Merry Freegan Christmas!

Do other parents feel guilty and sad that they too won’t have the same elated faces on their children’s faces when they present an XBox 360, complete Thomas the Tank engine set (with newest Misty Island Rescue attachments), or any other toy that said child would enjoy on Christmas morning? Have you noticed how even McDonald’s is equating personal fulfillment with food ordered and consumed from their menu this holiday season?

I recently received a coupon like this in the mail and thought "wow, that's so nice McD's sent me a holiday coupon!" and then I realized what I was thinking and that it wasn't a neighborly gesture on behalf of my local golden arches.

Though Dave and I are typically content with the lifestyle we’ve chosen of glamorous non-profit student ministry, are creative with our resources and try to live simply, there are times I just am sad or pissed off we don’t make more money.  This usually corresponds with what I feel like I should be doing to care for others than what is actually expected of me or desired around the Holiday season.  This Christmas we’re facing the tough reality of being addled with two mortgages because our renters moved out this past month, trying to sell our other car to still be a one car family and managing to buy Christmas presents this year.  Yesterday when I was carefully selecting some Thomas trains for Reuben for Christmas because of an amazing buy one get one sale (sometimes I do like black friday!) I was feeling like such a bad parent because I wanted to get him some of the play sets to go with the trains but it would have been irresponsible this month.

Now before you think I’m going to whip out my violin and tell you the sad tale of the boy who only had 15 trains to play with, this isn’t a pity post or some sort of crazy hippie rant about “the man”- homey don’t play that (at least publicly in my blog).  When I came back from shopping, I was checking facebook and noticed my friend Scott Bessenecker’s status update: “We’re calling it a “freeganecker Christmas” No new stuff for gifts. We’re attempting to break free of consumerism this year” Wow, I thought, I haven’t seen a message like that anywhere.  Granted Scott writes books like this one:

check out this book and a few of Scott's other gems at www.ivp.com!

“In The New Friars Scott Bessenecker profiles young Christians who have voluntarily removed themselves from the status quo in order to seek justice and mercy with the poorest of the world’s poor. These new friars are carrying on the work of the monastic tradition, the spirit of Francis and Clare of Assisi, St. Patrick and St. Brigid, the Jesuits and Nestorians and Moravians. The New Friars will show you that with God all things—even uncommon acts of courageous faith—are possible.” Check it out people- good stuff!

Scott’s status update was refreshing because it was a reminder of the hype that surrounds Christmas and how easily I buy (literally) into it.  i.e. see McDonald’s coupon example from above. It was a reminder of that though I often love stuff (I am a boot fiend when winter rolls around), stuff doesn’t love me back.  The boots get scuffed, the Thomas trains grow tiresome, the wrapping paper gets recycled or thrown away.  It’s funny that as a Jesus follower, the holiday meant to celebrate his birth is actually one of the most difficult for me to celebrate because it is more easy to be influenced by holiday commercials than Christmas carols which profess beautiful truth like:

long lay the world, in sin and error pining, then he appeared and the world knew it’s worth, a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious dawn! Fall on your knees, oh hear the angels voices, oh night divine, the night when Christ was born!”

I’m thankful for Scott’s reminder that my worth isn’t found as a mom in the kinds of toys I buy for Reuben. It isn’t found in how cute I look in the lovely new boots my in-laws purchased for me of Christmas.  It isn’t found in the glorious gifts I’ve carefully chosen for people I love in my life.  It’s found in the thrill of hope that Jesus affords me in my life every single day, in his love and purpose for me that only grows more precious over the years, the kindness and acceptance he demonstrates thought there is much error and sin in my life. Man, I’m getting teared up as I type this post simply thinking about the different kind of gift Jesus is than the kind I usually pine for.

