This weekend the frigid temps meant the boys couldn’t play outside so in order to burn off some of that relentless energy we landed in a convenient indoor spot, the Cherry Creek Mall. When the stores opened I decided to stroll into one that I recently vowed never to buy from again.
I walked by the racks of shirts that caught my gaze and there they were looking up at me seductively, … the elusive tall sized garments.
A few years ago, I thought I had put an end to my life long clothing dillema. I had finally found a store that fit my style and most importantly my lanky 6’6” frame. This store is located less than ten minutes from our home, so without giving it much thought, when I needed clothes, this is where I’d go.
After a while, a little voice in my head invited me to take a closer look at the tags to see where these clothes were made. Mexico… Pakistan… China… This then led to an internet search and sure enough, if I’d want to keep shopping there I’d need to be ok with the idea that the shirt on my back was likely constructed by an underpaid, underage, overworked, individual in some third world situation.
I’m not ok with that.
So, after stopping in the store, I thought I’d request a friendly visit with the manager to see what he could tell me about these accusations. With 14 years of experience with the company the manager, an otherwise friendly and competent man, was entirely ignorant of their ethical policies and history.
After leaving that store I decided to try the question one more time with yet another internationally famous clothing company. The young employee was enthusiastic in his response even openly honest about a recent incident in which his company was busted for dumping toxins into the waterways of their factories. Other than that one major blunder he tells me, “I think you can buy clothes here and still have a soul.”
Sadly, within evangelical circles, I feel alone when battling this issue. Our blind participation in a grossly perverted system of consumer culture, one which perpetuates sick injustices throughout the world is somehow a non-issue for most American Christians. Why isn’t there as much zeal over this issue as issues of sexual orientation, guns, or insurance?
Granted, the conversation is filled with tension and can be a bit complicated at times. Perhaps that’s why we don’t engage it.
Take the WalMart controversy for example…
Recently, here in Denver, it was proposed to build a WalMart on our east side. I haven’t shopped at a WalMart for over ten years due to the ridiculous number of red flags that have surfaced over their lack of ethics both stateside and abroad. But the majority of those who protest WalMart are white middle-class folks who look just like me.
A friend who has spent his entire life in a lower income Denver neighborhood reminded me that my opposition to WalMart comes from a place of privilege. He said the most effective way to confront poverty, gangs, and crime which are all commonplace in his community is the creation of jobs. His neighbors need jobs and affordable resources. In that regard, yes, WalMart stops the bleeding.
But at what cost?
This reveals the complexities that come with living as aliens and strangers in the middle of the Empire. This is an empire where we're willing to turn a blind eye to unjust business practices for the sake of a plump economy. It is a tension filled conversation, but one that must be engaged frequently if we claim to care for the poor and all aspects of creation.
I’m curious, how often do you think about the impact of your consumption? Is there a perspective that's been healthy for you?
What are some creative ways you or others are confronting this reality?