Social Action

The view from the other side of the fence

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The New Colossus

Seeing these words painted in protest on the newly built, hugely fortified border fence in Playas de Tijuana, was eye opening. What happened to us? How did we get to this place? And where is the America of Ellis Island?

Here’s what we know. The American society we all enjoy is built on the backs of cheap labor. While we complain about expensive gas we enjoy cheap foods picked by nameless, faceless, undocumented people throughout our country. And that’s just the people who likely went in debt $5,000 to cross our monster border. We so easily forget about the hundreds of thousands of hands that manufacture goods in Tijuana.

Two weeks ago, I went into Costco and spent $230 on a new flat screen TV. I confess I never thought about the hands who assembled it in TJ or somewhere like it. Their fingerprints were invisible on the box. Their breathe filled space in the box between the styrofoam and the cardboard. But it was their product I purchased. We are enjoying their faceless handiwork.

I didn’t think that the person who assembled my TV makes less than $60 per week working 60 hours lives just 45 minutes from my home. That person might live in a community like I visited yesterday. It’s a place that doesn’t technically exist though several thousand people live on the flood plain of a river below the plant where toxic waste is routinely dumped. There’s no running water. No toilets. No showers. No electricity. And since they don’t have legal rights to the land the government can decide to move them out whenever they feel like. A team from Centro Romero was there a few years back when bulldozers did just that. They gave families 5 minutes to leave before bulldozing half of the community for a canal project.

When I bought my TV I didn’t think about the children who will grow up playing in the toxic mess while both parents are off at the assembly plant. I didn’t think about the miles those kids would have to walk to get to school. I didn’t think about the realities of their birth defects caused by heavy metals. I didn’t think about the loan sharks and child traffickers who make their living keeping these young families stuck in these conditions.

All I know is that I smiled when I bought my $230 TV at Costco that Sunday. It was cheap. I got a good deal. And our TV was broken.

It’s easy to hear about our nations billion dollar fence and feel good about it. But know that we’ve not stopped the flow of illegal immigration. As one of the signs said, “If you make a 12 foot fence we’ll build a 13 foot ladder.” All our fence has done is made the journey more treacherous. Along one stretch of road we visited a memorial to the 4500 documented deaths of people attempting to cross the border. It’s also gotten more expensive. Until recently, it only cost a few hundred dollars to hire someone to get you across the border. Now the price is around $5,000. How do people making $56 a week afford that? They become indentured servants on American farms. 

It’s easy to say things like, “I’m all for people immigrating to our country, they just have to do it legally.” Those are easy things to say from this side of the fence. These are easy things to say when you were born here. These are easy things to say when they are nameless and faceless to you. But also think about your $230 TV or your $1.99 fresh strawberries or your $10 t-shirt. It’s easy for you to say those things when you are enjoying the fruits of their oppression.

My challenge to you is to do what I’ve done. Take the time to learn their stories and walk in their shoes. I’ll take you to these places if you dare.

And then you’ll ask yourself– which side of the fence are you on? 


Social Action

The high cost of tomatoes

1. The Unsavory Story Of Industrially-Grown Tomatoes - Clip from Science Friday, August 26th 2011     

Source: Science Friday – August 26th 2011

I love tomatoes. They are a seasonal treat I grow in my garden. At the peak of the growing season we were getting 50+ per week from our garden.

Key word: Seasonal.

Americans have no concept of seasonal food. We want what we want 12 months per year in complete denial of natural growth cycles. In other words, if you want a tomato on your salad to start your annual New Years diet, you just go to the grocery store and get it.

Here’s the thing: Tomatoes don’t grow naturally that time of year. There are places in the world where tomatoes grow well during a season. But in the middle of the winter your typical beaf steak tomato doesn’t grow anywhere in North America. At least not naturally.

So why can I buy them year-round? 

Supply and demand has a dark side. As the audio from the August 26th version of Science Friday documents, those low taste, high cost winter tomatoes you buy at the supermarket come at a very high cost.

  • About 120 chemicals are needed to make those tomatoes grow in Florida.
  • 8x’s the pesticides are needed for Florida winter tomatoes that aren’t needed for ones grown in California.
  • Many are hand picked and cultivated by modern-day slaves…. in Florida. (More than 1200 cases of such have been documented in recent years.)
  • They are picked when they are completely unripe and bright green. Then they are gased to turn them bright red, even though they aren’t ripe.
  • The reason your store bought tomatoes have no flavor is that they aren’t raised in soil, they are raised in sand. (No natural nutrients, sorry)

What’s the point?

If you knew that you were buying something produced by modern-day slavery in your own country, would you still buy it if it were a good deal?

My advice? Next time you sit down to eat something or make a meal ask yourself… where did this food come from? What were the farmers who produced it paid? And was this food made under conditions that honor God?

