The Common Good

Sojourners

Fighting Human Trafficking...and Learning to Love Myself Along the Way

Today, I am the Managing Director of Freedom a la Cart, a social enterprise that offers employment, workforce development, and supportive services to local, adult survivors of human trafficking. The women that I work with are victims of unimaginable trauma and abuse. They are also the strongest, most resilient women I know. Through their words and actions they continue to teach me the power of loving oneself.

Because here is my deepest, darkest secret—the one that I never speak about. The one that I shove deep down and hope that no one ever learns about.

I struggle to love myself. 

I am the boss, the director, a caretaker, an advocate for social justice. But I don’t love myself, and I struggle with self-worth daily. I am a perfectionist and constantly feel that I am “not enough.”

It wasn’t until my 30th year of life that I realized how broken and human I was. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I was doing a terrible job of loving myself and realized I could not truly love these survivors until I loved myself.

All too often, advocates and activists present themselves as superheroes, rescuing the poor and defenseless. We hide our fear, our guilt, our shame, our self-loathing, because we are supposed to be the strong ones. We are supposed to have all the answers.  And yet what is demanded of us isn’t perfection, but rather our faithfulness and willingness to be vulnerable. 

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For the Love of ‘Paddington:’ A Movie Review

I loved Paddington, the new movie based on the Michael Bonds books about an immigrant bear who arrives in London from darkest Peru. Paddington has no resources other than his faith that he will be welcomed with open arms. Sadly, his experience begins like that of most undocumented immigrants to the European or American shores – he is rejected and ignored. But this is a playful movie with a happy ending that celebrates what wonderful things happen to the Brown family when they allow Paddington into their hearts and home.

Admittedly, Paddington is a handful – a wild animal unfamiliar with modern conveniences, whose commitment to being polite does not prevent unfortunate accidents that fulfill the nervous Mr. Brown’s worst fears. As the family learns to love this accident-prone bear, however, their love for each other is renewed. The villain (yes, of course, there’s a villain!) is defeated, Paddington finds a home, and the Brown’s problems are cured by loving the alien in their midst.

Does this fictional account of immigration with a happy ending have any bearing (pun intended!) on our real world immigration crisis? This movie invites us to wonder whether our fears of the changes that immigration brings are unfounded. After all, many European and American citizens fear the waves of legal and illegal immigration in Europe and the United States. We know all too well that these uninvited guests are radically changing racial, religious, and cultural demographics. Immigrants disrupt labor patterns, burden welfare systems, and tax the criminal justice system. And unlike the movie’s cartoon explosions, floods, and fires, the violence in our world that seems fomented in and among immigrant communities is all too real a threat.

Or so the story goes that stokes our fears. But is the story true?

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Freedom of the Press Trumps Respect for Religion in a New Survey

Most Americans who know about the deadly attack on the Paris headquarters of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine say it’s OK that the weekly featured cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

A new survey from the Pew Research Center shows 76 percent of Americans know of the Jan. 7 attack, and among this group 60 percent of Americans support the magazine’s right to publish these controversial images, while 28 percent disapprove.

However, one in four Americans overall offered no opinion because, they said, they had not heard about the violent attack where 10 artists and writers and two policemen were murdered.

The survey of 1,003 U.S. adults was conducted Jan. 22-25, two weeks after the attack. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points in the portion of the report that deals only with those who said they had heard about the incident.

The survey looked more closely to see how members of this group explained their views.

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Vatican to Offer Haircuts, Shaves as well as Showers to Rome’s Homeless

The Vatican will offer homeless people in Rome not only showers but also haircuts and shaves when new facilities open next month, the head of Pope Francis’ charity office said.

The Vatican announced last year that it would provide shower facilities in St Peter’s Square for homeless people.

Bishop Konrad Krajewski told the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire on Jan. 29 that it would also offer haircuts and shaves when the services start on Feb. 16 in an area under the colonnade of the square.

Krajewski, whose official title is the pope’s almoner, said barbers and hairdressers would volunteer their services on Mondays, the day their shops are traditionally closed in Italy.

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Confessions of a Church Snob

Being “right” is exhausting.

You know what I mean. A controversy blows up over social media and the faith must be defended. A conversation about church practices becomes a nitpicky theological debate. A news story catches our eye and we are filled with outrage and take to our laptops to be the first to comment.

I feel as though I live in a world in which I’m constantly tempted — and encouraged — to major in details and minutiae and miss the very real and beautiful and incomprehensible presence of God.

Which is why being “right” is exhausting.

I thought of this the other day while visiting a different church from the one in which I am a member. My first — and wrong — reaction was to tense up. It seemed that everything about church that I had tried to escape was on display. I’ve learned to pay attention to those reactions. I have found that whenever something bothers me and makes me speak in absolutes, it’s because there’s a part of my heart I want to hoard for myself instead of allowing God’s light to shine on it. I hate to admit it, but so much of my identity as a Christian is defined by what I’m not.

