It all started with coffee. A few years ago I was introduced to Fair Trade coffee and tea and excitedly got on the bandwagon, doing my part to save Earth and her people. For some reason I stopped there, content that I was doing my part. So it rocked my world when a wonderful college-age intern introduced me to the horrors of chocolate production, including slavery, child labor, kidnapping, injuries from unsafe working conditions, and worse. As I made changes in my life to embrace only Fair Trade chocolate, my mind began to wonder,”is there more?”
The Theology of Ecology certification course brought together a great deal for me and broke my heart as I faced the enormity of the environmental and social justice issues before us in today’s world. I became overwhelmed as I tried to figure out steps of action in my own life, and encouraged others to make changes and learn more. My heart broke all over again as friends and family chose to bury their heads in the sand rather than (gasp) give up daily chocolate, make changes in their purchasing habits, etc.
“Don’t Panic” is the opening line in the introduction of Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson. This is a practical guidebook for beginners and more long-term eco-justice folks. In individual chapters, Clawson explores the whys and wherefores of seven areas of our lives where we can begin to make changes for a more just world.
What is fair trade? What do we mean by justice? What has it all got to do with me? These questions and so many more were on my heart and mind as I began my journey. I’ll try to give you the answers and process I’ve been working on for quite a few years now. It’s a continual journey of growth, challenge, change,–repeat!
Coffee, chocolate, clothing, and many more things we use on a daily basis are typically produced in foreign countries by people (often children) forced to work inhumanely long hours under horrific conditions. It’s all in the name of cheap products that folks in the West gobble up with great delight. Fair Trade products help to insure that the item we are purchasing is produced by a person working under decent conditions and getting a living wage.
Yes, these products can cost more. But what is the price of human decency? What is the price of a child’s life? If my purchasing habits can help make a change in one person’s life, or a family, or a village, isn’t it imperative that I make those changes? For so many years, I was content to donate funds to organizations dealing with the very issues I was causing by my own behavior! Now, with the knowledge that I have, I must make daily decisions about what I buy and where.
I see justice as very simply the practical result of loving God and loving others. We must seek the well-being of all people and creatures on Earth, and justice for our Earth as well. We are created to live our lives gently upon Earth and to impact in a positive way the lives of those who share our fragile planet.
My decisions have impacted my ministry, and in turn the lives of the children, youth, and leaders who participate in our camping program. Each day of camp, we focus on one social/environmental justice issue. We now have meatless Mondays. No chocolate is served during camp unless it is Fair Trade. We compost all food waste, weighing a bucket of scraps after each meal and discussing our waste producing system. Turning the water off when washing hands, brushing teeth, etc., are simple ways to teach participants how to conserve our most precious commodity on earth. Turning off lights and turning up the A/C gives us the chance to discuss mountaintop removal to produce coal for our comfort. Visiting the chickens opens up dialogue about factory farming and the inhumane treatment of animals and humans in our food system. It’s surprising how transforming these simple programs can be.
Personally, I’ve become ever more aware of the environmental and social impact my every decision has on the world around me. Buying local, shopping at Fair Trade stores (many are found online), exploring options for environmentally- and humanely-produced clothing, challenging myself to do without instead of purchasing items from abusive systems. It has ceased to be a burden and become a “game” as I explore how I can live well while improving the lives of others.
As excited as I have become about issues of eco-justice, I’ve learned that I cannot force others into behavior changes. Knowledge is powerful. When you know something, you are spurred into action. Your beliefs will form your actions, which are a visible witness to others around you. I’ve become the “geek” in the group now, learning that I can educate, share, and challenge; but I must then let God turn hearts and lives around in His time.
I pray you will join me in working to make our world a better place for all her inhabitants.
Martha Pierce has served as Director at Riverside Retreat for 14 years. She shares her life with a variety of dogs, cats, chickens, and ducks who enliven things for campers and staff. Helping others discover the love of Jesus is her source of energy and joy.