I’ve noticed that we tend to celebrate infancy as a time of blissful, uncomplicated simplicity. However, as I’ve watched my son’s young life, I’ve become aware that his day-to-day is fraught with frustration.
A couple weeks ago, he learned how to crawl. It was not always a pleasant experience. He slipped. He fell. He cried. He strained. There was nothing I could do. To take away the struggle would be to take away the growth. All I could do is make sure he didn’t hurt himself too badly, hold him close and sing to him if he bumped his head, and celebrate every faltering step as a great triumph.
For me, there was both pride and pain: pride at watching him growing into a little boy, pain at the suffering I knew that change caused. The world is foreign and hostile when we are just born: the negotiations of digestion, the persistent inarticulateness of speech, the irresistible weight of gravity, the complete perceptual re-orientations as new parts of our brain turn on.
There is power and helplessness in my love. I can’t make him walk, or talk, or digest. I can’t prevent him from crying or bumping his head. However, I can make sure that there is enough space for him in my love for him to learn what a beautiful place this world is.
In those beautiful moments, when he stares into my eyes as I sing him to sleep, or watch his face light up when he sees me for the first time in the morning, I’m learning that our love will be enough for him, as he learns how to navigate this world for himself. Perhaps that’s true for all of us, as well.
As I was making smores the other day, I read this article, (one of several I’ve read recently), about how our chocolate is made. Here’s one telling quote from an article on the topic in the Daily Beast.
Many of the children are sold into slavery, some for less than $30; others are kidnapped or tricked into thinking it’s a real job, the complaint alleges. Once there, the children are allegedly trapped on isolated farms, threatened with physical abuse, required to work when they are sick, and denied sufficient food….
Mistrati…said he witnessed child slave labor firsthand—and believes it can be stopped quickly. “Mars, Hershey, and Nestle have had every opportunity to stop the trafficking of children and illegal child slaves,” he said. “I have seen small children, 6 years old, being trafficked from Mali to Ivory Coast. It was so heartbreaking to watch. But the companies have not had the will to end it for many years. Only empty words and expensive advertising instead of using money to pay back to the children on the ground in West Africa.”
So, if all of us would agree that child slave labor is unequivocally evil, then why do we walk into stores looking for smores and leave having sponsored the exploitation of children? As Peter Rollins points out, it’s not that we don’t believe in child labor, it’s that we only believe that we don’t believe in child labor.
Take the example of buying chocolate from a corner shop. If I know, or suspect, that the chocolate is made from coco beans picked by children under the conditions of slavery then, regardless of what I say, I believe in child slavery. For the belief operates at a material level (the level of what I do) rather than at the level of the mind (what I tell myself I believe). And I can’t hide in supposed ignorance either for if I don’t know about how most chocolate is made it is likely that my lack of knowledge is a form of refusal to care. For the very fact that there is Fair Trade chocolate, for example, should be enough for me to ask questions about whether other chocolate is made in an unfair way.
This is the moral danger of living in the most powerful nation in the world. Our way of life is predicated upon the exploitation of others for our gain, whether that be driving cars whose ecological cost is paid by other regions of the world, buying ten dollar jeans made in a sweatshop, or getting a cheap chocolate bar made by child slaves.
We have to actively work *not* to harm other when we participate in our economy. Sometimes, doing so may be just plain impossible. I hope that this genuinely troubles every time you roast smores in your backyard during these waning days of summer.
It genuinely troubles me.
After saying all of that, I opened the cabinet in my kitchen today and what do I find?
Here’s hoping we all learn how to do better.
Trey is one of the most thoughtful interviews I’ve ever done. I was impressed by his authenticity, grounded in the twelve step tradition, and his ability to hold his own beliefs so charitably. In our polarized society (and polarized church), Trey embodies the wisdom of what it means to embrace a common humanity that transcends our differences. Enjoy!
I’m a little late to the party, but I love this piece by Trey Hall on how United Methodists can resist schism.
Of course it’s how we deal with the conflict that makes it redemptive or toxic. So as we continue to engage the ongoing set of questions and concerns around human sexuality, let’s do it as maturing disciples of Jesus. For Christ’s sake, let’s be careful with the accusations we make and the metaphors we employ.
For example, let’s not assume, as some do, that because someone has a more conservative hermeneutic when it comes to sexuality or wishes that an openly lesbian Bishop had not been elected, they are a blatantly homophobic hater or a hard-hearted hypocrite. A good faith approach both inspires a genuine openness to hear how someone thinks and feels about the subjects at hand and expects that the other’s journey is as complex as ours.
On the other hand, let’s not assume that supporters of the election of Bishop Oliveto (I quite joyously am one) are petulant children chomping at the bit for church schism (I quite emphatically am not). Let’s not assert, as some have, that the Western Jurisdiction has willfully sent divorce papers to the rest of the Church. The aforementioned good faith approach of actually listening to the testimonies of others will probably dissuade us from such a simplistic charge.
He goes on to make some truly great suggestions about how we can keep our conflicts from being toxic and can also keep from becoming ecclesially myopic in the process.Like Trey, I support fully including GLBTQ people in the life of the church and believe that their sexual orientation is a gift from God. That being said, I’m also aware that I’m in no greater danger of being an asshole than when I know I’m right.
More on that later, but until then, can we all try to remember that, when following Jesus, humble love is always in and judgemental self-righteousness is always, regardless whether we’re right or wrong?
If you’re interested in hearing more from Trey, my interview with him launches next week, where he talks a lot more about what it means to create post-ideological spiritual community.