Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Trans student in small town Mississippi sparks debate

"Leah," a transgendered senior in the Panola School District.
There's a remarkable story playing out today in the small town of Batesville, Mississippi. A male-to-female transgendered high school senior identified only as Leah decided to finish out the rest of the year wearing female clothing.

Angry parents, reported to be concerned their religious liberty was being violated by the presence of a transgendered student in their high school, set up a Facebook page called Prayers for South Panola School District bearing this message:

"This page is set up to form a Christian based group to pray for our school's administration, board members, principles, teachers and students. It's time to STEP UP and put CHRIST back in our schools where he belongs!"

As word spread, the Mississippians Support Leah page was set up in response bearing this message: "Mississippians Support Leah respects the rights of ALL people to live the lives they are meant to live, free from abuse and discrimination. We insist on DIGNITY and RESPECT for ALL Mississippians including our LGBTQ family and friends."

The page put up by the parents currently has 540 likes.

Leah's page currently has 1,723.

Both pages were set up yesterday (Tuesday, February 26, 2013).

Facebook has been ablaze with posts about the matter and suddenly, by one student daring to be honest about what she feels to be her true gender, Mississippi finds itself having a statewide conversation on the rights of a sexual minority.

According to a post on Leah's page:

"It's been reported that some South Panola High School students are wearing shorts and sweatpants - dress code violations - today to protest Leah's "breaking" of the dress code. The concern is, of course, for the feelings of Leah (who is at school), but also that the school's actions may be influenced by the students' protest. It's probably pretty important right now to let South Panola High School know that support for Leah is pouring in from across the state, from all over the country, and around the world. All communications of support for Leah should be VERY VERY polite and courteous, focusing on support of Leah not frustration or anger with the "other" side. You might try sending a Letter to the Editor to The Panolian - send to"

A student who posted a comment on this blog post adds:

"People who supported Leah wore pink and green. The students wearing sweatpants were protesting *against* Leah, claiming that she receives special treatment by being allowed to break the dress code (which she hasn't, as a female). These students stood in front of the school this morning and were allowed to enter after they went home and changed into regular clothes."

The page administrator for Mississippians Support Leah page wrote a post on that page, saying: "The support Leah has received from her classmates and friends at South Panola should give all Mississippians hope that the times they are a changin! Mississippi has a long way to go but considering our history, our state has probably undergone more change than any other. It takes is people like Leah (and her supporters) staying here, taking a stand, and saying, "This is who I am!" to start changing perspectives. It can and will get better!"

The page also posted a picture of Leah sent in by her mother. (See picture above.)

On the parents' page, this message was posted:

"The intent of this page is to get Chriatians (sic) together to pray for our school district. To all the trolls and the ones 'against; this page, we will gladly PRAY for you also! This page was never intended against or toward any student directly. We are PRAYING for the school as a whole. Please keep our chidlren in your prayers today. Pray for our teachers. STAND UP FOR JESUS!!"

  • This post was updated February 27, 2013, at 6:42pm.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The new nameless, faceless me

At work today, as a never-ending stream of groceries flowed over the conveyor belt and through my scanner, and onto another conveyor belt to be ferried down to the bagger, I realized that I am literally a cog in a giant, impersonal, uncaring machine.

I always knew that, of course. Knew it intellectually. Knew it theoretically. But today, at work, I suddenly knew it in my gut, in my bones, in my feelings, in my heart. 

I am nothing but a cog in a machine, of no more importance than a bolt in an engine, a staple in a stapler, a piece of carpet in a giant condo. Nameless, faceless, impersonal, I am easily substitutable,  easily replaced, no more important in the grand scheme of things than a shopping cart or a roll of paper towels. 

As the groceries poured down the conveyor belt, it occurred to me that they were the end product of many other conveyor belts in all the many factories and distributions and warehouses they have traveled to get to my line. How many nameless, faceless hands had touched these products, had manufactured them, had labored over them in silence? How many miles had they traveled to wind up in Tupelo, Mississippi, birthplace of Elvis? 

