The Coca-Cola liturgy

This liturgy was developed by Feast, the evening congregation of Clapton Park URC, in November 2008.  It is designed to explore globalization and the different responses which Christians can make to it.

A video of it is available on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Od7hTLm5WTU created by people from Calvin College, Michigan who visited us in January 2009 and for whom we recreated and elaborated the service

The material was compiled and written by Jo Frew and James Ashdown.  All the quotes from Coca Cola are taken from online sources.


 

Coca-Cola, globalization and the preacher

Activist: Coca-Cola is the symbol of globalization. Coca-Cola sells more than one billion servings every day. More than 10,450 beverages are consumed every second. The company achieved earnings of $4,347,000,000 in 2003. It is present on all seven continents and is recognized by 94% of the world population – more people have heard of Coke than Jesus Christ.  If there is such a thing as the great beast in Revelation, I can’t think of a better example than Coke “he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation”.  Coca-Cola ravages the earth, destroying people’s health, water supplies and even their freedom - teaching the world to sing it’s song

Coca-Cola representative: The year 2007 was a defining one in the great story of The Coca-Cola Company. Our journey to becoming a sustainable growth company reached a new milestone. The tireless efforts of our people and the great commitment of our bottling partners have rekindled the energy and optimism that have become synonymous with Coca-Cola. The honor our consumers gave us by inviting us into their lives did not happen by chance. It was the sum of many things done well across the Coca-Cola system (the Company and our bottling partners). At the heart of our progress is the recognition that delivering sustainable growth requires making every aspect of our business sustainable, from our supply chain and operating model to the citizenship and leadership we exhibit in the communities we serve.

The Preacher: Meaningless! Meaningless!  Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.  What do men and women gain from all their labour at which they work that under the sun?  Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains the same.  All things are wearisome more than one can express; the people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come


Coca-Cola’s success has always been based on its ability to promote itself in a way which responds to the fashions of the day.  Originally it was promoted as a medicinal drink based on cocaine which was being promoted at the time as a healthy alternative to alcohol, but when people began to become worried about cocaine it was restyled as a fun beverage for the whole family.  It’s image shifts and changes according to the seasons, whatever is necessary to make a quick buck, no matter what the consequences.  Cocaine, fizzy pop, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup it’s all the same to coca cola.

Our mission declares our purpose as a company. It serves as the standard against which we weigh our actions and decisions. It is the foundation of our Manifesto.

There is nothing better for mortals them to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil.  This also I saw is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?     For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to be silent, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate. 


Coca-Cola is all about sugar.  And it is not insignificant that sugar was one of the main drivers behind empire, slavery and early globalization.  The first recorded delivery of slaves (to Lagos, Portugal in 1444) was intended for sugar cultivation on Portugal's Atlantic islands.  And it was sugar that caused the West Indies to be turned into a slave factory on an industrial scale.  But now that sugar can no longer be cheaply produced by slaves Coca-Cola has had no problem with switching to cheaper alternatives.  In 1980 Coca-Cola changed from using sugar in its products in the USA, to high-fructose corn syrup, a much cheaper alternative which is more difficult for the body to metabolise and therefore encourages the development of type two diabetes.  Coca-Cola is repeatedly criticised for its bad effect on health

The assertions being made (about Coca-Cola) could apply to any caloric product -- if you over consume any food or beverage with calories, there are health consequences. There is no scientific evidence to single out soft drinks as unique in this equation, and even this study doesn’t support such an assertion. Further, it is scientifically implausible to suggest that diet soft drinks -- a beverage that is 99 percent water -- cause weight gain or elevated blood pressure

I said to myself “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself” but again, this also was meaningless.  I made great work; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; I made myself gardens and parks and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.  I bought male and female slaves, I also had great possessions of herds and flocks more than any one who had been before me.  I also gathered for myself silver and gold, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines.  So I became great and surpassed all who were before me.  Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.  Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it and again it was all meaningless and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.


Coca-Cola is the world’s great water guzzler. Coca-Cola used 283 billion liters of water in 2004. It is enough water to meet the entire world's drinking needs for 10 days!  If we used the water that Coca-Cola used in 2004, we could meet the entire drinking needs of people who don't currently have access to clean drinking water for 47 days.  Coca-Cola’s use of water is an outrage, especially in India where it was the subject of a Christian Aid report.  It has lowered water levels to a critical point and contaminated the land.

