Saw a preview of a new TV show the other night:
A lovely young woman, dressed in Victorian-style clothes, sits in her boudoir brushing her lengthy tresses. Unbeknownst to her, a man has entered the room, looking dark and mysterious. As the music builds suspense, the room slowly swirls as flashbacks to events between the young woman and young man quickly appear and fade.
Finally, at a pinnacle of suspense, the young woman catches a glimpse of the man in her mirror. Terror grips her.
The man steps once more and we the TV audience see what the young woman can’t…
,,, a bouquet of flowers and a card that says “Happy Anniversary.”
Okay. So this wasn’t a real commercial or preview. But I wish it were. Halloween brings out the worst in TV’s new offerings, but those shows are simply a reflection of the culture.
The times have twisted Halloween, too. When I was young, costumes were amusing and child-like. Casper was the worst ghost and witches were about as evil as it got (yes, witches are evil). We even used to collect money for UNICEF.
As the years progressed, Halloween became grotesque, with more and more of the usual objectionable costumes – vampires, zombies, chainsaw murderers, mangled bodies, demons and devils, etc. It was mildly disturbing to see teens dressed this way, but just nauseating as younger ones imitated their older peers.
In a particularly weird twist, recent years have seen these horrific beings take on an erotic approach – vampires are no longer Nosferatu and pasty white tortured souls: they are sexy young adults, out for a good time and, to paraphrase Englebert Humperdinck, “After the lovin’, I’ll take a bite of you..”
A children’s evening of collecting candy has become a festival of the macabre, a night of fear and terror with a touch of sexy.
The thing is, it’s all a ruse. I’ve identified ten particulars about Halloween that are especially heinous:
1) Death is to be feared. There may be circumstances leading to death that are fearsome, but death itself is natural. Death is the end of life. We may fear how we’ve lived our lives and death’s approach reminds us of our regrets and failures, but death itself will come. Death may come at circumstances beyond our control and those circumstances may be fearsome, but death itself is inescapable. For the Christian, death is the beginning, our participation in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that is certainly not to be feared.
2) Older adults are to be feared. This part of Halloween galls me most. Notice that witches and scary masks are all of old people, wrinkled, warty, grey-haired, toothless and misshapen. Halloween characters are expected to act like people dealing with Dementia, a sadly real condition faced by many older adults. Hunched over and sounding unnatural, Halloween characters act out very difficult situations that very real older adults cope with daily. Halloween’s mockery of older adults isn’t amusing to me at all.
3) Post-mortem life will be gruesome. In reality, post-mortem life will be wonderful. Eternity with God, everlasting love and peace, wholeness of spirit, the presence of Christ, the joy of the saints, and all those things are the marks of eternity. Port-mortem life will not be lived in the shadows or as walking dead smeared with the mud of the grave – it will be lived in the land of endless day.
4) Cemeteries are scary places. Again, reinforcing a fear of death is reinforcing a fear of where the dead rest. Cemeteries are sacred spaces. They are places of honor. They are lawns of memory. Cemeteries are peaceful places. People rest there whose lives are free of the encumbrances of their years on years. The saints rest from their labors. The weary rest from their labor. The lowly and the lofty share the same status, asleep in the ground.
5) Demons are powerful. This may seem like word-play, but demons can be powerful, but in reality they have very little strength. Demons only have the power that is given to them. For the Christian dealing with temptation, the tempter has only the power we give him. Demons are on an eternal leash, one tied by Christ through His own death and Resurrection. Like the Little Rock Nine entering Central High School in 1957, whose anti-segregation taunters were noisy and rude but held at bay by federal troops, so the Christian walks before demons, whose taunts are held at bay by the One Who has risen from the dead.
