Archive for October, 2012

There has been a question looming in my head for the past couple days or week or so. What is the theology of labor? The reason I bring up this topic is because up I wanted to examine how my placement site, Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ),  fits into the ministry of God and might align with biblical texts regarding labor (work).

Let’s examine what the theology of labor looks like.

These preconceived concepts on the theology of labor (and it’s relationship with my organization) might be expanded or rewritten in a future date. I think in actuality this blog might be premature to discuss seeing as I am new to the modern-day labor movement and have been working at IWJ a little over two months. Therefore, despite my lack of knowledge about the labor movement, I will still venture to delve into discussing my ideas on the theology of labor at this current time. It does not mean this is the absolute truth, but might certainly offer a different framework on the theology of labor (something that you may have never thought of before) and what IWJ is doing about it.

I will begin with the pragmatic nuts and bolts of what I perceive should be the starting point (definition of terms) of this discourse and expanding outward to biblical texts and IWJ’s work into the theology of labor. This will only offer a brevity on the subject.

Note: At times, I will use the word “work” and “labor” synonymously and  interchangeably. Though after much reflection over this particular blog, I have to make a confession. I had sought to used the word “labor” as the more descriptive term to create a certain image and vision of work which originally in my mind had been about toil and hardache . But after mediating on this matter and seeking wisdom from other individuals, I realized I had to change my framework of “labor” to capture a fuller concept of it’s true purpose. Read more to hear my thoughts………

The Stone Breakers
Gustave Courbet
From Wikipedia.org

What is Labor?

The question begins with this. What is Labor? For all intended purposes of this blog post and illustrating my current ideology surrounding the theology of labor I define it as follows: human activity. Labor can be defined as human activity. Yes, I know this is a broad definition, but when I was reflecting on this subject those were the words that came to mind. Also I wanted the definition to-be an all-encompassing umbrella term that captures the numerous forms of labor in our world today. Precisely, labor is the exchange of human activity for goods, services, or financial or monetary gains (aka capital). Labor can take many forms such as manual, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc. For example, in one of my sociology classes on Social Structure and Identity at University of Maryland, we discussed The Managed Heart by Arlie Russell Hochschild that examined the emotional labor of what flight attendants endured as compared to Karl Marx’s examination of manual labor in the factories (and the state of one’s identity) in The Communist Manifesto. Flight attendants were required to present a certain veneer (“smile”) to the passengers as advertised by the airlines though it may be far from their emotions. Therefore, in related jobs regarding customer service and service in general, it requires people to do labor or a sort of “work” to keep their emotions in check of that which is advertised and requested by the company or organization. It may mean a smile here, or soft-laugh there, but your emotions might be the actual labor of your job.  Whereas mental labor uses your human capital such as your knowledge and your capacity to achieve a task. It might be skilled work that uses your trade unable to be done by the masses.  I hope this gives you a better sense of some different forms of labor.

Please note some careers and job include a combination of these different forms of labor and is not necessary exclusively one type of labor. It may concentrate heavily on one particular form of labor over others.

The Creation of Adam
From PRLOG.org

What is Theology?

Now, what is theology? I thought it would be a great idea to get Kim Bobo who’s the executive director and founder of IWJ understanding of theology and the interconnectedness with worker’s rights and worker justice (as it’s also the application of these terms that I am going to examine IWJ’s role in the theology of labor). In early August of last year, Religion Dispatches published an article  from Kim Bobo where she defines theology and its relationship with her work. Kim Bobo states the following about the definition of theology:

The word “theology” comes from two Greek words: theos for God and logos for discourse or explanation. So theology is discourse about or explanation of God. In more common parlance, we refer it as the study of God and religion. We think of theology as a course of study you take in seminary. Theology is trying to understand God.

So for the intended purposes of this blog and even personally that is how I would like to define theology.

Therefore, the theology of labor, is trying to understand God’s perspective or stance in relation to human activity (aka labor). And the palpable way of understanding God’s perspective is through The Bible. This is not to say things are easy as there is a branch of theology called hermeneutics that ventures to understand the Bible. Author and writer of Concepts on Mission, Glory Dharmaj had described during my missionary training that the Bible has many layers, it’s like an onion, and you have peel back layers to uncover its meaning (s).

So this hermeneutics of biblical text is one step closer to unraveling the theology of labor….

Biblical Text & Content

Now, we come to the question, what is theology of labor?

Labor is a curse. Yes, I said curse and I am not being facetious about it. Yes, we all don’t like to labor but what is a biblical exploration of it. Our first examination on the theology of labor takes us to the first book of the Bible, Genesis,  after Adam and Eve have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and they try to hide themselves from God because of their nakedness. God realizes that they have eaten from the tree and curses the serpent, the woman, and the man. With man, God curses the ground and the human labor into harvesting the ground. In Genesis 3: 17-20 (NIV), it says:

 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

In this passage, there are two things going on. This is what I would call a “co-linked curse,” which means that the ground is cursed because of man, and man is cursed by the ground to which he is expected to sow, reap, and harvest for his survival. The outlining detail is the experiential labor that man will now experienced for his disobedience. And interestingly, this passage offers incites to a cursed labor, specifically physical labor, and similarly woman is cursed with the ultimate physical labor, the crowning of a child, known as child birth. And expanding to the actual experience of labor pains, the labor thereafter for woman could be seen as the rearing of the child.

Labor as curse, yes. And what labor had translated to me was a formal inadequacy. Denotative of the fall of man and a world broken especially when I started to contemplate on labor, it became imperative that it indicated and meant a lack of abundance. An abundance that humans had once experienced in the Garden of Eden. And most importantly, it was symbolic of a fractured and broken relationship with God. Our communion with God that which is Heaven (and not just a perfect, peaceful place-it is that as well but it’s actually true communion with God that what makes heaven, heaven).

To be continued…….

Here is a link to Preconceptual Text to the Theology of Labor Pt. 2!


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