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Lent: Not Buying It

Several years ago I read Not Buying It by Judith Levine. I’d heard about the book in something else I was reading, although now I’ve forgotten what. Levine spent a year well, not buying things. I also don’t remember now the parameters of her experiment, but I know that the gist of the book stuck with me. I remember thinking: “I could never do that.” But eventually, after reading the blog (now defunct) of a woman who fasted from buying for the month of January every year, I decided I would try the experiment for Lent. I was serving a larger church at the time, and had by far the largest salary I’d ever had, and I was alarmed at how easily I spent, spent, spent. So I decided that I would abstain from spending during Lent other than paying my bills, of course, and “gas, gifts, and groceries.” I’d still by food at the store - but no “fast food.” I’d need gas to get places. And if your birthday or party happened to fall during Lent, I could still buy you a present. 

It was an eye-opening experiment. I realized, quickly, that I thought about spending money a lot. Everywhere I went, I saw something I wanted. I also realized how anxious others were about my not-buying. My mom, of course, wanted to get me treats during my Lenten fast - but that was expected. She always wants me to have everything I want! But others - parishioners and friends - wanted to take me to restaurants or buy me gifts to help me “survive” my fast. It was both sweet/thoughtful and fascinating that my not-buying was seen as something I had to endure that they could make easier. 
After I left that appointment, I went into a sabbatical year and was broke broke broke for a year, so I told myself I didn’t have to do my not-buying fast anymore. And since then, I’ve thought of it every year, but always found some reason not to do it. Until this year. For months, I’ve been planning to not-buy again this Lent. And then, as Lent drew near, I almost backed out. I forgot that I had plans with some friends mid-Lent for an overnight and lunch, which would mean spending outside my rules, and so I almost said, “Oh, I’ll just skip it.” I forgot about my twice-monthly lunch meetings at a restaurant in town, and almost ditched my whole plan. And then I realized these were most definitely sure signs of how much I needed to engage in this fast: I was looking for excuses. I can most definitely just not eat lunch while I’m at the restaurant in town. Problem solved. And I can make an exception for my overnight with the friends I rarely get to see in person without scrapping my entire set of Lenten plans. A Lenten discipline isn’t about the letter of the law, but the heart, the intention, how I might repent, change my heart, be re-formed, right? No more excuses! 

So, here I am, not-buying again this Lent. I’ve hesitated making a whole post about it, because Jesus has some stuff to say about making a show of our penitence, and because sometimes folks feel compelled to buy me stuff. Don’t worry, I’m ok, I swear! But I decided to share because 1) I need accountability, and I can better stick to my plan if you all know I’m doing it! And 2) because I think capitalism and consumerism have such holds on us that maybe you all might find my reflections this season helpful too. I’ve decided to try to keep a log this Lent of all the times I think about buying something that’s not on my list. (I give myself a pass if I’m thinking about ok things like groceries!) We’re two - two! - days into Lent, and I already have ten - ten! - instances on my list where I thought, “I want that.” Only one was close to a need - I thought about new socks as I discarded yet another one with a giant tear in it. More than half were times when I saw something on Facebook or Instagram that I wanted. Oof. I’m trying to curb my mindless scrolling, because I don’t like typing entries on my “I wanted to buy it” list. I’m hoping, praying that by the end of Lent, my entries will be less frequent. 

The first sermon I ever preached was on the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12. Jesus says, “‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15, NRSV) His words have stayed with me ever since, calling me to a different way. Will I listen?

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