A Moral Response to Wisconsin

A Moral Response to Wisconsin February 23, 2011

I have a profound dislike of talking religion and politics. However, what’s happening in Wisconsin touches deeply on my core religious values and beliefs.

I am a Union kid. My father was not only a member of the UAW but he also served a term as a local rep. A master electrician, he began learning his craft through an apprenticeship program, believed strongly in buying goods manufactured in the US and took me to pro-Union and American-made demonstrations. He was devoted to Jesus the Carpenter. While I no longer share the faith of my father, it’s no surprise that I am a devotee of Hephaistos the Blacksmith.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons CC license

I work with many Gods, but Hephaistos is my heart and soul. He speaks to me of the holiness of work, of our commitments to each other, of loyalty, of supporting our communities and of the sacredness of contracts. His word is his bond and his handshake is good as gold. He speaks to me of reciprocity, of the laborer being worthy of his hire, of honoring time, talent, creativity and loyalty. The monetization of the industry I work in is complex, so these are issues I am constantly thinking about in my work.

So when I hear about what is happening in Wisconsin it speaks to the core of my relationship with Hephaistos. While I’m not familiar with the nuance, the gist of what’s happening is that the governor created a deficit, made up this self-imposed shortfall by breaking the employment agreements of state workers and then trying to remove their ability to protest or counteract this “oathbreaking” on his part.

The worth of work is a sacred thing in my eyes. Especially where an agreement has been made. If you shake hands and tell a man you’ll pay him $50 for cutting your grass once a week, then that’s an oath. If you refuse to pay him, or he only cuts half your lawn, then a contract has been broken. If you sit down with your employee and come to an agreement regarding pay and benefits for certain work, then that’s an oath. If you’re talking about teachers, then I know from experience that they put more time and money into their craft than most.

A lot of noise is being made about unions in this issue, and I agree that unions today have issues. However, collective bargaining is not new. For thousands of years craftsman guilds have existed protecting workers and their families, collecting dues, training apprentices, protecting profits, guarding trade secrets, caring for the sick, burying their dead and caring for orphans and widows. In many cases this was a sacred thing, with guilds aligned with a religious viewpoint. As a devotee of Hephaistos I am learning his “guild rules” and I am a poor student, slow and dense. I often work long hours and put my work first, because it is sacred and I have a sacred duty to be loyal and reliable to the company to which I have given my oath of employment. I am striving to learn how to apply the lessons of respect, loyalty, reciprocity and obligation to those I work with every day.

My true work here at Patheos is as a facilitator, and not a writer. As I work on revamping my work in promoting Pagan writers and giving them a platform and support, I find myself looking for cues from traditional Pagan cultures on how to do this effectively. From Norse ring-givers to the Roman reciprocal patron/client relationship, I am trying to find a working model for my industry to acknowledge the responsibility I have to my community and the writers I promote. This is something I am praying about, making sacrifices for and trying to integrate in my daily activities, especially as I work to bring new outlets for Pagan religions to speak to the world over the next few weeks at Patheos.

So when I read about what Gov. Walker is doing, I feel from the deepest seat of my faith it is wrong. I know there is more complexity to the issue than I am likely aware of, and that modern democracy is far different from the political structures of ancient traditional cultures. Yet as a Pagan I have to say I feel this is morally wrong, and that if anything, it shows that Pagan values are needed in today’s world.

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