“Don’t Let the Store Shop You” by Natalie Weaver


My mother, in the great tradition of all mothers, says things sometimes that:  1) crack me up; 2) speak some depth of human truth; and 3) plainly and pithily state facts that could never be otherwise articulated, even if the task were undertaken by the whole complement of talents of Shakespeare, Goethe, Dostoevsky, and J.K. Rowling combined.  I occasionally feel that I have failed as a mother myself because I do not have a mom-ist voice. If I have one, it surely isn’t pithy. I often find myself spending four hours in a graduate seminar, lecturing on some aspect of Christology and ministry or the like, only to summarize the whole thing with a “momism” that better said what I was getting at all along.

Today, in conversation, I came back around to one of my mom’s oldest and best bespeakings of truth-to-power. Some years back, we were talking about a sale at Macy’s, observing that the base prices on things seemed to go up and down in relationship to sale percentages, such that one always pays about the same, whether the item is “on sale” or just “for sale.”  Even the language of “on sale” seemed ridiculous, we mused, since everything in the store was being sold.  If the sale is “on,” I guessed that means it is “on,” like a string of pulsing Christmas lights or a kettle of boiling water or a revving engine, as opposed to a static, dusty package of picture hangers forgotten in the bottom rack of a narrow row in the bowels of a hardware store (unless, of course, the picture hangers were, well, on sale). 

In the miasma of this discourse, my mom answered the ponderous wonders of retail deal-grabbing with a sterling-spoken clarity: “You must shop the store.  Don’t let the store shop you.”  Her Yoda-infused-Dillon-fortune-cookie-treasure had me in stitches, mostly because the conversation was ludicrous, yet she spoke as though it were deadly serious.  However, in the wake of the years that have passed, I have found myself often returning to that little bit of wisdom.

You see, I think it has become something of an allegory for my spiritual journey through this life. It is and has been far too easy to let life shop me, so to speak.  I have responded to event days, the big ticket items with their energetic flashing lights, red tags, and loudspeaker summons to check out the brooms in aisle 7. (You should see how many brooms I have, still nothing feels sufficiently swept.)  I haven’t really even been aware that I was doing it, this, this thing we do. In fact, quite to the contrary, I have been thinking, as in actively, critically thinking all the while.  Yet even as I considered the whole of it, I find I have been still following the script, still buying, still eating, still consuming, still participating, still wasting the products and patterns of modern life (including those noble ones like traveling and educating myself and going to church), in all their permutations, that are for sale and on sale.

When my father died, the doctors wanted to feed him through a tube, even as they were draining his waste through tubes.  His body was being consumed by itself, even as he was himself consumed in his home by the things he had consumed.  He had become ill by things he had eaten and imbibed.  He was drowning amidst the boxes of foods he had delivered to his home for him to eat that he couldn’t throw away fast enough, and worse, by things he had purchased to help him reach, and push, and grab for, out-of-reach things he had purchased. The confusion of stuff overtook him.  The snake was consuming itself; the store was shopping his life.  I don’t know if he could have done otherwise, or if any of us can ultimately do otherwise.  But this which I witnessed, it was a powerful lesson in merely stopping.

Or, in the words of my mom, to shop the store rather than let it shop me.  To not go down that road of being consumed by life, but actually to live it, as long as I am able.

Somehow in what I experienced in that loss, I see that my work should not work me, but I it.  My home should not enslave me but serve me.  My food should not kill me but nourish me.  My stuff should not own me, but facilitate me. The freedom of being an agent, I begin to understand, the freedom of creation, is in purposeful, quiet, space-caring breaths and little more.  It is, most-assuredly, not in role-ascension; ladder-climbing; or stuff-acquiring.

