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Reverb: The Unintended Consequences of Our Daily Behavior

This week for Epiphany, pelase welcome Rev. Marty Troyer, a husband, daddy, and peacemaker, who serves as pastor of Houston Mennonite Church: The Church of the Sermon on the Mount, in Houston, TX. He blogs regularly with chron.com where this post was originally published.

I can relate all too well with the Magi of Matthew 2. After all, they did what they thought was best only to feel the devastating reverb of their decisions. Their good behavior impacted people they’d never met. Like Mark who drinks Starbucks, and Becky who shops the latest fashions, and Julie who loves her cell phone. All of whom participate in an unjust system oppressing folks half a world away.

And so it is with the Magi, who force Jesus’s family to become refugees, and cause the death of all babies and toddlers in Bethlehem. Indeed, they trigger injustices that foreshadow the conflict Jesus will face his entire life.

But perhaps my own behavior is more like Herod’s than I care to admit. Oh sure, I don’t order anyone’s killing like Herod, who was well known for his rage and brutality, even killing off several of his own children. But is that just a convenient layer of protection to block me from truly seeing the reverb my actions cause around the world?

Bertha Beachy, a longtime missionary in East Africa, said, “North Americans find it very hard to believe that their wealthy ways of living affect poor people on other continents. But in Africa, people are fully convinced that North Americans and their actions strongly influence their lives.” Living More with Less says, “Our seemingly indirect actions can actually cause very direct consequences in the lives of many in parts of the world that seem distant.” Here are just a few examples of the reverb:


  • Our insatiable need for transport demands oil – lots of it – which through war causes the killing of many innocents for our convenience.
  • Our insatiable need for tomatoes out of season demands the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and transport which causes harm to our bodies and environment.
  • Our insatiable need for computers and cellphones demands the use of “conflict minerals” like tin & tungsten which cause “children and adults —through rape and brute force—to work in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” says Mark Regier.
  • Our insatiable need for cheap fashionable clothing demands outsourcing labor to sweatshops, causing unjust and unhealthy labor conditions and the perpetual poverty of those who make the garments.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the global complexities surrounding coffee, oil, food, clothes & computers. Longacre reminds us that the complexity of all this can be absolutely paralyzing. “Awed and even terrified” she says! Indeed. What can one person do in the face of overwhelming injustice done on our behalf?

The wisdom of the Magi opens the door for us all:

1. Take responsibility. When they discover the horror of what they accidentally did they embraced their guilt as a productive, not a paralyzing, emotion. Not that they pulled the trigger or gave the order to do so. Nor did they blame others, insulate themselves, or say “I was just following orders.” They acknowledge their part in the injustice, and make a change. Rather than going back to Herod and Jerusalem, they go home by another route, keeping the new kings’ whereabouts secret. We must see ourselves as part of the global family, and admit our decisions have global impact. Being response-able demands we unpack the layer upon layer of distance we feel from the problems we’ve helped create, and to live in the tension.

2. Make a change. It doesn’t have to be huge, and we don’t have to turn Amish. Live simply and below your means, decreasing your carbon footprint when possible. You can use a personal carbon footprint calculator at CarbonClick.com to find areas where you can reduce your carbon footprint. We are all capable of making changes that love our global neighbors in healthier ways. Consider Fair Trade, which guarantees a livable wage and safe working conditions for producers and sustainable practices for the environment (yes, that means that non-fair trade items such as coffee, chocolate, sugar, and tea likely are NOT doing these things). Plant a garden, compost, shop at one of Houston’s numerous Farmer’s Markets or buy a share from the locally grown food co-op Rawfully Organic. Recycle everything you can using Houston’s RecycleBank cash-for-trash system. Send an email to your cell-phone provider and ask for conflict-free phones. All people, not just specialists, are required to do justice & love our neighbor, even those half a world away.

3. Do what you can, knowing it will not solve everything. Notice the Magi can NOT undo the consequences of their choices or solve the problem. The kids still die. Jesus is still homeless. They did their part, and then went home. Likewise, we are responsible to act, but it’s not up to us to finish the job. And so one day in seven we rest, and live our lives, knowing that it’s not our job to save the planet or her people.

For those of us who profess to love our neighbor and/or Jesus, can we do anything less than the Magi, who gave their allegiance to Jesus above all else?