Signs of the Times

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  19 June 2018 •  No. 164

Processional. Cubanos Todos.

Special Issue
ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

“The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful,
and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is
the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”
—Adam Smith, Scottish economist and philosopher, considered the “father” of free market economic theory

Invocation. “Spirit open my heart to the joy and pain of living.” —“Spirit, Open My Heart,” text by Ruth Duck to the traditional Irish melody “Wild Mountain Thyme”

Call to worship. “Each tongue, by supplicating lung, / invokes bright morning’s rise! / Through darkest night let love’s Delight / condole all mournful eyes. / Both soul and soil alike await / Redemption’s crowning glory. / Meadow, mountain, healing fountain, / proclaim Resurrection’s story!” —continue reading “Draw near,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 130

Hymn of praise. “Yonder come day, Day done broke / Yonder come day, Oh my soul, / Yonder come day, Day done broke / Into my soul.” —“Yonder Come Day,” Bessie Jones

Good news. “All told, what began as a scrappy band of fast food workers [e.g., the “Fight for $15” movement] walking off their jobs in New York City in 2013 has won over $62bn in raises for 19 million workers, according to the National Employment Law Project.” —Tamara Draut, Guardian

¶ “The 3 Richest Americans Hold More Wealth Than Bottom 50% Of The Country, Study Finds.” Noah Kirsch, Forbes,

¶ “. . . when God forbids oppression of the poor in the Book of the Covenant (cf. Exodus 22:21-24), it is the first time the Scriptures explicitly affirm that God becomes angry.” —Thomas D. Hanks

In the US “there are 62 million people making less than a living wage. But there are 400 people that make $97,000 an hour.” Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-organizer, with Rev. William Barber, of the new Poor People’s Campaign. In actions across the country over the past five weeks, 2,000 have been arrested in demonstrations advocating for a range of social and economic justice measure. Listen (or read the manuscript) of Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Nowinterview with Theoharis and other campaigners, “Special Report: In the Streets with the New Poor People’s Campaign Against Racism and Poverty.”

Confession. “From the turbulent bowels of darkest deep, / our roiling souls cry to you, O God! / Close not your ears to the sound of our / afflictions! Remind us again that Heaven’s / Provision will yet outlast earth’s squalid distress.” —continue reading “The boundary of bedlam,” a poem inspired by Psalm 130 & Psalm 46

¶ “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey / Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.” —Oliver Goldsmith

Hymn of supplication. “I want to be ready when joy comes back to me.” —Ruthie Foster, “Joy Comes Back

¶ “It was the great sage of Islam, ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who saw that as a society becomes affluent it becomes more individualistic. It loses what he called asabiyah, its social cohesion.” —Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

For starters.Wealth Inequality in America(6:23 video) provide a stunning graphic illustration.

Oxfam now calculates that the 85 richest people’s wealth equals that of the lower 50% [3.5 billion people] of the global population. Graeme Wearden, Guardian

¶ “Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.” ―Thomas Jefferson

¶ “Rich people no more create jobs than farmers create tomatoes.” —Nick Hanauer, venture capitalist billionaire, civic activist, and severe critic of the US low-wage economy. For more see Brian Prowse-Gany & Joyzel Acevedo profile in Yahoo, and/or watch Hanauer speaking (9:20 video) to the danger of economic inequality.

Cognitive dissonance: Which one of these facts do not belong in this list?

        • “Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage peaked in 1968 at $8.68 (in 2016 dollars). Since it was last raised in 2009, to the current $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum has lost about 9.6% of its purchasing power to inflation.” Drew DeSilver, Pew Research Center

        • “Those with higher earnings have fared the best, enjoying a 27% jump in wages since 1979. Those in the bottom bracket, however, saw their paychecks shrink slightly.” Tami Luhby, CNNMoney

        • “A minimum-wage worker needs 2.5 full-time jobs to afford a one-bedroom apartment in most of the US.” Hillary Hoffower, Business Insider

        • "Median wages of production workers, who comprise 80% of the workforce, haven't risen in 30 years, adjusted for inflation." —Robert Reich 

        • “If you define a ‘low’ wage as under $15 per hour, you’re referring to almost half the workforce in the US. . . ." Most are not high school or college students. "Today 73% of workers earning under $15 per hour nationwide are older than 25.” —Mary Babic, “5 myths about the working poor in America,” Oxfam America

        • The present state of our economy “is pretty much as good as it gets.” —James Smith, one of our nation’s leading economists, quoted in Dillon Davis, Asheville Citizen-Times

¶ “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” —Plutarch, 1st century CE

Words of assurance. “If you, O God, should keep track of all our failures, none of us would make the grade. But your hands heap pardon on all the penitent. Forgiveness is your middle name. Mercy is your mandate; pardon, your provision. Declarations of amnesty flow from your lips. Every remorse is met with remission.” —continue reading “Amnesty,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 130

Hymn of resolution. “(I’ll never turn back) No Mo,” Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers.

