Saturday, October 25, 2008

Confession of sin

Each Sunday following the opening hymns and the prayer of invocation, the liturgist invites all worshippers to confess their sin before Almighty God, "first in unison and then (privately) in silence." The time that folows the spoken union confession is perhaps the quietest and holiest moment of the week. I am almost ashamed of myself for breaking this holy time of personal acknowledgement of sin by declaring the forgiveness that a loving and merciful God bestows upon all those "who humbly confess their sin." Confession, they say, is good for the soul. I believe it is also essential for clearing the way for progress towards overcoming the consequences of sin.
I thought about this when I read a transcript of former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's testimony on Captiol Hill on Thursday. With the markets in turmoil and many fearing that a devasting world wide economic crisis is yet to come, Congress is doing what it does best: namely, point fingers of blame (but not at themsevles) after the consequences of greedy (read that sinful) behavior has created a mess.They try to close the barn after the horses have all escaped. In this way, Congressmen are like most Americans, when we hear a good sermon or listen to wise words of a prophetic voice, we think others need to heed the advice but believe that warning doesn't apply to us.

In most disasters, be they in interpersonal relationships or in large social contexts, there is plenty of blame to go around. The Apostle Paul said it well in Romans, "ALL sin and fall short of the glory of God." It is only when everyone acknowledges their sin and agrees to modify their behavior and change their wrong positions, that healing can follow. Without an admission of guilt and the acceptance of blame, you cannot begin to solve problems and start over.

Greenspan's reputation was enormous. Bob Woodward wrote a flattering biography titled "Maestro" celebrating his 18 years as Presdient of the Federal Reserve before stepping down in January 2006. During the stock bubble and the housing bubble, he was the voice people listened too when evidence of leaks in the soggy fiscal dykes and excesses were discovered. Greenspan was the "wizard" who pulled countless rabbits out of his hat. He calmed markets. He reassurred nervous regulators and main street bankers. He had the golden touch.
I admired Chairman Greenspan for not dodging this hard question by Henry Waxman, "You had the authority to prevent irresponsbile lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. Do you feel your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?"
"Yes, Mr Greenspan answered, " I've found a flaw. I don't know how signficant or permanent it is. but I have been very distressed by that fact."
No one likes to admit mistakes. Fewer yet admit that the bedrock ideas that have driven their actions are flawed. The ironic thing about Greespan, who lived through the great depression, was that he forgot the lessons of that historic depression. He went along with a culture that looked at debt and risk in ways that were far removed from his childhood. What bothered me about Greenspan was that he used his guru status to give the greenlight to credit default swaps and housing price surges that all serious economists were warning about. Now there is plenty of blame to go around. But someone has to challenge the "group think" that ovetakes a society. Someone with authority has to challenges the myths: that housing prices will always go up, that markets will always safely self correct, that Iraq has WMD. He didn't do it and since he was the "God" of our American system, greedy people in every line of financial profession began to act wrecklessly.

We are entering a period when we will be forced to question all the "group think" ideologices that we have been following so blindly. There will be people who are even more ideologically rigid then Greenspan who we refuse to participate in this evaluative process. We all have our own blindspots: only fools refuse to examine them.
Courageous people use crisis to examine their convictions. As Christian we have the great gift of knowing that God loves us in spite of our sinful behavior. In confidence we can put our convictions and actions up to the light of the gospel and find a new way to live and think. The mistake many Christians make is that they see sin as only an individual matter. They do not see how they contribute to corporate sin. Many followers of Christ have great personal piety and are highly ethical but come to applaud the "group think" of our greedy society.
When you see the air of your ways, take a cue from Alan Greenspan and confess your mistakes. When we do that, the road to healing and health cannot be far behind.


Steve Lapp said...

"the air of your ways" - I like it!
A typographical or spelling mistake, I presume - but appropriate none the less. The economy becomes inflated with hot air and little substance. Politicians campaign with hot air and not much actual (or factual) information. Yes, I am guilty too.
My own life is often filled with too much air and not enough substance - I repent for the "air of my ways". (Television is a good example - literally over the air.)

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