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September 2, 2007: “The Myth of Labor Day: Compassionate Capitalism”

The cartoon strip, Dilbert, by Scott Adams is popular because it examines the sometime idiocy of the business world. In a recent one that I saved particularly for this sermon, the boss by his door and says to Dilbert: ‘Prepare a proposal for this customer.’

‘Why me?’ ‘You were walking by.’ Dilbert looks at it and says ‘We can’t win this business. We don’t have the right product or expertise.’ ‘Just say we do. We’ll figure it out later.’ ‘They know we don’t and we’d still be the most expensive bidder.’

‘Bid low. We’ll make it up with change orders and unexpected essential upgrades.’ ‘In other words, I’ve been randomly assigned to create lies for a proposal we can’t win for a service we can’t perform.’ ‘You make competing sound bad.’

***Most sermons sound to me like commercials – but I can’t make out whether God is the Sponsor or the Product. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook

Labor Day Weekend is not just the official end of summer; it was supposed to honor labor, as opposed to management. Why don’t we have Management weekend? Well, the laborers might respond by saying Management has every weekend except Labor Day as theirs!

For every memorial service, many of us clergy read from the Jewish Bible that well known passage in the ancient book of Ecclesiastes which sheds its wisdom on life and death: ‘To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal’; and so on.

But this passage ends with a question: ‘What gain has the worker from his or her toil?’ What is not usually included in funerals or memorial services and which I think should be, one answer to the existential question only a few verses later from that same chapter: ‘I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; also that it is God’s gift to us that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their work.’

Religion and work should not be two separate worlds; Monday should be as religious as Sunday morning. When people lived in an agricultural society, it was easy to take pleasure in one’s work, hard as it was, because it was satisfying, and it fed the family. This was before the banks got involved, before the great depression and the dust bowl. In modern times a recent study showed that 80% of people are not happy with their job!

It seems like every Labor Day there is a recent story about miners killed in a cave-in. Those rescued usually say that they would never go back down to the mines, even though many of them have worked there for many years, even decades. Somebody described it as ‘Hellish’ work without realizing the irony, perhaps. These men get paid to go to hell and work there because hell contains the fire and brimstone of coal or the riches of diamonds, etc from which the mine owners and large investors get rich. It also seems ironic to me that this seemed so much like a story from the 19th century before unions when there was such little regard for safety of the serf, the peasants, who did the mining because there was so many of them.

In other words, the rich get richer while the poor go to hell to make them richer. It doesn’t surprise me that Voltaire, I think, said that religion was invented to keep the poor from murdering the rich. And, I think it would be fair to say that unions were invented to keep the rich from murdering the poor or at least to pay them a little better to send them to hell. The rich live in heavenly comfort while the poor live in hellish poverty, whether we talk about third world countries or our own country.

We rarely hear of any mine owners caught in a cave in. One of the big issues of the next presidential campaign is how to prevent the illegal immigrants from pouring over our borders. I will argue that it is a red herring, like the last election about gay marriage. This country would be hard pressed to harvest its various crops without the migrant worker, illegal or not AND I SHOULD ADD, TO PAY THEM BELOW MINIMUM WAGE!

One of my luxuries is the Sunday Edition of the New York Times, (which I read after church, by the way!). I am always struck by the inside first pages of the front section. There will often be a story about poverty somewhere throughout the world and right beside the article is an advertisement for a Tourneau or Rolex watch for 35,000 up to 100,000 dollars. And perhaps an ad from Tiffany Jewelers for wedding rings from 1,000 to $1,000,000!

Or how about the baseball game of life, where a strike a few years ago was barely averted? The average salary of a baseball player is 2.4 million dollars I heard recently. You see what a union can do? My wife, Cathie, took a 50% pay cut to move to Texas from Pennsylvania and teach. The teacher’s in PA have collective bargaining, union and professional organizations. Yes, about every 2 or 3 years they went out on strike, but not so much anymore because people realize that if they don’t start paying teachers better, they’ll strike and the kids will have to stay home! Perhaps the problem in Texas is the low pay for teachers and the corresponding low regard for education that Texas politicians, both state and national, show by their reluctance to fully fund education.

