Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas

A re-post from a piece I wrote last year:

Recently our local newspaper did a story on a recent happening at Focus on the Family--the organization is rating local shops on how "Christian" they are. They are having participants from around the country chime in and share their judgment (friendly, negligent, or offensive) of particular stores based on how they are greeted, how the store does its marketing, and their signage, etc. If they say, "Merry Christmas" they are rated high, if they say other holiday greetings, they are rated low.

This story saddens me so much I don't even know where to begin. But I feel I must.

As a Christian who should be rooting for the "home team," I know this sounds harsh. But my take on the Bible does not command me to cheer on my "home team" as much as it challenges me to love non-believers, or the "other" team, if you will. And because of my Jewish friends, my atheist friends, my Mormon friends, my Muslim friends, and my "other" friends, this throws my witness and my testimony about who Jesus Christ and his followers are back a few thousand feet.

And speaking of going back, let's root ourselves in a little history, shall we? Only a few hundred years ago, the Puritans and many other Christian groups in England, outlawed the celebration of Christmas because they did not consider it a truly religious holiday, and thought it promoted too many secular ideas. Many also realized that its roots were in pagan rituals, celebrating the Winter Solstice. 325 AD was when Jesus' birth was estimated to have been around December 25, but this was contested for years, and many scholars are fairly certain Jesus was born in the Spring because of the few cultural hints that exist. It wasn't until the mid 1800s that Christmas was celebrated widely, which was led mostly by secular institutions to recognize the class differences and offer hospitality to the poor, this was also the time when Santa Claus became popular thanks in large part to Coca Cola. And in America, does anyone recall Article 11 in the Treaty of Tripoli?

Let's not pretend that we don't recognize this day as an over-commercialized, secular holiday. I suspect that throwing a little sign in the window that says, "Jesus is the reason for the season" eases a little bit of that guilt coming from those who are overly indulging their credit card.

So, I have a difficult time hearing Christians defending a holiday that they claim was created to celebrate the birth of Jesus, when, in fact, it was not. My family has chosen to make that a part of our tradition, and it can be lovely--especially when those of us who love Jesus hear devotion to him come out of our children's mouths in song... but to pretend that it hasn't become a picture of extravagant consumption is to kid yourself. And to impose this on everyone? Knowing full well that we live in a country that allows freedom of religion, and to pretend that our hard-earned money to spoil our children will only be spent on institutions who feel likewise? If this is really their intention then why don't look at a few other issues--like which stores treat their employees fairly, which stores do not use sweatshops, which stores offer fair health care programs to their employees, etc. this seems much more "Christian" than one who merely says the word. Ah, but perhaps I found the rub.

And to my brother, who says I should be wary of judging the "other side" so harshly, I say this: Sometimes it's necessary to step up and stop an atrocity. If only more Christians had spoken up during the early days of the Nazi's regime we may have avoided millions of deaths. And yes, I do see some similarities. Focus criticized those stores that said "Happy Hanukkah" as trying to be too inclusive. I know enough about pre-Nazi Germany to know that the Holocaust started with small acts such as these. I don't believe that Jesus calls us to be nice and docile, rather to stop injustices. He was pretty harsh himself to the Pharisees.

I just do not foresee any people coming to know a loving Savior because of these sorts of efforts from Focus and other such groups and campaigns. None of my friends of other faiths are knocking down my door to hear more about this Jesus I claim to know and love because they were introduced to him through a sign at Walmart. I fear, rather, that these efforts scare would-be converts away rather than draw them in.

I choose to celebrate Christmas because I love Jesus Christ and am thankful for all that he has done, mostly that he was born and sacrificed his life so that I may live. My deep gratitude for that sacrifice is what compels me to enter into this conversation, and attempt to offer a little insight, at least in terms of why I get sad over Focus on the Family. I choose to celebrate his birth in association with this day, because it is what my community does, it is how I grew up, it is an introduction to my children of the saving relationship I hope they have with him. I do not, however, choose to impose this tradition on those around me by giving or not giving my business to a certain store.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

lessons on race

Theater today. Just me and Myles. Taking advantage of our "educator/student" discount to watch the DCPA's version of Tom Sawyer. I invited a few of my students to join us and do the same. We were waiting for their arrival in the lobby.

