Category Archives: social justice

For the Cause

In the continuing saga of Christie vs. the Chocolate Corporations (a follow up to my earlier posts here and here about child slavery) I have learned about a new phenomena: reverse trick or treating.

Not only do true believers hand out fair trade chocolates along with the appropriate literature, they have their children give it to neighbors when they receive their own treats. One man sees Halloween as an ideal time to educate undiscerning chocolate consumers. In the face of such conviction, commitment and certainty I can’t help but think… what a douche!

Did Mother Teresa’s family ever say “Good Lord, someone needs to get that girl a hobby”? Was Martin Luther King Jr. a good time at a party? Did kids actually want to sit by Jesus at school… was he a drag or a genuinely likeable guy?

I like to think they were kind and winsome; able to communicate without alienating, because they sincerely cared about others. Even the little things like making sure there is enough wine at a wedding and noticing grubby children while the VIP’s clamored for attention. Perhaps they could tell us how to crusade for a cause WITHOUT being obnoxious, but I’m pretty sure it goes something like this… Do not judge or you too will be judged (Matthew 7:1).

I’m not going to lie, I have been on both the giving and receiving end of this. Most of us have: stay-at-home moms or moms who work full-time; kids in private, public, or home school; those who read Harry Potter before bed or those who demonize it. We are always drawing lines and feel the need to let others know that:

I am/My kids are/My family is/My cat/dog/pet iguana is…

MORE

ethical/godly/organic/grammatically correct/educated/potty trained/baby wise…

than you.

So there!

Because the only thing that feels better than being right, is being more right than someone else. Maybe deep down we need to convince others because we need to convince ourselves. But here’s the problem – you are wrong. About something, somewhere along the way you will be wrong. It’s inevitable. If you think you are infallible you are WRONG about that.

So don’t be obnoxious. You can’t afford it; none of us can. Be passionate about the things you belive in, but present your case in a gentle and respectful way. Let people follow their own conscience. That’s in the bible too (1 Corinthians 10:23-33).

So here’s me, trying to keep my soap box socially appropriate.

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Happy Endings

I sat in the waiting room of the Ministry of Children and Family Development today. We had a meeting with our adoption social worker. There was a woman beside me whom I’ve never met and will never see again, but she was so familiar.

It was none of my business and perhaps I should have politely tuned her out as she spoke to the receptionist. But I didn’t. The person she was supposed to be meeting with was running late, but come hell or high water she was determined to wait.

“I don’t care how long I have to wait or what it takes. I want my daughter back.”

She wasn’t belligerent or aggressive. She didn’t raise her voice or make threats. But she was fierce. She had a primal energy. And I knew that we were kindred. Because I am a Mama Bear too.

In my mind I imagined a gritty backstory. Traumatized by her drug dealer/pimp/corrupt cop boyfriend, she is fighting her way back with the help of a inspirational social worker. I picture an Aboriginal Robin Williams/Sydney Poitier at her side instilling a never-say-die attitude in her. The music swells as she sees her beloved child again, but alas, there is the evil ex-lover and his scuzzy lawyer. I hold my breath and suddenly Wylie Coyote drops an anvil on the bad guys. Cue the laugh track. Now roll credits, as they all ride off into the sunset.

But this is real life. There are rarely bad guys dressed in black and good guys in white hats. Just screwed up people trying to prevent the even more screwed up people from hurting the innocent.

I don’t know this mom’s story, but I can only assume that it must be a tragic one to end up in the waiting room of the MCFD. When child protective services are involved, no one escapes unscathed. Not the biological parents whose lives were already out of control. Not the professionals who have to make impossible decisions and navigate an unwieldy beauracracy. Not foster families who open their homes and their hearts to someone else’s pain. And certainly not the children who find themselves at the mercy of a system which can’t help but damage the very ones it was designed to protect.

