Tag Archives: yavprogram

Nepal: Responses to a tragedy

Earlier this week, I posted the following related to earthquake reveal in Nepal:

Give, pray (if you do), stay informed of other ways to help. / Donar, orar (si hagas), informarse de otras maneras para ayudar.

And the link: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/nepal-earthquake-relief-fund

To me, those are the three key steps to response to a tragedy. As always happens when I seem to know something innately, I reflected on each. Naturally that took the form of a blog post.

  1. Give — Moving forward from this sort of tragedy takes money. Especially when it occurs in the developing world, i.e. Nepal. Even the richest countries in the world would suffer and Nepal is far from that. Poor infrastructure left Nepal in far worse shape. It is right and just to give money to Nepal.

Except giving is not just the act of willfully releasing money. It means researching where that money goes and ensuring it will be used to help those who receive it. This step is not complete without ensuring that.

According to several friends on the ground in Nepal, the link I posted is a responsible place to send money. I urge you to send money there or another source that you know is reputable.


  1. Pray — I hesitated to put prayer forward because sometimes it gets lumped in with other parts of slacktivist culture. Many see prayer as a passive way to feel like you’ve “done enough,” much like writing #bringbackourgirls. Whether or not hashtag activism is effective, there is truth to the fact that some people do disengage after throwing out a few lines on the internet. Critics of prayer often suggest that it will influence similar apathy.

I argue that that is not in fact the case. Prayer is what you do when you have reached the limit of what you can. Of course, God does not need you to ask to send assistance. God is not a slacktivist. Prayer helps you keep the matter on your heart, in your thoughts, on your conscience, or whatever other metaphor you want to put to it. As God assists in the tragedy, God can assist you to resist complacency and keep in active mind, which can assist in my last step.

  1. Stay Informed — This is the most frustrating step. The step when you need to stay involved without actually doing anything. We cannot stop plate tectonics from shifting. Of course, it is critical to keep that in perspective. That frustration is nothing alongside the suffering felt by those inside the tragedy. Prayer can help you internalize that solidarity and compassion over frustration. It can also help you listen for new ways to get involved.

That does not necessarily mean volunteering. Most of us cannot exactly relocate to volunteer and oftentimes the infrastructure is not in place for volunteers to assist in any meaningful way. That said if you called to it, figure out how to do it right and volunteer.

For the rest of us, I am talking about innovative strategies to assist beyond a donation and prayer. Strategies that may not be super straight-forward, like working to reduce the tragedy when the plates inevitably shift again in Nepal or elsewhere in the world.

Peru could easily become Nepal within the next few decades. The infrastructure is disorganized and aging. The poorest live in houses like the one for which we helped to build a retaining wall back when we arrived in August. They are built on loose, rocky soil and up the sides of hills and mountains. Peru is situated on several shifting plates. Again, we cannot stop them shifting.

That does not mean we should ignore how human institutions contribute to the tragedy, especially in the developing world. We can generally reorganize such that no one is relegated to the most vulnerable areas of the world and extent promote earthquake-friendly infrastructure.

While most of us do not have the position or power to direct that planning, we can advocate and support accordingly. The HILTI Foundation or Earthquakes without Frontiers offers an intriguing and capable model for how to move forward and build intelligently and equitably to reduce tragedy in the future.

Of course, I am no expert in this. Urban organization is not specialty, but it is other folks’ primary area of interest. Best to just start with listening.

Also, remember to keep your expectations in check. Recognize that you may not be able to change everything, but that does not justify abandoning the cause. Prayer can ostensibly help you with that as well.

Immunosociology: Racism the virus, activism the immune system

As the citizens of Baltimore took to the streets in response to the death of Freddie Gray, I took to the bathroom in response to a nasty virus that had found its way into my stomach. I found myself noticing some similarities regarding root causes that inform my understanding of Baltimore and other sites of conflict in the world.

Let me be upfront with this, I am not comparing my suffering to that felt in Baltimore. There is nothing similar about my awful night and several nights of violence* born out of centuries of even more violent systemic oppression. If anyone needs further clarification, please let me know, because I do not want my metaphor to be lost in miscommunication.

Now that that has been said, I can move forward with a take that I have seen not in other commentaries on Baltimore.

Essentially, I find myself viewing more violent and destructive responses in Baltimore or Ferguson or Madison or Detroit or lots of other cities as symptoms to a disease.

Though I have not formally studied biology since 8th grade, I understand symptoms as side effects of our imprecise immune system. An immune system that is split into two parts, the innate, made up of white blood cells, and the adaptive, made up of learned antibodies that make sure you nip that virus in the bud the next time you encounter.

