Archives: Christmas Pack 1992 - A Simple Christmas
Looking Behind the Cost of Christmas
- Session Four: Looking for Alternatives
- Session One: Looking Behind the Ads
- Session Plan (1)
- Session Plan (2)
- Session Plan (3)
- Session Plan (4)
- Session Three: When Santa Doesn't Come
- Session Two: Looking Beyond the Wrapping Paper
Looking Behind the Cost of Christmas
A Four-Session Resource for Group Reflection
by Milo Thornberry
Celebrations are structured pauses in daily life that express not only the values we hold dear, but also our accommodation to the culture around us. Celebrations are a microcosm of life itself; the way we celebrate says a lot about the way we live. Christmas and other special life events can be times of learning and growth, times to lay hold of spiritual resources which will enable us to celebrate and live with integrity.
We know Christmas celebrations in this society have at least two faces: one is captured in bright images of excitement, hope and joy; the other is cast in depressing moods of frustration, guilt and despair. Although these ups and downs are present throughout the year, we see them in bold relief at Christmastime. We don't need psychologists to tell us that our emotional highs tend to be higher at Christmas than at other times of the year, or that our lows tend to be lower.
At Christmas we experience a flood of expectations and cultural pressures. Advertising hype causes us to expect miracles - sports cars under the tree, dramatic reconciliations between estranged family members, sumptuous meals and an excess of happiness. We feel pressured to make this dream come true for our families, our friends and ourselves.
Advertisers assure us that the right gift, the perfect meal, the special scented candle is the answer. We look to the sack on Santa's back for the solution to our Christmas dilemmas, forgetting completely about the baby wrapped in used cloth on a bed of hay.
Behind the emotional and moral ambivalence we feel at Christmas lies a conflict between faith and popular culture that is seldom more pronounced than on this holy day. Behind the commercialization of Christmas, can we not see the reality of the consumer society? Behind the incessant blare of Christmas advertising, can we not see this society's cultural conditioning of the human spirit? Behind the enormous waste generated by our Christmas celebrating, can we not see the environmental cost of a throw-away society? Behind the frustration and despair of the poor at Christmas, can we not understand the perspective of the poor year-round in a consumer society?
When we face the reality of what is behind the cost of Christmas, the need for spiritual resources becomes apparent. These tools can help us survive Christmas with some integrity and will, hopefully, help us find ways to live responsibly throughout the year.
Purposes: The purposes of this four-session resource are:
- To encourage people to see the reality of the consumer society which stands behind our Christmas celebrations, and the impact of that reality on our spirits, the environment and the poor;
- To help participants discover ways to resist the pressures of the consumer society at Christmas and throughout the year so that we can celebrate and live more responsibly.
Participants: These sessions are designed to be used by small groups - Sunday school classes, study groups, households, etc. The sessions are planned to interest children as well as adults and are especially suitable for intergenerational settings.
Scheduling: This resource is intended for use during Advent. During this period, the pressures of the commercialized Christmas are so great that alternative activities like those proposed in this resource are needed to help people resist the lure of advertisers. Moreover, it is our belief that precisely because of those pressures, we can see things about the nature of our society and culture more easily than at other times.
Schedule an hour to an hour and a half each week during Advent for these sessions. Of course your group can use this resource at times other than Advent or can rearrange the session schedule to suit the needs of participants (four sessions in a day and night retreat, two three-hour sessions, etc.).
Preparing: Choose a session leader. One person can lead all the sessions, or you can choose a different leader for each session. You may want to have different leaders for the Bible studies, as well. If so, be sure they are appointed ahead of time and briefed on their responsibilities.
Read through the entire resource in advance. Review the materials required for each session. Some will need to be ordered in advance or checked out of the library.
If the participants are all adults, or adults and senior high-age youth, you may wish to incorporate the "Background" materials into the sessions themselves, either by copying them and giving them to participants for reading before the sessions or by reading them aloud before the "Narrative."
