Using the word “blessed”

I know…I owe updates. I would apologize for my slackness, but I am actually working on my books and that is an amazingly wonderful thing. That said, this was too good not to share. It hit my facebook feed this morning and I thought…whoa…that’s a bit of truth right there. So I wanted to share it with you.

This is my favorite part (quoted from the article. Can’t stress enough that these words are not mine…though I wish I’d thought of them. 🙂 )–

“12a Waitest thou for one second , Lord. What about “blessed art thou comfortable”, or 12b “blessed art thou which havest good jobs, a modest house in the suburbs, and a yearly vacation to the Florida Gulf Coast?”

12c And Jesus said unto them, “Apologies, my brothers, but those did not maketh the cut.”

Go. Read it. It’s thought provoking, but also, it’s just important. The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying

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Faces of Poverty Part I: Mine

I think a lot about social stratification. I grew up poor. My entire family was poor. One year my mother actually managed to take care of two kids, an injured husband, assorted dogs, goats, horses on 12K. I am young enough that that number should shock you. I am old enough to know (and knew then) that we still had it better than most. We were never on public assistance. I don’t say that as a boast, as “well, at least we were never on public assistance”. For whatever reason we didn’t qualify, and when I was about seven, mom stopped trying to get approved for it. I imagine it was pride. You can only worry about your kids being hungry and be told that you’re on your own for so long before you decide “Screw you, system.”

In the rural South, I can say for certain: that system doesn’t work. The face of poverty is complex, and for my part, I never felt impoverished. I owe that largely to a grateful heart, simple desires, and parents who believed that it was their job to worry. Not mine. I was not the typical face of poverty, and I had more than I needed. That’s a tricky word there: “need”. People don’t understand it. They want it to encompass more than basic clothing, food, and shelter.

We did not have name brand clothing. My first pair of Nike’s were hand me downs from one of Mum’s friends. I was in middle school. I remember them vividly. They were green and white, a size 8 1/2, and as I had gym for the first time in my life rather than outdoor PE, I was ecstatic to have shoes that gave my persnickety feet the extra support they seem to have always needed on man-made surfaces. I cared that they were “Nike” for all of two days, because they were my first pair, but it didn’t take me long to realize that they were an adult shoe, modest like the nurse who’d worn them before me, rather than the shiny, young kicks all the other kids were wearing. I was lucky that I didn’t care.  That I didn’t actually like the shiny wild kicks that my classmates were wearing (Though dear gods, I STILL want a pair of shoes that light up). My little brother did. He has always suffered from the need to fit in and belong. In a consumer driven country, poverty is especially hard on those who believe what advertisers tell them they need.

We didn’t go out to eat except for special occasions. There were no daily trips to McDonalds after school. As one might expect, we were healthier for it. We didn’t have a lot of bad for us, fake food at home. 3 square meals and an afternoon snack. I think the worst thing we ever ate (nutritionally speaking) was Mum’s fried chicken (SOSOSOSO GOOD) and the Little Debbies we had with our PB&Js. We didn’t go out for every birthday. Mum made our favorite meal and bought us a birthday cake. Going to Pizza Hut for cheesey garlic bread and cokes was a special treat. One plate split between us and Mum. I am proud to say that while my parents’ financial situation is a little better now that Da has a better job and they aren’t raising two children, she still continues that tradition with my nephews. Though now that E is a teenager, they add a pizza.

We moved a lot until I was eleven. First Mum and Dadai moved often for his job. I was along for the ride. I don’t technically know how many times we moved, but by the time Mum left Dadai I can remember at least five places around the state. I know that it was more than that, and as I was only five when they divorced, I think it was not so partially responsible for my inability to stay in one place for too long. (But that’s a story for another day).  After that Mum and Da moved us five times. Four between the age of five and the age of eleven. When I was eleven, we finally bought land and moved into a single-wide trailer in the country. They have that same property (though they’re no longer in the single-wide) still.

My grandmothers had less than we did. Mum’s mom lived in an ancient singlewide, shared by her two derelict sons. She actually had to move out because the oldest wouldn’t leave. (The youngest did get married and move out). I don’t remember thinking that she was poor. She worked at a sewing plant and I remember that we would take bags of  imperfects to the African American family who lived down the road. A lady with seven children, no husband, who struggled more than we did. I remember wearing some of those imperfects myself, but most of my clothes were made by Memaw. I didn’t realize that she had so little because she did so much. It wasn’t until I was much older and explaining why I like oven toast (only toasted on the top) better than toaster oven or toaster toast that I realized it.

