Geoffrey Owens is a Shakespearean actor, but he is best known for his role on The Cosby Show back in the 1980s, playing the boyfriend of one of the Huxtable daughters and later her husband. But lately he has been working as a cashier at a Trader Joe’s grocery store in New Jersey.
Someone took pictures of him at his cash register, and the London tabloid The Daily Mail ran with it. The writer of the article thought it was hilarious that this former star had fallen so far as to work in a grocery store, his name, once up in lights, now on a company name tag. Then Fox News piled on with a story of its own.
For once, social media erupted in a positive way. This man is doing honest work. He has taken on a job to support himself and his family. How dare you mock him. He deserves praise and respect. These journalists were doing nothing but “job-shaming,” putting someone down because of the work he is doing. But no one should be made to feel ashamed for taking on jobs that need doing, however “low status” they seem in the eyes of privileged snobs like the journalists. (You get the idea: See Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs.)
The journalists added ignorance to their snobbery. Yes, big movie stars make lots of money, but there aren’t many of those. Most working actors don’t make all that much anyway. But even when they get parts, acting is a “gig” profession. You get paid when you get a job in a play, TV show, or movie. But after that job is over, you get nothing. No regular paycheck, no health insurance, no benefits. So between acting gigs, most rank and file actors have “day jobs.” And since you might get a part at any time, you can’t really take a long-term position with ongoing responsibilities. So lots of actors work jobs they can leave easily, working retail, in restaurants, or in blue collar jobs. (Read these reactions to the job-shaming of Mr. Owens from other actors.)But job-shaming is especially despicable in light of the Christian doctrine of vocation. Our work is part of our calling from God–along with our families, our church life, and our citizenship–where He places us to love and serve our neighbors, as He works through us in our everyday lives. As such, all vocations are equally valuable in the eyes of God.
In the eyes of the world, though, all vocations are not equal. Professional athletes and, yes, big movie stars get paid enormous amounts. Those are legitimate vocations, serving their neighbors by entertaining them and bringing a little pleasure to our humdrum lives. But the more lowly and low-paid jobs often involve higher and more important levels of service to the neighbor.
The people who clean up after us, build our roads and houses, manufacture the products we depend on, and bring us the food we eat (from farm workers to the cashiers at the grocery stores), are doing more important work for those of us who benefit from it than high status athletes, movie stars, and many other high status positions.
And the fact that many of those necessary jobs are hard, dirty, tedious, and unpleasant give us even more reason to honor them. Those who do them are sacrificing themselves for us.
If you have a job that is satisfying, fulfilling, and enjoyable, praise God for giving you that calling. But realize that other people don’t have jobs like that. But theirs is no less a vocation than yours.
Vocation teaches us not to look down on anyone for the work they do.
See the reaction of Geoffrey Owens to the whole affair. It is quite refreshing. He says that Trader Joe’s is a good place to work. He says that at first he was embarrassed by the job-shaming, but was heartened by all of the support he received.
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Delano Scott/Released. Public domain.