Those two words bring to mind two very contrasting images from recent headline news: One is the shocking image of University of California at Davis students seated on a pathway, arms linked in peaceful protest, as they are repeatedly doused with pepper spray by a zealous campus police officer. The other is of the equally zealous shopper on Black Friday who sprayed her fellow Walmart customers so she could buy a discounted X-Box.
On the one hand we have an image of the power of nonviolent protest to expose injustice, and on the other an appalling image of consumer greed.
These are the signs of our times.
In response, Adbusters has launched the Occupy Xmas campaign, which is an outgrowth of its annual Buy Nothing Day, calling for people to “take it to the next level” in the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street movement:
“Occupy gave the world a new way of thinking about the fat cats and financial pirates on Wall Street. Now let's give them a new way of thinking about the holidays, about our own consumption habits. Let's use the coming 20th annual Buy Nothing Day to launch an all-out offensive to unseat the corporate kings on the holiday throne.”
While the spirit of rampant capitalistic greed is certainly appalling, and people are justifiably angry about the economic abuses of Wall Street, still some have criticized Occupy Xmas for it's aggressive “Bah Humbug!” Scrooge-like spirit. Does supporting the occupy movement mean that we need to become the Grinch who stole Christmas?
In response to that question, I'd like to offer some thoughts on the meaning of nonviolence, and and true spirit of Christmas.
Nonviolence is not simply a matter of refraining from using violence (as important as that is). Far more fundamentally, it is about acting in the opposite spirit in order to reverse the dynamic of a hostile or hurtful situation. This dynamic is expressed beautifully in the prayer of St. Francis, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope.” In other words, it is not a matter of what we don't do, but rather what we do instead. As the Apostle Paul puts it, it is a matter of “overcoming evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
Christmas has indeed become too commercialized, but not buying any presents isn't the answer. What we need to do instead is populate Christmas with its true meaning. Christmas celebrates the story of God coming among us in the most humble of circumstances.
Christ was born in a filthy manger to a displaced teenage girl named Mary. These humble beginnings are in keeping with the ministry of Jesus which was focused on the poor, the sick, and the outcast. Jesus teaches us that the way we treat "the least of these" is how we treat him. It's a story about God coming among us, meeting us in the middle of our need.
Likewise, the original story of St. Nick was not about a fat guy with a toy factory on the NorthPole, but about a Bishop from Asia Minor known for his love for children, and his generosity to those in need, often given in secret. For example, one story tells of a poor father who was unable to provide a dowry for his daughters. At the time that meant that they could not marry, and so were destined to be sold into slavery. As legend has it, Nicholas secretly placed bags of gold in the girl's shoes and stockings, hung by the fire to dry. So those Christmas stockings you hang by the chimney are symbols of liberating the poor from the bondage of slavery.
The moral of all this is that the original Christmas story and the story of Saint Nick are both focused on caring for the least and on compassion. It is that spirit of compassionate giving that can overcome the spirit of rampant greed and commercialism. So what if this Christmas, instead of standing in line at the mall or stuck in traffic to buy all those gifts we don't really need, we instead spent more time with people we love?
What if we spent just a bit little less money shopping, and then took that money we saved, and gave it away to people who are really in need—to the poor, the hungry, the hurting, the lonely, the sick. That's what the folks at Advent Conspiracy are asking.
This doesn't mean we shouldn't buy any presents, but it does mean a shift of focus away from consumerism and towards compassion. It's about spending less, but giving more.
Maybe the way we really should be celebrating Christmas is by caring for the least, rather than shopping til we drop.
Maybe we should be teaching our kids lessons about compassion and giving, instead of about getting more and more stuff.
That's how we can really occupy Christmas: by occupying Christmas with its true meaning, replacing consumerism with compassion, sewing seeds of giving instead of greed.
Derek Flood(TheRebelGod.com) holds a master’s degree in systematic theology and is a featured blogger on the Huffington Post.