Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow

Good Friday: When Things End in Death.

Posted |

When Good Friday and Easter rolls around, I often hear preachers say, “We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” There is so much truth to this sentiment. However, I don’t think we stop at Good Friday long enough in our lives to really soak in what it means to live in a Good Friday world. Even in our liturgical life, we don’t dwell of Good Friday for very long. We keep it to a minimum, oh let’s say, an hour service on Friday evening. Growing up, Good Friday was a ritual that had to happen before Easter Sunday. I remember always being told that there is no Resurrection without death, so there is no Easter without Good Friday.

This may be true. But for those disciples and followers of Jesus, Good Friday was all they knew in the moment. On Good Friday, they didn’t fully know there was going to be an Easter. Many low-wage workers in the United States (and around the world!) live lives in a Good Friday world because that is their reality. However, there are those of us, even as we work in solidarity with workers, who don’t dwell in Good Friday long enough. Especially as Christians, we’re so filled with hope and the resurrection (at least in our heads) that we don’t sit with the pain and the struggles. We want to participate in the movement to fix things or make things better, but how often do we participate in the movement to merely be in solidarity? To sit in this space of Good Friday, with despair, with hopelessness and anger? I think it would do us some good to dwell in the realities of the Good Friday world because is an important part of our Easter story. Yes, we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world, but if we don’t learn to dwell in the Good Friday part of this story, we are in many ways minimizing and undermining true deep painful experiences. Sometimes we’re so focused on being Easter people that we are uncomfortable even thinking about how we may even be contributing to a Good Friday world. But we are. You and I contribute to a Good Friday world everyday, and I think it’s important for us to spend some time thinking about this space.

Yes, we are a people of hope. Our tradition is centered around the resurrected Christ and this is the good news! However, sometimes we dwell in the resurrected world too much and do not pay enough attention to the Good Friday world in which we live. I encourage us today, on Good Friday, to spend some time in the realities of our Good Friday world. Sit with the pain, the frustration and anger at a world that is so evil, so violent and sometimes seem so hopeless.

This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, reflected on Scripture and her experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.

Lenten Series: Living Faithfully So All Can Work With Dignity.

Posted |

The Anointing at Bethany is a famous story of a woman anointing the feet of Jesus with Alabaster, and it is including in this upcoming Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary reading in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 26.

The thing that strikes me about this story is this woman’s radical action, which seems excessive to the disciples so much so that it angered them and they said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor” (Matthew 26: 8-9). 

Honestly, every time I read this story, I cringe a little, because I do feel like what this woman did was wasteful. I grew up in a household with limited means, and I learned early on what it meant to be thrifty.  

When I first moved to the United States, I couldn’t believe the bargains found at places like Walmart! Seriously, who could ever imagine you could buy a toaster for $5?! This was unheard of where I grew up (in India) or where my family was (in Korea). I also couldn’t understand why the same things at Walmart were so much cheaper than at other grocery stores. I fell in love with Walmart. It was my favorite place to shop.

Then I read Barbara Ehrenrich’s book, Nickeled and Dimed, and I couldn’t believe the stories she told about Walmart in the narrative. I began to find out from other sources, like the documentary High Cost of Low Prices, about the real story behind why things were so cheap at Walmart. The low prices, in part, had to do with their business practices and how they treat—or more like—mistreat their workers. It was hard for me to stop shopping at Walmart. For someone who grew up with the mentality of saving every penny, I didn’t like the fact that I was paying more for the same products somewhere else.

And the reason I write this story as a Lenten reflection today is that sometimes when we want to live radically, it may seem excessive to others. I know many people who say, “I know I shouldn’t shop at Walmart, but the prices can’t be beat.” Sometimes our need to pinch every penny becomes a bigger priority than living faithfully so that all people can have dignity. The disciples were logically right to criticize the woman out loud. But you see, being followers of Christ, sometimes things should not be logical. Logic says shop at the cheapest place possible, our faith says, support businesses that treat people with dignity.