If you decide to have a kick-off planning session for participants, you can
arrange to have a showing of the award-winning Have Yourself a Merry Little
Christmas, available in VHS video cassette
GOAL: To understand cultural conditioning; to see the role television plays in that process; and to find ways to resist it.
- Carefully read the background material, the narrative, the questions for discussion, the Bible passage and the activities.
- Choose readers for the narrative and the Bible passage before the session. Be sure you have enough Bibles for everyone to read along.
- Bring a television program schedule so you can decide which programs you will watch. Participants will need pens and paper to write down instructions for the exercise.
BACKGROUND: In the months just before Christmas, ads in the mass media are filled with images of happy excited people preparing for the holidays. There are also those who are anxious or unhappy: they are the ones who haven't yet found the "right thing" to give. What is not pictured in the ads is frustration at unfulfilled holiday expectations; guilt that we have allowed ourselves to be seduced into doing things we really didn't want to do or believe in; pain when our children display dissatisfaction with their gifts, especially after they get back to school and compare notes with peers; frustration in February when the credit card bills arrive in the mail; and on and on.
At Christmas, we experience the effects of cultural conditioning that takes place throughout the year. Businesses spend much of their advertising budget to promote Christmas spending. The effect on our psyches is like the volume of a sound machine being turned up to deafening proportions. The message is simple: You need to buy - or receive - in order to be acceptable! This message is an attack on our self-worth.
John Kavanaugh, author of Still Following Christ in a Consumer Society, writes of this attack:
If we believe that this assault has no effect on us, then we should be especially attentive to the way children watch television, the way they are channeled and manipulated in their values, tastes, and demands, and the way they can be convinced that they are miserable without the latest piece of junk for Christmas. One hundred and forty billion dollars a year is not spent on advertising because it is ineffective. In the face of such expenditures (and the profound, obvious trust in the power of advertising and behavior modification), the claims that the violent or banal content of television programming have no effect on the behavior of children have a disconcerting hollowness, if not the ring of deceit. (Orbis Books, 1991, p. 36.)
We make a mistake, however, if we assume that the advertising industry alone is responsible for the assault on our self-worth. Advertising mirrors the values of our culture. In the case of television, cultural values are not only propagated through advertising, but in the programming itself. When we become aware of how television advertising and programming influence our perception of our needs and desires, we take the first step in resisting these cultural pressures. That is the focus of this session.
CHECKING IN: When all have arrived, give an overview of the four sessions. Invite participants to share their expectations of the study. This may be a good time to help everyone feel included by assigning readers for the narratives and Bible passages in future sessions.
NARRATIVE: Ask someone to read the following narrative aloud.
In a town not too far from yours, in a living room not too different from yours, and with a television set almost exactly like yours, live Angela (15) and José (9) with their mother, Bernice. They have just come to this country. Angela and José were very happy in their old home and had many friends there. They are a little anxious about learning English and making new friends here.
Their teacher at school told their mother that watching television would help them learn to speak English. Since Angela and José had never had a television set before and had only watched a few times at a store in their old country, this was a new and exciting experience.
One day when Bernice came home from work, José greeted her with, "Hi, Mama. Can I have Ektron and the space warriors?"
"What happened to the wooden figures your uncle carved for you?" she asked.
"Well, it says on television that every kid needs the Ektron set. Besides, I can see from the pictures that all the kids like to play with them. If I had a set, maybe kids would want to play with me."
"Oh, come on, José," chided Angela. "They just tell you that on television to make you buy things." José was so persistent that his mother finally took him to the store and bought the Ektron set. In a couple of weeks the spaceship was broken and José asked for a new, bigger super set he had just seen on television.
"Did Ektron make you happy and bring new friends?" Bernice asked José.
"Well, it made me happy at first." Then he added confidently, "The new super set will really make me happy and it is sure to bring new friends."
