Tag Archives: debt

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Exodus 34:29-35:21 and Luke 7:36-50

Exodus 34:29-35:21
Luke 7:36-50
The veil of the old covenant, removed in Christ
The tithe-less tabernacle
Sin, debt and recognition

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Deuteronomy 29:1-29 and Matthew 18:21-35

Deuteronomy 29:1-29
Matthew 18:21-35
Difference between the edge of the Jordan and Sinai? – doubtful
And standing covenant for all
The purpose of the law, to point us toward mercy
Christ is merciful first and greater
Not to go back into debt/sin

Debtors Prison: What did the prophets mean when they talked justice

When the prophets talked justice it was often in economic terms. Take a look at these: Amos 2:6-7,Amos 5:11, Amos 8:4-7, Zech 7:9-12, Micah 3:1-3, Micah 6:10-13, Ezekiel 22:12, Ezekiel 22:29, Ezekiel 45:9, Habakkuk 1:4, Isaiah 10:1-2, Jer 22:13. You can find a bunch more. The complaint of the prophets wasn’t that economic outcomes should be equalized, but that the powerful were using unfair weights, cheating the system and using their authority to extract rents that were not due to them. The charge was to apply the law fairly to all people regardless of social rank and to apply mercy to the poor. The main message was to avoid things like…this.

Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked.

When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.

For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company.

Yes, I’m sure there was some stupidity. Yes, speeding is against the law. But I’m pretty sure that even if she had shown up, she just couldn’t have paid and she would have been in the same spot. In our society driving may be a privilege, but lets be real, if you don’t drive, you probably aren’t going to work. Lots of people are hanging on by the smallest of threads day to day. Things that seem perfectly reasonable to a state senator with a stable family life to balance the budget are completely unreasonable to the people who actually get caught in the “roving taxes”. Being poor (even if your poverty is the direct result of poor decisions) does not give society the right to extract blood. According to the prophets it is society’s burden to show mercy.

Update: A second source of another story, same theme.

Paragraphs to Make You Think

1) Lest anyone thinks I might have been harsh in my Ash Wednesday sermon drawing analogies with the national debt and the plague of locusts in Joel. (Joel said that God was at the front of that plague. The plague was a mirror to the spiritual state of the people. Is our debt a mirror?) You can read here and here two shocking graphs. The first reports that the per-capita debt of the US is more than the per-capita debt of Greece (as well as the rest of the other PIIGS so much in the news). The second shows the share of the US debt based on budget projections by generation. A child born today owes 1.5 million dollars the day he or she is born if that national debt was allocated. Per the US Census (Fig 3) the expected lifetime earnings of a high school graduate are only $1.2 million. In other words a high school graduate owes more in federal debt today than they can expect to make in their lifetime. (Isn’t that close to a definition of slavery?) How is this not a moral issue? A Man owed 10,000 talents…(Matt 18:24)

2) From the Washington Post and a hospital internist. Teach us Lord to number our days…Psalm 90:12

With unrealistic expectations of our ability to prolong life, with death as an unfamiliar and unnatural event, and without a realistic, tactile sense of how much a worn-out elderly patient is suffering, it’s easy for patients and families to keep insisting on more tests, more medications, more procedures.

3) Why we need Lent from Catholic Mark Shea

Here’s reality: Human beings, working together with good community organizers, and following the Wisdom of the Voters and the very best that popular piety, sound civic common sense, and the best of human wisdom have, time and again, shouted “Give us Barabbas!” and chosen to crucify the innocent Son of God. It’s what we do.

The good news is that God forgives the 10,000 talents. He has given us a lamp for learning wisdom. And while we shout Barabbas, he walked to Calvary anyway. While we were still sinners…

Jubilee

Being married and a minister I shouldn’t say such things, but I love Megan McArdle. Before someone gets the wrong idea, for my two cents (I used to be a CFA finance guy so maybe 3 cents) she is the best financial journalist out there. And on top of that she is biblically literate and I never get the feeling that she is disrespecting faith when it enters the question (hello Dave Ramsey).

Her blog posts have been getting longer (the format seems to be morphing), but this one is outstanding and it mentions Jubilee – an OT biblical concept that Jesus in the NT proclaims the start of his ministry is the start of the Jubilee. There is a deep connection in the bible between debt and the gospel. God is the person who clears the debt, who sets the prisoners (debt-prisoners) free.

Beyond being a great journalist with a healthy respect for multiple vantage points, she is also pretty wise. While a general Jubilee for debt might not be possible – her recommendations on school debt seem right on. I know too many people drowning in debt from the age of 22. Yes, they agreed to it, but they were playing by the rules and the rules turn out to have been written by those in power to enrich themselves. (As she so ably demonstrates.) The prophets it turns out had something to say about such inequities as well.

Debt

I suppose this is something that is on many people’s minds recently. I have a very low tolerance for debt. Maybe that is just another way of saying, I have a strong imagination for all the ways plans can go wrong. Not that you don’t take risks, but 14 years of financial planning prove to you that “all trees don’t grow to heaven”. It pains me even to take a car loan. The chip on the front windshield of our new van that we got with less than 1000 miles on it just whispers at me – “to dust this shall return”. Probably while I still owe on it.

My dad and mom live part of the year in Arizona. Arizona is one of the those states that had property values decrease by 50%. One day you took out a $500K mortgage and the next that house could sell for $250K tops. I made a throw-off comment in the heat of the government bailouts that “I’m sorry, if the government is going to make whole rich people who should have known the risks, I see very little moral compulsion for the wage-slave to continue to pay that $500k mortgage.” That was the finance guy in me speaking. You ditch your losers fast and move on. Dad on the other hand came down on those “jingle-mail” folks hard. He said they signed the papers, they should pay their debts if they are able. If you were asking me which nation I’d rather live in, one where people ran away from their mistakes or stood behind them, Dad is the wiser course. It might feel good to run, it might even make business sense, but is that where you want to live?

But here is a deeper question I have. The CBO projection for the 2011 budget deficit is 1.5 trillion dollars. That number is up $500 billion from their previous view. That is the deficit. That is the amount we are putting on the debt in one year. That is roughly $5,000 for every man, woman and child in the USA. The federal government for the year 2011 is borrowing $25,000 in my family’s name. The federal government in one year is adding more than half my yearly salary to the debt. I choke on buying a car, and yet I still have the car. Where is this money going? And where is it coming from? Given the bailouts where do you see us as a people ever getting that money from? Are they really going to tax the rich who somehow got the government to make them whole on bad investments, or is this more likely my kids future? We probably want to be a society that pays our debts, but is it moral to foist this level of debt on millions who don’t even vote? Do we want to live in a society that makes us feel good right now, but is in no way sustainable and will come to roost on our kids?

The bible uses debt more than most English speakers might realize. English translators often just make the spiritual jump to sins and forgiveness short-circuiting the emotional heft of the debt metaphor. The Lord’s prayer is really forgive us our debts, as we forgive the debts of others. Forgiving debt hurts. Look at how hard the banks who were forgiven in the bailouts have fought forgiving or renegotiating mortgages. Even when they do, they rarely forgive capital, but instead have attempted to lengthen the terms or other ways to reduce the payment, but not the debt. But forgiving creates a way to move forward. The impasse of the debt is removed. That is what the Father did. He removed the entire debt. He removed the built up accumulation of debt of the millenia of missed jubilee years. The proverbs say “just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov 22:7). But the Father did not want debt-slaves, who turned out to be dead-beats anyway. He just erased the debts in Christ. Somehow, Christians are called to follow that one.