Monday, January 22, 2018

Poverty pimping....



The Mass I attended this Sunday ended as it typically does, with applause…a resounding, “Yay for us!”  It’s a big reason I actively avoid this parish. The homily and the announcements echoed the same message, “Yay us” whilst metaphorically pounding each other with hearty congratulatory, “good job” pats on the back. 

Allow me to elaborate on the “Yay us” messages…parenthetical statements are my commentary. 

The deacon gave the homily and described how he, his brother deacons and their (dutiful) wives (bowing to the church hierarchy’s sexist clergy hegemonic praxis) spent a day last September at an economically challenged parish in Flint, Michigan…(the city of famed poisoned water due to short-term cost-cutting decisions made by public officials, many of whom were supported by the Michigan Catholic Conference of Bishops and their pay-pray-and-obey followers).  He explained how this group of “humble servants” ministered to people in that neighborhood, “helping transform their lives” (seemingly oblivious to any connection between voting and lifestyle patterns as causes of poverty which transformed lives in a negative way.)

Are you envisioning his uni-directional arrow of “goodness” flowing from his “us” of deacons and their wives to his “them” of the economically challenged yet?  In case not, please allow me to continue.

He also described that while members of his “us” group took turns piously praying before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, a few women from his “them” group who “by the way they were dressed you could guess that they were ladies of the night” knelt at the altar too.  This he celebrated as some dramatic transformational “turn away from sin” moment.  (He seemed oblivious to his arrogant sinful judgement about these women simply based upon their attire and, even if he guessed their profession accurately, isolated them in sin without mentioning the sins of their male clients…thus overlooking his own sin of sexism as well….but…”yay us.”)

The group distributed backpacks filled with school supplies to about 900 children (many if not most of whom are more economically vulnerable since September due to additional bishop-supported politicians failing to approve the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding renewal.)

Again, completely oblivious to the direct connection between the church hierarchy’s support for political candidates whose policies often worsen poverty, he seemed very proud of the “us” group for “helping” the “them” group and boasted how the “us” group’s work was helping the “them” group “turn away from sin” (which somehow he seemed to equate with poverty).

Mass concluded with extolling all the “great work” done by Catholic Charities and he even had board members who were present at Mass stand, be recognized and congratulated with applause…”Yay us…”

The cadence of “Yay us” messages made retaining my breakfast difficult because here’s what I heard.  “Look at all those sinful poor people and ‘yay us’ because we let God use us to help those poor sinful people on the margins.  Aren’t we the best Christians?  We even got some ‘bad girls’ to kneel in piety…aren’t we awesome?”  I cannot celebrate small gestures sprinkled upon poor people because I wish poverty did not exist.  I mourn the causes of poverty and examine my role in them.  I abhor people turning other’s misfortune into their feel-good-about-myself opportunities.

In my head I thought, “What profound arrogance!  The people most in need of transformation seem to be those congratulating and promoting themselves.”  But doesn’t this type of double exploitation of the poor reflect much of U.S. Catholicism right now?  First such Catholics support candidates, policies and practices that cause poverty or exploit those living in it, and then they undertake feel-good-about-myself “ministry,” the positive impact of which dwarfs in comparison to the damage their lifestyle inflicts upon the poor.

The recessional hymn was, “Be Not Afraid,” so I decided to confront the deacon who delivered the “Yay us” messages.  I expressed my concerns about sexism, arrogance, self-promotion and the exploitation of the poor in both contributing to their poverty and using ministry to the poor as a feel-good activity.  I told him doing the latter is what we call “poverty pimping” in that poor people become an instrument for other people to feel good about themselves. 

I am tired of hollow preaching pitying and denouncing others without climbing into their wounds to truly understand their situation.  I asked the deacon if he knew the major motivator for prostitutes to enter the business.  He acknowledged it was due to poverty, trying to feed themselves or their families.  I asked him if it is a sin to feed your family.  I asked him if the sin isn’t instead causing poverty that leaves prostitution as one of few options.  I asked him why he failed to mention the men who will pay women for sex but not to improve their economic situation so they don’t need to prostitute themselves.  He had no response other than that the church can’t solve politics.

