Is the prize you’re working for worthy of your life?

September 6, 2015
Rod Brooks and Daniel Love Glazer

Labor Day Reflections

For Labor Day Sunday, two members of our congregation shared reflections on what it means to work.


Is the prize you’re working for worthy of your life?

“I realized that most people were working hard for a prize I didn’t want,” said Rod Brooks during his witness during worship yesterday. He told us about a conversation he had with a former boss and mentor who encouraged him not to try for a promotion. “I don’t think you should do it,” she said, “But if you do, I’m going to ask for your job.” They went on to have a conversation that would shape Rod’s career path for years to come. Meaghan encouraged Rod to think about the cost to the rest of his life, his family and other priorities if he took a job that would take him demand more of him. Rod closed his statements by asking us, “What prize are you working for and is it worthy of your life?”

 

Laboring for Justice: Solidarity Forever Union Song

Daniel Love Glazer’s father was a labor organizer and through him, Daniel learned the song Solidarity Forever. Daniel told us the history of the song:

John Brown’s Body

The tune was used for an abolitionist song, “John Brown’s Body.” Daniel sang this song for us and the congregation joined in the refrain memorializing the attempt by Brown to free the slaves. When asked by whose authority he did this work, John Brown is reported to have said, “By God’s own authority.”

 

Battle Hymn of the Republic

On November 18, 1861, Julia Ward Howe penned new words to the favorite tune and this is the now beloved hymn, “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”   and shared it with our congregation. “Solidarity Forever” is sung to the tune of “John Brown’s Body,” that rousing abolitionist melody. Julia Ward Howe used that tune when she penned the words to the song “Battle Hymn of the Republic” while visiting a Union Army encampment.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
He hath loosed the frightful lightning of his terrible swift sword.
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.a

Solidarity Forever

Daniel’s father included “Solidarity Forever” in his book Songs and Freedom:

“Solidarity Forever” is the most popular union song on the North American continent. If a union member knows only one union song it is almost sure to be this. It has become, in effect, the anthem of the American labor movement.

Ralph Chaplin, the famous poet, artist, writer, and organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, wrote “Solidarity Forever” on January 17, 1915. That day, while lying on the rug in his living room, he scribbled stanza after stanza. The idea had come to him earlier while he was in West Virginia helping the coal miners in the great Kanawha Valley strike. Little did he know then that song would live on after all his other work was forgotten.

Chaplin recalls: “I wanted a song to be full of revolutionary fervor and to have a chorus that was singing and defiant.” He achieved exactly this effect by combining his militant lyrics with the stirring Civil War tune of “John Brown’s Body.”

Chaplin actually wrote six verses, but the three given here are the ones usually sung today. The other verses are of historical interest but sound rather out-of-date to present-day union members:

 

When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong.

Chorus:
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.

Chorus

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, multiplied a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.

Chorus

We sang the chorus with Daniel and for a moment our north shore congregation was tin solidarity with workers across the world whose fight for safe working conditions, fair pay and a humane hours has made all of our lives better.

  • Alice Alonoff

    i had a similar epiphany to Rod’s. I was working my way up the ladder at a large Chicago law firm. Equity partner. Check. And then I realized how I felt like a square peg in a round hole. NUMC helped keep me centered through those years. Finally I realized I was climbing a career ladder but the ladder was leaning against a wall (the “prize”) which was wrong for me. I departed the firm thinking I would rather spend time looking out my living room window, home with my family, than a window downtown looking out on Lake Michigan. I have been so much happier. But for me continuing to work on church matters is essential to my well being. Rod – your comments were wonderful. You gained wisdom at a much younger age than I. I regret my years climbing and climbing, but am grateful I did change directions…

    • staff

      Alice, Thanks so much for this thoughtful reflection on Rod’s witness. Knowing what prize we want or what wall we want to scale is critical to a purposeful life. It’s something we need to define for ourselves!
      Pastor Melissa