The man was dead. Definitely dead, Francis could see as he descended the decrepit stairs and drew closer to the body. He was ancient, and his yellow skin stretched inhumanely across his sharp bones, that seemed to be going in all the wrong directions. Francis forced his eyes to peel away from the motionless figure, and focus on his surroundings. Other sickly, yellow-skinned men were staring at him with curiosity that was dulled with apathy and exhaust. Once they recognized him as the rich merchant's son whom had returned from war completely mad, they dismissed his presence and continued with their work; throwing rubble and scraps on the trash pile, which the old dead man just happened to also be lying on, so discarded.
Francis continued on, unable to now walk away from this discovered horror that he never knew existed. He walked slowly past bunks, which doubled as whole living apartments, stacked on top of each other. The passage was cramped with low ceiling, muddy floors, and a mass of human bodies just as decrepit as the stairway, and exhausted and apathetic as the first men he had encountered. The atmosphere was dank, and water seemed to drip from the walls, eventually accumulating into dirty puddles that seemed to inconveniently be everywhere you stepped.
After the passage lined with hollow eyes and darkness, he found himself in an open room filled with bent workers, dipping strips of cloth in and out of boiling pools of dye. They did this all day. He took in the burns on their aching stained hands, aching stained body. He saw the fabric drying, that would eventually end up in his own father's shop, and oh yeah, on his own body. Through his hallucinations and cloudy thoughts, Francis could finally think clearly again, feel clearly again. And he felt self-conscious...for his own clothes had been manufactured in this place. Wasn't hell supposed to be blindingly bright with consuming flames? After today, he would always think of it as a dark hole under our very homes. With the self-consciousness, came the shame, and then the thought, "This is wrong."
The very next day Francis attended church with his parents along with the entire village of Assisi. Everyone went to church, everyone was a Christian. But not everyone looked the same... The rich, the middle class, Francis and his parents stood close to where the bishop performed Mass. This part of the congregation was heavily adorned with weighty, vibrant robes and caps and gaudy 1500s "bling". There was the rest of the congregation to note, though. They stood in the back, no chairs provided for them, just a cold floor. Their frail bodies wore literal rags, so threadbare that might as well have been transparent. The men clenched their caps in their hands to show respect, so grateful to be clenching their own clothes instead of the fabric that would becomes someone else's fine outfit. "Someone else" being all their brothers and sisters in Christ standing a few yards ahead of them. Even the Jesus on the crucifix in the church was adorned with gaudy, rich robes and a ruby crown. He hung their with his eyes closed, just like the people of his church. Eyes closed to the injustice and pain all around them, the injustice and pain they created.
Francis' eyes were opened, and among all his crazy wanderings, he finally had a purpose, and his mind was finally clear. He threw out all his father's fabric into the streets while he was away one day, and then before the entire village shed everything that had been created unfairly, which happened to be everything he was currently wearing. Absolutely nude and radical before the crowd that had formed, he was no longer just "Francis" in the beggars eyes, he was a Saint.
My best friend and I are kinda weird, so instead of doing normal things to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, we watched Brother Sun Sister Moon, which is a movie all about St. Francis of Assisi. I didn't know much about the dude (now I do, though!), but I know a lot about Shane Claiborne, and I knew Mr. Claiborne thought pretty highly of this saint, so I wanted to give him a chance. The movie soundtrack was a little hippie--and depressing--and the haircuts were weird, but St. Francis had a lot to teach me.
Through his eyes, I saw an ancient sweatshop, which gave me a chance to understand better what our modern-day sweatshops must look like. Oh yeah, because they still exist. In abundance. I'm not going to get into a whole fair-trade vs. non fair-trade speel, that'd just be obnoxious, and I'm not trying to guilt anyone, either. But...I couldn't shake the disturbance that settled, completely uninvited, into my soul after watching it. To see those horrors, those hollow eyes, those hellish conditions--that are absolutely a million times more horrific and hellish now--, and then to immediately see the "Christians" seated in church in all their finery that had been birthed in those sweatshops with just as many cries of pain and much blood and sweat as an actually babe being born. Will those workers always be stuck in the back of our minds? Will our eyes always be closed to them? Will they always suffer just so that we can look nice when we assemble each week to worship together before our God?
Personally, I don't think that I as an individual can anymore. Mother Teresa once said "If I look at the masses, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." My obsession with clothes has always won out over my conscience and convictions (I mean, let's just be honest here!), but I dreaded the day that I purchased something Made In Thailand. Because I knew when that happened I would not be able to ignore the tags and statistics anymore, I knew it would be personal. Because what...what if while I was in Thailand, being a missionary, an ambassador of God, I met the child that had sweated and bled over the creation of my $20 sweater, which he only ever saw a few cents of.
I found something Made In Thailand the other day. Now it's personal. And now I know things will never quite be the same again, because nothing quite can be when you open up your eyes and clearly see what was always there to begin with.
"Behold the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts." -James 5:4