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Shopping for Jesus

Am I giving to charity via these glossy catalogs of chickens and goats, or am I just satisfying an insatiable need to shop?

I'm not sure if you've heard, but yesterday was “Giving Tuesday,” an attempt to stem the tide of consumerism that has come to plague Thanksgiving weekend.

I can understand the desire to fight back, since it's no longer just a matter of Black Friday, but a whole Passion play of special shopping days: we now shop on Thanksgiving Thursday itself (!), then continue the parade on Black Friday, “Buy Local” Saturday, and Cyber Monday.

On Tuesday, we rested . . . by giving to others. Or did we?

It's that time of year when my magazine basket begins to fill up with seasonal catalogs, and when Lands End has anxiety attacks if two days go by without my receiving yet another sleek encouragement to shop at their site. I expect that.

But over the last few years, I've also noticed a distinct uptick in the number of “charity catalogs” I receive. I used to get one from the Heifer Project, but now they also come from Samaritan's Purse, World Vision, and Operation Smile. I'm sure there are others.

These catalogs are appealing because they're so dang concrete. You're not donating $50 to be used however the organization sees fit, which for all you know could fund its annual holiday party for office staff or this very catalog you're holding in your hands. Instead your fifty bucks will buy a section of llama for that adorable little kid right there in the photo.

Giving like this doesn't feel anonymous.

On the one hand I think the catalogs serve some important purposes. They put a human face on poverty, educate comfortable Westerners about basic needs elsewhere in the world, and concretize those needs by breaking them down into action items, one family and one llama at a time. The catalogs are a terrific way to teach kids about the value of giving; I've used them with my own daughter as she decides what to do with her tithing money. You can also cut down on consumerism by making your donation/purchase in a loved one's name or memory.

On the other hand, they are more about buying stuff than they are about giving. Am I really giving to charity via these glossy catalogs of chickens and goats, or am I just satisfying an insatiable need to shop? Or am I feeding my desire be in control of what happens to my hard-earned money?

Whatever the case, I gave. I bought a basket of rabbits last night to honor a friend who has blessed my life with her kindness and generosity. Just as her friendship has multiplied abundantly, so too may these rabbits . . . . So why do I feel guilty?