Angela overheard this conversation and began thinking about what José said. She thought about the last time she had gone to the department store with her mother. She remembered being drawn to the cosmetics counter. She remembered seeing television commercials for all kinds of makeup and clothes. In all of the commercials, the people who bought the things were very happy, partly because when they used the things other people noticed them and were friendly. She had always thought that she was pretty and, in the old country, she had many friends. "Maybe in this country," she wondered, "I am not so pretty. Would these things make me pretty and bring me friends? Maybe José is right!"
Discuss the following questions.
1. Is it more important for José and Angela to have "Ektron" and new cosmetics than it is for other children who are more at home in this culture?
2. Are there things you really need in order to feel like a part of this culture? What role does advertising have in your choices?
3. What are the subtle "threats" and "promises" in television commercials that appealed to Angela and José? In those that appeal to you? Does being able to identify the "threats" and "promises" help you resist the pressures of advertising?
4. Is there anything that Angela, José or their mother might have done differently? Is there anything you could do differently in your family?
BIBLE STUDY: Ask the assigned person to read Romans 12:1-2. You may want to ask her or him to read it more than once using different translations, especially verse 2a: "Do not model your behaviour on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God . . . ." (The New Jerusalem Bible)
Ask participants to share how they feel pressured to conform to society's standards, and how we can let God change us so we can resist those pressures.
ACTIVITY: Watching Television Commercials
This is not an activity to be done during the session, but in the time before the next session. Take enough time explaining the assignment so that everyone understands it.
Ask participants to watch two or three television programs before the next session. You may want to decide at this time who is going to watch which programs. Have everyone in the group over ten years old keep a log with the following information:
1. What programs were watched?
2. What were the commercials during each program?
3. Answer each of the questions below about each commercial. Remember that the message of the commercial is not just the words spoken, but in the total image projected:
a.) Does the commercial give you basic information about the product to help you decide whether or not to buy it?
b.) Is this product something you really need? Is it a luxury presented as a necessity? Does it suggest that you should have everything you want?
c.) Does the commercial's "hidden message" suggest good things will come to you if you use the product advertised? What promises does it offer?
d.) What commercials appealed most to you? Why?
PRAYER: One or more persons may want to offer short prayers. You may also want to have someone lead the group with this prayer:
O God, Mother and Father of us all, you know that we are tempted every day to buy to make us feel better, to buy to make us feel accepted, to buy to make us feel beautiful (or at least not ugly), and to buy to make us feel superior to others. Help us to distinguish between what we need and what we want, and give us the wisdom and courage to resist being manipulated, so that we may act as your children. Amen.
GOAL: To understand the impact of the consumer society on the environment, and to find ways to take better care of the earth.
- Review the background material and any supplementary resources you want to consult.
- Read the narrative carefully and review the discussion questions. Also read Psalm 24:1-2 and ask a member of the group to be prepared to read it aloud.
- Be sure you understand the activities, adapting them so that members of your group may do them. You may want to design and reproduce simple forms for use in activities one and two and have them ready for distribution when you give the assignments later in the session.
BACKGROUND: The $32 billion people in the U.S. spent last year on Christmas gifts does not include the larger costs of Christmas. Christmas has a great impact upon the environment. Consider the waste disposal costs of the most frivolous spending binge of the year, or the long-term costs of using irreplaceable natural resources for non-necessity commodities. A drive down the street on the first trash pick-up day after Christmas is a sobering reminder of the amount of waste generated in this celebration. What you don't see there are the natural resources used in creating these goods, many of which are irreplaceable. Behind every pound of garbage at curbside, there are approximately 20 pounds of industrial or agricultural waste created in the process of production. This is the waste you don't see in front of the houses or on the garbage trucks. This is the waste you can only see in mountains of slag, at industrial landfills or toxic waste dumps, and at the hundreds of other places where our wastes are hidden from public view.
Of course, Christmas is not responsible for this society's dubious distinction of being the greatest exploiter of natural resources and the greatest producer of waste in the history of humankind. However, because our waste at Christmas so symbolizes this society's way of dealing with the environment, we can analyze our Christmas celebrations to better understand our society's larger impact on the environment.
