Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Please Don't #FitchTheHomeless: Abercrombie & Fitch and the Value of Human Life

Greetings, Coffee Talkers!

Anyone who has seen a store or an advertisement for the clothing brand Abercrombie & Fitch knows that the company caters to the young, popular, thin, and beautiful. This is hardly a secret. In fact, I remember at first being surprised in college when I had somehow been added to the Abercrombie & Fitch mailing list. And I was not added in a generic way; the glossy ads were sent to me by name. Soon, though, I realized what they were up to -- I had not been added as a joke by a friend, but by some marketing rep from the company itself because I was serving as student body president that year. Apparently, I was being targeted because I must be 'popular.' That really made me have even less desire to shop there than I already had, which hardly seems possible as I had never stepped foot in a store. But I digress.

Some may have seen the recent 'news' that Abercrombie & Fitch CEO said that he only markets to cool people. As it turns out, this wasn't news at all, but rather a seven-year-old resurrected quote-turned-internet-meme that just verified, in candid terms, what the company has been up to all along. But it was so candid that it has become politically incorrect, with so many thousands of people circulating the quote with accompanying indignation that Mike himself recently issued a half-hearted apology.

Pre-apology, however, another meme-ster by the name of Greg Karber came up with a campaign to clothe the homeless with Abercrombie & Fitch apparel so that, "together, we can make Abercrombie & Fitch the world's No. 1 brand of homeless apparel." Naturally, this caught on like wildfire among those indignant with a CEO who would make such remarks, and was frequently re-posted on social media sites with the hashtag "FitchTheHomeless" and accompanied by phrases like, "Let's do this!" and "Right on!"

Only, it's not right on. In fact, it's really off. Because in an effort to address the injustice done by a company who seems to have disregarded the inherent dignity of the human person, regardless of size, age, class, or appearance, somehow this #FitchTheHomeless movement intends to right this wrong by further wronging the right. In other words, by giving out A&F clothes to "the homeless" for reasons of changing the brand's marketing appeal, Karber and crew have just taken part in perpetuating what they were allegedly trying to combat -- the objectification of individual people, who have worth outside of their appearance or status in this world. The message here seems not to be "Let's truly care for each homeless individual because they are worthy of care, and of the dignity associated with nice clothing," but rather, "Joke's on you, Abercrombie & Fitch, for wanting to have your clothes only worn by cool and popular people. Because now we gave those clothes to the largest, unnamed group of un-beautiful and un-popular people we could find: 'the homeless'."

Set on trying to destroy a brand's image, the #FitchTheHomeless movement is also an affront to another type of much more important image.

"They sent some Pharisees and Herodians to [Jesus] to ensnare him in his speech. They came and said to him, 'Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone's opinion. You do not regard a person's status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?' Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them, 'Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.' They brought one to him and he said to them, 'Whose image and inscription is this?' They replied to him, 'Caesar's.' So Jesus said to them, 'Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.' They were utterly amazed at him." (Mark 12:13-17)
More than an endorsement of paying taxes,  Jesus points out something very important to the Pharisees and Herodians. He tells them to repay to Caesar what is Caesar's, and they know what is Caesar's because it was crafted in his image. When Jesus then tells the men to repay to God what is God's, we see that to know what is God's, we must also look to what has been made in God's image. "God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27) Give Caesar his money; give God your very self, your whole life.

From this, we can better see what the problem really is with the statements of the Abercrombie & Fitch CEO -- not that he was too exclusive, but that he seemed to not respect the dignity of every person, made in the image and likeness of God. And this is the same problem of #FitchTheHomeless -- the inherent God-given dignity of each human person is not being respected.

Instead of boycotting a brand or 'Fitching' the homeless, let us each consider our own dignity regardless of size or status, and reach out to every person, from our own families and neighbors to those marginalized by marketing efforts and societal norms around the world, to truly build bridges of peace and justice.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers,

Thursday, May 9, 2013

20 Years Since World Youth Day Came to the USA!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

I'm back! Hope you all have been enjoying your Easter season thus far. I know I have!

I recently received a fun e-mail sent to my Coffee Talk account:

 Good morning Leslie -
I am a freelance writer with Our Sunday Visitor working on a story about the 20th anniversary of WYD Denver. Somewhere along the google line your blog, your name surfaced.

Tell me more! Do you have an interesting story/conversion as it relates to Denver.  If so I would like to talk to you more about it in an email or phone interview....if you are interested!

Let me know and we will take it from there!

Viva Il Papa!
There was a 3-part element of surprise in that e-mail:
1. It's been TWENTY YEARS since I first attended World Youth Day, and since World Youth Day was in the United States!
2. Twenty years later, I'm still preparing to go to World Youth Day! This time in Brazil!
3. People (or at least person) read(s) my blog!

So in honor of the twentieth anniversary of World Youth Day Denver, and the soon coming adventure to World Youth Day Rio, I share with you this action-packed interview!

1. Give me a brief history of your 1993 WYD old were you, from where...where were you on your faith journey?

I was a 15-year-old high school student when I attended World Youth Day Denver with my home parish, Our Lady of the Desert, from Apple Valley, California. I was involved in some activities at my church, but understood little of my faith and had not traveled a great deal at that time. The preparations for and pilgrimage to WYD was an experience that really changed me, my worldview, and my experience of Catholicism. 

