American Dreams, American Lies

federalcontact-_imailAs a culture, the United States does not at large value the labor movement. In fact it excoriates it for existing in general, with images of lazy union workers and corrupt union bosses. In this country we “value” individual hard work and being a “team player” – with the team always being management with a focus corporate profits. We value people who work hard and are always busy, because they are the people will reap what they earn. Our history reminds us however, that at one point a person could defy birth class, work hard, and rise up to another socio-economic group. It became the American dream, but mostly it has become the American lie.

Lots of jobs that were once protected by unions are non-existent or they are not part of a service industry that is handled by contractors. For example, think of the numerous janitors, food service, security guards, and other low-wage federal workers. They work for a contractor who gets paid by the government, then they pay their own employees. It is not a great system. But it sure makes it look like we have fewer federal workers! And while a strike means a lot of criticism of workers who strike, the shutdown was capriciously brought forth because of the demands and actions of one person.

During the shutdown one would often hear cries of “oh, they’ll get paid when it is over!” But the problem is that the contractors most likely will never see any back pay. They lost two paychecks which has been devastating for so many of them. This article in the Washington Post was painful to read. There is a bill (that may go nowhere) but if enacted would get back pay for those contractors. We can’t ignore that another shutdown may be right around the corner thanks to the unpredictable behavior coming out of the White House.

blank email headerRight now I am doing a lot of thinking about work, overwork, underpaid work, and economic inequality and injustice. I’m also thinking about how we say our government can’t afford certain things, but we somehow can afford other things. I’m not sure where my thoughts will lead me, but I can tell you this much… justice for those at the lowest rungs, the people who are often told to “work harder” to get ahead, always seems out of their reach. And that does not make America very great at all. It makes the once cherished American Dream into an American Lie. May our elected leaders find their way back to helping those who elect them and not those who line their pockets with money and promises of power. We need more dreams becoming reality and less lies.

I’m reminded of the words of Isaiah, a reminder of God’s justice. May those who are in need, may those who were robbed of their ability to work be compensated fairly.

All you who are thirsty,

come to the water!

You who have no money,

come, buy grain and eat;

Come, buy grain without money,

wine and milk without cost! – Isaiah 55:1

 

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Breaking glass

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Eighty years ago, on November 9-10, 1938 the lives of many were shattered. Like shards flying every which way, the existence of Jewish people of Germany was splintered in ways we have yet to recover from. This is the anniversary of the time of evil known as Kristallnacht. The night of breaking glass. Although they may age, and their numbers dwindle, there are those still alive who witnessed these events, such as Ruth Winkelmann and Jill Pauly.

In an almost spontaneous moment this explosive event turned the course of anti-Semitism, creating momentum that would spin out of control. – Of course, the moment was anything but spontaneous if you study the history of that time. Which also signifies the need to pay attention to the current events (like this or this) of our lives. There are so many more, many that we do not even know about.

This short post serves to remind us of how forceful the power of hatred and division is; we are living it right now.  The horrific massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh two short weeks ago, the rally in Charlottesville in August of 2017 are simply two incidents of the rise in anti-Semitism. As for prejudice against people of color, the evidence is so voluminous I hardly know where to begin. The rejection of people of other faiths, especially Muslims is ever present. As for people from other lands who seek a better life in the United States, often arriving on foot seeking refuge and asylum from extreme violence and poverty, there has been an abominable welcome. The list goes on and on, unfurling like a ribbon of infinity unraveling from a spool over all time.

Often the rejection of others is justified in tidy legalistic terms by people of faith. What dissonance this reveals, given that Jesus Christ pretty much spent his entire time of public ministry reaching out to those unwanted ones at the margins, and was himself rejected by the standards of the day. If one claims him as their God I am not sure how one reconciles this belief. I’m not here to judge, but I am curious as I cannot understand how one can believe in that fashion. God does not love white people, Christians, or any one other person more than another.

Ironically the readings for tomorrow (Sunday, November 12) are rooted in what it means to give not from your surplus, but from your very need. This can mean giving away your last bit of food to a stranger, or donating the smallest coin, knowing that your own livelihood may be imperiled by such an act. It can also mean that we are to give of our hearts in ways we simply cannot imagine.

One example of that might be something like stretching the door to our hearts, forcing ourselves to open a bit wider, in pursuit of our God. This could mean starting to see “the other” in a more loving light. Love could be a big leap, so let’s start with seeing “the stranger” at least as someone who is not a threat. That too is part of giving out of your life, not from the surplus. It is what we are called to do, at least those of us who are Christians. We must be transformed through, with, and in Christ. That is hard work, but so far Jesus has not given up on us, so maybe we should not give up so easily either. Just a thought. And trust me, I’m talking to myself as much as to anyone who reads this.  My own struggles with rejecting the other have less to do with race, color, creed, but coalesce around ideology. I’m always trying to keep that heart-door open, but man, does it stick a lot. Where is the WD-40 of grace that I need to lubricate the hinges that will enable the transformation that I myself require?

quote-you-can-safely-assume-that-you-ve-created-god-in-your-own-image-when-it-turns-out-that-god-hates-anne-lamott-107206

This quote is remarkably appropriate pretty much every single day.

For this Catholic, the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht reminds me that Jesus (who was in fact born as a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew – just saying) is forever knocking at the door of our collective hearts.  I’m trying to go open mine – what will you do with yours? One need not be Christian to open the heart, but must be human. When we get to that point, the Kingdom will truly be here.  In the meantime, the only glass to break is that surrounding our own hearts.