Free and Clear!
When mortgage rates nosedived years ago, I got ours out and thought of going for one of those refinancing plans. My wife and I are homeowners in name only, as the bank held a piece of paper which gives it the right to claim our house and property should we default on the loan we took out. Like many others tempted by falling interest rates, we liked the idea of cheap money. Fortunately, we resisted. Refinancing would only stretch out the bank’s lien on our life. I have heard those television pitchmen say that you can build wealth by borrowing money and investing it in real estate, and I know about the so-called tax advantages of a home mortgage or home equity loan.
In the old days (that is any year prior to 1960 when I graduated from high school), folks thought poorly of being chained to a mortgage. Churches celebrated when the last payment was made with a liturgical burning–the president of the congregation torched the document to symbolize redemption from the moneylenders. Neighbors yearned to make that last payment on their property before they retired. When they did, you could tell it by the bounce in their step. When rumors went round that some hardworking farmer had died and left his heirs under the curse of monthly payments to secure their legacy, the judgment was made, fair or not, that the farmer had been a failure. To go into the next world, free of debt, that was our goal.
The start of a new year is a good time for Christians to check their personal balance sheets. What or who has a lien on your soul? Sometimes the forces that tie us down are of our own doing; sometimes they come at us through no fault of our own. I find it hard to empathize with Christians who complain of their lot in life while at the same time indulging in habits known to be detrimental to the welfare of body and soul. They are no wiser than the homeowners who, piling mortgage upon mortgage, wake up one day to discover that they have no equity left, nothing to call their own. I have much more empathy for the Christians who struggles heroically against pain and suffering of the kind that can blind side us through no fault of our own. It is in their struggling with the question “Oh, God, why Me?” that I am instructed in the fundamentals of prayer, and piety, and hope.
By now some of you reading these thoughts will have detected a flaw in my analogy. Wrestling with the demons that plague a Christian’s life is not exactly like living with a mortgage on your house. In the latter case, one always has the option to sell out and move on, maybe downsizing in the process or, horror of horrors, going back to renting or living with the relatives. Can we really move on so easily? My wife and I have tested the idea, and we have discovered that the first and most difficult problem is to find some other place we would both rather be. Try the test for yourself. Go to www.findyourspot.com on the Internet and answer the questions in the nine or so panels. You will have many choices to make, such as whether or not you prefer ocean surfing to skiing, hunting or the symphony, Methodists or Lutherans, small towns or big. Then click the findyourspot search button and see what turns up. If you are braver (have more faith) than Jan and I, make a pledge (write it out) that you will move/retire to the top pick before the results display. I hope you have better luck than we did.
Number 1 on my list of 24 “top spots” was—yes, hold the drum roll, Branson, Missouri, which is touted as having more live shows and theater seats than Broadway or Las Vegas. I was devastated. I have not been to a “live show” on Broadway for a quarter century, and I’m no more likely to move to Las Vegas than I am to Baghdad. There are a couple of intriguing spots on my list: New Harmony, Indiana, site of an 1814 Utopian planned community; Berea, Kentucky, said to have the highest concentration of Tibetans in the country (Why Tibetans in Berea?); Spencer, Iowa, with its annual “Thanks for Franks” parade, featuring over 60 purveyors of hot dogs; Hannibal, Missouri, home of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer; and Boone, North Carolina, host of the Firefly Folk Festival each summer. Jan looked at my list and complained that the towns were all too small, especially Arrow Rock, Missouri, which boasts a population of 70. I pointed out to her that if we moved to Arrow Rock it would have a population of 72.
Jan’s list of “top spots” began with Fargo, North Dakota. I wonder if Jan remembers the movie? Other cities on her list were Spokane, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Duluth, Des Moines, Bangor, Kalamazoo, and Syracuse! Yes, Syracuse, New York, where we lived from 1975-1990, until moving out to Madison County. What could this mean? Is she the contented one and I the restless soul? Are we destined to go our separate ways, she to a city with concerts and commerce and I to a small hamlet or bend in the road with cows and corn?
Perhaps the benefit of the findyourspot.com exercise, apart from the diversion from winter worries it offers, is the discovery that true contentment comes thru dealing with whatever circumstances you find yourself in, armed with informed faith. Just as you sign a mortgage only after reading the fine print, so you should enter into 2014 fully aware of your spiritual balance sheet. In doing this self-exam, you will be directed once again to the bottom line–the core Christian narrative:
God in Christ Jesus has satisfied our debt. The mortgage chaining us to sin and death is no more. We have a permanent shelter in the heart of God. Rejoice!
Dr. Milt Sernett