White, Middle-Class, American Slacktivism

College Student with the "boyfriend jeans" Indie look, with a waterbottle and a Fair Trade leather purse texting

So, the problem with being a sociology minor is that I start to see everything in terms of bigger cultural structures. For example, while there are still lots of self-centered, fast-food eating white American college students, there is a quickly growing counter-cultural group of “fair-trade-coffee-drinking-go-“green”-and-recycle-and-wear-Toms-shoes-to-stop-social-injustice” white American college students (see image to the left.) My caption will probably make no sense to you, unless you know a college student like this, or, unless you enjoy the blog “Stuff White People Like” as much as I do.

These college students, with their comfortable upper-middle class lives, like to feel like they are doing something to help the world, and so they change their facebook statuses to raise awareness about stopping child soldiers in Uganda, and drink out of nalgene waterbottles (or at least recycle 50% of their waterbottles if they don’t have a nalgene). They are the kings and queens of slacktivism: doing things to make themselves feel good about helping the world, but don’t have any actual practical benefit.These college students come in the Christian version (they follow people like Shaine Claiborne and David Platt), or the non-Christian version (they follow people like Bono from U2 and Che Guevara). But it boils down to pretty much the same thing.

Sometimes I am scared that I fit into this category too well. I don’t have any Toms shoes, but I do like Whole Foods. And I read more blogs on social justice than I actually engage in it.

Th problem is, the counter-cultural green-fair-trade-social-justice college student is just as self-centered as the fast-food-eating one. It’s still all about me. Making myself feel good for being socially active and aware. How do I know that going to South Africa to work with iThemba is not just one more thing I’m doing self-centeredly to make myself feel better than others?

Thankfully I have prayed enough about working with iThemba to know that this is what God wants me to do with the next step in my life, regardless of how it “looks” to other people. The aim is not to make myself feel good, the aim is to be obedient to God. Working with iThemba is something that God has been shaping me for, and it is a huge blessing that I get to be a part of it. I still think I am going to get more out of it than I actually give–which would still make it selfish, I suppose– but perhaps that’s part of humility: a realization that God’s work is on-going, and it’s bigger than me.

So I guess I am realizing that Jesus lets anyone serve in his Kingdom–even those that fit the white, middle class, social activist college student stereotype.

Do Justice, Love Mercy

Today in chapel we had Heather Larson who is the head of Compassion and Justice at Willow Creek. She talked about five commitments that we as Christ followers should make. These are commitments she challenges the Willow Creek community with, and they are challenges to me, too!

I will see: I will see others. I will refuse to be ethnocentric, comfortable and remain in blissful ignorance of the needs around me. I will not be lulled into comfort, or refuse to learn about injustice because it feels overwhelming. Even when I see painful, difficult things, I will not shut my eyes.

I will feel: I will allow my heart to be broken for the things that break the heart of God. Jesus saw the pain and need of the world, and he had compassion. I will not just harden my heart to issues of injustice around me, I will allow myself to be moved with compassion.

I will have courage to act: I will not just see and feel, but I will act. God moves to action at the pain and suffering of the world, and I will join him in that action.

I will empower: I will be humble. I will come along side what others are already doing, I will humble myself to realize that I don’t have all the answers, that my way might not be the best way. I will humble myself in order to lift up the gifts and abilities and talents that God has given to someone else.

I will advocate: When I learn about social structural systems that are unjust, I will not be passive, but will work to make a difference. If I don’t act to make a difference, who will? I will use my voice to speak up for those that my society is refusing to hear.

Heather asked us to consider who it was in our society that we refuse to hear. In her community it is undocumented workers.

Who is it we refuse to hear in South Africa?

Who is it in your community?

Can we all have the courage to make these commitments so that their voices can be heard?