You might not want to know. But the reality is that there is an entire industry out there who doesn’t want you to think about where your food comes from, they just want to get rich off of your ignorance.

Church Leadership

Why I Stand Up to Bullies


What if you found out that the principal had denied access to the gay/straight alliance because of some technicality… a rule the Christian club broke all the time? Would you take a stand for the gay/straight alliance? They have the right to meet at the school under the same rules that give the Christian group rights to meet. I asked this question to a senior pastor friend of mine over a cup of coffee. The conversation got to this point when he asked me why I was always standing up for the little guy. I told him that our role as Christian leaders was to help others seek justice to which he replied, “Well, some things deserve justice and equality while others don’t.

And Christians wonder why some people hate them?

Let me share a few reasons why I think more Christian leaders don’t stand up to bullies:

1. They are wimps. Somewhere in all of our education we are taught to never fight the system, just to submit to the ruling authority, and smile at old ladies on Sunday mornings. I’ve met far too many church leaders whose only leadership skill is diplomacy. Diplomacy is great. But the desire to negotiate is worthless if no one takes you seriously. Just because you are a church leader doesn’t mean you have to be a pansy.

2. They have horrible theology. In the above discussion you see it played out. That church leader was only interested in standing up for the Christian group. No one else in the community matters to him because they don’t directly benefit him. (Directly, meaning he doesn’t see the connection between justice and church growth!) You know, Jesus and his disciples only ever stood up for the religious folks, right? Just ask the woman at the well and that woman about to be stoned when caught having sex.

3. They are afraid of their churches. Good Lord, imagine what would happen if the senior pastor actually stood up against injustice in his community! I mean, what would the board say? I mean… if I don’t do what they say I could lose my job! (See #1 & #2)

4. Their worldview is jacked up. I could ask the pastor above if he was an absolutist or a graded-absolutist and he’d swear oaths to Josh McDowell that he was walking the absolutist straight and narrow. But based on how he answered the question above you’d see that he’s really a relativist. (gasp) He’d stand up for the Christian groups right to meet at a local high school because he agrees with them. But because he doesn’t agree with gay/straight alliance, he wouldn’t. Relativism in action. So what’s good for one group isn’t good for another, right pastor?

5. Their priorities are out-of-order. The last cop-out I hear all the time is, “I’m so busy running the church.” Too many who work in churches are so worried about running the programs of the church that they forget their place in society. Think about it… most pastors make horrible neighbors. They are too busy to be a part of the community, they use their house as a meeting location, and they are preaching all the time that you should love your neighbor despite the fact that they don’t know their own neighbors names or love them one bit. It shocks me that the way evangelical churches operate that they are so out-of-balance with the community’s need.

I know these are generalizations. And I know that people think that if they can dismiss one single point with a specific example they can dismiss all that I’m saying. Please don’t lose the point of the post by disagreeing with a single generalization. The point is that if you want to be a Christian leader in your community, you don’t need the title of pastor. What you need to do is look deeply at what’s going on, expose injustices, speak out for the weak and poor among you, and stand up to bullies. Whether that’s a school board, a government official, a nasty neighbor, a gang, the big donor at church pulling the strings, or even some bullies picking on kids as they walk to school.

Jesus is a big fan of justice, are you?

hmm... thoughts Social Action Sports

My Olympic Rant

Beijing Olympics

So the Olympics are over. A little over 2 weeks ago the world watched the fabulous spectacle that was the opening ceremonies. Then for 16 days the nation was captivated while new stars were born and China sold itself to the world as the new mecca.

At the same time there was a large group of people uncomfortable with the Olympic spectacle. For me, these thoughts ran rampant through my mind as I tried to watch the closing ceremonies:

– China is not a free nation. No freedom of speech, freedom of press, or freedom of movement. 

– China is among the worst human rights violators. There is no doubt that thousands of people were rounded up and imprisoned for the games. I don’t think I heard NBC talking about China’s one child policy, did you? False imprisonment? The fact that the United States #1 religion is illegal in China. Did you hear that?

– China has a labor problem. I couldn’t watch the opening/closing ceremonies without thinking about child labor, slave labor, and human trafficking. 

– China is not a nation of middle class. There are extreme rich and extreme poor. Watching them drop $40 billion on the games… an injustice.

NBC OlympicAnd I was disappointed to see NBC be a party to all of this. The story in China is not Michael Phelps or the basketball team, volleyball team, gymnastics success or relay team failure. To see NBC Sports play along and not mention it shows that they are more interested in corporate profits than covering the story. It’s pathetic to me that now, once the games are over, they are talking about how they were censored and how they observed things. 

The American people needed a chance to see for themselves what is happening. And instead of C-SPAN we got The Disney Channel.