Amy Jones,
Agape Coordinator
Dear God, we come to worship you today. 
We come to pray, and listen.
You always hear us. 
Help us to hear you. Amen
Judges 6:25 - 32

25 That night the LORD said to him, "Take your father's bull, the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father, and cut down the sacred pole that is beside it; 26 and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here, in proper order; then take the second bull, and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the sacred pole that you shall cut down." 27 So Gideon took ten of his servants, and did as the LORD had told him; but because he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople to do it by day, he did it by night.

28 When the townspeople rose early in the morning, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the sacred pole beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29 So they said to one another, "Who has done this?" After searching and inquiring, they were told, "Gideon son of Joash did it." 30 Then the townspeople said to Joash, "Bring out your son, so that he may die, for he has pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the sacred pole beside it." 31 But Joash said to all who were arrayed against him, "Will you contend for Baal? Or will you defend his cause? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down." 32 Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, "Let Baal contend against him," because he pulled down his altar.
Not long ago, I attended a meeting of the Affordable Housing Committee in my township. For years there has been discussion about revitalizing downtown, which is just one block from my home. Part of the revitalization plan would include planning for additional apartment units, some of which would be classified as “low-income” housing, and others “affordable housing,” to satisfy our fair-share housing requirements. 

Besides being interested in social justice issues such as affordable housing, and having a self-interest in the revitalization, I was very interested in the small line I had read in the (voluminous) documents ahead of the meeting. Qualifying police officers would get priority on the affordable housing lists.

I know very well that many of the professionals that keep our towns and cities running do not make enough money to live in the towns they serve. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, you must make a minimum of $61,000/year to afford a two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey. That is well above the starting salary of most police officers, teachers, nurses, or paramedics.

What bothered me most was that we were talking about police officers as qualifying for affordable housing units instead of asking ourselves why we pay public servants too little to live in our neighborhoods.

I came to the meeting ready with my question, and my research to back up the reasonableness of my question, and I had talked through my concerns with friends that I trust to make sure I wouldn’t sound stupid. Still, I am a woman who would be questioning the mayor, deputy mayor, and his staff (all men), and I was nervous.

It was that kind of nervous dread you have when you have to confront someone, or when you have to give someone hard news. It was similar to the feeling I’ve had when I’ve had to let an employee go. I wonder if Gideon felt this kind of nervous anxiety when God told him to take down the altars to Baal? I imagine that as he tore down the altars in the dark of night, he was dreading the dawn when the townspeople would confront him and his actions would make him immediately unpopular. 

Gideon does as God asks, and the townspeople get predictably angry. His father defends him and points out that they don’t need to fight Gideon. If Baal is such a worthy opponent, let Baal fight Gideon. This rightly reframes the problem back to its theological root, which was the aim of Gideon’s action from the beginning - to get the people to think about how they honor God and what kind of community they want to be.

I think I would have been less anxious about the meeting if it had occurred to me that even if the mayor laughed at me (he did), that I wasn’t asking for his approval. I was asking to shift the conversation toward what kind of community we want to be. The question was about how to fairly treat people. 

Gideon’s action is what some scholars of Hebrew Bible might call a “prophetic sign action.” By tearing down the altars, he was hoping to perform an action that would point toward the kind of reform he was hoping would take root. If you read the rest of Judges you’ll find out that his actions didn’t cause people to decisively change their worship practices. But, it did get them to think about the question.

The conclusion of the affordable housing meeting did not bring about pay raises for police officers, nurses, paramedics, or teachers. I never thought it would, but it did cause a journalist from a local newspaper to find me after the meeting to ask me more about the questions I was asking. He was interested in other ways to think about affordable housing and was intrigued that living wage questions came up at what would otherwise be more like a zoning meeting. I hope maybe the question caused someone else to wonder at why some people cannot afford to have a home in our town. 

We are living in a moment where everything is politically charged and people seem more divided than ever. It can be hard to take courage from your convictions and ask hard questions about what kind of community we want to have, but I think those questions are the most important ones to ask, even if you get laughed at.
Sometimes we are a laughingstock for wanting for your kingdom to come on earth, God. Give us the courage to keep asking the hard questions about how we can make our human community on earth more like that of heaven. Amen.
Amy Jones
Amy Jones, Agape Coordinator
Amy Jones our Agape Coordinator is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. In this tradition, deacons are ordained clergy who bridge the ministry of the church with the needs of the world, and vice versa. In more than 15 years of ministry, she has worked in churches, in children and family ministry, higher education, and nonprofits. In each setting, her focus has been on matching the resources of the church with the needs of the world. Agape Community Kitchen is exactly the type of work she was called to do. 

Amy can be reached by email at:
The Presbyterian Church in Westfield continues to burn as a light in the darkness as our community weathers this fearsome storm of illness. Our reach of care continues to extend far beyond our immediate borders. You can help us make a real impact in the lives of others by joining in our work through your time, your talents, and also in the fruits of your labors.
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