So, today's final blog is not about ethical holidays. In fact, it is about the next step of that conversation. In all the years that I have been talking about this, the slave free conversation inevitably leads to the conversation about a life and culture of excess.
In thinking about this, I thought, who do I know that doesn't just talk this talk, but actually lives it out. The answer came quick and clear - Troy and Tara Livesay! If you haven't read their blogs and if you don't know them, you are missing a strong and convicting and yet very real and friendly voice in your life. I hate to use the word hero, but in the most "antihero" way possible, they are two of my heroes in life. Simply because they are who they are - in a culture (church and secular) that craves celebrity, recognition, platform, etc... they are two of the only people I know who get it, without going after it. Two of the only people who don't really care about it, and who do what they do, how they do it, with or with out a platform or recognition. To put it this way, they have a voice and dirty hands - a rare combo in today's world.
The other thought I had about this was, if we are going to talk about a life and culture of excess, what better day to launch this blog, than Black Friday. As one person put it, "Black Friday, the day Americans trample over each other for cheap stuff immediately after being thankful for the stuff they have." The fact that Black Friday exists is a bit of an indictment on our culture and proof of our lust for cheap stuff no mater the cost on others.
Anyway, without dragging this on any further, let's get straight into this conversation with Tara Livesay. Tara, I only have two questions for you today:
MH: Troy and Tara, as you see, I've been writing a blog series entitled, Slave Free Holidays. The purpose of this blog has been to encourage people to consume with a conscience or purchase more ethically. However, to begin to move away from the slave conversation, we often find that once people make the decision to shop and consume more ethically, every area of their lives begin to be effected, and they start asking questions like, "I'm learning that changing the way I act as a consumer has a ripple effect. Those ripple effects seem to demand that other areas of my life change too - I buy clothes less, I reuse stuff, I share more when I need something, I purchase local, my values seem to be changing, and I seem to notice more of the need around me rather than being obsessed with “next new toy” I can get my hands on.” As a family who has given up western luxuries and conveniences, to work with “the least of these" you surely know something about this. Can you talk a little bit about the mental and priority shifts your family went through, some hard decisions you’ve had to make, and some of the implications this has one’s life.
TL: First of all, we by no means feel that we have arrived in this area.
We actually came to the USA for a five month furlough this fall and on the airplane to Miami we had a conversation about not getting sucked into shopping and fashion and gadgets and all the things that try to grab our attention in the USA.
Part of the reason this is so difficult to navigate is because we are all constantly inundated with advertisements and those marketing schemes are based on studies; they know how to make you feel like you need something. We hide our children’s eyes from advertising when we are in the USA because it is so powerful and effective. When you never get a chance to get a break from the onslaught of advertising it is not quite so apparent.
We’ve lived most of the last 8 years in Haiti. In that time the habit of “running to Target real quick for one thing” has been totally forgotten. We realized that most of our purchasing was based on habit (entertainment via shopping) and had little to do with “need”. We learned that stuff we thought we needed, we really just wanted.
When you can be given the gift we were given, of being removed from the entire culture and the consumerism and materialism, that is when you can find out what you were buying out of boredom, fear, or habit. For us, as it turned out a lot of our spending was habit-based.
Let me put it bluntly. Living in a place where you are surrounded by people that may not know where dinner is going to come from in a few hours, let alone tomorrow or next week, makes my desire to get a new home decoration or pair of shoes seem quite unnecessary and even foolish.
I don’t believe guilt can motivate us for very long, though; it has to be a true change of perspective. I love decorating and looking at beautiful things, but no longer do I enjoy just wandering around a store trying to decide what item to drop forty dollars on for the fun of having a new thing. There is something very freeing about getting to a place where the pursuit of a new something-or-other can be seen for what it is: empty and short-lived entertainment.
Studies show that it takes most people 12 weeks to form a new habit and logic would say it takes that long or longer to break one. Our family is not even a tiny bit inspiring in this because it required having all the shopping taken away from us for us to see that we were chasing the wrong things. We didn’t so much change our habits as our location took our habits away from us and helped us to see.
Living where NEED and WANT and have a clear delineation certainly motivates a person to be aware of their habits and attempt to do better.
There is a real tension in living between the two worlds and we have not stopped struggling with it, in fact we write more about that HERE.
MH: Wow, that's good. Thank you. Okay, I only have one more question: Is committing to this way of life worth it? And if so, why?
TL: We have already confessed that we fell into the start of our commitment to change and didn’t really honestly choose it.
We would, however, definitely say that there is great joy in doing with less, buying less, and shopping less.
Most of us are simply filling up our emptiness with things. There are great soul rewards when instead of filling our carts with things we want, we look all around us at the opportunities that exist for us to love and help and bless others in a way that meets their true needs. To finish this answer, here's a great quote from G. K. Chesterton:
There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more; the other is to desire less.
MH: Troy and Tara, thank you for your time and honesty. I'm thankful I had the opportunity to meet you all at Heartline in Haiti and I was amazed with your story. Thank you for what you do and the inspiration and challenge you add to all our lives.
If anyone would like to be directed to their blog, just click on their picture at the bottom. For those reading this blog, I'd like to encourage you to give this some real thought - do I really need a new phone, iPad, or TV every time the new one comes out? do I really need a TV in every room? If so, why? Why do I believe this is the best thing for me to do with what God has blessed me with? Let me recommend a couple resources to help you start this conversation: More or Less, Pursuing Justice, and I Am.
I want end this blog with the quote on the front of the Livesay's blog by Erwin Lutzer:
Better to love God and dies unknown than to love the world and be a hero; better to be content with poverty than to die a slave to wealth; better to have taken some risks and lost than to have done nothing and succeeded at it.