The Christian Aid report on the operations of The Coca-Cola Company in southern India is inaccurate. It is also biased in that it omits important independent and governmental evidence, which contradicts its central assumptions. These assumptions appear to have been taken from a collection of media reports rather than from first-hand research. Nobody from Christian Aid visited this operation in the preparation of this report.This Coca-Cola plant now recharges the aquifers with the equivalent of all of its water needs and within months it will be recharging two to three times more than it uses. It will become a net contributor to the local water supply. No other industrial operation in this State has even begun to adopt any rainwater harvesting technology

I, the preacher, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.  I see all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is meaningless and a chasing after wind.  What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.


Coca-Cola has also supported the most blatant oppression.  Nine members of SINALTRAINAL the union that organizes Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia have been murdered by paramilitaries since 1994. Coca-cola’s bottling company, hires paramilitaries to scare people away from joining the union. Coca-cola says that they cannot do anything to stop this, although Coca-Cola does have the majority of voting rights on the bottling company’s board and so if they wanted something to change it would happen. In addition, on all of the letters that union members were forced to sign (with a gun to their heads) the Coca-Cola letter head graced the top of each piece of paper. Clearly stopping these murders is within Coca-Cola’s power

In Colombia, only 4% of workers belong to unions, yet 31% of Coca-Coca bottler employees belong to unions.On average, wages for Coca-Cola workers are 2 to 3 times higher than the minimum wage. Coca-Cola bottlers currently have collective bargaining agreements in place with 12 unions (covering wages, benefits and working conditions). In 2005, an independent assessment of bottling plants in Colombia by the internationally respected and certified social compliance auditor Cal Safety Compliance Corporation (CSCC) confirmed that workers in Coca-Cola plants enjoy freedom of association, collective bargaining rights, and a work atmosphere free of anti-union intimidation. Two different judicial inquiries in Colombia - one in a Colombian Court and one by the Colombian Attorney General - found no evidence to support the allegations that bottler management conspired to intimidate or threaten trade unionists.

I saw all the oppressions that are practised under the sun.  Look, the tears of the oppressed – with no one to comfort them!  And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive, but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.  Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another.  This also is meaningless and a chasing after wind.

 


 

Stations and questions

Five stations are created which reflect five groups present in the time of Jesus and their responses to the issues of the time.  These questions prompt people’s reflection at each station

Disengagement

This response follows the example of the Essenes – a complete separation from normal society.  In contemporary life this connects with ecological and hippie movements which seek to set up an alternative society, as well as religious movements such as the Amish and the Hutterites. 

In our technological world many such movements seek to get back to the earth, therefore we are suggesting that you use this opportunity to plant some seeds in the pots provided

Have we lost touch with the earth and more organic and human ways of living?  Or do we need to embrace the technological society? 

Why might it be important to try to reconnect with the earth and living and growing things?

Or is this just escapism?  Does it make any real difference?

Protest

This response follows the example of the Zealots in the Bible.  They took up armed resistance against the Roman occupation.  Whilst some still do this ( to what extent he is al Qaeda resistance movement?  ) we might be more familiar with people who take a non violent path e.g. the Catholic Workers

Slogans are an important part of protest movements, we are therefore suggesting that you write your own slogan which illustrate what you want to protest against in modern society

Is violent resistance ever justified?

Does protest ever achieve anything?

To what extent is my failure to protest a sign of moral weakness?  Or am I just being realistic?

Engagement

This response is typified in the Bible by the Sadducees who cooperated with the Roman authorities seeking to create a space for Jewish culture to persist.  In our democratic age engagement is likely to be more critical but it still accepts the basic structures of society rather than seeking to overthrow them

Letter writing is a typical example of engagement so we are providing some information from Speak in order to help you engage with some important issues of the day

How will inform their mind about what is going on in the world?  Are there some things I just don’t want to know about?

To what extent is engagement with the democratic process in an unjust world little more than complicity with injustice and oppression?

What issues would I like to be better informed about?  What action would I like to take?

Separation

This response is that of the Pharisees in the Bible.  They distanced themselves from the Roman authorities by the creating an alternative religious world.  In this way they are typical of many Christians who may earn their living in the world or engage with it in many ways but who consider this less important than the spiritual world which transcends it

We are therefore providing an opportunity for you to pray and or meditate, and give yourself some space and quiet

What benefit, if any, do you think people who dedicate their lives to prayer bring to the world – or is it just escapism?

