Resources For Labor Day Weekend, Emphasis on ‘Labor,’ as in ‘Unions’

I make no secret of the fact that there is a big soft spot in my heart for the tremendous gains of the labor movement in American history and a big sad spot for how certain unions–like those representing meatpackers and agricultural workers–have been all but killed. Since many–probably most–of my ancestors made their way in the world and in this country as laboring folks, I am proud to acknowledge that the privileges I have had owe to their hard work and struggle to create an American middle class.

{Not incidentally, my grandparents met and fell in love at a Catholic Worker meeting, where my grandfather had interned. With Dorothy Day, natch.}

So in no particular order, here are some of my favorite pro-labor, pro-union resources for really celebrating Labor Day.
Please add your own favorites in the comments!


How Green Was My Valley (1941)

On the Waterfront (1954)

The Pajama Game (1957)

I may or may not have appeared in a stage production of this in 9th grade…

Norma Rae (1979)

Vintage Sally Field! Click the title to read how the real Norma Rae died of cancer and how her insurer delayed treatment. Which reminds me of this post.

Triangle Fire (PBS Documentary, 2011)

My dad would want me to point out that seeing the Triangle Fire (like, in person) transformed Al Smith from a part of the Tammany Hall machine to a passionate advocate for worker’s (um, human?!) rights.


If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle (Pete Seeger)

“Union Maid” by Woody Guthrie

“Which Side Are You On?” (Ani DiFranco revision of the Pete Seeger Song)

Joan Baez singing “Joe Hill” at Woodstock

Smithsonian Folkways’ ” ‘Talking Union’ and Other Union Songs”


I can’t resist pointing out that Katherine Paterson (the author of the first two novels) is a former Presbyterian (USA) mission co-worker. I’m afraid I idolize her writing ability a bit. What a storyteller!

And four of the five are young adult (YA) novels. I can’t help it; that’s a favorite category of mine.
Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson

Lyddie by Katherine Paterson

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (it’s less about nasty meat than textbooks might lead you to believe!)

Happy Labor Day!

{See you on Tuesday}

(also at Sojourners)

Please Keep Telling Your Story…

We had a great time in Colorado meeting with all kinds of people who are passionate about God’s mission in Malawi. While we were there, I had the chance to share this piece in person.

chitenges in a marketplace

everyone asks me why did you say yes to this?

You’ve never even been there.

And I say, because of a story

Because of a story on a blog

Because this world is a Facebook-Twitter-blogosphere

And we can share stories.

And this story, this story, is about a midwife.

Who, on her first day, bloodies her hands welcoming new life

Bloodies her hands binding up new mothers

And as she washes those hands she sees, on a shelf,

a row of brightly colored bundles,

chitenge-wrapped bundles

And she asks: what are those bundles?

Why, those are the babies who died today.

That one was born dead

That one had an infected cord

And that one–that one’s mother didn’t have enough to eat.

And my hands move to my own belly,

For as I read, I am eight months big-bellied,

And I have every good thing.

Every. Good. Thing.

With the food I need, yes, but also the food I crave.

The food that will make my child not only healthy, but also brilliant enough for Harvard.

Because a study says: more fish oil makes more intelligent babies!

And then my husband comes home.

I try to tell the story of the brightly colored bundles, but I can only say

why? Why do I have every good thing–more than enough Good Things?

But a different story tells me, Jesus loves me, and this I know,

And “who is my neighbor?”

She is my neighbor, she is my sister,

We are children of the same God.

And is God, not, in fact, closer to her?

For blessed are those who mourn–for God comforts them.

And so, when my husband says, did you see this door? It is marked ‘Malawi.’

I say, open it. Open it.

For God has brought us to this door by way of a story.

The Embarrasing Truthtelling of Viruses and Bacteria

Hamlet: A man may fish with a worm that has eat of a king, and eat of the fish that has fed of that worm.
King: What dost thou mean by this?
Hamlet: Nothing but to show you how a king may go a-progress through the guts of a beggar. (Hamlet 4.3.2)

I’ve been having little arguments with myself all week: one one hand, like many good Americans, I believe in the idea and potential and creativity and wonder of individuals. I believe that the mind, for example, is a fathomless miracle. I believe that individuals have certain rights to freedom and self-determination.

