September 25, 2016

During this sermon we watched Bill Maher interview Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.    On the audio you will hear the interview and responses from the congregation to the list of questions below.

Who is the target audience for this book?
What surprised you?
What confirmed for you what you already knew?
Have you ever been in Linda’s position?
Do you have a family member in her position?
Do those who are well-off think the working poor make bad choices?
Are they (the well-off) correct or are they missing the point?
A rule of thumb for poverty: If you spend more than half your income on rent, you are poor. Is that an accurate rule of thumb?
What are some of the struggles of the working poor that you hadn’t considered before reading this book?
Why are we reading this book and discussing it during worship at Southminster?
As a community what is a “takeaway” from it for us?

Linda Tirado, Hand to Mouth
We all cope in our own special ways. I smoke. My friend drinks. In fact, I’m highly confident in betting that you and many of your friends cope by drinking as well. Come home from a long day at work, and what do you do? Pop open a beer? Or a bag of potato chips? Or maybe you take a Valium when you’re feeling stressed out. Or get a massage. Or go to your gym and sit in the sauna room.

Why are other people’s coping mechanisms better than poor people’s? Because they’re prettier. People with more money drink better wine out of nicer glasses. And maybe they get a prescription for benzos from their own personal on-call psychiatrist instead of buying a pack of cigarettes. They can buy whatever they like and it’s okay, because retail therapy is a recognized course of treatment for the upper classes. Poor people don’t have those luxuries. We smoke because it’s a fast, quick hit of dopamine. We eat junk because it’s cheap and it lights up the pleasure centers of the brain. And we do drugs because it’s an effective way to feel good or escape something.

I get that poor people’s coping mechanisms aren’t cute. Really, I do. But what I don’t get is why other people feel so free in judging us for them.

THE POETIC WORD Woman Work Maya Angelou
I’ve got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I’ve got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.

Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.

Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
‘Til I can rest again.

Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.

Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You’re all that I can call my own.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

It’s impossible to win, unless you are vey lucky. For you to start to do better, something has to go right—and stay that way for long enough for you to get on your feet. I’ve done well in years that I had a job I didn’t mind terribly and that paid me well enough to get into an apartment that met all the basic standards. I’ve done less well in years where I didn’t have steady work. The trouble’s been that my luck simply hasn’t held out for long enough; it seems like just when I’ve caught up, something happens to set me back again. I’ve been fortunate enough that it’s rarely compounded, and I’ve stayed at under sea level for short periods instead of long-term. But I’ve stared long-term in the face long enough to have accepted it as a real possibility. It’s only an accident and a period of unemployment away.

It feels like I’m always climbing up the same hill, always trying to make it to neutral. And I don’t have the stamina of Sysyphus to keep me going.


‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Barack Obama caused a flap because he told rich people that they weren’t the sole factors in their own success. You are not allowed to do that, because wealthy people are far too precious to face the idea that they didn’t do it all themselves, or spring out the womb, fully formed, as hotshot entrepreneurs or whatever they want us to see them as. I cannot fathom actually thinking that the entire world must collaborate to hide reality from me, and on top of that hubris, being upset when someone dares to speak a distasteful truth. You guys have got to get tougher than that.

Linda Tirado
Finally, to everyone who has read this and known exactly what I was talking about: You have earned more than you think you have. It is your right to demand it, and you do not need to ask for favors. I hope that you get a decent gig and get on top of things soon. You work for your paycheck, but you have earned dignity and respect.