This essay is entitled "Why I Want Gifts for Christmas (by Katie M Ladd)" because I want gifts. For Christmas. This year. As I scroll through Facebook and read editorials, I see many people writing about their desire to forego gifts. "All I want is time spent with family." Really? That's all they want? I am clearly a bad person. I don't just want that. I want a new Blu-Ray player, Harry Potter movies to play on that Blu-Ray, the dent in my car fixed, my car detailed, maybe a new blender, a coat (my one coat is several years old), some pants that fit, underwear, gift certificates to go to the movies, hiking shoes, fig preserves (the best food on earth), an itunes gift certificate, good smelling candles, and a new pair of gloves. Okay, I won't be shy. I also want a scooter to drive to work, a signed piece of art by Charles Schulz* (my favorite art of all time! Go, Charlie Brown!), renovations done to my house (heck, a new house), an electric car, a new electricity panel at my house that could handle an electric car, solar panels on my house, a wi-fi fob on my tv so I can stream television shows, a fenced in yard, a puppy in my fenced in yard, a trip to Turkey and Greece, and a lot of money. I want all of these things. I am not exaggerating. I want every single one of these things.
I like things. I don't like shopping. But, I like things. I want things. I do.
I am not asking for these things (well, most of them) because even though I want them, I know that there is a better way to mark this holy season - there is a better way to live my life. One problem we seem to have in this country is that we have acquiesced to the premise that if we want it, we should have it. That is not an ecological ideal. It is not a communal idea. It is not an ethical virtue. It is not a Christian value. We can rise above our wants. We are, after all, sentient beings capable of reflection, thought, planning, and empathy. Despite the misguided resurgent devotion to Ayn Rand, the proper moral pursuit for a human being isn't necessarily that person's personal happiness or self-interest. We belong to groups - families, communities, churches, synagogues, mosques, prayer circles, hiking clubs, book clubs, alumna associations, alumnae associations, parenting groups, 12 step groups, circles of friends, and so forth. We do not belong only to ourselves. Pursuing aims, including "things," for our own self-interest without regard to how this pursuit affects others should not be lauded. Sorry, Ayn. You were wrong. Those who follow you today are wrong. I am more than a collection on wants or even needs. I am more. We are more.
For those who feel the need to pepper spray fellow shoppers, camp in tents in order to buy a new PlayStation, stand in long lines to get a deal on a pair of jeans, I wonder, "How much did this enrich your life and the life of your community?" Aren't you more than this?
The ethics of my faith and the mystery of the Christmas story remind us all that we are more than our basest selves. Human beings are capable of immeasurable kindness and compassion. Human beings are able to step away from self-interest for the sake of another. We are. You are. I am. We are able to ask this Christmas for a different kind of gift, not because we don't want other things, but because we are committed to something more.
The Christmas story is fundamentally a story about God bringing life from a place where no life should be. It is a story that parodies the birth stories of the great. It makes a farce of the powerful and the rich. The great song of Christmas is Mary's Song, the Magnificat. How ironic that the song of the soul of Christmas includes, "[God] has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:51-53) when we grapple and fight, scratch and claw our way toward a new toaster. Let's not allow Christmas to be ironic this year. Let's look with hopeful hearts for Christ's light to shine in our darkness, for God's Son to be born. Let's do Christmas differently this year. With joy. And simplicity. And love for neighbor. Let's approach Christmas with a hope for life in our lifeless communities.
I want things. I bet you do, too. Here's my actual Christmas list. Notice, it still includes a few things.
*Harry Potter on Blu-Ray
*Donations to UMCOR
*Donations to the Woodland Park Zoo - specifically for the Western Pond Turtle
*Donations to Heifer International
*Donations to the Church of Mary Magdalene/Mary's Place
*Donations to the Trevor Project
*Donations to Jamaa Letu
*Donations to Nothing But Nets
*Donations to Wildlife Direct - Mountain Gorillas
*Donations to Operation Nightwatch
Feel free to buy me gifts. All of you. I welcome the stranger reading this post to give me a gift, but don't get the Blu-Ray or the Harry Potter (I'm very particular, you see). Get the rest. Fig preserves are welcome.
*It was brought to my attention that I originally posted that I wanted art from Howard Schultz. Um, in my defense, I was drinking a Starbucks coffee at the time. Cross-contamination. I don't particularly care for art from him, unless coffee counts. I want art by Charles Schulz, the creator of Charlie Brown and his crazy gang of friends.
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