One especially awesome part of the experience was that, since this World Youth Day was held in the USA, we were able to travel by bus and to meet up with other groups as we journeyed toward Denver. Each step of the journey, I could feel my horizons expanding in a very tangible way. At our first stop, we met up with hundred of other youth from our own Diocese, most of whom we had never met before. At the next stop, we met up with even more youth from our region of Southern California. Then, at a stop in New Mexico, we met up with thousands of youth from throughout the Southwestern United States, and witnessed a beautiful liturgical celebration that included Native American customs. Finally, when we arrived in Denver, we joined with hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world. In those days, I understood more than ever before what it looked like for the Church to be 'Universal.' It was an experience beyond words.
2. Was there a particular event at Denver that changed you - was there an 'ah ha' moment ..? A lasting impression perhaps?

As I look back on my first World Youth Day experience, I can see many profound lessons that I learned in hindsight. But what I'd like to share is an experience that struck me the most in those days when I was a bright-eyed 15-year-old in Denver. I had purchased a simple Mickey Mouse baseball-style cap to wear for the journey. It cost me $5 at our local Target, so it was nothing particularly valuable, but I liked the hat very much. As we were walking through the streets of Denver, we were greeted by hundreds of friends we had never met before from all over the world. I call them friends because it was obvious from their broad smiles and infectious laughter that we were not among strangers, even though many of us did not speak the same languages. And one friend approached me in particular, greeting me with great joy and pointing to my hat. The young man spoke no English, and at the time, I did not speak his native language of Spanish. Still, he communicated to me through smiles and gestures that he liked my hat very much. I thought about how much I liked the hat myself, but how it would be special to give the hat to him to whom it would mean much more. When I took off the hat and offered it to him, he smiled with even greater joy than before, showed his friends proudly, and gave me a warm hug. Next, without a thought, he took off his outer shirt (he was wearing an undershirt beneath it) and handed it to me. It was the most beautiful t-shirt I had ever seen, a special shirt made for his World Youth Day pilgrimage group from Valencia, Spain. It had a lovely image of the Virgin Mary with Jesus. 

I found the shirt recently, and was so pleased to still have it twenty years later. It brought back many special memories of that time, and also seemed particularly special as I was most recently blessed to attend the World Youth Day experience in 2011 in Spain. It made me think of my young friend from 20 years ago in Denver.

4. What do you do now? is it Church related? Tell me about your blog/website when did it start...why?

Yes, everything I do now is Church related, and I really do attribute much of the initial inspiration and formation that laid the foundation for what I do now to World Youth Day Denver!

My full-time job is as a Director of Music and Liturgy at Holy Innocents Catholic Church in Victorville. My part-time jobs are varied, but related to the Church, and the first among them is as the World Youth Day coordinator and group leader for Our Lady of the Desert, Apple Valley (my home parish with whom I traveled to Denver 20 years ago!) and Holy Innocents. I also serve as an Instructor for the Parish Ministry Formation Program of the Diocese of San Bernardino, as a writer for Lay Witness Magazine, Catholics United for the Faith, Ignatius Press, and as a Religion Columnist for our local newspaper, The Daily Press.

I started writing my blog, Coffee Talk with Leslie, in January of 2011. At that time, I had been getting a lot of questions from friends and students about Catholicism. Also, I found people sometimes asking me to interpret for them different things that would happen in the news that pertained to Catholicism, since the major media outlets did not always do a good job of that. I decided to start a blog to answer people's Catholic questions, offer commentary on news related to Catholicism, and sometimes just to offer my own reflections on daily life.
5. Any advice for a young person on the fence on whether to attend a WYD or not?
Just go! Seriously, if any person has the opportunity to attend a World Youth Day, I would recommend the experience wholeheartedly. I would recommend it to the young in age, and the young at heart of all ages! It is the experience of a lifetime.

6. talk to me about seeing  JP2 what was that like - the anticipation etc....

I remember being in Mile High Stadium, and as we awaited Pope John Paul II's arrival, you could feel the excitement building. We knew that a helicopter was to bring him into the stadium, so as a helicopter hovered above and then started to land, the crowd went wild. Our uproarious cheers gave way to a helicopter full of security guards...and then another...and then another! Finally, when we weren't really even expecting the Holy Father, there he was! The cheers then became almost deafening, and the excitement was contagious. Chants of "JP 2, we love you!" and "Giovanni Paolo!" filled the air. Even rain could not dampen our excitement, and Pope John Paul II suggested that it was God's own way of reminding us of our baptism. It was a truly exciting time.

7. Have you attended other WYDs - which ones and how have they compared to 1993?

After World Youth Day Denver, I attended World Youth Day Toronto, Canada in 2002, and World Youth Day Madrid, Spain in  2011. I am preparing to lead a group to World Youth Day Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this July.

World Youth Day Denver was the only one that I attended strictly as a pilgrim. In Canada, I was part of an international volunteer alumni group from NET Ministries (National Evangelization Teams) who helped to facilitate the Catechetical Sessions and the Evening Vigil with Pope John Paul II. 

Then, for World Youth Day Madrid, I was a group leader. 

So each experience was different, but wonderful and life-changing. Each World Youth Day helped me to have a better sense of my vocation, what God was calling me to do at that time in my life, and a deeper sense of hope and trust in God's plan for me, my loved ones, and my whole life.

Also, at World Youth Day Toronto, I had a special experience when I saw Pope John Paul II. I wrote a little about it in this blogpost: "The Look of Love: My Encounter with Pope John Paul II"

I hope you have enjoyed hearing about some of my World Youth Day adventures, and I hope you'll consider attending one (or more!) yourself. As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,