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An Open Letter to Jesus On Christmas Day 2001

An Open Letter to Jesus On Christmas Day 2001
Dear Jesus,

I am writing this on the day in our calendar where my society (and increasingly, my world) supposedly honors your birth. I say "*supposedly* honors" before we are told and we ourselves say that this is a time for Peace On Earth and Goodwill Towards All. But the actions and systems of interchange in my society (and increasingly, my world) say and tell something very different.

The main activity that we undertake in this annual celebration of your birth is to buy material goods and possessions to give to one another as gifts. This may seem to be a sign of generosity, until one considers what we buy, what and who motivates us to buy, and what we do to buy it.

On the matter of what we buy, I think the answer is simple: as may different things as we can in as great numbers as possible. To give one example: just three days ago, I went to a giant indoor market (we call it a "mall") which was filled with people seeking to buy things from sellers willing to sell. I must admit that I went to this mall to help buy goods for family members I think unworthy of the gifts we give them or whom I so seldom see that I need to ask them what goods they want.

I believe it is good to have some material goods to care for one's immediate physical needs. But I also know that having material goods beyond a certain modest point can be harmful to oneself. In fact, the house where I grew up is full of things which I found to go mostly unused and to be burdensome to keep. And it's not that these family members are for lack of material goods: far from it, they have an excess of material goods which I also believe to be harmful to them.

It it's not beneficial to accrue so many things, why do we do it? Who or what motivates us to accrue so many material goods? In the country where I live, and increasingly so elsewhere, I think the answer is clear: there is an entire industry whose job it is to motivate, convince, trick, entice, and/or seduce people to buy things-as many things as possible, in fact. This industry goes by many names: the public relations industry, the advertising industry, and capitalist propaganda. They tell us repeatedly and loudly that all your ills will be solved by buying more and more material goods.

So what motivates the motivators, despite the burdens of excess material goods? I think the answer has to do with the fact that my world is an economically unequal world, with a small number of people with great wealth and a much larger number of people with little wealth. Our major system of interchange has it so that wealth (and with it, power) accrues to producers by means of selling things to consumers, and the sector of great wealth has a group of motivators to motivate people to buy things. The motivators are servants, and gain benefits like prestige, wealth, fame and power for continuing and maintaining an ever-upward accumulation of wealth to the few.

With this system of interchange, what then happens? What do people do to buy these things and what are the results of those actions? To give one illustrative example: as I mentioned, I had gone to a mall to buy material goods. I went to this mall using a means of automotive transport which for reasons too long to explain here is the dominant mode of transportation in my society. (I don't even think "society" is the right word here.)

The longterm consequences of this mode of transportation are dire: digging up the ground around the world to extract necessary fuels, setting up cruel governments (as is happening in your part of the world) and repressing whole indigenous peoples (as is happening in mine) to ensure the flow of these fuels, and what's been called "global warming"--the steady warming of the earth with all the entailing water level increases, storm intensity increases, and large-scale climate changes. But despite these harmful consequences, there's nonetheless money to be made, and so they are downplayed and/or ignored by the wealthy and the motivators.

Most of this is done in your name. The holiday is even called *Christ*mas, and most of our buying activity takes place during the two months before the date we deem to be the date of your birth. And with it, I fear we are changing our Eden into our Golgotha, perhaps permanently.

It might seem that there is no way out of this ultimately-destructive system. The sector of rich feeds from the planet and the poor, and the rich maintain motivators to keep the poor out of the way of the rich. If anyone involved in this system tried to effect a change to this system from the inside, such a person would be marginalized and/or excluded.

But there is a chance for change to this system, and I think it begins with me. I have a fair degree of wealth, so I don't need to spend large amounts of time to avert poverty. I don't belong to the rich or the motivators so I don't need to toe their line. I have a fair degree of freedom; I don't live in a state ruled by the bludgeon. And I have a fair understanding of the issues and matters involved in this system and how they might be improved. The actions I take and continually take can help to move matters in a positive directions, and inspire others to do likewise.

So, Jesus, I ask you for courage to help me act according to the dictates of my conscience. I ask for patience since nothing worth doing can be done in a single lifetime. And I ask for a sense of optimism and a sense of humor so that these necessary actions don't seem tedious or pointless.

I like to believe that have been granted a great gift--the gift of hope. Help me to realize this gift as best as I can so that your birthday can be a day worthy of honor, indeed of Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards All.


Mitchell Szczepanczyk

Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Chicago, Illinois, USA




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