Archive for the ‘Acting Justly’ Category

“May God Bless You in this New Year!”

I saw this on a friend’s Facebook wall and had to share:

“May God bless you in this New Year!

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,
and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide,
be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.
AMEN”

http://www.allsaintsbrookline.org/prayers/prayer4.html

Getting Educated

After a year of trying to take small steps to be a more ethical, Kingdom-minded consumer, I have that fire in my bones again, and I’m taking steps to further educate myself on a few issues.  Here are the books I’ve either checked out from the library or have ordered on half.com.

There is a 100% chance you will be hearing about these issues here in the future.

Consider yourself warned:).

Mercy vs. Justice

Greg is having the summer interns read The Other Face of God, by Mary Jo Leddy.  Leddy has lived with refugees in Toronto, Canada, for about twenty years.  Her book is a reflection of the spiritual effect that “the stranger” has on a person and the way such encounters help us to better understand ourselves and our place in God’s kingdom.  So far, it has been really fascinating…especially because she includes a lot of stories!

In the first chapter, Leddy speaks of “the summons,” that thing that calls us past ourselves and into service for God’s kingdom.  Her “summons” came from specific refugees she encountered while living in a group home for refugees, called Romero House.  In speaking of such “summonses,” she says,

It is in these moments that issues of ‘justice’ or ‘the environment’ dissolve and become refocused so sharply that they are heartfelt.  There is no walking away; there is no going back.  The way ahead is not clear, but the road has closed behind you.  Justice is no longer a sometime thing, but a lifelong task.

I have participated in many earnest discussions in church groups about the difference between charity and justice, the works of mercy and the works of justice.  The works of mercy are often described as hands-on, one-on-one, direct service of those in need.  In contrast, the work for justice involves struggling  for systematic change so that there will be less need for charitable activities.

As I have reflected on my twenty years at Romero House, I have come to understand that mercy is a dynamic response that begins when one’s heart and mind are touched by the need and suffering of another person.  We are summoned by mercy.  If one begins to act mercifully, as one’s compassion deepens and expands, then one is inevitably led to an awareness of the systematic causes of such suffering.  At the reach of mercy, one is moved to act with justice…

Without mercy, the categories of concern can also be oppressive, those categories that are only the mirror image of the categories of contempt that are so easily used:  the poor, the victims, the abused, the oppressed, the refugees, the marginalized.  Even when we use these categories in describing our concern and care, it ends up reducing real people to a category of concern.”

It’s funny that Greg and I are in Nashville now, working in close conjunction with Y.E.S., because I definitely felt my first true “summons” through the children I met in that ministry.  A couple of years ago, as Greg and I were reflecting on the purpose and direction of our lives, I even remarked to him, “The time of my life that I felt most alive was at Y.E.S.”  And I think that was because for once, “the less fortunate” were not simply a category of concern to be analyzed from a distance.  They were people with names and unique personal circumstances that I came to know well.  They were people with whom I played and ate, people whom I tutored and took on trips.  And working with them didn’t feel like “doing a good work”; it just felt like life.

My interaction with Y.E.S. started with acts of mercy, and yes, they did escalate to concerns about justice.  My feelings on immigration laws and the public education, for example, have been forever changed by the names and faces that made those issues concrete and immediate, not philosophical and abstract.

Regarding Leddy’s last paragraph, I must confess that sometimes I do feel uncomfortable when I sit around with a group of middle-class Christians–even Christians from my church–and philosophize on how to best help “the neighborhood” or “the poor.”  There does seem to be something slightly dehumanizing in lumping people into a generalized “category of concern,” even though, practically speaking, it seems hard to avoid.

What about you? Have you ever felt a “summons”?  And do you agree with Leddy’s sentiments about “categories of concern” and “categories of contempt”?

Quote is from:

Leddy, Mary Jo.  The Other Face of God.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2011.  28-29.

The Surprising Ease of Selling my Soul

I had an experience last Tuesday.

I walked into Brilliant Sky for the first time.

And I stopped caring about poor kids.

You may not be aware of this, but we are planning on homeschooling Luke and Anna next year (that was a joke–not the homeschooling part, but the part about your awareness, after last week’s overwrought series on the subject).  Thus, I have spent way too much time researching homeschool curriculum, checking out the legal standards for homeschooling in Tennessee, and discussing with my husband (and my best friend and whomever will talk with me about it) the differences between Singapore math and Horizons math and the pros and cons of buying a multi-subject curriculum package versus a custom-built package.  Needless to say, then, I have been fairly education-oriented of late.

