I met with a man my age this evening. He has had two days work in the last two weeks. He lives in a trailer with his young wife and two twin girls 4 months old. He's behind on his rent. Were it not for WIC and food stamps he's sure he'd be out robbing or he'd have already "put a bullet in his head."
His wife wants a Christmas tree. "We don't have money," he told her and me. I had just paid $40 for a tree Trasie carried home on her car right before I went to his place.
I could tell he wanted to be able to get her something. I could tell that he wanted to have a tree.
"Maybe you could make her something...maybe write a poem?"
"I don't know how to write in English." (We were speaking in spanish and his wife doesn't know Spanish).
"Do you draw?" I was really taking a leap in the dark.
"Yeah, I can draw." And he began to tell me about his style of drawing, like the kinds of drawing designs seen on a number of tatoos.
I think he liked the idea of drawing...we even talked about him drawing a tree...with presents underniegth. "If I had money, this would be the present you would be opening dear...these would be the presents for our kids."
Our church, through Trasie's work, is buying gift certificates and presents for several families with young kids who are in a similar situation. It's called Christmas angels. Unfortunately, we don't really know the families we are buying for, but Trasie and her co-workers do. And now I do. I don't know if this man's family will be the recipient of any of our gifts, but I'm sure the families we are getting gifts for are in similar dire straights.
I don't like the pressure our consumerist materialistic society places on families and individuals this time of year. As I was talking with this guy, we reflected on the life of his great-grandparents, whom he had mentioned earlier in our conversation. I wondered what kinds of gifts they exchanged (he reminded me that gifts in Mexico are exchanged on the 6th of January, not Dec 25). I also thought about the Spanish speaking church, Iglesia Betesda, which uses the church building for worship and other activities. At first I thought a strict interpretation of the Bible informed them not to celebrate Christmas; but after talking with this man and hearing of his plight, I wondered if it was to ease any anxiety members of their congregation may be having around this time of year in a similar financial situation as this man's family. Their practice is even powerfully counter-cultural and stands up to the powers that would tell us to buy buy buy during this time of year (and always).
What would happen if we who can buy too said no?
What would we do if we had no money with which to buy gifts? How would our faith inform our actions...how would our socio-economic situation inform our understanding of the bible and Christmas?