Saturday, March 01, 2008

Working-class roots and resentments

Wednesday I came down to Tacoma for our ministers' retreat (not much retreating to be done, but you get the idea). I was looking forward to spending time with colleagues, putting my worries aside for a time about Max and the health concerns of beloved others, and enjoying a new city and new faces. And mostly that has happened, though I've been plagued, to some extent, by dreams that resurrect some of those worries and keep me temporarily from sleep.

Our retreat topic was "Classism" and it was very challenging. I'm a believer in the idea that hard topics must often be addressed in pain. It is uncomfortable to hear that others think negatively of us, at least in the abstract, and for this to be the subject of a daylong workshop. Yet unless we look at this issue head-on, we are likely to allow ourselves to avoid dealing with it.

The workshop essentially caused us to sort ourselves according to class grouping, based on the circumstances of our upbringing. We were sharing the workshop with our professional religious educators (aka DRE's or Directors of Religious Education), and we had a broad spectrum of class backgrounds.

We could always opt out of the classification process, but most of us proceeded with it and found ourselves facing uncomfortable realities about our own attitudes, even though the classifying process was about our growing-up years, not about our adulthood.

I was in the working class group for most of the exercises and had to face the reality that I have experienced a good deal of resentment toward people who have a lot more resources than I. Generally speaking, the classes we sorted ourselves into were working-class, middle-class professionals, and owner-class. (To clarify,you were an "owner-class" if you never had to worry about money, had more than one home or property, were pretty much able to do what you wanted about education, vacations, etc. That's too simplistic, but there you are.)

Most of us in the workshop had changed places over the years and were no longer in the class we started out in. I have moved more into the middle-class professional group, but I still see myself as working-class because of my upbringing. Others had moved out of the owner-class into the middle-class professional group and experienced a good deal of discomfort over the implied and sometimes overt resentment of those who took the part of the working-class.

It was profoundly uncomfortable for many of us, I think, but very informative, and I'm glad we did it. I have to look more carefully than before at my working class roots and how they affect my present-day life.

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