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Review of “Shopping: Christian Explorations of Daily Living”

Shopping: Christian Explorations of Daily Living
by Michelle A. Gonzalez
Compass series edited by David H. Jensen
Fortress Press, 2010 (116 pages)

Is the act of shopping morally good, bad, or just neutral? How would people in your congregation answer that question? People of faith hold a wide range of opinions, yet the correctness of their opinions is rarely analyzed. Michelle Gonzalez warns, “to be a good Christian you have to think carefully about how and why you shop” (72). Using a conversational tone and down-to-earth examples, she invites us to consider how our daily use of money reveals our beliefs, even if we don’t talk about ethics much. Americans have a lot of purchasing power, but do we use it well? Gonzalez challenges us to be more aware of our actions, and show compassion for the people who make the products we buy, such as coffee and clothing, in our global economy.

Dr. Michelle A. Gonzalez is associate professor of religious studies at the University of Miami in Florida. She describes herself as a woman of Roman Catholic faith who is committed to social justice. She is concerned about people who are poor or whose work is undervalued. Her vocation enables her to present ideas in ways that appeal to high school graduates as well as more highly educated individuals. Her writing shows equal facility in presenting views of Saint Augustine, Catholic social teaching, or recent papal encyclicals, as well as discussing segments on the Oprah Winfrey show or philanthropic initiatives by the musician Bono. Gonzalez offers a feast of ideas from various theologians, pivotal economic thinkers, and popular celebrities. Brief quotations are sprinkled throughout, providing provocative juxtapositions in her rich dialogue.

The book begins in the brief Introduction where people are describing contemporary concerns after the Great Recession. The book’s three main chapters present key concepts and illustrative stories. Gonzalez addresses our cultural context in “Shopping: American Consumerism and Globalization.” The next chapter, “Christian Responses to Shopping,” explores features of the ongoing debates about materialism, scriptural teachings, and Jesus’ ministry. The final chapter, “A Christian Reconfiguration of Shopping,” offers constructive ideas and questions to encourage personal reflection and conversations with family and friends. Further questions are provided in the Reader’s Guide (115-116). Gonzalez’s objective is not only to provoke deeper thought, but to goad Christians into more faithful living (and shopping!) once we recognize that we may grow in this area.

If your church’s adult Sunday school leaders are ready to explore these everyday ethical issues, this book will get people talking. Gonzalez’s book would make an interesting four-week series for an adult class. Even if people don’t read each chapter, they could respond with their opinions and experiences—after all, we each have stories of shopping and conspicuous consumption to share. Meaningful discussions may emerge from such questions as, “Is all frivolous shopping sinful? If not, when does shopping become sinful?” (86) More than twenty Bible passages are discussed, twice as many from the Gospels and Epistles as from the Hebrew Scriptures, though she treats pivotal passages in Genesis and several Proverbs. Congregants may not always agree with Gonzalez’s challenging perspective on faith and finances, but they will find her views bracing and worthy of discussion.

The Rev. Rosanna Anderson is the Associate Director of Stewardship at Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church.

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