Hungry for Candy…1107 as Metaphor

Our fair state had an initiative 1107 on the ballot, which passed resoundingly and as a result, banished sales tax from the important necessities of life: soda, candy, and bottled water. This is surely good news for all those living on the edge, who’ll now be able to afford just a little bit more candy, or perhaps another six pack of Coke, or even the convenience of expensive water that comes in bottles which will ultimately pollute oceans and landfills, while drawing down much needed aquifers so that Coco-Cola and Nestle can squeak by for their shareholders.  Yes sir – candy is important in these tough times. Thank goodness the American Food and Beverage association had 16 million dollars to spend on killing our state’s tax on these essential items.

Forgive the sarcasm (or don’t), but the 1107 scene seems a fitting metaphor for our entire national politic.  We want cheap candy, and corporations and politicians spend billions telling us so. I know the red people think I’m talking about the blue people’s desire for subsidized health care, but I’m not talking about what blue people want.  I know too, that blue people think I’m talking about the red people’s hunger for the simple sugars of smaller government (perhaps with a cup of tea), but I’m not talking about what red people want.

I’m talking about what we all want, at least some of the time:

We want to be able to buy stuff made overseas where workers are paid for a day of work what we might make in an hour here, and yet keep living wage jobs alive here in America, so we can stay above water on the houses we own, or perhaps be able to afford one someday.

We want gas that costs less than $3 dollars a gallon (look at how lucky we are with the cheapest gas in developed world…way down there at #101 between the powerhouses of Namibia, and Bangladesh), so that we can drive wherever we want, whenever we want, even though the net result of our habits means that we, who are 5% of the world population, are  consuming 20% of the world’s resources.  Many of us, apparently, don’t seem bothered by this at all, and only want to find a way for it to continue, if only for another decade or two–even if it means risking another Gulf disaster, though it would be better if we could drill off the shore of somebody else’s continent.

We want the cheapest food on the planet, but we also want that food to be free from pesky e-coli bugs and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, in spite of obscene conditions that are commonplace in industrial agriculture–conditions that are a breeding ground for these very diseases, over which we’ll sue food manufacturers.  Oh, and we all want lawsuits to decrease, and corporations, including farms, to be held accountable.

We want the government out of our public lives, but if we’re red, we want them to define the family for us.

We want the government out of our private lives, but if we’re blue, we want them to regulate banks and put a tax on carbon.

Everybody wants the government out–and in.  The reds and blues just want them out and in, in different places.

We’re hungry…and though there are nuanced differences, I’ve gotta say that I’ve heard little, on either side of the aisle, that offers anything more than sugar.  There are no talks of sacrifice, personal responsibility, the honest challenges of the global economy and outsourcing, the hard choices that will be required to reduce the deficit and the real risks that will create to the economy, or the cost of our American, individualistic, consumeristic lifestyle that has come to be called “the American dream.”

It’s candy, people–and whether it’s blue jawbreakers, or red licorice whips, we’ve wanted it and feasted on it  in various colors for the decades.  Pardon me for not thinking that returning to red licorice whips will deal with the deficit cavities in my mouth, or the insulin shock coursing through my regulatory body.   It’s not that I thought the blue jawbreakers were better; it’s that the colors change, but the ingredients remain the same.

I need something nutritious–real food, broccoli perhaps.  This real food will require some preparation, and will shock my taste buds that have been eating tax-free, and even government-subsidized candy for years.  There’s not a cry for broccoli because the truth of it is that no matter how much all of us on either side of aisle rejoice or decry what happened this week, we’re addicted to the sugar of cheap gas, mind-numbing television, and cool clothes and iPads made in developing countries.  Me?  Guilty as charged.

So I’ve come away from this election cycle neither afraid of the red licorice, nor believing it will make us healthier.  Instead, I think we need to re-evaluate our individual and national priorities, defining what “the good life” is really all about.  Is it individual or communitarian?  Is it working towards global interests or American interests? Is it seeking to preserve upward mobility, or redefine the good life?  These are important and needed conversations.

That project might sound too huge, so how about just munching on some broccoli?  Maybe a night volunteering in a homeless shelter, or a trip to Goodwill to give stuff away, or a home-cooked meal with the neighbors will be a start.  I don’t know what it is for you, but I know I’m hungry, and taking steps towards real food is freeing.

I’m looking for a little dialogue here – what are your next steps, or thoughts?

