Saturday, November 28, 2015

What is Enough?

It’s two days after Thanksgiving and one day after what is commonly known as “Black Friday” here in the U.S.  Meanwhile, the climate justice pilgrims have just completed their journey from Rome to Paris on foot for the People’s Pilgrimage, bringing the voices of people of faith from across the world to Paris for the COP-21 climate negotiations, with the message that the United Nations must pass a strong climate treaty. 

I find myself joining other OurVoices leaders in asking the question, “What is enough?” 

How is it that we choose to be thankful for a day every year, and then we allow ourselves to continue to live in a society that turns around the next day, with people knocking one another over in the quest to get the best deal on the latest gadget? 

I have always understood that the holidays are a time to be grateful for what we have, for family, friends, nourishing food and the opportunities provided for us in our lives.  A time to sober ourselves to the reality that there are billions of people across the planet who are hungry and living in poverty, subject to the whims of an unstable climate caused in large part by our unsustainable lifestyles.  Given these realities, to me the materialistic frenzy that surrounds the holidays is too harmful to just be written off as shallow.  

I am grateful for growing up with a religious orientation that taught me the love of God for all people, and through which I eventually came to understand the spiritual and ecological interconnectedness of all people and aspects of creation to one another.   My experiences and those of many other spiritually conscious people have convicted me that faith, religion, and spirituality allow any of us to transform ourselves into more compassionate human beings, and that this transformation is exactly what our religious and spiritual traditions were created for.   When we do not pay attention to this reality and instead focus on the inflatable Christmas lawn decorations and long wish lists for Santa Claus and his elves, we are betraying the very purpose of the holi-day.  Americans spend more than $600 billion during the holiday season, causing some to believe Christmas is synonymous with materialism.

How did we get to this point, and what will it take for us to return to the real meaning of the holiday season….and pass strong climate legislation?

I like returning to St. Nicholas, from whom the story of Santa Claus was born.  As legend has it, when Nicholas learned of a poor man who could not afford a proper dowry for his three daughters, he decided help them. He secretly threw three purses filled with gold coins through the window of the family’s house in order to help prevent the women from remaining unmarried, becoming prostitutes or being assumed to be prostitutes.  To me this is far cry from what our society has manufactured, which somehow ties a spinoff of the legend of St. Nicholas together with a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in a stable in Nazareth, into a “holiday” celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike that does more harm than good for God’s creation, or to use the term popularlized by Pope Francis, “our common home.”   Not to mention completely looking past the deeper spiritual messages that Jesus preached about and stood for through his incarnation as the Christ.  

For a moment, let us pause at the wonders of the sacred world we are privileged to live in.  

For me, this is enough.

As we return to thinking about the season of gift-giving, wouldn’t we do better to celebrate the holidays by following the example of St. Nicholas, who gave of himself to protect the welfare and dignity of young women?   Given how our actions create ripple effects, our unsustainable lifestyles are directly connected to instances of human trafficking across the world:  as I have learned from Franciscans International, areas where mining of precious minerals occurs are also hot spots for human trafficking.  Instead of asking for the latest electronics or fashion items from the local mall this year, what if we replaced our selfish desires with means of combating instances which destroy the lives and self-esteems of our global brothers and sisters?  This year, for those who insist on buying me gifts for Christmas, I’ll be asking for products and services that help girls get to primary or secondary school safely through Global Girlfriend.   And no gift-wrapping, please.   In the meantime, I’ll be praying for a strong climate treaty at COP-21, with the awareness that we must put our prayers and Pope Francis’ words of Laudato Si’ into action in order to realize a better world.

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