Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lenten Sorrow : Lament and Nacham

Grief, Tile Painting, Arthur Rothenberg,
1959, used with permission from the
estate of Arthur S. Rothenberg
Lent starts with the ashes of Ash Wednesday –a symbol of grief and lament. In our modern liturgical traditions, we dot the ashes on the forehead and wash them off at the end of the day. In ancient Hebrew tradition, the practice of lament went far deeper and lasted longer: mourners sat in ashes, or poured them on their heads, ripped clothes, wore sackcloth. This practice of shiva, of extended grief, was expected in most cases to last a week, sometimes longer.

We hurry through lament, often to our loss: Suck it up, walk it off, let it go, move on.

We hurry toward “closure” without doing the hard work of grieving.

In his article ‘The Hidden Hope in Lament’, Dan Allender writes, "Christians seldom sing in the minor key. We fear the somber; we seem to hold sorrow in low esteem. We seem predisposed to fear lament as a quick slide into doubt and despair; failing to see that doubt and despair are the dark soil that is necessary to grow confidence and joy."
As a young teen, learning to play the guitar, I was drawn to songs in minor keys. I was given my first guitar just months after I left the home I’d lived in most of my life. I was sharing a narrow attic room with my grandmother in a small house with people I didn’t know, struggling to find my way in a large new school where I didn’t feel welcome, not sure how long I’d be there, or what would come next. I remember an elder in our church, a family friend, stopping me in the middle of a song I was practicing: “Christians don’t sing in minor key.” I’ve remembered his words – although I’ve never agreed.

A third of the Psalms are written in minor key – songs of grief, of anger, of confusion:

Scream III,
Eduardo Guyasamin,
1983, Ecuador
I am worn out from groaning,
all night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow. (Psalm 6)

I am poured out like water, 
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax; 
it has melted away within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death. 
(Psalm 22)

Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time? (Psalm 77)

I am like a desert owl, 
like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof. (Psalm 102)

Some of the lament psalms are very personal. Others are corporate – an acknowledgement that things aren’t right, not just for the individual writing the psalm, but for his people, sometimes for the earth itself. 

Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge uprightly among men?
No, in your heart you devise injustice,
and your hands mete out violence on the earth.  (Psalm 58)

How long will the wicked, O Lord, how long will the wicked be jubilant?
They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, O Lord; they oppress your inheritance.
They slay the widow and the alien; they murder the fatherless.
They say, The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob pays no heed.  (Psalm 94)

The prophetic books continue and expand the theme of corporate lament, describing a world where justice is forgotten, where the earth is degraded, where the poor are misused, where parents no longer care for their children, where political and religious leaders abuse power for their own ends and disregard those entrusted to their care. 
Wail, O pine tree, for the cedar has fallen; the stately trees are ruined!
Wail, oaks of Bashan; the dense forest has been cut down!
Listen to the wail of the shepherds: their rich pastures are destroyed!
Listen to the roar of the lions; the lush thicket of the Jordan is ruined! (Zechariah 11)
Wailing Wall Jerusalem, Flickr Creative Commons, cromaron 1988
There’s an ancient Hebrew word,  נָחַם , "nacham," in some places translated “grieve.” It’s one of those words that opens out in multiple directions – grieve, be sorry, regret, think again, repent, console, be comforted, have compassion. 

We would like the comfort without the grief, the consolation without the repentance, but is it possible they’re facets of the same unwanted treasure?

In The Prophetic Imagination, a book I find myself returning to again and again, Walter Brueggemann talks about lament as the first step in envisioning a new reality, a kingdom distinct from the current “empire” marked by oppression, exploitation and denial: 
“[R]eal criticism begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the most visceral announcement that things are not right. Only in the empire are we pressed and urged and invited to pretend that things are all right – either in the dean’s office or in our marriage or in the hospital room. And as long as the the empire can keep the pretense alive that things are all right, there will be no real grieving and no serious criticism” (p. 11). 
Grief is the first step in admitting that things are not right. “Bringing hurt to public expression is an important first step in the dismantling criticism that permits a new reality, theological and social, to emerge” (p.12).

Both Allender and Brueggemann talk about numbness: when we refuse to grieve, when we avoid acknowledgement of pain and the brokenness around us, we shut ourselves off from the possibility of real emotional, real spiritual health, real wholeness in our communities.

