On “putting Christ back in Christmas”

I should preface this post by saying that I’m more or less indifferent (not against, just indifferent) toward Christmas as a Christian holiday, and totally disgusted by it as a retail season.  It does serve a purpose as a time when family and friends can get together – sometimes for the only time in an entire year – and I have no problem with that.  In fact, I participate on that level, and I’ve received a few gifts for which I’m extremely grateful (one was a pen hand-made and given to me by the child of a co-worker… it’s awesome!).  Of course there’s the cheesy Christmas card, and we do give the little kids practical things.  Where the adults are concerned, we try to do something more in line with Matthew 25:40.  After all, who else’s birthday can you think of where everybody except the birthday boy gets the presents?  But Christmas as a religious celebration has a rather checkered past and some dubious origins, not to mention the fact that nowhere in the Bible is there a command or even a suggestion (not even from Jesus himself) to celebrate his birth.  In fact, it doesn’t appear that it was celebrated by the Church at all until the 3rd or 4th century (Jesus did however tell his disciples to commemorate his death by celebrating the Lord’s Supper).  So that explains my indifference to Christmas the Christian holiday.  More than one person has asked me if I hate Jesus’ birthday.  I don’t hate Jesus’ birthday (whenever that may be, but rest assured it’s very unlikely it was on December 25th).  It was obviously important that Jesus was born into this world, because without his birth there could be no death and resurrection.  It’s just that celebrating it wasn’t all that important to the biblical writers (or to Jesus), especially compared to observing his death and resurrection.  So just to be clear, I love the fact that Jesus came down from glory, took on human form and was born into poverty and squalor in order to live a sinless life and be the perfect sacrifice for my sins.

But there’s a war on Christmas going on, in case you haven’t heard from Fox News, American Family Association and a number of others that are offended that everyone in this country doesn’t celebrate it as the commemoration of the birth of Jesus (truth be told, there’s been a “war on Christmas” ever since Herod set out to kill the infant Jesus).  And apparently the folks waging today’s war on Christmas must be winning, because now there’s a movement afoot to put Christ back in Christmas.  It’s a noble idea on the face of it, but if you look at the reasons why the most vocal talking heads are pushing it, it loses a lot of its luster.

A couple of months ago as I was Googling Christmas pictures for one of our kids, I came across this image by a guy known only as Banksy, a London-based street artist.  I don’t know anything about his spiritual beliefs or if he even has any, but this image has been stuck in my head for months.  It illustrates for me the problem with the whole “put Christ back in Christmas” movement, at least as it’s been propagated by certain people and media outlets.  It seems to me that folks are easily offended by cashiers that say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and stores selling holiday trees instead of Christmas trees, for starters.  I somehow can’t imagine that God is offended because businesses aren’t turning a buck in his son’s name.  In fact, I think he just might be offended that they are.  Black Friday and the image of Jesus being born in a feeding trough in a middle eastern backwater to impoverished parents somehow don’t go hand-in-hand.  But to hear some tell it, Jesus is the reason for binge-spending season.  There are various theories concerning the origins of the gift-giving traditions of Christmas; from the gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus, to the story of the real St. Nicholas, but what the Christmas season has been turned into doesn’t in any way resemble either of those.  I get that the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is when most retailers hope to get in the black, but if a store that operates for 12 months depends on that 30+ day stretch to turn a profit for the entire year, maybe they need a different business model.

Some folks are also offended that government entities refuse to display manger scenes (or if they do, also allow non-Christian displays alongside), or because some public schools have curtailed any Christian interpretations of the holiday.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not the least bit comfortable with the government putting its stamp of approval on my expressions of faith.  Make no mistake, if they can endorse it today they can dictate its terms tomorrow… and they sure as heck can outlaw it next week.

I can’t imagine that our faith is so fragile that we need retail employees,city councils or school administrators to sanction our beliefs.  Do we really feel persecuted because not everybody else observes the season the same way we do?  We have no idea what persecution for the sake of Jesus is, friends.  Middle Eastern Christians can tell us what it’s like.  Chinese and North Korean believers know it all too well.  “Happy Holidays” isn’t persecution.  Winter solstice displays on the town square aren’t persecution.  Neil deGrasse Tyson getting his holiday jollies by annoying believers on Twitter is definitely not persecution (although it was ironic on a couple of levels… that one of the most brilliant people in the world is rather juvenile at times, and that he trolled Christians by invoking the birthday of Isaac Newton, who while having far-from-orthodox religious beliefs, did maintain that God created the universe… an unthinkable premise for Tyson).  In any event, no worthwhile change can be effected on behalf of the Kingdom of God by getting our feelings hurt and rallying around some ranter’s call to “take back Christmas.”  Lasting change only happens within the hearts of men and women, and being contentious and antagonistic will not change a single person’s heart… except maybe to harden it to the gospel we claim to profess.

I sincerely hope you had a blessed Christmas.  I really do.  I don’t begrudge you a single Christmas present that you received or bought.  I really don’t.  Just as I believe that Christians have no reason to get offended by the practices of people who celebrate Christmas differently or not at all, I am not offended that you celebrate it differently than I do, and I hope no one is offended by the way I spend mine (but if they do, that’s really between them and God🙂 ).

The bottom line is this… if Christ is the reason you celebrate Christmas, nobody can take that away from you.  I pray you have a blessed 2015, and that you look for every opportunity to be a blessing to “the least of these” 365 days of the year!

Coming full circle… sort of

I never had kids of my own.  Back in my fruitful, childbearing years I was a selfish jerk.  I wanted to be able to go places on a moment’s notice.  I wanted to spend my money on stuff… lots of stuff… lots of expensive stuff.  Stuff I couldn’t have afforded if not for the wonder and magic of revolving credit.  I didn’t want to be tied down with the responsibilities involved with raising a child.  It’s true what they say I guess… “youth is wasted on the young.”  I was the most unwise person I knew back then.  I just wasn’t wise enough to realize it.  See?  See there how I wasted not just my youth, but my big chance to be wise?

