Bishop

In a recent article by The Other Journal, “Power, Economics, and Christian Faith from Below: An Interview with Joerg Rieger,” Joerg Rieger offers a powerful reminder about the importance of beginning with production and labor rather than distribution.

Labor is what people do. And that means that it is not just a necessity but that it is something much bigger than us. For people of religion, it would mean that we have to see God involved. God is laboring alongside us, with us… Normally we are talking about distribution, the fairness of distribution, and who gets paid what. We are not talking about production. I talk about this in one of my earlier books, No Rising Tide, where I say we have to shift the discussion to production because then we will be talking about the value of what it is that people are doing, how we are valuing that as a society. And then, from there, you can ask questions about how people are compensated, for instance, but in a way that takes the question beyond a simple discussion of a minimum wage or even a living wage.

It’s important to note the “participatory logic” at work here, the fact that God is present in our labor and creative activity as much as God is present in our abundance.

So why is this important? As Rieger continues,

Unfortunately, we think of religion, particularly Christianity, mostly in terms of leisure: Sunday mornings, evening meals, and meetings outside of our regular work schedule. But what happens when we bring these things back together again? The main point of my book is that we can learn something from looking other directions. We can learn something about Christianity and other religious traditions by looking from the perspective of labor, which includes organizing labor, the plight of workers, and the treatment of workers. We can also learn something about labor by really going to the depths of our religious traditions. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, there is a strong concern for the fair treatment of workers. But way beyond that, there is a concern for appreciating the positive contributions that workers can make. This is back to the bottom of power, understanding that this world is built in so many ways form the bottom up, rather than the top down.

Rieger touches here on one of the most critical issues facing our communities today: in the demise of Christendom and concomitant rise of ruthless capitalism and instrumental reason, how do we think the relationship between our jobs (where we spend the bulk of our time) and our ‘religious’ commitments? Aside from Rieger’s poignant analysis, it seems that our only options our a flattened version of the Protestant Work Ethic, a lazy non-contents position casting everything back on ‘original sin’, or a simply acquiescing to the secular/sacred divide. But as Rieger points out, by focusing on labor, which is to focus on questions of value, we can begin to recover the sense that the world is charged with “the grandeur of God.” The question of labor doesn’t simply reduce the Christina message to an individual ethic, such as “WWJD scenarios,” but calls us to see all of creation charged with glory and to envision a social-ecclesial response. Isn’t this a much for fruitful way for the church to again capture the imagination and rethink its vocation in a post-Christendom era?

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