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Just clean up the damn spill

Image courtesy of NASA

Here’s my logic: if an oil company is engaged in off-shore drilling, surely they’d consider the possibility of accidents like the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon. Surely they’d see the potential dangers of drilling for oil under 5,000 feet of water. Surely they would have some sort of tested protocol or procedure to follow in a disaster scenario. Surely there would be a Plan B and Plan C in place in case those procedures failed.

Apparently not so with BP. Now six weeks after the spill, and with no end in sight to the gushing oil, BP’s inexcusable lack of preparedness is in plain view. In their exploration plan for this particular oil well, BP repeatedly asserted that “it was unlikely, or virtually impossible, for an accident to occur that would lead to a giant crude oil spill and serious damage to beaches, fish and mammals.” (Full story here.)

I might give BP a break if not for the company’s repeated attempts to convince the rest of us that it’s not a big deal — from CEO Hayward’s description of the spill as “relatively tiny” compared with the “very big ocean”, to instructing news media not to publish photos of dead animals. I’m compelled to wonder how they can expect to so brazenly B.S. people (what with these pesky viral videos and everything).

It’s one thing to have a freak accident, but it’s another to have a preventable tragedy that claims human lives, destroys a natural environment, and puts thousands of people out of work — all because of lack of corporate and social responsibility.

My plea to BP: Stop making excuses, stop downplaying this disaster’s severity, and clean up your damn spill.

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Filed under: Current issues, , ,

Water Walk

A few weeks ago, I came across some pictures of an event in Nashville called a Water Walk. It was organized by Blood:Water Mission, an organization that builds wells in Africa to alleviate the water crisis there. The idea behind this event seemed pretty cool:

From B:WM website:

From Dallas to Chicago, Phoenix to Nashville, Blood:Water supporters have had the opportunity literally walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  These “Water Walks” have offered advocates an invitation to take part in one mile and back walks to collect water in their own cities. These walks are based on the recognition that every day, thousands of young Africans must hike miles a day just for access to water. Furthermore, children whose daily chore it is to collect water are often left with no time to attend school. On top of the heavy loads and certain risk of illness from drinking contaminated water, it is estimated that over 40 billion work and school hours are lost every year in Africa to the act of fetching clean drinking water.

By joining in solidarity with people in Africa, walking the distance to their nearest natural water source (like a pond or stream) and back to bring back water, people have walked for water so someone else won’t have to.  However small this gesture may be, for many it has been a galvanizing and implicating experience, bringing our understanding of our neighbor one mile closer and our love, perhaps, one mile stronger.

Anyhow, seeing the photos of the Nashville walk made me think it’d be cool to have one here in DC. So after a little email back-and-forth with the people at Blood:Water, we’re set to go to for a water walk in June! Should be pretty low-key, probably just a couple dozen or so folks. If you’re in the Washington, DC area, I hope you’ll join us!

Details:

  • Saturday, June 26, 2010
  • 6pm
  • National Sylvan Theater (15th and Independence SW)
  • More info at the Facebook event page

Filed under: Current issues, , , ,

27 million slaves

More children, women and men are held in slavery right now than over the course of the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade.

– International Justice Mission website

Drea and I have a friend from college who spent six months in the Philippines last year working with IJM, an organization that fights modern-day slavery. I had the privilege of being on Alan’s email list during the time he was there, and was more than once moved to tears from hearing about the horrible realities of slavery and child sex trade that are taking place in the Philippines. Alan was involved in some amazing work; he was able to use his previous business experience and education to help find employment and job training for women who’d been rescued out of slavery. He’s now back in the States, working towards a Masters in Public Administration so he can continue working in the human rights field. Alan is, quite frankly, the man.  His testimony for the Lord has been an extraordinary blessing to me, and has challenged me to become more informed about injustice in our world, and how my being a Christian has everything to do with it.

I mention all this because today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. It’s true that there are 27 million women, men, and children — more than the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade — who are enslaved around the world right now.

Maybe even more horrifying than that statistic is the fact that many of us are more connected and complicit with human trafficking than we might realize. We endorse and sustain the practice of slavery by buying products from companies who use sweatshop labor or otherwise deny their employees the right to a fair wage, or even their personal freedom.

