Friday, January 15, 2010

The Reality of Distance

Monday night, it all started coming back to me. I was on the MBTA 66 Bus on my way home from work when my father, whom I had gotten off of the phone with moments before, called me. I picked up the phone and asked what was up. His response?
"Hey, are your friends back from Haiti yet?"

"Yeah, they got back Saturday night. Why?"

"There's been an earthquake in Port au Prince, they said it's a 7 scale..."

"Okay, Dad. I need to go make some phone calls. I love you. Bye"

And so began what have probably been the haziest and most confusing 48 hours of my life. Names popped into my head that I hadn't given a second thought to for months. I found myself digging through GMail archives I hadn't touched for over a year, trying desperately to find phone numbers and expedient contact information for those who I expected to have reliable information about the situation as it pertained to my friends in Haiti.

Since that initial phone call, I've considered some things that may or may not be helpful.

-- Being away from the people I love is one of my biggest weaknesses. I almost forgot about this, because after a summer of frustration and disappointment in 2006, I vowed to always surround myself with my best friends. Since then - almost any time I've gone through a struggle, learned something new, celebrated, whatever - a consistent group of friends were there right alongside of me. Whether they held me, I held them, or we held each other, we did it together.

6:30 PM, Monday, January 11, was the first time since May of 2006 that I felt alone. It's not like people in my new home and new community aren't supportive. They are some of the greatest people I know, and I hope to live life with them for a very long time. But for the first time, I realized, I can't relate to these folks right now like I can to Nicole, Sarah, Rachel, Mike and others.

They remember the sights, smells and sounds. Mike and I stayed with Lukso, Vanna, their family, and Dja. We had to sleep in the same bed because that was all that was available. We were friends before we went; our relationship was bonded in a way that I doubt time and life changes will ever break. I remember Sarah and Nicole's hesitance to go on the trip; they wanted to, but did they really? Now, both of them are thinking pretty seriously about returning. It's been a joy to watch their journeys.

I could go on. Meals, quotes, smells, children's faces. Conversations I had the day I got home, and conversations I had last week. It stays with you; you get it... the point is: I physically felt the distance that stood between my friends, both here in the United States and, of course, in Haiti, like the weight of a tombstone around my neck.

Here in Boston, life has to go on, after all - or so they say. I have meetings to go to, data to enter, a bus to ride, bitchy costumers to deal with at 10,000 Villages, and a Sunday School class to help out with tomorrow morning. All I want is to be able to pause during any one of those activities, or in any of those places, and turn my head to see a familiar face that is somehow intimately connected to my time in Haiti... a familiar set of eyes than can look back into mine and remind me, with a silent look, that they understand and can feel the same pain I feel right now.

When I moved to Boston, I resolved to do one thing: to stop running from the pain of difficult, often broken relationships I found myself in or near. This tragedy in Haiti reaches out across the planet to wherever Haitians and their friends find themselves. There is no way for me to run someplace and hide, forgetting the truth of what has happened and continues to unfold.

Right now, all I want to do is run as fast as I can to wherever the familiar people are, wrap my arms around them, and start crying just loud enough to drown out the news casters, blog commentaries and charities asking donations.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Something about the lense we see through

I just finished talking with my roommate Joseph about a lot going on in my life.

The bottom line of what I took away from the conversation was this: My life seems to be constantly defined by what I don't have. I don't have enough time for community, enough money, a more fuel-efficient car, a girlfriend, etc. This is nothing new. When I was in high school, "I don't have the movie the movie I need to complete this or that collection". In college, "I don't have enough time to invest in homeless people".

Well, folks, I've got a roof over my head, a community of people who support me, food to eat, no kids of my own to worry about, and most of all, the promises that God will take care of me.

And what's funny is that as I write this, I can see evidence of this truth being screamed at me from all sides: a blog this morning. Conversations with a neighbor tonight.

It's time to start weeding out the self-pity and planting seeds of thankfulness, gratitude and appreciation.

Good night.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Something encouraging

Recently, I came across an article from The Frederick News-Post, a newspaper based in Frederick County, MD, that told an encouraging story. I thought you would appreciate it, too.

To sum up the piece: youth group members from two local Lutheran churches have teamed up to have "Christmas in July" Fair Trade Sale at their church. The sale serves many purposes: first and foremost, it raises money for the church youth group; perhaps more importantly, it's a way for children to learn about the people and places where the goods come from, and in turn, build educational bridges with members of their communities who don't necessarily know about Fair Trade or attend one of these two churches.

