Monday, July 20, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic -- Credit Cards, Addictions, and Identity

Director: P. J. Hogan, 2009.

With my son away, the girls got to pick the movie: a chick flick. Surrounded by the four fabulous females in my life, we watched this movie about shopping, the only all-female sport. Surprisingly, this rom-com was bright and funny and enjoyable. Hogan, with a good credit rating from directing Muriel's Wedding and My Best Friend's Wedding, fills this adaptation of Sophie Kinsella's book of the same name with top-name acting talent and it more or less pays off.

"When I was 7 most of my friends stopped believing in magic. That's when I first started. They were beautfiul, they were happy. They didn't even need money. They had magic cards." Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher, Definitely Maybe) narrates this at the start of the film. These magic cards, of course, are credit cards.

According to Lowell Bergman, in a PBS investigative report, there are more than 641 million credit cards in circulation with an estimated spending of $1.5 trillion on them. Moreover, the average American household owes roughly $8000 in credit card debt. The apostle Paul turns this upside down when he says, "Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another" (Rom. 13:8). Even many Christians are trapped in this dark pit, perhaps having not read this verse.

This is clearly a cultural epidemic, and Bloomwood, a single woman sharing a New York apartment with her best friend Suze (Krysten Ritter), is twice the norm. She has numerous credit cards, a shopaholic desire to buy clothes and fashion accessories, and a resulting $16,000 in debt. Worse yet, the magazine she writes for folds and she is left with no job and no income. Through a confusion of two letters, ironically she is hired as a financial writer offering down-home financial advice at a sister magazine to Alette, the Vogue-like magazine she dreams of working at. And here she meets Luke (Hugh Dancey), the managing editor and workaholic British hunk. Cue Eros' love arrows.

But love is secondary to shopping for Rebecca, at least at first, as she compares the two: "You know that thing when you see someone cute and he smiles and your heart kind of goes like warm butter sliding down hot toast? Well that's what it's like when I see a store. Only it's better." But shopping is her addiction, like drinking is for some, and drugs for others. She paints the picture perfectly: "When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it's not, and I need to do it again." Addictions the world over, regardless of the focus, always demand another hit. They hold out the promise of escape, of glamour and pleasure, but leave the addict with more pain, trapped worse than before. Classic bait and switch.

Shopaholism is fueled by the culture of greed. We cannot escape it in 21st century America. Greed pursues us tirelessly. It is an attacker coming to destroy all in its path. But when we place our security in things or money life falls apart, as it did for Rebecca. At its heart is a deep discontentment and dissatisfaction with what we have. The apostle Paul, 2000 years ago, faced this demon and won. "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:12-13). The secret was living in and for Jesus.

Greed is attitudinal and parasitic. It teaches us that we can change reality by owning stuff now. It seeks to changes our self-identity by surrounding us with nice stuff. Greed seeks to own us by making us own things.

Tim Osborn, lead pastor of Mosaic Church in Portland, gave three strategies to combat greed in a recent talk. First and foremost is to take an inventory of what you have and then thank God for all that he has blessed you with. Rebecca had closets full of clothes and shoes, and she had close friends and family that loved her. The latter were better than the former, nevertheless she could be thankful for all. Second, give. This is saying "Thank you" in action, putting shoe leather on our thanksgiving. And last but not least, look down at those less fortunate than ourselves instead of looking up at the wealthy (or looking in, as Rebecca did all the time as she looked into the store windows and saw things she simply had to have). There are poor people all around us who could use some help.

We are more than the things we own. Rebecca's parents are played by the marvelous but under-rated John Goodman (Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski) and Joan Cusack (Arlington Road, My Sister's Keeper). When they unknowingly take her advice and sell their savings to buy an RV, she tells them this vehicle defines them. But her dad denies this, "You and your mother define me." In contrast, Luke says his family doesn't define him. Self-identity becomes a key theme in Confessions.

We are. We exist. Family does provide some definition, even if some, like Luke, choose to deny. We spend our formative years in our parents' family then we often form our own families. We do become like those we are part of. We inherit their traits, genetically. We pick up their mannerisms, behaviorally. Rebecca's dad was closer to the mark.

For followers of Jesus, our identity is found in him. We are adopted into the family of God through him (Jn. 1:12). We have every spiritual blessing in him (Eph. 1:3). Jesus defines us. As we grow in him, we become more like him behaviorally. This is the doctrine of sanctification, becoming more and more like Christ in this life.

The next time you open your wallets or purses and see a full-house of credit cards it is time to reflect upon their hold on you. Do they define you? Do they control you? Or have you found your identity in someone bigger?

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs


  1. great movie! I am visiting London right now and wanted to watch a good comedy... taught me a good lesson! Love the blog!


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