It’s not enough that we’re out there on picket lines or at rallies fighting for fair wages and higher minimum wages. What are you personally doing to contribute to the movement of raising the standards for all people so that all may work with dignity? How are you treating your employees, staff or interns?  Are their working conditions dignified? Are you creating an environment where you are living out the values of dignity for all in your own work place and where you spend your money? Sure, there are lots of ways to be thrifty about how you run your organization or business but what does it mean to live out these values of dignity and justice? Sometimes it may seem excessive to others but that’s the faithful thing to do.

Learn more about ways people of faith are supporting Walmart workers standing up for fair wages and respect at work, calling for a workplace that allows ALL employees at Walmart to live and work with dignity.

This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, will share reflections based on her pastoral education and experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.

Lenten Series: Work is to be Life-giving

Posted |

In this week’s lectionary reading (Revised Common Lectionary) God finds Ezekiel in a valley of bones, a very dry valley of bones. God asks Ezekiel if he thinks these bones can live. Ezekiel’s answer is “God, you know." God tells Ezekiel to prophecy over the bones, to say to the bones, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord'. "Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin and put breath in you and you shall live,” (Ez 37:5).

In the Gospel story of this week’s lectionary reading, we encounter Jesus who hears of Lazarus’s failing health yet waits a few more days before heading to Bethany to see about Lazarus. Upon his arrival, his sisters inform Jesus that Lazarus has died.

In our world today, such stories of death, destruction and sorrow are not too far away. It’s not always a physically violent death or destruction; sometimes it’s the slow death of one’s soul, robbed of dignity in all kinds of ways. When we think about the way our society treats low-wage workers, there is something that seems to suck life out of them, something about the way their lives have been shaped by corporate greed and capitalism. Work is to be life-giving. I heard a worker lamenting on the radio recently saying, “We are supposed to work for a living; to support our families and a lifestyle, but now it feels more like we live to work." This is the reality of so many low-wage workers who have to work many hours to make ends meet under all kinds of stressful working environments.

The end of both the Ezekiel’s encounter with the dry bones and Jesus's visit to Bethany are journeys from death to life. Ezekiel prophesies and the bones come to life, and Jesus calls Lazarus out of his tomb.

It is easy to remain in a place of "death" and "destruction," but with faith we are able to speak life into situations where death seems to be the only prevailing sentiment. Christians are called to speak to this culture that is out to get every last drop of sweat and blood from workers, to stop such injustice, and once again remind us all that work must be life giving.

We, as people of faith, continue the struggle for justice and dignity for all because we know, at the end of the day, it is possible to seek life even if all we see if death and destruction around us. Together, let us start by demanding an adequate wage that restores dignity in work. Join us by signing the faith-based letter calling for a raise in the minimum wage.

This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, will share reflections based on her pastoral education and experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.

Lenten Series: Hope from fatigue

Posted |

At about this time in our Lenten season, most of us have adjusted to what we've "given up" and very few of us are thinking about Lent unless we have a specific practice calling us to remember it everyday or are reminded at church. It’s about the time for Lenten fatigue.

Sometimes we feel that fatigue in the justice movement. Many of us feel like the struggles are long and hard. Sometimes the struggles are the norm, and we forget what it was like before the boycott or the vision of “what could be” seems far off in the distance.

I have been involved in organizing immigrant communities in one form or another for more than 10 years. Struggles for immigration reform have become such and intergraded part of my life that I almost don’t remember what it was like to not be working in this struggle. Honestly, sometimes I get fatigued. Sometimes I become numb to the stories of my fellow immigrants for whom the broken immigration system continue to inflict pain and oppression. Even for these folks, fatigue sets in.

However, we know that soon enough Palm Sunday will roll around, and Holy Week will be upon us. We will spend the week remembering what Lent is about, what our Christian identity is about.

It is because we have hope that we practice Lent each year. In the same way, it is because we have hope that we continue to fight for the common good—for the respect and dignity of ALL people. The hope comes to us through the courage of all of us willing to stand up and say, “enough is enough!” It is hope that comes to us through the victories we see because of tenacious organizing and worker leadership. We give thanks for that gift of hope!

This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, will share reflections based on her pastoral education and experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.

