Passing for Middle Class

After  my last post, a friend sent me a link to this piece on the Huffington Post, in which a woman so eloquently explains some of the reason why poor people make “bad” choices and how hard it is to pass for middle class.  I can say from my own experience that the mentality that Linda Tirado writes about in that article is precisely what plagues so many families that live on the edge of homelessness.  The biggest barrier for many of them, aside from the lack of money, was the fact that they were perceived of as poor.

Oh, come on, you might say.  “Lindsey, they were homeless!  What else were they supposed to be perceived as?”

I can remember one time where a guest of ours was on the phone talking to a collection agency.  With the snap of a finger the way she was sitting in her chair changed.  Her voice became silky-smooth and her diction even changed.  She sounded perfectly middle class.  She thanked the collection officer profusely for his patience and understanding while she worked out her “momentary problems” and promised to get back in touch.  After she hung up the phone, her boyfriend asked her how it went and she said, “We’re never paying that f&^%ing moron.”

But, for just long enough to get the collection agency off her back, she’d passed for middle class.  I’d talk more to her later about why exactly she didn’t work harder to look and talk the way middle class people did if she clearly understood how it worked.  She’d laugh it off and say that it wouldn’t make a difference in the long run.  “I can pretend to get what I need,” she said, “but I don’t want that to be who I am.”

I write about that story because it’s something that niggles in the back of my mind.  It’s one thing for me to walk and talk middle class while being poor, because my family is middle class and poverty for me is a transitional period.  We weren’t always this poor, and we won’t always be.  We’re recession-poor.  For other people, who were born poor and feel that they will die for, passing for middle class feels more like a betrayal.  It is, to put it simply, pretending to be something that society continually tells you that you are not.

I had a weird moment the other day. I was closing the gate behind me after driving into my drive.  Instead of wearing the ripped jeans, battered sneakers, and badly stained t-shirts that I normally wear around the house, I was wearing my work slacks, my hair was pinned up, my makeup was on and my school ID badge was pinned to my tie.  My neighbor was out working on his car.  Normally I get a “nice day” or “what’s going on?” from him, but in that moment he said, “g’day, ma’am”, and I had to blush.  He blushed too, and said, “you’re like professional, it’s a reflex.”

Right, because I deserve deference in the moment I pass for middle class, instead of just being the girl next door who shares gardening advice and whose kids constantly kick their ball into his yard.  I felt more respected by him when he was joking about my nice melons.

Respect for the middle class is so deeply engraved into the way that people in poverty think.  It’s a respect for the persona, the clothes, the air of competency which you never feel you can pull off when you’re changing your own oil or struggling to just, you know, get through another bitter day.

And the backhand of the respect for the middle class, of course, is the fact that when you are in poverty you feel beholden, like a burden, less than.  Like a dog with it’s tail between it’s legs you “ma’am” the world and then hope to go unnoticed, because the thought of another patent-leather loafer kicking you in the face is never far away.  You feel loyalty to everyone else who runs in your pack and you feel as if you are betraying everything, even your own morals, by being anything else.

Desire to make it is always bitterly paired with resentment, and this clinging need to want to remain exactly as you are and still be loved.

Creating, Created, Creator

I blog, but I’ve never considered myself a blogger.  In my heart I’m a writer, and I still see myself selling books that thousands of people buy… one day.  I’m a novelist.  by trade, actually, I’m an artist.  That’s something I’m getting more comfortable with saying day by day.  I’m an artist, I make art.
It may be because I am an artist that I find art so integral to living.  If I’m not writing a novel, I have to be creating something else.  It’s impossible for me to sit in front of the TV and watch a program without something in my hands.  Making things is like breathing, it is second nature, it is necessary in order to fight corruption of the mind and stay healthy and whole.  It’s like eating, it gives me energy, it makes it possible for me to grow.

I think that when we create, we see a side of God that is important to know.  There’s a reason that there are so many analogies in the Bible about potters and clay, about beating plowshares into swords and swords into plowshares.  God is all about perfecting people, about taking us from one existence into another.  God lives to touch us and mold us.  But it’s not just because of those analogies that I think creating things helps us know God.  There’s a second, less easily seen reason.

When I create something, it is a part of me.  It comes from deep inside me.  It is a reflection of me, of my soul.  Everything I have ever made carries my fingerprint.  If you look at a shelf full of my treasures, you will see who I am.  The choice of color, the choice of medium, the shape and the feel of the thing all speaks to who I am.  A created thing that serves well shows the beauty of it’s maker, a thing that serves poorly shows it’s maker poorly.

So I wonder- put all of us together in a room, and what do we say about God?  When someone watches us together, what reflection does that show?  Do we show that our Creator is good and wise, or do we serve our purpose poorly?