And that’s why, when I walked into Brilliant Sky, I died.  Right there, on the spot.  Dead.

It was so incredible.  So many resources.  And puzzles.  And workbooks.  And great, imaginative toys.  So many kits designed to spark creativity and discovery.  So many fun, intelligent games.  So many crafty items.  So much cuteness.  I could hardly bear it.  I wanted it all.

And in that moment, I just wished I had, like, a thousand dollar gift card for Brilliant Sky.  I didn’t want a thousand dollars to drill wells in Africa.  Or to pay for a child’s education who would not receive one otherwise, while my children will receive an excellent education (or at the very least, a crazy committed teacher) even without one single thing from Brilliant Sky.  Nope, I was so over the “caring for the world” thing.  I just wanted all these wonderful toys.

Because really, why save money to sponsor a Compassion child when you could use that money to buy a portable, magnetic puzzle of the fifty states??  We could keep it in the car for practice!  (I have a real blind spot when it comes to magnetic toys.  They always seem like a genius idea at the time, especially when I conveniently forget my kids’ propensity to lose magnets.  And seriously, fifty magnets in the car–what could go wrong?).  And why buy some much needed onesies for the baby of a young single mom when I can get a set of 26 bean bags with the letters of the alphabet on them?  Think of all the fun games we could play!  Well, actually, I’m trying, and I can’t really think of any right now…but I’m sure there are fun games to be played that would make it totally worth it to have twenty-six bean bags in my house.

As I walked through and admired all the learning tools the store had to offer, I found that it was surprisingly easy to totally forget about all my financial priorities.  Well, I guess I didn’t forget about them, as much as I bemoaned them.  I even had the thought, “I wish I was just really rich, and I could buy all of these things and help the poor.”  Ha!  What a saint I am!  What sacrifice!  “Yes, Lord, I would love to help those less fortunate…if only I don’t have to sacrifice anything to do it!  And in fact, instead of simply not sacrificing, can You also give me everything I want?  That would make it so much easier, trust me.”

Really, I think the store spoke to my deep, deep love for my children…which is not a bad thing.  What is a bad thing is my ongoing temptation to completely focus on them and never come out of my little bubble of “family.”  I realized as I walked through the store that while homeschooling is going to present us with some great opportunities, it is also going to magnify that temptation to turn my back on the world and live for “me and mine.”

I gave myself a good talking-to, and ended up walking out without buying anything.  Frankly, I just didn’t have the money to be spending on frivolous things that we honestly didn’t need.  The experience did make me think, though, about how hard it is to be a good steward sometimes.  

I thought about it again yesterday, when my children were playing with two of their friends in the backyard.  For the most part, they all played wonderfully together, but the green-eyed monster did come out sometimes when there weren’t enough toys to go around.  At one point, both Luke and Anna were highly jealous that their friends were playing with their butterfly nets, even though these nets had been laying around for the taking for most of the afternoon.  So while they pouted and begged their friends to hand them over, I called them each over separately for a talk.  Luke had the hardest time, so his was the longest.  It went something like this:

Me [totally in teacher mode]:  Hey buddy, let me ask you a question.  How many butterfly nets do you think your friends have at home?

Luke:  I don’t know–how many? [He actually seemed curious.]

Me:  Zero.  And that means that the only time they get to chase butterflies with nets is when they come over here.  But you and Anna, you get to use them every day whenever you want.  So do you think you can just let them enjoy using the nets for a few minutes?

[Luke’s answer reflected that he did not think he could do that.]

Me:  Well, let me ask you something else.  Why do you think God let you have a butterfly net?  Do you think He did it just for you?

Luke:  I don’t know.

Me:  Remember, everything God gives us is not just for ourselves, but for others.  So our nets should be as much for our friends as for ourselves.

[Luke started whining, still not buying it.]

Me:  I know, buddy.  It’s hard.  It’s hard to share.  I understand if you can’t do it.  So…if it is too hard, maybe we should just go ahead and give the nets to them?  If we can’t handle having them and sharing them, then maybe we should just go ahead and give them away.  Then it wouldn’t be a struggle anymore.