I go back to that word, “nacham”. I wrote several months ago about the ways that we meet God in our places of pain, experience his comfort, and become agents of that comfort. It’s also in our places of pain that we begin to see the world as God sees it: to see how far we are from the beauty, fellowship, health and freedom he calls us toward. As we grieve, we turn, repent our part in all that’s wrong, come alongside the broken, begin to participate in God’s own grief, and in doing so, find his mysterious comfort.

So I grieve:
Young lives lost – to hunger, war, selfishness, corruption.
The breakdown in community around me – marriages unraveling, alienation of parents and children, loss of trust between citizens and leaders.
Our reckless waste of resources - forests gone, water ruined, mountains destroyed, whole stretches of ocean full of floating plastic.
Prophetic Skies, Kay Jackson
Washington DC
I  grieve a national conversation in which people claiming to follow Christ insist God is more concerned about not raising taxes on the rich than about making sure the poor are fed.

I grieve the ways we shout past each other, rather than learning to listen.

I grieve schools without libraries, refrigerators without food, kids without listening, caring adults.

I grieve slave labor, baby girls tossed on trash heaps.

I grieve money spent on more and more weapons, while more and more children go hungry. 

And as I grieve, I acknowledge my complicity:
Remaining silent when I know I should speak.
Seeking my own comfort when I could offer help or hospitality.
Thinking more about good features and low prices than ethical sourcing and fair treatment of workers.
Wasting time, energy, resources.
Looking for an easy path, instead of doing the hard work of listening, grieving, caring.
And as I grieve, I turn, wonder how to do things differently, wonder how to be different. And move deeper into God's mysterious, consoling, transforming presence.

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Nacham, O nacham. 
      be sorry,
                 think again,
                      have compassion,
                           be comforted
                                be changed.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Click on the  _comments link below to open the comment box.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Looking Toward Lent

My childhood church tradition that had no interest in Ash Wednesday, or Lent, or any of the seasons of the liturgical calendar. The idea of giving up something as a spiritual practice seemed superstitious: does God care if I eat chocolate or not?

Yet, in a dry, thirsty time of my life, I was deeply fed by my encounter with a deeper liturgical practice, and after almost thirty years now in the Anglican tradition, I look forward to Lent the way I look forward to an hour of quiet at the end of a long, hard day.

Lent is an ancient practice – an attempt to approximate in some way the forty wilderness years of the Israelite people, the forty days in the desert of the prophet Elijah, and the forty days of fasting and temptation of Jesus at the start of his ministry. During the seventeenth century, a period of reformation and liturgical revision, an Anglican priest, Anthony Sparrow, wrote a defense of Lent which appealed to church histories going back as far as the time of the apostles:

London, 1672.

THe Antiquity of Lent is plain by these Testimonies following. Chrysol. Ser. 11. Chrys. in Heb. 10. 9. Ethic. Cyril. Catech. 5. August. Ep. 119.  . .                        That forty days should be observed before Easter, the custome of the Church hath confirmed. . . One Fast in the year of forty days we keep at a time convenient, according to the Tradition of the Apostles. . . . 
This forty days Fast of Lent was taken up by holy Church in imitation of Moses and Elias in the old Testament; but principally, in imitation of our Saviours Fast in the New Testament, Augustin. ep. 119. That we might, as far as we are able, conform to Christs practice, and suffer with him here, that we may reign with him hereafter. . . . 
The examples of Moses, Elijah and of Jesus highlight the tension between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God. 

Moses and his people, newly escaped from slavery in Egypt, wandered in the desert – some wanting to go back to life under Pharoah, Moses insisting that God would provide. 

Elijah, after defying bloody King Ahab, and with Queen Jezebel on his trail, ran for his life to the desert, where he collapsed under a broom tree and begged God to take his life.

And Jesus himself, after forty days of fasting, was confronted with an offer of “all the kingdoms of this world and their splendor.”

Lent offers us a time to examine our own allegiances, our own journey between the kingdoms of earth and the kingdom of God. Small sacrifices are one way to help us focus. Some of my friends choose to fast one day a week, or to give up facebook, wine, dessert, coffee.

