Of Liberty and Underemployment

Every summer hundreds of Irish students disembark Berkeley BART station to earn their keep for a summer in San Fran. They come with a J-1 Visa; find a job within a month or go home. These new arrivals go out in groups to drop their CV’s (Irish for resume) wherever mass transit will take them. They wander until their feet hurt, and return with sunburns to their new abodes, perhaps a room full of mattresses in a busy frat house.

Within weeks, the Irish have taken hundreds of openings in stores and restaurants within a forty mile range. Along Telegraph, Piedmont, and Shattuck, chances are you’ll hear that familiar lilt coming from your cook, cashier, or pale and pretty hostess. They are here for a good time, but they are invited to work. The area loses work when the students go home to the summer, and the Irish fill the gap and maintain the nightlife.

I am an American and I need a job. I am 23, I graduated college last year with a degree in the humanities, and I’m still hanging around the college scene. I’m not saying I don’t know other 23 year olds. Who says I don’t go out every other weekend with my girlfriend and ten other coupled 23 year olds to bars with wood paneling and craft beer specials? The point is, I am between two phases and a bit adrift on what to do next. I do know, and we all know, that I now need a job to duck destitution rather than deportation.

I’m not looking for a job in a shop or a restaurant; I’m ready for an office, just to pay my bills in between now and grad school. We all want to go to grad school. I have dress shirts, a clothes iron, and I can tie a bow tie. I try to take to the classic professional approach; it adds some charm to my quivering upstart base. I need a job that one, the Irish don’t have, and two, that pays my bills with some to spare.

Then I saw a flyer on one of the many construction sites around campus. SUMMER JOBS: ACLU canvassers wanted. The Irish can’t take it because of their type of visa. Sometimes I take the role of a college student, and sometimes a college graduate. The former got me this time. I took a tab thinking I’d hit pay dirt. I showed up to the interview all quaffed in a grey suit and discovered I’d hit dirt pay.

I was a millennial clipboard jerk. Hi my name is Eric and I’m a paid fundraiser working on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union. They looked at me like I was a mosquito eater. Sure you don’t bite but go away anyways. This was a door to door job that had me in Anywhere, Oakland selling vague Utopian promises with all the credibility of a paper name tag.

The day started in an office. Pro tips: once you get to the office, choose a clipboard first thing so you can get one of the good ones. If you bring your own pens, you’ll have a pen. The shirts are damp with another’s sweat but you’re more likely to make quota with a shirt than with a name tag. We got in, practiced, slumped into a clown car and went out all day with a clipboard and a name tag. In the day it was hot, past 7:30 people were irritated, and it was cold until 9. My feet hurt and I wanted a beer, day after day.

I was good at it. I made quota and got promoted. Then I got chased by a dog. Then I trekked a mile out of territory to relieve myself in a sketchy homeless person bathroom. Then Anywhere, Oakland, was anywhere in Oakland, which wasn’t always hospitable. Then there was no real possibility of commission and it became clear that I couldn’t pay my bills with it. I fulfilled my administrative responsibilities for the day and politely excused myself from my employer.

So I am a college graduate and not a college student. So now what? Both of the roles I’m tackling agree that the ACLU is a fine organization. With our friends the Democrats presiding over a land of cameras and prisons, who else will keep the guns pointed away from us while we cloak ourselves in entitlement and dive into a brave new world? Then who did I represent: the ACLU or the company they contracted to raise funds for their political lobby? Either way, organizations with such strong ties to the labor movement should have higher labor standards. It’s part of dealing with our lot.

Then what is the lot of my age group? We are more educated than our parents, yet we approach a world that demands us to be ever more refined cogs. Broad interests are no interests at all. Office software familiarity is as common as typing skills. You have no skills, no network, and wipe that smirk off your face. While I’m betting on being presentable and capable, will this land me work or land me in the same situation as millions of college graduates who move back in with their parents until they are twenty six and find a job that will be twice as specialized as it is now.