6) Candy will take care of your fears. This is the modern mantra. Give me a pill, a shot, a quick fix for my problems. Let me run – and don’t judge me – from my debt, my relationship problems, my job, my emotional issues, etc. The legend of “Trick or Treat” is that giving the Halloween visitors a treat will keep them from “tricking” the fearful patron. In medieval times, a farmer may have given his virgin daughter to the Druids to keep the evil-doers at bay. Today, a Snickers bar will keep eggs from being thrown at your house. But the principal is the same: a quick fix will solve the problem.
In reality, dealing with fears takes hard work. The Druids (and others) didn’t stop harassing peasants and villagers until Christianity took firm control and cast them out. It took centuries. Likewise, pills, shots, pay-day loans, etc., only deter the symptoms. Real fears need real work.
7) Hell is amusing. The usual descriptions of hell not withstanding, I read an Orthodox perspective on hell that I think makes very real sense to me. Because God is love (and always is), to those who reject Him, love will burn like flames. Because God is light (and always is), those who prefer darkness will find His light to be particularly torturous. Because God is peace (and always is), those who refuse Him will find His peace eternally besetting.
In no way is hell amusing. There is no eternal party in the dark caves of the grave. The gates of hell have been eternally broken down by Christ, Who “conquered death by death.” Those who find themselves in hell are there at their own hands because God sends no one there.
8) ”Good character” is for nerds. I don’t know if there is scientific data on this, but I think it’s somewhere between third and fourth grades that kids reject being Bob the Builder and Sponge Bob Squarepants for Halloween and begin asking for costumes a little more grim and dark. Depictions of good people are scuttled because good people aren’t scary or cool. Being a good person is more scary. It would be interesting to see trick-or-treaters dressed as St. Francis or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Ghandi or a Boy Scout, wouldn’t it?
9) Autumn and cold are dreary. Overcast skies, rain, slowly defoliating trees, shorter days and browning greens are negative to many people. There are those who deal with “Seasonally Affected Disorder,” a very real emotional state influenced by the changing seasons, and I’m not diminishing their condition. But for the rest of us, Autumn ought to be a season of hope and beauty. The departure of greenery is a reminder that the beauty of Winter is right around the corner. The cleansing of Winter brings the joy of new life in Spring.
The real affects of seasonal change should be embraced. Longer nights are nature’s way of reminding us that we need rest. Darkness and cold bring out our human creativity: how to stay warm and light with the resources available. Cold weather requires preparation and it offers time for preparation for Spring. Autumn is a time of opportunity.
10) Committing evil acts can lead to a satisfactory existence. Whether you’re a sexy vampire nibbling on teen girls or a buff werewolf slashing through passive partiers, doing evil is never satisfactory.
Those who commit real evil know this to be true. Hitler’s suicide is perhaps the pathetic best example. Grandiose dreams of a thousand year Reich built on the backs of Eastern European slaves and soaked in the blood of non-Aryans came to a simpering finale when Hitler – ever the coward – died not leading troops to a final victory but in a bunker with a pistol shot to the head. The evil he engendered was insatiable and unsustainable. And in the end, unsatisfactory. Hitler turned on his own people, accusing them of cowardice, accusing them of rejecting the Aryan ideal. His psychosis found fault not in his own evil but in the incompetence of those who were no longer worthy of his presence. And so, his suicide.
Hallowe’en, the Eve of All Saints day, should be a time and reflection on the good things God has in store for the faithful. There is no fear in that. Recalling the lives of the saints and martyrs, Hallowe’en should remind us all that God plays no tricks on us. He assures us that life is good and that eternal life is His remarkable gift.
I’ve created a new blog for theological issues: barefoottheology.org
This blog, “barefootbrian” was intended to be more about barefoot living and that sort of thing. More musings than anything. Instead, it has become a catch-all for all sorts of posts of mine.
I hope you’ll subscribe to my new blog and feel free to comment and share.
Thanks – and bye!
Twelve years ago, our Church paved the parking lot. After 145 years of gravel and grass, there was asphalt.
