Thursday, February 18, 2010

On Work and Leisure

There is a moment in the horror movie The Shining when the main character played by Jack Nickolson has finally lost it. He has been holed up in a snow-bound resort in Colorado with his wife and son, serving as caretaker to the property while writing his “book.” His behavior has become more and more erratic and finally his wife sneaks into his office and begins to read the manuscript that he has been working on for days and days. All she reads, repeated over and over again on page after page is “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy....” Things quickly go down hill from there.

It was recently reported in the media that while most MA firms have seen a turn around in their business over the past few months, they are still not hiring new workers to match the increased demand. The claim is that they are taking a “wait and see” approach to how things go in the future.    Sounds reasonable, yet, I think there is also something else going on here. I wonder whether many of the companies have gotten used to having their present employees, especially the salaried ones, work uncompensated extra hours as they “picked up the slack” to cover the jobs of those who were laid off.    Initially, these employees were told this would only last until things turned around again. Most, who were already working 40-50 hour weeks, glad to still have a job, were willing to work 10-15 hours extra to do so, with the expectation that as soon as the economy got better, their job would slow down again. But, from what I hear, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Unfortunately, I think companies have gotten used to having their employees work long hours and are in no hurry to hire. The employee continues to work more hours for the same pay which leads to the inevitable personal cost for them: stress at home and work, less time with the kids, less time for rest and relaxation, less time to volunteer within the community, and less time to attend civic and social engagements like town meetings and church groups.

Now, granted most of my evidence for this is anecdotal, but I think I’ve heard enough stories to support my argument. I was recently talking with one woman who along with her boss and co-workers has been working 55- 60 hours a week for the past year. When she suggested to her boss that this was unreasonable given that the company was doing well again he told her that he had said as much to his boss who told him, “If you don’t want to work the hours, there are plenty of people out there looking for a job who will.” Here in the parish, a number of people who used to give volunteer time as religious ed. teachers or on committees and such have had to drop out because of work demands. In conversation they tell me how much more their jobs are demanding of them.

This is an unfair and unjust situation for today’s workers but it is an outgrowth of a long process of economic change. Over the past few decades we have moved away from a manufacturing economy with the practice of hourly wage as compensation to a service economy that allows for more salaried compensation. There is no longer any “overtime.”    In some instances, companies would pay bonuses as a trade-off for the extra hours. But, in a down economy, bonuses are few and far between.    So people are working longer hours and making less.

The Catholic Church teaches that “those responsible for business enterprises ... have an obligation to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits.” [Catechism 2432] Those within our community, especially those of Catholic faith, who are business managers and directors have a duty to balance the increase of profits, “which make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and guarantee employment” [2432] with a just wage, “the legitimate fruit of work.” [2434]

Perhaps, too, we need to rediscover the idea of Sabbath rest. “Just as God ‘rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,’ human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord's Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.“ [2184] In response to the non-negotiable work demands that are being place upon many, maybe we need to streamline those demands on our time that we can control and focus on those things that are really important – faith, family, friends – and renewing – human interaction and relaxation.    Is it possible for us one day a week, say Sunday, to turn off the blackberries, the email accounts, and the cell phones so as to turn off work for a day? (Hopefully our jobs allow that!) Can we schedule a meal either at home or with family at some point during the day? How about scheduled quiet time (nothing like a Sunday nap) with a good book or a DVD? Finally, attending Sunday Mass together as a family is always a good thing. This may mean that we have to make choices about which weekend commitments we keep and which we let go of, but the end result – rest, renewal, and a deepening of faith and family ties – I think is worth the effort.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Ice, Ice Baby ..."

I’ve always loved winter even before my late teens when I started to ski.  This probably goes back to when I was about nine or ten years old, when I was finally allowed to go off with my three brothers to play hockey on the shallow ponds near our house. They were a perfect size for a pick-up game and were staked out by a different gang of kids as their hockey pond. As soon as the days and nights got cold enough, we would begin to venture down to our pond to check on the ice, watching its progress as it moved from the shore, out into the middle until one day, the pond was frozen solid. When the ice was finally thick enough to hold the weight of ten to twelve schoolboys, we’d all venture out and look down into the no longer murky waters of the pond. This was always kind of cool because the new ice was completely transparent and, as the ponds weren’t too deep, you could see all the fish swimming below the surface as well the latest illegal dump deposits from the past year - a refrigerator here, lots of tires, and other junk. How this stuff got there we never could figure out, but there it was, year after year.