The marks of our throw-away society - single service, planned obsolescence, and highly processed foods - characterize a production system based on three assumptions:
- nlimited natural resources;
- cheap energy;
- adequate means of waste disposal.
In the last twenty years we have begun to realize that all of these assumptions are false. Not only are dwindling natural resources progressively driving up the cost of energy, but there are more immediate threats to the environment which come from inadequate means of waste disposal, such as: contamination of surface and ground water; 20,000 active hazardous waste sites around the country, 90 percent of which do not meet federal safety standards; and the difficulty of disposing of the escalating numbers of non-biodegradable products.
The seemingly inescapable conclusion is that neither the human family nor this planet can long afford a society which exploits natural resources and generates waste at such a high rate. The focus of this session is to better understand the cost of the consumer society to the environment and to discover ways of living that are kinder to the earth.
CHECKING IN: Ask each participant to report on his/her commercial watching assignment. Be sure that all members have a chance to report. Conclude by saying that understanding how commercials try to get us to buy does not make us immune to their appeal. It does, however, help us to withstand the pressures. Ask participants to consider doing this exercise every month or two so that evaluating commercials will become part of the way television is watched. You may also want to talk about setting some guidelines to limit television exposure.
NARRATIVE: Ask someone to read the narrative. You may want to ask different people to read different parts: a narrator, Angela, José and Bernice.
In a town not too far from your town, where Angela, José and their mother, Bernice, live, things have not been going too well. It seemed to them like one or the other of them had been sick or just not feeling well a lot of the time. Coughing, itchy skin and being sick at their stomachs were common ailments. Not only that, but it seemed like their friends at school were sick a lot from the same ailments.
"Mama," called Angela to Bernice one morning from the kitchen where she was making orange juice from frozen concentrate, "the water is brown-looking. Do you think it's clean?"
"Of course," Bernice answered, "this is America and the water here is clean."
"The water has had a funny smell for a long time," piped in José.
Bernice, who had just finished her shower, thought about how there seemed to be a particular smell when the water had been running for a while, like right now. She didn't say anything more to the kids, but as she drank her morning coffee, she was reminded of its peculiar taste, a taste she had simply identified as one more peculiarity of life in the United States. It was hard to believe anything was really wrong with the water.
When she got to work that day, she called the water department just to check. "You've got nothing to worry about," said a slightly harried voice on the other end of the line. "There is a little problem out at the city wells, but no danger to your health. It's just a little inconvenience. You'll be getting a report in the mail in a few days." Bernice was relieved.
When an official looking letter from the state health board arrived in the mail, Bernice opened it and read it slowly. It was hard to read. There were a lot of chemical names she couldn't understand. What she could understand was that it said the town water wells had been contaminated by a nearby garbage dump and that they shouldn't drink the water anymore. It was all right to wash with it, the letter said, but they weren't to drink it.
"What happened to our water?" asked José when Bernice told the children about the letter from the board of health. "Let's go and see it," he insisted when she told him about the garbage dump.
They were over two miles past the city water wells when they came to the entrance to the garbage dump. When they drove through the gate the smell almost made them turn around, but they persisted down a little road through a grove of trees. Then they saw them: huge mounds of garbage as far as they could see. "They look like mountains," gasped Angela.
"Look, there's an old broken Ektron set," José shouted, making no move to get out of the car. They could also see hundreds of barrels, some rusting and leaking their contents onto the ground.
"How can there be this much trash from just one town?" asked Angela to no one in particular.
"Because in this country people throw away a lot of things," replied Bernice.
"Why do they throw away so many things?" José asked.
"People throw things away when they don't need them anymore," explained Bernice.
"Boy, people sure don't need a lot of stuff. And now it's made our water smell and it made us sick, I'll bet," concluded Angela sadly.
1. Why was it hard for Bernice to believe anything was wrong with the water?
2. Why wasn't the person from the water department completely honest with Bernice on the phone?
3. Do you have a hard time imagining how a garbage dump could affect the city water wells over two miles away?
4. Why do people throw away more things in this country than in the country Bernice, Angela and José came from? What kinds of things do people throw away here that might not be thrown away in their country?
