How taxpayers subsidize the profits of low paying employers

I wrote this in June 2013 but thought it was relevant again in light of the the continuing fast food worker strikes.

The recent strikes by fast food workers provides an excellent illustration of how the government subsidizes the profits of low-paying corporations through social spending. The strikes have spread from New York to Chicago to St. Louis and several other cities. These brave workers are risking the loss of their jobs to protest their pathetically low wages. Many of them tell how they must rely on SNAP, Medicaid, and other safety net programs just to keep their families alive and fed. And the people working these minimum wage jobs are mostly women – not teenagers, as if often supposed: Here’s how the government subsidy works. Say McDonald’s pays a working mom minimum wage, i.e., $7.25/hour. The chart below shows how many hours of work at minimum wage are required to pay fair market rent in each state: rent Or, to put it another way, at least 25% of working class people are now spending over half of their income on rent. So this working mom is spending well over 30% of her income (which is the standard for what is considered “affordable”) for rent alone.

As I said before, these fast food workers are relying on safety net programs to keep their families fed and in reasonable health. These programs are paid for by taxpayer money, of course. Because McDonald’s wages are insufficient to maintain this working mom’s family then a certain amount of government spending is required to maintain them. That amount of government spending is what should be paid to her by McDonald’s. Because that amount is not paid by them it actually amounts to a government subsidy. The government is effectively paying part of the McDonald’s personnel costs. And because McDonald’s does not have to pay that cost they are more profitable. McDonald’s can thus profitably exploit its employees, knowing that the taxpayers will pay to keep their employees fed, housed, and alive – but only barely.

UPDATE: This article cites some numbers from Wisconsin:

Right now, Walmart sets a high standard–in low wages and poor working conditions. The average wage comes to just $8.81, and it’s extremely difficult to get enough hours to live on. On top of that, Walmart uses every trick in the book to avoid providing workers with company benefits. Like other low-wage employers, Walmart keeps workers’ wages so low that many of them qualify for government aid. According to a recent report by the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, “The Low-Wage Drag on Our Economy,” which analyzed data released by Wisconsin’s Medicaid program, “a single 300-person Walmart Supercenter store in Wisconsin likely costs taxpayers at least $904,542 per year and could cost taxpayers up to $1,744,590 per year–about $5,815 per employee.”


James Baldwin: Until white people understand their history, they cannot be released from it.

The following is from the end of James Baldwin’s letter to his nephew and namesake (published as “My Dungeon Shook” in The Fire Next Time).

You were born where you were born [that is, in a ghetto] and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in so many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying, “You exaggerate.” They do not know Harlem, as I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine – but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration. There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumberable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don’t be afraid. I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man’s definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and, by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers – your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become. It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, The very time I thought I was lost, My dungeon shook and my chains fell off.

This reminds me of a passage near the end of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations“. He recommends the passage of John Conyers’ legislation that would commit the government to a study of reparations for African-Americans. He says that such a study may or may not come up with an adequate number:

But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.

The problem with the middle ground on LGBT rights

I’ve recently come across stories (for example, here and here) of Christians trying to stake out a middle ground, or pursue a third way, or agree to disagree on LGBT rights issues. They see that these issues are tearing their churches apart and they want to pursue unity and peace. Those are admirable goals, but the middle ground is problematic.

Christians seeking a middle ground are usually uninterested in the hard-line, culture warrior position that comes across as homophobic. Some want to take the “pot calling the kettle black” position which refuses to judge another’s “sin” on the basis that we’re all sinners. Some want to emphasize love as the main duty of Christians and refuse to engage in culture wars. Some want to change the subject altogether and focus on whatever they perceive as the real mission of the church. All of them want to progress away from the hardline position into a middle position that still maintains fidelity to their interpretation of the Bible.

Which reminds me of this famous line from Malcolm X:

Straight Christians can attempt to stake out a middle ground precisely because it’s not a fundamental aspect of their humanity that’s being called into question. Their stake in the issue is low relative to LGBT Christians. Middle ground Christians say they want peace, but don’t realize that their peace comes at a price paid by LGBT Christians suffering from biblically sanctioned spiritual, emotional, psychological, and sometimes physical violence.

