This is where I want to convince you to think about the places you shop. This is where I want to persuade you that there is a reason to pay a bit more for that icon that says “fair trade” on your bag of beans. This is where I want to let you know that your oil consumption is probably just as great because of the plastic products you purchase as it is because of the gas you put in your car, and that that’s a problem. This is where I want to convince you to join a CSA and to support local growers.
And I don’t quite know how you’ll respond. When I have written in the past about some of my resolutions to try to move towards a more earth-friendly menu, or to buyslavery-free, I’ve written with the assumption that anyone reading here would understand the reasons behind those goals.
But maybe the ideas are new to you, and overwhelming. (If they are, we should begin with this disclaimer: Don’t panic.)
Or maybe you’ve heard this before and thought, “I’m a free-market capitalist. The market will work these things out,” or, “This is just too complex – how can we ever know what is right?” or “These things may be important, but they are not as important as the gospel.”
Here is where I want to say that this is about the gospel; and not just the “social gospel,” because that's not really a distinction that Jesus made.
Here is where I want to say that absolutely, this is too complex, but that’s not a reason to stop trying to understand what is right.
Here is where I want to say that free-market capitalism in America is a little bit broken (and refer you to Marilynne Robinson’s fine essay “Austerity as Idealogy” for more on that).
Here is where I want to tell you that if you cried in Les Miserables, let your heart be stirred by the fact that slavery, prostitution, corrupt governments, and broken systems are running nearly unchecked in our world today too. Part of our kingdom work is to fight them in whatever ways we can, to be on that barricade in the final scene, beating our swords into ploughshares.
But here is also where I want to confess to you that I act against my own convictions all the time. That I bought a jacket on sale at Target this weekend that was almost certainly made by people (possibly children) who, at the very least, aren’t able to earn a living wage making it, and who more likely are caught in a corrupt system leading to inescapable debt that makes their factory work the equivalent of slave labor. I want to confess that I drive through fast food places. That I buy avocados and bananas shipped in from far away.
I believe that these things do matter, and to say that they don’t, or that they’re not our concern, or that they’re too complicated is to allow a syncretistic “American” version of Christianity to rule our hearts, where “free market”= Christian, and materialism and thoughtless consumerism are “lesser” sins.
We are blinded by our own prosperity, and even when our vision clears for a moment, we quickly forget what we’ve seen.
“Those factories that run on the labor of children, filling our world with some many attractive products that are really much cheaper than they ought to be – have they gone away? No, but our attention has wandered, and that is the next best thing from the point of view of our spiritual comfort. From the point of view of our material comfort, it is certainly the best thing.” (Marilynne Robinson, in “Austerity and Ideology”)
My attention is wandering all the time, so what I really wanted to say here is that this year I’m taking steps to abide in my resolutions toward seeking justice in my daily choices. This year I’m going to abide in Julie Clawson’s beginner’s guide to Everyday Justice, and as my book group here in Upland works through the chapters on coffee, chocolate, cars, food, clothes, waste, and debt, I’m going to share about them in this space too. I’ll summarize Clawson's ideas, share some excerpts from the book, and list practical steps that we can take towards more just decision-making. Because
“If you get rid of unfair practices,
Quit blaming victims,
Quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
And start giving yourselves to the down and out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
Your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.”
(from Isaiah 58, The Message)
I’ll need your help – argue with me, help me find updated information (the book was published in 2009), and share what you’ve learned in each of the areas. Heck, buy the book and read it along with us!
I’m prone to wander, and prone to get rant-y, but I want my life to glow in the darkness, and this year, this is where I’ll begin.