“Welcome, dear feast of Lent!” George Herbert, English country priest and poet wrote in Lent (1633). Last week, the western church entered the season of solemn preparation to remember Christ’s great sacrifice and victory over sin and death, and in a short while our eastern brothers and sisters will join us. Lent is usually observed through practices of self-denial and increased spiritual discipline, as Amy Cannon so aptly introduced in a recent article on this site. To prepare our hearts for the joyous celebration of the empty tomb, we must first remind ourselves of the great tragedy of the cross. So, for forty days, we deny ourselves things that are good in remembrance of the things Christ secured for us that are far better, and we take upon ourselves new or intensified practices to make ourselves more like Him. Herbert was right. In fasting, we do indeed find a great feast.
In our Lenten remembrance, we strive to take on attributes of Christ. His work on the cross saved us from the chained bondage of sin and death. We are never more like Him than when we bring freedom to others, and Scripture records that the heart of God is moved most deeply by the plight of the poor and oppressed. And, since Lent isn’t supposed to be forty days of virtue in a church year full of apathy, we can spend this time cultivating aspects of Christ’s character that will carry us through the rest of our lives as we grow in knowledge and love of Him.
At a loss for where to begin? Julie Clawson offers some excellent suggestions in her book Everyday Justice: the Global Impact of our Daily Choices. As I’ve written here before, our most mundane choices from day to day dramatically affect people around the world. In some cases, we unknowingly bind them to modern slavery for our convenience and savings. It may feel great to purchase food, clothing, or luxuries at a deep discount, but the items didn’t suddenly become less expensive to produce. There’s a hidden cost to marked down prices, and we don’t often see those forced to pay. Like it or not, and aware of it or not, we are complicit in their oppression. In Everyday Justice, Clawson traces that complicity through commonly purchased items (coffee, chocolate, cars, food, and clothes) and what happens to what we consume through waste and international debt.
Clawson’s documentation is thorough. This is a book for skeptics and believers alike. In her introduction, Clawson draws a connection between Coca-Cola consumption and genocide in the Darfur region that’s shocking (Sudan is the world’s leading producer of gum arabic, an ingredient so vital to the creation of America’s favorite bubbly beverages that the National Soda Association and other gum arabic groups successfully lobbied for an exception to the US’s sanctions against Sudan, rendering those sanctions meaningless in 1997). When something as seemingly benign as an icy Coke on a hot afternoon puts the drinker in league with a lobby that sought to prevent the US from interfering in genocide, it can be overwhelming to think of hunting down each of these daily routines that have such devastating consequences to our fellow men.
But that’s why the book is called Everyday Justice. Clawson offers the reader a guide to introduce us to living more justly. It exposes the consequences of some of our daily activities and offers simple steps that anyone can take to seek justice instead. As Clawson says, it is an introduction to “tweak – not overhaul” our habits. Rather than overwhelm the reader with the impossible task of righting every wrong and making sure nothing she does has any harmful effect whatsoever on anyone anywhere (a highly unrealistic goal, especially given the nature of our deeply entrenched consumerism), Clawson’s book is an example of how to seek justice in a manageable, practical, meaningful way every day.
Above all, it is a reminder that as Christians, we are called to act in love in all things. If our purchasing choices bring real harm to people, it follows that they can also, if altered, treat people in love and respect. In this Lenten season, as we follow Christ to the Cross, we need not just deny ourselves treats like chocolate or a nice glass of wine for our own sake. We can use that denial to serve our brothers and sisters around the world. In doing so, Lent does its greatest work on us; it reminds us who we are, who God is, and helps us reorder our priorities in light of His. ‘