Another Word on Short Selling

I’m on a business trip so I haven’t had time to write much in the last week. But I ran across this little tidbit about short selling the stock market. I mention it because there is a lot of confusion about both short selling and speculators; as a result both get blamed for many evils in the financial world. They are our bogeymen to blame when we and our news sources are too lazy to figure out what’s really going on.

Porter Stansberry reports the following. (I’d link to the story but it’s subscription only.)

Now we have enough data to know whether or not short sellers had anything to do with the declines in Lehman and Morgan Stanley. They didn’t. In fact, the short interest on the major investment banks declined steadily from July. By September, less than 3% of Morgan Stanley’s stock was sold short. What caused the massive declines in price? Desperate selling from longtime shareholders – corporate insiders.

The CEOs tried to blame short sellers for their woes and even convinced the government to ban short selling their companies. (That’s right, let’s use Soviet style central planning in the markets and throw capitalism under the bus.) But the CEOs’ true nemesis (and I have no doubt they knew it all along) were their own middle managers who received part of their salary in stock.

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Evil Commodity Speculators Continue Their Market Mischief

The high commodity prices of last summer were blamed mostly on those evil speculators who were driving up prices. (Remember the rants of the financial reporters on the evening news? They and the politicians were beside themselves with hatred for the speculators.)

Okay, turnabout is fair play.

Oil broke through a very significant downside resistance point and is probably on it’s way to $60 or even $50 bbl. Who’s at fault? Of course, the underlying issue is supply and demand. We are apparently heading into a world recession and nobody needs as much oil as they used to. As a result, the suppliers are awash in oil. But the speed and severity of the price drop is do to the …

Speculators!!!

Blame the evil speculators for gas prices that are now just a bit under $3.00 per gallon.

At least that’s what the Wall Street Journal says.

Evil, evil speculators! Just tell them all to stop. (heh heh)

And thanks to Dave Gonigam for pointing the way to this article.

Chamber Music and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

It’s always been a joke in our family, whenever we saw a “motorcycle gang” (as we called them in my childhood), someone commented that they were probably a bunch of doctors, dentists, or preachers letting their hair down.

Turns out they might be classical musicians as well.

Sunday the St. Louis Brass Quintet performed at the Sioux City Chamber Music Assoc. monthly concert. The woman who introduced the program was not up to the normal professional standards of the Association. She stumbled through the introductions, fumbled with the piece of paper she was reading from, and looked generally uncomfortable standing in front of the crowd.

At intermission I found out why. I overheard a rather shoddily dressed woman apologizing to some members of the Chamber Music Association. She was supposed to introduce the St. Louis Brass because she had studied under Profs. Dean, Sasaki, and Perantoni (members of the St. Louis Brass) back when she got her graduate degree. But she was late to the concert because the motorcycle class she teaches at WIT Community College had run way over time.

It makes me wonder, is she professor of Baroque Horn and Hawg?

Another thought on “Revelation” and “Unraveling”

Yesterday I wrote an essay about how the revelation of God’s presence in Jesus Christ unraveled the world as we knew it. It occurs to me that a revelation in a very different place is causing a different sort of unraveling right now. It finally “dawned on” the SEC, the Treasury Department, the talking heads on CNBC, and the financial leaders around the world just how out of control the financial markets have been over the last decade and that “revelation” has led to an honest-to-goodness market panic and an “unraveling” of financial markets that is breathtaking in its scope.

In the first draft of yesterday’s essay I mentioned that the Greek word for “sight” or “seeing” is horao, while the Greek word for “revealed” is apokalypto. In yesterday’s essay that just seemed too geeky so I deleted that paragraph. In light of today’s 676 point drop in the DJIA, it suddenly becomes an interesting observation that an apokalypto leads to an “unraveling.”

St Thomas on Sight and Revelation

Monday, Oct 6, was the feast of St. Thomas, the patron saint of our parish. Of course the Gospel lesson was from John 20, where Thomas misses the first resurrection appearance, then demands proof at the second. Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (v. 29).

