On Shame

The two main part of speech are nouns and verbs.  Nouns are people, places and things, and verbs are actions – things we do.  Shame is a word that can be both a noun and a verb.  It can be a thing or an action.

Have you ever felt ashamed? That feeling you get when you know you’ve done something wrong. That feeling that makes you want to crawl into yourself and disappear. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes from within because it helps keep us in check. Hopefully, it keeps us from hurting others too much. Shame as a feeling is a noun. It has substance and purpose. It is a thing. As a noun it means embarrassment or discomfort.

Shame as a verb means to humiliate, to mortify. Recently, shaming has become a popular thing. We fat shame, slut shame, and poor shame.  We humiliate and mortify each other. For what? To make ourselves morally superior? To show how “Christian” we are?

What got me thinking about shame are graphics like these:

They get shared on our Facebook pages and people don’t really think about how they might affect others. Think about it. Think about how it feels to open up your Facebook news feed and see this stuff if you are a person who, even though you try your best, can’t feed your family without food stamps.  You know, if your one of the more than half of people on food stamps who work.  How do you think it feels to the guy who searches everyday for a job or the man who worked in a factory for 20 years only to be replaced by a computer?  How does our shaming help those people? What does it do?

Seeing poverty as a moral problem is a practice older than the United States.  I’ve been doing a research paper on poverty in Early America and I find that our views today on poverty haven’t changed much in the last 250 years.  (For more on my views about poverty, feel free to read this)  People say that if someone is poor, it must be because of sin or something else of their own doing. You know what? People use to say the same thing about illness. Would you post about cancer or ALS being the sufferers own fault? No, people don’t do that because we know better now. We know that illness isn’t a moral issue it’s a physical issue. We now know that mental illness isn’t caused by demons. We need to apply this thinking to poverty as well. Considering that the poorest parts of this nation are in the Bible Belt which has the highest rate of church attendance and the most people claiming to be Christians, it seems odd that poverty would be a morality problem.

But the Bible says…….
Yes, the Bible says lots of things that can be taken completely out of context.  My favorite is “work or you shouldn’t eat.”  Have you ever looked at the rest of that chapter? Paul is reminding people that just because the Lord was going to return quickly, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our normal everyday things until He does.  The proverbs, written by the son of a king who never wanted or worked for anything, are used to shame people.  Do you know what else the Bible says about the poor?

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.

I could keep going, but I’m sure if you can find verses condemning the poor, you can find more that say to help them.

The Bible also has a lot to say about how we speak to others…

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

See, when we shame others for having less than us, we are putting ourselves above them. We are not following the example Christ gave us.  Christ, above all, was humble. He lowered himself because he knew that humility leads to honor.  As Christians, we are to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”

So, does “shaming” have a place?  When should we shame others? We should call attention to people who harm others. We should shame the rapist. We should shame the racist. We should shame those who hurt children and animals. We should shame those who oppress the poor. Those people need to be made aware that we will not stand by and let them hurt others. We should always be a voice against those who do harm.

Friends, we can stop hurting others with our words. We have control over what we say to and about others. We choose  everyday what kind of person we are going to be. Can we not just choose  to be kind, compassionate, and humble? Can we choose words that build people up – not tear them down? Can we choose to help and not hurt? If we all choose to not let any harmful words pass through our lips or on to our Facebook pages, how much better would this world be?

Before you post things, think about everyone who sees your Facebook page? Is anyone struggling to make ends meet? I’m talking about people you know; your family, friends, people you go to church with. Has anyone been laid off and is desperately searching for a job? Think about them when you post things. Try to put yourselves in their shoes before you shame them, before you mortify them, before you humiliate them. Try to see things from the perspective of those hearing what you say or reading what you post. Maybe then the world will become a little bit more kind.

I’ll leave you with this…

love-pic

On Being Poor

In 1833, publisher and economist Mathew Carey wrote a series of essays titled “Appeal to the Wealthy of the Land, Ladies as Well as Gentlemen, on the Character, Conduct, Situation, and Prospects of Those Whose Sole Dependence for Subsistence Is on the Labor of Their Hands.”  He dedicated this pamphlet “as a small mark of approbation of their Liberality, humanity, and fostering care, directed towards the relief of a large, oppressed, and suffering class of females, whose case often presents scenes of distress, to which nothing but ocular demonstration could secure credit, in a country far more prosperous than any other portion of the habitable globe.”  Wow! That’s a mouth full for sure, but in all of those fancy words, Mr. Carey made a keen observation – people in America, this new country full of opportunity and prosperity, were too poor.  Sadly, they still are.

