The political ads are finally off the air. (We can all give thanks for that!) But now there is a new wave of advertisements hitting all of us. Each one will give us a different reason to consume. Each one will put pressure on us to show our love, compassion, and thankfulness through buying more stuff with money we don't have on things we probably don't need. I've already heard a barrage of commercials on TV and radio telling me that I don't even have to wait for Black Friday to start my spending this year. "Those who care, consume," they say.
That message is clear -- and clearly wrong.
The pervasiveness of our consumer culture has been met with some backlash. "Buy Nothing Day" has grown into movement that competes with the sometimes deadly crowds of "Black Friday." "The Advent Conspiracy" has challenged Christians to take Advent as an opportunity to show the world the compassion of Christ and not be conformed to the consumptive patterns of the world.
I wrote in my most recent book Rediscovering Values, about our need to replace the maxim of "greed is good" with the value of "enough is enough." This is a challenge because the advertisements we see telling us to consume are often fundamentally at odds with the teachings of Jesus. The relentless pressure of advertising tells us that "there is never enough," and that you should "worry" constantly about what you eat and drink, what you wear, whether your future is secure, and more. But Jesus says the exact opposite. They say, "Worry all the time!" But Christ says, "Don't worry!"
The pressure we feel doesn't just come from the ads we get in our inboxes or see on television. All of us have family and friends who are going to be doing a lot of shopping. If a friend goes out and spends money on us, we feel guilty if we don't reciprocate at roughly the same level. What's worse is if someone gets us a gift and we don't get them anything at all. The problem is not giving gifts. Giving gifts becomes a problem when the exchange of stuff replaces building relationships.
How should we respond to these pressures during this season? Here are a few thoughts:
First, try and make decisions about gift giving with friends and family. Get everybody on the same page before all the spending happens. You could try sending around this column to get the conversation going. Your values should inform how you show your gratefulness to those you love, not commercials.
Second, try some alternative gift giving this year. Sojourners magazine has a new Christmas Giving Guide that you can use to help make those decisions. These are businesses and non-profits that are committed to a mission that makes sure each dollar you give or spend has a positive impact on the world.
And finally, as we think about Thanksgiving and look forward to Christmas, let's take stock of our lives and priorities and make sure they are being driven by our values and relationships and not just our culture of consumption.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.