Faith Works 11-22-14
Questions, and more answers than we think
It had been something on the order of sixteen years.
I had last bought a suit quite some time ago, and while I don't wear a suit very often, the occasion does come up when I need to, I have to.
My wife also felt that my previous suit, while not looking utterly out of style, was unmistakably a suit that was… well, purchased almost two decades ago.
So we went somewhere that a friend had recommended, and where they worked, in fact, and I got some useful assistance in the arcane skills of selecting a suit (pants cuffs yes or no, the "break", how long the sleeves should be, etc.).
Precipitating this move was a wedding that I'd be performing where the nature of the reception and venue meant that I should probably not be wearing a pair of khaki slacks with a now shapeless tweed jacket. I have three or four, dating to various geologic eras but all showing very little wear other than if you look closely at the tattered linings of them, which if I keep them on you would not. A couple were outright purchases in another, previous century, and a couple more were Goodwill or church rummage sale finds; they all have every bit of the style consciousness you've come to expect from tweed.
Making the purchase and measurements for the final alterations and going back to pick it up all came in just under the wire, so there was some rush involved. Most of my consideration of this suit had to do with color, cut, and feel (it feels nice, thank you very much!), and I hadn't gone much in depth with this new clothing item.
Until I was hanging it up last weekend, and shifting it for neatness on the hanger, I saw it. The label, inside the neck of the jacket, with the maker in large letters on the tag, and below it the words "Made in Haiti."
"Made in Haiti."
Let's be honest: I have shirts made in Nepal and Bangladesh, boxer shorts made in India, we use towels made in Brazil, et cetera, et cetera. Wearing and using products made in the tougher neighborhoods of the Southern Hemisphere is not unusual to me, nor is it, I suspect, to you.
But Haiti. In a word, owww.
I've not been to Haiti, but it's getting to the point where I seem to be one of the few. Lots of folk I know have made one or even repeated trips to that island nation, a place of natural disaster and social chaos, a location for mission trips and extended campaigns of public ministry. Haiti seems to need everything, and gets very little other than charity as the people struggle with a subsistence economy.
Which includes, apparently, assembling men's suits for what is no doubt the cheapest price the supplier could get away with paying. A place of natural beauty but severe cultural disorder, any business there, any cash flow to the good for Haiti, had to be a blessing.
Still, there was something more than just vaguely unnerving about seeing that tag. It may have touched on my ambivalence about buying a suit in the first place, or it might be that the stories I've heard from Healing Arts Mission, or out of Calebasse from Pastor Moniot and his New Covenant School, or through Lifeline Christian Mission in Grand-Gouave or across the nation of Haiti – they all snapped back on me in seeing that the snazzy new suit I'd been wearing last weekend was painstakingly assembled by people in those places. Their neighbors, if not they themselves.
We are connected in today's economy through our smartphones, our clothing, our sports equipment, our masonry work, to people in distant lands speaking foreign languages who probably know more about our lives in America than we do about theirs in . . . um, how do you say the name of that country?
What does that connection mean to us? How does that connection, where we get nicer and cheaper stuff because of their harder and messier work in those far-off places, create an obligation, a burden of more than just guilt, on us?
In this Thanksgiving season, it's a good time for individual believers, families around festive tables, or fellowships of all sorts, to spend some time asking themselves that question. As we know how we benefit from their labors, how can our economic activity bring hope and empowerment to those persons who produced it?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's got a new suit and a story to tell about it. Tell him your story to email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.