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Sybil

    I appreciate your anger at the situation that seems to load government-mandated excuses on top of our preexisting blindness of the real things happening- and the consequences we are and will be facing as a result. I have been made more aware of this through courses recently and am realizing that these (my) consumerism issues are so deeply rooted in my fast-paced, ‘go go go’ lifestyle (which I think is all too common among Americans in general). My first steps have been simply thinking about basics: how can I slow down? Cooking and having leftovers for lunch instead of frozen meals (with their insane amount of packaging and mediocre food)? Making time to take the bus, a slower but ultimately more enjoyable commute rather than cramming my schedule and speeding off to the next thing on my list? Remembering to bring a shopping bag with me to the store?

    It’s really a pace of life issue that has broader impacts than I originally realized (for example the islands of trash -plastic in particular- congregating in the oceans and ultimately overwhelming the ‘bathing’ water of our brothers and sisters in India). And I’ve realized that when we act out of our own interests in these basic (yet ingrained) ways, we are ultimately telling God that WE are most important- that OUR needs are number one, coming before all of the rest of creation… and we cant afford to be lazy any longer.

    It’s NOT a political issue, it’s a justice issue. It’s a relationship issue. I hope we can all start wriggling out of the ditches of conformity and stubbornness we’ve allowed ourselves to get so stuck in and begin opening our eyes to what God has in mind for us– ALL of us (and I’m not just talking about Americans). I really hope that Christians will start to lead the pact and exemplify the alternative reality of God’s kingdom HERE on earth when it comes to this topic.

  • Hannah Lunstrum

    Hi Richard,
    I have a question for you, is it okay to take money from these organizations (Pepsi, Coke) when you work for an organization that represents health and well-being? I work for the YMCA and I am trying to win a Pepsi grant for music programming. We recently had some complaints that we are promotoing Pepsi by applying for the grant. I see their point but suger and pepsi are not evil. Too much of it is bad for us yes, but in moderation a pepsi or coke once in awhile is okay!

    I think this attitude of completely shunning and boycotting things is harmful. I grew up in a christian home where rock music and TV and sweets where evil and while i do feel I have some good habit now because of that I feel overall I still have a lot of resentment and anger towards my parents for not allowing me to make my own choices. As an adult now I see what they were trying to do and I love them to death but I think there needs to more education on things like this instead of demonizing them and completely avoiding them.

    Anyway, I agree that we need to take personal responsibility and make a change ourselves. That is why I am applying for this Pepsi grant. I think they are doing a good thing by giving back to their communities! I want to start a free music center for teens in Monroe so I am working hard to get people to vote. I know I keep bugging you, I really respect you and I know you have no obliation to help me but if you did it would be so awesome. Please please look over our idea and video at http://www.refresheverything.com/letteensrock and at least consider it. Even if you just twitter about it and ask people to support local music for teens that would be sweet.

    thanks you!!!

  • Deborah Young

    Richard, I grew up in England in the 50′s when life seemed simple. My mother pushed her pram to the stores to get her meat and potatoes everyother day. The veggies where put in reuseable bags and the meat wrapped in paper. No plastics or convenience foods. Also no fridges in those days, well, not in England for the everyday person. Us children played in the streets where it was quite safe and I lived in Central London. People had just come through the second world war and life was tough, butter was rationed until 1954. Everyone was thin and fit even though they did not have the health care or the drugs we have now. My father moved us to North America so we would have a better life, “The American Dream”. When my parents left England they owned their house outright, they had no debt and they gave away all their stuff. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying life in England was better than America I love it both places but something in the world changed, the need for more. Consequently 35 years later everyone in my family has bought into the whole American need for more. Our houses are too big and we all owe too much on them. They are filled with too much stuff, it almost makes me sick. I am trying to get back to a place I remember where stuff was not important and living life for others was. The truth is we are all selfish beings and sacrifice is a word that is no longer in our volcabulary.

  • jillian

    Richard~
    I thoroughly appreciate your post. I am a 28 year old college student trying to resist the American idea of acquiring “stuff”. I think candy is just one example of a much larger issue. I’m currently working on a project about ewaste and how America is contributing to global pollution through exportation, an American secret causing a global catastrophe. I lived in Australia for a short while and learned of the greatness of simplicity. For example choices in the grocery store were limited but “enough” resulting in a 15 min trip rather than 45. I guess what I am getting at is how to live a more globally friendly life and still survive in this ever-changing, supply demanding culture.
    From the girl with no facebook!

  • andrew

    voted for the repeal because the tax is poorly written and almost arbitrary in what was and wasn’t taxed…
    http://www.dor.wa.gov/Docs/Pubs/ExciseTax/RetailSales_UseTax/CandyList.xls

    You are absolutely right on this stuff, we want the best, but don’t want to pay for it, except for liquor apparently:-)

    The great thing about this country is that you can choose to live how you want. If i want simple (like in Australia apparently), i can shop at trader joes. If i want to browse i can go to Fred Meyers.

