Rachel Marie Stone 12-08-2014

Some Walmart practices show gross disregard for the well-being of workers. 

Katie Zimmerman 05-14-2014
Simple living concept, Aleutie /

Simple living concept, Aleutie /

Jesus calls us to consume less and to live simply. To “live simply” in itself varies by person, situation, income, and values. While I still fantasize about becoming a new-age Laura Ingles Wilder, building a log cabin and weaving my own clothes, I have accepted that I need to interact with a consumer culture. Consuming is not a bad thing and is a necessary part of life. However, consuming becomes unhealthy when we find identity in our “stuff,” live beyond our means, or hurt others with our purchasing power.

I learned about alternative giving from a flier in my college dorm bathroom. Ithaca College and the surrounding town are notorious for progressive politics, activists, and a thriving farmers market on Cayuga Lake. Progressive politics were a part of the classroom, and I quickly learned about the often unhealthy connections between corporations, government, and the products we use. I remember feeling overwhelmed, powerless, and confused.

Christian Piatt 02-14-2014

I’ve done the Valentine’s Day thing in the past. And with two school-age kids, I still make the annual pilgrimage to the card and candy aisles in the grocery store to buy sufficiently benign greetings for them to hand out to every kid in their class, whether they like them or not.

But my wife, Amy, and I don’t do Valentine’s Day. In fact, we don’t even do Christmas anymore, in the way the culture tells us we should, at least. We’ve stopped buying presents, cards, and other trinkets for each other on these obligatory days, opting instead to surprise each other with gifts or other gestures of affection throughout the year.

One of my biggest objections to Valentine’s Day came from a friend recently who was commenting about the coming date. She was excited, she said, because her husband “always gets me something good.” Nothing about spending time together. Nothing about love for one another. Nothing about doing anything for him. She was excited to get something cool.

I know I’m sounding a little crusty and cynical right now, and if couples choose to observe such days with the exchange of gifts or a night out, I hope they do it joyfully and without any sense of obligation. But the “Hallmark holiday” mentality in our society has swallowed the proverbial Kool-Aid when it comes to reducing love down to a materialistic, forced transaction.

Yes, Valentine’s Day is about love, but the kind of selfless, dangerous sacrificial love it recognizes is trivialized by lacy cards and chocolates. Though there’s disagreement about which priest the day venerates exactly, the legends stretch back to the Roman rule of Claudius II, some 1,750 years ago.

Joe Kay 01-06-2014
Peter O’Toole/Shutterstock

Peter O’Toole/Shutterstock

My mom died in a nursing home five years ago this week. She spent the last 10 months of her life there following a severe stroke. Mary was buried next to her mom, Ann, at the top of a gently rising hill in a cemetery during a 13-inch snowfall in Cleveland.

There was a lot of talk about hot chocolate that day.

My mom always found ways to give something to others. Multiple sclerosis forced her to use a wheelchair, but she still figured out ways to give gifts. She took a ceramics class in her apartment building and made Christmas ornaments for family and friends. Some of them hang on our tree even now. A red-nosed reindeer that she made stands in our living room each December.

After her stroke, she was very limited. One side of her body didn’t work at all. She was bedridden those last 10 months. Still, she found a way to give. When the attendants at her nursing home came around and asked what she wanted for each meal, she ordered a packet of hot chocolate with it.

She didn’t like hot chocolate. Never drank it. But she saw an opportunity to come up with a gift. She saved the packets of hot chocolate and gave them to my sister Joanne, who has two boys. They would get the gift of hot chocolate from her.

What a remarkable gesture, eh? Even confined to a bed, she found a way to give. 

A Christmas manger scene with figurines including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, sheep and Magi. Photo courtesy Shutterstock. Via RNS.

Nine in 10 Americans will celebrate Christmas this year, but a new poll shows that increasing numbers see the holiday as more tinsel than gospel truth.

This year more than ever, Americans prefer that stores and businesses welcome them with the more generic “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” than “Merry Christmas,” according to a survey released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.

And for one in four American adults (26 percent), Dec. 25 is simply a cultural holiday, not a religious holy day.

Joe Kay 12-17-2013
Sebastian Duda/Shutterstock

Do you give with no strings attached? Sebastian Duda/Shutterstock

Have you ever given someone a gift knowing that person probably wasn’t going to keep it? You had no idea what to give, so you gave something — a sweater, let’s say, even though you knew the recipient had more than enough sweaters — along with a gift return receipt.

That’s kind of how God gives, isn’t it? No, no, not the sweater part. The part about giving and then letting the others choose what they’ll do with the gifts.

