Taking a Break from Consumerism

One of the most poorly understood realities in Christianity today is the connection between our lived faith and everyday consumption. Unfortunately, most of us (myself included) give little thought to what we buy–and even less to where it was made, who sold it, where our money goes, and the ethical implications of its production, consumption, and eventual disposal. Abetted by a tendency to separate our “spiritual” from our “everyday” lives, this consumer society drives us to buy without regard for the impact that consumption may have on our faith.

Craig Goodwin, a pastor from Spokane, Washington, wonderfully addresses this disconnect in his recent book, Year of Plenty. In late December of 2007, after a particularly stressful binge of Christmas shopping, Craig and his wife Nancy decided to try a bold experiment. For the entire next year they would buy only things that were used, homegrown, homemade, or made and sold locally. While the idea began as a reaction against materialism, it quickly developed into something deeply personal and spiritual. In Craig’s words:

We wanted to break free of the belief that our hope and joy could be found in consumable goods…. we wanted to raise our daughters as children of the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of goods. We wanted to live more fully integrated lives by making financial decisions based on what we value and believe. (18)

Year of Plenty not only chronicles the Goodwin family adventure (in a lively and entertaining manner, I should add), but also delves deeply into the theological implications that such a lifestyle has on our relationships, our general well-being, our lived faith, and our spirit.

One of the most important points that Goodwin makes is to bring attention to the false dualism between the physical and spiritual. God became flesh, uniting the physical and spiritual aspects of our faith. In Colossians 1:16-19 Paul states: “[I]n [Jesus] all things were created…. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together…. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things.” Goodwin ties their experiment to this crucial Biblical concept by asserting that “the heart of the good news of the gospel is that God has chosen to come among the ordinary, to surround the ordinary with holiness.” (155)

What could be more ordinary, and (seemingly) less sacred, than grocery shopping? Yet Goodwin rejects this perceived lack of spiritual application by continually going back to scripture and by personally demonstrating such valuable connections as:

  • buying local = loving your neighbor
  • caring about the treatment of animals = honoring their Creator
  • starting a farmer’s market at church = reaching out to your community
  • planting a garden = implementing a lifestyle of prayer and meditation

We live in the wealthiest and most consumption-oriented society in the history of the world. Yet, we rarely consider the impact that our consumption has on our spirit, our community, our environment, our global neighbors, or our relationship with God. The Goodwin family’s journey has never been more relevant, nor more important, than today.

For more about the Goodwin family adventure, to read Pastor Goodwin’s blog, or to check out the book, go to www.yearofplenty.org

Brian Webb serves as the Director of Educational Programs for Blessed Earth and is passionate about helping people connect their faith with God’s call to care for his creation. He lives with his wife, Becky, and daughters, Acadia (“Cadie”) and Galilee (“Lilee”), in western New York where he also serves as the Director of Intercultural Student Programs at Houghton College.

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