How Sweet It Is! Feeling Better about Hershey.

You kind of have to hand it to Americans. We can turn anything into a reason for consumption. The journey from a day honoring early Christian martyrs to the World’s Largest Inflatable Heart is by no means direct.

But whatever. Chocolate is yummy.

Anyway, I wanted to take this Valentine’s Day to remind you of the problem of child slavery on cocoa plantations. It’s real. It’s bad. But encouraging signs are appearing…

Hershey’s recently released an announcement that by the end of 2012, 100% of the cocoa for their Bliss line of chocolate will be Rainforest Alliance Certified–meaning that the production of this cocoa will meet third-party standards for environmental protection, social equity and economic viability. Additionally, Hershey’s has promised to invest $10 million in West Africa for various educational and development initiatives intended to improve the lives of cocoa workers. (Beings that they netted $510 million in 2010, that’s not a lot, but okay.)

There’s still farther to go–Bliss and Dagoba represent a mere fraction of Hershey’s brands, which include York, Mounds, Almond Joy, LifeSavers, BreathSavers, Reese’s, Heath, Jolly Ranchers, Mauna Loa, Scharffen Berger, Twizzlers, and many more. They could do more. We can do more.

It’s movements like Raise the Bar, Hersheys! that raised awareness enough to put pressure for these small changes. Now, an eighth-grader from Philadelphia, Jasper Perry-Anderson, has created a Change.org petition to petition the trustees of the Milton Hershey School to put pressure on Hershey to take more pointed measures at ending child labor and human trafficking in the plantations from which they source ingredients.

Why not sign the petition? It’s kind of the least we can do.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

If You Love This Land of The Free–Disagree, Disagree

Whenever I write a post–whether for this blog or another–I always have an inkling of what kind of response it is going to get. Posts on poverty, hunger, AIDS or something Bible-related that has nothing to do with gender roles will get minimal responses. Posts on Victoria’s Secret, eating disorders, or sex, on the other hand, well, you know.

It’s kind of a joke among my fellow writers. The more sensational, the more pageviews and comments–a virtual law of the blogo-twittersphere.

But when I wrote a piece pointing out that “masculinity” is not a fixed concept and that there is no good reason–Biblical or otherwise–for John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Douglas Wilson, or anyone else–to press men and women into “traditional gender roles” and call this “Biblical” or “Christian,” I was unprepared for some of the responses that came my way.

  • you’re going to hell
  • you don’t really believe in Jesus
  • you’re in rebellion
  • you’re stupid
  • you need to be ‘straightened out’
  • you’re trying to grasp authority that’s not yours
  • etc.

Being disagreed with so strenuously, being ‘put back in line’ or simply told off is not something I’m used to. I’m a pretty conciliatory person. There’s a part of me that likes a good debate, but a bigger part of me that just wants to get along. If we disagree strongly on, say, some point of theology or some political position, I’m much more likely to want to talk about anything else just so’s we can not argue.

However, sometimes the stakes are such that I can’t avoid an issue for the sake of a superficial ‘peace,’ or to ensure that people keep “liking” me. I look to Dr. Martin Luther King on this one. Remember his letter from Birmingham Jail? The pastors who wrote to him–well-meaning, of course–urged him not to make waves, create discord, to wait.

But justice too long delayed is justice denied. The time for acting, for speaking, is almost always now.

And the ‘peace’ that comes from ‘not arguing’ is sometimes just a silencing cloth covering injustice.

Yet this does not mean that we have to be, well, mean.

I realized something last week: I can disagree, discuss, yea, argue, with the people I love very best in this world, with none of us doubting the others’ love or even assuming ill will. Why is that?

  • Is it because, from the very outset, we want to move to a place of concord?
  • Is it because we want to know what the other thinks, and why, so that we can understand where they are coming from?
  • Is it because we will love and respect and accept and live with each other even if we disagree?

This country was founded upon some powerful ideas.

One of them being that we are not a monoculture, religiously, politically, or otherwise.

We can disagree, two Americans, and still both be Americans.

