Lazarus and the Rich Man

Lazarus and the Rich Man
Hamlet, North Carolina (Luke 16:19-31)

That man dressed fine as Sunday every day
of the week. Owned Imperial Food Products
poultry processors. Had a plant right here
in town. Every morning, early, the workers
would line up at the front gates–mostly women,
mostly black folk, some with joints froze up from
working those machines, some with emphysema
from working the pantyhose factory
down the road, but all wanting their babies
to eat half as good as what sat on that
rich man’s table every evening ’round supper time.
Well, he got to worrying that some folks
might start stealing his chicken parts,
so he took to locking up the factory
doors once the morning shift was in place. The
time came when a hydraulic line blew on
one of the deep-fat fryers and black smoke
filled up the room, followed by grease fire. None of
the state-of-the-art, automatic, carbon
dioxide sprinklers ever came on. Most
folks died at the south end of the building
near the walk-in freezer. They had headed
for the exit, but it was locked. Then they
were drawn on by the gulps of cool air. Some
died down at the loading dock. Piled up on
each other trying to get through the small
hole between the wall and the truck blocking
the platform. There was Mary Alice Whit.
She was dead. There was Peggy Fairley. She
was dead. There was Lillian Mary Wall,
who’d only worked chicken a few months. She
was dead. And Margaret Banks. When
they brought her out, you could already
tell she was dead. All in all, there were 25
who died that day. The Hamlet police lieutenant
said you couldn’t tell whether the bodies
were white or black on account of the smoke; but the
angels, who pay no mind to color, came
and carried every single one of them
up into the arms of Abraham.
Now, all of this happened the day after
Labor Day. And even though Imperial
didn’t allow no organizing in its
plants, the North Carolina Textile Workers
Union still sent dresses (and suits for the
men) to use as burying clothes. At the
First Baptist Church the mourners cried out “Lord,
Lord,” maybe because in the confusion
they had missed the angels. They cried out “Slavery
time’s been over! How much longer is it
going on?” To which there was just no good
answer. What all happened to the rich man
was never much covered in the newspapers,
but the actual truth is
his story’s been told before.

Rose Marie Berger

On September 3, 1991, a fire swept through the Imperial Food Products plant in Hamlet, North Carolina. Twenty-five workers were killed and 55 injured, trapped behind locked fire doors. In 11 years of operation, the plant had never received a safety inspection. Investigators believe a safety inspection might have prevented the disaster. Emmett J. Roe, the owner of Imperial Food; his son, Brad Roe, Imperial’s operations manager; and plant manager James N. Hair were indicted in March 1992 on 25 counts each of involuntary manslaughter. Emmett Roe had personally ordered the doors to be locked from the outside. He received a prison sentence of 19 years and 11 months, less than a year for each person he killed. Roe became eligible for parole in March 1994, and was released just under four years into his sentence.

(Lazarus and the Rich Man by Rose Marie Berger first appeared in Sojourners magazine, August-September 1992)

For more on the Hamlet, N.C., industrial fire, read A Southern Tragedy, in Crimson and Yellow by Lawrence Naumoff.

See also the University of Virginia “Labor Disasters” web site.

James Allison: ‘Don’t Believe The Lie’

Resurrection of  Lazarus by Duccio Di Buoninsegna (1308-11)
Resurrection of Lazarus by Duccio Di Buoninsegna (1308-11)
Lent is a time for unbinding ourselves from the culture of death. Like Lazarus, we lay dead in a tomb beyond which we cannot see. We are bound in stinking grave clothes. But through the pilgrimage of Lent we are gently unwrapped, until the day we hear that powerful voice saying “Come out!”

Here’s a reflection by British theologian James Allison from his book On Being Liked (2004):

“When we are baptized, we, or our Godparents on our behalf, renounce Satan and all his vain pomps and empty works. And here we were, sorely tempted at least to find ourselves being sucked up into believing in just such an empty work and pomp. A huge and splendid show giving the impression of something creative of meaning, but in fact, a snare and an illusion, meaning nothing at all, but leaving us prey to revenge and violence, our judgments clouded by satanic righteousness.

When I say satanic, I mean this in two senses, for we can only accurately describe the satanic in two senses. The first sense is the sense I have just described: the fantastic pomp and work of sacrificial violence leading to an impression of unanimity, the same lie from the one who was a murderer and liar from the beginning [John 8:44], the same lie behind all human sacrifices, all attempts to create social order and meaning out of a sacred space of victimization.

But the second sense is more important: the satanic is a lie that has been undone. It has been undone by Jesus’s going to death, exploding from within the whole world of sacrifice, of religion and culture based on death, and showing it has no transcendence at all. Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel (and it is the title of Rene Girard’s book) “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” This is the solemn declaration of the definitive loss of transcendence of the satanic show: we no longer have to believe it, we no longer have to act driven by its compulsions. It has no power other than the power we give it. The pomp has nothing to do with heaven. It has nothing to do with God.”–James Allison

My Kinda Catholic: The Raising of Lazarus

At St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, last Sunday the Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-43) was preached without words. The song sung by the choir was Nicol Sponberg’s “Resurrection.”

Resurrection
by Nicol Sponberg

I’m at a loss for words, there’s nothing to say
I sit in silence wondering what led me to this place
How did my heart become so lifeless and cold
Where did the passion go?

When all my efforts seem like chasing wind
I’ve used up all my strength and there’s nothing left to give
I’ve lost the feeling and I’m numb to the core
I can’t fake it anymore.

chorus:
Here I am at the end I’m in need of resurrection
Only You can take this empty shell and raise it from the dead
What I’ve lost to the world what seems far beyond redemption
You can take the pieces in Your hand and make me whole again, again

You speak and all creation falls to its knees
You raise Your hand and calm the waves of the raging sea
You have a way of turning winter to spring
Make something beautiful out of all this suffering

chorus 2:
Here I am once again I’m in need of resurrection
Only You can take this empty shell and raise it from the dead
What I’ve lost to the world what seems far beyond redemption
You can take the pieces in Your hand and make me whole again, again

You have a way of turning winter to spring
Make something beautiful out of all this suffering