Thrift Store Theology

                                                                                 November 5, 2009

When I was a kid Value Village was an insult.  It was supposed to mean that you were poor. Of course, no one where I lived shopped at Value Village, very few anyway. What’s the point when everything is so cheap at Wal-Mart?
When I became a man I realized that thrift stores are in fact better than buying new in almost every way. First, when I purchase at a thrift store I am re-using something. This is better than recycling BY FAR.  We have been conned into the myth that recycling will save the world. Well, only Jesus will save the world and recycling is a minimal way to honor what God has created. Recycling costs us nothing. We still throw it away, just into a different bin. We still go to the store and buy something new, the cost of which we do not see. These things we buy cost portions of the earth and its resources. Creating them has made the earth that much dirtier. The things we buy also have a human cost. Who made them? How were they treated? How were they paid?  You have no idea.
But when you purchase at a thrift store you RE-USE something. This has virtually no cost to the creation or to our fellow human beings. These were things that otherwise would have been thrown away. In fact, by purchasing them you have saved them from a landfill or incineration.
Second, you have changed your economic relationship to the world, putting money into charities and the local economy instead of into the pockets of huge multi-national corporations.  Most thrift stores are run by local charities.  Even those that are for profit often make significant contributions to local charities.  If you shop at Wal-Mart or Superstore your money is gone. It is in the hands of one of the largest corporations in the world and you have no way of knowing what they will do with it. Will they use it well, to benefit people and the world? Or will they use it to oppress people in places you will never see just to make another dollar?
Third, you save money and get better stuff.  It is often a bit more difficult to shop at a thrift store. They won’t have every size of every item. They might not have the item you are looking for all the time. However, you will often get better quality items for incredible prices.  I have been complemented repeatedly and am very happy with the shoes and clothes I purchase at thrift stores that cost only $10 a pair or $20 an outfit in prime condition. These same items would have cost hundreds when new. What will you do with all the money you save?  Pay off debt. Donate to a charity. Give it away to make friends on earth, so that you will have treasure in heaven.
Fourth, you will identify in real ways with the poor.  Are you unwilling to go into a thrift store because it feels strange?  Does it make you feel poor?  Good.  Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor.’  We have arranged our society in such a way that we hardly ever see the poor, much less are we the poor ourselves.  Shopping at a thrift store is your chance to meet them, to rub shoulders with them, to be like them.  This is what Jesus was all about.
The point is that thrift stores are amazingly beneficial for everyone involved.  They are also a tangible way to express the gospel in our day and our culture. They are a way to do so with your money. You should donate to them certainly, but more than that you should shop at them. You won’t be able to buy everything you need from thrift stores, but you will be able to buy a good bit.  We Christians above all should do this.
For those who live in Vancouver, I would like to highlight the Union Gospel Mission Thrift Store at 671 E Hastings.  Our own Elizabeth Sundrampillai is the manager there and consistently gets high quality new and used items. The money made goes directly toward supporting the UGM ministries, which our church has been a part of for as long as anyone can remember.
Also, check out the Mennonite Thrift Store at 5914 Fraser Street. This is run by Mennonite churches in our local area with whom we have partnered many times.
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