Every day lately on the Stephen Colbert Show, there is yet another report about the shortage of things to buy. Empty cargo ships, bagel stores without schmear, shoppers making mad rushes to get things while they can. And the panic increases with Christmas around the corner. After all, in Spanish, the “más” of Christ-mas means “More! More! More!”
But I say amen to the shortage of stuff. Who needs it? The millions of plastic toys and doo-dads that kids play with for 20 seconds (Legos excepted) and are choking our oceans and landfills. When are we going to learn that children are just as happy with sticks and stones, with no environmental impact? When are we going to stop measuring our worth by the number of things accumulated? When will shopping cease to be the number one strategy for refusing to face an emptiness in our souls? When will riches be measured by relationships— with friends, families, the land, the plants, the rivers—instead of things?
For over 30 years, my family has gone to the Christmas Revels, a half-theater/ half audience-sing-along designed to feed good fellowship with music, dance, drama and song. They always end with a song called “God Bless the Master of This House” and while I understand that this was probably written in a time of scarcity, I keep thinking they really need to change the last verse:
God Bless you house, your children too,
You cattle and your store.
The Lord increase you day by day
And send you more and more,
And send you more and more.
NO!!! Please don’t! We’re drowning in stuff!! I have closets and file cabinets and shelves filled with CD’s, records, books, cassette tapes and VHS tapes of performances, workshop notes, articles, letters etc. that are patiently waiting for me to pay them some mind, re-visit them one more time and then recycle or give away, both to lighten up the space in the house and in myself and have my children bless me that I did this before they had to. And note that these are things that have enlarged my spirit, increased my understanding, helped me in my life’s work. (At least that’s how I justify their accumulation and holding on to them.) But like so many of us, there’s also the things that are just things, tools I never use, old electronics, a box of T-shirts with Orff logos. You get the picture.
So as Christmas rolls around, let the gifts be small, meaningful and homemade when possible. A piece of art, a poem, a puzzle to work on together, a book that changed your life, a restaurant certificate or massage or ticket to a jazz concert. Take a moment to heed John Steinbeck’s words:
“We are poisoned with things. Having many things seems to create a desire for more things, more clothes, houses, automobiles. Think of the pure horror of our Christmases when our children open package after package and, when the floor is heaped with wrappings and presents, say, “Is that all?” And two days after, the smashed and abandoned things are added to our national trash pile and perhaps the child, having got in trouble, explains, “I didn’t have anything to do.” And he means exactly that—nothing to do, nowhere to go, no direction, no purpose, and worst of all, no needs. Wants he has, yes, but for more bright and breakable things. We are trapped and entangled in things.”
From his essay: Americans and Their Future (1966)
May the cargo ships stay empty. May the stores distinguish between necessities and frivolities. May we see the difference between wants and needs. May the Lord help us be content with less and less.