For the last couple of months, I have had Isaiah 3 rattling around my head. It is a condemnation of the rich women of Judah who parade their beautiful jewellery. It lists it all – the sheer abundance of it:
“…the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings, the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls.” Is 3:18-23
This is the West, this is us, me. We have so much. We waste so much.
But God does not condemn them for their vanity – he condemns them for the provenance of their riches:
“‘What do you mean by crushing my people
and grinding the faces of the poor?’
declares The Lord, The Lord Almighty.” Is 3:15
The clothes in my wardrobe are from various developing countries, and few of them are fair trade, though I would like to buy fair trade. I now buy my clothes entirely from eBay, so my clothes are second-hand, but it is almost impossible as a Westerner to cleanse yourself from the stain of ‘sin by association’. I am writing on an iPad, and it says ‘assembled in China’ and I wince as I know that Apple has a dubious record of treating its workers well. I would happily pay £50 extra for a fair trade iPad, but I don’t have that choice. I only have the choice to buy or not buy. I bought it: but would I have bought it if I could see their faces?
“What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?”
Like others, I have been haunted by this picture of the victims of the Bangladesh factory collapse. These are their faces, the faces of the poor who have been crushed because of our desire for cheap clothes.
The news on this will fade, and we will forget it. I don’t want to forget it. I want to have this verse ringing in my ears. I don’t want my purchases to be crushing God’s people – either figuratively or literally.
It is hard to do this. The world is one big tangled-up mess, and it is hard to try to untangle ourselves from the sin that is everywhere. But I want to try.
I looked at the pictures. There was so much destruction, so much vulnerability. The thing that moved me most was the report that someone had grabbed a megaphone and was reading out the names of the school children who had survived. I couldn’t quite get my head around the feeling of being the parent in that crowd – waiting, hoping, for your child’s name to be read out.
Whenever I hear of earthquakes or storms wreaking such disaster, I think of Romans 8:22:
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
Everything is affected by our brokenness and sin – even the weather, even the earth. We are broken, and we live upon a broken earth.
What should we do at times like this, when suffering is so big that we don’t know what to do?
We hold off answering the big questions: we feel them, rather than asking them. We sit. We weep with those who weep, even the ones we have not met. We pray. We pick up the rubble and rebuild.
This week I have been more aware than usual of my brokenness and vulnerability. I am still in the middle of this relapse – my cognitive energy is much better than a week ago, but I am still having to cancel seeing people, still needing others to look after my boy in the afternoons. I am still spending hours and hours in bed, alone and I am struggling with it. I feel guilty for struggling with it – because, well, there are people who are waking up today without their child, or brother, or father, whose homes have been swept away. But guilt is not productive. So I tell you honestly – I am struggling. I am sad for Bangladesh, and for Oklahoma, and for me. Brokenness comes in different forms and different degrees, and we can feel sorrow for all of it.
I read Romans 8:18:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
I sit with that verse and cry awhile – feeling the brokenness, feeling the outrageous hope.
I don’t often pray this particular prayer, because I don’t often mean it, but this week I mean it: Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Lord Jesus.
Rebuild: You can donate to the Oklahoma disaster relief effort here. In the US, you can text REDCROSS to 90999—it’ll automatically send $10 to Red Cross relief in the area. You can help the Bangladesh survivors by donating to Save the Children, who are doing ongoing charity work in Bangladesh.
Reform: Buy Fair Trade – these sites in the US and UK are a good starting point. Sign this petition to Gap, H&M, and other apparel brands. This excellent website has a searchable list of products and stores, rated according to how ethical they are, to inform our buying choices.
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