Now I’m a young man. I want to find love, have friends, and have the sense of freedom that comes with taking care of oneself. Then I went home on Father’s Day and hear thirty is the new twenty and life is only going to get more demanding. Do I take a college student job and tough it out like the Irish so I can return home to poverty and a bit of fun, let the mounting abyss of indecision paralyze me, or supplicate myself like a company man to squeeze a job I won’t be qualified for in three years? If you’re saying the world is bleak and I am meek now, don’t despair.

We will inherit the Earth. Clipboard jerking for the ACLU reminded me I’m capable and willing to work hard. We struggle for a place that we will eventually take for ourselves. We are more educated than our parents. Last week two of my friends went bust and are moving back with mom. They had jobs and came home worn and hungry from them to a nice house in a bad neighborhood. They’ve still got time but whose patient? The man has a towering intellect and the woman has the qualifications to run her own theater. Too bad for now, but their abilities remain. We’re all taking the same beating.

Your parents took the beating. The beating has always been around. Your backwards ancestors wanted creationism taught in schools because they felt evolution and the implied competition in that philosophy would subject us to a level of dehumanization not fit for their Christian social progress. The ACLU fought against this in court, most famously in the Scopes trial, for the same reasons you’d favor science today. While you wouldn’t call the current face of Christian politics progressive, we might take that a feeling of dread and dehumanization is and has been universal no matter which political umbrella one cowers under.

So then don’t cower. Are you feeling alienated in your own homeland? The Irish are foreigners and yet they are able to make their own place every year. Remind yourself, this is our land and we are the most able bodied, and the most educated. The coveted youth vote is still ours to be diverted into any project whatsoever. The technology and culture of tomorrow is ours to invent. Our work is valuable, desirable, and innovative. We’ve navigated the most dynamic time in human history our entire lives and will handle it better than our predecessors. Keep producing work, and aim for the work you are entitled to.

The good news about Pope Francis

As the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the rejuvenation of the Earth through Christ, they may well be celebrating a rejuvenation in the Papacy. The unprecedented resignation of one pope and the ascension of an extremely qualified Argentinean Jesuit lend new and optimistic possibilities for the future of the struggling church. On Easter, March 31, Pope Francis delivered his first Easter Address as Pope on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. The Easter Address is traditionally to rejoice the Risen Christ, Christ’s redemption of the world, and make a plea for international understanding and world peace. The new pope hit all of these marks, and also hinted at progressive views on social justice and the environment. These small hints of progress in the body of tradition reflect a greater urge on the part of the Church under a new leader to reassert itself without reinventing itself.

It is important to note that the hints were steeped in the language of Christianity rather than politics. That is, while Pope Francis condemned “greed for easy gain” and expressed sympathy for the poor and those in prison, the progressivism there is well aligned with Christian teachings.  That is exactly the point. You might call it progressive, but you must certainly call it Christian. The pope must equate tradition with progress in order to engage both the faithful and the world .

Pope Francis’s statements on the environments, on the other hand, appear to apply Christianity to a mainly progressive idea. In his speech, he condemns the, “iniquitous exploitation of natural resources” and asks Christ to make us, “responsible guardians of creation.” In this case environmental squander is equated with sin, and our scriptural dominion over nature is tempered with a duty to protect it. Importantly, these ideas are not traditionally Christian, but rather adapts the language of Christianity to a progressive issue. The new pope is astutely seeking to equate modern and Christian philosophy to build the legitimacy of the Church.

This policy embracing the modern world and seeking legitimacy within the limits of orthodoxy is not new to the Modern Papacy. Perhaps its most renowned practitioner  is John Paul the Great (II), who is now well on his way to sainthood. Pope John Paul II supported the reforms of Vatican II, worked on interfaith dialogue with religious leaders around the world, supported Solidarity in Poland, and vehemently opposed Apartheid.  In all of these Pope John Paul II used his influence to engage the modern world in a Catholic context.