BIBLE STUDY: Ask the assigned person to read Psalm 24:1-2. Ask what this means in terms of our responsibility for the environment. Re-read the two verses.
ACTIVITIES: Describe the proposed activities and determine which ones you will do. Make sure participants know what to do and when to do it. Tell them to be ready to share what they learned at the beginning of the next session.
Activity One: Checking Out the Garbage
No, people don't have to go through their kitchen garbage. But participants should think about what is there. Write down the following categories on sheets of newsprint:
- Paper (newspaper, wrapping paper, sacks, letters, etc.)
- Plastic (containers, wrappings, products, etc.)
- Metal (aluminum cans, etc.)
Ask participants to offer their ideas for the different categories and have someone write them down on the appropriate sheet of newsprint. After your lists are complete, ask the following questions:
1. What items in the trash could be recycled for reuse? Will they be? (Participants might consider taxing themselves for all the recyclable garbage they throw out. They can contribute the tax to a local or national environmental group.)
2. What items are non-biodegradable?
3. How much garbage do you throw away each week? (Ask participants to multiply the number of bags of garbage they throw out each week by 52. They can then divide that number by the number of people in their household to get a per person/garbage ratio. They can multiply that number by the number of people in their city.)
Activity Two: Checking the Garbage You Don't See
Businesses, industry and agriculture generate waste in producing and distributing the consumer goods we buy. This waste makes up a much greater percentage of "our" waste than the trash we place on the curb. You pay to have your garbage removed (either through taxes or through fees), but you pay very little - in the purchase price - toward the environmental costs of production and distribution waste.
Explain this exercise to participants and ask them to do this before the next session. Participants should gather up all the appliances, toys, tools, records, tapes, books and clothes they purchased in the last three months and weigh them. They can multiply the total weight by 20. This will give them the approximate weight of the waste generated in creating these things. Ask participants to consider taxing themselves one cent per pound if the product was made from non-renewable natural resources. Encourage them to contribute what is raised to a local or national environmental concern.
Activity Three: Hunt the Dumps
Find out where the city garbage is taken. Make plans, either individually or as a group, to visit the dump site. Find out if there is a hazardous waste dump in your area. Find out where the city water comes from. Inquire about any underwater contamination in your area.
PRAYER: Let one or more persons offer short prayers. You may also want someone to lead the group in the following prayer:
O God, who created the universe with suns, moons, and stars and who created this earth with air, water and soil, we give you our thanks for the wonder of your creation. Forgive us when, through selfishness and thoughtlessness, we abuse your creation. Create a new spirit within us, O Lord, a spirit of respect for your creation, and a spirit of anticipation of the time when polluted water will run clean, the air be pure and the land healed. Amen.
GOAL: To understand better the experience of poor people in a consumer society, and to discover ways to live justly.
- Review the background material, the narrative, activities, Bible passages and concluding prayer.
- Be sure readers have been alerted for their assignments in the narrative, Bible study and prayer.
- Do a little research on the history of your community in preparation for the "Who's Who In Your Community?" exercise so you can point participants to resources. Your public library may have a history of your community. Remember, however, that minorities and poor people are often not significantly included in histories. Gather whatever books and other materials you can. Talk to some people who know the history of your community.
BACKGROUND: As one editorialist aptly put it, "No Virginia, Santa Doesn't Come to the Ghetto." Christmas is often a sad time for poor people. Non-poor people understand this and make special offerings for Christmas baskets. Although the poor need food in the months before and after Christmas, it is at Christmas - when consumption by the non-poor is most conspicuous - that consciences are stirred. If we look behind this stirring of conscience at Christmas, we will see the difficulties poor people experience in the consumer society all year long and resolve to do something beyond giving Christmas baskets.