The Sunday after paving, a group of men were inspecting the work. After a general sense of nodding and approval, one elder, a life-long member and highly esteemed by all, said,
“We need to send a thank-you note to the United Methodist Conference.”
The rest of the group was taken back. In 1996, the congregation had experienced a difficult separation from the denomination. After decades of loyal membership, the Conference wanted to close the Church, and merge them with a larger congregation. Cynically, the membership at the time thought the Conference wanted the Church’s farm to cash out.
“Why would we send them a thank-you note?” asked one of the group.
“Well,” said Bob, “We’ve been able to pave the parking lot with the money we’ve saved by not it sending to the denomination.”
He was right. Peoria Church, with about 75 members had been sending nearly $10,000 a year in apportionments to the denomination. They hadn’t missed an apportionment payment since they joined with the Methodists around World War I.
The separation was sought by the parent denomination, not by the congregation, but through it, Peoria Church has learned an important fact: There are many joys in being non-denominational.
Now, there are dogs in the animal shelter who have better pedigrees than I have when it comes to denominations. I grew up Episcopalian, got involved with Campus Life in high school, and I attended a Church of God college. While on campus, I attended Churches of God and a Wesleyan Church. When home on college breaks, I attended my home parish (Episcopal) PLUS two nondenominational Churches: one small Church was led by a former United Methodist pastor and the other large one by an Assemblies of God pastor.
(Oddly enough, one of those nondenominational congregations no longer exists and the other is a shadow of its former self.)
After marriage, poor Karen dragged along with me. We attended the Episcopal Church for a while until the drunken priest misbehaved. From there we went to a different Church of God, and then landed in the Society of Friends through some family connexions. After the Quakers chewed me up and spit me out, I went to a traditionalist Anglican parish for a while, did supply preaching for the Presbyterians and Baptists, and, in 1999, landed in the non-denominational parish I now serve as pastor. I work full-time in a Church of the Brethren home and have a weakness for Orthodox icons and an inclination for ritual.
There are many times I think I need to find a denomination and stick with it. As a pastor, there are advantages when it comes to ministry support, education, and fellowship. For the people of the Church, there are attachments to a wider sense of mission, youth camps, conferences, and events for spiritual growth and nurture. It would be less frustrating to have resources at my fingertips rather than constantly reinventing the wheel.
I think about those things UNTIL Karen or I run into someone and have a conversation that goes something like this:
“The [yearly meeting-conference-district-diocese] is losing so much money. The Church in [town] split. The [liberals-conservatives-evangelicals-charismatics] left because of [homosexuality-abortion-authority of Scripture-denominational identity] and they’re meeting at the [motel-school-cemetery Chapel-old Church that recently closed].”
“We’ve been talking about [homosexuality-abortion-authority of Scripture-denominational identity] for over 30 years now and no one seems to budge. If only the [liberals-conservatives-evangelicals-charismatics] would set aside their agenda, we could all get along.”
“Oh, he got out of the ministry. They wouldn’t give him a serious parish because of his stand on [homosexuality-abortion-authority of Scripture-denominational identity].”
“I don’t know how they can call themselves [name-the-denomination] and allow [fill in A) a hot button issue; or B) change in worship style; or C) the latest technology in worship].
Don’t get me wrong – being non-denominational can be tenuous. I have to preach intentionally on some very important subjects:
- The Church is far bigger than our little group in an Indiana corn field
- Christians come in all colors, languages, ethnic groups, nations, etc.
- It’s important to interact with other Christians on a regular basis, through service, prayer, interdenominational worship experiences, etc.
- I am grateful to have a congregation that is faithful and strong enough to keep me in my place, as well. They know I am a pastor and nothing more. I do not want the Church to be a personality cult and they are the right people to prevent that from happening.
At the same time, there is great joy in not being tied to a denomination.
First, our focus is local. We find this to be fulfilling, especially in Christ’s commandment to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” There are those who say, “well, the Pakistani (or others far away) is your neighbor, too.”