My innate immune system fought a virus through the complete upheaval of my digestive system. The bathroom was in shambles as I finally stumbled off to sleep at three, with plans to clean up in the morning. I awoke five hours later dehydrated and reeling. My host mother Isis had cleaned up the bathroom while I slept, but shrugged off my thanks and insisted I drink more fluids to recover.

All of those awful experiences were symptoms of my virus, but I did not (seriously) curse my body or my immune system. I cursed the unnamed virus. Just like when I have a cold, I do not condemn my runny nose, my cough, or my fever, I condemn the rhinovirus. After the biological violence is finished, my adaptive immune system remembers the virus should I encounter it again.

Now consider society in place of the human body, racism as the virus, activism and law as our innate and adaptive immune systems, respectively. Racism, as I have come to understand it, hurts society through disenfranchising people of color. Currently that disenfranchisement concretely manifests itself through the systemic and unequal use of force against blacks, which fosters a sense of fear.

Activism responds both nonviolently and violently, when law does not properly resolve an issue. Activism creates social discontent. Perhaps there are marches and people feel shame. Perhaps property is destroyed and cities are left in shambles. Perhaps there are riots and people feel fear. Social communities begin to fracture as we disagree. Sadly, and I think erroneously, people choose to alienate themselves from one another. Of course, these are all symptoms.

The metaphor comes apart in our reaction. Instead of condemning the virus, we condemn our innate immune system. We treat the symptoms by ignoring nonviolent protests and shutting down more violent protest responses instead of adapting to end society’s affliction with racism.

Of course, while this is an apt metaphor, we can aspire to be better than our hive-minded immune system. Medical professionals, or political leaders and scholars, diagnose the diseases of society. We can try preventative treatments like workshops on racism to foster a cultural conscience that rejects racism. We can develop antibodies, through structural legal change, to recognize and prematurely exterminate inevitable encounters with racism. Failing to adapt illustrates how we, largely the white descendants of a racist system, have fallen short.

Though we have fallen short, we can definitely all be more like my host mother and graciously help the recovery, even as we adapt moving forward.

*I struggled with how to characterize these recent nights in Baltimore. Chaos? Fear? Destruction? Each is politically weighted, so I chose the word I hear most often used in other non-shaming commentaries.

Definitions of “artisan” and fair trade relationships

Recently, a few of Bridge of Hope’s clients have become increasingly critical of our artisan group members. Their prices are too high. Their work ethic is questionable. Their designs seem uninspired. They just seem to lack drive. They are not really artisans, just people looking for additional income.

Basically, a central question seems to be: “What is an artisan?”

I am not referring to what artisans do. Artisans work in a variety of specified crafts. Our artisans work in a variety of fields from carving, to pottery, to weaving, to sewing. Each of these skill sets are put towards the same goal of the creation and sale of luxury products to higher income consumers.

I would argue that this goal is fairly standard across all artisans, in or outside a fair trade model. I want to talk instead about the ways different fair trade groups define “artisan” within their vision and mission.

It’s a question I have neglected in this blog, as many others in the fair trade world seem to neglect. To use an apt, but crass parallel: much like pornography, each person knows it when they see it. Of course, we each draw the artisan line somewhere different.

I’ll be the first to admit that I often make a bigger deal out of these questions than is really necessary or valuable. It is easy to move from careful consideration to unhelpful existentialism. Even easier to start exploring questions of meaning just as a mental exercise or attempt to look smart. I write this post because some conflicts in the fair trade world start with informing definition work forming amorphous policy.

Are artisans poor? Are they bridges to cultural values from decades past? Are artisans indigenous women?  Are artisans sustainable producers? In my experience an artisan can fall into anywhere from all to none of these categories. Whichever one the organization chooses to focus on will greatly shape its strategies and metric for success.

Organizations that consider poverty as a defining trait of artisans will likely focus on empowering these artisans to overcome cyclical poverty traps. They will provide workshops on various artisan techniques, as well as entrepreneurship. This organization will measure success by the way their artisans improve their economic lives. Like all development programs, they will need enormous patience as results are slow and artisans seem to slow to fully invest.

If an organization defines artisans as carriers of cultural heritage, they will seek to empower established artisans through helping them develop entrepreneurial skills and providing them with new markets. That organization will showcase the artisans’ process to their consumers. There will likely be little patience for artisans that fail to complete orders or lack commitment to artisan work. Success will first be measured in how much cultural traditions are revived and passed along to younger members of a society.

