"The Act of Remembering" - Kickoff for Thirty Days for the Earth
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life? - Mary Oliver
Everyone says breakfast is the most
important meal of the day.
Can you remember what you ate this morning?
A banana ...
Veggie bacon and scrambled tofu ...
I hope you had something!
Hold that thought.
I’ll get back to your breakfast in a minute.
During our “Thirty Days for the Earth,” (which starts today)
our annual invitation to reflect more deeply
on eco-justice and earth care,
each of us is challenged to look at our actions
with new eyes;
to change some part of our life
so that Creation may flourish.
In the month of March we are also talking about evil.
The past two Sundays,
Everett and I, in our sermons,
clarified our use of the word “evil.”
When he and I use the term “evil,”
we are not talking about malicious destruction
that comes from a supernatural force,
or comes in the form of
Rather, the evil that we liberal religious people
are called to unpack and confront
is of entirely human design.
We can also call it “structural violence.”
is a concept that emerged out of peace and conflict studies.
Structural violence has two components:
The great physical, psychological, and spiritual harm experienced
by certain people, beings, and really all of Creation
as a result of unequal distribution of power and privilege.
The silent acquiescence of those
who fail to take responsibility for it
and challenge it.
Common forms of this are racism, sexism, classism. (1)
Meaning - our actions, even the smallest, most mundane of actions,
like choosing what we eat for breakfast,
can have long-lasting impact on
on workers here in the United States,
on farmers in other countries.
We’ve named here many times
the harms inflicted on Creation.
Today I am focusing more
on that second piece of structural violence:
silent acquiescence, or “moral oblivion.”
In our sermons on evil, Everett and I lifted up the words
of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote:
Evil is always the assertion
of some self-interest without regard to the whole,
whether the whole be conceived as the immediate community,
or the total community of humanity,
or the total order of the world.
Some self-interest without regard to the whole.
You and I are mired in self-interest.
This is often a good thing!
It’s how we survive in this world.
And it’s the reason I want all of you to eat a good breakfast!
But even the most well-intentioned of people
can act without realizing the impact our deeds have on others.
Any one of us can and do at times
enter into “moral oblivion;”
when that which is good for us
intertwines with unintended,
life-shattering consequences for others.
And the uncomfortable truth is that
unless you hand-picked bananas from trees in your yard,
or bought your eggs from Nora Vincent,
or cultivated your own grain
and pressed it into little round O’s
for your cold cereal ...
You likely practiced unintentional “moral oblivion”
over your breakfast choices this morning.
Before you even left your house
you participated in our global economic system.
That global economic system privileges a very few,
extremely wealthy individuals and institutions.
And wreaks havoc on so many who are caught in its cogs,
particularly communities of color
from “the global South,”
meaning those countries in the southern hemisphere facing the greatest socio-economic challenges.
Now, I don’t mean to pick on breakfast today.
We could choose any number of necessities
and analyze their impact on the globe:
clothing, we all need to get dressed;
technology, which seems more and more crucial to our daily operations;
transportation, in particular, automobiles.
In part I chose to analyze breakfast
because this coming week’s
Thirty Days for the Earth reflection question,
which you’ll see in tomorrow’s Monday Messenger,
focuses on food and the environment.
And in part because of this compelling quote from
Martin Luther King Jr.,
who wrote back in 1967:
Before you finish eating your breakfast this morning,
you’ve depended on more than half the world.
This is the way our universe is structured ...
We aren’t going to have peace on earth
until we recognize this basic fact
of the interrelated structure of reality. (p. 23)
Almost 50 years later
it is still just as true.
Let’s go back to our breakfasts.
More specifically, I want to talk about one item
you may have eaten: bananas.
Do you love bananas?
Bananas are a staple in my diet.
In so many ways,
they are the perfect food.
A beautiful golden yellow.
Comes in it’s own biodegradable wrapper
Full of B6, Vitamin C, and potassium.
Frozen, they make a wonderful base for a smoothie.
Too ripe? Make banana bread!
They clock in at an easy 100 calories.
It’s easy to take bananas for granted.
They are everywhere!
And they are cheap!
19 cents each at Trader Joe’s.
Turns out, the economic life of a banana
is pretty fascinating,
and multiple books and articles have been written on the topic.
