I pray for two things on this Labor Day. First, for the people of Minnesota who work, or long to work, that labor would result in sustenance for daily need, for all those affected by labor dispute, those engaged in the discussions, their families, those laid off from work, those who have had no work for a long time, those whose businesses or services and ministries have been halted.
Secondly, I pray for a new vison and experience of reconciliation in the midst of conflict. I pray that our tendencies toward fragmentation and alienation would be overcome by desire for reconciliation. I pray for swift, peaceful, and just resolution to any labor conflicts, that we might find in one another the needed co-creators of the common good.
We give thanks today for the lack of violence related to labor issues in our time. My grandfather was at the Maytag plant in Newton Iowa; in 1938 when violence erupted and men were killed (according to family stories); he never fully recovered from that experience. We remember the strike of the Minneapolis Teamsters in 1934 in which police fired on striking truck drivers. Drivers were demanding recognition of their union, wage increases, and shorter working hours. As violence escalated, Governor Olson declared martial law in Minneapolis, deploying 4,000 National Guardsmen. We have turned some important corners since then and thankfully violence is not a part of labor disputes in Minnesota these days. Yet we still fall short of seeing each other as co-creators of the common good.
I share a passage which is part of the shared sacred texts of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This scripture passages has stood for centuries witnessing to the reality that life in community often entails deep and difficult struggles. The Isaiah calls the community to “quit pointing the finger and speaking wickedness.” The prophet reminds us, the community, the king, the powers that be, that community is a delicate thing which needs careful tending. The Isaiah passage offers us encouragement in such efforts.
“If you take away from the midst of you the yoke,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and you gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your desire with good things,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not,
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairers of the breach,
the restorers of streets to dwell in.
We still live in a culture which too often has seen disagreement erupt into finger pointing and the speaking of wickedness about each other. Our community -- that is our cities, our state, our country, our world -- our community continues to divide itself into special interest shards, shards which can’t carry a commitment to a common good. In such a moment we call upon one another to pick up those many shards in many colors to carry them gingerly to the place where together with others we can build a new stain glass window to the future, boisterous in its color, reverent in its commitment. In the midst of the rending of the fabric of society we are called to be repairers of the breach.
I call upon us all to be part of a new model which understands the right of self- interest but also the responsibility to negotiate that self-interest in the context of the larger community. We, in Minnesota have a heritage which is built on the understanding that the larger vision of self-interest is directly related to community interest. Let us pray that we all would turn toward that promised day, so that we can’ raise up the foundations of many generations; and be called the repairers of the breach, the restorers of streets to dwell in.’