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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:

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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, ,

Greed isn’t sustainable.

I came across this insight over on the Sojourners Blog the other day:

“Major institutions have crumbled, markets have failed, and trade has ground to a halt. And many would argue that the crisis highlights something bigger: the failure of an ideology.”

– Andy Clasper

Could this economic crisis really signify the failure an entire ideology? If Andy is talking about our cut-throat, every-man-for-himself brand of capitalism, I think he may be right. In fact, I hope he is.

Right now, our economic ideology is to look out for yourself. Give yourself the biggest advantage you can. Do whatever it takes to get promoted, stay ahead of the curve, get paid more. Money is the lifeblood of our culture. It not only keeps our economy fluid, but serves as the primary gauge by which we judge the success of a person, and the overall happiness of ourselves.

I think this ideology has been the Achilles’ heel of our economy. If you think about it, almost every reason why our economy collapsed – lending crisis, foreclosure crisis, excessive risk on Wall Street – can be traced back to human greed.

Maybe it’s the recession, and maybe it’s just because Drea and I are generally strapped for cash, but I’m beginning more and more to see the value in the way my grandparents’ generation lived. I still don’t quite buy the “I had to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow” bit, but maybe our grandparents were on to something. I get the impression that they lived in a healthier society than ours. People cared about each other’s well-being, about the common good of their communities. They also lived within their means. No credit cards, no instant gratification. If you wanted something, you had to wait until you’d saved enough money to buy it. (What a concept!)

Hopefully something as large-scale as this recession will make us realize that a greed-driven ideology isn’t just ungenerous, it’s also unsustainable. President Obama wrote the following in an op-ed released yesterday in anticipation of next week’s G-20 meeting in London:

“We cannot settle for a return to the status quo. We must put an end to the reckless speculation and spending beyond our means; to the bad credit, over-leveraged banks and absence of oversight that condemns us to bubbles that inevitably bust.”

There’s obviously a lot of work and backpedaling to be done, but it’s good to hear that the President doesn’t view this recession as a glitch in an otherwise good system, that he recognizes the need for a fundamental rethinking.

As a nation and as individuals, I hope we come out of this mess with an enhanced confidence in two things: moderation and community. Moderation because certain luxuries are worth giving up for the sake of being able to sleep at night. I’ll take living in a small house and eating cheap meals over “the finer things” anyday if it means not having to stress about money. And community because, well it’s just better than trying to get by on your own (as Solomon would attest).

As bad as this recession seems right now, it might be just the kick in the pants we need in order to pursue a more sustainable ideology.

Filed under: Current issues, ,