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November 30 – Mother Jones

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Jeremiah 22

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
    his upper rooms by injustice,
making his own people work for nothing,
    not paying them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace
    with spacious upper rooms.’
So he makes large windows in it,
    panels it with cedar
    and decorates it in red.

“Does it make you a king
    to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
    He did what was right and just,
    so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
    and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
    declares the Lord.
“But your eyes and your heart
    are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
    and on oppression and extortion.”

More thoughts for meditation

As a social reformer, Mary “Mother” Jones exposed disturbing truths about child and adult factory workers and miners and perpetual poverty in the United States through numerous marches, demonstrations, strikes, and speeches. The influence of Christianity was evident throughout her life. She received a Catholic education as a girl and became a teacher in a convent as a young adult. Letters and speeches by her, and those about her, were filled with the imagery of Christian beliefs.

Jones worked as a teacher and dressmaker, but after her husband and four children all died of yellow fever in 1867, and her dress shop was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, she began working as an organizer for the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers union. In 1903, upset about the lax enforcement of the child labor laws in the Pennsylvania mines and silk mills, she organized a Children’s March from Kensington, in Philadelphia, to the home of then president Theodore Roosevelt in New York.

She wailed about the unjust experiences of the poor like an Old Testament prophet, often dressed in old‐fashioned black dresses that seemed similar to the black habits worn by the Catholic sisters that taught and mentored her during her early years. She was described by others as the “walking wrath of God,” the “incarnation of labor’s struggles” decrying injustice and calling to account its perpetrators. She was even introduced by the author Upton Sinclair one day as “Mother Mary” — an allusion to the New Testament Mary who gave birth to the Christ child and was considered one who interceded on behalf of poor and exploited adults and children.

Her use of the word “hell” is notable. Once she was introduced as a humanitarian and quickly bellowed “I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell‐raiser.”  Two noteworthy quotes that peppered her speeches on behalf of factory workers and miners were “fight like hell until you go to heaven” and “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” When a West Virginia district attorney, Reese Blizzard, in 1902, Called her “the most dangerous woman in America” at her trial for ignoring an injunction banning meetings by striking miners, the title stuck.

As a passionate public speaker, some people thought she was “unchristian‐like,” mainly because she used of name‐calling, profanity, and dramatic stunts for effect, such as parading children who lost body limbs as a result of accidents in factories and mines. She was compared to John Brown, the abolitionist who believed armed rebellion was the only way to defeat the institution of slavery in the United States. Whether she actually believed such things is doubtful, but the association made her seem “unchristian‐like.” When confronted with the issue of violence in the labor movement she encouraged it at times as a necessary evil. She believed that martyrs died to overcome injustices and the causes that she led were no exception.

Just a few months after her death, the singing cowboy Gene Autry recorded the song “The Death of Mother Jones.” The writer of the lyrics is unknown.

The world today’s in mourning
For death of Mother Jones
Gloom and sorrow hover
Around the miners’ homes

This grand old champion of labor
Was known in every land
She fought for right and justice
She took a noble stand

Through the hills and over the valleys
In every mining town
Mother Jones was ready to help them
She never turned them down

On front with the striking miners
She always could be found
And received a hearty welcome
In every mining town

She was fearless of every danger
She hated that which was wrong
And she never gave up fighting
Until her breath was gone

This noble leader of labor
Has gone to a better land
While the hard working miners
They miss a guiding hand

May the miners all work together
And carry out her plan
And bring back better conditions
For every laboring man.

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Suggestions for Action

Jesus was probably considered the most dangerous man in Palestine by the leaders who eventually killed him. Jeremiah was decidedly unpopular with the kings he exposed for their greed and oppression. If we, as Jesus followers, are not at odds with the powers-that-be, or even a threat to the corrupt ones, we might not be too serious about being planted in the soil of a fallen world. Consider who God wants you to stand with and stand up for.

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