Fair enough. But my experience is that is easy to “love” Pakistanis (or others far away) by sending a check to the mission group or denominational board. It is far more difficult to take a meal to a shut-in neighbor or to comfort the woman who was in a late-night argument with her boyfriend the night before.
Loving neighbors means being part of the neighborhood, being there, knowing them and being one of them. The local, non-denominational congregation knows families, issues, situations, and needs in ways that a conference office in Indianapolis simply can’t.
Second, there is a wealth of resources to draw from. In our worship, we use the United Methodist hymnal as our core of worship (with the U.M. logo and name thoroughly expunged as ordered by the denominational hacks back in 1996). This gives us access to the rich hymnody of generations of Christian faith.
But we aren’t limited by that. Our Eucharistic liturgy is a very simplified version of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The core of our baptismal liturgy is from the hymnal (without references to the U.M.), but we’ve returned to the practice of the parish in the 1850′s of baptism in the river and we have chrismation at baptism. At the same time, we have special music from very free-traditions and guest speakers of many stripes. For the lectionary, I use the one in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
Third, there is the money. I can’t get over the taxation of local congregations to support conferences and denominations. Some do it very simply and basically. The Quakers are simple and tight-fisted by nature and their denominational assessments are minimal. Others are not so much. For example, why on earth was Peoria Church sending nearly $10,000 a year to the denomination for a membership of roughly 75 persons? Their total annual offerings are only around $40,000 a year.
Often, denominational money is spent in ways that local parishioners oppose, and oppose absolutely. I have never met a member of a denomination who opposed sending money to the [yearly meeting-conference-district-diocese] for camps, Sunday School, charitable work, missions, etc. I even know people who think it’s a good thing to support the denominational officials who have an important function to perform.
However, it’s when denominational hierarchs begin funding things not related to Church that the trouble begins. Advocacy groups, “social justice,” union membership, political candidates, and other issues have had their fingers in the denominational till and, as a result, have caused denominations to founder.
I remember when I was in high school I was a youth delegate to the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio convention for two years. One year, the main banquet served some sort of soy-based product as the main dish because farmers were destroying the land and polluting the earth. I had a hard time explaining that to the farmers in our rural-oriented parish in Findlay. The other year, I became aware that we were meeting in one hotel in Cleveland with preference over another because the hotel we were in was “union” and the other was not. My awareness was piqued by the fact that the non-union hotel was significantly less expensive, yet we were using God’s money to “make a statement.”
The bishop’s agenda superseded the interests of our local parish.
Fourthly, without denominational constraints, we are allowed act as adults. In denominational situations, there is a sense of mothering that often becomes “smothering.” In my fourteen years at Peoria, we have given thousands of dollars to missions around the world, paved the parking lot, helped many neighbors with utility bills and food, raised hundreds of dollars for people in crisis locally and regionally, built an addition to the Church, built a pavilion and playground, and have kept up with the daily expenses of maintaining the Church property.
And we’ve done it without consultation from a denominational supervisor.
This adult relationship fosters trust in the Church and in the relationship with me as pastor to everyone else. I am a pastor: I do not know about plumbing, heating, painting, etc. The trustees do that. I am a pastor: while I do know management (I do that full-time at work), it is more important for the lay leader to conduct Church business because it is his Church. I am a pastor: I respect the value of everyone in the Church, from the unemployed to the retired, from the pre-schooler to the college student. No one is better or worse than anyone else – we trust each other, respect each other, and, in a word, we love each other.
Finally, there is freedom. When we make a decision on a local level, it is not undone by someone in Marion or Lafayette or Indianapolis. When we want to make plans, we just do it. We have our by-laws and constitution, our committees and work groups and they work freely and independently AND cooperatively with one another. We have a structure that fits us, we don’t have to conform to a structure that is imposed and not a good fit.