On cold weekend mornings, we would dash down the length of the trailer from Memaw’s room to the kitchen. Once in there, she’d open the oven and turn it on. She’d tell me to stand close but not touch anything while she put the percolator on for coffee, a pot of water for grits, and put five pats of butter on each slice of bread for our toast. I remember watching in fascination as the toast browned in the oven, feeling the lovely warmth seeping through my nightgown. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized it was her only source of heat.

I still make my toast in the oven.

So yes, I grew up poor. We didn’t have regular health care or dental. I went to the emergency room when I got sick enough and like as not the bill came out of any possible state tax returns my parents got. People who aren’t poor always wonder why people who are poor are. I know that entitlement is a problem. I know that abuse of the system is a problem, but I also know–intimately–that these sweeping generalizations are not the answer. My parents weren’t lazy. Da and Dadai were both skilled laborers. Da is an introvert though and angry with it. He has always had a harder time finding a good job than Dadai and since child support from Dadai was not what you would call dependable, we relied on Da’s much lower income. Still, he worked. And Mum took care of us. She took odd jobs when we were younger and her health was better, but Mum’s family has a hereditary heart condition that had her in and out of hospitals for much of my life. Medical bills didn’t help in our dance along the poverty line.

We got by. I babysat. My brother and I did yard work. I helped Dadai on odd jobs that he took for friends doing electrical work. I had Sundance, so I didn’t feel compelled to get a car and my license like most kids do the moment they come of age. I got a job at sixteen and saved up so that I could afford to pay the car insurance increase my parents were going to see once I got my permit. Mum drove me to and from work and I bought the gas. I had my permit for longer than anyone I know. I got my license only a handful of months before I bought my first truck, with my own money, in my name. I paid for the taxes, tags and insurance, working, borrowing, and struggling my way through college. It took me seven years to get my BA because I had to go barely full time and work just shy of full time. Do I believe that there is a student loan racket out there along with ridiculous costs of education? Abso-damn-lutely.

But here’s the thing. It would have been nice if during our worst times, there’d been some kind of assistance. That year, for instance, that Da was out of work for six months while he recovered from spine surgery. It would be nice for higher education not to have put me into a ridiculous amount of debt. And yet…

The truth of the matter is that we are, none of us, entitled to these things. We are born into a country so wealthy that there is no reason for our basic needs of food and shelter to go unmet, but these are BASIC. This does not mean McDonalds, cellphones, cars, crab legs, soda, brie, and truffle oil. It means PB&J, rice, vegetables, chicken legs, and hamburger. It means cooking at home and hand-me-down clothes. It means off brands and rare luxuries. It means working hard if you want more than that, not being angry that someone else has what you don’t because of an accident of birth.

Life isn’t fair. We aren’t born in a vacuum. We’re born into a competitive biological system that manifests in the complex social systems of our times. As long as these systems are comprised of humans, there will be an uneven distribution of wealth and power. That’s just reality. Our social values determine the fluidity of these structures of stratification. As does how we view our status as well as those whose status is not our own. I certainly don’t believe in rigid class structures. I’m morally opposed to caste systems. But I am equally opposed to mindsets that suggest anything beyond hard work and social contribution entitles an individual to anything.

We are animals. It’s something that humans like to forget. If a creature is born and will not do what it needs to procure its own food and shelter it dies. PERIOD. Is it sad to see it happen? Well, maybe. I know that I don’t like watching something suffer and starvation is particularly awful. However, it is a part of natural selection. Animals who can’t take care of themselves die, preferably before they produce offspring. Somewhere along the way, humans have decided that they are above such safeguards, and while I believe that we’ve accomplished wonderful things that make us special, we have also found horrible things that make us unique.

We have to find some balance.

Update

It has been a long and eventful seven months. I have started and deleted other blogs, but honestly, this one I keep coming back to. I like it. I like that it’s personal without being a journal. I like that it’s largely just an editorial of how I feel about all the things that seem to be on the minds of the sheep who are so numerous as to vote in changes that I think are stupid. I know that sounds negative, and honestly, I’m not that negative these days, but one thing has not changed.

