I get to clothe the leper!

More from Nickel and Dimed:

“The preaching goes on, interrupted with dutiful ‘amens.’ It would be nice if someone would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth. I would like to stay around for the speaking in tongues, should it occur, but the mosquitoes, worked into a frenzy by all this talk of His blood, are launching a full-scale attack. I get up to leave, timing my exit for when the preacher’s metronomic head movements have him looking the other way, and walk out to search for my car, half expecting to find Jesus out there in the dark, gagged and tethered to a tent pole,” (page 68-69).

As you can tell, I’m liking this book. But don’t get the wrong impression. I’ve already quoted two extremely isolated sections that refer to Christianity. These are simply religious asides, which I find particularly biting. The rest of the book is just as intriguing, and I feel it’s time I give it a bit of credit.

Barbara Ehrenreich is trying to make it on minimum wage jobs, working as a waitress or a cleaning woman, living in efficiency apartments you could fit in your bedroom. She’s trying to see if it’s even possible to survive like that, and then reporting on it so the rest of us feel some shame or guilt or a bit of understanding and maybe something is done about it.

It reminds me so much of the summer of 1999, when I scoffed at going to Taco Bell, afraid to spend the 99 cents on a Taco Supreme. I pinched and I scrimped that summer, and I tried not to live off my dad’s gas card. I lost at least 10 pounds that summer, and made a lot less that minimum wage. But even that experience barely allows me to relate.

What I find so striking is when Ehrenreich applies the daily existence of the lowest class with Christian teaching. It sucks, but she is so right. Jesus was a wine-guzzling vagrant. He told people to give to the poor and not to cheat each other. He told us there are more important things than money, but you wouldn’t know it by the cars parked in church parking lots.

Jesus wasn’t interested in rules, especially not societal rules. Yet we are. I walk past apartments small enough to pass for the ones Ehrenreich stayed in, I ride the bus with people she describes as coworkers, and I see these people everyday at restaurants and stores. Sometimes it does feel like the church has taken the real Jesus, shoved a sweaty black dress sock in his mouth and stuffed him in the baptistery. We’re afraid he’d overturn our pews and fellowship tables.

The words of Paul stuck out today: “For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence,” (2 Corinthians 2:17, NRSV).

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