We’re telling ourselves, our neighbors, and this country that we care about the everyday lives of the people, that we’re willing to work to protect them. We’re willing to care for the environment when we recycle and dig in the dirt and support our national parks, we’re willing to protest in the streets when we see injustice, and we’re willing to pray in our homes that the resistance-heart and hard-working hands of Jesus bleeds into who we are in every moment of our lives.
We have lost touch with the deep significance of work by separating the dignity, creativity, and livelihood of work from the individual person. In today’s emphasis on consumer capitalism — results and products — we have forgotten the interconnectedness of all our work, and the way we are baptized into the human community and live out that baptism through participating in purposeful work with our hands and feet.
I was once asked to participate in our organization’s "Take Your Daughter to Work" celebration, and found myself both amused and challenged when one of our young participants queried the panel, "Does your work interfere with your life?"
My initial reply was that my work is a very important part of my life — something that is central to it, and that adds meaning, structure, and texture. Since the time of that panel discussion, I’ve thought a lot about what else I should have said. So I want to use this opportunity to share some additional thoughts — about how to have a youth work career that enhances your own life as well as the lives of others.
Here are what I regard as a few guiding principles.
It’s hard to follow through on our commitments. It’s hard to do what we know to be right.
We don’t need Jesus to remind us of all that. Most of us figured it out easily enough on our own.
What, then, does Jesus contribute to our understanding of what a well-lived life looks like? Can he help people of faith be agents of change, people who look at our fouled-up world and make differences that will benefit other people and will give voice to God’s desire for human flourishing?
A Parable and Its Surrounding Story
When we read about a parable Jesus tells concerning two sons -- one who verbally refuses his father’s command to work in a vineyard but later changes his mind and obeys, and another who agrees to toil in the vineyard but does not keep his promise -- we might be tempted to moralize it. We may assume its message is simply “Actions speak louder than words!” or “Don’t be such a hypocrite!” or “Obey your father!”
More serious: how inattentive to what’s going on at this point in the Gospel according to Matthew.
A theology of labor involves Genesis 2:15 – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
Labor is fundamentally a good thing and a theology of labor includes responsible stewardship of the earth’s resources. The first chapter of Genesis is obsessed with telling us that the world is good. As such, God calls us to labor for it, to responsibly keep and care for it.
Of course, labor often involves hard, back breaking work that doesn’t always feel good. Genesis 3 puts forth an explanation that God cursed the earth because of human sin, making labor much more difficult. Whatever we think about that explanation, the Bible is much more interested in a different curse when it comes to labor — how we humans curse one another.
Like everything in this good world, the goodness of labor can be exploited. The prime biblical example of this comes from Exodus, which describes how the Hebrews were exploited as slaves in Egypt.
They were forced to labor.
The only way to win the “war on poverty” is for liberals and conservatives to make peace — for the sake of the poor. That would be the best way to mark the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in his January 1964 State of the Union address. Making peace means replacing ideologies with solutions that actually solve the problems of poverty. With both Republicans and Democrats speaking out on poverty this week, and the recession slowly receding this should be an opportunity to find the focus, commitment, and strategies that could effectively reduce and ultimately eliminate the shameful facts of poverty in the world’s richest nation.
For any proposal, the basic question must be whether it helps more people and families rise out of poverty and realize their dreams. This means setting aside political self-interest and thinking beyond our too often inflexible ideologies.
Just to get it out there, this story about Mary and Martha has always irritated me, because I think Martha is awesome, and she’s always made out to be a busy-body and a whiner.
See, Jesus is welcomed into the home of Mary and Martha and the thing to understand is that Jesus didn’t exactly travel alone. Dude had an entourage — so to welcome Jesus is to welcome who Jesus brings in with him. And to extend hospitality to that many people takes a lot of work, so Martha becomes understandably overwhelmed by her tasks and tries to get Jesus to talk her sister Mary into helping her, since Mary up until this point has only been sitting at Jesus’ feet listening. Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.
"Time is money," wrote Ben Franklin in "Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One." The saying that has embodied the Protestant work ethic since 1748 is no less relevant in our 21st-century postmodern culture. Our consumer-based economy thrives on packing as much productivity into our 1,440 minutes per day as possible. And, with the demands of technology, we're too distracted to notice how stressed out we've become.
