Capitalism, Supremacies, and COVID-19

Capitalism, supremacy, and COVID-19

Here we are in the thick of what is officially now a pandemic, and I’m writing to you from basically preventative self-quarantine of an indeterminate nature. You see, I have several chronic illnesses, one of which being asthma, as well as a suppressed immune system from years of steroid use for that asthma. So I fall into the category of “at risk” even though at forty I would probably have a positive outcome with treatment, possibly in the hospital. But if the situation here gets like it is in Italy, me being on a respirator in the hospital means someone else is going to be denied that respirator, probably someone elderly, who is less “survivable” than I am, and I don’t want to contribute to that triage scenario. And yes, that is literally what is happening in hospitals in Italy right now.

They ignored the warnings, focused on the economy, and pretended it would go away. Sound familiar? As a result, they didn’t flatten their curve and their health care systems are overloaded and they are making calls on survivability like it’s a war hospital triage center to decide who gets care. And as a forty-year-old mother of young children, I’m sure I would come out well on that ethical conundrum, and I’m not okay with surviving at other people’s expense.

Except, I already live at other people’s expense. It’s just not as visible. I can think of a myriad of examples, but one I tell a lot is how I have my house because of white supremacy.

You see my great-grandfather was an orphan. He was a share-cropper and a prison guard and raised 11 children in a two-bedroom house on the land he worked. My grandfather didn’t tell me many stories of that time in his life. What I do know is that he enlisted to fight in WWII and benefited from the GI bill to go to college at UCLA. He ended up with a doctorate in education and able to be upwardly mobile through a combination of GI benefits and inlaw support, and possibly benefiting from one of those GI-friendly loans that were part of FDR’s New Deal to promote home-ownership.

Those benefits were largely denied to black GI’s of the same age as my grandfather.

Twelve years ago, my grandfather gave me a lump sum of money when my husband and I were looking to buy a house–my inheritance, but early. It enabled us to not only buy a house but build our lovely 2000 square-foot Craftsman-style bungalow.

I had an opportunity that was denied to black families.

I can hear the push back already. But your grandfather worked his butt off! And yes, he did, to the point where he fainted at his job in college because he was working full-time and going to school full-time and not taking care of himself. But so were black GI’s of his same age, and yet they wouldn’t go on to be as upwardly mobile on the whole as white GI’s. Me saying that I have benefited from things that black woman my age haven’t been able to benefit doesn’t detract from my grandfather’s work ethic, it just acknowledges the way things have worked and how all too often they continue to work.

At the end of the post, Holy Obstinance, I referenced the “supremacies of our nation.” That post was long enough, so I didn’t try to unpack what I meant by that, but recent coronavirus stuff has brought that to the fore for me personally again. These supremacies allow us to reassure ourselves that the virus isn’t “that bad” that “only the old or those with underlying conditions” will get serious cases.

Except. Except. When did we decide we were okay with those people dying? And as I am one of those people, when did you all decide my life was worth less?

Because that’s what that narrative promotes. My life is worth less and you shouldn’t have to cancel that trip, stay in your house, take extra precautions because at worst you’ll get a cold or flu like sickness not unlike many others.

That feeling of my life being devalued on a public scale really pissed me off. And then I thought, this is what black people and indiginous people and refugees all experience on a daily basis. Daily. Mine is a situational devaluing, theirs is a systemic devaluing.

Combine that with unregulated capitalism defining human worth based on how much money one can produce and you have the systemic devaluing of people with chronic illness and disabilities.

These are the supremacies of our time: white supremacy, male supremacy, able-bodied supremacy, youth supremacy, wealth supremacy. All of these devalue lives that don’t fit their world-view of worth. And that view of worth is so very narrow and in direct opposition to the greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Too many of us are too busy living our lives without stopping to think what that looks like on a daily basis. Coronavirus threw it all into stark contrast and offers each of us an opportunity to reexamine love of neighbor and to learn about the supremacies in our nation that fight against total human thriving.

Tornados, Time, and Neighbors

Tornados, Time, and Neighbors

Time is so strange. This week feels like forever. I can only imagine how much stranger it feels to those who lost their homes in the storm, or worse, lost loved ones. Tragedy as a way of bringing everything to a standstill. Each day is an eternity, each heartbeat is painfully slow.

It’s as though a bubble rises up around the tragedy and everything inside is in slow motion. The world rushes by outside the bubble still on normal time, doing normal things, but for those inside everything is slow and painful and hard.

I found myself on the edge of the bubble this week. Personally, my family and I were unaffected by the tornados. They missed us, carving up a long swath of several cities just south of where we live.

I hadn’t gone to sleep yet when the warnings popped up. It was so fast that we would barely have made it to shelter if it had come our way. I sat in the dark and got on facebook. There were so many people on, reaching out to each other from basements and closets and bathrooms where they sat huddled with their children and if they’d had time, their pets.

