Thanks for giving, not shopping

Happy Thanksgiving!

During this time when we pause to give thanks in the USA, I take this Scripture seriously:

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

But, the truth is, gratitude is only some of what is stirring in my heart.

I am also restless and longing for greater peace and justice for God’s people. Sometimes this causes there to be layers of sorrow, judgement, disturbance, discouragement, disappointment and anger too — layers that I fear might be thicker than the gratitude that I feel.

As many people begin their holiday shopping, it’s especially tough for me to not become angry about the consumerism that our culture force feeds us. People are excited about sales, about shopping and buying more stuff. What is the craze about? Is it about generosity? Or, is it about greed and getting new stuff, just so we can throw out the old?

Whatever the case may be, let’s not throw out our consciousness that Earth is hurting and our consumption is causing serious destruction. Let us heed this warning:

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault.

Christians, we are not here to cause more pain and suffering. We must attempt not to contribute to the systemic problems. Even when it’s easier to avoid the heartache of truth, we must step out of our comfort zones and be converted.

Doing so will help move society toward solutions. It is time for us to work for a more sustainable, equitable and just society, a world that builds up the reign of God. This is how we store up treasures in heaven!

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

Matthew 6:19-21

Although this can become a time when a lot of people are crazily shopping and consuming, this is also a wonderful season of generosity, community, sharing and celebrating the goodness of God! This is what builds up God’s reign! This is what we are made to promote!

So, what’s a Christian to do? How can we resist the craze of consumerism and be countercultural peacemakers?

Here are some ideas:

  • Collect donations for your local homeless shelter, transitional living program or food shelf. Want to give things that they really need? Then call them up and ask what that is! Most likely money is one of the greatest needs.
  • Honor children and elders: Mentor young ones and teach them about generosity. Help meet the needs of those who are vulnerable. Visit elders who are homebound and lonely. If anyone asks me what I want for Christmas I’m ready to tell them that I want donations to Tubman House for Christmas.
  • Pray for peace: This includes asking God how you are needed to be peacemaker.
  • Connect to the tough parts in the Christmas story: Advocate for immigration reform and stand up for anyone who is oppressed by violence and injustice.
  • Spread the Love: Tell young people that they matter and you care about them. Write letters and cards. Be intentional about how you spend time with others.
  • Getting creative about how you give presents: Re-gift. Buy things at thrift stores. Making DIY crafts out of stuff you have around home. Utilize some of the resources from “Buy Nothing Christmas” and bake goodies to share.
photo credit: http://www.accessoriesmagazine.com/

On this day of true thanksgiving, let us give God all that is on our hearts! And, let us make a plan for how we will express our gratitude through our countercultural, generous living. Amen!

This blog post is adapted from the November 25, 2011 blog post entitled “thanks for giving, not buying” and the November 27, 2013 blog post entitled “Craving a countercultural Christmas.”

the power of paradox

Our world is a mess and in need of redemption.  Christ is coming to save us.  Yet, Christ the Light has already come to save us and we are redeemed now. The Kingdom of God is now and not yet.  There’s a power in the paradox that teaches us how to hold out hope.

Yesterday I was attempting to explain the spirituality of paradox to my advanced sophomores as we lit the third candle on our classroom Advent wreathe.  Since we are all about Gaudete this week, things shift a bit. I told the students that we continue to prepare for the coming of Light into the world, yet rejoice over the fact that Christ is with us now.  How can two things that seem contradictory both fit together so well?  With God it works this way, since with God all things are possible.

To help my students grapple with the power of paradox, I found myself on a tangent about light years.  We calculated the actual distance of a light year and became overwhelmed with our smallness.  It is possible, I told them, to see starlight from a star that is actually already dead right now.  How is that possible?  Science and spiritual paradox tell us a lot about the Truth of God’s Light.

It’s advent, the hope season. Good news and good actions help us gain hope in humanity and the coming of Christ.  Even though it’s not yet Christmas, we can celebrate how Light keeps glowing despite death and darkness.

True, there’s a litany of injustice, oppression, sin and suffering that is wider than the world we know.  We know wars are raging and Earth is crying and people are dying. Economic inequality is ridiculous. (Did you know that if you earn more than $34,000 a year you are the global 1%!?)  It doesn’t take much for us to be overwhelmed and want to give up and just face the doom.  We’re responsible for making a difference, but how can we?  It’s a big job to be good like God made us.

Fortunately, with God, all things are possible.  We know that the rich and powerful nations and individuals have a big influence.  Globally and economically speaking, the ways that we consume creates systems and structures that influence lives elsewhere. All we do matters and has power to share hope.  These days, people know that there are problems, they’re talking about the problems and structures are improving.  Our world is changing and things are getting better, because God is already here.  We can celebrate the Light of increased awareness and converted conversations which permit joyous transformation and systemic change.

To really believe–to really have hope– we sometimes need to hear a story.  Have you heard of how the Dodd-Frank act has influenced people in Congo?  It’s wild and wonderful.  The major Wall Street reforms that became law in the summer of 2010 had a tiny stipulation that said that the minerals in the electronics of Americans can no longer be mined in a conflict. In other words, the minerals used to manufacture our cell phones and laptops now have to be certified conflict-free.  A story on The World impressed me.  Evidently this new American law is challenging the government in Congo to become more just about their labor practices so that they can again trade their mined minerals with manufacturers in the U.S.A.  Fewer children are being forced to work in the mines at gun-point because some good social awareness influenced trade practices and ultimately shifted an economic paradigm.  It’s a great response to the discouraged questions of “can I really make a difference? Can we really have hope?”

Yes you CAN make a difference and you do!  You are part of a global community.  You are a child of God, you are the Light of the world.  God is with you, using you as an instrument in your ordinary acts of life.  We are instruments of Word and action.  In word, we tell good news. I am sure you know your own stories about the goodness of God at work in us now. Good news holds hope out to the despairing.  Get ready for Christmas: tell the good news, let light shine on the hopeful happenings in humanity.  In action, you can be the good news and therefore a beacon of hope.  Make Advent choices that empower others. Thoughtfully give gifts, serve, create, or be generous.   As you hold out hope to others through word and deed, you truly help prepare the way of the Lord!

Christ who is coming and Christ who is here now is the Light. Bright beams glow through the darkness.  With this Light all things are possible, even glory out of our sinful lives.  Gaudete!