Category Archives: Kansas city

Faith and Labor Alliance

Early this morning, I offered a faith-based reflection to a meeting of labor union and faith leaders of the KCMetro.  Many of the labor leaders noted their interest in learning more of a faith-based consideration of economic justice (Elements of this reflection are a reprise of an earlier blog post).  My reflection follows:

(Disclaimer, I speak from a Christian and Episcopal perspective.  I believe what I say today is, in broad strokes, reflective of many different faith traditions, including other, non-Christian faith traditions)

Micah 6.8—What does the Lord require of you: Only do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.   

&  

Proverbs 31.8-9—Speak up for the vulnerable, for the rights of all the unfortunate.  Speak up, judge righteously, and champion the poor and the needy.

I am involved with the labor and economic justice movement as an Episcopal priest and through Jobs with Justice, Communities Creating Opportunity, and the StandUp KC/Workers’ Organizing Committee in the local campaign for livable wages and a union for low wage workers in the Kansas City area, especially fast food workers.  My first real job was as a dishwasher and busboy in the fast food industry in 1968.  I mention this because it turns out 1968 is a significant year in the history of labor and wages.  My minimum wage salary was $1.60 per hour.  In terms of buying power, the 1968 minimum wage marks the highest real value ever for the minimum wage.  Adjusted for inflation, my 1968 $1.60 becomes $10.95 in 2016 dollars.  That is 30% higher than the current $7.65 in Missouri.  Since 1968, the inflation adjusted buying power of the minimum wage as well as all other labor wages declined even as labor productivity increased dramatically and the wealthiest grab larger and larger percentages of labor generated income and wealth.

But why, you may wonder, is this parish priest interested in low wages and unions?

Proverbs 29.7—A righteous man is concerned with the cause of the poor; a wicked man cannot understand such concern. 

Since the late 19th Century, the Christian Community has been hammering out its basic moral principles on matters of social justice, labor, and capitalism.  Based upon scriptural study, theological reflection, and the fundamentals of basic Christian moral ethics, the conclusions of this inquiry includes the following faith-based teachings on economic justice:

1) The dignity of human being must be protected by economic systems and society

2) Every economic decision and/or institution must be judged in light of whether it protects or undermines human dignity and fundamental matters of justice

3) All people have a right to participate with dignity in the economic life of a society

4) Society has the moral obligation to enhance human dignity, protect human rights, and strive for justice for all.

5) Basic human rights, to include rights to life, food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, basic education, and fair compensation for labor are minimal conditions for a just society.

From a faith-based perspective, economic conditions and/or business practices that leave large numbers of people unemployed, underemployed, or employed in dehumanizing conditions fail to meet these basic elements of economic justice.

Because of the failing of economic systems by their own initiative to achieve these basic expectations, the moral teachings of the Christian faith as well as other faith traditions demand the establishment of a minimum of material well-being upon which all workers can depend.  It is the duty of the faithful to demand society assures fair access and opportunity for every family to achieve at least this base of material well-being and dignity.  Moreover, it is the duty of the faithful to demand society question extreme inequalities of income, consumption, and wealth when large numbers of working people seem unable to achieve even the basic levels of material well-being and dignity.

Jeremiah 22.13-16—Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages; . . . Unlike you, your father upheld the rights of the poor and needy—then all was well.  That is truly heeding me, declares the Lord.

People of faith across Kansas City should demand an economy where

–workers receive fair and livable wages for their work

–people who work full-time do not live in poverty or need public/private assistance to make ends meet and provide for their children.

People of faith across Kansas City should reject an economy where

–workers are struggling paycheck to paycheck, even when they work more than 40 hours a week.

–Workers’ wages are so low it is hard for them to afford the necessities of life: food, health, and shelter.

People of faith across Kansas City should reject an economy where

–low wages suck resources and human energy out of our local neighborhoods, eroding hope and opportunity for the future.

–businesses enhance their profitability by transferring to the public and private sectors the cost of sustaining the basic human needs of their hourly employees either through public assistance or local charities.

People of faith across Kansas City should support low wage workers and strong unions representing them and all workers.

Proverbs 14.31—He who withholds what is due to the poor affronts his Maker

As a Christian minister, I am compelled to recognize God’s calling to do justice and love mercy!  God expects this of me and every person who embraces the God of all creation.  As a faithful person, I recognize all people as souls created by God.  All of us here today as well as working men and women everywhere who struggle with low-wages are souls of God’s creation.  Each is made in the image of God and aspires to seek God’s purpose in their lives.  We know low wages burden workers with the constant fear of not being able to meet basic needs like food, housing, utilities, healthcare, and childcare; as well as uncertainty about the future for themselves and their children.

