Archive for the ‘Acting Justly’ Category

My Kind of Materialism

In some ways, I can honestly say I am not very materialistic.  When I see huge houses or fancy cars, there is not the smallest part of me that would want one.  You could give me a huge house, but unless you also give me a maid service to clean that thing, I’m not interested!  And that’s just it:  stuff makes life more complicated, and I don’t need any extra complications in my life.  Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I live by spartan standards.  At the same time, though, I just don’t have an inner desire for a ton of stuff.  I don’t often think, “You know what would make this situation better?  Going out and buying something.”  Oh, and that might be a part of it, too:  I hate spending money.

It would be easy, then, to think of myself as non-materialistic.  But I’m really not.  I just have a different type of materialism:  instead of things, I like experiences.  It sounds better, doesn’t it?  When I seek experiences, I feel more like I’m embracing life instead of just amassing junk.

Here’s the thing, though:  experiences come with a price tag, too.

Case in point:  My mom spoils my kids like crazy.  It’s not always a bad thing, but during one of our visits this summer, I did talk to her about easing up on the random trips to Toys R Us with the kids.  I told her that if she wanted to spend money on them, why not take them to do something cool, rather than to buy something?  For example, what about the Georgia Aquarium?  Luke loves aquariums, and it would be a great learning opportunity for both him and Anna.  Mom readily agreed, and a few days later, we headed off for a day of fun at the aquarium.

Friends, can I tell you how much that day cost?  Now, my mom didn’t cut any corners, but let’s just say, she could have gone to Toys R Us every day for a week and not spent as much money as the aquarium cost!

Or take our experience last week during Thanksgiving break.  Luke was so excited to have three days off of school, and he was even more excited that his cousins were coming in town Wednesday morning.  When they couldn’t get on their flight, the kids were disappointed…and we suddenly had a huge, empty day in front of us.  We wanted to make the most of Luke’s vacation from school, and so we thought, “Why not go see the Muppets movie?”  The four of us hadn’t seen a movie in the theater in a long time, and Greg loved the Muppets growing up, so it seemed like a great family activity.  As a special treat, we even told the kids we’d get popcorn.

Yeah.  Bad idea.

The movie tickets cost us $34, and that was a matinee!  The popcorn was $8, and a small bottle of water was $4.75.  Holy.  Cow.  The cashier handed me my $13 popcorn-and-water combo, and asked if I wanted a receipt.  “Nope,” I said as I put my card back in my wallet, “I don’t want any record that this ever happened.”  Besides, believe me, when I go to do my budget, I’m not going to see $46.75 spent at Regal Cinemas and think, “Hmm, what was that?  Is Regal Cinemas some kind of charity I donate to?”  I will remember what that was.

While I stood at the concession counter, with my gargantuan container of popcorn and tiny bottle of water, apparently taken from the fountain of youth, I began to be afflicted with a curse that strikes me from time to time.  It is a curse I like to call, Knowing What the Bible Says.    Apparently, there is a little section of my brain that spends all of its time filing away inconvenient parts of Scripture and then spitting them back out at me at inopportune times.  Things like, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires,” or,  “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me,” or  “Among you, there must not even be a hint…”  You know what?  I’ll stop there.

Anyhow, my annoying, Bible-spitting brain chose this moment to offer up the Parable of the Talents.  You know the one:  the king gives his servants money and then comes back and judges them for how they use it.  The good servants make their money into more money,and the bad one just buries his in the ground.  We rightly interpret the message as pertaining to more than just money, but I think that money is definitely one of the resources to which it applies.  So anyway, here’s how the internal dialogue went from there:

Brain:  Parable of the Talents.  Think it over.

Me:  [Thinks]  Oh man, I’m not even burying my talent in the ground!  I’m squandering it on wild living, like the Prodigal Son!

Brain:  Hmm.  Something to think about.

Me:  Oh, come on!  I’m so sure the prodigal son spent his money on the moral equivalent of a Muppet movie.  This is family time!

Brain:  Family time for $50?  When your kids would have honestly been just as happy with renting a movie from Redbox and making some Pop Secret at home?

Me:  Going to the movies is not morally wrong.  Hush, brain.

