This morning for church I read this letter and said that I would put it here. Enjoy the read.
by Rabbi Michael Lerner Editor, Tikkun
Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars on holiday gifts that will quickly be discarded or put into a closet where it will be little used. Many will end up in a junk pile sometime in the next few years, further polluting our environment.
Meanwhile, the production of these goods will use up natural resources that could be used to help provide housing, furniture and clothing for the poor of the earth, or which could be preserved for future generations.
For years I’ve run “holiday stress” groups and heard first hand about the depression and despair that afflicts tens of millions of Americans, either because they can’t afford to purchase the goods that are advertised in the media and set a standard of consumption beyond their means, or because they purchase and deepen their personal debts, or because they don’t receive the quality or quantity of gifts that they’ve come to believe reflects how much they are really loved. But there are better ways to show love besides giving things.
The shopping frenzy between Thanksgiving and Christmas effects everyone—I’ve seen it undermine Chanukah as well as Christmas, and afflict those whose only connection to the holidays is the purchasing of material things.
Ironically, buying things has never been part of the essence of this season
The central message of both Chanukah and Christmas is the affirmation of hope for a renewal of goodness in the midst of a world that is increasingly dark and fearful. For the ancients, that was expressed through holidays of light—burning the yule log or lighting candles as a sign that even while the days had grown shorter and the sun seemed to be less available, we believed that it would return. Chanukah taught the world that a small group of people (the Maccabbees) could fight the overwhelming power of the Hellenistic empire, and triumph. Christmas brought the message that a little child, always a symbol of hope, could bring love and kindness to the world, with tidings of peace and generosity.
This year, we need to get back to those messages of hope. In a world in which our Senate has just signaled, through the confirmation of an attorney general who couldn’t muster the courage to acknowledge that waterboarding is torture, that the Bush Administration need not respect international law, and in which our Congress keeps spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fund a war that the vast majority oppose, and in which our presidential candidates are unable to commit to bringing all the troops and advisors out of Iraq before 2013, there is a desparate need for ordinary citizens to experience of hope for a world of peace, generosity, and ecological sanity.
Unfortunately, that spiritual message gets lost when our attention gets submerged in the frenetic buying that our consumer culture mandates.
Generosity and gift giving is a terrific thing. The Network of Spiritual Progressives has proposed that as a society we ought to try a strategy of generosity for ending terrorism and providing homeland security– by launching a Global Marshall Plan. Lets dedicate 1-2% of the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. each year for the next twenty to ending domestic and global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and repairing the global physical environment. That will do far more to provide us with security than dumping trillions of dollars into militaristic adventures like the war in Iraq and the proposed assault on Iran that only further inflame hatred toward the U.S. and promote more terrorism. We should be insisting that anyone who wants our political support endorse that kind of a plan for societal generosity.
And in our own lives, we could commit to spending not more than $100 on gifts for the children in our lives who may have been so overwhelmed by media expectations that we can’t yet wean them from societal materialism. But for everyone else, give a gift of time. Send your entire guest list a copy of this article and then offer them four hours of your time—to provide childcare so they can go out for an afternoon or evening, to paint their apartment or house, to shovel their snow or help them with gardening, to teach them or their children some skill of yours, to do shopping or errands for them, to help them clean their garage or arrange their papers or books, and you can think of much more.
Time is more scarce and more precious than goods—so this is a gift that shows real generosity. And not using up more of the earth’s resources is a gift to the earth’s environment that will yield fruit in the years ahead.