I have been firmly in the middle class ever since striking it out on my own.  I’m one of the lucky people that was able to get out of abject poverty.  As an adult, I’ve never worried about where I would sleep and I’ve never gone hungry.  I’ve always had the ability to pack up my things and move when the mood struck and that often meant crashing on couches and spare rooms until I figured out where the next road would take me.  Currently, I could decide to move to a dozen different states and about five countries without much planning because I’ve got a friend or two who would accept me with open arms.  Mobility is one of the marks of the middle class; the ability to change, hopefully for the better, your situation.   People who live in poverty and only know others who are in the same situation don’t have that ability.  They are stuck in whatever situation they are in with no power to change it.

As I mentioned earlier, 1833 America had the same problem as 2016 America — once a person became poor, by birth or circumstances, they usually stayed that way.  Mr. Carey was one of the few people of his time who believed that it was everyone’s responsibility to try solve the poverty problem – through direct assistance and fair labor practices. (Sound familiar?).

In his pamphlet, he mentions 4 arguments that the middle and upper classes gave against helping the poor.
1. That every man, woman, and grown child (over 8), able and willing to work may find employment.
2. That the poor, by industry, prudence, and economy, may at all times support themselves comfortably, without depending on charitable aid, from said employment.
3. That their sufferings and distresses chiefly, if not wholly, arise from their idleness, their dissipation (waste), and their extravagance.
4. That taxes for the support of the poor, and aid afforded them by charitable individuals, or benevolent societies, are harmful, as, by encouraging the poor to depend on them, they foster their idleness and improvidence, and thus produce, or at least increase, the poverty and distress they are intended to relieve.

Does that list sound familiar?  Of course we no longer expect 8 year-old children to work    ( 16 is apparently a good age to start supporting the family), but the rest certainly seem to still fit in with America’s view of the poor.  How many times have you heard people say that the poor are just lazy? What about wasteful? How about drunks and drug addicts?  According to The Kairos Center, 48% of the US population are considered low income or impoverished.  That means one out of every two people have very uncertain futures.

While 48% of the population don’t, or barely, make enough to live off of, only 23% of the population receives some form of public assistance.  What’s even more shocking is that 56% of those recipients are employed.  That’s over half! That means that almost 20% of American workers don’t make enough to fully support themselves.  The “lazy” argument doesn’t really hold up, does it (I’m talking to you GOP)?

“They’re spending it on drugs” you say.  Well, actually not so much.  A few states have tried implementing drug testing programs for recipients.  It turns out that these states wasted tons of money for a statistically insignificant amount of positive results.  So, no they’re not a bunch of drug addicts.  “But, they’ll become dependent on the system.” Again, no.  Over half of all people who receive assistance come off of the programs within 2 years.  People don’t want to “live off of the system”.

I can hear you asking me what the problem is then.  Its the same thing it was in 1833.  Wages.  Mr. Carey lays it all out.  In 1833 a day laborer, with his wife and children all working, could expect to make $156 per year.  That same laborer could expect his expenses to be $166.21 per that same year.  That left a $10.21 deficit if all of them were able to work 365 days a year – these were not 40 hour work weeks either; such luxuries didn’t exist.  Today, if a person making minimum wage works 40 hours a week 52 weeks a year, he or she will make $15,080 a year.  Again this is assuming that they take no days off ever.  If their rent is $500 a month, which is a low ball number for most areas, then almost half of their income is almost gone and that doesn’t even count what they pay for utilities.  Can you see where I’m going here?  They are in the same situation as laborers almost 200 years ago.  How do we fix this?  Getting a higher paying job isn’t the answer because, according to the jobs report, 60% of all jobs being created pay minimum wage.

I find myself asking this question a lot, but how is this still okay?  How can we, as a nation, decide that almost half of all Americans are not deserving of financial security.  We have to either raise the minimum wage or expand assistance programs.  Period.  We can’t continue to pretend there is “nothing we can do.”  We can fight poverty with legislation.  We can raise the minimum wage.  We can implement a system of Universal Healthcare.  We can offer assistance for childcare.  We can make getting a college education more affordable.  There IS a lot we can do.  We just seem think that some people are more worthy than others and that everyone should be able to make it on their own no matter what the wages are.  Well America, you’re wrong and in the words of Mathew Carey, “This is one of those decisive facts which ought to silence unnecessary objections for ever on this important subject” – we are letting down 48% of the population and its not okay.

If you disagree with me, check out what the Department of Labor has to say on what will happen to our economy if we raise the minimum wage.