On this recent Labor Day my thoughts turned to the spiritual nature of work. We all know the economic nature of work, but there is something deeper and higher about work — if we were to pause and consider it between the hot dogs and mattress sales.
The first spiritual element about our work that I would lift up this year is pride. Pride in our work is a fundamental foundation of personal satisfaction and social cohesion. I remember this moving passage from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about pride in work:
"We are challenged on every hand to work untiringly to achieve excellence in our lifework. Not all men are called to specialized or professional jobs, even fewer rise to the heights of genius in the arts and sciences; many are called to be laborers in factories, fields, and streets. But no work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.' "
And a Labor Day story for all my fellow clergymen and clergywomen: Our work can sometimes blind us to the truth of our holy work. We can drift into thinking that we work for our congregants only — and that is just not the truth of our calling. A story from my tradition:
Rabbi Nathan of Rabshitz was walking in his little village and he saw the lamplighter lighting the streetlamps. He greeted the man and asked him, "Who do you work for?" The lamplighter told him that he worked for the shtetl and he asked the rabbi, "Who do you work for?" The rabbi stopped and thought, then said to the man, "I will pay you double your salary if you will come to work for me." The startled lamplighter asked the rabbi, "What do you want me to do for you?" The rabbi said, "I want you to come to me every morning and ask me just one question, 'Who do you work for?' "
Remember my brothers and sisters, we work for God.
A note from MG
My teaching about religions of blood and religions of belief contained a misleading confusion about how one becomes a Catholic versus how one becomes a Protestant Christian.
When I included the rosary as the best summation of the beliefs Christians must profess to be Christians the text should have read Catholic rather than Christian. The rosary is at the heart of Catholic belief but obviously not at the heart of Protestant belief at least for the past 500 years. Several faithful Protestant readers of the God Squad helpfully corrected this theological typo.
Your recent column contains a mistake when you told G. that "The best summation of belief for Christians is the rosary …" The rosary may be the best summation of belief for Catholic Christians, but not for most others. The Apostles' Creed is used in many Christian churches, especially the liturgical ones such as the Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist. But many other churches don't believe in creeds. It's not that they disagree with the beliefs, but they teach that the Bible is sufficient. (You also left out the line about how Jesus "descended into hell.") The members of the liturgical denominations I listed don't pray the "Ave Maria" other than perhaps using the musical setting by Schubert or Bach/Gounod in a service. — G
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Apostles' Creed, here it is fresh from the year 390 AD and translated through the Greek and the Latin into English:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Notice that the word catholic in the creed is with a small "c" to differentiate it from the Roman Catholic Church. However, this creed is used by Catholics (don't write me). It is just much more fundamental to the beliefs of Protestant Christians.
END QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at email@example.com or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.