In the midst of these tumultuous economic times in our world, it's curious how our culture perceives increased consumption as the answer to this problem. For this time of the year -- the Christmas season -- it's nothing new. After all, we've been told that buying more things is how we get in the spirit of giving, not to mention how we get the economy moving again.
While the spirit of Christmas may encompass giving as an attitude of the heart, consumerism has quietly stolen the show. Sadly, I believe many Americans will feel as though this Christmas was "disappointing" due to the lack of gifts they are able to lavish upon one another.
When I lived on a ranch in the California desert, my wife, Nancy, and I didn't have much by way of the world's standards. In fact, we spent 14 of those years living without electricity--and some of that time we didn't even have a phone. That lifestyle in some ways was by choice and we enjoyed the simplicity of it.
In reflecting upon that time in our family's life, I realized that when you don't have whatever you want whenever you want it, you appreciate what you do have. There's a genuineness to how one feels about the things we ideally propose should be the most important things in life--such as family and friends.
Since we didn't have electricity, getting lights for our Christmas tree was a big deal. So big, in fact, that the process of making that happen one Christmas was an arduous task that involved rigging hobby train lights to a 12-volt car battery. When I lit up the tree it wasn't nearly as spectacular as Clark Griswold's blinding display, but it brought just as much joy to my family.
Giving Christmas presents was also a time where you put thought into what you gave someone instead of simply buying an item off a wish list. We used our talents and knowledge of what one another would truly enjoy to determine the gifts we gave one another. One year, I crafted a wooden rocking horse for my son, combining my woodworking skills with something I knew he would use and appreciate.
As a pastor, I want to point people toward the meaning of Christmas during this season; yet, this is a difficult task when I'm competing against so many voices that send other messages for the reason for the season. And as someone who cares deeply for the environment, I see this consumeristic mindset as something that can be in direct conflict with being a good steward of creation. With all the needs in the world--real needs like that of clean water or medicine or food--why do we need this year's version of the latest techno-gadget or trendy new fashionable clothing?
The Advent Conspiracy is a great idea that doesn't dismiss the spirit of giving at Christmas; instead, it directs people toward giving something that can help those in desperate need. I know of one young woman and her husband who are traveling with four other family members to Central America to work in an orphanage and plant a garden as their Christmas gift to one another.
This Christmas you have the opportunity to change things, not only in your own life but also in the lives of others. Don't stop giving; rather, give gifts to your friends and family as well as to those in need that leave a lasting handprint, not a lasting footprint.
Tri Robinson is the pastor of the Vineyard Boise Church in Boise, ID, and author of Saving God's Green Earth and Small Footprint, Big Handprint. He lives on a homestead that is almost fully sustainable and blogs about his adventures there at www.timberbuttehomestead.com.