You Are What You Eat

I’m a big fan of my local Publix supermarkets. When our boys were little, they always managed to steer the shopping cart to the bakery section, where a free cookie awaited them. I’ve served on the boards of several non-profit agencies through the years, and I’ve seen how generous Publix employees and managers can be. I used to pick up food for homeless people from the boxes provided at local Publix stores. From my perspective, Publix has been a model corporate citizen

Also impressive is Publix’s commitment to offer Fair Trade coffee at its stores. As the label on Publix-brand coffee reads, “Fair trade is only fair.”

Having seen how generous and just Publix can be, I can’t understand why corporate headquarters is refusing to support the efforts of farm workers to secure a mere extra penny for pound for the tomatoes they pick and Publix buys. Even more baffling is the refusal of Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw even to sit down with farm workers and discuss their Campaign for Fair Food

For many years the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been working with Florida growers to adopt a code of conduct that ensures increased wages and workplace protections that have never before existed for agricultural workers. Last year 90% of Florida’s tomato growers signed the code agreement.

Under the new code, Florida’s 30,000 farmworkers will have mandatory access to shade and water, the right to report abuses without retaliation, a clock-in system to guarantee minimum wage payment for hours worked, the right to form health and safety committees in the fields, and the promise of zero-tolerance for forced labor and sexual harassment.

It took years to achieve this agreement with tomato farmers, but, as Publix says, “Fair is only fair.”

Even with these advances, the fact remains that wages for farmworkers have remained stagnant for decades. According to the Department of Labor, poverty among farmworkers is more than double that of all wage earners and salaried employees. Annual income for these workers ranges from $10,000 to $12,499 for physically demanding and dangerous work. In order to improve the lot of farmworkers, everyone in the supply chain, from growers to consumers, needs to step up.

That’s where Publix comes in. With revenues last year of $25.3 billion, not only is Publix the largest company in Florida, it’s amongst the largest buyers of tomatoes for resale. The farmworkers are asking Publix to do its fair share — by committing to buy only from farms that comply with the new industry code while moving purchases away from farms that violate it — and also by passing along to those who harvest tomatoes an additional penny per pound.

That’s all – a mere penny per pound. As a Publix customer, I’d be more than happy to pay an extra penny per pound for the tomatoes I buy at Publix, knowing that my neighbors in the fields would benefit. Just as I’m happy to pay more for fairly-traded coffee, I’d be happy to pay that extra penny for fairly-traded tomatoes.

My question is, “Why Fair Trade Coffee, but not Fair Trade Food?”

When I wrote Mr. Crenshaw about this, he responded by saying that Publix pays the “fair market price” for tomatoes. That’s what buyers used to say about coffee, too. The fact is, there are two market prices: the penny-per-pound extra to raise wages or the “fair market price” that keeps harvesters in poverty. I’m no economist, but I think Mr. Crenshaw’s response is less than forthright.

Interfaith Action of Southeast Florida is launching  a prayer campaign to support the Fast for Fair Food from March 6-10.  To break the fast on March 10 there will be a silent march to Publix headquarters in Lakeland.  I’m praying that the Faith Moves Mountains prayer campaign and the CIW’s fast will help to change the hearts and minds of the folks at Publix.

Here in the state capital, Tallahassee Interfaith Clergy will host a press conference on March 6 at noon in front of the Publix store at 2111 Capital Circle Northeast (in the Lowe’s shopping center).    We will share our Open Letter to Publix urging that Publix join Trader Joe’s and the other Florida supermarkets who have entered the Fair Food agreement.

The official Publix Guarantee is, “We will never knowingly disappoint you.” Here’s one loyal Publix customer who’s not only disappointed, but baffled by Pubix’s refusal to join this effort.  The Publix I know can do better.

The Bible Tells Me So

I realize the task of a presidential primary candidate is to appeal the fringe until the nomination is secured, and then move to the middle for the general election.  Even allowing for the need to throw red meat to the choir, recent comments by Rick Santorum go well past the gray zone into demagoguery.

In a CBS interview Santorum accused President Obama of having a “theology” dismissed from the Bible.  He  said that the president believes in “some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.”  Turns out he was referring to environmentalists who, he suggested, believe that human beings should serve the earth instead of God.  Mr. Santorum lumped the president in with these supposedly Godless ecophiles.

I’m grateful to progressive Mike Lux for calling Mr. Santorum’s bluff.  He wants to know if Mr. Santorum is referring to the Bible used by Christians and Jews, or perhaps some other bit of holy writ.

Card-carrying evangelical Christian Jim Wallis has been asking much the question for years.  Exactly what Bible is it that blames the poor for their poverty, heaps scorn upon immigrants, shows deference to rich, and urges followers of Jesus to oppose universal health care?  Certainly not the Bible the rest of us Christians read.  See Wallis’ book God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and Left Doesn’t Get It. 

I wonder if Jim Wallis might want to revise his book title.  It seems to me that people like Mike Lux do get it.   Whoever is calling the shots in Mr. Santorum’s theology, I can’t find him in the Bible.  Must be the Jesus I never knew.

Surely this text appears in the Bible Mr. Santorum reads:  “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”  In my Bible, that’s Exodus 20:16 and, for good measure,  Deuteronomy 5:20.

Now, there’s a theology that is in the Bible.

Mike Lux

Co-founder and CEO, Progressive Strategies

What Bible Is Santorum Reading?

What to Say?

