When Tammy Faye Baker Messner was dying, she imagined heaven as a huge shopping mall, and she would have a credit card with no limit. Heaven might not be a mall, but in the real world, shopping is huge; the mall has crept into the computer you’re looking at right now so you can shop anywhere, any time, for any thing. Does God care about shopping?
Was Jesus just being a Scrooge when he said “Do not worry about what you eat or drink, or what you will wear. Is not life more than food, the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25), or “Do not lay up treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19)? Was Paul uninterested in stimulating the economy when he wrote “Godliness is contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6)? Is it troubling that 93% of teenage girls in America rank “shopping” as their favorite activity?
The psychologist Barry Schwartz has demonstrated the way shopping, and the endless arrays of choices we have (kinds of shampoo, auto accessories, etc.) ironically breed anxiety, boredom and depression instead of the delight, control and happiness they promise. We never get enough, there is always something better – and in the glut of advertising and buying isn’t there some risk we might lose or souls? or at least be gradually transformed into somebody who is superficial?
Ad gurus on Madison Avenue are working overtime, not to help me feel grateful and contented, but dissatisfied. Cock your antennae and deconstruct ads you see on TV or billboards: I frankly feel a bit insulted when peppered with appeals to my base nature. Am I no more than an omnivorous consumer, eager for the next gadget or outfit? Does our consumer culture inflate the sinful notion that it’s all about me and my desires being met?
Shopping: what lures me, and why? Is God honored by what I purchase? How much of my mental energy is drawn into wanting things? that hard to find zinfandel? or just the right window treatments? How does the time I spend looking, trying on, purchasing, returning and replacing what I have compare to the time I spend thinking about God, praying, reading the Bible, serving?
Think about J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits: on their birthdays, instead of receiving gifts, they give gifts. When I shop, do I buy for others? If so, whom? Sometimes I buy a new coat for me, and give my old coat to the needy – which is an excellent thought. I have a friend who committed to a different discipline: when he buys a new coat for his son, his simultaneously buys a new coat for a child who can’t afford even an old coat. I know several families whose Christmas shopping tab is always matched by a special donation to the poor. Do I leave my faith at home, or take it with me, when I shop?