Monday, September 15, 2008


Back in seminary, I took a class called Rural and Small Church Ministries. In it, we read a book called Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams by Alfred Lubrano. Lubrano's book is a personal reflection of what it is like to be the child of blue-collar parents who make the transition into middle-class/white-collar life. He calls this class of people "Straddlers" and through his own experience and interviews with others who have also left blue-collar upbringings to enter the white-collar world, he examines the myth that our country is a classless one where anyone can rise from rags to riches.

I could relate to a lot of what Lubrano observes. My dad and mom both came from blue-collar families. When they married, my dad worked a blue-collar job as a glazier. Entering the workforce was really the only option for him. College was for people with money or GI's who could access the GI bill. My dad was in neither category, so he went to work in the first job he could land out of high school.

Eventually, my dad went back to a local community college to get an A.A. in business. It took him 7 years of night school while working fulltime to do this. My mom stayed home to raise me and my sister. This was back in the day when a tradesman's salary could support a family. He was the first one in his family to earn any kind of degree and he moved into operations management in the retail glass industry. He wasn't crazy about the industry, but it was what he knew and he did a good job.

In essence, my dad was the first generation "Straddler." Straddlers don't have white-collar families to teach them the social ropes, make connections for them, get them into the best school, or set up trust funds for them. Straddlers live in a limbo world where they don't have the advantages of their multi-generation white-collar counterparts and they have trouble fitting in with their blue-collar families who don't understand them anymore. Straddlers carry the blue-collar values of hard work, honesty and family loyalty. They don't understand the ground rules of the white-collar social politics and this can get a Straddler into trouble in the unfamiliar arena of corporate life and white-collar society.

I am a second generation Straddler. My folks placed a high value on education, but they didn't hand it to me. They helped me by letting me live at home and commute to school (many Straddlers are commuter students), but they didn't have the financial means to pay for my education outright. I had to work while I was in school (also common for Straddlers). Because of finances, I did not live on campus where I could make connections with my fellow students and their families. I had to work, so joining a sorority and being heavily involved in the campus life of the university was not an option either. I didn't have any special "connections" to help me get into an exclusive school or help me land a prestigious job out of college.

In contrast, my husband was definitely raised in a white-collar home. His dad was a sales manager with Anheuser-Busch for 35 years and his mom was a nurse. He was fortunate to have the option to live on campus when he attended Virginia Tech - no commuting for him. He worked, but as a coop student meaning he alternated between fulltime study and fulltime work throughout his schooling. His parents footed most of the bill for his college education. He is very comfortable in the white-collar world. Sometimes we have disagreements which are rooted in the class differences of our upbringings.

Being a Straddler can be frustrating. It's hard to live between two worlds and not really belong to either one. But, I also realized that being a Straddler is more than just straddling class lines. I've been a Straddler in more than one way. I've straddled geography by living on the west coast and the east coast. I've straddled the American sub-cultures of dynamic pioneers and settled parochials. I've straddled denominations between the Lutheran and Episcopal churches. Being a Straddler has helped me navigate all these differences and move between them. Being a Straddler has taught me there are lots of people who don't fit into nice neat categories and the necessity of seeing past the surface.

I think the ability to see past what is on the surface is crucial to being a Christian. Denying our human tendency to classify people by their class, race, gender, orientation is dangerous. If we deny these ugly parts of us, we will neither seek healing or find it. St. Paul said, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28). Human created categories are nullified by our baptism, and yet we still fall into the trap of categorizing people. This is a point of continuing repentance - I don't think we'll ever come to a point of "getting it" and eliminating our mental categorizing of people. But acknowledging it is the first step in repentance and restoration in Christ with all our brothers and sisters.

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