    • raincitypastor

      wow!! i downloaded that list of candies you referenced – it makes my point exactly! We want our candy (not just metaphorically, but literally too apparently) – and we want it as cheaply as possible

  • Graham

    I don’t think voters were in any mood to raise or keep taxes this election. I’ll just say that bottled water in the Pacific Northwest makes no sense when our tap is so good, environmental issues aside. But I’ll get off my soapbox.

    What struck me was “..and yet keep living wage jobs alive here in America, so we can stay above water on the houses we own, or perhaps be able to afford one someday.”

    That hit a little too close to home as I’ve been suffering from severe housing envy for about 5 years. I bought a townhome at the worst possible time and now we are $50,000 under and trapped. We are left feeling betrayed by the American Dream and those that us told us to buying is always better than renting. We are going down to one income soon and suddenly my lone income seems inadequate to support any resemblence to this American Dream.

    I am not sure if American upward mobility needs to change, if I need to fast from “sugary” ambitions, or if my idea of the “good life” is fast becoming antiquated for my generation. All I know is that I feel suckered.

    Maybe I need to take another trip to Goodwill and give elsewhere so I’ll remember I’m not in need, just in want.

  • Hannah Lunstrum

    Hi Richard, you dont know me and have no reason to help, I know! Anyway, we are in 64th place out of 300+ applications and we need tons of votes to win. Please look at our idea and help support teens in Monroe WA! thanks for your time! http://www.refresheverything.com/letteensrock

    Luke 18:5

  • Tim Gammell

    Nice post, it reminds me of a quote I’ve heard tossed around occasionally, “Mankind cannot bear very much reality” (T.S.Elliot).

    Another reflection was brought to my attention via a friend’s niece who lives in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories just after our U.S. elections. Written by Rabbi Lerner at his Tikkun Daily Blog, he asks whether progressives can enlarge their boundaries and change themselves in order to become more effective in challenging the status quo… or at least that was the message I received from it.

    The reflection, titled, “10 Commandments to Revive Progressives After the November Defeat” is at the following link.
    http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2010/11/03/10-commandments-to-revive-progressives-after-the-november-defeat/

  • Brendan Thatcher

    Wow. Great thoughts Richard! I feel similarly, and want to “evangelize” this to both my blue and red friends. However, I have to step back and take a look at myself first.

    Initial thoughts-

    I love the promise that technology is the answer to my problems. But is it? The more I’m on facebook (or crackbook as I call it), the more I’m plugged into the music I buy on iTunes- the more isolated I am. Funny. The technology (sugar) that promises to feed my appetite is the very thing that’s killing me.

    I think Apple makes great products, but it’s at the expense of laborors in developing countries that have to go through horendous working conditions and are grossly underpaid because we as Americans want our i-whatevers. I have refused up to now to purchase an Apple product, but relented because I want something to help me pass the long, relentless, lonely workday with some sort of stimulation other than the drone of the machines around me. So I purchased the cheapest, 3rd generation 32 gigabyte used iPod Touch I found. I WANTED the 64 gigabyte one, but it was too expensive. I WANTED the newest generation, but even the 3rd generation has technology that most of the world doesn’t have access to. I am incredibly blessed, but still at the expense of those hard working, underpaid workers overseas. (By the way, I hate outsourcing).

    We want sugar, but all sugar does is make us hungry for more sugar. Real food takes time, but leads to long term health. I am talking about your wonderful metaphor, but what works in the physical sense (food) also translates well to the rest of life (politics, consumption, etc.). What we need is a new dream. The American Dream is full of sugar. Praise God that because of Jesus, we can dream bigger and better. That is the True Dream. Thanks so much for sharing, Richard!

  • adam

    I do not like this line of thought. It is simplistic and America bashing for the sake of being self-righteous.

    Folks making iPads are more prosperous than they’ve ever been. Should we just make them here? If we did, 1) they would be lots more expensive, as labor indeed would be higher in the US. So the current manufacturing workers in Timbuktu would be back to tending goats and farming and hoping to make a portion of their current iPad pay. 2) just said it…their standard of living would be reduced. Their futures would be delayed, or bleaker. We are not abusing them. As they get more education and become consumers themselves and command higher compensation, the iPad mfctrg will move to another newer location, in an earlier-stage developing country and the process starts anew.

    Without consumers there are no economies. We are back to 1700s or earlier, maybe cave man times. What is, is, and the Bible covers all of it and provides the solution. I do not recall Jesus teaching that prosperity is bad. Bad character is bad. Be a good Biblical steward, including paying the 3rd World manufer of iPads on time for his work, and as incent him to be productive and add value and watch him add to the Apple bottom line and enable him to increase his standard of living so his kids can go to college and come back and buy the factory. No abuse there. Removing the opportunity because we have to pay more for labor due to American inflated standards is abusive.