There is also that sense of freedom to be what the Reformers were looking for 500 years ago. Martin Luther’s rediscovery of “the just shall live by faith” broke chains that had bound Christians for many years. Luther and the other reformers replaced institutional Christianity with faith that empowered men and women – individuals – to be who God wants them to be.
This last point is really the main point. As a Christian, my identity is not in the denomination (or non-denomination) I’m attached to. My identity is in Jesus Christ. With faith in Him, the life of God is available freely and unending. It is because of Jesus Christ that I know God’s love, His mercy, His patience, His grace, and have that “peace that passes all understanding.”
God was not incarnate to make me an Anglican. He didn’t create the world so we all could be Brethren. He doesn’t move in the lives of human beings to make us all Catholics. He didn’t institute His Sacraments so that we can exclude each other from them. He didn’t suffer and die in order to create rules and regulations; rather, He conquered death by His own death so that we who are entombed in the sorrow of this life may have His eternal life.
To me, that is the greatest joy of being non-denominational.
The Church of Rome has been in the news a lot, lately. Ho-hum. Peoria Church is over half the size of Rome and you don’t see us stir up the whole world over a new pastor selection, do you?
Wait – did you wonder about what I just wrote? “Peoria Church is over half the size of the Church of Rome.”
Technically speaking, yes. You see, Peoria Church sits on about 60 acres, 50 of which we farm. The farm money helps keep our property in good shape.
Vatican City, the capital of the Church of Rome, is on 109 acres. Peoria Church is over half that size.
And I think our building is nicer.
If you take it from the perspective of membership, that’s another matter. There are approximately 3.6 million Catholics for every Peorian. So, they do have us on the attendance thing. But who tracks that stuff, anyhow?
In the religious world, the biggest story (the vacancy of the papal seat in Rome) may seem like one that doesn’t affect us here at Peoria Church. We are not Roman Catholics, we don’t have popes, and much of what we do is very little like Catholicism. Why would the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI make a difference here?
Whether or not we are Catholics isn’t really the issue: the Catholic Church is the biggest player on the Christian “game board” and what they do affects the rest of Christianity. It has been that way since the early reformers. In fact, “reformation” and “Protestantism” are reactionary labels. What did they want to reform? Catholicism. What is the “protest” about? Catholicism. It has been that way since Rome split from Orthodoxy 1,000 years ago.
Examples are legion of Catholicism’s influence in non-Catholic Churches. In Vatican II, Rome set in motion reforms that impacted liturgy, Church structure, theology, and culture. These movements directly impacted mainline Protestant Churches: they imitated many of Rome’s reforms. (In our purple hymnal at Peoria, the Eucharistic liturgy of the United Methodist Church mirrors the core liturgy used in the “Novus Ordo” mass.) Traditional symbols and buildings gave way to modern designs, a movement picked up by evangelicals. Traditional hymns and chanting in the Church of Rome gave way to folk tunes, then “rock tunes” and then politically correct versions of traditional hymns. In 1950, the most popular hymns in the Catholic Church were Holy God, We Praise Thy Name and Hail, Holy Queen. In a Catholic hymnal published in the mid-1990’s, Holy God… wasn’t even in the collection and Hail, Holy Queen was relegated to a supplement. In Protestant Churches, familiar hymns gave way to music that was unsingable on one hand or shallow on the other.
Benedict’s retirement leaves Catholicism open to directional changes. In 1955, who in the Roman Catholic Church would have imagined that by 1962, they would be saying Mass in English, eating meat during Lent (even on Fridays), standing instead of kneeling for most prayers, etc.? A new pope has nearly absolute authority in Catholicism. Whether or not he is popular doesn’t really matter. Benedict supported traditional marriage, was strongly pro-life, and advocated for deeper spirituality in the Church – positions which were very unpopular with liberal Catholics in the U.S. and other western countries. But he’s the pope, so dissent had to just live with it.
