On this Labor Day, 2015, I’m thinking about the life of former President Jimmy Carter.
We didn’t much like Jimmy Carter in this part of the world. He was from the other political party. Former President Jerry Ford was our man. He had roots right here in western Michigan, and he was from the party where all Christians belonged, the GOP.
I’m thinking about Jimmy because, after serving in public office, he didn’t stop working. When Jerry Ford got out, he played golf. When Jimmy Carter got out, he picked up a hammer and helped to build houses for the homeless…that is, when he was not traveling around the world as our ambassador for peace. He obviously sensed a calling, and age wasn’t going to get in the way.
Don’t misunderstand me…I don’t think it’s wrong to play golf, either before you retire or after you retire. But if that’s all you’re going to do, I think it’s worth reconsidering.
It’s only natural that I reflect on my own occupations on this Labor Day morning, as I sip my cuppa. I am blessed among all men and women, in that I have had three careers, and I loved all three of them! I sometimes boast that I never worked a day in my life. Every moment of every job was a delight. And I say this, not boasting, because I know of many, many people who had jobs that were unpleasant to them, but they stuck with it because there were family members to clothe and feed.
I loved the radio broadcasting business…had my first radio show when I was 12 years of age in 1949. Those were the days when disc jockeys played 78 RPM records and the radio staff dropped everything at 2 PM to read scripts in a live soap opera. Nearly 30 years later, when a series of circumstances brought about a change in my life, I loved selling church organs. I had been a church musician since my early teens, and this was merely an extension of that gift. And 20 years later, Maurice Carter made an appearance in my daily routine…an indigent black man from Gary, Indiana, who was serving time in the Michigan Prison System and who claimed he was innocent. Turns out he was, and I spent the next 10 years trying to free him.
That led to my present occupation: speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves (see Proverbs 31).
Perhaps the most difficult time in my life was 5 years ago. In 2010 some dangerous germs made their way into my body through a small wound on my foot. Yes, hospital and emergency room visits were unpleasant, a 6-month stint on a feeding tube after losing my ability to swallow was unpleasant, a nearly fatal reaction to a contrary antibiotic was certainly unpleasant, and it wasn’t very helpful that I lost 65 pounds. But the serious problem was that there were still prisoners who needed help! It took what little mental capacity I had to forge a team that included my wife, my son and a college intern. I’m proud to say that we may not have done it perfectly, but not a call or letter went unanswered due to that pesky staph infection
And that brings me to my Labor Day subject…the point I hope to make. I don’t think it’s wrong for me to want to play golf…after all, I’m nearly 79 years of age. But I do think it’s wrong if I abandon prisoners and spend all of my time on the golf course. I don’t think it’s wrong to travel around the world when you retire, but I do think it’s wrong if you forget about refugees who are trying to travel from a war-torn country to a safe haven. I don’t think it’s wrong for you to enjoy fine food and drink, if you have the means, but I do think it’s wrong if you forget about how many children are starving each day. I don’t think it’s wrong for you to have a summer condo down south, but I do think it’s wrong if you forget about the homeless…not only in third world countries, but right here in our own community.
Enjoy your Labor Day…have fun with family and friends. But then, tomorrow, let’s roll up our sleeves and remember those in need. It’s time to work, for the night is coming!