Years ago, I tried to avoid buying anything from the mall or from major retailers. I found it to be impossible so I tried to limit my purchases. That became impossible too. Then a couple of my friends got jobs there. One was a student in grad school whose probably been working since he was 14 … months old (he’s prone to exaggeration but you get the point). The other finished with a Business degree but couldn’t find anything and was working at Express longer than he preferred. Eventually they moved on and landed some place but I remember my aversion to retail changed a little bit because I didn’t want to see either of them have to struggle to find jobs again.
Fast forward to 2010: I was sitting with my seminary cohort on the shaded roof of a Mennonite mission that focused on community-building and fair-trade … in Cambodia (among the coolest experiences I’ve got to enjoy). We talked about a number of things and one of the statements struck me, “When Westerners don’t buy enough from places like the Gap, there is more unemployment here … Further organizations like ours cannot support the number of these unemployed workers nor do we produce enough fair-trade products (or have enough customers) to offer such an alternative.” I’ve always known fair-trade to be complimentary in many cases but this was a little disheartening in some ways for me.
“So we need to shop at the Gap?”
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I enjoy the deconstruction (and the reconstruction) of things. Most of the time it leads to a better and more intentional way of life. Today, I want to wonder out loud about how some of our lifestyles in the suburbs. The problem that I have found in reading posts by others on similar subjects and by writing my own is that they tend to come across as self-righteous. This one will likely be no different – but I hope despite my best efforts in avoiding that, we’ll have some worthy things to consider.
In full disclosure, I am writing this post wearing TOMS (botas!), and no, they were not free (in exchange for posting this). I’m also wearing a sweater I bought a few years ago from the clearance section of the Banana Republic. It may have been practically free. And while I don’t actually own Se7en jeans, I was thinking of running out right now to get a pair for the integrity of this post. I do however have a closetful of stuff and I do remember being “convicted” by Ed Norton’s character in Fight Club after his condo was blown up and all of his possessions being destroyed. That stuff owned him. This stuff owns me …?
And so I find myself wondering …
Can one blog about poverty on a Macbook while sitting in the suburbs?
Can one wear an Invisible Children bracelet with a Swiss Army watch?
Can one wear $100 jeans with TOMS Shoes?
What should we wear? What should we drive? Where should we live? What should we consume? What shouldn’t we …? Yesterday’s post was concerned with “mercy/mission wear” which raised the question, “Are we bragging about our good works when we wear these things?” and “Would Jesus wear these types of shirts?”
But this conversation goes beyond what what we wear and what we say/tweet/post about. It’s also about how we spend our money, share our resources, it asks how generously and sacrificially are we really living? And how/what we’re not.
I’m a fan of people like Shane Claiborne, Julie Clawson, The Samsons, The Sines, among others. Some of my friends and I have been influenced by their lifestyle choices. Prior to moving to MA, we’d talk about such things quite regularly. I like to think that we sharpened each other, brought balance to one another, encouraged, and challenged one another. But still, I felt no guilt when I shopped at the GAP – because I wanted to “support” my other friends. So there’s some gray here and some interesting scenarios.
For instance, I’m not sure I can handle seeing Shane Claiborne getting out of his BMW but I wouldn’t think twice seeing NT Wright get out of one (warning, comments making fun of NTW will be deleted and you will get a series of “Simply Texts/Voicemails” chastising you). Yet I have heard/seen both show great compassion for those in need.
I’m not sure it makes sense for Julie Clawson to write a book called, Almost Everyday Justice or Justice Sometimes … You Know, When It’s Convenient.
I also know that many have too much. I know that the chasing of the “American Dream” and though no one admits to being guilty of it, “Keeping up with Jones'” not only increases debt, but it takes up resources (not just money, but time and energy as well) that could be given away to those in need. It’s filled with other shortcomings as well which I hope to be discuss elsewhere.
What I know …
Too much legalism and jealousy exist in this conversation (myself included). It not only hinders creating community but negates the freedom in Christ that the New Testament teaches. We should work on this.
We need to be more generous and sacrificial.
There are some great examples of missional living. People like the Samsons and the Sines (and the aforementioned Claibornes and Clawsons) talk about this way of life as a calling.
Each of us as families and individuals need to find their own calling.
May God convict us of our vanities and may He give us grace as we love Him and serve others.
If you’d like to learn more about this conversation, let me recommend the following books and sites:
Julie Clawson – Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices is filled with practical insights as well as a great starter for this topic. She also blogs at One Hand Clapping. Probably my favorite on the list. I may not land where Julie lands but I certainly find myself thinking about her thoughts quite a bit.
Will Samson – Enough – Contentment in an Age of Excess I think most can relate.
Shane Claiborne’s – The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Among the more interesting personalities you will meet in the journey of life. He doesn’t blog but if you google him, there’s a lot out there.
Tom Sine’s New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time is a pretty solid and deep read.
As always, your thoughts are welcomed.