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Welcome to the blog of the Enough for Everyone program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). By "just living" we mean both justice-based living and just simply living – freeing ourselves from the clutter of stuff so we can focus on living faithfully and living well. Join us in the exploration!

About the Author
Bryce Wiebe coordinates Enough for Everyone, a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. He loves slow food and is fascinated by the way things are made.  He is excited to dive into experiments in simplicity with you.  His sacred cow of consumption: kitchen gadgets.

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January 13, 2014

fasting, fair trade, and Isaiah

Isaiah 58:6-12

 

Is not this the fast I choose:  to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.  If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.  The LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.  Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

 

Fasting has long been a traditional spiritual practice within the Christian faith.  Giving something up; forgoing pleasure and instead devoting that time and energy to prayer has been a powerful way to connect oneself to their own body, their own intentions, and to God.  Voluntary poverty has some benefits.

 

I've recently returned from Nicaragua, where I accompanied 9 other people through a fair trade journey.  We met coffee farmers who have organized themselves and secured a fair price for their work, and gained some economic stability for their communities.  We met women who create jewelry out of things found in the trash dump beside which they live.  We met women who spent two years building a sewing factory for themselves, so that they could stitch together a future for their families, paying themselves a living wage.

 

Among all of them there was deep joy, pride, and resolve.  As I reflected with our group of delegates, this text from Isaiah kept returning to me.  I thought of all the sacrifices and risk among those farmers and artisans.  I thought of how they "fasted" from conventional practices and the working conditions they were told they must accept, and chose to commit themselves to one another and to their work, and toward a future they could barely imagine. 

 

But as I thought more, I thought about the fasting we might do, here, as Christians in the developed world.  I, of course, thought of the ways we participate in this global economy we have received.  I thought of ensuring the products we buy are made by people who are paid a fair wage.  I thought of deepening the relationship between consumers on one end and producers on the other.  I thought about fasting from companies and stores that profit from slave and low-wage labor.

 

But, as I continued to reflect on fasting, I considered a different fast to choose.  It struck me that we often look into the deep and systemic problems of the world and get discouraged.  Often, despair sets in when we see the ways inequality wreaks havoc on communities around the world, especially if we feel complicit in that inequality because of our own privilege within the global economic system, coupled with a relative lack of power as individuals within that same system. 

 

The fast I choose today is from that despair.  One does not sit with fair trade farmers and artisans long before realizing they don't require or benefit from pity.  They don't desire our guilt, our apology, or our charity.  They are convinced of their abilities, aware of their resources, and proud of the work that they do.  Partnering with them requires hope and joy from us.  Fasting from hopelessness and living into joy is risky, I think.  It asks us to refrain from the excuses of "I am only one person," or "I can't make a difference," or "The system is too big and too corrupt to fix". 

 

The Christian story is one built to address the big injustices we face.  The Christian story is not surprised at persistent oppression, nor is it deterred by apparent failure; death itself could not stifle it.  We have the privilege and call to go about the work with joy and hope.  We are invited to laugh, dance, sing, and shop in ways that witness to the abundance we know to be the truth of God's creation.  So the fast I choose today will help me to loose the bonds of the oppressed in our economic system, will help me commit to feeding the hungry, and will provide the energy and fearlessness that it takes to share.  "Then [our] light shall rise in the darkness and [our] gloom be like the noonday."


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