My understanding of human trafficking is unsophisticated at best, but I’m trying to learn more, particularly about what practical steps can be taken by us normal folks to put an end to it. President Obama has proclaimed January 2010 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. What better time than now to consider ways that you — and we — can help end an injustice that has gone on for far too long? Simple awareness is a great first step.

If you’re interested in digging a little deeper, I’d heartily recommend Eugene Cho’s blog, specifically these posts:

•••

I thought and re-thought about posting this today, based mainly on my desire for this blog not to become a place for guilt-mongering or excessive soap-boxing. (There’s enough of that out there already.) I know this is an uncomfortable topic, but I’m motivated/haunted by Desmond Tutu’s exhortation: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I don’t take that to mean having to upend your entire lifestyle for the sake of supporting a cause; I think it just means knowing what side of history you stand on, and standing firm.

Filed under: Current issues, Faith, , , , , , , ,

Trojan horse?

In trying to get a read on the controversy surrounding President Obama’s scheduled speech to public school kids next Tuesday, I’m left more than a little confused. From what I gather, the speech is supposed to be about the importance of education and staying in school — seemingly pretty innocuous stuff, right? But we’re hearing all these reports of people fearing that Obama has an underlying intent to “brainwash” kids with a “socialist message”.

Granted, I generally support Obama and I also don’t have kids, so thinking about this requires an extra degree of objectivity for me. But I think if I had school-aged kids and George W. Bush, for argument’s sake, was still in office and planning to give a speech to my kids about education (and assuming he hadn’t announced plans to also discuss the merits of, say, torture or preemptive war doctrine in his speech), I really think I’d be okay with it. Although I disagreed with many of Bush’s policies, I don’t believe he was, or is, an evil man. Similarly, I assume that most conservatives employ sufficient acumen to disagree with Barack Obama — even passionately — without assigning him the title of “evil”, “antichrist”, “socialist”, etc.

Barring some sort of dark, elaborate conspiracy by the White House to use a speech on education as a trojan horse to convert American kids into Nazis, I think when Tuesday comes, most of us will be wondering why such a big deal was made of this.

Filed under: Current issues, ,

“Let’s Disagree Over Things that are Real.”

So we all don’t agree on health-care, or “Obamacare” as it’s become pejoratively known. That’s fine. But it is too much to ask for those who dissent to do so peaceably and legitimately? Over the past several weeks, my RSS has been barraged with reports of some of the more desperate measures being taken by conservative activists to thwart progress on the health-care front — ranging from Sarah Palin’s ludicrous insinuation of an Obama “death panel” denying coverage to seniors and mentally disabled children, to the “regular Americans” protesting violently at town hall meetings who turned out to be a part of a Republican PR campaign. There have been claims that health-care reform will include abortion funding, kill grandmothers, and place us on a highway to socialism. Some have gone so far as to compare Obama to Hitler.

It’s a shame because there’s potential for some really productive dialogue here, but every half-truth and intentional distortion propagated by those like Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, etc. is a self-inflicted blow to the credibility of the conservative perspective of this discussion (which does in fact have some legitimate points to consider). Their argument that health-care reform needs to be considered more carefully is lent a distinct irony by these decidedly careless statements.

President Obama seemed to clear the air a bit in his town hall meeting in Portsmouth yesterday, in which he seemed specifically intent on fielding questions from skeptics. This is the kind of dialogue we need — legitimate concerns being raised, an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the concerns, and clear, straightforward answers.

Yes, health-care reform is a weighty proposition with major implications; it should be considered with utmost discretion and thoroughness of consideration. It is for this reason that we should be vigilant in making sure we’re receiving news and commentary from legitimate sources, and keeping any arguments within the realm of reality. As the President said yesterday, “Where we do disagree, let’s disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that’s actually been proposed.”

