Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hunting Without a Tribe


I'll be honest. Money's tight. It is for many of us, but in our culture, we independent Americans don't like to talk about it. Kings and queens of the world, we are, and so we fake it. I'm so sick of faking it. I want to be real. Not asking for any handouts, but I think by being honest, some others, hopefully, will find encouragement.

Lots written on the national debt and the record setting levels of consumer debt. Our country, our own wallets: America and Americans are afflicted.

Recently I read a book called Affluenza. It's been out a few years, and it doesn't talk about anything that anybody does not know: Much of the debt in this country is because people are buying too much stuff, being materialistic, etc.

But there's another side to it, I'm convinced. It's not always about over-consuming. Sometimes it's the bare necessities. Even in the face of doing without, debt can mount. I want to talk about the underbelly of this debt problem from the side of the tracks that no one wants to be on (unless they are being "missional", that is). And the underbelly of the problem is this: We are a nation of people who are each of us "hunting without a tribe", to use caveman terms. Self sufficiency is expected of each of us, of each household.

When you grow up poor in the inner city, you yourself might make it through college but you are not starting your adult life out at the same place as a college graduate who did not grow up poor. You are starting out deep in debt.

Debt begets more debt. That is one angle of the problem. Yes, you can get your college degree. Yes, you can be that professional. But money is already tight at a time when other kids are getting help from mom and dad in the form of a car, or a townhouse, or whatnot, and you are on your own. Just the necessites. Debt begets more debt. The used car has to be repaired. Things get tighter. Student loans are due.

You know where I'm going with this.

You really can't get out of the inner city in one generation, especially when you are hunting without a tribe.

In so many little ways, things are stacked against you. Perhaps your teeth aren't quite as straight (perhaps?) as the other guy being interviewed for the same job, because his parents bought him braces and yours couldn't. Does it make a difference in how much you can bring in? In whether you get the job? I don't know. They say looks really matter. It probably does. Little things. It feels like it does. And watching your own kids grow you watch their teeth and pray to God they are straight.

Hunting without a tribe, living without a support system, you really don't get as far. When you don't have someone in your circle of friends who is handy, willing to help you out in exchange for dinner, or just because you are friends, or in exchange for whatever else you yourself are good at and can give, what ends up happening: Small things cost money. When there's no cushion to fall back on, debt piles up because life happens and life happens much more often when you are by necessity buying used or cheaper goods. A vicious cycle.

And it does no good to talk about the people in the mud huts cooking on cow patties on the other side of the world, because that's like comparing apples and kumquats. Yes, economies can be compared and one is poorer than the other, but there is also validity in saying that within the economy one finds oneself, if the necessities of life are hard to come by, or can't be come by without going into debt (like the ability to cook food, have a working oven for instance), then there is a level of poverty there. See what I'm saying? The lady in africa who has a cow patty fueled oven is better off than I am if my oven is broken and I can't afford to get it fixed.

We are so stinkin' dependent of STUFF to keep our lives running smoothly, machines to meet our needs and we can't just step outside of that. This is the economy in which we find ourselves. And it is burdensome.

I don't wish to minimize the suffering on the other side of the world, though, either. How do I even express all this rationally without doing so?

Health problems also exacerbate the reality of hunting without a tribe. Your needs are different than the usual. The needs of your family are different...special. How I hate that term "special needs". Because special is positive term and it is a lie. Special needs really means needy. Things cost more, are harder, take more energy and more resources on every level: emotional, physically, financially...all of it. How special! Awwww, warm fuzzies. And because of the politically correct bullshit of a term like "special needs" the impact is lessened and you are on your own in so many ways, even within understanding communities.

Again, not to minimize the suffering of, say, AIDS victims in Africa. God have mercy. It doesn't even compare. Those problems need to be addressed globally while at the same time these realities need to be addressed locally. And it seems like a Church thing to do both.

And I see, looking around me here in "da hood" that health problems and poverty go hand in hand. Its sort of the chicken or the egg question. Which comes fist? Yes. Poor health affects your finances. Period. We are blessed to have health insurance, but I know what it's like not to have it, and to pray every time your kid climbs a tree that there's no broken bones because a trip to the ER would break you. When you have poor health, it costs more. I've seen friends with no health insurance whose medical bills practically send them to the poor house. Hunting without a tribe.

So how do we, as Christians, learn to bear one another's burdens? How do we hold each other? I stem from such an individualistic culture, as an American, that I can hardly answer this question. As a Christian, the filters of my eyes tend to screen out Scripture passages that speak of community, and when I do see them, I long for that in a real and practical way while being clueless as to how I can be community to another. We are acculturated; in our parishes, in our relationships, friendships. You go so far, and no further, mostly. And I catch glimpses of community in the goodness of my brothers and sisters in Christ, meals for the new mothers, for those very ill, baby clothes exchanges, hand-me-down clothing, occasional sharing of resources in unexpected ways. Childcare exchange. Community. Proximity. A tribe. Twenty miles away.

Where's my tribe?

Photo

5 comments:

Joyful Days said...

Sometimes you can have the health insurance and you still pray your brains out because if you use it, you can get labeled with a "pre-existing condition." Or you can have it like we do, which means still not using it, but having it for the "disaster" that insurance will keep from totally ruining you.

We've lived with poor choices and have slooooooooooooowly, so slow it makes your eyeballs hurt, made a little progress each year.

My neighbor (a single mom) sometimes calls herself my husband's other wife, when she knocks on the door and asks for help. My other neighbor kept the yard mowed for me when he knew my husband was out of town and I wasn't doing well. Without asking if I needed it. Just did it. That is when you start to feel a little tribe. Or my friend who is debt up to her ears, when she heard of my husband's job loss at the beginning of the year offered to bring us some groceries. She's an hour away. Tribe.

I'm sick of faking it too. I grew up with faking everything. My parents are still faking things. I'll shut up now. I'm on a rant. OOooops.

(((Alana)))

Tamara said...

I just read "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," which discusses some of these issues and how they intertwine. I'd love your input on it.

Alana said...

I'll have to get that through the library and they currently have all their copies checked out.

Xenia Kathryn said...

I'm just glad I rent. Seriously, it takes a lot of the burden off when it comes to appliances. Equity shmequity. ;)

Great post Alana! I wish I had some good answers...

Jasmine said...

Alana,

I really related to this post. I find myself suffering with the same questions, except I am 1000 miles away from family, and do not have any friends here yet. Money is very tight on my end as well. I have to buy medicine for the thyroid condition, but deciding between that and other necessities is daunting. When we get help from a food bank or for clothing, it is simultaneously touching that someone cares, but bitter to be in the position of putting your hands out, and it is hard to accept that beggars can't be choosers when your doctor prescribes the high protein lifestyle, and most of what you are given is bread and cake. I've taken to starting writing letters to my daughters, begging them to pursue their educations and be very discerning with potential husbands. They can't even read yet, but right now, in between debating enrolling in classes for my degree and waiting to see about financial aid and food stamps, trying unsuccessfully to get a job, planning a yard sale out of desperation for a dryer that works, and trying to decide whether or not to go into debt appealing my divorce because of financial fraud, it seems like the most effective thing I can do. Sigh...