A new pope gives us reason to consider our own faith. Why aren’t we Catholics? Is it the Marian theology? Is it the high liturgy? Is it the celibate priesthood (that one always gets me)?
Maybe more importantly, as Rome does some soul searching, perhaps we ought to as well. What do we expect from Church leadership? What aspects of our faith need to be brought more into focus? How can our walk with Jesus Christ be more meaningful and intentional? What is our role in the universal Church, as a just one, little Church in an Indiana cornfield?
Let us pray with our Catholic brothers and sisters as they seek God’s guidance for a new pope. And let us thank God that He has called us to be who we are in His Body as His disciples.
A List of Helpful Suggestions for Retailers, Restauranteurs, and Others Who Relate to the Public
In an ideal world, an article on How to Handle a Barefoot Customer would be very short and read like this:
“Good morning [afternoon, evening], sir/madam. May I help you?”
However, we do not live in an ideal world. There are, unfortunately, people who still consider being barefoot in public something of an anomaly. There are some who still see it as somehow unclean or unhealthy or inappropriate.
This article is for those people.
How to Handle A Barefoot Customer: The Approach
1) Remember that the Barefoot Customer is in your place of business to purchase something or to obtain a service. They are there to spend money. It would be extremely unusual to find a barefoot customer with any other purpose in your establishment.
2) An appropriate greeting should be extended: “Welcome to Bloomingdale’s. May I help you?” No other comment is necessary. No attention should be brought to the barefoot customer’s shoelessness. No good businessperson makes a comment about any other customer’s appearance, do they?
- “Why, Mrs. Black, have we forgotten to wear a brassiere today?”
- “Mr. White, your baldness seems diminished by how grey your hair has grown.”
- “Excuse me, Ma’am, our section for women your size is, well, we don’t cater to women your size.”
3) After discerning the barefoot customer’s need, do what is necessary to meet that need. It is courteous to end such a service with a remark like, “Is there anything else?”
How to Handle A Barefoot Customer: Safety
1) Safety is everyone’s first concern. No one wants to hurt their feet less than the barefoot customer. Most barefoot customers will appreciate the retailers’ concern for their safety.
2) A case might be made (by some) that someone being barefoot in a place of business is somehow unsafe. The thoughtful proprietor should do the following:
- Be sure all the shards of broken glass that normally lay about most places of business are cleaned up
- Mop up all the spilled chemicals and other hazardous materials that are so common in public areas
- Extinguish all piles of burning substances in the store
- Secure shelves of product to be sure that items stay on the shelves rather than falling off as they always do
3) If the business operator is unable to provide safety, as suggested in #2 (above), be sure to acquire safety shoes, gloves, goggles, etc., for all customers entering the store.
How to Handle A Barefoot Customer: Policies
1) Prohibiting barefoot customers is merely a loss of business. There are no state health department rules against bare feet. The common expression, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service,” is just that: a common expression.
2) Customers are not subject to the same OSHA regulations that employees are. Barefoot people should follow OSHA guidelines when they are in the workplace, but not when they are customers.
3) A barefoot customer is bringing nothing into an establishment on their feet that a shod person is bringing in. There is no need to be concerned about spreading germs or disease whatsoever.
How to Handle A Barefoot Customer: Unruliness
1) In the unlikely event that a barefoot customer becomes unruly, see your policy book regarding how to handle customers that become unruly. Flip to the “Unruly Barefoot Customer Section.” Follow company policy.
I hope this article is helpful for those who provide services and other business for barefoot shoppers.
Every year since I can remember, the holiday cycle goes like this:
* Right before Halloween, Christmas decor and ads appear. The black and orange Halloween candy gets marked down as fast as the red and white candy canes go up.
* The month of November is dominated by Christmas ads, catalogues, sale flyers, early-bird specials, and the big build-up to the so-called “Black Friday”.
* Everyone wrings their hands that Thanksgiving is getting drowned out by Christmas.