Filed under: Current issues, ,

Book review: “Religion Saves”

I first heard of Mark Driscoll in Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz. (Miller playfully referred to him as “Mark the Cussing Pastor”.) While I hear he’s toned his language down a bit, Driscoll is still a famously outspoken and controversial pastor and author. His church, Mars Hill, is a “theologically conservative and culturally liberal” congregation in Seattle. Driscoll also co-founded the Acts 29 Network, a church-planting group.

When I heard through our blog friend Kate McDonald that LitFuse Publicity Group was doing a “blog tour” of Driscoll’s new book Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions, I decided to hop on board. I love reading and exchanging thoughts on books, and I figured this would be a fun way to share my thoughts, and to find out a little more about Driscoll.

Religion Saves is essentially a series of loosely related sermons in written format. Driscoll tackles nine of the most frequent questions asked by Christians today — ranging from predestination to birth control to the emerging church — and devotes one chapter of the book to answering (or at least providing insights to) each question. While he ties the nine questions together with the theme of the misconception that “religion saves”, the chapters obviously cover a wide range of topics and could easily be read independently of one another.

Before we dig in, I have to say that I had a hard time writing this review. To begin with, the book’s configuration as a series of mini-expositions on various topics makes it difficult to discuss as a whole. (As such, I’ll attempt to reflect briefly on each chapter.) Secondly, I have mixed opinions of Driscoll and his views; I found much to heartily agree with and much to humbly disagree with in this book. And thirdly, I don’t claim expertise on any of these topics, so I share my thoughts with that disclaimer.

•••

Question 9: Birth control. Extremely helpful as an introduction to the different kinds of birth control, and their implications for the Christian belief in human life’s sanctity. I think Driscoll employs unflinching directness and gracious tolerance where each is appropriate.

Question 8: Humor. Easily (and fittingly) the funniest chapter in the book. Driscoll is a master of understatement and witty sarcasm, as evidenced by his indiscriminate jabs. (Nobody is exempt; he makes fun of liberal environmentalists, redneck NASCAR fans, goody two-shoed homeschoolers, and guys with bad breath.) He also draws interesting insights on humor in the Bible, and its place in the Christian life and even the pulpit. I agree with Driscoll in that given our common state as sinners, we all need to take ourselves less seriously and learn to laugh at each other’s (and our own) shortcomings.

Question 7: Predestination. Essentially a defense of Calvinist/Reformed theology, with surprising generosity toward Arminians. A useful introduction, but I still remain unconvinced of either “side” of this issue as an essential Christian doctrine. I believe both in God’s foreknowledge of who will be saved, and in our free will in either accepting or rejecting Him. I only consider this a contradiction in the sense that the coexistence of predestination and free will is too large and complex an idea for me to get my mind around. The presence of both entities in Scripture and in my personal experience makes possible my faith that God’s design is cosmically perfect in its inclusion of both, however imperfect my understanding of it makes it seem.

Question 6: Grace. Driscoll presents this as the most difficult Christian doctrine for him to accept. (I’m the same way; the idea of a perfect God extending grace to a people who are chronically ungrateful for it is beyond me.) It’s a beautiful discussion of the word “grace” itself, as Driscoll highlights the multitude of different types of grace that God sends our way. If we ever erroneously perceive grace only as God’s initial forgiveness of our sin, Driscoll helps us to see that this is only one of many heaps of undeserved blessings for every stage of life and faith.

Question 5: Sexual Sin. A hard look at the perversion of sex that characterizes our culture. While he doesn’t mince words about the sinfulness of some of our practices, Driscoll spends considerable time on the psychology, and even spirituality, of sex. He sheds light on the root problem of sin that causes sexaul perversion, as opposed to reverting to the near-hysterical rebuking and callous judgement typical of many Christian leaders when discussing sexual sin. There are worthwhile insights to be found here, ones I hadn’t previously considered.

Question 4: Faith and Works. In addressing the delicate interplay of faith, works, and salvation, Driscoll echoes J. I. Packer’s discussion of the doctrine of regeneration — that is, we are saved not by good works, but for good works. In this light, it makes even more sense that you can’t have one without the other.

