Archives For Materialism

Our local newspaper recently ran a cartoon featuring a turkey that had been trampled to death by hooves. One bystander said to another, “It looks like Thanksgiving got run over by a reindeer.”

Thanksgiving Got Run Over By a ReindeerIt seems like every year the Christmas decorations and merchandise in stores and coffee shops come out a little earlier. No problem there. We all love the cozy nostalgia and holiday beverages that the Christmas season brings. We can’t really extend the holidays into January, because keeping the holiday décor on display after the new year comes across as lazy. So why not start the celebration early?

I honestly don’t have a problem with Christmas décor showing up before Thanksgiving week. But I do wonder what it means.

I’m just speculating here, but it does seem to say something about the way we view holidays. As far as I can tell, people aren’t putting their Christmas decorations out early. Corporations are doing this. It’s no surprise that when corporations look at a holiday, they see dollar signs. The question for them is not what the holiday means (unless this helps their marketing strategy) or how it might best be celebrated (unless that means celebrating with their product). The question is how they can make the most money off of the holiday. Smart. Many companies do this well and reap the financial rewards.

Though many of us do get caught up in the materialistic exploitations of the holidays, human beings tend to view holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas differently than corporations see them. To us, these are opportunities to take a break from work, to spend some time with family and friends, and to celebrate life and love.

If we all viewed holidays this way, we would take them one at a time, treasuring each one until we are forced back to the office. We would enjoy Thanksgiving, then head back to the business of our daily lives, then begin to look forward to everything that Christmas means and brings.

And yet Christmas is in full swing before the first Thanksgiving travelers have hit the road. What do we do about this?

I think we take it with a grain of salt. Go ahead and enjoy the Christmassy atmosphere our corporate friends have brought us so early. Feel free to get in the “Christmas spirit” even. But let’s not forget what makes our holidays great.

The presents we love shopping for would be meaningless without loved ones to give them to. Our days off would be boring apart from the realization that we are more than the goods we produce and services we provide. The nostalgia we feel around Christmassy décor would not exist without the fond memories of real people, real life, and true love that it conjures in our minds.

So let’s celebrate Christmas as early as we can, but let’s not let the CEOs of the world make us believe that their products and decorations are the holidays. If that were true, then we would have just lost Thanksgiving. No, what the Christmas vendors bring us are byproducts—commemorative artifacts testifying to the goodness of life as celebrated at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Let’s not confuse marketing campaigns with the substance of these wonderful holidays.

 

The American Church is becoming increasingly suspicious of the American Dream. It has always been an ill defined concept, but generally speaking, the American Dream is the promise of a good job, a nice home, a good looking family, etc.

In American History, were taught about the concept of “Manifest Destiny.” The early Americans (non-natives, of course) firmly believed that it was their destiny to spread West, to claim the land that separated them from the Pacific Ocean. Somehow this real estate was theirs by right.

This sense of entitlement dies hard in the American mind. Somehow we have a right to a high paying job, a nice car, a privileged education, etc. And so we do everything we can to climb the ladder. To be sure, we work hard. But hard work alone cannot guarantee material prosperity.

These days, it is increasingly difficult to achieve the American Dream without borrowing in advance. We can’t wait until we’ve made our money to own a nice house and fill it with solid furniture, so we borrow to ensure that we won’t have to wait for it.

More and more people are beginning to see that the pursuit of the American Dream is unsustainable. Our definition of happiness is purely material, and we keep borrowing money to gain that material happiness. And once we have the material goods that we thought would make us happy, we find out that we wanted the wrong things. They’re too small, too outdated, too common. So we borrow again to get the things that we really need. And the process continues.

Where has our pursuit of the American Dream taken us? Well, we have accumulated a ton of debt, but very little happiness. Individuals are in debt. Companies are in debt. Our government is in debt. It turns out the American Dream is bankrupt—both literally and metaphorically.

Christians know that happiness can’t be borrowed. We know that material goods will not satisfy us in the long term. But we still find the American Dream tempting. Too tempting. Too many Christians have wasted too many years and too many dollars in pursuit of a bankrupt dream.

We know better. The Christian community should be a beacon of hope in the midst of a burdened society. We should demonstrate that hope is not the same as wealth. We should personify joy rather than entitlement. We can’t avoid the material, nor should we attempt to do so. But at a time when the world around us is beginning to see the cracks in their lifelong idolatry, we have an incredible opportunity to show people that human beings were never meant to be enslaved to something as elusive and unsustainable as the American Dream. We know what humanity was designed to look like and how we were designed to function. If the church begins to live in light of this reality, then we can be a source of hope and renewal to our neighbors who are enslaved to that which deceptively promised them happiness.