Tag Archives: fair trade

“Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – a syncroblog on the “Spirit of the Poor”

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“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Today I am participating in a syncroblog with Esther Emery and Newell Hendricks who are leading a discussion on how we – who are privileged – enjoy the benefits of our privilege at the expense of others in our own communities and around the world.  The discussion is based around the first of Jesus’ eight beatitudes in Matthew 5, which happens to be part of our lectionary Gospel text this week.  At the start of Jesus’ ministry during his first long discourse we know as the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus proclaims: “blessed are those who are poor in spirit” – or as Newell and Esther suggest: have the “spirit of the poor” – “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In some translations, the Greek word makarios, or “blessed,” is translated as “happy,” “fortunate,” or “privileged.”  However, a better translation of makarios is “in a position of favor” or to be more specific: “having feelings associated with receiving God’s favor.” In other words, as Jesus begins his ministry of proclaiming the good news, he is declaring that those who are poor in spirit are receiving God’s favor and therefore experience feelings of happiness or gratitude.

If you really think about this, it sounds like quite an aversive and heartless claim on Jesus’ part: to say that those who are poor physically (and due to their physical poverty are thus also spiritually poor) are happy or grateful because they are receiving God’s favor.  How on earth could those struggling just to put a healthy meal on their table, to find a safe and warm place to sleep on a freezing winter night, or to receive a fair working wage that can pay for adequate family health care be receiving God’s favor (and thus be grateful about it) when there are others around the world (the top 1%) who own 65 times the amount of the poorest half of the world?

Yet, this blessing – or favor – is not just referring to the current condition of those Jesus speaks of – the condition of one being poor in spirit and/or living in poverty.  Rather, this blessing/favor is connected with and dependent upon the second clause in the sentence: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Theirs is this kingdom of heaven: the same kingdom of God in which Jesus – after he has been tempted in the desert – proclaims has come near and is bringing light to those experiencing the darkness of this world…

Theirs is this kingdom of heaven: the same kingdom of God we pray about in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

Theirs is the kingdom of heaven: the same kingdom of God that Jesus – “God with Us” in the flesh – has begun to bring about on earth by proclaiming good news to the poor and marginalized and then commissioning all of his followers to go and do likewise.

Those who are poor in spirit (or who have the “spirit of the poor”) are gratefully enjoying God’s favor because to receive God’s favor is to receive the kingdom of heaven which is being realized in both the “here and now” and that which is to come… This is the same kingdom in which those who give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome in the stranger, and give clothing to the naked – to the least of these – will indeed inherit.  … And this is the same kingdom in which all who claim to follow Jesus are called to participate in bringing forth by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

Having a “spirit of the poor” means that we must participate in this “kingdom-of-heaven-on-earth bringing” and “justice doing” that is required of us – which starts with recognizing and acknowledging our own privilege and the consequences and impacts our privileged lifestyles have on others around the world.  Once we recognize this privilege, we must then grieve it.  This does not mean we need be held captive by our own guilt: being dominated by guilt only holds us back from making things right in the world.  Rather, we are to lament over our participation in privileged lifestyles that oppress others and let our grief move us forward in righting wrongs and doing justice so that all of God’s children are treated fairly and able to live holistically.

As we explore and acknowledge our privilege and how such advantages that we enjoy contribute to the oppression of others, it is easy to become overwhelmed at how and where we should start to disarm such unjust practices and systems.

Thus, we must remind ourselves that this work cannot be done alone: it must be done as a community effort.  As Cindy Brandt puts it:

“Justice work can never be done in isolation, but requires the efforts of all the players in society: artists, musicians, politicians, journalists, businessmen and women, educators, parents, and children. It can only be done in community with ordinary people with extraordinary love.”

However, this “justice doing” starts with individual changes in lifestyles.  And as more and more individuals start to make such changes in their own lives and educate and call others to do so, as well, these individual efforts will emerge into very powerful collective ones that can and will bring about change and justice.

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To begin this kind of lifestyle change, here are a few suggested practices:

 SHOP FAIR TRADE:

Purchase gifts, coffee, clothing, and jewelry that are fairly traded and empower communities, farmers, and women around the world.  Click here to check out the top 10 reasons to shop fair trade.

In addition to checking out your local shops that sell fair trade items, here are some fair trade websites:

Ten Thousand Villages – fair trade items from all over the world

31 Bits – fair trade jewelry and bags from Uganda

Bead For Life – fair trade beads from Uganda

Mata Traders – fair trade jewelry, clothes, and home decor from India

B. Salsa Handcraft – fair trade Palestinian olive wood

Sindyanna of Galilee – fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soaps, and spices

 *For more options, check out this post on Sarah Bessey’s blog.

SHOP LOCAL:

Support local stores and businesses by shopping local.

AVOID SHOPPING AT STORES WITH UNETHICAL WORK PRACTICES:

Wal-Mart has had a long history of underpaying employees, creating terrible work conditions, and supporting global sweatshops (among many other unethical practices).  Click here for additional information. There are many other companies that have similar practices, so do your research. 

