The Holidays: Anxiety & Consumption or Presence & People

picture_consumption_behaviorAs we enter the holiday season, the lure of “necessary” excess and the myth of a consumption that satisfies will steadily grow stronger. This is not a reality in every culture, but it is front and center in ours.  

It for this reason that I offer this timely and prophetic quote from a faith father that is probably more relevant today than it was when he said it 1500 years ago. 

Fifth-century monk Nilus of Ancyra wrote, 

“We should remain within the limits imposed by our basic needs and strive with all our power not to exceed them. For once we are carried a little beyond these limits in our desire for the pleasures of life, there is then no criterion by which to check our onward movement, since no bounds can be set to that which exceeds the necessary.”

As we stumble toward a Jesus who taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread (nothing more and nothing less),” I offer this blessing as we navigate the beauty and brokenness of this holiday season. 

May we find our deepest satisfaction not in what we receive, but in what we give away.  

May we receive genuine relationship with family and neighbor as our most sacred gift.  

May we free ourselves from the bondage of consumption that captures our time and imagination. 

May the anxiety of lists and busyness be lifted and exchanged by the richness of laughter and presence. 

May we care for the creation God has given us to steward by choosing less in the face of more.

May we be reminded, each day, of the reality of a God who moved into our human neighborhood in Jesus, announcing that another world is possible which comes into view a little more through our participation today. 


Is It Possible to Celebrate Christmas and the Birth of Jesus on the Same Day?

Jesus Money ChangersThere is certainly a warm, nostalgic feeling about the Christmas season. Social media fills up with pictures of Starbucks holiday cups and we get the play-by-play of Christmas trees being purchased and filled with homemade ornaments. Holiday party’s become about as frequent as breathing and there is a general sense of camaraderie among people who wouldn’t otherwise interact. 

As a local practitioner and neighbor, I’d even go as far as saying this season brings about the most opportunity for new relationships and shared life in the realities of everyday. 

Last week I was talking to my three-year-old daughter about Christmas. She knows we are going to see grandparents and cousins and even knows a thing or two about gifts being exchanged. 

And then I asked her, “Whose birthday do we celebrate on Christmas?” With a big smile, said, “Santa!”

Now, I get it. She’s three years old, it’s kinda cute and harmless and whatever.  

But there is something to this. 

Our family never talks about Santa Claus, but we regularly talk about Jesus and even go as far as trying to live like him as best we can. When we do talk about Christmas and presents, we try to talk about how we will be giving them away to friends, family and people who need them. 

But, despite our best efforts, Christmas is associated with Santa Claus. Now, if it was the historical “Santa Claus” who gave away his best to save the lives of some children, that’d be awesome. But, no, this is the Santa Claus of consumption who promotes values of selfish acquisition rather than sacrificial giving. 

With all this being said -- and as followers of Jesus -- we have to ask the question, “Is it possible to celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus on the same day?”

To begin to answer the question, we have to first understand that Christmas and Jesus’ birthday are not synonymous. In fact, historically, they really have nothing in common.  

Christmas as a holiday didn’t even come around for hundreds of years after the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As with many “Christian” traditions and holidays, it didn’t come around until after Constantine announced Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century. It’s roots are largely pagan (like Easter) and it almost certainly isn’t celebrated anywhere near the time of year that Jesus would have been born in 1st century Palestine. 

So how in the world did three hundred years of Jesus followers celebrate the birth of their King until this holiday was constructed? Well, it seems they were quite content celebrating his birth by doing their best to live like him everyday of the year.  

What could that have looked like?

It looked like a people who were radically committed to living out the values of a new kind of Kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate, not through power and acquisition, but through suffering and self-sacrifice. A Kingdom whose manifesto was articulated on a mountain in Northern Galilee among a diverse group of folks who otherwise should have never been hanging out together. A Kingdom that warned against the idols of money, power and reputation and instead invited people to be marked by selflessness, sacrifice and servanthood. 

So, as we enter into a holiday season where we hear stories of people being killed under the feet of shoppers scrambling for the best discount in a mega mart, and feel the internal disconnect between the myth of Santa Claus and the reality of a living Jesus, we are confronted with the very anti-Kingdom constructs we have built around a holiday that somehow celebrates the birth of a homeless refugee who calls us to a whole new way of living. A way that is marked much more by a cross than a Nobel Fir with an angel on top.  

In short, the themes of consumption and selfishness run in direct contrast to the Kingdom inaugurated in Jesus. For us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the holiday would have to look a lot different than it does in its modern, Western, industrialized iteration.  

Now that I have totally kicked your peppermint mocha off the balcony, lit a small fire under your Douglas Fir and crushed my daughters hopes and dreams, let me ask again the question I posed at the beginning, “Is It Possible to Celebrate Christmas and the Birth of Jesus on the Same Day?”

Without hesitation I give a resounding, “YES!!” But not because it’s December 25th. Rather, because everyday we are to celebrate the birth of Jesus through the way we live, love and lead in a way that embodies the values of a Kingdom whose King took the throne through offering the greatest gift of all; himself.  

With that in mind, I can release my daughter’s preoccupation with Santa Claus (maybe even celebrate it!…Ok, maybe not), because the faith we’re inviting her to live doesn’t look like 1 day a year.