Furthermore, those who occupy a middle ground are advocating a position in favor of the status quo. Only the affirming position actually takes the knife from the back of LGBT Christians and attempts to heal the wounds we inflicted.

I don’t want to give the impression that people of different opinions cannot live together peaceably. They can and they must. And I’m thankful for everyone who has backed off the hardline position. But we have to be honest about what the middle position does: it preserves institutions but does not heal wounds.

Did lynching give way to more justice for African Americans?

In Popular Justice: A History of Lynching in America, Manfred Berg gives an intriguing and depressing explanation for the decline of lynching in the 1930s.

Lynching was possible because of weak (or, in some cases, colluding) law enforcement and community support for the lynch mobs. Apart from the obvious racial hatred, the motivation behind it was the belief that the justice system was lenient and slow, that the community needed to enforce justice themselves.

Several anti-lynching activists like Ida B. Wells risked their lives to oppose lynching. Other groups like the NAACP and the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching also led the fight by promoting education, compiling statistics and case reports, and pushing for anti-lynching legislation on both the local and the national level.

But the moral appeals were relatively ineffective and the few anti-lynching laws that were passed were not enforced. Not that these efforts were useless. The anti-lynching cause mobilized African Americans and the threat of federal intervention may have encouraged local law enforcement to prevent lynching. Around 1920 the number of prevented lynchings finally overtook the number of completed lynchings, mostly due to the efforts of sheriffs. Why the change in behavior?

Part of it may have been public pressure. Part of it may have been pressure from planters who were losing cheap laborers to the Great Migration, which was itself a reaction to lynching and the Jim Crow regime generally. Part of it may have been advances in radio technology which facilitated law enforcement.

But Berg says we must not attribute it to a fundamental change in race relations. The specter of the “black beast” who presented an imminent danger to white women continued to haunt white minds.

Berg contends that the key may be the correlation between lynching and capital punishment. If one of the motivations for lynching was the belief that the justice system was lenient and slow, then an increase in speedily executed death sentences could quell that anger. Thus legal executions arguably became a substitute for lynching. There is indication of this in the statistics. The ratio of lynchings to legal executions moved from 2.1 in the 1890s to 0.4 in the 1920s. In the 1930s there were 60% fewer lynchings than in the 1920s, but a 44% increase in the legal executions of African Americans. By the 1940s lynchings declined to a total of 30, but African Americans represented 61% of all victims of legal execution. These numbers become even more stark when you consider rape alone, which was the most often cited cause for lynching.

The threat of mob violence during trials of African Americans accused of rape or murder often led to a complete disregard for due process. And legal executions were most effective as a substitute for lynchings when they were done publicly. Some of these executions drew massive crowds, just as lynchings had done. If legal executions did become a substitute for lynching, there was no appreciable increase in justice for accused African Americans.

Reformers who sought to arouse Americans to the evil of lynching entertained an optimistic faith in the power of reason, morality, and education. Social critics condemned mob violence as a blot on American civilization but continued to hope that Americans would eventually reconcile their practices with their ideals. The brave struggle of anti-lynching crusaders deserves admiration; whether their optimism was justified is a different question. The tireless propaganda campaign of the NAACP, the ASWPL, and many other groups and individuals probably contributed to the gradual change in public awareness. Yet lynching did not decline because American society generally, and Southern society in particular, underwent a moral catharsis. Rather, a combination of enhanced law enforcement, both against lynchers and criminal suspects, and the expansion of the death penalty gradually curtailed lynch law. For African Americans, the main victims of mob killings, the effects of this transition proved highly ambivalent. All too often a lynching prevented by the police merely presaged a legal lynching by a kangaroo court. Blacks thus faced a double bind: while weak legal institutions failed to protect them against lynching, strict and “efficient” law enforcement hit them harder than any other racial or ethnic group.

