Archive for November, 2011

Kingdom Voices: C.S. Lewis??

When I first read Mere Christianity right out of college, it kind of became like a second Bible to me.  I thought it was absolutely brilliant, and it did so much to bolster my faith.  Thus, when I was paging through it looking for a specific quote for another post, I was not surprised to come across one of Lewis’ marvelous passages.  It has been years since I read Mere Christianity in its entirety, but I immediately remembered this passage in which Lewis explains, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  I thought that it would make a great addition to the “Kingdom Voices” section of my blog.  There is a great paragraph before this one, setting the whole thing up, but it gets a little long, so I’ll skip to the best part:

“…I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions, but not hate the bad man:  or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.  

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction:  how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man?  But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life–namely myself.  However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself.  There had never been the slightest difficulty about it.  In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man.  Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things” (105-106).

I just love Lewis’ point there.  It is so obvious and true, and it provides a very helpful way to understand the idea of, “love the sinner, but hate the sin.”

Lewis, however, goes on from there to discuss the idea that loving a person does not mean not punishing them.  I don’t have a problem there.  I mean, I discipline my children all the time out of genuine love for them and a concern for their soul.  He continues,

It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy…It is no good quoting ‘Thou shalt not kill.’  There are two Greek words:  the ordinary word to kill and the word to murder.  And when Christ quotes that commandment He uses the murder one in all three accounts…The idea of the knight–the Christian in arms for the defence of a good cause–is one of the great Christian ideas.  War is a dreadful thing, and I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken.  What I cannot understand is this sort of semipacifism  you get nowadays which gives people the idea that though you have to fight, you ought to do it with a long face and as if you were ashamed of it.  It is that feeling that robs lots of magnificent young Christians in the services of something they have a right to, something which is the natural accompaniment of courage–a kind of gaity and wholeheartedness” (107).

I have a couple of problems with this.  For one thing, the picture of the jolly soldier, merrily dispatching [the people his government tells him are] his enemies in emulation of the crusading knights of yore just doesn’t resonate with me.  Honestly, “gaity” in the act of killing enemies seems more sociopathic than virtuous, but maybe that’s just me.  More than that, though, I wish Lewis had not stopped with “love your enemies,” and “thou shalt not kill,” and explained some of those even more vexing red letters.  Take, for example, these words from Matthew 5:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

How do Lewis’ words jive with Jesus’ words?  Seriously, how?  I really want to know, because frankly, I don’t want to be a pacifist, and I don’t want to take the non-resistance route with my enemies.  To be honest, I think the idea of ‘”an eye for an eye” is pretty just.  But what in heaven’s name do you do with these words, out of the mouth of our Lord, that seem not to be so down with the crusading knights of yore?

Oh, and the quote I was looking for?  I found it a few pages before this whole debacle, where Lewis addresses the equally outlandish teaching of forgiving one’s enemies.  Confronted with the unreasonableness of a Jew forgiving a Nazi, Lewis refuses to back down from the teaching of Jesus, stating, “I am telling you what Christianity is.  I did not invent it.  And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us‘” (104).  See Clive, I feel the same way about Matthew 5:38-48.  I’m just telling you what Jesus said.  I did not invent it.

So here is my conundrum:  I love C.S. Lewis, and I really want to think of Him as a voice for God’s kingdom.  But I don’t know what to do with him here.

So how do YOU explain away Matthew 5:38-48?  And honestly, I’m a little annoyed with Lewis, so could you save him for me?

Quotes taken from:

Lewis, C.S.  Mere Christianity.  New York, MacMillan Publishing, 1960.

Title 1, High Priority, Part 2

We decided to send Luke to the Title 1 school.  Truly, trying it out was the most logical thing to do.