The point isn’t the small sacrifice. Rather, the sacrifice helps us set the time apart – a small, regular reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us. But it’s also a reminder of our deep complicity in kingdoms we don’t understand, our hunger for the tastes of the old ways, our willingness to find comfort in material things, rather than hunger and thirst for a deeper knowledge of God.

In Ephesians 4 Paul urged the church in Ephesus to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”

That work will never be done, but Lent is a time to pause, and to ask: what should I be putting off? Where have I given control to things, to habits? What have I been feeding myself? Where am I headed?

Christ in the Wilderness, Briton Riviere, 1898
It’s a time to look more deeply at my own attitudes. I usually give up sugar, which also means I give up coffee. In the withdrawal from both sugar and caffeine, my underlying attitudes surface quickly: Irritation. Impatience. Discouragement. Self-pity.

Lent can sound depressing, but I don’t find that to be the case. As addictions and harmful attitudes surface, I can acknowledge them, address them, and set them aside, ready to put on something new.

It’s a bit like retooling a computer. Over time, unused files, dumb downloaded games, the backload of cached internet files slows the system down. It takes time to erase unused programs, delete files no longer needed, adjust the start menu, optimize disk storage. It takes time, but it feels good to get it done.

That sounds a bit mechanical – an analogy, but not a good one.

Because Lent, while it’s a time to confront our evasions, our half-believed lies, our self-protective inner story, is even more a time to draw closer to God.

The Israelites, out in the wilderness, experienced God’s presence in manna, in cloud and pillar of fire, in the tent of meeting.
The Israelites in the Wilderness Preceded by the Pillar of Clouds
William West, Bristol, 1830

Elijah, in the cave where he found refuge, complained that he was the only faithful follower left, God invited him out onto the mountain, where he experienced God’s presence in a new way, and heard God’s word of encouragement and instruction.

And we, setting aside distractions, distortions, determined to shed whatever deceives us, prepare to know God better – in the sacrifice of Good Friday, in the joy of Easter, in the countless little ways that God’s grace meets us in moments of hunger, or prayer, or waiting.

There are lots of ways to approach Lent.

My favorite online bookstore, Hearts and Minds, offers a mix of resources for Lent.
World Vision, Relevant Magazine and Intervarsity are partnering to promote their Relentless ACT:S of Sacrifice – six weeks of exploring sacrifice on behalf of global justice. 

Tearfund is inviting Christians around the globe to take part in a Lenten Carbon Fast – with facebook messages every day suggesting actions and prayer.

Lots of churches give out Lenten readings. This morning I picked up a copy of our new rector, Richard Morgan's "A Cross Centred Life," with readings, prayers, and some questions to consider. 

My own plan is to give up sugar (and, sad to say, coffee), to explore both the Acts of Sacrifice and Carbon Fast, to work through the readings from our church, and to experiment with some new, or rather very old, approaches to prayer, fasting, and stillness. 

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts - especially about Lenten practices that you've found helpful, or resources you recommend. 
Lord, You searched me and You know,
   It is You Who know when I sit and I rise,
          You fathom my thoughts from afar.
   My path and my lair You winnow,
          and with all my ways are familiar.
   For there is no word on my tongue
          but that You, O Lord, wholly know it.
         .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Search me, God, and know my heart,
         probe me and know my mind.
And see if a vexing way be in me,
         and lead me on the eternal way.
   (The Book of Psalms, 139, translated by Robert Alter)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chocolate Dreams

noukorama,Flickr Creative Commons
I love chocolate. Let me repeat – I LOVE chocolate. In all forms: candy bars, cocoa, cake, frosting.

Over the past fifty years I have bought a LOT of chocolate. I’m fairly sure my first personal purchase was a chocolate cupcake, at the bakery at Four Corners, our neighborhood shopping mecca. Every postcard I sent home from camp was smeared in chocolate – most likely the chocolate coating from the ice cream bars I bought every afternoon in the little camp canteen. My first gift from a boy was a whole box of Reeses miniature peanut butter cups –bought in that same camp store.

In all my purchases of chocolate – bagfuls to throw at youth retreats, bowlfuls to pass at planning seminars or youth group leaders’ meetings – I missed the memo about cocoa sourcing. I didn’t realize – until just last week – that most of our US chocolate is sourced from West African plantations where child labor is the norm, and child slavery is common.

