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SPOTLIGHT
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Meditating on labels at Christmas time

Published on -12/14/2012, 9:21 AM

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I bought a 4-can package of sweet peas on sale last week. Libby's. "If it says Libby's Libby's Libby's on the label label label, you will like it like it like it on your table table table." Oh, you've heard that.

The company began in 1875 as Libby, McNeill & Libby, owned by two brothers and a guy named McNeill. The history since then is complex. Today, there is a corporation called Libby's International Americas. LIA produces juices, nectars, frozen and canned vegetables, fruits, and condiments. Exactly how profits and expenses are shared, I could not really understand.

Libby's canned meats are now produced by the ag business giant ConAgra (along with almost 50 other food products). Libby brand juices are distributed by Tequesta Foods LLC, headquartered near Palm Beach, Fla.

Since 1982, Libby's peas and other canned vegetables are distributed by Seneca Foods Corp. Last year, Seneca sales world wide were $1.5 billion. The chairman and CEO each draw salaries of about $625,000 annually.

I think there are peas inside the cans I bought, but I haven't opened any so I can't say absolutely yet. On the outside, there's also the word "Chicharos." Spanish for peas? Si, amigo mio. Contents include sugar, without which I guess sweet peas wouldn't be sweet. There's also a comforting slogan: "Made with Farm Fresh Goodness."

I'm surprised anybody sells Libby's brand here in Kansas, given the political grumbling in Brownbackistan after the recent national election. Since words can be subconscious triggers, I'd bet the homophonic link between "liberals" and "Libby's" popped into more readers' emotions than you'd guess. OK, moving on ...

Christmas is coming up in a couple weeks. There's a lot of fuss about people sending greetings cards and businesses meeting customers with "Happy Holidays." The fuss is because, well, this is a Christian nation, not a secular state. That's the label, anyway.

Surely it is virtual political suicide to label oneself an agnostic or, God forbid (note the irony), an atheist. Proper pew positioning is beneficial at the local level as well -- by proper I mean not displaying excessive zealotry, like preaching uninvited on street corners, quoting Scripture profusely at work, or forecasting the second coming of Christ too specifically. You can, of course, can get by with a yearly "some day."

In Texas, you can win a legal complaint allowing public school cheerleaders to carry a banner, maybe 6-by-12 feet, onto the football field painted with "If God is with us, who can be against us?" That's apparently because God is a Kountze High Lions' fan -- or should be. According to an ABC-TV announcer, "In Kountze, two things are worshipped, God and football." Well, OK ...

As Anne Dillard put it in "For the time being." I'll admit I don't really know beans about God. But it does seem to me advocating for stewardship of our planet ranks higher than football scores or whether the Ten Commandments adorn the courthouse wall -- not that I object.

It also seems to me speaking and acting against social and economic injustice is at least as important as dutifully repeating "under God" when we say the flag salute. Not that I object, but I do wonder whether ritual equates to religion.

To protest against politicians who lie us into so-called "preventive" wars in which not only our own citizens die, but hundreds of thousands of another country's people, often euphemistically labeled "collateral damage," well, just seems to me a higher calling of Christianity. To ignore government approved torture at home and abroad doesn't seem to merit a Christian label either. Neither does accepting sending drones across national borders to assassinate not only those identified as potential terrorists but to kill men, women and children guilty only of standing too close. No offense, but all those things seem to me more important to fuss about than Kountze cheerleaders asking God to help whup the Newton Eagles.

Not long ago, I had an exchange with a gentleman who believed that Jesus was "apolitical" -- that is, that he was above and apart from worldly matters. Jesus was sent, the gentleman seemed to conclude, solely to provide a ticket to heaven by dying for our sins. The way I see it, whatever else is true, the Carpenter from Nazareth was very political -- and not in a trivial way. And so, he paid with his mortal life ... at the hands of earthly politicians, many sporting religious labels.

So, no, I don't know beans about God, but the label on a can of Libby's sweet peas seems to me a more reliable promise of what's inside than what's inside an individual or a country self-labeled Christian. Now maybe some ordained preacher can set me straight on that -- assuming there's a holy consensus.

Peace on earth, and Merry Christmas.

Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.

celtic@ruraltel.net

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