Having staked out territorial hockey rights, we now had to build and maintain the “rink.” Until the first snowfall, this meant old boards, tree limbs and whatever else was around laid down on the edges to form a kind, of sort of rectangle. This was so you wouldn’t be spending a lot of time trying to find the puck in the pond’s edge or climbing up on the rocks on your knees to retrieve it.    Finally, when the first good snowfall came you could build and maintain a proper rink with the snow banks as your ‘boards’ and slush to build the edges. This meant you shoveled the ice after each snow fall and filled in the large cracks with snow and water at the end of each day so the ice would be ready for the next. Funny, we would moan and groan about having to shovel the driveway and the walks at home and yet spend hours happily shoveling the ice off the “rink.” Of course, you couldn’t shovel the driveway with your skates on like you could at the pond, holding the shovel side- ways at an angle so the snow got pushed to the side as you lathed your legs back and forth in the classic skater’s waltz form, although we never thought of it that way – if we had bother to talk style at all we probably would have said we were imitating “slow Don Awrey” or a doing a lazy “Chief.”

Once the rink was ready, we were there everyday – home from school, skates hung on the blade of our hockey sticks, slung over the shoulder, we would hurry down to the pond and lace up those nasty leather skates (no insulation, too tight to wear any but one pair of socks, and guaranteed to freeze your feet in two minutes) and spend hours playing until it was too dark to see, skating back and forth in the unending wind-sprints of a hockey game.  If the family dog had trailed us to the pond, he would spend the whole afternoon running up and down alongside the action, barking his fool head off, lunging in to grab the puck when there was a lull in play or an errant pass sent it to close to him.  This would lead to a wild melee as 10-12 hockey players would chase the him all over the place, trying to snag him and get the drool-covered puck out of his mouth.

When we played, we were all the big, bad Bruins playing against the hated “Habs.” If a kid scored a goal swooping from right to left in front of the goal, he had to launch himself into the air and soar with arms outstretched like Bobby Orr in game four against the Blues. We all had our favorite player and did passable imitations of them (I did a “mean” Ken Hodge because I was always ducking fights and let my brothers – aka “my teammates” fight for me). If the snow banks were high enough, you could have a blast checking each other into the “north pole.” When we finally had to quit, oh boy, then, we would pay the price for those wretched skates. As we took them off and the blood flow returned, our feet would begin to ache and throb with the cold so that we walked/ran home with a kind of Neanderthal gait. But we knew the worst was yet to come because once you got home and your poor feet began to thaw out then the maddening pins and needles would start and your feet would itch, oh, how they would itch. Sometimes it was so bad that I was reduced to tears but cried quietly so my brothers did- n’t see and call me “Sally.” And yet, as miserable as I was at that moment, I’d rub my wind burned face with my chapped knuckles, and think, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll be Derek Sanderson and I’ll fire one past that Terry Sawchuck and we’ll be victorious again ...” and I was safe and warm and loved and in my house and all was right with the world.

Even though I may no longer skate or play pond hockey, I still love the season of winter but for different reasons. You see, the marvelous cycles of God’s creation still remind me that I am safe and loved and in his hands.

Homework

My six year old niece came home from kindergarten the other day with homework. Nothing too strenuous, just a “shapes and colors” exercise. It didn’t take her very long to do and she was soon able to turn her attention to more important things like using her Uncle Chris as her personal exercise apparatus. At one point, when I had her all wrapped up in my arms I said, “So, how often do you have homework?” “Every Monday and Wednesday,” she replied. “Wow,” I started to think, “homework in kindergarten.” I mean, Molly is still at the age where before she heads out anywhere you have to make sure the buttons are lined up correctly on the coat, everything that needs to be zipped up is zipped, and she is wearing socks that are the same color.    I suppose her school is trying early on to get the children used to the idea of homework and to involve the parents in the classroom work but I still can’t get my head around the idea of homework in kindergarten.    Aside from a project or two that we had to do at home, I don’t remember getting homework in school until I was in middle school. Maybe we did, I just don’t remember it.

A few weeks ago, one of the students in my sixth grade religion class came in carrying a knapsack that would have brought a Klondike mule to its knees. She was so bowed down with this bag she looked like a slave extra from the “Ten Commandments” movie. “What are you going to do with all those rocks?” I said to her.    “What rocks?” “The ones in your knapsack,” I replied. She gave me that sixth- grade girl look, you know the one where she thinks you’re a complete moron and said, “Hello, they’re my homework.” “What, are you studying to be a librarian and you have to catalogue a bunch of books or something?” I asked. “No,” she said, “It’s just my homework.” I turned to one of the other students who was bag-less and said, “What? No homework?” He told me that he had left his knapsack in his mom’s car. Further conversation with the kids revealed that they all had a bag full of books waiting for them when they got home about an hour and a half to two hours of work. As it turns out, we were doing the chapter on Exodus and the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt that day so I got to have a little fun with the image of backpacks, slave baskets and burdens. The kids just kept rolling their eyes and telling me they got it.

