Over the last several years, however, I’ve been thinking more deeply about and exploring ways to deepen the experience of gift giving for me and those receiving it. Part of that stems from learning to see stewardship in a more holistic way. Originally, it started with how I spend my money and gradually moved to seeing all my stuff as God’s resources to be used as I go about loving God and loving others, a kind of collection of things that can be used by others. This year, I deeply appreciated Lynn Miller’s exploration in Stewardship for All in which he talks about various ways believers are expressing this in North America, from listing their stuff in "catalogs" so it can be utilized by others to pooling together their talents and gifts in serving each other and the community.
This in year particular, however, my approach to Christmas gifts has been deeply affected by my ruminations over what it means to be the church—the people of God expressing Kingdom-living here-and-now. Lately, I’ve been reading Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement, and I love how he underscores that God’s redemptive work includes four dimensions: becoming right with God, self, others and the world. Being part of God’s people means being part of a community that looks to heal the relationships between us and the world, and I’m consciously looking for ways to participate in that.
So, this year I decided to buy most of our gifts from Ten Thousand Villages, a program of Mennonite Central Committee that seeks to “improve the livelihood of disadvantaged people in developing countries and to change unfair structures of international trade.” The program buys crafts directly from artisans in the developing world and works with those who “would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed, focusing on areas where the need is great and access to other markets is limited. The artisans use the income for basic needs such as food, education, health care, and housing.” Many of the crafts come with cards explaining who made it and where it was made (or you can print out that information from their online shop). Growing up in Anabaptist circles, I’ve walked out of more than one Ten Thousand Villages shop with treasures—many of which are still with me. So, this represents for me a chance not only to buy unique and handmade gifts which can make folks feel appreciated, but also financially support and encourage individuals in developing countries and work towards expanding the right-ness of God’s Kingdom.
This approach is nothing new—Christians with much more background and passion than me have been encouraging us to take this approach for years. And there are many other ministries and organizations out there that offer us the chance to buy gifts that also expand our mission to work with God to heal the world. Two other ministries I support offer similar opportunities: World Vision has a catalog you can purchase from and Invisible Children offers bracelets that also tell stories about justice and healing.
But this is only one option for getting more thoughtful about Christmas gifts (or gifts for other occasions). For her kids’ birthday parties, a neighbor of mine had the cool idea of asking folks to give school supplies to a local school in lieu of birthday gifts for her children. Her kids still got presents from family, but also had the experience of using the day and party for giving to others. One of my sisters-in-law has the neat practice of giving toys her kids no longer play with (and are still in good condition) as gifts—some of those became my own kids’ favorite toys. She’s the same one with whom we agreed for several Christmases to have our kids make gifts for each other. I’ve also worked out with folks to buy used books instead of new ones for gifts—and then there’s the thrift store approach, which not only helps in spending money wisely but can also financially support a ministry.
Anyway, that’s what I’m doing this year. If you’ve got other ideas, I’d love to hear ‘em!