We got to meet Luke’s teacher and see his classroom the day before he started.  She was very sweet.  Luke was quite shy and wouldn’t answer her questions with anything more than, “I don’t know,” but she was very patient with him.  He was mostly interested in the names of the people in his class, so while the teacher got more papers together for us, we walked around and looked at all the name tags.  In Luke’s class in South Carolina, there was a disproportionate number of Bible names:  Matthew, John, Benjamin, Isaac, Caleb, Joshua, and so on.  The only name that stood out was Luke’s friend, Raphael, but that at least allowed us to introduce Luke to classical art the Ninja Turtles.  Here, the name that stood out was “Luke.”  In between the Suri’s and Ja’Quarious’s were names like Poue, which I didn’t even try to pronounce.  I know I sound like such a jerk highlighting all of this, but to be honest, I was just worried that Luke was going to be uncomfortable.  And maybe some discomfort would be beneficial so that he wouldn’t turn out like his ethnocentric mother, but…he’s five!  He’s been through some huge transitions lately, and I didn’t want to put him in a situation where he wasn’t going to be happy.

The teacher interrupted my reverie with, “Luke, I think we will sit you next to Pew.”  Ohhh, so that’s how you said Poue!  “Poue is a sweet little boy from Burma.”  Luke did not bat an eye to any of this, and we finished up our meeting with the exciting news that I would be able to volunteer in the classroom once a week.  Luke’s school in SC had been locked up like Fort Knox during the day (which I appreciated), but part of their security was that they did not allow parents in the classrooms, except for the room mom on special occasions.  That had been a bitter disappointment, as I had always envisioned myself being an active volunteer in Luke’s school and getting to know his classmates.

We left on that Monday with plans to start Luke in the morning.  Here’s how things went from there:

Monday afternoon:  Luke’s teacher emails me with some suggestions about making Luke’s transition easier and to schedule my volunteer time.

Tuesday morning:  Luke goes to school happily.

Tuesday mid-morning:  Luke’s teacher emails me to tell me Luke is doing fine.

Tuesday afternoon:  We pick up a beaming Luke, who announces that he loves school and that he and Poue had fun on the playground where they ran from another boy who pretended to be a dinosaur.  I check his bookbag, and there is a note from Luke’s teacher saying that he had a great day.  There is also the library book that Luke picked out, called The Big Red Lollipop, that tells a great story about learning to fit into a new culture.

After reading it, Anna spends the next three days drawing big, red lollipops.  That afternoon, Luke’s teacher emails me again to tell me that Luke had a great day and that she’s excited to have him in her class.

Wednesday morning:  Anna and I attend a Writing Workshop for parents of kindergartners in the school’s lunchroom.  There are about twenty parents there, some needing translators, and we hear tips from the directors of the public library on how to encourage our kids to read and write.  There is a lot of helpful information given (along with refreshments, which was a big draw for me:)).  At the end, we all got a bag with a slew of free stuff, including a book and a little chalkboard and chalk.  Sweet!

Your tax dollars at work, Tennesseans (and well spent, if I do say so myself)!

Wednesday afternoon:  Luke comes home all smiles again, full of tales of fun times on the playground and in the classroom.  They even got to go to the library to watch a puppet show. He tells me that since he loves his new class so much, he is going to draw two pictures for them, one for the boys and one for the girls.  Right when he gets home, he goes straight to work.  He draws a Batman scene for the boys, and a princess scene for the girls.

On the back of the boys’ picture he writes this message [edited to remove personal info]:

Dear [Name of school] kindergarten

Mrs. _________’s class.

The picture is of Batman.

If you do not like Batman, text [our street address].

Thank you.

From Luke

In his book bag is another note from the teacher saying that she assessed Luke for progress reports and was very impressed.  Later, I receive another email from her telling me that Luke reminds her of her son.  She also says that he is very bright and that she recommended him for the Encore program, which is TN’s gifted program.

Thursday:  Another great day, and another written note and email from his teacher.  That night, we went to their “Book Fair” at Barnes and Noble.  It was more like a fundraiser, where 10% of the proceeds of your purchase went to the school.  Regardless, the kids had fun, and we capped off the evening with dinner at Chickfila.

