I See Rich People. They Talk to Me. . .

The mouse on my computer broke. So now I’m back to writing on my kindle. Which is a marvelous bit of technology, but it has all sorts of quirks which can easily double the time it takes for me to do a post. And the spacebar for the keyboard is gimpy. But since I don’t even have money to replace the mouse, I’ll just have to limp along the best I can.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately that when I finally break free of all these obstacles, I’ll astound everyone. It’s like I’ve been trying to play the game wearing weights. If I could just get free and have a fully functioning computer, a good internet connection and a few hours a day without children, well, you just won’t believe what I can do.

As I was contemplating the rather unpleasant task of writing on my kindle (something I did exclusively for at least six months), it occurred to me that this is why we hear so much more from rich people than anyone else. If you’re rich, you can grab a few hours which you would otherwise have spent playing Sugar Crush and write something thoughtful on your nice computer without any real delays or impediments. Or maybe you’re more of a take my Macbook to Starbucks to write sort of writer.

But when you’re not rich, you have to type out the word six because the six key doesn’t work any more. And putting in a hyperlink requires the sort of planning skills normally reserved for major military operations. It’s like driving one of those cars that you have to roll down the window to open the door. Everything’s just much more work when you don’t have access to resources.

And having crappy, unreliable technology is a first world problem. Imagine what it took for those women in Nigeria to get the world’s attention when their girls were taken! It’s really no mystery as to why people who are powerful and influential are usually white American men. It’s not that every white American man has resources. It’s just that nearly everyone who has resources is a white American man. Having resources removes so many obstacles that what is impossible for other people is possible for them. And that is a big part of our problem.

Having resources doesn’t necessarily make the path to sucess a clear and easy one. You still have to work harder and be smarter and overcome more than everyone else in order to acheive great things. I mean, Paris Hilton’s family says she works very hard and I believe them. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she puts in sixty hour work weeks. The thing is that my husband has put in sixty hour work weeks pretty routinely for nearly 20 years. And we can’t even afford to buy a mouse.

(The first person to ask why I don’t get a job wins the chance to find me a job with hours that work for our family, arrange the care of our kids by someone who is able to provide high caliber, on demand tutoring, counseling, and training in the ways of the world customized to each child’s needs, obtain transportation, clothing, housekeeping, cooking and taxi services to make that all happen. Good luck. Let me know when you get that all worked out.)

Aside from being bullshit, the connection between who has the existing resources and who gets seen and heard and rewarded is more sinister than we realize. You know the proverbial “they” we always hear about? The ones who tell us what other people think of us and what’s normal and what’s a problem and what’s expected of us and what failure looks like? Sometimes people will joke and say, “who is this ‘they’ you keep talking about?” Well, the answer to that is simple. It’s rich people. Or at least people who were able to overcome any obstacles they faced. Which is easier to do when your biggest obstacle is laziness rather than having to coordinate schedules with 4 different people who can watch your kid for as close to free as possible so you can deal with your job’s unpredictable schedule.

So, what happens when rich people get to be the people that everyone hears in the background of their lives? Well, they tell us what the world looks like from the vantage point of someone who is rich. And from that vantage point, it looks like everyone’s lazy and unwilling to work hard to overcome obstacles. It looks like people should know better than to go out in public dressed like that. It looks like masses of men are not raising their children because they’re too busy travelling from gang bang to gang bang and doing drugs. It looks like everything is just fine, if only all these people would get their acts together. Or, probably even worse, it looks like there are all these people out there who just need some smart, sucessful person like me to show them the way.

Consider the way we talk about money in public. Seventy Five percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. (My five key’s broken too.) When Seventy Five percent of people share in the same experience, we have a word for that. Normal. Unless you are rich, then the word is “alarming” or “special interest story”. (OK, that’s more than one word. Work with me here.)