I’m still a little stunned, I confess. I’ve been aware of human trafficking. I’ve been a strong supporter of Fair Trade. I’ve been buying my coffee from farmer’s cooperatives for years – and somehow missed the chocolate story.

In 2001, news reports in the US and UK called attention to child slavery on cocoa farms in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire . Downward pressure on cocoa prices had made it impossible for cocoa farmers to pay their employees; as a result, desperate farmers were using children to harvest crops. Children as young as six were being kidnapped, or sold, or lured into service with the unfulfilled promise that they would be given money at the end of their time of service.

Dark Side of Chocolate 2010
Under pressure from consumers, the major chocolate manufacturers agreed to the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a non-binding document that acknowledged the problem and outlined a plan to address it. The companies agreed that by 2002 they would create enforceable international standards and an independent monitoring system, and would provide funds for a foundation to research and share best practices. They also agreed that by 2005 there would be industry-wide standards of certification ensuring an end to child slavery and abuse of child labor.

A decade later, the protocol deadlines have passed, the cocoa producing regions of the world are even poorer than before, and child slavery has expanded. Last spring, ten years after the signing of the protocol, a study by Tulane University found that more than 1.8 million children in West Africa are involved in cultivating and harvesting cocoa. Estimates are that at a significant percentage of those are actual slaves – numbers range from 100 to 200 thousand. Few attend school. Most are involved in high risk activities, applying dangerous pesticides, carrying heavy loads that leave scarred backs, beaten with bicycle chains or coca branches when they fall behind..

The two largest US firms involved in slave-trade chocolate: Mars and Hersheys.

You know Mars: makers of M&M's, Snickers, Dove, Milky Way, Kudos, and a wide range of other foods and candies. Mars is still owned by the Mars family --  chairman John Franklyn Mars, VP Jacqueline Badger Mars, and former CEO Forrest Mars Jr. Together the Mars siblings are worth forty billion dollars, making their family one of the wealthiest in the world. How much of that wealth was at the expense of children working twelve or more hours a day, with no shoes, no school, little food, no pay?

CNN Chocolate Child Slaves 2010
While Mars has made only small moves toward monitoring cocoa sources for the chocolate they sell in the European Union (but not in the US), the Hershey company has done even less. Hershey is the largest supplier of chocolate in the US - Resse’s. Kisses. Nutrageous. 5th Avenue. Almond Joy. Caramello. Heath. Kit Kat. Mounds. Mr. Goodbar. Rolo. Symphony. Take5. York. Whatchamacallit. The list goes on and on. 

According to a 2011 report by the International Labor Rights Forum, Green America and Global Exchange, “Hershey remains a laggard in its industry on the important issue of child labor. Consumers, businesses, and legislators are increasingly embracing greater transparency and the reduction of labor abuses in supply chains. The most iconic chocolate company in the US … is the lone holdout.” 

Fortunately for chocolate lovers everywhere, there are alternatives, and from now on, I’ll be seeking them out. Equal Exchange has been working with small farmer cooperatives since 1986, and has moved increasingly into cocoa and chocolate production in the past ten years. Equal Exchange is itself worker owned and run, and encourages democratic decision making and shared best practices at every level of their supply chain.

Divine Chocolate is another bright spot in the world of chocolate. The company partners with Kuapa Kokoo, a cooperative of cocoa farmers from Ghana. All cocoa comes from the cooperative, ensuring the farmers fair prices, protection from price volatility, and a say in how the cocoa is produced and marketed.

There are other ethical chocolate companies working hard to treat farmers well and ensure fair wages and education for child workers while providing delicious chocolate. Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and any fair trade or natural food store will offer a selection.

But think for a minute: if you had forty billion dollars (the collective wealth of the Mars siblings), what would it take to change the lives of the children in your supply chain? In a country where a living wage is less than $2 a day, and annual salary is less than $700, it would take $70,000,000 to pay 100,000 children a generous wage. Add some schooling, throw in some shoes, and you won’t even notice it’s missing.  

Green America Chocolate Scorecard
All the big chocolate companies have made gestures toward addressing this problem. International watchdog groups say not nearly enough. The agreement was to have slave trade in chocolate solved years ago. The most recent Tulane report, overseen by the State Department, was that less than 3% of cocoa farmers in West Africa had any awareness at all of a move to address child labor.

