let’s go shopping

My daughter has a new fascination.  She picks up an old purse I gave her and says brightly, “Shopping!”

I was mortified when I first saw this.  Then I thought about it:  what do she and I do on the weekends?  We go on walks, go to playgrounds, eat, color, and shop.  My weekends are Fridays and Saturdays, so every Friday morning I make a grocery list and we head out to stock up for the week.  During the summer we make an additional trip to the produce stand or farmer’s market.  Sometimes we have additional trips to pick up diapers or finger paint.

This probably sounds terrible to you.  “What kind of parenting is going on here?  They shop all the time!” you might say.

Before you quit reading, however, let me ask you:  do you know what your grandmother, or great-grandmother, did when she wasn’t cooking or cleaning?  I’ll bet she shopped.  In fact, I’ll bet your male ancestors did a lot of shopping too.

For millenia, women, men, and children would grow stuff, make stuff, and journey to the local market to buy and sell stuff.  These were daily and weekly activities.  Many parts of the world still have strong traditions of farm and market.  Central to this older way of life are the acts of browsing, choosing, trading, haggling, and getting to know one’s partners in commerce.

Over time, people all over the income spectrum have lost the connections of the marketplace.  Hardly anyone in America knows where their food, clothing, furniture, dishes, or curtains were made.  Few Americans have to interact with anyone when they pick up their basic necessities.  If you need bread, you can ring up your own purchases at the self-checkout.

As Christmas approaches, I feel a return of that old anxiety about shopping.  Shopping is materialistic, we pastors cry every December.  I feel obliged in the coming weeks to deliver the annual rant about the evils of malls, credit cards, and Santa Claus.

Generally the pastors’ advice has been to consume less and donate more.  I think that’s fine advice, given that many Americans have way too much stuff and overwhelming debt.  Yet … may I go ahead and say that shopping at Christmastime could be a good idea?

What would happen if we went “to market” during this shopping season?  What if everyone who could get to a real bakery, deli, or artisans’ workshop actually went there and purchased things?  We would get to know our neighbors, and we would provide income in our local communities.  We would have a chance to investigate the quality of the product for ourselves, and to complain to the actual producer if something wasn’t right.  We could even provide the accountability we are currently missing in our mass-produced culture.  (If I bought dishes that were made far away and painted with a poisonous glaze, how could I complain and be sure my objection was heard?  But if I visit one of our great North Carolina potters and find my coffee mug to be gross–an unlikely scenario, but bear with me–I can go right to the source.)

Of course, not all Americans can afford the prices and gas money required to visit a local producer, and that’s part of the problem.  The real market isn’t accessible to everyone.    Yet I can do my small part to turn things around.  I’m not wealthy enough to keep all the local merchants in my hometown in business.  But I can think about where I shop before I crank the car.  I can sacrifice somewhere else in my budget in order to buy less junk.

Next time, my daughter and I will get our purses and head out to shop local.  I just found a store downtown that sells actual cloth diapers, and while we’re out we’ll visit an art store to get good crayons.  After that, we’re picking up our holiday pies at a real bakery.  See you there!


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