Workers and Widows

Would you believe that right after I posted about receiving no calls, my phone rang? Now, they didn’t tell me I was amazing and they had to have me; they only called me back because of the borrowed respectability of DD’s reference, a good friend from college who works there now and kindly put in a good word for me.

Today I went in for an interview. A four and half hour interview. I actually really enjoyed the whole thing, although I did require a nap after fighting traffic home. I’ll probably gush about the company in a later post, (perhaps after I hear back from them. . . ) but for now I want to talk about other things.

In the car, I listened to a segment on Lawyer’s Guild about one of California’s Ballot initiatives, namely Prop 32. It’s been campaigned as “Stop Special Interest Money Now!” but callers on the show suggested that rather than stopping special interest money, the legislation would only take away power from the unions to efficiently gather money from workers to support campaigns and give a voice to workers. Now, I don’t feel entirely clear on how giving money to a campaign gives a voice to the giver, I don’t think democracy should mean paying to have a say, but apparently it does. And this legislation keeps unions and corporations from giving directly from the institution, but doesn’t keep owners of corporations from taking their share of the profits and then giving millions as a private citizen. The callers suggested that if this law were in place when folks were campaigning for 40 hour work weeks and other rights for workers, those laws wouldn’t have been passed.

Biblically, should we care about this?

For other reasons, I was reading this passage in Deuteronomy today. Chapter 24, 14-22
“You are not to exploit a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether one of your brothers or a foreigner living in your land in your town. You are to pay him his wages the day he earns them, before sunset; for he is poor and looks forward to being paid. Otherwise he will cry out against you to YHVH, and it will be your sin. Fathers are not to be executed for the children, nor are children to be executed for the fathers; every person will be executed for his own sin. You are not to deprive the foreigner or the orphan of the justice which is his due, and you are not to take a widow’s clothing as collateral for a loan. Rather, remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and YHVH your God redeemed you from there. That is why I am ordering you to do this. When harvesting the grain in your field, if you forgot a sheaf of grain there, you are not to go back and get it; it will remain there for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, so that YHVH your God will bless you in all the work you do. When you beat your olive tree, you are not to go back over the branches again; the olives that are left will be for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. When you gather the grapes from your vineyard, you are not to return and pick grapes a second time; what is left will be for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. That is why I am ordering you to do this.”

I think the rule in America is you must pay every two weeks. But this passage calls us to pay wages daily. Whether we follow this specific or not, the call that we are not to take advantage of workers is clear, and we have a responsibility to care for not only our neighbors, but “foreigners living in our land or town,” to see that they are treated fairly rather than exploited. Making this happen is very complex in our enormous and confusing system, and preserving a diversity of voices in government is a big part of legislating protection for poor or immigrant workers. If you’re voting in California, look into this and other initiatives at http://ballotpedia.org/

Going back to the passage, it continues to talk about Reaping and Gleaning. When my mind wanders, I think about this concept and am fascinated by the repetitive admonition not to harvest every last bit from the fields. What does that look like in the modern day, when most of us aren’t very connected to farms?

I imagine that with cash, you could see change as a way to connect to this idea. For any purchase you make, less than a dollar comes back in coin. If someone asks for money, giving them the change in your pocket is like leaving the edges of field. (Kind of.) Now that I swipe for everything, I don’t often have change. I’m trying to figure out where in my life I can leave grapes so that they can be eaten by others.

An interesting project on kickstarter this week is The Gleanery, a group in Putnam, VT who has built relationships with farmers to take their unsold produce, which might otherwise become compost, and help it find mouths. “We are looking to purchase a commercial dehydrator, freezer, prep tables, smoker, pressure canner, food processor, and an ice cream maker: the tools of Gleaners,” their campaign explains. These aren’t the tools of the biblical Gleaners, who probably took as much as they could carry, likely enough for that day. . . but in the modern complexity of food systems, I would like to support an effort that works locally within a community to keep good food from going to waste, and feeding people in a way that is so much better than slopping “food” out of Sysco buckets onto plates, the way many camps, cheap restaurants, and soup kitchens do.

What do you think?

Haiku Covers and Holiday Cheese

I’m gushing right now with enthusiasm after reading an email from a poet whose chapbook I may get to help design and print! It’s a collection of the most lovely urban haikus and I as soon as I read them as an e-chapbook on my phone I could envision carving this luscious woodblock for the cover, maybe two colors and essentially illustrating the title haiku. Then I second guessed myself, and after much backspacing and retyping, I tentatively sent a reply asking somewhat sheepishly what he thought of doing something “fairly literal,” trained by years in art school never to come at something head on. His reply sent me out of my chair to dance around my chilly room: “Your cover idea is spot on. A handsome woodcut cover of [chapbook title shortened] sounds perfect! In response to your “fairly literal” comment, the thing about haiku is that they are first and foremost exactly what they are. The title poem is literally about [chapbook title extended] That image, though, simple and straight forward as it is, opens up a whole world of ideas, stories, and settings that are unique to each person who reads it. The poem sets a concrete image/setting and the rest is all filled in by the reader and their life experiences, which is something so darn cool about these little poems.”