So this year, Dave and I are going to join Scott in his “Freeganecker” celebration by trying to live simply, kindly and responsibly by following some of his suggestions:

  • If our kids need something, we should get it (some are in great need of clothes). But let’s get it when they need it. The idea is to dial down the association between consumerism on steriods and Jesus’ birth. Yes, Jesus was an amazing gift and it’s nice to celebrate by giving someone a gift, but this thing has gotten waaaay out of control!
  • Freecycle is a place we can look for gifts for one another. Let’s rescue something a family member might need from the landfill (this may require some repair). (check www.freecycle.com for local listings near you!)
  • Of course home made gifts is alright.
  • Buy a goat or chicken in the name of a family member through one of the many charities that do that sort of thing.

    goats! check out the world vision gift catalogue for more great ideas!

  • Service gifts always welcome. (hellooooo backrubs!)
  • Psychologically prepare for a Christmas morning that will not be about trying out all the new stuff. This may be a challenge for the kids. We’ll need to satisfy ourselves with hanging out in our PJ’s, eating and playing games on Christmas day (the thrill of new stuff is pretty short lived anyway).
  • We watched “The Story of Stuff” together on Thanksgiving and chose to buy nothing on Friday.

Admittedly I wouldn’t even be thinking about doing this because of my own moral convictions this holiday season if it had not been for our lean pocketbooks. Yet I’m glad for even small reminders that I can choose to focus on celebrating and gift giving this year that doesn’t make me feel guilty or put us in debt.  I’d love to hear some of your ideas on how you’ve celebrated Christmas simply, tried to dial down consumerism and still managed to have a great time during the holidays.

i really need to stop looking at porn

It all starts with one click. Pretty soon you find yourself sucked into a portal with all kinds of images that only make you want to see more. One click leads to another site, and another and another and pretty soon you wonder- how did I get here?

I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile. Mostly because for the past few months I’ve been struggling with what I look at online- and it hasn’t been the fleshy variety of lusty contortions. Here are some examples of the porn I’ve been looking at. If it is going to cause you to have similar problems, I suggest you go read npr.com or something.

ikea.com, I must turn away....

who knew lowes.com had such tantalizing wallpaper?

apartmenttherapy.com- a barrage of supple armchairs.

This week I’m at a InterVarsity’s annual regional staff conference. Though I’m on sabbatical, Dave and I decided it would be a nice break for me to come to the conference, hang out with friends, rest, study and enjoy the childcare that is provided where Reuben is hanging out with lots of his friends. The topic of the conference is money & how materialism can be like an invisible venom that starts to poison our hearts. I’ve gone to a couple of the sessions to hear what Scott Bessenecker InterVarsity superhero and author of The New Friars,

check out scott's blog at http://www.urbana.org/blogs/blog.main.leastofthese.cfm

and Ron Sider, author of a crazy amount of books most famously including:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Sider

have to say about the personal and systemic dynamics of money.  This topic has been especially germane because  in the process of moving into a new house I’ve been a little addicted to online browsing and fantasizing about how I’d like to furnish our new house.  In his talk, Scott shared with us that in looking at all the passages about scripture in the bible about money compared to the ones about sexuality- Jesus talked about what we do with our money 5x more than what we do with our bodies. Or as Scott put it; “Jesus is more concerned with what we do with our coins than what we do with our loins.”

I was thankful that in these talk both Scott and Ron encouraged us not to judge ourselves or others for what we have or don’t have, to look at our hearts and figure out how Jesus is inviting us to live generously, sacrificially and joyfully with people and the material world. For me, I realized that online shopping and browsing has become so damaging to my soul recently is because it breeds discontentment, ungratefulness, self-pity, and irresponsible behavior with money. St. Paul said “I have learned the secret of contentment, whether in plenty or in want…” he could go from having sumptuous feasts with the wealthy one day to being in prison the next and not eating for days…..and still be content.

I hope I don’t give the impression that I don’t enjoy life or think enjoying life is bad or unspiritual. I love putting together a beautiful outfit, sinking into a comfy chair or savoring a nice meal- in fact, I believe all of these things are spiritual choices of how we use, enjoy and share what God has given us. However, I want the kind of contentment in my life that is present regardless of if I hang up ikea curtains or not. Styles change, money comes and goes, kids destroy beautiful furniture but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Lord, help me to have the courage to live simply and generously- to enjoy what I have today and trust you with tomorrow!

oh madge, how do we enjoy and live generously in our material world?