With due respect to St. Francis, who originated the Christmas crib, for this blog I shall alter the final word in his famous quote, making it read: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use gifts.”
We are probably already thinking about holiday gifts to give and perhaps even how to wrap them. As we do this, let’s remember a few things that will help us select gifts that “preach the gospel”:
- everything in creation has a sacred history dating back billions of years,
- divine Love is living and acting in every bit of it, and
- thoughtless consumption of Earth’s gifts endangers all of us who depend upon them for physical, psychological, and spiritual health.
Reflecting on our interconnected place in Earth’s story and the values of simplicity, love of nature, and sustainable living that are exemplified in the Gospel, we can move from a culture of Buy! Buy! Buy! to one of more thoughtful, gospel-based choices.
Some basic considerations:
- What resources are being consumed?
- Who has made the product and in what working conditions?
- Are endangered species or habitats threatened or benefited?
- Does making or using this product add to climate change?
- How does the store from which I buy treat its employees, and how does it care for the environment?
Suggestions for giving presents that “preach the gospel”:
- Give something previously used by you or another. “White elephant” gift exchanges can be great fun, and can be woven into group rituals that participants will joyfully anticipate each year. Thrift shops and thrift websites might have just what you’d like to give.
- Give used books with an inscription of what the book meant to you and why you chose it for this recipient. These can be passed on repeatedly, gaining in meaning with each inscription. Alternately, purchase books from a local independent bookstore (if you are fortunate enough to have one). Magazine subscriptions to worth-while publications might also be appreciated.
- Give something you’ve made: cookies, cards, clothes, scarves, art, poetry, music . . . . Or, you might buy things from friends or at craft fairs. Some parishes hold holiday sales that include work by local artists.
- Give a gift of time. Especially older, handicapped, or very busy people might appreciate a service gift: a concert with an instrument you play well, an offer to help with a future party, a back rub, an offer to help with the computer, or a promise that the garbage will be regularly taken out! Perhaps a pack of “Just Ask” coupons. . . .
- Give gifts to friends that also gift Earth: plants you have nurtured; organic, fair trade coffee, tea, or chocolate; glass water bottles that will replace plastic ones; CFL or LED light bulbs; art, music, videos that help others better appreciate divine life within creation; donations to Heifer International, Arbor Day Foundation, Rain Forest Rescue, or other organizations that help create sustainability and self-reliance. Items from Ten Thousand Villages won’t be cheap, but will assure you that people and planet have benefited from your purchase.
- Give experiences: tickets to concerts, plays, classes, or other events the person would enjoy. If needed, include offer of transport.
Suggestions of what to avoid:
(Note: These are ideals to work towards, not meant to incite guilt!)
- Avoid buying — or putting products in — anything made of plastic! (Plastic particles form with other debris into large swirling glutinous accumulation zones that comprise as much as 40 percent of the planet’s ocean surface — roughly 25 percent of the entire earth!)
- Avoid buying wrapping paper that came from non-sustainable sources. Stretch your creativity to find wrap/cloth and ribbon/string that can be used again.
- Avoid anything that will contribute to climate change by excessive fossil fuel use.
• Avoid anything that might have come from endangered species or from trafficked laborers.
One More Thing
However you celebrate the Incarnation in the Christmas story, remember also to celebrate the indwelling of Divine Love from the very beginning of the Cosmos. Many books, both for children and adults, tell the Universe Story in a way that makes clear to believers that, as Thomas Berry has written, these “are two aspects of a single wisdom … integral parts of a single story.”
Berry continues with insights relevant to our need to reduce consumerism and planet destruction: “What is happening in our times is not just another historical transition or simply another cultural change. The devastation of the planet that we are bringing about is negating some hundreds of millions, even billions, of years of past development on Earth …” What is happening now “is the most profound change that has taken place during the past five thousand years.”
How we give gifts this season will not only preach the gospel. It will contribute, positively or negatively, to that profound change.
Please add in Comments your suggestions for gospel-based gift-giving, and thanks!