Brain:  “From whom much is given, much is expected.”

Me:  Dang it!  I hate that verse.

This one is my brain’s trump card, and it reminds me of it regularly (again, usually at the most inopportune times).  If God’s expectations are proportional to the blessings He has given me, then, man…He expects A LOT out of me!

Anyway, I told my brain to shut it, and we went to see the movie.  It was pretty good, and we all had a pleasant enough time.  I do believe that building up your family and spending quality (and quantity) time with them is Kingdom work.  Even with that in mind, though, I’m not sure that our little movie-going experience would survive a cost-benefit analysis.  The cost was disproportionately high to the enjoyment we got out of it, especially considering the alternatives that would have been significantly cheaper and just as effective.

My movie angst, while a fascinating story in and of itself (tell me you weren’t riveted), is noteworthy because of the larger question it raised in my mind.  It is a question with which Greg and I wrestle very often:  how does God want us to use our resources?  I believe that God gives us everything we have in order to be used for His glory, and while there are no hard and fast rules precluding leisure time (have I mentioned how much I love watching movies?), I do believe that every expense we make as Christians has to be weighed in the light of eternity.  Maybe that sounds a little too deep…but I think that it’s true.  Greg and I even struggle with how much God would want us to spend on things that we know are good things–things like education for our kids or family time–when we have a sneaking suspicion that God would want us to do even better things, like helping His people who need it.  And honestly, I think that the struggle itself is good.  Maybe you are reading this and thinking that I completely overanalyzed the whole movie situation, and you might be right.  However, I tend to believe from reading the New Testament that if you are not wrestling with how you spend the resources that God has given you, then you may need to reexamine the gospel accounts.  Maybe it’s just me, but they kick my tail every time I read them!

In closing, I will share yet another quote that convicted me during the Muppets incident.  It is from C.S. Lewis, a man with whom I apparently have a passionate and tempestuous relationship (more to come, by the way).  Regarding the use of our resources for God’s kingdom, Lewis speculates:

“I do not believe that one can settle how much we ought to give.  I’m afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.  In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.  If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them.”

Based on those words, our movie experience would not have passed the Lewis test, much less the Kingdom test!

So, I guess the obvious question to end the post is,

How did you like the Muppets movie?:)

(Oh, and if you want to add something about using your resources for God’s kingdom, that’d be cool, too.)

My First Trip to the Hippie Stores!

One thing that made me excited about moving to the Nashville was that they had organic-y stores in a decent driving distance from my house.  It’s odd that having a Trader Joe’s and a Whole Foods nearby would make me excited b/c I’m really not that into buying organic.  However, I have recently been convicted about buying chocolate after reading this blog, and I have decided to buy start trying to buy fair trade chocolate.  I know, I know, it sounds crazy, especially for a penny pinching, coupon clipper like myself, but I just have this thing about child slavery.  I just don’t like it.  Like, at all?   And hearing about the child slavery used by the major chocolate brands kind of led to a little crisis of conscience.  I know that there is so much I don’t know about the chocolate industry, and so many systemic problems involved that I don’t know how to fix.  I know that one person buying fair trade chocolate doesn’t make any kind of difference.

But here’s what it came down to for me:

The whole purpose of my life is to bring God glory.

God loves children.  (And all people, but it is clear that children have a special place in his heart, both because of their vulnerability and because of their trusting nature.)

I also love children.

I will answer to God one day for all of my choices.

So…if I knew beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a high probability that the chocolate I purchased was made in part by children who were forced into slavery…

…and I knew that there were alternative brands of chocolate that cost a few dollars more, but were not made using child slaves…

…and I still bought the slavery chocolate to save a few bucks…

could I answer to God for that?

The answer I came to was no.  I tried to mentally weasel around it in a thousand different ways, but my conscience would not play ball.  To knowingly buy the slavery chocolate was simply unjustifiable in my mind, and I would fully expect God to hold me accountable for my willful selfishness.  Like I said, I love children, and the thought of one of them being hurt because of my casual purchase of a (let’s face it) luxury item was just unconscionable.

So that’s how I found myself in Trader Joe’s for the first time on this rainy Tuesday.