Me: "Help me watch out for my students."
Myles: "What do they look like?"
Me: "Well, you met them the day you came to school with me. Devin is a tall, thin black boy, remember, he gave you a high five? And Jahne is a tall, black girl with big, beautiful hair."
Myles (after scanning the crowd a few times): "Mom, there are no black people here at all. Wait. Except for that security guard."
Me: "Hmmmm. You may be right."
Myles: "Mom, why are there no black people here?"
Me: "I'm not sure."
Myles: "Maybe some black people don't like to follow Martin Luther King Jr's rule."
Me: "What do you mean by his 'rule'?"
Myles: "The thing he taught to the world... you know! That black people can be with white people, that it doesn't have to be black with black and white with white."

My students didn't show up. If they had, Myles would have been correct. They would have been the only black people in our theater. It was all white people--mostly white moms and dads and grandparents with their white kids.

I cannot answer him. I cannot tell him why black people in Denver today didn't show; why they don't like the theater. Especially why they don't like Mark Twain, an advocate for their equality. But one thing I did try to tell him was this:

Me: "Let's be careful with the word 'they' because that implies that there's a 'they' that is all the same. And. As we know every white person we know is entirely different. And every black or brown person we know is also very different from anyone else."

But. It does hit close to home with my current battle. Why is it that 99% of the students in the advanced track at my school are white, and 90% of all the students in the low track (the one in which I am currently teaching) are black or brown (a term used by the school to identify minorities--mostly blacks and hispanics)?

I don't know. I don't know much. But I do know that we have a serious racial disparity and inequality in our country. And it weighs on me. It smacks of a deep problem. One that is not being talked about at a national or local level. One that is being quietly ignored and blamed on a variety of factors. One that I have no idea how to begin to solve. But I'd like to try. And I'll likely be exploring this further.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

In Medias Res

So... I've joined an online writing group. Ya. And I'm supposed to write something on the first Wednesday of the month. Which is today. And I just realized that. And if I don't post I think I get kicked out of this group that I haven't even participated in yet. So I'm writing. Just to contribute. I'm stealing a moment in between hockey practice and cranky teenagers and impatient children to write something for my new "Insecure Writers Group." How's that for a title?

So here's my Something:

It's Advent. Which my pastor keeps telling me has to do with Longing and Coming. And she's challenged us to think of what it is we're really longing for. Not in a Santa or Elf-on-the-Shelf sort of way, but in a "dig deep and figure your sorry ass out" sort of way. I think. Because then she challenged us to get stuck there. In the longing. And realize that we're in the middle. The in-between. The tension of the longing. Which doesn't quite make sense to a control-freak like me, because I like endings. I love finishes. I like things when they're done. I hate to be stuck anywhere--traffic, awkward parties, airplanes that shake too much, or Wednesdays. In fact, I may well admit, I have a bit of an obsession with the endings. I am impatient. Yes. For my kids to fall asleep, for my students to "get it," for my husband to come home from CA, and for Friday afternoon.

In Medias Res is a Latin phrase which means, "in the middle of things." It's how Homer and many other old, white writers started their epics and plays and such. I suppose they chose an exciting place to begin because it got their audiences wanting to watch (or listen). The Middle engages us. Immediately. If they started at the end, the audiences might not care much, and the beginning is too boring, too much set-up. So they start in the middle. Taking their audiences right into the tension.

I suppose that is what Advent does--takes us directly to this "middle," this tension, this conflict, or longing. Places us there and challenges us to feel our way around in it. And if we're willing, it allows us to ask the questions, the hard ones: What does this tension reveal about me? Why do I long for more? What is it that I truly desire? What is it that I'm using to ease this desire in my impatience for the end? What am I doing to contribute toward this ending that I desire? Do I trust in an All Powerful God, like I claim? Do I allow the tough work to be done in my life when I'm stuck in this middle place?

And the answer to any of those questions is scary. And real. And I suppose that is the point. Maybe my pastor isn't so far off base after all. Maybe she is, in fact, inviting me to The Point of it all. And perhaps The Point isn't at all like I imagined (a floating, ethereal existence on a cloud) but rather an existence In Medias Res.

And certainly one of my In Medias Res at this current point in time is my writing career. Or lack thereof. I have no idea if a pursuit of this is juvenile, insane, or simply delusional. And that's where I exist now.