We can disagree, two Christians, and still both be Christians.

We can disagree, two friends, and still be friends.

As Pete Seeger sang/said, “I may be right, I may be wrong […] but I have a right to sing this song! (Isn’t that the great thing about America? You have a right–to be wrong!)”

Fun fact: law in 17th century Maryland prohibited the use of the words “Papist” for Catholics or “Roundhead” for Puritans. Because them’s was fighting words, and that’s not what this New Country was ever supposed to be about.

So if you love this land of the free–feel free to disagree. But not in such a way that casts one of us out.

In a way that makes it possible for us all to be in.

Can I ‘eat with joy’ while my neighbor starves? (Part 3)

This week we’ve been considering this question:

Is it better simply not to know about the suffering that takes place due to poverty and hunger a world away?

As we saw in the stories from history–the Russian famine of 1921, the epidemic of cholera in Naples in 1911–knowing has a certain power. Concealment, coverups–orchestrated ignorance–never helps.

But while knowledge is a necessary first step, it is not a final step.

Consider:

Herbert Hoover read about the Russian famine and then implemented relief efforts.

A person who has learned facts about HIV/AIDS must then do something [e.g. safe sex] to prevent its spread.

Mosquito nets really help against malaria, but they don’t protect you unless you use one.

William Kamkwamba learned how to generate electricity from a textbook. And then he worked really hard to make one.

But he probably couldn’t have done it without the textbook. It had to be there first.

So then. What about you? What about me?

I’m pretty sure that knowing the needs of the least of these is itself an act of righteousness. But what can we do?

Four ideas to start with:

1. Get the facts and share the facts

Pretty self explanatory, no? Spend some of your online time reading about events in the majority world, including famines and epidemics of eradicable diseases like malaria and cholera. Tweet about them. Post about them to Facebook. Cultivate a genuine concern for your global neighbors. Consider that your coffee, your chocolate, your coconut, your vanilla come from places of extreme poverty; from the hands of people who likely live on less than $2 US per day.

Sometimes I find that reading blogs from places of extreme poverty has a specificity that shakes me out of the dulling effect of broad-brush profiles of poverty. A number of years ago I discovered Joanne’s ‘Babycatcher’ blog–about her experiences as a midwife in Malawi–and couldn’t forget her intimate, firsthand accounts of the effects of poverty on maternal-fetal health.

2. Remember the poor in your prayers

I really believe that praying for people connects us to them in an intimate way. Pray for the people you read about. It is not for nothing that you have encountered them through their stories. Pray for them.

3. Fast (or something like that)

There are many ways to fast in honor of the poor. Some people are able to fast completely for one day per week, some fast for one meal of each day, some fast from meat on given days–in each case laying aside the money they would have otherwise spent on food to give to hunger relief and sustainable development programs.

When I was young, our youth group did the World Vision 30 hour ‘Famine.’ I think there is something powerful in actually participating–however artificially or symbolically–in the experience of hunger.

For some people, full fasting is not a good idea. If disordered eating is part of your story, fasting is probably not for you.

But there are other ways to ‘fast.’ You can practice voluntary simplicity in your cooking and eating in a way that will not deprive you nutritionally but that will help you feel a solidarity with those for whom simplicity is no choice at all.

(The More with Less cookbook is a great resource for such cooking.)

I believe such things are more than symbolic, even if what you can contribute monetarily is a pittance compared with the size of the problem you hope to address. Eating in solidarity with the hungry can change you.

what one boy did for one pair of shoes...

4. Cultivate gratitude for what you have

And this is related to everything we’ve talked about above. For me, the perfect antidote to greed is gratitude and contentment. Oh, that doesn’t happen easily. But when I find myself lusting after some great shoes or something, I find it helpful to stop and consider the shoes I have already. And how those shoes are perfectly good. And how many people have none. And so on.

Same thing at dinner. Do you realize that what you and I eat on a daily basis would be like a once-a-year feast to many, many people in the developing world?

Give sincere thanks to God for what you have.

Gratitude eradicates greed–and makes room for joy–

for you, and for your neighbor.

