Consumerism & Commitment

Chalice lighting

When we have dreams that we cannot realise alone,
We need each other.
When the gloom of sorrow comes into our lives,
And our own strength eludes us,
We need each other.
To help us recognise and celebrate our joys,
We need each other.
When the winds of change threaten the progress of justice,
We need each other.
When we seek challenge and guidance
As we grow and search for our purpose,
We need each other.
For a network of nurturing support,
To help in raising a generation of compassionate, open-hearted people,
We need each other.
When we understand that our reason for being
Is deeply intertwined with lending our strength to live better lives,
We need each other.

Reading: Buying and Selling, from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (adapted)

And a merchant said, 'Speak to us of Buying and Selling.'
And he answered and said:
To you the earth yields her fruit, and you shall not want if you but know how to fill your hands.
It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied.
Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice, it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger.
When in the market place you toilers of the sea and fields and vineyards meet the weavers and the potters and the gatherers of spices,
Invoke then the master spirit of the earth, to come into your midst and sanctify the scales and the reckoning that weighs value against value.
And if there come the singers and the dancers and the flute players, buy of their gifts also.
For they too are gatherers of fruit and frankincense, and that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams, is raiment and food for your soul.
And before you leave the marketplace, see that no one has gone his way with empty hands.
For the master spirit of the earth shall not sleep peacefully upon the wind till the needs of the least of you are satisfied.

Message by Rev Andy Pakula

I Shop Therefore I Am.jpg

I mostly shop online. How many of you do a lot of your purchasing online?

I remember, when I was young, going shopping with my mother. When I needed new shoes, we went to one particular shoe shop - always that one shop. When I needed clothes, we went to a particular children’s clothing shop - always the same one. It’s not that there weren’t other shops. There were many. And it wasn’t that these shops were the least expensive. I’m sure they weren’t. When we went into these shops though, we knew them and they knew us. They knew me by name and always greeted me. They asked about our family members by name and my mother did the same. We had a relationship with them. We cared about them and they about us. We didn’t go comparison shopping. We knew they would be fair and there was more than an exchange of money for goods involved. There was a relationship.

When I shop now, I log in, I search, I find the lowest price and I buy. I have no idea who is at the other end of the transaction. I don’t think about who works there and who is affected by the fact that I can find the lowest available price and have zero loyalty to a particular business. This is the culture in which we increasingly live. The exchange - the purchase - is everything. It’s a free market and relationship counts for nothing. We and the vendors are entirely detached and all that matters is getting the best price.

Now, I know that some of you buy Fair-Phones and that you avoid shopping from the companies that treat their workers the worst. You are a very good but unfortunately very small minority. In general, everything is commerce and the drive is toward the lowest price. Nothing else matters. This is part of what it means to say we live in a consumerist society. It is bad enough that our commerce is like this. It is worse that this attitude infects the rest of our relationships.

In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller writes about how this same attitude can affect marriage: “Sociologists argue that in contemporary Western society the marketplace has become so dominant that the consumer model increasingly characterises most relationships that historically were covenantal, including marriage. Today we stay connected to people only as long as they are meeting our particular needs at an acceptable cost to us. When we cease to make a profit—that is, when the relationship appears to require more love and affirmation from us than we are getting back—then we ‘cut our losses’ and drop the relationship. Social relationships, when impacted by our free-market sensibilities, can be degraded to the point that they are always focused on exchanges - about whether we are getting a good return on our investment - whether we could instead shop around and get a better deal elsewhere."

Who among us hasn’t occasionally thought that a relationship wasn’t fair - that you were putting in more than you were getting out? Who hasn’t thought that they do more than their fair share of the caring, the listening, the supporting, the initiating, or the cleaning? Whenever I perform a wedding, I remind the couple that their choice to make a vow is immensely counter-cultural. It is radical in our culture to commit for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer. It is counter-cultural to make a commitment to stay in a relationship even if a better deal is available elsewhere.

Relationship is eroded when everything is about getting the best deal. This corrosive effect has been called ‘commodification’ - the process by which everything - including people - becomes simply an item of trade with a value assigned by the free market.

Today is the beginning of our funding campaign for the coming financial year and commodification could hardly be more relevant. If you want the best possible deal, don’t contribute any money! You’ll still get just about everything anyone else would. Something strange must be going on here. What kind of crazy radicals are we? Don’t we know about economics and free markets?

We give more than we must because we care about each other and about what we can do together. We care about how we can help ourselves, help one another, and how we can help make a better world. Somehow, we put aside that notion of getting the best deal and paying the minimum and instead focus on something great.

But whatever you donate, I urge you to be conscious of the danger that our cultural market mentality poses for our relationships. Relationship is not made in the market. The greatest riches come from - not bargaining and smart shopping - but from giving generously of ourselves.

May it be so.

Closing Words

There is a place in life for getting the best deal,
There is a place for shopping around,
And there is a power in relationship that we must not let the market destroy.
There is potential in community that goes beyond price tags and return-on-investment.
Let us treasure the connections between us,
And move forward together,
Toward lives of meaning and depth
And a world of more love and justice.