At the beginning of this post I characterized this explanation for the decline of lynching as “depressing”. I say that, first, because it appears that, while it had some effect, moral argumentation was not what led to the abandonment of lynching. It may have been the threatened application of federal power, or economic interests, or the simple satisfaction of mob anger with a more orderly, but equally unjust, legal lynching. We liberals want to believe that more education or moral exhortation will be sufficient to address social justice concerns – but it may not be.

Second, this is depressing because – one hundred years later – our justice system is still racially biased. Michelle Alexander calls the present mass incarceration of black men the “new Jim Crow“.

A new study by the ACLU clearly shows the racial disparity in marijuana arrests. That is, despite the nearly equal rates of marijuana usage by black and whites there is a remarkable gap in arrest rates.

Is our justice system any more just?

The astonishing scope of Jim Crow laws

The following is from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, pp. 43-45.

Younger blacks could see the contradictions in their world [during the Jim Crow era] – that, sixty, seventy, eighty years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, they still had to step off the sidewalk when a white person approached, were banished to jobs nobody else wanted no matter their skill or ambition, couldn’t vote, but could be hanged on suspicion of the pettiest infraction.

These were the facts of their lives:

There were days when whites could go to the amusement park and a day when blacks could go, if they were permitted at all. There were white elevators and colored elevators (meaning the freight elevators in back); white train platforms and colored train platforms. There were white ambulances and colored ambulances to ferry the sick, and white hearses and colored hearses for those who didn’t survive whatever was wrong with them.

There were white waiting rooms and colored waiting rooms in any conceivable place where a person might have to wait for something, from the bus depot to the doctor’s office. A total of four restrooms had to be constructed and maintained at significant expense in any public establishment that bothered to provide any for colored people: one for white men, one for white women, one for colored men, and one for colored women. In 1958, a new bus station went up in Jacksonville, Florida, with two of everything, including two segregated cocktail lounges, “lest the races brush elbows over a martini,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The president of Southeastern Greyhound told the Journal, “It frequently costs fifty percent more to build a terminal with segregated facilities.” But most southern businessmen didn’t dare complain about the extra cost. “That question is dynamite,” the president of a southern theater chain told the Journal. “Don’t even say what state I’m in.”

There was a colored window at the post office in Pensacola, Florida, and there were white and colored telephone booths in Oklahoma. White and colored went to separate windows to get their license plates in Indianola, Mississippi, and to separate tellers to make their deposits at the First National Bank of Atlanta. There were taxicabs for colored people and taxicabs for white people in Jacksonville, Birmingham, Atlanta, and the entire state of Mississippi. Colored people had to be off the streets and out of the city limits by 8 p.m. in Palm Beach and Miami Beach.

Throughout the South, the conventional rules of the road did not apply when a colored motorist was behind the wheel. If he reached an intersection first, he had to let the white motorist go ahead of him. He could not pass a white motorist on the road no matter how slowly the white motorist was going and had to take extreme caution to avoid an accident because he would likely be blamed no matter who was at fault. In everyday interactions, a black person could not contradict a white person or speak unless spoken to first. A black person could not be the first to offer the shake a white person’s hand. A handshake could occur only if a white person so gestured, leaving many people having never shaken hands with a person of the other race. The consequences for the slightest misstep were swift and brutal. Two white beat a black tenant farmer in Louise, Mississippi, in 1948, wrote the historian James C. Cobb, because the man “asked for a receipt after paying his water bill.”

It was against the law for a colored person and a white person to play checkers together in Birmingham. White and colored gamblers had to place their bets at separate windows and sit in separate aisles and racetracks in Arkansas. At saloons in Atlanta, the bars were segregated: Whites drank on stools at one end of the bar and blacks on stools at the other end, until the city outlawed even that, resulting in white-only and colored-only saloons. There were white parking spaces and colored parking speces in the town square in Calhoun City, Mississippi. In one North Carolina courthouse, there was a white Bible and a black Bible to swear to tell the truth on.

Acts of faith

For many people, faith is belief in spite of evidence; it is a belief in the miraculous.