An organization that defines artisans as indigenous women will seek to empower these largely underprivileged members of their society. Similar to a poverty-focused organization, this group will focus on empowerment through training and entrepreneurship. Success is measured in how these women’s lives are changed and gain greater social standing. Tiffani Sharp, who runs one of Bridge of Hope’s client stores, Mama Willow Tree, interviewed our female artisans on how the work has led them to overcome stigma in society and take on new roles. Likewise, they will also need patience with slow progress.

An organization that prioritizes sustainability in their definition of artisans is seeking to offset the negative effects of consumerism. They will seek out artisans that recycle and reuse materials, as well as provide artisans with sustainability workshops. Primary success is reducing waste and the carbon footprint of production.  There will be minimal toleration for non-organic materials or cost efficient, but wasteful techniques.

These definitions are not mutually exclusive nor are they exhaustive.

Not all artisans are poor. Not all are grounded in tradition. Not all artisans focus on sustainability. Not all artisans are downtrodden in their society. When we ignore that complex picture, we get poorer fair trade models.

Admittedly, most organizations do not treat them as mutually exclusive, but when everyone is not on the same page about what an artisan is, it reduces cohesion within the fair trade model.

A fair trade store that focuses on cultural preservation will not want to work with artisans who are still perfecting their craft as means for additional income. They will prefer to work with artisans rooted in tradition, many of whom are not in as great need or poverty.  A sustainability-focused organization that also seeks to empower indigenous women might not work well with an artisan seeking to build a business in the sale of low cost artisan works in high income markets.

These hypothetical, but representative conflicts usually end with artisans meeting clients where they are. In some cases that might result in an overall positive change for the artisan group towards more sustainable production, or more inclusionary practices, or fairer wage payment. In others artisans and fair trade clients will go separate ways and artisans may end up in non-fair trade networks.

I notice a larger problem to all of this. My definitions came from the supporting fair trade organizations. I do not have a concrete idea how artisans define their vocation. Bridge of Hope’s supporters even less so.

We are all just seeking to help and construct a vision for how to help through just trade practices, but we are still rooted in a system wherein the wealthier folks mandate their vision. Sure they listen to a certain degree, but largely, they still seek to sell products and realize a mission.

It is expensive and time-consuming to create and meet that mission mutually with artisans. It means making decisions more slowly. It means pouring money into regular visits. It means putting aside the hours spent researching the perfect recipe for just commerce in your economically privileged home. It means listening, not presenting a plan to artisans who feel obligated to agree with someone who flew thousands of miles to be with them. It means sacrificing your vision in favor of one shared with the artisans. It means failing at working together pretty regularly. It means mutual support for those failures.

It means a better model. Especially in the tough times I have witnessed this year.

Bridge of Hope attempts to work mutually with artisans. It is part of the reason we move slowly, in addition to our endemic short-staffed-ness. Our artisans often move slowly or in a way that seems antithetical to progress. On one hand, I understand if they want to prioritize repairing their homes or improving their communities’ access to basic utilities over paying for and producing a new design. On the other hand, they often forget about deadlines and simultaneously lament the turnaround on an order as well as the lack of orders. Understanding why artisans’ drive might seem low helps us to engage with them to improve that.

While we celebrated together at the artisan gathering, Daniela pointed out the mild hypocrisy in seeking more orders, while not taking advantage of present opportunities. We have encouraged artisans to seek out training workshops and request funding support. Of course, prioritizing artisan-led ideas means advancing more slowly for the reasons I mentioned, but it means advancing more cooperatively.

Slowness should not impede us here. The invaluable give-and-take is completely worth nightmarish logistics. Fair trade artisan markets sell luxuries to middle and upper class consumers. As long as artisans are being lifted out of dire poverty, clients and artisans have the luxury (pun intended) to work things out.

Not every case will result in a positive outcome. Groups may recognize that the gap between their visions is too wide. Most relationships will be strengthened by patient, albeit occasionally mind numbing dialogue.

Artisan Gathering: I’m kind of proud of this one

A YAV year features a lot of screw ups. International YAVs do so with more frequency. I could write a pseudo-profound post about why that is, but far better for the purposes of this post is to take it as an established fact: YAVs don’t get it right very often.

That’s not to say we’re collectively inadequate, unmotivated, basic, or altogether horrible. No, no, we just spend most of the year struggling to keep afloat in Not Completely Wrong Ocean and trying to climb into a life boat sent by the S.S. Almost Right This Time.

