Work and the Bible, Part 1This past year as I have been between pastoral gigs. I have taken jobs to pay the bills. The first job I took was a temporary customer service agent. This was not a happy place. The regular employees were being asked to increase their productivity. In my section this meant increasing sales when everyone who came in was coming to pay cash for the bill that they didn't have enough money to pay. The goals for sales were not possible with the amount of foot traffic that came into the store. The other side of the business didn't fair much better with all of the employees being put on probation. This was not a happy work environment. The customers weren't happy, the employees weren't happy. I would get yelled at by the customers constantly. The pay was a living wage but not a comfortable wage and there were no benefits.
My second way of earning money was to supply preach. Which kept me in touch with what I feel called to do, but this gigs often came after working a 40 hour week and then having to put in time writing a sermon, memorizing it, and preparing liturgy. So a job that takes between 10-15 hours a week in prep would net an income of what amounted to $10 an hour with a graduate degree required. And while I am grateful for the extra money these gigs provided you begin to wonder why you got that advanced degree and did God really intend for those who work for the church to live in poverty.
My third job this year was also working in customer service and it is this company that has led me to want to explore what the bible says about work and labor. The company I work for pays above minimum plus upsell dollars (something that I see little of because I just can't encourage people who seemed to be prey for this company to buy more Chinese imports that they don't need and can't afford). This job is not unpleasant. Most people don't yell at me unlike the first job. It is just repetitive and tiring for 5-8 hours a day I will answer the phone every four minutes with either 1 or 2 10 minute breaks with no pause between calls. So in any given hour I answer the phone between 10-20 times with sometimes 30 seconds between calls. There are no benefits, they make sure to give you hours below the cutoff for qualifying for unemployment but expect you to block off 45 hours to devote to the company. The job pays the bills.
Working for this last company has made me wonder what the bible says about work, how to treat employees, and about credit and lending.
So let's start at the beginning. For the biblical understanding begins with the work of God and the need for rest. So there is swirling chaos and out of that chaos God begins to create order. God makes light and dark, God makes day and night. God creates water and land, plants and animals. God's work for seven days is to create all that exists. God works to draw forth order out of chaos. Then on the seventh day God rests.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-3The writers of Genesis 1 want to establish an order to life, work, and play. They want us to know that there is time to labor and to labor creatively, But there is also time to rest, to stop working. There is to be time that is set apart for God. A day that is sacred, holy, when work is stopped. These writers want us to remember that work is good and should be creative but then there is time that is restful and holy.
So how do we build in time for the sacred and holy when 47 million of our fellow citizens are part of the working poor. These are people who work hard at jobs that often do not allow for creativity and work hard to not make enough money to live decently. These are not people who are working, they are working hard but the wages paid are not enough to pay for all of the bills that come in for housing, food, medical care, and utilities. So for those making around minimum wage, paying all the bills every month becomes a balancing act to see which need can be met this week. This may require working multiple part time jobs with little or no time for rest.
But we are invited to rest. To labor for six days and then spend time with the holy. But how can we do this when our work schedules are unpredictable. Sundays are no long a time for church and family. In many cases we cannot say no to working on Sunday. We need the money to live.
So one of the questions this raises for me, is what are our obligations to each other as a community of people. Should we have a society where rest is honored, So here is one of the dilemmas we face. From the late 1800s to the 1980s there was a growing understanding that productivity was higher among workers who worked a 40 hour week. You got as much productivity out of a worker who worked a 40 hour a week as you did out of a worker who worked 50 to 70. Increased hours do not lead to increased effectiveness. Employers learned this and created a 40 hour work week. This changed in the last 30 years when two competing movements happened. Right to work legislation was passed that allowed employers to fire and hire at will. This left employees without a voice. At the same time, corporations started creating part time labor pools to keep that productivity high but decreasing the wages of the workers by causing them to have multiple jobs or living at or below poverty level. So workers have little choice about when they work. On a communal level we need to have discussion about creating work that brings life to those who work.
But we as the spiritual and religious we need to share the importance of rest, of being able to spend time with the Holy and Sacred, to have time to be present both with God and with our families. We are to hallow rest, to make it holy and sacred. For the present this means we in the church need to advocate for justice. We need to advocate for a 40 hour week and for full time employment, We also need to advocate for creative work, that we have time to use that part of ourselves that is created in the image of God and wants to create. But we also at the same time need to become a shelter where rest can be found and that rest may not fit nicely into Sunday. We may have rethink church and how we do church. We need to become sanctuaries of rest. We need to provide the space and time for people to meet God and rest from their labor. But this should not be an added burden and obligation but a time of solace where the holy has time to surround and encompass us. What would this look like, can you imagine your church as a place for rest and creativity? Can you see the church as providing a moment when the holy draws close? Where work is left at the door for a moment and the holy is allowed to surround you with solace, peace and grace.
More Than a Paycheck