    If costs of production rise, might as well keep them here. That hurts the global emerging nations.

    Rant rant rant. Its all Obama’s fault, due to the Bush tax cuts and unaffordable healthcare

  • mark cattarin

    Very good article. Food for thought and body. Metaphors are great attention getters but doable examples are how one gets to where ever they decide they want to be. Good mentorship. :)

  • sp

    good lord…really?

    Richard – help shed light on my dilemma: I go to your church, but I voted yes on 1107. What to do, now that I know I am mentally black-balled by you…and not only that, I’m apparently not on the side of justice, or even Christ for that matter.

    You like to talk about politics more lately…and you like to claim that Christ is political-party agnostic…but I don’t believe that you actually believe that. In any case, it surely isn’t the message you’re portraying and protruding forth here.

    No. Christ clearly would have voted to maintain the candy/soda tax, it seems, according to you.

    I disagree.

    In any case, yes, Christ brought the sword to divide…to separate wheat from chaff…but is this really the sword that Christ would be offering in this conversation? I’m not saying Christ wouldn’t care…but would Christ have polarized people — hearts — surrounding such an issue as this?

    That’s the bait the world is offering, and that’s the kind of senseless argument that the world would ask you to enter into.

    Don’t take the bait, brother.

    • raincitypastor

      no worries about the candy tax…as I said, it was a metaphor. My point is simply to declare that there are harsh realities attending our global economy, that we’re in a fix when for the good of the nation, we’re told to buy more things we don’t really need in order to fix the economy, because ultimately its the consumer who determines economic health. I’m suggesting that this model is both broken, and not in keeping with I Timothy 6 or Philippians 4, both of which invite us to contentment, and Luke 12, which invites us to find ways to invest our resources in generosity rather than upward mobility.

      I don’t really care who voted for the candy tax. I DO believe that we need to have conversations about the fundamental premises of our existing economic problems, not because I want to be political, but because I believe Jesus has things to say about these problems.

      Is Jesus party “agnostic”? The redistribution of wealth inherent in the “Year of Jubilee” seems farther left than even the farthest left leaning American is willing to go. On the other hand, the “if a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat” teaching, seems to invoke the need for personal responsibility, avoiding the victim mentality that too often paralyzes, as the right correctly points out. So yes… I think Jesus critiques both parties. Throw in a call to simpler living (see Bible verses above), and when you hear how that very call is antithetical to needed economic growth, I end up saying:

      “can we please have conversations about what it means to live faithfully as a Christ follower in our consumer culture” – that was the point of the post – not creating a sword to divide over a candy tax.

      It’s a metaphor.

  • sp

    Sorry if I took your metaphor too seriously. It seemed to me that while it may have been just a metaphor, there was also a lot of passion on your end regarding said metaphor. Nothing wrong with passion…and there’s a lot RIGHT about it! But…

    Lately for me, it’s been – at times – harder to distinguish between your mere metaphors that may be simply used to explain larger Kingdom realities, and metaphors that are used in a double-edged way, with the double-edge being a political passion or persuasion of yours personally.

    If there is any double-edged thing going on here, it’s not that I don’t like your idea of having a conversation about modern day economics, and what it means to live faithfully in a consumer culture. I rather like it, in fact.

    That said, when the first entry into the conversation appears passionately laced with personal political persuasion, it’s not really a conversation, imo. It’s not inviting. It’s for those who agree with you to cheer, and for those who may see it differently, to self-opt-out. To duck.

    You say “Forgive the sarcasm (or don’t)”… and trust me, I hear you. And it’s not a conversation I hear.

    • raincitypastor

      fair critique… and thanks for the gracious response. You make a good point…

  • sp

    Not sure how gracious I was, but I hope to be, and I’m sorry for where I wasn’t. You deserve graciousness Richard. You are a very good man. Thanks for hearing.

  • Barb

    I very much lean toward the personal responsibility of the “right” side of politics. However, more and more as I get older and read God’s word more, I see Him holding me accountable for the poor in the world. Yes, many poor in America are so as a result of very poor decisions; but many poor in the rest of the world are poor because of being taken advantage of by the wealthy. We can no longer pretend to not know about conditions on the other side of the globe. We are called to make a difference in Jesus’ name.

    I do not need a new and imporved patio or newer living room furniture, or 38 different sweaters more than people in Africa need clean water, or people in Haiti need help with the cholora epidemic, or people in India need an education.

    This has more to do with selfishness than politics. I am thankful that some are able and willing to see the bigger picture where governments have a place in the conversation, but for now I feel God asking me to make a difference in my world view and reach out beyond myself.


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