I can’t help but feel like some sort of scavenger. If things work out as we hope, we will be wading into someone’s very worst nightmare to find our own happily ever after. I know it is possible; in fact, it is what makes adoption such a beautiful thing. But it is a beauty born out of loss and pain.

I worry about that mama bear. I hope the system can do right by her, and by her daughter, whatever “right” may be in this particular case. Chances are, the damage is already done. There are no carefree happy endings in the foster care system.

So here’s me, looking for a bittersweet ever after.


Religion for Dummies

I love the “for Dummies” series. With over 1,600 titles and 200 million books in print, you can find everything from Acupressure for Dummies to Yorkshire Terriers for Dummies. Their tag line is “Making Everything Easier” and it’s definitely a concept I can get behind.

I have begun to question many of the religious traditions I grew up with, but I have no desire to spend my life as a professional skeptic. Cynicism may provide some witty punch lines, but it is those things we embrace and deeply believe that actually matter. Since I have both devout Christians and wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-in-a-church folks reading this blog, I wasn’t sure how to approach this topic. But I’m starting to think it’s easier than we’ve made it.

I’d be hard pressed to find a more powerfully divisive subject than religion. It has gotten a bad rap over the years, even (and at times especially) among those of us who are religious. We wade through layers of doctrine, theology, dogma, hermeneutics, exegesis… and most of us regular schmucks are left feeling like, well, dummies a lot of the time. So instead, some of us leave the thinking to others and focus on familiar tradition as a way to measure our religious worth.

Although it has been used and abused since time began, religion itself is not something to fear. It is simply the outward expression of an inner belief. In practice this ranges from the beautiful to the utterly bizarre. Even those of us who share similar beliefs may have drastically different expressions of our faith. For instance, I have never felt a particular need to handle poisonous snakes in our worship service, nor has the Spirit moved me to whip myself into a bloody frenzy, but I am a big fan of group singing, even the 7-11 choruses my husband hates (7 words, sung 11 times to a catchy beat).

But the one thing that all religion has in common is this: compassion. Good works are a crucial component of all the world’s major religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and pretty much every one I can think of (except for hedonism, which is more of an excuse to be a selfish jerk than a true belief system). We may not agree on much, but on this we are on the same page. There is no better way to honour God than to show compassion.

According to the Jewish prophet Micah, it is all that God requires of any of us. (Micah 6:8)

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Religion at its best is not about whether we sprinkle, dunk or dip in baptism, but whether we show selfless love for those in our path. Lately my “religious heroes” are not great thinkers, but the great DOers. Ordinary people who have bills to pay and chores to do just like me. People who never seem to have enough money or time, but choose to give it away anyway.

Ordinary people like my friend who chose to adopt not one, but four children from foster care. Although she already had three biological children, their family had room for more: more chaos, more noise, more learning issues, more Dr. appointments, more complications… more love. She doesn’t feel like a martyr, although I know she is often overwhelmed. She is just living what she believes.

Ordinary people like my cousin who chooses ethics over convenience in her shopping habits. Avoiding big box stores is not a decision I’m ready to make, but I respect her commitment to doing what she feels is right. Not just for workers here and overseas, but to counter a culture of mindless consumption that is deeply corrupt. She buys organic, grows her own food, and even makes her own toothpaste (for real). Five small children would be plenty of excuse for me to do what is quick and easy, but not her.

Ordinary people like our good friends who took the time to get to know new neighbours from Zimbabwe. They were moved by the stories and fell in love with the people of that country, before they had even seen it themselves. What started as a few piles of donated clothing in their garage has become Hear Africa, an organization committed to partnering with Zimbabweans to overcome poverty and rebuild a thriving economy.

It doesn’t matter if it is orphan care, ethical consumerism or foreign aid, THIS is the religion that best expresses my faith. I’m still finding my way. I’m not sure what this ordinary girl can do, but I’m on the lookout.

So here’s me, making religion easier: love God, love others.

