Thursday, September 23, 2010

Contract On America.2

It was such a beautiful display of hypocrisy I almost cried. The Republican big shots of congress removed their ties and coats for the cameras today and rolled out the program they are going to run on this fall, which, the CS Monitor reveals, "is laced with" tea bagger slogans. It worked 20 years ago when Newt Gingrich said it, why not now?

But yes, headed by God west, back to Salt Lick City with a tarped load that delivers Monday, and from there they already have me pre-planned, as they call it, on a load that picks up in Ogden and delivers in San Ysidro, in sunny southern CA.I stopped in Peru, Illinois, there by LaSalle, at the cross roads of I-80 and I-39, and of the old roads, US 6 and US 51, which would have made it a major crossroads in the olden days. I-39, by the way, which follows the route of US 51 for a few hundred miles, is, from Bloomington on up through there and up to Rockford, one of the most beautiful stretches of highway I know. It's beautiful, peaceful, not heavily travelled at all, and if you like the prairie, Midwestern small town farms, vast flat expanses of fields and now and then where the glaciers came down those low rolling green hills of spring wheat, and cows and red wing blackbirds and tree lines marking where streams flow along the low spots and down the creases in the endless corn fields, if you enjoy that then this is a prime example.

And of course the prairie is home, of course. In that this region, where I grew up, is the old Northwest Territories which was surveyed and laid out in a specific way -- in those one mile square sections with roads along the section lines, so that roads are always a mile apart, perfectly straight, and always lie on the north-south and east-west axis, so you always know where you are, and things are done in certain ways, the open space beside roads is the same width, the berms and telephone poles are in the same places and all the background is familiar and you don't have to pay so much pay attention to where you are going, you just know, it's all in your memory and it feels more comfortable being here than anywhere else. It's just home.

And it moves on, of course. It evolves. Change comes. I got off at Peru, as I say, in order to stop at the old Tiki, but found it closed; scratch off another nice old independent travel plaza I've been stopping at since the beginning. Closed, the store and the garage deserted, but the parking lot still open to traffic with a few trucks parked there, because the restaurant is still open, the Pine Cone, where I enjoyed a lovely breakfast of oatmeal and biscuits. The waitress and the man playing cashier were both older, pleasant but a little impatient, it seemed, just waiting for the restaurant to close, I suppose. When I came out there was a guy, about my age, too, picking up tin cans in the parking lot and wanting to know if I could spare a couple dollars.

It's interesting to think about the kind of thoughts that run through the mind when someone comes up to you and asks for money. That initial fear, even accompanied sometimes by revulsion, but mainly that fear, the same fear that caused everyone to walk on the other side of the road, except the Palestinian, in the story Jesus tells in the Bible. Where does that fear come from? It's quite common, it's the norm, really. But from whence in us does it arise? That feeling akin to panic.

And when it comes, what do we do with it? How do we handle it? Most of us have a conventional wisdom of our own. We have tallied up the stories we have heard. Maybe we have heard some version of the one about how people can make a pretty good living by panhandling. Other stories are available, some version or another of Ronald Reagan's "welfare queen" story complete with details like driving to pick up your welfare check in a Cadillac. Ah, race! That sets off another kind of fear, doesn't it? It simplifies the reaction.

But most panhandlers are white, the racial element isn't in play. We can whitewash the stories. For example, it's a white guy, not a white man, a white guy. And he's dressed in a certain way. With the hair. Yes, there is something to fear, there must be, because we are feeling fear. Drugs, maybe? Unconventional sex? Violence? The possibility that we will not have enough left over to meet our own needs? Do we have an accumulation plan cemented in place that will get interrupted by the thoughts he is associated with?

I was driving through rural Georgia not long ago listening to some Republican Christianity radio station, and a guest was talking about giving. You have to be careful, he said, that you don't cause more problems than you solve. Is the person you are giving to able to handle money? Will having that money arouse the passions?

The person wasn't officially clergy, just acting like it, but the clergy is a good source of ways to deal with our reactions to our fear of giving. I once heard the main preacher at the big Methodist church in downtown Kenosha, WI, his voice dripping with loathing, justify why he didn't give anything to one of the panhandlers who hang out near the church.

The clergy has good reason to see their job as facilitating our lesser natures, the main one being they don't want to look out across a lot of empty pews the next Sunday. They don't want to be at the next clergy meeting and have to say their attendance is half what it used to be. And they are, after all, exactly like the rest of us, except they get paid to come up with the excuses that make it OK, to where you're still following the Bible, and they contribute to that conventional wisdom, that becomes diffused throughout society and manifest in things like tea bagger movements.

Maybe you actually do read the Bible, and know the story about the Good Samaritan, that is, the Palestinian. Maybe you also read that part where Jesus said that if someone asks you for something, give it to them. Period. Not, give to them if you determine they can handle money, not if they get a job, or live like you want them to live. Not if they have a seat and fill out a form, or promise to not have sex. Just give it to them. Period. Maybe you know that, but it gets lost, it can't compete with what you hear much more often, on the radio, from the pulpit, from all the politicians and people like Rush Limbaugh, from the people all around you talking the way people talk.

My point is, of course, we don't follow the Bible. We follow everything else, and we follow what everyone else says about the Bible. But what do you do if you believe that none of that stuff in the Bible is true? What if someone comes up to you and asks for money and you don't have to follow the Bible? What if you are free to decide on your own whether or not to give that person some of your money?

If you were free to decide on your own, you'd be able to discount all that which is said against giving. If you were free to decide on your own, when that fear started to rise up inside of you, you could decide to remember the story in the Bible and do exactly what the Good Samaritan did.

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