Wednesday, April 02, 2008


"For the love of money is the root of all evil." 1 Timothy 6:10

The movie 21 is the true story of several MIT students who use their expert math skills to beat the odds at blackjack tables in Las Vegas, based on the book Bringing Down the House.

While some of the names of characters have been changed, the premise is still the same: Ben Campbell, an unsuspecting and incredibly smart college student (Jim Sturgess) gets in over his head but learns his lesson soon enough to turn the tables on his teacher and mentor Miky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) who has long before gotten over his head in this gambling scheme.

Ben is at first reluctant to try this, with his eyes focused on the prize of getting into Harvard and winning a robotics competition with his best friends. But boredom of his Boston lifestyle convinces Ben that a little gamble couldn't hurt too much.

At first, he succeeds at this tightrope walk. He keeps his cool, making just enough money to pay his $300,000 tuition to Harvard (a side note: this is a sad state of affairs that to be well educated is only the opportunity for the super rich or the super lucky with this astronomical cost of higher education dangling in front of us).

But the downfall happens when he loves the money more than his love of math or his dreams of higher education. Not only this, but he starts to love his rich self more than his previous life as an average, ordinary college kid. This sends him into a spiral that causes him to lose his cool, and eventually, lose all his money, his dreams, his friends, and his respectability.

It isn't money itself that St. Paul called the "root of all evil," but rather the "love of money" that gets this undistinguished honor. (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10)

Money is the means to an end: paying the bills, getting an education, feeding yourself, having a roof over your hear, enjoying life's little pleasures, donating to the poor and to charity, taking care of those you love... and moving closer toward your dreams. While I would love to live in a society like Star Trek where money doesn't exist anymore, we aren't quite there yet. So in the meantime, money helps us get to where we need to be.

But when we love money and the acquisition of money more than our life goals, dreams, and hopes, we ourselves can fall into a similar downward spiral. When our goals, dreams, and hopes become the acquisition of wealth, we also need to be careful.

Instead, when I find myself thinking like this and slipping into this trap, I like to spend some time refocusing on what's truly important to my life. I spend time thinking of and praying about my family, my friends, my work, my faith, and my dreams for myself and for the world. I also find it helpful to call up old friends and family, who care and love me for who I am inside, and talk with them. They keep me grounded, and I find any love of money starts to slip away.

That's not to say that we aren't encouraged to be professionally ambitious. We should work hard for a well-earned wage, and be responsible for how we spend it. But when the pursuit becomes more important than anything else, we need that time of refocus and renewal.

This is what young Ben Campbell did in the movie. He became truly rich when he reconnected with friends, family, his dreams, and his talents and gifts. His "love of money" was overcome by a love of people, a hope for the future, and a faith in genuine goodness of others.

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