That last part just came to me, and maybe it is just me, but it made perfect sense in my mind.  All of a sudden, I saw that idea applying to more than just butterfly nets.  There’s no way to ever put it into a hard and fast rule, or even a consistent principle, but it did occur to me that one easy way of solving the problem of using my spare funds wisely was to give them away.  If it is that much of an internal struggle, then why not end it?  Why not just say, “Get behind me, Satan,” and put the money safely in God’s kingdom?

Hmmm…I am going to have to remember that…maybe even next time I’m in Brilliant Sky!

When are you most tempted to throw stewardship out the window?  And how do you keep your financial priorities in focus?

Kony 2012, Clicktivism, and the Question of ‘We’

Okay, let’s get a few things out of the way first.  I don’t know much about Invisible Children.  Or Uganda.  And before the “Kony 2012” video, I also did not know a ton about Kony besides what I gleaned from the book Outcasts United, reviews of Machine Gun Preacher, and misinformation from Rush Limbaugh.  So, admittedly, my exposure has been limited.  Furthermore, I’ve never even been to Africa, and most of my recent knowledge of the current situation in Uganda comes from a book called Kisses from Katie.  In other words, I don’t know what is best for Uganda, I haven’t done a thing to stop Kony, and I pretty much don’t know what I’m talking about.  You probably shouldn’t even be reading this.

That said, let’s begin.

Last week, the internet world was rocked by a thirty minute video about child abductor, mass murderer, and all around bad guy, Joseph Kony.  For decades, Kony has been kidnapping children in Uganda and beyond, and forcing them to fight for him in what he calls the “Lord’s Resistance Army.”  He is responsible for lots and lots of horrible things.  The video was made by a non-profit group called Invisible Children, which apparently was founded in 2003 with the express purpose of stopping this madman.  They appear in their video to connect their advocacy to President Obama’s decision to send…advisory military people?…into Uganda to serve as aid to the Ugandan government, who are trying to catch Kony and deliver him to the International Criminal Court.  Kony is the ICC’s #1 most wanted bad guy, and…well…they want him.  Invisible Children is worried, though, that without continued public support, the U.S. government will cancel the mission, and Kony will continue to wreak havoc.  Thus, their goal is to get enough Americans fired up about Kony so that we will continue pressuring our government to intervene, and that they will continue to help the Ugandan government, who in turn will catch Kony.  This plan was all laid out in the video in a nifty series of photographic dominoes.

To be honest, it doesn’t exactly seem like a fool-proof plan to me, but again, I’m not an expert.  We’ll get to all that later, though.  First, here is the video:

Frankly, I’m just impressed that teens watched all thirty minutes.  That’s a long time for the younger generation!  Also, I have to say that it was really cool to see kids excited about something beyond their own, immediate world.  I’ll take awareness of greater human suffering over status updates about the burrito they had at Moe’s any day of the the week!  So yeah…my first reaction to this whole phenomenon was that I was pumped!

And I guess that’s why the groundswell of invalid criticism rubbed me the wrong way.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I do believe that there is some very valid criticism–or at least valid questions–about the efforts of Invisible Children here.  But in the midst of those good conversation starters came a lot of cynicism and snark.  Here are two examples of what I believe is completely invalid criticism:

Invalid Critique #1:  “Liking” a Facebook status is “not enough,” and the kids who participate on this level are shallow.

This is a two-parter.  The first critique to the movement comes in the form of a not-so-gentle reminder that it takes more than internet activism to make actual change.  To the people who pose such an objection, I have a few things to say.  First, at the risk of sounding obvious, didn’t you watch the video?  “Liking” the Facebook status is part of the first step:  Spreading awareness.  That leads to government pressure, which leads to American intervention, which leads to Ugandan military success, which leads to capturing Kony.  Remember the dominoes, people!

But really, this criticism is not about the dominoes, but about disdain for “clicktivism” as a whole.  “Clicktivism” is online activism.  It includes such “surface” actions as tweeting a few lines or “liking” a status about some social cause.  The objection to clicktivism is that such actions are pretty lame, ultimately meaningless, and that they give a false sense of satisfaction to their participants. I understand these objections because I used to feel the same way.  My mind was enlightened, however, by these wise words from a friend, Ryan Dement.  I read them in a note he wrote on Facebook in October, 2010.  The whole note was great, but in the following paragraph, Ryan addressed the criticism that clicktivism is too easy.  Here is what he had to say:

