Monday Morning, September 22, 2008
You may not have heard about the perfect storm that blew through the coastline of our economic system this week, unless you read the newspaper or watched cable or listened to the radio or tuned in the Evening News. The headlines are everywhere. Some called it “9/11 of Wall Street.” Others, the Tsunami of Manhattan. Or the Katrina visited upon our Banking System.
For most of us, especially out here on the West Coast, it’s theoretical. Abstract. We see it in the decline in value of our portfolios. We watch the drop in value of our homes as comps show up on the board. But as long as our jobs remain intact, life pretty much goes on. Without the headlines and the shell-shocked talking heads to stir us up, we might not even realize how calamitous the whole thing could be.
But the dreadful metaphors employed by politicians and public spokespersons are unsettling, to say the least. You may have heard the names Freddy and Fanny and AIG before this month. Few of us had any real comprehension about how any of those draconian-sized financial institutions impact our lives, that is, before last week. We remember the “tech bubble” that burst the first year of the current millennium. We recall the market slide that followed the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And we knew the skyrocketing climb of the price of housing would someday end. But none of us imagined the mess that would require a massive, trillion dollar government bail-out to keep the entire system from tumbling irretrievably over the precipice.
Do we simply sigh in relief? Or do we fasten our seatbelts for more turbulence yet to come? Whatever we once thought of as “security” has been seriously called into question. It’s as though all of us, in so many ways, are starting over.
Our pastor called upon a one hundred forty-five year old quote that seemed remarkably relevant. The President got a directive from the United States Senate in the spring of 1863. He readily complied. Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of a catastrophic civil war, was asked to pen a Presidential Proclamation, setting aside a National Day of Prayer. His language is as powerful as the paragraphs he penciled in preparation for his brief speech at Gettysburg. Lincoln’s verbal skills were honed in the long debates with Douglas, and now from the White House, in the heady deliberations with the most powerful leaders in the world. The stresses could not have been more intense. The risks hanging in the balance, more enormous.
The proclamation appeared in every newspaper in the country. Here’s some of what he wrote -
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
As I listened to Matthew read Lincoln’s words on Sunday morning, I was struck by how far we’ve come from those fundamental roots that once anchored our souls. What might happen if we were somehow gripped by that same sense of the majesty of God; and humbly confessed our ready participation in a chase for wealth and power that has left us empty and fearful?
Lincoln went on…
And I do hereby request all the People to abstain on that day from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.
All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.
What if our President, or either of the two in hot pursuit of the Office, expressed the same sentiment? With the same core of sincerity and humility? Would the Senate concur? The apparent answer to these hypothetical questions is a sad commentary indeed.
One thing we do know, the Day of Prayer on April 30, 1863 did not bring an end to the fighting. It went on for two more awful, bloody years.
But somehow, on this Monday morning, as we leaders contemplate the consequences of bad debt and soaring costs and an uncertain future, maybe it’s time to get on our knees.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2008