Top of the Shops

shops in paris
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. “But wait up!â€? comes the cry, “we’ve been buying Fair Trade coffee and bananas for ages now – you can’t teach us anything – 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 ’start again’ with regards to how we spend our money. It’s God’s 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 [1]. 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 [2], 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 ‘re-decorate’ 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 ‘make-do’ 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 don’t get used very often… or DVDs… books… CDs… toys, etc. It would be good if we were all more willing to share our possessions [3]. 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 here… kids so quickly grow out of their clothes/toys/games/DVDs, etc. Forget reaching for the Argos/Ikea catalogue… let’s reach instead for our mates… they might surprise us! Perhaps we’ve got something THEY quite fancy… those Saturday-Swap-Shop days (as per Noel Edmunds/Keith Chegwin) could be coming our way again – hurrah!

If we’ve 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…

LOCAL
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 – 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.

FAIR TRADE
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 items– far more than just bananas and coffee!

ENVIRONMENT
Ask: what is the packaging surrounding the products I buy made from – 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 – to have a blast – 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

what would jesus blog?

This article was published on ‘thesheepdip’ website, Oct 06.

One new blog is born every second. In fact there are currently more than 14.2 million blogs, which is up from the March 2005 count of 7.8 million [1]. While America is in the lead (as always) blog growth has more recently been spotted here in the UK, as well as in Japan, Korea, China, France, and Brazil. In case you’ve been locked in a garden shed/confessional box/Big Brother House for the past year or so, a ‘blog’ is a ‘weblog’… in other words, a ‘log’ (record, account, diary) that’s available to read on the ‘world wide web’. Simple!
This ‘blogosphere’ is immensely varied, with blogs being used for both personal and professional purposes/pleasure. Blogs have the potential to contain text, images, film, audio… it’s endless really. You can use your blog as an ongoing list of links to other websites you think are worth visiting, including a brief comment about each site mentioned. Or as more of an online diary: ‘Yesterday we went to tea with Auntie Agnus and had some fabulous rock-cakes’… that sort of thing. The reality is that most blogs are a mixture of the two. Blogs have been used as campaign sites, as art projects, online magazines and as places for community networking. ‘Moblogs’ are blogs to which people with camera phones automatically send pictures and text.
Blogs tend to reflect the personalities, imagination and wit of their owners and it’s probably this personal touch which has made them so popular. They are free and easy to set up and use, allowing for the instant publication of ideas and for interactive conversations, through comments, with friends or strangers. Much of their appeal has been boosted because readers can subscribe to them, for free, to stay updated of any new posts automatically.
So what of Christians and blogs… a useful tool for evangelism, discipleship and beyond… or a complete distraction, waste of time and a potential danger?

Suzanne Elvidge,a freelance writer, comments:
“The world now really is technology-driven – Internet, mobile phones, email, blogs… the list goes on. As Christians, we need to grasp these opportunities or risk being left behind. More than this, though – these are all things that
can boost our Christian lives by improving communication, expanding our
knowledge, creating otherwise-impossible opportunities for outreach, and
just giving us life in all its fullness. As with all of life, there are
risks and dangers, both technological and personal.�

She also advices that bloggers don’t put photos of their children on their blogs. Others go further and suggest you don’t even mention their names, but just use their initials. Some bloggers, out of respect for other people, try to hold back from putting photos of anyone (child or adult) on their blog, and give the full names of people who have given their consent to do so.

Keen blogger Richard says:
“I think it is a key to ask yourself : Why are you blogging? My blog is in part a resource, in part a journal but hopefully a conversation. It gives me somewhere to air ideas and get feedback. As someone committed to mission and often on the edge of mainstream Christian evangelical thought it is good to bounce ideas around. It’s a group blog… essentially there is a community element, and people blog about anything and everything, some are focussed posts, some are broad, but people comment as they wish, how you respond and what you do with those comments is down to you and God. I have a good accountability structure through work and friends but blogging is another avenue that helps in my journey with God.â€?
[www.sundaypapers.org.uk]