So the fact that I never had kids is the reason why there’s a “sort of” tacked to the end of the title of this post.  Coming full circle involves the end coming around to be just like the beginning.  But my end (I’m not dying or anything, but what I’m doing right now is what I expect to be doing til the end) is a whole lot different than my beginning – my adult beginning at least.  Because for the last 23 or so years, I’ve been involved in some way with ministry to kids.  It actually makes me wonder if I’ve actually gotten wiser or stupider.  At least I got less selfish… and that can only be a God thing.  I didn’t come up with this all by myself, otherwise I’d still be out blowing all my time and money on doing whatever the heck it was I was doing 24 years ago.  But God is great at changing hearts and minds.  In fact, He’s expert at it.

For the past almost-ten years, My wife and I have been houseparents at 2 different children’s homes… for 13 years prior to that I was on staff at several churches doing youth ministry.  I never saw either of those things coming.  Well, I saw youth ministry coming and ran from it for 3 or 4 years.  I never saw children’s home ministry coming, but oddly, I embraced it when it did.  Except I thought I’d be raising teenagers.  Sort of an extension of my youth ministry, just with a lot more opportunity to make a difference.  However, for a good bit of the last 10 years, it’s been little kids, not teens.  When I was in youth ministry, I wouldn’t touch children’s ministry with a 10 foot, 1 inch pole.  But at the first children’s home, elementary school kids sort of grew on me eventually – like a fungus – to the point where when we did move to a teenage boys cottage I hated the idea.

These days we have a pretty good mix of kids, but still primarily little kids… pre-K, elementary school, the occasional middle-schooler… and one token teenager.  But last Monday, after 11 glorious days of vacation, we returned to hear the news that we were getting a new kid in our cottage… a 21 MONTH old kid.  I turned to my wife to get assurances that 21 month old kids come potty-trained.  I received no such assurances.  She might have even been laughing.  I don’t remember now…  Monday was a long time ago.

The reality of the whole adventure finally came around and whacked me in the head around mid-week when the wife proudly handed the little dude off to me and suggested I change his diaper.  Not his pee diaper, either.  There was no hesitation on my part.  “I will not show weakness… not in front of any witnesses at least.”  I repeated than mantra to myself as we made our way down the hall to the bedroom.  How bad could it be?  He eats a couple of literal handfuls of vegetables, or cereal or nice chewy meat.  Laid him down on the bed, deftly undid the velcro fasteners on his diaper (velcro on diapers… who knew??).  The first words out of my mouth showed weakness… within earshot of witnesses.  “What’s wrong with this kid??!!”  That was easily half his total body weight represented in that one diaper.  In fact, I’m in awe of that diaper.  NASA no doubt had something to do with the design of that diaper.  One good thing about the smell though… it makes you work fast.  We both survived – maybe even bonded over it somehow, and so I think at last I’ve come full circle.  Sort of.

Besides, I believe my father’s definition of coming full circle is the best one by far: “You come into this world bald, toothless and in the fetal position.  And that’s exactly the way you leave it.”  He forgot to mention smelly diapers, though.

Obligatory first post which explains why I’m blogging

I used to have a blog, but before that, I didn’t, and then after that, I didn’t again.  My deal was this:  “If I were to ever happen to have a thought or idea that was worth sharing with anyone, I’ll type it in an email and send it to my friends.”  And that served me well for quite a few years.  But then all my friends started blogging (this is where we cue my mother asking me if all my friends jumped off a bridge would I jump off too).  And so, I jumped off the bridge.

Then Twitter and Facebook happened to my blog, and then my deal was this:  “If I were to ever happen to have a thought or idea in 140 characters or less… I wouldn’t even bother involving myself in such a lazy and ridiculous pursuit.”  But then I got lazy and ridiculous, and I got Twitter.  Facebook was a little more complicated than that.  When I worked at the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home, the director decided to allow the kids to be on Facebook.  Then he required all the house parents to get on Facebook so we could monitor the kids.  I don’t know who was supposed to monitor the house parents.  I will say however, that in the course of being involved with Facebook, I’ve reconnected with a lot of my family that I haven’t seen or talked to in nearly 3 decades, and THAT is a great and wonderful thing.  I also have a number of Facebook friends that have greatly enriched my life… and I’ve not even met most of them in person.  That right there might say things about my social life that I’d rather not face up to.

Anyway, in all this frenetic e-activity my blog got neglected… severely neglected.  I don’t even know where to find my old blog anymore, which is a shame because even though half or more of my posts were written for the sole purpose of starting an argument, there were several that I’m very proud of and would like to re-post here.  We shall see.  But even if I could find it, I don’t know how to get into the thing because of a series of actions taken by my former web host which involved “parking” it somewhere, but I guess it must’ve gotten towed.

So why bother with another blog?  Good question, since I created this one late last year and then didn’t do anything with it for such a long time that about an hour ago I had to request a password reset so I could access it and write this literary gem that all 2 of you are currently reading.  But I have a friend who’s going to be writing a book, and he’s invited me along to help, so I need to start writing things a little more involved than smart aleck Facebook comments and tweets.  And then there’s Bill Bryson.  I was given his book “A Walk in the Woods” (along with the companion audiobook).  It not only hooked me on Bryson, but it reignited my own love for writing that involves more than 2 complete sentences in a row.  The fact that this revelation hit me six days ago and I just now rushed to the keyboard to get started doesn’t sound very encouraging, I know… but Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Or six.

So, nowhere to go from here but up…