Of course, my discomfort pales in comparison to how little my floundering improves the lives of those in affected communities, or rather, the unfairness imposed on them on a daily basis by an unjust system that I inevitably patronize.

So I latch onto any moment north of passable. Objectively successful events in a YAV year are like unicorns. Admittedly, I do not know if I have discovered a purebred unicorn quite yet, but the Bridge of Hope Artisan Gathering was arguably sporting a horn.

The March 19-20 gathering was the 12th in as many years, providing a space intended to bring together artisans from Huancayo, Huancavelica, La Oroya, and within Lima to meet, share ideas and support one another.

“Intended” is a key word here because it’s unlikely that all the artisans make it. Maybe it’s stereotypical Peruvian flakiness. Maybe it’s Spain’s fault for transferring that trait via colonialism. Maybe it’s the cocktail of patriarchy and poverty that increases the burden on women to manage the home. Maybe it’s that we didn’t make an official Facebook event. Maybe it’s an inexplicable truth of event planning that sometimes people just don’t show up.

There’s a host of possible reasons that Bridge of Hope struggles to get full attendance. None of them change the objective truth that full attendance is rare and irrelevant to event success.

In the case of the Artisan Gathering, it is more fruitful to focus on overall artisan takeaways, budgetary concerns, and selfishly, my own individual accomplishments. I’ll start with the latter because it’s my blog and I’m a big fan of Matthew 20:16.

I planned a decent amount of the event, though much of it was already in place. The event is always two days long, in celebration of Peruvian Artisan Day on March 19th. The first morning includes a discussion on the state of affairs, followed by some tourism in the afternoon. The following day is dedicated to celebration and sharing new designs and ideas with one another. This year, Daniela suggested I look to house the artisans from the provinces with those in Lima to save on non-refundable sunk costs before the event.

Essentially, I became the head of a factory churning out already-invented wheels and working out 90 percent of the logistics. First, I came up with the event theme, “Advancing in Unity,” inspired by the lack of communication within groups and with Bridge of Hope. I planned a short theological reflection on this matter and formatted a basic discussion on the past year and vision looking forward.

Also, I gave all 15 groups an initial invitation followed by one-month reminders, two-week reminders, one-week reminders, and reminders for days six down to one, you know, just to be sure. With a rough sketch of attendance in mind, I worked out several contingency housing plans balancing the burden across groups in Lima, budgetary concerns, and a need to separate single men from single mothers, which make up the majority of groups in Lima. You just have to accept some systemic issues as the reality when they are not the focus of an event.

I also coordinated an afternoon of sightseeing in Lima. Specifically, I called up a tour company and worked out a deal to get us a bused to the lookout on San Cristobal Mountain and back down to San Francisco Cathedral. At 400 meters above sea level, San Cristobal offers a view of Lima from the Pacific to the surrounding mountains. San Francisco Cathedral offers a view into Lima’s colonial history and a trip into its spooky catacombs.

Additionally, I coordinated a day for the artisans to share pachamanca, a traditional Peruvian dish, together at the home of one artisan member Anita. That’s included in this vdeo!

There were several other tasks that I took on as assigned in preparation including the printing of photos of my visits for each artisan and the production of a DVD of each group’s videos to show. I did a lot and I did it fairly well. Especially with consideration for the fact that I did it all in Spanish, over phone conversations with often shoddy service, and without having much reference for standard business practices (i.e. Keep calling a tourist agency the day before an event until you get a spoke confirmation. Daniela saved me on that one.)

Now, I just did a lot of ego-inflating. Seems about time for a solid dose of reality.

In truth, 11 of 15 groups made it. One group declined two weeks out, having forgotten and scheduled vacations on that date. Two other groups waffled until the day before when one of the 30+ members of all ages needed to take care of their children (my inability to fully believe that is irrelevant) and the other group backed out when one of their two representatives could not attend. Finally, the last group informed us that they had not gotten on the night bus to arrive and would not be attending because of family emergencies.

Each “no” is understandable. Admittedly, it’s kind of a bummer to be on the receiving end of mild disorganization, or last minute answers, or lapses in memory. I’d be lying if I denied that a few choice words were muttered under my breath in frustration, but at the end of the day 11 groups still made it.

Of course, one artisan surprised me, by showing up on Thursday after telling me that he had no idea the event was happening for his third day reminder. While a pleasant surprise this required some last-minute housing adjustments, this time featuring a few frustrated tugs on the curly follicles.