Friday:  After school, Luke walks toward me in the parking lot, trying (and failing) to suppress a smile.  When he gets up to me, he beams with pride and holds out the little plastic tooth that is on the string around his neck:  he lost his first tooth!  At school!  It happened at the end of another great day, and he got to go to the office to get his special necklace.  He had a great day, even with a substitute (which I knew about because the teacher had emailed me the night before, and put it in the newsletter).

Today, (Monday), I was supposed to go volunteer in Luke’s class, but Luke woke up sick, so we will have to postpone.  The teacher wrote me on Thursday to let me know that she’d like me to read one of our books to the class (Luke picked The Pigeon Wants a Puppy) and to help the students make turkey handprints.  It sounded super fun, but I wrote her this morning explaining that I would have to reschedule.  I wanted to save the update until after I had been in the classroom, but I’m going to go ahead and publish it.  We are all enjoying Luke’s new Title 1, High Priority school.   The teacher-parent communication has been top notch; there are tons of opportunities to get involved; and Luke is loving all of his classmates.  It remains to be seen whether the school will properly challenge him educationally, but right now, we could not be happier about his school.  We prayed so much before choosing to send him there, and I am so grateful that God seems to to have been watching over us as we made our choice!

Citizenship 101: Requirements

I have to admit that I’m a little torn as I think about the “requirements” of citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  After all, anyone who has read Romans knows that we have been saved by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not from anything we could do.  I think Ephesians 2: 8-9 sums it up best when it says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”  I don’t want to give the impression, then, that we can ever “earn” our salvation by our own efforts.

Scripture is crystal clear that we are saved through Christ’s efforts, and not our own, which is why we tend to think of salvation as a free gift.

If it’s free, however, then why does Jesus keep warning His listeners to “count the cost” before they follow Him?

 ‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?  For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him,  saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

   ‘Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.  In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple‘”  (Luke 14: 28:33).

To better understand what Jesus might be talking about when he says “estimate the cost,” we have to look no further than the verses directly before that pronouncement.  Far from touting Himself as the “free gift” to the world, Jesus warns His listeners that following Him will consist of stringent demands:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:  ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-27).

Elsewhere, he tells would-be followers to leave their dying (or perhaps dead and unburied) relatives, to leave their families without saying goodbye, and that anyone who looks back after following Him is not worthy of Him (Matt. 8:18-22Luke 9:57-62).

So what gives?  Isn’t Jesus contradicting Paul, who maintains that we can do nothing to save ourselves?  Not at all!  Jesus agrees very much with Paul in that regard.  He tells Nicodemus that “no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again,” a statement that Nicodemus rightly recognizes as physically impossible (John 3:3-5).  Elsewhere, he says that no one can come to God unless God enables that person (John 6:65), and that apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Jesus and Paul, then, are in perfect agreement that we can not earn our salvation.  Their idea, however, that there is nothing we can do to be saved, has been twisted into the concept that we have to do nothing.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls that perception, “cheap grace.”  In his famous work, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer says that “cheap grace means grace as a principle, a system.  It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God.  An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins” (43).  He goes on to declare that “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (44-45).

Such a concept of grace finds itself severely at odds with the repeated teachings of Jesus that His followers must sacrifice all for Him, an act that He calls “dying to self,” or, more literally, just “dying.”  Here are some of the requirements that Jesus gave His would-be followers:

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:37-39).

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it'” (Matt. 16:24-25).

“Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?’” (Luke 9:23-25).

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:24-26).

Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33).

It seems clear from these and other verses that following Christ involves a complete renunciation of our lives, which consists not only of our will to survive, but also of all the selfishness that makes up the tableau of our daily wants and needs.  That is, at least, how Paul seemed to take Jesus’ commands.

He tells the Galatians, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24-25).