It must be noted that nearly anything and everything can become a complete waste of God-given time if we end up obsessed, absorbed and out of control: TV, novels, sport, knitting (!)… you name it, it’s a potential hazard in the making. Spending hours on end either writing or reading/commenting on blogs could cause you to neglect your spouse/children/friends in need/church, etc. That said, in its defense, at least blogging is an interactive ‘sport’. Watching endless hours of Friends re-runs or BBC News24 might be relaxing/educational, but we are a mere passive observer. Commenting on your blog about the latest world news, teen fad, or even about those Friends re-runs puts you in control, and you can decide: Is this thing I’m discussing positive or negative, when viewed at with ‘biblical’ eyes? What can Christians do regarding this issue? How can we respond to each other, and to the un-churched on this matter? And so on. This is not to give the impression that Christians who blog do, or must, give ‘on the pulse’ theological comment on any and everything they blog about… just that there is the potential to do so, as and when one desires. Often, blogs are just a bit of fun – a more pleasant and interactive way to spend a Saturday than in front of the box/vegetable patch/ironing board, etc (for a good ‘Christian’ laugh, see www.wibsite.com).
Another issue is that of our treatment of our fellow-bloggers. As Christians, ‘loving others’ is paramount, whatever our career, hobby, sport, etc. According to the Bible, it’s non-negotiable. This isn’t to say that we need to agree with everyone’s views and opinions, but that we need to show respect and empathy, and not disrespect or out-and-out rudeness. This applies whether we’re adding comments to any posts on any blogs – Christian or otherwise. One disadvantage of web communication in general is that you loose the face-to-face aspect: no body language to read, no knowledge of whether something is said with a hint of sarcasm or slightly tongue-in-cheek, and so on. Therefore, our best bet is to take our time when posting on our own blogs, or putting comments to others’ posts… stay calm, stay respectful even if you disagree, stay in control of your anger and emotions in general, stay loving. If the ‘discussion’ doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and you really disagree strongly, perhaps it’s time to move on to blog-pastures new!

Political blogger Paul warns:
“There are a lot of extremist bloggers about and by that I mean that as a blog-reader you should be aware of the relevant dangers of the chance for extremist views to be aired as much as they are on Websites and on radio! As a blogger, one has to be careful about voicing opinions so speedily and off-the-cuff because of the quickness of getting those views on line. In other words, don’t be near your blog when in a towering rage about some issue! Blog pros – Faster information (the Bagdhad Blogger was an inspiration, as he was a unique source of information during the Iraq war). Blog cons- Less time to digest that information… can easily rely on unconfirmed and second-hand information.â€?
[www.paulburgin.blogspot.com]

As Paul comments, Christians must be aware of whom they are allowing to influence their beliefs and worldview. Granted, this can be said for all forms of media – what we watch on TV, read in magazines, listen to on the radio, etc… but blogs are very ‘immediate’, uncensored and unedited! Journalists aren’t too bothered if a newspaper won’t take their exclusive story, due to their ‘facts’ being slightly dubious… they’ll just stick their ‘scoop’ on their blog.
At the same time, as Christians we can opt to take advantage of the potential influence of our blogs… the ‘Technorati report’ [2] has highlighted the fact that some blogs are actually read by more people than read mainstream media websites. For example, the ‘boing boing’ blog is more influential (has more visitors) than: The Times, The Economist, Fox News, MTV and USA Today!

Nick Page, perhaps better-known for his many books (mainly Christian) than his blog says:
“The great things about blogging is that anyone can do it. And the worst thing about blogging is that anyone can do it. Like all the internet, there’s no quality control. So you get great blogs… and then you get some woman in mid-west America talking about her cat or something. Good writers will find an audience. In fact, with the internet, good writers really will find an audience because they can always get published. I tend to use my blog (www.nickpage.co.uk) to share enthusiasm for something – a place I’ve visited, a film I’ve watched, a book I’ve read. I actually think that’s one of the best uses of blogs – for us to talk about the things that excite us. Those kind of things bring people together and maybe that’s what a blog is really all about: bringing people together. It’s not a diary in the classic sense of the word, because it’s not private. It’s more like a conversation or a chat on the phone. Except the phone in this case happens to have about a trillion other people on the end of the line.â€?

So take heart, all you bloggers, blog-readers… and those who are reading this thinking: I really must get me one of those. Undoubtedly there are dangers to be aware of and pitfalls to bear in mind. Essentially though, the age of blogdom brings with it many gigabytes of opportunities, possibilities and enjoyment.

1] http://news.bbc.co.uk, 2/8/05

2] www.technorati.com