Power in the People (Amos)

Monday, November 14, 2022

Thank you so much Sarah for creating this transcript!


Channing: [00:00:00] Hi! I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists Podcast. 

Elise: [00:00:12] We focus on feminist interpretations of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me manual as a guide for study. We understand scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with The Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred texts with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:00:41] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches, is our background, we follow our faith and our God on the winding path of spirituality over institution, and connection over condemnation. We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling a little too faithful for some and not enough for others: Welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. This podcast is funded by our listeners’ generous donations. If you'd like to support our work, connect with us on Patreon or on our website at www.thefaithfulfeminists.com.

[00:01:22] Hi friends. Welcome back to the episode. Today we are covering the book of Amos and the book of Obadiah for the dates November 14th through the 20th. For this episode, we're gonna focus our content entirely on the book of Amos. Obadiah is literally a book made up of one chapter and it focuses mostly on prophecies about the apocalypse/Zion, so if you're interested make sure you read all of it, but today most of our stuff is gonna be talking about Amos because he is a super cool dude. So a little bit about Amos, as background. Amos was a shepherd and a gardener in Southern Israel. He was called by God to prophesy to Northern Israel and bring to them a message of justice and the message was this: God was on the side of the poor and the oppressed. And because of this, because of the poor treatment of the poor and the oppressed, God's justice was coming against Israel. Amos preached this message of warning to Northern Israel and God was really crossing their fingers that Israel would repent, not just in word, but in truly changing their ways politically, economically, and religiously.

[00:02:39] We really love Amos and one of the reasons why is because his experience and his call to prophethood really resonated with a concept that we've kind of discovered and talked about throughout our reading of sacred text, and that is the concept of the prophet from the margins. This is a motif or a common occurrence that we see throughout sacred text.

[00:03:02] If you've been with us since Book of Mormon times, you might remember our episode that we did about Samuel the Lamanite. Another figure of prophet from the margins that we can also pull from the Book of Mormon would be the character of Abish and a character that we've even discovered this year in the Hebrew Bible is Daniel; Daniel is a prophet from the margins. So Amos is in fantastic company. But we want to talk a little bit about what a prophet from the margins is and why it might be important. And one of those things, one of the perspectives or theories that we think could be really informative here is a theory called standpoint theory.  

Elise: [00:03:43] Yeah, so feminist standpoint theory was worked out between Sandra Harding, Julia T. Wood, and then a bit later, Dorothy Smith. And standpoint theory, or feminist standpoint theory says that the folks that are on the margins, marginalized groups, actually have a more accurate interpretation and understanding of the way that the world works for two reasons.

[00:04:04] One, because they don't hold power and therefore don't have power to lose, as opposed to dominant groups that have and want to hold onto power and are afraid to lose it. And two, because marginalized groups have had to learn how to navigate both marginalized spaces and dominant or centered spaces in order to survive our day and age and culture. And so if we think about Amos, right? Amos was a shepherd, we could imagine him living on the margins. And yet God also called Amos to call people out and call people to repentance. And I think perhaps feminist standpoint theory would argue that Amos was able to have a better, perhaps more accurate understanding of the corruption going on because he saw it from the margins and he had to learn how to move, in order to survive, in between both the dominant, powerful groups and the marginalized groups. 

Channing: [00:04:57] Yeah, absolutely. And he had lived experience too, right? The information that he was coming across wasn't just an academic understanding of domination and oppression, but a lived experience of that.

[00:05:10] Another thing that we see in the text that is really, really striking about why God would call a prophet from the margins is kind of understanding God's investment in institutional power versus power in the people. And I don't know about you, Elise, but for me, as we've kind of worked our way throughout the Hebrew Bible and even honestly, especially also through the Book of Mormon, I've noticed that God, especially the God of the Hebrew Bible, does not strike me as the type of God who gives a flying fart about institutions.

[00:05:45] Every institution that we've read about this year, has been one of oppression and has been something that God and God's prophets have continually critiqued, especially throughout the text this year. And so what we see happening often in the text is that instead, God relies on power in the people, not power in the institution to do God's work of caring for one another and balancing the scales of justice.

[00:06:12] I've noticed that God either completely ignores or condemns institutions in the Hebrew Bible and basically says, “I'm giving power to the people, and if the people can't or won't do it, then I guess I'll have to do it myself.” Power in the people is another reason that I think God calls prophets from the margins.

[00:06:32] God perhaps is reminding us, I am not with or in the institution. I am where I've always promised to be, with the least of these and with you. So these are two reasons why we think that the book of Amos and the character of Amos is really impactful as a prophet from the margins. And so as we move throughout the text today, some of the questions that we might want to hold in the back of our minds is: how is the concept of prophets on the margins relevant to us today?