I believe faith is that which enables us to face reality without giving in to despair. It is the way we orient ourselves to the universe, to what is real. It is a way of seeing, not a way of knowing.

I believe that if God is, then God is love. That is to say, I (who am a tiny bit of the universe made conscious) believe that reality is undergirded by love.

This faith does not require me to deny any part of reality, but it does change how I see it.

When I notice the homeless man, sign at his feet, sitting along Kirkwood Avenue, what will I do? I know, of course, that he could be mentally ill, or violent, or addicted. I know that if I engage him it could cost me a couple of dollars and a few minutes of awkward conversation. How does the belief that the universe is oriented toward love affect this interaction? It calls me beyond selfishness and into trust. It calls me to stop, look him in the eye, see him as a human being, acknowledge him as an equal, and risk something, however small.

That, and not a creed, is the true act of faith.

Ten years out of fundamentalism

It was fall 2003 and Rachel and I were driving down Highway 37 having one of our increasingly frequent gripe sessions. We were frustrated with the church we were attending – actually, with the entire fundamentalist tradition in which we were raised. We were changing, seeing our Pentecostal Holiness churches with new eyes.

We had been changing for quite a while. Thanks to the internet I had begun to discover the religious world outside our small group of strict, independent fundamentalists. I was realizing that we were not (in the words of an Audio Adrenaline song) the only ones moving toward Jesus. Also, I had discovered theology and other forms of religious thought far more rigorous and exciting than anything I’d ever encountered before. As Rachel and I discussed these things we both became curious about life outside the narrow world of our church.

Once we discovered liturgy, hymnody, and the ritual of the Christian calendar we began, stealthily, to visit a local Lutheran church. We were stunned by the beauty we found there.

We attempted to work what we were learning into our Pentecostal church: Rachel sang hymns in the services and I introduced theological concepts into Sunday School lessons. We went as far as creating an Easter production that was nothing but thinly veiled liturgy. We still believed we could stay where we were.

Then we attended an Audio Adrenaline concert with our friend Jeremy and his youth group. Audio Adrenaline was a Christian rock band – music that was at the outer edges of acceptability in our churches. If our people hadn’t believed jewelry was a mark of harlotry there would’ve been a great deal of pearl-clutching once they heard about where we’d gone. The consequences were serious for Jeremy, less so for us. But those events and the discussions that followed them allowed us to see more clearly the nature of the churches in which we were involved.

We began to realize that our people had a far too narrow view of religion and the world more generally. They were legalistic and, if you fell out of favor, they could be incredibly cruel. We were taught that the world was populated by demons and dangers. Yet as we tiptoed out into it we found a wonderful and thrilling place opening up before us.

So as we drove down Highway 37 I asked, half jokingly and half hopefully, “Why don’t we just leave and join the Lutheran church?” To my amazed delight Rachel replied, “Okay.”

After a few difficult, tearful conversations with family and friends, we started attending the Lutheran church on the first Sunday of 2004. We finally felt connected to a faith with a history and a link to the universal Church. We were intoxicated by the beauty of the ritual. Where previously I had only read books of sermons written by an approved list of authors, now I was driven by the joy of discovery to read whatever captured my interest. Later that year I stood in the sunlit sanctuary on Easter morning singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” with tears in my eyes and the deep conviction that we were home.

But, like everything else in the universe, we continued to change. In 2006, two years later, our daughter Darcy was born and introduced a happy disruption to our lives. I continued to explore new ideas, often reading books that I only half-understood. I continued to have conversations online with fellow theology nerds. I had discussions/debates with Andy, whose friendship I had recently regained and who was himself going through serious changes. He presented me with questions that had a slow but relentless effect on me.

In 2009 we moved into Bedford, further away from our Lutheran church and within two blocks of an Episcopal parish. This proximity caused us again to consider whether we were in the right place. The denomination to which we belonged officially banned women from the ministry and semi-officially taught Young Earth Creationism (the belief that the world was created in six days less than ten thousand years ago).

