Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Labor and Life

Martin Luther King, Jr. lost his life acting on behalf of a group of sanitation workers.

He journeyed back to Memphis, Tennessee against the counsel of his closest advisors because he didn't want to send the wrong message to his supporters, to the nation or to the trash collectors about his mission or his method of non-violent action.

The decision cost him his life.

Part of the "mountain top" experience he described in his last sermon the night before his death involved his commitment to these ordinary, laboring men who cleaned up after everyone in their city. He stood with them as they petitioned their employer for fair wages and better lives.

You can read the sermon at:

King connected the quest for a better life and equity in pay directly to his understanding of faith and religion. (Please re-read the previous sentence.)

As surprising as it may sound to us today, we who have grown so accustomed to pulpits dispensing inspirational pabulum that lifts our spirits but not the purpose of our lives, King read the Bible and then took action based on what he read.

King was a pastor at heart, but a pastor who carved out a revolutionary ministry in the streets of America.

King was not perfect. No one is. He made plenty of mistakes. Who doesn't?

But, he was faithful to his mission.

I couldn't help thinking of Dr. King today when I heard that the Ford Motor Company plans to layoff over 20,000 workers in a cost-cutting, reorganization plan.

At the same time, the major auto manufacturer reported better than expected profits to shareholders.


What does work mean to us today? Where is the value in labor? What do our values teach us about work and the people who perform it?

Do the principles of our faith have anything to say to that question?

I think I know what Dr. King would say.

But, he is gone now.

The more important question today is what do people of faith have to say? What do we say?


Ann said...

I, too, am struck by the fact that corporations such as Ford, when faced with the need to "reorganize" for financial reasons, choose taking money from their workers rather than their executives. Maintaining their financial well-being by cutting jobs smacks of greed. I read a nice little series of books by Alexander McCall-Smith, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency. In telling the story of a Botswanan female detective,Mma Ramatswe, McCall-Smith also paints a loving picture of Botswana. Mma Ramatswe explains that in Botswana it is a person's community responsibility of those who have money to hire work done (housekeeping, yards, whatever)to do so. It is how you give dignity to people. It's not about keeping all your money for yourself, but finding ways to share our wealth with others in a way that brings dignity to them.

scott said...

Thanks for the message. It was great meeting you last week.