Thursday, November 19, 2009

How I Spend My Money: How Far is Far Enough?

A little background for those not in my small group: we're reading The Divine Commodity by Skye Jethani in our small group lately, a book that takes a serious look at the impact of consumer culture on modern Christianity (I know, I just totally ruined it by posting the Amazon listing, LOL!)
Anyway, I was reading this week's chapter this afternoon (cutting it a little close since we're all meeting to discuss in about two hours), and it got me to thinking about where we should draw the line when it comes to identifying ourselves by how we spend our money. This week's chapter was (roughly) about brand-as-identity and Christian products being used to identify ourselves as a Christian, rather than acts of faith and love. I totally get how it can be a subtle trap to allow our clothes to speak for us to the extent that we miss out on opportunities to witness because we've become lazy. However, this chapter got me thinking about a common (or maybe not?) saying I've heard almost ever since I became a Christian at sixteen years old, and which has probably features in every "tithing sermon" I've witnessed: "Does the way you spend your money reflect your beliefs?"
Now I know well-meaning pastors who use this one are probably just trying to get us to take a second look at our budget and reevaluate in favor of supporting missions and etc. But it really stuck in my mind this afternoon. Should we even be focused on the way we spend our money when there are so many more important things out there that we're neglecting? And what about the ways we don't spend our money? I know, I know, in all areas we should work as if working for God and so on... but the question stands.
Earlier in the book, the author described a trip he took to a foreign country where a local missionary took him on a tour of the local "sweatshop graveyard" where American clothing companies would rent out a factory and hire thousands of workers for a year or two, mass-produce tons of closing, then simply close up shop, laying off all those people to fend for themselves, jobless and desperate. Then he went on to describe the teens he often stood behind in mall stores, who grabbed items off the racks, items usually made in those countries, probably tired hands in sweatshops. I got a vague feeling of unrest reading that.
The fact is, I buy most of my clothes at Walmart or Target. Any conscientious or human-rights-advocating consumer might smack me over the head for that, but I honestly can't afford anything else! If it's not there, it's at the thrift store, whhere, again, most of the cast-off clothing that lines the racks was probably made in not-so-great environments in other countries where companies can get away with treating people as means to an end. And you know what else (this is a guilty point every time I eat dinner with the lady in my small group who is a bird scientist)? I eat non-organically grown eggs. I also eat chicken and beef that aren't guaranteed organic and animal-friendly. I buy cleaning products whose packaging-- for all I know-- will take until the time my lineage has petered out to decompose.
Point being, I know full well that my spending habits don't glorify God, either by what I buy or don't buy-- at least not as much as they should. Oh, I try to avoid dirty movies and music, and shun any clothing that's immodest or advertises bad stuff (or anything for that matter-- I have a personal vendetta against advertising things on my torso, to which I make an exception only if that thing is both very comfy and very cheap or free). But when it comes to getting so conscientious about the things I'm spending money on and the local and/or global effects of my personal consumerism, I have one major problem: I can't afford it!
Compared to the bulk eggs I can get at Sam's Club (and we go through eggs as regularly as toilet paper), organically grown eggs would cost me a fortune (a fortune much better spent buying things like milk, cheese, butter, fruit, and my non-organically-grown meat products). To be honest, I would love to be able to buy organic foods-- I love the concept of injecting less chemicals and fertilizers and random ingredients into the things I ingest-- but sadly, I just can't afford it.
And the worst part about that is that I feel guilty. What if God himself is looking down upon the poor over-crowded chickens and jobless foreign textile workers I've wronged with my thoughtless cheapskatism and frowning? Is he flipping to the places in his word that speak about being good stewards and treating others with love and giving me a big fat F in his divine red felt pen?
But then I think about the message of this book and I wonder: wait a minute! Am I taking the consumerism thing too far the other way now? Shouldn't I be more concerned about how I'm living than what I'm buying? Or shouldn't I? I'm really mulling over this. What do you think? When it comes to how we use our financial resources to glorify God, how far do you think is far enough? And how far-- in either direction-- is too far?
** In other news, Joanna slept a full hour and a half today! Woohoo!**

3 comments:

  1. Hmmm, you've posed some pretty thought-provoking questions today. I hope your nap helped unravel some answers for you. :) I think in all things, there is a balance. You can become so guilt-ridden that you can't enjoy the good things you DO have in life and I don't think that's a healthy thing. Your point about being concerned about how we live as opposed to what we buy is a valid one...not that one excludes the other, but in the big scheme of things....it outweighs whether or not you buy organic eggs.

    FYI I hardly ever buy organic stuff and shop the discount stores because I'm trying to be a good steward of my very limited resources. I feel pretty fine about that....don't know if that helps but at least you know you are not alone!

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  2. I am with you! I would love to eat organic and buy more carefully, but we can only live within our means and it doesn't include high priced foods and clothing. I have gone through stages of guilt, but I really think God is more concerned with our heart and our attitude than if we are buying the feel good thing of the season. Organic, home grown is the "hot topic" right now, but the fact is, being a good steward goes far deeper than that!

    Glad you got some rest today! Happy Thanksgiving!

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  3. Nice post. you can tell a lot about who we are by how we spend your money. we should put God first in our spending(tithe). then we are to spend, gratefully, within our means. this means having a budget. yes i would love to afford organic food but we buy what we can afford. with the 5 of us, walmart helps us survive.

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