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.”

thanks for giving, not buying

I am grateful.  It’s thanksgiving weekend, and I am blessed.  These days, gratitude and thanksgiving are in season.  After a harvest and a celebratory feast it’s easy to cozy up to a sacred sensation of appreciation.  It’s good and important, and I could become very long-winded about how grateful I am.

The truth is, though, I am not purely grateful. A few other feelings are mixed into this heart of mine that makes this season a little more complicated.

Yesterday at my family’s Thanksgiving meal there were several conversations about the dangers of consumerism and the goodness of simplicity.  My heart was filled with thanks for the fact that these are the values that have been instilled in me.  Simplicity and thriftiness shall help us survive, I’ve learned.  Consumerism creates more problems than solutions.  Happiness has nothing to do with the stuff you have.  Instead, joy comes from a relationship grounded in God.

“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

Jesus seemed to say so himself: It’s not the stuff of shopping that matters, but the stuff of heaven.

The danger and the challenge, however, is that it’s a heaven thing to have a pure heart.  Pure hearts are nonjudgmental and free of pride and self-righteousness.

It’s easy to become self-satisfied when I hear murmurings with negative tones about shopping crusades and I agree.  The truth is, I know many people whose joy on this day are the deals that they discovered on their shopping frenzies.  For many, it seems that the hype, lines, crowds and stampedes of this day are fun and exciting like sports events.  It’s hard to appreciate all this, instead I become grateful for Buy Nothing Day campaigns.  I can become angry about how people choose insanity.  When anger enters in, though, love seems to leave.

In my classroom there is a sign: “If you must have an attitude, have an attitude of gratitude.”  In reality, gratitude is tough.  The problems of the world glare at me, and it becomes hard to have a grateful heart.  When I notice people doing things wrong, I can quickly become judgmental, crabby, and angry.  When consumerism and materialism seem to be creating spiritual and social disasters, I have trouble appreciating any type of craze that supports it.  When oppression corrodes at the dignity of those whom I love, my heart rarely has room left for gratitude.

A wise sister in my community has told me that when there is a temptation to be judgmental, gratitude is the quickest remedy.  Once gratitude enters in, she says, all else has to go out.

Once gratitude enters in, I’ll have no choice but to know love.  That love can’t be bought or sold.  I’ll have to give it away, and with that it’s the gift that just keeps giving.