Perhaps words aren't enough to explain the horror I felt. As a writer and journalist, I had been safe from this nameless, faceless world of the poorly paid worker. As the editor of a newspaper, I was not easily replaceable at a moment's notice. As the author of murder mystery novels, I was used to having a sense of identity and purpose and meaning. 

Now, in my old age, I am reduced to running your purchases through a scanner and telling you how much money you owe the nameless, faceless corporation that I represent.

A great weight despair and helplessness has settled over me. I fight it, of course. As an American, I was always taught -- and I always believed -- that if you were willing to work hard, you would get ahead. Now I see that's not always true. Now I see that so many people work very hard indeed, and barely tread water. They certainly never get ahead. How can they?

Regular customers are starting to use my name, having read it from my name badge. It annoys me, to be honest. These customers don't know me. We're not on a first name basis. I am a servant. I am paid to be polite. When you use my first name, I feel slightly patronized. You don't know me. When you look at me and read my name off my name badge, you are reminding me that I am not a person: I am a thing. An easily interchangeable thing. We have an entire raft of cashiers who can replace me at a moment's notice. You would not know the difference, You would not care. 

As a cog in the machine, I am expected to serve a purpose, and I do. I am standing at my register at all times. I am not allowed to chew gum, or drink water, or eat anything, or engage in personal conversations with my fellow employees. I cannot answer my phone if it rings. I cannot rest no matter how much my back or legs might be hurting. 

Every minute is accounted for. If I work a four-hour shift, I get precisely fifteen minutes to take a break -- and no more. Every other minute I am standing there, ready to go, running your purchases through my machine, serving, constantly in motion like a fan belt in an engine. I cannot stop. I cannot pause to use the bathroom. I cannot pause to get a drink. I'm being paid the mighty sum of $7.35 an hour, and the company wants its $7.35 worth. 

After I got off my shift today, I sat in my car for many minutes, smoking a cigarette, somewhat dazed. I am not used to be treated so impersonally. It feels brutal, harsh. I am not used to being a cog in a machine. I feel like I lose something of myself each time I work a shift. I come away feeling less than what I used to be, less of a person, less of an individual.

I sat in my car today and wondered what the future could hold. Am I to be yet one more American with a college degree and professional skills who is now "underemployed"? Am I stuck in the world of low-income workers who have no hope for the future? 

When the company puts $131 dollars in my bank account like it did this past week, which of those $131 dollars am I supposed to save for my retirement? What am I going to do about health care, which I don't have? What am I going to do if I get sick? What am I going to do if my brother kicks me out of his home and I have nowhere to live except my beat-up car?

How is it that so many millions of Americans have, like me, fallen into this abyss? At forty-nine years of age, am I expected to go back to college and get another degree? Do I need to leave Tupelo, Mississippi, and my family and friends, and seek my fortune elsewhere? 

I am a writer. That's what I do. That's what I know. There's not many jobs for writers. My dumb luck, I guess. 

Americans like to pride themselves on their "exceptionalism."And we are indeed exceptional. We're the richest country in the world, and yet we have homeless people on our streets, and millions of nameless, faceless working poor barely getting by so that stockholders and CEOs can wallow in unimaginable wealth. We have millions of kids who are "food insecure." We have politicians who mock the poor, who dismiss them as takers, who sneer at their bitterness and anger and call it "the politics of envy."  We have prominent Christian leaders who care more about zygotes than actual human beings, who have firmly aligned themselves with our heartless form of survival-of-the-fittest capitalism.

Billions of dollars are spent on war - but we can't raise the minimum wage.

Billions of dollars are wasted on subsidies for the oil industry - but we can't raise minimum wage.  

Billions of dollars wind up in the hands of folks like the Walton family, owners of Walmart - but we can't raise minimum wage.

