Dropping Out Of Our National Religion

Photo: Holiday shopping, © Infomages /

Photo: Holiday shopping, © Infomages /

"When you really drop out of the national religion of shopping you gain all kinds of time and a capacity to do what you might really prefer to do … and you gain a chance to be about the number one priority, which is to try to ease the burden on the poorest people in our world, especially those who are stuck in warzones." – Kathy Kelly, Peace Activist

This year my hometown of Chicago hosted the NATO summit. Thousands of protestors came to voice their concerns about war and the economy. Along with peace journalist Bob Koehler, I had the great fortune to interview one of those protesters, Kathy Kelly. (You can listen to the interview on my Voices of Peace podcast here.) Kathy is a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and lives a fascinating life. She is an advocate of nonviolence on a global scale and has been arrested more than 60 times in the U.S and abroad for nonviolent protests. Kathy has traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq more than 26 times, remaining in dangerous combat zones during U.S.-led military strikes. She risked her life by going to Baghdad during the United State’s infamous “Shock and Awe” campaign.  

Kathy was the perfect guest to help us explore our overarching question at Voices of Peace – How do we build a lasting, sustainable global peace? She knows firsthand about the violence in our world and she’s on a mission to transform that violence into peace.

#GivingTuesday Aims to Boost Charities

A giving hand. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

A giving hand. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- In the days following Thanksgiving, there's already Black Friday and Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday to kick off the holiday shopping season.

Now, a group of charities and corporate sponsors is urging Americans to make the Tuesday after Thanksgiving just as powerful a day of giving to those in need.

It's called #GivingTuesday, and organizers say it's gaining momentum as the holiday shopping season approaches.

"We have two days that are good for the economy. Here is a new day that is good for the soul," said Henry Timms, deputy executive director of strategy, innovation and content of 92nd Street Y in New York City, where the idea was hatched.

There are 800 partners, from non-profits to corporations, including heavy hitters such as Microsoft and Sony. Timms credits the social-media community with growing the momentum.

A Search for Self in a Season of Stuff

Black Friday shopping, Kenishirotie /

Black Friday shopping, Kenishirotie /

Once there was a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers gathered for the early morning opening of a local Wal-Mart.

It was the morning after Thanksgiving Day in Valley Stream, New York, an occasion commonly known as “Black Friday” throughout the United States.

As the opening hour of operation approached, the crowd grew quickly in size, but it also increased with anxiety and anger, as many had waited throughout the cold and dark night, some as long as eight hours. The masses were more than ready to move into the warmth, brightness, and seasonal buying bliss of their neighborhood Wal-Mart. 

When the store manager finally unlocked the front entrance, the massive and eager crowd erupted with energy and passionately pushed into the store like a tidal wave.  In doing so, through the sheer physical force of mass purchasing power, the swarm of shoppers broke through – and eventually broke down – the Wal-Mart doors. 

I'm a Fraud (and So Are You)

I’m coming to terms with the realization that I’m a big, fat fake. But at least I’m in good company.

Amy’s birthday was last Sunday. We had just arrived in Portland, so we went to a fancy-pants restaurant, situated several hundred feet above the skyline, with a view of the entire surrounding city, the Willamette River and Mount Hood. We shared a bottle of wine, enjoyed outstanding service and indulged on gourmet food to celebrate her ever-growing tenure as an occupant of our planet.

The bill for the night was nearly enough to cover groceries for our family for up to two weeks.

We could manage it; we knew it was pricey before we got there. And it was fairly easy to justify too. We were making memories. It was an other step in the courtship, helping us fall in love with our new city. We had worked hard over the past eight years, establishing a church in Colorado, struggling to pay bills at times, and we’re now enjoying some material fruits of our labor.

What bullshit.

Seriously, how does anyone really justify spending that kind of money on one meal? After all, from our vantage point on the 30th floor, I could see scads of people below, standing on street corners, tucked in under sleeping bags and beneath cardboard boxes, walking wearily from one job to the next, hoping to pull together enough to make rent.

