Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Musings: on charity

Faith.  Hope. Charity.  All are key Christian traits.  

Sure. 

But what is charity?  Is it a meal when someone's hungry, clothing when theirs is thread-bare? Money thrown at the problem?  

If that was all, then we wouldn't need to worry--welfare throws money at the problem all the damn time.  However, it's done nothing but make things worse.  

What is charity, then, if not a handout?  

Say you're walking along, and you find a deep, deep hole, with somebody at the bottom, yelling for help.  How do you help them?  Do you make them comfortable in their hole? Toss down food, water, blankets?  Maybe a pillow or two?  No.  You pull them out.  You get a rope or get a ladder and toss it down to them, help them climb.  

Throwing money at the problem is proving to do nothing but make them content enough to not climb out.  No, not totally content, but content enough that it seems better to stay put than to struggle.  

So, how do we do that?  How can we, as a group, help people?  

The hard truth of the matter is that you can't help some of them.  They don't want help, they want to lay in their hole.  They just want a minimum of comfort while they do.  

As for the rest...it's even harder.  You have to get to know them.  Without knowing who they are, you can't know what they need.  You can't know what they're struggling with that put them in the hole to start with.  You can't help someone who wants help if they're addicts by just pulling them out of the hole--they'll just fall back the second you let go.  And you don't know if that's what put them in the hole if you don't know them.  

Some people that want out of poverty need help with addiction, yes.  Some need help with other things: learning to budget, learning to do some things for themselves to free up some of what income they have, learning to feed themselves--dear God, do you know how expensive it is when you can't cook???  

A lot of us have forgotten that we have to know people to be able to help them.  

Before I was born--hell, before my mother was born--that used to be the responsibility of the church communities.  They'd pitch in and help: they took care of widows, orphans, helped those injured in their work (because almost all the jobs were heavy, dirty, dangerous work)...they knew their people, and knew who needed the hand up, and who needed support through a rough spot with a few months of handouts.  They knew who wanted out, they knew how they fell in the hole to start with...

...and they knew who were just lazy bastards that weren't worth trying to help, because they wanted the minimum for comfort in their holes, not help out.  They'd help their kids, but not them.  

We need to do that again.  We need to build community.  We need to be open, we need to pull people in.  We need to get to know each other.  

Because without that, all we can do is offer handouts and hope for the best.  

That way, though, leads to apples and sandwiches abandoned on street corners.  I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about.  

And I'm tired of trying to help and getting my hand slapped for offering because I'm offering help instead of money. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Musings: on poverty

Other Half and I attended a...well, a class, of sorts...at our church last night.*  The class was the first of a six week series on poverty, charity, and how the church should participate.  Honestly, I wasn't expecting a lot, but it triggered a couple of thought cascades with a couple of the questions. 

First question: What is poverty? 

The answer the group came to was...wrong.  "A persistent, day-to-day lack of resources" isn't  poverty.  That's being broke in a big way.  But it can turn into poverty in a twitch. 

The pastor suggested it was a sense of shame, powerlessness, helplessness, of being invisible.  Again, no.  Those people aren't there yet.  Those feelings of shame?  Poverty isn't that.  

So, what is poverty?  

It's a series of habits and patterns of thought that keep people broke.  People who are broke can slide into true poverty scarily easy: all they have to do is apply for government help. 

Welfare/food stamps are a nasty fucking trap.  Regan was entirely correct when he said the scariest words in the English language were "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."  No.  They aren't.  They're there to remove your agency and your choices.  They're there to take control of your life by miring you into poverty. 

I said poverty was a series of habits and patterns of thought.  And that government "charity" systems force people into those patterns, but I haven't defined what they are.  

First, people get so mired in today that they don't think about tomorrow.  This is something that starts to take shape when someone goes broke.  It's like addiction: all the addict thinks about is where their next hit is going to come from, but the broke person's worried about paying the next bill.  And then...then, they start making choices that look stupid from the outside (and, frankly, are stupid)--"There's money, so I'm going to get this small thing I want."  Dumb, but human.  Broke can't afford wants, but society's trained people to believe they should prioritize wants to be happy.  But that money could have/should have gone on needs only.  Because that couple dollars spent on a soda? That five dropped at Starbucks for a coffee?  Might have been the difference between being able to pay the next bill, or...not.  