During the service I was struck by the difference between this passage and Matthew 16:17 where Jesus tells Peter (who had just confessed him as the Messiah and Son of God), “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you.”

I know the question is not original with me, it is a normative question for preachers preaching this text, but I ask it anyway. What is the relationship between “seeing” and “revelation”? Could have Thomas seen and believed without the truth of the matter being first revealed to him? Was the scene in John 20 even possible without the denouement of Matthew 16?

Is “denouement” even the correct term for the scene in Matthew 16, or am I just using a fancy French word where a monosyllable American term would work just fine? I believe it is the correct term. The revelation of Christ as God is indeed the final denouement, and everything else in the Gospel story unravels after that revelation. All our human hatreds, sins, and shackles are shown for what they truly are. No prophet is received in his own country, and as a result, those human hatreds, sins, and shackles are hurled at Jesus so as to destroy him.

It is equally true that a new reality begins to ravel together. (Is that the opposite of unravel?) Heaven and earth are slowly knit together like bone, muscle, and sinew after a terrible fracture. But in that period of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the unraveling and raveling occurred simultaneously so that the ultimate destruction of Jesus (and isn’t that what most everyone, except for his mother, the other women, and possibly John believed?) made the resurrection nigh impossible to believe, even for someone like Thomas to whom these things had been “revealed.”

No, the necessity of seeing the flesh and bone of Jesus complete with wounded hand and side, was not a result of faulty revelation “way back when” before the persecution got underway in earnest, it was rather the crown of a second denouement. The Gospel story is truly two stories in one. It is the story of the revelation of God in flesh and the resulting unraveling of human hatreds, sins, and shackles. But it is also the story of “That which was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands …” (1 John 1:1) and how this thing, this “Word of Life” began to ravel that which was true even while the chimera of life as we knew it unraveled all around us.

It is a story so unbelievable that it requires a human response as much as it requires divine Voice and Breath. “Revelation” is necessary, but “seeing” and “looking” and “touching with our hands” is also necessary. The former unravels our pretensions and self-deceptions. The latter ravels our true self together with the divine life that is the only longing of our true self. Ultimately belief is very different and not fundamentally rooted in empirical evidence, but we are not spirit creatures of pure volition, we are bone and flesh knit inseparably together with soul and spirit. Revelation is a marvelously merciful gift, but without someone there to touch with their hands and thus speak to our bone and flesh, that revelation would ultimately be our unraveling.

Thanks be to God for Thomas and his earth-bound questions, and who grounds that heavenly revelation in the here and now of earth so that we can believe and enter into the new creation.

To the Relief of Shelob and Aragog

I washed windows today. But when I came to the window where my favorite spider has its web spread, I couldn’t bring myself to destroy the web just to wash a window that is three quarters covered on the inside (because it’s in the bathroom). No doubt to the great relief of Shelob, Aragog and their many and mighty offspring, I left the spider alone and the window dirty. Next spring is soon enough.

p.s. confused by my literary allusions? They are the giant spiders of Tolkien and Rowling.

Happy Birthday Mr. President

First, a disclaimer: I’ve never been impressed with Jimmy Carter the politician. I think Habitat for Humanity is a great organization. I also think he’s a stand-up guy and a fine Christian, but when it comes to Presidential effectiveness, his administration has to be near the bottom of the list.

But, whether it’s part of the Presidential “strategery” or by accident, even inept Presidents say brilliant things. And Mr. Carter was no exception. It is Carter’s birthday today, and in honor of that, I heard the following this morning on “The Writer’s Almanac,” Garrison Keillor’s daily compendium of literary odds and ends and a poem broadcast on National Public Radio. The following quote was prefaced by Keillor saying, “Carter said he wanted to end what he called ‘the imperial presidency.’ He walked down Pennsylvania Avenue for his inauguration, often wore informal clothes at official appearances, and sold the presidential yacht.”

Jimmy Carter said, “A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It is a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.”

Too bad those in power weren’t paying attention when President Carter said that.