Bible reading thoughts on First Sunday in Lent 2013

I feel bad that most of my thoughts on my big gulp Bible reading this Lent have been more on the negative side. I've let the irritation exceed the gratefulness. Last night, as I lay in bed reading American Colossus, I appreciated the usury laws in Exodus. Farmers in the late 1800's were eased into bankruptcy by a thousand cuts. The fees and the high interest rates were only survivable when the harvest was good and the market demand was high. If the weather did not enable the conditions for a good harvest, or if the harvest was good for all farmers which increased the supply and dropped the prices, the farmer did not have enough to pay off their debt and have enough to start the next year's crop. The book also discusses the exploitation of labor, and their attempts at organizing and the strike breaking by the trusts in response. It's a huge contrast for the way God wanted things among the Israelites.
Exodus 22: 21 "Don't abuse or take advantage of strangers; you, remember, were once strangers in Egypt. 22 "Don't mistreat widows or orphans. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, you can be sure I'll take them most seriously; 24 I'll show my anger and come raging among you with the sword, and your wives will end up widows and your children orphans. 25 "If you lend money to my people, to any of the down-and-out among you, don't come down hard on them and gouge them with interest. 26 "If you take your neighbor's coat as security, give it back before nightfall; 27 it may be your neighbor's only covering - what else does the person have to sleep in? And if I hear the neighbor crying out from the cold, I'll step in - I'm compassionate. 28 "Don't curse God; and don't damn your leaders. 29 "Don't be stingy as your wine vats fill up.
In the the census of the late 1800's, it was discovered that most Americans were immigrants. However, Jim Crow laws severely restricted the human rights of former slaves and their descendants, Chinese immigrants were forced into ghettos, and Mexicans in Texas were discriminated against. Our country would benefit from living out v. 21. In the meantime, our churches need to love the strangers and foreigners.
Is the tough "love" shown single mothers in our society stopped the rise in single parent households, or improved the well being of those children who live in poverty because of choices they did not make? Our country would benefit from living out v. 22. In the meantime, our churches need to love these women and children. Are God's threatened consequences in v. 24 to be ignored?
What if we didn't allow interest to be charged when money was borrowed? There are banks that do this today, but they are mostly Islamic banks, that have shown success, but have made the definition of interest fuzzy on their path to success. Mortgages are more like leases. The homes built by the christian organization, Habitat for Humanity, have mortgages without interest. What if those farmers in the late 1800's in America did not have to worry about losing their farms, the metaphorical coat off their backs, because of circumstances beyond their control? What if our country protected the borrowers before the lenders? How would the mortgage bubble collapse in 2008 have looked different? Would there have even been one?
What if our executives were not stingy? What if all companies tried what Ben and Jerry's did, limiting the difference between the entry level pay and the top executive pay? While Ben and Jerry ran the company, they did not allow anyone's wage to exceed seven times the lowest wage. Rising executive pay is a big issue in our country. I think it's a big issue in our churches. Some pastors of big churches are making a million bucks a year or more. Unless they are paying their janitors a 100 grand a year, that just seems wrong to me. If the wine vats are full, we should be inviting others in to enjoy with us. At least that is what I think God is saying in v. 29.
What if the our TV networks, and the Christians who share their articles on facebook, practiced v. 28 and did not damn our leaders? Comparing our leaders to Hitler, in my opinion, is damning them. I fully support calling out the wrong actions, without calling the leader names. For example, I'm pro-life. I think it is wrong to kill babies in the womb, I think it is wrong to execute criminals. I think assassinations are wrong, especially with bombs from drones that seem to kill more women and children than targets. But I won't damn Obama, or Bush, or Clinton. How different our national discourse would sound if bombasticity was not highly valued in our culture. What a different world it would be if it could live out those nine verses.

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