This is one of the forks that separate the person that's broke from the person sliding into poverty.  The broke person looks for ways out.  Might start regretting getting that little stupid thing that is already gone.  Will be focused on "up and out." The broke person probably does feel shame. The person about to slide into poverty...sits down in a flood of self pity. And stops feeling shame, and starts feeling entitled to more.  

And...they complain.  They complain about not being able to afford things (news flash: most people can't afford everything they want).  They complain about always being broke.  And they start looking around for how to get money.  Not how to make money, how to get their hands on money.  

Broke isn't lazy; poor is.  Broke isn't characterized by an over-developed sense of entitlement; poor is.  

Broke isn't scared of bettering themselves.  Poor is.  

Because those who become mired in poverty?  The ones complaining about never having enough, never getting what they want?  The ones saying they deserve more?  

They apply for welfare.  And often get it.  

Welfare, as I've said before, is a trap.  A nasty, pernicious trap.  Sure, they hand out money...but only a little bit.  And there are strings and rules attached.  First string: you have to stay poor.  You can't get an income stream going--or they remove the money they give you, and tax the income stream.  And new income streams are rarely sufficient to needs.  And then when taxes are added in...they were getting more via their welfare checks.  Second string: your kids are not allowed to have jobs without getting the household check cut off by the gross amount.  And yes, they track.  I can't swear to it, but I am convinced that this is to make it a generational thing--if the kids don't develop a habit of work, they'll end up on welfare, too.  

Welfare is a root cause of generational poverty.  It alleviates nothing.  It does nothing but teach those mired in it that they're helpless to improve themselves and their lot.  

Broke is often frustrated with their lot, and look for ways out.  Poor believe there is no way out, and refuse to do more than look for ways to be comfortable.  Broke is angry; poor is depressed.

In a couple of days, I'll talk about the other question.

 

*Last summer, the church broke away from the Methodist hierarchy, and hired the guy currently preaching as an interim pastor, partially because he'd been a pastor there before and they knew him, and partially because he's retired. The interim pastor has taught a six-week course last fall, over Nehemiah.  We'd get dinner, and a sort of a college level lecture, every Thursday for the six weeks.  He's doing another over poverty and charity, and what we as a church should be doing that we're not, and maybe what we are doing that we shouldn't.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Life goes on.

Mom made bread.  Mom made bread often.  Not as often as Grandma used to, but she made a lot of bread.  

I...made a mistake.  The Tuesday after Mom passed, I was going through the motions and I threw ingredients into the bread machine Odysseus got me for my birthday, last year.  No, not gluten free bread.  Regular bread.  

As soon as the house started smelling like bread baking, I started leaking tears and could not stop.  

I didn't make bread last week.  We took that last half loaf from the previous week and turned it into garlic toast to go with the pasta bake I'd made.  And, since that was the day after Mom's service?  If I hadn't had bread on hand, I'd have asked Odysseus to just pick up a loaf.  

Today was pasta day again.  The "start bread" alarm on my laptop went off...

...and this week, I didn't leak tears.  

Not while I was smelling the bread baking, at least.  I still randomly leak tears (I'm sure y'all understand), but that smell of fresh bread didn't trigger it for me, today.

Life does go on.  It took my mom a little while after Grandma passed before she could make bread without bawling.  Guess it was my turn. 

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Yesterday

Yesterday was Epiphany.  Liturgically when the Magi found their way to the Christ child. 

Yesterday was when my mother found her way home.  

Friday night, my sister told me that Mom had lost consiousness, and she couldn't wake her, so called the ambulance.  She was taken to their local hospital, and they discovered she'd had a massive brain bleed.  She passed at 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning, never having woke up.  

It was fast, and hopefully painless.  Which was more than I'd hoped for.  

I'm going to miss her so much.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Delusional

I have a cousin who is an avowed atheist.  She swears that she's a good person without needing external rules and guidelines imposed by an "imaginary friend/sky daddy." 

Given the things I've seen her post to FB, I would...not agree with her.  At all.  

I mean...

Yeah, let's look at this.  