 The biggest critique of clicktivism is that it’s way too easy to ‘like’ a facebook page and do nothing else. That real activism is strangled by the useless gesture of a click that assuages guilty consciences just enough to prevent them from enacting real change. This argument always sounds great when I hear it. but the more I think about it, the less it makes sense. 1.) The person who does this, the person who clicks and walks away, is not the person who would drive to D.C. for a modern day march on Washington. People do however much they feel that they should. Or can. The person who cares enough to retweet one link or news story cares exactly that much…There are good arguments for whether or not they should or can do more. But despite that: they decide to click, to tweet, and stop. The clicking didn’t keep them from greater activism. in fact, the ease of social media probably incited them to do that little bit, more than they would have otherwise. 2.) This least amount of effort isn’t useless. The internet works in trends and memes, and adding that one tweet-drop of exposure to a social issue has a positive effect.  Even if someone glances over it, makes a programmed decision not to read, care, or think about it, and moves on, that decision to dismiss occurred, where it would not have otherwise. Thus increasing the frequency in which people are consciously thinking about the issue. Certainly not glamorous, but not useless either.

I completely agree.  What gets me is that the people who criticize the “small” actions of “liking” a Facebook status are probably not tweeting their objections while on their plane ride to Uganda.  In fact, there is a good chance that the objectors to the smallness of Facebook “likes” are doing even less.  I’m not hatin’, and I definitely think there is a call for circumspection here.  But why must our first reaction to do-gooder idealism be to try to cynically stamp it out?  There are so many better reactions to have.

This is the second part of Invalid Critique #1, and to me, it is even more ridiculous.  Yeah, maybe most of the people with Kony 2012 pictures all over their Facebook page didn’t care about Ugandan kids yesterday.  That’s probably true.  But…that’s because they didn’t know about Ugandan kids yesterday.  That’s how information works.  You don’t know something, and then you learn about it, and then you know it.  It’s called a starting point.  I wasn’t born caring about poor kids in Nashville.  But when I got to Youth Encouragement Services in college, I learned about them and started caring about them.  I can’t imagine what my response would have been if, while I was all fired up about Y.E.S. kids, someone came up to me and said, ‘Tell me more about how you’ve always cared about poor kids in Nashville?”  As if my new-found compassion didn’t count because it was new.  Seriously?  That makes no sense.  Yes, the cynic in me would acknowledge that most of these “activists” are going to move on from this cause in a couple of weeks.  But who cares?  Isn’t it good that they are being introduced to issues beyond their own little worlds?  And even if 5% or less actually continue to fight for the poor and oppressed, that’s 5% who might not be doing so otherwise.  Everyone has to start somewhere.

The Nashville example brings me the second invalid criticism of this movement.

Invalid Critique #2:  “We” should not worry about Africa because “we” have too many problems here.

Ah, yes, the question of “we.”  In Lee Camp’s brilliantly frustrating book, Mere Discipleship, he gives a little litmus test in order to determine the American Christian’s ultimate loyalty.  The test is simply a question of “we”:  when you speak generally of “we,” who are you talking about?  Is “we” the church, the kingdom of God?  Or is “we” America?  Whichever “we” is, that’s the group with which you most identify.  It’s the group that claims your ultimate loyalty.  I’m not sure that the test is entirely fair, but it definitely made me think.

The “we” in this second critique is America.  I know that because the kingdom of God is in Africa, too.  So “we,” the kingdom of God, have some problems in Africa, and over there, “our” people are suffering.  And thus, “we” should do something about it.  See, you can use the Bible to justify putting the weak and oppressed first, and you can use it to justify putting Christians first, but you cannot use it to justify putting a particular nation first.  That last one is not a Biblical argument.

Now, perhaps it is valid to point out that loving your neighbor should not be an either/or scenario.  Perhaps we should remember that we are also called to love our next-door neighbor, as well as our African neighbor.  Perhaps we need the reminder that it is often easier to love the people whom you can’t see than it is to love the people who are actually a part of your life.  And perhaps we could use the pragmatic counsel that God might want us to work where we could do the most good, and that there is a greater chance that we could do good in our own surroundings.  I agree with all of those points.  But I certainly don’t think that we have to choose one or the other, local or foreign, as worthy of our time.  And I certainly don’t believe that everything in America has to be perfect before we care about anyone outside of America.