Later on I started thinking once again about how my experience of school and school work was so different from theirs. There is a lot more pressure on children today than there was when I was growing up. It’s not just the obvious increase in homework but other things as well: peer pressure and bullying, the internet, sports leagues and travel teams, the increase in divorce and single parent households, parents who work longer and longer hours and are absent from home more and more, and many other factors all place a lot of stress on our kids. All this makes it that much harder for parents to nurture and raise their children to be happy, healthy and successful adults. Yet, many still do and doing it well.

Now, I’m not about to stick my nose into an issue like “how much homework is too much?” I’ll leave that to others elsewhere. But I would offer that there is another type of homework that may help our children and families not only cope with the stresses of the day but also grow in their love for each other and for God. This ‘home-work’ we call prayer. In my religion class, we always begin with prayer. Not only does it kind of calm and center the class, but it also offers an opportunity for the kids to meditate a bit on what’s going on in their lives. After we pray the “Our Father” together, I always ask, “Does anyone have someone or something they want us to pray for?” Sometimes the responses are a bit silly - “for tomorrow’s test, for my goldfish who died” – but often, the prayers are heartfelt – “for the kid in our school who has cancer, for my grandpa who’s sick, for the soldiers in Iraq.” You get the idea. We end with a prayer that recalls God’s love and care for us all, asking Him to grant all this through Christ our Lord.    I’m sure there are many families in our parish who pray together around the dining room table (that is when you can find the time to sit down together as a family to eat) and pray with their children when they tuck them in at night (although this gets a bit difficult as the kids get older). But, as in all things of God, there is always an opportunity to do more. Maybe when we say grace at meals, we might simply ask, “anyone else we should pray for or any special prayer of thanks today?” and pause for a few moments of silence or petition or voice a simple reminder to our older children, “Don’t forget to say your prayers” as they go to bed. This little bit of “home-word” may not get rid of life’s pressures, but it sure makes them easier to bear.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why? (cont.)

To: gabriel-angel@heaven.org

From: c.coyne@saintmmparish.org

Subject:  r.e. Haiti

Well, that’s a bit of problem for me there too.  You say that God is not indifferent to our suffering yet because He has created a free world that allows for each of us to make choices in freedom to choose to believe in him or not, to follow him or not, to love him or not, He must keep his distance when it comes to human suffering.  That’s almost like someone saying, “I feel your pain,” and then not doing anything to help.  Where does that leave the one who is suffering?  It makes God seem so distant and almost impotent ….

To:  c.coyne@saintmmparish.org

From: gabriel-angel@heaven.org

Subject:  r.e. Haiti

Do you remember back at the beginning of our email exchange where I wrote that “God does not speak to his children directly but instead chooses to use normal natural means of communication: Scripture, the Church, other people, etc.”  The same is true for the manner in which God acts within creation.  While He does not do so directly, He certainly does so through the actions of people who freely choose to act in that way.  Look at what is going on in Haiti right now.  People and governments from all over the world have chosen to help.  Food and water and medicine and supplies are pouring into that country.  Volunteers and workers are arriving every day to help rebuild what was destroyed.  Why just in your parish a few weeks ago you raised over $12,000 in a second collection for Haiti.  Why are people doing this?   They don’t have to.  Does what happens in Haiti really effect the day to day life of a man or woman in Westwood or anywhere else in the world?  Not a lot.  Yet, people have chosen to help.  This is not simply a matter of faith either, something like well, people who are religious, be they Christian or Jewish or other faiths are supposed to act this way.  People see the destruction and misery in Haiti and they want to help, they want to do something. Could there be something more going on here than meets the eye?  Could not God in creating man and woman in his own image have included as part of that image the same loving and compassionate nature that is the very core of his being?  Could it not be this very innate nature that is now at work here in Haiti and any other time that people respond in this way?

And, of course, this is where the person of Jesus Christ brings the full answer to your question about God seeming to be so distant and apart from human suffering.  God, in choosing to become man, “Emmanuel – God is with us,” out of love for humanity, gave his Son so that the wound of sin caused by your disobedience may be healed.  It was through that sin that suffering and death entered the world.  It was through God’s gift of his Son that salvation from this death came to mankind.  Jesus, in becoming human like you became the means by which all of creation has been healed.  And, Jesus suffered and died as a man like you.  How can one say, then, that God is distant from human suffering?  If He in his Son Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, knew suffering and death, God knew suffering and death.  But God did not leave it there because God through his Son also restored life.

