Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Living In Samaria

As I preach weekly, I'm very often stuck with leftovers. Leftovers are those ideas that come pouring out of my study and reflection on the texts, but that don't really fit within the theme and focus of the day. I can't stand long meandering brain-dump preaching myself, so I'd never intentionally inflict it on others.

After two weeks of preaching from the prophet Amos, one of the big "leftovers" has to do with sociopolitical context. It's clear that one of the major issues for Amos was an unsustainable imbalance of economic power. In the eighth century BCE, Israel was experiencing a time of prosperity...sort of. Wealth and power were accumulating, but that accumulation was occurring primarily around the urban centers, like Samaria and Bethel. Those who served the king did quite well. Those who sold to those who served the king did quite well. The scribes and the priests and the merchants were rolling in it.

But everywhere else, things bit. Exorbitant prices and punishingly high taxes were the price paid to insure that the centers of power stayed powerful, and that the merchants and the merchant's wives lived in the standard to which they were accustomed. So the majority of the people...the farmers and the laborers...knew suffering, while a few islands of prosperity flourished around power.

I live in such an island. I was born and raised in the DC suburbs. That's not to say that there aren't shuttered businesses and foreclosed homes here inside the Beltway. But as our homeland security infrastructure blossoms and spreads and sprawls, most of those jobs are here. More and more military suppliers and contractors are re-siting their headquarters here to DC. Best to be near where the money is if you want to make a few bucks off of our Forever War. And so our area does really rather well.

Of course, prices here are higher. And while the apparent taxes on y'all outside the Beltway aren't punishingly high, your actual tax levels are masked behind debt, debt that is being incurred on the basis of your credit. Meaning, you are, in fact, being punitively taxed. You just don't grasp it, because the bill keeps not being sent, because America only elects cowards who tell us that we can get something for nothing. Only you don't get that something.

And so when I hear Amos laying into the wealthy, I hear him laying into the god of security which we worship. And from which my community profits.

The peskiest thing about Amos is that the stone mansions and the vineyards that he describes could be in the neat neighborhoods of Mclean. Or in the stately McEstates of Loudon County. Or in Bethesda, in the beautiful multi-million dollar homes that surround my church.

So I haven't quite gotten around to preaching about it. It's hard to turn that poison cup into a Practical Lesson for Your Life Now (tm). It's too hard a word. But though Amos suggests that the prudent remain silent in evil times, it does seem worth at least blogging about it.