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Columnists Remarkable Providences

Taking stock

Taking stock

Seeing something more important than missed opportunity

I've written several tons of articles in the three decades since I was in college, but never before one about stock markets. That stuff just didn't interest me. Also, I didn't have much money, I didn't have much time, and I had thought people had to be very smart or extraordinarily bold to make a lot of money in the stock market.

Here's an article about the stock market, prompted by what (if the deal doesn't fall apart) may be looked back upon by historians as the symbolic economic event of our age, the AOL purchase of Time Warner. Many pundits have written about what the new economy means for society; I'm curious about what it means personally to many of our readers.

Maureen Dowd, the arch columnist of The New York Times, wrote last week about how she felt dumb not to have held onto her stock in Time, where she formerly worked. Referring to the AOL purchase of Time Warner, she noted, "I didn't hold onto my Time stock. And on Monday many of my old colleagues became multimillionaires. If there's a way to lose money, I'll find it."

Ms. Dowd told of how she had called a psychoanalyst concerning her fears of feeling inadequate, and "He confessed his own feelings of inadequacy.... 'Yesterday I was driving somewhere and my children said, "Dad, you're smart and funny and hip. Why didn't you invest in Internet stocks? What's wrong with you?"'"

My kids certainly would never speak that way to me: They would never say I'm hip. Not only am I unhip, I'm temperamentally conservative. (I'd like to think I'm conservative in the sense of conserving the good things God has given rather than coveting more, but I'm probably just the stingy sort who feels more concern about losing money than pleasure at making it.)

Ms. Dowd also noted in her column, "We are obsessed about making money with our money. Making an honest living does not seem like a particularly sensible thing to do anymore when you can simply hold a stock that rises to the stratosphere." But, stupidly, I didn't have any stratospheric stocks, so now I'm practicing excuses for when the grandkids I hope to see someday ask, "What did you do in the bull market, grandpa?"

How about, "I was writing history books, so I thought the whole thing was a speculative bubble as most such things through history have been"? How about, "I was busy editing WORLD and I thought occasionally about good investments to make, but didn't have the time to research them"? Both statements are accurate, but the AOL Time Warner deal made me realize they are skimpy rationalizations.

The bubble may still burst, but AOL now will own things that seem very solid, like weekly newsmagazines. My lack-of-time excuse has little standing in light of what money manager Jim Cramer told the grieving Ms. Dowd, "In the old days you had to be intrepid or an M.B.A. to get in on the gold rush. Now ... you don't have to brave anything at all."

So I am without excuse. What remained in my account after taxes and tithes was left to linger in go-nowhere bonds or go-slow "value stocks." "Everybody brags about their gains," says James Stewart, an author of books about Wall Street. So when I went to Seattle at mid-month to give a speech, and the twentysomething manager of the bed-and-breakfast where my hosts put me up talked of his investments, throwing out names like Cisco, Dell, and AOL, I was not surprised. But I had no brag to offer.

Mr. Stewart also wrote, "I have never seen so many disgruntled people at the peak of a bull market. People look at their portfolios going up 40 percent last year and they are whining and complaining to me that they didn't own Qualcomm." But I wouldn't be like that, I told myself. I just wanted to brag a little. Why couldn't God have given me the insight even to buy a Nasdaq index fund? Look at all the good works for which we could have used the money.

But maybe it was more important for God to show me my sin-coveting-so that I would love more dearly my Savior. In the hotel room in Seattle I read chapter four of James, about loving the world. God's biggest tip in that chapter isn't to buy Qualcomm. It's this: "'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Submit yourself, then, to God.... Come near to God and He will come near to you" (James 4:6-8).