Question 3: Dating. I’m married, so pshh, I don’t need to read this. (Teachable heart fail.) I actually learned a lot from this chapter. The history Driscoll provides on dating/courtship over the last hundred years is helpful. When we hear grievances against the dating practices of “these young people nowadays”, it’s usually from older folks who wish things could be like they uesd to. Driscoll’s relative youth might remove suspicion of generational arrogance as he implores his fellow young people to date wisely. He’s old-fashioned on this topic, and I’m with him. (Yes, the male should pursue the female. Yes, he should be clear in stating his intentions to her.) He also mentions the opposite dangers of legalism and free license in the context of dating, which is helpful as well.

Question 2: The Emerging Church. This was the chapter I was most intrigued to read. Turns out it’s one of the most helpful conservative perspectives on the emerging church I’ve come across. Namely, it’s even-handed and fair — dispensing praise and deep concern where each is due. Because of Driscoll’s previous involvement with emergent leaders like Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren in the 1990’s, we can infer that he has enough personal experience to draw informed conclusions. His commentary is well-researched and organized, and especially helpful in its differentiation between missional/house churches and emerging churches.

Question 1: The Regulative Principle. I had no idea what the regulative principle was until I read this chapter. Turns out its about worship — specifically, Driscoll says, about “how we should worship the God of the Bible”. He introduces us to two prevailing schools of thought regarding Christian worship: the “green light” normative principle (“worship services must include all the elements that Scripture commands and may include others so long as Scripture does not prohibit them”) and the “red light” regulative principle (“worship services must include all the elements that Scripture commands or that are a good and necessary implication of a biblical text, but nothing more”), and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each. He tells us a little about how his church, Mars Hill, worships — specifically their urban location, missional philosophy, inclusion of technology and social media in their services, and value placed on faithfulness to Scripture. He closes the chapter with a plea for unity in this area, recognizing that whichever of the camps you’re in is less important than doing what the Bible says, and not doing what it prohibits.

•••

Driscoll’s style and general point of view are unique, hard to categorize, and will probably offend just about everybody at some point or another. Conservative evangelicals won’t like his cynical jabs at Christian subculture; progressives and emergents won’t like his traditional Calvinist leanings or inerrant view of Scripture. He writes provocatively and to-the-point, which is refreshing in a sense; there are no trite, churchy clichés to be found here. His tone could be percieved as flippant or self-righteous if not for his frequent admission of his own sin. This is also refreshing, and lends legitimacy-bolstering sincerity to many of his arguments.

My main gripe about this book is its general ambience. We’re all familiar with the comparison of human brain types: left vs. right, objective vs. subjective, rational vs. creative. I would assert that engaging both types is useful and beneficial to Christian faith, and particularly Christian instruction. After all, what good is knowing doctrine without allowing yourself to be moved by it? Conversely, what good is the emotional awareness of a Higher Being without knowing anything about Him? Thinking about Religion Saves in this context makes me realize it is a very left-brained book. It’s full of propositions and assertions to be accepted or rejected. The goal seems to be to educate and persuade, not necessarily to stir or inspire. If both left- and right-brained approaches are worthwhile, the latter is noticeably and regrettably absent. While I think Driscoll makes some good points, I can’t say that this book was a particularly enjoyable read. I just didn’t find his writing style particularly engaging; at times it felt a bit like reading a textbook.

Admittedly, I may be asking the unreasonable; I’m not exactly sure what a right-brained approach to this book would look like, given its stated intent to address specific questions in an organized and systematic way. It is what it is. Your satisfaction with the things you learn or experience in this book will depend on your expectations. If you’re looking for a page-turner or something to appreciate for its literary value, this wouldn’t be my first choice. But I think anyone wishing simply to learn more about these specific topics will find this book helpful.

* Be sure to read other people’s reactions to Religion Saves on the blog tour at LitFuse!

Filed under: Books, Current issues, Faith, Funny, ,

God shed His grace on thee

On this day 233 years ago, we told England we’d had enough. I think it’s cool that we’re generally friends with the British now, but I like thinking about how back in the day, we pretty much told them to take their colonial governance and shove it.