* As municipalities begin erecting Christmas displays, some party-pooper** threatens to sue for ‘violation of Church and state’. This leads to one of two reactions: 1) municipal leaders wimp out and don’t allow any displays; or, 2) municipal leaders dig in and vow to fight with all their resources to keep their creche on the courthouse square
* Sometime after Thanksgiving, the “keep Christ in Christmas” campaign begins
* The afternoon of Christmas Day, everything switches to getting ready for New Year’s Eve and on Dec. 26, the stores put up their Valentine’s Day displays
Every year, it’s about the same.
My biggest concern (besides being ‘allowed’ to shop barefooted), is that no matter how hard anyone tries, Christ can’t be taken out of Christmas.
Christ in Christmas isn’t found in the shopping, is He? We give gifts at Christmas in remembrance of two things: the Magi brought gifts to the Christ Child and St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) brought gifts to poor children hundred of years ago. But Christ Himself is found in the giving, not in the shopping.
Christ in Christmas isn’t found in the Christmas decor. A few weeks ago, Karen and I were in that most WASP-ish of eateries, Cracker Barrel in Kokomo. (We are WASPs, after all, and we like fatty, sodium-infused foods :-)). As we browsed the Country Store (sic), there were racks and shelves full of “Christmas” items: ornaments, gadgets, clothing, themed gifts, etc. It took a lot of digging for me to find the two Nativity scenes they offered for sale. All around Kokomo there were illuminated snow flakes and Santas, jingle bells, winter scenes, etc., all of which are beautiful, but they are not Christ.
Christ isn’t even found in the Christmas muzak the stores play. I love it that stores play Christmas carols. But I find it off-putting that “O Holy Night” gets sandwiched between “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” and “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” I remember a few years ago when some beer company corrupted “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” into “Oh Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” The message of peace through Christ found in “God Rest Ye…” was displaced by young men partying and ogling beer-swilling women.
Christ in Christmas isn’t found in the courthouse creches, either. Don’t get me wrong, I like courthouse creches and I don’t have a problem with them. They are a reminder of the “reason for the season.” But more often I am reminded by the creche that Christ in society is largely ignored. Traffic streams past, people talking on cell phones or hurrying to work, and they barely notice the Babe in the manger scene. I think that if it weren’t for those lawsuits or some juvenile delinquent stealing the Christ Child figure from the manger, most people wouldn’t even notice that the creche is at the courthouse.
The thing is, Christ can’t be taken out of Christmas. All those things, as wonderful as they are, are not Christmas.
Christ can be taken out of the shopping, the muzak, the displays, the commercials, etc., because He really isn’t there to begin with.
Christ can’t be taken out of Christmas because Christmas marks the event that Christ was “put into” the world, never to be taken out again.
For those of us whose faith is in God through Christ, Christmas is an immutable reality. It was that way for centuries before shopping and Black Friday and Rudolph… the Christ Mass was a day of prayer and worship, preceded by a 40 day period of fasting known as Advent. No trees, no lights, no jolly old elves. Christmas for Christians was – and is – a day to “Hail th’Incarnate Deity.”
Christ can’t be taken out of Christmas as long as there are people who respond to God’s gift to the world in Christ. Our initial response is a personal one: we believe. However, that is not our only response. We are asked to respond to Christ every day by loving our neighbors, praying for those who persecute us, assisting the down-trodden, seeking justice for the poor, tending to the sick and imprisoned, being thoughtful of the shut-in, and bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a world that is depserately hungry for it.
Keep Christ in Christmas? Absolutely. How? By passing all the trappings and getting to the heart of it: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the Only-begotten, full of grace and truth.”