Yet at the same time, everything that we are has been given us. We carry in our bodies the genes of thousands if not millions of ancestors; we have been brought to this moment–every moment–by people whose care and attention and patience have loved us imperfectly along. And, of course, by the God who has loved us into being.

Those of us who have the gift of being able to read and write often also have the ability to learn and to choose–to choose where to live and with whom, to choose what to think and to believe and to consume. And that, compared to how most people have lived and do live, is an almost unimaginable luxury. We can choose.

Maybe it is tempting, then, to assume that because we can choose, because we are wondrous beings with miraculous minds, because no one save God can know our secret thoughts and desires and motivations and cares, that our choices belong to us, and us alone.

And sometimes they do, or, at least, appear to. Who is harmed if I choose to drink lots of coffee, stay up too late, live entirely on chocolate and steak, and spend my waking hours studying the obscurer novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Edith Wharton? My children and husband, perhaps, but anyone else?

What about the growers that raised the coffee and the chocolate? What about the cows who suffered to give me steak? What about the creation that groans with the effort to get these products to me? What about those who have loved me into being, and what about those around me in need of someone to love them into being?

I do wonder if the ire I’ve provoked this week regarding vaccines is because illness frequently touches the space between what we can deem personal and private from what we can see as public and collective. For viruses and bacteria are not always–indeed, not often–respecters of “personal” boundaries.

They whisper of our connectedness in embarrassing and messy ways. Direct contact. Droplet. Airborne. Fecal-oral. 


Maybe they tell a truth we’d rather not see…which is that none of our choices affects only us. Every choice is made, or at least made possible, by factors and conditions that we did not set up or create or earn or deserve, and every choice carries with it implications for people a whisper away as well as a world away. Some are just harder to see than others.

And so no choice can really be made outside that second bit of the Greatest Commandment. And that’s uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable. It would be so much easier if my choices were just between me and Jesus. But I think that kind of thing is an illusion; a suspension of disbelief. We are all connected. Sometimes the links are just too faint to see.

To tell the truth, this scares me. I am from a culture that deifies the individual and I am going to a culture that scarcely understands how that is possible. I want to hold on to my security, my storage space, my dental insurance, my privacy, my iPhone, my abundant beautiful clothes, my deeply held convictions about what’s right and good and true.

I don’t want to have to consider everyone when I choose what to eat for dinner or inject into my body or buy or not buy or believe or not believe. And in fact I can’t. The connections are too extensive, too invisible, too many.

It is hard, indeed, for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.

Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer for grace as a person of wealth in a world of poverty.

I’m going to be away for a few days at this gorgeous place at this wonderful meeting. I’ll be back on the blog next week. Peace be with you all.

xo, Rachel

The University of Google

It’s been an interesting couple of days for me. Truthfully I hadn’t realized that there were a host of people who were linking their decisions not to vaccinate to their Christian faith:

  • because some vaccines may have been developed using fetal cell lines (from several decades ago)
  • because we should trust God–not medicine
  • because the greatest good for the greatest number is “socialism”–not Christianity
  • and, of course, because of the plethora of internet articles denying vaccine’s safety and efficacy

As I type this, I have a sore arm from (yet another) vaccine in preparation for our move to Malawi, I am grateful for the advances of medical science that have made the US so safe from many infectious diseases.

In other words, I am grateful for vaccines.

At the same time, I’m sad because I do think the anti-vaccine movement has gotten out of hand. (And, yes, I probably have already seen x, y, or z website’s argument for why vaccines actually cause everything bad; please don’t send me any more!) I’m no worshiper of science and medicine–they are flawed human endeavors, too!–but I still maintain that vaccines have helped more than they’ve harmed.

Anne Hutchinson.

I’m also sad because good people like Paul Offit–a researcher, professor, and physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia–have received awful threats and slander for his good work advocating vaccines and even developing them. (You can see his books here.)

While we all have a responsibility to make good choices, I do think the anti-vaccine movement, in the main, has generated a lot of self-proclaimed graduates from the University of Google, and, by proliferating “articles” that “expose” supposed lies and conspiracies of the CDC and whomever else, muddied the conversation and made it hard for ordinary folks to distinguish between rigorous, responsible research and accumulated anecdote (these things are not. the. same.)

Yes, this is for random amusement. My son Graeme (4) was looking at the house across the street and gasped “that house! Darth Vader’s mouth!” Comparative photographic evidence.

