For Those Not Ready For Advent, Christmas, 2013, Tomorrow …

Maybe you find yourself a bit behind schedule these days. Maybe the To-Do list is out of control. Maybe the last week of November and the first couple weeks of December are your least favorite of the year. They certainly were for me and though these days are better, I still remember how I used to wish I could fast forward to the new year during Christmastime.

Understandably, the thought of Christmas coming up in a few weeks is daunting because it means “We gotta do extra stuff and we can barely do the regular stuff.” Perhaps throughout the year, you told your loved ones that Christmas is going to be different this year – simpler, slower, focused more on family and others so forth. Then as you’ve been hearing the amazing things that others are doing for their families (“We’re bringing the whole family out to Hawaii after fixing up the entire Jersey Shore and feeding all the poor – Praise Jesus!”), you are reconsidering and the anxiety level slowly rises again.

Much of our fear is rooted in disappointing our family/loved ones. And that may be our first mistake this Christmas [Read more…]

Is There a Third Way in Confronting the Over-Commercialization of the Christmas Season?

Each year we find ourselves in this familiar territory of arguing over something during the Christmas season. Whether it’s public nativities, “Seasons Greetings” versus “Merry Christmas” or now the Consumerists versus who I am calling the “Buy Nothing” advocates, there’s always something and this year proves to be no exception.

First a little personal context, I never go out on Black Friday. It’s not that I prefer to pay higher retail prices, I just find the day to be unappealing. But yesterday, I had to venture out so I kissed my wife and kids goodbye, said a few extra prayers and made sure I had paid all my bills and left our life-insurance policy on the night stand (“Baby, I’m finally worth something”). It wasn’t as crazy as it was in other parts of our country.

Sadly, each year we hear Black Friday horror stories. Who will ever forget the unfortunate story of the Wal Mart employee trampled to death by a mob of people in Long Island back in 2008? This year we had stabbings, gun shots, a pepper spray incident to name a few. (This last link has quite the summary).

It’s estimated that over 150 million Americans will go shopping this weekend. Many hope that the holiday spending will benefit our struggling economy. I heard on CNN that the number of holiday shoppers yesterday exceed the population of France and a handful of other countries. Which reminds me, given the violence and rudeness of yesterday, we may owe the French an apology, compared to us, they’re nice!

Moving to the point, as much as I am concerned with consumption, materialization and the over-commercialization of Christmas, I am becoming increasingly concerned with those who advocate “Buy Nothing.” Sometimes it sounds legalistic as if we are standing on a corner beating our organic-cotton shirts yelling, “Praise God, I’m not out shopping today like these miserable materialists. We know the true meaning of Christmas.”

For semi-full disclosure, each year my wife and I have tried to be intentional with how we spend our money for others during the holiday season. We’ve participated with World Vision, Compassion International projects, and in recent years we have participated and have promoted (and maybe even bored some people) with the Advent Conspiracy (which is really cool – check them out!). But we also gift-buy as well. My wife and I use as much wisdom as we can, and many or our gifts end up being from Toms Shoes and Invisible Children and local businesses but there’s a good bit we end up getting at Target and our local mall.

Back to Buy Nothing, it’s been my observation that some end up participating in the holiday shopping next week or later on in the season. I’m not sure what the point is there, it’s not called “Buy Nothing For Now” right? It’s also been my observation that the Buy Nothing crowd freeload. I know how that sounds – but it’s been an observation. I have also seen the Buy Nothing crowd buy themselves gifts but not buy others gifts. As one friend jokingly said, “What a great strategy for cheap people!”

Now, I want all the offended to know that I rebuked my friend (after I chuckled) but I do think we would be wise to curb some of our rhetoric just as we ask people to curb some of their consumerism. Honestly, I’m not sure I can read another tweet from an Apple product (a brand I am very loyal to) condescending the holiday shoppers. I try to avoid television on days like these but I could not believe that people stayed out in the cold all night to save $100 on a LCD screen. I’m sure to that person it makes perfect sense and maybe to them, blogging seems like a waste of time and energy. We’d do well to extend respect here.

