Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"And from those who have nothing..."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 -- Week of Proper 11, Year One
Macrina, Monastic and Teacher, 379
To read about our daily commemorations, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 976)
Psalms 45 (morning)      47, 48 (evening)
1 Samuel 25:1-22
Acts 14:1-18
Mark 4:21-34

"For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."  (Mark 4:25)

I saw two economic charts yesterday.  Each of them started in the 1980's during the Reagan era and tracked to the present.  One chart measured wealth in dollars.  The next chart measured after-tax income.  The line-charts tracked first the wealthiest 1%, then the next 10%, then several lower levels of income from the 90% percentile down.  (I don't recall the specific percentage breakouts.)

Here's what they showed.  Beginning in the '80's there was a very large gap between the top 1% and everyone else.  The top 1% have a lot more wealth than everyone else.  There was also a significant, but smaller gap between the 90% and everyone else.  Below the 90th percentile, the lines were all pretty close together.  The amount of wealth was pretty close together for the rest of the percentile categories.

What the first chart showed -- wealth in dollars -- was that wealth has increased dramatically for the top 1% from the 1980's until now, with a few spikes up and down.  Wealth for the top 90% has also increased significantly, but not as sharply as for the top 1%.  The rest of America's economic world has been flat.  The lower 90% haven't progressed.

But the chart on the right showed after tax comparisons.  That's where you would imagine the lines getting a little closer.  From those who have, more is expected.  To those who need, there is some support.  But no.  The income gap after taxes is even greater.  The top two lines tracked a bit more steeply upwards.  And all of the other lines went from flat to sliding slightly downward.

The scripture has been fulfilled, it would seem.  Since the 1980's at least, to those who have, more has been given; and from those who have less, more has been taken away.  That's the way our economic system seems to have been working.

But that's not quiet the context for the observation from Mark's gospel.  Jesus first tells his listeners, "Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you will get, and still more will be given you."  Then he says, "For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." 

I've always been perplexed by the passage.  But within it's context, Jesus seems to be exhorting his listeners to abundant generosity.  Give extravagantly and more will be given you.  Your receiving is connected to your giving, he seems to say. 

I don't know what to think about the last phrase -- "from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."  Is it a commentary on the injustice of life? 

Luke's version of this passage expands on the command, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."  Luke omits the taking away from those who have nothing. (Lk. 6:37-38)

Mary's song imagines the powerful being brought down from their thrones and the lowly lifted, the hungry filled and the rich sent away empty.  (Lk. 1:52-53)  Not so for the most recent proposed strategy for lowering the Federal debt -- making most of the burden fall on the poor and vulnerable by cutting programs important to them while protecting the wealthy from any increased taxation.  It seems that somebody believes in it is right for those who have to be given more and from those who have nothing, let it be taken away.

I hope God is underneath it all sowing seeds of generosity and justice.  I hope somewhere out of the headlines, out of sight, there are mustard seeds, small and invisible, germinating, rooting, growing.  Seeds that someday will give shelter for all of the birds of the air.

I worry at the signs, though.  Will it be that what little generosity and justice we have as a nation will be taken away?



Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
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About Morning Reflections
"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
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's daunting, isn't it? The accumulation of wealth has become such a measure of "success" that many fight sharing it through public programs - or through fair taxation. And, many believe that spending over half of discretionary tax dollars on weapons of war is vital to keeping the nation safe is ludicrous.

But, even so, we must find a way to make our system of governance work - and that does mean compromise, doesn't it?

Peace and Hope, Caroline

At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last sentence of the first paragraph in my post should read. "And, many believe that spending over half of discretionary tax dollars on weapons of war is vital to keeping the nation safe. That's ludicrous.".......Caroline

At 9:04 AM, Blogger anglejax said...

Like you, Fr. Lowell, I am concerned...

Not for me or my family. Sure, there are a few bumps in the road, but by the Grace of God, we're hanging in there! :)

No, no... not for me... but for this country.

