Thursday, December 08, 2005

Blue Velvet Elvis

She came into my office carrying a framed blue velvet Elvis. I hadn’t seen her in several months. She was in her early twenties, unemployed and a member of a church I had formerly pastored for a few years.

She was selling lottery tickets for the blue Elvis as a Salvation Army fund raiser. (Salvation Army raffle? Something is fishy.) I tried to get a conversation going but she was insistent on selling tickets. I bought one, an amateur homemade ticket, and tried again to get her to talk but she rushed out of my office. I thought “a girl in trouble” as I watched her leave.

She was not well educated or socialized and in need of some kind of help. What to do? Her father had an elementary school education and bragged about going through school – “in the front door and out the back”. I was educated and perceived as “the enemy”. "He won't be receptive. Perhaps I can approach a family member who can intercede."

That night I went to the milk barn of a family member whom I highly respect. As he milked I explained what had happened and his response was “Let’s forget it. He won’t talk to me either.” And, so it ended – for two years.

The newspapers contained the full story. The young lady was with a “friend” who purchased some items with a credit card. Later, the “friend” told her the card was stolen and both of them were going to jail unless they repaid the money. The blue Elvis raffle was her attempt to repay a debt for which she wasn’t responsible.

It was a grand scam. “The businesses are still going to send us to jail. I have an attorney but we need money”. She and her family met the “attorney” at McDonalds over a period of two years until they had exhausted about $120,000 – all they and the grandparents had. Finally, when the money was gone, they were desperate to keep the daughter out of jail and contacted the county seeking free legal services. This led to the arrest of the three people who had defrauded the family and the return of about $80,000.

As I think about this experience I wonder why it happened. Was it a lack of education? Yes, but that’s not the heart of the issue. I think it was pride. The family was too proud to listen and talk and consider what others might say. They were aloof and separate and proud.

I understand this and empathize with them because I was raised this way. It appears to me that a lack of education and borderline poverty tend to cause us to become proud. Remember the phrase popularized in song: “I’m poor but I’m proud”.

As I think about this experience I wonder about my pride? How much remains? To what am I blind? Am I open to family and friends and receptive to their observations and opinions? I hope so!

Julie is educated, perceptive and has experiences alien to mine. I look to her as my first line of defense against my pride, blindness and ignorance. When she speaks, I try to listen and take her words seriously. Sometimes, she sees me better than I see myself.


Blogger Paul said...

A short time ago, a young lady asked "What are you proud of?" I answered that I hesitate to use the word "pride", then went on and answered the question.
I was caught off guard by her comment that "it must be a generational thing", because her dad was skiddish of the word "pride" also.

It made me realize that this is one place where the engish language is inadequate. Two definitions of the word confuse us.
One use of the word is...
# a feeling of self-respect and personal worth
# satisfaction with your (or another's) achievements; "he takes pride in his son's success"

The other major definition is...
# unreasonable and inordinate self-esteem (personified as one of the deadly sins)

We need to find words that are less confusing.

12/08/2005 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger Paul said...


I agree.

Also, I find it interesting that, like you, I tend to avoid use of the word pride. Instead of say "I'm proud of the cabinet that I built" I will say "I'm happy with the way this turned out".

Theologically, pride is sometimes viewed as the core of sin and is a technical term.

12/08/2005 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger Buffalo said...

I'm sort of proud of being stiff necked with pride. Causes me to cut off my nose to spite my face every now and again.

Not being a contrarian, though I have been accused of so being, just tossing my ante in the pot.

12/08/2005 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Good post and good comment about the definitions of "proud." In some contexts, I think we can hear the distinction, but in others we can't.

12/08/2005 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew May said...

I think Pride can be good if you think of using it to better the way you do something, like having pride in the way you build something for example. (pleasure in your own abilities)
The kind I believe you are refering to I don't believe is pride I belive its an emotional wall.
Either the person is overly confident in their abilities that they do not believe they ever need help. Or..
Perhaps they feel "small" or insignificant and acting prideful about their situation helps them cope..perhaps.

Interesting Post Thanks :)

12/08/2005 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Sometimes I catch myself being proud and I don't like myself for it! One imagines that it is a secret vice -but probably others can see it.
You are lucky that Julie takes you to task!

12/08/2005 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger Gaye said...

I used to be full of pride; over the years it got trampled on; too much pride can lead to ignorance; but a little dab would do me just fine...

12/08/2005 07:34:00 PM  
Blogger Bonita said...

Sometimes, self-effacement can be taken to the extreme, like pride, and have an equal downside. I guess it is balance that is the key.

12/08/2005 08:06:00 PM  
Blogger George Breed said...

I am so proud of myself for not being full of pride. I am one of the most humble men I know.

12/09/2005 02:56:00 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

George, You are just cool!

12/09/2005 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger kathy said...

yeah it doesn't matter if one is highly educated or very poor. intelligence is the key i think.

12/09/2005 11:37:00 PM  
Blogger kathy said...

take welfare for example..when we fall down sometimes we need help... thats why welfare programs are there to help us until we can get back on our feet! asking for help is not irresponsible.

12/20/2005 06:06:00 PM  

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