Thursday, October 14, 2010

I've always wondered why, & if there is a why.

"So if I'm convinced that God wants me to be a failure, is it any different than just being a failure?"
Daniel Schultz

Pastor Dan tweeted that a few minutes ago. He's flacking his new book, Changing the Script: An Authentically Faithful and Authentically Progressive Political Theology for the 21st Century. The "problem" I've had with Dan is summed up by the length of his book's title  (& perhaps also by its  intended audience). I'd like to know Dan's response to the dilemma he expresses in his tweet, because it goes to the heart of the common,  reassuring  belief that everything happens for a purpose. But it also asks us to consider, what is success & what is failure?

Yesterday, driving back from Newark, where I'd received very good news (no prostate cancer), Gina & I were discussing success & failure. The neighborhoods we  drive through - ranging from very poor to the  formerly Jewish & suburban  Weequahic neighborhood of Newark ( attractive, but gang ridden),  to some lovely & still relatively affluent middle class streets around the  former Pingry School neighborhood of Union, Hillside & Elizabeth - tend to raise the topic, as well as questions both of us have about  managing one's health care, & what health care choices really exist for the average American  when you factor in  family & job responsibilities & real income.

Gina's "boyfriend" Glen Jones tests the limits of how large a celebrity one can become without earning a lot of money. Glen is talented presence for  three different radio audiences.  I joked that if Glen became a ranting right winger, he'd be a wealthy radio star within a year. Of course, most of us who now love him would then despise him, & Glen would hate himself.   Gina is a small business owner struggling  in a poor economy for what she sells, which was not a "growth" business when the economy was stumbling along during what we mistakenly recall now as the "good" years  of the Bush II Republican Congress era.

Yesterday, I asked the urologist if he was a musician. I knew he was because the first time I was in  his office nearly a year ago I heard him mention something about playing piano.  A bit surprised, he said he used to be.   I fished a business card out of my old wallet, handed it to  him, & said if he had a chance, go online & see what I used to be.

The joke is that most of what I "used to be," I still am.  But it's possible to notice   something happened about a decade ago. What happened? Did I become convinced God wanted me to be a failure?  I already felt like a failure, had always struggled with periods of depression & feelings of worthlessness.  But I thought I ought to feel at least a little bit successful, & the measure of that was for me  - simply - looking presentable,  paying rent on a  very modest studio apt,  & driving  a reasonably reliable little car.  I thought I was doing enough to earn those.

I know how I landed in Elizabeth.  I've always wondered why, & if there is a why. If there is a why, learning to accept help from others  who want to help (& admitting that I want & need it) is part of the why.

When I was working in retail, I  found a large, invisible "underclass" of people like myself; college educated, creative, from middle class backgrounds,  suffering from treated & untreated forms of depression & bipolar disorders, as well as women with children & self-employed husbands,  working for low hourly wages to provide health insurance for their families that ate up most of their paychecks. I was not unsympathetic to smaller business employers, the franchises; they needed government help beyond "tax breaks."  But I thought the chains & big boxes could do better for their employees, & I was angry because I believed the unions, with sensitivity &  sanity, could organize these retail stores without demanding huge raises & bankrupting them.

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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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