radical

Originally published on my fair trade blog, Style Wise:

———

shopping addiction

radical : of, relating to, or proceeding from a root

I started this blog with a specific reader in mind. I wanted to encourage young women – my peers – who were already reading personal style blogs to take an interest in a more thoughtful approach to consumption. Although it wasn’t fully parsed out, I knew that simply buying better wasn’t an end to the moral journey. But it’s a lot more fun to talk about etsy and charity-minded start ups than to talk about frugality or to address the dark, addictive underbelly of shopping.

But the more I think about morality as it pertains to consumption, the more I realize that I need to buy less altogether. 

It’s important, of course, to realize on a superficial level that we bring more to the table than our curated closets and styling capabilities. But it’s immensely difficult to let that sink in, and to actually change our habits.

I assume that my readers come from a place similar to my own. I grew up (upper) middle class and, while my parents emphasized budgeting and saving, I experienced no real financial strain. Influenced by my grandmother’s sales rack obsession, I seemed to intuitively justify buying anything and everything as long as it was on sale. I liked the rush and the hunt of a good deal.

Later in college, just introduced to personal style blogs that emphasized the importance of investment and statement pieces, I replaced my sales-only paradigm with a boring, preppy basics only framework. And then, when I realized everything I owned was boring, I went crazy with prints. And the cycle continues. But the consistent result of each new set of guidelines is that it encourages me to search and spend like the addict that I am until I’m nauseated by my own materialism.

The point is that the real problem is bigger than poor labor regulations. It’s more than carelessness. It’s the addiction to new and better and cheaper. It’s the haul videos and constant self advertising and attempts to be brand ambassadors. It’s the thoughtlessness and vanity of it.

We need to spend less. I have to tell myself that, too: I need to spend less. And I need to focus less on what I can get my grubby, greedy hands on. And it’s at once ridiculous and terrible that it’s so hard for me to do.

Of course, buying ethically is a great idea. And buying things in general is fun and sometimes even necessary. But the mission of this blog is only a little better than its non-fair trade counterparts if it fails to acknowledge that maybe there’s something wrong with the whole system, that maybe buying ethically opens up a can of worms that causes us to reassess our spending habits at their root.

I’m beginning to see this process as a gradual (at times painful) journey to better, more thoughtful living in all areas of my life. The growing pains are in full swing, but I believe I’ll come out better on the other side. The important thing is not to give up – I’ve wanted so badly lately to give it all up. But I see that the fair trade mission is bigger than my aches and moans and will power, and if I can’t will myself to sprint ahead, I can at least resign myself to it – and keep pressing on.

For additional reading on this topic, see my homily here

*image source: by SnowMika leírása

Advertisements

March 3 Homily

I was asked to do the homily for March 3rd’s evening service at the church I attend here in Charlottesville. Now that it’s done (and I managed not to faint or run away from the podium), I thought I’d share it here. 

moses and the burning bush

Readings: Exodus 3:1-15, Luke 13:1-9

In today’s biblical texts, we can trace a clear progression. It has to do with human responsibility. But it’s not an obligation we place on ourselves. It’s one God has compelled us toward since his first meeting with Moses in the burning bush and maybe even before.

It’s a responsibility to personal growth that turns to action.

The Exodus passage begins with Moses going about his daily tasks. In the Old Testament’s typically understated fashion, the text tells us that Moses is suddenly quite curious about a burning bush that is not consumed: “I must turn aside and look at this great sight.”

The commentary in the New Oxford Annotated Bible notes that the motif of Divine Fire is common in this period and that it: “arouses dread, for divine holiness is experienced as a mysterious power that threatens human existence.”

So we can assume that Moses approaches with some understanding of what he’s seeing. When God tells him, “You will set your people free,” he doesn’t need to waste time figuring out if it’s God; he doesn’t doubt. He knows.

And he is so in awe of the Divine that he is afraid to look at God.

Though many of us have heard this passage before, it struck me this time in that it shows an incredible measure of trust on God’s part. Though he has seen the pain and struggle of his people himself, though he has the power to show himself in a bush that isn’t consumed, he tells Moses that HE will do it. God, knowing that perhaps he is unsuitable to act as liaison to Pharaoh considering a general “DREAD” of the Divine, in a sense needs a human to implement his plan. And Moses doesn’t seem to be a random choice. He is the right person for the job.

The first step we take in living within God’s will is one we don’t take at all. It’s an acceptance to let the blazing fire – the passion – of God be kindled in us and the moral diligence to not let it be consumed by doubt, apathy, worry, or self absorption. It’s also the confidence that this passion will lead us forward in ways that suit us, even if not in ways that make us feel comfortable.