By its very nature, the consumer society is oriented to the needs, desires and interests of the affluent. The more disposable income one has, the more one can participate in the act of consuming and the more one can enjoy the benefits of a consumer society. On the other hand, those with little or no disposable income have a different experience in a consumer society. An estimated 41 million people - many of whom are children, elderly people, blacks or other minority groups - live beneath the poverty level. How do they experience the consumer society?
- Being poor in a consumer society means being surrounded by high levels of consumption. Like others, poor people are constantly exposed to advertising's seductive images of the good life. However, while their expectations are heightened, they are not fulfilled.
- As the consumer society steadily increases its dependence on sophisticated technology to provide for its increasingly diverse needs and tastes, poor people's chances of catching up steadily diminish.
- Lack of cash and information keeps the poor from buying quality goods and planning for financial security. Ironically, their untenable credit position is a marketable item; it supports a large "loan shark" industry.
- Finally, being poor in this consumer society means being seen as "different," and probably lazy and ignorant. The notion that poor people are responsible for their poverty is deep and pervasive in this society.
Poor people in other parts of the world are affected by our consumer society, as well:
- The best farmland is sometimes sold to large corporations who use it to produce luxury foods for people in the consumer society. Then that land cannot be used to raise food for the local people. The money they get back for the work involved in exporting goods is never enough to buy the food that once was grown there.
- Poor countries are often the "dumping ground" for products (especially drugs and other chemicals) which do not meet safety standards in this country. The poor, more than the middle and upper classes in these countries, experience the adverse effects of such dumping.
- Like the poor in this country, the poor in Third World countries are enticed to buy products from our consumer society which they do not need, cannot afford, and which may actually prove dangerous in their situation.
The poor, within and outside the consumer society, pay a disproportionate share of the high cost of the consumer society.
CHECKING IN: Invite participants to report on their work on the garbage exercises from the last session.
NARRATIVE: Ask the assigned person(s) to read the narrative.
It was Sunday morning just a week before Christmas in a town not far from your town, in a living room very much like your living room. "Hurry up, Mama," called José impatiently waiting at the front door, "or we'll be late for church."
"I'll be there in a minute," responded Bernice. "I just have to put the bow on the basket and then it will be ready."
As they headed toward church, Angela was checking the contents of the basket. "Turkey breasts, stuffing mix, sweet potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce . . . ," Angela continued down the list.
"Why is all of this stuff in the basket, and what are we going to do with it?" asked José.
"One of the committees at the church told our women's group about a number of families who can't afford to have a Christmas dinner. They asked each of us to bring a dinner for another family," explained Bernice.
"Why don't they have enough money to buy their Christmas dinner?" José quizzed.
"Oh, you ninny," Angela said with all the superiority she could muster. "It's not just that they don't have enough to eat for Christmas dinner. They hardly ever have enough to eat. They are poor!"
"Why don't they have enough money to buy their Christmas dinner?" José questioned. "Why are they poor?" he persisted.
"Some people are too lazy to work," responded Angela.
"Wait a minute," said Bernice. "Lots of people are just unlucky. We could have been poor, too. If the church group hadn't helped me learn English and get a job, we wouldn't be able to buy groceries either. This is a hard society unless you have money," she continued to explain.
More thoughtful now, José said, "Well, here's their Christmas dinner, but what are they going to do the rest of the year?"
"Maybe we should help them get jobs, too," responded Angela.
1. What was your reaction to giving a Christmas basket to a poor family? Why?
2. How would you have responded to Angela's comment about the poor being lazy?
3. What do you think about Angela's suggestion about helping poor people get jobs? What are some of the other ways to help poor people during the rest of the year?
BIBLE STUDY: Ask the assigned person to read James 2:14-17. You may want to consider asking participants to do a role play on this passage.
ACTIVITY: "Who's Who In Your Community?"
1. Who are the poor in your community? Based on whatever information you have or can gather, use your imagination to construct an informal history of your community from the perspective of the poor people who live there.
Are they recently arrived refugees? The descendants of people brought here against their will? Displaced rural people? Elderly people? Single mothers with children? Dispossessed Native Americans?