In the midst of the cynicism and invalid objections, however, I think that some really good questions have been raised. I have a few myself:

  • Who, exactly, are the group, Invisible Children, and are they the best people to handle this Kony thing?
  • If for me, “we” is the church, then why should I want “we” the American government to handle this?
  • Is military intervention the best solution?
  • Is the Ugandan government as corrupt as I’ve been hearing?
  • What important information about this situation do I not know?
  • Could Invisible Children’s plan do more harm than good?
  • What does God want me to do in this situation?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do think that they are the right questions.  I think Kony is a madman, and I can’t imagine that Africa would be anything but better without his presence.  But I also don’t want to ignorantly forge ahead, riding a wave of self-righteous idealism and make the situation worse.  So for now, I’m educating myself and praying.  I did a fair amount of googling, until I found Rachel Held Evans’ very helpful post, “Some Resources on the Invisible Children Controversy.”  It has tons of links to different perspectives and thoughts from people way more informed on the matter than I.  I would definitely recommend perusing through the links in this post if you are interested in learning more about the situation with Joseph Kony.

I’ve thought a lot, though, about what I would tell my kids, if they were teenagers who were caught up in this surge of internet righteousness.  How would I direct their passion without stamping it out?

I think I would start by rejoicing over their concern for others.  Then I would assure them that their compassion was pleasing to God and confirm that all children are equally precious in His sight, no matter what nation they are from.  Next, I would show them how to educate themselves in order to be equipped to do the greatest good.  And then we would talk about it.  And pray about it.

And then we would do something about it. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________So what is your opinion of Kony 2012?

Be a Force for Good

I was sick the month of January.

It’s February 1, and I’m still sick.

I tell my class that one day they will get to meet Healthy Kim, and I assure them that Healthy Kim is a delightful person.  Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I’ve been on death’s door the whole time.  Rather, I seem to be on an alternating course of a semi-healthy congestion-and-cough stage, which inevitably transitions into a feeling-like-I’m-going-to-die phase.  After a few days of the latter, I will resolve to Go. To. The. Doctor….but then I’ll start feeling better.  Unfortunately, during my feeling-like-I’m-going-to-die phase, my house begins to look like I have, in fact, died, and that I’ve left it with no one to take care of it.  Greg does his best to pick up the slack, but in between his full time job and taking care of the kids while he is home, there’s not a lot of time for deep cleaning.  The result is that on days like today, following a feeling-like-I’m-going-to-die stage, my house looks like a bomb went off in it.  The downside of the carnage is that I do not have the energy to whip it back into shape.  The upside is that the chaos allows me to meditate on what it means to be a force for good in this world.

See, when I walk out of my bathroom, and see a piece of laundry on my bedroom floor, my instinct is to pick it up.  When I do pick it up, however, only to see fifteen other pieces of laundry strewn across the floor, my instinct is to drop the piece of laundry back onto the floor and simply exit the room.  My reasoning is, “I am way too tired to pick up all that laundry, so why should I waste the energy to pick up one piece?  One less piece of laundry on the floor makes no difference in the big picture; the room still looks trashed.”  And then I walk into the kitchen and have the same experience with the dishes, and I move into the playroom and repeat the reasoning in the midst of all the toys.  Finally, I tend to sit down on the couch, defeated, and check my Facebook.

Thankfully, I’ve found a line of reasoning that works on my overwhelmed and exhausted mind in times when the chaos of life threatens to overtake me.  Instead of making any kind of definite goals (actual levels of productivity being well beyond my capabilities in such compromised states), I simply tell myself to

“Be a force for good.”

In other words, don’t worry about the mess.  Don’t worry about the chaos.  Don’t think about the effort it would take to get this room cleaned.  Simply do something that will help the situation, not hurt it.  And so, as I pass through the kitchen, I will move one coffee cup from the table to the sink.  Just one cup, and I won’t even load it in the dishwasher.  And then I’ll tell myself, “Good job, Kim!  You were a force for good!”

(Yes, I actually do this.)

And then when I go to rest a second on the couch and find that there’s no room on it, I will tell myself, “Rather than push everything into a big pile, hang up that one coat, which will clear you some room.”  And I hang it up, and I congratulate myself again.  It goes on like that for awhile:  I do little, insignificant actions that don’t make the house look any better, but that make me “a force for good.”  See, even though I don’t see the results, I know that I made a little difference in the dynamic of my house.  Instead of causing chaos, I brought just a smidgen of order.

