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Contrarian holiday gifting plan
Contrarian holiday gifting plan
by Rev. Barbara Allen, CMP - SGN Contributing Writer

Last year I wrote a piece about giving of oneself rather than from any commercial resource, as practiced by Native Americans in Alaska and the Yukon Territory.

This year, Tikkun's Rabbi Michael Lerner published for sharing his viewpoint as a spiritual progressive. I've edited it a bit to fit & what this wise and learned gentleman says resonates with me. Contrarians are those who act in ways opposite to what is perceived to be normal, acceptable and necessary in mainstream culture. Contrarians investing in stocks and bonds know that it's best to buy when things are low in price, sell when they're high. Being a contrarian this month means being aware of how we and those we care for and about are brainwashed by mass media daily to buy things we don't need and cannot afford, putting ourselves in serious debt; eating excessively all month long - not just at special social events - and gaining weight, setting ourselves up for indigestion, obesity, and heart attacks. Meanwhile, throughout the world, millions starve & thus, the following essence of Rabbi Lerner's piece:

THIS YEAR DON'T BUY THINGS FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS BY RABBI MICHAEL LERNER

Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars on holiday gifts that are quickly discarded or put into a closet where they will be little used. Many will end up in a junk pile sometime in the next few years, further polluting our environment. Meanwhile, the production of these goods will use up natural resources that could be used to help provide housing, furniture and clothing for the poor of the earth, or which could be preserved for future generations. For years I've run "holiday stress" groups and heard firsthand about the depression and despair that afflicts tens of millions of Americans, either because they can't afford to purchase the goods that are advertised in the media and set a standard of consumption beyond their means, or because they purchase and deepen their personal debts, or because they don't receive the quality or quantity of gifts that they've come to believe reflects how much they are really loved. But there are better ways to show love besides giving things.

The shopping frenzy between Thanksgiving and Christmas affects everyone. I've seen it undermine Chanukah as well as Christmas, and afflict those whose only connection to the holidays is the purchase of material things. Ironically, buying things has never been part of the essence of this season.

The central message of both Chanukah and Christmas is the affirmation of hope for a renewal of goodness in the midst of a world that is increasingly dark and fearful. For the ancients, that was expressed through holidays of light; burning the yule log or lighting candles as a sign that even while the days grew shorter and the sun seemed to be less available, we believed that it would return & we need to get back to those messages of hope & there is a desperate need for ordinary citizens to experience hope for a world of peace, generosity, and ecological sanity. Unfortunately, that spiritual message gets lost when our attention gets submerged in the frenetic buying that our consumer culture mandates.

And in our own lives, we could commit to spending not more than $100 on gifts for the children in our lives who may have been so overwhelmed by media expectations that we can't yet wean them from societal materialism. But for everyone else, give a gift of time. Send your entire guest list a copy of this article and then offer them four hours of your time to provide childcare so they can go out for an afternoon or evening, to paint their apartment or house, to shovel their snow or help them with gardening, to teach them or their children some skill of yours, to do shopping or errands for them, to help them clean their garage or arrange their papers or books, and you can think of much more.

Time is more scarce and more precious than goods, so this is a gift that shows real generosity. And not using up more of the earth's resources is a gift to the earth's environment that will yield fruit in the years ahead & talk about it with people on your guest list way in advance of the holidays.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun and chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org and author of The Left Hand of God (HarperCollins 2007). He is rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San Francisco. RabbiLerner@Tikkun.org

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