Corn Pone ‘Pinions

It would be interesting to know—because I’m a nerd and these things appeal—the actual percentages of the subject matter of our conversations. But since I haven’t yet constructed an elaborate system for monitoring and categorizing every word spoken between us, I suppose I have to guess.

First, of course, we talk about the business of the day, what we’re going to eat and when and what time it is and whether we want to go to the coffee shop this evening or just go to sleep instead.

Followed by the baby and the house, both of which are endlessly fascinating topics. Mostly because it’s like talking about yourself… without the creeping, uncomfortable feeling of growing narcissism.

But the most common PHRASE by far has to be what are you thinking about?

Hockey, where to hang pictures, videos, books… why Seal and Heidi Klum are getting divorced (Carl insists it’s because Seal’s black, which, for a couple that’s been together long enough to have 3 children (I think?), is kind of hilarious). The question is usually a good conversation opener, although not so much this morning when Carl asked.

“Poverty,” I said, trying to squeeze the hazy cloud of ideas in my brain into some sort of recognizable subject.

Although I guess now that I think about it what I really mean is closer to applying Marxist literary theory to spiritual formation and ideas regarding gender roles.

I’ve been reading this book on female immigrants in the US during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and while the style is dull the info is fascinating. I mean, we all knew the immigrant/pioneer experience was gritty stuff, but reading the actual statistics is pretty horrifying… even more so when you look at what the women went through. Did you know, for example, that according to a study during this period the women not only routinely held jobs, but contributed roughly 50% of the family’s income? When you factor in the universally lower wages given to women, it becomes obvious that women were probably working more hours outside the home than their husbands were.

Naturally, there wasn’t dependable birth control and forget about maternity leave, so women were not only contributing more than 50% to the family’s income but often doing so while hugely pregnant or responsible for the raising of 3-10 children.

Oh, and probably best not to read the statistics on or first-hand accounts of pregnancy, infant mortality, and spousal abandonment.

All of this could really fire you up if you were a feminist in need of firing (or, say, a history teacher interested in teaching history rather than the usual bunch-of-things-rich-white-guys-did), but to be honest I keep coming back to the whole Christian gender thing. And I know this isn’t a new thought, but after reading this book I see it with new distaste—

When we hold the opinion that Christians need to get back to traditional family values, the opinion we’re really holding is that Christians should be part of an idealized upper class experience.

That’s kind of terrifying theology.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying mothers should work outside the home. What I am saying is that the whole debate suddenly seems pretty classist. Problems for rich white people. I’m kind of embarrassed that I literally could not tell you anything about the spiritual experience of these immigrants—most of whom described themselves as Christians. The Norwegian woman in a sod house whose husband was gone for 12 weeks at a time looking for work while she supported the family alone… is her experience as a Lutheran not part of our collective history as Christians? And besides all the people we’ve written out of our past, who are we writing out of our present in order to cling to our wishful thinking about what the Christian life and marriage should look like?

Why do Christians rhapsodize about the brave prairie women who raised their own food, made their own clothes, and did it all while raising twelve children… while ignoring the same generation of urban women who worked 10 hour shifts in factories, made their own clothes, and did it all while raising twelve children? Does it really just come down to money? That old, faux-genteel squeamishness that says it’s glamorous for women to be uber-productive as long as money isn’t involved?

Mostly, when I reflect on things long enough, I feel incredibly and unreasonably blessed.

There’s no yay-for-my-convictions and God-must-be-thrilled that I get to stay at home and take care of my planned for and very much wanted baby. What happened is that I was fortunate enough to be born in late twentieth century America into a solidly middle-class family and therefore had the connections and expectations that led me to marry someone from another solidly middle-class family. Despite a bad economy, my husband was fortunate enough to find a job that pays well and provides for all of our needs and most of our wants. Thanks to contraception, we were able to delay pregnancy until we were financially ready and emotionally excited to be parents.

So far, my situation has nothing to do with personal awesomeness or convictions. If you want to be spiritual, you could say it has everything to do with blessing. And, though we American Christians famously ignore it, my situation also has a lot to do with class.

Mark Twain tells a story about a black slave he knew as a boy, how the slave used to stand on top of his master’s woodpile every day and practice his oration skills.

This was his most memorable text:

“You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.”

“The black philosopher’s idea,” Twain continued, “was that a man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter.” My brother (who happened to be in the same American lit class) and I thought it was hilarious and true and used to talk a lot about the connection between corn pone and ‘pinions.

Bad enough to have corn pone ‘pinions about politics.

I don’t want to have them about spirituality. Though how to avoid them is probably the much harder issue.

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One thought on “Corn Pone ‘Pinions

  1. 🙂 Classism is all very romantic in Victorian literature but it’s often terrifying to me in real life. I sometimes run up against it very violently since I married “out of my class” which means we have some very different values and expectations. Am confronting this right now with parenting issues.

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