Gathering Stubble for Bricks


So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, "Thus says Pharaoh, 'I will not give you straw. Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.'" So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. The taskmasters were urgent, saying, "Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw." And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh's taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, "Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?" Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, "Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, 'Make bricks!' And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people." But he said, "You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, 'Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.' Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks." The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, "You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day." They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, "The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us." Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, "O LORD, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all."
—Exodus 5:10-23 ESV

About 1,800 people from my area work at the Ford CVT Transmission Plant in Batavia, the largest town within twenty miles of me. Ford announced this week that the plant will be closed by 2008. The repercussions of this will be felt for miles—and for decades.

I don't know what to say to the folks that work there. I don't what to say to anyone who loses a job nowadays. I do know that economists will claim that all those lost jobs will be picked up elsewhere, but I can promise them this: the majority of those folks from Batavia will be making less money no matter what job they pick up. And I'll even argue with those economists about the truth of their statement. Car wreckMy own experience is that we're not making new jobs, at least in this part of America. Instead, we seem to be creating a new class of nomadic workers who must pick up and move to follow the jobs wherever they go. I know too many people who are caught in that existence. Of course, people will quibble with my observations, but then they're not from around here.

Earlier this week I talked about living in the country, but it's getting tough to live in rural areas. As much as we admire Mayberry and its quirky rural residents, in reality hundreds of towns like Mayberry up and blew away because the jobs left. The infrastructure decayed for want of work and those that did have work still had to leave because there was no support for what they stayed behind to do.

Increasingly, we're asking people to make bricks without straw.

I've blogged about the Church and employment more than any other topic, I'm sure. But even as I'm typing, the churches around my area are reeling from this plant closure, not only from the future lost revenue, but from a lack of preparedness for this kind of loss.

I simply don't understand why the Church has kept employment on the back burner. There's nothing we do each day that consumes more time than our jobs, but from the paucity of interest the Church seems to take in our employment, you'd think there was something sinful about working. Scratch that. We talk about sin all the time. It's the everyday parts of life we don't hear about on Sunday.

Listen, if we don't know it, I'll let out the secret. We're in a boom and bust cycle in our economy and the bust cycles are probably going to grow increasingly worse and last for longer amounts of time. No rational person can look at the meltdowns at Ford and GM and pretend that won't send shockwaves through our economy. Those companies are in deep trouble and whether we like it or not, we Christians can't sit idly by and pretend it's all sunshine and rainbows.

Pastors, what are you doing in your churches to help your people prepare for the bust years? Joseph had the Egyptians save up for the seven lean years. How are churches today doing the same? Solid organizations anticipate need. So why are churches always reacting rather than being proactive?

I could write about this subject more, but I'm weary. Last week I wrote that our churches need to get everyone in them down on their faces in prayer and fasting for as long as it takes. Must it take an economic meltdown to do it?

What do you all think? Why is the issue of our jobs and the economy so inconsequential to the leaders of our churches? During the last economic bust, the number one prayer concern at my old church was for jobs, but it took the church forever to realize they needed to be more active in meeting that need. Does it have to be that way?

The comments section is open. Please talk to me about this.

Tags: Ford, Batavia, Jobs, Employment, Work, Business, Church, Faith, Christianity, Jesus, God

10 thoughts on “Gathering Stubble for Bricks

  1. Rick Creech

    I know only to well of the lay off situation and closings in SW Ohio. You remember Roberds Furniture, well I worked there as the sole computer tech from 1997-1999, I was 20 when I started there. I made $700.00 a week, got laid off. My dad worked there for 14 yrs, he made $1200.00 week when he got laid off. We both went into factory work for about $8.50/ hr.

    I quit my factory job after 5 yrs. because the union voted to take concessions (it cut about $8.00/hr. off what we were making). My dad, which just started making enough at the Truck and bus plant (chevy in Moraine), to support his family of 6, is now first in line to get laid off if they decide to cut out 3rd shift later this year. Which depends on market shate, but who can afford to buy the gas guzzling SUV’s.

    He’s 47, with a family of 7 at home, and is facing starting over agian. I moved to Sevierville, Tn. and now make less than I have since 1996 (but down here I am probably one of the highest paid hourly workers on the whole parkway (Pigeon Forge)).

    Retired workers are getting their pensions hacked and slashed, job security is a by-word, and now the motto is just, “Be happy you have a job.” Which in and of itself is true, but it’s sort of sad if you ask me.

    I agree with you, the church (as a whole) is in a position to help, but they don’t seem to be concerned. They talk of family values, being a good provider, and all that stuff; but how do you provide and have a strong family when it takes the husband and wife both working just to get by.

    It used to by taboo, in conservatism, to have both parents working. It was considered greed. Now it is a must just so you can have electric, a car, water, and food. I think we are going to have to reconsider a totally new way of dealing with things, or we are just going to sink (while we die trying).

    On the other hand, I’m afraid that this is a judgment of God on this country and the church in America, to wake us up and put into perspective what is important and what is not.

    Sorry this was so long, but it is near and dear unto my heart. It has touched almost everyone I know.

  2. Anonymous

    “Is not the worker responsible for being fired? If he were a better worker, he’d have been retained!” —standard Corporation Christian response to the unemployment issue.

    I’m sorry, was that my outside voice?