To: gabriel-angel@heaven.org

From: c.coyne@saintmmparish.org

Subject: r.e Haiti

Thank you, Gabriel, for the help.  I guess all of this is a reminder to me of what God has given us in his Son Jesus Christ but also in the community of his Church.  I think that the mystery of human suffering – a ‘mystery’ because at the end of it, no answer is complete as to the question of ‘why?’ – reminds me that our ultimate happiness rests not in this world but in the next.  Each of us needs to live our lives in Christ so as to someday be found worthy of that salvation.  So, while I may not be able to answer completely the ‘why’ question in response to suffering, I can certainly answer the ‘how’ question.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Why?

To:  god@heaven.org

From:  c.coyne@saintmmparish.org

Subject:  Haiti

Why?

To:  c.coyne@saintmmparish.org

From: Gabriel-angel@heaven.org

Subject:  r.e. Haiti

Dear Chris – God has received your question and has asked me to respond to it on his behalf.  As you know, God does not speak to his children directly but instead chooses to use normal natural means of communication: Scripture, the Church, other people, etc.  In this case, he has allowed me, one of his ‘messengers’ to answer this email.  Please do not expect this to become a regular occurrence – you know how it works.  Anyway, the simple answer to your question is, “Free will requires a free world.”

To: Gabriel-angel@heaven.org

From: c.coyne@saintmmparish.org

Subject:  r.e. Haiti

Wow!  Thank you for your response.  I really didn’t expect any answer.  I was just upset and was kind of tossing my email into the Ethernet.  Thank you for your answer.  I still am a bit stuck, though, on the “why?” question.  I know in my head what you mean when you say, “Free will requires a free world.”  I had all the philosophy and have heard all the different arguments for why suffering is allowed to happen.  I understand that in order for us to be completely free to make choices in our lives and to choose freely to love God or not to love God that we must live in a free creation.  I know that God created us in his image meaning that he gave us, his creatures, the very freedom of self-determination that He possesses.  I know that He wants us all to come to him but to choose to do so and not be manipulated at all by his direct intervention in our lives meaning that we have to live in a free world, meaning that bad things like earthquakes and fires and cancer are going to happen to people out of just sheer randomness.  I know that.  Yet, it’s just “why Haiti?”  That country and those people already had so much suffering and misery in their lives and they were probably one of the countries in the world that is least able to deal with a catastrophe on this level.   Look at all the children who died there!   Do they really need to suffer more?  Couldn’t God have intervened this one time?

To:  c.coyne@saintmmparish.org

From: Gabriel-angel@heaven.org

Subject:  r.e.  Haiti

Yes, the people of Haiti have suffered under poverty and corruption for years.  Is that God’s fault or man’s fault?  But even beyond that question, if one uses your logic one could say it would have been better for the earthquake to happen in let’s say, Bermuda because Bermuda has not suffered like Haiti and would be better able to recover.  Does this seem reasonable?  But, again, your argument requires that there be a controlling agency behind natural disasters and accidents and that is not the case.  Natural disasters like this just happen.  Accidents just happen.  This randomness in kind leads to a randomness of suffering.  What happened in Haiti happened for no reason.  They are not being punished.  They are not less beloved of God.   It just happened.  There is no decision making process behind who suffers and who does not.  The randomness of suffering on this level is part of the very brokenness of creation.

Your question also depends on the premise that God should place a greater value on the suffering of some over the suffering of others.  You mentioned the children who died in Haiti as part of the suffering that is too much.  Can one place any judgment on suffering and say that this in this case it is too much?  Do you think a mother in Boston who has lost a child to cancer feels less grief or suffers less than the mother in Haiti who lost a child in the earthquake?  Why would one mother’s loss be somehow worse than the others?  God knows the suffering of each and everyone of his children when and where it happens.   Think about it.  As God knows everything is He not aware of all of the children all over the world that will suffer or die in one day?  Do not those numbers dwarf those of Haiti?  Then why intervene in just Haiti?  It is obviously the magnitude of the numbers in Haiti that draws your attention, but God sees all the numbers and God is not indifferent to this suffering.

(to be continued)
Bishop Coyne on Facebook
Follow Bishop Coyne on Twitter
Follow Bishop Coyne on YouTube