Halloween wasn’t even over when I received my first “Countdown to Black Friday” notice from all manner of insidious sources.
Since I hide my darker side from public view fairly well, you might think I’m a pretty nice person, but I confess to a flood of peeved thoughts, none of which involved anything that would put my salvation in jeopardy, but might prompt the Spirit to jab me with his sharp conviction stick. I avoid that stick with acrobatic stealth. It’s not so much about “leaving Jesus out of his own party” thing that irritates me most. I admit I really don’t like that most stores and Christmas decor substitutes the manger with a sleigh, but since I have no problem remembering whose birthday it is and I since don’t expect people who claim no allegiance to Jesus to bake him a cake or give him presents, I’m pretty much cool with the whole yuletide scene. I experience my share of warm feelings derived from ornamented pines and chestnuts by open fires – although my apartment’s hot water radiator doesn’t produce the same effect. To be honest, I don’t much like chestnuts, but you know what I mean.
What does actually irk me are the retailers and economists who try to sell it as a moral imperative for me to drag our economy out of its doldrums by buying bigger and better stuff for all my relatives, including shirt tail cousins whom I’ve never met. The ones I have met, the media implies, would like me more if I sent them another coaster set. Unless, that is, they dislike me all the more for how my generous gift piles on to their guilt for not buying something for me.
It’s the self-indulgent and rampant waste of time and money when there are people in the world who need a meal more than I need another paperweight to which I seriously object. I’m bone tired of hearing that it’s my civic duty to spend, spend, spend while people die around the world for shortage of clean water, for treatable diseases, or at the hand of insanely greed-driven traffickers taking advantage of the vulnerably impoverished. Plus, who knows what is the percentage of the goods we consumers buy at Christmastime at cheap prices are produced by people in inhumane working conditions? By the way, does the word “consumer” bother anyone else but me? What or who is being consumed by whom?
A Wall Street banker named Paul Mazur back in 1927 said: “We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old have been entirely consumed… Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.” I think the shift has been pretty much made, don’t you?
OK, it’s obvious I have some serious therapy needs about the holidays in general, but on a less neurotic level, I do feel very strongly about how generous we can be at Christmastime with our relatively well-off friends and family and be so miserly when it comes to the truly needy of the world.
There are a burgeoning number of people who are saying, “Enough! We’ve had enough of the consumerist Christmas! We refuse to do any more comfort spending (in the same family of neuroses as “comfort eating”). And since there are more than enough global neighbors who live in daily scarcity, we prefer to divert to them whatever time and resource we would otherwise spend on ourselves.” If you know me you know that I seldom, if ever, promote a program, but since this isn’t really a program, but a collaboration of likeminded people hoping and acting for Christmas to change the world again, I’m gong to risk it and recommend the “Advent Conspiracy.”
About a decade ago five pastors imagined a better Christmas custom for their own communities. Now the Advent Conspiracy is a global movement of people and churches resisting the cultural Christmas narrative of consumption by choosing a revolutionary one. Its originators founded the movement on four tenets: Worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all. Simply put: Put Jesus first and be generous with those who need it most.
If all Christians lived out Jesus’ commands to live simply and care sacrificially for their poor brothers and sisters, there would be much less poverty in the world. Poverty exists not because God does not care but because we do not. It exists because we continually edit out large chunks of the divine story that we don’t want to respond to. Our efforts to see God’s kingdom come will always be imperfect. But we will never know what can be done until we get out of our Sunday morning seats and try. Derek Engdaul
Anyway, even if you can’t go cold turkey this year (sell all you have and give it to the poor), you might consider detoxing at some Shoppers’ Anonymous meetings and live more generously in the world this Christmas. Who knows, it might last for some of the other 364 days of the year. I hope this doesn’t come across as condescending consumer condemnation. I just thought we could all use a reminder of what Jesus actually came here to do. Please, at least glance at the Advent Conspiracy and consider at least a peripheral participation in the revolution of generous Jesus followers.
Both poverty and consumerism dehumanize. Through his Church Jesus can answer both and humanize us again.
And if you must shop for the deals of the century on Black Friday, be good Christians and don’t hurt the other shoppers.