Tomorrow is Labor Day. In our country, most of us get so few days off that we’re thrilled at the prospect of a rare three day weekend and we infrequently give a second thought as to the occasion. Even for Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, most folks are focused not on the holidays themselves, but on the ability to catch up on some sleep or other aspect of their personal lives.
Moreover, in the United States our modern culture celebrates capitalism and anything remotely resembling a Marxist attitude is held highly suspect. The holiday was originally proposed in the 19th century as labor unions began to organize. It was meant to celebrate the American workers’ many contributions to our country. During my life time, however, it has simply been the official end of summer and for many the start of a new school year. No one I know has ever taken time to celebrate workers on Labor Day. That sounds somewhat Marxist to many. And these days unions are vilified widely.
I think the status of Labor Day is unfortunate. Most people spend the majority of their waking hours as adults doing work of some kind. I’ve traveled abroad and have noticed that we as a people work more than most other developed, prosperous nations. We end up with little time left over. We neglect our health and our families as a result. We work, work, work. And much of it seems to be driven by fear. Compared to other nations, our workers have fewer protections and fewer benefits. It is a dog-eat-dog world in the American work place. Because people make such sacrifices for their employers, I don’t understand why we’re hesitant to take a day and just applaud all that hard work. You don’t have to be an adherent of Lenin or Mao to just be grateful for all the hard work folks in our society perform.
Our nation was founded on revolutionary principles that all men are created equal and deserving of a voice in how our country is governed. Despite this egalitarian ideal, I’ve noticed in recent years that we’ve grown more like older, less democratic nations in being very class-conscious. Comedians ridicule “Bubba” and people who wear a uniform with their name. Living in a trailer, not having clothes with the right labels and not having an educational pedigree are all reasons to look down upon others. Not only do these attitudes clash with my religious beliefs, I find them offensive on a personal level. I actually have a relative named Bubba, and a number of my relatives have uniforms with a name tag. I spent about the first seven years of my life living in a trailer (in Texas no less!). I’m fairly sure I don’t own any designer clothes. I was educated exclusively in public schools throughout grade school and for all of my degrees. I am not embarrassed in the slightest by any of these facts, but instead find them to be a source of pride to a certain extent. (As a Christian, I recognize the pitfalls of pride and strive to rid myself of that trait.)
I think this increased class consciousness is another reason we as a people are reluctant to celebrate the achievements of workers. On some level, many of us just don’t respect blue collar or hourly wage earners. We actually look down on people doing unpleasant tasks, so why would we celebrate their work?
My maternal grandpa grew up on a rural farm during the Depression. Times were tough. Everyone had to work hard to pull together. Even at an early age, kids had to pitch in. Because of this up-bringing, my grandpa taught his children the importance of a strong work ethic, and the respect that we should all have for the work that others do. He emphasized that we should never look down upon someone for what they did for a living. Instead, he taught that we should be grateful for their contributions, whatever they were. Grandpa would tell his kids how he admired the men picking up garbage and the men repaving the roads during the South Texas summer. Grandpa would note those were not things he would necessarily want to do, but they were critical to our society. Someone had to do them, and grandpa was so appreciative of the men that did them. Those men did everyone else a huge favor. Grandpa had a great attitude, which I wish more folks shared.
This weekend I was out running errands with my kids. We had a Christian radio station on and a familiar song played: Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Do Everything.” As I listened to the lyrics in the car, they seemed so apropos for Labor Day. Mr. Chapman sings about three main types of workers: a stay-at-home mom, a man whose work uniform has his name on it, and a respected business executive. Of the three, our society really only admires and celebrates the latter. But Mr. Chapman’s point is that all three are equally valued by God. Amen!
A video of Mr. Chapman’s song is available at the link below. Enjoy!
Prepare in an out-place thy work, And make it ready in the field -- go afterwards, Then thou hast built thy house.
Be not a witness for nought against thy neighbour, Or thou hast enticed with thy lips.
Say not, “As he did to me, so I do to him, I render to each according to his work.”