From Occupy Democrats
We have a political party that can't seem to lick the boots of the job creators enough and who have passed legislation over the past thirty years that have left the wealthy a whole lot wealthier than they used to be, and the poor a whole lot poorer. This same political party tells us we can't raise minimum wage even as it wonders why it lost the presidential election so badly. 

We are exceptional, all right. In any other country in the civilized world, there would be riots in the streets. Only Americans would allow themselves to be trampled in this fashion, and we only do so because the wealthy elites have poured millions of dollars into advertising campaigns to convince us that the system is just and fair and more than we deserve. We are like dogs happy for the scraps thrown from the table.

I don't think much about the future now, because there is no future for me, and there's no future for the millions like me stuck in dead-end, low-wage jobs. 

If America were truly exceptional, it would find a way to do better than this. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Welcome to the world of the working poor

From Occupy Seattle.
I use the self-checkout terminal at the grocery store where I work to pay for my own purchases because I don't want fellow employees to know that I use food stamps. At the self-checkout terminal, you can discreetly swipe your EBT card with no one the wiser.

I suspect I am not alone, though I have seen a fair number of my fellow workers go through my line and use an EBT card, even full-time employees who have worked for years at this company.

They, like me, are the working poor.

How poor do you have to be to be eligible for "SNAP benefits" in the state of Mississippi? You need to be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level.

For a single person, your monthly income cannot exceed $1,211 (the amount before taxes and deductions are taken out, usually about 15 percent, which means this figure is actually $1,028).

A single person receives $189 in food stamps monthly. That's amounts to $47.25 weekly. For a grown man to survive on that is not impossible, though weight loss is guaranteed (and indeed, I have been losing weight, an unintended benefit).

For a mom and dad with a child, your combined income cannot exceed $2,069 per month.  For a single mom with three kids, income cannot be more than $2,498 monthly. If you're a single mom living with your parents, you're not eligible until you're 24 years old.

I don't think I've ever met a single mom with three kids making $2,498 dollars a month, but that's another story.

To receive food stamps here, you must provide the following:

  1. Proof of residency in the state of Mississippi.
  2. Proof of American citizenship (birth certificate, driver's license, social security card).
  3. US Citizenship and Immigration Service document if you are not a citizen. 
  4. Notice from out-of-state-agency if you have received assistance in another state. 
At the food stamp office where I went, I was greeted by this sign:

A request for assistance in the state of Mississippi is a request for a job. 

Some facts and figures.

The federal poverty level is $11,490 yearly, roughly $950 per month. Take 15 percent off the top for taxes and you're talking real income of $807, about $200 weekly. 

A minimum wage yearly salary is $15,080, roughly $1,250 per month, at $7.25 an hour. Take 15 percent for taxes and you're talking $1,062, or $265 per week.

Out of these figures come all the usual expenses: Rent or mortgage payment, car payment, insurance, utilities including heat, water and the like, gasoline for the vehicle, haircuts, clothing, medical bills, what to speak of luxuries like cable television, Internet access, cell phone payments, dining out, going to the movies, etc. 

For a minimum wage worker bringing home $1,062 dollars per month, how are these expenses to be met? 

There's another report in the news today about how the CEOs of fast food companies make more in one day than their workers do all year. There have been many such reports. The CEO of Walmart is said to make more in one hour than his employees do all year. Some CEOs make more in one minute than their employees do all year. 

The Walton family, who own Walmart and Sam's Club, are valued at $93 billion dollars. Clearly someone is making a profit at Walmart, but it's not the one million workers that Walmart employs, whose wages are so pitiful that many rely on food stamps and Medicare.
We need to consider this very carefully. A person working full time at Walmart is still so poor they have to rely on government assistance to get by. Who pays for that government assistance? Taxpayers, of course. While the CEOs and the stockholders and share-owners are doing very well, thank you, the government must subsidize Walmart because it pays its employees so poorly. 

When we talk about "the government," we're talking about American taxpayers. It's the taxpayers who subsidize Walmart, who make it possible for this company to pay its employees so poorly

An interesting dynamic, don't you think? 