I really do think that folk are just folk. I got offended the first time I heard Mal say that. I mean, I took it as a defense of what I certain do not see as a noble savage in Mr. Wedon’s ‘Verse. But you know…maybe Joss meant it that way, but I’m not so sure Mal did. (Also, if you haven’t watched Firefly and Serenity…well, you should.)

For me, people are flawed. I don’t buy that whole “original sin” thing, but if a lioness can have a pet gazelle then it’s completely within the realm that certain humans would not be content with the average humanness. So that’s me. Content within myself (for the first time in I don’t know how long) and content within my life, but sorely at odds intellectually, spiritually, socially, ecumenically (*grin*) with a large portion of the species.

I’ve tried studying them, and I’ve tried helping them, and I understand that I can’t help them because I see myself as other and man do I have big ideas about how that’s whole us vs them thing is what’s wrong with humanity. I’m working on that.

It seems right now in America that we are always talking about the same three things we talked about in grad school: Race, Class, and Gender. Social History. I actually miss economic determinism, and that’s still in there….heck maybe it’s one of the things that explains the problems that we have with the RCG triumvirate.  I know that I am a mostly white woman who grew up too close to the poverty line (heck, by today’s standards we were below it), and am now rather firmly in the burgeoning American middle class.

I know that I have an opinion on just about every issue that people are screaming about nowadays, but most of the time, I’d rather just hang out with the Darkling or write or paint or play with the Monsters. Still, tomorrow I’m going to post an opinion piece on the whole class issue. Then next week I’ll revisit some important issues on the topic of gay marriage and the debacle that was the Grammys. (No, I didn’t watch them. I did, however, watch my social media feeds explode and it is to these explosions that I make reply rather than the event itself.) If I have any readers left, stay tuned. 🙂

The Good Outnumber the Bad

The Darkling is always telling me this. I rage against humanity so often, and even more often than that I decide that their persistent mediocrity is reason enough not to save them. I get frustrated by the cowards and by the “good” people who sit by in the face of horror and injustice. These aren’t “good” people. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way I see it. They may not be “as evil” as the evil people, but at best they are neutral. I don’t have a whole lot of use for neutral in a life that I will always believe is a constant battle between the best of us and the worst of us. It frustrates me when the best of us have to fight, not only the worst, but the vast masses of mediocre.

Because as Patton Oswalt says to the darkness “The Good Outnumber You And We Always Will”*  but it’s not the darkness that weighs so heavily upon us. It’s not the evil.

It’s the people who don’t care. The people who choose a life of certain grey instead of standing up for what’s right. They are EXHAUSTING. Now don’t get me wrong, the crusaders can be tiresome too, especially when humanity does its usual and contorts the important points or misses them altogether. But right now, that’s not what I’m going to rant about. I’m not even going to go all Constantine’s Gabriel on you, though I’m hella tempted.

Instead, I’m going to agree with the Darkling and Mr. Oswalt, I’m going to remind myself, and you, that there is more light than darkness on this planet. Even if you lump the neutrals in with the evils like I do and draw a Capraesque map in shades of darkness, the light shines brighter in intensity if not occurrence.

*small warning, there is a single f-bomb dropped at the beginning of Mr. Oswalt’s post.

I Am Not of This World: Cycles of Abuse, Plato’s Cave

cslewis

So, yesterday’s entry, as rough and rambling as it is, will be left as it is. It has inspired a great deal of thought and dialogue in this house and even with Mum. There was a horrible tightness in my chest all day yesterday, and when the Darkling got home, we had a passionate discussion complete with my pacing and hitting the punching bag about our differing views on whether or not I was abused. Deep breath, big sigh.

I was victim of child abuse.

Now all of you who are thinking about that fist fight with Mum, forget it. Nope. Even after I admitted that I have been abused, I can’t change my mind on that one. See, after I wrote yesterday’s blog, I had this whole follow-up planned about how I wasn’t abused but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I was going to write about that. So, I’ll start there, but that’s not where I’m staying.

