#239 – Dick Bernard: Reflections on Labor Day

Most Sundays the patrons of “my” local coffee shop will hear a somewhat odd trio in conversation along the east (street side) wall. Commanding one table is a retired middle manager of a major international corporation, someone who was fairly high up in the food chain in an important division of his company. At the middle table is a union guy who comes in most every weekend and is, by every indication, a very gifted “key” employee of his corporation, and (perhaps) sometimes a curmudgeon in his own union. Then there’s me, a retired Union organizer – one of “those” people – someone who spent 27 years trying to make sense out of nonsense – “the man in the middle” of assorted disputes and conflicts between working people and their managers.
After the usual bantering back and forth, when the conversation wanders back to the more reflective and serious, we three tend to agree much more than we disagree. The specifics of what we talk about are not as important as the fact that we are not as odd a bunch as we might seem to be. We might see problems and their solutions a little bit differently, but not as differently as one might imagine. We talk about things most people might talk about these days: work, workers, money in (or not in) the economy, how the national organism needs everyone to thrive to survive….
Sunday, as usual, I left coffee, went home, got set for the trip to my Church, the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.
Driving out of our town home development, we saw some cut firewood on a lawn, with a little sign – “Firewood, $5”. It was a small deal; somebody had been cleaning up a neighboring tree lot. My spouse, who’s President of our Homeowners Association, noted that somebody would complain about this little neighborhood enterprise – our Association has rules against that sort of thing. Then she said that the guy had lost his job recently, making the neighborhood enterprise make more sense – even if it was against the rules.
At Church, I picked up the Sunday bulletin. The front page commentary was by Janice Andersen, whose full-time job with us might well translate as “Social Justice”. The headline of her column: “Imagine being able to move out of homelessness with absolutely no furniture“. She then succinctly summarized the story of three anonymous people who had benefited from our Church’s St. Vincent de Paul Thrift store “gently used furniture” program: #1 – “Bill” finally has an entry level job after being out of work for some time…He makes enough money to pay for his rent and food….”; #2 – “Mary”…who lived in her car for two years…participating in a program that teaches interview skills and is looking for work”; #3 – “Ann” is a disabled senior who recently received custody of her grandson. She had no furniture other than a mattress on the floor….”
The visiting Priest, Fr. Greg Miller from St. John’s Abbey, pulled it all together for this Labor Day weekend, basing his comments on Luke 14:25-33, a key section of which says “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Using a symbol familiar to all Catholics – a Rosary – Fr. Greg demonstrated the difference between Grasping (Greed) and Receiving (Generosity). In the first instance, a clenched down-turned fist, holding and hiding that Rosary; in the second, an open up-turned hand, receiving, then giving. Pretty dramatic.
What we love is what we become“, he said. And he asked us to be especially cognizant, this Labor Day, of those who are “Unemployed, underemployed, and those who have given up looking for work.”
Good messages.
As a nation, we become together, exactly what we are individually. Period. Our “community” is much, much broader than what most of us might define it.