From Wal*Mart 1 Percent
You can join the workforce, work forty hours a week or more, and still be so poor that you need food stamps and government-supplied health care to survive. 

Walmart apparently provides health care insurance for its full time employees, but it's so expensive that many employees can't afford it. 

Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan reduced it all down for us with his "makers and takers" dichotomy. The Walmarts of the world are the makers, the job creators; Walmart employees who need food stamps are takers, even though they work full time. 

Another very interesting dynamic, to work every day of your life and not be able to pay your bills, to be a "taker" sucking off the government's tits because your corporate masters are so cheap they won't pay you a living wage even while their CEO and executives and stockholders have so much wealth they can't possibly spend it all. 

There are many calls these days to raise minimum wage. It should be a no-brainer, but our Republican friends are aghast and have vowed to torpedo any efforts to raise it. 

Let me make sure I get this straight. The party that routinely demonizes the poor, whose vice-presidential candidate dismissed the poor as "takers" (even those working full time), is firmly against raising the minimum wage because it would "hurt" the job creators like the Walton family sitting on their $93 billion dollars. 

This party would rather encourage government dependence, in the form of food stamps and Medicare, than ask job creators to pay people fairly and decently. To add insult to injury, they then heckle President Obama and call him the "food stamp president," as if he's to blame that so many working poor have to rely on the social safety net.

Mississippi is a solidly Red State, and our folks in Congress routinely vomit up the Fox News talking points for the day like the faithful lapdogs they are. If Republican economic policies are so wonderful, why is Mississippi the poorest state in the Union? Why is Mississippi drowning in the working poor? Why are we the largest beneficiary of federal largess, the hugest drain on federal tax dollars? Why is the rest of the country subsidizing us? 

I long for the day when Mississippians begin to make the connection between policy and reality, between the policies put forward by the Republican party and the disastrous reality all around us. Are we not the fattest, the poorest, the least educated? Do we not have the highest number of teen pregnancies? Are we not the height of mismanagement and stupidity when it comes to our public policies? Have we not earned our place at the bottom by constantly voting for the wrong people? 

When will Mississippians realize that other states do well because they're smarter and they elect officials who work hard to improve the quality of life for residents in their state? 

The answer, of course, is that when Senator Roger Wicker, or Congressman Alan Nunnelee, go off to Washington, they don't much care about people like me. They don't care that I furtively use the self check-out lane so that my fellow employees don't know I'm on food stamps. They don't care about the problems of the working poor because there's no future in it for them. 

The working poor cannot afford to hire high-priced lobbyists who dump mountains of cash in their campaign coffers in exchange for their support of policies that favor the Walmarts of the world over the working poor who live in their states and whose interests they are supposed to be representing. 

To make up for their disregard for our economic well being, they throw out red meat for the masses in Mississippi -- asides about abortion, gay rights, veiled racism directed at a black president. They offer up a governor hell bent on shutting the state's only abortion clinic. They shudder at the thought that gays in Mississippi might get married.  They fear-monger about socialism and federal intrusion into the "sovereignty" of the Magnolia state. They accidentally hoist the Confederate flag at a court house. As if any of that will help the working poor, or get folks off the food stamp roll, or help kids graduate from high school. As if any of that will solve the "fattest, dumbest, poorest" thing.

Eventually Mississippians will get mad enough to start demanding more of their elected officials. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Food stamps: Oh, the horror!

When I first moved to Mississippi a year ago, I was surprised to hear an almost constant refrain about how illegals and "others" were sucking up copious amounts of food stamps. I heard these stories everywhere I went. I was assured that there were hordes of illegal immigrants and lazy moochers who piled their shopping carts high with steaks and hams and all kinds of expensive foods. I can't count the number of people who told me how angry this made them.

I also worked next door to a food pantry, and heard another constant stream of complaints about how the lazy moochers going to the food pantry each week didn't really need the food and were just taking advantage of the kindness of others.