2. What support services (medical facilities, counseling, job training programs, literacy programs, childcare centers, etc.) are available to poor people in your community? How can you help?
PRAYER: Invite persons to offer specific prayers for the poor in your community and beyond, and for themselves that they not be among those who say good words but do nothing.
GOAL: To explore ways of living within the consumer society that are more humane, just and kind to the earth, and to make commitments to begin practicing some of those ways.
- Read the background material, the narrative, questions for discussion, the Bible passages and the activities.
- Assign readers for the narrative and the Bible passage before the session.
- Have newsprint, markers and masking tape for the "What Are We Going To Do Now?" exercise.
BACKGROUND: Behind the cost of Christmas we can see a consumer society which - for all its benefits - exacts a high cost from the human spirit, from the environment and from the poor. Surviving its attack on our spirits and values, and counteracting its negative impact on the environment and the poor are considerable tasks. In the long run, the cultural climate itself must be changed. As long as prevailing cultural values encourage the exploitation of people and the environment for the sake of increased consumption, we will continue to pay the high human and environmental costs of the consumer society.
There are no magic remedies. Television programs and commercials which portray quick and tidy solutions to serious problems say more about the ideology of the consumer culture than about reality. In the real world, social and cultural change occurs in a much less dramatic fashion and on a less grand scale than the media lead us to believe.
Like changes in our Christmas celebrations, changes in our culture and society require intentional, incremental and persistent actions in the places where we are. The "where we are" is central. National efforts to affect government and corporate policies are important, but making changes in the areas where we have immediate influence is critical.
We must not be misled by this culture's preoccupation with "bigness" and "scale." From agriculture to foreign aid to urban renewal, this idea of "bigness" often runs roughshod over the very human values we want to preserve. There is no substitute for creating new futures in our immediate communities, including our own households and churches.
In order to resist the pressures of the consumer society and to find ways of living that are more just and kind to the environment, three kinds of personal action are necessary:
1. Disengaging from Popular Culture: There is a significant parallel between mind control and the way our senses are continually assaulted by the messages of the consumer society. In some form the message is nearly always that we are inadequate and need to consume to be acceptable.
Periodic disengagement from the blare of popular culture enables us to gain some perspective about reality and the values we want to live out. For example, since the most immediate source of the assault is television, we can restrict the amount of time it is on, select carefully what we watch, and - whenever we watch - watch critically. More positively, worship, prayer, meditation, study, reading, talking, celebrations and other creative forms of recreation can be ways to disengage for short periods and be reminded of the reality that transcends the consumer culture and its values.
2. Finding or Creating Community: Because it is mainly motivated by greed, the consumer society alienates people from each other. The sense of community and "neighborliness" has declined as the values of the consumer culture have spread. With the sense of alienation comes a sense of powerlessness.
Without a community of support and encouragement it is difficult to resist the pressures of the consumer society. We need the power of human connections to counteract alienation and create a different sense of reality. We need community for raising our children. Finding some form of community support is critical. The family, the church or some other group may offer the necessary support. Depending on your particular situation, you may have to create a group.
3. Challenging the Consumer Society: We need to challenge the hold of the consumer society. This involves supporting larger efforts at the state and national levels, like "truth-in-advertising" legislation and ecologically sound national land and water use policies. Of equal importance is the creation of new ways of living in the household and community: ways that treat all members as persons with unique value, not as commodities to be manipulated; ways of consuming with intention and restraint; ways that minimize and recycle waste; ways that encourage the development of self-sufficiency skills; ways that divert resources to those whose needs are greater; and ways of celebrating that break rather than strengthen the hold of consumerism. There is nothing romantic about the time-consuming daily commitment required for creating a new future in the household and the community, but little else is more important.
CHECKING IN: Ask people to share what they learned from the "Who's Who in Your Community" exercise. Be sure everyone has a chance to contribute.
NARRATIVE: Ask the assigned person(s) to read the narrative aloud.