In my lifetime, I've seen blue laws repealed such that Sunday has become virtually indistinguishable from any other day for many service workers. But in 2012, we hit a new low: for the first time major retailers opened their doors for shopping on Thanksgiving evening. Several employees mounted petition campaigns — one garnered more than 30,000 signatures — pleading for the full day off to be with their families, but to no avail. Official corporate announcements stated, "The super majority of our 1.3 million associates are excited about Black Friday and are ready to serve our customers."
Really, they needn't have bothered. The Internet has already granted consumers the ability to shop constantly. Every time I log onto my computer and open the browser, items I've searched for once on Overstock.com now rotate across my screen, beckoning me like tantalizing dishes circulating on a sushi bar. The technology meant to make life easier now risks turning us into shopaholics and workaholics, while exposing our kids to cyber-bulling and cyber-sex. Is there no escape from this unrelenting, 24/7 lifestyle? Maybe there should be laws.
Wait, there already are.
Between 1964 and 1973, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.S. poverty rate fell by nearly half (43 percent) as a strong economy and effective public policy initiatives expanded the middle class.
Similarly, between 1993 and 2000, shared economic growth combined with policy interventions such as an enhanced earned income tax credit and minimum wage increase worked together to cut child poverty from 23 percent to 16 percent.
We can't do this alone.
On Nov. 5 folks all over the world will divest from Wall Street and its banks … in order to invest in a better world.
Ideologies alone are not enough. There came a point in the movement to abolish slavery where ideology required responsibility. As one abolitionist said, “The only way to be a good slave-owner is to refuse to be a slave-owner.” To truly be against slavery also meant that you didn’t drink sugar in your tea, because sugar was produced with slave labor.
So on November 5, my wife and I will be joining the “Move Your Money” celebration, moving our money from Bank of America to the non-profit credit union here in Philadelphia.
It is one small step away from the vicious cycle that continues to see money transfer from the increasingly poor to the increasingly rich.
It is trying to take to heart Jesus’ command to “Get the log out” of my own eye.
It is a move towards Gandhi’s call to “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
It’s one little step towards being less of a hypocrite tomorrow than I am today.
In my vision of the emancipated world, women will not be sitting at the top of some profit-driven society, relishing power and basking in material wealth. In the reign of God, women will be able to take the time we need to be mothers and daughters without having to let go of our more far-reaching aspirations. And men will have the time they need to be fathers and sons. We will love and value ourselves without playing into the false worldly notion that we can and should be "number one." And we won't be afraid to say "NO," when we're tired.
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Indie music darling, Jeff Mangum, who rarely plays in public, surprised #OccupyWallStreet protesters in New York City earlier this week with an impromptu concert. A New Jersey singer-songwriter pens two songs for revolutions. And an order of Catholic nuns offer free mp3 downloads of a protest song inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
Where is the compassion in our economy and our politics? It says much of the economic system that Sojourners even needs to campaign for a "moral budget." How do we, as Christians, challenge structures that allow billions of dollars to be wasted via tax loopholes while 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty?
Will we, as Sachs hopes,
Today (Oct. 4) Christians around the world celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the bright lights of the church and one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
The life and witness of Francis is as relevant to the world we live in today as it was 900 years ago. He was one of the first critics of capitalism, one of the earliest Christian environmentalists, a sassy reformer of the church, and one of the classic conscientious objectors to war.
The Gubbio Project, which helps churches become refuges for homeless people throughout the U.S., recently earned a new fan: Author Anne Rice. "When I was in San Francisco, I visited St. Boniface Church in the Tenderloin and was moved by the sight of many peaceful homeless people sleeping in the pews of the church," Rice wrote on her Facebook.com page earlier this month. The author of the Vampire Lestat books and most recently the biblically-themed Christ the Lord novels and her spiritual memoir, Called Out of Darkness, provided her "people of the page" as she calls them, a link to the Gubbio Project where they could donate to "this fine work on the part of the Franciscans of St. Boniface in helping the homeless."