Recently, I went into a local store where it is possible to accumulate “rewards” over time that can result in a discount at the cash register. As I was making my purchase, the woman behind the counter said, “You can use your rewards today to have $5 taken off your total! Would you like to do that?” I said yes, and on the screen of the credit card scanner, this message came up for me to press (or not): “Confirm redemption!”
There I was, standing at this counter a few days before the beginning of Passover, which retells the story of the Israelites being redeemed from slavery. I was being asked to “confirm my redemption!” I would guess that this message would resonate with Christians at this time of year as well, whether the word is “redemption” or “salvation.”
So I thought about how I can really confirm my redemption. What it is that will redeem my work, my life, my community and the world?
I believe that we can confirm our redemption if we consider the values that lie at the foundation of what we do.
I recently participated in a series of discussions about raising the city minimum wage at Las Cruces City Hall. These talks were facilitated by the local Great Conversation organization. Concerned citizens, organizers, business owners, minimum wage workers and a faith leader (yours truly) engaged in three 90-minute sessions to consider issues from a wide variety of perspectives on the need for and effects of an increase in the minimum wage.
In the second of three sessions, I presented this list of values for the workplace that apply to both employers and employees: dignity, respect, responsibility, learning new skills and abilities, commitment, dedication, showing hospitality and congeniality, caring between employer/employee as people, recognizing each person’s individuality, approachability, ability to take guidance and constructive criticism, patience, fairness, support, affirmation and appreciation.
I was surprised that some members of the group saw this list as a form of judgment against their approach to their business. My sole intention was to create a lens through which we could talk about how wage and values come together. It may be that practicing this entire list of values would create such a sense of well-being and camaraderie in a workplace that wage would be but one aspect of the feeling of community generated within the work environment.
Due to fear of the negative effects of proposals on the table for increasing the minimum wage, this values list became secondary, if not totally submerged, within the “legislative” discussion of the details of one proposal or another.
Confirming our redemption will not come only through legislation. 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. We know that it made a major difference throughout our country. We also know how easy it is, unfortunately, for individual communities and states to undo such pioneering policies. That is happening right before our eyes. For some Americans, changing the law did not change their perspectives at all. Prejudice, arrogance and bigotry still loom too large in our nation.
That does not mean, however, that we should give up on stating and restating values. The Bible states the basic golden rule, “love your neighbor as yourself” and adds “love the stranger – someone who is not exactly like you – as yourself” as well. Scripture declares many moral standards that apply to all people, including many statements about taking care of workers and the poor, the fatherless, and the widow. The Rev. Jim Wallis, in his book On God’s Side, reminded us that we enhance the greater good when we show concern with the “least of these,” the people who may never share in even momentary economic improvements, much less growing prosperity.
In Jewish terms, “confirming our redemption” means repairing the world (Tikun Olam) and doing righteousness/justice, tzedakah, for our fellow human beings.
That is one of the great lessons of Passover. Do we want to be like Pharaoh, hanging his head on one side of the sea, realizing that hardening his heart against the humanity of the Israelites working for him led him on a path of self-destruction?
Or do we want to be like the Israelites who were rejoicing on the opposite shore, having overcome their fear to cross the sea that would only part when they, themselves, took the first steps?
We have the power to confirm our own redemption through how we view and treat each other. We are all created in the divine image. Every one of us is here to be loved, appreciated and valued. Recognizing everyone’s dignity and showing respecting will bring those gifts of consideration back to us.
The Haggadah, the prayerbook of the Passover meal, calls Matzah, the unleavened bread that serves as a focus of the meal, the “bread of affliction.” a bread that did not rise as the Israelites hastily escaped slavery in Egypt. This special prayer continues, “Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want share the hope of Passover….now we are still in bonds. Next year may all be free.”
Even a lowly bread that did not rise, a bread with little taste, a “bread of affliction,” is the centerpiece of telling a story of how a people left slavery and confirmed their redemption and freedom.
Even a small change of heart can enable us, now, to confirm our redemption together as we realize the joy that can come from eating at the same table and truly being one community.
May we strive for such unity and understanding within our community and our world every day!