Dead White Man’s Clothes: The Luxury of Lazy Religion

In a Los Angeles Times article of July 14, 2004, I found a hint of sarcasm aimed at the ‘west’, or to put it another way, western culture.

The article starts with the headline “For Sale, Cheap! Dead White Men’s Clothes”

LAGOS, Nigeria — Tossed off a flatbed truck, a 100-pound bale of used panties and bras, worn socks, DKNY suits and Michael Jordan jerseys lands with a thud amid a jostling swarm of shoppers.  Much of Africa was once draped in fabrics of flamboyant color and pattern, products of local industry and a reflection of cultural pride. But with half of its people surviving on less than a dollar a day, the continent has become the world’s recycling bin. People scramble for 10-cent underpants, 20-cent T-shirts and dollar blue jeans discarded by Westerners.

Insatiable demand from village shops and sprawling urban markets has turned the West’s castoffs into an industry that generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Clothing is only the most visible example. Polluting refrigerators and air conditioners, expired medicines and old mattresses also are routinely shipped and resold here. Used vehicles imported from Japan dot African roads. Antiquated secondhand computers power many African governments.

The author noted that people in Africa buy the leftovers from the overflow of our overstuffed closets.  They know the items in question cannot be from a live person, because after all, if a person were alive, why would they throw away such good clothing?  Hence, they must be dead and the markets of Africa are filled with ‘dead white men’s clothes’.  Everything from underwear to outerwear is found in the markets and many well meaning Christians and other people give of their substance with the intent of helping out.

It is in this vein of thought that I would like to address ‘the luxury of lazy religion’.  Let me state from the outset that I am guilty of this myself.  I have on more than one occasion than I will admit to and on several others of which I am unaware, given from a cupboard or closet that was overflowing with stuff and from a heart that was filled with pride.

I have boasted of my giving without sharing.  I have bragged about and showcased my good deeds, and denied my greater greed.  My pity and pride have only been surpassed my self confidence and arrogance.  I have and continue to indulge in the luxury of lazy religion.

As I read in Malachi 1:8, I am impressed that this prophet was bold enough to rebuke the people who brought less than their best.  As I read these words, I am convicted of how often I have and continue to practice a lazy religion of luxury.

Mal 1:8 And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? Saith the LORD of hosts.

As the author of the article noted the people who bought these items found themselves being degraded in several ways.  First, they really did know that these were discarded items.  They only fooled themselves into believing otherwise for it was clear that these items are not in packages and the came in consignments and on large containers.

Secondly, they recognized that the very things they bought spoke of names and people, even places they had read about or seen on TV.  These names began to become more popular than their own names.  The cities emblazoned on the shirts, the ‘hip, jive, slang, covertly and overtly sensuous and outright cavalier profane’ art became common place in their cities, their homes and even in the churches.  These very things they came to treasure, were helping them to worship the giver, the American industry, and to despise their own wealth of customs and traditions.

Mere survival has a long-term cost: The continent is losing the capacity to produce its own clothing. Although labor is cheap, Africans cannot make a shirt that costs as little as a used one. Every textile mill in Zambia has closed. Fewer than 40 of Nigeria’s 200 mills remain. The vast majority of textile factories in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi are shuttered as well. Thousands of workers have lost their jobs.

“We are digging our own graves,” says Chris Kirubi, a Kenyan industrialist who blamed secondhand clothing for the demise of his textile mill. “When you make your own clothes, you employ farmers to grow cotton, people to work in textile mills and more people to work in clothes factories. When you import secondhand clothes, you become a dumping ground.”

Giving second best does several things.

  1. Robs God of the best, because we are giving to ‘the least of these’ of whom Christ is the chief!  We give our old linens as though we are giving our new lives.
  2. Shows people that they deserve less than God’s best.  This implies they are second class and we are first class.
  3. Since I am first class, I must deserve it for some reason and I become more prideful
  4. Robs God of glory that would be His if we gave people the best.  We get the glory.
  5. Hinders God from doing greater things in their lives.
  6. Shows God as stingy and greedy (man does not live by bread alone, he needs some meat and potatoes to go with that, but you my poor friend can eat gruel).
  7. We rob God of our talents, out tithes and our time.
  1. We have talents (singing, reading, knowledge) which we consume on ourselves.
  2. We have tithes (Luke 21:2 the widow’s mite versus the rich man’s gift) of which we give grudgingly and for recognition
  3. We have time which we use for self (no time to read the Bible to draw close to God, but plenty of time to watch TV and draw closer to the world).

When we take communion, we are reminded in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 that we are to take it in remembrance that God gave His best.  We are told that we are to examine our hearts as we take this.

God gave His best, yet we approach the Lord’s Table with stinginess, defiling the altar as though our dumping our leftovers to the poor was as good as any other gift on the altar.

We need to examine ourselves.  Are we lazy about our religion?

  1. Are we more devoted to doctrine, denominations and divisions?  Do we have more invested in our personal assessment of the truth or in our personal evangelism about the truth (i.e. Jesus)?
  2. Are we eating the gravy of Bible study to the exclusion of witnessing and winning the world to Christ, i.e. Biblical living?
  3. Are we more involved with who is in charge, than fulfilling the charge that is before us?
  4. Are we giving without thinking or trusting?
  1. Our gift reflects our trust.  No one gives an investment broker whom they trust, only half the money if they believe they will get a good return.  They give all.  We say we trust God and we want to invest our lives in His plan, yet we hold back.

We are rewarded commensurate with our giving.  We lack peace, because we give only a piece of what God has given us.  He wants it all.  Give your best, just as God in Christ gave His all at the altar, on the cross.

Abraham laid His only son on the table.  We lay a remnant of our sums of things we have collected.  We are rewarded commensurate with our giving.

Le 22:24 Ye shall not offer unto the LORD that which is bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut; neither shall ye make any offering thereof in your land.

The luxury of lazy religion would let us give less than our best, let us focus on denomination and division and deny God the glory He alone deserves and deny others the chance of experiencing that glory.