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Bondage, Freedom, and #TomatoRabbis

Closer to home, one of the messages that many of us often hear is that there is slavery in the supply chains of the products that we buy every day: cotton, chocolate, produce. This can be paralyzing when we go to the mall or the grocery store. None of us want to purchase something that originates in an extreme human rights violation. But the solution cannot be simply to buy a different product. When we talk about labor trafficking, we must keep the focus on the worker who is enslaved rather than the product we consume.

As a rabbi, I know that is not my tomato or banana that is created in the image of God—it is the person who picked that product. Fighting for food justice means ensuring the human rights and wages of workers, and doing so in a way that places the needs, dignity, and expertise of the workers at the head of the table. This last piece is crucial: no one can tell us how best to solve human rights abuses in supply chains, including modern slavery, more than the workers who have the most at stake...

We must raise up the leadership of those most affected by forced labor and support their efforts to create new futures for themselves. Since 2011, T’ruah has taken more than 50 rabbis to Immokalee to learn from the CIW. The stories they hear—and the transformation they see—inspire them to go home and turn their congregations into more than just educated consumers. They become activists: they write letters to corporations urging them to join the Fair Food Program, stage protests, take Hebrew school students to meet with managers, write op-eds, and deliver sermons. Our #TomatoRabbis have become part of the larger movement of Fair Food activists, urging corporations to live up to their professed values and join the new day dawning in the Florida tomato industry that is the only proven slavery-prevention program in the U.S.

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On Chastity and Revictimization

Augustine’s principle of avoiding revictimization and providing care can be applied to those who are sexually exploited. As my colleague Lani Prunés points out, the federal government and most states have Safe Harbor Laws which treat trafficked minors as victims rather than criminals.

These victims didn’t violate their own chastity and, therfore, are not guilty. But an unfortunate number of states don’t provide trafficking victims immunity from prosecution or adequately fund reintegration services. In so doing, we continue to maintain the shame-based morality of Greco-Roman culture in which the victim of exploitation is responsible for the sin and crime of human trafficking.

Legal protections are essential to aid reintegration, but moral protections are also necessary to support trafficking survivors. By funding recovery programs, we can learn from Augustine the value of not blaming the victim. Victims should be given the help they need to reintegrate into society (as organizations such as FAIR girlsCourtney’s House, or End Trafficking are doing), rather than leaving them vulnerable to returning to a dangerous and degrading form of life.

If we allow people to be shamed or forced into crime through a lack of viable alternatives, we are morally culpable like the Greco-Roman society which taught women that their life was only worth as much as their physical purity.

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‘American Sniper’ Studio Condemns Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

As American Sniper continues raking in money at the box office, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee remains worried about “serious threats” being made to Arabs and Muslims.

On Jan. 27, Warner Bros. issued a statement saying the movie studio “denounces any violent, anti-Muslim rhetoric, including that which has been attributed to viewers of American Sniper. Hate and bigotry have no place in the important dialogue that this picture has generated about the veteran experience.”

Director Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper, who plays real-life sniper Chris Kyle, have yet to comment, though over the weekend Eastwood called Sniper an anti-war film.

The film is based on Kyle’s memoir. He was shot to death in 2013 in the U.S. In the book, Kyle writes of killing 60 Iraqi “savages” during his four deployments: “Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq.”

Since the film opened, tweets have echoed the sentiment, referring to “ragheads,” “vermin scum” and hatred of Muslims.

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Who's in Control?

I just returned from Davos, Switzerland, where the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is held each year. Leaders from business, government, and civil society all gather here to engage each other, make connections, and, hopefully, make progress on the mission statement of the WEF: “Committed to Improving the State of the World.”

I reflected on that mission statement last year in my remarks to all the attendees at the event’s closing session. I said the deeper meaning of leadership is sacrifice and not just skills — and that the most included people on the planet who were sitting in that famous Congress Hall will be morally evaluated by their relationship to the most excluded, who, of course, are never in that grand auditorium. Many individual leaders in attendance wanted to discuss that challenge further, and those conversations continued this year.

One session this year that drew many people off site was called “Struggle for Survival” — an intense simulation of how 3 billion people in our world actually live each day. Half of the global population exists on less than $2 per day. Run by the Crossroads Foundation, Struggle for Survival was a much more emotional experience than the rest of the sessions at Davos.

My wife, Joy, and I participated in this simulation, and the people running it told us that several CEOs seemed quite affected by the very powerful dramatization of real-world injustice and poverty. It took people out of their heads into stunning revelations of how the excluded really live, prompting feelings of guilt, pain, anger, empathy, and compassion — and then a call to commitment.

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The NFL’s Chilling New Anti-Domestic Violence Ad Will Make You Stop and Listen

After the high-profile domestic violence cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the NFL is speaking out with a new Super Bowl Ad.
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