By Rev. Dr. Brian Gigee
I walked in early to the Kroger store to buy some smoked salmon and a box of cereal. The cupboards were bearer than I had noticed yesterday. After all, Thanksgiving was over 10 days ago, and breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Walking down the aisle, I noticed a man carefully placing loaves of bread on the shelves. I’d seen that done before. I approached him and said, “Thank you for doing this.” His look back was silent, seeming to beg the question… “Who talks to the bread man at 6:20 am?” “My dad drove a Wonder Bread truck for twelve years,” I went on. “He provided for his wife and five children and his mother, too. You do honorable work.” And his words, “thank you” came swiftly back at me. I smiled to myself as I kept walking. My dad would have been pleased I noticed.
Work is a matter of faith and as we know… faith matters. What we believe and in whom we place our trust is at the core of our individual and corporate labors always connected to their outcomes.
“What kind of work do you do?” That’s the adult question most often asked when strangers gather in groups at a party or when someone new moves into the neighborhood. It’s how we size people up, right? Well, at least most of the time …second only to learning a last name like Bush or King or Vanderbilt or worse off Capone, Hitler or Epstein. Everybody gets to work. Everybody makes a buck… but some work is more honorable than others. And what we see isn’t always what is. Take my dad as an example.
He worked as far back as he could remember. He grew up on a farm in New York and moved to Ohio when he was eight. At age 14 his parents divorced, and he told me once he used to do ‘gardening work’ … his term for pulling weeds at fifty cents a day. That was his way of helping to provide for a single mother and whose absent father was mostly a drunk. I think it was a good start and to my knowledge my father had just 3 jobs as an adult. But, there’s a bit more underneath it all.
Upon his discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he took on a job as a ‘painter’ in a factory making office furniture. There was a lot of leftover green paint in those days… as he maybe even painted that green trash can in your school classroom! I saw him cry at getting laid off from that work. The tears ended when he caught on as the Wonder Bread man!
There was other work he did. He was very active at our church holding positions of leadership and adding to the life and breath of ministry. He also coached Little League baseball and became a member of the Board of Directors. He had at least four times the chance to be a supervisor for Wonder Bread. More money. More hours. He turned them all down telling me taking that position would mean he’d have to give up his volunteering at church and his coaching baseball. That was honorable work, too, as many grown young men and church friends came to his funeral to pay back their respects.
His last job was titled, “Athletic Groundskeeper” at our local high school … a task better than ‘gardening work’ … as he cared for all corners of the high school sports… cutting grass, lining the track, polishing the basketball court, etc. at a school as big as Pearland’s. There he watched his young Little Leaguers grow up and play varsity sports shuffling off many into college and a couple even played pro ball. He’s now a candidate for the Fitch HS Sports Hall of Fame.
Martin Luther wrote much about ‘vocation’… the work God calls us to. Honorable work like the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker in his day. Work that ‘gives back’ to life. Sure, the drug dealer, the bank robber or the pimp will make way more money, but that kind of work sucks the life out of others and does nothing to add to the quality of life like a painter, a bread man or the one who tends to the facilities where people watch the talents of the next generation. St. Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord!” (Colossians 3:23) Honorable work. Seek it. Live it!
Brian Gigee is a long-time resident of Pearland and the lead pastor at New Life Lutheran Church at 3521 E. Orange St. in Olde Pearland. You can follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Friend2theRabbi. Comments and questions can be sent to [email protected].