I didn't particularly want to teach the kids that Santa brings gifts for kids on Christmas.  It's dumb.  And I'm really kind of sick and tired of the ruse--this is going to be the last year, since I have teenagers.  But it was useful while they were smaller to use the ruse to get them once-a-year expensive toys, and not have them begging us to get them expensive shit year-round.  

That said...there's no fucking way I think this  picture is remotely funny.  What the actual fuck.  

This isn't schadenfreude.  This is deliberately causing pain to a child. Hurting a child for the fun of it.  

I know she'd probably protest that it's "art," and "it's a joke," and "it's AI generated."  

Thing is...I've messed with AI art.  Bing Image Creator is actually a lot of fun to play with, and you can make some really gorgeous pieces with it.  

AI art is made by inputting descriptions.  This art was designed by someone who thought it was funny--was fun--to make a little kid cry on Christmas morning.  

This is the least of what I've seen her post.  

She mocks Christians by cherry-picking things from the Bible--that slavery's okay,* and polygamy,** and that horrific punishments, like "an eye for an eye" were allowed and encouraged.***  

And yet...

...and yet.  

Christians are not the ones posting things that show joy in deliberately causing pain, much less deliberately causing pain to the innocent among us.  Christians are not the ones suggesting that dissenters should be raped and tortured to death (yes, I've seen her post things like that).  

Full disclosure: yes, I laugh my ass off at people hurting themselves.  I think the shocked dismay that people who are suddenly thwapped with the consequences of their own freely-chosen actions and decisions is hilarious.  

I do not think causing pain to children is funny.  Nor do I think it's funny when a child  actively hurts him or herself because the adult in charge of their well-being either dropped the ball, or set them up.  

Nor do I think it's funny for adults to get hurt because someone lied to them, or set them up for the sake of a video prank.****

Love thy neighbor as thyself.  Love your neighbor as you would yourself.  TREAT PEOPLE LIKE YOU WOULD TREAT YOURSELF.  

It's not a difficult concept.  It's the base command in Christianity.  Love God, and love your neighbor. 

That is what makes a good person.  And atheists are far too prone to allowing the monkey-side--the fallen side--full control over their actions toward their fellow human beings.  Atheists are far too prone to dehumanizing those that don't march in philosophical lock-step with them.  

Atheists don't just go tribal--they go full monkey-band primal. Because they lack the guidance--the reason--to be better than their own worst impulses.  To do better than their own worst impulses.  

You know, my cousin swears she loves children.  That she'd never hurt them.  

Yeah.  I don't believe her.  And I won't let her be anywhere around my kids unsupervised.  


*Slavery isn't okay.  And the rules around slavery in the OT? Those put limits on how people were allowed to treat their slaves, and turned slavery into indenture.  The Israelites were required by God to offer freedom and adoption to their slaves every few years.  This, in contrast, to how horrific slavery was literally everywhere else, was a MASSIVE social change for the better.  

**Polygamy was everywhere.  Men died early and suddenly, and a woman alone was at enormous risk of victimization and violent death...or death of exposure and starvation.  

***An eye for an eye was a hard, upper limit, not a "this is the least of what you can expect." If someone puts out your eye, you're not allowed to do more and worse to him, much less his entire family, blood-line, city, and/or tribe.  Remember Jacob's sons, and what they did when their sister was taken in marriage without family permission (aka, "raped" which had different legal definitions in OT times). 

****It's not funny when teens self-harm because of the trans trend.  It's not funny when teens hurt their futures because they're told they must go to college, whatever the cost and however much debt they have to take on to get there.  It's not funny when people choose one focus over another because their advisors lied to them about income potential ("you'll keep a higher percentage!" but not "you can't charge as much, so your actual net will be far lower.").  It's not funny to sneak up on people and sucker punch them on video (although it's funny as hell when the jump-scare pranksters get shot).

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Bread

Growing up, and even in adulthood, I always took bread for granted.  It was just...always there.  For sandwiches, or for if I had heartburn, or when I was a little queasy.  Not something I made myself, really (except when I got a bread machine when I was a young adult), but always available.  Either as homemade bread (my mom, my aunts, and my grandma all made it), or as sliced commercial bread.  Bread was just...always there.  

And then, when my youngest was in pre-school and my oldest in kindergarten, they brought home a stomach bug.  Laid them out for a couple of days, and my husband out for about the same.  