The recent raising of the so-called minimum wage to $7.25 which is a $2.10 increase from the current minimum wage of $5.15, but not right away. The $2.10 increase will not occur immediately but rather it will increment as follows: this first so-called raise is to a princely $5.85/hr. In July of 08 it will go to $6.55 and finally to $7.25 effective July 24, 2009. Salaries of corporate heads have more than doubled however.

Instead of minimum wages we should be talking about ‘living wages,’ those minimums that would lift a family of four just above the poverty level; it is usually figured to be close to $10.00 an hour..

Just recently was an article from the Plain Dealer: ‘Top fund managers rolling in the dough-They earn more in a minute than you do yearly…the 20 highest paid fund managers made an average of 657.5 million dollars! 0r 22,255 times the average workers salary of $29,500. The average pay of CEOs 10.8 million!

One can clearly see why business people don’t want the minimum wage to go up too quickly! Let me be very clear- this is a sin! The moneychangers are still at work corrupting the temple of all of us. One of my favorite parts of the Christian Bible is when Jesus turns over the tables of the moneychangers and accuses them of making the church a den of thieves. These folks were not just doing fund raising! They were, if you will, a religious monopoly; one could not use secular money in the temple, but had to change the Roman coin into Jewish coin, or one bought unblemished animals like birds to sacrifice since one might not raise unblemished birds. Like so much of traditional religion that does not change with the times, an ancient religious rule became almost impossible to carry out anymore, and the religious institution finds a way to make a profit on it!

Indeed, Martin Luther’s break with the Catholic Church came partly over the corruption of selling ‘Indulgences,’ where for a certain sum of money, the priest would guarantee that your parents would go to heaven. Indeed, Jesus often counseled the wealthy about being too selfish. When the rich man, who has been a good follower of the Torah asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life, Jesus said very simply, ‘Give away all you have and follow me.’ A camel fitting through the eye of the needle before a rich person goes to heaven did actually not mean it was impossible; it is thought in later translations that there was a narrow door out of the city walls called the eye of the needle, and a fully loaded camel could not fit through. And, as one might imagine, it would be a lot of work to unload the camel, get it through then load it up again.

Religion and work, religion and money have gone hand in velvet glove since the beginning. Isn’t that amazing? All major religions agree on at least one thing, that we have an obligation as religious people to share the wealth and to take care of the poor.

Today, of course, our economy is a global one as the internet has become what the Buddhists call Indra’s Web, and what we refer to as the interconnected web. What is needed for the world is a compassionate capitalism that would spread the wealth a little more evenly. No, not socialism or communism, but compassionate capitalism!

The recent scandals in the business world like ENRON, seem to me to be the result of people separating themselves from the earth, from their workers, from their very souls as multi-million dollar bonuses were paid to CEO’s no matter how their corporation did. Think of the billions of dollars in retirement funds for the workers of a company have been lost! The Faustian bargains that were made, the selling of the soul to the highest bidder is a very common and universal religious and business metaphor.

In his book, The Soul of Business, editor Michale Toms, of New Dimensions Radio writes in the Introduction: ‘…Moving beyond the traditional goals of productivity and profit, the new model of business for the 21st century embraces a more caring workplace: respect for the importance of spiritual values and vision, a commitment to empowering people to manifest their full creativity and passion, and recognizing the social responsibility of business to be a positive force for change in the world.’

Among others, he interviews Dr. Charles Garfield-clinical professor of U of California Medical School and author of best sellers Peak Performers and Second to None: How our smartest companies Put People First. The New Story is a profoundly based story that moves us away from what I call ‘mechano-centered,’ machine-centered imagery and mythology, to an eco-systematic perspective, a living systems perspective.

Imagine if instead of seeing our institutions, particularly corporate institutions and governmental institutions as lean machines, we saw them as living systems that really understood what it takes to nourish the best in human beings, to nourish human beings at the highest level of their potential. We are living on an interdependent planet and corporate systems are always subsystems of that interdependence, and they require collaboration and partnership. We are moving towards a fundamentally different understanding of what it takes to nourish human beings and to nourish living systems, called corporations or any other institution.’ There is hope here.

Poet David Whyte, author of The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the soul in Corporate America: says in his interview with Toms-… ‘I feel that ethics are not enough right now. Ethics, in some ways, are conceptual structures, another way of being that comes out of an abstracted sense of what is good and right. What I’m trying to work with in my book are the urgencies of the soul in the workplace.’

