The Rusty Nail in the Velvet Glove: Aligning my Actions and Ethics: Part 2

publicstock.net-rusty-spikes 800x530

In my last post, I talked about how our system of production is currently built upon cruelty, suffering, and exploitation, and how that suffering is intentionally hidden from us consumers. I call this the rusty nail in the velvet glove. Or, to borrow a phrase from Rich Mullins, “the mask of life I had placed upon the face of death.”

The Apostle Paul himself probably said it best (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

14 And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds. (NRSV)

Things that are otherwise or basically good can become elements of evil if they are corrupted, or if they become ends of themselves … which is what happens when you have massive corporate interests involved. Companies don’t generally make the Fortune 500 by caring about who they hurt on the way up.

Lawyer, theologian, and social activist William Stringfellow wrote an incredible book on this, Imposters of God. (I wrote about it a few years back). Bascially, Stringfellow considered idolatrous and twisted good things (patriotism, careerism, even church-ism) to be the current and active face of evil – of the devil – in the modern world.

I can’t argue against that, but I would add to that list of devils the hidden evils we participate in without really even knowing it.

So let me try in a small way to pull away the mask that has been “placed upon the face of death.” The videos about animal abuse are all pretty hard to watch.

This is the image Hershey’s chocolate likes to show you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAw_BmRLiDY

This is where the cocoa in that chocolate comes from:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ns6d6rGnfo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHDxy04QPqM

This is what the pork industry wants you to see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_UDq9tpX0w

This is how those pigs spend their short lives:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T48yOYjz5sk

This is Hormel’s “Spam America,” which attempts to link Spam to artistry and innovation

https://vimeo.com/138027963

This is “The Unauthorized Spam Tour.” Be careful what you eat.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AEzOnk3ZBk

The “Bacon Brothers” singing about the “quality protein” of an egg breakfast

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9a9Ixfg2q1g

The life cycle of a battery-cage chicken

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p83JoTxUZZg

Oh, look. It’s a talking cow. Doesn’t she sound happy about milk?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xdPfnZynEw

Non-CGI dairy cows … not so happy milk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzS8p727gvM

And it doesn’t stop at public relations. Industries have worked hard to influence congress and state legislatures: the livestock industry alone spends millions of dollars each year influencing elections.

That spending paid off, because just last December Congress and the President gave them a brand new, shiny present: relaxed labeling requirements that make it almost impossible for the consumer to know where the meat they buy comes from, how it was slaughtered, and so on.

Livestock industry political action groups have even attempted to pass “ag gag” laws across the US and around the world, which make it illegal to film animal abuses at processing centers.

They’ve succeeded in six states, including Idaho, whose law was inspired by a viral Mercy for Animals investigation of Bettencourt Dairies, which led to the arrests of multiple farm workers. Yup, the abuse was real and illegal, but rather than fix the problems, the response was make a law to hide them.

Rusty nails in a velvet glove. Mask of life over the face of death. Satan masquerading as an angel of light. Throwing the rock and hiding your hand.

A lot of money is riding on this. Real power is working night and day to make sure we don’t understand the damage we do.

The last thing I want to do is to make the average person reading this feel guilty. We’re not the ones perpetrating cruelty and exploitation, and we’re not the ones covering it up. We’re the ones being lied to, being brought into it deceitfully.

If you want to give up all chocolate you can’t be sure wasn’t harvested by slaves, do it. If you want to become a vegetarian, or even a vegan, do it. But in our culture, these are hard things to do. Because powerful people with lots of money have made them difficult.

The main reason I’m writing these posts isn’t to convince you, but to remind me. My biggest weakness is a lack of follow-through. I start things strong, but then fall away in time. But I’m making this public, so I can look back and remind myself why I’m doing all this … and so that y’all can call me out if I backslide.

Nobody should feel like I’m condemning them for what they have for supper. I’m not.