Now that I've been on the other side of a cash register at a very busy grocery store for a month now, I can tell you quite definitively that there are no hordes of illegals (or otherwise) sucking up high-priced foods and paying for them with food stamps.

Most of those who use food stamps eat rather modestly. I can think of only one food stamp recipient who bought what I would consider a pricey item (a bag of shrimp). For all I know, that might have been for a special dinner to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary.  That is the only occasion that someone used food stamps in my line for a pricey item. Let me repeat that: After a month, only one food stamp recipient used food stamps to pay for a pricey item.

Hardly the hordes I had been told to expect. Hardly the hordes that I had been assured were cheating the hard working American tax payers out of their hard earned money.

Would you like to know what most food stamp recipients purchase? Surprisingly, very cheap foods. Very cheap indeed. Packages of hot dogs that sell for $1.00. Cheap loaves of bread. Macaroni and cheese. Cans of soup. If there's any meat in the order, it's usually chicken, which is the cheapest. No steaks.

Today I had a typical food stamp order by an older man who was obviously on his lunch break. He was poorly dressed, wouldn't meet my eyes when I greeted him. He had a pack of $1.00 hotdogs and a pack of $1.00 hot dog buns. That was it. He swiped his EBT card and seemed almost sheepish about it.

A little while later, a woman appeared in my line and told me not to let her go over $50. More hotdogs, buns, cheap loaves of bread, cans of soup, Mac & Cheese, eggs. She saved the "expensive" items for last: Bags of chips, a candy bar, a six-pack of soda.

As for the illegals, I'm stumped. Once in a while a Hispanic person will go through my line, mostly older men purchasing lunch items. On Valentine's I saw several purchasing cards and chocolates. They all paid cash. I have yet to see any sort of "illegal" (read: foreigner) using food stamps.

Most of the people using food stamps are dressed rather poorly. It's obvious they don't have a lot of resources. As well, many of them use coupons to make their food dollars stretch a little bit further.

Where are the hordes of food stamp abusers? Could it be they don't exist? Could it be that those horror stories about young bucks sucking up steaks are just ... stories?

Full disclosure: I use food stamps myself. I can assure you that I have never purchased a steak with my food stamps and will never do so. Rather than spending $10 on a steak, I can buy six cans of soup, which translates into six lunches, which is a much better deal. Were I to purchase steaks and such, my food stamps wouldn't go very far at all.

I suspect these stories about food stamp abuse are designed to gin up anger and resentment, which they do, and quite effectively. That they don't seem to be based on reality doesn't seem to matter.

If you're a fellow cashier, by all means feel free to leave a comment and weigh in. Are my observations correct? What have your experiences been?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Why I hate "Christians"

Someone asked me recently why I hate Christians.

I replied that real "Christians" are rather rare and I don't know that many. I do, however, know a great many people who call themselves Christians, but who are anything but Christ-like. 

These folks are a dime a dozen. They wrap themselves in religion and use it as an excuse to hate, or judge, or condemn, or exclude. They glory in their chosen-ness, their blessedness, casting a sad eye on those of us who are unwashed and unsaved. They are morally superior and want their morality legislated onto those of us who are apparently incapable of genuine morality.

I don't want to paint with too broad a brush, though. The "Christians" I hate are the ones who are the most strident, the most vociferous, the ones leading the charge in the culture wars, the shiny-faced folks on TV with their hands out who fear-monger about abortion and homosexuality to gin up donations. The "Christians" I'm talking about are the last to turn the other cheek, the last to be meek, mild, humble, the last to leave judgement to God, where it belongs. 

On the one side are real, genuine Christians who are Christ-like, who understand what the Gospels were about, the ones who know that when they pray they should go to their room and shut the door and not stand on the street corner and proclaim their righteousness for the world to see. On the other hand, there are shiny charlatans with $3,000 suits who use Christianity as a weapon to suit their own agenda. Between these two poles are the mass of souls in between.