And that brings us to Luke.

In the first part of chapter 13, Jesus addresses our human tendency to turn a blind eye to those we perceive as the Other. He confronts a bias born of privilege, one that states that My life is good because I’m a good person and gets reiterated every time someone other than us or our loved ones suffer.

Jesus extends the work of his father in Exodus, who insisted that mere humans feel the passion of his people’s pain and DO SOMETHING about it. He says, “unless you repent you will all perish as they did.”

You’re not better. You’re not more righteous. You got out for now, but you have to do something with that.

His parable ties it all together. God expects great things from us, but we’re just as led astray as a sterile fig tree. Jesus comes to us with grace. He gives us a second chance. He opens our eyes by coming not in the form of a burning bush that makes us turn away, but in the recognizable, comforting form of our own species. It had become clear that we were too consumed in fear to be consumed in God’s loving justice, so God became one of us to show us we could succeed. We see Christ and his mission and we don’t have to turn away – we can embrace it.

God came first with passion, with fury and movement and an impatient drive to protect his people. And he let one of us in. He gave us the power to do something and the motivation to do it. But, just like the disciples and Jesus’ listening crowds, we got lost again in our own concerns. And we saw suffering and only felt lucky not to be suffering, too. And we repeat the cycle daily.

But we aren’t better. We aren’t better because we’re Americans or Episcopalians or Liberals or Conservatives or Charlottesvillians or UVA students. We see suffering and do nothing. We aggressively consume products presented to us through slave labor – we ignore the bullying, prejudice, and apathy in our own communities and in our own hearts – and we consume ourselves in the process of curating and collecting things and experiences, gluttons to our wants. And we think it’s ok because we’ve told ourselves other people are worse than us. All the while, the burning fire God presented us with is burning out.

We know through today’s texts that we are no better than anyone else. We all come to this life as equals in both merit and guilt. We need this humility to see suffering and empathize with it. We also learn through Moses that God shows us suffering in the places where we have influence, where we can take action.

For instance, our lives as consumers have the power to change or destroy lives. Human beings – people like us – suffer long hours, poor wages, and poor working conditions in the futile attempt to make ends meet at the hands of American corporations fueled by American consumers. Instead of feeling lucky to be here, we should recognize that we aren’t better, that we are the same. And once that hits us, we should realize that WE have the collective power – and the moral obligation through the Bible’s teachings – to make changes to set the suffering free. We can only liberate ourselves when we liberate others.

If we shut down from the important moral responsibilities laid out before us, we deserve to perish. But we’re given a second chance because Jesus believes in us, believes that with a little prodding, we can bear fruit again, and stands by us as we turn away, as we deflate our egos, as we press on to equality and progress.

As Christians, we are tasked to do something with the fire of God in front of us, and through Christ, we can face it head-on and not turn away. We are commanded to “turn aside [from the things that distract us] and look at this great sight” of suffering on earth and change our habits, our minds, our hearts. To set the slaves of unethical values, consumption, trafficking, patriarchy, hatred, and false conceptions of God free. We can only do that if we see that we are all the same, and that God is with us as we move toward equality under the banner of Christ’s grace and love.

I encourage you to assess your values and priorities during the remainder of the Lenten season and to make positive, visible, DIFFICULT changes in your own life.

Image source: Illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us

on living honestly

gandhi quoteI’ve been burdened by the sentiment above for the past several months. On my old blog, I started a goal called The Secondhand Year whose guidelines demanded I buy as many material goods as possible on the secondhand market instead of buying into an unethical, international fast fashion market. I struggled with it. I excused myself by it. I succeeded and failed in equal measure. But I can’t give it up.

I not only believe but know that it is immoral to participate in our consumerist culture in full knowledge that I contribute to darkness and suffering. When I purchase a garment from Kohl’s or Sears or Forever 21, I implicitly shout that I am ok with treating people who work at their garment factories like crap, that I am ok with the fact that they don’t make enough to give their children better futures, that they consider suicide a viable option, that they could very easily die for the cause of producing cheap garments at less than a liveable wage for gluttonous Americans. We must look like devils to them, absorbed in our coveting and spending and hoarding. We freaking shoot people on Black Friday to buy the products they slaved over at low, low prices without a second thought about their well being.

I’m being dishonest if I toss and turn over this reality and promote its demise but continue to buy into it. Shopping is the thorn in my flesh. I may fight against its flirting gaze for the rest of my life. But I have to keep fighting.