In that same letter, he declares that, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

To the Corinthians, he maintains that, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Cor. 4:10-11).

Truly, this is just a small sampling of verses that claim that being a follower of Christ requires personal sacrifice and that clearly indicate that a follower of Christ must live his life in active imitation of Jesus.

Bonhoeffer cites a misunderstanding of Luther as the root of the church’s conception of “cheap grace.”  Thus, he strives to correct the popular perception of Luther’s beliefs:  “When he spoke of grace, Luther always implied as a corollary that it cost him his own life, the life which was now for the first time subjected to the absolute obedience of Christ.  Only so could he speak of grace.  Luther had said that grace alone could save; his followers took up his doctrine and repeated it word for word.  But they left out its invariable corollary, the obligation of discipleship” (49-50).

Even though we may not know much about Luther today, his teachings (or as Bonhoeffer would be quick to assert, the popular misconception of his teachings) have nevertheless influenced the way the church thinks about grace and salvation.  We think of salvation as almost completely disconnected from our own actions, when even an inattentive reading of the gospels reveals such a thought to be ridiculous.  Being a Christian costs something.  It most certainly cost something to Jesus, and He tells us in no uncertain terms that we must walk as He did in order to be His follower.  Being a citizen of God’s Kingdom, then, has some requirements.  It requires that we lay down our lives, take up our crosses, and follow Christ.

This blog is dedicated to learning how to do that.

What do you think?  Do you agree with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s assessment of “cheap grace”?  Or do you think it is wrong to view the Kingdom of God as having “requirements”?

Quotes taken from:

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.  The Cost of Discipleship.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Title 1, High Priority

When we were first house hunting in Nashville, the area we were looking at was zoned for a really great public school with a sterling reputation and sky high test scores.  I was excited because it seemed like, as good as Luke’s school in South Carolina was, this one was going to be significantly better.  Thus, when my husband called to tell me that he had found the perfect house in that area, I was ecstatic.  There was just one catch:

“It’s zoned for a different school.”  

He had spent the past five minutes gushing about the house, so I was not initially alarmed.  I was already on a real estate site on the computer looking at the house, and I asked him what the name of the school was, so I could look it up.

The first statistic I saw made the blood rush from my head:  “99% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.”  There was kind of a roaring sound behind my ears when I read that.  I also saw the statistic that said that my child would be very much in the ethnic minority, but I was more hung up on the first one.

Greg told me I was a racist.

Classist,” I corrected.  “I’m a classist.

This was another “rubber meeting the road” moment for me.  I like poor people, and I want to help them.  But to send my child to their school, which I could only imagine had the host of societal problems that I had come to see were associated with poverty?  Yeeesh.

Then I looked at the test scores.  Double yeesh.  They were not good.

Greg, who was still in Nashville, said that he would suspend judgment until he toured the school.  I, on the other hand, immediately began researching “school choice” in Nashville.  Turns out that they do have a school choice option…if  your school is a “Title 1, High Priority school.”  I looked it up.

My child’s potential school was a Title 1, High Priority school.

Even the city of Nashville recognized that I would not want to send my child to that school if I could help it.

The next day, Greg toured the school and was actually pretty impressed.  He talked with the volunteer coordinator and with the principal, who was new and very enthusiastic.  He saw the big map on the wall that highlighted all 27 countries from which these students came (like, they were born in those countries).  He saw the well-behaved students sitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the floor while the teacher read to them.  His report was heartening, but to say that I was still hesitant would be an understatement.

Now, you might be wondering my son’s education situation would be featured on a blog about Kingdom Civics.  I really do believe that every part of our life should be lived to the glory of God.  And I know that God probably doesn’t care whether I have pancakes or waffles for breakfast, but I think that something as big as the education of my child would fall into His purview.  I think He cares about those kind of decisions, and while there may not be an objective right and wrong in every case, I believe that the reason we make such decisions does matter to God.

