Sunday, December 7, 2008

Slouching Away From Prosperity: Dan's Perspective, Part 2

I suppose it's probably a good idea to define what I mean by prosperity, since it can mean several different things. Prosperity isn't all bad. But what I mean in this context is the more general understanding of the word in American culture. The gaining of material wealth and symbols of our financial prowess (does anyone have any of that right now?). Truly, prosperity can mean other things. A person can certainly consider themselves prosperous as they view the shelves full of canned food from the harvest. They may feel prosperous as they see the new lambs in the pasture each Spring.... but alas, these notions aren't typically shared by most of our culture. No, the prosperity I'm pointing to is the mindset that traps people into thinking they need more, must have more, should work longer to afford more, can't go without more, have to keep up so someone else doesn't get more. In a word, materialism - the pursuit and acquisition of 'stuff'.

Christmas, since it's almost upon us, can be a time when materialism can really run rampant. For example, a Wal-Mart employee was literally trampled to death in a mad stampede of people rushing the store on Black Friday, all trying to get a deal. Sad. No pun intended in this paragraph, by the way.

My wife and I have a Christmas Club at the bank. Each paycheck, a certain amount is set aside and we get a check along about October to spend on Christmas. Really, it's just a built in safeguard against going broke at Christmas, since we're not disciplined enough to set the money aside ourselves. The bank does it for us. Ehh, nobody's perfect. Anyway, our Christmas Club isn't huge, and we buy presents for everyone on our list with that amount (ok, plus a little more). But it's still less than some people we've spoken to spend on just one of their kids!

So here are some ways we're slouching away from prosperity this year.

We're doing something different with Christmas this year. To avoid the 'glut' of presents on Christmas day, we decided to help our children appreciate the season a little more and mix things up. Each Sunday of Advent, I gather the family around, talk about one aspect of the Christmas story (last week the Angel and his messages, this week Mary and Joseph's obedience), light an Advent candle, say a prayer, and then the kids get to open one present. On Christmas day, they'll have stockings to open, and two or so nicer gifts we're saving. But they'll enjoy the season more as we go along. PLUS we're taking the focus off of 'stuff' and putting it back on the true reason for the holiday.

Another step, and a big one, I think, that we're taking this year is as follows. My family (Mom, sisters, etc.) have gotten to the point where buying for everyone is really more of a chore, than a joy. We don't need anything, and our 'wants' are pretty expensive sometimes. We've decided that we're going to spend the money on a needy family this year. For whatever reason, the rest of the family thinks they still need to buy for my kids "because they're little". We've bought mom a little something too. Otherwise, we're buying presents for a mom and her two daughters who live with the mom's mom. That's more like it. Something real, substantial, helpful.

Those are just a few ways we're working on removing the materialism from life this holiday. No, we're not perfect. The wife and I spent more than we intended on the kids, but we're not broke, either. We're working on it. I challenge you to try it too.

More to come....

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