It knocked me on my ass for a week.  There were five days where my entire digestive system just...shut down.  No movement, no noises, nothing.  And then, when I finally started recovering (first noted because things started grumbling loudly), I reached for a slice of bread.  

Holy crap did that hurt.  

I thought it might be because it was high fiber bread--you know, a little bit rough on the guts--and tried a tortilla, then saltines.  

Nope.  That virus had left me with a lasting issue with wheat.  I still can't eat it without a lot of pain.  My younger sister's got pre-celiac's,* so I guess my issue is probably permanent.  

Great Value bread costs $1.32 for a 20 oz loaf of plain white bread.  A loaf of Great Value gluten free bread is $6.74 for an 18 oz loaf.  And it's not an apples-to-apples comparison, despite the weight being almost the same: the gf loaf is smaller.  Visibly smaller, with slices less than half the size of the other one.    

I...really don't like spending that much more for something that's...quite frankly not that good, and I'm the only one that needs it anyway.  

So I started looking into making my own.  It started with getting the bread machine.  

Which...well.  It sort of works, but not on the gluten free setting.  See, it still punches down the raised dough.  And gluten free bread dough will not rise again.  So, I tried it on the rapid setting.  And it worked.  But the recipe was...not great.  So I went hunting.  

I found a lot of recipes for gluten free bread, in varying levels of difficulty.  I snagged an easy one to try.  And it worked.  Tasted fairly decent, considering I grew up eating homemade regular bread.  

It's actually just as easy to make in my stand mixer and oven as it is to make in the bread machine. Which is one thing I cannot say for wheat bread.  Gluten free bread does not have to be kneaded, and doesn't need shouldn't be punched down. So, once the dough comes together, you just...put it in the pan, smooth it down, and give it time to rise.  

I did find one trick that I added that is stupidly simple, and makes an enormous, positive difference: beat the liquid ingredients until the eggs get sort of frothy.  It makes for a much better texture than only mixing the liquid ingredients until the eggs are only just mixed in. 

Gluten Free Bread

 3 ¼ cups gluten free flour blend (I’ve used Bob’s Red Mill with great success, as well as whole grain options—if the one you pick doesn’t have a “gum” as part of the ingredients, add about a tbsp of xanthan gum)

1 tbsp instant yeast

1 ½ tsp salt

1 1/3 c warm water

2 large eggs, room temperature (they MUST be room temperature—gluten free flours will NOT absorb cold liquids at all)

2 tbsp + 2 tsp oil

1 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 200 degrees, then turn it off.  This works best for helping the bread rise. Crack the door so that it has some time to cool a little before you put your bread in to rise. 

  1. Add all liquid ingredients to a mixing bowl (I use a Kitchenaid knockoff, and will probably get a Kitchenaid when I have to replace it), beat until frothy. 
  2. Mix flour and salt together in a separate mixing bowl; add slowly to wet ingredients with mixer on low.  Add yeast to the dough at this point. 
  3. Run the mixer until you have a soft, sticky dough that looks kinda like cake batter, scraping the sides of the bowl often. 
  4. Scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl into a glass or non-stick bread pan, oil your fingers, and smooth the top out (optional step—you can opt to not do that, but the bread will end up looking like the moon’s surface). 
  5. Loosely cover the pan—you can use oiled plastic wrap or waxed paper, or you can use a muslin dish towel—and set it in the oven to rise.  You’ll want it to be half again larger when it’s done.  Should take half an hour in your warm oven. If you want to let it rise on the counter, that works, too, but takes twice as long.
  6.  Uncover your bread loaf—it should be peeking up over the top of your pan—and bake at 375 degrees for about 55 minutes.  Since gluten free loaves don’t really brown, you’ll want to check the internal temperature with a thermometer: it should be about 205-210 degrees. 

There are variations you can do with this loaf--one of my favorites is that I leave out a quarter cup of flour blend, and add in a quarter cup of ground flax seed.  It makes it taste better, and adds a bit of texture and fiber. 

*She has the issue with gluten, but not the damage from having eaten it after the issue popped up. 

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Advent

 I grew up in a religious tradition that didn't teach about or acknowledge Advent.  The only religious seasons we observed weren't seasons at all, but just...just two holidays: Christmas and Easter.  

