Friday, September 14, 2012

Crossing Borders

There are many kinds of borders we are asked to cross in our lives.  Borders of class, relationships, jobs, cultures, age, and religion to name a few.  In many ways all of us are immigrants crossing borders, if not temporarily, then more subtly.  

I think of my friend Tom, who came from an upper middle class family, his father was quite wealthy.  Tom went on to college fully expecting to work in the family business.  Until his dad died in car crash on his way to visit him.  Tom, whose mother had died years before, now was alone, with a new found wealth which he quickly squandered.  He crossed another border literally when he came to California and tried to rebuild his life after the drugs and the booze.  Married, divorced and finally married again.  He lives a very quiet life as a therapist helping hundreds of people cross the borders of their own lives.
Of all the borders people are challenged to cross, crossing a country’s borders is the most dangerous of all.  Immigrants whether they are documented or undocumented have little if any of the rights that we as citizens take for granted.  No habis corpus, no right to a trial by jury, virtually no appeal.  Documentation only lessens the danger, and of course, undocumented workers face even more troubles.

Every day, thousands of migrants, risking their lives and in terrible conditions, cross borders to reach the land of their dreams. What attracts people to migrate are the lifestyles, the commodities of the rich countries, the ability to earn money to buy things and to escape from poverty.. In the contemporary world, despite the current economic crisis, the lifestyle of people in the rich countries is the prevalent paradigm.
Crossing a physical border into a land where you have nothing in hopes of a better dream is an act of courage.  How many of us, as American Citizens wish we could cross a new border into more meaningful work, safety from economic calamity and the realization of our dreams for our own children now?  How many of you?  I know I do.  We have six kids and all of them face more uncertainty than I ever did.  Is it any wonder those who are worse off than us materially, cross our borders?  Isn’t this a matter of human survival and worth?  Ultimately, isn’t that what we are talking about? As the song goes, We aren't crossing the border, the border is crossing us.
With Grace and Grit, John

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Called to Good Work

Labor Day means something more than just a celebration of organized workers…it is a holiday that celebrates work.  

All of us need to work, no matter what our age.  And as our retirees know all too well, work doesn’t end when you retire.  You may not get paid money for it but you do get paid, and you can live a tremendously busy and fruitful life up until the day you die.  As the Catholic mystic Matthew Fox put it “There is a priesthood of all workers (all who are doing good work are midwives of grace and therefore priests) and this priesthood ought to be honored as sacred and workers should be instructed in spirituality in order to carry on their ministry effectively.” (from The Reinvention of Work, 1995)

When we think of work, we too often think of it as a function – what we do to get “it” done – and so the vocae of our souls are left to chance.  We may or may not find meaning in what we do for money.  The problem of our modern working life has less to do with efficiency and much more to do with the lack of meaning in what we are called to do. Repetition of tasks, whether they be with our hands or with our heads pushing paper and keys from one place to another robs us of the meaning we crave. 

It is never easy to reconcile these contradictions in our lives.  The better paying jobs are more often than not the ones that lie at the edge of what we value as a people.  

Single parents who struggle to raise their families and not quite so able to just give up a well paying job and maintain the environment they want for their children.  

I do believe that money does make a difference in raising a family.  But I am asking us to examine the gap between what we do and what we value.  And just as we should question making money at a job that has little meaning to us, we need to also question making enough money at a job that does have meaning.  It is a tragedy that some of our most socially beneficial vocations pay far below what the people do them need to live on. 

Answering the call to good work, then, is doing what we find meaning in.  “Right work” wrote the Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh “is the result of being present in the moment of doing”.  Whatever we are doing becomes meaningful when we pay attention to all that the work means.  The process of working, whether it is paid or not, whether it is your vocation or your occupation, it is a spiritual opportunity. 

With Grace and Grit, John