Over the past five years we’d gone from politically and theologically conservative to politically liberal and theologically moderate. We accepted the scientific consensus on evolution. We no longer believed the Bible was inerrant. We believed women should fully participate in every aspect of the church’s ministry. We believed in the full equality of our LGBT sisters and brothers and acknowledged the holiness of their sexualities and gender expressions. Although our Lutheran church was a warm and welcoming place and we had no reason to believe we would encounter any difficulties, we believed that the Episcopal church would allow us the freedom to fully embrace these changing beliefs. So we made the move.

“Whatever IS will be WAS” (Bhikkhu Ñanamoli).

A friend from my fundamentalist days once said to me, “You’ve changed, Jeremy. You didn’t believe these things before.” And she was right. Unlike her, I do not consider it a compliment to say of a person that their beliefs have never changed. We have new experiences, new questions, and new encounters which curiosity and honesty compel us to incorporate into our mental universes. The alternative is to filter out any challenges to our beliefs. In that way, we avoid all psychic disturbance, but at the price of creativity and growth.

So far my emphasis has been on beliefs. This is because much of my life has been consumed by beliefs – acquiring them, changing them, ordering them, comparing them. Over the last few years I’ve detected this imbalance in my life. As my conception of politics grew from concern over the electoral horse race (something from which you can disengage between election cycles and legislative sessions) to a concern for the distribution of power and the ways in which we live together (something from which you must never disengage), I began to see that, like many introverts, I was living inside my head. I was very good at acquiring the right opinions, but not so good at acting on them.

This led to the feeling that I was wasting my life. I became resentful of my job and daydreamed continually of doing something else. Below the surface I lived with a continuous sense of dissatisfaction. I made a few half-hearted attempts to get involved with various causes, but none of them took.

Meanwhile the chatter continued in my head. I was trying to integrate my various interests – Anglo-Catholicism, Buddhism, mysticism, Protestant liberalism – with my developing politics. Finally, in January 2013, I had a panic attack. Sitting in traffic at the intersection of Highway 37 and Vernal Pike I suddenly had an intense, overwhelming desire to rip everything I knew about religion out of my head and never, ever remember it. That’s when I realized I needed to take a break. I stopped reading about and discussing religion. I decided that God (who/whatever s/he is) didn’t need me risking my mental health over problems I wasn’t going to solve anyway.

More changes came. Rachel and I became vegans and got involved in an effort to get a farmed animal sanctuary up and running. It is one of the most fulfilling projects we have ever been a part of. It has given me the opportunity to act on my beliefs in a concrete way and relieve that dread of wasting my life.

My work responsibilities have also grown in complexity and quality. The boredom and frustration that once filled my days is gone.

But 2013 has not been an unmixed blessing. The lingering effects of my religious neurosis (that’s what I’ve decided to call it) and my increased professional responsibilities have resulted in a few relatively minor panic attacks and bouts of anxiety. I’m learning how to deal with them. More change. More change.

I have no idea where I’ll go from here. I could never have predicted we’d be where we are. In fact, if you would have told me twenty years ago where I’d be today I would have been terrified. Just goes to show you that the preachers were right: Christian rock and intellectual curiosity will damn you every time.

Some days I worry whether I have it all wrong. Still, I know certain paths are closed for me. There is no way back to Christian exclusivism. Whatever God is, God is not parochial. God has not set up a system in which large segments of humanity will be tortured in hell because they have not properly arranged their mental furniture.

But most days I find that beliefs are unimportant to me now. I don’t care what you believe; tell me what you’re doing. Whatever God does, God is not actively intervening to improve the world. That, apparently, is our job. As Marx said, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Rachel and I are now ten years out of fundamentalism. Despite the pain it has sometimes caused, I would not undo the decisions we have made. Above all else I am thankful that we have travelled so far together. She is a delightful companion.

I know more change is coming – and sometimes I feel the panic creeping up the back of my neck. Then I breathe deeply, tell myself I’m okay, and greet my old fears with a smile.