Lenten Series: Washing feet and low-wage workers

Posted |

washing feetThis past week, both the Sunday sermon and the Wednesday Lenten study, my church focused on the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. After sharing a meal with the disciples, Jesus wraps a towel around his waist, rolls up his sleeves and begins doing a task that is considered job for servants. When he comes to Peter, Peter protests and says, “No, Jesus, you are not washing my feet!”  When I hear Peter’s reaction, I can relate. How could, of all people, Jesus wash my feet?

Jesus’ response is that he is washing their feet so that they would go do likewise with one another. Many interpret this passage as Jesus’ call to be a “servant leader,” that is, to do things others will not do, or to be sacrificial. While all these are great traits in a leader, I think Jesus was telling the disciples that they are no better than the person who would usually wash their feet. If Jesus was washing feet, then the disciples should too, and this means that they are not above the servants who are usually relegated to these roles.

Jesus' entire ministry demonstrated his commitment to make sure all people were treated with dignity and respect. This last act, before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, was once again his way of emphasizing to his disciples that indeed, they are no better than anyone else. That they were somehow not above washing someone’s feet because he was doing it too.

When we think about the roles people play today in our daily lives, many people are relegated to work that is disregarded and not seen as dignified work. We, as followers of Christ, have to remember that vocation, ministry and career cannot only be defined by tasks that we do each day. We must work towards creating a world where a janitor is well respected and honored for their work as much as the CEO of the company. 

It is easy to sit at a restaurant and be engrossed in our meal and our conversations to not notice the people who are serving and helping us enjoy our experience. It is easy to go through the grocery store and go through the checkout line and not think twice about the cashier who is ringing you up except that he is a part of your shopping process.

This week, I encourage us to be intentional about how we treat one another, especially those people who are in our lives daily we often forget to pay much attention to. Remember that our lives are not any more important than theirs, our time is not more important than theirs, and most importantly, their humanity, and dignity should not be defined by the uniform they wear.

Jesus reminded us that we’re not any better than anyone else, especially those who “washing your feet”, basically those make your life run the way you expect.

This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, will share reflections based on her pastoral education and experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.

Lenten Series: Minimum wage workers are giving up so much already

Posted |

Last week, we began the Lenten season with Ash Wednesday, a question many Christians pondered is “what should I give up?”  My husband and I listed the things we could think to give up. The process usually starts something like, “Okay, let’s give up chocolate or meat.” And then we decide food isn’t really compelling and continue down a list of creative things we can give up.

The other day, I remembered that President Obama said recently, “Nobody who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.” I was reminded of how so many people in the United States that so many of our friends and neighbors work full-time and still live in poverty, these workers are already giving up so much.

Workers are giving up spending time with their families and time to rest. When workers live in poverty and work a 40-hours week, they often have to work more hours at multiple jobs. With the current federal minimum wage, someone working 40 hours a week without missing a single week in a year earns $15,080 annually, and that is not enough income on which to raise a family. In fact, in the state of Illinois, one has to work at least 82 hours a week at a minimum wage job just to afford a two-bed room unit at Fair Market Rent.

Workers are giving up health and well-being. All but one state in the U.S. mandates Paid Sick Leave for all workers. This means that workers have to go to work sick or risk not making rent, or choosing between rent, medicine and food.

Workers are giving up one necessity for another. Many who make minimum wage constantly make difficult choices. Some choose between whether to fix the car or to buy prescription medicine. Some choose between buying their children new gym shoes or clothes. Some make more dire choices such as choosing between paying utility bills or putting food on the table.

During this lent season, while we are thinking about, or have started the practice of giving up something, I encourage you to add something.  I encourage you to think about people who always have to give up something because we live in a society where people working full-time still live in poverty. I encourage you to do one thing each week that helps our country become a place for all to live well. Tell your U.S. Senators and Representatives, and to tell them you support the increase of minimum wage. Support or donation to a local worker center near you, or donate to Interfaith Worker Justice!

This year, each Friday during Lent, IWJ's Organizing Director, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, will share reflections based on her pastoral education and experiences in the field helping to move the work for worker justice and a fair economy.