I’m condemning the Cattlemen’s Association, Hershey’s, Cadbury’s, Nestle’s, and Mars. I’m condemning lobbyists and the politicians they rent.
Sure, some people genuinely don’t care. But most don’t know. And of the ones who both know and care, some, maybe most, aren’t yet at a point where they’re ready to make major changes. Like I said, powerful people have spent a lot of money making us a part of this, hiding it from us, and making it hard to exit.
But if you’re feeling it, start by pushing back just a little.
Find a few vegan or vegetarian recipes (I’ll post some here, in time) and have one meatless day a week. Or, if you’ve got a family that wouldn’t be on board, give yourself one cruelty-free meal a day, like breakfast.
If you’re not at a point where you can walk away from the major chocolate companies (which all use slave labor), look in the chocolate aisle in your local grocery and or supermarket and see what they have. Maybe you could find something with a Fair Trade label, or a responsible company like Lindt, that would satisfy your sweet tooth.
If nothing else, you can pass the information along. Go to Stop the Traffik and see the little things you can do (email, petitions, etc.) to help end slavery in all industries.
If everybody did one little thing, it could make a big difference.
Advertisements

First, Do No Harm: Aligning My Ethics and My Actions in a Disconnected World

I posted a few Mondays ago that I’d mostly moved on from theological blog posts … well, it turns out I was wrong.

Sure, a lot of the questions I was asking back then are things I’ve settled now, but one big one has arisen: How do I be moral and righteous within an economic and industrial system that is heavily built upon cruelty, exploitation, and oppression?

I’m still wrestling, just with slightly different angels.

I’m struggling to figure out how to align my actions with my ethics in modern America. Most of the things we do to survive, or at least live, seem to be built upon the suffering of others. And that suffering is deliberately concealed from those of us on the consuming end of the equation.

I’m not talking about historical injustices or atrocities, but  ongoing suffering and death, here and now. The kind I can either contribute to or help alleviate.

  • The meat, dairy and egg industries are horrific for the animals and (to a lesser extent) the workers.
  • Overfishing has put the health of entire oceans at risk.
  • Global warming is real. The oil companies and their pet politicians and pundits have spent a lot of money convincing people it isn’t, but I trust actual climate scientists more than lobbyists.
  • Hunger is still an issue around the world, and drinking water is an even bigger issue (even here in the U.S.)
  • Worst of all, a large but hard to determine, number of everyday items include components that were made by literal slaves.

The food in my belly, the clothes on my back, the shoes on my feet … someone suffered for all that. It’s easy to ignore. It’s easier to ignore than it is to learn about, because the men with the money want it that way.

As the old song says, they “you can throw that rock, and hide your hand … but what’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.”

So now that I’ve seen this particular light, what can I do?

I really want to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. How can I passively inflict this kind of damage? How can I cynically make this kind of mess for other, poorer people to clean up? Or for my daughter and her future children to clean up?

Out of sight, out of mind.

Jesus always sided with the underdogs, the outsiders in society (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”).

When he railed against sin, he was always speaking to the powerful, whose sin was oppressing and exploiting others, usually by making them into outsiders and declaring them unclean.

He never accepted second-hand cruelty. When the system was cruel, he rebuked the system. When the respectable, “moral” people were callous, he called them out.

He called me out.

We’re good at being good, when that just means being nice to the people in front of our faces, paying our taxes, and giving some money to charity from time to time. But I have a hard time believing that that is all that matters.

No matter what you believe religiously, we all stand under judgement. We can’t escape the things we do. Even if there were nothing beyond our mortal material existence, our actions still exist. They are as inescapable as gravity and entropy.

If my lifestyle is having real consequences on other people, don’t I need to change it?

Yes, I do.

Yes, I will.

And I hope that maybe I’ll inspire a few more people to join me. Over the next couple of days, I’ll be following this post up with more detail on the harm that we do, harm that is being hidden from us, and with what I’m personally doing to try to eliminate, or at least ameliorate, this in my life.

I hope you’ll join me.

Twelve-Word Tuesday: Viridian Design

On Twelve-Word Tuesdays, I introduce a concept, piece of media, or other thing I want to comment on, then sum it up or review it in Twelve Words (hence the name). I’ll link to the original source material, if applicable/possible, and to some more detailed analysis of it, again, if available.

This is something I can do quickly, yet still add some value of my own, beyond just being an aggregator.

I got the idea for Twelve Word Reviews after watching the first two episodes of Game of Thrones, a show that both Katherine and I found too dark and brutal for our tastes (though the production was well-done). I summed up my reaction in twelve words, “Horrible people doing horrible things to each other. With cussing. And nudity.” And while I know that’s a bit of an oversimplification of a well-loved and award-winning series, the concept stuck.

So, back to Viridian Design

“Choose high-quality versions of the things you use most. Minimize the rest.”

Bruce Sterling details his philosophy of Viridian Design in “The Last Note.” Unfortunately, Sterling took the “viridian” part a little too far in his web design, and the article is terribly hard to read (black text on a green background? Really?).

