I watched an ad today on Facebook. The ad was meant to be on TV but it has been banned. Why? It is considered to be too political. The ad, ‘There is an orangutan in my bedroom’, is a beautifully animated piece which explores the destruction of the jungles where orangutans live. The land is cleared to make way for palm oil production. Habitats are destroyed, lives are lost and all so that palm oil can find its way into our food and beauty products.
In reality, being banned has been great publicity for this particular supermarket’s ad. The coverage it is getting on Facebook and other social media as well as in newspapers, probably means more people will be aware of the ad than if it was just on TV. Certainly, my attitude when I saw it was to say, “This message needs to get out, people need to pay attention to this” and so like thousands of others I shared the ad on Facebook.
What an ad like this does is that it starts a conversation. Why are such vast amounts of land being cleared? Am I prepared to pay more for products which contain sustainably produced palm oil? Should I care what happens to orangutans? These are certainly questions for discussion round the kitchen table but does it stop there?
Surely as Christians we need to have that sort of global vision which is prepared to ask awkward questions, promote environmental sustainability, seek justice for all God’s creation? In his writing on the environment Pope Francis reminds us: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (Laudato Si’ 217)
The ad was banned from television in Britain for being too political. Do we effectively ban certain issues and discussion from our faith communities because they are too political, socially challenging or discomforting? I often wonder if we were more robust and prepared to get involved in debates about homelessness, about the distribution of wealth, about our response to asylum seekers and refugees, about sustainable living, would young people be more attracted to the energy and vision of the Gospel message?
We meet John the Baptist in the Gospel on this third Sunday of Advent. He was certainly a man who, when he was asked a straight question would give a straight answer. “What must we do?” the people asked him. “If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same,” John replied. I wonder were they sorry they had asked him?
Because you see, it is not just that we as Christians must get better and more courageous about speaking out on issues that matter – we also need to get better at listening and accepting being challenged ourselves. What would John say to us – in our families, our parish and our community?
In the Gospel he challenges the tax-collectors to be honest and the soldiers not to engage in intimidation or extortion but to be content with their pay. I can’t imagine any of us would get off too lightly with John.
The story of that wee orangutan motivated me but it challenged me too. I looked in my own cupboards: peanut butter – palm oil, tortilla wraps – palm oil, soap – palm oil. I may want to be part of the solution but at the moment it certainly seems I am part of the problem and, to follow the theme of the ad, there is an orangutan in my home too.
This Advent I pray for a spirit of courage – for myself and for all of us – that we may make real in our lives the challenge of the Gospel, the challenge of what it means to be Christian, the challenge of global citizenship.