>[** A word about party-poopers: I don't care if it's Jehovah's Witnesses, the ACLU, atheists, or some off-beat sect, anyone who spoils someone else's good time is a party-pooper. Christmas is the Christian's 'good time'. There is nothing to be gained by writing laws about Christmas displays other than creating more party-pooping, which only engenders ill-will and divisiveness. I don't care whose 'civil rights' are being violated or not - if we can't be civil in the first place, then what good are civil rights to begin with? I say, quit 'pooping the party' and either join the fun or create your own fun. It's not worth the negativity to fight each other about things like Christmas.]
Back about 1950 years ago, the Apostles and others began writing their experiences of God through Christ. We call them Gospels and Epistles. They were following in the tradition of their Jewish forebears, whose Bible most of us now know as the Old Testament.
The copies of the Gospels and Epistles were passed around from Church to Church, sometimes in fragments, sometimes at great risk to the passers. Like the Old Testament, their words were sacred, precious, and handled with great care.
Men and women gave their lives to protect those words.
Priests, prophets and scribes toiled meticulously to copy and re-copy the manuscripts verbatim.
Laymen and women committed huge portions of them to memory in order to retell the stories from one generation to the next.
In the Church era, great Councils met to clarify points of doctrine found in the Scripture. In the liturgical Churches, copies of Scripture (especially the Gospels) are carried around with high reverence. In synagogues, scrolls of the Torah are kept in tabernacles and read soberly for the congregation. For many Protestants, the family Bible is one of the most valuable possessions in the home.
And now, some Texas cheerleaders (and others) have been making huge banners with Holy Writ on them for their football teams to break through as they enter the field.
One banner reads: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
Over the centuries, these words have encouraged martyrs in their deaths, prophets in their mission, and saints in time of grief and persecution.
To our 21st century Church they mean, “Go Team Go!”
Another banner reads: “We are more than conquerors” (Rom 8:37).
Was St. Paul talking football? Not really. This is what he was talking about:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things, we are made more than conquerors, through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:35-36).
The blood of martyrs, the voice of prophets and Apostles, the message of grace, all in tempera paint and newsprint, ready to be ripped to shreds by hyped-up football players in Texas.
But, isn’t this a witness?
“To what?”, I have to ask. I’m all for free and public expressions of faith. But my question isn’t whether or not it’s a witness, but whether or not this is appropriate use of God’s words.
If these Bible verses on the football field (and other spots of questionable display) are a witness to anything, it is a witness to the fact that the American Church is soft. We have become so much a part of the culture that we have no prophetic voice left in the culture.
The only persecution our young people seem to know is having to take books home to study.
The only famine they experience is not having enough money for Taco Bell.
Their only sense of danger is having to find ways to avoid being caught in doing all the things non-Church youth are doing.
If there is any witness in this, it is that we have taught Christian youth very poorly about the sacredness of the message. Instead, they have been trapped by cleverness of words. Instead of teaching the heart, the Bible has become a quippy catch-phrase book.
Am I being too serious?
Maybe. But why ask me? Why not ask the Christians in Moslem countries who have to keep their Bibles secret and who treasure every word because of persecution. Would they make a spectacle of the words they keep so dear out of fear of their governments?
Why ask me? Ask the kids who clamor over New Tesaments when the Gideons give them away in South America or sub-Saharan Africa or the crowded nations of southeast Asia. There are never enough and often their Testament is the only book they own. Would those kids use those Testaments as props for the local pep squad?
Why ask me?
* Why not ask the Anabaptists who were driven from home and farm, often martyred, for their fealty to the written Word?
* Why not ask the pioneer Americans who built schools and homes based on daily readings of Scripture?
* Why not ask the Christians in the arena, some of whom may have heard the Apostles speak those very words live and in person?
(Maybe the Romans could have written Bible verses on paper that the lions could charge through on their way to their victims.)
The cheerleaders won the first round of their case in civil court, and I think that is good. Free speech is free speech, after all.
But maybe they’re not being asked the right question: Does it really honor God and the Bible to do what you are doing?
Does using Sacred Writing fulfill the instruction of the Apostle Paul: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
I think the answer is evident.