We are all “souls,” brothers and sisters in Christ, each commanded by God to love each other and to do justice and to seek mercy for each other.  A society as rich as ours in which a large portion of honest and hard-working workers are unable to secure continuous, full-time employment at a living wage capable of sustaining a family in conditions compatible with the requirements of stable and decent living is, in my opinion, an unjust and poorly managed society and an unfaithful and unrighteous society.  Faithful people who stand passively unresponsive to such sinful injustices and unrighteousness economic circumstances are people who have lost the vision of their calling by God to do justice for the all, especially the least among us.  A Christian who does not act for justice and dignity for all people, especially the vulnerable and poor, is a faith-challenged Christian indeed.

Proverbs 22.16—To profit by withholding what is due to the poor is like making gifts to the rich—pure waste. 

Matthew 25.40—When was it we cared for you?  And the Lord will answer, “In so far as you did this to one of the least, you did it to me.”

The deepest guilt in this time of economic injustice:

–is on those who do not shed penitential tears for those who struggle to survive on wages too low to survive.

–is on those who do not burn in their hearts and souls for changes in these unjust economic and employment systems.

The deepest guilt in this time of economic injustice:

–is on those who do not understand that excessively low wages are destroying people by assaulting their character, poisoning their minds, demoralizing their humanity, and breaking their immortal spirit.

–is on those who do not agitate and work and sacrifice and pray for the ending of low wage misery for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Acts 18.9– the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent. 

Faithful people, God’s people, religious people, union people everywhere should be demanding the dawning of a new time of fair, livable wages and that dignity, respect, and economic security should be counted as an inalienable right for all working people and their families.

For this Episcopal priest, this is not just an economic issue–it is a faith issue.  All workers have an inherent dignity that should be reflected in living wages and fair benefits.  I believe and affirm that adequate and fair compensation is a primary means by which we fulfill our obligations to insure basic human dignity, affirm justice, and protect the rights for all.  I refuse to stand silently in the face of an economic system fueled by unjust wages, abuse of employees, exploitation of public resources, and profitability over human/family dignity and well-being.  It is for this reason I believe this work to align faith and labor in an alliance for justice and fairness is a godly thing.  It is time we, unions and the faithful, stand arm in arm to protect and support working people everywhere.

Isaiah 1.17—As the prophet Isaiah says, it is time to “Learn to do good; devote yourselves to justice, correct oppression; and aid the wronged . . .” 

Sources:

Economic Justice for All; Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teachings and the US Economy, United Catholic Bishops, 1986

Defining Economic Justice and Social Justice, Center for Economic and Social Justice

Episcopal General Convention 2000 A-130, Affirming Living Wage and 2003, A081 Affirming Just and Living Wage

The Industrial Unrest and the Living Wage: A series of lectures given at the Interdenominational Summer School at Swanwick, Derbyshire, June 28th 0July 5th, 1913”

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Day 33, Lent2016

Day 33–Today I  write more personally.

I received a call from my middle daughter about an hour ago.  She works for a retail establishment on the Kansas side of the KCMetro.  This morning one of her co-workers came to work with a gun.  My daughter, terrified, complained and was told there was nothing that can be done as Kansas is, after all, the wild west and any knucklehead can carry a gun just about anywhere s/he wants.  Not satisfied, she made a call to the police, anonymously she thought.  The local constabulary required her name for their report.  They too told her there was nothing that could be done.  They then called her work place and reported that she called and reported the presence of the gun.  At this point, even more terrified, my daughter left work and swore never to go back.  I don’t know how this will work out but I expect my daughter will end up unemployed over this. Chalk up another “victory” for gun idolatry.

So here we are.

The gun culture wins.

I really don’t know what the point is anymore.

Lectionary for Friday

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Day 30, Lent2016

Day 30– From today’s OT lesson: “From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Reed Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.'”

This is the final incidence of wilderness murmuring against God and Moses for lack of water and lousy food.  While the water matter is certainly a reasonable concern, what is it about us people and “institutional” food.  Apparently since the time of Moses (can anyone find an earlier example?) we are hard-wired to complain about food served institutionally!  I would think, in the desert, hot, sweaty, blistered, and walking for a long, long time, the Hebrew people would just be glad they had food at all.  But no, they want NOLA/Emeril prepared cuisine.  It’s a tough life being a wandering Aramean (see DT 26).

children art

Children’s Art at KCCK

Speaking of serving good food, I am honored to serve on the board of Kansas City Community Kitchen (KCCK).  Recently, under the leadership of our new CEO Beau Heyen, we have changed our whole serving strategy.  Gone are serving lines and cafeteria style feeding of the masses.  We have replaced it with something more elegant and respectful of our customers.  One would even hope those desert wanders in the lesson from Numbers might enjoy stopping in our place.

