Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Uncle Sam's Plantation

Uncle Sam's Plantation
Star Parker
Thomas Nelson, Publisher

Uncle Sam's Plantation intrigued me because it is about the poor in our country. Star Parker is an African American woman who lived on welfare herself. She not only got out of the system but is now a candidate for the 37th congressional district in California. My only regret is that I thought this was a secular book but when it arrived in the mail, I looked closer at it and discovered otherwise. Please forgive the deviation from my usual review. And what a book to follow my last review!

My Impressions

I liked hearing Parker's own story and would have loved more details on how she freed herself from welfare. Was it as easy as writing a letter to her caseworker? She explains how she handled childcare. Did she go off food stamps at the same time? What about clothes: did she not have to improve or change her wardrobe? Was she able to use public transit? How long did all this transition take? How did she handle the down times? Did she have a mentor as she seems to now mentor other women?

Parker makes it sound so easy.

But is she the exception to the rule?

The book would have been far stronger if she had just presented her arguments with the supporting facts without trying to place blame on any person(s) or groups. She attacks and blames "the liberals" but I was never sure how she defined that group. I also become suspicious when any kind of political label is applied to some amorphous group. I found it to be distracting. And as a moderate myself, I began to feel like she might be pointing fingers in my direction.

Her whole premise for the book could have been much stronger without specific finger pointing. She's been there, she reviews the history and can see the dangers of government assistance. Just putting forth that argument and letting the reader come to their own conclusions would have been a fantastic book. Instead, she comes across as a bit of a whiner against anyone who she sees as non-conservative (although that may be a political label applied to an amorphous group - sorry!).

In addition, I was still unsure at the end of the book what we as individuals can do to help the situation of so many dependents on government assistance in this country.

She also never addresses folks who feel that they are entitled to the government check they receive ( I encountered this attitude in my pre-pastoral years working for Social Security).

Speaking of Social Security, Parker avoided the whole issue of current retirees living off the government system of Social Security. Aren't retirees receiving government handouts, too? Of course, I think the idea was that folks paid into that system and then reaped the benefits when they reached a certain age. However, it is quite clear that the Social Security taxes I pay today are supporting my parents (which I actually have no problem with). But if I apply Parker's logic to Social Security benefits, we should all be setting aside our own money today in lieu of paying Social Security taxes.  I should also be taking care of any needs of my parents and in-laws, including having them move into our home, if the money they have set aside is not enough for their needs.

I do like her insistence on responsibility and accountability. If only that reached the highest political offices in this country as well!

My Faith Impressions

What is my role as a Christian in helping the poor? Certainly in this day and time we American Christians have become lulled into letting the government take care of the poor. Remember Ebeneezer Scrooge's questions in A Christmas Carol about the poor houses and prisons? He was worried that these governmental helps for the poor had somehow stopped when the charities came asking for donations.  We too, myself included have really given over all care of the poor to our government. But does the government really give care? Parker's book made me realize how enslaved many of our poor have become because of our helping programs. The fall of Fannie Mae comes to mind at this point: what happens when these programs collapse?

So, then, what am I to do as a Christian? There is certainly some basis for me to give to the poor in scripture. The Old Testament is full of statements that God is looking at how well we treat the poor, orphans and widows in our midst. In the New Testament, Paul spends a great deal of his letters asking for money from his churches. And even Jesus mentions the need to give to those less fortunate then follow him. This book is making me re-think my own support for the poor.

What also can we as a church community do?  We are good at supporting the local food pantry. However, I think we could do more. What about classes on job skills, resume writing or providing some type of childcare? Wouldn't it be great if we were able to teach folks to fish rather than just handing out fish? This book makes me wonder if I am doing enough to help or encouraging my church to do more. I think we are capable, with God's help. What is the role of your own church community in helping those less fortunate?

Final Words

I would love to facilitate a class using this book and The Working Poor by David Shipler.  I think the contrast between the two would spark some lively debate and we would come away with some practical guidelines.

Happy Reading!


1 comment:

  1. Amelia,
    I, too, would enjoy a whole series on Poverty in America. With my current position, I've discovered that poverty is a mindset and even those that make a lot of money are still living their life that way. God continues to "educate" me on the how He wants me to help those in our society that need help, whether they have a lot of money or have none. It really is about renewing our minds.