They have been the invisible people as I’ve moved around in my career: The people who have assembled and shipped my laptops, the factory workers who print, box, and ship my books, the Uber drivers who take me to meetings and speaking engagements, the flight attendants and baggage carriers who get me to my destinations, the waiters and waitresses, hotel workers who make my travel comfortable and seamless, the baristas who fill my cup every time I text someone and say: “Want to grab coffee?”
For all of my career — over 20 years — I’ve had a job in the information economy at a time when this kind of work is ascendant. This means I’m writing on keypads, staring into screens, posting on social media, speaking or preaching before crowds. I’m paid for words and content. So this strange and terrifying new season of social distancing has slightly disrupted my life with a new normal of working from home, less interaction with colleagues and friends (tough for an extreme extrovert), and cancelled speaking engagements. But for the most part, my life has not been made that much more uncomfortable. I could work from home for the foreseeable future with little disruption.
But I’m in the minority. For many who make our society flourish the coronavirus pandemic and the necessary shutdowns and closures have put a sudden halt to their livelihoods. First major conferences cancelled, then major sporting events, then restaurants seeing business shrunk dramatically or being forced to close. For each of these are sound technicians, concession vendors, stadium workers, cooks, busboys, managers, and maids. One friend of mine, who manages a large hotel in a major city just had to lay off much of his staff, weeping at what he was forced to do.
For those of us who live and thrive in the digital economy, we may not easily see this pain, but we should. “Cancel everything,” a mantra, which has become a necessity, is not an uncostly phrase. For many, their work has come to an end and their financial future is up in the air. It’s easy for us, in normal times, to not see the invisible army of workers who make up the vast service economy we enjoy. In hard times, we must look harder and help bear the burdens of those who have often born ours through quiet and faithful execution of unseen but essential work.
Paul urged the church in Galatia to “remember the poor.” What does remembering in this season mean? For all of us it means we pray for the workers who will lose income. It also may mean finding ways to support through our church or other forms of giving. It might also mean patronizing local businesses hit hardest by the Coronavirus shutdowns. There have already been some innovative ways that communities and organizations have pledged to financially help those who lose their jobs.
And in our local church contexts — even though we are not physically meeting — we might find and support those who are in the service industry and make sure they endure this season with love and care. We are told in Scripture to weep with those who weep, to bear the burdens of those around us, to look after the vulnerable.
This we can do, with our words, our actions, and our resources. What’s more, we might endeavor, when this is all over, to be less removed from the beautiful mosaic of blue-collar life that makes our white-collar life run so smoothly. We might escape our digital bubbles that keep us isolated and opinionated and seek out community across socio-economic lines, with those that are often unseen and unheard. We might reframe our thinking on economics and work to include those who pick our food and stock our shelves and assemble our devices.
Perhaps our national pain will be a catalyst for God’s people to remember that the gospel is the great leveler, the cross the place where you are not defined by what you do but by who you are in because of what Jesus did. Ironically, it may be this season of social distancing that will be used by God to bring us together.