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Friday, November 25, 2011

Do College Students Have Justification for Joining the 'Occupy' Movement?

I've seen a lot of comments about the 'spoiled trust fund kids' who 'expect to be handed everything on a silver platter' and 'don't want to work for the things they have.'  And other such statements.  These are usually posted by people who proudly brag about the fact that they worked their way through college and now have a good job and a nice house that they earned through their own hard work with no handouts from anyone.

Good for you.

Times have changed.

I too worked my way through college.  I vividly remember the days of working 60 to 70 hours per week between two jobs (one full-time dead-end job and one nights-and-weekends retail job), supporting myself in a should-have-been-condemned apartment in a pretty scary neighborhood, taking one night course at a time because it's all I could afford and all I had time for.  I was destroying my health by eating nothing but Ramen noodles and instant oatmeal, because it's all I could afford.  I handwashed my laundry in the bathtub because I couldn't afford to go to the laundrymat.  I even counted the squares of toilet paper I used, in an effort to reduce how often I had to buy more.  Eventually things got better when I was hired at a job with a future, one that would help me achieve that future by paying for the rest of my bachelor's degree.  Of course, I was hired with an education waiver, so they could fire me if I didn't actively pursue my degree, and they emphasized that 'slow and steady' would not win the race.  I had to finish that degree as soon as possible.  So yes it was paid for, but I finished it by working full-time during the day and going to school full-time at night.  It took me eight years of working my ass off to finally get my four-year bachelor's degree.

I know that luck was just as big a part of it as my own hard work was.  And college students today aren't as lucky.

I've been appalled by some of the reactions to the pepper-spray incident at UC Davis last week.  In many cases, the protesters were characterized as I listed in my introductory paragraph, and also lumped in with all the Occupy protesters everywhere, particularly those few bad apples who are causing trouble in some of the larger gatherings.  (Apparently since there are a small handful of true trouble-makers giving the protesters a bad name in New York, the police were justified in pepper-spraying a group of students peacefully sitting on a pedestrian-only walkway on a college campus in California.  Or so the argument goes.)  The UC Davis crowd were trying to be clear that while they shared much in common with the other Occupy movements, some of their grievances were particular to them, specifically the issue of more tuition increases.

To those of you who proudly talk about how you worked your way through college, please consider the following numbers from the UC Davis website for an in-state undergraduate student who began her studies as a freshman in 2008.

Tuition and fees (excluding books, room, board, and other incidentals) per academic year:

2008/2009  -  $9,496.60
2009/2010 - $10,989.95
2010/2011 - $13,079.91
2011/2012 - $15,123.36

You who so proudly worked your way through school, did you have to deal with a 59% increase in tuition between your freshman and senior years?  I can tell you, no, you didn't.  UC Davis was kind enough to provide historical information on their website going back as far as 1994.  So let's assume that's when you started working your way through college.

1994/1995 - $4,099.00
1995/1996 - $4,554.00
1996/1997 - $4,262.00
1997/1998 - $4,331.50

If you started working your way through college before 1994, then your costs were even lower.

Now let's assume that you worked at California's minimum wage forty hours per week for twelve weeks during the summer, and twenty hours per week for thirty-six weeks during the school year, leaving four weeks of unpaid sick and vacation time each year (because let's face it, if you're working for minimum wage, you don't get paid time off).  You would have earned (before taxes):

1994/1995 - $5,100 ($1,001 more than your tuition)
1995/1996 - $5,700 ($1,146 more than your tuition)
1996/1997 - $6,180 ($1,918 more than your tuition)
1997/1998 - $6,900 ($2,568.50 more than your tuition)

Today's senior who's worked the same number of hours at today's minimum wage in California (which has remained steady at $8.00 per hour since 2008) has earned (before taxes) $9,600 per year.  That is:

2008/2009 - $103.40 more than her tuition
2009/2010 - $1,389.95 less than her tuition
2010/2011 - $3,479.91 less than her tuition
2011/2012 - $5,523.36 less than her tuition

So where you would have had $6,633.50 in the bank upon graduation, today's senior will be $10,289.82 in debt for doing exactly what you did.

And let's not even talk about what it cost you to buy your house in 1998 compared to today.