I was not a victim of abuse, I wrote yesterday, but it’s important to state that it wasn’t for lack of trying. That uncle was always asking for hugs, trying to get in rooms alone with me, and generally made inappropriate remarks from the moment I started developing breasts. I always responded with the aforementioned aggressive avoidance techniques and very clear “no.”s.  So, no, I was never abused, and I was prepared for my single caveat to be “though not for lack of trying.”

But here’s the thing. I couldn’t tell Dadai. Oh, I tried. Just as I tried with Smeagol. After the first dozen or so attempts though, you learn quickly that the adults around don’t want to hear about it. They’re going to tell you that you’re wrong or they’re going to make light of it. When, after you’ve told your Dadai about the incident, he insists that you go give your uncle pervert a hug… THAT. IS.  ABUSE.

When that same paternal figure regularly reinforces his world view by making you feel that you are wrong, unloving, unforgiving, unfaithful, and an overall bad person. THAT. IS.  ABUSE.

When you are drawn back in by sweet nicknames and common interests and demonstrations of concern for your well-being at moments of particular personal vulnerability. THAT. IS.  ABUSE.

When the nature of your character, your heart, and the very state of your soul is questioned regularly because you will not sanction or ignore the horrible wrongs around you and you are taught to doubt yourself from childhood. THAT. IS. ABUSE.

I grew up believing without a single doubt, that there was something wrong with me. That I didn’t think “right”, that I don’t love “right”. But for Grace and Mum and Da’s reinforcement, I don’t know where I would be. At least this way I grew up knowing that I was wrong, but not caring. If I was “wrong” I didn’t want to be “right”. Never the uselessness of those terms on a grander scale, it is more important right now that I stress that I WAS NOT WRONG.

Now that I’ve dealt with the personal particulars, I’ll explain some things about abuse so that you know I’m not just ranting, I’ve had some classes. ; )

I realize that Dadai’s family is caught in a cycle of abuse. His father was an alcoholic who (when drunk), verbally and physically abused every last one of them. I don’t know all of the particulars. I do know that there were times when the children hid under their beds in terror of their father. While I’m sure that things are much worse than that, that single image tells me all that I need to know. They were terrorized. They were abused.

Their sainted mother blamed the alcohol. I know this not only from hearing the words leave her lips, but I also know it because “except for the alcohol” Grandpa was reportedly a good man. There was a built-in excuse for his behavior, never mind that class and economics suggest that Grandpa himself was an abuse victim. Instead of stopping the abuse, Grandma prayed. I think we’ve covered some of this before, and I know I’ve covered the whole I’m-not-bashing-prayer thing. But whether or not she was afraid of him herself, a product of her generation, or whatever, the fact remains that she was both victim of the cycle of abuse and participator. There were exit avenues available to her; she knew that his behavior was wrong. She chose to remain with him because she loved him more than herself or her children, and she continued giving him children to abuse. (Thirteen, folks. They had THIRTEEN.)

Every last child carries the legacies of that abuse. Some of them have broken the cycle. They are geographically and emotionally distanced from the rest of the family, though in the twisted psychology of family groups, they still love them and occasionally spend time with them. They have not passed that abuse or the baggage of that abuse onto their children. They have empowered their children to not become victims or abusers. I admire the heck of each of them, and am so grateful for their courage, their honesty, and their willingness to help me in their own ways to deal with my part of that family legacy.

The rest are trapped in that cycle as surely as the folks in Plato’s cave. For my part, I believe that the folks in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (at least after the first one is freed) and in my family choose to remain there. A quick summary for those of you who don’t click on the link (CLICK IT!): those trapped within the cave watch shadows on the wall. They create their own ideas of that flickering reality. Should one be freed, escape to experience the reality of those shadows and return to liberate his brethren, they inevitably rail against that one, claim that he/she is corrupted and refuse to turn their heads to see anything but the shadows on the wall before them. They are still bound in darkness. It’s sad. It can even be heartbreaking, and you can argue for their victimhood and their fears, but at the end of the day they would rather hurt someone else than question themselves. They would rather remain in chains.

Why? A heart like mine will always wonder why on earth anyone would rather remain in chains. The short answer is fear and shame. I’m going to tackle those next, but I think I’m going to take a break for now. A small thanks to those who’ve shown their support for this series of posts. Even something as simple as a “like” on google+ is encouraging right now. It’s an interesting process.