But have no fear. Open the page in Firefox, choose “View,” then “Page Style,” then “No Style.” All that green background mess will go away, leaving a nice, clean, legible page.

Viridian design involves (and attempts to integrate) minimalism, sustainability, and quality of life. You can read more commentary at Lifehacker, “Rethink Your Stuff: What to Splurge On, What to Toss,” and GreenBiz, “Viridian Design and Rethinking Our Relationship with ‘Stuff.’

This video, “The Story of Stuff,” covers some of the same general ground as Sterling. Minimalism as a concept fascinates me, because it is the very opposite of my own tendencies.

Although I’ll probably never actually undertake minimalism per se, I do like the Viridian ideal of getting quality versions of the things you actually use frequently and getting rid of the things you just sort of have but never seem to use.

 

Does ‘Treasures in Heaven’ mean a Church Savings Account?

As good Christians, we praise thrift and hard work, earning and saving. Do we sometimes go so far?

Jesus told a parable that may apply.

16 And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive.

 17 And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 

18 Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 

19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ 

20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 

21 So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

– Luke 12:16-21 (NASB)

I know we have to take care of our families, that is clear. And it logically follows that as churches, we should handle our finances carefully, too.

But do we go too far sometimes?

I especially wonder why some churches have a year’s worth of expenses (or more) squirreled back, and give only a pittance to poor relief each month. Granted, this is probably better than being mortgaged to the hilt, and unable to afford to help people, but is it really Jesus’ ideal?

I’m not advocating consumerism, borrowing money to build huge, super-modern Church buildings, paying celebrity pastors six figures, and generally reveling in our American bling. I can’t see any justification for that, honestly.

But might our focus be just a little bit off? Might our thrift be impeding our generosity?

I guess I shouldn’t raise these sorts of questions without at least trying to give some kind of answer.

And my answer is: a church’s finances should be guided by their situation and by prayerful consideration of how to address that situation, always keeping in mind that doing good is more important than looking good, and that true security comes from God, not a fat bank account.

Growing churches sometimes have to borrow money to expand. I don’t think it’s ever good for a church to be in debt (see Proverbs 22:7), but sometimes a church might have to do it. Sometimes borrowing money might even be a leap of faith.

However, I’ve personally been a part of two churches that experienced splits/mass defections (before I got there) over building big new buildings on credit. In both cases, many of the most vocal proponents of the expansions ended up leaving, even though the expansions happened.

I wasn’t there, so I won’t pretend to know anybody’s motives, but it wasn’t an ideal situation. Honestly, it was more of a minefield. It certainly soured me on churches borrowing money.

As for the other extreme, I see nothing wrong with a church saving up large sums for major expansions or needed renovations. It’s better than borrowing, if the church can do it.

And as for general savings, I think a church should have enough money saved back to weather an emergency (whether that’s unexpected repairs or an economic downturn that reduces giving), but not a death spiral.

If a church enters a period where its incoming offerings are consistently falling behind its costs, there’s a deeper problem. Maybe membership is declining. Maybe the church became too dependent on a few large donors, and one of them has gone. Maybe there’s major inefficiencies in how the church spends its money.

In any case, something needs to be addressed. And the real problem will get addressed faster if the church doesn’t have a year’s operating expenses sitting in the bank waiting to be drained.

Ultimately, a church that doesn’t interact with the community, that hoards its resources while ignoring the needs just outside its well-manicured lawn … that church is missing a great opportunity, like the rich man and his barns.

On Black Friday, I’m Thankful For…

Thank You

Photo by VistaMommy, Creative Commons

The things that money can’t buy:

* The love of my wife

* The daughter we have “on the way”

* The freedom to NOT get up at 5 am and rush the sales

* Friends I can rely on, including my church family

* Parents I love dearly, who love me dearly, and who raised me well

* In-laws that I love, not hate!

* A wonderful extended family

* Most of all, for the love and grace of our Triune God: a Heavenly Father, a Messiah Son, and a Holy Spirit

I’m also thankful for the things money can buy, things so many in the world don’t have:

* Clean water

* A steady supply of food (more than I need, by far)

* A house that’s safe and sanitary

* Indoor plumbing

* A nation that’s not a war zone, torture state, or dictatorship

* Vaccinations and modern health care

I’m thankful that my daughter won’t face a tooth-and-claw struggle to survive her first year. I’m thankful that U.S. infant mortality rates are low, instead of 25-50%, like some people face.

I’m thankful that organizations like World Vision and Kiva give me a chance to help people who don’t have what we have.

