I was working in Houston during the presidency of George W. Bush. I bought and sold foreign oil from the North Sea, West Africa, and South America. My trading position was short which meant that I needed to buy more oil, either physical or from the financial markets, to get balanced. Crude oil market prices were volatile and impacted by international events. Before I was able to purchase more oil, a Middle East crisis erupted, and prices spiked upward. Word spread that American military jets were heading to bomb a rogue Arab country. I was unable to cover my position and there was nothing I could do but wait and hope. Minutes before the jets reached their bombing sites, the jets turned around and returned to their bases. The international crisis was averted. I balanced my short position and made a small profit. In a very short time, I went from a potentially large financial loss to a reasonable gain. I won.
Later in my career, I managed the North Region gas and power business and my team participated in power transmission auctions. The team placed many small positions that normally accumulated into a profit over time. However, one small position began losing hundreds of thousands of dollars each day because of an unusual operational problem. The losses started to accumulate into several million dollars, and we could do nothing to stop it. Finally, a regulatory agency issued a ruling and the losses stopped. The northeast power trading book was a loser that year from unforeseen events. I lost.
During the past year, the world has experienced winners and losers. It started with the boring process of Congress ratifying the Presidential election. On January 6th, the Capital was overrun with protestors attempting to thwart a peaceful Congressional procedure. Losers wanted to be winners instead of following the rule of law. Violence erupted. The Capital protestors did not win, but our country mourned the needless deaths of several people and a stain on our democracy. This infamous day was a loss for all.
During 2021, we witnessed the massive distribution of Covid vaccines. A scientific miracle brought relief to a world desperate for normalcy. I was fully vaccinated in February and slowly emerged from isolation into community. Covid infections and deaths declined during the year as vaccination rates increased. I returned to in-person worship and discipleship. The Southwestern Board held their fall meeting on campus. A win against Covid was happening. Then, Covid fought back in December when Omicron emerged from South Africa. Over the Christmas holiday, we again witnessed long Covid testing lines, shortages of tests, and surges in hospitalizations. A year that started with hope for normalcy ended in a draw. I am still hopeful, though.
Those that fled the financial markets during the pandemic were unexpected losers as double-digit market gains were produced for those who decided to invest in equites. Forbes released its global billionaire list in April and there were 493 new additions while Covid raged. 25 companies accounted for 40 per cent of the equities market. Technology and health care were winners while energy, transportation, and entertainment experienced painful losses. Real estate prices rapidly rose as buyers sought homes in more desirable locations. California, New York, and Illinois lost while Texas, Florida, and Arizona gained. An Oxford study showed that rich nations spent $16,000 per person on Covid while the least developed countries spent $60 per person. Rich nations had financial resources to fight Covid while poor nations could do little for their citizens. There were money winners and losers during 2021.
One definite learning from this year: the only thing certain is uncertainty. I went into 2021 believing that Covid would fade away, that the equities markets were overvalued, and that political divisions would be healed. My confidence in reasonable predictions has been badly shaken. My optimism in humankind was partially deflated. Who will be the winners and losers in 2022? I really don’t know.
Christ was born into a harsh Roman empire. His family was poor, yet wise men sought him, and a powerful local ruler tried unsuccessfully to murder him. Lowly shepherds minding their flocks were startled by messengers who told them to go see this newborn baby. Who would have predicted these events and Jesus’ impact on the world? Perhaps only a few devoted disciples and it took time for them to be convinced. Those who crucified Jesus believed that his ‘problem’ was gone. 30 years later, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, many Jews were killed, and the Jewish remnant dispersed while Christianity grew exponentially in the Roman empire. Uncertainty still dominated.
How does one deal with uncertainty? By turning to God’s eternal Word of truth. By living an obedient life to God’s commands. By placing your faith into something far greater than the entire collection of human history. By accepting that you are not perfect yet healed through God’s grace. By knowing that death does not have the final word. Even amid human winners and losers, there is love, hope, peace, and joy. May we all remember this during 2022 and beyond.