Can Commerce and Religion Go Their Separate Ways This Christmas?

Photo courtesy of kurhan via Shutterstock/RNS.

I’ve decided not to worry about the earlier-than-ever start to Christmas commerce this year.

Shortly after Halloween, with hardly a nod to Thanksgiving, stores and advertisers began going full-bore on the supposed “Christmas package,” namely, gift-giving, family fun, decorating, and entertaining.

It’s sad — this annual effort to derive profits from a facsimile of a 1950s Christmas — but other things are a lot sadder: an elusive economic recovery, continuing gun violence, racial violence, religious extremism, mounting rage, and intolerance at home and echoes of the Cold War in Europe.

Let commerce tread the line between gauche and tacky — merchants have salaries and suppliers to pay, after all. We have a troubled world to care about.

The path to that care doesn’t go by way of Wal-Mart or Budweiser. It is God’s path, and it goes by way of anticipation, promises, prophetic vision, a birth, a life, a death, and over all of it a sustaining grace that cares little for our seasonal receipts but cares intensely about our lives.

Maybe it’s good that commerce has declared its independence from religion and decorum. That clears the way for faith to have its parallel season — not in competition with commerce, but as the deeper reality that commerce can never attain, the deeper meaning we yearn for.

On Scripture: #firstcenturyproblems (Matthew 1:18-25)

With just a few days to go before Christmas, many Americans will be rushing around completing their Christmas preparations: doing their last minute shopping, finalizing travel plans, figuring out how to deal with awkward family dynamics. In many cases, they will be faced with what is popularly known as #firstworldproblems — problems of inconvenience of a privileged and affluent people: delayed flights, out-of-stock gift items, spotty cell phone coverage.

At the same time, many people, hidden amidst the consumer celebration that Christmas has become, will be struggling just to find their next meal, shelter, community, and hope.

Striking census bureau statistics released earlier this year paint a picture of an expanding American underclass, with 15% of Americans living at or below the poverty-line, 23% of children (the highest percentage of poor by age) living in poverty, and the evaporation of the American middle class.

On the one hand, at this time of year, our society is more aware of the poor. Holiday food collections, toy and clothing drives abound, as does the ubiquitous ringing of Salvation Army bells. And yet, in many ways the plight of the poor is more hidden by the bright lights and rush of the season.

What Do We Mean By 'Putting Christ Back in Christmas'?

Details of stained glass window depicting baby Jesus at Christmas. Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock

Brace yourselves. The calendar has turned over to December, which means that the inevitable discussion on the War on Christmas will soon see its opening salvo for 2013.   

It is inevitable. There will be an outrage by a prominent figure about how we have lost our moral fabric because as someone was buying gifts with money they dont have to impress people that they dont always like, the cashier will commit the unthinkable sin of wishing us a Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

There will be gnashing of teeth as a town or city somewhere will have a Holiday Parade rather than a Christmas Parade, as Tulsa had done several years ago. (The parade was subsequently boycotted by one of its senators.)

The chorus of those who would profess to be Christians will shout that the Political Correctness Police have overstepped yet another boundary and that we should not take the Christ out of Christmas” as the batch of perceived slights against Christendom freshly reveal themselves for this holiday season. 

As a person who would say that Jesus is the most important thing in my life, who has devoted my life to the service of Gods Kingdom, and spends all of my waking moments trying be faithful to that devotion, I have to ask: What exactly do we mean by putting the Christ back in Christmas'?

Requiem for a Holiday

Lena Pan/Shutterstock

Will forgoing sales on Thanksgiving put a damper on one’s holiday shopping? Lena Pan/Shutterstock

Tomorrow, millions of people will gather across this great nation to celebrate Thanksgiving: the time in our calendar where we pause to give thanks for the year that has past, for family, loved ones, new additions and to remember those that have gone on before us. We share stories, we laugh, we cry — and for many of us we eat too much. For centuries, families have gathered together to pause and to say thanks, even if it is just for one day.

This year, however, I am going to make a bold statement: I am declaring that Thanksgiving to some is obsolete, if not dead. Why such the bold statement? It seems that since the day after Halloween, the focus has been on lights, bows, trees, candy canes, Santa and the Christmas story. In a mad dash to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and in the midst of people complaining about the store employee’s not saying “Merry Christmas,” we have forgotten to stop and be thankful.

Thanksgiving? Bah, humbug


Becoming more like Scrooge might not be so bad. MT511/Shutterstock

Scrooge is convinced that he has earned all that he has. His pile of money? It’s all that matters to him, and he believes that he built it all by himself. There’s no reason to show gratitude to anyone else.

Be thankful? Bah, humbug.

Could that be one of the reasons we’ve turned Thanksgiving into just another shopping day? We don’t recognize the gifts, so we don’t recognize the giver.

Non-Guilt-Trippy Ways to Live Lightly and Consume Less

Do you really need to make all those purchases? Gpointstudio/Shutterstock

Do you really need to make all those purchases? Gpointstudio/Shutterstock

Many Christians these days are trying to consume less, and they’re doing so for a variety of reasons. For some, in the wake of the economic downturn, thrift is a simple necessity. Others, inspired by books such as Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess strive for simplicity for the sake of the health of God’s creation and for the sake of our neighbors, both local and global, who must do without even the basic necessities of life. It’s no secret Americans spend — and waste — a lot.

But how do we begin to consume less? And once we become aware of the horrific conditions under which much of our stuff is made, how do we avoid being overwhelmed by all the injustice that may lie behind our new phone or pair of jeans? And even if we simplify by paring down our wants, what do we do when we actually need to buy something?

Here are some simple strategies to help you live lightly without being overwhelmed by it all. 

War On Christmas? Sign This Minister Up!

Photo: Nativity Scene, © Zvonimir Atletic /

Photo: Nativity Scene, © Zvonimir Atletic /

Ah  I LOVE this time of the year!

Some people wait with bated breath for duck season, some for deer season, but for me it is all about Christmas season. That's right, I'm one of those lefty liberals that have declared a War on Christmas. Yes! Sign me up for the War on Christmas!

But maybe not for the reasons you might imagine.

While I am signing up to help in a War on Christmas, I'm not on, what by default gets called, the “non-Christian” side. I’m also not signing up for the side that news pundits falsely purport as the “Christian” side. If anything, I’d make the argument that the dominant face of Christianity, as it is seen on television and promoted through news programming, is itself far from what Christianity is supposed to be. It is a sort-of white-washed, sanitized version of Christianity that every year presents an increasingly cleaned up version of the Christmas story to the viewing public.  

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.

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. 

The Afternoon News: Monday, Dec. 12, 2011

What Are You Getting Baby Jesus For The Holidays? (OPINION); Math Fail: Fox News Says 8.6 Percent Unemployment Is Greater Than 8.8 And Equal To 9; Guardian: What The Top 1 Percent Really Owns; Romney’s $10,000 Wager Dominates Post-Debate Buzz; Ben & Jerry Explain Why They Support Occupy Wall Street; Limbaugh Calls Poor Children Receiving Free School Meals "Wanton Little Waifs And Serfs Dependent On The State."