It is not those souls in between that I hate. It is not Christ-like people that I hate. It's the hypocrites, the users, the abusers, the vampires who suck on the body of Christ to sustain their own lives. Those are the "Christians" that I hate. 

And for good reason.

Jesus hated them too. 

If you read the Gospels attentively, you will notice that Jesus didn't get mad that often. But when he did, it was invariably with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, those self-righteous hair-splitters who were forever rabble-rousing and stirring up trouble, who thought of themselves as the apples of God's eyes, who rejoiced in their salvation even as they sneered down at sinners and the outcast who could never measure up. 

Jesus hated those bastards. Don't believe me? Read what he said about them. On one occasion he calls them children of their father, the Devil. 

I think it's important to understand who he was talking to. The Pharisees and Sadducees were prominent, scholarly Jews. They knew the law inside and out. They were the pillars of the community, the leading lights. They had the prime seats at table and in the temple. They were respected, prominent, important. They called the shots. They were the priests, pastors and popes of their day.

Imagine how it must have appeared to them for someone like Jesus to come along and publicly revile them, over and over, even going so far as to tell them that they were children of the Devil, their mouths like "white-washed sepulchers." It's no wonder these folks schemed to find a way to have Jesus silenced. And it's no wonder they eventually succeeded. 

Let us consider the matter further:
  • Unlike so many American Christians, Jesus had absolutely no interest in political power. Indeed, he was a huge disappointment to the Jews who were waiting for a political leader, a worldly "king," not a spiritual Messiah or Savior, but someone who could lead the charge against Rome and free Jerusalem from Roman occupation. When they gave him a coin with Ceasar's image on it and confronted him on the matter, he said, "Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's, and unto God what is God's."  He wanted nothing to do with political power. He did not tell his followers to agitate for political power or change. He made utterly no effort to overthrow an unjust occupation.  How does this square with the many Christians and Evangelicals who constantly agitate for legislation that is favorable to their religious beliefs? 
  • What is the response of a Christian to injury or harm? Jesus was plain: Turn the other cheek. Do good to those that hate you, that revile you, that do all manner of evil to you. Love your enemies. Bless them. Wish them well. So, when was the last time you saw a Christian turn the other cheek? When was the last time you saw Sarah Palin, or Michelle Bachmann, or Ann Coulter, or Mike Huckabee, or Pat Robertson, "do good" to those that hate them? You won't find much cheek-turning these days. You will find, though, a lot of heated rhetoric about how Christians have to stand their ground, step up, be counted, make their voices heard so that we're not steamrolled by the homosexuals or the abortionists or the atheists or the Muslims. Lock and load, to use Palin's terminology.
  • "Judge not, lest you be judged." How much plainer or simpler could it be? But the Christians I'm referring to are the first to judge, to condemn, to exclude, to vilify, to actively promote policies that hurt and harm and drive away souls they don't like. But notice something very curious: While they pick on the gays constantly (and, it seems, rather gleefully), they do not pick on adulterers. Or drunkards. Or murderers. Or child abusers. Or men who slap their wives around. Or fornicators. Or business people who cheat their employees out of a just wage. No. Their self-righteous ire is very carefully channeled into a safe outlet: Pick on the gays. Curious, isn't it? To their way of thinking, gays are destroying the family. Not fornicators or straight couples who live together. Not men having affairs. Not men cruising the Internet for porn. But gay people. While there is a website called, there is no site called, or Curious how judgement is carried out against a safe target ("the gays"), and not in a way that might hit too close to home. 
  • Furthermore, what is Christianity today if not one giant exercise in judging? Christians are constantly judging everyone and everything: Society, law, other religions, other religious believers, lifestyle choices. It's all but impossible to imagine Christianity without all the relentless judging that goes with it. Jesus never once said you had to go to church on Sunday. He did say, "Judge not, lest you be judged." How do we account for this? Christians are like the Jews who caught the woman in adultery and wanted to stone her to death. What was the response of Jesus? "Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone." Today's Christians would gladly stone the gays, and the women who have had abortions, and the Muslims, and all the other people they can't stand. They would do it without a second thought, and they would feel justified in doing so. 
  • "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first." In Christianity, the social order is inverted. Jesus invited the riffraff trash of society to his table, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the lepers, the morally compromised. Time and again, he made it clear that the "first" shall be last in the Kingdom of Heaven. You would be hard pressed to find any evidence of this teaching among today's American Christians. Just the opposite, in fact. The Mike Huckabees of this world will always be seated at the head of the table. 
  • "See those Christians, how they love another!" To which I can only say: Ha ha ha! Where is the Christian who "loves" those around him? Who loves the stranger? The immigrant? The homosexual? The morally compromised? The other? The enemy? Where is the Christian who loves his Muslim neighbors? American Christianity has become almost synonymous with hate. If you ask Google the leading question of "Why are Christians so ..?" the answers that pop up (based on previous searches) are "Why are so Christians so mean?" and "Why are Christians so angy?" It does not ask "Why are Christians so loving?" When you think of Christians, you do not think of loving, gentle people. 
I admire Jesus a great deal. He was an extraordinary man. It's been more than 2,000 years and we're still talking about him, about what he did, about what it meant. No other person in the history of this world has had a greater impact. 

