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Rethinking Consumerism

Rethinking ConsumerismLast week I was determined to write a blog about community and gathering places. It would start hinting at the larger plans I had.  I started many different drafts.  They weren’t right.  I wasn’t happy with them.  I felt a tug that said there was something else that needed to be said.

This stage of life and journey I have started is a bit scary.  I quit a paying job to blog and start my own business.  I have never not had a regular pay check. We are blessed that the husband has a great job that can support us as I venture out into this dream.  But it still means there must be changes.  I sure thought we lived pretty simply until we had to tighten up the budget.  I started finding things I thought I wasn’t attached to, but apparently I am.  At the same time I feel so much peace. This was the right thing to do.

Yeah, maybe we won’t go out as much and there isn’t a security net like there was. Those things don’t define me and I don’t want them to define a successful life. I don’t want to be ruled by stuff.

We are surrounded by consumerism in America.  We need to upgrade phones, we need cable, we need a new car and house. And – for the love – how can we live without Amazon Prime?  Happiness and self-worth are currently being defined by what we have or what we have accomplished. The kid is even getting in on this now (thank you commercials!).  His wish list of essential stuff is ever growing, and it depresses me.
I read about two things this week that have stuck with me, and so I thought I would share them with you. On Facebook last week I saw a great video about a boy who was teased because of his shoes.  His response is fantastic.  “I am not a material man” he says.  It isn’t about the shoes on your feet…they won’t fit you in 20 years.  This kid has it figured out.

Then, as I struggled about a post on community that wasn’t coming together I distracted myself on Facebook yet again.  Adventure God uses funny things to point you in the right direction… and this time it was my Facebook timeline reminding me of past memories.  Amidst the pictures and silly things was a quote I posted from Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma.  

“What if the consumerism that plagues our churches—that plagues our hearts—could begin to transform into compassion? I want my kids’ hearts to break for things that matter” (pg 135)

If you haven’t read this book yet, do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy.  So good!  . The call to live and die for better things has been an inspiration for me and this blog and the book provides concrete ways to think about living a life of impact.  My biggest concern is that the kid doesn’t care about others and things that really matter and is focused on stuff.  I want to raise a generous and thoughtful kid, but ultimately it starts with me.

I can be easily distracted by sales and keeping up, but my heart wants something greater and knows those things aren’t the key to happiness.  How can we develop a community of people that value compassion and justice over things?  How can we develop a theology of gratitude instead of consumption?  As I re-read the chapter on consumerism Wystma continued:

“If we don’t stem the tide of consumerism, if we fail to teach empathy and gratitude, our kids will continue to think that suffering is ‘gross’ rather than tragic, or stupid rather than heartbreaking” pg 134.

Wystma tells a story in this chapter about a pastor from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) going to his daughter’s school to talk.  The kids asked him about his clothes, what food they ate and whether or not he had a PlayStation.  The kids were aghast that he didn’t have more than one set of clothes and no PlayStation.  Television and culture tells us (and our kids) that who you are is about what you have.

The kids didn’t know that  the DRC is one of the largest suppliers of coltan which is used to produce key components in many electronic devices.  In 2000 when PlayStation was officially launched in the United States, warlords in the DRC took advantage and took over mines and forced men, women and children to work them.  To make our PlayStations (that advertisements tell you that you must have) and other devices. Wystma notes that it is not just about PlayStation, however:  any popular electronic device would have done the same thing (Wystma, p. 127).

The stuff we buy has a story beyond what its market-researched suggestive packaging tell us.  Our stuff has a human cost.  I am worried about tightening my budget while children are being forced to work in mines and factories to make that phone I have convinced myself I need.  I mean, how could I function without my phone?  What do we value?  Do we really need to replace our car or phone?  Is our stuff really worn out?  Are we certain that the things we are buying aren’t contributing to harm in someone else’s story?  Forced labor and trafficking happen all over the world for the things that we love. There is a reason that shirt is so cheap.  Check out the list of goods produced by child labor.

Can we refocus the time and energy we devote in the pursuit of consumerism and stuff for better things?

When we talk about living a life of impact, it can be as simple as harnessing your purchasing power for good. I have a dream of building community that cares less about stuff and more about compassion and life.  Business has a role to play here too.  We live in a consumer capitalist culture, but we can vote with our dollar.  I am not saying stop buying things.  But can we be more intentional with what we buy? Can we shift our priorities? These are everyday activities that demonstrate our commitment to social justice.

While I am passionate about becoming and creating ethical consumers I acknowledge that making informed ethical choices isn’t always easy. When budgets are tight we must make choices. The issues of trafficking, exploitation and human cost are so huge that we need the work of businesses and non-profits to clean up the supply chain. But impact starts with a demand from consumers.

Will you join me in doing what we can: experimenting in becoming ethical consumers?  Maybe it just starts with knowledge and researching by discovering your slavery footprint.  We can’t change everything at once, but I believe Adventure God wants to change our hearts to care more about people and less about stuff. Stuff won’t make us happy for long  (we can’t take it with us, after all).

Now it’s your turn!  Comment, share and tell your story of experiments in teaching gratitude, everyday justice and simple living through ethical purchasing.

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Categories: Consumerism, Create Impact, Fair Trade

About Callie Unruh

I am an passionate wife, mother, wanna be radical, aspiring entrepreneur and recovering evangelical. I am working to create a life of impact in the suburbs of Phoenix and enjoy gardening, hiking and being outside.

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