The Elite?

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the elite. When I start to think about all of the cultural rules that have been created that unintentionally separate the elite from those who are not, I get sick to my stomach. I think I become anxious because I realize that the elite don't know that they are creating these uncrossable boundary lines and because the fact that I realize this makes me somewhat responsible to translate what is happening. The trouble is that in order for me to translate I need to step into those cultural places and speak and act a certain way, which I want to think that I refuse to do. So I bind myself in this odd place of knowing and recognizing what is happening but being tongue-tied and feeling inadequate to translate.

I don't think the elite really understand that they are elite. When they do understand, I don't think they understand how inaccessible they are. They think that anyone and everyone could do and be what they are if they wanted to. They don't understand that they speak a different language, as well as interact and network in ways that are different and nearly unexplainable to the rest of the world.

For example, thousands of people submit recommendations of names of people they would like to have honored with an award. Once the submission deadline has passed, one person who has access to the director of the agency giving the award calls the director and submits a name. The name submitted after the deadline via the phone call receives the honor. (No reference to President Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize is intended in this illustration.)

Or have you ever wondered how people get on the best seller lists? Is it possible that they already have a significant network of business colleagues and investors who help them get on that list? Could they purchase a significant quantity of their own book in order to make it look like a top seller? Does being on the best seller list represent quality of writing or quality of marketing?

Then speeches - this is personally a topic that is very close to my heart. The people who are chosen to deliver speeches in settings of great honor, speak and present in a certain way. Their speeches are delivered in a manner that is somewhat inaccessible to all audiences which makes them "elite." Culturally speaking it wouldn't be authentic for someone who isn't white and an adult male to speak in this manner. When a woman tries it on for style, it works, but it just doesn't flow the same. People of other cultures may not present in the three-point sequential format or might show too much emotion for a professional affair. I am not saying that these people who are invited to speak as part of a lecture series are not interesting or eloquent. Rather, what I am saying is that the definition of interesting and eloquent in these settings is unintentionally racist, ego-centric, and sexist. The wall exists and they don't even know that they have created it and in order for them to understand that it has been created they have to be told in their own language and style. So, who will tell them?

This is why I get sick to my stomach. How do I use the language of the elite, which I am slowly gaining access to in order to show them how this language is marginalizing? Especially when my attempts to do so get a response that is cloaked in words of morality and educational superiority? I have a taste of the language, but not a full grasp - the tension is whether or not I want to gain a better grasp and whether it is possible to gain a better grasp without being absorbed in it myself. Reality is, I don't know if I want it! What I taste is bitter. It is all well-intentioned, but it is bitter!

And so my response is a desire to slip away into a parsonage in the country and become an unknown name to the elites in order to train the next generation to think differently and be different and by so doing destabilize the rules of the elite. And at this point in my wanderings my mind feels wrapped up like a ball of yarn that has been toyed with by a kitten. It seems as though I do not know anymore what is logical in these musings. I am one of the elite and at the same time very separate from them.

I once heard Os Guinness say that with globalization geographical borders have been replaced by social and economic borders and the elites of each country have more in common with each other then with the citizens of their own country.

I think I'll leave this blog with this thought. Please comment.


Katie Z. Dawson said…
in many ways I totally understand your situation and at the same time didn't quite have the same experiences. where you are is a horse of a completely different color than nashville.

I worked with a congregation that spanned social classes however. There were extremely powerful people who represented our city business, political, and social interests. And there were homeless men and poor graduate students and everyone in between.

For the most part - those worlds didn't collide except at the communion table. The church was just too big and the classes themselves were pretty clique-y.

Occasionally there were glimpses of boundary crossing. But outside of the church would they have still existed? Probably.

It's that whole call to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted - how as pastors do we shake people out of their elite protective boundaries and show them the heart of their own humanity and what they are doing to the rest of us? and how do we give those who are suffering the confidence to challenge the boundaries they didn't create?

Oh - and those dynamics exist in small country churches too =) Although they are a bit more subtle and a lot more entrenched.

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