Saturday, November 18, 2006

Buy Something - "Materialistic" wrongheadedness

‘Tis the season when we will once again hear warnings about the evils of “materialism”, warnings to which I used to whole-heartedly add my “amen”. But then something happened! I actually had to start earning a living.

For awhile I was able to insulate myself from the bothersome reality of the marketplace by being a teacher. Teachers are not immune from economic realities, but it takes awhile to get to them as their level of pay is not immediately linked to performance in the way a salesperson’s is.

Well, I’m now a salesperson. And unless someone buys children don’t eat.

I used to abhor the Christmas decorations going up after Thanksgiving (now it’s after Halloween). I scoffed at those “greedy” store owners trying to milk good God-fearing people like me out of money that I thought should otherwise be used for some "good purpose". (Whatever that is!)

God loves to teach me humility. So he made me a businessman and gave me a store where I have to sell stuff or my bills don’t get paid. (I started putting Christmas stuff out in September.)

I don’t scoff anymore. I thank God for every breathing person that walks into my store.

I only relate this little conversion episode to get at a bigger point: As we enter the “Christmas shopping season” I want to encourage pastors, preachers, teachers, and anyone who may publicly hold forth on the topic, to rethink their traditional “Christmas -
materialistic” speech.

Here’s an illustration. I recently heard a talk in which the speaker criticized a wealthy person’s purchase of a yacht. The purchase was said to be “materialistic”. Presumably the money spent on the yacht could have been used for “better” purposes.

I understood the point, but I wondered if the speaker understood just how many people got to eat that night - and many nights thereafter - because someone bought a yacht...and “someones” keep buying yachts.

And it’s not just the people who build the yachts; it’s also the people who make the stuff that they use to make the yachts. And it’s the guys who sell yachts, and who work at the marinas where they park yachts, and so on.

The sad part is that by putting so much emphasis on the perceived evils of the accumulation of "things" - the actual evils of personal selfishness and greed often escape unchallenged and are even emboldened by a certain pride as we whisper to ourselves: “I thank thee O God that I’m not like other (business) men.” (I inserted the word “business” in case you didn’t notice :>)

A very wealthy person I personally know was recently criticized by a fellow church member for his purchase of a private plane. The charge was typical: “that money could have been put to better use”. (Funny how people who don’t have money always know how to spend the money of people who do!)

My friend’s reply was “What did you buy today that gave somebody a job?”

We must remember that the Nativity story not only included the shepherds and their poor gifts, but the Magi and their very expensive ones.

Give somebody a job. Buy something.

PS. What makes the "materialistic" sermons even more hollow and vapid is that Christmas is the only time of the year that is dedicated to buying "things" FOR OTHERS. We go shopping with the express purpose of wanting please someone else. The season itself, be the shoppers good Christians or not, embodies and enforces the Christian ideal of selflessness. Let's go shopping. Merry Christmas.
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