Google them after worship!
I’ll sketch out the broad strokes of this American food staple:
- Bananas are grown 1000s of miles away, in places like Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama;
= Bananas need to be transported quickly, and in order to facilitate moving them from the banana plantations to the trains and ships bringing them; north, rainforests were cut down and railroads constructed;
- They only survive about two weeks after they are cut off the tree;
- They must be transported in cool containers;
- To keep prices low, banana plantation workers were not allowed basic rights such as health care, decent wages, or the right to congregate;
- In many instances, heads of fruit companies hold massive political power and influenced national policy, at times through violence;
- Only one banana variety is grown; by sticking to a single variety, all the bananas in a shipment ripen at the same time, creating huge economies of scale. (2)
That may not be news to you.
Really, it’s not news to me, either.
I’ve heard those things before.
Yet, when I’m at the store,
deciding what my family will eat in the coming week,
it’s so easy to forget it all.
There are no signs on the display,
reminding me of the complex back story
of this one, perfectly yellow, crescent-shaped fruit.
There are so many social injustices,
wrapped up in the growth, harvesting, transportation and sale
of that one little banana.
This is not an anti-banana sermon.
But I use this as just one example
of the complexities of today’s global market,
a global market in which
structural violence -
harms done to people and our earth -
are covered up.
For those of us who proclaim ourselves to be lovers of all life,
stewards of Creation,
we must ask ourselves:
“How does evil manage to hide itself
from our consciousness,
to become acceptable in our lives?”
Those who benefit the most from
structural violence -
those who are accruing vast wealth
at the expense of all of us -
are masters at erasing this
from our consciousness.
We must be able to unmask evil
that parades as normal, natural, inevitable.
What we cannot see,
what we cannot remember,
we cannot change.
Seeing - remembering - these structural evils
is incredibly painful.
It feels overwhelming.
It seems incredible that one small action from me
will make a difference.
Joanna Macy, eco-philosopher,
asks us to honor that pain we feel for the world.
Recognizing our pain,
remembering all that we long for,
does not drag us down us into in-action.
Rather, when we let ourselves experience
this pain for the world,
we learn that our capacity to suffer with
is at the heart of compassion.
And after we open our eyes and hearts,
then we can imagine new ways
that bring peace and healing to all Creation.
And we can do this - even through a banana.
In 2004, Fair Trade certification for bananas began
in order to help combat low wages for workers,
poor living conditions of those workers,
pesticide drift and contaminated rivers.
Fair Trade bananas are grown on smaller family or worker-owned farms.
There are protections for workers’ rights;
higher wages for workers;
and more environmentally sustainable growing practices.(3)
Does a Fair Trade banana cost more?
Yes - the difference between these two piles of bananas: $1.20.
I, too, work with a set budget for food buying each week.
Like you, I make hard choices with the money I make.
Part of the unmasking structural injustice
is to be so intentional with each
of our financial purchases.
How is our money being used;
what is our money supporting?
We vote our values each and every day
with our pocketbook.
The movement toward Fair Trade bananas
and other products, like coffee and chocolate,
didn’t happen overnight.
They happened because groups of people
dreamed a new way,
and organized to make it so.
We have an opportunity to do something similar in Pasadena.
We have the chance to be part of the movement
that bans the use of styrofoam in this city.
For the next Thirty Days,
I’m asking you to take the challenge to say No to Foam.
Our congregation is part of a community coalition
of congregations and non-profits
that are trying to change public policy and practice in Pasadena.
Trying to make our city a little greener.
Taking the challenge means
you’ll have to pay attention to
the container your take-out order comes in.
It means some inconvenience -
you may have to bring your own
re-usable containers when you go out to eat.
There’s an info sheet on this campaign in your Order of Service,
and an information table set up in Throop Hall.
I hope you’ll say yes to taking this challenge with me.
And over the next Thirty Days,
may your actions heal and bring peace
to our world.
1) Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia D. Resisting Structural Evil: Love As Ecological-Economic Vocation, p. 49.
2) Accessed on March 19, 2016 at http://freakonomics.com/2008/06/19/the-economics-of-bananas/
3) Read more here: https://fairtradeusa.org/sites/default/files/Bananas_Impact_Report.pdf