Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Me, An Oppressor?

I have to confess that I have been oppressing people.  Maybe not directly, but I have.

We've been studying James 5:1-6 this week in Bible study.

Here it is in The Message:

1-3 And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You'll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you've piled up is judgment.
 4-6All the workers you've exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You've looted the earth and lived it up. But all you'll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you've done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons, who stand there and take it.

We learned today that James is not addressing Christians here, but still, I want to examine myself.  At first I felt pretty good.  I think I deal fairly with others, and try to be generous.  But I couldn't stop thinking about the "exploited workers."  The ones I don't see when I buy something at the mall.  The ones who made the clothes under possibly inhumane conditions.

In the past I've gone back and forth on this issue, sometimes refusing to buy things made in China because of human rights violations, and then getting tired of the effort.

This week I did more research, and my eyes have been opened.  As the songs goes, "Now that I have seen, I am responsible."

At the end of our study we were asked to write James' indictments in our own words, applicable for today.  These were my thoughts:

You care only about your bottom line and spend your money on cheap food harvested by oppressed workers, some of whom have lost their family farms because of your demand for perfect, plastic, convenient, name-brand food.

In the same way, always looking for the best deal on clothes (so you have plenty of money to eat out and entertain yourself with the latest movies, music and video games), you think nothing of the children who were sold by their parents to work for no pay, 16 hours a day, sewing tiny little beads on a t-shirt for your daughter.

You have lived on the earth in wanton pleasure and luxury, always wanting to have a better house, a nicer vacation and a fancier car.

So what am I to do?  In general, I need to be content.  Live simply.  Be busy giving and doing good.

But specifically in the area of clothes for my (slightly) large family?

Honestly, it will be pretty inconvenient.  But I can probably clothe the nine of for about the same price as I do now, if I:

1.  Buy less.  I mean how many clothes do we really need?
2.  Buy used.  I will miss the Nordstrom smell.
3.  Buy from fair trade - socially responsible - ethical companies.  Yes, they are more expensive, but they will be balanced out by less clothing and used clothing.  And I am so happy to support companies that are doing things right and the people that will be blessed with good jobs.

As far as food, I've been trying to buy quality, local, and organic for quite some time but there are probably a few things I need to tweak.  More on that another time.

In all of this study and soul searching, I am so thankful to God for how tender He has been with me.  I have truly felt a change in my heart that can only come from Him.  He has made me really want to do this.  I would have done it out of obedience, and done my best to have a good attitude.  But His Holy Spirit has changed my heart, and I am grateful.  I'm actually excited to do it!

He's also given me a song to inspire me.  We've been watching a lot of Les Miserables with both Abby and Kat in the musical for three weeks, and I love "Do You Hear the People Sing?"  You might have to listen to it yourself to fully appreciate it, but here are a few of the lyrics.

Do you hear the people sing? 
Singing a song of angry men? 
It is the music of a people 
Who will not be slaves again! 
When the beating of your heart 
Echoes the beating of the drums 
There is a life about to start 

When tomorrow comes! Will you join in our crusade? 
Who will be strong and stand with me? 
Somewhere beyond the barricade 
Is there a world you long to see? 

And for more information on the global sweatshop crisis, this is by far the best, easiest to read article I have seen.