I can imagine Thomas Jefferson and his homeboys drafting and signing the Declaration of Independence, surely anticipating the reaction when they FedEx’d it over to England. (“Dude, King George is gonna be pissed.”) The document’s title alone — “Declaration of Independence” — is so brazenly audacious that it’s almost kind of funny. Like, it’s not as if they asked permission to be independent. They just declared it — like it was already a known fact. Like, “Hey England, the sky is blue, cows make milk, dogs bark, and also, you’re not in charge of us anymore.”

Independence Day — such a fitting name. The idea of being on our own, answering to no absolute human authority, but deciding how we will govern ourselves, or if we will govern ourselves at all. Barack Obama is our leader, not because his daddy handed him the reins, or because he took authority by force, but because we chose him to be our leader. If in four years we decide we don’t like him anymore, we can choose somebody else. How incredible is that?

I’m not very patriotic; I don’t think the United States is “the greatest nation on earth”, nor do I believe we have some special VIP deal with God where He’s on America’s side no matter what we get ourselves into. I can’t stand those “JesUSAves” bumper stickers. And I don’t believe America is some irrefutable beacon of truth and democracy that will never be extinguished.

But I will say I think ours is a great country, and I am dang grateful to have been born here. Yes, I’ll protest where I think our country is doing wrong, but it’s actually in my protest that I testify to just one of it’s brilliant virtues — free speech. And that’s just one virtue. My ability to fight a traffic ticket, travel freely across state and international borders, protest our elected officials and vote for new ones, earn a decent living, drive on orderly and safe roads (except of course the Capital Beltway), worship Jesus and talk openly about him to others — these are things I take for granted on a daily basis, and I forget too often that many people in our world (most, in fact) don’t enjoy these liberties.

So here’s to all those intrepid souls who founded this country and had the foresight to form a governing system that serves the people, not controlls or smothers them. We’re far from perfect, and we’ll never be perfect, but we have much — much — to be thankful for.

Happy Fourth!

Filed under: Current issues,

Unimaginable.

I’ve been hearing the news about the riots in Tehran over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection over the past few days, but recently seeing some photographs of the protests has invited a little more personal reflection on the situation (for lack of a better, less insensitive word) in Iran.

(For those unfamiliar, the short story is that Ahmadinejad’s victory was a slap in the face for supporters of reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose platform called for more social justice and freedom of expression, and a healthier relationship with the West. The protests in Tehran are the result of suspicion that Ahmadinejad’s “reelection” was a sham.)

Marches, riots, both violent and nonviolent protesting. Should I be happy? Angry? Hopeful? A proper reaction eludes me, besides being simply dumbstruck. It’s not easy at all to look at the faces in these photos, the emotions, knowing that this brutality is being endured as we speak to actual people.

He was surrounded and pleading for them to stop but six men with clubs, batons and metal rods kept battering a young Iranian man with ruthless force. The swing that keeps replaying in my head was the black baton that smashed the man in the skull behind his left ear.

Seconds earlier the man had dared to stand up to the baton wielding men because they had shoved a 14-year-old girl. For his chivalry he got one of the most savage beatings I have ever seen at the hands of four Iranian riot policemen and members of the Baseej, Iran’s plain clothed volunteer militia.

“To hell with Iran,” he said as he sat beaten and battered along the sidewalk. “This is not my government. This is not my country.”

A grown man who watched the beating burst into tears.

CNN witness report

Unimaginable. To struggle this hard, to endure such brutality for your own freedom is an alien concept to me. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have had your dignities and freedoms trampled on so excessively that you, like this Tehran man, simply can’t take it anymore.

I don’t have any conclusions or definitive points to make about the election or its legitimacy, only to say that people fighting for their freedom is a profound thing to watch and reflect on.

Here are a few of the aforementioned photos from Boston Globe:

Courtesy Boston Globe

Courtesy Boston Globe

The rest of the images can be seen here.

Filed under: Current issues, , ,

Book review: “Three Cups of Tea”

I finally picked up Three Cups of Tea after hearing such great things about it from family and friends. This is the true story of Greg Mortenson, an American mountaineer who stumbles into a remote Himalayan village after a failed attempt to climb K2. Grateful for the kindness and hospitality of the villagers of tiny Korphe, Pakistan, and moved by the poverty and lack of education available there, Mortenson promises to return to Korphe and build them a school.

