A crowd of people questions John the Baptist about how to act in the Gospel reading from St. Luke on the third Sunday of Advent. He responds, “Anyone who is wearing two tunics must be generous with the one who is not.” And anyone who has food to eat should do the same. John the Baptist encourages people to share their wares. Give Others.
Advent is a time when we are called to give. This holiday season can be complicated by our desire to give to our family and friends, as well as to our community.
As we learn more about the environmental degradation of the planet, it is possible to feel conflicted about the hyper-consumptive system in which we participate. We may be tempted to look through our belongings and wonder how we can best give them back to the environment.
We may want to help our community, but we are unsure how to reach out to our neighbors in the context of the pandemic.
How can we approach the call for charity in the face mounting environmental destruction, as we approach the third year of the coronavirus epidemic?
A Facebook group can provide direction.
I was introduced to the Buy Nothing Project when I moved to Philadelphia in 2019. The Buy Nothing Project was established in 2013. The mission of the project“Build community by connecting people through hyperlocal gifts, and reducing our environmental impact.” The “gift economy” is the ethos behind the Buy Nothing Project. Everything shared on Buy Nothing is either an item, a service, or advice and is provided free of charge.
Participating in Buy Nothing takes only a few minutes. It is easy to search Facebook for a community near you, request to be a member, and once accepted, give, ask, receive. The project recently released an app that can easily be downloaded to any mobile device.
My participation in the Buy Nothing group was limited when I joined it in the fall of 2019. I moved into a new apartment in the summer 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was sweeping the globe. I spent the first few weeks August alone, trying to adapt to a new area.
I felt compelled by the need to find another Buy Nothing group. Partly because I wanted to connect with people in my area and partly because I needed a watering container.
I posted my request with a timid smile and sifted through my boxes to see what I could bring to my new community. I settled on a few mugs and posted photos to the page. After about an hour, I was delighted to see that comments started coming in. I wrapped each mug as a gift and sent a quick note to each neighbor. Then, I left them on my porch.
Although most of my Buy Nothing interactions are conducted with minimal physical contact to limit the risk for COVID-19 transmission I have been witness to the generosity of my neighbors, even though it is only a virtual observation.
I’ve seen neighbors get involved in collecting food and other supplies for the local food pantry. Neighborhoods collected baby carriages and suitcases for Afghan refugees who arrived in Philadelphia. It is amazing to see the generosity, enthusiasm, and compassion displayed by these communities.
Every “ask” and every gift are not unique. To reach the heart of the Gospel call, these exchanges don’t have to be extravagant. Three or four neighbors will be happy to help a neighbor add a garnish to a recipe if he asks. When I had to change my diet to make it more allergy-friendly, I was delighted to see my simple pantry items canned beans or quinoa delight my neighbors. The gift is appreciated no matter how small and the neighbors eagerly share their happiness with “posts to gratitude”.
My recent attempt at holiday cooking was the most moving. This past Thanksgiving, I was the only person who attempted to cook a turkey breast. I shared my fears with several neighbors who were willing to share their cooking knowledge.
One neighbor even emailed me his family recipe and tips on caring for the bird. I was able to exchange photos as we cooked, while he plated my sides with dishes donated by other members of the community. My kitchen was empty but my meal was filled by the kindness of others. And my heart was filled with gratitude.
The many lessons the Buy Nothing Group offers us are numerous. The group’s commitments to the gift economy give way to a “greener” ethic. My experience in the group has changed my perspective on what is “disposable.” For example, members help each other move boxes, garden clippings, or other items that I had previously considered rubbish. I now send the cardboard box I received from an online order to the group, rather than throwing it away.
Buy Nothing encourages a slow consumption attitude. While membership does not guarantee that items will be given, neighbors may express interest in other items. The gifter must select one recipient. To ensure that others can receive their items, gifters are encouraged not to “simmer”.
Although it is not mandatory, this encouragement avoids a “first come, first served” mentality. It helps to dissipate hyper-consumptive behaviours and lingering senses a entitlement.
This helps you distinguish between needs and wants. Members are encouraged and encouraged to share their reasons for purchasing an item, the intended recipient, and other details. After further reflection, I have been able to decide that I no longer want a gift. This was especially true after reading the comments. This has helped me to resist impulsivity which I previously struggled with in my purchasing behavior.
Our culture is one that encourages clutter and self-storage. We may feel overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff,” and be tempted to donate our possessions to charity. Many of the items we donate end up in landfills in our country or in other countries where they clog their environment with unneeded excesses.
Buy Nothing is a more personal and less taxing option. This does not mean that these groups are a dump for impulse purchases. They are a place to repurpose items and address community needs.
If you find yourself in a sea of clutter this holiday season, consider joining a Buy Nothing Group to help your neighbors, assist (and be aided) by your community, and to honor neighbor and the planet.
If you are interested in finding a group near to you, you can search for one on Facebook or download the Buy Nothing App. No matter where your location is, there are likely to be a Buy Nothing group nearby. You might want to start your own Buy Nothing group. Communities without a Buy Nothing Group can easily start one. Follow these instructionsOn the Buy Nothing Website.