On Sunday mornings I get to the church between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m.  Last Sunday around 9:00 a young man showed up.  He came into my study and began to pour his heart out.  He’d slept under a bridge the night before, he said.  He’d been staying with some friends, but they were all hooked on crack, and had kicked him out after taking all his belongings.  He had no family save for a 94-year-old grandfather who lived in Miami.  What was he to do?

Then he broke down in tears.

As a downtown pastor I get this kind of visit often.  Sometimes I am able to offer some help by way of referral to a local agency.  Sometimes I can give some small monetary gift.  Sometimes, but only rarely, I can buy a bus ticket.  And I can pray.

I know full well that all the stories I hear might not be true, but I do my best to listen.  I’m not a social worker or an ATM machine, but I am a Christian pastor.  Listening and praying is what I’m called to do.

After praying with him, I took the young man down to the kitchen and turned him over to Julia, our Sunday morning housekeeper. She gave him breakfast.  About 30 minutes later he came back to my study.  By this time I was needing to concentrate on worship preparation.  I explained that he was welcome to come to worship and to stay for the lunch that we host every Sunday for homeless people.

“I have a session meeting right after worship, but after that, we can talk.”  I had already checked the balance in the Minister’s Discretionary Fund and was prepared to buy the young man a bus ticket.

“I’ll wait for you,” he promised.

After the session meeting the young man was nowhere to be found.  I wasn’t really surprised, but I was disappointed.

In the afternoon I made some hospital visits and when I got home, I reached in my briefcase for my laptop computer. Of course you’ve already guessed: It wasn’t there.

About a year ago the Property Council installed security cameras in the Education Building. Along with other downtown churches and businesses, we had a rash of petty thefts and felt we needed to help the police figure out who the culprit might be.  I’d forgotten all about those cameras.

Sure enough, on Monday morning I pulled up the video footage for Sunday morning.  It shows the young man entering the church office (which wasn’t locked at the time) not wearing his jacket and coming out about five minutes later.  As he enters the camera’s frame, he’s putting on his jacket.  He looks around carefully and casually exits the Education  building.

The time is 10:45 a.m. Worship is just beginning in the sanctuary.

Apple computers have an app called “Find My I-Phone.”  It also works for Macbooks.  It allows the owner to locate a phone, Ipad, or laptop on a map.  A little circle shows on the screen shows the location of your device.  If you want, you can tell Apple to lock your hard drive or even wipe it clean as soon as it goes online.

With the app comes another option.  You can leave a message that will appear on your stolen laptop’s screen.  So far my purloined computer hasn’t gone online, but when it does it will become a very expensive brick that will be of no use to its new owner.  In addition, a message will appear.

O.K.  I’m not going to tell you what the message is.

My question is this: If this happened to you, what message would you leave?

Fundamentally Speaking

Agnostic Clarence Darrow and Presbyterian William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Monkey Trial

Fundamentalism comes in all shapes and sizes.  I’m most familiar with the Christian variety, but there are other forms as well.

Recently the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) changed its constitution.  We removed language that functioned as a bar to the ordination of Lesbian and gay officers (ministers, elders, and deacons) and replaced it with language that states: “Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life . . .”

This seems to me to be  a very high standard.  You’d think that submitting to Jesus’ lordship in all aspects of life would be challenge enough.  Some brothers and sisters are not happy about this, however.  One session (local governing body) wrote to Florida Presbytery:

We cannot mold scripture into something it is not simply for political or cultural whimsy, nor can we pervert it to accommodate sinful behavior without fear of impunity.  It is imperative that our church clarify in a righteous manner by putting into practice the teachings of the Bible as it pertains to fidelity and chastity for all leaders of our church.  We believe in the infallibility of the Bible and sacred truths it teaches us, both the Old and New Testaments, where we learn that these sins are clearly not the intended design of God’s perfect creation for a man and a woman.

(I think the writer meant either “without fear of penalty,” or “with impunity” but, you get the drift.)

Fair enough.  Don’t tamper with an infallible Bible.  The problem is, the Bible endorses lots of practices that modern Christians reject (beating your wife, killing your children for disobedience, polygamy, Levirate marriage) and forbids others that modern Christians accept (wearing clothing of differing cloth, touching women while they are menstruating, getting tattoos, divorce).

A little interpretation is called for, isn’t it?  But we tend to be rather selective in our interpretation.  Some bits of the Bible we keep in the file folder marked “infallible” and others get filed under “no longer applies.”  Clearly, the writer of the passage above thinks the Bible contains a blanket condemnation of sexual intercourse outside the marriage of one man to one woman.  The fact that it does no such thing is irrelevant.  We must stick to the fundamentals.

There’s also a political form of fundamentalism.  For the majority of the Florida Legislature, capping tax revenue is fundamental.  Thus, if  lawmakers manage to pass a bill requiring internet giants such as Amazon to collect sales taxes, the Governor won’t sign the  legislation unless it’s “revenue neutral.”  Whatever the right hand collects the left hand has to give back.

In other words, the State can’t possibly bring in more money for Early Learning, healthcare, or education, even if it’s money already owed under current law.  “No new taxes”(or even old taxes collected from internet deadbeats).  It’s fundamental.

I recall a bumper sticker:  “The Bible Says It. I Believe It.  That Settles It.”  Replace “The Bible” with “Grover Norquist” and you’ve got a bumper sticker that would sell like hotcakes.

Life among fundamentalists will always been challenging, no matter where you find them.