Not-So-Retail Therapy

Most folks who know me well are aware that I do not take much pleasure in shopping–especially the kind of retail shopping that involves plunking down major cash outlays for transitory and often cheaply made consumer goods. In short, I just about have to be dragged to a shopping mall.

That said, I can understand how shopping can be classed as “retail therapy.” There’s the thrill finding that seemingly perfect item to fill a need, or more likely, a want in a person’s life. I’ve been there and done that and have come to find the outcome severely lacking.

Now I practice “not-so-retail” therapy. Let me explain. As a member of The Compact, I avoid buying new items that contribute to an ever-growing waste stream and violate principles of justice and equity that I hold important.

My latest “not-so-retail” therapy sessions involved Goodwill, Staples, and Dollar Tree. Here’s the story.

I’ve been looking for a basic black wool winter coat since moving back north of the Mason/Dixon line (great match for clergy clothes), so I stopped in at my local Goodwill to check out what might be available. Sure enough I found a gorgeous classic style from a New York custom tailor for $12. Awesome! Then I found a pair of black Ann Taylor dress pants that fit perfectly for $4. Nice! Finally, I found a name brand long mock turtle sweater/dress that is perfect for tights or skinny jeans and boots for $3. Score! To make it even better, the nice lady at the cash register took an additional $2 off  the price of the pants because they were missing a button. Wow!

So for $17 I got three wonderful articles of clothing that are useful, in great condition, and didn’t put anything new into the consumer stream. Plus, these items helped me to get closer to my black/white and shots of bright color basic wardrobe that I’ve been aiming for as clothes wear out. My deal is that when three things come in three things go out, so three summer shirts went bye-bye.

A few days later, after considerable research (assisted by my more tech-savvy spouse), I headed over to Staples armed with a 20% off coupon to purchase a new projector for the congregation I serve. I came out with a fine model that has everything we need along with a set of nice speakers (40% off) for a total ticket of considerably under $500. Being a good steward of the congregation’s money is important. Could I have found one used? Possibly. In this case, I decided to make the purchase new to balance value, need, and time constraints.

Finally, the lure of The Dollar Tree next to Staples was too much to resist, and $13 and change later I emerged with 10 cans of Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes, two jars of an upstate New York regional pasta sauce (great ingredient list), and a box of organic peanut butter chip granola bars. I couldn’t have been happier had you set me loose in Macy’s the day after Thanksgiving with a $1000 gift card.

You probably understand the search for a good value on the projector, but you may be shaking your head and wondering how I can get so excited about dollar store diced tomatoes and secondhand clothing. It is, after all, counter to everything our culture tries to sell us about what it means to be a consumer. That’s the point. I no longer need to be told, sold, or “guilted” into consuming beyond my needs.

As part of a culture that takes way more than its share of the world’s resources, I feel a responsibility to weigh each purchase carefully. I prefer to buy local or regional brands (often dumped at dollar or outlet stores) to avoid supporting agri-giants. I buy used clothing whenever possible and try to avoid big box stores in favor of locally owned businesses.

It’s a constant effort to be an un-consumer in a consumer culture, and I fail miserably from time to time. But I believe it is the effort and thought that count. If all of us would simply begin to weigh our purchases more carefully in terms of justice, environmental impact, and impact on the local economy and our neighbors, I think we’d see a huge difference. At least that’s my hope, prayer, and dream. In the meantime, I’m content to engage in not-so-retail therapy whenever I must consume. Sure is a lot easier on the bank account, too!

How about you? What are your tips for being a more thoughtful consumer? Do you engage in no-so-retail therapy, too?

Photos by sylar_major,  informiorium, TAKA@P.P.R.S., and TownePost Network. Thanks!

The Power of Words

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

As someone who writes and speaks vocationally, I am well acquainted with the power of words and the dangers of tongue and pen. This awareness also guides me to weigh words carefully,  seeking to do no harm and whenever possible to lift up and offer hope. How I craft what I write and how I proclaim the good news in preaching and teaching is of great importance. I am also painfully aware that I fall pitifully short of communication perfection and have snarky, insensitive moments just like all human beings. But I do try to be judicious and sensitive to others’ views and thoughts.