And writes Mathew Fox ,author of Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Times, is the radical Dominican Priest who was thrown out of Catholicism because of his liberal and universal religious ideas, is now an Episcopal priest: ‘I think the alternative to capitalism is not communism-it’s community-and I think we are ready for that now.’

Listen to some new 10 commandments of Compassionate Capitalism called: ‘Ten Marks of New Consciousness,’ by Ervin Laszlo from IONS magazine, March-May 2002

  1. living in ways that allow other people to live as well; satisfying one’s needs without detracting from the chances of other people to satisfy theirs.
  2. living in ways that respect the right to life and to economic and cultural development of all people, wherever they live and whatever their ethnic origin, sex, citizenship, station in life, or belief system.
  3. living in ways that safeguard the intrinsic right to life and to a life-supportive environment of all the creatures that live and grow on the Earth.
  4. pursuing happiness, freedom, and personal fulfillment in harmony with the integrity of nature and with consideration for the similar pursuits of others in society.
  5. requiring one’s government to relate to other nations and peoples peacefully and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing the legitimate aspirations for a better life and a healthy environment for all the people in the human family.
  6. requiring business enterprises to accept responsibility for all their stake-holders as well as for the sustainability of their environment, producing goods and offering services that satisfy legitimate demand without impairing nature and reducing the opportunities of local enterprises and developing economies to compete in the marketplace.
  7. requiring the public media to provide a constant stream of reliable information on basic trends and crucial processes, in order to enable citizens and consumers to reach informed decisions on issues that affect their health, prosperity, and future.
  8. making room in one’s life to help those less economically privileged than one-self to live a life of dignity, free from the struggles and humiliations of abject poverty.
  9. working with likeminded people to preserve or restore the essential balances of the environment, whether in one’s neighborhood, in one’s country or region, or the world over.
  10. encouraging young people, and open-minded people of all ages, to evolve the spirit that could empower them to make ethical decisions on their own on issues that decide their future, and the future of their children.

Lynn Twist, one of founders of ‘The Hunger Project’, raising over 100 million dollars to feed the poor of the world in her interview with Michael Toms-quotes a Zen Text ‘A woman who is the master of the art of living makes little distinction between her work and her play, her labor and her leisure, her mind and her body, her education and he recreation, her love and her religion. She hardly knows which is which. She simply pursues her vision of excellence and grace in whatever she does, leaving others to decide whether she is working or playing. To her, she is always doing both.’ ‘Psychologists,’ says Twist,’ are now trying to define notions like ‘eco-self’ to describe a way of being in which I incorporate the earth into my identity.’

There is enough to go around. Enough of everything if we share. At the heart of life is that connection of interdependence, does the saying ‘cutting your nose off to spite your face’ help us to realize the absurdity of thinking that we of the US can continue to ‘hog the resources of the world’ for ever? Time is running out. The economy is still sinking under a morass of financial immorality and outright criminal behavior. Not Communism, but community, compassion, compassionate capitalism where even labor is valued rather than being exploited. We’re all in the same life boat and it won’t matter if that someone else’s part is sinking.

Help me bail, brothers and sisters, help me find and repair the leak. God is our hands and hearts working to save the world and each other, teaching us in every religion-compassion, compassion, compassion. ‘When will we ever learn?’ asked prophet Bob Dylan, ‘When will we ever learn?’

May peace and compassion be within us as well as in all our actions. Amen, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum (may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be and let me add one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. ‘Vaya con Dios’ is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is ‘Go with God,’ so I adapted it to say ‘Vaya Con SU dios, ‘Go with your idea or interpretation of God.’

Opening Words

‘The Dogs’ 10 Commandments’- Anonymous

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Take naps and stretch before rising.

Run, romp and play daily.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit nearby and nuzzle them gently.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout. Run right back and make friends.

Delight in the simple joys of a long walk.

Kabir was a 12th century poet born of Moslem and Hindu parents; no wonder he sounds like a Unitarian.

THE KABIR BOOK translated by Robert Bly

I don’t know what sort of a God we have been talking about.

The caller calls in a loud voice to the Holy One at dusk.
Why? Surely the Holy One is not deaf.
He hears the delicate anklets that ring on the feet of an insect as it walks.

Go over and over your beads, paint weird designs on your forehead,
wear your hair matted, long, and ostentatious,
but when deep inside you there is a loaded gun, how can you have God?