Bringing Christ Back to Christmas

Pastor Rick McKinley and his wife Jeannie McKinley are tired of the consumerism that dominates Christmas time. Instead, they are part of the Advent Conspiracy, a mission to encourage people to worship more and spend less around the holidays.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Merry Christmas.

Coming up, a special Christmas visit with the Mocha Moms and the Mocha Kids. We hope you're enjoying your day, and all is as you wish. We're happy for you.

But tell the truth. Are you already worn out by too much wrapping paper, too much food, too much stuff? Do you promise yourself every year you'll do things differently, but you don't?

For those who are looking to take the stuff out of their Christmas and fill that space with a bit more joy and peace, there's help. In fact, there's a conspiracy afoot. It's called the Advent Conspiracy. It's a Christian movement to help people worship more, spend less, give more and love all.

Rick and Jeannie McKinley are the founders of the Advent Conspiracy. Rick is pastor of the Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon. And his wife Jeannie directs the Advent Conspiracy's operations. (Co-founder, Advent Conspiracy; Lead Pastor, Imago Dei Community): Merry Christmas to you.

Ms. JEANNIE McKINLEY (Co-founder, Advent Conspiracy): Merry Christmas.

MARTIN: So Advent Conspiracy sounds a little secret, like an underground movement. Why do call it that?

Pastor McKINLEY: Yes. Well, when you look at the story of Christ, particularly in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, you really do see, sort of, this subversive active God to send his son into the world in quiet and poverty. And so there is this sort of conspiring agenda that Jesus has had since his birth, which is the kingdom of God is here and it's breaking into the kingdom of this world. And it really does have a different message and a different agenda. And so we wanted to capture that and try to recast the story, retell the story in a little bit more accurate way.

MARTIN: How did you come to this idea - to create a movement around re-imagining Christmas? Because I'm sure a lot of people who have wake up at Christmas morning or maybe the next day feeling a little, you know, hung over. not necessarily, you know, from…

Pastor McKINLEY: Yeah.

MARTIN: …imbibing, but just from the sort of whole experience. So how did you - was there a moment of epiphany for each of you - both of you?

Pastor McKINLEY: For me, we created the Advent Conspiracy with a couple of friends of mine. And so we kind of co-created and as pastors - we really came to the place of just being kind of frustrated with Christmas. Not only for our own lives, but I guess as pastors as well.

Here we are - you know, you're talking about one of the most intense, profound theological moments to ever happen - God became flesh. And yet, it's just an hour on Sunday. Because the rest of time, we're worried about going into debt or how much we're spending or how - what going to buy Uncle so and so that sweater and get everything shipped off. And so by the time the day actually arrives, everybody was just beaten down and worn out. And we kind of came to the place of saying, you know, it's the church's story but we're not telling it.

MARTIN: Now, Jeannie, what about you? Because women often bear the brunt of the holiday preparations?

Ms. McKINLEY: Oh, definitely. And just, you know, as Rick was saying, you're sitting in church and wanting to focus on this amazing season and focusing on Christ's birth and knowing, you know, there's a to-do list going on in your head. And then, you're - okay, refocused, refocused because it is about Christ. And then, knowing, you know, you still have 25 things on your list to do. So the distractions are so intense and it's sad to not be able to focus as much to everything going on.

MARTIN: Did that ever happened to you?

Ms. McKINLEY: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: Did it get…

Ms. McKINLEY: Completely.

MARTIN: Oh.

Ms. McKINLEY: Yeah. Or, you're just immediately…

MARTIN: Or the matchbox car.

Ms. McKINLEY: You may enjoy that time on Sunday morning. And then, you know, half an hour afterwards, you're right back into it, you know, figuring out what to do next. So…

MARTIN: I still want to hear how this happened, though. Rick, did it - was there like a conference call?'

Pastor McKINLEY: Yeah.

MARTIN: Did you - were you and your other pastor friends just talking about - I mean, I just know want to know what was it like to sort of come together at the decision?

Pastor McKINLEY: Yeah. Well, it's interesting. Because the first year, there was only five churches happening. And one guy kind of came up with the idea and then the rest of us were all pitching in and set up and looking at the story. It all compiled and we said, well, let's try this experiment and see what happens. The point was above all to worship more. It's not an anti-consumerism campaign. It's a pro-Jesus campaign. And so, at that point, we really were giving our people permission. Look, you don't have to spend as much, but we ask you to spend less. Resist or ignore, sort of, the impulses of our culture to say, you have to go into that, you have to buy your kids everything they want.

