Thanksgiving 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Daddy!

I woke up this morning with a very eager daughter wanting me to see the Thanksgiving card she had made us. Here is a sampling of her handiwork. I especially like the hand turkeys that she drew. Christie and I really liked it.

But what really warmed my heart was the note she wrote on the white part of the card. It says:

Dear Mommy and Daddy,

I have been learning about colonial times and I realize how fortunate I am to have everything you give me. They didn’t have much then, so I am thankful that I have food and water, family and friends, clothes to wear, and shelter to live in. I am thankful I can be thankful, for the love you give me, and last but not least, I am thankful for you.

Sincerely, Damaris

I think that every parent has certain values that they want their kids to understand. And it means a lot when they show evidence that they “get it.” For us we have intentionally sought to not get entangled in the consumerism of American culture and instead have pursued a life of missional living and the pursuit of simplicity. I wonder more and more whether the pursuit of the “American dream” is compatible with following Christ. It seems to only complicate our lives and produce with us a longing that every wants more and more. I think perhaps the “pursuit of liberty” part might fit, but it would require I think the pursuit of liberty (and justice) for others who don’t have it than rather my own liberty. Anyways, in the back of my mind I have always wondered, “does Damaris get it?” Is she learning about being grateful, because compared to many others she and we are still a very blessed family? The very first thing I thought was, “she gets it!” It feels good that she knows she is a fortunate and blessed little girl.

What I’m thankful for…

  • I’m thankful for being married to the best wife in the world.
  • I’m thankful for Damaris. She is growing up way too fast though.
  • I’m thankful for Thanksgiving which means food, family, and football.
  • I’m thankful the Dallas Cowboys won today.
  • I’m thankful for good books on theology.
  • I’m thankful for hugs and kisses from my wife.
  • I’m thankful for hugs and kisses from Damaris.
  • I’m thankful for being able to remember the babies we lost: Jordan Taylor, Micah Jayden, and Noah Avery. We hold them in our hearts daily.
  • I’m thankful we will be able to see them one day in the new heaven and new earth.
  • I’m thankful for Kerioth Cherie. She only graced us with her presence for a little while but we treasure the time we had.
  • I’m thankful for the season of Advent and the opportunity to connect more with the Christ story.
  • I’m thankful for a God who blesses us beyond measure and loves us without condition.
  • I’m thankful for a God that does the seemingly unthinkable and includes us in His mission.

A challenge…

In light of Thanksgiving I have a challenge I want to issue. While its good to be thankful on an individual basis, in the coming year don’t be content to just be thankful by yourself. Instead multiply your thankfulness with others in genuine community. And don’t stop there. Don’t be content to keep your thankfulness to yourself. Instead in the coming year further multiply your thankfulness through participation with others in outwardly focused missional community. Take your thankfulness to others. There are many in the world that genuinely find Thanksgiving and the holiday season hard. Some are poor and have little to be thankful for while others are consumed with grief during this time of year (something that we at the Almon house have experienced ourselves). In case you haven’t noticed, the consistent testimony in the Bible is that such people are close to the heart of God. The thankfulness we as a community have in Christ should move us to care deeply about what and who God cares about and into participation in God’s mission to those that have nothing to be thankful for. In my opinion the church needs to be distinguished as a genuinely thankful missional community centered around Christ. But I have found many times that quite a few don’t understand this vision of what it means to be the church. And its understandable really. Such a vision requires a total paradigm shift, or should we say many paradigm shifts. So, if you read this and you’re not sure whether others will understand the idea of a thankful missional community, then my challenge is to be the one to spread the vision wherever God may have you.

Finally, today we stand on the verge of the “start” of the Christmas shopping season (although I was in Wal-Mart the other day and it really appeared to already be in full force). I feel the sad reality is that in the name of “giving” to others many Christ followers (perhaps unintentionally but no less substantially) will participate full force and contribute to the consumerism that has come to mark the season. I have spoken to many that seem to think we know it’s a good Christmas season when we can find the stuff we want to get and be sure that the cashier says, “Merry Christmas” to us and not, “Happy Holidays.” Now, I don’t have anything against cashiers saying “Merry Christmas,” but I do seriously wonder if Christ continues to want his name attached to the rampant consumerism of the season. Seriously, what kind of witness is it when businesses are forced (by threat of boycott) to say “Merry Christmas” and then Christians stand at the register and participate in the same consumeristic ritual as everyone else? What good does it do to boycott business that refuse to say “Merry Christmas” when it doesn’t mean Christians are going to spend less. No, it seems that most would just go somewhere else and spend just as much! Have we reduced Christ’s name to simply a matter of determining who gets our business?