Given that it is normal for people to live paycheck to paycheck, you would think that we’d read and hear lots of stories filled with advice for how to avoid disaster while living paycheck to paycheck. Advice for dealing with past due bills. An analysis of whether it’s better to make payment arrangements with a utility company or to just pay as much as you can when you can and hope for the best. An ettiquette guide for asking friends and families for money when you get in a really tough spot.

Any of those would be really useful topics to cover in a society where 3/4ths of your potential audience is flying without a safety net. But I’ve never read or heard any of these things being discussed in public. On the few occassions that living pay check to pay check comes up, it is always treated as a solvable problem requiring better planning, awareness and discipline. Because when you’re rich, that’s all it takes to build your own safety net.

But should I ever have so much money that I can put some aside to simply sit and grow, “they” have provided me with a plethora of information regarding those sorts of problems. I can tell you if the stock market is up or down. I can tell you what your options are for saving for your child’s college costs. I have listened to detailed discussions of the whether to pay down credit cards first or shore up your Roth IRA first. If I’m ever rich, I’ll totally know what to do with my money. But since I’m not, I had to learn the hard way that when possible, you should avoid entering into a payment agreement with a utility company.

This problem is even more acute in the church. We know that people who attend church are wealthier than average. I used to want to believe that this is because going to church inculcates habits and creates support systems that lead to success. Which they sometimes do. But the further down the rabbit hole I go, the more I realize that the higher wealth levels of those who go to church probably comes from the fact that churches are wildly uncomfortable places for struggling people to be. (Yes, there are churches which deal with hurting people well. But we’re all adults here. Let’s not pretend that they are the norm.)

And it’s not just money that’s a problem. It’s life experience. Back in college when I was 21, pregnant, homeless, alone, with everything I worked for disappearing before my eyes and with no idea what to do next, my best friend and I had a permanent falling out. It was probably inevitable, but the conversation that did us in took place when I wondered where God was and why he wasn’t doing anything to help. She responded by telling me a story about how once she had experienced a hour long delay trying to reach a dying friend and how she had feared she wouldn’t make it in time. But she did.

“I know exactly how it feels to be in that place. But you have to trust that God will work it all out. It’s all part of his plan,” she told me.

I sat there dumbfounded for a moment before blurting out, “I don’t care how desperate you were for an hour. I don’t care if it had lasted for two hours or a day or a week or if you hadn’t even gotten there in time. That’s hard, but it’s not remotely close to watching your life being destroyed before your life and being helpless to stop it. And if this is God’s plan for me, he can take it and shove it up his ass. It’s a bullshit plan.”

She was so offended that she stopped taking or returning my phone calls after that.

You see, like the media, the church is mostly made up of rich people. No, not the sort of people who have mansions and servants. Just the sort of people who haven’t ever met an obstacle they weren’t able to overcome. Or who never experienced an abyss of despair so deep and wide, it seemed entirely possible that it might have no bottom and no end. And these are the people whose voices get heard. The “they” we are always referencing.

This is yet another example why Jesus sought out the poor and marginalized and tells us to do likewise. There is this whole level of human experience that “they” view as exceptional when in fact, it is normal. Jesus was sent to humanity and most of humanity was poor, marginalized, in pain and struggling. Jesus refused to engage the exceptional people who thought they could set the standards that all people had to live by. Instead he went right to the normal, suffering people and brought healing and forgiveness.

When only those who have resources get heard, it destroys any concept of what normal is. What “they” say becomes the standard by which normal is measured. Due to their limited experiences, “they” think that all it takes to overcome is determination, hard work, smarts, perseverance and a vision. Except there are farmers in India who will work themselves to death and never own a pair of shoes. And right now there’s a mom juggling three part time jobs with varying schedules, while using public transportation and making sure her kids do their homework who is on food stamps. What “they” say represents a small part of the story.

Anyhow, I don’t particularly have any answers. Except to keep plowing through and speaking my truth. But what I do want every person reading this to remember the next time the proverbial “they” comes to mind, you can just substitute “rich people”. Because that’s who always does the talking.

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