Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Class, culture, and love. And good journalism.

This morning I got lost in a powerful piece of journalism that is both profound and horrifying. In a Plain Dealer (Cleveland) issue, Joanna Connors tells in raw prose the story of her rape. If the article stopped there, it would be sad, terrible, and perhaps a bit cathartic, but it doesn't stop there. It's really a story about her search for the meaning of it all--who her assailant was, why, and what the intersection of their lives reflects in American (and human) society.

The whole story is long, and several parts of it brought me to tears, but the following passage from is one of the most poignant. The writer had learned that her assailant died in prison, and she tracked down his sister to meet her. She had just explained who she was and why she was looking for him, and the sister reacted:
"I know what rape is," she finally said. "I was raped myself. But I asked for it, because I was on drugs and I was prostituting. It was just me, being stupid."

She said she never reported it to the police because, hey, what the hell, you're prostituting, what do you think you're supposed to get? Besides, the first time, the rapist was a white guy, and she knew the cops would never go after a white guy for raping a black prostitute. And the second time, she was trying to get crack.

"I asked for it," she said.

It was like a script from the hot-line training I'd done at the Rape Crisis Center.

"No, Charlene," I said. "You didn't ask for it. It was not your fault."

She shook her head, tears rolling down her face. "If I hadn't of been so stupid," she said.

"You know, that's what I was saying to myself for 20 years," I said.

She wiped her tears.

"Yeah, but it's different," she said. "I mean, you had a good job, and my brother had no right to do that to you."

I knew what she was saying: that I was not a drug addict or prostitute, and she was, so she deserved what happened and I did not.

But I also heard what went unspoken: I was white, I had money, I had an education, I had parents who did not hit me.

I had all the things Charlene had not had in her life. She was used to being a victim. It was her world. It was not my world.

"Charlene," I said. "Those guys had no right to do what they did to you, either."

She wiped at her tears again.

"It's terrifying," she said. "Especially when you think they're going to kill you."

"I know."

This is probably going to sound like a non-sequitur, but I'm going to say it anyway (because it's my blog, that's why): This is why Christians need to care, and care actively, about social poverty. They are the only ones who can really get it. I'm going to stereotype some political terms, and I know there are exceptions and nuances, but the terms are handy and I can't think of a way around it that's not unwieldy, so here goes:

Liberals do care about poor people. For that I applaud them. But they do so for the wrong reason. They help poor people because they believe that they, as people, have human dignity and are thus deserving of help. I'll accept everything in that sentence up to the "and." They do not deserve help. Many people who grew up poor do not make stupid financial decisions, work hard, and do not commit crimes. Ultimately people are responsible for their actions, and poor people are no exception. To say otherwise would be grossly disrespectful of their human will and moral autonomy.

Conservatives frequently don't care about poor people for just that reason. If people are in trouble, it's often their own fault and we are under no obligation to help them. And they are right. Sort of.

But here's what they miss: There is only one thing separating "us" from "them." Grace. We mess up too. Hopefully we mess up in less drastic (and criminal) ways, but we mess up. Had we harder lives and less fortunate backgrounds, it is possible (and statistically likely) we'd mess up more. That doesn't mean we should excuse the messing up, big or small. But it does mean we should be compassionate because we, of all people, should understand grace more profoundly than anyone else, right? We've tasted it, benefited from it. It is only right that we should extend it. We don't help people because they deserve it; if they deserved it it wouldn't be grace. There is inherent good in reflecting the qualities of God: We have been filled with grace, and His grace in us should not help but overflow. Being tightfisted with grace raises a serious question about whether we have really understood it--or received it.

HT to Ryan for the article. I highly recommend reading it, but do so only when you have some time and emotional energy to spend on it. It's well worth it.

Friday, May 02, 2008


I need a Neil Diamond LP. Do they even make those?

More on Carbon Footprints

Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller

in which Africa is noticed

Wondermark by David Malki