It looks like 365. 


Our Obsession with Violence & the Stories You’re Not Supposed to Hear

Banksy ArtUpon my recent return from the Middle East (with The Global Immersion Project), I was struck more than ever before at our Western infatuation around military aggression, violence and division. Not only are these the primary narratives we are fed through our major media outlets, they are the narratives we subconsciously embrace through the latest bestseller, box office hit or video game.  Violence, death and division have become normative. We are becoming numb to the very things that we – as ambassadors of hope and reconciliation – are to turn from as Resurrection People.  It is as though there is a strangle hold on our on our ability to see and participate in the stories of healing and new life.  

As surprising as this may be, embedded in the midst of these conflicts are endless stories of hope that never make the latest headline or sound bite.  And in the times I’ve followed Jesus INTO these places of conflict, I continue to encounter stories of peace and hope that embody the gospel message, stories by real people, happening right now, in places usually known only for conflict, violence and death. 

Meet Shaul, a Jewish Israeli who lives in a settlement in the West Bank.  When a group of young men from his town threw a Molotov cocktail in a taxi filled with a Palestinian family from a neighboring Arab Village, he chose to go to the hospital where they were being cared for.  He sat with the family, apologized for the incident and took responsibility for the terrible act because as a member of the community at fault, he considered himself complicit in the violence. 

Meet Milad & Manar, a Christian Palestinian couple who live in a small Muslim town in the West Bank. Seeing a narrative of violence and division taking hold of many of the youth in their town, they started an organization that teaches peace and reconciliation through art and vocational training.  They are now a bright beacon of hope among their neighbors who not only support and encourage their work, but do anything they can to get their kids into this program. These former hotel room cleaners are now not only running an organization that is radically changing the tide of their town, they are finishing their master’s degrees in reconciliation and non-violence.  

Meet Roni & Moira, a Jewish Israeli and Muslim Palestinian who have both lost loved ones in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Rather than demonizing a whole people group as a result of the loss they endured, they choose to sit and mourn with those who are supposed to be their “enemy” because it is in that space that they experience the most healing.  It is in the midst of shared grieving that reconciliation is taking place and a movement towards a shared future is bursting forth.  

We do grave harm to these regions and the people within them when we fail to highlight these gritty, subversive and everyday movements of hope in the midst of conflict.  As followers of the great Reconciler, we are to be ambassadors of hope.  

We have a responsibility to tell THESE stories.  

In fact, when we don’t -- and instead spend the majority of our time fueling the escalation of fear and division -- we not only fail our heroic brothers and sisters working for peace in these regions, we fail to reflect the Christian hope we have been entrusted to advance. 

Now back at home, I am again blanketed by news that only tells one fraction of reality, but thankfully I know there is much, much more to be told. I think of my friends, my role models, my teachers who are living out the most redeeming faith in the very places we often deem as irredeemable.

May we begin a new movement.  A movement marked by hope.  A movement that humanizes people rather than demonizes. A movement marked by God’s continued presence in and among the cosmos, rather than his removal from them.  A movement that is rooted in reality, which sparks our divine imagination for what God desires for the world. 

The Real Santa Claus and a Homeless Jesus

Old Saint Nick

As I read this reflection on St. Nick in the Common Prayer liturgy the other day, I was stirred at the contrast between the selfless generosity of this saint and the consumerist wish lists we now associate to the modern Santa Claus.

While, there is almost no chance Jesus was born in December and Christmas as a holiday didn’t exist for the first 300+ years after Jesus birth, it is still a holiday worth celebrating.  Let’s just celebrate it in a way that would do the homeless Jesus and the selfless St. Nick honor.

In their eyes, less is much, much more.

“The original “old Saint Nick” who inspired the tradition of Santa Claus, Nicholas was bishop of Myra in fourth century Turkey. Little is known about his life except that he entrusted himself to Jesus at an early age and, when his parents died, gave all of their possessions to the poor. While serving as bishop, Nicholas learned of three girls who were going to be sold into slavery by their father. Moved to use the church’s wealth to ransom the lives of these little ones, he tossed three bags of gold through the family’s window. We remember this ancient Christmas gift, even as we remember that 1.2 million children are trafficked each year in the global sex trade today.”


Stories Behind Our Gifts (Re-Posted)

This is a post I wrote a couple years ago around this time.  It seems quite timely as the consumerist craze of Black Friday (see a story from earlier this morning) casts a shadow on the beauty of Thankfulness that filled our homes yesterday.

This is a great season to allow our values to be reflected in the way we spend our money.  It is so important for those of us who have endless products at our disposal to remember the stories behind the production of each one of them.  I struggle with this and I invite others to come alongside me in this struggle.  May we set aside some of our comforts for the sake of representing the love and provision of Jesus to all humanity.

Some creative ways to consume with integrity this Christmas:

  • -Buy from fair trade distributors like Trade as One
  • -Pass up buying another product and buy something practical for someone who desperately needs it
  • -Donate to that missionary or non-profit that has been on your heart
  • -Shop at second hand stores. (Ever heard of up-cycling?  Check it out)
  • -Give the gift of an experience rather than a product

More ideas?  Please pass them along in the comments!

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