Reflections While Bell-Ringing
A lot of people will not make eye-contact if you’re wearing a red apron that reads “I am a Salvation Army Bell-Ringer Volunteer.”
So I learned last Saturday.
But that is not what disturbed me. Amidst the people who deliberately ignored you—wouldn’t even smile when you said ‘Merry Christmas’—there were always people willing to grin, say hello, and donate a little change or a dollar bill.
Nate and I had a good time at Walmart, ringing the bell and greeting the grumpy and the giving alike, and I am glad we volunteered. But the irony of the whole thing wasn’t lost on me.
On the one hand, it was an encouraging relief when people stopped pushing their heavy-laden carts full of goods to nod in our direction, to give a little pocket change to the poor and needy.
But we were collecting funds at Walmart. Walmart. Which is like asking people to donate fresh oxygen after they’ve just bought loads of cigarettes that they plan to smoke in a hurry.
We give pocket-change to the poor (since we feel so generous around the holidays), right after fueling dollars and dollars and dollars into the system that keeps people poor in the first place.
If we did not even donate a penny this Christmas, we would be better off shopping somewhere that paid a fair price to producers, a store that took care of its employees, and a company that sold quality products that we could value for a long time rather than discard in the garbage less than a year after their purchase.
I am not pointing blame here. I buy cheap, low-grade stuff that was probably made in sweat-shops all the time. (I am on a budget after all!) But then, because I am Christian and because I care, I try to make room in that budget for giving to the needy too. Only, when I evaluate my decisions, as I stand there ringing the bell in front of Walmart, it occurs to me that I may not be donating enough to compensate for all my unethical shopping . . . I am stuck in vicious cycle, and there are not enough “works of mercy” I can do to “make up” for my indirect (and often unconscious) works of oppression. Is it possible to find a new way of living in and engaging this world, such that I am not feeding the cycles of poverty, and then trying to feed the hungry people that system has created too?
Today in my prayer time I read Isaiah 3:14, “The plunder from the poor is in your houses.” I looked up from my Bible at the stuff in my house, and although I do not know exactly where all my stuff came from (I may remember the store, but seldom the craftsman or the country), I do know how much I paid for it, which is proof enough that I have plundered the poor. Isaiah wasn’t just talking to an ancient people; he is talking to me.
In Sunday School a few weeks ago, Larry read to us Amos 2:6, “They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.” Ouch.
A few weeks before that, Renee shared with us about the realities of human trafficking, and she told us that “Just one Fair-Trade purchase from every churchgoer worldwide this Christmas would lift one million families out of poverty for one entire year.” Wow. So there is hope and a way forward, after all.
Here’s to happier holidays and healthier shopping!
(from Covenant newsletter, Dec. 7)