While I was attending Eastern University, a group of student activists I was involved with, SPEAK, were working hard to get Fair Trade coffee into our dining commons. So often, it felt as though we would be making so much progress and then hit a brick wall. Other times, the consistent meetings with the campus dining managers seemed unproductive. It was easy to look around and feel like progress was not being made; sometimes we felt very alone in our efforts, like we were wasting our time. Eventually, though, we did it. Now, with the exception of one popular-brand machine, our Dining Commons, cafes and at most of our on-campus conference, one can find hotpots full of Lamont Fairly Traded, Shade Grown, Organic Coffee.

As we prepare for the next phase of the Fair Trade Boston Campaign in the coming weeks, let's not forget that people all over the world are laboring to love our neighbors and finding creative ways to address the concern of global poverty. Surely, there will be days when the work is difficult and the marks of progress are difficult to see. The past success of groups like SPEAK, or more recently, the work of our brothers and sisters in Frederick County reminds me that we are all members of one body, working toward a common goal. Let's continue to spur one another on toward good deeds, celebrate the victories small and large, and think creatively about how we can express our faith with justice in mind.

Ben Cressy is a recent graduate of Eastern University, in St. Davids, PA. He is currently working as the BFJN's organizing coordinator, working part-time for 10,000 Villages in Brookline, and lives in the Uphams Corner neighborhood of Dorchester, of which is proud to start calling home.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Something about local businesses

Last week, I had the privilege of posting this piece by one of the BFJN interns on our website. So, please read, enjoy and chew on the piece below:

Newsflash: Cadbury to use Fairtrade cocoa in its Dairy Milk bar in the UK (Fairtrade–one word–is to the UK what Fair Trade–two words–is to the US).

This is big news. Enormous news. Cadbury Dairy Milk is the most popular chocolate bar in the UK. Thousands of Ghanaian cocoa growers will now be able to support themselves because of this commitment–literally tripling the volume of Fairtrade cocoa coming from Ghana.

Not to mention the pressure that this puts on other chocolate companies like Nestle and Hershey, both of which haven’t been exactly on the forefront of human rights. Even better news, big businesses are investing in Fair Trade all the time–Starbucks, Walmart and others have all started stocking fair goods.

So now we can start the day with a Fair Trade Starbucks coffee, go Fair Trade shopping at Walmart and nibble on some Fair Trade Cadbury and call it a night. This is as good as it gets, right?

Well, no.

And don’t get me wrong–if it is a choice between Cadbury selling Fair Trade chocolate or not, I of course would choose to have them do it. But let’s not confuse progress for prophecy. As people of faith, we’re not only called to see how the existing world can improve within its own confines, but envision a world where we live by different rules entirely. One where the impoverished become the greatest, the blind become the most visionary and the peacemakers end up ahead of the moneymakers.

After all, let’s not forget the story of the widow’s offering, where a widow, who gives the only two coins she has to live off of, contributes more than the rich with their abundant and generous donations. It would seem that it’s not about the size of the offering but how whole-heartedly it is made. A big company may sell millions of dollars of Fair Trade goods, but if those sales only constitute 1% of their market, is it really doing business as justly as possible?

In contrast, consider one of Boston’s very own Fair Trade vendors, like the Haley House Cafe and Bakery (profiles of Boston’s Fair Trade hot spots coming soon!). In comparison to traditional businesses, shops like the Haley House put people as a first priority. Fair Trade coffee? Of course. Organic croutons? Why not! Employing people from transitional housing to give them a chance in this world? It’s only natural.

And this is the end goal that we have to set our sights on: individuals consciously supporting companies who protect the dignity of humanity, period. Businesses that buy Fair Trade not because it’s a good PR move but because doing anything otherwise is unimaginable. That is what we have to be working for.

In the end it is going to be the tiny, local coffee shops that will be making the enormous difference.

Tyler Sit is an intern for the Boston Faith and Justice Network. He is a student at Boston University and a candidate in the United Methodist ordination process.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Something about biking

Hello everyone! Hope it's as nice outside where you are, as it is where I am. I'm writing from Brookline, waiting to go on the clock at work, after a pleasant 4-mile ride in a 70-or-so degree, cloudless breezy morning!

This weekend, I was tempted to drive to work -- because I'm lazy, mostly. My neighbor, Nathan, encouraged me to bike, and David, my housemate, backed him up. So, with their little guilt-trip and my environmentally-concerned conscience screaming at me, I did!

Man, was I refreshed. It was only about 4 miles to work, and then 4 miles back, and it felt great.

Biking is
-- good for your body;
-- quicker than the bus, train or car in this city;
-- environmentally friendly;
-- fun.

If you don't own a bike, and have thought about starting, don't let the fact that bikes at high-end shops or REI cost hundreds of dollars! Consider checking out Bikes not Bombs in Jamaica Plain, where you can get a used roadbike for around $100 (a pretty good deal). Or, shop around on Craigslist, and ask me (or someone else) with a truck or a bike rack to go with you to look at the bike and then pick it up.

