Friday, January 30, 2009

Murder for Child Care

We've endured four suicide/family-murder news reports in southern California in the last three months, but this one tugs at my heart differently.

In this case the parents of five kids falsified their income to qualify for low-cost child care; that fraud cost them their jobs, both with the same employer, near the nonprofit child development agency to which they'd applied.

Three days ago the father used a gun to kill his wife, almost eight-year-old daughter, twin daughters five years old, and twin sons two years old.

"...we have no job and five children under 8 years with no place to go," said the suicide note of Ervin Antonio Lupoe in Wilmington, a working-class neighborhood in the shadow of oil refineries near Long Beach.

My sister-in-law with one set of twins coped by hiring a nanny for six years in Malibu. How do you cope with two sets of twins and an older child? Would Ana Lupoe have liked to stay home and care for her kids herself? Sounds as if that wasn't an option.

Ervin and Ana each earned $40 per hour as radiological technicians at a hospital; on their application they had claimed to be earning less than $10 per hour. Before being fired, they were already one month behind on their mortgage and unable to pay $17,000 in property taxes and penalties, according to the LA Times reports.

This tragedy takes me back to the days when I was earning $20,000 a year teaching part-time, and my earnings never quite equalled the cost of child-care for three kids.

If I hired 40 hours per week of care for the baby in my home, I paid $10/hr or $1700 per month--but the three-year-old needed the stimulation of preschool, another $2000 per month. Then when both were in preschool, I still needed someone to meet my older daughter when school got out at 2:35 pm. With three kids, I couldn't seem to get child care under $4000 per month, while my take home was something like $1500 per month, maybe $3000 if I worked two part-time jobs.

In my case, my husband's salary took care of our mortgage and living expenses. I felt bad that my income could barely equal the child care.

Why was I even working? I was inching toward a full-time college teaching position, which eventually came. Staying home with my children was an option but not what I wanted.

The financial stretching around two sets of twins and another daughter, not to mention the emotional strain, is all too real to me. My child-care costs were twenty years ago, but I expect today a child in a low-cost center would still be maybe $2-3,000 per month. Times two is $5,000, for twelve months is $60,000--or more.

And that's just the two-year-olds. Someone still had to care for the older kids after school, especially the two with just a half-day in kindergarten.

Of course $60,000 plus another amount was a strain, even for a family with an income before taxes of $166,000.

I don't mean to excuse the father's insane solution.

I'm just asking everyone to consider the human cost of not providing affordable, subsidized child care in this county, the way European countries do.

With unemployment rising, holes in the supposed national safety net become increasingly tragic.

~ ~ ~
See "Couple in Wilmington murder-suicide fired for alleged fraud," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 29:,0,3963081.story

Other recent killings:
October 5,
Porter Ranch: Karthik Rajaram killed his wife, mother-in-law and three sons, and himself, panicking over the stock market plunge.
December 24, Covina: Bruce Pardo killed his wife, himself, and 8 others in a bitter divorce case.
May, 2008: Magrit Ucar killed her husband and herself; he and three other family members, including twin daughters who had just graduated from college, had taken drug overdoses in a mysterious family-enmeshment case with five deaths (All the details of this tragedy appeared in an LA Times analysis on Jan. 23.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

R.R. Ruether: Moments of Silence

Rosemary Radford Ruether wrote and presented the liturgy today at Women-Church in Claremont.

It was her "Tripartite Apple" liturgy, a means of healing women from damage done by certain Scriptures.

After singing "Song of the Soul" (by Cris Williams), we read three harmful passages, each followed by a moment of silence for the women wounded by these words over the centuries.

Leviticus 12:1-8 -- A moment of silence for women wounded by these words.

Ephesians 5:21-24 -- A moment of silence for women wounded by these words.

I Timothy 2:11-15 -- A moment of silence for women wounded by these words.

The silence was deep and moving.

Then Rosemary led us to celebrate Eve as a seeker of wisdom with apple juice and slices of apple dipped in applesauce (that we may continue to be saucy), each person passing the elements to the next with the words, "Know that you are good."

Of course, we also shared our thoughts and concerns: one woman who had been at the inauguration, others asking for prayers and/or contributions to:
* the Panzi Hospital for raped and mutilated women in the Congo,
* the Middle East Children's Alliance bringing medicine to Gaza (see,
* Valerie Jared, senior aide to President Obama.

Theresa Yugar read Goodnight, Bush, a parody of the classic children's bedtime story. See

We ended dancing in a circle and singing, "We Are Dancing Sarah's Circle."

In Memoriam: Shabana

Toward the end of today's long report in the New York Times on the Taliban's increasing power in Pakistan are the following three sentences:

Even in Mingora, a town grown hardened to violence, residents were shocked early this month to find the bullet-ridden body of one of the city's most famous dancing girls splayed on the main square.

