The Church of the Perpetual Misogyny

This shooting in California has my heart breaking.index

Still.

The fall out has sparked some intense conversation, and it’s just heartbreaking to see some of the comments coming from the dusty corners of society where misogyny still lives and breathes.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I think misogyny lives everywhere in our society.  But it has a hard time breathing in some places…and I thank God for that.

Unfortunately, one place it doesn’t have a hard time breathing is in the church.

People are pointing to misogynist video games, misogynist movies, and all other cultural points as contributing to this young man’s delusion that just because he has a sexual desire for women they should appease it willingly (or, even, unwillingly).

But, for my part, I’m going to let Hollywood alone.  I’m going to let video games alone, too.  They have their blame.  But, see: I’ve come to expect that from them.  Hollywood and the video game industry and marketing and the like have all used sex for gain, to force submission, to put sex on a pedestal.

But me?  I’m going to point to the church.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to ordain women, despite the fact that, while Paul (inconsistently) makes misogynist comments, Jesus (consistently) treated women as part of his inner circle and, indeed, entrusted them first with the news of the resurrection, the “gospel,” the “good news.”

Explain that rationale for me, please?  The men were all too chicken in their hiding places, and when the women told them about the resurrection, they didn’t trust their testimony (after all, in a court of law, women couldn’t be trusted, so why would God entrust this good news to them?).  And we look at this and wink and laugh as if it’s some sort of Laurel and Hardy episode, where the one who was supposed to “get it” doesn’t.

But I don’t think that’s it at all.  I think the women were supposed to get it.  Intentionally. Purposefully.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to let women vote, as if somehow their opinions are less important than the opinions of human beings with a Y chromosome.

I’m going to point to churches who still refuse to acknowledge the presence of feminine examples for God in the scripture, yet who claim to take the Bible literally.  If God is male, then God is also a hen (at least, according to Isaiah). And, for that matter, a rock.

What?  Those are metaphors?  Personifications? Which one(s)? All?  Or only the ones without male anatomy?

I’m going to point to churches who allow women preachers, but who won’t allow women preachers to lead churches by themselves.  Or who allow women preachers, but won’t allow them to preach primarily to men.  Or who allow them to preach, but as long as they tell their fellow sisters to “submit” to their male partners.

By the way, don’t ask me to preach at your wedding on any “submission” text.  Not going to happen…

But just before you mainline Protestants think you’re off the hook; no way.  I’m pointing at you, too (and, therefore, to myself).  We think that just because we ordain women that we’re free of blame?  Because I know more female pastors across all the mainline Protestant denominations without churches then I do male pastors without churches.  I know of situations where churches have rejected every female candidate received in the hopes that they would receive a male candidate eventually.  I know of churches who still feel as if their pastor is inferior or that they “weren’t good enough” for a male pastor, just because their pastor is a female.

The church should be the place where misogyny comes to die, not where it comes to life.

And, this is the thing: while I don’t hold Hollywood or the video game industry or politics or any of that fluff to a very high standard when it comes to gender stereotypes and discrimination, I do hold the church to a high standard.

I wish all the former could be held to a higher standard.  I expect the latter to be.   It’s sad, but not surprising.

And while this individual who shot up these innocent people may not have been religious (I haven’t heard either way), it doesn’t really matter.  If religion isn’t able to critique culture, to model for the wider culture a way of living that embraces the life of Jesus rather than the hate of any “ism,” we’re useless.  We can say that it’s sad that this man was violent, but on Sunday mornings many churches preach a violent, male god.  We can say that this man shouldn’t have thought of women that way, but until we acknowledge that we at least had a hand in that education, we’re speaking out of both sides of our mouths.

If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves; the truth is not in us.

It may be interesting to think about how Mario always saving the Princess has contributed to this misogyny that resulted in such violence.  But that narrative is just part of a much larger narrative of men saving the day, tracing it’s way back through the centuries.

The church has the ability, the call, to break off from that narrative and live a different one.

If only it had a good example to follow…

Your Pastor Dreads Mother’s Day

depressionMother’s Day is a continual reminder to pastors that they are truly incompetent in the “make everyone happy” department.

A good lesson, I guess.

Except we’re reminded of it every day…it just intensifies on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, when the 4th of July lands on a Sunday, Veteran’s Day, and when 9/11 marks the first day of the week.

