Saturday, November 19, 2011

Changing the Conversation

Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.
So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.

James 3:2-6

James reminds us that words are never just words. Words carry power within them. It was with a Word that light came into being and God created the heavens and the earth. At was through the incarnate Word that God set about to redeem that world. In our daily lives, our words can cut right through those we meet, making them feel worthless and unlovable. Or our words can help those we meet recognize their value in God's eyes and ours as beloved daughters and sons of God.

Words have power. It is true in our one-on-one conversations, and also in our public conversations. As Christians, as pastors, as the church, we engage in conversations that carry beyond ourselves - public conversations.

Around this time of year, much of our public conversation has been shaped by corporate interests. Often we are unaware of this – but a quick look shows it to be true. From the way we talk about Santa Claus (what a great pitch-man!), to when we begin decorating our homes and shopping for presents. We all, in many ways, participate in this conversation – billions of dollars are spent every year to shape this conversation.

But, with the advent of social media (see what we did there), the power dynamic has shifted. A short ten years ago, in order to reach thousands of people you had to spend exorbitant amounts of money on advertising – which meant that the only voices who had the reach to shape the public conversations were large corporations. Through really slick and effective marketing, corporations have branded this season as the shopping season, the spending season, the debt season. All that has changed. With one tweet, one status update, one blog post, thousands can be reached. With no cost.

The power has shifted, and the power of words resides with all of us. We shape the public conversation, just as much as the corporations who spend billions. Are you tired of all the talk about how expensive gifts are the best way to show love? Tired of the coming of our Lord being used as an excuse for the worst sorts of crass commercialism? Together, we have the power to change that. Together, we can re-brand this season.

Here at Occupy Advent, we are going to spend the next month talking about the things that are most important to us. We are going to talk about our coming Lord Jesus, and the values of his Kingdom. We are going to talk about slowing down and simplifying our lives. And, by extension, we are not going to talk about purchases, sales, or products on social media.

It will be a challenge. We get as excited about gifts as anyone else. We think there are some retailers that are really worth supporting, especially local retailers. We love our friends and neighbors whose livelihood depends on the retail industry. However, we think it is vitally important – and within our reach – to change the public conversation.

And so we are choosing to not participate in the conversation of commercialism this holiday season (see how pervasive it is? Even that phrase – holiday season – was created by the advertisers for us). Perhaps you will consider joining us. Perhaps you are also willing to consider James’ warning, and what happens when we make careful use of our powerful words on social media.

When social media shapes the world, what happens to the conversation of commercialism if we refuse to participate in it?

Together, we can change the conversation.


  1. I have read your first two posts. Keep it up. They are excellent so far. I have linked to your "Welcome" post on my religious education parents Facebook page. Hopefully, some of my parents will subscribe.I have done the same on our archdiocesan Adult Faith Formation Chicago group.

  2. Let us remember that Jesus is coming to us and that the Kingdom is here and now! Look around and let us work in the here and now!