How do prayer and action interrelated?

How would you like to see your prayer life develop, especially in relationship to the great issues of the day?

Embracing

This response reflects that of the Herodians in the Bible.  They thoroughly embraced Greek and Roman culture seeking to make the most of what the new ideas and new technology had to offer.  Many Christians consider the church too disconnected from contemporary society and seek to find ways of making it relevant

We are therefore providing examples of modern technology for you to play with and enjoy.

To what extent do I resist using modern technology and modern ideas?  Is this just being old fashioned or making some kind of statement?

What is good about contemporary society and what needs to be resisted?

What in contemporary society would I like to understand better?  What would I like to give up? 


 

Conclusion

Reading: 

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Prayer 

In Jesus we find a simple, truthful way of living which cuts through idolatry and oppression. We find a purpose for our time in the world. We find justice that brings freedom. We find peace that brings shalom. And we find love that never gives up hope. We give thanks for the purpose that this gives to our work in the world.

Jesus you confronted domination and oppression in your words and actions and lifestyle.

Thank you that your kingdom of truth, justice, peace and love is in our midst

Through your words and actions, death and resurrection you offer an authentic way of living

Thank you that your kingdom of truth, justice, peace and love is in our midst

Thank you for showing us how to confront domination oppression and idolatry with freedom of heart and mind.

Thank you that your kingdom of truth, justice, peace and love is in our midst

The battle for justice and freedom is won even though we struggle for their coming. We celebrate our confidence in this.

Thank you that your kingdom of truth, justice, peace and love is in our midst

Reading

There is an absolute and unshakable confidence [in the New Testament] that the Domination System has an end. A new world of partnership, of compassion, of common humanity awaits us. We are to struggle with all our might and courage for it's coming, yet we cannot make it come. The conditions of its arrival are beyond our control, yet we have a fairly clear idea of what they are.; and as a sufficient number of people are attracted to God's domination free order, and commit their lives and fortunes to bringing it about, it will happen, because it has been happening and it is happening now.

Jesus' confidence that even socially conditioned and bewildered people can act freely to choose God's rein is a consequence of God's reign actually having drawn near in Jesus.' own acts and words. He brings a counter reality that makes choice possible, exorcises old conditioning, and holds out a new world waiting to be claimed by us. And we can begin living that new reality now....

Maybe Jesus was not just making a point... when he ate with tax collectors and sinners. Maybe they were more fun to be with than the religious authorities! Maybe he was identified as a “glutton and a drunkard” (Matt 11:9) not just because he was seeking outcasts where they were, but because he enjoyed having a good time. This is the bright secret of social activists; they do not simply oppose evil because it is wrong, but also the struggle is exciting and sometimes even fun. For even when they lose, the outcome is assured...

With eyes seeing the invisible, Allan Boesak never tired of repeating to the gathered throngs of anti apartheid demonstrators that South Africa's apartheid system  has fallen, white racism has  fallen, the powers of economic exploitation have  fallen. “The battle is won even though the struggle is not yet over”. Now all that is left is to help everyone see and live in terms of these acts. “And besides it drives the dragon crazy when you sing about his downfall even though you are bleeding”...

In the final analysis, the gospel is not a message of escape to another world after death but of rescue form the enticements of “this world” (the Domination System) and it's ultimate transformation.

(from Engaging the Powers, Walter Wink)

Prayer

We confess we live with a nagging feeling of doubt

Doubt that what we want to see change will ever change

Doubt that we can be transformed ourselves

Doubt that good will overcome 

 

Our future is uncertain

but there is eternal hope

in the life we find in Jesus

 

We may never see the fruits of our labours

But we imagine a better future for our torn and fragile planet

Which groans to be set free

 

Our future is uncertain

but in faith we imagine

the new heaven and new earth that is to come

and declare it to be here

 

We may not have confidence in ourselves

Or know where the path of life will take us

But we sense the purpose of Christ in our hearts

To preach good news to the poor

To proclaim freedom for the prisoners

Recovery of sight for the blind

To release the oppressed

And proclaim the year of jubilee.

 

Our future is uncertain

but we work for the coming kingdom

with a purposefulness

that defies uncertainty

and witnesses to our future hope

Song: The work is ours to do