Redeeming the Christmas Shopping Frenzy

Sharon Finances, Stewardship 11 Comments

Although the end of the semester is in sight, my life is still a tornado of writing papers, which has unfortunately left me little time for personal/fun writing on here. That said, I thought I would re-post a piece I wrote this time last year. Since I posted this last December, God has continued to teach me about shopping in ways that are both honoring to Him and loving to my neighbor. As you face the crowded malls this season, I hope this will give you the same Jesus-centered perspective that it gave me!

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Over the years I’ve written a lot about the temptation to find comfort and release from shopping. When you’re having a bad day or feeling down on yourself, shopping can be an easy pick-me-up. In fact, it can be just as addictive as a drug. Shopping, clothes and outward appearance can all become idols upon which we depend for security and confidence. These indulgences can also prevent us from being generous with our money–you might want to give some money to that family at church whose house just burned down, unfortunately you just blew a ton of cash at the mall and now you don’t have any to spare.

What makes this idol so difficult for me to fight is that I don’t think about God when I’m at the mall. When I walk into Target my brain immediately becomes absorbed in the plethora of goods before me, and the last thing on my mind is the state of my heart in relation to them. God gets pushed out of the thought process pretty quickly.

In light of this problem, I’ve continued to think about how to submit my spending habits to Christ. Of course one way to do this is to go cold-turkey. Just cut out going to stores altogether. But for me, the problem is not that I spend too much, or even all that often–the problem is my heart behind the spending. While there will be times when I have to buy things, how can I change my perspective on the whole process? How do I shop in a way that is Christian?

There are a number of possibilities, but one solution is to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider where your money is going when you spend it. What sorts of practices are you supporting? Is your money going to organizations that oppress their workers and the environment? If these questions matter at all to you, then it’s going to affect the way you shop.

As Ike and I have wrestled with these questions and the degree of our responsibility toward them, we’ve been considering buying more products that come from Fair Trade. You might have heard this term before but in case you’re unclear about what exactly it means, it is a system of trade that ensures the makers of a product are treated fairly, that they are paid adequately for their labor (rather than being exploited), that their working conditions are humane, that the rights of children are protected, and that the environment is well-stewarded. Put in Christian terms, Fair Trade is an extension of our call to respect the image of God in every human being and treat each person with dignity, protecting the weak from forces that might abuse and marginalize them. It is also an extension of our call to exercise good dominion over the earth.

Now before you accuse me of being a bleeding-heart tree hugger and immediately tune out, it’s important to remember that we live in a time unlike any other in history. Within the last century we have been completely disconnected from the makers of the products we buy. We don’t know who made our shirts or who grew our corn. Because of this disconnect, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to any injustices in the workplace, assuming that if we don’t know about it, our hands are clean.

I don’t think God will be so nonchalant. Consider these verses in Scripture about God’s views on trading fairly:

Proverbs 11:1–The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.

Proverbs 16:11–Honest scales and balances are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making.

Proverbs 20:10–Differing weights and differing measures— the LORD detests them both.

Proverbs 20:23–The LORD detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him.

In case you’re wondering why God is so preoccupied with weights and scales, they were an ancient means for determining the value of a product. The scales were meant to provide a uniform standard of value so that sellers would be paid fairly for their products, and buyers could trust they weren’t paying too much. However, a dishonest trader might fix the scale to his advantage, which is essentially stealing.

Notice how strong the language is in those verses. God isn’t simply displeased by economic injustice; He abhors it. From these verses we are reminded that God cares deeply about the way we shop. He cares about both the sellers and the buyers. He wants us to buy and sell in ways that reflect his character and treat others fairly. And that is the heart of Fair Trade. In a world that will pay Indian factory workers pennies for their labor, simply because we can, God has an opinion. And it is not a favorable one.

As Christians we need to consider where our money is going and whether it reflects the character of God. This reality adds a new dimension to how I think about shopping, and it challenges me to step outside that temptation and examine its larger implications. It’s not just about personal idolatry–it’s also about my responsibility toward other human beings and the world.

One family at our church tries to buy all their Christmas presents from Fair Trade sellers, and we’re thinking about trying that out ourselves this year! As I try to submit this area of my life to God, the values behind Fair Trade certainly give me some positive ways to fight the idol of shopping and conform my heart to Christ’s. I still have a lot to learn about Fair Trade (and I’m sure some of you reading this know a lot more than I do!) but Fair Trade certainly gives me some food for thought. It challenges me to be a good steward of my money, not only in what I buy and how much I spend, but where my money is going.

*In case you’re interested in your Fair Trade shopping options, just Google it. You’ll find lots of local retail stores, as well as on-line makers of clothing, accessories, home decor, etc.

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Comments 11

  1. Cesar Lopes

    “In a world that will pay Indian factory workers pennies for their labor, simply because we can, God has an opinion. And it is not a favorable one”. SO, SO true Sharon. Great post, thanks!

  2. Tim

    I agree with Cesar, that was the most powerful sentence in a blogpost filled with powerful sentences. I really like how you constantly point us to our responsibility to people (made in God’s image) and the world (given us to exercise good stewardship over) throughout this article.

    This is a really challenging thought, too: “As Christians we need to consider where our money is going and whether it reflects the character of God.” It reminds me that my money is not my money.

    I am so glad you repeated this great post from last year, Sharon.

    Tim

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  4. Susanne Gonzalez

    Definitely a necessary post in this insanity of a “holiday season”. Thanks for the reminder.
    Over the past year, have you been able to find any good Fair Trade retailers, either online or actual stores? I’m wanting to do Christmas shopping differently this year. 🙂

  5. Peyton

    This post almost seems more relevant this year with the whole Occupy movement still going on. Leave it to Proverbs to have the wisdom that is at the root of it all… financial equality. After living overseas near Asia for a year and a half, I have really started to abhor all goods (it’s all junk!) made in these third-world country sweatshops (esp. China) and everything they represent. Buy Fair Trade. Buy USA. Most importantly, buy intentionally. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Great post, Sharon.

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    Sharon

    Susanne, I have! There’s an organization called Trade As One that I like, and this year I got a number of presents from an online store called Fair Indigo. Also, there is a little store about 10 minutes from where I live called the Mustard Seed that is run by volunteers at a local church. The woman who started it used to work in retail but wanted to serve the Lord in her retirement, so that’s how she chose to do it. Isn’t that cool? I don’t know where you live, but I bet there are little stores like that where you live too. Ten Thousand Villages is a popular one also.

  7. Melissa

    Hey Sharon! It’s been awhile, but I still keep up with the blog. Always good to read 🙂 Living in STL now while my husband goes to Covenant Theological Seminary and I pursue graduate studies in music.

    In addition to shopping fair trade, I like to buy from projects that are often working in communities to create new sustainable business for the marginalized and suffering.

    Some places I recommend looking to shop this year: Women at Risk’s website: http://www.warinternational.com/store/. It’s a culturally sensitive intervention program that helps women in small sustainable business and they have great items!

    Amani Ya Juu is a great initiative in Nairobi and you can shop their products here: http://www.amaniafrica.org/ashop/index.php. You can also have an Amani Gathering, where they send you a box of their products for you to sell to your friends, educate about their projects, etc.

    Also, I have a friend who has a super cute Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/citythistle

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