Pope Francis has the right mix of symbolic importance and qualifications to continue the process of adapting to the modern world within the bounds of orthodoxy. First, he comes in at the time of a papal resignation that is unique in papal history. Not only was the last time a pope resigned in 1417, a pope has never resigned for the reason of exhaustion. It sets the kind of precedent that if followed will forever alter the course of the Papacy. Increasingly in Papal Conclaves merit is replacing seniority. With this precedent might we be looking at meritocratic temporary popes, and what will become of the office of Roman Pontiff Emeritus, which Benedict XVI inhabits now?

Secondly,  Pope Francis is the first Jesuit and the first South American Pope. The significance of both of these facts must not be understated. Jesuits, or the Society of Jesus, have long been a powerful and often suppressed order within the Church focused on charity, education, theology, and ecumenical dialogue. A Jesuit pope is symbol of these works and ascetic values.

It is perhaps more important that he is the first South American Pope. South Americans now make up the single largest group of the world’s roughly 1.2 billion Catholics due to centuries of Iberian settlement . The ascension of an Argentinean to the chair of St. Peter reflects and increasingly global and meritocratic ecclesiastical hierarchy, as well as a break from European primacy within the Church.

Third, Pope Francis is the perfect fit for the job at this time. His rise through the church hierarchy can only be described as meteoric. He is a profoundly gifted theologian and in a short time became the leader of the Jesuits in Argentina, a rector of theology at a university, and then the Archbishop of Buenos Aries. As Archbishop he worked as an advocate for the Eastern Orthodox Church to the government to help the Ukrainian immigrant community. He also reconciled clergymen that were defrocked during the military dictatorship in Argentina. His assumed asceticism, humility, and theological achievements lend him credibility as a spiritual leader, which is the pope’s primary function.
Moreover, he excels at symbolic gestures and the moderate policies that an immoveable yet accessible church depends on. In an act of asceticism, he has chosen to reside at the papal guest house, rather than the papal apartment. Granted, this is trading one palace for another, but as a symbol it sets an excellent example for the clergy and gives him credence a spiritual leader in ways that opulence would not. Moreover, his name taken from St. Francis of Assisi, is symbolic of an ascetic who dedicates his life to peace and the poor, and the patron saint of the environment.

The new pope’s  career reflects a combination between the active and progress role of John Paul II and Jesuit additions that can only increase the legitimacy of the Church.  It would not be unwise to predict his leadership will further charity, interfaith dialogue, peace missions, education, and altogether use traditional outlets to improve the reputation of the Church in the modern world.

Why this middle road where progress is reined in by Orthodoxy? The Catholic Church has extremely deep roots linking it to centuries past. It is from these roots that it takes its prestigious styling as the one true and universal Church. They must also react to other forms of Christianity; Protestants and Anglicans define themselves as apart from the Catholic Church, and the Church has historically done likewise. The Church proclaims seniority and therefore must define itself as being the most traditional. Even Catholic Reformation movements such as Vatican II and the Council of Trent have been aimed at reasserting itself to the world by restating its values. For this reason John Paul II could not support female ordination, and Pope Francis will not likely support same-sex marriage in the face of adaptive Protestant groups. To do so would not be Catholic, and thus the pressure for popes to remain orthodox despite criticism is huge.

The new pope had better be as good I predict, because he inherits the leviathan task of spiritually leading 1.2 billion, and administrating a worldwide bureaucracy racked with banking and sex scandals, the legacy of collaboration with rightist dictators, and an identity increasingly cemented in an ancient sexual morality. However, this symbolically important pope also has the opportunity to utilize the means available to him in the context of this tradition. by emphasizing charity, education, and diplomatic and humanitarian missions, Pope Francis has an opportunity to use the immense power of the Vatican for universal good, which will both redeem the church in the eyes of the world, and reassert its purpose to itself. From the center balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica addresses not only the crowd of faithful, but the entire world.