Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Phantasy Called the Middle Class

The distribution of income in the United States forty years ago was not significantly different from that of other developed countries. The power and stability of our middle class was the envy of business communities and governments worldwide.

The opportunity for an individual, through their own effort, to enter the middle-class was better than any other country in the world.

The facts today are far bleaker. To find societies as unequal as the United States currently, you must forget about all the developed nations’ economies and look to Latin America.

In addition, today a hard worker motivated to acquire middle class economic security for his family, has a better chance in almost all other developed countries including Canada and Great Britain.

In 1967 as a single mom with three kids I had a factory job that paid $5.75 an hour (I cleared about $875 a month) with monthly bonuses and full health care. My house payment was $211 a month for a reasonably nice three bedroom ranch on a three acre lot. My utility bills ran less than $100 a month and $100 a month fed my kids, who were all big eaters. House maintenance, car payments, car maintenance and insurance, medicine, school supplies and clothing pretty much ate up the rest.

Our vacations were spent camping at one of the many Federal parks les than a day’s drive away. The fee was $2.00 a night with all the swimming, boating, hiking etc. free ..bathrooms, showers and water supplied free.

My budget was tight..and it was close..

But I didn’t know how lucky I was!

In 2007 factory jobs were gone..replaced by jobs offered by Walmart, McDonald’s, QuickTrip, truck stops, etc. and the local nursing home. Office workers’ and service workers’salaries had quickly dropped in direct correlation with the destruction of the unions in the 1980’s. Although not heavily unionized themselves, they had benefited from the wage floor gained by the unions for their own workers. Office workers and service workers now joined the ranks of the minimum wage worker.

A worker, with or without a family, was looking at the same $5.75 an hour, (minimum wage had stagnated through the Bush W era), health insurance costs of $500-$700 a month, minimal housing at $500 amonth, $500 a month to keep a car to get to work, $2-$3 a gallon gas, $200 a month utility bills.. Even a two-wage earner household bringing home $1800 a month..or the lucky individual who had escaped the minimum wage trap and earned $10-$12 an hour..(they would be clearing about $1400 a month) would still be having an impossible struggle.

And that vacation at the Lake? Forget that! Camping rental the last time I checked was $15 a night. Water, shower and toilet services had been suspended at many locations and fees instated for some services formerly provided. Fifteen dollars plus a night may still sound cheap if you are retired on a 1970’s retirement benefit or in the top earner bracket but when you’re living on $1400 a month with a family it’s not so cheap.

Something is terribly wrong here. When workers no longer have any hope of attaining the security of the middle class..when the wealth of our country no longer goes to those who work.. something is terribly wrong.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas-The Hope and Light of the World

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke2:7

2010 years ago this winter a teenage mother, watched over by her middle-aged husband and warmed by the breath of the cattle of the fields, gave the world Christianity.

To a world where slavery, poverty, suffering and ignorance were the norm, a small, a very small, glimpse of light..a glimmer of hope, pulsated in the heart of humanity.

Rumors concerning this particular child had been circulating long before the humble birth. Men long distances away from that miserable little barn, who had spent their lives studying the prophesies of the world’s great religions of the day and the configurations of the heavenly bodies they believed to be set in motion by “the creator of all”, were convinced that something momentous had happened and set out to observe and record the event. Heads of state surreptitiously made their way to the grass-filled manger and knelt by the tiny child.

It is said that a sword pierced the young mother’s heart upon his birth as the knowledge of his true life and purpose had been revealed to her.

Christianity, cursed by the viciousness, greed and intolerance within the human family and blessed by the undying belief in the possibility of goodness, changed the world.

The new religion, made only stronger by the persecutions of those whose interests were immeasurably threatened by its existence, spread west and north across Europe and east into Central Asia, constantly changing yet ever the same. Great battles were fought..many suffered and died..over seemingly small and insignificant theological points that we now accept without question.

Although not a military one, the first and most significant battle within the church, well chronicled in the New Testament, is Paul’s assertion that salvation was for ALL people. The failure of Paul to win his case would have strangled the new religion and delegated it to just another sect, among many sects, within the Jewish community.

Western Medieval Europe, ravaged by war and famine,settled into a few tenuously organized and fragilely constructed governmental bodies that found they had far less need for expensively maintained standing armies that had been in place for generations. Not to mention the depredations and pillaging committed by a bored and rapacious population of young men with very narrow skills. Thus was born the Crusades. They served two purposes. The troublesome armies were let loose in other neighborhoods and much wealth and loot was brought home.

And so, through the years, man’s interpretation of Christianity has swayed and morphed between sanctity and savagery. The world was flat. The world revolved around the sun. Fire at the stake purged unbelievers. Women were ordained by law to “suffer” child birth and die if necessary without interference from the ungodly measures of science. Disabilities were the result of sin. Poverty was an affliction placed there by a loving God and not to be tampered with. Were the poor not well beloved by the Lord and therefore more blessed than the pitiful wealthy?

War is waged. Populations are ravaged and destroyed. Bodies desecrated, children exploited. In the name of Peace and Love.

Slavery and its degradations was embraced and upheld by the church for centuries. Birth control is still anathema within some Christian communities. Even here, in this multi-blessed country that we live in, a large segment of the Christian population truly and genuinely believes that the rewards of the world should only rightly be held by those of the same race or gender or sexual orientation or religion as themselves.

Yet that small light brought forth in those meager circumstances 2010 years ago, often dim, flickering frighteningly, smudged by the excrement of evil alive and well, still glows. It ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes. Its devotees struggle and stumble. Yet it glows.

Who has not stood alone in some dark hour and cried out. “I believe. Oh Lord help Thou my unbelief.” ?

And the breath from that crying out causes that feeble glimmer to leap into light again and we are sustained for another hour..another day.

Because of that child.. The Christ