Out of all of those, though, Mother’s Day really does take the cake because it is really intimately tied to culture in a deeply personal way.  Mother’s Day is really about sex, sexuality, procreation, choice, marriage, divorce, and choosing to raise/not raise children.

And the pastor’s hands are tied, in this case.  Especially if the pastor is accustomed to preaching with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  You cannot mention current events and not mention the reason why so many women are wearing flowers that morning, I think.

Or maybe you can…I don’t know.  I haven’t figured out a way to do it.

It’s just, well, whatever you choose, be prepared for the emails, anonymous notes, and comments following the service.

A very popular blog post has been making it’s way around this past week.  It’s good. Really good.  It’s been around for a few years.  Like that picture your mom took of you in the bathtub when you were four, it makes it’s rounds about the same time every year just in time to make you feel really awkward.

Yes, the blog post makes me feel awkward.

As a father, it doesn’t make me feel awkward at all.

As a feminist, it makes me shout “yes!”

As someone who wasn’t always sure they wanted children, it makes me feel affirmed.

As a pastor it makes me feel awkward.

Because it’s indicative of a Catch-22 for me.  Mother’s Day isn’t a liturgical holiday, so it really doesn’t need mentioning by the church.  And yet, we lift up Mary as the theotokos, the “God-bearer,” and note her motherly care of the Christ.  We talk a lot about the “womb of creation” as being God’s womb, and make the case hard for feminine pronouns to describe God, especially pointing to God’s work in creation.

And then comes Mother’s Day.

I’m not for honoring Mother’s Day during a Sunday service.  I’m not for pretending it isn’t happening, either.  I’m sure there are ways to straddle the desire to lift up mothering in this world while also not glorifying it as the end-all and be-all of existence.  I truly get that mothers are proud of that role in their life.  I truly get that not all women want to be mothers, and don’t need the church making them feel like they should.  Society does that well enough.  And I truly get that Mother’s Day is painful for some who are grieving their mother, or who have crappy mothers, or who can’t conceive.

Hopefully your pastor isn’t glib.  Hopefully they see all of these realities and try to acknowledge them all. I try to do that…to varying degrees of success.

But it’s just yet another example of why I suck in the department of making people happy.  Pastors truly die from a thousand paper-cuts…not just on this topic.  Which might be why your pastor responded to your email of “concern” or “complaint” in that way that made you feel like they really didn’t hear you.

It’s probably the fifth email of concern they’ve gotten that day…and they’ve stopped being concerned in order to just finish out the day without feeling absolutely dejected.

But I digress. Back to Mother’s Day.

These fights between cultural holidays and Sunday morning worship sometimes make me want to skip out on church altogether.  I don’t blame the women who do on Mother’s Day.  And I don’t blame the women who feel slighted when Mother’s Day isn’t talked about at all at worship, either.  The church of the past was the place to celebrate such things; for many it still is.

But for me?  I’d really just like to say a quiet prayer on Mother’s Day in thanks for God who is mother to us all, call my mom, kiss the mother of my son, greet the young woman who doesn’t want kids where she is, thank the couple who can’t conceive for worshiping God today in our congregation, hug the grandmother who has outlived her children and buried each one with a hug that she won’t get from them, high-five little girls without assuming that they’ll be or want to be mothers, shake the hands of the two fathers who bring their children to church, and not feel like by doing any one of those actions I’m hurting someone else.

Is that too much to ask?

 

Christian Ideas of “Controversial” are Screwed Up…

This poor homeless statue of Jesus is still having trouble finding a home without controversy.

Appropriate, I think.  It challenges our sensibilities in a way that I think only Jesus does.

But, here’s the thing: this is not controversial from a Biblical perspective.

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If Jesus wasn’t actually homeless (for a dude who might have had a home, he doesn’t hang much there in scripture), he certainly was found with the homeless and destitute, probably sleeping many nights under a sheet with the sky as a roof.

But this?  This is absolutely controversial:

muscular-jesus-breaking-cross

OMG, Jesus! Where did you get those quads from? Biking?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d say it’s damn near blasphemous…and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t think much is very blasphemous.

