Underwater Thanksgiving

helpThe headlines don’t seem to offer much reason for being thankful this Thanksgiving.

My home state of Arizona is second in the nation for “underwater” mortgages, according to a Wall Street Journal report. 48% of all homeowners here owe the bank more than their homes are worth. Nationally, 23% of all mortgages are upside down, creating a flood of foreclosures and a shocking decline in housing values.

A University of Arizona law professor is counseling homeowners to simply walk away from their mortgages. Prof. Brent White argues that the government pushed Americans into home ownership as a safe, long-term investment. Now that that investment has tanked, the government’s first instinct has been to rescue financial institutions and leave homeowners to fend for themselves.

“We are propping up the market on the backs of the middle class,” says Prof. White. If homeowners started walking out on their loans en masse, he thinks banks might get serious about offering significant modifications to underwater mortgages. (Arizona Daily Star, “Prof: Maybe more need to walk away,” Nov. 22, 2009)

It should be pointed out, on the other side of that argument, that rational adults signed up for risky mortgages of their own free will. In fairness, however, it’s true that rational bank CFOs freely invested in risky mortgages, too. Washington has thrown them a life line, while letting consumers drown. Politics as usual.

Meanwhile, Arizona unemployment is 9.4%, 10.2% nationally. Arizona’s rate of new job creation is near the bottom of the nation.

None of this seems to be on Washington’s radar screen. Instead, Congress is continuing its love affair with FDR, its obsession with Soviet-style central-planning for national health care, its irrational hatred of fossil fuels, and its reckless determination to pile up debt faster than any civilization in history.

Which begs the question, are our leaders merely incompetent, or have they lost their minds?

Millions are out of work, thousands have lost their homes, and according to the WSJ article, a half a million borrowers are currently in default on their mortgages.

And tomorrow is Thanksgiving. How is it possible to be thankful in such times as these?

Bonnie, who blogs at the excellent Et Elle, et al., reminds us that the people who created Thanksgiving didn’t have it so easy either. She has posted a fascinating excerpt from Gov. William Bradford’s account of the Plymouth settlement’s difficult beginnings. Writing about their desperate struggle to raise enough food to survive on, Bradford is honest about their failures:

…All this whille no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expecte any. So they begane to thinke how they might raise as much torne [corn] as they could, and obtaine a beter crope then they had done, that they might not still thus languish in miserie.

There was no government bailout in sight. The colony was “languishing in misery.” So they put their heads together, rejected the failed plans they had been following and came up with a new approach. And then, they got back to work.

The Pilgrims were thankful because they had arrived in a place that held hope for something better than they had known. It was not a place of lollypops and roses, but of hardship, suffering, death — and yet a place where there was abundant opportunity. The land was fertile, the climate tolerable, and they had succeeded, by hard work and sacrifice, to build a stable community. They had reason to hope that they and their families might prosper here.

And that they did. But not on their own. They prayed for God’s mercy and gave him credit for strengthening them, supporting them, blessing them, and protecting them.

This year, more than ever, it should be clear that Thanksgiving is not really about prosperity, but poverty. When we are stripped of all the stuff that the world counts as treasure, all the stuff we lean on for support and hold dear, God still remains. He is faithful. He listens to our prayers and heals our broken hearts.

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!” — Lamentations 3:21-24, NLT

May we begin to discover, this Thanksgiving, what it means that God’s mercies begin afresh each morning. If we can experience God’s faithfulness in the middle of this miserable economy, then we have found something solid, something unshakable and unfailing, in which to put our hope.

Image credit: Carlos Zaragoza, stock.xchng

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