It was Christmas morning in a town not far from your town. In a living room very much like your living room, Angela, José and Bernice were preparing to open their presents.
Now 16 and 10, Angela and José had grown a lot in the last year. Not only was their English very good but they understood a lot more about their new country. They had been busier than ever before, it seemed.
Almost every week on Thursday afternoons during the last year, Angela and other members of her youth group went to the water tank and filled water jugs for delivery to families who didn't have cars. They hoped they wouldn't have to do it for too much longer. The landfill was closed now and efforts were being made to clean the water in the city wells.
Angela knew about what was happening because Bernice was on a committee of townspeople working on the water problem. Going to the committee meetings regularly wasn't easy with the hours Bernice had to work. She was also embarrassed by her difficulties in expressing herself in English, but the people at the church had encouraged her to join the committee. The kids thought it was funny that Bernice was so nervous when she was asked to testify about the health of her family at a public hearing on their town's water problem. They were also proud that she agreed to do it.
They would not be alone for Christmas dinner. Later in the morning they would be joined by the refugee family they and their church had agreed to sponsor three months ago. Their son Ramon, also 10, and José had become fast friends. José was glad that when Ramon's family moved into their own apartment, it wasn't far from them.
When the presents had been unwrapped - and the wrapping paper carefully folded for use again - Bernice noticed that both Angela and José were quiet. She thought she knew why. She knew Angela had very much wanted a designer sweater and José the super Ektron set. They had agreed that they would have to limit their spending if they were to be able to sponsor the refugee family. They all were enthusiastic about the decision to become sponsors, but now on Christmas morning with presents less than what they had really hoped for, Bernice wondered.
"I know you didn't get what you really wanted," Bernice said cautiously.
"That's okay, Mama," José interrupted, "I got a good friend without the super set." Angela and Bernice both smiled and then broke into laughter as José added, "Besides, there is always my birthday coming up."
1. What changes took place in this family over the last year? Can you imagine what kind of changes might take place in your family in the next year?
2. How was their church important for the changes which took place over the last year? How can your church support you in changes you may undertake? How can you join with others in your congregation to support other people as they make changes?
3. What had José learned in the past year about toys and friends? What is the meaning of his last statement?
BIBLE STUDY: Ask the person appointed to read Romans 12:1-2. You may recall that this was the passage read in the first session. Think about it again now at the end of the four sessions to see if it holds more meaning now. You may want to talk about Paul's use of the image of "sacrifice" in verse one. In his time and before, people believed that God was pleased by animals - sometimes even humans - being sacrificed on an altar. Paul reminds the Christians in Rome that what God wanted is for them to offer themselves as "living sacrifices." What does it mean to be a "living sacrifice"? Does it have anything to do with not being "conformed to the standards of the world" but being "transformed by a renewal of the mind"? Talk about what this means in terms of the issues considered in the four sessions.
ACTIVITY: "What Are We Going To Do Now?"
During these four session we have looked to see how the consumer society affects our spirits, the environment and the poor. We have also discovered some ways to counter these effects. Based on what has been learned in these sessions, decide what things you are now doing that you want to stop doing; what things you want to start doing; and what things you are doing that you want to continue doing.
Put up three pieces of newsprint where they can be easily written on and easily seen by all participants. On one piece write, "Things we want to STOP doing," On another, write, "Things we want to START doing." On the third, write, "Things we want to CONTINUE doing." You can proceed through these in any order or all at the same time, recording the suggestions given by participants. After you have gotten everyone's suggestions, take a few minutes for each person to choose the items they will work at implementing. Encourage participants to make a list of these items. Participants can then refer to their lists again in three or four months to check on progress, and perhaps, to update the list.
PRAYER: Hands joined, standing or sitting in a circle, invite all of the participants to offer sentence prayers about the commitments they have made. You may want to conclude with everyone praying the Lord's Prayer.
Milo Thornberry, former director of Alternatives, has also served as pastor in Alaska and Oregon.
Get to know Milo at post #181
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Page updated 16 Jan . 2014
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