In the United Methodist hymn supplement The Faith We Sing, Hymn 2175 is “Together We Serve” by Daniel Charles Damon:
Together we serve, united by love,
inviting God’s world to the glorious feast.
We work and we pray through sorrow and joy,
extending your love to the last and the least.
We seek to become a beacon of hope,
a lamp for the heart and a light for the feet.
We learn, year by year, to let love shine through
until we see Christ in each person we meet.
We welcome the scarred, the wealthy the poor,
the busy, the lonely, and all who need care.
We offer a home to those who will come,
our hands quick to help, our hearts ready to dare.
Together, by grace, we witness and work,
remembering Jesus, in whom we grow strong.
Together we serve in Spirit and truth,
remembering love is the strength of our song.
Just yesterday, in a cranky mood, I told my husband that I needed to stop spending any time on Facebook or Twitter. It just seemed like I received a barrage of one thing wrong with the world after the other – things that I was powerless to change. It was not a lot different from watching television news, and I have given up on the news — the very goal of television news seems to be to desensitize me and overwhelm me at the same time, because it is impossible to process the magnitude of any one news story when there is no pause between one injustice and the next and the next and the next – for 24 hours now, if you watch cable. (I think this is why I like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert – because they are not news anchors, they can express their emotions about a piece – genuinely or ironically – before moving on to the next piece. For me, that moment of reacting to the news item is cathartic. Also, they tend to report on stuff that is off the “approved television news topics” list.)
But today, I am noticing the difference between the Twitter barrage and the nightly news barrage: community. A story develops in the reactions that people have to a story, so that the different angles of the story are examined, and articles and other pieces of evidence are proffered, until a thesis in 140 character chunks is laid out. It was on my Twitter feed that I discovered that I was not alone in being offended by the proposed “Fitch the Homeless” campaign, which was reassuring. (And probably excessively re-tweeted related stories – apologies to all who follow my feed.) As I followed the story on Twitter, I learned something new, too: that there is an excess of cast-off clothing in this country – that textile waste is a growing problem.
I started to think about the recent death of more than a thousand garment workers in Bangladesh. Interesting that people seemed to be getting much more worked up over a CEO saying sociopathic things about what body types could belong to “cool kids” than over a number of CEOs sociopathically profiting from unsafe overseas labor. Why were we singling out one person as a jerk instead of getting angry at the whole system of textile manufacturing: from pesticide runoff and waterway habitat destruction resulting from cotton farming, to the toxic manufacture of synthetic fibers, to the closing of U.S. factories and destruction of local economies, to the opening of factories in countries with little environmental or labor (or building and fire safety!) oversight, to child labor, to the high environmental cost of trans-Pacific shipping, to union busting… how could anyone simply hand an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt to an impoverished person and feel like they had done their part?
And as I was thinking about all of that, I found an editorial by Stephen Thomgate on the Christian Century blog talking about the Bangladeshi factory disaster (again via Twitter!!), in which he draws on an idea of Justo Gonzalez about powerlessness. Thomgate writes:
…the key element is naming not our relative power—the instinctual move for us western liberals—but our relative lack of it. The world’s evil is not something we could stop if only we cared enough to; we are captive to it—and the path from impotent guilt to true solidarity requires naming this powerlessness we have in common with those who have far less power still.
He goes on to write about the need for collective action, because we are indeed powerless on our own. We can choose to shop in thrift stores, for example, but that does not necessarily change very much about the global economic system.
We do not like feeling powerless. So we get depressed, or we tune out the world’s problems. Or we pray, which is much more functional than hiding in our blanket cave – because as we pray, we are acting out of the reality that we are powerless – each one of us alone is, to a greater or lesser extent, powerless. No wonder the larger, thorny issue of the global economy (particularly as it relates to our clothing) was not getting attention – it is so big, we feel powerless to comprehend its scope, much less do anything about it.
If we think in terms of being members of the Body of Christ, we remember that rather than being called to be functional on our own, we function as parts of a Body in concert with one another. As thankful as I am for Twitter tonight, I am even more thankful for Church – for the Body of believers that, in their best and truest moments, acts out of love instead of out of fear. ”Together we serve… our hands quick to help, our hands ready to dare.”
So friends – what will you dare to do as a small part of the solution to a very big problem – the global textiles industry? In solidarity with all the others powerless before this big big problem – from cotton farmers to Bangladeshi garment workers to the displaced former textile factory workers who have left North Carolina trying to find work elsewhere… to the countless Americans, yourself included, who are considered important only as buying units – as “consumers” – what collective action shall we take?
Even as my weight fluctuates, I am going to attempt to buy no newly manufactured clothes for a year. Second-hand clothes only between now and May 15, 2014. Will you join me? And if not, what action will you take? Working together in opposing injustice, we strengthen one another. “Remembering love is the strength of our song.”