Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.

What I Do Believe: Day 19 of the April Poetry Challenge

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I am an advocate. For many years this was my profession (and in a few short weeks it will be again), but regardless of whether or not I have been paid to vehemently defend my opinions to anyone who would listen, fighting for justice has always been my inclination.

That being said, I have made an effort to avoid most political debates on this blog for at least two reasons.

First, there are enough political blogs out there –  at least 417,000 more political blogs than are probably useful or helpful to the debate on any given issue. My opinions, no matter how brilliantly expressed, will be just one more drop in the fetid, polluted bucket of pundit-strewn waste water that is the political blogosphere.

For another reason, I’ve been undergoing a bit of personal growth over the last few years around the whole issue of “being right.” I really like to be right. My sense of self-worth is actually a little bit tied up in my ability to “win the argument.” Being on the right side of a debate is not a bad goal in and of itself, but there are other things that actually matter more in many cases – as I have realized from trying to teach this to my children. Things like kindness, and respectful listening, and openness to the possibility that there is more for me to learn about the topic at hand. Social justice is no less important to me now than it has ever been, but I am a bit suspicious of my ability to enter the debate in a way that will be both helpful and non-corrupting to my own soul.

Today, however, I am breaking my unwritten rule. I am doing so because I feel like I have to. I listened in on a conference call on Thursday that outlined the federal budget bill recently passed my the House of Representatives (ridiculously called the “path to prosperity”), and I can’t stay silent. I just can’t. It would cause me intense physical pain.

So, today’s poem is my effort to process my frustration. I don’t know that it will add anything terribly constructive to a debate in which the opposing sides barely recognize each other as human beings, but here’s hoping…


What I Do Believe

(a.k.a. My – admittedly feisty – response to a budget plan that has no chance to actually become law, but which is still both offensive and dangerous in its message and therefore demands a response.)


Do you want me to believe

that this “path” leads to my prosperity?

that you have constructed a ladder,

with no lower rungs,

that our economy can climb?

that rhetoric and messaging which make NO SENSE

are not paternalistic,


a pat on the head for us silly people who believe in “equal opportunity”?

Do you want me to believe

that just because my family does not use “assistance” programs,

I’ll be better off if they are cut?

that my health will improve with 40 million more uninsured?

that my workplace will be more innovative if fewer students can afford college?

that my children will learn more if fewer classmates attend quality preschool?

that my food will be cheaper, or taste better, if more of my neighbors are hungry?

that my security will be ensured if the safety net is cut enough for “those people” to fall through?

Do you want me to believe

that personal responsibility is the only kind that is important?

that there is no community or societal version?

that demands for individual performance are fair

regardless of a cliff-strewn playing field?

and that you are NOT responsible to own the specifics of this plan

the programs,

and the people,

that would be starved by your unspecified “discretionary cuts.”

Do you really want me to believe

that nothing is more important

than deficit reduction?

not food?

not education?

not new jobs?

not even human life?

Not anything, in fact,

except Defense spending,

and, of course, $200,000 more for every millionaire.

I’m afraid I can’t believe all that. But I’ll tell you what I DO believe.


I do believe

that a strong society requires strong commitments,

from individuals and industries, yes,

and also from our government.

that rhetoric is meaningless

and messaging is often pretty lies.

and that you can best judge a path

by the steps it leads you down.

I do believe

that when a program helps my neighbor meet a genuine need,

it helps me!

A neighbor that gets preventative care

makes my health spending more efficient.

A diverse population with Pell Grants for college

gives me co-workers who will know things I do not.

HeadStart preschool for poor children

makes my children’s schools more effective at teaching.

Food stamps that go where there is need,

bring more dollars to my local grocery store.

And a strong safety net offers more security

than the proverbial rising tide,

if I ever find myself drowning.

I do believe

that personal responsibility works best

in a society that understands its own obligations.

that inequality exists

and batters down so many who could give so much

if we could give them a hand up.

that numbers on a page translate to lives,

to faces,

to opportunities

that disappear from view

if sweeping cuts deny society’s role

in individuals’ success.

And I do believe I know the two most important things.

My love of God, that is for me

I will not judge your faith, that’s not my place.

But loving neighbor as yourself, that’s for us all,

a golden rule that stands the test of time,

and culture,

and political persuasion.

And these two most important things convince me


if any of the programs you would cut

are good for ME.

If they can help

the “least of these”

they are worth paying for.


Author: Serena Gideon Rice

In early 2011 my family moved our home, temporarily, from New Jersey to Milan, Italy. In the process I quit what had been my dream job conducting policy-directed social science research, to focus on my other dream job, raising our two young children. The three-year adventure was exciting, exhausting, disorienting, fulfilling, and countless other contradictions. It also birthed in me a desire to share my reflections on life's joys and challenges with anyone who cares to reflect with me. Now that we have returned to the US I'm finding that the new perspective I gained in Europe has come with me, and gives me a whole new way of interacting with my home. There's still so much to learn and share! I hope you'll share the journey, and add your own lessons to my daily education.

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