Reflections on Lamentations and Politics


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“[Lamentations] condemns the pseudo-patriotic assurances of ‘false’ prophets who joined corrupt priests in murdering innocents and lulling the populace into passive acceptance of state politics. It calls for contrite confession and wholehearted conversion of the people as the pre-condition of the restoration of Judah. Royal traditions are strongly attested in the overweening confidence of the people of Judah in the sanctity of their Davidic ruler and state institutions, but this confidence is negated by the admission that royal privilege was undermined by the social, political, and religious corruption that overtook the leadership of Judah.” Norman Gottwald, “Lamentations Introduction” in The New Interpreters Study Bible (NRSV, 2003).
            “[C]ontrite confession” is not a stance often taken in politics. Indeed, really, never. It is curious to me, then, that the majority of those who overtly claim to be followers of Jesus and are running for the presidency, support (yea, create) policy that draws precisely on that which the God of Abraham condemned in Israel. They condemn and cajole, horde and sneer. Yet they stand as condemned Israel before a very disappointed God. Ezekiel contrasts them with Sodom and Samaria, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me…Samaria has not committed half your sins…[you] have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed…I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and the fortunes of Samaria…in order that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done, becoming a consolation to them” (Ez 16:49-54).
            Furthermore, Jude refers to “dreamers’ who “slander whatever they do not understand, and they are destroyed by those things that, like irrational animals, they know by instinct….waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted….” (vv 8-12) Instead, Jude exhorts: “keep yourselves in the love of God…have mercy on some who are wavering” (vv 21-22). Amos, too, exposes the hypocrisy: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink.’” (4:1) Israel who “reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth…trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain…afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needs in the gate.” (5:10-12) And, shall I add, “and call them ‘lazy’?”
            In 2030, 1 in 5 of us will be seniors. The fastest growing age group is the old, old—80 and older. When we hit the age of 65, the probability of physical or cognitive disability is 68%. $172 billion is the cost of Alzheimer’s today. Absent a cure, 13.5 million of us will have Alzheimer’s. By 2050 care will cost $1 trillion—more that the GDP of all 50 states and most countries. Almost ½ of all Americans think that Medicare will cover the cost of Alzheimer’s and other long-term needs. 43% have less than $10,000 in retirement savings. As Warren Buffet has brought to our attention (if we haven’t already been paying attention), the super wealthy pay lower taxes than workers in the lower and middle classes. These monies are going into accounts that will no longer sustain anyone of retirement age in the near future. There is tremendous opportunity for those 65 and older. At the same time, 68% probability that these same will suffer physical or cognitive disability is rather prohibitive lucratively. Why does one person’s job manipulating numbers that represent the surplus of the wealthy garner a grossly, disproportionately higher income than mine—serving the community by offering spiritual, emotional, physical and psychological support to those around us as a pastor/counselor/teacher? What makes their jobs more important? How is it that they work so much harder than I? What—more education? Doubtful. More hours laboring? Unlikely.
            The criticism is that few in the lower class actually contribute income taxes (though still contributing to Social Security and Medicare). Yet the total number in this class controls only 2.5% of the wealth of the US. But taxing the supers wealthy (only the top 2%–those who garner millions and billions) at the same rate as the lower and middle class who do pay would supply $700 billion over the next 10 years. The republican answer to the deficit problem: a million here, a million there—of entire programs that contribute to measurable quality of life for everyone (Medicare, NPR [or cut 700,000 NPRs—a la Jon Stewart], etc.) Meanwhile, the US ranks 64th in the world in income inequality…. What? a 39% reduction in the number of millionaires? Would it not be better to see a 39% increase of those who have jobs, though at the expense of millionaires who would then receive a salary ever-so-slightly more closely in line with what their efforts deserve in compensation? $900k is still a decent amount of money.
In what kind of God do we proclaim to believe? “God is love.” For this to be true, this God must be Trinitarian in nature. To love before there was creation to love, love had to exist in God—with reference to an object of love—to relate love, within and to God-self. The identity of this Trinitarian God in whom we believe and trust, and base all that we do (and in politics claim this God to be that on which this nation was founded) is love. Mercy, grace, peace—these are all characteristics of Jesus. The critique of Jesus was primarily directed toward the religious rulers, and mercy and grace always to the poor and marginalized—the woman with five husbands, the one caught in adultery, the blind sitting by the road—not paying taxes! The Trinity is how we can say, with Archbishop Williams, “that God is love, not only that he shows love.” God came to humankind in Jesus Christ; “and through the power of the Spirit, people are able to recognize in Jesus Christ the self-revelation of God.” (Miroslav Volf) Is Jesus Christ recognized in these people who claim to follow God? Is the God-who-is-love recognized in me?
How do I know whether the message of a prophet is false? Is there Love?

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