The book recounts Mortenson’s quest to build the school — his return to the States, striving to raise funds, living out of his car, learning about Pakistani culture, networking with people who share his vision. Without any prospective investors in his school, he sends dozens of individually type-written letters requesting funding from famous people he thinks might be interested — Tom Brokaw, Oprah Winfrey, etc.

After finally finding an investor, silicon transistor pioneer Jean Hoerni (who suppplements his $12,000 donation with a personal instruction to Mortenson: “Don’t screw up”), Mortenson gets the go-ahead to start work on the school. Returning to Pakistan, he hits a few roadblocks: the near-impossibility of transporting building materials through the perilous terrain around Korphe, the high costs of sturdy materials that will withstand Himalayan winters, the opposition from conservative Muslims to the idea of educating girls. But with the grant money from Hoerni and the help of his Pakistani cohorts, and after many detours along the way, Mortenson reaches his goal of building the Korphe school.

And the rest is history.

Just as intriguing as Mortenson’s transition from mountaineer to humanitarian is the perspective this book provides into the Islamic world. While Mortenson has his share of encounters with the anti-American extremism that plagues the area, he finds much to value in the peaceful Muslims he interacts with. Mortenson sees that despite their poverty and relative “backwardness” to American ways, the villagers have much to teach him about the importance of community and a simple life. Most of the villagers, in turn, see in Mortenson a defection from America’s reputation for arrogance and disrespect toward Muslims. The knee-jerk stereotypes (i.e. all Muslims are jihadists; all Americans are culturally illiterate demagogues) are beautifully deserted.

After 9/11, Mortenson’s school-building quest takes on new meaning. From his perspective as a American intimately familiar with Pakistan, we’re granted a unique vantage point on the war on terror, and the vital long-term role that education can play. It’s brilliant, really. Mortenson observes how much terrorist organizations recruit the uneducated rural poor of Pakistan and Afghanistan, building radical madrassas and brainwashing the kids to become terrorists. Mortenson “competes” with the madrassas by building schools where the kids can get a quality, well-balanced education. He believes in fighting terrorism not with reactive (or preemptive) violence, but with pursuing education and literacy, particularly for girls, as he’s often quoted:

“You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads or put in electricity, but unless the girls are educated, a society won’t change.”

Three Cups of Tea is co-authored by Dalid Oliver Relin and Mortenson himself, with Relin as the ghostwriter through which we see Mortenson’s emotions and personal experiences. This being the first such biographical/autobiographical hybrid book I’ve read, my biggest complaint would be that the writing feels cumbersome and incohesive at times, particuarly when we’re whisked back and forth from objective history-telling to Mortenson’s emotions.

Literary awkwardness aside, I thought this book was fantastic — compelling story, faraway places, adventures of every kind, true tales of goodness. The fact that Mortenson (who’s been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize) is able to promote peace in such a hostile place is remarkable. No doubt he put himself in unnecessary danger at times and dealt with personal weaknesses along the way, but his story is classic heroism — a climber’s endurance coupled with unrelenting compassion.

I loved this book; I’m actually kind of sad to be done with it. (That’s how you know a book is good.) Here’s hoping you go buy it right now.

Now, I said — do it!

Filed under: Books, Current issues, ,

Made in Cambodia

Last weekend I drove up to Bowie to buy some shirts for work. As I wandered through Sears, I found what I was looking for: some nice, classic solid colored polos, for only like $8. As I picked one up, I noticed the tag: “Made in Cambodia.”

I checked the tags of some different brands: Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia. In looking around some more, I found that just about everything in the Sears men’s section was manufactured in a Third World country – probably in a sweatshop. (I did check later and learned that Sears ranked dead last in responsible labor/human rights issues compared with other department stores.)

It’s no secret that many big retailers use sweatshop labor, and as one who saw this as injustice, I had always been theoretically “against” it. But I guess it occurred to me for the first time last weekend that I was essentially funding this injustice by buying clothes from those kinds of stores, and that I could actually do something about it.

