Life with Jesus / Social Justice

Consumerism: A Conversation with God

God: Hey there, sister. How you doin?

Beth: Well, this hasn’t been the best day. I should have listened to Alex when he told me not to read the Kindle in the bathtub. They’re skinny but those things pack a serious punch… Am I dead?

No, you’re not dead. Just temporarily knocked out for a bit. You know, I could have thrown a law about not bathing with electronic devices into Leviticus but you know those Israelites, the attention span of fleas, I tell you. Kind of like someone else I created… Anyway, down to business. While you’re here, you might as well figure out one of life’s mysteries. What’s your question?

Ooh. Okay. Uh…JFK! No, is the Earth hollow?  No! I know. I want you to tell me about someone that I’ve made an impact on. I want to know how my actions have affected someone.

Are you sure?

Uh, yeah, God. I’m pretty sure. Who wouldn’t want to hear cool stories about their life?

Don’t sass me, Wise, or I’ll make you sit in the Kenny G room for a few millennia or I’ll send you back to Earth now where you can hear Alex gripe at you about electrocuting yourself and also for drowning his Kindle. He told you so.

Oy, sorry. Carry on.

Okay, so you want to know about someone who has been impacted by your life. Hmmmmm. Let me find a good one. Oh, here it is. Do you recognize this person?

No. Let’s see- a Chinese woman. Hmmm. Was she one of our UTD students? Wait! Did we give some money to an organization that gave her a cow or something so she could support her family and live a happy life?

Not exactly. You’ve never met her before. Her name is Yue. She grew up in a lower class family in the outskirts of a big city in China. Her parents were unable to pay for her to continue her education so she needed to find a job. Desperate for work and still only a child, she took the first job she could get, which was at a factory that made pieces for Dell. You know Dell, like the company that made the laptop you use to blog. Unfortunately, Dell, like virtually all of the major corporations was taking advantage of China’s lax labor laws. Yue has to work incredibly long hours, where she had to stand, with no breaks, no ventilation. At the end of the week, her paycheck is not enough to cover even rent or food. Because she works all the time, she doesn’t have time to look for another job. She is virtually stuck.

That’s a really sad story, God, but I don’t know how it affects me. I don’t even know the lady. 

Well, you bought the laptop, didn’t you? If people stopped buying Dell laptops because their labor practices are unfair or demanded that Dell change their ways, then Dell would demand that their suppliers treat their employees better. Unfortunately, no one even cares to know this is happening and people just keep buying their things. Are you ready for another?

Um, well, not really. This isn’t as fun as I thought.

You asked. Here goes. How about this guy?

No. Was he an ESL student? I really don’t remember him.

Oh, you’ve never met him.

I haven’t?

His name is Sumon. He grew up in a poor village in Bangladesh. When he was able, he moved to the city to get a job so that he could support his entire extended family. The job market was very difficult for a poor, uneducated man so he ended up working in the garment district in a crowded factory. It was not safe to work there; the workers worked long hours for very little pay. He was unable to even support himself, much less his family. Just a few weeks ago, a fire started in the building because it had not been brought up to code.  There were so many people inside that they couldn’t all get out and 112 workers ended up dying. Sumon was one of them.

Okay, what now? What do I have to do with this?

Tell me about where you shop for clothes.

Hmmmm. Old Navy has really cute things. And they’re at a price that I like so I shop there a lot.

Did you know that The Gap, who owns Old Navy and Banana Republic, along with Wal-Mart, Sears, and a whole other host of companies used that factory? Did you know that they refused to pay to have it brought up to current safety standards?

Well, no, I didn’t. But you know those big companies, God; they keep things really close to the chest. How am I supposed to know where they get their clothes from?

All you had to do was google it, sister, and you would have seen that in 2010, the exact same thing happened in another Gap factory . In fact, almost every place that you’ve bought clothes from has historically mistreated foreign workers.

Really? How am I supposed to know that? What am I supposed to do about it? What’s my responsibility? Shouldn’t you be lecturing the CEO of those companies?

Oh, they’ll get a lecture too, but you’re here now. By buying their wares, you’re complicit in their oppression.

Tell me, Beth. Why couldn’t you research companies that make clothes ethically? Why couldn’t you only spend your money when you know that it’s going to companies that give a fair living wage to their employees?

