back to school

Last night the air in Portland was crisp and cool, and this morning it rained. As I was sloshing to work in the rain, I realized that summer is almost over, which means that school is just about to begin. Which means, of course, that back to school shopping is in full swing.

I have never been a fan of back to school shopping. I have always thought of it as one of those contrived holidays meant to entice shoppers to flock to stores to spend their money on things they don’t need. Like shady salesmen who exhort you to celebrate President’s Day by buying a new king-sized mattress. It just hits me wrong.

Most shopping hits me wrong these days, actually. The emphasis on quantity rather than quality, the constant message that there’s something better than what you have, the idea that this purse or these shoes or this cologne is the missing piece that will make you feel complete…it’s all very empty.

I’ve been doing some thinking and reading and praying about consumerism lately. As part of this self-imposed research project, I watched a documentary called “What Would Jesus Buy?” It was produced by Morgan Spurlock, the guy who starred in “Supersize Me.”

“What Would Jesus Buy” was another, cheesier way of asking the questions I was wondering: What should my response be to consumerism? Where is my treasure? Where is my heart?

I bribed one of my friends with ice cream, and he agreed to watch the movie with me. The movie featured a man named Reverend Billy, who looks a lot like a blonde Elvis impersonator, and his back-up singers called the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Reverend Billy and his choir toured the U.S. in a charter bus, stopping to proclaim on street corners and in churches that America should stop shopping so much.

If you think this sounds like the plot of a good movie, you’d be wrong. At one point, The Rev tries to get an audience at Wal-Mart’s headquarters, but the security guards won’t let him in. So in a fit of passion, he does a spread eagle onto the shrubs in front of the Wal-Mart sign. Nothing gets executives to think seriously about the implications of their business decisions like a lunatic jumping into their bushes.

So anyway, about half way through the movie I decided I would rather poke my eye out with a stick than keep watching it. I was about to turn it off when the producers turned the cameras off of The Rev and his antics, and onto a man who was an advocate for employees of overseas manufacturing companies.

The man was standing in his office with his arm around a slight adolescent Asian girl who, when asked what her life was like, looked blankly into the camera and replied through the translator, “I feel like I’m dying.”

I feel like I’m dying.

I looked at the clothes I was wearing, the furniture I was sitting on, the dishes I was eating from. Was it possible that my purchases had contributed to the outsourcing of labor to Asian children who felt like they were dying?

If money talks, what was mine saying? That instead of getting an education that would enable them to improve their earning potential and their quality of life, these children should be earning pennies a day in sweat shops so I can have my clothes a little cheaper?

Of course, this is a bigger problem than you or I can solve on our own. But maybe we could start with changing the way we approach clothes shopping this fall.

American kids aren’t the only ones who should be getting back to school.


  1. Bob Dylan says, money doesn't talk, it swears.

  2. Sara, great post. I feel like all I ever do is plug this book, but Shane Claiborne talks A LOT about this issue in "Jesus for President". He and his friends make all their own clothes and grow all their own food. They bascially liken American consumerism to Roman Empire and say they want no part in it, nor should we.

    Pretty scary and convicting stuff. I don't know if I'm brave enough to start really buying purposefully and with awareness, but I wish I was.

  3. very interesting blog and i will hope you will post more interesting content..


  4. With this on my mind I picked up a book today entitled: "Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World's Most Powerful Consumers"

    Although it is written to further manipulate the spending prowess of women in our country it was interesting nonetheless. She stats that 80% of spending is done by women either directly or indirectly. She also states that gender is more transcendental when it comes to spending than race, age, gender etc...

  5. "We're trading comfort for human lives and that's not just murder, it's suicide...and this too shall be made right." -Derek Webb
    Your post reminded me of this haunting lyric. Our choices have implications far greater than what most of us will ever see face-to-face. We are a world entrenched in consumerism. The lyric sticks with me because I am not let off the hook, but I am reminded that I worship a God who redeems things. Only He in me will make anything good come of my feeble attempts at social justice. Only He, at some point, will make all things right.

  6. Here in NY, there's a group of people trying to make Rev. Billy mayor.

  7. I gave up shopping for a year and it completely changed my life. I wrote 3 articles about it for Burnside...you might be interested in reading them.

    Just sayin'