I've been piecing together a bit of family history in the last while. It has to do with some farmland belonging to my grandparents that was, we were told as children, "lost to taxes." This was not an uncommon circumstance for young people in Saskatchewan early on in the Depression, but it seems that wasn't the whole story.
The land had been sold to someone without full transfer of title until payment was complete, and a stack of old correspondence tells the story of default on that payment, with the inevitable loss of land that followed.
Amongst the many dry legal documents, one letter stands out - my grandfather responding to the most recent payment, which was to have been both money and a load of coal from the small operating mine on the land.
'You cannot serve God and wealth.'
While he gives thanks for receipt of the coal, he comments that it looks like it is nothing more than the sifted leftovers of a load of good coal that went somewhere else. They were given the fuel equivalent of the "sweepings of the wheat" that the prophet Amos refers to in his admonition to the people of his day.
Was this man skimming off the top for himself, or was he too in dire financial circumstances and trying to do his best to survive?
I don't know that part of the story, but I do know the real consequences to the lives of my grandparents resulting from the failure of payment for that debt - the personal suffering in the midst of other losses, the stress, the financial uncertainty and endless worry just at a time when all the people around them were beginning to be impacted by the Great Depression.
Amos speaks directly in condemnation of the people of his day who profited from taking advantage of the poor. That criticism is timeless and timely, for there are no shortages of new forms of injustice to both the poor and those in temporary difficulty.
While we could point to the corporations and businesses that exploit disadvantaged workers or circumstances of disaster, we do better to examine our own way of life and financial choices to ensure that we are not profiting from someone's life being worth no more than a pair of sandals.
Macleans' magazine did a recent article on the cruise ship industry. One of the conclusions they reached was that cruises are indeed are a good bargain for the consumer. But this good bargain comes, in part, as a result of the very low wages paid to the foreign workers.
Coffee has long been pointed to as another example of worker exploitation but now it is commonplace to find "fair trade" coffee that promises justice for those who produce the goods.
We, as consumers and people of faith, have both responsibility and ability to be educated and engaged in our concern for the poor. We, who have so much, must not be the beneficiaries of the fruit of injustice, but rather the advocates of change.
(Kathleen Giffin firstname.lastname@example.org)