Choices

Standard

If you go to Starbucks, you have choices there. If you go to Subway, you have more choices. Going to Starbucks and Subway are also choices. We live in a world of continuous choices. We have choices. We get to make choices.

South Wenatchee, the poorer area of the city where I again live in the States, is a series of choices. That some people live there in conditions significantly worse than those in the rest of the city is a direct result of choices certain people made.

We understand that we can choose to go to Starbucks or not, that we can choose what to order if we do go, and that we can choose whether to apply to work at Starbucks or Wal-Mart or E.F. Hutton. We comprehend that we can choose to watch the six o’clock news or a rerun of Seinfeld.

But do we understand that the world is as we have made it because we have made choices? Christians talk about “The Fall,” which was the choice Adam and Eve made to disobey God and eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They made that choice and the results of their choice shaped their world…and our world. That’s what Christians believe about original sin.

We make choices every day to shape our world. Discipleship is seeking to make the choices that follow in Jesus’ path. “What Would Jesus Do?” This was a popular campaign and people made t-shirts and wristbands and keychains. But “What Would Jesus Drive?” many people mocked. Many Christians mocked. They thought it was stupid. What would Jesus drive? Does that seem ridiculous to you? What you drive is a choice you make that shapes your world and reflects how you do or don’t follow Jesus. “But we can’t know what Jesus would drive! They didn’t have cars.” No, but Jesus made his values pretty clear.

Whom would Jesus enslave? Whom would Jesus oppress? Whom would Jesus make work in a sweatshop twelve hours a day so He could wear the right brand of T-shirt?

Here is a dynamic tension I live with all the time: life is insanely complicated, but nowhere in Scripture does God give us permission to be lazy. The world of the first century was almost incomprehensibly simple compared with our world. Not that life was easy by any means, but life had fewer choices. You could make more choices in a grocery store today than they made in a year.

I look at our complex lives and I understand why we don’t work harder to make good choices. The Gap doesn’t want to tell me who made my khakis. They simply want me to see them on sale where I can save two dollars and follow my “bargain reflex” to buy them. Where were they made? Who made them? In what working conditions did they make them?

What does this have to do with my discipleship to Jesus? I am shaping my world with these choices. I am using my dollars to vote for or against sweatshops and slave labor. No, I’m not exaggerating or overdramatizing. We look for any excuse not to have to know, because if we really knew, we would possibly—possibly—feel too badly about ourselves (our actions) to continue making these same choices. I hope.

We allow ignorance to screen us from our true choices and the results of those choices. We do this because we are lazy and busy and juggling a million things and because our brothers and sisters are not reminding us of how they are affected by our choices. They aren’t reminding us because they can’t. They don’t have that choice. They don’t have that freedom. We have the choice to pay attention or not; they don’t have the choice to tell us.

I recommend an older documentary called Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices. Later in the documentary, there is an interview with two people in Hong Kong who work in a factory that provides Wal-Mart with something small and cheap that they sell to us. They don’t say, “Well, it’s better than nothing; at least we have jobs.” Americans want to create the false choice that either these people work in sweatshops and receive slave wages or they don’t work and starve. If this is the choice, if these are the only two alternatives, then we do the poor workers a favor by buying the trinkets and keeping the demand for their exploitation high.

But this is not the single choice; these are not the sole alternatives. We shape the world the way it is. We turn a blind eye to their working conditions, we do nothing to pressure our government to influence their government to improve these conditions, we do nothing to pressure corporations to demand that these conditions change… Why not? What would it cost us? We would have to spend time and energy to make choices that currently we make automatically. We would have to work diligently to research the conditions under which our clothes and toys are manufactured, our coffee and chocolate are grown and picked and packaged and shipped. We might have to spend more, if our efforts succeeded and companies improved conditions and passed the expenses on to us.

That sounds like a lot of work for choices that I’ve made instantly for years. My struggle is that Scripture doesn’t say, “If it’s too much trouble working for justice, then don’t sweat it.” Scripture says we are responsible for our choices and that those choices reflect our hearts.

