By The Rev. Jude Harmon
The holidays are a time of great merrymaking, of giving and receiving wonderful gifts, throwing fabulous parties, and reconnecting with old family and friends, but they can also be a source of great anxiety. Gucci, Keurig, Kindle, iPad…keeping up with the Joneses isn’t cheap, especially with San Francisco’s skyrocketing rents and rapid gentrification. In our LGBT image-conscious, brand-driven communities, many of us work multiple jobs or put in extra hours to make ends meet, or to be the glittering icons of ‘the good life’ that pop culture seems all too eager to tell us we should be.
No time of the year do we feel greater pressure to capitulate to this image of ourselves than in the frenetic shopping cycle from Black Friday to New Year’s Day, especially in this new age where it is increasingly fashionable to support “equality.” Corporations stake entire marketing strategies on nabbing the Pink Dollar during this critical retail moment. We are bombarded from every side with a curated constellation of images, words and sensations meant to grab our attention and convince us that our lives are not complete without this or that product. We become, in a word, consumers, and the machine of commercial enterprise goes into overdrive to keep us there.
The thing, though, about consuming in this way is that it becomes its own end. It tells us a story about ourselves that isn’t entirely true, that we were made to consume. The goal, after all, of consuming stuff, of buying the hottest products, is, in fact, to buy more stuff, the next must-have thing. We often feel empty at the end of the holiday season because, even though so much of our energy is devoted to keeping this dynamo going, we sense deep inside that we were made for more. And that’s because we are.
We are not only creatures of flesh and blood, who need to consume to survive; we are also spiritual creatures, who need inspiration to thrive. This is why it’s so important to seek out places like Grace Cathedral, which invite us into a far more honest, whole and fulfilling understanding of ourselves, not as consumers principally, but as dreamers and visionaries. To break free of the market image of who we ought to be, we must saturate ourselves in a counter-vision that holds out a different image – an image of our humanity as sacred, valuable beyond the money we make and the stuff we acquire. Giving ourselves space to dream, allowing our eyes to lift from the store window to the heavens, to hear the ancient songs dance in our ears can actually be the most valuable gift we receive in this season.
Have yourself a Grace Cathedral Christmas. In the midst of hours spent pouring over online catalogues, or standing in line for that special gift, take time to indulge your soul in this season of intoxicating beauty and dazzling darkness. Discover deepening mystery and pregnant hope in Britten’s cantata, St. Nicolas, during our Christmas concerts. Allow yourself to be caught up in the soaring majesty of our Christmas services. Whoever you are, wherever you are on your spiritual journey, know that in Grace Cathedral you have a place beyond the din of the marketplace, a home where you are truly welcome to learn, to pray, to play and to grow into the full image of your sacred self.
Christmas at Grace Cathedral: gracecathedral.org/Christmas
The Rev. Jude Harmon is a Minor Canon at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, where he oversees young adult and emerging ministries. His background includes time with the Society of St John the Evangelist, internships at New England’s largest day shelter, St. Francis House, and at St. Mark’s on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., and service as a Mission Partner in the Diocese of Haiti. Jude, an out gay man, was educated at Haverford College, Harvard Divinity School and Virginia Theological Seminary.