I walked in and wandered around aimlessly for a minute or two, honestly a little overwhelmed, before I ran into a sales rep.  Of course, I could not think of how to say what I was wanting, and it came out like this:

“Excuse me, I’m looking for the…you know, the…the non-child-slavery chocolate?”


She blinked, but didn’t miss a beat:  “You mean the fair trade chocolate?”

Yep, that’s what I mean.

I was mainly looking for chocolate chips, and I told her that.  Surprisingly, she said that she wasn’t sure if they had any, and went to ask a manager.  A few minutes later, she came back with the news that they had NO FAIR TRADE CHOCOLATE.  What???  It’s Trader Joe’s!!!  Man, I thought, if Trader Joe’s is not with me, then how hippie am I?

They also don’t have sales.  Did you know that?  Nothing ever goes on sale at Trader Joe’s.  What kind of place is that?  As someone who literally plans her family’s whole menu around the weekly grocery ad, that just made my heart hurt.

Thankfully, they did have a good selection of fair trade coffee, which I was also looking into, and she told me that the nearby Whole Foods would most certainly have the chocolate.

On the way out, I did find some crunchy green beans and tried them out:

I was actually looking for something more like these


which my neighbor, Molly, had at her house.  They were uhhh-mazing.  The green beans weren’t as great (too green-beany, if you can imagine), but they were an okay substitute.

Next it was off to Whole Foods.  They did have one brand of fair trade chocolate chips, but it was quite small and cost *sniff* $5.69.  They had all these other brands of chocolate chips, including the Whole Foods brand, which were cheaper.  Were they seriously not fair trade?  I was beginning to think that I really had these stores on too high of a pedestal.  I found a worker and asked him about it.  Together, we scoured all the bags for some sort of indication that they were fair trade.  The big mystery was the Whole Foods brand.  I mean, I just couldn’t imagine Whole Foods using slavery chocolate, not necessarily b/c of innate morals, but b/c of their clientele.  Aren’t they supposed to be super ethical and conscientious?

It’s sad, considering the magnitude of the evil involved in child slavery, but I really did not want to pay $5.69 for a tiny bag of chocolate chips.  This was where the rubber met the road for me.  It’s one thing to think, “Oh, I love the children!  I want to be like Jesus!  I want to stand up against slavery!”  It’s another thing when you are actually standing in the store holding the outrageously priced bag of, like, seven chocolate chips while living on a youth minister’s salary.  Especially when the Ghiradelli’s brand is on sale for *sob* $2.79.  Get behind me, Satan!

I told the guy my qualms and concluded with, “I mean, if this is all you have, I’ll buy it for the good of humanity, but is there any way I can find out if the Whole Foods brand is fair trade?”  He had already talked to a couple managers and came back with nothing.  But he said, “You know?  I really want to know, too.  Let’s look it up.”  He went to the computer and searched the Whole Foods website.  While he couldn’t find anything definitive, he did print out their brand’s official commitment to ethical standards and such.  It was comforting, but if I’m going to pay extra for chocolate chips, I really want to be certain.  Before I left, though, he asked if he could see one of my fair trade bags.  He used a marker to “x” through the bar code and said,

“I’m going to sample this one out to you.  You can just have it.  You know, for the good of humanity.”

That was so nice, and it made my purchase a lot easier…because I also had (yes, had) to have some fair trade cocoa mix, and, shockingly, it was not super cheap, either.

As I drove home, I pondered my emotions, especially the fact that I was feeling a little guilt at spending so much for chocolate chips and cocoa mix.  Yes, I know they are luxury items, but right now, they are not something we are willing to give up.  Plus, one of the benefits of Nashville is the superior grocery situation:  better coupons, better dairy prices, and the presence of Kroger stores.  I figure that if I double down on my couponing efforts, I can make up the difference in price between the fair trade chocolate and coffee.  And even if I can’t, I see this new purchasing move as one tiny step closer to living fully in God’s kingdom.  I want His kingdom to come, His will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  And surely it isn’t His will that other children suffer so that my children can have chocolate chip cookies.  Surely taking the time and money to buy fair trade advances His Kingdom and His will on earth, even if in the tiniest bit.

What do you think?  Am I crazy?  Do you make any purchasing decisions for moral reasons?  

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