By Marianne Evans-Lombe –
I was raised upper-middle class, in a violent home. I got pregnant at age 17 – not because I wanted to escape from that home but because I had sex with my boyfriend without access to birth control or sex education. My parents threw me out of the house. As violent as my childhood was, I was surprised. I was determined to get a high school diploma, not a GED, and figured I would stay there to finish it. I had appealed to the principal prior to ever telling my parents I was pregnant and was granted permission to be the first person to graduate from our high school while carrying a child. I married my son’s father, but I didn’t want to. I divorced him as soon as I could. He and I had been working class poor – a change from my childhood for sure – but nothing compared to what happened to me when I left him. I had no experience with poverty. I had to learn – the rules, the language, how to turn everything into a resource. Even then, my new friends, who had been poor for generations, told me: “You’ll get out.” I did. And I didn’t.
I am an artist. It is my calling. I have been a single mother since I was 19 years old. I have four children. One of them, the one I had at age 17, has schizophrenia. I have a BFA and a MA in art. I am still poor. The main reason for this is that both things I have dedicated my life to – my art and mothering my children better than I was mothered – are unpaid or poorly paid work. I work hard. I got my bachelor’s degree with one small son and no car. I had two children during my master’s degree. Their father turned out to be an alcoholic. My son got ill with schizophrenia. The mental health system failed us. I had a nervous breakdown. I still made art. I still mothered well. I still worked. I still do.
I have been in Tulsa for a year-and-a-half. My youngest daughter spent some time here a few years ago when I was in South America working as an artist. She went with friends to All Souls. My move here was preceded by my attendance at Tulsa dance workshops. One day, driving down Peoria on my way to one of those workshops, Rosa spotted All Souls and exclaimed: “Mommy, there is that church that I love.” We went.
My immediate impression of All Souls was that I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t buy the books or CDs for sale; I couldn’t afford to attend any events; I couldn’t afford to join and tithe; I could barely afford the gas to drive there each week from north Tulsa where I live; and I couldn’t afford the Wednesday night dinners. This last one was the worst. Because I am in love with community dinners. And because every week in church service, someone stands at the pulpit and says in a beautiful voice: “Everyone is welcome at our table.” I’m not. I can’t afford the $13 a week it would cost to feed my daughter and myself. That is $52 a month. For four meals.
I’m lucky. I grew up upper-middle class. I ate Thanksgiving dinner with doctors, lawyers, and judges. I speak the language. I know the rules. I have a graduate level education. I am a professional in my field. I have no debt. I have great credit. I am on food stamps. I have a Section 8 housing voucher. I drive the same paid-for car for seven or eight years, spending the life of that car saving the cash to buy the next one that will last the seven or eight years I need to save the money to buy the next one. I never eat out. I ask for every scholarship I can get for my daughter and myself. I monitor every dollar I spend. I have been exhausted for 30 years. I made it out. And I didn’t. I pass as one of you. And I don’t. I cannot afford your church.
Marianne Evans-Lombe is a visual and performance artist. She creates body drawings. With her hand, she makes marks on paper, canvas, acetate, clay, and other materials. With her body, she gives movement to line, shape, words, and images. Her performances are grounded in mark making and her drawings are grounded in motion. Marianne holds a BFA and an MA in Visual Art from Pittsburg State University. She is an activist in both her work and her personal life. She currently resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
[Editor’s note: Inspired by our November theme of Gratitude, we wanted to spark a larger conversation on Socio-Economic barriers in our church community. For many of our members, when they donate to charity, collect and distribute food, or talk about disadvantaged citizens in our community, they are thinking of those outside our congregation. Coming Out of the Food Pantry is an attempt to “break the ice” on the subject of income inequality at All Souls.
For an informed and open-hearted exchange about class, attend the upcoming course, Classism, lead by Rev. Barbara Prose and some of our writers, launching early 2016.]