I also know that many Christians believe that our number one goal as Christian parents is to protect our children from the world.  I understand that belief, I respect it, and I even agree with it…to a degree.  I also believe, however, that as Christians, we should not make decisions out of fear, and that we have an equally important goal to teach our children how to interact with the world around them so that they will be equipped to reflect God’s glory to their culture in a way that their culture understands.  That is my personal understanding of “IN the world, but not OF the world.”  As such, I am a strong advocate of public schools.  I think that Christian families need to be participating in the public school system, especially in the early grades, and that it provides maybe the best way for Christians to get involved with their local community, their “neighbors.”

You can agree or disagree with that assessment.  What is relevant at this time is that those words represent my firm conviction, and that Luke’s school situation was testing it.  Far from making a fearless decision, I was actually quite terrified of sending my child to that school.  I’m not justifying the assumptions behind that terror; I’m just being honest.  And though in theory, I want my kids to be well-versed in other cultures, the idea of my son being the only white kid in the class was boundary-stretching for a mom who has spent all her years comfortably in the majority.  Again, it is a great idea in theory, but when it comes to your child, your child…well, let’s just say, the theory gets tested.

When we got to Nashville, we toured a couple of the schools with the higher test scores and then headed down to the Board of Education to explore our school choice options.  Turns out, that was a total bust.  The “choice” we were given was for two schools that seemed no better than our own, and were further away!  So our real choice turned out to be between “our” school and scrimping to make our private school option work.

Greg and I talked about it, and we both agreed that if we had no safety concerns about the school, then we should at least give it a shot to see if it would meet Luke’s educational needs.  One reason the test scores were so low is that they had to teach many of the children English, so they were already starting behind.  If, however, they could find a way to also challenge students like Luke, who not only knows English, but also knows how to read, then we would continue sending him there, as long as he didn’t have any huge social problems.  We figure that since the children are given standardized tests at the end of every year, we could see if Luke was falling behind, compared to other schools in Tennessee.

We toured the school.  It looked very much like my own elementary school, right down to the antiquated lunchroom.  There was definitely a melting pot of children there, and Greg even saw a girl wearing a hijab that lit up like those light-up shoes.  We both laughed at what seemed like a clear influence of American culture on foreign traditions, for better or worse.  We saw whole classes of “newcomers,” who spoke no English, and learned about the distinctions between the Kurds.  The principal gave us a tour and candidly answered all my very frank and decidedly politically incorrect questions.  It’s funny how you don’t worry about being “pc” when the best interest of your child is involved!  She was open and honest, and we really liked her.  Later, I took Luke back to see it, and the secretary took us around.  Her daughter had attended a similar public elementary school with great success and was now attending high school at the same private school we were thinking of for our children.  She was great to talk to, and I asked her lots of questions, too, including things like, “Would you send your child to this school?”  Without hesitation, she said, “Without a doubt.”  Both she and the principal marveled at how little discipline problems they had, especially when compared to the other schools where they had worked.

So this was the bottom line:  Luke liked the school and the kindergarten classrooms.  The school seemed safe.  The children in it seemed happy and well-behaved.  There were no red flags that suggested that their method of educating children was inherently faulty.

We had a choice to make.

What would you do?  Would you send your kindergartner to that school?  What if you had the same beliefs about public school that I do?

God on the Job

In January, I am going to teach a couple of classes at my alma mater.  Because it is a faith-based university, I had to write a statement explaining how I was going to incorporate my faith into the classroom setting.  I had been prepped beforehand that the wrong answer was to talk about starting class with a prayer or a Bible reading.  I’m teaching English, not a Bible class, and they were looking for something a little more subtle.

It was honestly a little bit of a stumper:  

How do I subtly integrate my faith into teaching English?