Isn’t that how God gives to us?

And if we’re to be like God, shouldn’t we be giving the same way?

This is a challenging question, but one that’s relevant at this season of giving. Do we give with no strings attached? Or do we give with conditions? Do we give only to those we deem worthy?

The Editors 11-12-2013

Invest in the transformation of lives by trying some of these fair trade, eco-friendly gift ideas or charities.

Christian Piatt 04-18-2013
Flower growing out of crack in asphalt, Elena Elisseeva /

Flower growing out of crack in asphalt, Elena Elisseeva /

We have a group at our church that does a weekly sandwich ministry together. Though we already had a group that makes sandwiches each week for a local shelter, another team realized some folks don’t go to shelters, and that they might be missing out on a real opportunity to connect with different folks in our community if they didn’t go out to where the people are.

So now, every week, they walk the streets of downtown Portland and hand out upwards of 100 sandwiches. As they’ve met folks who live outside, they’ve identified other needs some have, such as socks, new underwear, rain gear, flashlights, and batteries. Each week, they come back with a list of needs, and each week our congregation helps fill those needs.

To me, this kind of ministry is exemplary of what missional church is about. We don’t simply wait behind the walls for people to come ask for something; we go out, meet people face-to-face and get to know them. Yes, we offer them a meal, but we also share stories, learn a bit of their history, and they come to know that there actually are flesh-and-blood people behind all those steeples and stone facades.

Trevor Barton 12-12-2012
Photo: © noregt /

Photo: © noregt /

I asked a small group of second-graders what they would like to find inside their mailboxes. That was after we read a story about a goose who opened her mailbox and found a kite. I expected to hear answers of things: video games, toys or basketballs. But the first student who raised her hand looked at me with sincere, big brown eyes and said, "I'd like to find a letter from my dad."

In my classroom, my kids say the profoundest things.

As we entered the holiday season, I thought about the answer that student gave me. I thought about what other of my 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds were saying about the holiday season.

For three years, I lived and worked in a large housing project in Louisville, Ky. I was a middle-class, white graduate student, and my background clouded how I saw the people around me. But I finally began to see clearly.

Martin L. Smith 11-27-2012

Reflections on the Common Lectionary, Cycle C

Theodore Deppe 11-27-2012

A GiveBox in Berlin / Sally McGrane

Something called a GiveBox appeared / this fall on Falckensteinstrasse, and my first gift

Cathleen Falsani 06-14-2012
Photo by Tom Wang / Shutterstock.

Photo by Tom Wang / Shutterstock.

Looking for a last-minute gift for Fathers Day or a graduate?

How about doing something for someone else in honor of your loved one?

Give a gift that helps the poorest of the poor feed their families, earn a living, protect themselves from disease or educate their children.

Inside the blog, find several suggestions of unique gifts that keep on giving.

Carrie Adams 05-08-2012

Mother's WeekReminder: Mother’s Day is this Sunday. 

Gift giving can be hard. It’s understandable that you’re putting it off. You’re sure flowers are too cliché but don’t have a clue what to buy. Maybe some brilliant idea will come to you while you’re playing World of Warcraft or while waiting for the pizza guy at 2 am. Right? You still have a few days, but let me tell you, you will wait too long. You will have nothing good for your mommy. Panic will set in. And you’ll go to the Internet in a tizzy of fear. Buy whatever you want, but just stay away from these 10 Terrible Gifts to Buy Your Mom for Mother’s Day. Stay away, and you’ll be fine.
This list brought to you by SkyMall, where good gift ideas go to die.
Christian Piatt 02-01-2012

Our son, Mattias, is eight years old. Everyone thinks their kid is special, and in a lot of ways, he’s just a regular kid. He loves fart jokes, enjoys riding his scooter and is obsessed with video games. But we’ve known he was different from a very early age.

Mattias started reading almost as soon as he began to talk. By age four, he could name any musical pitch or chord structure by name that he heard. He memorized his books after only hearing them a couple of times.

He also struggled to make friends, still has frequent bathroom accidents four years later, and he has meltdowns when things don’t go his way that would rival Bobby Knight’s chair-throwing basketball tirades.

But now, he’s finally starting to realize he’s different.

Cathleen Falsani 12-05-2011

Occupy igloos ... and rooftops. Buy a gun for the one you love ... or a walk-on role on True Blood (for charity!) Theological wisdom from the mouths of (muppet) otters and stand-up comedians. And you never know what you'll find on Google Earth.