¶ “Today’s economic boom is driven not by any great burst of innovation or growth in productivity. Rather, it is driven by another round of financial engineering that converts equity into debt. It sacrifices future growth for present consumption. And it redistributes even more of the nation’s wealth to corporate executives, wealthy investors and Wall Street financiers.
        “Rather than using record profits, and record amounts of borrowed money, to invest in new plants and equipment, develop new products, improve service, lower prices or raise the wages and skills of their employees, they are “returning” that money to shareholders. Corporate America, in effect, has transformed itself into one giant leveraged buyout.” Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post

Hymn of intercession. “All the pain that you have known  / All the violence in your soul  / All the 'wrong' things you have done  / I will take from you when I come.” —Sinéad O'Connor, “This Is to Mother You

¶ “As America's largest banks post record profits, massive companies continue their unprecedented stock buyback spree, and already-obscene CEO pay packages are set to rapidly expand in the aftermath of the Trump-GOP tax cuts, top corporate executives are now openly admitting that they have no plans whatsoever to invest their enormous windfall into wage increases for workers.
        “During what Axios described as a ‘rare, candid, and bracing talk from executives atop corporate America’ at the Dallas Fed, Troy Taylor, CEO of Florida's Coca-Cola franchise, said of the possibility of broad wage hikes for workers: ‘It's just not going to happen. Absolutely not in my business.’" Jake Johnson, CommonDreams

By the numbers. If Bill Gates could find a way to spend $1 million a day, it would take him 218 years before he bounced a check. Allison Jackson, GlobalPost

Offertory. “When Jesus came to town all the working folks around / Believed what he did say / Well the bankers and the preachers ‘ They nailed him on a cross / For they laid Jesus Christ in his grave.” —Woody Guthrie, “Jesus Christ

Preach it. “I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you said, ‘I will not listen. . . .’ Therefore you will be buried in a donkey’s grave.” —Jeremiah 22:19-21 (adapted)

Can’t makes this sh*t up. Gargantuan company Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, is the richest man in the world. How rich? When Amazon stock recently surged by 6.5%, Bezos’ wealth increased by $12 billion—in a single day. Can you guess how much federal income tax the company paid last year? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Zip. In fact, the company will be getting a $137 million tax refund. —Jessica Corbett, CommonDreams

It’s hard to imagine one billion of anything. Here’s one frame of reference. Say you’re working at minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, no sick days. (Low wage earners rarely if ever get paid vacation or sick leave.)
        How long would it take you to earn $1 billion (before taxes)? That would be just short of 66,313 years.

Call to the table. “Grace is always sufficient when crops are abundant and food is plentiful; when crushing illness and death’s visitation are distant and anonymous; when pin-striped, silk-tied pirates no longer plunder tomorrow’s dreams. . . ? When a good name’s belittled or when the battered ask why?—continue reading “Sufficient grace,” a litany for worship inspired by 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

The state of our disunion. “’Peace Is Bad for Business’: War Profiteer Stocks Plummet After Diplomatic Progress With North Korea.” Jake Johnson, CommonDreams

“A mutant form of capitalism.” In this animated video Wesley P.P. Hall explains the root causes of war, poverty and terrorism in under two minutes.

Best one-liner. “Poverty exists not because we cannot feed the poor but because we cannot satisfy the rich." —author unknown

For the beauty of the earth. Hooded Grebes, one of the rarest birds in South America, doing a courtship dance. (1:06 video. Thanks Wendy.)

Satire alert. “They don’t pay taxes. They circumvent our laws. They get free stuff from the government. They are America’s billionaires, and many would like to see them gone. . . . They come here, take thousands of our jobs and export them overseas. . . .” —Andy Borowitz, “Sentiments Building to Deport Billionaires

¶ “The federal minimum wage is less than the cost of living in every major city in the country.” Josh Hoxie, CommonDreams

Generosity can break out in the most unlikeliest of times and places. This high school pitcher struck out his childhood friend, allowing his team to advance to the state championship baseball series. Before celebrating with his teammates, he first did this. (0:35 video)

Altar call. "Where a trade is carried on, productive of much misery, and they who suffer by it are some thousand miles off, the danger is the greater of not laying their sufferings to heart. . . . Many groans arise from dying men which we hear not. Many cries are uttered by widows and fatherless children, which reach not our ears.  Many cheeks are wet with tears, and faces sad with unutterable grief, which we see not." —John Woolman, 18th century Quaker abolitionist

Benediction.Heal the World,” Child Prodigy covers this Michael Jackson hit song. (Thanks Deborah.)

Lectionary for this Sunday. Re: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. In his work to gather donations for the destitute church in Jerusalem, Paul makes references a God-Occupying axiom: “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” But this is no first century United Way appeal. This instruction goes to the heart of Exodus-rooted covenant theology, given by the very Shining Presence of God to the Egypt-émigré Hebrews during their long walk to freedom, announcing daily manna: Each was to gather only enough for the number in their tents. The result: Those who gathered much had nothing left over; those who gathered little had no lack. Any surplus gathered “bred worms and became foul” (Exodus 16:9-21).

        Also: Two litanies for worship based on Psalm 130: “Amnesty”  and “Draw Near.”

Lectionary for Sunday next.Rouse yourselves,” a litany for worship inspired by Ezekiel 2:1-5

        Also: “Sufficient grace,” a litany for worship inspired by 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 & Habakkuk 3:17-19

Recessional.Toccata on ‘Amazing Grace.’—Jeff Brummel (Thanks David.)

Just for fun. A belated Happy International Dance Day. (2:37 video. Thanks Glenn.)

#  #  #

Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Blessed assurance: Call to the table in the face of terror,” commentary on caging children

• “Sufficient grace,” a litany for worship inspired by 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 & Habakkuk 3:17-19

• “Morning by morning,” a litany for worship inspired by Lamentations 3 and Luke 19:41-42

• “Rouse yourselves,” a litany for worship inspired by Ezekiel 2:1-5

©Ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org. Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor, as are those portions cited as “kls.” Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

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