Random thoughts about labor

2-PaperRagRoom1“In any case we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient workingmen’s guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.”

These words come from the papal encyclical, Rerum Novarum, promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. The emphasis on that last sentence is mine. Here we are, 122 years later and things are not so different. As is often said, the more things change, the more they stay the same. By the way, Pope Leo XIII was no firebrand, but he understood this element of justice very well. One hundred years later,  Blessed John Paul II issued the encyclical, Centesiumus Annus, which revisited Rerum Novarum, and updated some of the thoughts. Both documents are worth your time and effort.


BelieveStrangely enough, one of the most powerful statements that I ever heard about the dignity of the worker came from… Cher. Yes – that Cher. Somewhere around 1986 or so, I was watching an interview in which Cher spoke about the loss of dignity of workers and the shame of being poor in a society so bent on improvement. So many years later, I cannot recall her exact words, but I remember snapping to attention when I heard them. It caused me to recall something a college friend had once said, something that his dad had told him, which was basically, “Even if you are a toilet cleaner, be the best ****ing toilet cleaner you can be. Do it well and with pride.


In our culture, which often elevates successful (read: financially) work to religion, we seem to have sacrificed success for financial success. Not that that ends up mattering in the bad game of musical chairs.  Workers, even financially successful ones, often go to work worried. “Will this be the day?” they wonder.

focus_361055kWorkers in retail and fast food labor under difficult circumstances and wonder the same thing. Due to what would be called “zero hour contracts” in the UK, where many labor on an “on call” basis, jobs can be lost if you are not at the beck and call of the employer. All without any assurance of any hours in the first place.  I don’t think we have a name like zero hour here in the US; we just call it work.


One of my unemployment “jobs” was some consulting work with a Very Big Outplacement Firm.  As a beneficiary of this very outplacement firm myself, I caught the eye of the person who ran the office. This was in 2008, deep in the heart of “you are screwed” country, the year it all fell apart. I did not see myself in dire straits, but I was not complacent either. Having spent a good deal of time and money on getting certified as a personal and corporate coach, her request to have me come on board to consult was welcomed by me.

That was until I began the work itself. *shudders* I spent time getting trained in the spring of 2008, and by summer I was ready to roll. The work was like nothing I had ever done before, and not in a good way.  On one hand, it seemed a corporal work of mercy to go into countless conference rooms to cheer and cajole the recently terminated, and to help them write their resumes and cover letters, and work on interviewing skills. On the other hand, it was like being in partnership with evil, because while their employer paid for this service, no one really seemed to care about the soon to be unemployed. I always thought that the outplacement assuaged the consciences, such as they were, of the employers. Who knows, maybe I am cynical.

This thought was made more real when I saw the movie Up in the Air with George Clooney in 2009. You will recall that he actually flew around the country working for a similar concern, but he got to do the actual firing. Violence without weapons, as companies madly downsized to beat the band.

PlanningRightsizingIt was around this time that the term “rightsizing” made its way into the vernacular. Talk about bloodless violence. How cheery – rightsizing, a term made for the one who was “righting,” and not for the “wronged.” Seeing the movie made me grateful that for whatever reason, Very Big Outplacement Firm seemed to have little work for me, despite the increased layoffs of the era.


Here we find a new limit on the market: there are collective and qualitative needs which cannot be satisfied by market mechanisms. There are important human needs which escape its logic. There are goods which by their very nature cannot and must not be bought or sold. Certainly the mechanisms of the market offer secure advantages: they help to utilize resources better; they promote the exchange of products; above all they give central place to the person’s desires and preferences, which, in a contract, meet the desires and preferences of another person. Nevertheless, these mechanisms carry the risk of an “idolatry” of the market, an idolatry which ignores the existence of goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities.

That’s Blessed John Paul II, from the previously mentioned, Centesimus Annus.  His words regarding the “idolatry of the market” are worth noting at a time when business seems to hold more sway than individuals.


So what is my point today? I’m not sure that I have one other than the idea that there cannot be justice without balance. This is not a new thought, is it?

lady-liberty-scales-of-justice-h-1000Whatever your thoughts are this Labor Day, maybe you can do this one thing. Try to see whoever seems like the “enemy” to you – management, the business owner,  the government, the union, or the workers themselves – in a different light today. Put on your justice blindfold and get out the scale. Maybe what you “weigh in” with will surprise you. Or at the very least, maybe we will all be invited to open our hearts and our minds as we go forth.

And when you go out on Labor Day, whether to the grocery store, the movies, or wherever, please thank the people who gave up their holiday as you enjoyed your own.


So About That Surgery… And Life And So Forth

More than a few notes have arrived asking what happened, so let me just put it out here dear friends, readers and lurkers.

As always, I subscribe to the Anne Lamott theory that there are really only two prayers in life; “Help me, Help me!” and “Thank you! Thank you!” That is pretty much my life story in 8 words. Really 4 words, repeated.

I had let a situation with my digestive system go out of control and then used my not-healthy-learned-as-a-child coping mechanism of ignoring pain for so long that it ultimately became normal. *sigh* Years of therapy and grace and yet I still flop along the Way! So it goes for us all, right?

Flippity, flop, flop, flop, flip – Jesus, here I come, I’m following you, thump by thump, oops, I tripped, I fell, I rolled again. Whoa! I’m sliding, wheee! Oh, it’s backwards. Well, I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’!