Is That Why They Call Them “Possessions?”

Cluttered Basement by Tom W. Sulcer

“Clutter in Basement” by Tom W. Sulcer.
Luckily, I don’t have a basement. If I did, it would probably look like his.

When I think about how much stuff I have, it boggles my mind.  The third bedroom in our house is my “office,” but it’s more of a storage room.  Time after time I go in there to clean it out.  I start strong, but quickly run out of steam.

Getting rid of stuff is hard.  It’s incredibly energy-intensive to sort through stuff and get rid of what you don’t really need.  Incredibly energy-intensive.

If not for Katherine, my wife, my whole house would probably be this bad.  As it stands, the chaos is largely contained to … my room.

Time after time I go in there with full hopes of redeeming the space, of separating the wheat from the chaff, of making the room useful and beautiful again.  And time after time, the stuff beats me.

If I were truly free, truly strong, I would have no problem going in there and winning that fight.  If my priorities were in order, my office would be, too.  But they’re not, and it’s not.

I wonder if that’s why they call them “possessions,” because they own me more than I own them?

Sold! (Wrestling the Angel of Consumerism)

X-Box 260

This is my X-Box. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My longtime friend Paul, a preacher, responded to my last post, and I think what he had to say was important.  He pointed out that it’s not just the ministers that are responsible for consumerism and massive spending in American churches.  In my experience, he’s right.  Sure, there are the occasional music ministers who spend $10,000 in lighting for a Christmas musical for a church with 250 members.  But most of the time, it’s actually the congregation that controls the purse strings.

It’s the congregation that votes “yes” on gaudy church palaces.  It’s the congregation that says “yeah, let’s spend $5 million to move from the city center to the ritzy suburb.”  They’re not saying “we have no responsibility to this city or to the poor,” well, not out loud, but their actions sure look like it.

[I hadn’t actually meant to imply that it was the preachers’ fault, but I can certainly see how it looks that way.  Using the term “ecclesiastical bling” was probably my main mistake.  It serves me right for putting an attempt at wit above accuracy:  that path leads to Ann Coulter territory.]

The truth is, we’ve all been soaking in consumerism our entire lives.  Even the 116 year old woman can’t remember a time when producers sought to fill needs, rather than manufacture wants.  Newspaper ads as far back as the 1890’s sold health and beauty aids of various types, using loaded language to make people feel insufficient without the products.

Of course, the media of transmission and frequency of contact have increased.  With smart phones advertisements can reach us even when we’re not in front of a television.  And their message is, uniformly, you are not good enough without our products.

The truth is, we’re all so deeply permeated by consumerism we don’t even realize it.  I’m thirty-seven years old, and I only recently realized how much I let piddling earthly wants pull me around.  And I think most people don’t even bother to consider it.  We may tithe, but we don’t push the church to use the tithe wisely.

Thunder may strike with me quoting John Piper, but he’s right: for most middle-class American Christians, giving only the tithe is robbing God.  I’d add that giving the tithe and encouraging the church use it selfishly is also robbing God.

But we’re so sucked-under by consumerism that we don’t even see our own selfishness.  My wants are so often so piddly – a new video game, a new movie, a new (or more accurately, an old and interesting) gun for my collection, a nice meal out.  And all of those are fine, until I count up how much I spend per year on stuff I won’t even care about in a few years’ time, and how little of my income goes to things that are, in some way, eternal.  I get mad at myself. And then I think that our churches are doing basically the same things, and I get mad at everyone.

It’s stunning to think of people in countries who live on $2000 a year, who don’t have clean water, whose children have no opportunity to go to school and improve their material situation.  Many times we turn away, because the images are too graphic, the damage too gruesome, and that’s understandable.  I have to praise World Vision for accentuating the good that can be done, rather than manipulating people’s sympathy with pictures of dying infants.  They tend to take the long view anyway, and guilt isn’t a long-term motivator.

I can’t ask anyone else to go where I won’t, so I’m going to take a first step.  Like many people in my generation, I have multiple video game systems, some quite old, some relatively new.  I’m going to put one of them (my Xbox 360) on Craigslist, and donate whatever money it brings to World Vision.  It’s a relatively small amount of money in the grand scheme of things, but the act of sacrificing one of my luxuries may be healing.

Growing up in this consumerist haze, we get addicted to so many things before we’re even old enough to know it.  We’re all like bulls with rings in our noses, led around by small men, by peddlers who sap our strength and freedom.  But like bulls, we are strong enough to break free, if we can bear the pain.