After writing this post I found they actually do have a “Religion for Dummies” book (of course they do). I haven’t read it (yet), and this is my disclaimer that I have nothing to do with the official “for Dummies” brand.


The BEST news ever!

I am following up yesterday’s post about the problem with chocolate with some awesome, stupendous, brilliant news! If you haven’t read it, this may not make that much sense to you. In a nutshell, our family has decided to boycott buying chocolate bars because they are made through the use of child slavery. I know, crazy right?

Now the good news… Cadbury is now making one of their most popular chocolate bars with Fair Trade cocoa beans.

My kids tell me this picture is "soooo cheesy and embarassing"

This means sustainable farming for the entire community and no child labour. It’s not a perfect system and needs to be constantly monitered to keep the pressure on, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Fair Trade Dairy Milk was launched summer 2010, but only in certain countries such as Britian, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and, wait for it… CANADA!

I’m more than a little bit THRILLED that this is one of my all time favourites bars. I was willing to give up chocolate because it was the right thing to do. Now, I can support positive change by buying MORE chocolate. Life is good.

I considered titling yesterday’s post “Why Capitalism is Evil” but decided against it. While I’m not a communist, I do have a problem with powerful corporations ruling the world. This is for one simple reason: they do not have a soul. They aren’t designed that way. But we do. We, the consumers, hold far more power than we realize.

Why else would Cadbury go to the trouble and extra expense of doing the right thing? If we begin to expect better, to demand it, we can change business as usual. Vote with your wallet and let them know it. We influence corporations best by what we DO buy, rather than what we don’t.

So, Cadbury, I really appreciate what you’ve done for the people of West Africa. I will only be buying Fair Trade chocolate from now on, so be warned – sales of Dairy Milk may soar. Also, could you please, please, please make Fruit & Nut bars fair trade also? Those are really yummy and I’m going to miss them.

As for Hershey’s and Nestle… come on guys, get with the program! Your products are delicious, but I’m going to use my power as a consumer to do good and not evil.

 “This is the kind of WORSHIP I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage.” (Isaiah 58:6-8)

 ~ God

So here’s me, rescuing the oppressed – one chocolate bar at a time.


The post you DON’T want to read

Have you ever wanted to UN-know something? Like when you finally make the connection that your parents have actually had sex, more than once. Or at the end of Return of the Jedi when you realize that Luke Skywalker had been seriously crushing on his own sister… ew!

This week one of my favourite bloggers put me in that horrific position again. I was both amused and self-righteous upon reading her blog about  Cheap Coffee. Since I neither drink it, nor can I even stand the smell, this was a safe and easy topic for me. The follow-up she posted the next day, however, was a shot to the heart.

I had heard hints of it before, but wrote it off as one of those over-reactive issues for people on the fringe: radical students, hippie men with dreadlocks and angry women in sensible shoes. Maybe I didn’t look too closely because I didn’t want to know.

If you prefer not to disturb your comfortable life, stop reading now.

Are you still reading because you are nosy and curious? I’m not kidding, this could change your life. And you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Enough foreplay… now brace yourself. There is a problem with chocolate.

I can overlook the calories (and as you can clearly see, I often do). I can simply choose not to think about the non-organic ingredients. But I cannot be part of child slavery.

That’s right: 60% of the cocoa beans used by the major chocolate companies such as Hersheys, Mars, Nestle and others are from countries that often use child labour in the cocoa fields. More than 100,000 chidlren of the Ivory Coast are driven to it by extreme poverty. Others are stolen from their families and sold into a life of back-breaking labour and dangerous working conditions. All so huge corporations can rake in 80 billion dollars of profit each year and I can enjoy something sweet at the movies.

I have been asking God to show me something I can do, in the middle of my busy life, to make the world better. I did that very day, in fact. I have every advantage – power, wealth, education, free healthcare (go Canada!)… but it is not because I am better, smarter or more deserving. I simply happen to be born in a position of power. I could have been born in West Africa, and then I may have spent my childhood picking the beans instead of eating smarties.