I want to encourage my Buy Nothing friends to practice their convictions with as much humility as possible and show the “consumerists” a better way without scolding them. Scolding doesn’t work with anything else, and if we do see things like consumerism as seriously as we do, perhaps a more sensitive approach would be more helpful. I’d also like to encourage my super-shopping friends to seriously consider if the commercialism is hindering their understanding of the meaning of Christmas. Further, I’d like to ask to consider gift-buying for people in need this year. Lastly, I’d like to ask all of you to check out the Advent Conspiracy video below.

[AC] Promo 2011 from Advent Conspiracy on Vimeo.

An Encouragement to Particpate in the Advent Conspiracy

I’m one of those no Christmas music til after Thanksgiving people. I have made a few exceptions like Bob Dylan’s new Christmas album and the amazing Sufjan boxset but what I am really thinking about is Advent. Really, I am. For many years, I’ve always felt unprepared for this season but not this one, friends. I even considered writing a pre-advent devotional book entitled “Get Ready to Get Ready” but I got pretty discouraged that the material pretty much was the Christian life. You know stuff like, “As we prepare our hearts to prepare our hearts, let us reflect on what it means to have the presence of Jesus with us now.” Currently, I’ve retitled the project to “Just Another Devotional in Distribution”. My imaginary editor told me that acronyms are sellers in the Christian retail world so “JADID”.)

Well as you can tell from the deep outpourings of my heart that I am ready for Advent. Similar to last year, I’ll focus on certain parts of Scripture, use a particular devotional, and am considering a couple other practices that I do not know how to communicate properly. But among them will be the Advent Conspiracy.

As a youth group, we have set a goal and I am hoping the Second Mile community will participate in some way too. I keep sharing our experience from last year, hopefully not out of a sense of self-righteousness but last year was one of my favorite Christmases. The short story and to keep it specific to AC was that Susan and I simply bought bags of fair trade coffee (from One Village) for most people, a few books (ask my sr. pastor which Tony Jones book he got), a restaurant gift certifcate and donated the money we saved. We bought a couple “normal” gifts for Nathan and each other (Susan got a macbook …. in October and I bought books that I would have bought anyway but this time … even more guilt-free. But they were great answers to people who measure your goodness by what you purchase for loved ones at Christmastime ;-) Anyway, I think I went to the mall twice: once we took Nathan to see Santa (which he didn’t enjoy) and once to buy something for a non-coffee drinking person – fruitcake of course. This year I plan on giving coffee, subscriptions to magazines like Generate and some Invisible Children items.

Everyone I know, and I think I mean literally everyone, has lamented to me at one time or another the absolute frustration of Christmas shopping and has complained of its commercialization. I am sure they have complained to you too.  So everyone we know feels this way. The Conspiracy helps counter that. I know some will think, “You don’t understand, I have a family that expects Christmas gifts – nice ones!” – yes that makes you American, welcome. Or more common, “I just don’t have anything left to give” – seriously, that’s what the Advent Conspiracy is about. Spending less, so you can give more and spend that time that you would have thinking what to get for the person that doesn’t want anything, shopping anyway and wrapping the stupid thing so at the end of it all, you can be closer to Jesus. You now get to redeem that time and hopefully do something constructive with it – you may even choose to worship (and I don’t mean just on Sundays and I don’t mean just in “quiet times”) but imagine worshipping during the Christmas season and spending time with people you love and maybe even showing love to those you don’t know.

Know that I and others like me are not trying to create a new legalism here. It would be easy to do that and may the Lord guard our hearts from that. If your Christmas is fine the way it is, disregard the advice and worship the way you would normally. But if you curse every time you hear “So This Is Christmas”, it may be time for a change.