Stopping shopping for Lent

Jeremy tearing up the logo of an online shopping website

Jeremy, from our Hallam volunteer centre, has never considered himself a ‘shopaholic’. But a shiny new camera lens and a letter from the bank led him to wonder – is there more he could be doing to fight back against the culture of consumption?

I had a shock a few weeks back. For once it wasn’t the emptiness of my bank account, though that was the catalyst. Instead, I was surprised, and a little dismayed, by my powerful attachment to possessions.

A vulture in flight photographed from below by Jeremy Cain
One of Jeremy’s photos – he calls this one ‘a vulture hovering over my bank account’

Let me explain. I’m an occasionally keen amateur photographer and, as we’re planning to visit Mull after Easter, I thought it would be a good idea to buy myself a zoom lens. We’re mostly going for the birds of prey and I had dreams of getting the perfect shot of a sea eagle plucking a fish out from the water. I’d spent days scouring the internet and was on the verge of clicking the buy-it-now button when the bad news from the bank came through. Just for a moment, I was tempted to click anyway but the thought of having to explain to the kids why we had no food to eat held me back. They can be quite aggressive when they’re hungry.

But it wasn’t easy, and I’m being serious now. For days afterwards, I felt a pang of anguish every time I remembered that I would not now be the proud owner of a zoom lens. What’s more, I spent some serious time coming up with reasons why I could justify the expenditure and found myself explaining them to my unsympathetic wife. Reason prevailed in the end, but only just.

The happiness of not having

Now, to really understand my dismay, you need to know that I have always prided myself on a detachment from material goods; where St. Francis of Assisi might have succumbed to a new iPhone X, I really wasn’t bothered. Ok, so I’m exaggerating a bit, but I always thought I’d understood that material possessions don’t make you happy. To make the point to the rest of the family, I’d stuck this quote up on the kitchen cupboard, in the hope they might learn a little wisdom:

“Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.”

It’s by a woman called Elise Boulding, who, according to Wikipedia, was a Quaker sociologist and author, credited as a major contributor to creating the academic discipline of Peace and Conflict Studies. I bet she never lusted after a zoom lens; I did and it bothered me.

What have you given up for Lent? Share your #GiveItUpChallenge with us on Twitter

Loosening the bonds of consumerism

Jeremy with a shopping bag on his head
Jeremy’s kids put a shopping bag on his head to remind him of his Lent challenge

In the midst of my existential crisis, someone from CAFOD asked me what I was giving up for Lent and whether I would blog about it. Yes, I said, without really thinking, but I didn’t yet know what I was giving up. It took a few days for the answer to arrive: if I’m really so tied to the consumption society, then I should try and do something that will help me to loosen the bonds.

As you know, at the heart of Lent is an invitation to grow closer to God and it seems to me that this is a good way to do it; no-one can serve two masters and it’s looking like I’m more a slave to mammon than I thought! But, to be honest, I’m not entirely clear what the rules should be. So far, I’ve thought of two:

  • Don’t buy anything for myself (e.g. the family shop is OK but no snacks for me on the train on the way home from work).
  • Give some of my “stuff” to a charity shop.

I’ll be asking people for other ideas as I go along (if you’ve got any, please feel free to reply to this post) so, really, it’s a bit of an experiment and I’ll let you know how I get on. In the meantime, if anyone has a zoom lens they feel they don’t need, please send it my way- just wait until Easter!

Thank you to everyone who has donated to the Lent Appeal. Your gifts will change lives around the world. And if you donated between 13 February and 12 May, the UK Government will double your donation, giving twice the number of children the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong.

Match funding has finished but you can still donate to our Lent appeal

Update – two weeks into my challenge

After about two weeks of my challenge I recorded this short vlog.

Lent: Jeremy's on a shopping ban

Jeremy has given up shopping for Lent! Half way through his challenge, he tells us what happens every time he is in a shop…Have you been doing the same? If so and have you any advice for him, please share in the comments!#GiveItUpChallenge

Posted by CAFOD on Wednesday, 7 March 2018

I’ve discovered some interesting things in the first two weeks of my challenge:

  1. Hot tea feels like a necessity rather than a luxury when it’s snowing and your train is 45 minutes late.
  2. Resisting the central aisle in Aldi is difficult!
  3. There’s a difference between fun and joy. I’ve been thinking about this since hearing Jurgen Moltmann speak recently. He says that joy comes from God and is part of God. I’ll be seeking more joy during the rest of Lent.

Send Jeremy your words of encouragement on Facebook and tell us how your own Lent challenge is going.

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