Sunday, February 05, 2006

Stewardship

I got some "time off" last night. I decided I wanted a chicken philly sandwich, so I headed over to the place at the mall where I knew I could get one. And, since I was there, I looked around at Sears in the clothing department.

But all the while I kept thinking about the issue of stewardship and how that is supposed to play out in the not-so-simple marketplace.

I think most Christians will give hearty nods of affirmation when someone says that we need to be good stewards of our money. (And I would be one of the hearty nodders.) But whenever I hear about stewardship in Christian circles* it is almost always in the context of finances, and then almost exclusively about not spending more than we "have to."

And I am all for a bargain. But last night (and for the millionth time,) I couldn't help thinking how much does this bargain really cost?

These thoughts were still in my head this morning during Sunday school. One of the passages we covered included Jeremiah 2:34, 35 which says:

On your clothes men find the lifeblood of the innocent poor, though you did not catch them breaking in. Yet in spite of this you say, "I am innocent; [God] is not angry with me." But I will pass judgment on you because you say, "I have not sinned."

Now, I don't know if this verse, when interpreted in context, relates to what I'd been thinking. But, in light of my thoughts at the mall, the words really struck me.

Like I said, I like a good bargain. And I think I have used the stewardship argument as my rationale for my bargain-hunting (which isn't necessarily wrong, I don't think.) But, if we are called to be stewards of money, then the goal isn't simply to NOT spend it, but it is to appropriate it properly and be WILLING to spend it if it can meet others' needs.

But moving away from stewardship in the financial sense, what if we looked at the Gospel and compassion as stewardship issues?** When does my need to administer compassion trump my need to save money? I'm going to say compassion trumps finances every time. (You can argue that, if you like.)

But this is where it all becomes not-so-easy to apply.

For example: Yes, a $5 shirt is a better deal than a $10 shirt. But all we have to do is look at the label that says "made in Bangledesh" or "made in Sri Lanka" to know that the REASON it is cheap is because the worker who made it is working for hardly any pay, probably for very long stretches at a time, and maybe even in a dangerous environment.

So, what is a Christian to do? If we let the issue of compassion trump the issue of finances, then we would say - buy the shirt that wasn't produced with that kind of labor, even if it is more expensive. This might be a simple answer if that other shirt even exists... because, if I've heard it once, I've heard it a hundred times - "you can't buy ANYTHING that wasn't made that way." And, in a lot of cases, that is true!

I know there is a lot more to be done than change my buying habits. That, alone, will not fix the problem. But I think about the fact that a vast majority of the products I own have someone else's lifeblood in them. How does God view this? Is he pleased that much of my lifestyle, (including healthy doses of personal pleasure, comfort, and entertainment,) comes at the expense of someone working in said conditions.

It begins to put a few things into perspective for me.

First, I have to ask myself - do I really need another dollar store cell phone to entertain my kids? Is their entertainment worth the human suffering that it costs to provide it? Am I willing to spend more to buy products that do not use this kind of labor, and thereby be the better steward that I want to be? Am I willing to do the work of finding those products? And, what, other than changing my buying habits, can I do to effect real changes in the unjust labor practices that happen around the world?

I know these aren't new questions, and they have been debated in many different places long before this post. But, I was wondering if anyone has any practical and/or Biblical insight that might help me make some effectual changes in my own practices.

*keep in mind that I don't have a big circle.
**for the record, I think there are a lot of other stewardship issues. The environment is one, but that is another post entirely.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, just because a worker makes less than an American doesn't make them worse off than we are. In addition, just because a product comes from another country doesn't mean it is not worth buying. As Americans we have things way too easy and comfortable, which makes it easy to say that all labor is "cheap" and laborers unfairly treated. Don't get me wrong, I'm just saying that the people that actually have jobs are at least making some money to improve their way of life Maybe Amercans should just lower their pay and work longer hours so foreign workers can make more? Unfortunately it doesn't work that way and It doesn't sound fair because that's not what we are used to (and the unions wouldn't have anything to do with it). In addition, our media is quick to point out the worst case scenarios they can find in other countries and paint that as normal. Don't get me wrong, I don't think conditions are fair in other countries. I just think it is easy to generalize that things are just terrible everywhere but in the U.S. I think in a very small way we are helping people by buying any product. We're probably helping the American stores more, but we are helping the people who made the product. Maybe the solution would be to quit our jobs and go help a factory worker in China do their job. Or, just move to another country so we won't have it as well. No, that would be too hard a life! I think the question is--what are we willing to give up as Americans and most of all, Christians? We don't need many things (tv, cell phone, new car, expensive clothes, etc.) but are unwilling to give them up and support orphans, widows, the poor and the needy. It would take us out of our comfort zone and force us to relate to others who are not like us. Only when Christians unite to give up our stuff-- sacrificially and out of our excess, will we help others and true changes be made. Ah, the unity of believers actually doing what the Bible says. Now that would be an awesome thing to see.

Paul

Mon Feb 06, 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Paul has a point even if he does have creases in his jeans. :)

Mon Feb 06, 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger PEZmama said...

I have some more thoughts about this. Look for another post... whenever I get time to compose it.

Wed Feb 08, 02:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very difficult subject, and it is very difficult to say exactly what is right...that is why I am not going to attempt it!

Instead I would like to point you to the organization known as Servant's to Asia's Urban Poor. It is the organization that I traveled with to Banda Aceh, Indonesia after the tsunami. There philosophy is to live simply (very simply) and I have met people who are attempting to do this in the western world. I must admit, I am a bit of a dilletante, and because of this, I have not been able to completely take the plunge, but I admire the people who do. Visit there web page: http://www.servantsasia.org/index.asp. I think you'll find it particularly interesting.

Angel

Wed Feb 08, 11:31:00 PM  
Blogger Luisa Perkins said...

I think about this a lot. Your insights were great. I would write more, but my time with your blog today is almost up.

Fri Mar 16, 10:26:00 AM  

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