Drive-Thru Prayers to Drive-In Church: Is Religion Lost?

Drive Thru, iQoncept /

Drive Thru, iQoncept /

I talk to folks a lot about what role the church should have in contemporary life in serving people. There’s the trend of “third space” ministry, getting out of the four walls of the church building and meeting people in different, typically “secular” contexts.

One defining trait of postmodern life is the blurring of previous boundaries. Just like work now can go with us beyond the cubicle, people think about faith in different terms than just sitting in a sanctuary on Sunday morning. There are entire ministries that do all of their work online, broadcasting services, or recording them for people to view on demand. There are blogs (like mine) whose authors consider what they do to be a ministry, though not in the typical sense of the word.

Being Christ in a Consumer Christmas

Christmas light display at the Yodobashi-Akiba store, Japan.

Christmas light display at the Yodobashi-Akiba Department store in Akihabara City, Japan. Image via

Beneath the usual clamor of the holiday season is the faint din of anger.

Once again many have raised their voices regarding the “secularization” of Christmas. Armed with slogans such as “Keep Christ in Christmas,” they ensure we don't forget that this is a holiday about Jesus of Nazareth.

Common greetings such as, “Happy Holidays” are met with a defensive, counter-greetings of “… and Merry Christ-mas to you too.” 

Try using the abbreviation “Xmas.” Some folks believe this is literally “X-ing” Jesus out of the Christmas!

What seems to be glaringly absent from these vocal Christmas Crusaders is any protest against the gross consumerism, greed and selfishness that arrives every year with holiday season.

Black Friday: The Anti-Thanksgiving

Today is Black Friday, the unofficial holiday immediately following Thanksgiving. Today, businesses open very early, offering reduced prices on all manner of consumer items. Customers are encouraged to flood the aisles in search of a good deal on all kinds of things - from DVDs to appliances - but, above all, electronics.

Black Friday apparently got its start back in the late Sixties, but it came into increasing prominance in the last decade, as the economy deflated and retailers became ever more desperate to sell their wares. In the past, stores would open around 6:00am; in recent years, however, this has not been considered early enough. The retail industry has been involved in an arms race, vying to see who could open the earliest. This year, a number of big box stores opened at midnight. Walmart, not to be beaten, decided to start their sale prices at 10:00pm on Thanksgiving Day.
This new move to open at midnight or earlier on the evening of Thanksgiving has elicited a response from some quarters. Some folks, perceiving that Thanksgiving is under attack by out-of-control consumerism, have started campaigns to resist this trend. Many are aware of the burden that this pseudo-holiday places on low-level workers: If stores open their doors at midnight, workers have to show up much earlier than that, depriving them of sleep, and the chance to enjoy the evening of Thanksgiving with their families. Black Friday, and its recent escalation, is squeezing out one of the few annual sabbaths that the working class could once count on.
Yet, even if Black Friday were not so terrible for working families, and even if it did not threaten to steamroll Thanksgiving under the weight of Christmas-season merchandising, I would still be opposed to it. Black Friday is the Anti-Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving holiday is traditionally a time to gather with family and friends and practice gratitude for our blessings. It is a time to cultivate awareness of all the ways in which God provides for us, and to pay special attention to providing hospitality to others who are hurting. Black Friday, on the other hand, is a celebration of greed, unbridled consumerism and disregard for others.

Environmental Activist Anna Clark: 'Christians Must Conserve Resources'

At the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina last weekend, I was able to speak with Anna Clark, author of Green, American Style, president and founder of EarthPeople, a green consulting firm, and a contributor to Taking Flight: Reclaiming the Female Half of God's Image Through Advocacy and Renewal. Anna has a heart for equipping churches to make small and big changes for the sake of creation care and stewardship of the earth's resources. How can Christians do this, you ask? Read our conversation to find out.