Monday, 29 June 2015 12:21

Shopping and Spirituality

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The Shop Stop

Department stores were developed in the 1870s. Until that time people went to the shop or the market to buy what they thought they needed to sustain and enjoy life. Of course people would browse, and see, and buy, new things. But ‘shopping’ was generally targeted to wants and needs.

Church and Common Life

The same was true of church. People went to public worship to be taught and sustained in the Christian faith. This common experience and set of reference points provided the basis for community – common standards and values. Of course people would see and pursue relationships and practices beyond these ‘norms’, just as they would be in church and let their imaginations explore the atmosphere, the words, the stained glass and the crucifix. But the liturgies were fixed, and ‘spirituality’ was generally nourished through a fairly set approach to the needs and wants of the soul.

The Department Store

The Department Store was a sign of huge shift: from a targeted, functional approach to sustenance and survival, to something very different. Now, in one place were assembled nearly all the goods a shopper might need or want. The atmosphere shifted from being functional to one of coaxing demand – encouraging the individual to see and want more than they might have envisaged when they entered the store. With ‘eternal’ florescent light and pastorally helpful staff the focus was upon each person feeling comfortable, able to seek ‘personal’ service and satisfaction. There soon developed a money-back guarantee to reinforce this prioritisation of personal control and commitment.

A New Heaven and a New Earth

Now the big stores set the scene for the seasons, offer loyalty and credit cards, provide carefully chosen mood music. Each invites identification with a particular version of ‘heaven’ – where dreams are fulfilled and life is made worthwhile. A very particular kind of spirituality!

Church and Choice

Meanwhile – in church – we have an increasing contrast between a similar shift towards offering customer satisfaction – built around the needs and dreams of the ‘customer’, and that deeper spirituality which challenges each of us to become a slave, a servant – giving ourselves up to the agenda of others. Love god and love your neighbour as yourself – Jesus taught. This is the seed of a very different spirituality – about service rather than satisfaction, and about sacrifice rather than success. We are challenged to define our lives not by what we purchase, but through what we give away.

Shopping and Spirituality

Shopping is important for our survival. We are blessed with so much choice. It provokes a certain kind of spirituality – whose logic is individuality and competition. Witness the chaos at sale-times!

Spirituality enlivened by Jesus Christ, is even more important for our survival. It provokes another kind of life – informed by the Holy Spirit, bound together in God’s grace, and paying particular concern to those who lack the obvious trappings of a good life.

As our purses and wallets become stuffed with ever more loyalty cards, should each church provide a loyalty-to-Jesus card? If could be the first thing we see when we go shopping. It might provoke prayer for a different kind of lifestyle!