I did not remain in the tradition I grew up in--in point of fact, I see it as only very little better than Islam, in a lot of ways, mostly because of how that church treated abuse inside of a marriage, and abuse of children.  My dad was a minister, and led the church we went to...and committed adultery with a lot of his flock that went to him for marriage counseling...bullied and threatened my mother...and beat (not spanked--closed hands, kicks, shakes, and physically throwing at walls) both me and my little sister...and worse.  And the church castigated my mother for leaving, and attempted to pressure my sister and me into silence.  So, yes, I abandoned that church with a quickness, as soon as I could. 

I never abandoned my faith in God, just...had (and still have) very little faith in His churches.  And none at all in my fellow Christians.  

So I mostly quit going to church.  Between bad early experiences, and ongoing issues with panic attacks triggered by some churches (back-brain knowing there was something wrong, even if front-brain didn't really know the place well enough to recognize it, I think...or a gut feeling and whiff of sulphur telling me that something wasn't on the up-and-up), I didn't want to go, nor did I see a reason to.  

Until I decided it was time to have kids, and realized I had some real hang-ups where talking religion and faith are concerned.  And I realized that the best way to get around that was to find a church.  I had help, there.  I'm pretty sure God led me to the Episcopal church back in '07 or so...and, at that point in time, it hadn't gone full woke.  The pastor was all-in Catholic Lite (same religion, half the guilt), and had been raised Catholic before he felt two callings: one, to be a husband and father; and two, toward the pulpit.  

And, yeah, it was different.  Really different.  There was ritual.  There were kneelers in the pews, and there were points in the service where we were called on to kneel for prayer.  And then stand for hymns.  The order of the service didn't vary, and included a recitation of the Apostle's Creed, Communion with every service, a psalm sung, a responsive reading, the Lord's Prayer, scripture reading, and the sermon based on the scripture reading.  And then...then I was introduced to liturgical seasons.

That was...that was really different.  Advent, then Christmas season, then Epiphany...wow.  It felt huge, big enough that I couldn't wrap my head around it.  (By contrast, the burning of the greens and the BYOB party with it was...something that was culture shock, but not so much that I couldn't react to it).  

I didn't understand Advent.  I mean...really.  It's just part of Christmas, right?  

Actually, no.  But it took me a while to really get that.  

It took becoming a mother.

It isn't celebrating the birth of Christ; it's celebrating the last month of pregnancy.  It's that breathless pause (because there's no room to breathe), the quiet (or not so quiet) anticipation of the birth of the babyIt's the last bit of grueling discomfort and hard work of getting the baby ready for the world, right before the blood and pain of pushing the baby into the world.  

It's a time to think of His mother, in her last few weeks as she traveled with Joseph her husband to his family's ancestral lands, from Nazareth where he lived and worked to Bethlehem, where his ancestors were from.  On donkey-back.  

I didn't have that last month for either of my kids.  They were both early--unexpected in their timing.  But I have deep sympathy for Mary, and Advent means something to me now that it didn't when I started attending the Episcopal church, and started learning about the liturgical seasons.  Because that last month I was pregnant with each of my kids?  I was bent backwards because I couldn't sit up straight--not and breathe.  Not and eat.  There was more baby in my torso than there was anything else.  How in the world did Mary carry Christ that last month, while traveling as she had to?  How did she put her sandals on?  How did she deal with it?  

And I wonder, did she think about the baby she was carrying like I thought of my two?  Did she want to hold Him, stare at Him, count His fingers and toes, pet His hair?  Did she worry about being the mother He deserved, like I did with my children?  Did she wish the idiots in charge had just let her stay home and prepare for His birth in peace?  Was she just ready to be done with the pregnancy, like I was (even early like my two were) because of the discomfort?     

 So many people think about Christ, and anticipate His coming, His birth during this time of year.  I get that; however, after I had my own babies, I found myself wondering about Mary's last month of pregnancy, and feeling that anticipation with her. 

In a lot of ways, I hate Christmas.  I hate the mess, I hate the stress, the fighting, the break in routines that mean behavioral difficulties follow.  

But Advent?  Advent has brought an introspection into it that I didn't realize I needed.  And, in some ways, it's brought back some of the joy in Him, if not in the celebration of Christmas.