendship definition I would use.  With my definition of friendship, it is impossible to have five hundred friends.  Historically, the theologians and philosophers talk about perfect friends or true friends.  One can only have a few of these kinds of friendships.

With my few true friends, I feel wealthy.  I feel quite rich.  These friends are gift, grace and gratuity.  I can only be grateful in response.  I feel fortunate and like I have a fortune.  They do not add one cent to my pocket and they are not destined to be friends in my life.  I appreciate and am deeply grateful for the fortune that my friends afford me.  With this kind of fortune, I do feel stinking rich.

The other way of talking about the spiritual view of fortune is to talk about the Divine Spirit---God, if you like.  I am ok with talking about God as a Fortune.  I am also happy to talk about the Divine Spirit as friend.  Obviously God is immense and God’s value is inestimable.  No valuation can be put on the Divine Spirit.  The only way I can even imagine talking about God’s Spirit is with words like extravagance.

When I am aware of the huge gift of God’s Spirit in my life, I can only confess to being fortunate.  It is an unbelievable fortune to have as gift and donation to me.  It is grace; I don’t necessarily deserve it.  I did not earn it.  It is not because of inheritance.  Finally I realize it is the only kind of fortune that really matters.  If I have been fortunate to be gifted in this way, I do not need monetary wealth and Fortune/Destiny is irrelevant.  I am a fortunate guy.

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