Being Content

“The life of contemplation in action and purity of heart is, then, a life of great simplicity and inner liberty. One is not seeking anything special or demanding any particular satisfaction. One is content with what is.” –Thomas Merton

At the end of this week, just how content are you? Are you content with your home, your relationships, your clothing, the food you had to eat, your car, your job? Do you find yourself saying, “I wish…” or “If only…”?

Lent invites us to journey inward to find contentment so that we can look outward and share our lives with others. How wonderful this world would be if we all stopped seeking any kind of preferential or special treatment or ceased to make demands! What might our world look like if knowing we have enough we can look to see that our sisters and brothers have plenty, too?

Today I watched a short video about “first world problems” voiced/acted by people in developing nations. It was a humbling few minutes. Even though I consider myself a person of fairly simple needs, I was struck and a bit embarrassed by all that I take for granted during the course of a day. I say this not to shame or point a finger at anyone, only to share my experience.

How much is enough? How much is too much? What does it mean to be content? I can answer these questions for myself, but I cannot answer them for you. Why not spend a few minutes contemplating these questions as you lean into a new week?

Here’s the video if you’d like to watch it:

Photo by Thanks!

Note: I will be taking a Sabbath from blogging every Sunday during Lent. I hope you will enjoy some quiet time, too!

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!

A Little Goes a Long Way

Happiness consists not in having much, but in being content with little.    –Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington

My youngest daughter and I have spent the past three days in New York City; it was her “senior trip.” We saw two plays and one musical: The Best Man, Newsies, and Seminar. We ate pizza and Cake Boss cupcakes. We walked between 40-50 blocks each day, and we did a lot of “window shopping.” All in all it was an outstanding trip.

One particular memory of this trip will stay with me for a long time. First of all, you have to understand that I LOATHE shopping. I have a difficult time making a decision that involves parting with my hard-earned cash, and I have absolutely no fashion sense. My dear daughter, however, has excellent fashion sense, absolutely no qualms about spending my money, and a keen love of shopping. The first day we took a little trip up Fifth Avenue. We stopped at a few of her favorite stores to gaze at the goods, and then we hit the motherlode–the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store. We took the escalator to every floor, stopping at the shoe department for a walk through. I don’t think I saw a pair of shoes in the place for under $300. It was a real eye-opener.

My take on shoes is that they are among the few things I prefer to buy new, I like good quality, and I want something that is basic and comfortable. I’ve been in the market for a new pair of black leather flats for awhile, as my current pair are decidedly ratty looking (after three re-heel visits to the cobbler and miles of wear). My dear daughter, on the other hand, could have given Imelda Marcos a run for her money for the shoe queen title.  Her philosophy is that the right shoe looks good on any body style. You don’t have to be an anorexic stick to look good in a pair of Jimmy Choos or Christian Louboutins. Plus, she’s only 5’3″ so she can wear heels that would make the average person dizzy–and she does, and she looks doggone good in them. So cruising the Saks shoe department was for her something akin to dying and going to shoe heaven, albeit in her case it was more like being Lazarus at the gate of the rich man’s house calling out for even a lowly sale pair of Steve Maddens.

Of course we left empty-handed. On the ride back down she whispered to me, “I have never felt so poor in all my life.” I’ll admit I understood where she was coming from with this confession. It’s interesting to view life from another perspective, and since I’m usually so focused on issues of simplicity and justice the trip through Saks gave me plenty of food for thought. Our family ranks in the top 1% of the worlds richest people, according to the Global Rich List, and yet here I was feeling like Grannie Clampett in my eight year old black leather boots, resale shop jeans, secondhand pashmina scarf, and bargain outlet jacket.  Perspective is everything (or pretty close to it), I suppose.

Now that I’ve had a couple of days to reflect on the event, I am so thankful that I have reached a place in life where I am quite content with a little and have no desire to have more. More importantly, I’ve learned that my “little” is true abundance for most of the world’s population. The fact that I could even take my daughter on this trip reflects how fortunate we are–yes we got a great hotel deal, we got our tickets at the half-price booth for two of the three shows, and we didn’t eat at any fancy or even moderate restaurants–but this was still a trip that most children will never have, much less the opportunity to receive a free public education and graduate from high school. Yes, a little goes a long way, and that is good enough for me.

My hope and prayer is that my child will grow to see that she is not poor at all but among the luckiest people on earth. As for me, next time I need a reality check, I’ll just go on-line to Saks and take a cyber cruise through their shoe offerings. That should do nicely to remind me to give thanks for all of life’s blessings–particularly the intangibles ones.

P.S.: I did find a new pair of black flats. They were a little more than I had hoped to pay, but they’re all leather and have the daughter stamp of approval (meaning at least my feet won’t be fashion failures for awhile). Plus, by the time I get through with these shoes their cost will be mere pennies per wear. Oh, and dear daughter went home happy, too, with a fashionable (and mom-approved-value) pair of black boots.

Note: The Lent 40/40/40 Challenge will return once I’m back at home and unpacked. For now, suffice it to say I am thankful for precious time with my baby girl who will soon be off to college and thankful for a spouse who is supportive of my taking off with her on this Broadway lark/girl party. I’m also thankful to my oldest daughter for depositing us at the train station and retrieving us. This trip was truly a family affair.

Photos by William Hawkins,  and Jerine Lay used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!