Here is the tension: I could go insane. No, the Bible does not condone laziness, but I could obsess over these choices and go crazy trying to make the right ones. The dynamic tension is: God wants me to be responsible with my choices but God does not want me to become a legalist or a lunatic. How hard do I work for justice? How much effort is reasonable for me to make to decide which chocolate or sandal or car to buy? Weigh those questions on this scale: Who is my neighbor? What did Jesus say to do for my neighbor? What is my neighbor suffering? And how would I want my neighbor to act, if I were the one working in that factory in Hong Kong? When Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” I think he meant for us to measure our choices by that standard. How would I want someone to treat me, were I in their shoes in that sweatshop and they in mine?

6 thoughts on “Choices

  1. Paul

    Nicely stated. The one choice philosophy in regard to the third world job situation reveals a fallacy in our current concept of Capitalism as well. If the best it can produce is jobs paying such a low wage that people work from birth to death, 50-60 hours a week and are still near starving, what is the true difference between This Capitalism and other despised economic forms? I am a believer in Capitalism as the best alternative that we have right now and that it offers the most opportunity to bring people out of poverty. However, corruption and greed has turned it into what we see in third world sweatshops while first world people have been convinced that the one choice you mention is the only one available. Thus there is a large group who truly believes they are helping by buying at places like Wal-Mart, solely because they have bought this idea that without these jobs there would just be a vacuum that would be filled by nothing. And just that easily a decent person can be convinced that keeping literally millions of people locked in a building, working 16 hours a day for less money than it takes to buy food is doing them a favor. Well, that and because they benefit from the cheap merchandise.

  2. Jim Allyn

    That’s just the way capitalism works: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, because capitalism puts profit ahead of people. Think about it: what is capital? Money, and nothing but. So, instead of capitalism, we could just as well call it money-ism, or greed-ism, or filthy-lucre-ism. There are currently 5 men on Earth who possess as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population. That means that each of these men possesses as much wealth as 760 million other people. I sometimes have people tell me the beauty of capitalism is that those who work harder can accumulate more, and when they tell me that, I ask them to convince me that some people work 760 million times as hard as other people. Nobody’s been able to convince me yet, and and come to think of it, I don’t think anybody has even tried to accept that challenge. They can’t.

    “Capitalism is not about free competitive choices among people who are reasonably equal in their buying and selling of economic power, it is about concentrating capital, concentrating economic power in very few hands using that power to trash everyone who gets in their way.” – David Korten

    “If you want to look at systems that unevenly distributes power and are built off of exploitation and atrocities look no further than the capitalist system itself. Democracy and capitalism are in fact mutually exclusive.” – Arno Noack

    “Poverty has always accompanied capitalism. As an economic system, it has proven to be as successful in producing wealth at one pole as it is in producing poverty at the other. Periodic ‘rediscoveries of’ and campaigns against poverty have not changed that.” – Richard D. Wolff

    “And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called ‘the dung of the devil.’ An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.” – Pope Francis

    Capitalism is incompatible with Christianity.

  3. Loren

    Warning, novel ahead:

    That’s what’s valuable about the Genesis account, specifically “The Fall” you mentioned. So many people are concerned about whether it truly HAPPENED or not. The only way Genesis (or scripture, for that matter) has any power, is if we understand that it’s HAPPENING. The Fall is happening as we speak. Redemption is happening as we speak. At the risk of promoting some false dualism, most people’s lives seem to boil down to which direction the majority of our decisions go (The Fall or Redemption).

    What’s scary is when it doesn’t matter. For so much of the third world, it seems (to this very privileged American millennial) that so many choices – good or bad – seem to lead to the same abject, generational poverty. Maybe their interior life will be blessed knowing they were honorable in this life, but their children still starve and still succumb to preventable diseases.

    Their choices don’t seem to matter that much because ours matter too much. I grab some birthday decorations at Wal-Mart and it adds a few more seconds to the lifespan of modern slavery. It is maddening. You are absolutely right. You could easily go insane with this. Until we weaponize our privilege and find a way to use the resources we have for good (including capitalism, if that’s what you’ve got to work with) nothing will change. And laziness is a big factor. Nothing will change until we make it harder to do the wrong thing than the right thing.

    That’s my twenty cents (inflation. thanks, capitalism.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *