You may be aware of the factory building collapse in Bangladesh that occured a couple weeks ago. Initially, when I shared the article on Facebook, 300 people were said to have died. Since then, the death toll has escalated above 1,100 people. A terrible tragedy that few in the U.S. were aware of, particularly because the collapse happened about the same time as the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Because the bombing was deemed an act of terror here on American soil, it received the bulk of media attention. There were far less casualities (1,100 less), yet the bombing was all we could talk about for a couple weeks.
I’ve personally been struggling with what the collapse means to us here in America. What can we do about preventing such disasters in the future — if anything? We’re talking about greedy American business and corrupt Third World politicians. And greedy, fashion-conscious American consumers.
Last week, I was moving out my sweaters to make room for T-shirts. (My Arizona friends and family, this is something we do here in the Midwest when the seasons change.) I decided to iron my various short-sleeved shirts since they’d been tucked away in a box under my bed. As I ironed each shirt, I noticed the tag showing where the garment had been made and I wondered, Am I a contributor to terrible, even fatal, working conditions and meager wages for people across the world? If I am, what can I do about it?
I’ve actually been pondering for a couple years now my own need to be fashionable. Why is it when we visit a mall am I drawn to clothes I don’t need? I don’t want to be a slave to fashion. OK, I rationalized, I just won’t buy any more. I have plenty so I’ll just wear these till they disintegrate. But something I’ve discovered is that when you have a lot of something, you’re always drawn to more. When you have a little, the temptation for more is far less powerful.
John the Baptist spoke to a far different culture than ours when he said, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor.” Yeah, I think I have more than two. So what should I do about it? Well, I could do what John said. I could give some to the poor. That’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been packing up my clothes in boxes and donating them. Things I never wear for whatever reason. Things I have multiple versions of. I’m finding I have to iron less because the shirts and pants aren’t all stuffed in my closet.
A Man in a Uniform
How far could I take this? I’ve wondered.
I have a friend who is a pastor I used to serve with. We on staff used to joke about his “uniform.” At our church services he typically wore the same thing: khaki pants, a white polo shirt (or black), and a pair of black Doc Martins. In the winter he’d add a sweater vest. That was pretty much it. Throughout the week, he usually wore the same jeans and polo shirts.
Could I go as far as my friend? Same pants and shirt, same shoes. Would anyone notice? If so, how could they condemn me for lack of variety? I could just quote John the Baptist and tell them how much holier I am.
So, these are things I’m still weighing in my heart and mind. What I do know is that I need to do something in response to the disasters in Bangladesh — there have been factory fires, too. I can pair down my wardrobe. I could also do some investigation into where the clothes come from when I do need to buy something new. Or I could buy from thrift stores.
What about you? Someday Jesus might just ask us what we did about this type of injustice.