I admire Jesus. I love Jesus. I love what he stood for, what he taught, what he meant. 

But I would not be the first to say that his followers have messed it up, over and over, time and again, to such an extent that it's hard to believe they think of themselves as "Christ-like."

Christ was not a bully. Christ did not have a "my way or the highway" mentality. Christ did not come to condemn the world, but save it.

Part of my anger at "Christians" has to do with my love for Jesus, and my sadness at the way he has been treated by his followers, at the great many souls they have scandalized and driven away by their unChrist-like behaviors and beliefs. Surely it would be better for these people to have a millstone tied around their neck and for them to be thrown into the river than to have so scandalized so many people. Truly, he has cast his pearls before swine. 

Harsh words? I suspect that when these "Christians" stand before God for their judgement, they will hear much worse. They might be reminded that St. Paul told them that without love, they are just tinkling brass.

All of this is in contrast to a genuine Christian, a soul who has taken Christ as his savior, mentor, friend, spiritual guide.

What does Jesus tell this soul?

  • Turn the other cheek. 
  • Be patient, kind, loving, humble. 
  • Don't put yourself first. 
  • When you pray, go into your bedroom and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. 
  • Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. 
  • Don't be anxious for tomorrow. 
  • Become like a little child. 
  • Love your enemies. 
  • Do good to those that hate you and persecute you and do all manner of evil against you. 
  • If someone asks for your coat, give them your cloak too. If someone asks you to walk a mile with them, walk two. 
  • It is better to give than to receive.
These people are not much interested in the politics of the day. They don't wear their religion on their sleeve. They pray in private. They love. They forgive. They ask for forgiveness. They demonstrate, by their actions, that Christ means something to them. They give the glory to God, not to the man on the TV in the shiny suit. They do unto others as they would have done unto themselves. They do not lord it over others. They do not seek a special status. 

Where are these people? They may indeed be sitting in the pew next to you. A few of them may even be in the pulpit. But most of these people understand that it is God who judges, God who sees, not man. They are concerned with what God think of them, not man. They cast their cares and trust upon God and do not worry about the 'morrow. 

When you meet a person like that, you've met a Christian. They don't have to tell you. You just know. The rest are nothing but sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Are there no prisons?

The Associated Press
I received my paycheck the other day and it turns out that working a part-time minimum wage job is not particularly profitable. I knew it was going to be a painful moment of truth. I was not disappointed. Twenty-two hours at $7.35 ... well, you do the math.

I take comfort in the fact that I'm not alone. Indeed, according to a widely-circulated figure, about half of Americans are either at and very close to the poverty level. Report after report and figure after figure show that while the wealthy have indeed gotten much wealthier over the past three decades, the poor have gotten much poorer. The chart to the right is just one of many showing this trend.

