Today in church I got into a conversation with a church member about the downfalls of sweatshops. She questioned what was so bad about child labor in sweatshops, so I shared this story with her that I recently read in Jesus for President (here is a great article with the same story). Shane Claiborne writes,

Several years ago, I attended a protest against sweatshops where the organizers had not invited the typical rally speakers — lawyers, activists, advocates. Instead, they brought kids from the sweatshops. A child from Indonesia pointed to his face. “I got this scar when my master lashed me for not working hard enough. When it bled, he did not want me to stop working or to ruin the cloth, so he took a lighter and burned it shut. I got this scar making stuff for you.”

As I shared this story with my friend, she questioned, “Well what can we DO about it?!”

That’s the million-dollar question. It’s a heavy prospect to realize that the clothes we wear cause people real pain and that the money we spend on them finances unethical treatment of fellow human beings. The Center for a New American Dream has some good resources about practical ways we can alter the way we live, encouraging us to “consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice.”

Here are some of my suggestions for doing what we can in our daily lives to aid the problem:

1. Pay the extra money for fair trade products.

2. The way to afford fair trade products? BUY LESS!

3. Make your own clothes (and anything else that can be made out of fabric). Be resourceful about it: use old clothes/sheets/curtains/fabric to create something new and useful.

4. Visit thrift stores and garage sales…not to buy tons of cheap crap that you won’t use, but to enjoy searching for things that you NEED and CAN use.

5. TRADE items with friends. It’s fun.

6. SHARE what you have with your roommates, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, church members, etc.

I love clothes. But over a year ago I realized that I always bought new clothes before they ever got worn out. So I made a commitment to not buy any new clothes for a year. It was rough at first.

I don’t know when it happened, but as the year went on, my coveting of new clothes seemed to disappear. As I sewed holes in jeans, skirts, and shirts, I began to learn what contentment felt like. I’ve passed the year of my commitment to not buying new clothes, but I have no desire to buy any anytime soon.

As a college graduation gift, my aunt generously gave me a gift certificate to Revive, a wonderful fair trade clothing store located in Cleveland Hts. On my first trip there, I was so overwhelmed with the ability to buy whatever I wanted that I ended up being unable to choose anything. I’m slightly closer to understanding what it means to have ENOUGH. Only slightly though. I have a lot of work ahead of me.

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This morning my wise grandpa offered a phrase about pacifism that evoked several chuckles and is just too good to forget. He said,

Becoming a pacifist is like becoming a vegetarian. You know it’s good for you, but it’s too hard to give up the baloney.

People often dismiss pacifists as idealistic radicals who are out of touch with reality. But the fact is that we (pacifists) recognize the failure of redemptive violence to create peace, and we see that violent methods only instill hatred and beget more violence. It takes frustrating patience and effort to discover creative peaceful methods, but this is necessary to practice the Christian ethic of peace.

The pacifist goes further than believing in imaginative, peaceful responses to violence. The path toward war is often one that nations take in order to build and secure their empires. As a pacifist, I not only reject the use of violence, but I reject the empire mentality and instead choose to follow the peaceful kingdom of the sacrificial lamb. In this alternative kingdom, worldly power and security are meaningless in comparison to humility, love, and eternal life.

My favorite national holiday might be Martin Luther King Jr. Day (partly because it’s usually the same day as my birthday and mostly because of the pertinent wisdom of MLK’s words), and I find it somewhat ironic that the U.S. can recognize the good he contributed to society and yet fail to heed the majority of his messages that condemn war and encourage people toward efforts that will end poverty. He has some really good stuff to say about pacifism:

True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to an evil power… It is rather a courageous confrontation with evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.

The word “pacifism” immediately turns some people off, and thus we might do better to create new ways of referring to our hunger for peace. Instead of calling himself a pacifist, my uncle refers to himself as a peacemaker. I also noticed that in the entire book Jesus for President, there is a clear call to promote peace and refuse to participate in violent actions (supported with careful Biblical study), and yet the word “pacifist” is not used once. Dorothy Day might refer to pacifists as willing cross-carriers:

You just have to look at what the gospel asks, and what war does. The gospel asks that we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the homeless, visit the prisoner, and perform works of mercy. War does all the opposite. It makes my neighbor hungry, thirsty, homeless, a prisoner and sick. The gospel asks us to take up our cross. War asks us to lay the cross of suffering on others.

An organization that I have the utmost respect for is Christian Peacemaker Teams. Their mission is based on the foundational question, What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?

It’s quite the question to consider. Especially if you’re sick of baloney.

[T-shirts with this logo are sold by Irregular Apparel at SKREENED: Ethical Custom Apparel. All their stuff is made in the U.S with no sweatshop labor. They also have a commitment to environmental sustainability, and they donate a percentage of their income to charity. Sounds great to me. They have a bunch of other cool logos to choose from or you can create your own.]