Each year, I teach my 10th grade English students John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. I enjoy teaching it, mostly because it’s one of my all-time favorite novels, and teaching it gives me the opportunity to read it again and again. But more importantly, in a rather conservative school district, it allows me to challenge the all-too-commonly held perception of labor unions, which many in the community believe to be anti-American, Communist, even evil. Once students see why there was actually a need for labor unity, strikes, etc., they are able – at least to some extent – to put aside the notion that the business/boss/owner is always in the right, and that workers who go on strike are just lazy moochers who want to get something for nothing.
But over the years, I’ve also come to understand that a third reason for loving The Grapes of Wrath is that I identify with it on a spiritual level. I know that the book is a work of fiction, but I find the “Christ figure” character of Jim Casy to be perhaps the most spiritually inspiring figure in my life – even more influential to me than Jesus, on whom Casy was modeled. When I was invited back to give another talk to the good folks at UUCH, I thought this was the perfect time to confess my “Casyist” leanings. Perhaps it’s odd to give a church message on a fictional character in literature, but I hope you’ll join me and hear the good news – the gospel of Casy – and how it relates to the world, in a time we most certainly need some good news. Do be warned, though, that there will certainly be some Grapes of Wrath spoilers in my message, so you may want to brush up on your Steinbeck before coming.
Born in rural northern Alabama in clear sight of plenty of farming, poverty, and racism the locals justified through religion, Anthony Hamley left home to escape to the larger city of Birmingham and to go to college where he studied to become an English teacher. Since graduation, he has taught high school English and philosophy for over 20 years, most of that time in the International Baccalaureate program, which has allowed him to surround himself with an extremely diverse group of students.
Anthony and his wife Melissa found the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham over 15 years ago as they were searching for a place for their children to have a religious community that promoted a love for people and an openness to diverse religious ideas. Once a church member, Anthony almost immediately moved into church leadership, serving on the Board of Trustees and then ultimately as Vice President and then President. In addition to Board positions, Anthony has served as chairperson on many committees, including the Search Committee, Committee on Ministry, Intern Minister Support, Personnel, SEEC (RE), and Worship Partners.
This is Anthony’s second opportunity to deliver a talk to the UU Church of Huntsville.