Lord, have mercy upon us!
Christ have mercy upon us!
These are the opening words to "Missa Solemnis", Beethoven's Mass in D Minor. In this majestic piece, the choir and soloists seem to nearly burst out of their collective souls in the opening chorus. This is a moment of stunning musical surprise; and it leaves you with a glimpse of something from beyond our world. Something grand, and ominous, and massive.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.
Over the past several weeks, I have often felt like we have been witnessing something grand, ominous, and far beyond our control. The complete turmoil in world financial markets has felt like a massive earthquake that seems not to stop. This is large, it is beyond the futile attempts of we little people to contain.
After some thought, I think I might know part of what it is that feels so large, and oppressive, and frightening about the financial shock. There is a sound that accompanies all of this; the sound of something overwhelmingly large being dropped from a great height. A massive Dull Thud.
That dull thud is the sound of our own greed finally hitting bottom. It has come back to haunt us, with a vengeance. For the past decade or so we have built our housing economy on two things; vacuous promises from greedy lenders (enabled by ethically confused politicians in DC), and our own sense of entitlement to the American Dream - even if we could not afford it. And painfully, many of us could not. And our souls hurt as a result.
I have a good friend who lives on a modest income, and does the best he knows how to be a good steward with the money he has been entrusted with. Several years ago, his family bought a home in the suburbs of Los Angeles - now the epicenter of the mortgage melt down. At the time he was getting his loan, the Loan Officer (from Countywide!), offered him an Adjustable Rate Mortgage, saying to him, "Man, your family NEEDS this!" My friend sought the counsel of family and friends, all who told him to avoid this form of mortgage. That was his experience with the Greedy Lenders.
My friend choose not to take the ARM loan, and instead went with a boring 30 year fixed loan. Higher rate, higher payments, no vacuous promises of a happy future that he could not afford. This friend avoided the other half of the mess in which we find ourselves. This good friend did not feel entitled to the American Dream. He was willing to forego instant satisfaction, and end up with a house he could actually afford. He was wise. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of Americans were not.
And now, we are living with the results of our greed, and need for instant gratification. This will take a long time to work out. And, hopefully, this experience will help us reset our moral compass. That is my prayer.