I used to give up candy for Lent. For 40 days and 40 nights, I wandered in the desert of no sweets, and for this I was able to enjoy even more the rush of chocolate Easter bunnies and little yellow peeps. Lent is a time for sacrifice, when penitent sinners give up little luxuries and pleasant experiences. It mortifies and strengthens the soul against the temptations of the evil world. Supposedly.
But trying to get Americans to give up luxuries, even for one day, seems impossible and may even be un-American. When disgruntled voters called for a not one red cent boycott of any economic activity on Inauguration Day, there was hardly a blip in the financial transactions of the U.S. marketplace. People either purchased items the day before or the day after, or forgot about it until that evening, when a friend would ask, So what did you not buy today?
Boycotts are a difficult thing to pull off, even when aimed at specific industries or businesses. One has to do a whole lot of organizing just to get a small result. The most significant economic fight I was ever involved in was the Divest now campaign against South Africa, which ultimately forced the release of Nelson Mandela and the institution of one person, one vote in that former apartheid country. I am presently fighting against the embargo of Cuba, which hasnt worked for 45 years and is aimed at a communist economy that doesnt want to trade with us capitalists anyway.
Theres been a boycott against Coke for killing union organizers in Colombia. Fat chance at stopping that. Seems one of the best reasons for moving American industry overseas is that you can kill your union. Literally. So maybe, when you do give up that soda for the next 40 days, you can let the company know why.
Lent is supposed to be a religious experience wherein we transform our bodies and strengthen our souls against the enticements of death and destruction. It would be nice if all of America gave up their fixation on sugar. It would be even more meaningful if they gave up their gas-guzzling SUVs and went on a strict diet of alternative energy. And praise God if America ever stopped building weapons, even for 40 days and 40 nights. Would the economy free fall? Would people be thrown out of work? Is it better to have a job in a concentration camp, or have no employment at all, gainful or not?
Giving up what hurts is really no sacrifice, but is still difficult to do. Consider the addict: what drives a person to consume something that is life threatening? If our economy is addicted to sugar, petroleum and weapons, then what will it take for us to sacrifice the sweet life for a better but simpler way?
So this Lent, I am going to watch my intake of sweets, be a little more generous toward social service agencies, go to church more, and try to drive my car less. It wont be sackcloth and ashes, but maybe it will make me a little stronger, and the world a little better place to live in.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.