One final thing. I keep seeing references to “Big Pharma” and the attendant insinuations that these woefully ineffective and downright dangerous drugs continue to be required for school entry simply because the companies that produce them make a lot of money on them. I don’t want an answer–comments will be closed on this one, as I think I’m tired of “discussing” this for the moment, at least in this format–but let me ask this:

If we can acknowledge (as I think we can) that self-interest and greed influence, to some extent, much of what people do (you’d have to be pretty greedy & selfish to give children dangerous shots that do no good just so you can make money) don’t we also have to acknowledge that those opposing vaccines (loudly) probably (definitely) have some self-interest in it, too? Andrew Wakefield certainly did.

And yes, I have already seen the “articles” exonerating him and restoring his “good name.” Have you seen this article, showing how anti-vaccine suspicion is spilling over into South Africa and creating public health crises?

“…In South Africa, concerns about MMR, generated by coverage in the rest of the English-speaking world – including the UK – have led to an unwillingness to receive the vaccine, and there has been an outbreak of nearly 7,000 cases of measles. For children with poor health and limited access to medical services, this decision has been disastrous. There have already been hundreds of deaths.”

But the scare tactics are powerful–

“…just five minutes spent looking at websites critical of vaccines increases your perceptions of the risks, and reduces the perceptions of the risks of not being inoculated, according to a recent paper from a German group published in the Journal of Health Psychology. ”

Is self-interest, greed, deception, and suspicion part of human nature? I suppose so. But so are altruism, honesty, generosity and trust.

May God grant us all the wisdom and grace to move into that better side of our natures.

Most Ungodly Post Yet!

and that was just for taxing liquor!

I have a new post up at Her.meneutics, the Christianity Today women’s blog (apparently its most ungodly post yet!) called “Love Your Neighbor. Get Your Vaccines.”And that’s pretty much the point: getting vaccinated is not just about keeping yourself (& your kids) safe. It’s about keeping everybody safe.

The thing about writing a post praising vaccines is that most of us who like vaccines, or, at least, regard them as something we all gotta do, are pretty quiet about it, while those who think vaccines are from Satan loudly proclaim it.

The other thing about writing a post praising vaccines is that people are going to say things  like:

  • “You’ve obviously drank the Kool-Aid from the pharmaceutical industry shills.”
  • “Your [sic] either lying or haven’t researched this properly.”
  • “Vaccines have dead babies in them!!!”  (I’m paraphrasing.)

But then, there are other comments like this:

“This is a problem cause because the success of modern medicine. If millions of people were dying every year from the flu, then no one would be worrying about the fact that some might die from the vaccine. That is no to say we shouldn’t worry at all about it. It is just to say that many people are worried about one part of the problem and ignoring the larger effect of their personal choice–as is the problem with most issues like this.”

(Thank you, Adam.)

And this:

“What if the issue was seat belt use instead of vaccines? There are a tiny, tiny number of deaths that occur BECAUSE of wearing a seat belt. But seat belts have saved untold millions of lives in crashes.

Should we then protest against seat belt laws, and counsel young parents to not put their baby in a car seat? Should we share our stories of seat belt-related injuries in order to reveal how terrible they truly are?”

(Thanks, Leah!)

Plus? Last night I went to eat an ice-cream sandwich with Mrs. S. (who was an Army RN in WWII) and we talked about polio. She remembers people on Long Island getting polio. All I’m saying is that: it might be worth lengthening our memories, and considering whether the luxury of debating vaccine safety is just that: a luxury afforded us by vaccine’s efficacy.

I don’t know if PBS counts as “lamestream media” (which, according to one commenter, is where I must get all my information!) but these two documentaries–one on the influenza epidemic of 1918 and one on the search for a polio vaccine–are very worth your time. It might just be me, but I find that looking at history often clarifies present questions.

One final thing. A major element in my thinking behind the vaccine post was the question of loving one’s neighbor, which is pretty central to the Christian scriptures (Jesus kinda said so) and of broadening care and concern beyond the boundaries of the nuclear family. This is a place where we could learn from other cultures, from ones in parts of the world where diseases now eradicated in the US are still rampant. We could learn the truth that “there is no me without you.” We could learn that “I am because we are.”

(If you’re still interested in reading the article, you can find it here.)