“Are you okay?”
“We’re okay, it missed us.”

Like an individual liturgy, a call and response pinging back and forth across the wireless waves in the wee hours: “Are you okay?”

“We are but our house isn’t.”

And then Nashville happened. And Cookeville happened. And I don’t mean the tornados, I mean the response. People turned out and showed up and brought and are still bringing supplies, showing up with chainsaws and cutting up trees. I heard today that hazardous tree removal teams that had been sent to help have sent people home because the volunteers have already done so much.

And it’s so damn beautiful to see.

Most of the people I know who live in Nashville or nearby, even if they couldn’t physically help have been boosting the signal. We’re sharing information far and wide, and donations are coming in from friends and family in other states. Individuals who can shop are collecting donations from people who can’t and are delivering carloads of supplies.

A fraught election year and coronavirus fears haven’t been able to squash this outpouring of neighborliness.

Some sites have had to turn volunteers away, they were so overwhelmed with help. And of course in the midst of the bright spots, North Nashville, the predominately black neighborhood that was hit, had been underfunded and under-helped by comparison. But we boosted that too, and it’s gotten better, though they are not to the point where they are turning people away. The news crews didn’t go there, as I guess demolished music venues in North Nashville are sexier for national news and local news alike.

So it’s not all some instant utopia, but it does make one think about how well humans do come together when their neighbors are affected. And maybe Tennessee is just particularly good at it, I don’t know. As one friend said, folks who are new are about to see why we’re called the volunteer state. And it’s true.

I just hope we can hold onto some of the neighborliness as we move forward into the rebuilding stage. Already, predatory developers are swooping in as they did after the 2010 flood, trying to buy up houses for cheap so they can gentrify areas and make a boatload of money. So the community will have to come together to see if we can stop that this time. Social media has definitely helped because we’ve got people talking about land trusts and things I’d never heard of in 2010, but it makes it so much easier to resource and educate and organize.

Anyway, there’s not some big revelation in this post, I just needed to process out loud from the edge of the bubble here where time still feels slow and strange and pain and love are intermingled as we sort through the rubble of our neighborhoods.

Donate to Gideon’s Army to help North Nashville here.

If you’re local, here’s needed supplies and updates.

Extractive Theology

Extractive Theology

The past 5 weeks or so I’ve been participating in a cross-class dialogue circle lead by Equity Solutions. A few weeks ago, one of our homework assignments was to read a zine called “From Banks and Tanks to Cooperation and Caring” that discusses practices of an extractive economy. It looks at the various ways that both people and the planet have been misused in service of making money. From clear-cutting (which turns a renewable resource into a non-renewable resource) to genocide and slavery, an economy that views accumulation (and consolidation of weath) as its end goal will extract whatever it needs to get there. Extractive industries seek deregulation because it allows them to accumulate wealth faster. And by “them” I mean primarily the top executives. Extractive industries like coal extract both from the planet and from the very lives of the people doing the work in a very real and visible way, but many industries are extractive in that they don’t pay their base workers a living wage and people are going without health care and mental health care trying to make ends meet.

In this, these industries are extracting their profits from the very lives of their base employees in order to create and consolidate wealth at the top. And people are trapped within this system because the alternative is starvation and homelessness.

With all this sitting in the back of my mind as I contemplate what economic justice looks like, it occured to me as I look at American Christianity, that the practices that allow people calling themselves followers of Jesus to come to some really bad conclusions are by nature extractive theology.*

Extractive theology allows pastors and congregations to take things not only out of context (proof-texting) and to come to Scripture with their own preconceptions wholly unexamined, looking for a “Biblical” rationale for their beliefs (eisegesis), but it allows them to marry those practices and create an entire pseudo-theological framework that looks on the whole very unlike the savior it claims to follow.

I’ve used this term a few times in tweets and in last week’s blog post, and I’m working on a loose series of posts, some of which are already scheduled. I want to explore both concepts around American Christianity (because this is my context, there are certainly other iterations of this in different places in the world) and my own story coming out of an American Christian background. I’m going to use the two words “American Christianity” together consistently to talk about this brand of Christianity because it crosses some denominational lines and isn’t exactly articulated anywhere, though there are certainly more explicit examples available, but it often lives in the negative space of what is articulated. But just as any large shadow is cast by a large object, sometimes looking at the shadow and where it comes from it absolutely vital.

And if you watch Doctor Who, you know to pay very close attention to the shadows, because if you don’t, the shadows will literally eat you (Silence in the Library).

*I came up with this term as you see above and I hadn’t seen it anywhere before but while I created the hashtag #extractivetheology, I did find a reference where it occurs in a book called Rooted and Grounded: Essays on Land and Christian Discipleship. I think I’ll have to pick that up because the google books preview is incomplete and I don’t know if they mean what I mean by the term, so it’ll be interesting to find out.