I love to shop. While I'm not a shopaholic, I still love a good deal. I love to give gifts to others (especially those of the handmade variety). Often, I pointed to James 1:17 and not that God is the Giver of all good things and like any Father adores bestowing presents upon His children. And He does. Sadly, our hands are open to greedily receive His gifts without so much as a thank you--and really, that's the problem. We are so plagued by consumerism; we treat God's gifts as a commodity.
A book like Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? has the ability to convict even an avowed bargain, Black Friday-loving shopper like me. While I'm not hanging up my purse for the holidays, Advent Conspiracy gave me plenty of food for thought.
Gripping at the get-go, Advent Conspiracy makes a simple case. We as Christians (and a culture) miss the whole point of Jesus' birth year after year. In fact, on the Bethlehem night so many years ago, the world barely took notice of a pregnant teen giving birth to Messiah in a dirty stable, even though Heaven opened wide and angels heralded His birth. And now in the 21st Century, we shove the nativity under our enormous Christmas tree--wedged between a stuffed Santa and a Wii (wrapped in pretty paper, of course).
The authors of Advent Conspiracy Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder decided this shouldn't be the picture of an American Christmas. Moreover, it was a sad depiction of "the foundational narrative of the Church." Instead, these men decided to challenge their congregations to spend less, give more, and worship more fully. The results were amazing, so now the trio has written down their story to inspire others to do the same--all for $12.99 a pop. C'mon, you have to see the humorous irony in that!
Spending less, giving more, worshiping more fully, and loving all--the four facets on which the movement is based are things that we all need to incorporate into our lives. The authors are careful to note that spending less does not mean that we should not spend nothing--they urge us to spend cautiously (and within budget), know what we are buying, and make recommendations on products that help impoverish peoples, such as journals handcrafted by women in the slums of Calcutta or Bible covers made by residents of a Buenos Aires "shantytown."
By giving more of ourselves in our relationships, we share something that can't be found in a store bought item wrapped in pretty paper. Also, through these relationships, Christians have the opportunity to share the Gospel by loving all with actions and with words, if necessary. Instead of getting overwhelmed by preparations for the holidays, the Advent Conspiracy is about simplifying so we can focus on the miracle of God becoming an infant--a baby born to die for our sins.
What I don't like about Advent Conspiracy is that the $12.99 price tag perpetuates the spirit of consumerism and it cannot be overlooked that Zondervan, a big publishing company owned by a bigger publishing company, stands to profit from book sales. Plus, the book makes mention of Living Water International A LOT. While the organization, which builds wells in towns that desperately need clean water, is a good one, does LWI have to be the main example for so many stories? The authors urge consumers not to buy products that were manufactured in China (saying this leaves more stores in the mall out). Meanwhile, I have a living room full of toys I need to wrap which were manufactured in--you got it--China. These toys were donated by well-meaning folks to kids in foster care who wouldn't receive any presents this Christmas, even though their friends are sure to get some good loot.
I know this isn't going to be a popular review, especially among die hards who are screaming, "Right on, man!" Even some of the craft supplies I buy to make my presents were made in other countries. I mean, I don't know how to start making my own Styrofoam balls, you know? Or clothes! Because where was the fabric created? It is very difficult, if not impossible, to buy consumer products that were not crafted in countries with less-than-desirable labor practices. Do I feel sick about it? Of course! Will I stop buying these things? Probably not. That is the problem with the Advent Conspiracy--I don't know that we can truly enact the authors' ideas about shopping in a global economy. Fortunately, Advent Conspiracy offers shoppers like me hope. We can start in places like craft fairs and buy from 10,000 Villages.
Advent Conspiracy is an interesting read, and definitely a worthy project. The book could be half as long (perhaps cutting its price in half?) and still communicate its central message, which is bogged down in personal testimonies on how Advent Conspirators gave to worthy causes. Honestly, I don't want to pay to read the testimonies of a bunch of anonymous conspirators or read questions dedicated to an Advent Conspiracy DVD I didn't even get with the book. Perhaps Zondervan and Advent Conspiracy should have been more thoughtful about the marketing of this. Instead of paying twelve dollars and change for a book that's preaching to the choir, I think I'd rather buy one of those handcrafted journals from the women living in the slums of Calcutta.
*I did not buy the Advent Conspiracy, but was provided a review copy by the Conspirators themselves.*