Starting school in 2008, that student probably figured that she could mostly work her way through school.  It would be tight, and she might have to take on a little debt, but nothing too difficult to pay off with the increase in wages she's sure to see upon graduation.  But each year her costs went up astronomically, forcing her to either take on more and more debt, or else cut her losses with nothing to show for it, and no hope of getting the higher-paying job that would enable her to pay off the debt she'd already incurred.  What exactly is she supposed to do?  What did you do when you were faced with that situation?  Oh wait, that's right.  You were never faced with that situation.

So before you start waxing eloquent about how hard you worked for the things you have, and how these lazy kids should do the same, consider that the world they live in is very different from the one you did.  Let go of your self-righteousness, and consider that they might actually have something legitimate to protest.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Announcing Quiet Devotions!

Through this blog I've been writing about a variety of issues, and it's been a fun experience for me.  But when I think about what kind of writing I'm likely to make a career out of, I keep coming back to religion.  So while I'll keep this blog as a sort of catch-all (and definitely an outlet for my political rants!), I'm going to be putting more of my effort into establishing myself as a religious writer.

To that end, I'm please to announce Quiet Devotions.  According to the daily lectionary in the back of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, tomorrow begins daily readings for Year B.  So beginning tomorrow, Quiet Devotions will feature a brief reflection and prayer based on one of the daily readings.  If you're looking for something to help focus your personal prayer life, I encourage you to subscribe to that page.

In the future I'll publish other religious resources as well, but for now I'm just going to keep up with the devotionals.  I hope you'll find them helpful and thought-provoking!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Modern Psalm of Lament From a Former Pastor

I spent this past weekend at a women's retreat at Camp Calumet in West Ossipee, NH.  I signed up through my church, and it was a good opportunity to get to know some of the other women I see every Sunday, but don't get to talk to or interact with very much.  I was a little nervous, because I don't do large groups very well, and I don't make friends very easily.

But I'm really glad I went.

If you've been reading my posts for a while, then you know that I'm struggling to recover from a toxic and unhealthy congregation where I served as solo pastor.  I've known intellectually that I was emotionally and spiritually harmed by that experience, but I don't think I realized the depth of that pain until this weekend.

The theme of the weekend was "Psalms: Prayers of the Heart."  The chaplain, Rev. Elaine Hewes, led us in an exercise where we wrote our own psalm, either of lament or of thanksgiving/praise (or some mixture of both).  Not surprisingly, I had a lament in me.  Quite surprisingly, however, the act of writing this psalm touched a raw, painful place deep within me, and I started crying.  Bawling.  Big, choking sobs.  In the middle of a crowded room full of strangers.  I got up and ran to the bathroom, where I tried to pull myself together.  When I thought I had, I went back into the hallway, where I found two women from my church waiting for me, wanting to make sure I was OK.  Just seeing the look of concern on their faces made me lose it all over again, and the next thing I knew I was being embraced and comforted by women whose names I didn't even know (their scarves were blocking their name tags), but such knowledge was completely unnecessary right then.

I was in a much better place after that, and I think it might have been the first real step in my healing, nearly two years after the damage was done.  Not only did it help me realize some things about the nature and the depths of my own woundedness, but it also served to show me that the church is not exclusively the domain of the selfish, vicious, treacherous, and abusive personalities that caused such harm at my last call.

So for what it's worth, here is my modern psalm of lament, written by a former pastor.  It's in the basic form of an acrostic, though you'll see I took a few liberties (poetic license) when necessary.

Accept me, O Lord,
because your people have not.  A
congregation of your followers sought to
destroy my marriage and my faith.
Every day I live with the pain,
feeling their rejection, and my failure to
guide them back to your ways.
Have mercy on me, Abba.
Ignite my faith where it has dimmed, and show me your
justice.
Keep my family together.
Let those who have strayed from you but call themselves by your name
make right their wrongs, and
know that what they say and what they do matters.
Open my heart, O Lord, and heal the
pain that lives there.
Quiet my demons, and
restore my faith.
Show me your faithful, your forgiven people who remain
true to your path,
unable to be perfect, but
very loving, very giving.
Where are you, Lord?
Explain how this can happen in
your Church.
Zeal is yours, Lord.  I'm waiting for you to show it.