AVOID BUYING PRODUCTS THAT SUPPORT UNETHICAL PRACTICES:

There are many products and brands that are made in sweatshops with terrible working conditions and enforce child labor.  For the same reasons mentioned above, do your research and avoid purchasing such items.  Click the links below for more information on current product boycotts and tips on ethical shopping.

Ethical Shopping

Boycotts

Ethical Consumer Boycott List

FAST FROM SHOPPING:

Fast from shopping for yourself either during Lent, Advent, or even for an entire year.  We have too much STUFF that not only continues to clutter our homes, but also escalates the demand to produce more STUFF at cheap costs and at fast paces.  When the demand is high for fast productivity, the demand increases for cheap labor and continues terrible working conditions.  (Click here for more information about sweatshops and child labor.)  Fasting from shopping helps to both decrease the productivity demand and to de-clutter and get rid of the stuff in our lives that keeps us from seeing what is really of value and importance in the world.

MOVE YOUR MONEY:

Move your money from the nation’s big banks that have unethical practices to local and ethical banks and credit unions. (Click here for more information on how to invest your money ethically.)

DECREASE ELECTRONIC USAGE:

Newell Hendricks discusses on his blog the impacts of our high electronics demands in his discussion about conflict minerals.  In order to decrease the demand for conflict minerals, try to own as few electronics as possible.  When you are not using these electronics, turn them off in order to maintain a longer lifespan, and recycle them when their lifespan ends.  Don’t upgrade to new phones and electronics just because you can: wait until your phone, iPod/iPad, etc. dies.

INVEST IN FAIR ELECTRONICS:

There are new products that are coming out that are conflict-free.  There are also many current campaigns that are pushing for a conflict-free certification process.  Do your research and take action.  Here are some resources to get you started:

RaisehopeforCongo

Fairphone

Greenpeace International 

Enough Project

ETHICAL ENGAGEMENTS AND WEDDINGS

Find ways to have an echo-friendly wedding.  Click here for some tips on how.

Rings:

In addition to divesting from conflict minerals, divest from conflict diamonds.  (Click here to read more about diamonds that fund civil war.)  Here are some resources for finding ethical diamonds and/or rings made from recycled materials:

Ethical Rings

PeaceOfIndigo – handmade rings out of recycled materials and with ethical stones

Metalicious –  handmade rings out of recycled materials and with ethical stones

Bridal and Bridesmaid Dresses:

Purchase bridal and bridesmaid dresses that are echo-friendly or recycled.  Here are some great resources:

Amanda Rose Bridal – handmade echo-friendly bridal and bridesmaid dresses from recycled materials

French Knot Couture – custom made bridal and bridesmaid dresses

Free Peoples – custom made bridal and bridesmaid dresses

 

TAKE ACTION:

In addition to changing daily lifestyles, take action to make changes around unjust policies and practices!  Get involved in community organizing groups, research unjust practices at local and global levels, sign petitions, participate in actions and marches, share your findings with others on social media and in your congregations/organizations, and push your congregations/organizations to educate others, take action, and promote/sell/display fair-trade and ethical products.

 

Advent 1: “What to Expect When You are Expecting”

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“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” – Matthew 24:44 (from our Gospel lesson this week)

Yesterday, I had the most wonderful opportunity to visit one of my best friends (someone I’ve known since preschool) and meet her 3-day-old baby boy.  I’ve never given birth to a child, so I can readily admit that I’m not even close to an expert on the subject.  However, I do have numerous children and babies in my life, and in watching their amazing parents: I can assuredly say that the time parents have as they wait for the birth of their baby does not come and pass without a lot of preparation and expectation.

From going to numerous doctor’s appointments – to purchasing clothing and other items for the child – to setting up and decorating the baby’s room – to reading all sorts of books on giving birth and parenting: all of the parents I know spent a lot of time preparing for the day when they would meet and welcome their baby for the first time and continue to care for their child for the many days and years to follow.  And though sometimes this preparation time may seem a bit overwhelming and requires the soon-to-be-parents to take a few steps back from some of their daily activities that were once a part of their lives, many of these parents have expressed how thankful they were that they took the time to prepare.

(Emily Heitzman)

(Emily Heitzman)

This Sunday, we entered the season of Advent: a time in the church calendar that calls us to wait in expectation for a very special birth… the birth of Jesus Christ… Emmanuel… “God with us…”  who came to us in the flesh as a baby boy 2000 years ago and who will one day return to us again.

This season often appears to be overwhelming to us and may even feel at times to be an intrusion in our important lives and busy schedules…  Our calendars are already full of Christmas parties, Holiday concerts, tree decorating, shopping for gifts, preparing the home to host guests, getting ready to travel and visit our relatives… and the list goes on.  So we cannot even imagine adding one more thing to our “to-do” lists.

