Signs of the Times

News, views, notes, and quotes

26 August 2015  •  No. 35

Special issue on
LABOR DAY
A collection of quotes

 

Creator God, we give thanks this day for work: for work that sustains; for work that fulfills. . . . As part of our thanks we also intercede for those who have no work, who have too much or too little work; who work at jobs that demean or destroy, work which profits the few at the expense of the many. (Continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Labor Day” litany for worship.)

Art by Ade Bethune, ©Ade Bethune Collection, St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota. This and many other pieces of Bethune's art appeared in The Catholic Worker newsletter.

In Christian mysticism, the Latin phrase Ora et Labora reads in full: "Ora et labora, Deus adest son has" (“Pray and work, God is there,” i.e., God helps without delay.) The pray and work refers to the monastic practice of working and praying, generally associated with its use in the Rule of St. Benedict.

¶ “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, / alive as you and me. / Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead" / "I never died" said he." —Lyrics to “Joe Hill,” sung by Joan Baez. And here’s Paul Robeson’s rendition of the song.
      
Joe Hill, a Swedish immigrant, was a songwriter, cartoonist and mining labor organizer in the US. He was convicted, on circumstantial evidence, of killing a Salt Lake City grocery store owner and was executed by firing squad in 1915.
       Hill is credited with coining the phrase “pie in the sky,” used in his most famous song, “The Preacher and the Slave,” which was a parody of the hymn “In the Sweet By-and-By.” Here’s a Utah Phillips rendition of “The Preacher and the Slave.”

A vision without a task is but a dream, a task without a vision is drudgery, a vision with a task is the hope of the world. —Church inscription, Sussex, England (1730)

Agitation for the eight hour day began after the Civil War. Congress passed an eight hour law on 25 June 1868, but it was largely ignored. In the 1880s the issue was revived. The eight-hour work day was not effectively established until 1938 with the passage of the “Wage and Hour Law.”

¶ As with so many of our holidays, we have mostly forgotten the severe conflict which provides the historical context [of Labor Day]. In the latter decades of the 19th century industrialization was hitting its stride in the developing world. The technology of commerce was producing massive amounts of profit and a widening gaps between rich and poor. (Continue reading Ken Sehested’s sermon, “Labor in the Shadow of Sabbath,” a sermon for Labor Day.)

¶ “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” —Dorothy Day

¶ “A spirituality of work is based on a heightened sense of sacramentality, of the idea that everything that is, is holy and that our hands consecrate it to the service of God. When we grow radishes in a small container in a city apartment, we participate in creation. When we sweep the street in front of a house in the dirtiest city in the country, we bring new order to the universe. When we repair what has been broken or give away what we have earned that is above and beyond our own sustenance, we stoop down and scoop up the earth and breathe into it new life again, as God did one morning in time only to watch it unfold and unfold and unfold through the ages.” —Joan Chittister, OSB

¶ “In our endless quest to eliminate work, to find effortless fulfillment and the grail of One E-Z Step, we deny the ultimate value of the grind.” —Owen Edwards

¶ “There are buoyant powers of healing at work in the world that do not depend on us, that we need not finance or keep functioning and that are not at our disposal.” —Walter Brueggemann

¶ “If all the cars in the United States were placed end to end, it would probably be Labor Day Weekend.” —Doug Larson

¶ “Don't mistake activity with achievement.” ― John Wooden

 ¶ “Now as I look around, it's mighty plain to see, / This world is such a great and a funny place to be. / Oh, the gamblin' man is rich, an' the workin' man is poor, / And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.” —Woodie Guthrie, “I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore

So that. . . . “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need." —Ephesians 4:28

¶ “I want to be with people who submerge / in the task, who go into the fields to harvest / and work in a row and pass the bags along, / who stand in the line and haul in their places, / who are not parlor generals and field deserters / but move in a common rhythm / when the food must come in or the fire be put out.” —Marge Piercy

¶ “She'd been in labor for nineteen hours; I completely understood why she wanted to pass the buck. ‘You are so beautiful,’ her husband crooned, holding up her shoulders.
       “‘You are so full of shit,’ Lila snarled, but as a contraction settled over her like a net, she bore down and pushed.”  ―Jodi Picoult, “Handle with Care”

Art by Ricardo Levins Morales, ©RLM Art Studio rlmartstudio.com

¶ “The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.” —Thomas Jefferson

¶ “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” —George Bernard Shaw

¶ “The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all. . . . The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. “ —Helen Keller

Child coal miners, Hughestown, Pennsylvania, 1911.

¶ “We will have many visions of what a just and equitable democracy will look like, and we will have even more ideas on how to get there. But we must begin to work together, to compromise, and to listen to each other in order to realize our visions. Working together will be the hardest challenge we will face.” —Linda Stout, “Bridging the Class Divide and other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing”

When cutting capstone, carefully / measured, from a larger block with / nothing but hammer and chisel, you / come to know the necessity of blister-raising / toil to achieve envisioned result. (Continue reading Ken Sehested’s poem, “Blistering Hope: A stonemason’s meditation on perseverance.”)