I responded by paraphrasing a quote from the late Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” 

The deacon responded that the church cannot worry about or address the political situations causing poverty.  Really?  That’s interesting.  I seem to recall we just prayed for a small army of parishioners who went to D.C. for the “March for Life.”  I thought the Michigan and US Conference of Catholic Bishops both spent a shit-ton of money towards electing and lobbying politicians based upon policies the bishops support.  I thought the Michigan bishops were working on a project to get more Catholics to engage in the civic arena.  I thought the hierarchy has been braying about the politics of “religious liberty.”  Or does the sexist Catholic hierarchy only try to influence politics that regulate women’s bodies?  Are the hierarchy just another set of poverty pimps using the poor as a way to feel good about themselves when they toss some crumbs in their direction?

I also asked the deacon how he can be so arrogant as to judge a person’s profession simply based upon their clothes.  He had no response.  I regret I did not share with him that my observation is people like politicians and priests who regularly prostitute themselves by suspending their morals to accept money from various interests tend to dress in suits and chasubles…  Was that what these women were wearing causing him to suspect they were prostitutes?

The deacon expressed an interest to further discuss my concerns but based upon his comments I suspect it is because he would like either to justify himself or “save” me.  I got no sense that he was learning from me. If I find some spare time, perhaps I will meet him and learn his motivation.   In the meantime, I will send him a link to this article and ask him to read it and a few others.  However, I do not wish to be used for yet another of his “yay me” moments.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Whatsoever you do to the least of these...



My Sunday began by reading a bizarre Facebook rant posted on the page of a “sister Sue, I’m better than you” type of uber-pious Catholic.  The post ranted against the song, “(Feed theWorld) Do They Know It’s Christmas,” a 1984 charity effort to help relieve famine induced starvation in Ethiopia that year.

I have my own concerns about some of the song’s dreary, condescending lyrics but in general support the idea of using one’s gifts to help feed starving people.  However, the rant’s author felt giving to the poor and hungry is “socialism” and “not about Jesus in the least little bit,” and ended the rant by extolling US “values and freedoms” as the salvation of the world…the adoption of which would enable poor countries to, “save themselves” and thus, “wouldn’t need us to save them…”  Keep in mind, this rant was written by a self-proclaimed “good Christian” and posted on the page of another self-proclaimed “good Christian” someone who is quick to offer fraternal correction to anyone whose opinions, words or actions deviate from her view of morality.   I dare say the rant’s “let them eat cake” tone rivalled that of Marie Antoinette.

I found myself puzzling over the historical, political, and economic ignorance about Africa, Ethiopia and even the song itself conveyed in the rant.  I guess this person believes Ethiopia should have just held elections and voted for rain.  Oh, wait, they did move to a democratic government in 1991 yet still have an average annual per capita income of about $600 USD/year.  Anyway, those concerns were dwarfed by realizing blatant selfishness and nationalism currently pass for Christianity with some folks...too many folks.

Ironically, MT 25:41-45 was part of today’s gospel reading at Mass.  Please allow me to quote what I’m sure the aforementioned folks must consider to be socialist drivel from that gospel passage:
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed…. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

The homily I heard immediately following the reading of that gospel passage helped snap some puzzle pieces into place. Did the homily discuss the gospel reading?  Nah!  The gospel passage played second fiddle to promoting a diocesan evangelization campaign. 

