“I shop, therefore I am.” Barbara Kruger’s memorable one-liner goes to the heart of an important aspect of life. The choice of goods in shops and online, whether shoes, clothing, electronic devices, music or video is astonishing.
Consumerism isn’t just about the usefulness of the goods we buy. Brand choice is a marker of identity defining our membership, or otherwise, of social groups. When I was in Liverpool, a story went around our curates’ support group that one of us had conducted a baptism. The child’s first name was given as “Reebok”.
The plethora of choices available to today’s consumer is a sign of the enormous range of human creative spirit. Many of us owe our livelihoods, directly or indirectly to the diversity and creativity of the consumer marketplace. The consumer market in branded goods drives creativity and innovation at an exhilarating pace.
But there is another side to consumerism. We live in a planet polluted by the plastics which are an essential part of the consumer market. Global warming increases because of the international supply chain and market for consumer goods. The brands we most covet may have been made in sweatshop factories where labour conditions are a world away from the glossy and aspirational “brand values” attached to the objects of our desire.
Many people are less defined by “I shop therefore I am” than they are by a lack of the basics (food, clean water, shelter). In my last parish we had to be careful opening the outside bin in case someone was sleeping inside it.
Brand choices must seem like an unattainable luxury to those on the breadline. But there is an alternative. St Paul’s clothing store sells the Christ brand – unavailable in the high street or online.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12.
When St Paul helps us to put on Christ brand clothing we are no longer defined by what we think we ought to wear or the pressure to conform. Instead we are defined by what we are, in Christ, and by who we are, to others: compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient.
The Christ brand gives us a rooted identity which enables us not to be swayed by the ready-made identities in the marketplace and gives us the security and the perspective to make reflective, ethical choices about what we do buy. Clothed in Christ, we might find ourselves making decisions like giving more to charity than to Amazon, choosing goods with a Fairtrade label, counting the carbon footprint of our next essential purchase, buying second hand or even repairing an old item.
Words: The Ven. Guy Elsmore