December 13 - 19, 2004



The national gift crisis


How are you and your family coping with gift crisis this Christmas? Never heard of the gift crisis? Tsk tsk. Denial is the first sign of trouble.


It’s everywhere in our culture, and in fact is the underlying premise for most of the Christmas advertisements we hear on radio and TV, such as:


Male voice: “I can’t believe it’s only 11 days before Christmas and I haven’t found that perfect gift for Aunt Matilda. I’ve been shopping for days and days. What can I do?”


Female voice: “Why not head over to the Crap Barn? The Crap Barn has the widest selection of the finest crap from all over the world. At the Crap Barn, you’re sure to find the perfect gift for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list. And better, they’re conveniently located at Highways 9 and 14, right next to the Drive-Thru Liposuction Clinic! And at the Crap Barn, there’s always lots of free parking!


Male voice: “The Crap Barn! Why didn’t I think of that? I’m heading over to the Crap Barn today!”


Female voice: “You’ll be glad you did!”


Sound familiar? The fact is, the flip side to the annual Christmas gift crisis shows something quite remarkable. The flip side is simply this:


We are so blessed as a nation in material goods, it’s extremely hard work for many of us to come up with gifts for our loved ones that they actually 1) need, 2) want, or 3) can use. For most of the world’s population living day-to-day in poverty and despair, that would be a dream come true.


So when you hear those tacky ads for the countless Crap Barns all over our country, say a prayer of thanks. Then consider alternative gifts that will go to people really in need. For instance, make a  donation or gift purchase for a needy person through one of the countless worthy and respected charities, such as your local Salvation Army, food bank or homeless shelter. Send your loved one a card explaining that this year, his or her gift is making a big difference in the lives of a needy family. Here are three links to get you going.


Heifer International – Buy a goat, pig or tree for a family in the developing world.

ELCA World Hunger – Supply a village with water, support a school or help African families devastated by AIDS.

Habitat for Humanity – Help build decent homes for hard-working families.


Oh, and also check out Dana Reardon's column, below. Merry Christmas!


-Rob Blezard, editor and webmaster


New this week:



Face the facts, but we must avoid discouragement
"How are we salt, yeast and light in our society?" It's one of the big questions Mark S. Hanson asks in his column about the decline of Mainline Protestantism. As presiding bishop of the ELCA, which just this year dipped below 5 million members, Hanson is exploring the question as more than just an academic exercise. His inspiring and challenging observations have remarkable implications for all stewards of the mysteries of God.




Help 'A Bunch of Guys' make a difference
"The Spirit is out there in the world calling us to see the hungry and the needy and the homeless and to give what we can of our talents and our wealth to become one with that Spirit that calls us. We become one with the Spirit, the breath of life and maybe it is "in there" when we Take a Breath." From Dana Reardon's weekly reflection.



Pursuing love of neighbor through business
"As Christians we do not stand outside the dynamics of globalization, but are caught up in them. ... The criterion of neighbor-love goes against the grain or resists the assumptions embedded in economic globalization." So challenges this theological exploration of economics and discipleship produced by the Lutheran World Federation.



Income levels help identify big holiday shoppers
Shopping trends reveal a shift in income and wealth, the Christian Science Monitor reports. "In the past 10 years, families in the top 20 percent in income have done extremely well. Despite the brief recession early in this decade and the burden of rising energy prices over the last year, the bottom 20 percent of households did OK over the decade, too. But the middle class has been struggling to keep up, adding debt, saving little."



 Martin E. Marty: 'Tipping the Plate'
"Whoever does what Jesus-in-the-gospels did, and examines the collection plate as it goes by, still will find plenty of "mites" or one-dollar bills. ... My bottom line: our giving to all causes, beginning with church, per capita among givers -- and without averaging in non-givers in the population -- is closer to "tipping" than "sacrifice" or "generous giving." From Sightings, published by the Martin Marty Center. This week's Recycling Bin feature.



Joke of the Week!

Weekly Gleanings, a sampling of articles with stewardship implications from the popular press.