In any case, my poor self-care resulted in me getting full on surgery (Nurse! Scalpel STAT!), no little laproscopic thing for me! This included an infection, pancreatitis and a few other complications. Gangrene would not have surprised my doctor, but had not yet appeared, thanks be to God. 12 days later I feel much better and all I  had to turn over, well along with my pride that is, was my gall bladder! Such a deal! *bigger sigh* 

At them moment I’m still sporting my stylin’ J.P. Drain; that gets surrendered back to the authorities on Wednesday however. Beats the hell out of a monitoring bracelet. If I were going to wear it longer, I might want to decorate it. Mark began to call it my “bile grenade,” which totally works as a name for it.

Sadly I can report that I did not consume a morsel of food for 11 days, although for the final 4 I did have what I called “my milkshake” aka TPN, mainlined into my body via a PICC line. That actually, even more than being sliced open in two places, kind of grossed me out. Go figure.

In any event, I did not eat for 11 days and I lost a whopping 5 lbs, most of it muscle mass from laying in that hospital bed. Great. Despite daily walks around the floor and my use of the Voldyne 5000 (sounds scary!), I still had some minor fluid and lung collapse to deal with. That is almost all better now and I remain as full of hot air as ever. (As is evidenced here!)

Frankly the whole thing is really a gift. Aside from the part that I could have become more seriously impaired or died, I have had some good lessons. Not lessons in that “nyah-nyah be a good girl and do it right next time” way, although a little of that, but mostly in the gifts of surrender, humility and interdependence.

What will be sown from this journey? Will my lessons hold? I hope so, but then I almost always hope so and all kind of stuff happens. We’ll see.

Thanks for all the good thoughts, prayers and wishes. As ever, I believe that I am carried on the wings of angels, even when doing my flopping around behind the feet of Jesus.

Lazy River of Consciousness Post

It has been a whirlwind of a time. Events go tumbling by like objects in the tornado scene of the Wizard of Oz. That may just be me feeding my inner Dorothy – in this chapter of my life I feel like I had a hard landing, but ended up in the right place.  Unlike Dorothy though, I don’t need to go home – I’m here.

So this is not exactly a stream of consciousness and not a puddle of it either, so I shall deem it the lazy river of consciousness post!

Oh the Facebook posts and the emails and the phone calls. I initiate many of them myself, for good or ill. Such sturm und drang in these times. While I initiate much of the conversation, I am put off by it. Anyone who has read my work for a long time or a short time knows how “both/am” I can be.

“Both/and” means I do not think that the Roman Church is good or bad, I think it is both, very clearly both.  We all know we live in sound-byte world, in a world of absolutes and as result we want things to be one thing or the other. Don’t worry, for all of my own both/and professing, I suffer from the same thing.

And God knows we want to be right – at all costs we want to be right. Once I gave up being right for Lent. I wish I could give up being right for my whole life!

We want to be in community, but we want to be in community with those that are like minded. That is a nice thought, but a tough reality – not to mention that it is not real community. We want unity, but unity means mixing it up with those of other points of view and ideas. It kind of sucks, but that is how it goes.

Community – common good, common union. These are not popular thoughts, are they?

Community and unity require some surrender and flexibility. Honestly, I don’t have the stomach for it, but in my “both/and” world, I don’t know what other choice it is. I can’t join the tea party; I have even less stomach for that.

On Monday night I went to a talk given at a local college.  It was given by Dr. Jyoti Swaminathan and it was a Hindu perspective on Conversion and Transformation. I sat in a room at a Catholic inspired college – not a room,but an interfaith chapel, filled with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and who knows what else. I listened to this brilliant and passionate woman talk about religious experience and transformation in a truly humble but brilliant way.

And she was not trying to convert anyone… but I think she was trying to transform them. It got me to thinking about how converting someone is not very both/and, but that transformation is very much so.

In any case, I find some reassurance in that thought… transformation.

(For what it is worth, last night I went to a journalism class at another college, a Catholic college, at the invitation of one of the professors who is also a local journalist and news anchor Benita Zahn; she is also a good friend. It was a taping of a panel discussion on ethics. Other participants were Michael Brannigan, Ph.D., Sean Philpot, Ph. D., Anne Grenchus, and Fr. Dennis Tamburello, OFM, Ph.D.

It was fascinating and I left with thoughts of forced H1N1 inoculations, end of life decisions and legal vs. moral dancing in my overstimulated brain.

Today I awoke to find this essay about abuse on The Episcopal Cafe. While the author of the essay, Rev. Ann Fontaine and I do not always agree, we do agree on a lot of things. And we seem to have found many creative and bountiful ways to agree to disagree about other things. That to me is what community is really about. We are working it out as we go along, committed to more than just being right. I tend to suck at this, but folks like Ann keep me moving along.

I take no joy in reading Ann’s essay… Abuse is tragic and wrong in any context. I do however welcome the thoughts that it is not just a celibate or gay issue and that the presence of women matters. Thank you Ann.

In any case, there is much to ponder in our world, no? I awoke on Tuesday and flew into a rage. By the end of the day I was knocked dumbstruck by the remarkable nature of the world and the people in it. Even those I don’t want to love, perhaps especially because of those I do not want to love.

None of it is easy, but I shall muddle along, trying to work it all out.

Are you coming with me?