A t-shirt that tells its story
What if every piece of clothing (or anything else) you bought was marked with a QR code that took you to information about who made it, how, where, and in what conditions? What if you could see every step of the production process and meet the people involved, from the farmworkers harvesting the cotton to the factory workers involved in the printing? It could empower people who want to further ethical goals with their purchasing decisions and inform debates about globalization and localism. It would also open up a depth of meaning for otherwise boring items and bring alive whole new worlds that you have a direct connection with.
Well, there is now one t-shirt available that aims to do that. Just go check it out. (The deadline for ordering is May 14.) The effort was inspired by a book called The Travels of a T-Shirt, written by an economist (but appreciated even by non-economists).
It’s unlikely we’ll ever have such QR codes on everything, and not only because companies usually don’t want us to see how the sausage is made. (Even fair trade certifiers face this temptation.) It’s just costly to keep track of all the information for a particular t-shirt (or whatever) and make it easily comprehensible. Making all of that knowledge actually enjoyable to take in is another layer of challenge. I’m guessing we may not want to pay for that for everything, but thanks, Pietra Rivoli and Planet Money, for this one.
…if reconciliation is a matter of morals, to achieve which I just have got to be damn heroic, and which is going to be bloody painful, it doesn’t much matter if my heart is set on the outcome: the important thing is to be heroic… What I want to suggest is something different. The Holy Spirit is not, in the first place, a force driving us towards an ethic of “going against the grain”. It is the Creator Spirit. And Jesus’ occupation of the place of shame, of loss, of death and of annihilation wasn’t, in the first place, to offer us an example of how to behave heroically…
An Infographic Vigil…
…for the children killed on Dec 14th, 2012 years after Jesus’s birth.
Ordinary radicals and economists, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but sometimes that’s helpful for a preacher.
First a graphic representation of these same children on Dec 14th in the first year of Jesus’s reign in its fullness, for which we joyfully wait during Advent. Christ is forming us into his resurrected body, which will be free to relax and slip away from envy and fascination with violence. He will give each child a feeling of total safety and build them all an amazing new playground.
Yet, it is my dismal aim here to illustrate a cold fact about Dec. 14, 2012. The 20 children shot in Newport, CT were only some of the children killed that day, more of which are represented here:
Key: U = child killed in Newport, o = other child under age 5 killed by undernutrition*
The latter were killed by all of us who have the means to save one or more of them. I know this seems harsh - and it’s not entirely fair because extreme poverty is complex - but the Church insists: “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him, you have killed him.”
This picture is so surprising because it uses a different scale from the one we are used to in our world gnarled in original sin. The usual scale has each child dying of undernutrition as worth less than 1/3000th the importance of a U.S. child dying from something that could also endanger our own loved ones,** like this infographic: UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUoo
I decided to share all this because I have a need for a shared reality. As an economist, I’ve been trained to consider all the data and carefully justify any decisions to leave out some of them or put less weight on some of them. I feel a little crazy when everything around me seems to be saying that some children are not important without even explaining why.
But I know this absurd world is passing away, as surely as the sun is rising tomorrow:
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Happy Immaculate Conception of Mary!
Dear ordinary radicals,
What does Mary’s being conceived free from original sin (that spirit of envy, rivalry, and violence which forms us from our earliest moments) mean for us today? That “whatever may be the immediate appearances, we are in much more of a playground and much less of a war zone than we are inclined to think.” In more of the words of theologian James Alison:
…it is not the case that these [e.g. Mary] are lucky people who are just there on the other side of the great divide, and that we are here, stuck on this side, with, in every generation, the same tragic and heroic choices to make, decisions to stick to and so on which might just get us allowed in to the other side, about which we can know nothing. The whole point of the resurrection life being already lived by real people with real names and real life histories, a resurrection life which is cast for us in the shape of the image of creation itself in the Assumed Virgin, is that it means that the great divide is not so great, the other side is even now bending towards us, and tends even to interpenetrate our own side, so the adventure is not one of tragic heroism, but is a much safer story than we normally dare to believe. After all, Salvation that didn’t come with an expansive sense of safety wouldn’t be worth much.