Now, dear reader, I have to say a little word here, because to read the essay here scribed one might imagine me flaunting around in Prada and Givenchy that I bought discounted or rented on the used-high-end circuits.  Nothing could be farther from accurate, as I sit here in my four-year-old tank top, torn pantyhose and running shoes with a hole in the toe.  I’m just saying that on a really deep level (a level that sits beneath even my conscious awareness of my own cogito-ergo-sum self), I am just beginning to realize I’ve been playing along with the patterns and sales and scripts and rewards that came in with the drinking water and the free weekly mail. It is very easy to be distracted by what seems like stuff to do or eat or have or achieve.  And, I just want to stop all that so that I can simply be and be simply in uncluttered gratitude.

The course is not terribly difficult.  The sales do and will go on. I don’t even have to protest them.  I just have to chose mindfully where, when, what, and why to buy, to buy in, to bite, and to walk away.

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D.is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books includeMarriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013)Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014).  Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin.  Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology.  Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan.  For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.

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Categories: consumerism, shopping, Women's Agency, Women's Voices

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12 replies

  1. What a lovely post. And what a lovely mom. My response: “I think she’s got it.” I say that referring to you!!!

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  2. A wonderful post Natalie , evoking a kind of ‘waking up’ to what has been going on and deciding to see clearly and make conscious choices. I particularly resonate with “my home should serve me, not enslave me”!!!

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  3. Excellent post, Natalie. This: “The sales do and will go on. I don’t even have to protest them. I just have to chose mindfully where, when, what, and why to buy, to buy in, to bite, and to walk away.” Great prescription for living in what all too often seems like a world gone mad. I think/believe the best way to find a degree of peace (and perhaps effect change) is to live as you suggest–mindfully.

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    • Thanks, Esther, and I agree with a world gone mad. There needs to be some huge depth of concern, and maybe that’s happening in fact. I was certain that a woman would never be elected president. It’s too intimidating, even perhaps too complicated for a woman to step in there. But women are getting more and more concerned, and we might have to step in and make some important demands and changes soon.

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  4. I like this post a lot! Very daily applicable thoughts…. shopping the store not letting the store shop me…. uncluttered gratitude. Thank you for sharing!

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  5. I bet you anything you do have a mom-ist voice with lots of “momisms” of your own. The problem is you have to await the time when your sons grow up, appreciate them and then can reflect them back to you. Sort of a 20-30 year process, at least! But them again, you are well on your way.

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  6. You write, “The confusion of stuff overtook him. The snake was consuming itself; the store was shopping his life.” That is so true.

    A decade ago, I lived in a building where two hoarders lived, one an old woman, the other a young couple. I was friends with the building manager, so I got to see their apartments after they left. In the old woman’s, stuff was piled up in her bedroom as high as the ceiling fan, and there was a path through her living room to the couch where she slept. In the kids’ apartment, there had been a strong odor. After they left, the workers cleaning the apartment discovered four dead cats (mother and kittens) under heaps of stuff in the dining room.

    It seems to me that the confusion of stuff had overtaken these people. They had been consumed by the stores that shopped them. How sad. And today how easy it is to click “Buy” on a million websites as we let the online stores shop us. You need to speak your mom-voice to the world! Or at least to people who like to buy stuff.

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  7. Important and insightful post!

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  8. Great post, Natalie! I am a shopophobic, so the literal store rarely has a chance to shop me, but extension of this Momism to life is brilliant! I say the apple has not fallen far from the tree. Your posts are filled with memorable Momisms or your own Nataliean renditions of pithy wisdom.

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  9. Thank you for this delightful post. Softly humorous and also wise but not judgmental – wonderful and well said.

    The reference to your father’s dying was a powerful example of several “don’t let the store shop you” experiences, not least of which is the medical industry that the majority of people I know are “shopped by” even way before death.

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  10. Humorous, wise, mom-isms leading to freedom and justice! Freedom from “stuff”, justice for workers and renewal of the earth. One of our grocery stores has great “for sale” signs covering up the usual, routine, and same price under it. I peek! I also consider which company is producing or selling an item. What is the company’s record on sourcing or labour?
    There is more than one way to ‘vote with our dollars’.

    I think your “mom-isms” will live not only in your children, but in all the students who have had the privilege of being in your classes.

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  11. Mom – isms – I am so glad that you have them!

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