Whatever it is that makes people with relatively easy lives less sensitive to the world’s problems, I’ve apparently got a bad case of it. Derek Webb’s words come to mind: “Poverty is so hard to see when it’s only on your TV or twenty miles across town.” Or in my case, standing in a nice, clean shopping mall in the suburbs. But poverty was there in that polo shirt tag, staring me in the face.

At that point, I was just plain angry. I don’t know what pissed me off more – the fact that Sears (and they’re not the only ones) had concocted such an fine-tuned sales pitch to tranquilize our sense of social responsibility for the sake of low prices, or the fact that I’d bought into it for so long. In any case, a light went off; I realized that everything I’d been reading recently about world crises could be transferred from thought to action right then. I knew that not buying a shirt there wasn’t going to change the world, but I was pretty mad at Sears at the moment, so I walked out empty-handed, suppressing the urge to find the manager and let him know why I wouldn’t be shopping at his store anymore.

Our youth group used to have one of those cheesy brightly-colored banners you see in middle school classrooms. It said, “What’s right isn’t always popular. What’s popular isn’t always right.” Maybe it’s because it was displayed at youth group, but I’ve always associated this phrase with adolescence, that period of life where you’ll do nearly anything to be affirmed and accepted by your peers. While most of us at some point get over the popularity obsession, opting instead for personal peace and sanity, I wonder if this proverb still has meaning for adults? Perhaps if it was tweaked to say, “What’s right isn’t always efficient. What’s efficient isn’t always right.”

A young husband of average means, money is constantly on my mind. I only make so much of it, and naturally I want to use it as efficiently as possible. This generally means Drea and I buy clothes only when needed, and we try to buy cheap. But this weekend I reached a point where I had to confront the question of what my financial convenience was worth. Was being able to buy cheap polo shirts at Sears worth the price that others have to pay? Does a convenient lifestyle justify the means required to sustain it?

So, determined to take some kind of appropriate action, I’ve been reading up the past couple days about sweatshops and/or outsourced labor, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Not all outsourced labor is bad. There are companies who use overseas labor, but do so responsibly and ethically, paying fair wages and providing safe working conditions.

In extremely poor areas, working in a sweatshop is actually better than other viable alternatives. From Wikipedia:

It is also often pointed out that, unlike in the industrialized world, the sweatshops are not replacing high-paying jobs. Rather, sweatshops offer an improvement over subsistence farming and other back-breaking tasks, or even prostitution, trash picking, or starvation by unemployment. This is the case since most under-developed countries have weak labor markets.

Makes sense, but it necessarily invites the question of what an ethically-minded company would do in this situation. I would think they’d have two options:

  1. Offer local workers a slightly better alternative than begging, prostitution, or starving to death. Since they have nowhere else to go, freely pay them as little as desired, or don’t pay them at all. Retain workforce by threatening even greater abuse if they try to leave or form a union. Turn a grand profit.
  2. Recognize that you could go with Option 1, but in the interest of decency, pay workers a fair, liveable wage. Provide a safe working environment even though the country’s government doesn’t require it. Depending on how many people you can employ, maybe even reduce local crime by providing a sustainable livelihood for a portion of the population. Since cost of living is so modest compared to the US, your company still reduces costs by employing foreign workers.

I’m no expert on this stuff, and maybe I’m oversimplifying the issue, but it seems to me that companies who outsource labor to poor countries basically do one of these two things, or maybe a little of each.

There’s great potential for reform. One of the most helpful resources I found was this web page at Green America that provides an overview of sweatshops – why they exist, what everyday people like us can do to fight them. I think our nation is beginning to realize how universally destructive some of our consumption habits are, and what we can do to reverse the trend. I also can’t help but sense that God wants to save us from the self-defeating systems our collective sin has trapped us in. To think of the redemptive good He can do through and in us…

So this is me officially hopping on the bandwagon; I need to kick it up a notch on buying responsibly. I’m going to start off small – no more sweatshop-made stuff – and go from there. Heck, I already voted Democrat in the election, bought us a Prius, and – damn it, I don’t care if it is $45 a carton – organic milk just tastes better. I should’ve seen this coming… 🙂

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