I see my neighbors having a real rough time making ends meet and paying their rent. I see the people down the street that are hungry. I know of a family just a few blocks away that have shut-off notices from SWEPCO. It's either pay the power company or default on a mortgage.

Times are tough... At least I do have a little income coming in. That is one thing I am grateful for. :)

Fr. Lowell, do you figure that those mustard seeds you were talking about would be in the generosity of the people? I would think that this is one way God does plant his seeds.... Okay then.... Done! That family down the street will be invited for fellowship with my family for a BBQ! How's that for planting seeds?!? :)

At 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad your messiah Obama didn't do what he promised. The rich are getting richer with free money from the FED and us peon's dollars are devalued. HAHAHA. Big government is total failure, AGAIN.

At 11:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thou shall not COVET

At 12:44 AM, Anonymous janet said...

And I am reading all those passages in Mark as referring to spiritual insight. It is given unto you - the kingdom of heaven earlier in Mark, the seeds sown on good soil, the lamp (light = spiritual insight), what is secret is manifest, the mustard seed story. Jesus is pouring out wisdom and spiritual truth - those who hear and ponder or act or hold this close receive more, in abundance. Those who have none (spiritual insight) truly have nothing and all that is other than spiritual is eventually taken from them anyway. (We die in many ways, outside of spirit)

It is still an awkward metaphor - would that we could learn the language he spoke and read the original and know all the nuances - still there were those standing right beside Jesus who did not come to any spiritual insight, even with his words and actions and love for them that must have just been pouring forth. I guess most of our spiritual insight works through grace, but we can do a bit to make our hearts soft enough to let grace have space there. I don't think it takes more than a mustard seed space for insight to be planted. It is too late for spiritual reflection. I'll look at this again during morning prayer.

Peace and light,

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks everyone for the lively blog conversation yesterday. Jack, your compassion for your neighbors shows so radiantly. And Janet, I'm reminded of the various ways of expressing the notion that it is through the cracks that the light shines through.


At 4:09 PM, Blogger Susan Payne said...

I'd really like to see that chart. can you give me a source? I saw something similar on TV a few weeks ago and didn't note what program.
The thing that baffles me is this: no tax increases for the rich because they are our salvation-- providing jobs. right after Obama was elected, congress voted to extend tax cuts for the wealthy for that same reason--why do we still have so many unemployed people? and why is it the President's fault? Does this remind anyone else of Trickle Down economics? trickle is right, if at all. must be a drought again. Susan

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good question Susan. Maybe you should ask Obama, Reid and Pelosi. While you are at it, Ask Obama how long he plans to let the FED print money and devalue the dollar? Inflation is a hidden tax.

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Inflation is a hidden tax. But inflation hasn't been a problem for quite a while. We've been closer to deflation for the past few years.

I retrieved the chart. (it was at my office)

The source is the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Printed in Mother Jones. It shows that a huge share of the nation's economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us is $31,244.

The left hand graph is "Average Household Income before taxes"

Top 1%: 1979: a bit over $1/2 million. Top 20%, just above the bottom of the graph line. The four other 20% tiers, stacked at the bottom of the graph.

1907: Top 1%: almost $2 million; Top 20%, slight rise; four other 20% -- flat.

The right hand graph:
"Change in Share of Income vs. 1979"
All of the graph lines start at zero for '79.
1% -- zig zags up to over 12% increase between '79 and '07
top 20% -- less zig zag; up to about 27% increase
The other four 20% -- all down; the bottom 20% down the most.

One thing I've seen in other studies. It didn't used to be this way. From the 1950's until Reagan, the whole economy participated in a general upward trend. Reagan's "trickle-down" economics changed the patterns. Economic policies in general have favored the wealthy and powerful from that time.

Now most of the money is concentrated at the very top, and they have no place to invest it because the bottom 80% have little money to buy what they might make.

I believe we need policies that strengthen the middle class and relieve the poor. 40 years of rich-privilege has left us stuck.


At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, maybe your next messiah will do that for you Lowell. This currents president, you know Bush 3, is printing money and the world is buying gold because the fiat dollars is devalued. And inflation is real, its here, and its angry.


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