Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
December 4, 2000
More Christians opt for voluntary simplicity
An African delegate at a Lutheran World conference in Italy once said. "The poor in Africa will consider Christianity unchristian as long as Western churches don't distance themselves from oppressive materialism.
"Millions of Africans don't understand how people who oppress others have the ability to count themselves as followers of Christ," he explained.
A poet from Benin writes: "How can Christians sing peace on earth when respect for human dignity - the cornerstone for peace - is so carelessly rejected?"
Indeed, how, with any kind of justification, can we explain the phenomenon of rich Christians in a hungry world? We have to admit it is an oxymoron.
December is the month traditionally set aside to celebrate the triumph of Christianity. In spite of fear of inflation, economic crisis, downsizing, political uncertainty and rising energy costs, there will be office parties and family get-togethers, Christmas lights, turkeys, hams, chocolates, liquor, expensive gifts and lots of glitter and tinsel.
Of course, to atone for our lapse into gluttony, there will also be Christmas hampers for the destitute.
Year after year the retail stores report record sales and record profits. For those in the business of selling stuff, December is the make or break month.
And every year you read comments like this one, lamenting the crass commercialism of what is billed as a religious occasion.
While Christmas is by and large business as usual, it has to be said that small changes are taking place. There is more talk of voluntary simplicity as more people become aware that our world suffers from a severe case of maldistribution.
Some people ask themselves, do we really need those big-ticket items produced in some Third World country by women or children who live on the edge of starvation?
Who benefits from our shopping sprees? What is the purpose of a booming economy if growing sectors of the population don't share in the wealth?
Now that we've become more globally and environmentally conscious, sustainability is no longer a term associated with Green peaceniks, but a common concern.
While there is still considerable hype about ever growing bonanzas from politicians and corporate moguls, there is at the same time a gathering resistance to the bigger is better philosophy and a sensitivity to the limits of growth.
People here and there are beginning to look for alternatives. Many of them shopped for small gifts at the Just Christmas sale, thereby providing artisans with a decent price for their labours.
There is a growing interest in coffee, tea, cashew nuts and other edibles produced in the South and imported by NGOs to bypass the middleman and thus offering peasant producers a better chance to make a living wage.
Alternative reading habits are making inroads. Instead of subscribing to the daily paper, people opt for the weekly or monthly issue oriented press.
People are choosing to send cards with a social justice message instead of the usual Season's Greetings. Some make their own cards and ambitious people even make their own gifts. Wrapping paper is being recycled or made from decorated newspapers.
There is no end to the inventiveness of those who wish to make Christmas a simpler, humbler celebration.
Finally, some good people seek out a special person to invite for dinner. Someone that otherwise would be neglected in all the frenzy of keeping up with the Joneses in what can be the most hectic season of the year. Will it make a difference? Perhaps. One family at a time.
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