UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

My Year of Buying Nothing

That time I decided between butterscotch and scotch tape

By Lee Simpson

My Year of Buying Nothing (YBN) has posed some odd dilemmas in the past months, but none so “on one hand, on the other hand” as this. It’s a small thing but presses all the buttons of an ethical crisis. That’s why I throw myself on your counsel, wise readers.

Here’s some background: I am currently serving as contract clergy, taking over worship and pastoral care duties for an ill ministry colleague. My charge includes two seniors residences with adherents of the United Church. Inevitably, there are some for whom the toll of the years means few, if any, visitors other than me. So in addition to performing worship services in the little chapels, I drop in on our members in their rooms. I wear my “servant-shirt” and collar, signalling to fading memories who I am and what I’m about. We then say a prayer and sing a hymn or two. Actually, it’s fascinating how minds that are cruelly fogged in every other way retain the words of the hymnals of decades past.

Our congregations have also funded a stipend that permits me to arrive with a gift bag for those for whom these little presents have greater meaning. I have been using up my supplies of recycled wrapping and ribbon to decorate YBN-sanctioned tokens: cookies, diabetic-diet butterscotch and mints, as well as apples from our trees. I also offer a YBN-true card, made of construction paper, and bedecked with bow and the appropriate sentiment, “from all your friends at church.” This offering is multi-purpose, providing me an ice-breaker, and the recipient a treat and “proof of life.” It’s a reminder of rich and active years outside those walls. The cards are mounted on corkboard and — most touching of all — shown proudly to other residents as testimony to a past that has not forgotten them.

Still, as Christmas approaches, residence staff has suggested a shift in offerings. Could we buy wrapping paper, blank cards, stamps and scotch tape? Maybe small, potential gift items, beyond the senior’s ability to obtain but appreciated by other residents? A bar of fancy soap, bubble bath or talc? Hey, who could be churlish enough to say, “bah humbug?”

Today, my mother would be nearly 100 years old. Before her death a decade ago, she kept a supply of fancy paper and quality cards. She also re-gifted the scarves and earrings my sister and I gave her. We knew it and condoned it. That’s because Mum needed to show that the flag of generosity and abundance still flew. And who am I to deny this life-affirming pleasure to Mrs. Kittery, 101, who wants her distant great-granddaughter to open a pretty card from Nana?

“But it’s against my rules”, I wail. And getting the United Church Women to prep those gift packages instead smacks of holier-than-thou hypocrisy of the highest order. Don’t worry, though; I am not seriously considering tucking a sermon on paper waste and the environmental hazards of paraben in our senior’s Christmas stockings this year. So feel free to forward your brilliant ideas to Ms. Scrooge!



Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image