Conversation During a Time of Under- and Unemployment

by Jeanine Elliott, Bethel Congregational UCC, Beaverton, OR

“After the first morning hour, the Christian’s day until evening belongs to work.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

“No work is too small to play a part in the world of creation.” Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World.

“The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real. “ Marge Piercy, To Be of Use

Our Christian traditions have always given value to work as a part of life. The early religious orders incorporated work into their disciplines. While choosing a “vocation” in early times often meant a calling to work within the church, the Protestant Reformation reinforced the understanding that every Christian is called to live a purposeful life in the world. In our more secular world, our identity and even our social value are closely tied to work life. Humans need work that is real. God’s work needs human hands and hearts.

Yet in our current economic crisis, there are not enough jobs to go around. We see the consequences of under- and unemployment in the lives of people we know in our neighborhoods and in our congregations. The downturn is affecting most of us, employed and unemployed alike. The financial consequences of no work threaten our physical well-being and even survival; the spiritual and psychological consequences can destroy the soul.

As part of our spiritual practice in this Lenten period, let some of our conversation and prayer time explore the meaning of work in an economy that is supported by the values of wealth accumulation and the purchase of worldly goods.  Questions to consider:

1)   How has the economic slowdown affected your life?

2)   What does your work life (now and in the past) mean to you?

3)   How do you see your work life (now and in the past) as part of God’s creation and purpose?

4)   How are you thinking about those who are under- and unemployed?  What future do you see for them, or for yourself, if you are part of the group?

5)   What might we be called to do as a congregation in response to the spiritual and financial losses that accompany loss of work?

And here is a short reading list for Lenten reflection:

  1.  “Rediscovering Values:  On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street” by Jim Wallis, Howard Books, 2010.
  2. “Working” by Studs Terkel, The New Press, 1972
  3. “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich, Metropolitan Books, 2001.

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