Basically, I concluded that since my whole life was to be lived to the glory of God, teaching English fell into that category.  I determined that I would try my best to imitate Christ in my personal interactions with the students.  I would treat them with love and compassion, recognizing that as college students, they are at a very vulnerable time in their lives.  Many of them have been displaced from their homes and everything they know, and are in a completely new place, where perhaps the only adults they know are their professors.  I will be mindful of that and try to support them personally as they navigate their brand new existences as college students.

Furthermore, as a Comp teacher, one of my main objectives is to teach critical thinking skills, which I believe are absolutely vital, both to a student’s personal development, and to the future of the church.  As Christians, we are called to interact with the world around us in a way that it can understand.  We need to know how do deal with different perspectives and different worldviews, and we can not effectively do that if we have not seriously examined our own worldview.  I have found that many students lack the critical thinking apparatus that allows them to do that; thus, one of my main jobs as an English teacher is to equip students to effectively engage with the “texts” around them, be they on paper, on the television, or coming from a pulpit.  The critical thinking skills they develop in Freshman English can serve not only to strengthen their own faith, but also to help them share that faith with the world.

That’s sort of the gist of what I wrote.  Maybe it was lame.  

But honestly, it’s harder than it looks.  Try it!  If someone were to interview you and ask how you integrated your faith into your job, what would you say?

My First Trip to the Hippie Stores!

One thing that made me excited about moving to the Nashville was that they had organic-y stores in a decent driving distance from my house.  It’s odd that having a Trader Joe’s and a Whole Foods nearby would make me excited b/c I’m really not that into buying organic.  However, I have recently been convicted about buying chocolate after reading this blog, and I have decided to buy start trying to buy fair trade chocolate.  I know, I know, it sounds crazy, especially for a penny pinching, coupon clipper like myself, but I just have this thing about child slavery.  I just don’t like it.  Like, at all?   And hearing about the child slavery used by the major chocolate brands kind of led to a little crisis of conscience.  I know that there is so much I don’t know about the chocolate industry, and so many systemic problems involved that I don’t know how to fix.  I know that one person buying fair trade chocolate doesn’t make any kind of difference.

But here’s what it came down to for me:

The whole purpose of my life is to bring God glory.

God loves children.  (And all people, but it is clear that children have a special place in his heart, both because of their vulnerability and because of their trusting nature.)

I also love children.

I will answer to God one day for all of my choices.

So…if I knew beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a high probability that the chocolate I purchased was made in part by children who were forced into slavery…

…and I knew that there were alternative brands of chocolate that cost a few dollars more, but were not made using child slaves…

…and I still bought the slavery chocolate to save a few bucks…

could I answer to God for that?

The answer I came to was no.  I tried to mentally weasel around it in a thousand different ways, but my conscience would not play ball.  To knowingly buy the slavery chocolate was simply unjustifiable in my mind, and I would fully expect God to hold me accountable for my willful selfishness.  Like I said, I love children, and the thought of one of them being hurt because of my casual purchase of a (let’s face it) luxury item was just unconscionable.

So that’s how I found myself in Trader Joe’s for the first time on this rainy Tuesday.

I walked in and wandered around aimlessly for a minute or two, honestly a little overwhelmed, before I ran into a sales rep.  Of course, I could not think of how to say what I was wanting, and it came out like this:

“Excuse me, I’m looking for the…you know, the…the non-child-slavery chocolate?”

Nice.

She blinked, but didn’t miss a beat:  “You mean the fair trade chocolate?”

Yep, that’s what I mean.

I was mainly looking for chocolate chips, and I told her that.  Surprisingly, she said that she wasn’t sure if they had any, and went to ask a manager.  A few minutes later, she came back with the news that they had NO FAIR TRADE CHOCOLATE.  What???  It’s Trader Joe’s!!!  Man, I thought, if Trader Joe’s is not with me, then how hippie am I?

They also don’t have sales.  Did you know that?  Nothing ever goes on sale at Trader Joe’s.  What kind of place is that?  As someone who literally plans her family’s whole menu around the weekly grocery ad, that just made my heart hurt.

