Over the past few months I have been given a great gift. By American standards I have been poor. It is not real poverty: there has been plenty of (really cheap) food, and I was not homeless. But money is tight. Very tight.
I can write about this now because I am finally convinced that we really are quite well. If I could have planned out our marriage I would have chosen that we would have a time of significant financial struggle, and I would have chosen for it to come fairly soon into our marriage. So I am just getting my way, and it is good.
It really is Good.
I have known for years that I needed to experience poverty1 and while this is a pretty tame introduction, it is already working. I know that it is working because I am learning to see Jesus, and as I learn to see Jesus I am terrified to see where he is not.
Last week I looked up the local meeting schedule for a Catholic women’s organization2 which runs small group studies for women. I had stayed away from them a few years ago over their connection with another Catholic organization, but I softened almost completely last summer when I learned that they are affiliated with Helen Alvaré, a woman whom I greatly admire. For the first time they had an upcoming class at a time and place that worked for me, so I looked to see what was involved in signing up.
It cost $60.00. There was no question that I could not afford it, and I started to get mad. I did not care that I could not join a group now. I fully expect that I will have money within a few months. But I could not escape how obvious it was that this is a group for women who have. If you are not privileged, then you are not welcome. Do they realize what $60 is in this region of the country? People live in two-bedroom trailers that rent for $350 a month. People work for minimum wage. Do you even know what that is? Try $7.25/hour. I do not know what percentage they3 pay in taxes, but I am guessing that it is at least a full day’s work to cover the class.
Then I read a bit more about the scholarship policy which included an incredibly condescending note that every woman must pay something, even if it is a “small amount.” Yes, they have officially defined $30.00 as a small amount. Because in a group of privileged women, $30 is a small amount. I was not really outraged though, until I read their last word on the topic of scholarships. They noted that all of their materials are copyrighted and said: “Not only is it against the law to copy these materials, it is diametrically opposite of what [our] program teaches. In order to maintain the integrity of [our] program, we respectfully ask all facilitators and participants to honor this policy.”
Ah yes, there is no need to mention copyright unless one is addressing underprivileged women, right? Because it is always the poor who steal?! And copying materials is “diametrically opposite” of their program’s teaching? I ran to my husband in horror, spewing something about whether this group must be centered on something other than Catholicism for copyright to be such a central issue. He calmly replied that the Catholic Church is, at best, ambivalent about the issue of copyright.
I sputtered on about the rest of my issues with the group and asked whether Jesus would really support this organization. All that came to mind was the fact that while parts of the gospels (Luke) talk about the importance of the poor, there are other places (Matthew) that modify the message by specifying that the issue is poverty of spirit. I am quite confident that many women in this organization of great poverty of spirit (just not the copywriters/editors for the website!) so why did I have such a strong feeling that this was not a place I would find my Savior?
I went to sleep with thoughts of bishops in solidarity with the poor being murdered by men supported by privileged Catholics dancing in my head. And I woke up with thoughts of Schönborn. This was not a case of “edgy” liberation spirituality. It was simply fact. To the extent that a group fails to include the poor, they fail to include Jesus.
What if it really is true that while white women with college degrees and high-earning husbands sit around talking about suffering, Jesus walks down the road to work in the form of a single mother who dropped out of high school during her first pregnancy?
1. While I grew up in a family which went through many years solidly under the poverty line, it is different going through it as an adult.
2. It does not matter what the organization is, because they are simply one of many with the same issues. And this post is not really about this particular organisation, it is about one of the first parts of me waking up to where my life should, and should not, be headed. If you suspect that you know the organization to which I refer, please refrain from using their name in the comments. And please, please change them from within.
3. Yes, I say “they” because even if I got a minimum wage job I would still see myself as a person who belonged in a higher pay grade and would get it eventually. I may not have money, but I have a sense of privilege, and that is a hard thing to kill.
- Nontraditional Lullabies