A few months ago I read Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma. I wasn’t expecting the book that it turned out to be, but it was still very good. It sort of turned out to be a Bible study on justice. I would definitely recommend it, and not just for those passionate about the issue like me, but even for the mildly curious. I learned a lot and will be marinating on it for a long time to come.
There were a few things mentioned in the book that stuck with me, but none more than what I wanted to share with you now. Did you know that it costs approximately $21 billion to get clean, safe drinking water to everyone in the world? If you weren’t aware, almost 1 in 7 of the world’s population doesn’t have access to this most basic need. $21 billion. I know, right, it sounds like a lot—like a whole lot! It sounds like scratching our heads and calling summits and raising money and finally reconciling ourselves to the fact that $21 billion is impossible to find in a world drowning in debt. Sometimes it sounds like giving up.
And then I found out…
The National Retail Federation estimates that over $600 BILLION will be spent in November and December this year. I’m sorry, what? That’s just this season. When I think about it, that makes me sick. In fact, the contrast in those two numbers has literally haunted me since I’ve read the book.
I think about people I know that rush around trying to buy gifts, any kind of gifts, for the people on their Christmas list. Mostly those are close family and friends, but usually there’s at least one obligatory gift on there as well. I think of gifts that aren’t bought out of need, but out of courtesy. I think of the stress so many people feel when it comes to the holidays. It seems to be more about putting anything under the tree that caring about what it is, as long as you’ve checked that box.
Something. Has. To. Change.
I love the holidays. I love the chill in the air, and the warm drinks. I love watching Christmas movies. I love decorating my apartment. I love seeing twinkle lights go up everywhere. And I love buying gifts. Gift giving is one of my love languages. It makes me happy to see the look on people’s face when I give them a gift. In fact, the anticipation of seeing their faces when I give them the gift makes me happy! I have always tried very hard, whether it’s a birthday or Christmas, to find the perfect gift that will make the recipient smile. It’s a challenge that I relish.
And, if I do say so myself, I’m pretty good at it. But the last few years, ever since pursing justice myself and learning more about supply chain and slave labor, I’ve tried to challenge myself in a new way. I try very hard to find not only gifts of meaning, but gifts that do good or do not perpetuate slave labor. I’m also an environmentalist, so I try to cut down on packaging and reuse when possible. So, really, I thought I could pat myself on the back from up on my high horse—until I read those statistics.
Now I’m trying to figure out how to do more. I can’t completely give up gift-giving, because I love it so much, but there is more I can do. For one thing, I can help educate you. What if we all started buying differently? What if we started contributing more and consuming less? What if we took a hard look at the real difference between shopping and giving? What if the presents had real meaning, not just for the recipient you know, but those who created it or will benefit from the purchase? What if?
Here is an awesome video by Advent Conspiracy to help illustrate. In fact, they have a lot of great personal and church resources to help you explore this idea. I’m looking forward to reading their book this season.
As I said, I don’t have this all figured out, but I’m trying. I want to contribute, not just consume. I want buy better and think better and live better. And even more, I want that for everyone else. I want it for you, and those you know, and those around the world who don’t have clean water or adequate shelter or who live in fear. We all share this world.
The holidays are a season of hope. Hope, joy, peace—we see those words written on everything this time of year from cards to commercials. What if they weren’t just platitudes? What if we added those to our Christmas list? What if, when we started buying gifts, we kept those three words in mind? Will the things we buy this season promote hope or joy or peace? If not, then let’s not buy them. Find a better alternative. I bet there’s one out there.
Here are a few places to help you get started:
There are so many more, though, so keep looking! And if you need to go the department store route, you could even institute your own TOMS-esque one for one model. For example, if you give someone a shirt, donate one as well. Challenge each other to be better, think creatively and give more.
Give gifts that tell stories, and write yourself a new one in the process.
And here’s a great article from the TODAY Show about families who try to put more meaning into gifts and the holidays.
Here is another from LearnVest, a money budgeting site if you’re looking for a more frugal point-of-view.
One more from journalist/activist, Nick Kristoff, whom I greatly admire.