The Real War on Christmas

Cover of "What Would Jesus Buy?"
Cover of What Would Jesus Buy?

I just got home from spending 24 hours in the hospital with breathing issues.  This all happened like 2 days before Christmas.  If you’ve got 3 kids, you can probably emphasize with the sort-of chaos that ensued from this.

Also, I’ve been watching the rather brilliant, “What would Jesus buy” a documentary(ish) film that follows the exploits of a guy who seems to be masquerading as a charismatic born again Christian.  He’s gathered a gospel choir and is spreading a message against the orgy of greed that the holidays have become.  It’s sort of like “The Apostle” meets “Super Size Me.”

Finally, I have just had this feeling, these last couple Christmases.  Something has just gone wrong.  We are lost, dazed, and confused.   The ultimate symbol of all this: We Christians are fighting over whether Jesus’ name is mentioned in the holiday, but we don’t seem to give a crap if the actual content of our holidays honor him.

So maybe that’s my reaction to all this: I’m only going to say ‘Happy Holidays’.   For get about other people putting the Christ in Christmas.   I know that if he were around today, he’d tell me that I first ought to put the Christ back in Christmas.  And so I’m not going to say “Merry Christmas” until I feel like I’ve earned the right to say this.

The principles I’m going to work on discussing, internalizing, sharing, and acting on, for the next year, are these:

#1) Christmas has become a time for us to glorify greed and materialism.  It’s not enough that we say, “It’s for the kids” and then give them all kinds of material stuff they don’t need.  We need to balance the giving of gifts with teaching kids about the value of living simply.

#2) Christmas is becoming more and more about the anxiety of getting everything down, the status of buying the right gifts, the despair created between the disconnect between our Christmas realities and Christmas fantasies… In short, we have become lemmings.  We have accepted a defective, unbalanced, unrealistic  set of beliefs about what December should be like.  This vision didn’t come from a prophet, leader, or wise men.  It came from CEO’s and the blind capitalistic market itself.

#3) Though Christ’s birth was proclaimed by good shephards, as a society our Christmases have been characterized by us acting as the worst kind of shephard.  We have become poor shephards of finance as we spend more than we have; we have become poor shepards of the environment as we fill more landfills with packaging and wrapping and squander natural resources by lighting our tacky displays; we have been poor shephards of our children as we teach them all the wrong things by giving them the things they think need but robbing them of the lessons they require. 

#4) Christmas’s darkest perversions of values have spread through out the year.  The very best that Christmas has to offer us gets an increasinly shrinking portion of our time, energy, effort, and consciousness.  We all groan together when the sales, decoration, and music start a week earlier than last year.  We should be equally passionate about the idea that love, peace, and goodwill gets an even shorter lifespan each year than it did the last.

More later.  I’m shooting for 12 (for reasons I’ll explain later.)  What do you think are some principles we ought to fight against that Christmas is coming to stand for?


A reality check on Christmas Eve

“Are you closing?” This middle-aged woman was asking me.  She had frizzy hair.

I looked back over my shoulder.  The lights were shut off.  The sign was shut off.  It was six PM on Christmas Eve.  It was one of those questions that you don’t want to answer because it seems to obvious for words.

“I thought maybe you’d be opened on Christmas Eve.” She said all in one breath, in the panicked way people talk whose whole worlds are on the edge of collapse.   “It’s Christmas Eve and I have no where to go.” And then she let out this sound; a moan, a sob, a laugh.  Something somewhere in between.

If this was a fiction story I would have had all the right things to say.  I stood there and looked behind her.  She stood in front of one of those newer SUV’s that kind-of looks like a minivan on steroids… It was a soccer mom car.  She looked like a soccer mom.  How did she come to be alone on Christmas Eve?

If this was a Hallmark special, if this was a story in a sermon, if this was the kind of tale that people forewarded in emails, it would have a resolution… most likely a happy ending.

But in reality I stood there paralyzed.  I tried to smile at her.  I tried to suggest the movie theater on the other side of the shopping center. 

She took a few minutes, presumably to gather herself together.  I prayed for as I watched her pull away.  I am sure that Jesus was proud of me for spending three minutes of my precious time thinking about her.  (Note sarcasm.)

I don’t know where she went, or who she was, or what her story was.  Probably I never will.

In some way I’m offering up this as blog as a confession.  I posted about how Jesus wants us to reach out.  And then I didn’t.

The event was a wake-up call.  I’d been feeling quite sorry for myself.  I have a second job and was away from my family on much of Christmas Eve.  I was annoyed with people who wandered in, 10 minutes before we closed and who mulled around the racks after closing as the 20-odd staff were wanting to get out and go home.  Truthfully, I was even resentful at the fact that we’re a one car family and that I had to be picked up like a high school kid. 

And then…. Wham!  I’m confronted with somebody who is not only alone but who is also terrified with the realization that because Barnes & Noble is closed, they have nothing to do.

I tell myself it would have been easier if she hadn’t been a woman or if I hadn’t been a man.  There are very few acts of kindness between strangers of the opposite sex that don’t look inappropriate.

And so I’ve been thinking about that, today.  Things that look inappropriate.

I’ve been counseled– probably wisely– to be careful about things that look bad.  The idea is partially that we should be on our guard from bad stuff that could happen, but also that we should be on the guard for things that are in truth innocent but look inappropriate.

I get that, I think.  But I also wonder if it’s biblical.

If a prostitute today rubbed a pastor’s feet, if a woman gave a minister a scalp masage, it would look bad.  End of story.

But Jesus allowed these things.  And he lived in a less touchy-feely, much more sexually segregated society.

And so I guess it’s a fair question, to ask “How does it look when a man and a women are in public and…”

But there’s a follow up question, a bigger one, I think.

That follow up question is this:

How does it look when a man who claims to follow Christ does nothing more than point the lonely to a movie theater?