And for us, Christmas Day, you know, we got great kids. But, you know, after they unwrapped presents, they just want to have another one. They didn't really even care what's in them after a while. It was just give me more, give me more, give me more. And so we gave people permission to spend less and then we just said, but let's learn how to give more relational gifts just as God gave his son, he didn't gave us iPods or gift cards.

And so people learn how to - how do I give a gift that would actually inspire me to spend time with my kids through what I gave them, whether it's a baseball bat and a trip to the batting cages or a skateboard and a trip to the skate park or just something that cultivate a relationship. And then the love-all theme was simply saying, look, let's take the money we normally would spend and we didn't spend and let's re-distribute it.

MARTIN: So what do you want people to do? You want them to actually go to church more? What do you want them to do?

Pastor McKINLEY: No.

MARTIN: Do you want to find worship-in-private moments? What exactly would you want people to do?

Pastor McKINLEY: Well, you can't worship and stay focus on Christ if you're completely getting taken out of the game by the stress of the holidays. So we were just saying by getting people permission to do Christmas a little different, the point of that was so that we could actually worship.

And so worship was a very holistic word for us is going to church. But it's bigger than that. It's what you do as a family around the holidays. It's what you do with your money. It's what you, you know, how you love your neighbors and really trying to put Christ at the center of the focus of Christmas.

MARTIN: Spend less. That's certainly something everybody talks about wanting to do. What does that mean to you? Jeannie, do you want to take that?

Ms. McKINLEY: Sure. For us, when the guys really started digging in to some of these statistics on how much is spent at Christmas, I think it's $450-some billion are spent every year at Christmas. When you really get a grasp of that number, it's pretty mind-boggling to realize that, you know, we're - we've been a part of that. For us, to just - to spend less, it didn't mean not giving gifts, it just meant maybe making things - things that were relational, things that were - that meant something rather than…

MARTIN: Well, tell me what that means. Rick used this term relational gifts.

Ms. McKINLEY: Yeah.

MARTIN: What are you talking about? When you say, give relational gifts, what do you mean?

Ms. McKINLEY: Well, it's just something that means something rather than - I know, for me, as the kids start getting older and things got more busy and we started to have a little bit more money to spend at Christmas, I found myself just grabbing the gift card because it was more convenient than really trying to think, what would mean something - what would mean something to my mom? What would mean something to my dad? And just - rather than just grab any gift card. Well, they can figure what they want to get. There wasn't any real thought involved. I was going for the convenience rather than my relationship and really wanting to invest in that relationship.

So, for me, I, you know, try to do what I knew how to do, which, for me, that's taking pictures and creating personal things about our kids for the grandparents. Last year, I made a bunch of scrapbooks that were really meaningful because our family doesn't live close…

MARTIN: Oh, I bet everybody loved those.

Ms. McKINLEY: …(unintelligible) meaningful. Yeah. It did.

MARTIN: All the moms I know complain about not having the scrapbook so they…

Ms. McKINLEY: Yeah. (Unintelligible) kids…

MARTIN: …threatening to quit their jobs so they could make…

Ms. McKINLEY: Oh, I know. I wish I have all - unfortunately I didn't have time to do it this year. So…

Pastor McKINLEY: Yeah.

Ms. McKINLEY: I just did some framed pictures this year, but…

Pastor McKINLEY: One girl in our congregation, you know, bought a pound of Stumptown coffee, which is a local Portland brewer, and gave it to her grandmother and said, I want to make a pot of coffee and just spend the afternoon hearing about your childhood. You know, that was probably the most meaningful gifts she has gotten in years, to just sit with her granddaughter and hear those stories and retell those stories, and she'll retell those stories to her grandkids.

And one of the things we noticed is that when you say, okay, we spend this much money - that's just in America - 450, 470 billion, and you ask people, what did you get for Christmas last year? And they sit there and they stare because they don't remember.

MARTIN: Jeannie, if we can end with you, how has Christmas has changed for you since you've started becoming a co-conspirator in the Advent Conspiracy?

Ms. McKINLEY: It's been really fun just to be relieved of some of the pressure of the spending, the craziness. And it's been beautiful just to have more relational time with the kids as we're trying to figure out what we can make and give as presents, and how we can spend time together focusing on Jesus. So that's been really fun.

MARTIN: Jeannie McKinley and Reverend Rick McKinley are the founders of the Advent Conspiracy. They joined us from Portland, Oregon.

Thank you both so much.

Ms. McKINLEY: Thank you.

Pastor McKINLEY: Thanks for having us. Merry Christmas.

Ms. McKINLEY: Merry Christmas.

MARTIN: Merry Christmas to you.

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