Hello! We hope that you were blessed by our Easter Worship and our feeling inspired to go deeper and wider with your faith than ever before. Today we continue our reading of the book of Nehemiah, chapters 4 - 6. I find this section to be really relatable to our culture and I think there are strong lessons about where the church is expected to be. I'll share more thoughts on that below but I'm always curious to see what sticks out to you or what questions you're left with. Lemme know in the comments below.
Scripture to Read
Questions to Consider
What does this teach me about God?
What does this reveal was happening at the time of the writing? In other words, what was this in response to?
What, if anything, feels applicable to today? What does it inspire me to do as a result?
- My Thoughts -
So I live in Struthers, a suburb of Youngstown. Youngstown is universally understood by our country to be the armpit of america. We make detroit look good and nothing can make detroit look good. You get the idea. Youngstown natives take this stain upon our reputation as a sign of endearment. The city's unofficial logo is "The birthplace of grit" for example. Youngstown was booming in the 20's - 40's and after the closing of the steel mills in the late 70's every ounce of industry is gone. You can drive through the valley and just see the skeletons of what once was. It's honestly sad. The only business that can exist in Youngstown now is loan shark's, liquor stores/bars, and corner shops like CVS and dollar tree. Let's look at this a little bit closer and why this is an injustice and a cycle for poverty.
It's understood that the number one cause of death in America is poverty and no where is that more true that Youngstown. The average life expectancy of a citizen of Youngstown (and other predominantly black neighborhoods) is 29 years shorter than that of a wealthy, white, suburb (like Chagrin, for example) 15 years!!!!!!! (https://newrepublic.com/article/153870/inequality-death-america-life-expectancy-gap) Why? Access to quality food doesn't exist. Struthers and most suburbs of Youngstown doesn't have a Heinens or a Giant Eagle. It has IGA which is boxed goods, canned food, and other highly processed meats. Liquor shops and cigarette sales keep people in vicious cycles of dependency often because they are hungry and being drunk helps ignore that need. Lastly, loan sharks. While the government has done much to help with the capping of interest rates on loan sharks and even credit cards, that doesn't mean interest rates on EVERYTHING is higher in poorer areas. I get it, as a bank you don't want to lend to a risky lender (trust me I've raised my own credit score by 150 points in the last 2 years. I get it), but how can they ever not be risky when their credit score is low because interest rates absorb the payment each month? From cars, to homes, to early check systems, to credit cards, everything is at least 1% higher than elsewhere and often 10% higher on the high interest options such as credit cards.
What's this all lead to? Poor instrusture means the roads are bad and littered with potholes which leads to more frequent and higher damage on your car. Can't pay it? Trade it in and roll the remaining loan onto a new car at a sexy 10% interest rate. Rinse and repeat. Processed foods means you develop health problems at a higher rate, but you can't go to the doctor because you can't afford it or don't have access to health insurance. So that $500 lump grows to be $100,000 cancer the following year. Can't pay it? Well just die and then put your family in financial burden to come up with the money to bury you because you probably didn't have life insurance because you were again a risk to the lenders due to the only business being a liquor store and cigarettes. Be like the rest of the people who die 15 years sooner than the average middle class person. Getting mad yet? You should be.
Nehemiah addresses this in 4 - 6. He blasts his fellow Israelites that are charging interest on their loans causing people to have to give up everything just to survive. It challenges churches and individual christians alike to consider how they can use their voice to call for change and how they personally make their money and whether or not it's off the back of underpaid workers or on high interest loans to impoverished people. As a result, sometimes that change means less money in our own personal accounts but with the satisfaction we are doing our part to make the kingdom of heaven come on Earth. We often grumble at Christians that show up at protests or get "political", but Nehemiah shows us that this is exactly what churches should be doing! They should be addressing the social ills around them and calling our culture to look more like how would want that to be. We all long for "Christian values" but so often we are teaching the wrong ethics or at least are missing the full picture. We get so caught up in "sex, drugs, and rock & roll" that we don't point out the underlying causes of so much of these things, which just as it was in Biblical times, is poverty.
We must do better. We must continue to write to our senators and demand lower interest rates, forgiveness programs, universal (or reformed) healthcare, better education systems, and better/safer business incentive's for low income areas. If that means higher tax brackets or taxes on the stock market, then so be it. (No, this is not a democratic or liberal rant. I'm a registered Republican and have voted so in nearly every election that I have been able to and likely will in the future assuming the GOP can reclaim its dignity. But, as I have discovered in my study of the Bible, often times the "Biblical" thing is not in the "Republican" parties best interest. I know the irony all too well.) Because until the people of Struthers and Youngstown get to live 15 years longer, none of us deserve to either. That's what it means to be pro-life.
Praying the Hymns
Our prayer for today is inspired by hymn 204 in our hymnal - Emmanuel, Emmanuel
As usual, I invite you to mediate on the song and wonder for yourself what it means to you personally to know that Emmanuel - God is with you. Or, join in the song by humming, singing, or reciting the words.
Actually, I'm changing it up a little. We're going to sing Rend Collective's Emmanuel You're One of Us as I think it's more timely to the time and the original hymn was a contemporary piece anyways. And hey with the snowstorm on Thursday for April fools it feels okay to sing a Christmas song still haha!
It just doesn’t feel like Christmas at all
It’s so hard to forget about all that went on
Some friends lost their jobs and some family too
Some people said it was all down to you
I know Emmanuel, you’re one of us
You left your throne to wear our scars
Though Christmas lights may lose their spark
And winter’s cold may break our hearts
Christmas means, Emmanuel you’re one of us
Maybe it is Christmas time after all
The carols are soaring, the fire’s roaring on
This year’s had its trials, but sweet mercies too
Glad tidings of joy and they’re all down to You
So sister and brother
Be kind to each other
We’ve all had a journey
Our own path to wander
The light will come
Just know you’re not alone