Monday, July 16, 2012

The Spiritual Discipline of Shopping

Chances are, you're thinking that this post is going to be a metaphorical conversation about how my experience trying to find the perfect pair of heels is like bumbling through a fallen world and receiving God's grace at just the right time.

This post isn't anything like that, but it still holds that in this broken world, God's grace is abundant and sustaining in every circumstance. I am learning this more and more each day. I am getting older and ever-so-slightly wiser each day, trying not to regret the things I have done or left undone in my younger days and learning from my mistakes.

This post really isn't about me, though.

I babysit for two of my professors who are ethicists. In our classes we discuss our responsibility to the environment, to our fellow humans, and the morality of the things we do and ways we can improve our lifestyles to be more at peace with each other and the world.

Often these conversations leave us discussing recycling, or the moral crisis of consumerism and how we so often fail to consider the hands that made the product we are purchasing.

In "these difficult economic times", which I put in quotes because I've been hearing it for years now, members of the church often talk about money and God either regarding the necessity of tithing even when times are right, or that the financial resources we have are gifts of God and we are called to be good stewards of those resources.

Out of this desire to be good stewards, many of us go to the cheapest products available so we are spending less on things we might consider frivolous. Why spend $3 on dish soap when I can spend $1? I asked myself this same question in the grocery store the other day, until I reached the uncompromising realization that I must put my morals where my money is.

While babysitting, I continued to find recycled products, fairly traded products, and earth-friendly products, knowing that they are surely more expensive but also thinking that this family must value responsibility to the earth and to their fellow human beings and show this through their purchasing power. They seemed to put their money where their ethics were.
This babysitting experience came to mind as I was purchasing dish soap yesterday.

Morality in dish soap?

Yes- many dish soaps are made with ingredients that are non-biodegradable and thereby can pollute the water table. In addition, I felt the need to purchase a product made out of post-consumer recycled materials. So I went with the more expensive soap. In this sense, being a good steward of the financial resourced God has given me was to purchase the more expensive product because it respected and protected God's creation, rather than purchasing the less expensive product to make my money last longer.

In such a consumer-driven society, one of the biggest ways we can use our voice actually doesn't involve vocal chords; it is through our purchasing power. The PC(USA) (and, I'm sure, many other religious/nonreligious denominations and organizations) has recently called for a boycott of materials made in and from occupied Israeli lands (which, if memory serves correctly, was originally Palestinian land; another ethical foible). I feel called to use my monetary voice to purchase products that are ethically bought, sold, and traded; made by people who are employed freely, treated kindly, and receive a fair wage; and are designed and made to be used in ways that continue to protect the environment.

This world is not of my own making. I live in a beautiful world that was made for me, yet is not my known; it is God's. I deem it worshipful to respect God's creations. Just as I want to purchase products that were not made by slave labor or child labor or sweatshop labor, all which another human being who was created by God, so I want to purchase products which respect the flora and fauna which God likewise created.

Next time you go to the grocery, I challenge you to ask yourself if the product you are purchasing is contributing to pollution, human degradation or enslavement. I ask that you seriously and prayerfully consider if there is a more ethical alternative. May shopping be for you as it is for me a spiritual discipline.