Later that evening, a male artisan informed me that his mother, who he had not told me would be coming, was unwilling to be separated from him. This came after I asked him three times to check with her to ensure that it was okay that I separate them. Smiling as I dug my nails into my palms, I informed him that I had one hotel double open for him and the artisan who had surprised me. Luckily, that double had a queen-sized bed and they graciously agreed to share the room.

Actually, I was quite taken aback at the amount of grace that the artisans offered. Say what you will about frustrations of planning and attendance and logistics, Peruvians let a lot more go.

For example, the bus broke down as it dropped us off at San Francisco Cathedral and the bus driver informed us that they would not be able to offer us a ride back. The tourist company also denied to offer us a refund, to my chagrin, but Daniela’s acceptance. Likewise, the group was happy to walk back through downtown and take the chance to see several landmarks and explore non-fair trade artisan shops.

They modeled something AJ mentioned during the last YAV retreat. Peruvians, he observed, just let a lot of the small stuff go that folks in the U.S. get up in arms about as the greatest injustice, while they get up in arms and protest major injustices like climate change, which those in the U.S. think cannot be swayed. It’s a slight oversimplification, but it certainly explains what I witnessed during the Artisan Gathering.

The artisans joked about the walk, invoking parodies of classic Peruvian protest chants, “Si no llegamos ya, la lucha continua,” meaning “If we don’t arrive already, the fight continues.” Instead of weaving a tapestry of choice words targeted at our tourist company, I focused on their high spirits, conscience of how indignant a typical group of Westerners would be in the same situation.

There were plenty of other miscues. Only seven groups remembered, despite umpteen reminders to bring new designs to share. Likewise, I struggled to wrestle our opening discussion from mansplained monologues one artisans success over his thirty years in the trade.

In both cases though, there were positives. Several groups received much-needed feedback on their new samples. During the discussion, several artisans found their voices to share issues that go unheard.

Likewise, there was clear progress made towards encouraging self-sufficiency among the artisans. Many artisans nodded knowingly as Daniela stated that Bridge of Hope is not there to stand behind each group and hold their hands through the completion of an order or creation of new designs. A message they received through slow deliberation, not accusation. By the end of the 20th, members were brainstorming new ideas for the future of the group.

Of course, Bridge of Hope is not magically better now. Plenty will seem to go unchanged on the surface, yet seeds have been sown on the move towards more self-sufficiency. Maybe next year’s theme should be “Turning Point” with an emphasis on taking advantage of new opportunities.

We took a few steps further than where we were. And even better? We stayed over $400 under budget, in no small part due to my own efforts, Daniela’s strategic budgeting plans, and a few other surprise savings along the way. As an economist, how can I not love shrinking the bottom dollar and increasing the overall benefit to cost ratio?

Honestly though, the artisans inspired me to keep perspective. It’s exactly what they did when we had to walk unexpectedly, though no fault of their own. I know I worked my hardest to pull this together. I also know that miscues are far from my fault and I responded to the best of my ability. With that perspective, and admittedly even without it, this was an objective success and worth noting in an otherwise rocky YAV experience.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Luke 21:1-4 and Matthew 15:21-28: Women-driven stories

During retreat we reflected on two scriptural passages featuring women, which lead me to believe that Paul had a shaky foundation for the claim that, “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor 14:34-35).

The two passages were, Luke 21:1-4 and Matthew 15: 21-28. In the first passage, Jesus uses a woman as an example of an ideal giver in the name of the Lord. In the second, he directly engages with a Canaanite woman, who challenges him to change his dogma.

Women are in short supply in the Bible. Rev. Lindsay Hardin Freeman and a group from Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, Minnesota recently published that 93 women appear in the Bible, 43 have names and they utter 14,000 of 1.1 million words quoted in the entire Bible. That makes passages with women, especially those with women at the heart, worth a very close read.

They were familiar passages to me, but again the Lectio Divina helped me consider new interpretations. My interpretations of these texts are probably not groundbreaking. They are certainly not well-researched. They are instead my gut interpretation based on some armchair interest in critical analysis of scripture. I do believe that they are valuable interpretations and ones that might be helpful to those readers unfamiliar with the passages.

Luke 21: 1-4, sometimes called The Widow’s Offering, finds Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem watching the faithful give their offerings. The rich give vast sums, just a drop in a bucket of their wealth, seeking to display superiority and advance their social standing. Meanwhile, an old widow enters and quietly offers her comparatively small offering.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.

The message is pretty straight-forward. Don’t be a hypocrite and sacrifice for your faith. Sure, you can refine it and I am sure there are other more informed interpretations. Plus, you could spend a great length of time exploring how this message applies to our lives, but at the end of the day, one thing is clear: Jesus valued that widow’s action over anyone else in the temple.

