Wednesday, September 8, 2010

This is not an empty bowl

First, an apology. Looking all the way back to the year I started this blog, I've never had a month like this August - one post only, and a guest blog post at that. What can I say? It's been a tremendously busy summer at work (new bishops, departing bishops and as those of you who subscribe to the CS&T will see on Thursday, a big and gorgeous special supplement marking our cardinal's 25th year as a bishop). But, you'll be delighted to know, I'm not going to make up for lost time (days, weeks, month) all in one post.

I have always liked the Magritte painting of a pipe with its "this is not a pipe" text attached - therefore my post title and image of the bowl. And, yes, I will be directing you to an article with some surreal elements to it. Slate (which, I have to say, I often love reading) is publishing a series of articles about economic inequality in the United States. If that sounds like a snooze, think again. Here are a couple of snips from Timothy Noah's second installment, guaranteed to raise some hairs:

"All my life I've heard Latin America described as a failed society (or collection of failed societies) because of its grotesque maldistribution of wealth [...] But according to the Central Intelligence Agency (whose patriotism I hesitate to question), income distribution in the United States is more unequal than in Guyana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and roughly on par with Uruguay, Argentina, and Ecuador. Income inequality is actually declining in Latin America even as it continues to increase in the United States."

Not exactly the image we have of ourselves as a nation. But unless we want to end up as a pipe that insists it's not a pipe, or a bowl that insists it's full for everyone when it's not, we might want to take a hard look at how our experience of America is not everyone's experience of it.

One of the intriguing things about the whole article (click here to read it) is that you can enter your zip code and your income and see where you fall in the spectrum of things. I fall below the 50th percentile in mine. The first thing that came to mind when I saw this was: I've never fallen in the 50th percentile in anything - not even math (which, let me say, given my nonexistent math skills is scary in itself). The second was: wow, half the people around me are struggling even more than I am. It is a reality check and an incentive to move away from the pity party I've been throwing myself since - oh, forever.

But it is also an impetus to look to our safety net providers (Catholic Social Services, Catholic Human Services, Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Charities, or one of my favorites, Operation Rice Bowl) and realize that without them (and the equivalent organizations in other faiths) even more people would be facing that empty bowl that says it is not empty.

But income inequality does more than starve the body, it starves our dreams as well.

More about that in my next post.

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