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An Open Response to Quincy Worthington

The following is in response to an “open letter” posted to Facebook.

Thanks Quincy! I appreciate you reading my words, thinking about them, and responding in such an articulate and heartfelt manner. It is always helpful when another perspective is offered by someone who cares. I will admit, along with you, that I am certainly capable of self-righteous judgments. I repent of words that lack grace, especially when I am most conscious of trying to do the complete opposite. This is not a good excuse; I’m sure we’ve both heard the phrase about where the road of best intentions goes! All this is to preface my response. Since you termed your thoughts an “open letter,” I hope you will hear my push back as coming from my heart as well (though perhaps I am not as articulate!)

First of all, I would offer the observation that you, too, use some very strong language. Are you sure that I “condemn” you and the people in your congregation? I think it is pretty clear my critique relates to corporations. I might suggest that you are reading into my words from your location, which as you mention, includes a measure weariness and frustration. I have tried to listen to other comments on this post as well, yet I still believe that charging me with shaming those who have less money and fewer economic options is not only a reach but overlooks the substance of my thoughts.

Second, your letter makes a divide explicit between local/organic on the one hand and WalMart/McDonalds on the other. My friend, that is a false dichotomy and, quite frankly, confuses the issue. I did not mean to imply that everyone needs to shop at, for example, Whole Foods. I certainly did not say so. A careful look at the link I provided will make this clear. If anything, why can’t my approach be understood as an appeal to do what you can with what you have? Wendell Berry once suggested that everyone could tend to a basil plant on his or her windowsill. It turns out that is exactly how many people read my words, not to shame, but to inspire. But I hear in your response that I should have been more explicit about this point. So here goes . . .

You speak of social privilege very well. I am aware of my cultural location and the danger of projecting white, middle class ideas onto others. But I am also aware that to whom much has been given, much is expected. Surely, you would grant me that recognizing social privilege is only the first step. Then we must use what we have learned and been given for the peace, justice, and well-being of society. My intention was to call such privilege into accountability, not the poor as you suggest. Again, I think you have to read into my words to reach such a conclusion, but I will grant you that it could sound like I made a sweeping generalization. Allow me to underline my main point!

Personally speaking, where you are tired, I am angry. (I’m not angry at you!) Quite the contrary, I’m open to your point that my anger came across as self-righteous and misdirected towards the wrong people. Forgive me. But here’s my counter point: If corporate America continues to monopolize the food industry, if climate change continues to go unchecked, the very people that you so passionately defend are going to continue to be the very ones who suffer the most. And where does that leave us?

I look around at churches and see many faithful people doing a marvelous job at addressing needs. I am inspired by them. But sadly, we often do not devote enough energy towards advocacy issues. Yes, we are called to be with people where they are; but doesn’t that include asking how they got there and, more importantly, what can we do to make things better?

I know you are tired, but at the risk of sounding judgmental again, you need to be energized. You live in a food desert for some very specific reasons. What are they? What can you do about them on a policy level? You mention larger economic factors with what sounds to my ears like a sense of fatalism.

At the heart of my blog is this motivation. The Super Bowl is a gravitas moment in our culture. Few stages are bigger, and so, few opportunities are riper to make a point. And here’s the thing: I believe there is a great deal of hypocrisy in that Dodge Ram commercial. Not only does this anger me, but I wanted to begin a conversation about a better way. Again, maybe you are correct in that I put too much emphasis on the former. But even though you were offended by the tone of address, I think it a credit to you not to dismiss the substance.

Perhaps my appeal would be more effective if it did not include a direct challenge to shop local. But you will recall that my thoughts came from sitting next to a local farmer. The personal is political.

I think that we can advocate for better food policies, for healthier options so that our kids can perform in school, for local farmers who face an uphill struggle, for community based agriculture programs. I also hope that you will join me in using our social privilege to advocate for change, even small incremental steps, that by the grace of God might just make a world of difference. Might just make a better world. 

In closing, let me say one more time: thank you, Quincy, for continuing the conversation. You model respectful dialogue and I hope my response will be heard in the same vein.

Grace and peace,

Andrew

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.

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