I was very inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical “On Care for our Common Home” that was released last month. It reminded me of the faith journey that has shaped my purchasing behaviors, and made me a more thoughtful and conscious consumer. Though I am not catholic (I'm technically protestant), and though many of my wonderful fellow conscious consumers do not share my particular faith, I think there is a lot that we can learn from from the Pope’s wise words. Here’s an excerpt from the encyclical:
“The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us….Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.”
There is a common underlying desire within humanity, I believe, to treat each other with kindness and love, and to see the world flourish. However, there is another part of humanity that gives in to selfishness, callousness, and greed, to the detriment of humanity and to the earth. There is not one person that is free of either of these impulses, but we must choose which to employ.
I have found that on my own, I am all too quick to act out of self-centeredness, laziness, and self-indulgence. It’s only through my faith in Christ that I’ve had the fuel (God’s love) and the strength (His grace) to act with love and thoughtfulness in my everyday decisions. I am on a long journey of sanctification, but my Christian faith has helped me to understand conscious consumerism as part of my story, and helped me to act on it. I’d love to share that story with you.
Boycotting When You’re Not an Animal Activist
I always liked animals growing up, but had never been one to advocate for them. In fact, I’ve come to terms with the fact that there is a circle of life; that we are all dependent on each other and eventually return to the dust. However, after talking with some educated friends and reading some books about the horrors of factory farming, I felt like something was very wrong. I started to read the Bible to understand what God thought about this torture and inhumane treatment of animals, and learned a lot about what God thinks about animals.
I was reminded that God created the earth and everything in it and that he cared deeply for it. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) “Are not sparrows sold for two pennies? And yet none of them is forgotten before God.” (Luke 12:6)
I was also reminded that man was given dominion over the earth. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) Mankind was given a position of rule over the earth, and he could use it for good or for evil. “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” (Proverbs 12:10)
Created in God’s image, we were meant to act in accordance with His likeness - and He was caring and good. “All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.” (Psalm 104: 27-28)
Caring for Farm Animals When You’re Not a Farmer
I’m not one to purposefully cause harm to animals, people, or the environment. I wondered what I was responsible for, as someone who doesn’t have my own farm or raise my own cattle. I realized that my part was choosing to support farmers who were treating animals ethically rather than giving money to factory farms who were mistreating them. I thought long and hard about this, and decided to make a commitment to only eat meat from humanely raised animals.
It was a sacrifice, because it meant that most of my meals were vegetarian and I had no idea how to be a vegetarian. I was the kind of person that thought if a meal didn’t have meat, it wasn’t a meal. But with time I learned how to make delicious, healthy, and filling vegetarian meals. I also learned how to find meat that I felt comfortable eating, talking to people at the local farmers market and using the Whole Foods meat rating system.
I knew that this wasn’t for everyone, but it was a step I could take to be a good steward of the earth that God had given me to care for. I felt happy to be part of a growing community of people who were demanding transparency and decency from companies, and using our purchasing power to change a broken system. Though I was only playing a very small part, I felt joy and a sense of purpose knowing that together we were moving in the right direction.
Do Something, Not Everything
So you’re probably thinking, “What does this have to do with a fashion blog?” Maybe you were coming here for ethical fashion tips, and now there is a whole other category to think about and – it’s too much! I can totally relate. There are so many areas of our lives that we can choose to be thoughtful about – and I would not advise trying to change your purchasing habits in every area at the same time.
While I have committed to ethically sourced food and clothing, I haven’t put much thought into where my electronics, furniture, appliances, flowers, or car came from – just to name a few. We’ve reached a point in this age of globalization where most of us have no idea where anything that we buy comes from. It’s a scary thought, and it’s left the earth, animals, and people vulnerable to exploitation. Now we are waking up to the importance of conscious consumerism, but it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to get to a point where companies are held accountable for their effect on the world.
While you can’t do everything, everyone can do something. If everyone makes small changes in the way that they shop, together we can make a big difference.
Loving the Downcast
After over a year of my commitment to only eating humanely raised meat, I decided to apply the same idea to my clothing. I learned about how many people in the garment industry were being exploited; severely overworked and underpaid, and even dying due to unsafe working conditions (see Rana Plaza).
I was convicted by the simple command “Love your neighbor as yourself.” My faith had taught me that every person is valuable, and that God had called me to love them like myself. I also learned that my “neighbor” was not just the person down the street, but anyone anywhere – and particularly the downcast (see Luke 10: 25-37).
I was reminded that God cares for the vulnerable and weak. "He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap." (Psalm 113:7) And that we are called to fight for the oppressed, and treat people with kindness. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) "If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." (Isaiah 58:10)
With all of this in mind, I made a commitment to only buy clothing from companies that treated their garment workers fairly. I also would try to buy environmentally conscious clothing whenever I could too, but I decided people would be my focus.
It’s now been three years since that commitment, and I’m passionate about sharing what I’ve learned and continuing to learn from others as well – so that together we can begin to understand why conscious consumerism is important, and put our beliefs to action. I have found faith to be a great impetus for change, and also a source of hope. I think Pope Francis puts it well:
“Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start…No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts…A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products… When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. ‘Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act’.”