What else can we do?

Discovering Hugo (and you.)

Usually I really don’t care what movies are nominated for/win Oscars unless its so that I can scoff that the Academy is full of nonsense and that their choices just stink.

At the same time, though, a nomination usually means that the film will be seen by more people. And I certainly hope that will be the case for Hugo.

I was first introduced to the story by my son, who loves Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret–a unique novel “in words and pictures,” upon which the film is based. More than illustrations, the pictures that make up more than half the bulk of the book wordlessly advance the plot–an homage, of sorts, to the silent films that play an important role of their own in the story. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Hugo was a better-than-usual book-to-film adaptation–there was something of film within the book already.

The film was not disappointing at all–and I’m delighted that was able to see it on the big screen, where it comes alive under Scorcese’s able direction, Robert Richardson’s stunning cinematography, and Howard Shore’s (of Lord of the Rings fame) haunting and beautiful score. (All three were nominated for Oscars for their respective contributions, and the film was nominated for Best Picture.)

Hugo is also surprisingly, richly theological in some surprisingly Christian ways. I hate reviews that give away substantive facts, but suffice it to say, it is about creativity, it is about vocation, about redemption and grace in the unlikeliest of circumstances. It is about communicating, reconciling, remembering, community-forming love.

All without being the least bit ‘preachy.’

So I’ll be preachy, just for a second: go see Hugo!

And if you’ve seen it/read it, please do share your thoughts below!

These are a Few of Life’s Crappiest Things! (Reading Ecclesiastes)

Did you know that this blog got its name more-or-less straight out of a Bible verse?

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t catch that; it comes from Ecclesiastes, which, being a frequently-neglected book of the Bible, is, naturally, one of my favorite books. (I enjoy rooting for underdogs.)

While some writers and preachers like to say that Ecclesiastes is all about how bleak life is without Jesus, it seems to me that the little book pretty well sums up many of the crappiest things about life:

1. Where there ought to be justice and righteousness, there’s injustice and wickedness.

2. Even if you’re strong, beautiful, brave, ambitious, and rich, you’re going to get painfully feeble and old, and, eventually, you’ll die. And, by the way, you can’t take all your stuff and money with you.

3. Everything people do can, much of the time, be chalked up to pride and competitiveness.

4. Rich people just can’t ever get enough money. They always want more.

5. It’s not the most deserving, or strongest, or wisest, or most knowledgeable people that get the recognition. Time and chance have everything to do with that.

6. More knowledge is usually a depressing thing.

So, yeah. Any of these could’ve come from a blog post or op-ed written, well, yesterday, but they’re from this funny little Ancient Near Eastern book that’s part of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scripture.

By now you’re wondering what all this has to do with the title of this blog. Well, there’s this refrain (of sorts) throughout Ecclesiastes that goes something like this:

There is nothing better for a person than that she should eat and drink and find enjoyment in her work. This is from the hand of God,  for apart from God, who can eat or have enjoyment?

Because here’s the thing about eating: obviously it’s not the most important thing in the world–aren’t things like doing justice, working hard, loving God, loving neighbor, taking care of your family much more important?

Well yes. And no. Because if you don’t eat, you can’t really do anything else. It’s easy to miss this in an overfed culture, but “give us this day our daily bread” is talking about the literal stuff that keeps you alive & kickin’.

Yes, life is marked with death and sadness and injustice and unfairness and depression and general crappitude.

Yet. Yet–

This world is still a beautiful place; there “lives the dearest freshness deep down [in] things.” There is love, there is laughter, there is community, communion, companions–there is the joyful, jovial fellowship around the table and thousands of things to delight our senses.

And food is one of them, a delightful necessity. A chance to nourish others, to be nourished ourselves, and to taste just a hint of God’s goodness.

So, yes. Death and greed and decrepitude and turpitude and all manner of crappiness. And still the ancient Preacher says:

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart.”

Yes. Life is more than food. But in this life where little makes sense, food and wine are a spot of grace and goodness—

God’s love made edible. And delicious.

Moment by moment, sustaining us by grace.