This Christmas, Give Presence
There are millions around the globe who wonder where their next meal -- or tomorrow's meal -- will come from, who lack reliable clean water, who don't have access to the medication that might save their lives or the lives of their children. I've traveled in Mexico, Africa, the Caribbean. I have seen them, I have looked into their faces, and I have wrestled with the thought that what I spend on the things I just end up throwing out would keep one or more of them alive.
So the thought that this Christmas you or I might spend five, ten, fifty, or five hundred dollars on something that nobody really needs pierces my heart in light of that reality.
Personal decisions have a political dimension, and what I'm suggesting has some societal costs. When I tell you that I'm not intending to spend thousands of dollars at Christmas, I'm saying as well that I'm not expecting to be pumping a lot of new dollars into our economy, which is, for better or worse, largely driven by consumer spending. (I am also saying that I don't intend to fill the coffers of international conglomerates to make money for their shareholders and top executives, or to increase the trade deficit with China by buying their cheap goods; but those effects seem less obvious and onerous to us.)
But I am also telling you that what little I can spend, I intend to spend wisely, and that too has a political dimension. My family and I want to help someone who needs help, and we want to orient our society toward that altruism and compassion as well. I'm going to gift something useful to a family in the Two-Thirds World (some call it the Third World, but since two-thirds of the world live under the same difficult conditions, I like this name better). I'm looking at Heifer International, where we could give a farm animal that might keep someone's family alive. I'm looking at a similar gift catalog from Save the Children, which I already support. I'm encouraging people to check out the great work done in Africa by Comfort the Children, a nonprofit run by my friend the Rev. Zane Wilemon, and consider buying a gift from them that would support impoverished Africans (or any thoughtful gift from a company or nonprofit that supports the less fortunate).
And I want -- for me, for my family, and for all of you seeking a different way of doing Christmas -- to remember that the holiday should be about celebrating love and God's gifts to us, not Walmart's bottom line . . . or Target's, or Macy's, or any of the other various places we might spend too much money.
I try not to read the Bible in bumper stickers. Any of us can pick a line or two out of any of the books of the Bible to support our rationale for things. But when you read the Bible in vast swathes of narrative instead of in sound bites, what emerges seems clear. God is on the side of the poor, the disposed, and the marginal, or else he wouldn't have his prophets and his son Jesus constantly talking about them. God loves us and is present with us in all of our circumstances, whether we are rich or poor. And God wants to be in relationship with us and for us to place God at the center of our lives.
This Christmas, I'm going to try hard to do just that.
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.