There are enough people around who ride that can help you with maintenance and teach you some basic skills. Consider how making this choice could save you money on fuel, car insurance, T fare, and time!

I've been thinking about this particularly after Nathan and David prodded me to bike to work, and I think I'll be doing it on a regular basis from now on. Thanks, dudes.

-- BC

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Something else...

Josh and Jenny, two of my closest friends from college, came up to visit this weekend. We got talking about everything; we used to sit around on our porches smoking pipes and talking for hours on a regular basis. My blog came up in conversation. So did Fair Trade. Here's some progression of my thoughts in just the past few days:

Fair Trade is a great tool for preserving and promoting culture and human dignity. How is this?

In a lot of developing nations, jobs are drying up as fast as the infrastructure they are a part of. Often times, people who can't find work either starve, emigrate to a place where they can find menial labor, or find themselves practicing prostitution or other unfortunate occupations.

In many instances, Fair Trade cooperatives offer people faced with few options a means to sustainable income, and a way to stay in their home community practicing a trade with dignity. Creativity is fostered, joy is had, and redemption can come in places that many of us think are hopeless and beyond change. Having been to Haiti, I'm reminded daily of the hope in that nation by a metal cross, filled with images of the living Earth, that sits behind my bad. This is a product of a cooperative in Haiti, made from recycled oil drums, of all material! And whoever said nothing good could ever come out of Haiti?

Many times, the trades honor and respect cultural traditions -- perhaps they even rewaken some that have been lost over time as Western economic needs have become more practical (how many fancy, handmade bowls can you buy at Wal Mart?) and less about the bigger picture that our purchases and investments are part of.

After all, people can go into whatever major retailer they prefer and buy something, but a sales associate probably can't tell you about who made it, what their life was like before and after the person who gets the product to the retailer showed up on the scene, and how good their life is now. Hear me: I am not saying all major retailers or wholly bad; only that they do not typically market their products in a holistic fashion.

10,000 Villages offers costumers a neat opportunity to learn about the person (or at least group of persons) who made the product. why one's purchase improves lives; and makes all of the information available to every customer who walks in the store. This is something more personal (and therefore inherently relational) than most other stores.

Shopping at 10,000 Villages might be a catalyst for who-knows-what. It might encourage someone to research what social problems plague women of Peru, and get involved in a women's rights movement. It might encourage a group of friends to take a trip to Kenya and find out how to connect the Gospel with a more Christ-focused way of 'doing economics'. It might be the first step in learning about what Fair Trade is, and lead someone to think more critically about their economic behavior.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Some things I am learning

So, I had coffee with a new friend this morning, and we talked about organizing and we talked about discipleship. One of the topics we touched on before we had to go our separate ways was my "approach", if you will.

Something I have known for a few years, but probably not spent enough self-examination on, is my "approach". If you know me, you know what I am driving at. If you don't know me well, yet, then what I mean to say is this: I am a very passionate person who tends to sit and wrestle with issues for a long time. It's tough for me to act on an issue until I've thought it through, and usually my convictions run deep and overlap into different facets of my life.

For example: If you read my last post, you saw how confused I am working for a company like 10,000 Villages, which in most of our minds, is clearly a good company to work for. They're Fair Trade, they pay well, they offer good health insurance benefits, etc etc. How could I be conflicted working there?

The fact is that I've bought into some fairly radical (maybe even crazy) theology and social theory, and if you get to know me, it will come out. If it comes out before you know me, it might scare you away. It might even scare you away once you get to know me! Part of that means that I don't want to settle for anything less than holistic, thorough life change and reorientation, and I often forget the small steps that we each take on our journey make up the whole. In 2004, it was a big step of faith for me to say "God, I want to be on your side and be used by you". That led me to reading my Bible on a regular basis, praying, and eventually attending Eastern University.

At Eastern, the small steps took on new dimensions. They entailed rethinking my spending habits, where I spent my time (I went from watching movies and blogging about them constantly to hanging out with homeless folks), and the environmental impacts of my lifestyle. As I look back on the past 4 years of my life, I take those commitments for granted and often forget that my friends have had different sets of life experiences, and I am quick to judge them, slow to seek them out and listen to their stories.

So, now I am in Boston, and I've only been here for 6 weeks. I have a chance to start fresh. I have a chance to ask questions first, to speak more slowly, and to express myself appropriately. Hopefully, I can invite others to be part of the journey without being an exclusivist, or worse yet, an asshole.

I post all of this only to put myself out there (another one of my quirks) in hopes that those of you reading and joining me in the journey can now feel okay with encouraging me when I do well, but moreso, to push me when I forget about where my heart is and where I want my words and actions to be.

May we all be people of grace, who pray for God to open doors of change in our lives and communities, and walk through those doors when He does open them.

-- BC