But let’s back up a little bit and look at this more carefully. Here is a longer passage from Alison’s talk, Living the Magnificat:
There was somebody who was entirely part of creation, and she was able to participate in the birth of the new creation in such a way that there was no opposition from her to it, no resistance to the bringing about of the new creation, and because of this, there is an uninterrupted continuity between creation and new creation. And this means: that creation is good! Everything human is in principle good, and to be brought to a good end. The whole of Mary’s bodily life, from Immaculate Conception to Dormition and Assumption was good. Which means that in principle, ours is as well. There is nothing intrinsically evil about any part of the human life process, from the fully sexual reproduction by which Mary’s parents conceived her, to the moment when her biological finitude reached its proper end in her dormition or death. And so there is nothing intrinsically evil about any part of our human life process. Even though in our case the normal strains and stresses of growth and learning get mixed up with our becoming frightened and so grasping onto too small an identity and resisting being taken into the fullness of creation. In that alone, in our being caught up in resisting being brought to the fullness of creation, we are different from Mary.
The difference is between those for whom our involvement in our being created has to reach us first through our being forgiven, so there is a sense of rupture between who we thought we were, where we were trying to head, and who we now find ourselves coming to be, and the person for whom there was no such rupture. Her life was the, no doubt stretched and strained, continuous movement towards being created and coming to share in the life of the creator without any resistance or rupture. This does not mean that she did not make mistakes, it does not mean that she didn’t have to learn, that she found things difficult to understand, that she might have been impetuous, or any other number of character traits. But it means that she was, no doubt without any sense of comparing herself with anyone else, fully implicated in the adventure of being given to be who she was to become.
…from the end of the story, the Assumption, we see not only that someone has done something for us, which of course they have – that is Jesus’ role. We see the beginnings of the living, active shape of what it’s like to have that something done for us. But there is more. That the story has come to an end doesn’t mean that it is over and done with, its denizens quietly retired to some celestial [Boca Raton]. On the contrary, it means that in just the same way as Jesus, the self-giving lamb, is alive on the altar in heaven, his victory having been forever sealed, and his self-giving being made alive for us constantly and given to us, just so the sharers in his risen life, the saints, and first among them, Our Lady, are not only part of a story that is now over, but share in all the living story-empowering creativity of the resurrection life being made available for us now.
If you like: it is not the case that these are lucky people who are just there on the other side of the great divide, and that we are here, stuck on this side, with, in every generation, the same tragic and heroic choices to make, decisions to stick to and so on which might just get us allowed in to the other side, about which we can know nothing. The whole point of the resurrection life being already lived by real people with real names and real life histories, a resurrection life which is cast for us in the shape of the image of creation itself in the Assumed Virgin, is that it means that the great divide is not so great, the other side is even now bending towards us, and tends even to interpenetrate our own side, so the adventure is not one of tragic heroism, but is a much safer story than we normally dare to believe. After all, Salvation that didn’t come with an expansive sense of safety wouldn’t be worth much.
And I breath deep and sigh, “Mmmmm.” On a blog concerned primarily with ethics and the struggle for good, with the constant tendency to take itself too seriously, I want to take Alison’s conclusion to heart:
So as we turn…to matters of ethics in the light of Mary’s hymn of praise, may I ask you to remember that…we are dwellers not in ideological cages, but in a hugely extended family household of spacious dwelling places, …where the heroism and the struggle for the good which we must learn can never entirely swallow the sensation that we are safe, that we are held, that there are others reaching towards us, that whatever may be the immediate appearances, we are in much more of a playground and much less of a war zone than we are inclined to think. Maybe then we will be making room for Mary’s soul to magnify the Lord.
