I got a letter from my church this week, in advance of B.R.E.A.D.’s upcoming annual assembly, reminding me of what an appropriate choice it was to call this the Nehemiah Action Assembly. At last year’s assembly, in his opening reflections, Rabbi Howard Apothaker provided an excellent (and, at times, humorous) retelling of the story of Nehemiah calling an assembly, including what, for me, was the most memorable line:

G-d does not just want us to do justice. G-d is waiting for us to do justice. G-d is expecting us to do justice. G-d is saying, “Get off your tuckus and do justice!”

Since one of the main issues being addressed at this Monday’s assembly is predatory payday lending, the Nehemiah reference is quite fitting. From the letter my rector sent:

The fifth chapter of Nehemiah tells the story of how the governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah, calls a great assembly to deal with a situation that is jeopardizing the rebuilding of the community. The situation has to do with the charging of interest to those resettling Jerusalem at such rates that people are sliding into poverty and slavery. Nehemiah, though governor, does not have enough power to make the nobles and officials of Jerusalem stop this blatant practice of usury. This is why he calls the great assembly. Confronted by the people, the moneylenders and the governing leaders, who allowed this debilitating practice, change their minds.

The parallels to predatory payday lending are so many that I can only list a few here. Interest rates that can exceed 390%. Fees tacked onto fees tacked onto fees until a $500 loan can only be retired by a payment of $3000. There are few regulatory statutes over payday lending in the State of Ohio. What B.R.E.A.D. is asking is not the end of payday lending but a just interest rate that cannot exceed 36% and the passage of regulations that would bring payday lending institutions into line with accepted banking and lending rules. The Nelson-Talent Amendment, passed by the United States Congress, that exempts military families from the worst excesses of payday lending is what we are seeking.

This is a statewide issue and B.R.E.A.D. has already begun meeting with state representatives and others who may be helpful in passing some new statutes. Payday lenders, though, are well financed and well represented by lobbyists in the legislature. We will need a great assembly on May 7 if we are going to use our people-power to combat the injustice of predatory payday lending. That is where you come in.

And the letter goes on to say that the only offering that is being asked of us is our time. With the kind of hours I’ve been working for the past few weeks, my time is a rather precious commodity. Yet I am mindful of the fact that powerful people are only able to get away with this sort of usury because ordinary people don’t stand up. Heck, often we don’t even know these things are going on, because we’re so busy trying to keep our own heads above water.

But things like this are important, so I’m gearing up for a drive to the other side of town after work on Monday, to once again be “packed like sardines for justice“. Because, well, I gotta. In a recent essay, BrimStone was explaining why the God of Fred Phelps and Randall Terry sucks. And I was thinking, mine doesn’t suck, but s/he sure can be a bit of a nag sometimes. Always calling us, again and again to, “Get off your tuckus and do justice!”

Please click here for the information about tomorrow’s meeting, and pass it along to anyone you know in central Ohio who might be interested.

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