Who do we worship? The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Consumption? I wrestle with this question throughout the year and no time more than now. Even in mid October the sirens of consumption are beginning to call, as our economic engine gears up for Christmas. Christmas this holiest of seasons, is each year at risk of being overwhelmed by the call to buy more. The assumption is that we show we care by what we buy and the more we buy the more caring we must be.
Yet, we also know that we live in a society that is far out of balance, which equates stuff, no matter how glitzy with meaning. Our wider culture would have us believe that stuff brings happiness, that stuff brings meaning. This mindset is summed up in the bumper sticker: ‘The One Who Dies with the Most Toys Wins’.
Economist tell us that Christmas as an economic season is a make or break time for the retail economy of our nation. If profits are up then employment is up, which means more people have money in their pocket to buy more stuff. It seems that stepping off this hamster wheel is impossible.
Perhaps it is a matter of balance. We all need a viable economic system. We all need food, medicine, shelter, transportation, clothing. Short of living in a collective, all these things cost money. So to a point we need an economic system that provides the essentials for a healthy life.
What would happen if we limited our involvement in the economy to what we really needed and to what we truly valued? Would we spend less? Perhaps. Would we spend our money differently? Most likely, yes. Would the economy need to adjust? Yes, probably fewer baubles that can be easily discarded and more substantive items that reflect our values and have a purpose.
Can we unmask the false god of consumption as the source of meaning, satisfaction and accomplishment? Yes (I pray). For as we discover what is most important our priorities change, our choices change, our mindset changes.
Christmas need no longer be a season of consumption but a season of worship, for community, for service to others. Stuff still has a place. Gifts still can be bought. But the acquiring of more stuff is no longer the reason for the season. Gift giving becomes secondary to being present to each other and to our God who ushered in that great miracle placed in a manger.
Will economists bemoan the loss of record retail sales? Yes. But we have learned from this lingering recession that the pain of the present can make way for new ways of taking care of one another, new ways of being a community, new ways of finding meaning.