June 15, 2015
Wow: that guy is really generous.
Just two weeks ago, Harvard University announced its largest gift ever: John Paulson – hedge fund billionaire – is giving $400 million to endow the engineering school that would bear his name. Paulson made big news in 2007/2008 by making $1 billion betting against investors who bought his Abacus fund – a collection of “securities” that were bundled, toxic mortgages – through Goldman & Sachs – and was both applauded and vilified for profiting richly from the Great Recession.
Malcolm Gladwell – author extraordinaire – set the Twitter world on fire the next day with: “It came down to helping the poor or giving the world’s richest university $400 mil it doesn’t need. Wise choice John!” An eruption of emotional lava spewed in tweets, many in defense of Paulson (113th on Forbes list with $11 billion) and Harvard (1st among school endowments with $36 billion). Generous?
The Jordan River is not one of the world’s great rivers (Nile, Amazon, Mississippi, Rhine, Yangtze), but it flows through the middle of God’s country, from north-to-south. Small river; big name.
Just 156 miles long, it is sourced in four springs (two in Lebanon, two in Israel). It feeds the Sea of Galilee (64 square mile surface), then runs 70 miles to the larger Dead Sea (234), where it terminates. Central to the story of God’s story – from Abraham to now – it is far more than a geological feature.
In 1964, the Arab League determined to divert waters from the Jordan away from Israel – to Arab countries nearby – which would have reduced its flow by 34%, and increased its salinity dramatically. That decision was one key factor behind 1967’s Six Day War. The Jordan River is a critical factor in the equation of peace in the Middle East.
The Jordan is the source for both seas: Galilee and Dead. They are unique bodies of water: Galilee at -696 below sea level; Dead at -1400 (Death Valley is -282). Galilee is a gathering place for Jordan’s fresh water, which is Israel’s primary source. Though four times larger, Dead is of no practical value for agriculture or human consumption: the salt concentration fluctuates around 31%.
The comparison is fascinating: what water is to biological life, money is to social existence. River flow is like cash flow: most experience money as a moving stream that passes them by, while providing their sustenance. For others, they are able to dam the flow and capture excess that flowed past others on the way to their control. Once they accumulate the excess from the upstream source(s), the decisions they make determine the value of their reservoir.
Here are the options, once you control the valves: 1) Retain it: create a Dead Sea of capacity that benefits no one. 2) Recycle it: pump it back-and-forth between holding ponds. 3) Release it: allow the river to continue its journey, benefiting the people and fields downstream.
Retain it? Scott McNealy – co-founder of Sun MicroSystems – decries Gates and Buffett, saying charity is misspent and reinvestment in business is the superior choice. Recycle it? The 50 largest individual donations in 2012: 34 went to elite schools (Harvard et. al.), nine went to museums and arts organizations; the rest to medical institutions and fashionable causes; none – 0 – went to the poor. Release it? “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work… you will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-11)
Rich-to-rich isn’t generosity; it’s recycling. True generosity goes from more-to-less, believing that God controls the upstream flow and will replenish what is discharged, when the release is done to benefit others for redemptive purposes.
Start this week with a generous mindset; spend three minutes now in Psalm 37 (click to read),