So that’s why I’ve been particularly appalled by conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s recent toxic tweet and verbal vomit. If you’ve been blessed not to hear about it and want to know what I’m talking about click here. The comment is repugnant on several levels. First, it is a gross misuse of the word and an insult to the many courageous individuals who live meaningful lives and accomplish great things in spite of intellectual disabilities. Secondly, it shows a lack of respect for the office of president regardless of the opinion of the officeholder. And finally, it is simply in extremely poor taste. Peddling ignorance and fomenting hate is a pathetic way to try to get any point across.

Ms. Coulter is a bright, attractive, and generally articulate woman. She didn’t get to her current place in media land by being a slacker. That said, comments like this one strip her of all dignity, authority, and well, frankly, good manners. To make it even worse, apparently she doesn’t care, and that is sad because she is in a place to make a positive difference with her voice and to use her celebrity for good rather than as blatant self-aggrandizing commentary.

I wish Ms. Coulter no ill will and hope she is somehow brought to a place of humility and growth so that her gifts and talents can be used to build up and edify rather than to destroy and spread venom like some malcontent teenage “mean girl.” I suspect, however, that she does not care what I think, and that’s o.k., too. We are blessed with great freedom, including freedom of choice and voice.

Ms. Coulter, if you care at all how to choose and use words well, then please take to heart what John Franklin Stephens wrote in his open letter to you (click here). Mr. Stephens writes with clarity, compassion, and style–and he has overcome significant odds to develop his gifts and strong voice. We can all take a lesson from him.

Oh, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to remember the words of that old Sunday school song (and yes, I’m updating the language to be inclusive):

O be careful little mouth what you say

O be careful little mouth what you say

The Creator’s up above

And is looking down in love

So, be careful little mouth what you say

The pen and the mouth are powerful tools. May we all use them to the best of our ability and for the good and edification of all our sisters and brothers. What we say and write does matter. I am so thankful for the many people in positions of authority and power who do use their words for good.

I’ll give the last words to the first century orator and apostle Paul, who wrote to a young leader by the name of Titus:

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone. (Titus 3:1-2)

Photos by Alicia VargasGage Skidmore, Yoko, and The World of Special Olympics. Thanks!

Three Simple Steps to a Better Day

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Want to make your day a better one? Any day can be at least a little better with a simple mind shift. All it takes is applying three simple, tried and true actions consistently throughout any 24 hour stretch of time.

Even the dreariest of days can be transformed by this simple shift in thinking and response. And it’s how you begin the day that sets the tone for the hours and events to follow. In short, the day you will lead is largely controlled by your attitude and approach to it.

Almost 2,000 years ago a Jew and Roman citizen named Saul of Tarsus (renamed Paul after he became a follower of The Way of Jesus), wrote to fellow believers in Thessaloniki and suggested three simple practices that are still applicable today: rejoice, pray, and give thanks. If practiced faithfully and lavishly, these practices will help make any day a good day–or at least improve a bad one significantly.

Before you get out of bed, offer a prayer of thanks and rejoice that you are alive, breathing, and gifted with another day of life. Continue this practice throughout the day–not just offering thanks around meals and before bedtime. Remember that everything, absolutely every good thing in your life is a gift from the One who spoke the cosmos into being.

Take time to marvel at the gifts of nature. Give thanks for the produce at the farmers market. Give thanks for clean water and the conveniences of electricity, phone service, and wireless communication. Rejoice in the company of family and friends. Pray for the needs of others often during that day. If a driver cuts you off in traffic, pray that his or her needs are met and that all is well. If you hear the sirens calling your local volunteer firefighters and emergency personnel, offer a prayer of safety and well-being on their behalf.

Finally, as you fall into bed at the end of the day, give thanks for the gifts of the day, thanks that you were able to meet any challenges, again pray for the needs of others and yourself, and trust that a good night’s holy rest will be yours.

Practice these three simple steps on a regular and frequent basis, and I guarantee your life will be changed for the better, and your outlook will improve. Come on…what do you have to lose?

Photos by david c. stone and hotflashes. Thanks!