What inevitably happens is that my tiny actions start to change my mindset.  Gradually, I will be a force for good no matter where I walk in the house.  At one point, I may even decide to make a bed!  Or unload the dishwasher!  Or fold a load of laundry!  The hardest part is to get the ball rolling.  Once I start to move, however, I gradually become more and more of a consistent force for good.  But when I first survey the carnage, it is almost impossible for me not to fall into despair.

I have the same reaction when I survey the chaos of the world.  When I start to think of all the broken lives around me (not to mention those around the world)…and I begin to contemplate the amount of effort it would take to get involved in just one…and I begin to comprehend what a drop in the bucket all that effort would ultimately amount to….my temptation is just to say, “Forget it!”  And walk away.  Step over the piece of laundry, and exit the room.

I don’t think I’m alone in that temptation.  I know that, for example, whenever I talk about trying to buy fair trade chocolate, the most typical reaction I encounter is of the overwhelmed soul who sees fair trade chocolate as the 15th piece of laundry on the floor and wonders what the point is in picking up that one.  And just as it seems ridiculous that I cheer myself on when I move one coffee cup to the sink in the midst of a disastrous kitchen, it seems strange to people to choose one product to avoid, when there are so many other “bad” ones out there.  To such people, I just want to say,

Be a force for good.

If fair trade chocolate doesn’t ring your bell, then find out what does.  Or better yet, ask God where He wants you to start.  The bottom line is that once you start being a force for good, however tiny, your actions will eventually transform your mindset.  You begin to identify yourself as that positive force, and your new-found identity will start to run over into other aspects of your life.

In the end, the world may not be transformed…but your life most certainly will.

How are you a force for good?

Chocolate Update and Confession

Greg and I recently decided to try to start buying fair trade chocolate, a conviction I blogged about here.  A couple nights ago, Greg asked me if I had read about Nestle partnering with the Fair Labor Association to investigate the use of child slavery in its supply chain.  He really didn’t have to ask:  if it wasn’t featured on the front page of Yahoo! news or my friends’ blogs, then the answer was no.  I hadn’t heard.

After his heads-up, I read several articles about the agreement, and while it seems like good news, it also seems from my “research” that these companies have a history of making promises without backing them up with action.  So we’ll see.

Besides some healthy skepticism, my impromptu investigation of Nestle’s claims led to a couple of different emotions in me:  it made me feel kind of warm and fuzzy about the populist power inherent in capitalism, while also arousing strangely competitive feelings against Great Britain.

Regarding the first emotion, look, I know capitalism has its problems.  That said, there is something uniquely empowering in the ability to affect the decisions of a corporate juggernaut with the use of (a whole lotta people’s) measly little dollars.  It reminds me of the thrill that my kids got at the Science Center the other day when they used a lever and pulley system to lift up a car.  As Jack Sparrow would say, it’s just “a matter of leverage.”  Yes, fair trade chocolate has a long way to go, but just look at how far fair trade coffee has come!  When my hippie husband broached the idea of buying fair trade coffee a few years ago, I couldn’t find it anywhere, and on the rare occasions that I could physically locate the mythical bag, it was outrageously priced.  Now, you can buy fair trade coffee at Wal-mart and Target, and it’s honestly not that much more expensive than regular coffee!  We can do this, guys!  Power to the people!

Secondly, though, must Britain always beat us to the punch on the slavery issue?  I keep thinking about William Wilberforce, whom I conveniently picture as Ioan Gruffudd, and not this guy:

File:William Wilberforce.jpg

Gruffudd’s movie reminded me that Britain voted to abolish slavery in 1833, while the U.S. lagged some thirty years behind (and wasn’t there a war involved or something?  I forget).

And their annoying moral superiority still goes on today, people!

Did you know that Nestle already sells a fair trade Kit Kat bar in Britain?  And it’s not like Kit Kats are some little rinky-dink candy over there:  they are the best-selling chocolate bar in the UK!  And Cadbury also has a fair trade line of chocolate that they sell in Britain.

But do they sell the fair trade Kit Kats in the U.S.?  And for that matter, does Cadbury sell fair trade chocolate in the States?  No, and no.

Why?

