Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Stop Shopping!

I know that I'm told it's my patriotic duty to shop. I know that I'm told 'the terrorists win' if we don't keep the fuels of the economy burning. I know that people's livelihoods are ostensibly at stake if I don't get into the malls today and buy all things that, prior to today, I've lived without but which will undoubtedly make my life so much fuller and richer as soon as I purchase them.

And yet I'm not buying anything today, except perhaps food. I'm trying to make a statement that there is an alternative view to the patriotic shopping and the paranoia of what will happen to the world if we don't buy things we don't need. Our addiction to things has a pretty dark underbelly:

1. our things pollute the earth, both in the production, their use, and their demise. If you still the earth is doing fine while we pump carbon into the air, you're living in a dreamland. One person writes, on the Buy Nothing Day website: Driving hybrid cars and limiting industrial emissions is great‚ but they are band–aid solutions if we don’t address the core problem: we have to consume less. This is the message of Buy Nothing Day

2. while we max credit cards to buy things we don't need, the majority of the world lives in abject poverty. Wouldn't it be more fun, and more meaningful, to invest our wealth in alleviating poverty, both locally and globally. In fact, why not go crazy, and contribute to a water project in Africa this Christmas instead of buying stuff. The growing gap between the rich and the poor is, according to Jimmy Carter and many others, the largest problem on earth. And of course, let's not forget that caring for the poor was the one thing that the apostle held dear as a practical expression of the gospel.

3. the economic model upon which we all depend is, if the truth be told, unsustainable. If you must buy something, maybe invest in a book like Deep Economy, and ponder how we can, both individually, nationally, and locally, change our ways, and what you can do to contribute to that.

4. it's a pity that our shopping habits, and the retailers frenzy to be 'first' now has shops opening at midnight. You're pie not yet digested, you propel yourself into the mall to save $50 on your new flat screen. Wouldn't it be nicer if everyone got enough sleep?

I don't want to sound self-righteous. I'm going to the movies today to watch a prince escape cartoon land, and live out his adventures in New York City. Consumption isn't a zero sum, all or nothing game. It's also not invitation to guilt or stoicism. Rather, it's worth considering, as Chesterton writes, that thrift is joyful, creative, better for the environment, and leads to opportunities to live generously. This is what he says: "Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic than extravagance...thrift is poetic because it is creative; waste is unpoetic because it is waste...if a man could undertake to make use of all the things in his dustbin, he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare." --Such living is of course, closer to the spirit of the Jesus whose coming we're intending to celebrate!

Is there anyone else planning a less consumerist Christmas?

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At 23/11/07 12:36, Anonymous Anonymous said...

isn't going to the movies considered purchasing a product/service on the day that you say you aren't partaking in the consumerist society?

last time i checked, a movie wasn't considered an edible substance which is what you are saying is the only thing you will purchase today.

At 23/11/07 15:35, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

sure... going to the movies is consuming. And last time I checked, I declared in my post that I was going to the movies today.

At 23/11/07 21:22, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes! We have decided to cut back on buying "stuff" for Christmas. Two years ago we put in a request to our extended family to draw names for gifts so each person only has to buy one gift. Then as families, we donate money to buy items from the World Vision catolog or misquito nets from Compassion Intl. We love the simplicity that now comes with Christmas and we actually get to enjoy the season without the stress of shopping and consuming more than we need. And in that light, we didn't shop today either.

At 24/11/07 16:30, Blogger Lynnea said...

I appreciated your post. It's challenging to live in this culture of mass consumption, whether it be consuming materials or entertainment. You might enjoy The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne...he warns us of living "detached lives of socially responsible but comfortable consumption" (p. 161). I too avoided the stores but hit the box office, so that makes two of us. At least I borrowed the book! :)

At 25/11/07 10:06, Blogger Roy said...

Our family has always drawn names for Christmas so I've been fortunate enough to not have that expected pressure to buy a lot of crap around the holidays. My close friends and I always get together for a meal around the holidays and that is how we celebrate together. I'm not sure my lack of consumerism around Christmas is necessarily a virtue as much as it is a habit and in some ways a relief. Crowds stress me out, the last place I would want to be on the day after Thanksgiving is in a store. So, yeah, I'm thumbs up for Buy Nothing Days! Maybe there should be a Buy Nothing Day once a week instead of once a year.

At 25/11/07 16:28, Anonymous Tom Lane said...

What started as a comment here ended up as a post on my blog. Click on my name above and look for the "Happy birthday, Zatchmo" post.

At 26/11/07 20:20, Anonymous Lisa said...

A few in my family have begun to use the Heifer Int'l and World Vision catalogs for our Christmas shopping needs. When family members ask what I'd like I tell them that I have what I need but if they insist I offer them the names of a few favorite charities. I wish I could say that I came to this willingly but honestly it was a realization that I was living past my means while simultaneously having my own wealth put into a global perspective that finally guilted me into making a change. Now I enjoy a stressfree holiday season and feel good about every gift I give.

At 26/11/07 23:08, Blogger flyfisherbrad said...

I couldn't agree more with your post Richard. There's a similar movement that started last year among some churches in the Portland area. They made commitments to spend less, buy relational gifts, and give more with the difference. Between five churches, they raised nearly half a million dollars to put toward local community and clean water projects in Africa. You can check it out at

At 29/11/07 20:44, Blogger Shannon said...

I could not agree more. How Christmas evolved into the consumer nightmare that it has is beyond me. Only a few go against the grain..My buttons just burst in joy when I hear about churches like Imago Dei in Portland joining the movement to spend less and give more through Advent Conspiracy.

May we spend ourselves and not just our money...may we spend outselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed this advent season.


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