Sometimes it feels like it takes too much work to live as an ethical consumer in a profit-mad world. Why should I have to research my chocolate before I eat it? Why should I need to debate pros and cons before I order a cup of hot cocoa? Does it matter where Wegman’s gets the cocoa in their chocolate cakes? What about the chocolate in brownie mix? Just thinking about it exhausts me.

But then I stop to think of the exhaustion of small children, lugging huge bags of cocoa pods on their backs. Of young boys, scaling trees with machetes, swinging tired arms, too often missing and hitting legs instead. Of hungry pre-teen girls, chopping away, day after day, at mountains of cocoa pods.

On the Slave Free Chocolate site, I came across this:
In Conclusion: Circumspectus Orbit. Look around you. If you accept that which you are aware is intrinsically wrong and have influence over, have you not contributed to its existence? You are what you do. . . Willful blindness will not buy divine absolution. That which is ignored will not cease to exist.  Closing one’s eyes serves only to feed the rabid, gaping maw of indifferent, self-serving greed, the continued existence of harsh injustice and the exponential growth of dehumanizing inequality; and in the process . . . makes us responsible accomplices.
That which is ignored will not cease to exist.
So, while I dream of a day when large corporations do the right thing, because they can, because people count more than profit, I’ll act in full knowledge that I do have influence, no matter how small, and I’ll use it on behalf of those children who have none.
I’ll sign the online petitions and campaigns.

I’ll look for Fair Trade chocolate (and cocoa, and brownie mix, and ice cream).

I'll try some creative ideas - like a Valentine's Day greeting on manufacturers' facebook pages,  reminding them that I can't eat their chocolate until they address their cocoa sourcing and pay cocoa farmers a fairer price.

And I’ll pray – for conviction where needed, for courage where needed, for freedom for the oppressed,  justice for the poor, fair prices for the farmer, slave-free delicious chocolate for us all. 

As always, comments, ideas, suggestions are welcome. Click on the _comments line below for the comment box to appear.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wondering about Wealth

The Synchroblog topic this month is “extreme economic inequality”. Since I’m not an economist, don’t really like numbers, have other things I’d much rather write about, I was tempted to let this topic pass.

But I’m afraid, as I think and pray about it, that this may be one of the most important topics of this election cycle, this decade, maybe of my remaining lifetime.

Economic inequality isn’t a new thing. There have always been rich and poor.

But we seem to be in a new place. The income gap between rich and poor is the greatest it’s been in decades. There are plenty of statistics on this –Forbes, Reuters, the Economist. Choose your favorite financial source and take a look at the troubling graphs.

But the real issue, from what I can see, isn’t income, but wealth. Wealth - net worth - can be defined as financial assets (stocks, bonds, savings) plus real assets (primarily housing) minus debt. Credit Suisse, a multinational finance group, provides some interesting data in their 2011 Global Wealth Report: 
  • The average net worth, globally, in 2011 was $51,000 USD (that’s US dollars).
  • But the median net worth, globally, was $4,200. In other words, half of the world’s population has a net worth of $4,200 or less.
  • The top 10%, globally, has net worth of $82,000 or more.
  • The top 1% has net worth of  $712,000 or more.
  • The richest 10% owns 84% of the world’s assets.
  • The top 1% owns 44% of the world’s assets.
  • The bottom half owns just 1% of the world’s assets. 
The report discusses “Ultra High Net Worth individuals”  (UHNW), noting, without explanation, that “to assemble details of the pattern of wealth holdings above USD 1 million requires a high degree of ingenuity. The usual sources of wealth data – official statistics and sample surveys – become increasingly incomplete and unreliable at high wealth levels.”  Is this because the very wealthy hide their assets and their earnings? Is it because their wealth is in off-shore tax havens, invisible to all eyes but their own?

For those with net worth from 50 million and upward, “very little is known about the global pattern of asset holdings.” What is known is that “the United States has by far the  greatest number of members of the top 1%  global wealth group, accounting for 41% of those with wealth exceeding USD 10 million and 32% of the world’s billionaires. The number of UHNW individuals with wealth above USD 50 million is six times that of the next country . . .Although comparable data on the past are sparse, it is almost certain that the number of UHNW individuals is considerably greater than a decade ago. . . [N]otwithstanding the credit crisis, the past decade has been especially conducive to the establishment of large fortunes.”