I confess that I haven’t fully investigated the disparity, but I can only imagine it’s because they know we don’t care.  We. don’t. care.  Because if we did, we wouldn’t buy them, and then they’d have to sell us something we would buy.  It’s quite simple, when you think about it.  And so now, I’m feeling competitive.  We’re America, dang it!  We are proud of our morality, our Christian heritage…unlike those pagan Europeans!  (Sarcasm.)  Did Bradford call England the “city on a hill”?  No, he called America that.

So…why are we still behind?  

Well….probably because we (read: me) are not so awesome at sticking to buying fair trade chocolate.  Oh, we can do the chocolate chips and the cocoa mix, and we don’t really buy chocolate bars anyway…but we (okay, I!) have two downfalls.  One is M&M’s.  I don’t buy them for myself (for real–I really don’t buy candy just for the heck of it), but I did “need” them for my gingerbread house party and for SANTA bingo with the Y.E.S. kids’ Christmas party.  In retrospect, I could have probably used some substitutes, but I was in a hurry and not thinking creatively.  Really, there’s no excuse, but I’m not as concerned about the errant M&M’s because they were for unique circumstances.  What really bothers me is the brownie mix.

In my house, we always have three or four boxes of brownie mix.  Because of the nature of Greg’s job, we usually have people over to eat about once a week, and brownies are a really quick, easy dessert to throw together.  Plus, they often go on sale, buy-one-get-one free, and there are tons of coupons.  Cheap, simple, delicious.  There’s just one problem.  It recently occurred to me (like, today, when I was unloading my four boxes of Ghiradelli brownies from Publix) that brownie mixes have chocolate in them.  And I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that the chocolate is probably not fair trade.

*Exhale*

Now, that will require a lifestyle change.  (Seriously, we love brownies that much!)

I often have to reorient my gaze to the big picture (CHILD SLAVERY!), and remind myself that I really am committed to being more responsible with my measly dollars.  But now, you gotta help me out.  It would be so great if I had some good, quick, easy, cheap, non-chocolate-laden dessert ideas to replace my brownies.  I need the kind of thing that most guests would like and that I could throw together easily when we are having people over.  In fact, that’s going to be my ending question:

Do you know any desserts that fit my criteria?  This is important, people (and I’m only sort of joking)!

I will leave you with this for inspiration (I couldn’t find any clips like I wanted, so I had to go with the preview.  And full disclosure:  I may have a penchant for cheesiness):

“If there is a bad taste in your mouth, you spit it out.”

I agree completely.

My Kind of Materialism

In some ways, I can honestly say I am not very materialistic.  When I see huge houses or fancy cars, there is not the smallest part of me that would want one.  You could give me a huge house, but unless you also give me a maid service to clean that thing, I’m not interested!  And that’s just it:  stuff makes life more complicated, and I don’t need any extra complications in my life.  Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I live by spartan standards.  At the same time, though, I just don’t have an inner desire for a ton of stuff.  I don’t often think, “You know what would make this situation better?  Going out and buying something.”  Oh, and that might be a part of it, too:  I hate spending money.

It would be easy, then, to think of myself as non-materialistic.  But I’m really not.  I just have a different type of materialism:  instead of things, I like experiences.  It sounds better, doesn’t it?  When I seek experiences, I feel more like I’m embracing life instead of just amassing junk.

Here’s the thing, though:  experiences come with a price tag, too.

Case in point:  My mom spoils my kids like crazy.  It’s not always a bad thing, but during one of our visits this summer, I did talk to her about easing up on the random trips to Toys R Us with the kids.  I told her that if she wanted to spend money on them, why not take them to do something cool, rather than to buy something?  For example, what about the Georgia Aquarium?  Luke loves aquariums, and it would be a great learning opportunity for both him and Anna.  Mom readily agreed, and a few days later, we headed off for a day of fun at the aquarium.

Friends, can I tell you how much that day cost?  Now, my mom didn’t cut any corners, but let’s just say, she could have gone to Toys R Us every day for a week and not spent as much money as the aquarium cost!

Or take our experience last week during Thanksgiving break.  Luke was so excited to have three days off of school, and he was even more excited that his cousins were coming in town Wednesday morning.  When they couldn’t get on their flight, the kids were disappointed…and we suddenly had a huge, empty day in front of us.  We wanted to make the most of Luke’s vacation from school, and so we thought, “Why not go see the Muppets movie?”  The four of us hadn’t seen a movie in the theater in a long time, and Greg loved the Muppets growing up, so it seemed like a great family activity.  As a special treat, we even told the kids we’d get popcorn.