And yet here – in the midst of our most busy month of the year – we are invaded by the season of Advent and called to take a step back from the chaos, take a few deep breaths, and wait for the coming of the One who brings us hope, peace, joy, and love and who brings light to the darkness in this world.

Photo taken in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (Emily Heitzman)

Photo taken in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (Emily Heitzman)

And yet, just as any soon-to-be parent does not just wait for the coming of her child by sitting around idly twiddling her thumbs, we are not called to wait for the coming of Christ in this idle way, either.  Rather, we are called to wait in expectation… and to do so with a lot of preparation.

We, too, should schedule regular “check-ups” for our bodies to ensure that they are properly being taken care of: that they are getting enough rest and experiencing Sabbath from the business of our worldly activities – so that our bodies can truly be temples that host and are transformed by the Holy Spirit.  We, too, should set up and prepare a room in our homes and our lives for this Jesus – who not only brings us the gifts of love and grace, but who also calls us to follow him and share and emulate that love and grace to others.  And we, too, should pick up our own “What to Expect While You’re Expecting… [the birth of Jesus]” books and practices and take time to reflect on what this birth of Jesus actually means for us… what it means for God to be with us in the flesh… and how the gift of this birth did not only impact the world 2000 years ago, but continues to touch and transform our lives today.

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As we make room in our lives for God, we can prepare in expectation for the coming of Jesus by stepping back from a few of our busy daily activities and taking on a few new practices:

1. Individual practices and devotionals.  Some of my favorites are:

D365 devotional (There is a free app for this.)

3 Minute Retreat (There is a $1 app for this.)

Presbyterian Daily Readings

Daily Readings with the Irish Jesuits (scroll down and click on Advent Retreat)

2. Devotionals and rituals for Advent to do as a family:

Why Wait? (Adult/Couple, Young Family) – Advent is about more than just doing nothing.

Advent Chain (Young Adult) – a creative way to pray for friends and family.

Advent: A Time of Waiting (Teen Family) – as a family, talk about how to wait well.

Countdown to Christmas (Young Family) – read a scripture a day during Advent.

Decorate Family Advent Candles (Young Family) – create Advent hope, peace, love, and joy!

Saint Nicholas (Just for Kids) – here the story of the real Saint Nick.

Taking the Advent Story Home (For everyone!) – a terrific daily devotional.

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And we can expectantly prepare for the coming of Jesus by responding to the grace and love he brings us. As we light one more Advent candle each week this month and experience the ever-growing light that comes from Christ in the midst of our darkness… let us not just receive and accept this light, but – as our Isaiah text from this week urges us – let us rather, “walk in the light of the Lord.”

Photo taken in downtown Bethlehem on Jan. 6: Celebrating the Orthodox Christmas (Emily Heitzman

Photo taken in downtown Bethlehem on Jan. 6: Celebrating the Orthodox Christmas (Emily Heitzman)

…Let us walk in this light of Christ and pass it on through little acts of love to others – whether by giving our waitress or our postal worker a little extra tip this year, or by starting a conversation with the person we sit next to on the train, or by giving a grocery store gift card to a person who is shaking a cup on the side of the street.

…Let us walk in the light of Christ with our family members by volunteering together at a local food pantry, community or soup kitchen, or homeless shelter.  (And as we do so, we may be surprised at how much we will experience and receive the light of Christ through those we thought we had gone to “serve.”)

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If you live on the north side of Chicago, some great places to volunteer at are:

  1. Care for Real (Edgewater’s only food and clothing pantry) – hand out food or help sort winter coats and clothes
  2. A Just Harvest Community Kitchen (community kitchen that serves meals every day in Rogers Park) – serve a meal
  3. Bethany Retirement Community or Breakers at the Edgewater Beach Assisted Living  – Sing Christmas carols to residents
  4. Sarah’s Circle (women’s shelter in Uptown) – there are many different ways to volunteer
  5. The Night Ministry – serve meals to people on the street (multiple locations)

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…And let us walk in the light of Christ by giving Christmas gifts that have meaning this year.  I’ll echo my last post that offered up a few suggestions of fair trade organizations.

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31 Bits – fair trade jewelry and bags from Uganda

Bead For Life – fair trade beads from Uganda

Mata Traders – fair trade jewelry, clothes, and home decor from India

B. Salsa Handcraft – fair trade Palestinian olive wood

Sindyanna of Galilee – fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soaps, and spices

World Vision – purchase livestock for a child in need

*For more options, check out this post on Sarah Bessey’s blog.

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Whatever we decide to do this Advent, let us allow this season to intrude upon our lives.  Let us step back from some of the extra daily activities that get in the way of focusing on the reason for the season and instead make some space and room to prepare in great expectation for the coming of Jesus Christ.  For, as Paul wrote to the Romans (in our epistle lesson this week) “you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

(Video taken at 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering with 34,000 youth attendees from around the country.  Speaking is Liberian peace activist, Leymah Gbowee: “If you tap into your light, this is how the world will be.”)