This article was published on ‘thesheepdip’ website , Nov 06.
Let’s face it: we all love to shop. Now, perhaps more than ever, to shop is to ‘express oneself’ to the max. It’s the subject of films and novels. It’s the nation’s favourite pastime. From malls that give you that ‘American Dream’ feel, right through to the ‘online’ experience… shopping will never let us down. Or will it? Quite possibly not. But will it let others down? Yes, yes, and… hang on… oh, yes again.
Every time a single penny of ours leaves our (piggy) bank, and gets handed over to a person or company, in exchange for a product or service, there are hidden consequences. Often we are totally oblivious of them… far too oblivious. âBut wait up!â? comes the cry, âwe’ve been buying Fair Trade coffee and bananas for ages now â you can’t teach us anything â this is old news.â?
Fair Trade products are very ‘in’ at this present time. Sales of Fair Trade goods in the UK have grown by 40% during the past year. In fact, the UK fair trade market is now second in the world only to Switzerland. Still, let’s examine being ‘fair’ when we shop. We are some of the world’s richest 20%. We do a whole lot of shopping… we therefore have a huge responsibility to consider God’s command to ‘love each other’, every time we part with our hard-earned wad.
Let’s âstart againâ with regards to how we spend our money. Itâs Godâs money, not ours. If we have a roof over our head and food in the cupboard, however basic… we ARE rich! The Bible has a whole lot to say about the dangers of being rich… reading it could change our shopping habits… forever! We are told not to neglect the poor; not to take advantage of one another; not to treat our employees with anything but dignity and respect. Much of the Old Testament speaks of this . The book of James is also quite clear on the topic, and fully backs up what Jesus said. The theme of God’s heart for the poor and oppressed is mentioned over 800 times throughout the Old and New Testaments; once every twelve verses!
Although the Bible doesn’t say too much about the issue of ‘shopping’ directly, we can assume that if God thought it was wrong for an employer to treat an employee badly, then it is wrong for us to give money to that employer; to help support them and enable them to continue with what they are doing. Likewise, if God told us to look after his planet, which He did , we can assume that it is wrong for us to allow our money to contribute to spoiling the planet, so that present and future generations will suffer… suffer badly.
When we buy stuff, be it food or clothes… a holiday or a pension plan… here are the questions we should probably ask of ourselves:
DO I NEED THIS?
‘Live Simply, so that others can simply live.’ (Tony Campolo). Ask: Is this item/service something I need, or just want? Could I live without it, and still remain alive and well? We all like to relax, to be entertained, to have nice things, and so on… but how much money actually needs to be spent in the process? What about the craze in our culture to âre-decorateâ rooms, just for fun? Or to splash out on an all-inclusive holiday abroad, when we could go self-catering in Cornwall, have just as much fun, and save shed-loads! Could we âmake-doâ with a home-made alternative? Greeting cards spring to mind, as an obvious example. And what would someone starving in Africa make of us when they watch us buy coloured fancy paper, to wrap up gifts with, just so the recipient can rip it off and chuck it straight in the bin? We have odd habits, us rich people!
COULD I BORROW IT?
What about expensive tools that donât get used very oftenâ¦ or DVDsâ¦ booksâ¦ CDsâ¦ toys, etc. It would be good if we were all more willing to share our possessions . We can stop buying novels, and instead borrow ones off friends… or get them out from our local library (if they haven’t got it ‘in stock’, it is possible to order it for around 80 measly pennies).
COULD I BUY IT SECOND HAND?
Think charity shops, think eBay, think free-ads. Ask: is there anyone at work or church who has one of these, and might be willing to sell it to me? Kids’ things come into their own hereâ¦ kids so quickly grow out of their clothes/toys/games/DVDs, etc. Forget reaching for the Argos/Ikea catalogueâ¦ let’s reach instead for our matesâ¦ they might surprise us! Perhaps weâve got something THEY quite fancyâ¦ those Saturday-Swap-Shop days (as per Noel Edmunds/Keith Chegwin) could be coming our way again â hurrah!
If weâve decided that none of the above apply, and we definitely need/want to buy something, then let’s shop with ‘loving others’ at the forefront of our minds and consider the following…
Ask: how far has this food/toy, etc, travelled to reach me? (Such unnecessary transportation means unnecessary CO2 emissions.) Why would I want to buy apples from New Zealand when apples are grown in the UK â isn’t that a bit mad? When apples aren’t in season in this country, how about trying plums instead! Let’s go wild at our local farmers’ markets or farm shops. In most parts of the country there are also local and/or organic food delivery services. Buying locally-grown or produced goods is also more ‘loving’ to our local community. Check out local craft fairs or shops… they probably won’t meet all of our needs, but we might be able to buy gifts and household items there, instead of from abroad.
Ask: have the people involved in growing/harvesting/packaging this food/cotton, etc, been paid a fair wage? What are their working conditions like? Does the shop/company I’m buying from have an ethical policy that I know about and respect? If we want goods from other countries, let’s support the fair trade movement. This encompasses a whole range of foods, clothes and other itemsâ far more than just bananas and coffee!
Ask: what is the packaging surrounding the products I buy made from â can it be recycled? What chemicals have been used, and what CO2 emissions have been given off, so that this product can be made? Have GM ingredients been involved? Opt for organic or ‘eco’ products where possible, that are sensibly packaged. This means less harm to our God-given soil/rivers … for us today, and for those who will inhabit this planet in the future (our great-great-grandkids perhaps?!). It’s said that climate change will be caused by us, the rich, but will be paid for by the poor.
Yes, shopping in this way WILL cost more money. There’s no point in denying that when you pay the ‘real’ price of things, it costs more than the ‘pretend’ price… the one where people, environment and animals get exploited. This ties back into the idea of ‘living simply’; the question of ‘Do I need this?’. If we cut back on what we don’t need, and use the money saved to shop as outlined above, we will probably break even! Consider the ‘luxury’ items we buy… could we spend less on these, so we can re-direct the money to be spent on shopping in a more loving way: CDs, DVDs, clothes, eating out (coffee shops/restaurants), kids’ toys, adults’ toys, make-up, magazines, alcohol, holidays, decorating, etc?
Yes, this does raise all sorts of sticky dilemmas for Christians: Is it OK if I work for a bank, or for Tescos? What about the dishwasher I just bought? How on earth can I stop buying ‘branded’ clothes for my teenager? And so on. These are things that we could all be giving more thought to, challenging as it is.
This isn’t about being all gloomy and feeling like martyrs. God wants us all to enjoy life â to have a blast â to live life to the full! But this is all possible, with or without vast collections of material possessions. Let’s heighten our awareness of the fact that many others in this world don’t get to live life to the full, and in many cases, this is our fault. Let’s show them God’s love through how we choose to shop.
1] Isaiah 58 and Amos 5, for example
2] Gen 1:26-30, 2:15,19
3] see Acts 2:43-47