Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy?

I intended to post this piece a few days ago, during Advent, but I fell behind. I will post it now, even though today's Christmas Eve reflections and tonight's two Christmas Eve services have given me some further insight. I'll hope to share those further thoughts in the next day or two.

Tonight, as I drove home at 12:30 a.m. from church, seeing all the businesses shut down, all the retail stores closed and dark, this strikes me as perhaps relevant still.

My friend Seamus sent me a link to this story from U.S. News & World Report. It continues the little rant I've been doing about the consumerism that has overtaken our culture, as has been so clearly manifest in the "Christmas" shopapalooza. Here's some of the text:

If you're feeling overwhelmed by shopping this month, What Would Jesus Buy? is the movie for you. By equating elaborate gift giving with consumerism gone wild, it will help you justify the impulse to stop buying presents altogether.

Morgan Spurlock, who also brought us the documentary Super Size Me, produced the film that follows the character "Reverend Billy" . . . , leader of the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, across the United States in an attempt to get people to retire their plastic and, instead, simply enjoy each other's company over the holidays. . . .

The film saves some of its wrath for consumers themselves. Against a backdrop of disturbing video clips of shoppers running each other over to get to Black Friday sales, the narrator tells us that the U.S. household savings rate is below zero for the first time since the Great Depression and that Americans spend five hours a week shopping and only one hour a week on religion or spiritual time. [Emphasis added]

The U.S. News site has a trailer for the What Would Jesus Buy? movie. I can't say I'm a fan of "Reverend Billy," nor am I encouraging you to see the movie.

But that one statement struck me: "Americans spend five hours a week shopping and only one hour a week on religion or spiritual time." Let that sink in. We spend five hours on our material necessities or indulgences and – on average – one hour with God and God's people.

Something is very, very out of whack.

I don't think of myself as a "shopper." I avoid malls like the plague. So when I first read that statistic, I felt "righteous distance." But I would have to agree that in the little errands I run to the grocery story, hardware store, and popping into my local java joint, I probably do spend five hours a week shopping.

However, I am not one of those who expects God or church to take merely 60-75 minutes of my life on Sunday morning. The best and happiest minutes of my life each week are the ones I spend in church. Typically, I go to Sunday morning services (and other church events) like a woman dying of thirst. I know that's an important time for me to nourish my soul; it's important time that helps me keep me centered in the rest of my week.

It seems to me that – while we are spending more time in malls and stores – many of us are more aware that there is an empty space in our lives. What can fill that emptiness? You know my answer. I believe we need to shift the balance – with more time in church, with God, with Christian friends, on spiritual matters.

This makes me think, though, of the many people I know who never go to church. What do they do to center their lives – to connect to the source of our being? I was one of them, for about twenty years, after I shook the dust of my feet from the increasingly fundamentalist church in which I had been raised, and before the Episcopal Church found me and God got hold of me again.

What must Christmas mean to the people who don't spend their days and weeks in Christian community or some other intentionally spiritual practice?

More about that later.

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