[00:07:02] And we think that there are, kind of, two answers to this question. The first is that prophets from the margins remind us to listen to voices outside of the locus of power and privilege. And secondly, prophets on the margins remind us that experiences and perspectives outside the institution are valuable and God-sent.

[00:07:24] So that's just a little introduction to Amos and why we think he's a super cool dude.

Elise: [00:07:30] Yeah. Yeah. And kind of like we've been hinting at, Amos is called by God to call these people to repent because of the injustices of the people. And this is really a social justice focused text. So first we wanted to look at: what are the injustices of this people? As opposed to just saying, “yeah, they were wicked.”

[00:07:48] Well, there are, kind of, a couple of different categories we could understand the injustices of this group of people and the first being economic exploitation. In chapter 5 and chapter 8, we read some verses that say “for I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins. They afflict the just, they take a bribe and they turn aside the poor in the gate. O ye that swallow up the needy even to make the poor of the land to fail.” And in chapter 8, verse 5, they talk about how the leaders in the community are falsifying balances and debt in order to exploit the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes. So you have all of these moments where leadership is taking bribes, holding money aside, exploiting the working class and the poor folks in an attempt to make a profit.

[00:08:39] A couple of other things that we see happening; there is political oppression that the society is ruled by a few wealthy elites. We see chronic violence where the society is keeping the peasants in check through things like violence and exploitation and sometimes even war. And then also the elites claim this kind of divine, legitimate power by saying, “God put us here. We're in power.” And so anything that they do, therefore, they can make the argument that it comes from God. 

Channing: [00:09:07] Feeling kind of uncomfortable. 

Elise: [00:09:09] Yeah. A lot is happening. 

Channing: [00:09:13] We also see that many of the middle verses in chapter 5 provide the context for Amos's prophecies. We see him condemning the unjust who are in power. In an article titled “Justice Silenced - Amos 5:6-7, 10-15” by Richard Davis, Davis offers a contemporary connection to all the critiques Amos gives to the people. We really appreciate his unpacking of the images about houses and vineyards that show up in this chapter.

[00:09:44] Davis writes, “The statements about houses and vineyards are a little confusing insofar as it is unclear who is building what and who is not using them, but they are very clear in the injustice they speak of, irrespective of how they are read. The rich have built extensive stone houses, probably with the labour of the poor. Who lives in them? Not the poor. And the rich may not live in them either, with the exception of an occasional visit on vacation in summer or winter (Amos 3:15). Vineyards, built and maintained (as golf courses are today) by the working poor, are not places for the poor to enjoy, they are generally the luxuries of the upper class. Again, the resources of the rich lay idle in a time of want. The poor build them both, but are excluded from their use. We see this very thing today, when the working poor toil to make the luxuries and necessities of modern life, but are excluded from their use and cannot earn enough to obtain them. This capitalist injustice cannot last forever; such an internal contradiction of capitalism is inherently self-destructive. Yet the corrupt human desire to live on the sweat of others lies at the heart of the modern economy and vision of the “good” life of material indulgence.”

Elise: [00:11:06] We hope that everyone chooses to read this passage when you teach this lesson in church so that you can make the connections between exploitation of the poor and working class under the hand of capitalism and the connection with the Book of Amos, because it speaks directly to our contemporary moment.

[00:11:25] And so now that we understand all of the injustices and sins of the people that Amos is being called to ask to repent, what does God say that God will do to the people? And here, I think, is where Amos can be kind of a difficult book to read because it's very doom and gloomy, because God is so mad at the people. God is really really upset. For example, in chapter 5, verses 18 through 23, God paints a picture of how awful the day of the Lord will be for all of these wicked people. It will be a day of endless darkness. And in verse 19, God has this really great/absolutely terrifying line where God asks us to imagine fleeing from a lion only to then come face to face with a bear.

[00:12:11] Or imagine going into a house and trying to put your hand on the wall but then suddenly a snake bites you. And so this is kind of some of the imagery that God is using to say just how awful the day of reckoning will be. And God continues to say that they're going to refuse to recognize or accept any offerings from the people.

[00:12:31] God says literally, I hate this. I hate all of this. I hate your feast days. When you try to offer me burnt offerings, I'm not gonna accept them. I won't even smell them. And when you sing to me, I won't listen. 

Channing: [00:12:46] Absolutely. And God continues to speak in chapter 8, verse 10 saying, “I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all yours songs into lamentations; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day. Behold…I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: and they shall wander from sea to seas and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” And so as a reminder, a good majority of the Hebrew Bible this year has been God trying to be in relationship with Israel and then Israel either refusing, betraying, or turning away from God.

