Saturday, November 15, 2008

Guest Post: A Start at the Kingdom by Eric Evans

Recently, Eric Evans and I had a conversation in Facebook about my post on military recruiters, and he offered up this Bible verse, which made me pay attention to what he had to say:

Ezekiel 13:8-12
8 " 'Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. 9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD.10 " 'Because they lead my people astray, saying, "Peace," when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, 11 therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. 12 When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, "Where is the whitewash you covered it with?"

So with Eric's permission, I edited some of his words and offer them up to you for something to think about.

A Start at the Kingdom

One of the hardest things about looking at class is my own anger and my own internalized classism. I was surprised by my anger during the Gathering interest group on Quakers and social class. Despite thinking I had dealt with and was done with my feelings, those old memories about being made fun of in school because of wearing cheap clothing, etc., popped right up. Sometimes anger and the internalized hurt makes it hard to listen and not to form judgments in my mind about what I perceive to be another’s life experience.

“That middle-class Quaker with a college education could never truly understand where I’m coming from...”

At the same time, I know I also carry plenty of class issues of my own. Living in a working class Italian neighborhood in Philadelphia, I confront this everyday.

“Why do they have to be so loud/ignorant/rude?”

I find myself making unconscious snap-judgments about people in my neighborhood all the time, based mainly on my own upbringing in an Evangelical family with rural, mid-Western expectations of what a “good” family and “good” values look like.

So there’s a piece of real humility in this for me – acknowledging how both the hurt and my own hidden classism can keep me from always seeing clearly or relating to others out of a place of love.

I imagine this is the same for others, as well as a fear of being judged. I’ve noticed among Quakers that we’ll often try to rationalize the ways in which we’ve “done without” or experienced hardship so that we can put ourselves on the “safe side” of classism, racism, etc. But acknowledging how very hard it is for each of us, poor or owning class, to look at our own stuff seems like a good start.

How does fear of being judged keep us from being able to understand the experiences of others?

I often hear Quakers talk about “choices” – we get to choose where & how we want to live, where we want to go to school, even what we will do without. If someone seems to be “failing” according to our societal standards, they usually “didn’t make good choices”.

How do we consider what it would be like to grow up without a sense of choices or alternatives? Or to live without a sense of options available to us? What vision of the Kingdom of Heaven do we offer that’s different from our own comfortable lives?


Anonymous said...

I've noticed that my family members get very angry at the first hint that they might be privileged. We're not a rich family, but we're white, Christian, middle class. There are lots of people who've had cushier lives, but there are lots more who've had far fewer chances to live well than us. It seems to me that there are 4 big things going on in my family:

1. No-one wants to admit that they're doing better than others socially/financially because we've got a culture in the UK and US that equates being persecuted/put upon with moral virtue (remember one of the blokes from Oasis saying that he was morally pure because he'd worked on a building site?)

2. People feel like admitting to areas of privilege is the same as saying that they've never struggled in any way

3. There's a sense that there's only so much in the way of resources (including virtue and compassion) to go round - and someone else might get their dirty mitts on my portion! and

4. Black and white are comfy zones, but greys and colours are too scary to touch.

It's very weird. I remember being resistant to recognising my own privileges at times (it's really uncomfy), but working on doing so has made my life richer and given me hope that one day I'll see things more clearly. It also seems to have expanded my capacity for joy in the world and is leading me towards greater contentment (most of the time, with notable moments of not so much).

Jeanne said...

I have a policy of not posting anonymous posts, but this one seems respectful. And what are rules for but to help you figure out when you need to break them.

C said...

As I have grown older, some of the choices that I didn't even realize were choices have been taken away from me by forces I can't control. At the same time, I've seen my parents' choices increase and their ability to actually choose from among them decrease.

"You just didn't make good choices" is an old pop-psychology fallback, IMO. As if everything in life is a choice; as if nothing ever subverts our ability to make choices; as if circumstance sometimes really does conspire to make things difficult; as if sometimes a little miracle doesn't just drop in our laps.

As if the suffering of others can be swept under the carpet because we want to believe they had full control over their lives and squandered their "choices."

As if life, itself, doesn't go forward with all of us in it together as brothers and sisters.

For me, "preparing myself" is important because I want to be ready in case a moment or a way opens and I can use that opening. I don't always live in this state of readiness, but I appreciate the frequent spiritual nudges to come back to thnking about it.

And I don't for a minute think that it's possible to make good choices 100% of the time. That's why I am especially grateful when way opens for me to help someone else as well as myself.

And when there is a real, solid and ready-to-be-chosen choice, I hope it is to cling to what is good and unselfish. That choice may not bring an immediate reward to the chooser, but it puts more positive energy into the world.

btw, Jeanne--I still don't have a blog up and running. :) The choice isn't as clear as it once was, and too many things are in the way right now. My own case in point.