At this point you might still be puzzled because to you, caring for the starving might tie in very nicely with evangelizing…walking the talk.  Allow me to share a bit about the diocesan campaign.  The campaign assumes that the people sitting in the pews are the “found” sheep in the flock and those not sitting in the pews are “lost.”  Perhaps the pews have special varnish that seeps virtue into one’s body by just sitting there because the object of the evangelization game is to get more buns in the pews.  The formula for doing so is to form your evangelization plan based upon answering the following questions contained in a handy brochure:

First you “Grow” in your own faith:
1. PRAY: When in your day will you commit to pray?
2. STUDY: What can you study, read and attend to learn about your faith this week?
3. ENGAGE: How can you become more involved in your parish?
4. SERVE: What can you volunteer to do this month to help those in need?

And then “Go” and evangelize those people who are obviously inferior to you because their bun is not in the pew every Sunday:
1. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind someone in your life who is no longer coming to church. Write his/her name:
2. How will you pray for him/her?
3. How can you share your faith with him/her?
4. What could you invite him/her to?
5. How could you accompany him/her?

I continue to assert that some of the best followers of Jesus are people who did not “fall away” from the Catholic Church.  They fled at top speed as if exiting a burning building.  I also think some of the most lost souls I have met are bishops and priests as well as uber-pious laypeople.  Therefore, I do not limit my evangelization to people who do not attend Mass.  Rather, I think some of the people most in need of re-introduction to the gospel messages sit their happy asses in the pews on a pretty regular basis…sort of like this person braying like a donkey that feeding starving people is totally unrelated to Jesus.  Maybe she or the bishop will be my evangelization targets.

I also notice that in this magical evangelization formula, daily you are to pray.  Weekly you are to put your bun in the pew.  But just monthly do you need to worry about anyone needing assistance. 

For many hierarchy members, once per month would be an improvement over their current efforts to feed the poor.   Recall my former pastor is giving a new meaning to “orange is the new black…” having traded in his black clerics for an orange prison jumpsuit, serving a lengthy sentence for embezzling huge sums of parish money for his personal use…and we have another priest waiting in the wings for embezzlement trial for $5M USD.  But, I digress... In general, I raised my kids to help others on a daily if not perpetual basis...sort of always keep that radar up observing the situations of others so as to offer assistance in a sensitive way that preserves dignity…on the recipients’ schedules not on yours.

The formula also speaks of spiritual formation studies.  It has been my experience that it does not require a lot of prayer or studying theology to give someone a sandwich when they are hungry.  For example, I have provided financial assistance anonymously even to some of my worst critics when they have fallen upon hard financial times.  But, I do understand it might require extensive theological gymnastics to contort the gospel into a self-serving interpretation that justifies you not feeding the hungry.  If you intend to walk side by side with people in your respective spiritual journeys, judging not, lest ye be judged, it does not require a lot of theology study.  But, if you wish to assume a moral high ground...possibly whilst denying food to the hungry, that indeed requires extensive studying.   

It is clear the clergy, who need an audience to remain employed, promote a bias of spiritual superiority to those who merely sit in the pews even if exhibiting only little regard for people’s needs.  The clergy play to their audience.  It's easier to keep the uber-pious coming if they remain largely unchallenged and feel as though they wear a gold star of moral superiority upon their foreheads. It is my observation, that this is a case of clergy molding the laity into the same do-nothing-but-feel-superior-about-it crowd as themselves.

Thus, we logically arrive at a subset of people who claim superior mastery of Christianity over others yet overtly reject the gospel by not only turning their backs on starving people, but doing so with a flourish of self-righteous scorn, blaming the starving for their state of starvation.  I guess in their version of the gospel, it reads, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, you are right.  Do not buy into socialist propaganda and feed hungry people for they were hungry but they deserved a lecture on socio-political economics instead…”

I invite you to select your favorite lost-sheep clergy members and evangelize them.  But, don’t worry.  You needn’t insult them by giving them money lest they feel they are the recipient of socialist ill-gotten gains…receiving money from those who have more and giving it to priests who don’t have as much.  Just offer to help them once per month; maybe take them to an interesting lecture on dealing with abusive personalities or something