Homemade cartoon following the completion of my first solo job as a stonemason.

¶ “Like craftsmen working on a great cathedral, we have each been given instructions about the particular stone we are to spend our lives carving, without knowing or being able to guess where it will take its place within the grand design.” ­—N.T. Wright

 ¶ “The economics of industrialized countries would collapse if women didn't do the work they do for free: According to economist Marilyn Waring, throughout the West it generates between 25 and 40 percent of the gross national product.” ―Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

¶  “Worrying is less work than doing something to fix the worry. Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom with the dishes.” —P.J. O'Rourke

¶ “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost.
       “It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open.” —Martha Graham, legendary modern dancer and choreographer

¶ “The secret of wealth is that workers are systematically underpaid.” ― Julie Rivkin, Literary Theory: An Anthology

¶ “Go in all simplicity; do not be anxious to win a quiet mind, and it will be all the quieter. Do not examine so closely into the progress of your soul. Do not crave too much to be perfect, but let your spiritual life be formed by your duties, and by the actions which are called forth by circumstances.” —St. Francis de Sales

¶ “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” —Albert Einstein

¶  “Their land is filled with silver and gold: / and there is no end to their treasures. / Their land is filled with horses: / And there is no end to their chariots. / Their land is filled with idols, / they bow down to the work of their hands: / to what their own fingers have made. / So people are humbled, / and everyone is brought low.” —Isaiah 2:7-9

¶  In 1968 the US minimum wage was $1.60. If it had kept up with income growth and distribution overall, it would now be $21.16 per hour. —Salvatore Babones, “The Minimum Wage Is Stuck at $7.25; It Should Be $21.16 — or Higher

¶ “We mean to make things over, / We are tired of toil for naught  / With but bare enough to live upon / And ne'er an hour for thought. / We want to feel the sunshine / And we want to smell the flow'rs / We are sure that God has willed it / And we mean to have eight hours; / We're summoning our forces / From the shipyard, shop and mill / Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest / Eight hours for what we will.” —“Eight Hours,” Lyrics by I. G. Blanchard, music by the Reverend Jesse H. Jones, 1878

¶ “We’ll work ‘til Jesus Comes,” Doc Watson.

¶ “Can one be passionate about the just, the / ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit / to no labor in its cause? I don't think so.” —Mary Oliver

¶ “Can anything be imagined more abhorrent to every sentiment of generosity and justice, than the law which arms the rich with the legal right to fix, by assize, the wages of the poor? If this is not slavery, we have forgotten its definition. Strike the right of associating for the sale of labor from the privileges of a freeman, and you may as well bind him to a master, or ascribe him to the soil.” ―William Cullen Bryant

¶ “The test of sincerity of one’s prayer is the willingness to labor on its behalf.” —St. John Chrysostom

¶ “The intractability of global inequality is more pervasive than rule by the 1% in rich countries. It is sustained by partnerships with the elite of developing nations as well. Last week the World Bank calculated that ten Africans own more wealth than half the continent.” —"Another World Is Possible, Without the 1%," Winnie Byanyima,  executive director, Oxfam International

¶ “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. . . .” —Hebrews 10:24

¶ “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help every one in everything is to succumb to violence.” —Thomas Merton

¶ “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. . . . These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.” ―Abraham Lincoln

¶ “Stand up boys, let the bosses know / Turn your buckets over, turn your lanterns low / There's fire in our hearts and fire in our soul / but there ain't gonna be no fire in the hole.” —“Fire in the Hole,” Hazel Dickens

¶ “Those who participate in [sabbath] break the anxiety cycle. They are invited to awareness that life does not consist in frantic production and consumption that reduces everyone else to threat and competition.” —Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance

New Orleans under water. Photo by Larry Towell.

Special thanks to those who, for ten years now, have worked to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. To mark the occasion, listen to Billie Holiday singing Louis Armstrong’s “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” and Satchmo with his “Hot Five” ban playing “West End Blues

Never forget: We often sow for an unseen harvest; provide hospitality for angels unaware; set tables of bounty for unnumbered migrants to the land of Heaven’s delight. —Ken Sehested

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks:

• “Labor Day,” a litany for worship

• “Labor in the Shadow of Sabbath,” a Labor Day sermon

• “Meditations on labor and leisure: Several reflections on sabbath keeping

• “Blistering Hope: A stonemason’s meditation on perseverance

©Ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org. Language not otherwise indicated above is that of the editor. Don’t let the “copyright” notice keep you from circulating material you find here (and elsewhere in this site). Reprint permission is hereby granted in advance for noncommercial purposes.

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