Duck tape held together my leather shoes. I did not wear them because my husband and I could not afford to buy me another pair of work shoes, but I felt as though they were comfortable, and fairly professional. Well, as professional as I present. Several others noticed my lack of stylish footwear and made inquiries. One of my coworkers suggested that I dressed a bit more business casual and less hippy grunge so as to distinguish me from our clients who are experiencing homelessness. She joked. I thought the pair in excellent shape. Then, it dropped to thirty outside and the shoes started to smell a bit like rotting meat. Terry and I agreed in August of 2013, that we would not purchase clothing for a whole year, with the exception of undergarments. We committed for several reasons:
1) We felt weighed down by the amount of debt I had undertaken to receive a theological degree.
2) We wanted to be better “stewards” of our finances. (No, we didn’t go listen to Dave Ramsey or make the whole church attend so we could get rich off tithes or cancel discipleship classes.)
3) We gagged at the thought of the consumerism and materialism warping more of our lives.
4) We wanted to actively take a stand against injustice.
Now, before you go applauding number 4- let me tell you that being fair trade, organic, and all natural costs a whole lot more money that what a bi-vocational pastor/nonprofit worker living in West Georgia budgets towards expenses. We may never be able to abstain from every evil world system- because sadly to exist in America, one has to participate in Babylon. I am typing this blog on a computer- built with mined minerals, while sitting on my leather furniture gathered unjustly from some poor cow- most likely from a kill farm, while fueling the heat in my house through the local energy company that is less than green. Oh, and although I drive a compact car with bumper stickers- I still live in the suburbs commuting on average 50 miles per day, usually stopping at McDonald’s at least once a week for a sausage McMuffin. You see the problem? I could be all off the grid, and live with rainbow people in the woods and beat my cow-hide drum safely acquired from fair-trade Africa craftsmen while washing my hair in vinegar and burning vegetable oil in the converted diesel bus I slept inside, when it was not being used to grow my medicinal plants and herbs. But, I feel some responsibility to pay back my debts and I also feel called to minister to people living in the Atlanta area. Although I could be a sidewalk prophet, I haven’t heard God call me to live as a wandering monastic type surviving solely on the charity of others. So, I am not some great saint of Justice- be it, anti-slavery, environmental, or for brother wolf and sister cow. Truly, I am a Christ follower- like those who call them self such, stuck in the tension of the already but not yet.
HOWEVER, Terry and I decided we could stop buying slave made fashion. For a year, no more purchases. I will say that I have several friends who were missionaries in foreign countries where labor is cheaper. Despite what some of us liberal bleeding heart types suggest, they say that the people gather a great sense of dignity from their work and enjoy the money. I get that. But how biblical is it to deprive the worker a fair wage? And before you say something stupid like “that’s only in the Old Testament where God is pissed and angry”, let me remind you of James chapter 5. Or Revelation. Or the words of Jesus. I know, I know, most Christians in the south don’t read anything other than Paul’s writings when it comes to the Bible, or things that were attributed to Paul- that he never penned. Actually, I think most “Christians” don’t even read the Bible. And why should they, in our wonderfully little consumerist minded culture where all we do is entertain ourselves. And take selfies. I am guilty. Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Fairness and equity matter a lot to God. (Micah 6:6-8, Amos 5, Isaiah 1, and I could go on and on and on.)
My number 3.
Terry and I absolutely think capitalism, consumerism, and materialism are systems of the world. (And when I say world, I don’t mean COSMOS or the dirt or earth- I mean an order that is against God.) If the capitalism thing just threw you off, please continue to read. And I dare you to check out how capitalism in our world exploits others.
Materialism, hoarding of goods, and consumerism could be called several things in light of the Bible.
One of those things is IDOLATRY. And the other thing would be INJUSTICE.
Or simply put- Not loving God, and not loving your neighbor.
I know you are thinking, but me and Dad really bond over our 4 am trek to every department store on Black Friday for those fabulous deals on flat screen televisions, Barbie dolls, and the latest gadgetry.
Why can’t you and your Dad bond over making jam, quilting, or baking? Why do we need any more stuff? I feel the spirit of George Carlin coming over me. You have to buy stuff to put your stuff in, and then rent a storage container to put that stuff in… ridiculous. Stuff doesn’t make us happy. Watch an episode of hoarders. Try to ignore the dead cats and notice: THE STUFF didn’t make them happy. These are some seriously emotionally needy people. Ask all the rich who self-medicate, or who commit suicide, or who have gained goods while oppressing others.
The story of the man who built the store house comes to mind. Do you recall what I am talking about?
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[c] 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,[d] yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his[e] kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
So we have decided not to purchase clothing for ourselves for a year. And while I may look like a nonconformist and a bum to some of my colleagues, I am really trying to live out that whole loving God, Loving neighbor stuff.
Another thing we are doing this year for Christmas is making gifts. We will buy the children in our families something small. My sister once made me a bird of human hair, and also gave me dried dog dung. (That’s an entirely different story)
Most of my relatives really don’t need anything. They need to learn how to budget, how to downsize, and how to exist without the latest model of gaming. (And me too- not Judging or Should-ing on anyone) We really are rich in America. Maybe we need to share the goods we already own.
What do you think about all that? Tell me your thoughts on avoiding idolatry and injustice this Christmas and holiday season.
And if you do go out for a fabulous deal- please consider all the things I talked about. Who made it? How? Does this item contribute to a system of injustice? Can I live without this? will this really make me happy? and for God’s sake, don’t be an asshole to others if you have one of the plastic fish thingies on your car. I am a jerk- but I am hoping to be more like Jesus. What would Jesus buy at Wal’s Mart or Tar-jay?