“The mere fact of human fallibility shouldn’t be enough to paralyze you into inaction.”

The mere fact of human fallibility shouldn’t be enough to paralyze you into inaction. In all of our human endeavors, there are two ways to go wrong: we can mistake falsehood for truth and act in error; and we can fail to see a truth we need to act on, and so do nothing when action is urgently required. The most strident opponents of reform are often those who are so afraid of the first kind of mistake that they persistently fall headlong into the second. It’s important for reformers not to do the same thing in reverse. But it’s even more important to act on conscience.

When we do, we should seek dialogue with those who resist the changes we are trying to make. We should seek to understand the human needs and feelings that underlie that resistance. And where there is truth to be found in our opponent’s concerns, we should integrate that truth into our reform efforts.

But sometimes resistance is so strident and entrenched that no such dialogue is possible. What then? Do we give up? Do we “wait” until the society is “ready”? Martin Luther King’s words about “why we can’t wait” resonate with authority for all who stand witness to grave injustice. But so do his words about nonviolence and love, about reliance on methods of pushing for change that do not shut the door to future dialogue, that do not shut out the prospect of the Beloved Community.

Eric Reitan, “Those pesky Protestant progressives

Beyond comfort at any cost

There’s a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same.

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we’re committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we’re going to run; we’ll never know what’s beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing.

Pema Chodron, Awakening Loving-Kindness

Disguising power as piety

In an article for Christianity Today, Bret Mavrich recounts his visit to Lamppost Farm. Lamppost was founded by Steve and Mel Montgomery as a nonprofit “ministry” where Steve attempts “to kill chickens as God intended—and, by that, connect people with the goodness of God and his grace that overcomes human sin and limitations.”

Mavrich describes the chicken slaughter process and recalls how Steve coached the various participants past their disinclination to kill. After the second killing doesn’t go as smoothly as the first, Mavrich admits to Montgomery that he is disturbed. Montgomery replies, “It’s supposed to be. We’re not supposed to take a life and then say, Well, whatever. That’s not how we’re made.” Mavrich writes:

That simple truth resonates long afterward. Everything at the farm, from Steve and me to the chicken to the land, has a Creator. And because of this, I hold no ultimate mastery over the bird I have just killed, because it wasn’t mine to begin with. The hen was a gift. I’m intimately bound to a chicken in a relationship because I took its life, in the sight of God and with my own hands, to nourish mine.

Suddenly, I’m thinking new thoughts, the kind the Montgomerys had hoped for. Food doesn’t come from a grocery store. The grocery store delivers to me, a consumer, not chickens but pieces of chickens, without a trace of the process, much less the living animal. Food doesn’t even come from Lamppost Farm, a sustainable, gmo-free, free-range paradise that’s as close to Eden as you could hope for in Ohio. No, food comes from God.

Here, at Lamppost, knowing this enhances what you’re eating because every hen is a gift, and has been received as such and treated as such every step of the way. And if we’ve overlooked gifts as bountiful as these, where else have we missed God reaching out to us in small ways, maybe all the time?

This is pious sentiment designed to obscure a relationship of power and dominance.

Mavrich claims not to have mastery of the chicken he killed. But he clearly does. He took the chicken from the cage, hung it upside down, and slit its throats. He’s holding the knife; he has the power. I’m sure there were God-fearing Southerners who regarded their African slaves as gifts entrusted to their care by a gracious God. It doesn’t make it true.

The chicken was not a gift. It did not offer itself and God did not hand it to Mavrich. Mavrich willingly participated in a system that raises and slaughters chickens simply because we enjoy the taste of their flesh. We have engineered this system – even to the point of altering the DNA of chickens so that they will produce more white meat. We use chickens to satisfy our desires. Invoking God as giver is pure post hoc rationalization.

Yes, I’m a vegan. Yes, I’m involved in efforts to rescue farmed animals. And, yes, many people regard those things as slightly crazy. But let us at least be honest about the exercise of our power and not pass it off as God’s design. That’s been done before, with disastrous results.