Wednesday, April 28, 2010


by Elliott Jones, Sula House

In college, a friend of mine asked me a question about something she'd heard I'd said. "I heard," she began, trembling slightly with a mixture of anger and guilt, "that you think we shouldn't buy TOMS."

What she heard was half-true. I love TOMS (seriously check them out, a definite model for aspiring triple-bottom-line businesses everywhere), especially since they've made an explicit commitment to not only giving a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair that's bought, but to require fair labor practices in their factories.

What I actually said was that buying TOMS was great but it wasn't the answer. My ideology was: If you don't need new shoes, don't buy any. Buying TOMS because it makes you feel good to support the cause ,plus you get something out of it, instead of buying TOMS as a replacement for another shoe that you were already going to buy because you need new shoes, substitutes one "evil" for another - supporting unethical labor practices for supporting unnecessary consumerism.

It's a tough, weird ethical debate; surely buying TOMS, no matter how many pairs, is better than buying sweatshop-produced shoes, and gets more shoes onto the feet of children in Argentina and South Africa and wherever else TOMS gives shoes. Add to that the fact that the more TOMS we buy means more fair-wage jobs for folks in Argentina. But instead of "wasting" resources with a purchase, your money will be much better spent through a donation, no matter how ethical the company.


It's an interesting dilemma and, fortunately for LVCers, one we don't have to confront often - no capital, no capitalism. But we're no strangers to making others, who do less than we do or do it for different reasons, feel guilty about their choices.

It reminds me of a parallel ethical debate - donate to the panhandler or to the social service agency down the street from her? One is obviously more practical, more efficient, and is the "right" choice. But there's nothing better than the feeling like you've helped someone eat that day - and nothing worse than the cold, sad stare as you lie into the face of a desperate man while coins fatten your purse. There's nothing better than looking down at your feet and imagining that there's a kid halfway around the world possibly wearing the same shoes as you, his first pair ever, because of you - and nothing worse than wondering how much waste the consumerism you've contributed to produces and how cheap, relatively speaking at least, it would be to feed and clothe all of the children around the world.

I think we tend to want to downplay this, the emotional side of charity - when ignorant rich White moms in suburbs talk about the warm fuzzies they feel when they venture downtown to serve soup kitchen food once a year at Christmas, it's hard to not want to scoff and say, "It's not about you." But - it kind of is. And - we're just like her. And - it's OK.

Whether we're doing good for our own benefit - because it gives us warm fuzzies, or we like the idea of being martyrs, or it will look good on our law school application, or the shoes are so fashionable right now - or for the "right" reasons (as though they exist), we're still doing good. And good is good. And more people doing more good is even more good, so if feeling good gets more people to do more good then feeling good is good too. Right?

I maintain: if you have money to burn, and no need to buy anything, but you wanna help out, then donate it - but I want to apologize to my friend. We should never feel guilty for doing good. Go buy yourself a pair of TOMS, sweetie. They're good shoes.

Elliott Jones writes a blog which you can check out at:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Amazing Grace

By Julia Matias, Mandela House

A few months ago a grown man, very much imbued, bawled his eyes out as he told me his life story. He was crushed because he thought that he was lost from God and wasn't going to be able to find his way back. He told me of the struggles he has come across and how far away he has strayed from his faith and God.

And as he told me about his life, I felt so crushed for him. He was holding on to my hands as though scared for his dear life, and tears just kept streaming down. It was difficult to withhold my crying, but eventually I had to excuse myself.

I didn't know what to do. How do you respond to someone who thinks that God has left him? All I could say was that He hasn't, and that I was sure He was grateful and joyful that this guy wants to find his way back. As it turns out, this guest (I work at a day shelter for people who are homeless) just needed someone to listen to him and to give him encouragement.

All he needed to hear was hope coming from somewhere, since he couldn't find it in himself. This was one of the hardest things I have come across at Nativity House but I'm grateful for the opportunity to help someone, even for a little bit. It was like witnessing someone strip himself to the core so that the real self could come out.

He has come back several times, and every time I see him he comes up to me and thanks me. I know I'm not always the most modest person, but when he does I'm honestly at a loss for words. All I can do is offer my prayers, which he accepts wholeheartedly. He was so lost but is now found. And I'm truly happy to be a part of his discovery and growth.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lutheran Volunteer Corps Presents: Just Art

Just Art brings together art, music and poetry in support of social justice and the work of Lutheran Volunteer Corps. We're holding the event in the very cool Rockit Space ( on Beacon Hill.

Rockit Space, 3315 Beacon Ave., Seattle, WA
Friday, April 30, 7:00pm-10:00pm

Musical performers will include:
Maren Haynes & Friends
Rachel Engh & Melissa Greene
Elliott Jones

Art by friends of LVC will be on display and up for silent auction.

Refreshments will be provided.

Suggested $5 donation at the door. Please bring cash or check book.

Please come down for a night of art for justice, and invite friends and family to join you!

