Friday, December 23, 2005

Why I'm not bothered by America's Christmas
or "How I learned to stop worrying and love the Mall."

Dad made some interesting points in his post below, which prompt me to share some of my thinking on the upcoming Day of Celebration.
First, a comment about some enemies of a life of devotion to Christ, aka a Devotional Life or, if you like, a Spiritual Life. Two big enemies are Busyness and Stuff. Not that there aren't appropriate times & places to be busy and to have stuff. But I think that two big tensors we experience during Christmastime are that we get increasingly Busy and we participate in a process to accumulate Stuff.

For these two reasons, I've generally been down on American Christmastime. Until this Christmas. For the first time, I've been on the retail side of this equation as well as on the consumer side. I'm on both sides of the cash register, if you will. And one thing that occurred to me a few weeks ago was that this whole glut of consumption is driven by the desire to give a gift. I'll put a stake in the ground here: the desire to give a gift is a good desire.

Of course, this desire gets shaped by unhelpful motivations or misinformed by advertising. Sure it does. So what? When I watch people at the Carts, I watch folks laugh, then think of someone they know and you can read their expressions, "Oh, Johhny will love this! It will make him laugh!" They might then move on to, "And then, while Johhny's laughing, I'll ask him for a raise!" That's trouble, but it's not a problem endemic to Christmastime. It's a broken human problem.

I think that, in general, the rush and expendetures in the Christmas season have at their root the desire to give a gift, which is to give someone a blessing. So I'm thankful for much of what is going on in the retail sector. It'd be nice if more of it went on around the Carts, but that's another thing.

Another thing I realized is that, at least in the retail world, Christmastime is the economic engine for our country. So we live in a country where a major part of its economic success comes from the desire to give gifts. That is, to bless someone else. I think that this is remarkable! (See, I'm remarking on it.) And I'm not ready to buy the argument - "If we didn't have Christmas as retail spike, the general consumption of the USA would just be spread more evenly across the year." I think there's much to be said on the critical mass that is generated by the once a year gift giving moment.

So we get stuff as a result of it. So what? It's not whether you have stuff or not, it's what you do with your stuff that's significant. And I don't mean that the only significant suff-act is divestment of stuff. This can be just as self-centered as the accumulation of stuff.

So it's stuff we might not need. So what? They're gifts. Also, there is a place in God's economy for beauty (even if Beautiful Object has no other function than to be beautiful) and enjoyment (even if Enjoyable Object has no other function than to bring pleasure). (Yeah, you could argue that beauty and pleasure are needs, but you know what I mean here.)

I'm less bothered by this activity at Christmastime than I've ever been. I used to be completely turned off by walking through a mall at this time. All I saw was gluttony, triviality, and the inferiority of everyone around me who "just didn't get it" like I did. Last weekend though, when I was in the biggest and busiest mall in the DFW area I saw people who were looking for things which with to bless others, I saw store employees who were making a living and providing for themselves and families, I saw store owners who were employing those folks as well as for providing for their own families.

(Another thing I've thought about is the difference between the social value of something "homemade" and something "store bought". I think I'll save that for another post.)

Not that I've licked the enemies of my own soul in Busyness & Stuff. Hardly. But it isn't a Christmastime problem. It's a me problem. I have the same problems during the Fourth of July, Summer Solstice, and my birthday. I'm grateful that at least during Christmastime I get reminded about the Incarnation of the Son.

Thanks to Joe Moore for the insight into the enemies of a Spiritual Life. I'm sure he'd be the first to say that they weren't his to begin with, but that doesn't matter to me. I heard it from him first. Two shout outs to Joe in a week! Are you listening, Joe? I'm giving you a "Woo," "Woo."

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