In fact, Jesus wants to make an example of the widow for everyone. She, not these wealthy, outwardly pious men, gave all she could to improve the church. She is the prime example of a good and devout worshiper of God.

She was a widow with little to no economic or social standing. No one pays her any attention and she would not be heard, whether or not she chose to speak.

Underlying the message on sacrifice and hypocrisy, Jesus seems to teach us to look to the downtrodden for a prime example of living faithfully. This woman is to be venerated, not judged for her poor offering. To dismiss her presence ignores that truth.

Of course, this story could still fit within Paul’s advice. This widow does not speak and still shows that her piety. At the same time, I feel women would largely go ignored if they were not allowed to speak.

Fortunately, I do not have to delve into hypotheticals, because of what we find in Matthew 15:21-28, the story of the Canaanite woman, also known as the Syrophoenician woman from Mark. Within the context of Jesus’ story, he is withdrawing for the purposes of getting a little rest. He’s been busy what with preaching giant crowds and communicating a radical new message. What budding champion of a social justice cause does not know similar struggles?

Keep that in mind as we read one of Jesus more disturbingly rude moments.

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

In this passage, Jesus is a jerk. As I joked to my father once, I feel he could have used a Snickers, because he starts to act human when he’s hungry. A joke I made following a sermon offered by my mother on this text, or its parallel, which inspires much of my interpretation. She dwelled at great length on Jesus’ human side here.

I know plenty of those who fight for social justice causes who reach their limit and just snap. Without self-care, even the most dedicated and genuine folks can say some things that they regret later. I certainly have.

Likewise, I feel like Jesus is definitely questioning his call in all this. He’s still working out the finer details for who he came to serve and why he was sent to Earth. As a result, he snaps at this woman for seeking something and showing this unexpected faith.

Perhaps he has been struggling with the question of whether or not to include others in his work on Earth. And as many do when forced to take a stance on something they wrestle with, he sticks to his guns and even takes some regrettable shots at this woman.

A woman who is desperate. Her daughter is demon-possessed. The exact meaning of demon-possession is unwell, the narrative is clear that her daughter is unwell.

She is also a foreigner. Whatever the historical relations are, it is clear that Jesus and likely his people deem her worthy of insult. He calls her a dog and undeserving of his healing power.

Most obviously, she is a woman and at the bottom of a patriarchal society. Approaching a group of men in search of their assistance is unusual and requires an overwhelming amount of courage.

And what does she do? She openly challenges Jesus’ insults and better yet, changes his mind. She shows him that even if his characterization of her as a dog is true, she still deserves his healing power. She out-logics Jesus here.

Try and think of another instance where someone bests Jesus in a battle of words. Go.

Time is up. If you thought of one, share it in the comments.

The fact is, Jesus is not often persuaded by humans. He is Jesus. He is perfection walking in an imperfect form. Logical debates of what that means aside, Jesus does not really get it wrong much.

Most sermons I have heard shift their focus back to Jesus at this point and explain that he gave us the perfect example of recognizing an error, changing one’s mind, and moving on. That’s a great direction to take things, but I’ll instead focus still on what this woman did.

After this scene, Jesus opens up to reach out to all people. He serves in areas outside of Israel. He dies for all people’s sins. As a result, the church becomes one that preaches the Good News to all people. Everyone can be saved through faith in Jesus Christ, not just the “lost sheep of Israel.”

That’s a major ideological shift. And it seems to follow from this moment of clarity for Jesus as a result of this conversation with a desperate, foreign woman. She inspires a theology-defining moment for Jesus.

Her voice matters and should be heard. I am floored by her courage to challenge the one who inspired her faith, not just for the safety it provides her daughter, but the change it makes in the Christian story.

With that in mind, how can Paul possibly claim that women should not be permitted to speak and inquire of their husbands? I know there is a lot of love out their Paul, but it just seems like he missed these two stories.

Perhaps, he was blinded by his upbringing in a patriarchal society. Paul is not infallible.

More importantly though is the value women play in the Bible. They may be in short supply, but they matter so much. And on a day like International Women’s Day, let’s just celebrate that.

Feminist editing isn’t good enough

I spend a substantial amount of time trying to privilege female voices in the artisan video interviews. At times, this practice even negatively affects the narrative of the videos, but I still consider it a valuable endeavor.

