Valuing the undervalued.

Last week I had a visit to the dentist. It was for a filling; my third and final one since having my routine checkup appointment back in the summer and discovering the past two years had not been kind to my mouth. Past fillings were failing and needed replacing and the delay in being seen due to Covid restrictions meant they were worse than they would have been otherwise.

But I’m incredibly grateful I did manage to get up a checkup appointment and that the work has all been done on NHS terms. So many people can’t get an NHS dentist and the problem has got even worse since Covid came on the scene.

I’m also incredibly grateful that there are people who want to be dentists. It’s not a job I’d want to do, spending all day looking in people’s mouths. I know some private dentists probably earn a pretty good wage but I’m not sure even a decent amount of money could tempt me.

On a similar vein another vocation that I just don’t think I could do is podiatry. I have benefited hugely from people who work in this profession. My feet were once described by a podiatrist as ‘not well designed for walking,’ which is not great when they are such a key feature to our ability to walk!! I need custom made insoles to keep my feet stable and protect my big toe joints from further damage. I also needed the help of the podiatrists when I developed really bad ingrowing toenails after chemotherapy caused them to fall out. Eventually I had my big toenails permanently removed as I couldn’t face having to attend clinic every six weeks for them to cut my toenails for me! I’m so grateful to these people for looking after my feet but how they do there job day to day I just don’t know – some of the feet they must have to deal with just surely make even the most hardened podiatrist’s stomach turn.

I am very envious of people with beautiful manicured feet – something these toes will never be!

In fact the more I think about it, there are quite a number of jobs I’d prefer not to do and yet I’m super appreciative of the fact that there are people out there doing them. Many of these jobs are massively underpaid given the vital and important nature of what they do. I’m thinking of refuse collectors and carers of the elderly, of childcare workers and healthcare assistants, shop workers and hospital cleaners to name just a few.

When my niece was born the refuse collectors where my sister lived were on strike for 11 weeks. Eleven weeks worth of stinking rubbish built up outside people’s homes and for my sister that included a significant number of nappies. Sometimes it’s only when we no longer have access to a service that we really recognise just how important that service is.

Nearly all of these professions pay minimum wage and even if they pay more, it probably still doesn’t remotely reflect the value that we receive. I don’t think as a country we do very well at rewarding monetarily those that really do deserve far more than what we pay them.

It feels like there is something wrong when a Premier League Footballer can average a weekly wage of £61,024 (as reported in the 2019 Global Sports Salaries Annual Report), while a carer in an independent older persons carehome earns £344 (as reported by Skills for Care). Now I’m not saying footballers don’t deserve a decent wage, I’m not a big fan so I can’t really comment fairly. I’m sure football adds plenty of value to our country and many footballers are good people who do a lot for charity. But a decent carer, day in and day out, deals with some awful stuff whilst also smiling and trying to provide frail people with dignity and respect and I would argue should be on a far more comparable wage with a bloke who runs round a patch of very green grass kicking a ball.

I’m sure there’s plenty of other professions and salaries that I could be comparing. I suspect that someone could look at what I earn and claim that for what I do I’m rather well paid compared to the amazing ladies who look after my kids at nursery while I go to work. And somewhat annoyingly to some I’m not even going to start to propose a solution here in this blog.

But what I do want to do is just take a moment to stop, notice and simply acknowledge that I am deeply grateful to the people in my community, who undertake jobs that many of us don’t want to do and yet are so vitally important to our communities health, prosperity and wellbeing.

Politically I really don’t know where I belong. On some issues I find myself sitting in a left wing camp and in others I’m over to the right but for the most part I find myself in the middle ground because I find that the reality of life is far too complicated to be served by the ideologies of either camp that tends to present a polarised viewpoint. Over the past 42 years I’ve voted Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Independent depending on their policies at the time. In fact one election I voted one way for my MP and another way for my local counsellors! At the moment I struggle to know who is worth voting for and that causes me great sadness as I’ve been brought up believing in the importance of exercising my democratic right to vote.

However, while I am lost politically I am more than ever convinced that Jesus is the answer and the key to helping us value the undervalued. There’s a great passage in The Bible that is talking about how we need to equally value all the different spiritual gifts and roles that God calls us to within the church but what this passage has to say, I believe resonates strongly and has much to say for our communities and country as a whole and says it far better than me.

‭‭I therefore leave you with these words from 1 Corinthians‬ ‭12:12-26‬ ‭as paraphrased by a great man Eugene Peterson in ‘The Message’

“You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.

I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.

But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. You are Christ’s body – that is who you are!

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