Grateful for the Hands that Labor

Labor Day: Justice. Workers. Solidarity. Sweat of the brow. Sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.

Or...Picnics. Beaches. Hot dogs. TV telethons.

This is the common dilemma of Labor Day. This day of rest, set aside to honor labor, is usually remembered more for the fun things you do on a day off than for the workers it honors. This is certainly not unique—look at Memorial Day or Christmas and how easy it is to be so busy enjoying them that we forget what they're supposed to be about.

But it is good and right that we all spend a little time thinking about labor and what a life of faith calls us to in relation to the work that runs the world we're in. Having had the choice not to work on an assembly line or in the field—a choice partially bought for me by those who came before—Labor Day reminds me of those who labor still.

What do we know about the people who grow our food and ship it to us, who build our houses and cars and sew our shirts, who pick up our garbage and cleaned our college dormitory, and who may one day feed us and bathe us if we are hospitalized or in a nursing home? What do we know about how they are treated, the dangers they face in the course of their jobs, the wages they receive?

As people of faith we should both mourn and act to change things when God's words from Isaiah 65 are sinfully reversed, when people build houses but don't get to live in them, plant food but don't get enough to eat, bathe our sores but don't make enough to keep their water turned on.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1994
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