Friday, April 9, 2010

(Re)Claim It: Justice and the Meaning of Ministry

by Clare Brauer-Rieke, Ubuntu House

I know it’s a loaded term – ministry. Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize the subtle ways people react to the word when I say, “My father is a minister,” or “I work at Earth Ministry,” or “I’m applying to Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry for my graduate education.” The connotations – the images, memories, and associations that fill our heads when we hear it spoken or read it written – can be pretty bad. Rarely do we positively connect ministry with justice.

But the truth of it is that my work through Lutheran Volunteer Corps is about ministry. Earth Ministry is an organization that inspires and mobilizes the Christian community to care for the earth, to act responsibly as environmentally-aware citizens, and to advocate on behalf of the life that sustains us but has no voice in legislature. This ministry is not about saving souls for Jesus, neither is it about creating an “us and them,” the ministers and those need them. Who are we letting tell us that’s what ministry is? Ministry has never really been about that.

Ministry is about justice. Though I work for justice within the framework of Lutheran values and history, my ministry isn’t significantly different than that of my housemates or my Puget Sound community. Whether our ministry is about feeding the hungry, building homes for the homeless, challenging racism, heterosexism, or classism, or advocating for environmental accountability, I can see that negative space around the word “ministry” begins to fill with positive action and shared hope. We work individually within our shared context to redefine that which has been maligned. It’s the work of our generation – we shape what comes next.

Ministry may be traced more overtly over my life that others’, but it folds into every action we together take for justice. Reclaim it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

First Person Plural

By Rev. Darla DeFrance, Puget Sound City Coordinator

Justice. Community. Simplicity. These are the core values that we share in LVC. We sometimes talk about them as the spiritual practices that unite us. Though we come from a wide array of religious backgrounds and beliefs, we share the hope for lives well-lived—finding and creating meaning in the world through acts of justice, bonds of community, and the freedom of simplicity.

“We” is a loaded word—as I write it, I am one person alone with my computer and my cup of (fair trade, shade grown, organic, carbon neutral—just in case you’re wondering) coffee. I am on my own journey to understand and live out these values, so perhaps the first person singular pronoun would be more appropriate. But I cannot bring myself to use it; I simply cannot make sense of the values of LVC from an individual point of view. I have to locate myself within the community of current and former volunteers, church folk, staff, and supporters who teach and support and encourage and challenge each other on this journey. And so I will claim the audacious pronoun and invite you to claim it as well.

Community. One of our LVC houses in Seattle is named “Ubuntu,” a word that comes to us from the South African church and translates “I am because we are” or “I cannot be without you.” The fullness of our humanity is not found in the standard American virtues of self-reliance and independence. We are also created to need one another—and to need to give of ourselves to one another.

Justice. We are called to live into a world where justice prevails, rooted in the conviction that this world and each person in it was created to shine with the image of the Creator. Many of our houses around the country are named after the saints who inspire us in this work: Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sojourner Truth. We strive for a more just world through the work we do and the way we do it—confessing our shortcomings, recognizing the pitfalls of institutional racism, looking honestly and critically at the legacies of colonialism and “helping.”

Simplicity. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” A dear friend who had been a child during the Depression shared with me this simple piece of household advice. We practice living simply to free ourselves from the dissatisfaction of lives of consumption. But not only that—we also recognize the impact of our choices on the planet, the impact of the planet’s changes on the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers, and the concept of Ubuntu that extends beyond the people in our daily lives. We choose lives that are sustainable in solidarity with the world that offers us such beauty and wonder.

The work of non-profits can feel like a hamster wheel at times—there is always more good to be done and never enough time and resources to do all that we hope. But we are in it together—here to celebrate and hearten, confront and absolve each other as go.

During this season of short days and ample moonlight, may the blanket of darkness embrace our spirits and give us time to reflect, to ponder, to question, and to wonder.

Friday, November 20, 2009

10th Annual Turkey Trot for Hunger: "To Boldly Trot...."

On Thanksgiving Day, many gather around the table for a traditional turkey dinner. On Friday, November 27th (the day after Thanksgiving), everyone is invited to join in another tradition: the 10th Annual Turkey Trot for World Hunger. Participants will meet at Green Lake Aqua Theatre at 8:30am for registration. After a brief program, “trotters” will walk, stroll, jog, skip, scooter, roller blade, push strollers and wheelchairs, or pedal around Green Lake to raise money in the fight against hunger.

All funds raised will benefit the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and the Lutheran Volunteer Corps in its work for a more just world. Come and help your congregation as they strive to win the coveted "Turkey Cup" while benefiting the less fortunate.
Where: Green Lake Aqua Theater
When: Friday, Nov. 27, 2009
Schedule for the Day…
8:30 - 9:00am Check in and Registration, located near Aqua Theatre. Turn in your sponsor sheet and donations.
9:00 - 9:15am Welcome all participants! Aqua Theatre
9:15 - Noon Join all of the turkeys as we make our way around Green Lake!