Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day: A Manifesto

Band Members Working in Rome, Forum in the Background
Photo Credit: Mark Grace

What you are getting today, dear reader is a jumble of thoughts, a confused buffet of ideas, emotions and memories.  I am counting on you to make some sense of it because it isn't quite done yet. But here we are, ready or not, on the cusp of another work year, which means that time speeds up for many of us.  Everyone is back in place, mostly because their kids are in school or have gone off to school and we have to earn this living, if we are lucky to be able to do that.

First Idea

Labor Day has always seemed to me like one of those half hearted lectures we sometimes used to get from our parents as we were all going out the door in the morning.  "Let's be thankful that we have work to do.  It is a privilege we have in this great country of ours that too many people do not enjoy."

So now we get a day off to barbecue, drink too much and read the labor day essays and homages and a general neglect of the simple fact that the world could be different if enough of us wanted it to be.  It wasn't ordained by God that women and men should work two and sometimes three jobs and still not have enough food for their children.  It wasn't ordained by God that one nation should control 90% of the world's wealth or that one percent of the individuals in that nation should control most of that nation's wealth.

Labor day always felt to me like one of those schemes that the 1% came up with, sort of like the gladiatorial games in ancient Rome, or the NFL.  "I know, we'll give them a day off before they go back to work in earnest.  Maybe that will keep them satisfied."

In fact, our modern celebration of Labor Day dates back to the senseless deaths of workers at the hands of U.S. Marshals and policemen during the Pullman Strike.  The congress rushed this wonderful holiday through legislation so that we could all have an extra day off.  As an apology?  An appeasement?

It certainly wasn't done to remember the sacrifice of the people who were killed in the struggle for fair wages and working conditions.  Very little effort has been made in that direction.

O.K., I'll knock off the cynicism.  God forbid that this little column should send you off to your place of employment tomorrow in anything less than a grateful mood.

And ultimately I don't think very much is ever resolved through resentment and cynicism.

Second Idea 

Why not face this day square on for what it is?  A celebration brought into existence because someone died to secure better wages and working conditions.

And why not make it the occasion for a personal manifesto about our relationship to the work we do and the organizations that employ us?

A New Declaration of Independence

My friend and coworker, John Takacs has a saying he loves to quote to students.  I believe Parker Palmer gave voice to the idea.  " No punishment anyone might inflict on you could possibly be worse than the punishment you inflict on yourself by conspiring in your own diminishment."

I will not lecture myself, nag, ridicule or succumb
to the temptation to dig an elbow into my very
ribs; I will not regard the clock as though it really did speak
with the voice of anyone’s authority, the tyrant kitchen
god who must be appeased at all costs, I will not kick
the dog, curse the slow driver ahead of me or shake my
fist at the heavens when I fetch up on the nether shores
of the inevitable traffic jam, above all I will not

make another resolution about getting up earlier, or
going to bed earlier or working out or becoming a better
person all for the glory of God because it is not God,
after all, who created workday mornings, God had

nothing like this business day in mind when he spoke light
into existence, it was not God who separated the
concrete and asphalt from the tidelands and river
bottoms and it was not God who leased these

hours to us so that we might make more money and so purchase
the kingdom of heaven; I will not worship the gods of
Monday morning in their business formal steel and glass
towers thinking they are too big to fail, because they will fail;

I will fashion a declaration of freedom from every
thing I do this day, not a child's tantrum, 
but an every day determination, like a
stone cairn carefully balanced at the river’s rocky edge,

work will not own me, only God will own me and
only the community of God’s beloved merit my devotion,
should I rise early or late, arrive sharp-eyed or sluggish,
I will rise and go into the day God made, and will
do my work from the heart, aiming it toward eternity
as carefully as if it were my most prized possession,
as devotedly as though it were my very act of worship,
not to boards of trustees or bottom lines but determined,
passionate, from my heart, undermining the Kingdom of
Self, each day welcoming the Kingdom of God.

R Mark Grace 
September 4, 2012

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