I do not make this statement seeking congratulations or approval for my work as an ally, but rather to point out how systemic oppression leads to inefficient uses of labor. Likewise, I would argue that my work treats a symptom, and does so insufficiently, instead of going after the root problem.

The root problem is that women, especially lower class, indigenous women, are taught, directly and indirectly, to allow men to do the talking. A group of women will defer to a lone man to answer questions on business, design or fair trade. Such are my experiences in interviews with our artisan partners.

I have interviewed members of 13 out of 16 artisan groups. Of those members, 27 have been women and five have been men. In the three coed group interviews that I conducted, men answered nearly every question, while women stuck to just the basic questions. Of the three coed group interviews, women answered most questions after the men, often leading to answers that fill in the gaps and cannot stand alone in a short video.

This phenomenon intensifies in the more conservative mountains of Peru. In one interview, I pointedly asked the women by name to share their thoughts, but they were still hesitant and consulted the man in Quechua before answering. He may just been clarifying, but it was still highly distressing.

Even when I intentionally interviewed men and women separately with one group, the male president can be heard in the background offering suggestions. Even when he was not present, one of the women was too nervous to string together full sentences, despite speaking near-fluent Spanish.

Of course, Daniela warned me that the women outside of Lima lacked confidence. Especially, those who are more elderly and as a result learned Spanish later in their lives.

There were two situations in which the women seemed to gain confidence. Either they spoke in Quechua for the interview, or they worked in an entirely female group.

Take for example, an artisan from one female group who included in her response on personal growth that “we have all grown in confidence.” When I asked the same question to a member of a coed group, she could not point out any growth in the group. Part of that has to do with the relative economic success of each group, but it is still a notable difference.

These interview patterns are only one manifestation of male-dominance. Men, consciously or not, seek to dominate conversations. In one group, a man answered every question I had with a casual, “Normal!” which is roughly “Fine!” while the women hesitated and gave each other sideways glances. I pushed, somewhat unsuccessfully, to gather majority opinion with that group after I sensed the women’s unspoken discomfort.

I see men given a dominant role and women’s confidence and willingness to engage suffer for it.

I seek to reduce that dominance when I edit my video interviews.

I cut men’s statements short and insert in female voices sharing similar or supporting information that is admittedly superfluous to the central point. At times that slightly derails the narrative or leads to restated information, which I think is a fair tradeoff for more equal representation.

At the same time, this is not truly a solution. I, a man, decides when and where it makes the most sense to include women’s voices. Although my choices always affect the narrative, this is far more frustrating.

I am frustrated because I should be able to pick freely from an equal quantity of voices represented. Instead, I pull everything I can from the small amount that these women do say, knowing that there is much left unsaid in deference to the male voice.

My attempt to balance voices only hides what goes unsaid, which is the truly underlying problem.

Plus, it obscures gender inequity, in an attempt to align with Principle Six of the World Fair Trade Organization: Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Freedom of Association. If men’s voices dominated, our own gender equity practices would be rightfully questioned, but covering that up does not solve the problem.

I have attempted, unsuccessfully, to counter this. I persistently ask women the same question in new ways, hoping to strike whatever nerve will lead to a more comfortable response. Also, I directly ask women by naming them during group interviews. Likewise, I asked one older women to answer in Quechua and found that she did speak at great length.

Through translating Quechua, I am more assured that the words are meaningful. Likewise, I will have the opportunity to more faithfully translate the Quechua, which has proved nearly impossible, during a return visit to Huancavelica this Monday.

Additionally, I will do one of my, if not my final interview with an artisan group. That group is made up of a husband and wife, which is one of the more challenging dynamics to circumvent.

I hope to build on what I have learned in the last 13 interviews to pull as much as I can out of this experience. Likewise, I will be able to dedicate all camera memory and bettery to a single interview, which is a luxury I have not had in the past.

I will ask questions multiple times, but more importantly I will conduct both separate interviews, as well as, a group interview. Likewise, I will ask them to speak in Quechua if it makes them more comfortable. Following that, I will seek a translation into Spanish after the fact while still there. In fact, I really enjoy having the speaker’s influence on the subtitles as they can better ensure that their preferred manner of speaking comes across.

Of course, I am not going to end the patriarchy in one interview. Still I hope by recognizing it in my video editing, and more importantly in my interview process, I can foster a more level and equitable space.

*For the purposes of simplicity in this article I am sticking to a gender binary. I am nearly certain that every artisan I have interviewed identifies as either cismale or cisfemale. The majority reflected on their identity as women. I want to honor that. Also, I believe certain gender-inclusive constructions would unnecessarily distract readers and derail this piece.

