Monday, March 31, 2008

finally, feeling privileged

Actually, I always feel my privilege.
**Do you know when you type "privilege" more than two time in a row, it loses all sense of a word - there's too many i's or something. Which prompted me to look it up:

privilege (n): ME from the OF fr L privilegium - law for or against a private person: a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.
privileged (adj): 1) having or enjoying one or more privileges (~ classes) 2) not subject to the usual rules or penalties because of some special circumstances

Right here we see the effects of privilege. The very use, putting aside understanding, of a dictionary connotes a level of education that is only attained with privilege.

I had no idea it was such a legalistic word, although "rights and privileges" is a legal phrase.

From the older form of the word, when we say we are privileged, it means we take on the immunity granted to our socio-economic class. This fits well with underlying assumption taken on in sociology of education, that regardless of where you start, your education will lift you to the privileged ranks. Education (in the United States) is more than book-learning, it has a lot to do with fitting in to the class system. In many ways, education white-washes all of us, even those who did not start out bland or those who try to chafe against their education.

Anyway, on to that meme:

From What Privileges Do You Have?, based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate in this blog game, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.

1. Father went to college *not only was going to college non-negotiable, 80% of my high school went on to 4-year college
2. Father finished college
3. Mother went to college
4. Mother finished college
5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
6. Were in the same or higher class than your high school teachers
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home (I had more than 50 books in my childhood room!)
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
9. Were read children's books by a parent (all the way through high school, baby!)
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively (it's taken me a while to parse this sentence, but yes, of course!)
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18* this is one of those questions that is generational more than indicative of class, I think. We just didn't USE credit cards. But my mom let me use hers if I needed to. That is privilege!
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs *another caveat, while I am sure that my parents would have been able to pay for a lot of my college costs, I cannot be sure of this. A trust did pay for my college, thank God, but it was the payout from my father's life insurance/social security benefits.
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs. *technically, no, as I had to work to pay for many of my books and all of my clothes and "fun" stuff - like getting home for breaks!
16. You went to a private high school *no, because the public high school was better than most private schools. I think if I had wanted to, I could have gone
17. Went to summer camp
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels *no, but doesn't "family vacation" connote privilege? Even more, we "summered" somewhere. Talk about a word loaded with privilege!
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them (car?! what car?!)
22. There was original art in your home as a child
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
25. You had your own room as a child
26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18 (see above #13)
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school (see above #13)
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college (see above #14)
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
31. Went on a cruise with your family
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up *I am willing to agree that this connotes privilege, however, museums were free when I was little, so it was cheap entertainment
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

I find it interesting that no one is able to do this without commenting or caveats. Clearly, we all feel guilt/pressure/unease when it comes to class/privilege/money

Friday, March 28, 2008

It's just a flesh wound...

Something needs to be written!

I'm playing with Sunday's lectionary readings, Thomas and the need to "see it to believe it."

The chapel service I attend is led by a Calvinist. We hear a lot about sin and, well, sin. (Even on Easter. Thank God for ministers who posted their Easter joy online!) More than wishing I could hear less about sin and more about grace, I miss the style of sermon that asks us to look at the text as our own. I miss hearing personal stories that link the text to real life, and then encourage us to search for our own connections.

I won't hear the Calvinist preach this Sunday, but I am fairly certain I'd be hearing about faith saving us. That we MUST believe, it's our only hope. Yup, I get that.

That's not what I'd preach on.

I think I'd mention that there's not a lot of admonition. Thomas' need to see and touch (sound like a psalm, anyone?) doesn't damn him. Jesus chides, but welcomes, too. He allows for Thomas' questions and then moves on. We need Thomas, he's like us. We're not Peter, jumping in feet first, not looking for the stump in the shallows. We're not Mary, so relieved that love lives again we see the man and not the divine. We want to weigh, we want to think, we need a little time. (Could that be part of Thomas' "problem"? He wasn't there to begin with; he had time to think.)

John ends the interaction with Jesus' words "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." And then the Gospel writer tells us that he has written this down so that we, without seeing, may believe and have life in His name.

Thomas is our foil: Thomas, an ordinary, after-the-fact believer has "seen and believed" and now we can believe, too.

I find it interesting that Thomas' role in Christian mythology continues after his Johannine encounter with Christ. His Gospel offers another view on Christ; people read his account and know that he wasn't one of the codified, and yet it tells the same story. Thomas was the apostle who carried the Good News to India, where there are still Thomasine churches. The Church in South India is one of the most varied and cohesive multi-denominational groups today. Peter's church has rigid lines of belief and unbelief. Thomas' is fluid and encompassing.

So, if I were preaching, that's where I'd start.

But that's not all that I see in this story. I see a shift in culture and the culture of belief. I wish I knew more Millenial preachers, as I think my viewpoint is on the younger side. The traditional read on Doubting Thomas is that we need to move out of our comfort zone - we should not need to see to believe.

As the United States has always been a "See it to believe it" kind of place. Doubting Thomas "works" for us. We need to hold, touch, talk, be WITH. We're consumers, we like to hold on to something. Even charitable donations, require a gift, a letter, some tangible sign that we've reached out. Along with our need to hold on to stuff, Americans are reserved. Combining reserve with seeing and believing, we've created a working system that rewards knowing people. We believe in codified belief-systems and institutions. Knowing where someone comes from, which schools, which company, which church...Old Boy Networks work because their world views were similar. There's not that much of stretch between the 3 Presidents who went to Yale. Clinton and Bush were members of the same secret society there. The general beliefs are the same, because the institutions are the same. (This is Thomas - we see ourselves in him, so it's okay to believe in his belief.)

Here's the culture shift: and like my Easter Joy, it comes from the Web.

I don't believe we, these younger generations, need to see to believe. We live in a very connected world, but our connections are through faith, not physicality.

Only a few years ago, it was important to delineate between "real life" friends (IRL) and on line friends. I don't hear that as much anymore. Just last month I asked a favor of an on-line friend I'd never met before, asking her to help another friend, one from down the street, find a new home in her area. In that transaction, there was no difference between believing in someone I could shake hands with and one I texted.

Several months ago, 60 Minutes did an interview with Mark Zuckerberg. The Boomer-something interviewer is clearly of the "see and believe" mentality. I could hear in her voice the disbelief in social networking. "A waste of time." "This is made for alumnae, but you didn't even graduate from Harvard." Both lines, that social networking might be a waste of time and that where you graduated from is of importance to who you are, imply the need to be concrete. They are Thomasine. Now, I am not saying that anyone else in Jesus' posse was any less concrete. They were all physically present with Jesus in his ministry and, at one point or another, his resurrection.

(Interesting, isn't it, that the person who spread the Gospel the furthest wasn't there at all? He's that outer link on the Friend Wheel, the one with his own massive wheel.)

If this culture shift is true, that who we are and what we believe is sufficient, without "old school" connections, without the need to see to believe, what does that mean for Thomas? In a new paradigm, where does Thomas stand? If we don't need him to touch for us, what do we need Thomas for?

Like Mary Magdalene last week, this is a story of ASKING FOR and RECEIVING FROM Jesus. 2000 years ago, Jesus' answer explained our generation's status: We are blessed to not have to see to believe. We can do it, and Jesus knew we'd get here. But Thomas' searching allows to keep searching, too. Those small questions of Thomas' led him to India, to a church which encompases many different ways of acting on Truth.

For today, let us recognize ourselves in Thomas: brave enough to ask for what we need and strong enough to carry it on to others.