Flourish Book Review: Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson

January 4, 2010


Reviewed by Tracey Bianchi

Flourish Magazine, Fall 2009

I had a conversation recently with two friends, both women serving the urban poor in Chicago, who shared different views on the impact of their work. One, exasperated, slapped her palm on the table where we shared breakfast. She lamented that it felt impossible to change the trajectory of the neighborhoods in which she served. Too few hands, too much need.

My other urban friend smirked and reminded her quickly of what each of us already knows, that even one family helped, one life changed, is one more than would have been changed otherwise: a wise, if obvious truth that each of us, even in small ways, can make a difference.

Julie Clawson, in her new book Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Choices (Intervarsity Press), reminds readers of this simple yet life-changing fact. Every little bit helps. This well-researched primer offers practical tips and wisdom for those ready to face the reality of their daily choices: The reality that how most of us live comes with a price tag that reaches far beyond the SKU numbers on a store label.

From coffee to gasoline, from produce to flip-flops, Clawson takes her readers on a journey through the choices millions of Americans make each day. She reminds her readers that coffee and candy bars can represent child slavery, that our insatiable appetite for oil has most of the glaciers in Glacier National Park melting by 2030, and that our backyard BBQ fare is often laced with chemicals, pesticides, and at times, forced labor.

She opens her book with the words “don’t panic.” Rather than heap on the guilt that comes with tragedies left in the wake of our lifestyles, Clawson delicately calls to mind the power of action, the proper perspective on consumption, and better options for living, without turning readers off with a guilt-trip or overwhelming them with data and shocking statistics. She also, very candidly, speaks of her own errors and blunders along the way.

Everyday Justice is a great read for those new to the conversation on how consumption plays a role in global justice, or for those getting up to speed on topics such as climate change, fair trade products, ethical eating, and extreme poverty.

Her work is aimed at helping both the newcomer and the rookie discover how their coffee cup can make a difference each day. She does this well. Her work includes case studies on organizations and individuals working toward solutions for the global injustices she unpacks. Readers will find a rich list of films, websites, and books for further study, as well as stories of a few companies and organizations that readers would do well to avoid.

Clawson also spends significant time exploring Biblical ideas of justice. What does it mean to live justly? Why does God care about justice and why is God so passionate about our pursuit of this value? And how can we begin to right the injustices in this world today, from where we live, work, shop, learn, worship?

In the Book of Luke (16:10), Jesus shares a management parable with his disciples, at the end of which he says “whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Clawson reminds us all of the responsibility that each of us have to be found trustworthy with all the little details in life that seem so benign, yet add up to so much.

She makes a wise and informed case for her readers to learn, study, and act justly at little places like the gas pump, the grocery store, and the trash can, so that we can be catalysts for change that impact the world. As my friend that day so wisely pointed out, each effort, no matter how small, means so much to the person on the receiving end. It can mean a fair wage, an education, cleaner air, or a vibrant community. Living justice every day seems a small price tag for such global changes.

(Clawson lists several other resources throughout her book, but recommends the following two as outstanding books from which to launch further into this conversation:

The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason
Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren)

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