While wages have stagnated, everything else has gone up - rent, utilities, phone bills, the price of milk, a can of pop, a hair cut, health care, gasoline. Up, up and up. Which means that low income folks  have far less money for the basic necessities than they used to have.

There's a reason why the rich and huge corporations keep getting richer. It takes money to hire an army of lawyers and lobbyists to send to Washington to relentlessly campaign for their interests. It takes money to constantly fight attempts to raise the minimum wage and give workers a living wage. It takes money to get all those tax loopholes and sweetheart deals.

It also takes a lot of money to convince poor people that voting for a certain party is in their own best interests, when it clearly is not. This past election saw a flurry of reports on the subject. Why do the poor keep voting for the Republican Party when its policies are so clearly aligned with the wealthy at the expense of the poor?

One reason, perhaps the major reason, is the culture wars over abortion and gay rights. Since the time of Reagan, Republicans have seized on these divisive issues, promising "change" if elected. This has helped fuel a steady supply of Christian and conservative votes. That Roe vs Wade still stands and gay rights are much farther along than ever does not seem to matter. As long as the wealthy can continue to keep the masses up in arms over these issues, and angry enough to turn out reliably at the polls, that's all that seems to matter.

Along with those culture war issues are a slate of more anger-inducing claims and paranoid whatnot: That the Democrats are Socialists. That Obamacare is socialism. That the president is not even a US citizen. That the "government" is going to take away all our guns. On and on with a tide of nonsense that is never factually based which low-information voters suck it up as Gospel truth - and, most importantly, vote accordingly.

We face an onslaught of spurious reports about how Social Security is going bankrupt, how it's an "entitlement" that needs to be curbed or perhaps even ended.  Unions are the problem. Union workers are thugs who need to be taken down a notch.

An entire war against the poor was rolled out last year by Republicans. Newt Gingrich went around calling Obama the "foodstamp president." The poor were demonized. We were told that people on foodstamps are what's wrong with this country. Point out that 26 cents of every federal tax dollar is spent on defense while a mere .52 cents is spent on "welfare" - well, these folks never let facts get in the way of a self-righteous diatribe.

Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan reduced it all down to "makers and takers." Ryan, poster boy for both Ayn Rand (an atheist) and supposedly a devout Catholic, introduced a budget that professors at a Catholic University felt compelled to denounce as "immoral" for its attacks on the poor. Mitt Romney called the Ryan Budget "marvelous."

In the eyes of folks like Paul Ryan, I'm a taker. Since my pay last week was $137, I'm more than eligible for food stamps, which I use to help make ends meet. To Paul Ryan, I am the problem. Not minimum wage. Not the fact that so many jobs being created by the "job creators" are minimum wage, part-time jobs that do not allow a person to pay their bills. Not the fact that the defense budget eats up the vast share of each federal tax dollar. No. The problem is folks like me.

from Time magazine
Folks like me. No house. No savings. No health insurance. No future. I'm the problem. I'm the taker who's draining the poor taxpayer and impeding economic recovery.

I wonder what Paul Ryan suggests I do? Commit suicide? Live on the street? Does he imagine that good-paying jobs are just throwing themselves at folks like me down in the Magnolia State and that we're just too lazy to go out and grab one?

Like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, I can hear Ryan's response:

Are there no workhouses? 

Are the prisons full?  

And here's the rub, the final kick of sand in the eyes: Paul Ryan's father died while Ryan was a teenager and his mother collected government checks to help them survive. The government also generously helped Paul Ryan get an education. But now that he's a maker and not a taker, well, all bets are suddenly off.

Again, don't let facts get in the way of a self-righteous diatribe against the poor. Paul Ryan wasn't the problem. The single mother and her hungry kids down the street sucking up foodstamps was the problem.

Me, I'll take my $7.35 and do the best I can. If I'm unable to save for retirement, I hope Ryan understands.