This is pretty controversial, too:

jesusarm-wrestlingwithsatandemon

Ugh…dualisms make me want to punch someone. Exorcising them from Christianity is like arm-wrestling the devil. Wait a sec…

 

 

 

 

 

Look at how crazy creepy that really white Jesus is wrestling with the good-guy from the Hellboy comics…

An uproar over this statue…that’s screwed up.  We see Jesus as Jesus is and get all offended.  That’s a teachable lesson for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.  But I haven’t heard much said about those other pics or others like them that appear on bulletin covers, emails, Facebook memes, or bumper stickers…in fact, I’d dare guess that most Christians would see them and not think two things about them: their veracity, their message, their scandal.

And they’re far more scandalous…

Want to know what else doesn’t seem to cause much controversy?  The fact that people die of starvation in the city of Chicago, one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

Or the fact that farm owners are committing suicide because they can’t make a living anymore, what with our demand for everything cheap and mass produced and all.

Or the fact that $600,000 was stolen from smiley Joel Osteen’s mega church a few weeks ago, and that was just one Sunday’s offering from plate-giving. For some perspective, that is almost double my faith community’s total operating budget.

Don’t let Jesus be shown homeless, but it’s sure ’nuff OK for the imago dei to be starving and dying while hundreds of thousands are collected each week from one place…and the only thing we can say is that we can’t believe someone would have the nerve to steal that money from a “church”…

Where’s really-ripped abs Jesus when you need him?

 

My Obligatory Post about the “Evolution vs. Creatonism” Debate

…I didn’t watch it live.earth-space

We watched Dallas Buyers Club instead, starring a gaunt Matthew McConaughey and even more gaunt Jared Leto.  And ate pork tacos that I made myself from ingredients I cobbled together from the store.

It was a great movie, based on a true story.  And I make great tacos.

And, dare I say, the movie and the tacos had more to do with reality than the so-called debate.

I’m an evolutionist when it comes to how things have ended up the way they have; no mistake about that.  It’s the theory I think best explains the questions it sets out to explain (at least, so far). But to think that these two people were actually debating the same topic is naive (I watched the debate online this morning).

They weren’t debating the same topic.  It might have appeared like they were, but they weren’t.

It appeared like they were debating how the world came to be and why there is “something” rather than “nothing.”

But really, Ham was talking about a worldview, and Nye was talking about science as a way of discovering truth.

Those are not the same thing.

Science is a method of discovery.  A worldview is composed of convictions on what the person feels has already been discovered.

So it’s no wonder why, when asked what would change each of their minds on the supposed topic, Ham said “Nothing” and Nye said “Evidence.”

Science is a method of discovery based off of evidence. It changes because more, different, or better evidence is found (or previous evidence appears unfounded). We could say that the sum total of Nye’s thoughts, some of which are informed by science, comprise his worldview (so far).  Nye’s worldview includes science, but I wouldn’t say that science is his worldview.  Science probably answers the “how” questions for Nye, like it does for most of us, but it doesn’t answer every question.

A worldview, however, is the total sum of all conceptions in one place.  Ham was debating his worldview.

Changing a worldview doesn’t take evidence. It takes a life-changing encounter…or a series of life-changing encounters. And Ham was describing his worldview where everything (dare I even say even relationships and love?) are contained within what he considers to be Scripture.  Especially questions like “how.”  His worldview says that “how” questions are found in Scripture. He’d have to encounter something that would dramatically shift him out of that way of thinking for his worldview to change.

An encounter is not a discovery; it is the absolute disruption of a worldview regardless of the method of discovery used.

Suffice to say, anyone who makes a “Creationism Museum” (and I use”museum” here in the sense that “things are on display”…like a thimble museum…it is not, in my opinion, a museum in the same way as The Field Museum here in Chicago) is not open to many life-changing encounters, I would think.

That’s just my assumption, but I think there is evidence to support it.

I would venture to guess that Ham feels like he’s already had his life-changing encounter…and doesn’t need any other ones.

And that, by and large, is my biggest beef with that mindset.  It’s the idea that things are “settled.”  So Nye could have shown him anything, said anything, and Ham still wouldn’t budge.  Because his worldview doesn’t allow for that…doesn’t allow for more, better, or different evidence.  It’s not based on evidence.  It’s based on being, and remaining, settled.

