Don’t We Ever Stop?

“But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”  Exodus 20:10-11

Political philosopher and Princeton professor Michael Walzer says:

  • Wherever you live, it is probably Egypt.
  • There is a better place, a world more fair, full of promise and hope and
  • The way to it is through the wilderness. There is no other way to get from here to there except by the hard way, being tested as we go.

I felt like that this morning even as I enjoyed sleeping in and blogging.  I thought as I had a chance to stop: Don’t we ever stop?  It’s Labor Day.  I’m very blessed. I organize and think and pray and reflect and counsel and teach and do what I call in my own head “being a professional friend” for a living.  And this morning I engaged in the spiritual practice of getting enough sleep, resting and enjoying time with my family.  I lived for myself instead of others.  And then I heard it.  The truck and the laborers picking up our garbage and recycling and that of our neighbors and I thought “what the heck?!??!”  Actually I thought something pastors are not supposed to think and certainly not supposed to write in blogs.  It’s Labor Day! And it’s not just the folks collecting the garbage and recycling, it’s so much more.  The list of all the businesses and services that are laboring today amaze me. As a Gen-Xer, I remember my mom checking to see what gas stations would be open on Labor Day and other such holidays because it wasn’t a given they’d all be open like they are now.  I remember the local shopping mall where I grew up used to be closed on holidays like Labor Day.  The meaning of Sabbath seems to gotten lost and the sacrifice of those who sang “Bread and Roses” seems to have gotten lost or been forgotten (if it was ever learned or remembered).

Time and again when I feel I’m  in Egypt like this, I turn to Abraham Joshua Heschel and his work, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man.  I preached a sermon on it a couple of years ago:

Again and again Heschel walks with me out of Egypt on this topic. It’s not Saturday, or even Sunday today, but here I am again, still wondering why I can’t stop enough, why our culture can’t stop often enough, long enough. We can’t seem to value the stopping.   Heschel says it’s about time and space. We’ve created such a technical civilization (and he wrote before the Internet, Facebook and Twitter) that we’ve conquered space, but not time.

Technical civilization is man’s conquest of space. It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time. In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space. To enhance our power in the world of space is our main objective. Yet to have more does not mean to be more. The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time. But time is the heart of existence.

To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.

To gain control of time, laborers created unions and fought for rights,  to help sacralize the daily life, but that seems to have slipped away.  I grew up in a Union household. My father was always a member of a teachers union.  I have lived in a union household most of my adult life as my wife has been a member of a teachers union.  I have heard criticisms of teachers unions, but these criticisms seem misguided to me.  Teachers are criticized for having too many protective benefits? Teachers unions make sure teachers have work place rights, can’t be fired summarily, have health care and dental care, and yet these benefits have steadily declined over my lifetime.  Even as a part-time faculty member in the state college system in Massachusetts I was included in the benefits of the union there for teaching one or two classes at a time.  I am a big fan of unions. Instead of criticizing the benefits the teachers receive because of their unions, other workers should be organizing to gain and maintain their collective bargaining rights in the same way.   If you like the 8-hour work day and the 5-day work week, thank the labor movement.

The Labor Museum

The Mother Jones Museum

Women’s Labor History Links

The Lowell Mill Girls

SEIU for Labor Day

It’s nice to hear President Barack Obama give a shutout to the endangered species known as the American middle class this past week, but both his and our political struggle needs to be creating a sane and just economic order that allows all of us, not just those who control and are connected to vast corporate power to benefit from American society.

There are still vast numbers of people unemployed and underemployed and while we continue to have our energy and our headlines manipulated by war, bigotry,  and hatred, thus causing us to fight among ourselves, the corporate interests that really run this fascist state of affairs have us all right where they want us – begging for rest from our labors.  Yes, I used the word fascist. It’s not for hyperbole.  It means a government run by and for corporate interests and the United States has become just that.

The type of Jobs highlighted by the Apollo Alliance in the this article 18 months ago is pointing in the right direction, but we need a massive move in this direction, something on the scale of the Civilian Conservation Corps or the Works Progress Administration.

When the Romans encountered the Jews, Heschel reminds us, they thought the concept of Sabbath mad, insane.  Have we been so colonized by the Corporate power of “Rome” that living sane lives with time for contemplation, rest, and family, unplugged from web and the grid (he writes blogging, don’t think he doesn’t catch the irony) is becoming almost beyond us at this point? Will it take a revolutionary act of will or resistance to change course? I hope not.

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One thought on “Don’t We Ever Stop?

  1. I have a special place in my heart for teachers. Years ago I worked as a maintenance man at an elementary school. I obviously wasn’t in the classroom but I encountered the children in the hallways, saw them at play outside and helped to keep them in line in the cafeteria. I saw how difficult it was for teachers to function in an environment where even the most simple of actions or gestures was scrutinized and where students could more or less get away with what they want. I listened to their frustration and I saw their joy when one of the students would finally “get it” and their efforts were rewarded. These teachers went through at least 4 years of college and had to constantly seek out and obtain various certifications in order to stay on top of their profession. This is a costly venture. The sad part about all of this is that the average wage for a teacher is under 45,000 per year. Most new teachers have more than that in student loans. Our teachers enter the field not to become wealthy but to shape and mold the minds of our next generation. Their rewards are not monetary but are instead an enrichment of their souls. I can’t comprehend the absolute gall of anybody who questions the benefits that are provided to teachers. A nine month work year and excellent insurance benefits are the least we could do. They deserve so much more.

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