Thankfully, they did have a good selection of fair trade coffee, which I was also looking into, and she told me that the nearby Whole Foods would most certainly have the chocolate.

On the way out, I did find some crunchy green beans and tried them out:

I was actually looking for something more like these

Snapea

which my neighbor, Molly, had at her house.  They were uhhh-mazing.  The green beans weren’t as great (too green-beany, if you can imagine), but they were an okay substitute.

Next it was off to Whole Foods.  They did have one brand of fair trade chocolate chips, but it was quite small and cost *sniff* $5.69.  They had all these other brands of chocolate chips, including the Whole Foods brand, which were cheaper.  Were they seriously not fair trade?  I was beginning to think that I really had these stores on too high of a pedestal.  I found a worker and asked him about it.  Together, we scoured all the bags for some sort of indication that they were fair trade.  The big mystery was the Whole Foods brand.  I mean, I just couldn’t imagine Whole Foods using slavery chocolate, not necessarily b/c of innate morals, but b/c of their clientele.  Aren’t they supposed to be super ethical and conscientious?

It’s sad, considering the magnitude of the evil involved in child slavery, but I really did not want to pay $5.69 for a tiny bag of chocolate chips.  This was where the rubber met the road for me.  It’s one thing to think, “Oh, I love the children!  I want to be like Jesus!  I want to stand up against slavery!”  It’s another thing when you are actually standing in the store holding the outrageously priced bag of, like, seven chocolate chips while living on a youth minister’s salary.  Especially when the Ghiradelli’s brand is on sale for *sob* $2.79.  Get behind me, Satan!

I told the guy my qualms and concluded with, “I mean, if this is all you have, I’ll buy it for the good of humanity, but is there any way I can find out if the Whole Foods brand is fair trade?”  He had already talked to a couple managers and came back with nothing.  But he said, “You know?  I really want to know, too.  Let’s look it up.”  He went to the computer and searched the Whole Foods website.  While he couldn’t find anything definitive, he did print out their brand’s official commitment to ethical standards and such.  It was comforting, but if I’m going to pay extra for chocolate chips, I really want to be certain.  Before I left, though, he asked if he could see one of my fair trade bags.  He used a marker to “x” through the bar code and said,

“I’m going to sample this one out to you.  You can just have it.  You know, for the good of humanity.”

That was so nice, and it made my purchase a lot easier…because I also had (yes, had) to have some fair trade cocoa mix, and, shockingly, it was not super cheap, either.

As I drove home, I pondered my emotions, especially the fact that I was feeling a little guilt at spending so much for chocolate chips and cocoa mix.  Yes, I know they are luxury items, but right now, they are not something we are willing to give up.  Plus, one of the benefits of Nashville is the superior grocery situation:  better coupons, better dairy prices, and the presence of Kroger stores.  I figure that if I double down on my couponing efforts, I can make up the difference in price between the fair trade chocolate and coffee.  And even if I can’t, I see this new purchasing move as one tiny step closer to living fully in God’s kingdom.  I want His kingdom to come, His will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  And surely it isn’t His will that other children suffer so that my children can have chocolate chip cookies.  Surely taking the time and money to buy fair trade advances His Kingdom and His will on earth, even if in the tiniest bit.

What do you think?  Am I crazy?  Do you make any purchasing decisions for moral reasons?  

A Great Description of our King

I’ve been working my way through the first chapter of Ephesians, and I came across an intriguing description of Christ as King.  Ephesians is very “flowy,” with one section melding seamlessly into the next, and so Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians in 1:17-19 quickly becomes a description of God’s power.  In verses 19-23, he says:

“That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only tin the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in very way” (1: 19b-23).

Whoa.

The church is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.  That sounds like a big deal.

I’m going to be mulling that over today and praying about what it means.  In the meantime, if you have any insight about how the church is the fullness of Christ, feel free to share!

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