Yet, even more than that- when you observe yourself, do you see the fingerprints of your maker?  When  you test your own heart can you tell what you were made to do?  Are you a true creation, or are you still wet clay- unsure, unformed, yet to be tested by fire?

Here are a few things I’ve made:  I think, by looking at them, you see me just as well.

So what do people see when they see you?  When you create- be it as simple as the feel of your rooms or the meals that you cook- what do you see in yourself?

(If you’d like to see more of my art, you can visit my Etsy shop, MonkeyLand Originals)

Thaw.

Where I live right now, we’re going through our first thaw of spring.  This is my absolutely least favorite time of year.  My favorite time of year comes when the ground is warm and the seeds are being planted and the world is full of potential.  These things take time.

The first thaw isn’t about the potential of spring.  It’s about revealing the reality of the world around you.  The snow, that beautiful blanket of glistening white, is drunk into the ground, and it leaves nothing but mud and trash behind.  Everything is gray, brown, and wet.  The ground has an unpleasant odor.  The days are dingey and raining.  The world is shown to us in it’s true nature- the trash and odd McDonald’s bags that had been covered by snow, the grayish brown slime of salt that covers the sidewalks, everywhere wet and cold.

Snow doesn’t purify, it hides.

Sometimes our “salvation” feels the same way.  We say we are washed white as snow by the blood of Christ, but that concept is always dueling with the fact that we are left gray and muddy by our own choices.  We aren’t made perfect in an instant the way the songs imply.  Salvation is something we must work at continually, by our choices day after day.  We can accrue the trash and McDonald’s bags and cover ourselves with Christ’s blood and pretend it’s all okay, but at some point the sun will come and the thaw will begin and our true natures will be revealed.

I always find it interesting that Easter falls around this time of year, in the waiting period, when we are still expecting the miracle of spring and the renewal of creation.  I find it interesting that we stand outside in the cold and the mud and watch the sun rise and feel that hope.  I find it interesting because the hope doesn’t ever seem quite there for me yet, the ground isn’t warm enough, the magic hasn’t started.

The renewal of creation is bought by the revelation of how cold and barren the world really is.  Our own renewal is the same- we can’t play at being pure, we need to see ourselves in all of our salt-streaked splendor, we need to face the smell and the muddiness and the despair of the change of seasons.  We need to die to self and let ourselves be warmed again by the sun and the rain.

I suppose none of this makes very much sense to anyone but me.  All I’m really saying is that, like the changing of the seasons, it’s all a process.  Spring doesn’t come because the ground thaws once, neither does Salvation happen in a moment.  First the world is revealed, and then it is renewed.   It’s all about the process.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

Taking a small break from the abortion series to address a theme I’ve seen in several of the blogs in my neighborhood- that being the “love the sinner, hate the sin” conundrum.

First I would like to point out that while the saying means “hate what someone does but love who they are”, it’s a little disingenuous to say it in situations where what someone does and who they are is inextricable.  One cannot, for example, say “I hate homosexuality but I love gay people.”  If you accept that homosexuality is not a chosen state but hate same-sex intercourse, perhaps you can wrap your mind around the saying- but even then I take issue with the saying itself.

First off, what does it mean to love a sinner?  How does one go about doing that?  Do you feel some sort of affection for them?  Perhaps say a prayer for them?  Or is that love an active and vibrant thing, one that like the love of Christ transcends perception and washes people clean, presents them to God as holy and new beings?

And what does it mean to hate a sin?  Does it mean to despise someone for the actions they take or to despise the actions themselves?  And either way- how is one to go about actively loving a person while at the same time hating what they do?  Or do we not hate the action itself, but what it represents?

For example- am I to hate gossip- or am I to hate the fact that gossip divides friends, and seek to repair the rift out of love for the friends involved?

Am I to hate bitterness, or am I to hate the fact that bitterness hardens a person’s heart and seek to soften it?

Am I to hate sexual indiscretion, or am I to hate the fact that it pulls people away from their search for holiness, and seek to demonstrate to them a better path?

Am I to hate drunkeness, or am I to hate the fact that a drunken state is one in which people lose control of their better angels, and seek to call them to a higher standard of behavior?

Don’t hate the sin or the sinner- hate the fallen state of humanity, and call saints and sinners alike to return to God’s heart for their lives.  God doesn’t call us to a boring state of purity seen only in shades of white and pallor, but a vibrant life full of love and grace and mercy and color, one in which we see our own two hands slowly changing to world around us and bringing us to a second Eden- God’s kingdom seen in our lives, here on earth.

So that’s my two copper coins on the subject.  It’s not as classy as a widow’s mite, but it’s what I’ve got to offer.