Monday, November 21, 2011

Faith Works 11-26

Faith Works 11-26-11

Jeff Gill


Think faithfully, shop locally



Tomorrow is the First Sunday in Advent.


There are probably more people in general (if not reading this) who are aware that yesterday was "Black Friday" than know what the First Sunday in Advent is, or means.


A new liturgical year begins, and the lectionary cycle of Scripture readings turns; we'll now be in Year B, with a special emphasis through the year on the Gospel of Mark (A=Matthew, C=Luke, and John gets heavy rotation in special seasons like Easter, but not his own year in the cycle).


I've talked about Advent before, but not so much about Black Friday. Not that I really want to do that now.


There is a small push on to declare today "Small Business Saturday," It's an interesting idea, with some major retail interests behind it, ironically, but the concept has more than just merit.


Some would suggest that a truly faithful, and particularly Christian few should be to consume, to shop, to buy stuff less. I think there's something worth considering there; why would committed Christians buy consumer goods in volume and type and brand indistinguishably from the community around them? Not to be different for difference's sake, but if your faith commitment doesn't change your shopping habits, I think it might be fair for an outsider to wonder: what does it change, then?


You can also take this line of reflection too far. Some claim that Christmas shopping and gift-giving is "the problem," and a kind of neo-Amish retreat from commercial society is what our beliefs should lead us to.


Consumer society can be a big, big part of "the problem" (my departure from most such rants is that the problem is "sin" and not shopping isn't "redemption," but save that for later). How we shop, though, might also be part of a solution to finding a form of faithful living that proclaims what we believe.


I find a small business emphasis, not just for today, but in general, one that appeals to my understanding of "the beloved community," the new creation that God is seeking through Christ not just "in our hearts" but in our shared reality, right now. A sign of the Kingdom, if you like.


Giving gifts can be a blessing, and where or how you get them can bless in multiple directions. Everyone knows there's a certain wonderment in handmade gifts.


And many of us quake in fear and trembling at the idea of crafting anything at all.


Do we have to jump from home-made offerings to objects, entombed in plastic, shipped from overseas, bought in big box stores? Is there no middle ground here?


Buying locally is an affirmation of community, of common ties. Even buying internationally rooted consumer goods from a local, nearby retailer, says something if only to that business and their employees with whom you interact.


I wonder what would happen if, as part of the Christmas season, more churches spent a moment or some bulletin or newsletter space to promote, not as an advertisement, but as a gift itself, those in their fellowship who make gift items? What I'm not so crazy about are so-called "Christian businesses," in whose name I've seen too much incompetence and opportunistic profit taking be done. What I mean is a purchase that has some relationship in it. A local artist's CD, jewelry made by LICCO, preserves from the farm just a township over.


There's also the next circle of connection, where faith & practice mean not an endorsement, but just a gracious hint. My wife & I give a number of out-of-town gifts through Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, a Trappist monastery whose emphasis on prayer & work I value, and whose products are handmade on the grounds. There may be better fruitcakes, but not only do I think they're tasty, I like what the gift says, and what I'm supporting by giving through them.


So shop as you discern that you must, and wrap away for the celebrations of month's end, but think a bit about from whom, and where, and how you buy – and see what you can do to bring the gift a little closer to the life and living you would affirm.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; yes, he does like fruitcake, some do! Tell him about a Christmas gift at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

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