  3. The parallel between the seven years of plenty and our times is apt. If Egypt taxed the people one fifth of the crop during the seven years of plenty, and the world was fed by this one fifth, what happened to the other four fifths? Surely, at least the wealthy could have saved enough to feed themselves through the seven years of famine so they would not need to sell themselves as slaves to Egypt. But they did not.

    In my area, Richmond, Virginia, the glass ceiling of pay for entry level work seems to be $9.00 an hour or so. Beyond that requires education, experience, or both. Better paying jobs can be found in state and federal government here (and I am considering it, because the hours, benefits, and vacation tend to be better than the private sector as well). See? Slavery to the state.

    Corporations are slaves to shareholder expectations, BUT more and more shareholders do not pay individual attention to individual shares. Mutual fund and index fund managers do that. Many decisions on buying and selling stocks are decided by algorithms now. Buying and holding shares out of a sense of civic duty has no sway. Thus, profits and dividends must always go up. A corporation cuts pay and lays off workers, but eventually, nothing more can be done, and the stock is jettisoned by most of the market. If the corporation lasts through the stock dump, then the cycle begins again, and good times come again with more hires and better pay. Mergers and new small businesses take up some of the slack.

    I think, though, all other things considered, the boom and bust cycles will become less dramatic. This means making a fortune will become harder for the rich, but making a living will become harder for the poor and middle class, as returns on stocks and bonds and hourly pay level off for the long term. This effect will be produced by computers and probably by more and more investors investing in low-risk index funds.

    The Church is supposed to have a nomadic attitude, though. We are sojourners here on earth. We are stewards, but we should not put our faith or our allegiance in our immediate circumstances or surroundings.

  4. Anonymous

    The american church is, naturally, a reflection of its adherents. Why should we be surprised that the church has done little to address the issues you raise? By and large, pastors and church boards are more interested in amassing the building fund for a new “family life center” or a better sound system than structuring the resources (and attitudes)of the christian community to assist its members when financial disaster strikes.

  5. I’ll be honest here and say that I was expecting more than four comments on this. Or maybe I wasn’t when I actually think about it. Most people don’t want to talk about this subject.

    Michael, I wanted to comment about the nomadic thing. I think that it’s different today than it was 2000 years with regard to travel and picking up and moving. Today, our jobs tend to be rooted in one place. Nor do our extended families move with us like they did long ago. I can’t even envision what a nomadic Church looks like unless it’s comprised of nothing but young, single people.

  6. Excellent post Dan. I think the problem lies with the way we Americans tend to compartmentalize our lives. We have our work life, our personal life, and our church life. We try to keep each of these aspects separate from the others. For too many years now, we have viewed work as part of the secular world, instead of as an act of worship to God.

    I totally agree with you that the church needs to start taking a leadership role in this area. The problem I see is that the church isn’t equipped to effectively deal with job issues. Just as we in the congregation are not (generally) experts in theology, our pastors are not experts in business. The church needs to find a way to get the business leaders in the congregation working on this problem. My church does some work in this area. We have job workshops and networking opportunities to help those who are searching for work.

  7. Travis

    “I’ll be honest here and say that I was expecting more than four comments on this.”

    What can I say? I’ve got to join with you when you said, “I could write about this subject more, but I’m weary.”

    The Church is full of individuals who just plain don’t care about each other. Not in any meaningful way, at least.

    Why help members get jobs, when we can pull in so-and-so to speak about mid-life crises? We don’t need employment networks; we need another building on the church grounds. Besides, if you can’t get a job, it’s only because you’re lazy. Anyone can get a job.

    That about sum up the attitude? Maybe if tithes dwindled into nothingness, the church leadership would notice?

  8. codepoke


    I am not a long reader of yours, so maybe I am just missing something that is in your previous posts.

    You ask, What do you all think? Why is the issue of our jobs and the economy so inconsequential to the leaders of our churches?

    I don’t actually see what they have done wrong? You seem to kind of blame the economy as if someone has done something wrong. You seem to also want to blame someone for jobs leaving Mayberry. And whoever is to blame for that is asking people to make bricks without straw.

    And then the pastors are wrong for not doing something? What would that something be?

    I just don’t what what you are driving at.

  9. Jennifer

    Dan, thank you for your comments on my blog today, and thank you so much for taking up this issue here. You are exactly right, that churches cannot and should not be ignoring this issue! I will be writing more on this Monday, and I may use some quotes from your post, if you don’t mind.

  10. Chad

    Dan, I enjoyed the post even though I just now discovered it.

    First thought I have is that this situation is a two-way street. We can’t spend our money globally and then be surprised that there are no jobs left locally! Mayberry is gone because everyone shops at Wal-Mart up in the big city, and everyone works there too. (Wal-Mart being an analogy for big corporate anonymous entities.)

    Second thought is that we’ll be seriously off-target if we simply worry about “finding jobs” for people. The life of the landless wage-slave is always going to be tenuous and vulnerable. A more comprehensive approach helps people begin family-based enterprises which root them to communities and harness the whole family in mutual labor. A group of stable families, landed and with productive businesses, could feed, clothe, and employ many more poor than any job service or soup kitchen.

    I know that there’s much more that needs to be said, but I’ll let you continue in another post.

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