Becoming Kindred Blog

No lights on the tree

I want to preface these next thoughts by saying that I don't take my little corner of the internet world more seriously than I should; that is, I don't share things with the expectation than all or any will choose to do what I do. I am not looking at other thinking that they should be doing the same, At the same time, I find much of my inspiration and encouragement from ordinary, every day people like me who are going through life with the desire to become more and to give more. Many of the good changes that have come in my life, I would say have been encouraged by some one else. I had promised myself that if anyone asked why we didn't have lights on our tree that I would post about it. More than one person asked and so on the quiet Saturday eve, I will share why there are no lights.

A couple of years ago as Dan and I became more aware of fair trade issues surrounding many of the products we buy, we made a commitment towards purchasing and encouraging the production of goods in an ethical and moral manner. It has been a challenge to say the least and while we have made steps, we aren't nearly where we would like to be. Around the same time, I read a novel called Safely Home which is mostly conversation between an American business man and a former roommate from China who had be imprisoned in a forced labor camp because of his beliefs. In one section, he talks about stringing Christmas lights for hours upon hours and he asks his friend if he had gotten a box where all the lights worked. His friend says yes to which he smiles and replies that it must have been one of his boxes. That conversation and many other parts of the book really stuck with me and so I began to do some research. I discovered that there are at least 900 forced labor camps in China with thousands of prisoners who work long hours on little food doing painful and damaging work producing goods, especially things like Christmas lights and small plastic children's toys, and being harshly punished for not meeting impossible quotas. Many of these prisoners are political or religious prisoners who can be held for three years(and that is only officially, not really covering what actually happens) without even being formally charged with any crime. These could be people who have just happened to have spoken to the wrong person at the wrong time. Or who believed something that they had been told not to. As I read and researched and found documents telling the stories of those who had experienced this, I felt more and more convicted that I wanted to take action.

I love lights at Christmas time. We have always strung them outside our house, on our tree, and in any other place that they will add a warm glow. But as we looked at our lights and talked about how they may have been produced or the pain that others had to endure, the glow seemed less warm to me. Then as some of our strands stopped working, last year we just didn't replace them. I couldn't bring myself to, I kept hearing " that must have been one of my boxes, I made sure each one worked". We talked about trying to find lights that were made else where. Then this year as we talked about our tree, it came up again. I pictured hunched backs, raw fingers, hungry bellies, and abused bodies being forced to produce my Christmas lights and receiving NOTHING in return. We decided that we simply would not use lights this year. Not so much as a boycott, because really our simple act of not using lights would be less than a drop.  But as a reminder to pray for, to advocate for, and to pursue freedom and rights for the wronged whenever and where ever we can.

And so our tree does not glow with lights. I don't know if we will do this every year although frankly, I can't picture going and buying another string of lights but for this year, I don't miss it. I look at our tree and it looks lovely to me. I really enjoy the ornaments in their simplicity on the green and yet even more, I remember every time I look at it the reason why it doesn't glow. And the little ache that I only want to go away when true change has come encourages me to keep fighting and to fight more boldly for the weak, for the downtrodden.

What do you think? Would you consider doing some research and  forgoing Christmas lights in order to start conversation about what and how our purchases affect others? Or even as a reminder to you and your family to advocate and pray for those who are being mistreated? Do you have other ways that you would suggest making a difference and caring for others?