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.”

an Easter economy

It is time for a new economy.

It is time for Christ to be our Cornerstone of all creation, even our economic exchange. It’s Easter, the season of new days and resurrected, restored creations.  The time is now for God’s Way to revive all that makes us broken and weak, especially the structures that create poverty and violence.

They brought them into their presence and questioned them,
“By what power or by what name have you done this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answered them,
“Leaders of the people and elders:
If we are being examined today
about a good deed done to a cripple,
namely, by what means he was saved,
then all of you and all the people of Israel should know
that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.
He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.
There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”  -Acts 4: 7-12

Our society loves putting our faith in the wrong places. The early Christians understood that nothing would work unless Christ is its cornerstone, its foundation, the center upon which all is grounded. Today we seem to be pretty dense to this. We gamble on economics and politics to be our salvation as if they are the systems that will lead us toward justice and peace.

Today’s political and economic debates are littered with lies.

All over the spectrum, I hear the propaganda of capitalism. One side is blaring out that we need to have few regulations, little taxation and that those with the wealth and power ultimately will- by the nature of the structure- influence justice.  Supposedly, people can rise up by the boot straps and get on their feet if those with wealth and power are able to create more jobs.  On the other hand, I hear a suggestion that we need to redistribute wealth, that if you’re rich it’s because the structure has allowed you to be and so you owe something to the rest of humanity.  Glossy promotions boom out that careful investments, money management and increased shopping is the way to freedom, justice and peace.  How many times do we justify our materialistic habits with a shrug of: “my purchasing is helping the economy”?  We think morality should be guided by ability.  (I was disgusted to hear a story on Science Friday about mining resources in space to maintain our standard of living, without any discussion about whether it is morally OK for us to do so.)  For some reason everyone seems to believe that if we allow capitalism to work its course then things will be fair and everything will be all right.

Today is May Day, an international day of strike and an Occupy movement momentum maker.  These social movements cry out in response to the propaganda of capitalism: the structures we know aren’t working!

What would work instead?  It’s Eastertime.  We need a new economy, an Easter economy.  The only way is Christ, the cornerstone.

With Christ at the cornerstone of the new economy, all shall be gift.  According to God’s designs, we are interdependent with all creation.  We need plants, animals and clean air.  The creatures of God’s planet need us to care for them, too.  With mindfulness, we shall restore earth’s resources and all have enough.  We give and take with gratitude and constantly ask the hard questions about what we should do, not what we can do.

In an economy with Christ as the cornerstone, we can rely on each other.  We’ll know how to help each other and we won’t hesitate to do so because we understand that judgement isn’t up to us.  We know that hospitality and service means that we risk being uncomfortable and converting to creations who are more united.  We trust each other to do what is right, because no competition shall cause us to do wrong.  With joy, we work with our hands, create art, repair what is broken, grow our own food and freely give away what we don’t need.

The Gospel good news is that many are already living in these Easter economies.  I am thrilled to know people who will, in a couple of weeks, celebrate a weekend without capitalism.   I have some friends who have a “free shelf” in their house and sponsor a regular “free market” in Chicago in order to create a space for everyone to share what they have.

When it comes to giving, loving and serving survival shouldn’t be our concern.  With Christ as our cornerstone, our needs are supplied.  Sure, we may need to live simply and love freely in order to get by, but isn’t that the Gospel Way?  If we’re not concerned about money, bills and income then we suddenly have time to grow our own food, fix things that are broken and look for food in new places. We can give of our skills and time in exchange for the things we need.  I’d be delighted to come and teach a lesson or write for you; you can feed me lunch or help me fix my bike.

This vision isn’t just idealistic or pie in the sky.  This is according to Christ’s designs. Our faith needs to be in Him, we are made to love and share.  With new alternatives, our habits shall be converted and we’ll be healing the crippled and bringing life to the dead.  We recognize that justice isn’t up to us, that’s God’s work.  We all do our part to help make things better.  We trust and believe.   We know it in our hearts and we preach it with our lives: with Christ as the cornerstone of our Easter economy, everything will really be OK.

counter-culturally powerful

Yesterday I asked a section of my students to raise their hands if they thought power is something God gives us.  Only half of the students raised their hands.  When I asked the other half what they thought they spoke about how power is something people earn because of their success.  “If we are all children of God, aren’t we equal?” I asked.  Not really, I was told, status sets us apart.

I believe that the electric energy of equality has the power to unite all.

"Light's great uniting power" By Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

Within the core Christianity is a belief that all people are children of God. We are all made in God’s image and likeness, we are all people of dignity.  Everyone is holy and is worthy of honor.  God is alive within all of us.  Although our diversity helps us all to be more whole, no one is better than anyone else.  God sees as us equals and loves us all equally.

But then there’s the way society sees it.  Common culture tells us a totally different story.  Before we can read, we learn about winning and losing.  Competition is fun.  From a very young age we are taught that success and achievement are about accomplishing more, having more and earning more.  In the dynamics of capitalism, we base power upon wealth.  The rich and powerful seem to perpetually oppress the poor and powerless.  Perhaps it is because of this that we blame the poor for their problems and we are convinced that the rich are powerful because they deserve it.  Competition and consumerism connect with our experiences of power.   The fanfare of the Super Bowl is a manifestation of these attitudes.

The principles of non-violence imply that all people have the same power. No one is actually more powerful than anyone else,  just as in the eyes of God no one is better than anyone else.  The problem is that power is abused, misused, misunderstood and unknown.  Those who are more wealthy begin to believe they have the power to control, lead and guide. Those who are poor haven’t experienced the wealth and goodness of their own power.  We don’t really need to empower others, we need to encourage them as they desire to unleash the power they already have.

As we try to be faithful Christians, the tension between God’s ways and the world’s ways seems to keep us moving in circles.  When we want to experience what power really means we look to Jesus for grounding and growth.  The early Christians had some pretty good ideas about all this:

“Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. You know the word [that] he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all..”   -Acts 10: 34-36

We know Jesus loves all.  Jesus has been with us through our highs and lows.  Jesus’ humility is power’s true way.  Into the broken, hurting, bleeding cracks of creation Christ is crying.  He’s with us and showing us what is real.

Powerlessness and being powerful blend together in a place of true humility.  We know we are nothing without God and this knowledge sets us free.  As we bend to God’s power, we are enlivened for God’s good mission.  We’ll build unity so that status no longer sets us apart.  Energized to be together, we love like Christ loves: with great humility.  May it be so, amen, indeed.