Monday, March 8, 2010

Battle of the Gods Over Gun Violence

Shane Claiborne and a group of folks concerned about gun violence gathered in front of notorious gun shop. The Shooter Shop has a reputation for having guns it has sold end up in the hands of violent criminals. Fans of the Shooter Shop showed up to have a counter-rally and harass the folks working for nonviolence. When Shane started leading the Lord's Prayer, the first catcall was a loud "Boo!" Then, the Shooter Shop gang started praying to another god with the song, "God Bless America." As Jamie Moffett said, they tried to drown out the Lord's Prayer.

Battle of the Gods Over Gun Violence

Friday, March 5, 2010

Next Step for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

I joined the campaign to get Kroger to work with the CIW to insure that the tomatoes they sell are picked by people who are paid a fair wage. Some of you have been working on this campaign for several years, dealing with Taco Bell, McDonald's, Burger King, and others. Sojourners contacted me about the Kroger effort, so I used their model letter and added some thoughts of my own. Here is what I sent. I hope many of you will also write to Kroger.

I am a regular Kroger shopper at the 1802 NorthPointe Dr. store in Durham, NC. I like your store brands and your selection of produce. I use the Kroger Plus card and tolerate the self-checkout system.

Twenty-four years ago when my first child was born, we spent the last few evenings waiting for the onset of labor by walking in the Kroger store near downtown Grand Prairie, Texas, including the night before he was born. So I am a fan of Kroger stores.

One of the favorite foods in our family is the tomato. At Kroger, I buy heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine, locally grown tomatoes, and more. We keep them stocked for sandwiches, salads, and snacks.

As a Christian and a conscientious consumer, I want to be reassured that the workers who pick the tomatoes sold in your stores are paid fair wages and have decent working conditions. I therefore ask The Kroger Company to partner with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to guarantee that tomato growers are compensated and treated fairly.

I believe everyone is created in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity. Yet Florida's tomato pickers currently have to harvest more than 2.5 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage for a 10-hour workday. Some pickers have even been held in modern-day slavery rings. I encourage The Kroger Company to work with CIW in confronting and overcoming such horrible exploitation.

Getting this issue resolved to make life more just for tomato pickers has been slow. Targeting Mt. Olive Pickles to help the cucumber pickers was more focused. But tomatoes are not distributed with a national brand. Only the grocery stores and restaurants have the national influence that can change the way tomato pickers are treated.

I have so far participated in boycotts of Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Burger King in the process of getting them to insure that they buy tomatoes from sellers who have paid the pickers a fair wage. I have returned to each chain to buy food in response to their partnership with CIW.

I would rather not boycott Kroger, but this issue is very important to our family. I hate paying premium prices at Whole Foods for products that are not any better than those at Kroger, but I will do it. I hate shopping at the crowded, lower quality Food Lion stores, but I will do it if your much larger national chain will not do your part for the tomato pickers to have a better life.

Please don't make me do this. I know that you have worked with unions for workers in the past, and I hope you will recommit yourself to giving workers a voice and a chance.

Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King, Whole Foods, Subway, and Bon Appetit are already partnering with the CIW to improve wages and to uphold a code of conduct for fair working conditions, including zero tolerance for any form of modern slavery. I urge The Kroger Company to do the same.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Isaiah and Economic Justice

I've started a series on the prophetic critique of economic injustice which is pervasive in the Book of Isaiah. I probably will not do the whole book. For now, I am setting my goal to look at texts from the first ten chapters. I'll post the introduction post here, and if you are interested, you can continue to follow them at earth as it is in heaven.


With occasional discipline, I have been reading a few verses from Isaiah to start my workday, starting from the beginning of the book. I have been struck by the way that economic oppression was the key target of Isaiah's message.

Of course, I had seen this sort of theme in Isaiah before, especially from chapter 58. But through most of my life as a scripture reader, I was not inclined to notice the centrality of themes of economic justice. The stories in the narrative sections of the Old Testament, the Former Prophets, emphasize the temple worship and sins of idolatry, and few readers are skilled in linking prophetic texts to the quick summaries of history included in Samuel and Kings.

