An ethicist, a Bible scholar and a preacher walk into a hotel...

September 3, 2012

Psalm 128:2

"For you shall eat the labor of your hands: happy shall you be, and it shall be well with you."

Reflection by Lillian Daniel

An ethicist, a Bible scholar and a preacher walk into a hotel that is being boycotted at the request of its own workers. It's like the punch line of a joke. Except it's not funny, but very serious.

Serious to the workers at the Hyatt hotels who have taken the drastic step of asking people not to stay, meet or eat at the establishments that employ them. And serious to the thousands of religious scholars in the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion who are to meet at a Hyatt in Chicago this November. They alerted members, moved room blocks and heard stories with biblical themes: the exploitation of immigrants, the abuse of housekeepers, the callousness of the rich to the poor who serve, cook and clean for them. I recall an incident last summer in Chicago when, during a 100 degree heat wave, Hyatt management turned heat lamps on striking workers. That led to an interfaith outcry that continues today, through Interfaith Worker Justice and the UCC.

Back when I was a young student at divinity school preparing to be a minister, it was scholars like these who taught me about the cost of discipleship. They warned us that our faith and ethics would make life harder, not easier.

There are all kinds of reasons to ignore a boycott, but most of them begin with a concern with the self. I do not want to be inconvenienced. I do not want to lose money. I do not want to put myself out. My own lofty project matters more than the concerns of the housekeepers who make my bed.

Instead, these religious scholars are living with the inconvenience, the cost, and the understanding that it is not all about them. They will also, no doubt, have to live with those who criticize their position. Sounds like a pretty good metaphor for the life of faith to me.

Prayer

Almighty God, this Labor Day, give bread to those who have none and a hunger and thirst for justice to those who have plenty. Amen.

About the Author
Lillian Daniel is the senior minister of the First Congregational Church, UCC, Glen Ellyn, Illinois. She is the author, with Martin Copenhaver, of This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.

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