I am a total chocoholic. And not the classy, grown up, thin wafer of dark chocolate after dinner. No siree, I want a big old chocolate bar: aero, oh henry, mars bar, dairy milk… a handful of chocolate chips if all else fails. But I’m also a mom.

How can I enjoy my favourite treat when I know there are children suffering for it? This seems like a crazy and radical stunt to even consider; like foregoing showers to reduce my carbon footprint, wearing clothes made entirely out of hemp, or selling all my possessions and giving the money to the poor.

Giving up chocolate? That doesn’t sound like me at all. But I’m definitely considering it. I’ve started the research and so far this is more than just a trendy hipster concern. If nothing else, the halloween bowl at our house will be filled with non-chocolate treats this year.

We each have to follow our own conscience. Perhaps this isn’t your fight. If you decide to whip out a chocolate bar in my presence, you need feel no guilt. There will be no judgment from me… though I may vault over the table to lick it off your fingers; hopefully this won’t make you too uncomfortable.

So here’s me, stocking up on fair trade chocolate. Read The Best News Ever to hear more about our family’s decision to fight child slavery and still eat delicious chocolate at a reasonable price.

Here it is, the blog that broke my heart: here, let me ruin Halloween for you

and the BBC Documentary that helped…


Everything Must Change

It snuck up on me. A conference on social justice that we had signed up for months ago – before we realized what a crazy, busy season of life this would be and before head colds swept through the family. Part of me was thrilled to escape a house full of snotty kleenexes and whiney patients; another part was wishing I could curl up on the couch with them. But I’m sure glad I didn’t.

I listened to some amazing authors and speakers tell story after story about the projects they were involved in. Impressive campaigns to rescue young girls from sexual slavery, reform the mental health system, lobby corporations on behalf of migrant workers, battle the HIV/Aids pandemic, and on and on and on. Brilliant, driven men and women who, let’s face it, would intimidate a saint with their passion and selflessness.

Just the other day I felt completely overwhelmed by a counter full of dirty dishes. How can I face a planet full of suffering and injustice? Even now I can hear the siren song of mediocrity. Leave the world-changing to someone who is smarter and more powerful than you. You can barely keep up with your own busy life, how can you possibly do more? You do more than most people, pat yourself on the back and turn the T.V. back on.

I had braced myself for a heaping dose of guilt; for pictures of starving children with distended bellies and flies in their eyes, for stories that would rip my heart out. Perhaps a stirring rendition of “Man in the Mirror”? And I did dirty my shirt sleeve wiping tears and mascara streaks away (note to self – next time bring kleenex).

One man told the story of touring a hospital in Africa. The staff were kind, but overwhelmed. There were 4-5 babies in each crib. As he walked through, he was startled by an inhuman wail. Turning around, he realized it was the cry of a young mother as a white sheet was placed over the face of her infant daughter. Only a short time later he heard it again, then again and again – almost every 10 minutes during his visit there was another anguished scream.

But this was not the theme of the day. The story I heard repeatedly was one of hope and faith and joy. Each of these powerhouse leaders told stories about their relationships, not their causes.

My friend from Guatemala who is supporting his 11 siblings…

My friend who has schizophrenia…

My friend who cannot feed her children…

not sad stories, but inspiring individuals.

Yes, they are strategic. They are seeking restorative justice and systematic change. But this is not charity – they are simply looking out for their friends.

That’s something even I can handle. I may not understand the complexities of political change or walk with the movers and shakers in society. But I can be a friend to someone who needs it.

There is so much wrong with the world, so much that needs to change. It seems overwhelming. Yet, the greatest requirement of my faith is incredibly simple: love God and love others.

Can I do that? Can you? Can you make the world a better place for one person? That’s social justice. That’s where real change starts.

We can do no great things, but only small things with great love.” ~Mother Theresa

So here’s me, finally washing my dishes… with great love. 😉


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