by Jo Kadlecek
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
Sometimes I envy them, those friends who seem to have so much fun . . . shopping. They enter stores like curators in search of a singular work of art, something that pops with colour and patterns and texture. They laugh and high five each other whenever a treasure has been found. And I watch, from a distance, an alien species in a world of malls.
I don’t understand their joy. Shopping for me is like preparing for battle, more like combat than jubilant conquest.
I know I should be grateful for God’s good provisions, and deep in my bones, I am. But every time I walk into a shop,I have to gear up. I swallow nervously as I face the rows of choices around me and fret over the history of each piece, the hundreds of hands in the chain to get them here. Then I go numb and the internal wrestling begins:
‘Who made this shirt? Were they exploited? Do I really need to buy this or that—or anything ever again? Who sets the prices of these jeans and how did they become such hot commodities? Why are these shoes so expensive and where in the world was the factory that stitched them together? Were the workers safe? Could they feed their families that week? Do these even look good on me? Stylish? Hip? Because for the price of said jeans or shoes, those workers should have had groceries for weeks but what if . . . how come . . . should I . . . God, help.’
He does. I breathe. I get my bearings and remember that shopping is not inherently evil.
But today’s shopping carts come loaded with ethical questions. And for the follower of Jesus, they should, especially if we live and work in a western culture where advertising parades the virtue of finding a good deal, often at the expense of the poor.
So every time we enter a shop and pick up a thing, or whip out our smart phone to buy it, let’s welcome some discomfort and hard decisions. Both lead to serious reflection.
Here’s why: millions of people in Bangladesh for instance—where many of today’s garment factories produce some of the world’s most recognised brands—barely avoid poverty. Last year, COVID-19 doubled the poverty rates there, and the number living in extreme poverty (less than $1.95 a day) tripled.
So what do I do when I turn over the tag on the cute skirt I’m holding and see “Made in Bangladesh”? Will buying this Bangladeshi skirt or that dress from Nepal reward an exploitative industry? Will not buying it mean garment workers lose precious jobs?
See the battle? It’s one of the mind as much as the heart when considering what to put on our bodies. It affects far more than our bank account.
So what’s the solution? We can’t turn off our brains whenever we step into a mall (I’ve tried), but we also can’t get swept up in the consumer frenzy. Christians are called instead to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, and not conform to the patterns of this world but be transformed by renewing our minds (Romans 12: 1-12). That’s our true worship.
So we renew our minds with God’s truths, and we wrestle while we still live in this world. We don’t retreat or avoid shops all together or ignore the reality that we actually do need to wear clothes.
And we can pause when a thousand choices confront us. We can call on the Giver of all Good Gifts (James 1:17) to help us, to give us wisdom when we actually do need to buy something. Does it fit our budget? Did we plan ahead? Is this impulsive?
Is it ethically made and how do we know?
There are lots of good tools to see if something aligns with our values. One is the Ethical Fashion Report, published annually since 2013 as part of the global ministry where I work, Baptist World Aid Australia. My colleagues monitor brands and supply chains to ensure workers are paid fairly and treated justly in the process, from those who harvest raw materials to stitching to shipping to arriving in a store. They then measure each company and grade the brand, from Adidas (A+) to Vanity Fair (D) and then some.
It’s a helpful resource when rifling through the dress rack. We can check the site on our phones or download the Guide to make sure our purchase expresses our love for God and our love for our global neighbours.
We can also turn to the truth of scripture. Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:26-33) put both the clothing and shopping challenge in perspective:
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
When we seek first his kingdom, we remember that the money in our accounts is his anyway. When we seek first his kingdom, we learn to care for the things that Jesus cares for, and we begin to pray for just working conditions and equitable systems so that all people might have access to the fullness of life God desires.
When we seek first his kingdom, we remember that Jesus became poor for our sake, so that we might take hold of the ‘life that is truly life’ (1Timothy 6:17-19). Our real treasure, then, is not something that hangs in the closet, as much as we may love that skirt. Our true treasure is a Presence more real and sure than the battle of choices we might face shopping. It’s a peace that passes all understanding, no matter what shoes we have on.
Jo Kadlecek is an author and teacher and currently serves as the communication manager at Baptist World Aid Australia. She lives with her husband and dog in Sydney, Australia, and can’t remember the last time she bought a new coat.
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