Depending on how long you have been a part of the social justice/sustainability/fair-trade conversation, you know that it can be wrought with complication and various perspectives on what is actually just.
For example, when TOMS Shoes first came out there was a surge of praise. Blake Mosloskie founded a for-profit company whose “One to One” model allowed for consumer purchases to directly help those in poverty. Blake, the story, The shoes, were everywhere and before you knew it, TOMS were being sold in stores like Nordstroms. Then a bit later, some were down on them. “They’re being made in China,” “Why shoes and why not food?,” “They’re not ethically made or distributed” and some dismissed them as another bad example of good intention. Likely, there are some holes in their model, likely some of the criticism are warranted and needed and likely the good people of TOMS are aware of even more of their faults than their critics realize. It seems they have been trying to function with better practices from the beginning and you should read more at their Corporate Responsibility page. I’m optimistic for them.
Another complaint I hear are the limitations of fair trade products. Have you ever heard this – “It’s technically fair-trade but the worker/farmer/seamstress is still being ripped off”? You hear this about Starbucks every so often. I live in the Northeast where Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks are the main players and independent shops are hard to come by. Then I often hear from pro-Starbucks types that their coffees are either certified or other significant measures have been taken to help the coffee farmers. I’m confident the truth will come out, right Lance Armstrong?
But nothing could prepare me for what I would encounter next: As I was walking towards the front of the convention center to meet up with my friends, I saw a guy who looked like Shane Claiborne but without blonde dreads. Instead he had shorter, brown hair. He was tall and thin like Shane and was wearing a blue shirt that could have been handmade. I mean if Shane actually cuts his hair, what does that mean? Next we’ll find out that he never actually went to Calcutta and served with Mother Theresa and he’s not from Tennessee. I did a double-take and realized that it was indeed, Shane Claiborne … with short hair (I also noted that he was not wearing TOMS shoes nor holding a cup of fair-trade coffee – the sound you hear is a shallow social justice worldview crumpling).
DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS? Shane Claiborne doesn’t look cool anymore in the anti-GQ way. In fact, he looks more like a nerdy computer programmer now and I’m very confident that if he gets kicked out of the Simple Way that he would be a perfect addition to the cast of The Big Bang Theory.
Legend has it, this isn’t the first time that Shane has cut his hair. A good friend of mine and (infrequent blogger ;) tells a missional tale where Shane was challenging his audience to realize that social justice wasn’t a cool trendy type of a thing. He used is dreads as an example, “Some people think my dreads are cool …” and he pulled out a pair of scissors and cut them right there on the spot! My friend said, “Ironically, that was cool.”
Now understand, I am grateful for Shane. In fact, during one of my youth ministry years, I required all of our short-term mission team members to read Irresistible Revolution as part of our preparation. I’ve seen Shane speak quite a number of times over the years, I’ve agreed, I’ve disagreed, I’ve wondered but I do have a deep respect for him and especially for how he has handled himself in the tricky Christian media/blogosphere spotlight. I believe he is living out his calling – something each of us must discover and pursue.
But let me get to the point of my post because in truth, Shane Claiborne’s hair is completely irrelevant to me. More importantly, I think his message would have been just as powerful regardless of his dreadlocks or attire (but his image is consistent with his message). I think TOMS Shoes are good and need to get better and I love the idea of Fair Trade and would like to see it be more realistic for me and the others I talk to. I/we can’t afford $40 shirts nor could I/we afford to hand out free-trade chocolate at Halloween. That said, I’ll be the first to admit that we as a family need to figure out how to cut back on our expenses, live simpler, more sustainable so that we can bridge this gap as well.
All these examples tell me this – We need to work on our personal/collective shortcomings and inconsistencies in order to be bringers of God’s justice. I see it as part of our discipleship. Some of the criticisms are ridiculous and are birthed from other motives but some will actually make the practices better, more and people will be served holistically/systemically. However incremental, over a generation this makes the world better, the Church stronger, and God is even more glorified.
Which brings me to one of my favorite parts of the Justice Conference - I am processing how this conversation is maturing and deepening, especially for us X’ers and Millennials. Seeing so many younger people was so encouraging, especially considering the registration costs, transportation, hotels, parking, etc. Further, I couldn’t help but think that if we worked on sustainable habits throughout our 20′s & 30′s that our world would be better in our 60′s & 70′s. Now maybe every generation thinks this and I have prayed that God would confront my arrogance but in any case, seeing this was good for my soul.
My fear is that some will give in to the criticism, become overwhelmed by the complications in discovering what it means to live justly. I fear that some will give up and sink into apathy and instead of using energy and resources to serve God and others, they will squander.
I believe regardless of one’s ideology, our humanity is wired to care for others. I further believe the Christian faith offers the best narrative of how to live honoring God and others. For faithful disciples of Jesus, social justice is part of the gospel. My hope is that we continue to mature in this conversation.
Next year the Justice Conference will be in LA on Feb. 21 & 22 and you can register for the lowest price it will be here … And there will be satellite locations, maybe even one in the Northeast, near Boston, we’ll see what happens. But may we be active participants of God’s love, redemption and justice and not simply conversationalists or conference attendees.