Yeah.  Bad idea.

The movie tickets cost us $34, and that was a matinee!  The popcorn was $8, and a small bottle of water was $4.75.  Holy.  Cow.  The cashier handed me my $13 popcorn-and-water combo, and asked if I wanted a receipt.  “Nope,” I said as I put my card back in my wallet, “I don’t want any record that this ever happened.”  Besides, believe me, when I go to do my budget, I’m not going to see $46.75 spent at Regal Cinemas and think, “Hmm, what was that?  Is Regal Cinemas some kind of charity I donate to?”  I will remember what that was.

While I stood at the concession counter, with my gargantuan container of popcorn and tiny bottle of water, apparently taken from the fountain of youth, I began to be afflicted with a curse that strikes me from time to time.  It is a curse I like to call, Knowing What the Bible Says.    Apparently, there is a little section of my brain that spends all of its time filing away inconvenient parts of Scripture and then spitting them back out at me at inopportune times.  Things like, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires,” or,  “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me,” or  “Among you, there must not even be a hint…”  You know what?  I’ll stop there.

Anyhow, my annoying, Bible-spitting brain chose this moment to offer up the Parable of the Talents.  You know the one:  the king gives his servants money and then comes back and judges them for how they use it.  The good servants make their money into more money,and the bad one just buries his in the ground.  We rightly interpret the message as pertaining to more than just money, but I think that money is definitely one of the resources to which it applies.  So anyway, here’s how the internal dialogue went from there:

Brain:  Parable of the Talents.  Think it over.

Me:  [Thinks]  Oh man, I’m not even burying my talent in the ground!  I’m squandering it on wild living, like the Prodigal Son!

Brain:  Hmm.  Something to think about.

Me:  Oh, come on!  I’m so sure the prodigal son spent his money on the moral equivalent of a Muppet movie.  This is family time!

Brain:  Family time for $50?  When your kids would have honestly been just as happy with renting a movie from Redbox and making some Pop Secret at home?

Me:  Going to the movies is not morally wrong.  Hush, brain.

Brain:  “From whom much is given, much is expected.”

Me:  Dang it!  I hate that verse.

This one is my brain’s trump card, and it reminds me of it regularly (again, usually at the most inopportune times).  If God’s expectations are proportional to the blessings He has given me, then, man…He expects A LOT out of me!

Anyway, I told my brain to shut it, and we went to see the movie.  It was pretty good, and we all had a pleasant enough time.  I do believe that building up your family and spending quality (and quantity) time with them is Kingdom work.  Even with that in mind, though, I’m not sure that our little movie-going experience would survive a cost-benefit analysis.  The cost was disproportionately high to the enjoyment we got out of it, especially considering the alternatives that would have been significantly cheaper and just as effective.

My movie angst, while a fascinating story in and of itself (tell me you weren’t riveted), is noteworthy because of the larger question it raised in my mind.  It is a question with which Greg and I wrestle very often:  how does God want us to use our resources?  I believe that God gives us everything we have in order to be used for His glory, and while there are no hard and fast rules precluding leisure time (have I mentioned how much I love watching movies?), I do believe that every expense we make as Christians has to be weighed in the light of eternity.  Maybe that sounds a little too deep…but I think that it’s true.  Greg and I even struggle with how much God would want us to spend on things that we know are good things–things like education for our kids or family time–when we have a sneaking suspicion that God would want us to do even better things, like helping His people who need it.  And honestly, I think that the struggle itself is good.  Maybe you are reading this and thinking that I completely overanalyzed the whole movie situation, and you might be right.  However, I tend to believe from reading the New Testament that if you are not wrestling with how you spend the resources that God has given you, then you may need to reexamine the gospel accounts.  Maybe it’s just me, but they kick my tail every time I read them!

In closing, I will share yet another quote that convicted me during the Muppets incident.  It is from C.S. Lewis, a man with whom I apparently have a passionate and tempestuous relationship (more to come, by the way).  Regarding the use of our resources for God’s kingdom, Lewis speculates:

“I do not believe that one can settle how much we ought to give.  I’m afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.  In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.  If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them.”

Based on those words, our movie experience would not have passed the Lewis test, much less the Kingdom test!

So, I guess the obvious question to end the post is,

How did you like the Muppets movie?:)

(Oh, and if you want to add something about using your resources for God’s kingdom, that’d be cool, too.)

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?  

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