Blue Like Jazz Chapter 7 – Grace: The Beggars’ Kingdom
Grace. I honestly don’t use that word much, or really think about it. But I do use “gracious,” so I suppose that is like the same thing, but still. HA!
This chapter really didn’t stand out a lot to me, except for the bottom half of page 84. That sole half of a page really stuck me and there are three points from it that I want to comment on.
I wonder what it would be like to use food stamps for a month. I wonder how that would feel, standing in line at the grocery store, pulling from my wallet the bright currency of poverty, feeling the probing eyes of the customers as they studied my clothes and the items in my cart: frozen pizza, name-brand milk, coffee. I would want to explain to them that I have a good job and make good money.
It’s almost funny how true that is. Have you been in that situation? In line at the store to see the person in front of you paying with “the bright currency of poverty.” Today though, the system has made it less obvious, changing from the paper stamps to the plastic debit-like cards.
Actually, I’ve been on both sides of the situation. While I wasn’t the one paying with the colorful pull-out stamps, I was the one eating the food purchased with them. Though I was young, I can still remember what it was like when my family was on food stamps.
There is that sense of shame and embarrassment. No one whips those colorful stamps out of their purse or wallet with pride. Many times one is careful to make sure to checkout when no one they might know is around.
And when I think about it today, especially as I have had the opportunity to really see how the real-world can be, now that I’m grown, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with many individual who are surviving because of the help given by our government, I wish the stigma that is associated with individuals on welfare wasn’t as it is.
Then there is the other end of things. I remember just recently being at Wal-mart and the gentleman who was in-front of me at the self-checkout lane was trying to purchase him a 20 oz. coke and he was trying to use his food stamp card and the machine jacked up (you know how those self-checkouts act up all the time). I remember feeling bad for him, because you could tell he was embarrassed that the machine messing up meant the attendant was going to have to come help him, which meant then the attendant would see he was on food stamps. And then there was someone in line behind him (me), who would be staring at him wondering what was taking so long and would then see that he had a food stamp card, and so on and so forth. I remember trying to act like I wasn’t paying attention to him because I felt his embarrassment. You know how you have those times where you can feel for people? I didn’t want to cause him anymore embarrassing feelings then he was already having. You could tell he was embarrassed.
It’s interesting to me to see how this embarrassment is an American view. Government assistance is not viewed like that in a lot of other countries. I’ll never forget the story one of my professors at UTA tells his classes each semester (I’ve had him 3 times, so I’ve heard it three times…HA!). He is from Puerto Rico, but when he first came to America and was trying to support his family and get his masters degree, he was struggling financially, and someone told him about welfare, so he went and got his family on it. He said it was GREAT! It honestly was what kept him in school because then he didn’t have to work full-time AND go to school to support his family. The thing was, was that one day he was in an interview for a job and they were talking to him and asking him about stuff and his family and money situation came up and he proudly announced that he was on welfare!
He was not aware of the stigma that Americans tie to welfare. You can’t be ashamed of your situation if you’re not aware of views tied to it. He wasn’t aware. He was able to see the good that comes from government assistance and the good that it was doing for his family, and that was what he was proud to share that fact of with everyone. He tells the story today and laughs, as he has since then learned the stigma that America has in relation to welfare, but that story just goes to show that it is an American view, and I’m sad it is that way.
[Note: I am fully aware that a lot of the stigma comes from the views of how some people DO take advantage of the system and use it as a source of income for refusal of taking responsibility of their life, but I am also fully aware that MANY who are on government assistance are only using it for a short period of time to get through a trying time. It is for those individuals that I truly wish the stigma was not there.]
I love to give charity, but I don’t want to be charity. This is why I have so much trouble with grace.
I don’t know. I love to give. And honestly, I don’t like the term of “charity” and I usually do not reference any of my giving in that sense, because the negative connotation that is tied to the individual on the other end of the giving in “charity” situations is one of I don’t appreciate. Recipients of “charity” are viewed as people who are below the “charity giver.” They are viewed as “the needy.” But honestly, we are all needy in one way or another. We all have needs that needing to be met, and we all have some needs that can’t be met without aid from someone else. None of us can do it completely on our own, so why look down on someone who is being given something to meet their need?
None of us want to be viewed as “charity.” But we all need to have our needs met, or else they wouldn’t be a need in the first place.
When I first thought about this point Mr. Miller made, I was relating it to my pride issue with asking for help. I always struggle with asking someone to help me with something. I like to think I can do everything myself. I want to do it myself, but then I want to be the first to offer to help everyone else. I love to give help, but I don’t want to be helped.
A few years ago I was listing prayer requests to a friend. As I listed my requests, I mentioned many of my friends and family but never spoke about my personal problems. My friend candidly asked me to reveal my own struggles, but I told him no, that my problems weren’t that bad.
It’s funny but, when I think about this point, I’m quickly brought back to the idea of pride. And what’s even more interesting is how I can relate grace topics to pride, just as I referenced faith last chapter to pride issues.
I don’t know. Pride is an interesting topic to me. I go through times of definite prideful struggles, and then I wonder what it is like to be in a situation of low self-esteem that many individual find them selves in and I wonder how one can feel that way. Would one with a low self-esteem not struggle with issues of pride? Is pride an arrogance thing? Or could it be tied to confidence instead? As much as I like to tell myself I’m not an arrogant individual, but a confident individual, I wonder if my pride struggles make me arrogant. Maybe pride just confuses me. HA!
Back to Miller’s point, I say all of that to say it is easy to be prideful and feel like our problems are not near as bad and “in need” of prayers as some other peoples’ problems.
[Note: All the above text in smaller italic print has been quoted directly from Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz”]