Archive for December 16th, 2009

Let me respond a bit more regarding my concern over the Advent Conspiracy film (and for all you friends of AC, I was contacted by the creative director of AC, Tony Biaggne and had a great conversation with him — which I look forward to continuing at a later date). I need to make clear that I’m reacting to the 2008 video since that’s all I’ve seen. I have not read the book, I had not even seen the blog, or the facebook page until Tony told me about them, so all I know of AC is the video — and it’s the video to which I’m objecting.

Passing over some of the assertions that are made (which I do have some questions about), there is certainly a great deal said that no one can argue with:
— Do many people spend more than they can afford on gifts and sin by going into unnecessary debt? You betcha.
— Do we have a problem with materialism in our culture? Indeed we do.
— Do we often think that money and things can bring happiness and contentment? We sure do.
— Do we fall into the trap of focusing more upon the hassle and the expense of gift-giving than we do upon the privilege of giving or upon the far more valuable relationships God has given us? Absolutely.
— Should we spend more time together with loved ones and work on building our relationships and loving one another? Of course.

But, you see, if this was the point of the video, then it would simply be an exercise in stating the obvious. Nobody, however, goes to the trouble and expense of producing a snazzy video to say things that everybody already knows, right? So the question is, what is the real message here?

Here’s the way it hit me: “Why are we spending $450 billion on Christmas when it would take only $10 billion to solve the world’s drinking water problems. What’s more important? An unnecessary toy or saving lives? An ugly sweater or water that won’t kill people? A stupid gift card or giving a cup of clean water? And you could accomplish that for only 2% of what you spend on these useless, unnecessary, mindless gifts. What is wrong with you? When are you going to quit being so selfish and materialistic and start caring about someone aside from yourself? Stop wasting your money on Christmas, you fat slob, you eat too much anyway and you already have too much stuff. It’s not going to kill you to eat less, and not have a new toy. Quit being such a selfish pig and try being compassionate for a change.”

Ok, that’s over-stated, and Tony has assured me that this is not the message intended, but honestly, that’s how it came across to me (and to quite a few others as well).

My question is this: If you’re tithing and being generous with your wealth, is it wrong to spend your money on “unnecessary” gifts and celebration? Should you feel guilty that you’re doing so? Is it wrong to buy things already made or should I try to make all the gifts I give? Is it wrong to give something to another that is not needed? Does my son need that truck or space ship or xbox? And if not, is it wrong to give it to him anyway? The implication of the video is that it is – or at least, it is not the most God-honoring use of your resources. (more…)

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Guilt manipulation redux

[Since this video is making the rounds again, I’m re-doing a post from last December 7.]

No one disputes the need for remembering the poor and the obligation we have to be generous with our wealth. And certainly, no one can object to the charge that Americans (and American Christians) have fallen prey to the idol of materialism. But this video (and those arguments which follow these lines) seems to be trying to provoke guilt not over materialism and greed, but over the mere fact that we have abundance and are able to purchase “unnecessary” gifts for our friends and families at Christmas.

Instead of giving that “unnecessary” toy, we’re told, you could give to a project which provides clean water for people in need. Right. But what if I can do both? Is it wrong to give gifts that the recipients don’t need? [Is there even such a thing as a necessary toy?] Why does God give us hundreds of thousands of “unnecessary” things all the time? We don’t have just one kind of tree or fish or bird or cat or dog or flower or weather or cloud — rather, we have thousands of “unnecessary” varieties. And we have them apparently because God loves to give us lots of things — not because they are necessary, but because they bring delight and joy. Gift giving is an imitation of this lavish and super-abundant love of God who gives us exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think — and not merely those things we need.

I was reminded of a post by Peter Leithart on this same issue a couple of years ago. Peter notes that Christmas (like all our feasts) means enjoying an abundance of good things and then asks, “What are we to make of this as Christians?”

There are some – let us call them liberals – who want us to feel guilty for the excess of our celebration. How can we be eating all this chocolate and making this great expenditure when people are hungry and lonely and vulnerable. And there are others – let us call them conservatives – who say that the hungry and lonely and vulnerable are not our responsibility, so we should celebrate with a clear conscience. Besides, if someone is hungry, so goes the thinking, it’s probably their own fault anyway.

Scripture does not allow us to be either liberals or conservatives when it comes to Christmas, or when it comes to anything else for that matter. Against the liberals, we have the Scriptural pattern of abundant and rich and frequent feasting. At their feasts, Israel cut loose and enjoyed food and drink, and enjoyed it abundantly. . . . But we are not conservatives either. The fact that we are to feast and rejoice with a clean conscience does NOT mean that we feast without any thought for those who have nothing to feast on. Israel is commanded over and over not to forget the Levite, the orphan, and the widow. . . . Remembering the Levite, the orphan, the widow and the stranger was not a way of smuggling liberalism and guilt-manipulation into the back door. Israel was not supposed to refrain from feasting because there were orphans and widows around. Rather, they were commanded bring the orphan and the widow into their feasting, so that the needy could share the abundance of their joy and of their goods. We in the new covenant have an even more profound reason for doing so: God has shared the abundance of His life with us in Jesus, and so ought we to share with one another.

So, feast this Christmas in good conscience. Lay your hands on whatever your soul desires, and eat it in rejoicing and thanks. But look for opportunities to share your abundance with the orphan, the widow, the aged and the poor. God has filled you when you were empty, and helped you when you were helpless. Go and do likewise.

and I says Amen to that.

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[HT: Herb Melton]

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