Elise: [00:13:39] And I think that that bit of context helps. It doesn't help put sugar down with the medicine or whatever that saying is. These chapters are really, really doomy. But I think that it does help give context because you hear this kind of exasperated voice of God saying, “How many times do I have to beg you to be my people? How many times do I-” and it's not even just about the loyalty or fidelity to God. I think what we learn in the Book of Amos is that God cares less about the people being God’s and more about how the people enact the love of God in their community, which is why this treatment of the poor and the needy is so horrific to God in these chapters.

Channing: [00:14:22] Yeah, absolutely, Absolutely. And we also learn in chapter 3, verse 2, that God's critique of Israel's injustice is far greater than it is against the nations that do not know God. In that chapter it says “you only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

[00:14:44] And in this verse we think we hear God saying, you know better than to commit all this injustice because you know me. And perhaps this is one reason that God takes the betrayal and wickedness so personally, almost as if God is saying, you know better and you're still choosing not to do better. And I can imagine that that's just so exasperating and so disheartening for God, continually, just like you had mentioned before, Elise, continually trying to reach out and almost beg, right? Please just do the thing that I asked you to do because it's gonna make everyone's lives easier and better. Why are you not doing it? Cuz it makes total sense and now I'm starting to get really real irritated. Yeah. Like when my son is not listening, I'll be like, “do you wanna have a big problem?” And he's like, no. Well, that's kind of like how I'm hearing God. “Do you wanna have a big problem?”

Elise: [00:15:42] I like that connection. And so with all of this kind of background, I think that the most generous reading that we could have of God's approach to Israel comes from a blog post titled “Amos- Justice & Mercy” by Steve Vaughan. And in this article, Vaughan outlines and reminds us that God cannot and does not condone evil and injustice, and because of that, these sins of evil and injustice have to be punished.

[00:16:11] But on the other hand, God is merciful, which means that before all of these threats actually come to pass, what God really, really wants is actually for Israel to repent so that their lives and society can be restored to that of a just society. God ultimately wants Israel to seek God, repent and change.

[00:16:31] A couple of examples of these verses show up in chapter 5, verses 4, and then 14 and 15, which say, “Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live…Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment at the gate.” And I think with these small snippets, we hear God saying - well, this is my reading of God- I hear my God saying, “I don't want to do this to you, but I care so much about the least of these. I care so much about the poor and the needy and the afflicted that are being oppressed under your hands that I will try anything to keep all of my people safe. So, turn to me and change your ways.” In parentheses, like, “or else I'm gonna have an unfortunate-”

Channing: “Or else you're gonna have a big problem.”

Elise:  Yeah, exactly. 

Channing: [00:17:24] Exactly. And perhaps, probably, the most famous verse in the Book of Amos comes from chapter 5, verse 24, which reads, “But let the judgment run down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.”

[00:17:39] And when we read this first, we can kind of understand that God doesn't want religious noise and fanfare masquerading as devotion. Instead, God wants an ever-flowing river of justice and righteousness, which looks like caring for the poor, attending to the needy, creating a society where wealth is shared and distributed and people care for their neighbors.

[00:18:01] Being in right-relationship with God leads to a righteous, justice-filled life and society. And for us, this is the type of religious language that we really get behind. It's really important for us to think critically about the language being used by leaders and influential members of the community that call us to be “a Christian nation” or to “put God first.”

[00:18:24] We really encourage asking ourselves some questions. Are these lines being used to encourage justice and equity for the poor, needy, exploited, and oppressed? Or are these lines being used to keep people in power and give us easy justifications for why we should hate foreigners, trans folks, and instead laud and support systems of exploitation like capitalism and white supremacy?

[00:18:50] These are really important questions to be asking, and I think Amos kind of holds a mirror up and says, “hey, you need to double check yourself before you have a big problem.”

Elise: [00:19:02] Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's right. I think that's just exactly right. And thankfully there is for all of this doom and gloom, it does seem to be a hopeful ending for the Book of Amos because chapter 9, which is the very last chapter, ends with what Vaughan writes, is “an extraordinary prophecy of hope, picturing a day of peace, plenty, equality, restoration, abundance, and joy. Not only will Israel return from exile and the house of David be restored, but all the nations will be included in God's great purposes for a world of justice that is to come.” So we have in nine chapters, we have a really, really heavy critique of injustice. We have a God who is all but begging the people to return to God, which is to say, change your ways and care for the least of these.

[00:19:51] And then finally, a hopeful promise that says, as our communities are able to do this, all will be included in a just and equitable world.

[00:20:08] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminist Podcast. We know your time and space is sacred, and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify so other seekers can find us.

Channing: [00:20:25] Financial donations support the many hours of research, work, and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast.

[00:20:36] You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists, and beauty makers are valued and paid for their labor. Find us on those platforms and on Instagram as The Faithful Feminists. We are deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement.

[00:20:56] We love you so much and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends.

Powered by Blogger.