The idea was presented to me recently that the separation of the wealthy from poor was unnecessary back in the days and terribly unchristian; that people were allowed to purchase their seating arrangement in the past in churches, the reserved pews for the elite, was thus presented as evil and immoral. My mind baulked at this sweeping proposal. I began to silently categorize the ills of humankind’s general health and states of degradation; woes arranged by the lack of dental care, various scourges and afflictions dependent on salves and balms in bygone and not so bygone times. Frankly, that one should welcome or prefer to sit next to whatever brand of humanity should appear on the pew with us by whatever mishap is more a modern concept and it is not necessarily the wealthy that have the sweetest breath. “I met the most interesting person,” people relate, “He has a PhD in astronomy from MIT and has been living under a bridge since even before the millennium. What a great guy!”
This is about survival via charity. All religions hold a not so exclusive warrant on the matter. That is the nature of the beast, righteousness. We should be so righteous as to sit beside whomever is destined to suffer our presence. If you disagree, you are a poor loser. If you agree, you even may be poor in spirit, or, worse, poor in pocket.
In most ways I didn’t “make it” as a singer. Sitting in a comfortable Volvo sedan on my way back to Amsterdam one late evening after a rehearsal the retired tenor was telling me about the perks of the opera choir career. “One gets to sing the little roles as a choir member,” he said. Having been there for a short while, I suddenly summoned up the squeaks “Herr Baroni has arrived!” sung by a light tenor, nude torso half dressed in powder blue breeches, as a footman into my mind’s eye and ear. The one solo phrase of an elite choir member waiting in near pain in the wings, eyes glued to the monitor to figure out when to take that all important breath and Go Solo for Three Seconds. “Those were the raisins in the oatmeal.” He said with great satisfaction. By raisins he meant both the remuneration and pecking order in the choir, or oatmeal.
Everyone needs their moments in the sun, those all-important jaunts of self-esteem building. I deferred to the retired tenor because he was a. a man and expected it, b. an established member of the music community with years of service behind him and c. was not unkind. He had attained something I had not and he had fought for it.
Am I poorer for it? Am I richer for having chosen a different pew? Am I poor in spirit for essentially having bought a place in a pew of my choice? Who do I want to sit next to and what sort of conversations do I entertain? Am I elitist? Do I bestow charity? Am I chasing righteousness? Are these questions that matter these days? Why must I accept everything that comes, and even welcome it, make it feel at home? In addition I feel partially set upon because I am female and I am supposed to accommodate by tradition.
Listening to the sermon the other day, I resolutely decided not to accept this admonishment, and not because of designations on wealth, poverty and illnesses or robust health, but on being capable of accepting the quality of life that I would like to experience, and hope and expect that all others are able to do the same because the government should care about the people and be supportive of equal opportunity.