Oh, don’t even get me started. Do you know how much time all that research would take? Gosh, it would take hours. Not to mention the fact that probably NONE of the companies I investigated would come up as morally or ethically or environmentally conscious, which means all that research would go to waste and I wouldn’t be able to buy anything. AND, the prices, Lord. How could I afford to buy those expensive clothes that were made fair trade or in America? How would you expect me to afford all that?

Tell me. Would you want someone to do the same for you if it was YOU who were the laborer? Wouldn’t you want people to know what was happening to you and to do something about it? Wouldn’t you want people to stand up for you, even if it meant that they would have to pay more and buy less? What if it was your daughter? It very well could be, since labor practices in Thailand are just as questionable as other places.

Well, that’s kind of a shock. I didn’t really think of it that way…

Do you I think I gave the “Love your neighbor as yourself” command lightly? I didn’t say, “Love your neighbor when it’s convenient or when it’s in your best interest”. Guess what? Loving your neighbor sucks sometimes. It’s going to cause discomfort, inconvenience. Loving your neighbor is going to come at a price. You live in a global world, where almost everything, including your small purchases, impacts people on the other side of the planet. In essence, everyone is your neighbor. You say that you love the poor and the down trodden, but you support their oppressors every time you go shopping because it’s cheaper and more convenient for you.

You were born into privilege. I know your parents didn’t own a yacht and you didn’t get to sit at home sipping on spritzers all day but you had it better than 98% of the world. 98%! You don’t think about it because you’re only seeing the Bill Gates and the movie stars. Even people at the poverty line in America live better than 86% of the world’s population. You and the rest of your society spend your wealth on things that you didn’t need, that you throw away, that you never wear, that end up broken or donated. These are things that your global neighbors are giving their lives for- so that you can have a shirt that costs $7 instead of $12 or a toothbrush for a dollar.

I know you’re right. It is pretty hard not to be a part of our consumeristic system; to not buy things; to not participate in all of that.

I asked you to be in the world, but not of the world. The bottom line is: You spend your money like the world does. I know it’s not fun to think about, but I warned you. My buddy James said it best in his most famous letter (commonly found in my Book):

5verse 1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

You see, Beth, you live in a different society so you don’t have laborers or harversters living in your backyard, but they’re still there. Still laboring. Still getting short-changed so that rich people can have things they don’t need. Long story short: you buy crap you didn’t need at the expense of others. People with money have been doing it since forever.

You live in a society of Veruca Salts who pitch a fit when they don’t get what they want for the price that they’ve decided to pay with a bunch of multinational corporate daddies who are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure Veruca is shelling out the cash, even if it means punching the kid next to her in the face and taking their dignity and livliehood. If you’re waiting on companies to do the right thing on their own, then you’ll wait forever. Their only concern is money. All they see when they look at you is a wallet; the people that manufacture their goods are just a means to an end.

God, I repent of my free-wheelin’ ways. I didn’t realize that my purchase were affecting others this way. Where do I go from here?

Short term: Buy fair trade when you can. Buy American since the US has some semblance of labor laws. Buy used, since that’s not putting any more money into the global system. The biggie though is buy less. You don’t need 80% of what you purchase anyway. That money could go to better things. Long term: Do your research. Not all corporations are bad, but it will take some time for you to do you due diligence before you can be assured that they’re treating people fairly.

You cannot pretend to bury your head in the sand any longer. It’s time for you to take a stand; to take responsibility for your purchases. It’s time for you to demand justice for your global neighbors because I love them just as much as I love you.

I got it, God. I have to tell you though, I’m scared. This is weird. Shopping is like a pasttime in America. It’s what women do to socialize. This means I’m going to have to get creative with my gift giving. It’s radical, but I know it’s the right thing to do.

When I walked the Earth, I was radical. Spending your money wisely and justly is a natural extension of My Love. It’s in the Bible quite alot, but the verses sometimes get ignored because, well, who wants to be told that they can’t buy things they want?

You see, my buddy Paul said in his letter to the Hebrews, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'” I said that and I still mean it today. I will take care of your needs, if you just give me the chance.

It’s time for me to send you back. Alex just passed out from stress in the ambulance.

I love you, my child. This won’t be easy, but it’s right.

_______________________________________________________________

Matthew 6

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 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? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

1 Timothy 6

7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Luke 12

15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Isaiah 55

2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of
fare.

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