This is a photo of me, in a borrowed dress from one generous friend, celebrating the wedding of two other dear friends. I love this photo and the story it helps to tell - not about a wedding* but about the new ways I am learning to love God and my neighbour in each detail of my life.
At the beginning of last year, I set myself a challenge not to buy any new clothes, shoes or accessories for twelve months. I’m a fan of challenges. Especially those that involve looking at my daily habits and choices with fresh eyes and shaping them to be more in line with the life God is calling me to live.
Every day, we make decisions about the kind of world we want to live in by how we choose to spend our money - not just in what we consume, but how much. I don’t want to support businesses that treat people poorly. I also don’t want to be part of a consumer culture that buys and then throws away more and more things at a rate beyond what our planet can bear. My decision to stop buying new clothes - my “fashion fast” - was initially a reaction to the industry’s known issues with ethical labour and environmental impact, but it became more than that; like any fast, it became a spiritual discipline prompting me to pursue abundant life in God rather than in an abundance of things.
I was tempted to buy things many times along the way, especially for wedding season, when one of my favourite ethical brands was having a huge closing down sale, and at the Ethical Christmas Night Market I helped organise. And I definitely missed the thrill of discovering those great op shop finds.
Yet, despite the temptations, my Not New Year was full of new, joyful experiences, including the borrowed dresses from friends, hosting a clothes swap, mending things I love and experiencing the satisfaction of using a piece of clothing so many times that it literally wore out. I’m all about those simple joys! Even when I felt alone in my choice to challenge myself this way, living a little more in line with my values has been incomprehensibly fulfilling. My faith has grown in ways I didn’t anticipate.
Speaking to the people, Jesus continued, “Be alert and guard your heart from greed and always wishing for what you don’t have. For your life can never be measured by the amount of things you possess.”
As a Christian, I believe that Jesus’ command to love my neighbour includes those who make the products I buy. I believe that playing our part in God’s mission of redemption, restoration and renewal incorporates the whole of life - our collective systems as well as our individual souls. I also know that God created this world, called it good and asked us to look after it. Bit by bit, I’m discovering how deeply connected all these things are.
This is not just a question of stewardship but of love and justice. Issues of waste, pollution and climate change - all made worse by over-consumption - create more suffering for and even threaten the lives of people in our world’s poorest places. The same people who have contributed least to these problems.
As I end this challenge, I’ll carry many of the behaviours and beliefs I've learnt for the rest of my life. When I shop, I will always pull back and ask myself, ‘Do I really need this?’ When it comes to what I do need, I will do my best to make my choices as sustainable as possible, choosing items that will last a lifetime, not just a season, seeking secondhand first, and only buying new from ethical brands as a last resort.
Well, I am super inspired by Tearfund UK’s Jo Herbert-James and her faith-based, zero waste lifestyle, so I’m keen to dive further into that! You can listen to Jo on The Justice Conference Australia Podcast episode: Theology, Justice, Climate and a Zero Waste Wedding
*The wedding is its own wonderful story, but not mine to tell!