A world in which it would be easier to be good
When…we meet Abdul Husain, a 19-year-old resident of the Mumbai slum called Annawadi, we first hear him tell us of his shortcomings: “Allah, in his impenetrable wisdom, had cut him small and jumpy,” Boo writes. “A coward: Abdul said it of himself …. What he knew about, mainly, was trash.”
Abdul buys recyclables that the neighborhood’s waste-pickers have scavenged and then resells it in bulk to local recycling plants. He works with his mother, Zehrunisa, who haggles with the waste-pickers. In Abdul’s view, her “one great flaw” is “the language she used when haggling. Although profane bargaining was the norm in the waste business, he felt his mother acceded to that norm with too much relish.”
…His next-door neighbor, Fatima, attempts suicide by self-immolation and then accuses Abdul, his father, and his sister of driving her to suicide by beating and threatening her. There are hundreds of witnesses to disprove Fatima’s claim, but that’s not the point. Everyone knows that Abdul’s family has some money socked away, and now everyone sees an angle for getting some of it.
Police officers arrest the accused and demand bribes to release them; a government official coaxes a written accusation from Fatima, then uses the document as leverage against the Husains; the Annawadi village fixer, Asha, offers to make the problem go away for a fee. When Abdul’s mother refuses to pay most bribes, all three of the accused Husains are held in jail and beaten. Abdul is then sent to a juvenile correctional facility.
…In Annawadi, Abdul had been “overwhelmed by his own work and worry.” His stay at the detention center, he realizes later, “was the first long rest he’d ever had.” While there, “something had happened to his heart.” He finds himself feeling sorry for other people. He finds in himself a desire to be generous and noble. When he is released on parole, he brings this desire back home with him.
What are the prospects for a young man with broadened sympathies and a sharpened sense of justice back in Annawadi? Abdul’s first resolution is not to trade in stolen recyclables, which he normally buys and sells with the legally scavenged trash.
…Boo describes Abdul’s shifting moral sensibility without sentimentality or emotional punctuation. He tries, for a while, to stick to his resolution, but finds that he can’t make enough money only on legal trash. As he puts it, “I tell Allah now I love him immensely, immensely. But I tell him I cannot be better, because of how the world is.”
If we choose to stand in the right place, God, through us, creates a community of resistance without our even realizing it… Our locating ourselves with those who have been endlessly excluded becomes an act of visible protest. For no amount of screaming at the people in charge to change things can change them. The margins don’t get erased by simply insisting that the powers-that-be erase them… Only when we can see a community where the outcast is valued and appreciated will we abandon the values that seek to exclude.
A Lenten Reflection
Do you remember when the Pharisees criticize Jesus for healing a man’s hand on the Sabbath? Jesus brushes them off, and they are left humiliated and angry. They are so exasperated by Jesus ignoring the law of Moses that they go away and make a plan to have him killed.
In today’s Gospel, however, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” And right after this passage, he gets into specifics: fulfilling the law against murder means not even speaking angry words to anyone. So it’s not that Jesus has a more lax, easy going interpretation of God’s law than the Pharisees.
But there does seem to be a big difference in how Jesus and the Pharisees relate to God’s law that shows itself in how they respond to someone breaking it. Jesus corrects but quickly offers forgiveness, while the Pharisees ostracize and remain preoccupied with punishment.
The Pharisees’ approach comes naturally to me. When my wife wakes me up earlier than we had agreed, I fixate on the fact that sheisnotsupposedtodothat. For the rest of the day, I blame her for everything that goes badly for me and think about how I will get back at her later by telling her how much suffering she caused me.
What enables us to forgive others and so live the law in its fullness? From my experience, it is much easier when I have recently felt forgiven myself. And that’s what Jesus wants to give us.
What transgression of God’s law or judgment of others do you want to hand over to Jesus to be forgiven, maybe in the sacrament of Reconciliation?