Buying Used: A Life-Shaping Liturgy

By J. Mark Bowers 9-28-2016
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It’s no secret: Repurposing used property can save money. Buying used, with an eye for quality, is great stewardship. It can empower you to consider new options, like taking a lower paying job you love, or focusing more time on creating art, or even volunteering full time. But this kind of savvy also serves a greater purpose than pre-bank rolling a comfortable stage of life: As you form simple habits of buying second-hand, you create new liturgies for your everyday life.

Over time, daily rhythms of repurposing and reclaiming can form and remake two important elements of the world: our hearts, and the systems in which we live.

If you’re like me, you make purchases almost every day. Buying certain things and refusing others becomes a habit — a liturgy in which you practice and reinforce what is valuable and lovable. And, increasingly, spiritual leaders agree: You become what you love.

As a person of faith, you are more than just a believing being. You are a whole person, created and wired to love and worship. Patterns of worship in Scripture reveal that all people worship something. Naturally, we then form societies in this image. 

When we love and worship the god of consumption, we will be transformed into self-centered materialists, creating cultures and societies in our hedonist image. But when we love and worship Jesus — the humble king whose bed was a used feeding trough — we create a culture that celebrates the things of Jesus’ kingdom: restored relationships, economic justice, quality of life, humility.

By redeeming second-hand property, we train our hearts toward contentment, wedding our identity to the humble way of Jesus. In an upwardly mobile culture, our hearts are shaped to adore a downwardly mobile God.

If you’re like me, you might also feel slightly conflicted in daily purchases. To buy material goods today is to participate in a global economic system that is driven primarily by greed. Because sin has corrupted all of our systems, we are each, to some extent, complicit in these broken structures. 

By redeeming second-hand property, you challenge this opaque, profit-centered system that longs for our loyalty. Buying used is one way that God’s people question and resist the default global economic system that seeks gain by whatever means — even dehumanizing people made in God’s image.

Throughout history, economic non-cooperation has been a harbinger for systemic change. When we redeem the used goods our systems call passé, we push back against these liturgies of corporate greed. We recalibrate our identities, remembering who we are.

These new liturgical practices of humility cry out Christ’s warning of resistance — not only to our hearts, but to the economic system itself: "Watch out for greed! Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. Seek the treasure of the kingdom that never runs out.”

The next time you buy used, repurpose, or forgo, remember: Frugality isn’t just to build up your bank account for a later day (though that can be great, too). In your daily economic liturgies, your heart is being formed. You are becoming what you love. And global systems are being questioned — perhaps, even, over time, re-created.

This is the beautiful paradox of Christian practice: In reclaiming what is old and worn out, we move closer to God’s new creation.

J. Mark Bowers is the author of Faith & Finances.  

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