I’m not an accountant, economist, or historian. But what seems clear, in these terse financial statistics, is that a small handful of very wealthy Americans have been busily consolidating their wealth at the expense not only of their fellow Americans, but at the expense of the poor and struggling in nations around the globe.

In trying to understand this, I came across a Bill Moyer interview with Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of Winner Take All Politics, a recent book investigating this consolidation of wealth. Here’s just a hint of what the authors, and book, have to say:
JACOB HACHER: these large shifts in our economy had been propelled in part by what government has done, say deregulating the market, the financial markets, to allow wealthy people to gamble with their own and other peoples' money, and ways to put all of us at risk, but allow them to make huge fortunes.
And at the same time, when those risks have become apparent, there has been a studious effort on the part of political leaders to try to protect against government stepping in and regulating or changing the rules.
BILL MOYERS: You write, we have a government that's been promoting inequality, and at the same time, as you just said, failing to counteract it. This has been going on, you write, 30 years or more. And here's the key sentence: Step by step, and debate by debate, our public officials have rewritten the rules of the economy in ways that favor the few at the expense of the many.
The Price of Big Oil
As Hacker and Pierson make clear, as has been made clear by others before them, money equals influence equals power equals money, and as money, influence and power become more and more concentrated in the hands of the few, real democracy, real justice, real opportunity disappear.              

Picture a Monopoly game. Your opponent owns the utilities, the railroads, all the properties, and has two hotels on each property. He’s rewritten the rules so every time he passes GO he collects $20,000, while every time you pass GO you collect $20.  There’s no money left in the bank, so he’s written elaborate IOUs from the bank to himelf. Each time around the board he writes another IOU.

Are you having fun? Do you have a come-back plan? Are you ready to quit?

Profit comes from somewhere. Assets have some connection back to the material world.  What happens when foreign investors own the best farm land in Africa? What happens when foreign corporations determine what happens to mountains, forests, oil fields in small hungry nations?

Bolivia v. Bechtel
What happens when international financiers pressure desperate countries to open their markets to companies like Monsanto, or to sell their water supply to private corporations? What happens when debt-ridden communities sell their hospitals, airports, bridges, schools, prisons?

Are we really hoping the new owners and investors will, from the goodness of their hearts, subsidize these efforts to serve the common good? A short reading of the water wars of Bolivia might be instructive, and a growing body of research makes clear what should be obvious to all but the most determined libertarian: privatization of public resource yields unchecked profit for the investor, higher cost for the public, greater suffering for those already struggling to survive.

I don’t hear our Christian leaders speaking out on this, but the Old Testament prophets had plenty to say about justice and injustice, and about those who become wealthy at the expense of the poor:
“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.”
“The plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” 
“You do as you please, and exploit all your workers.”
 “The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice."
“They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. “
“You take interest and make a profit from the poor. You extort unjust gain from your neighbors.”
“The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.”
Is this something we should be talking about, praying about?
Should we be asking our representatives to explain their preferential treatment of the rich?

Should we be organizing as citizens to demand justice – not for ourselves – but for those being forced out of their homes, bankrupted by their hospital bills?

Should we be paying attention to the ultra high net worth individuals whose profits are maximized at the expense of child slavery, sweat shops, misuse of resources stolen from indigenous people who lack the power to stop them?

Should we be wondering where those graphs will end? Where the consolidation of income and power will lead? What happens when not just 44%, but 100%, of the assets are held in the hands of the wealthiest one percent?

In Isaiah 1 the prophet, himself a grandson, nephew, cousin of kings, one of Judah’s wealthy one percent, explains to his people that God is not convinced by their offerings, their spiritual words, their observance of feasts, their religious gatherings. According to Isaiah, here’s what God has to say. The words echo across thousands of years, timeless, clear, convicting:

Stop doing wrong: Learn to do right; seek justice.
   Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
   plead the case of the widow.

I’m not sure yet how to do that, but, as Isaiah says, maybe it’s time to learn.

As always, your comments are welcome. Click on the ___comments link for the comment box to appear.

This post is part of Synchroblog, a group of Christian bloggers posting on a common topic. Other posts about extreme income inequality are listed below:

Glenn Hager - Shrinking The Gap
Jeremy Myers - Wealth Distribution
K. W. Leslie -  Wealth, Christians, and Justice. 
Abbie Watters – My Confession