Thursday, September 29, 2005

Increasing Social Distance

My rush at work seems to have abated.... At least somewhat.... For now....

Who would have thought that actually working for a living was so hard? Anyway, I have recently had (for the first time in a while) some time to think.

What has me spinning lately is a conversation I had on the bus.

My new job requires me to wear a suit every day. I often get quizzical looks from my fellow riders, since I'm always the only one in such attire. But recently I got confronted directly. "Are you a lawyer?" asked another passenger, apparently deducing this fact soley from my coat and tie. When I told him that I was, he seemed utterly perplexed. "What are you doing riding the bus to work, then?" he asked. Apparently all lawyers, admittedly members of the American aristocracy, are too rich and too important to take mass transportation with "ordinary folks."

I continued to talk with the man (a regular-Joe bartender), but he seemed nervous. In a way I can't exactly explain, I was uncomfortable too. At most times in my life, I've felt perfectly natural conversing with anyone. But the suit was apparently infecting my brain....

I have long thought that the purpose behind "professional dress" was to distance and differentiate we "professionals" from "those people," and it always bothered me. Why do we need to try to mark ourselves so explicitly as "better" than them? And why should anyone be nervous to talk to me of all people? These things have always bothered me.... But I never thought that my suit would affect me--my own attitude. I never thought that I would feel distance on my end.

But perhaps it isn't just the suit. Perhaps it is also that I spend my days in an office filled with highly-educated professionals, reading the writing of still other highly-educated professionals. I just haven't spent any time lately talking with my neighbors outside my socioeconomic class. And I've discovered that any amount of time spent in such isolation really does turn everyone else into "those people."

If I am to follow Jesus' example, a highly abstract, generalized love for neighbors isn't enough. Christian love, I believe, must also be specific, concrete, grounded in the actual neighbors that I meet every day. So I'm resolved: to resist the suit; to get to know my working-class fellow passengers; to strive to mitigate the social distance that makes me somehow vaguely uncomfortable with anyone outside my class.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Life is Happening...

Apologies for not posting. We have been slammed at work. This rush should be over on Friday, and I'll try to get something out shortly after that. Hopefully I won't mutilate second-grade spelling words in my next offering. (See discussion of "busses" [sic] below.)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Where were the busses on August 28th?

Katrina recrimination is becoming something pf a national past time.

I thought it was inappropriate for the media to begin the political assessment of Katrina in the middle of last week - when conditions for tens of thousands in New Orleans were still life or death. But now that those victims in the New Orleans convention center and Superdome have been (or are being evacuated) to safer, livable shelter, I do think it is time we start assessing how we let what happened happen.

Especially after the 9/11 "My-Pet-Goat" fiasco, it is infuriating to see that the President was yucking it up with a Country music singer and an acoustic guitar as Katrina hit. Also, it is disturbing that the National Guard and FEMA took so long to respond, even after the levees broke.

But the most disturbing thing is the Government's failure to send busses on August 28th. As one blogger writes, our failure to "get busses to evacuate the 'least among us'" meant that, "for all practical purposes," they "were left to die."

Reading archived news from August 28-29 is, for me, chilling.

On Sunday, August 28th, the mayor New Orleans ordered a mandatory evacuation order.
He warned further about the expected Category 5 storm: "This is a threat that we've never faced before." Louisiana's Governor predicted that the city would lose power and water service and would likely see "intense flooding." Weather forecasters predicted a storm surge of 28 feet and reported that "the highest levees around New Orleans are 18 feet high."

Most disturbing: as early as Sunday, the national press was reporting that "between 20,000 and 25,000 [people]" who were unable to comply with the evacuation order were "lin[ing] up to take shelter in the Louisiana Superdome . . . ."

The bottom line is that our government knew or certainly should have known that this was going to be a terrible disaster. It also knew or should have known that thousands upon thousands of the poor would be left behind - with no car with which to comply with the mandatory evacuation order.

But it didn't send busses on the 28th. Why?

With the evidence above, I don't think "we didn't know" is a reasonable answer. I don't think there is an acceptable answer.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Give, give cash, give cash ONLINE

"We have very little, but they have nothing."

I am pleased, but not that surprised, by the outpouring of private charity for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Christian Science Monitor estimates that the total amount of gifts will reach $1 billion. It's not nearly enough, of course. But it's a lot. Considering the charitable response to the tsunami disaster earlier this year, though, I expected nothing less.

We here at the Social Gospel Today are encouraging people to make online donations in cash to the American Red Cross. Online donations of cash have, as we say in the biz, very low "transaction costs." As the embattled director of FEMA has correctly noted:

“Cash donations are especially helpful to victims. They allow volunteer agencies to issue cash vouchers to victims so they can meet their needs. Cash donations also allow agencies to avoid the labor-intensive need to store, sort, pack and distribute donated goods. Donated money prevents, too, the prohibitive cost of air or sea transportation that donated goods require.”

Online donations are even better than in-person or telephone cash donations. More of your gift can go directly to those who need it most because it costs less to process it. (No need for telephone operators, etc.)

It's important that we send our thoughts and prayers out to those who are suffering. But we've got to send more than just that.