Christmas Consumerism vs. Downward Mobility: A Lifestyle of Enough

Christmas is an amazing festive season. How can it not be when we're celebrating the birth of Jesus -- God incarnate!?!

Certainly, there are other reasons that make the Christmas seasons so special: parties, family gatherings, carols, traditions, the Christmas tree, food, re-runs of It's a Wonderful Life, more food and, of course, presents.

Who doesn't like receiving presents? Seriously?

And while it's hip and edgy to deconstruct the entire nature of gifts, presents, consumerism, etc., I also think that there's room and space to enjoy giving, exchanging and receiving gifts. It's a beautiful thing or rather, it can be a beautiful thing -- if we understand these gifts in perspective.

What do I mean "gifts in perspective"?

By that, I mean that we understand that gifts, goods, stuff and consumption don't define us, our worth or the worth of others. If we're not careful, it can grow in such a way that it reflects our hunger for more or to more uncontrollably engage in upward mobility. It becomes the anti-thesis of contentment. And when we prey to this kind of upward mobility, it can directly contradict the incredulous beauty of Christmas when God became one of us -- or, in other words, the most powerful example of "downward mobility."

About two years ago, my wife, Minhee, and I made one of the hardest decisions we've made thus far in our marriage and in our calling as parents.

In our hope to honor a conviction of the Holy Spirit to give up a year's salary, we had begun the two year process of saving, selling and simplifying in 2007. Our goal was to come up with our then year's wages of $68,000, in order to launch a movement called One Day's Wages. With only a few months left to come up with the total sum, we were a bit short and decided to sublet our home for couple months and asked some friends if we could stay with them on their couches or their guest room.

Needless to say, it was a very humbling time.

Our instruction for ourselves and our children were very simple: Each person gets one carry-on bag for their belongings.

I still remember crying the night I told our kids of our plans. This wasn't what I had signed up for. This was by far more difficult that I had imagined. I felt I had failed my wife and children. A deadbeat.

Had I known, there is no way in Hades I would have agreed to this conviction.

But as I look back now, I'm incredibly grateful for this experience. We simplified our lives; sold off belongings we didn't need. For about two years, we agreed as a family not to buy anything beyond our necessities. When we stayed with friends, we were reminded what was most essential in our lives. It was the people right in front of us:
  • Faith and Hope in Christ.
  • My marriage.
  • My children.
  • My community.
In our 2,500+ square feet home, it's so easy to get lost in our stuff, our possessions, our rooms, our floors, our gadgets, our TV sets, our personal music listening devices, etc.

We can get so lost in our stuff that we forget -- or take for granted -- the most important things: relationships.

Several years later, I worry that the invaluable lessons we learned during our season of simplicity may be getting lost on us -- again. As most of my readers know, I was on sabbatical this past summer. It's something I treasure every three years and during my sabbatical. We usually leave Seattle and during our time away, we try to sublet our home -- if we can find renters we trust. While it's not something we particularly want to do, it's an important source of income that allows us to travel without financial worries. But in order to sublet the home, we have to minimize and clean up the home.

Several months ago (before we left for our 7,000+ mile road trip), we couldn't believe how much stuff we've accumulated since we gave up our fast of "not buying anything beyond essentials." We couldn't believe the stuff we've accumulated in our closets, our garage, our toyboxes, our offices, etc. And to be honest, the stuff we've accumulated in ... our hearts.

And this is from a family that takes great "pride" in simple living!

Again, I'm reminded of the great power in the story of Jesus. There are so many things that compel me about Jesus but one of them is what I call the story of "downward mobility."

It completely contradicts the movement of upward mobility that is pervasive in our culture. We want to upgrade everything at every opportunity: We want the bestest, the fastest, the strongest, the mightiest, the largest, the mostest, the most horse powerful-est, the beautiful-est, the most blazing CPU processer-est, and the list goes on and on.

Even as I'm typing this on my lethargically slow netbook, I want ... I need ... I lust ... for the new Mac Air.

But I digress.

Upward mobility never stops. Because we go through this cycle constantly. And the powers to be know this.


The incarnation is the story of Jesus who gave up the glory of heaven to descend upon this world; He gave up total divinity to be consumed by flesh and bone and to simultaneously assume full humanity. Born in a manger to simple commoners, he assumed a simple lifestyle as a carpenter and throughout his life, he owned nothing except the stuff he traveled with.

It's the story of downward mobility.

This is a lesson and a story we have to all get behind. This is the Jesus we have to get behind -- not the Jesus of bling bling; the Jesus of total prosperity theology; the Jesus of exclusivity and elitism; the Jesus of total health and prosperity; or the Jesus of "send $49 and we'll mail you this special anointed cloth."

It's not to suggest that we have to adopt a lifestyle of poverty but a lifestyle of enough.

We have enough.
We are blessed and blessed immensely. God has given us enough.
God is our enough.

I'm reminded of the wise words of G. K. Chesterton: "There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more & more. The other is to desire less."

So true. So true.

Perhaps, an easy and (more) step we can take to grow in "our lifestyle of enough" is to make a new year's resolution to give away our birthdays so that those living in extreme poverty might simply live.