Matthew 20:1-16: The Kingdom of Heaven clearly has a terrible business model

I am fairly confident that God is not an entrepreneur and most likely not an economist. Well the writers of Matthew definitely were not. That became more evident in Matthew 20: 1-16, or colloquially, The Parable of the Vineyard, which we read on our YAV retreat to Tingo Maria.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Now, I am not saying God and the writers of Matthew were not well-versed in economics. Each worker receives a “denarius,” which in our translation was a standard daily wage, fitting with the value of a “denarius” in the early Roman Empire. The passage plays on the notion of fair wages, the allocation of resources, a labor surplus, and a market failure.

I spent a lengthy amount of time exploring the economics of this passage, to see if there was any way to reconcile what the vineyard owner does with classical economics. In the end, I found two options: either the vineyard owner is a greedy monopsonist (think coal mine owners in Pennsylvania) within an abusive labor market or a wealthy individual looking to correct a market failure. For several reasons, both sentimental and logical, I go with the latter interpretation.

The latter interpretation reflects a message of justice, a reconciliation of human-made hierarchy, referred to here as “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” As Jed put it, this is a great equalizer. In this story, no one comes out behind or ahead of anyone else despite their previous economic or social standing. It fits better with how I view the bible. Of course, I do not rely solely on self-fulfilling prophecies.

Instead, I start by exploring the scene in this parable. We have a group of day laborers standing in a lot awaiting hire. I immediately picture undocumented migrants awaiting work in our modern society. Admittedly, I take that picture from media coverage, but conversations with those with a real connection tell me that there is truth to the caricature.

Several of these laborers are offered the opportunity to work for a fair, daily wage, on a vineyard. They immediately head along, excited at their prospect.

A bit later, the vineyard owner finds that others are still standing in the lot. Their explanation is relatively straight-forward, “No one has hired us.”

Another common experience among the undocumented within the United States. At orientation we one YAV alumni who explained that she helped facilitate a safe space for undocumented migrants to wait for employment opportunities. More often than not during recession times, work was not available.

The vineyard owner decides to hire these day laborers as well and promises the same deal. This process continues, each time reiterating that the laborers were as yet unemployed for the day.

Soon every worker is hired with the same contract terms. And admittedly poor business choice for the vineyard owner. Instead of pro-rating, the owner chooses to provide equal pay to each worker. The owner recognizes the randomness of this hiring process.

Every worker showed up that morning willing to work. They are looking to provide for themselves, their families, and/or other dependents. They are willing and able to provide their services in exchange for a wage. Some may be willing and able to provide at lower rates, while others at a higher rate, but they all would be willing to work for a denarius.

Meanwhile, there seem to be few business owners willing and able to hire workers. Possibly, they are looking to pay a minimal fraction of the daily wage, which none of the laborers are willing and able to take. So far, everything is operating rationally. Unfortunately, we have a labor surplus.

At the current wage, there are more folks willing and able to work than there are available jobs. Typically, this gets sorted out by lowering the wage to a point where some laborers exit the market and more businesses are willing and able to hire.

That wage would be below a denarius. As that is the standard daily wage, we would have the market failure of income inequality.

That is not the case, however. Instead, day-laborers stay unemployed. Perhaps the denarius was subtly enforced as a minimum wage and as a result, we get a price floor. A price floor that is above the market equilibrium. The result of price floors are labor surpluses.

Societal norms result in an inefficient market unless labor demand or supply shifts.

We see an interesting twist on all this. The vineyard owner steps in and is willing and able to hire every worker in the lot for the standard daily wage. The worker recognizes that some folks went unemployed that day, but they all had the intention to work.

The vineyard owner values that intention and is willing and able to hire all of them. The owner’s labor supply curve shifts to a point that places the market equilibrium at one denarius and eliminates the labor surplus.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, God values your intentionality and recognizes that you are not control of the entire system. In response, the parable prophesies that God will correct a system that fails to provide for all.

Admittedly, one could argue that the vineyard owner is abusing market power as the sole hiring business in the market. The vineyard owner might get far more out of the full-day workers than a denarius and only those final workers produced the equivalent of a denarius.

Of course, that does not fit with the narrative. Plus, a greed-driven owner would choose to pro-rate over paying out equally.

Of course, that’s not exactly a ground-breaking conclusion. God equalizes the world. I find value in arriving at this point via a new route, and how this story lines up with traditional classical economics. There may be some holes here and there, I’m still ironing out some bits, but I like where I landed with this one.