Known as Shabana, the woman was visited at night by a group of men who claimed to want to hire her for a party. They shot her to death and dragged her body more than a quarter-mile to the central square, leaving it as a warning for anyone who would flout Taliban decrees.

Final paragraphs of the story detail the new ban on girls attending school in the Swat valley, reporting that 169 girls' schools have been destroyed and most will stay closed rather than try to reopen with the beginning of the next school year in February 2010.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Aretha Franklin & Rick Warren: Electric

Today's inauguration, like a tsunami, rolled across North America and the rest of world with an emotional impact not lessened by distance.

Three thousand miles away, in my classroom in California, it hit me with unexpected force just after the invocation, when Aretha Franklin was throwing herself into "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."

" where my father died," she sang--not "our fathers."

Suddenly the life of a black man born in 1910 or '20 flashed before my eyes, and I felt tears. He could not have imagined this moment, just as we can't really imagine what his life was like.

I looked him up online later: the Reverend C. L. Franklin, a Baptist preacher and civil rights activist, born in Mississippi in 1915, died in 1984.

I wasn't expecting to get emotional today; it seemed pretty straightforward to me, getting the new president sworn in. The hard part was last November 2, getting him elected; that was the mountaintop experience for me.

But actually, because my lifespan matches that of most of the players today, there were many points where I felt touched.

My senator, Dianne Feinstein, was the MC, the same person who announced the deaths of George Moscone and Harvey Milk in November, 1978, when I was living on a hill above San Francisco.

Rick Warren, who gave the opening prayer, preaches an hour south of me at Saddleback Church in Orange County. In 1988 or so I participated in a panel on abortion at his church.

He gave an excellent prayer, during which my main preoccupation was, "How will he close it? 'In Jesus name we pray'?" After all, that's how we evangelicals close our prayers.

Warren came up with a great solution: "I pray in the name of the one who changed my life, Y'shuah, Isa, Jesus (pronounced Hay-SOOS), Jesus, who taught us to pray 'Our Father....' "

He acknowledged his multifaith, multiethnic audience by using the Hebrew, Arabic/Muslim, Spanish, and English names of Jesus--as well as witnessing to Jesus' power in his own life and implying that Jesus' life and death is for everyone. I could hear echoes of "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth and under the earth" (Phil. 2:10).

Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," as reworked by John Williams, sang to all our hearts. Even wordless, the Shaker hymn's words spoke loud for me as an ironic commentary on where the US stands at this moment:
'Tis the gift to be simple,
'Tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down
Where you ought to be...

The oath itself was fumbled by Chief Justice John Roberts--how could he do that? Such a simple line, the heart of the day to be replayed on countless news broadcasts.

President Obama's speech set just the right tone, including his quote from I Corinthians 13:11, "The time has come to 'set aside childish things.' "

I liked his lines, "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West--know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.... we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Again, I heard ironic echoes: the past eight years are judged as a time of more destroying than building. The US must unclench its own fist.

What a lovely "Praise Song for the Day" from Elizabeth Alexander! "
We encounter each other in words...
What if the mightiest word is Love?
... Anything can be made, any sentence begun."

And a ka-pow closing prayer from the Reverend Joseph Lowery, the 87-year-old man who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King fifty years ago.

He started by quoting from the Negro National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing:"

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray....

In the voice of various prophets, he warned, "...deliver us from the exploitation of the poor or the least of these and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.... [lest] we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president...." (Hosea 8:7 "...for they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.")

Then he spoke of that day "when tanks will be beaten into tractors," updating Micah 4:3-5.

Lowery left no great prophet untapped, certainly not Amos, quoting "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream" (Amos 5:24).

Then he ended to applause with a humorous rap petition:

...We ask you to help us work for that day
when black will not be asked to get back,
when brown can stick around,
when yellow will be mellow,
when the red man can get ahead, man --
and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

Yes, it was spectacular. I got my money's worth out of this inauguration, even though I had to be in a classroom calling roll for the first day of the spring semester at California State University in Northridge, just north of Los Angeles, at 9:30 this morning.

The campus tech wizards had sent me an email saying that with a few clicks of a remote, I could activate an overhead projector and get a cable broadcast of whichever television channel I wanted.

I arrived an hour early to make sure I pushed the right buttons on the DVD/VHS player, the amplifier, and the projector. It worked! So from 8:45 am on, I sat in the back row watching the inauguration as students filed into the classroom and sat down.

At 9:30, some turned toward me as if to say, "Aren't you going to turn the projector off and call roll?"

"Not until after the prayer!" I said. After all, the class is RS 304 in the Religious Studies department.

The sad undercurrent: from beginning to end, Warren to Lowery, God was Father. Aretha sang about "my father." Lowery spoke of the red man.

The new president and vice president are men, as usual.

Women's turn will come fifty or a hundred years after the racial issues are tackled, as usual.