Here is a brief video about the changes at Episcopal Community Services Kansas City Community Kitchen:  https://www.facebook.com/NowThisNews/videos/1011360202287437/ 

Lectionary for Tuesday

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Day 29, Lent2016

Day 29—The lesson from Susanna* today may be the most egregious example of wicked chauvinism to be found in the OT/Apocryphal literature. Two elders catch Susanna in a private garden bathing. They threaten her, either let us sexually exploit you or we are

Susanna and the Elders circa 1650-5 by Sir Peter Lely 1618-1680

Susanna and the Elders circa 1650-5 Sir Peter Lely 1618-1680 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery

 

 

 

going to say we caught you in here with some unknown man committing adultery and you will be executed. Susanna would rather accept the false accusation than submit to the ravaging by these two villainous miscreants. Indeed, she is found guilty of adultery with some unknown assailant and is carted off for execution. A young lad named Daniel, filled with the spirit of God, shouts out he has no desire to get the blood of this woman on his hands. Momentarily puzzled, the people wonder what Daniel knows. He knows she is not guilty, that the two elders lied, and he can prove it (No spoiler here, you will have to read the lesson to find out how Daniel spoils the day for the two nefarious elders). Susanna lived.
In John 8, a woman found in adultery is brought to Jesus for judgement. Her accusers are not so much interested in her action as they are in testing Jesus (it is worth noting that they bring only the woman and not the man). Jesus defers judgement and, instead, scratches in the sand. Persisting in their desire for judgement, Jesus straightens up and says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Failing in there attempt to trap Jesus, the accusers disperse, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. Jesus sends her on her way without condemnation and instructs her to sin no more.
Both of these lessons depict actions of disingenuous persons who want what they want and are willing to sacrifice others in order to get what they want. The way of God is merciful, selfless, and serving not condemning, selfish, and self-serving. Let these final days of Lent find us rooting out the vestiges of our selfish and self-serving ways and recommitting to the Way of God, the way of selflessness and serving others—a way that is merciful.

*Of local KCMO interest: Thomas Hart Benton painted “Susanna and the Elders” in 1938. Since 1940, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco has owned this painting.  As is the case with all of Benton’s work, it is very American in characterization. As the beautiful, young, early 20th century Susanna lowers herself into the wooded stream, the two leering elders are in the trees, hatching their plan. At the center top of the painting is the “country church.” Will it judge or protect young Susanna? As far as I can tell, Benton’s Susanna has not been exhibited since 1952, when it was hosted by the Joslyn in Omaha. Here is a link: https://art.famsf.org/thomas-hart-benton/susanna-and-elders-1940104

Lectionary for Monday

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Day 27, Lent2016

Day 27–Again, we at St. Paul’s face another red vestment weekend, honoring those martyred by gun violence in our country.  Every Sunday in Lent has been red save one.  Is there no end to this chaos, this tragedy, this violence, this abuse?  Sadly, I think not.  Wednesday a young woman, eight months pregnant was shot and killed, violently and without mercy.  This young woman’s mother reported they had been wondering what they would call this young child to be, what name would be attached to the possibilities of its life.  The baby unborn, died nameless.  Each person martyred by our gun culture, in our local tragedy and in Pittsburgh as well as the other 57 persons who died by gun violence in our country since Tuesday, had stories yet to tell, lives yet to live.

Sometimes I despair.  Sometimes I wonder where God is in this craziness.  Sometimes my faith seems insufficient to the task of serving God’s higher calling to humanity.  Sometimes I wonder if we deserve the beloved community of grace and mercy and love.

Years ago, I discovered a Scottish poet named David Whyte.  Whenever I find myself tripping headlong into the abyss of hopelessness, I remember this simple poem of faith.  I offer it to you if you too find yourself overwhelmed by the bleakness of this moment.

(read by David Whyte)

Faith

I want to write about faith,
about the way the moon rises
over cold snow, night after night,

faithful even as it fades from fullness,
slowly becoming that last curving and impossible
sliver of light before the final darkness.

But I have no faith myself
I refuse it even the smallest entry.

Let this then, my small poem,
like a new moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith.

  — David Whyte
from Where Many Rivers Meet
©2007 Many Rivers Press

Daily Lectionary:  http://www.lectionarypage.net/WeekdaysOfLent/FridayFourthWeek.html

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