A careful reader might notice at times that the Former Prophets take a position against relying on violence for power and against abusing the common people. Yet even the stories of Solomon, Rehoboam, and Jeroboam tend to shift attention away from the rise of slave labor and princely wealth and toward the relation of the king to the temple.

Modern readers are not inclined to think of economic injustice when we think of idolatry. We are too schooled in the marketplace model of faith, wherein there is a competition for members among various enterprises hawking religion. In this model, we quantify success by numbers of converts added to lists, and we diminish the fruition of conversion in moral formation and community transformation.

But this look at Isaiah is reminding me that if we are true worshipers of the Lord, then we must learn to recognize the economic injustices that offend our God. Toward that purpose, let me make note of a few examples in my reading thus far. I make no claim to be comprehensive. In the coming days I will post comments on the following texts: Isaiah 1:12-18; Isaiah 2:7-9, 18, 20-21; Isaiah 3:12b-15; Isaiah 3:18-24; Isaiah 5:8-10; Isaiah 5:20-23; Isaiah 8:1-4; and Isaiah 10:1-2. All selections are from the NRSV.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Charles Duplessis on Pat Robertson

LeDayne sent around this note:

"I happened to be in New Orleans this weekend at a CSC (Churches Supporting Churches) meeting — and stayed for worship at Mount Nebo Bible Baptist in the Ninth Ward. As you might imagine, the people of New Orleans feel very deeply the pain of the people of Haiti, having experienced so much of the same pain themselves.

"Mount Nebo’s Pastor Charles Duplessis (one of my favorite people in the world) -- did a brilliant piece in his sermon about Pat Robertson’s nonsense — layering Pat’s comments with Matthew 25."

What did you do for me when I was sick, grieving, buried under the rubble, naked, hungry?

Well, Lord, I condemned you in the national press, of course.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Today in Caribbean History

New Year's Day marks the remembrance of two significant events in Caribbean History--Haitian Independence Day and Cuban Liberation Day.

On 1 January 1804, following history's first and only successful slave rebellion, Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti's independence, making Haiti the second independent country in the Western Hemisphere and the first Black Republic in the world. Today, Haitians throughout Haiti and the Haitian diaspora will eat soup joumou (squash stew) in remembrance of this momentous event.

On 1 January 1959, Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro succeeded in wresting power from right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista. Today marks the 51st anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Friends of Justice Works for All of Us

Some of you may know Alan Bean. He is a Baptist preacher (of European descent) living in Texas, and PhD graduate of Southern Baptist Seminary in theological ethics. As I recall from conversing with him, he studied with some folks like Glen Stassen who have influenced many of us. But he has built a reputation as a hard-nosed fighter for racial justice. I posted the following piece on my blog today, and thought it might be right for our readers here, too.

My friend Alan Bean, the founder of Friends of Justice, has played a central role in a number of major cases of racial injustice in recent years: the falsified drug busts in Tulia, Texas; the out-of-proportion charges in Jena, Louisiana; and more.

His most recent work is being done on a case from Winona, Mississippi. A man named Curtis Flowers has been tried five times for the same crime, but the District Attorney can't get his conviction. So, against all odds, he is going to put Curtis Flowers on trial again. In the meantime, Flowers has spent thirteen years in prison for a crime for which he has not been convicted.

Bean has traced the meandering, strange, and disturbing details of this case for months now. As happened with the Jena case, Bean kept doing his hard work, studying history, meeting with people, writing, speaking, and negotiating, until finally a major media company took notice. With Jena, it was the Chicago Tribune, and then the BBC. This time, the BBC bit first.

Thanks to Alan Bean, a shady case of racial injustice that was allowed to fester for over a decade will now be brought into the light of day. You can listen to the BBC story and read a shortened version online. But for the best coverage, with a wide range of research, you will have to read Bean's blog.

Bean's work is often featured on the Sojourners blog, "God's Politics." Check out Friends of Justice, and let's all learn from Bean. I'm hoping to see his good research and writing find its way into book form sometime soon.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Failure to love one's neighbor is a frequent form of disobedience to God. Wars are just a large scale version of this type of sin."

Millard J. Erickson (1932- )
Distinguished Professor of Theology
Western Seminary