Some may want to push back on me here and contend its not as bad as I’m making it out to be. However, I have worked at Wal-Mart and all I can say is that the holiday shopping season is disheartening. Black Friday is indeed a dark day. I have worked Black Fridays (at both secular and Christian retail stores) before and have found them to be gross displays of consumeristic gluttony. I can tell you that one’s spending habits reveal a lot about what’s in the heart and one’s values. Now I realize that we all have to buy stuff and to an extent its nice to have stores available to get the things we need. But sadly, the spending habits in general and Christmas shopping habits in particular that I saw from fellow professing Christians weren’t all that different, and sometimes even more consumeristic than non-Christians. In fact, I had a manager when I first started at Wal-Mart who did not have a favorable impression of Christians. But right before Thanksgiving my first year he told me that at this time of year he really liked Christians. Noticing the sarcasm in his voice I asked why. He told me, “Its because during this time of year Christians show just how hypocritical they are. They spend just as much, and even more, than everyone else and then complain about how consumeristic all the non-Christians are. But at least they spend their money right? After all, that’s the really important thing.” As a manager at a big box chain store this guy obviously reflects the values of consumerism. But I am afraid that he hits way too close to home for many American Christians. Honestly, let’s say it for what it is. His statement was based on first hand experience of Christians complaining about one thing and then going and actively participating in that very thing!

In the present state of things I believe we have more pressing concerns than whether others want to say “Merry Christmas” or not. We all need to look at ourselves and see how we contribute to the proliferation of consumerism. I say this with all seriousness: maybe the best way to “reclaim” Christmas is not to force others to say “Merry Christmas” but to repent of our consumerism and change the way we spend our money and Christmas shop – to connect ourselves more fully into the Christ story. I’m not saying that gift giving is a bad thing. In fact, the act of gift giving can be an awesome reflection of the heart of God. God calls us to gift giving and gift giving can itself be missional. But in the present holiday “shopping season” gift giving has been co-opted, distorted, and deformed. Instead of revealing the heart of God and participation in the mission of God, gift giving far too often reveals the depths of Christian consumerism, which then gets passed on to our kids and so the cycle continues. I want to propose the redemption of gift giving! My challenge to any who might read this is, as you venture out into the full swing of holiday shopping (and perhaps even Black Friday) is to rethink your gift giving this year. I’m not in the position to make demands but if you would, ask yourself some questions. Does my gift giving this season reveal the heart of God or the heart of consumerism? Does my gift giving produce more consumeristic longing in the one receiving the gift (my children perhaps) or does it connect them to the shalom (peace, holistic well being) of God? Does my gift giving proceed from and produce more consumerism, or does it create space for shalom? Is there such a thing as missional gift giving? If so what might it look like for you and your family? May our thanksgiving today lead us into the peace and shalom of the Christ child!


2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving 2009

  1. Wow, I was contemplating writing something about the whole happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas but your thoughts are right on or even more extensive then I was thinking about. Very good blog Russel. I may have to make this a note on facebook (quoting and sourcing you of course if that is ok?).

    I hope you had an awesome Thanksgiving and Black Friday probably NOT being in the materialistic and consumeristic chaos!

  2. Daniel, feel free to make it a note or reference me. I think it would be interesting to see what kind of feedback (or pushback) others might give. I am fundamentally convinced that Christians and the church need to rethink how we participate in the “Christmas” season. In particular I think 1) it will mean not necessarily the de-emphasis of gift gift giving but the emphasis of the “Christ” “mas(s)” as that which governs the way we give gifts and 2) extending from this not de-emphasizng gift giving but re-thinking the purpose of gift giving – the redemption of gift giving. All this needs to be done with a combined emphasis on spending less as well as spending wisely.

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