Sorry for editing out the gem of his first poem, but you’ll just have to wait for the forthcoming edition! I haven’t been so jazzed about a project since I was being graded on them. :P

I think part of my hesitation towards the idea of an honest illustration ties into this culture of cynical irony which I sometimes encounter in the art world, and elsewhere. Perhaps we feel too heavily the postmodern sigh of everything having been “already done,” but it’s almost as if to simply make work about beautiful things is automatically trite or cheesy. But I want to argue that activities like painting oats in a field in late summer are not automatically cliche, unless you refer to them as “amber waves of grain.”

This line of thought comes partly in reaction to yesterday evening’s activities, attending a womens’ advent dinner in the church basement. After a dinner provided by the women’s bible study (mostly meat dishes), a program followed in which various sentimental holiday stories were told (memorized and dramatized) by a speaker, with a carol in unison following each tale. Now, it’s true that these pieces were of the variety I have previously received in email forwards, and which seem to thrive in religious environments; the saccharine grocery store scene in which a little girl sees a little boy without shoes and foregoes a purchase to help him, or something along those lines. But most of the women seemed to follow the stories earnestly, laughing at the appropriate times, and tracing the graph of emotion with their expressions. One woman, however, the daughter of a sunday school teacher who just moved back from out west, not-so-subtly snickered through the whole thing.

I don’t entirely know how to react to this genre myself. It’s easy to mock, and perhaps deserves it to a degree. I think sometimes affluent white Christians have a tendency to stick to “heartwarming” stories of chance encounters in which they do nice deeds (one story featured a woman asking a strangers for directions to “a street where poor people live” and ultimately catching a cab to Harlem so that she could drop off a baby dress she bought in a department store on Christmas Eve.) instead of engaging daily in the real mess of life side by side with neighbors who don’t have a “comfortable lifestyle.” We may make a gift-giving trip once a year, but still keep real poverty a cab drive away from our own lives.

Other stories, though, which might be written off as equally cheesy, celebrate the tenderness of a child learning to make sacrifices and finding joy in serving others. And those are things I want to affirm, those are moments which may be worth repeating. I cried during one of the stories. But there the tears were mixed with anger and embarrassment because I felt emotionally manipulated. Perhaps there are better ways to talk about meaningful holiday observance than with these stories which seem designed more to make us “feel inspired,” rather than animating us to action.

Last Thursday, the night before I left for a weekend trip to St. Louis, I found out that the first friend I made here, Rob, had broken his leg two weeks ago and had been in the hospital for over a week and I hadn’t known because of missing church. (Thanksgiving with family one week, then work the next.) Rob and his wife Nancy are my closest friends in the church and I had no idea! I felt awful, especially as we don’t simply see one another Sunday to Sunday, but have shared meals and shopping trips throughout the week on several occasions. Well, I wrote him a card that night, since visiting hours were over, and determined to visit him the Tuesday after I returned, my day off. I called Nancy to make sure he was still awake and headed over. She was there crocheting, I could see her nestled into the armchair through the window as I walked up to the rehabilitation center. The three of us chatted and caught up for two hours before my stomach called me away to dinner. Before I left, Nancy began searching for her keys so she could walk out with me to her car to get a suitcase to pack him up (he was finally going home the next day). The keys were nowhere to be found. Walking out to the car, we saw them in the ignition, though she’d manually locked the doors.

I had the pleasure of driving Nancy back to Ohio and then out to the rehab center in West Virginia again, and was tickled pink that I finally had a way to serve the friends who had so welcomed me, feeding me so many times and taking me to Sam’s and to the local farm market for produce and cider.

This is the part where a religious forward would probably insist that the reason I hadn’t found out until so late is that I would have been unlikely to go visiting on the last night in the hospital if I had already had a chance to stop by, and then wouldn’t have been there to help retrieve the second set of keys, but I don’t know about all of that. I just know that for me there was joy in getting to spend that hour reciprocating some of the love shown to me, and I wish you that kind of joy this December.

A New Song for Pentecost

I’m house-sitting right now, which means a different route to church. This week, I managed to arrive at my destination without using any of my usual streets, save the one on which my congregation meets. It was a delightful drive. It’s Pentecost, 50 days after Easter by the Christian calendar. The holiday is rooted in the tradition of Lizard’s Shavuos, 50 days after Passover, which the apostles were celebrating when the Holy Spirit descended on them, an experience described in Acts as having the sound of a violent wind and the appearance of tongues of fire which rested on the apostles.

In the car, public radio was featuring a BBC piece about the rise of Pentecostalism in Latin America, citing its dynamic practice and immediacy of personal involvement as strong draws for Catholics frustrated by bureaucracy, hierarchy, and liturgy. Pentecostal worshippers pay special attention to this anointing, emphasizing the believer’s direct experience of the presence of God through the power of the holy spirit. The idea is that  faith must be powerfully experiential, and not something found merely through ritual or thinking.

I agree that faith should be dynamically lived out, not merely professed by mouth, or considered in theological debates. But I must admit that I struggle with what this looks like. To be more specific. . .