We live in the most financially minded era in history; nothing previous compares to it. Somehow we have put ourselves in the position of believing that our greatest problems can be solved by changes to the budget. A rampant globalization has introduced us to a world with few checks and balances and a sense that the new economic order is some massive global juggernaut upon which citizens themselves and average families can have little effect.
The Christmas holiday season always had a sense of the commercial in it, but that has now given way to a more economic view of everything. We have received about 300 Christmas cards this holiday season, but after perusing them early one morning I was encouraged to see just how simple they were – not in design, but in content. There are Christmas trees, a guiding star, a manger, snow-capped peaks, a snowy cabin in the woods, a fire, hands held around a decorated Christmas tree, a couple traveling with a donkey, and numerous styles of snowflakes.
These are the things we send to one another when we aren’t thinking of money but of friendship, associations, family, God, community and romance. And they remind us that we must struggle repeatedly to learn the lesson of the Grinch: “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought … doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps … means a little bit more.” We often forget that the entire scenario played out in the How the Grinch Stole Christmas took place on a simple snowflake.
In a fiercely and competitive economic age it is always good to be reminded of those things all the money in the world cannot buy. If citizens can accomplish anything, it would be to remind the world of its greater values.
Financial matters could ruin many a family’s hopes this Christmas. Instead of heading to the store, they might just as easily head out on the bus to the food bank. Domestic love, the hopes and future of children, the security of home – such things can be ruined by a lack of financial support. And yet we all know of those who have little who have somehow made it work through their commitment to one another and their community. We have also encountered those blessed with wealth who lost family because money and materialism got in the way. The real things that keep families together aren’t found in a catalogue, listed on the Dow Jones, or found in a Boxing Day sale. They are found in the things money cannot come close to purchasing – love, commitment, faithfulness, generosity of spirit, sacrifice, and spending time together.
I have met people in London and Sudan whose economic circumstances should have spelled ruin, yet they built a future on those things money can’t purchase. They maintained their personal dignity, still strove to be noble in their lack of things material, placed their love for others at the center of their lives, and taught the spirit of generosity to their children despite their lack of resources. In other words, they kept the faith. Despite war, slavery, unemployment, sickness, the loss of homes, the suffering of marginalization, bankruptcy or rejection, they stayed their course based on a compass influenced by those things even billionaires can’t purchase.
Ask Nelson Mandela how he grew into the ethical giant he has become and he will tell you it is sourced in those days in prison when he had nothing. Ask my wife Jane how she has lived as though caring for people matters more than anything else and she will tell you, clearly and undeniably, that she inherited it from being loved by her parents, from being a Rotary Exchange Student to South Africa, and being inspired by the great humanitarians of history. Such things are learned, not purchased, lived out, not hoarded. You can never buy in any market, store, or online a clear conscience, a forgiving heart, a loving disposition, an inward spiritual power, or an abiding sense of hope. Such things are unpurchasable.
None of this is to minimize the importance of money, for it represents the food we eat, the roof over our heads, education for our kids, holidays, books and music, and hobbies. It is the help required for times of need and security for old age. It keeps hunger from our door and warmth in our homes. It is foolish to minimize it because some of our deepest social inequities are founded upon the lack of funds and investment.
However, the greatest differences between humans aren’t registered by their being rich or poor, housed or homeless. They are instead to be found in whether we become friends or remain isolated, whether we maintain clear consciences or are plagued by guilt, maintain a life shattered by insecurity or one which has drawn on the deeper resources of humanity to overcome fear, permit prejudice (emotional, racial, political) to blind them to community as opposed to those who seek the common ground for future cooperative endeavour. None of these things are acquired by a debit card; they are the result of personal decisions we make despite the circumstances.
In an age where we think everything in our communities depends on economies, it’s good to remember a guiding star, a man and a pregnant woman in love, a stable, meaningful music, the belief in goodness, and ultimately a child. These simple things are the lifeblood of community. Merry Christmas.