Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

A Symbol of Your Love
distributed 12/14/07 - ©2007

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Alan Boles and Susan Osborne, of Boulder, Colorado. Their generous support helps make this publication possible.

A good friend of Eco-Justice Ministries sent me a newspaper advertising insert -- a four page promotion from a major computer manufacturer.

In her note, Linda wrote, "I'm enclosing an ad that saddened me so much I had to save it to show someone who would recognize the depth of the problem. Make sure to read all four pages -- especially the last one! Look what the church has to fight against!"

This particular ad campaign was for a "back to school" special last August. It was surprising to me, in part, because it sounds more like the marketing used around Christmas. The flier, of course, has lots of pictures of computers, and lots of text about features and low prices. The striking thing, though, is the message printed in a large, distinctive font that runs on each page:
      Page 1: "Your child wants it. And you want to buy it for them."
      Pages 2 and 3: "The urge to buy is good ... Give in to the urge."
      Page 4: "Don't think of it as technology. Think of it as a symbol of your love."

I'm sorely tempted to launch into a diatribe against materialism, but instead I'm going to try to salvage a message of hope. Let me know how I do.

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I've heard it said that the people who are really good at sales don't set out to tell a potential customer all about their product. They listen carefully to find out what the customer wants, and then they talk about how their product meshes with the customer's desires. That's the point of the marketing slogan about "sell the sizzle, not the steak."

In what may be a more positive connection for some of us, those who are really good at fundraising do the same thing. People are moved to donate, not by a great financial need for the agency, but because the donor's desire for service or change in the world is met through the agency's work. (By the way, your year-end contribution to Eco-Justice Ministries will allow us to reach out establish environmental programming in more churches, a cause that seems to be close to your heart!)

The computer ad is crass. What is interesting, though, is its remarkably blatant appeal to expressing love for your kids. Notebook computers are being marked with the same emotional hook as diamond jewelry. "They want it. It is a symbol of your love."

Sales happen when a product meets a need. That's easy to see on a functional level. The hardware store sells a hammer when you need to drive a nail. You buy groceries because your family needs to eat.

But there are emotional needs, too. As badly as Big Computers, Inc. put it last August, we do give gifts as symbols of our love. We want -- many of us literally seem to need -- to exchange presents as an affirmation and reinforcement of relationships, especially at Christmas. (I discussed that theme four years ago in A Christmas Conversation.)

Our love for family and friends is genuine. As the marketing gurus know, when someone we love wants something, we often do want to get it for them. The message of the computer ad tells us that, for many parents, expressing love is a far more persuasive desire than having the latest technology. (To be honest, their ad says something about market saturation, as well as family relationships.)

Linda wrote, "Look what the church has to fight against!" I share her reaction to the materialistic way the ad encouraged parents to express their love. But we can fight the commercialism by affirming much of the message. Like in the Japanese martial arts of Jujutsu, we can effectively use an attacker's energy, rather than directly opposing it.

So I affirm the need that the computer marketing recognized -- the need to express love for our children. In the face of such a multi-million dollar ad blitz, perhaps we can give thanks for the way that they have helped parents get in touch with their desire to give what their children want.

And then must come the well-executed martial arts twist that uses the opponent's force for our own advantage. What is it that our kids really want and need?

Perhaps a livable world is more important than a faster computer? Perhaps a local greenbelt with abundant wildlife is more fulfilling than a video game? If we have taken the time and emotional energy to really talk with the youngsters who are close to us -- our children and grandchildren, our friends and neighbors -- we've probably heard their anxiety about the sort of world that they are inheriting. A gift that brings healing for Earth would be a gift that provides what they want, and it would be a symbol of love.

It is a hard gift to give, though. That fancy flat-screen monitor is yours with just a few minutes in the store, and a swipe of the credit card (if you don't worry about the bills until after Christmas). You can show your love without a lot of effort, or without probing too deeply into the deepest wants and needs of your kinfolk.

A gift that reduces global warming is harder to buy and to give. We have to acknowledge emotions and relationships, as well as having pretty packages. But it is possible. Picture these sorts of "alternative gifts" under the tree, or for a birthday.

  • "Dear Alex, I know how much you worry about global warming. So this week, I'll work with you to change all our light bulbs to compact fluorescents, as you've been asking me to do."

  • "Dear Jordan, Once a month this year, I'll go with you to your favorite place in the woods. We'll take a picnic, watch the wildlife, and see the wonder of the changing seasons."

  • "Dear family, I've made a contribution in your names for rainforest preservation in Central America. The forest absorbs greenhouse gasses, provides wildlife habitat, and preserves traditional cultures. And, for spring break, we'll go on an eco-tour to Costa Rica to learn more about rainforests!"

Thank you, Big Computers, Inc, for reminding us: "They want it, and we want to give it as a sign of our love." Now, O God, help us to discern what they really want when we plumb the depths of their spirits, and help us to give it in loving and meaningful ways.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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