Read this – Matthew 6:1-3
6‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.2 ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Now read this – “Tempted By Holiday Discounts, Consumers ‘Self-Gift'”
What in the heck is ‘self-gifting’? The question has an obvious answer: ‘self-gifting’ as it relates to Black Friday amounts to taking advantage of savings in order to fulfill one’s own wish list instead of the wish lists of others. The image that immediately comes to mind is Donna and Tom from NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Once a year, they have a day they lovingly call
Treat. Yo. Self.
With the terribly over-stated and often hyperbolic War on Christmas, one of the final fronts that was still holding the line and charging from the fox hole was that we were still buying gifts for others. Even though we were over-spending and continuing to live into living outside our means, we were still using Christmas and Black Friday to give to others. In an attempt to live inside our means (masking that we were giving away gifts we didn’t want, ignoring the intent and love of the person who gave) we were even re-gifting to others from our plenty. How sweet of us. Now, re-gifting is no longer the hot trend of the holidays. Now, we turn to self-gifting.
In the LOFT add at the top, we see that stores are using a rhetorical strategy to make us, the consumers, say “You know what? I do deserve a treat! I’ve worked hard. I’m a busy person. I help others. What’s the harm in treating myself? It’s kind of like giving a gift – a gift to me, for all of my hard work!” The problem will arise when the stores’ rhetorical strategies have worked, we convince ourselves that we are deserving of a treat, and we end up succumbing to thinking very highly of ourselves. We become the gift that keeps on giving.
Self-gifting has always been around. It always will be. We will always purchase gifts for ourselves. However, it has now been branded. It has a name. Stores are using it to make a profit, and we are buying into the age-old craze with the shiny new title.
We justify things, don’t we? In our minds? I think we do. I know I do. I do all kinds of mental and spiritual gymnastics to make myself feel okay with the money I blow on fast food, Starbucks, the App Store, and the Playstation Network. I have actually had a month recently where my family tithed less than we committed to because of a couple of “extra” purchases I made outside of my family’s budget. Self-gifting and I have danced before. We have a past. I’m afraid we have a future, too.
What if the energy we use justifying a Treat. Yo. Self. kind of day was spent creating an ethos of radical generosity in the church? With the eclectic group that reads this blog, I may be preaching to the choir, here. However, if a clergyperson can confess a fault on their tithe, perhaps others can feel more comfortable coming out of the proverbial self-gifting closet.
Let me close by telling you a story:
Bishop Steven Charleston is currently a visiting professor at my seminary – Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University. Before coming to Saint Paul, he was interim dean at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Oklahoma City, bishop of the Alaskan Diocese, and president of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. He has been on ABC, NBC, FOX, and NPR and has been called one of the best preachers in the Episcopal Church. I had the privilege of hearing him speak at our chapel service last week before class broke for Thanksgiving. He told the story of being a member of the Choctaw Nation and growing up with a father and grandfather who were both Presbyterian ministers in Oklahoma. He grew up with a large family who all knew that he would one day be a preacher. Eventually, elders in his tribe decided to ordain him as a holy man of their people and culture. Blankets, baskets, and gifts galore were gathered up by his mother and grandmother as his special day neared. Family and friends gathered on his day to witness the event.
One by one, family and friends were called up by name by him, and he gave his gifts away to the members of the crowd.
He was taught by his people that, on days of significance, one was not to elevate oneself and receive gifts; rather, special days like this were chances to humble oneself and to give of oneself to others.
Changing the culture of self-giving to one of radical generosity is a grassroots effort. It takes clergy and lay leadership working on a person-to-person level. One stewardship series, one six-week study is not going to steer an entire church into a new way of thinking. We need to reach one person at a time, and be committed to re-reaching them as often as needed. The ninety-nine righteous are often in a worse place than the one sinner who repents. The angels certainly rejoice more over the one than the many.
In a culture of branded, advertised ‘self-gifting,’ challenge yourself to humility, to living within your means, and to giving of yourself instead of gifting to yourself. There will certainly be rejoicing in heaven, and there may even be a little change in the Church here on earth.