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Blessed are the poor. March 25, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben has been belatedly and somewhat bemusedly following a dust-up in the garden blogging community. From what I can gather, it began when a blogger wrote a post saying, in effect, that if you couldn’t afford the services of a landscape architect to design and install your vegetable garden and a professional gardener to maintain it, you shouldn’t bother gardening at all, because your garden was going to be ugly. Rather than offending the sensibilities of those who could afford said services, you should find some other, quote, “hobby,” preferably one that could be done indoors where others wouldn’t be offended by your shabbiness and presumed lapse of taste. Needless to say, a veritable firestorm of protest erupted in the gardening blogosphere.

Our friend Ben didn’t find this at all distressing. Though I somehow missed the original post, having read a number of follow-up posts and comments, I think on the whole that the entire episode was a very healthy thing. I say that because it caused a lot of gardeners to think deeply about the reasons why they garden. And, thank God, most of them—at least the ones I read—concluded that they gardened for themselves, because they loved gardening, and that ultimately, whatever it looked like, they really loved their own garden. I didn’t see one person saying that their goal in gardening was to cause car crashes in front of their house because the drivers were frantically taking photos with their cell phones while texting their gardener to “Get this pergola and this fountain and install a border that looks exactly like this by the time I get home!”

There was, however, something I found terribly distressing about the whole incident. And that was the number of bloggers and commenters who felt obligated to apologize for being poor. This made me depressed and sad. Apologize to the well-to-do for failing to achieve their level of opulence?! Mercy. What could have brought about such a state of affairs? Our friend Ben thinks I have the answer, and it lies with the extreme camps in our politically and culturally divisive times. Let’s take a look at them.

Residing comfortably in Camp #1 are the self-righteous wealthy, typified by folks who profess to justify their affluence through their religion. These types claim that the reason they have so much money is that God has smiled on them personally for their great virtue, and that people who are poor are poor because they’re being punished by God for some undisclosed sin. This attitude not only spares these people from having to actually do anything to alleviate the suffering of the less fortunate, it even prevents them from having to feel sorry for the poor, since after all, their problems are their fault.

Such appalling hypocrisy is not just despicable, it’s unChristian. It was Christ Himself who said “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.” A clearer distinction could hardly be made. Jesus also instructed His disciples that, if they had two cloaks, they should give one to him who had none. He most pointedly did not say “If you have two cloaks, you’d better grab the cloaks off everyone you meet and stockpile them, since hey, you can never have too many cloaks, and besides, if that guy deserved to have a cloak, you wouldn’t have been able to take it.”

Now, let’s stroll over to Camp #2. This one is occupied by folks who preach the gospel of the “Law of Attraction,” exemplified by—though by no means exclusive to—The Secret. The Law of Attraction boils down to this: If you want it badly enough, you’ll get it. Basically, all you have to do is close your eyes, click the heels of your battered sandals together three times, and chant “I want money. Lots of money!” and gold will rain down from the skies.

If it doesn’t? Bad karma, dude. You just didn’t want it badly enough. Your job’s been outsourced after 25 years? Yo, you never really wanted that job. Your factory, bank branch, pharmacy has closed, dumping you and hundreds of others in the street? You just didn’t want that paycheck badly enough. It’s, once again, your fault.

Our friend Ben can think of lots of reasons why people should apologize, such as bad behavior, whether it’s greed and conspicuous overconsumption or shamelessly taking advantage of people’s hopes and fears. But the simple fact of being poor isn’t one of them. Hold your head up and wear those battered sandals with pride. You’ll be following in footsteps that are much larger than your own.



1. Lzyjo - March 25, 2010

OMG. I can practically FEEL the heat of the firestorm! I love your cloak analogy. It’s like the Dalai Lama said, “I like your Christ but not your Christians.” Maybe these rich people didn’t realize the garden is a noun and a stinkin’ verb. Which does not mean you do it by-proxy. IMHO poor people, like myself, often have a richer culture than their wealthier counterparts. Heck, I’m not apologizing for my net worth, or lack of it, maybe I just don’t want money enough? Or I didn’t do the heel clicky thing, or pray to some god?

Yeah, yeah, put on those witchy-toed Manolo Blahniks before you start clicking, Lzyjo!

2. mr_subjunctive - March 25, 2010

Geez. I can see that if I wait too much longer to weigh in on all this, all the good points will be taken. I should probably get to work on that.

Ha! I’m sure that, no matter how much has been said, you’ll have something original to contribute, Mr. S.!

3. Benjamin - March 25, 2010

People get easily offended about any number of things, and I’m getting to the point where I’ll stop worrying about it and say to heck with you all. Honestly. It’s a little silly. There are more important things to get in a fuss about–buck up, be a big girl / boy. That’s the title to my new blog.

So true, Benjamin! (Yours truly not excepted.) The trick is maintaining a thick skin on one’s own behalf while remaining sensitive to others, I think. A sense of humor and perspective are essentials for both!

4. nancybond - March 25, 2010

Yes, a sense of humour is essential…and I thought the offending post was hilarious. Arrogant as all get out, but hilarious. 😉

That’s a definite upside, Nancy!

5. Elephant's Eye - March 25, 2010

I remember the first round of this rich vs poor battle, about 6 months ago, when I started blogging. Had to go back and read this ‘offending post’. It’s at Garden Rant. Skipped it the first time, because it is called Grocery Gardening. To me grocery equals a bag of flour, or a packet of pasta. What is weird – is that she is trying to sell a new book about it. No such thing as bad publicity? I wonder.

Mercifully, I missed the first one, too, Diana! And you’re so right about the publicity. I have a friend who maintains that any publicity is good publicity. And this blogger’s certainly gotten her share with that post! Whether it translates to book sales remains to be seen.

6. Jean - March 25, 2010

Ben, Have you ever read Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism? If Weber is right, the “I’m rich because God thinks I’m good and has smiled on me” goes back to the very roots of American history.
I somehow missed this whole tempest until very recently, so I’m grateful to Diana for telling me where the original post is. I like to be informed, and I could probably use a jolt of self-righteous indignation. 🙂

Ha! Classic, Jean! And no, I’ve not read the book, but it sounds like I need to. Thanks for the recommendation!

7. Jen - March 28, 2010

I missed most of this too – I’m sure it’s been pointed out that truly poor people don’t have TIME to garden because they’re working just to afford that little plot of land, or maybe the land they’re living on isn’t theirs to dig up. Time and space to garden (and blog) in itself is a luxury! What did you think of the school garden firestorm? The one that implied that teaching kids to grow their own vegetables is insulting to immigrant families who have worked so hard to keep their kids out of the fields?

I agree with you about time and space to garden and blog, Jen! I certainly feel blessed to have both! As for the whole school garden thing, I think it’s important to be sensitive to issues like this. Children should be able to choose whether or not to participate, and to consult with their parents before choosing. But I think it’s essential to give every child the choice, since nothing—and I mean NOTHING—is more important to the planet’s survival than reconnecting humans to the earth. It’s so much easier to waste and destroy something that means nothing to you than something you’ve learned to love. It’s harder to sit by and watch our land being poisoned when you know that food comes from the ground, not from stores. And, as with languages or any skill, the earlier kids learn that lesson, the better for our earth and for us all.

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