Friday, December 07, 2007

Amos and the Arkansas Advocates

Friday, December 7, 2007 -- Week of 1 Advent (Year 2)
(Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 397)

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
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Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 937)
Psalms 16, 17 (morning) 22 (evening)
Amos 5:1-17
Jude 1-16
Matthew 22:1-14

I was with the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families yesterday. The president of their board spoke with deep appreciation about the good work that this group and others allied with them had accomplished during the previous Arkansas legislative session. It is a good session when one or two things are passed (or prevented), he said. During the most recent session, seven of their issues were fully or substantially successful. As I was reading Amos and hearing his accusations against Israel, I thought of a couple of those issues that the AACF worked for.

Amos condemns the wealthy and powerful in Israel "because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain." The footnote in my Access Bible says, "Levies of grain are the taxes imposed by creditors or landlords on poor farmers."

Two of the bills that passed with the AACF's support last session were aimed at lowering the tax burden especially for poorer people. The first was the reduction of tax on groceries. As the speaker said, "That doesn't make a big impact on me, but for those who are poor or barely getting by, it is significant in helping them get the bare necessities they need to put food on the table." The second bill he mentioned was one that raised the threshold for income tax in Arkansas. He said that the threshold level for taxing was right above poverty income. People whose income was so low that it was problematic for them to provide their basic needs were nevertheless paying significant income tax.

So much of Amos is addressed to the comfortable and wealthy who enjoy lives of security and even luxury while living in a society with poor neighbors struggling to get by. Amos condemns the failure of compassion and identity. "Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!" Amos attacks the economic system, the politics, and the unjust taxation of eighth century Israel.

What might Amos consider a just system? He clearly sees that the wealthy and comfortable have a responsibility toward the poor and vulnerable. I think that he would promote a graduated income tax, where those of us who are able to meet and exceed our basic needs would return a greater percentage of our income to the common good. I think he would approve lowering or removing taxes on the basic necessities. I think he would disapprove of the sales tax, which is a regressive tax, placing a disproportionate burden on the poor. I think Amos would be shocked, as Warren Buffet was, when the billionaire financier pointed out that he paid a smaller percentage of his income in taxes than his secretary did. I believe he would condemn the predatory lending policies of certain "Payday" lenders, and I'll bet he would join the AACF in opposing lotteries, which encourage irresponsible behavior and function as regressive taxes that disproportionately affect the economic well-being of low-income families.

Not everyone agreed with Amos. He was a flash point of conflict, sparking resistance from religious, political and economic interests. But he pushed the conversation in the direction of questions of justice framed from the perspective of the poor. That was the agenda of the prophets. It is an agenda that Jesus adopted as well. Some theologians have seen the theme of advocacy for the poor as being so predominant in the scriptures that they describe the God of the Bible as a God who has "a preferential option for the poor." How might that translate in the upcoming presidential election year? What might the 2009 Arkansas legislative session do in pursuit of a preferential option for the poor? Those are Amos questions.


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

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At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess some could say that Amos could have been a Democrat......some could have called him a "bleeding heart Liberal" some could say that the people that opposed him were Republicans....Seems to me that the Good Lord favored, as you stated some time ago, that the focus was on the Pool, Children, Orphans and Widows.......One good point that Jesus did make was, that if you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it unto me...Maybe he had it right and we just need to work together to do better.......I read your comments every day before I go to work....Thanks for your input..It reminds me where I fail and where I need to improve........I guess trying to grow in the spirit each day is what it is all about...and by the way....for your comments about the wealthy......they need to be reminded that God loves a cheerful giver......He freely gives us the air, water and world we need to have life each day....I think we all could be a little more thankful and tell him that, the first part of every day....

At 10:45 AM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

This week you have emphasized Amos, but I wonder why the readings from Jude and 2Peter were neglected. These firebrands warned about unnatural lusts (Jude7), and "corruption that is in the world because of lust" (2Peter1:4). I will hand out the WWJ+PD (What would Jude and Peter do) bumper stickers while you might try handing out WWAD (What Would Amos Do) stickers. Maybe between the both of us, the politicians will take notice.

At 10:35 PM, Blogger Reg Golb said...

You clearly don't understand Republican or Democrat.

The Democrats support the lottery. The unborn baby lottery. Only a few are lucky enough to actually be born.

Oh yeah, and Jesus said "that if you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it unto me" he didn't say "that if the government have done it to one of these, the government have done it unto me".

At 10:37 PM, Blogger Reg Golb said...

Pewster, let me answer for Lowell.

"There is no unnatural lust if they show the fruits of the spirit"

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the posts.

I don't think either political party would pass prophetic muster, but at this point in history, the Democrats seem to catch more of the Biblical vision than do the Republicans.

Reg -- the Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families announced Thursday that they will oppose the lottery; I share that opposition.

U.P. -- Amos is so much more satisfying fare than 2 Peter and Jude. I need to fast a little more and spend more time with the latter.

Reg -- I will return to the articulation that the Episcopal Church offered as our expectation for people who offer themselves to one another in committed loving relationships: their relationships are to be "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God." If you add to that the fruits of the spirit, I agree with St. Paul, "There is no law against this."



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