And a worldview that is settled is static, not dynamic.

And I think that we, the church, should encourage dynamic worldviews. And we need to be encouraging dynamic faith, too.

Evolution is mysterious.  It’s amazing.  In fact, Nye used “mysterious” multiple times when speaking! It’s how a simple thing becomes complex in structure and, yet, retains some simplicity even amidst it all.  It’s so interesting!

Creationism is static.  “Boom,” it is said, “a fully developed tree with rings and everything.”

It’s…uninteresting to say the least.

One of the common critiques about accepting evolution as an answer to” how things are as they are” is that it erodes “God’s glory” (although I’m unclear of what the critics mean by that phrase).

God’s glory isn’t diminished because God might use a mechanism like evolution to create.  In fact, I think that enhances God’s glory (and by “glory” here I mean God’s “awe-inspiring traits”).

God’s glory is diminished, I think, when we assume God would take the road that we would take…the road of least resistance.

Because, let’s be honest, I often just want things to *poof* be as I’d want.  Creationism is what I would do.  Hopefully God is more inventive than me…more awe-inspiring than me.

This reluctant Christian hopes people don’t think last night was a real debate.  Real debates need to be on the same topic intending to influence people. I would be astounded to hear that anyone changed their mind about creationism or science by hearing it.

You want to know what I think would be a good debate?  The debate between static faith and dynamic worldviews; between static and dynamic faith.  What are the pros and cons between thinking you have it all figured out and continually searching?

Tag, NPR, you’re it.

“Relationship Issues” or “Jesus Doesn’t Want to be My Boyfriend.”

I know…the title.  images

I actually wanted to title this “Jesus Isn’t That Into You” as a play off of the movie…but that would have really brought the hate mail.

So let me start with a disclaimer.

Let me say, unequivocally, that I think Jesus is “into you” (although I think that sounds weird).

But maybe…maybe Jesus isn’t that into you.  Or, at least, not as solely about you as we’ve made it out to be.  Jesus doesn’t want to be my boyfriend.

Let me explain for a second.

In my blog on 5 Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say, I got a lot of push back for #2 on my list, “You just have to do God’s will…”  Specifically for my statement in the subsequent lines where I posit that I’m not convinced that God’s greatest wish is for us to be in relationship with God.

I should have put an asterisk next to that statement because, here’s what I really mean by that: I think that Christianity has adopted a “win souls for Jesus,” “you must invite Jesus into your heart,” “you need to have a personal relationship with Jesus” mentality at the sacrifice of every other type of relationship that God might desire for humanity.

We’ve given up our relationship as stewards of the Earth so that we can build monstrous mega-church compounds on open land to focus on the “Jesus-and-Me” relationship, adopting crazy ideas that perhaps global warming is fake and is God’s plan for the world.

We’ve given up our authentic relationships with others who, perhaps, don’t think the same things we do, because our singular focus is now to try and convert and “win souls for Christ.”

American evangelical Christianity has focused so much on fostering personal relationships with Jesus Christ, most other relationships are left in the dust…

Plus, speaking from a place of honesty, much of the agnostic/marginally Christian world (and a good number of us convicted Christians) finds the super-close-Jesus-is-my-boyfriend talk creepy.

I think we all want to be known; really known.  And I think God knows us; truly knows us.

But when we start talking about Jesus like he’s our lover in the modern sense we really are talking in ways that put people off.

Don’t think we do that?  Consider the song “In the Secret.”  Here are the lyrics:

In the secret, in the quiet place

in the stillness you are there.

In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait

only for you (this part is usually whispered)

Because I want to know you more.

I want to know you,

I want to hear your voice

I want to know you more.

I want to touch you

I want to see your face

I want to know you more.

Creepy, right?

Or what about Hillsong’s “I Surrender” where you sing “have your way in me, Lord”?  I’ve banned that song from my church because I can’t hear that without imagining how someone who has been sexually abused hears it…

I mean, c’mon folks, maybe Jesus isn’t that into us.

I’m all for the talk of having the “heart strangely warmed,” to use a Wesley phrase (and he was reading my boy, Luther, btw).  I’m all for the stirring of the spirit, for soul-stirring that you can’t explain.  I’m Lutheran, a spiritual descendant of the one who kept repeating over and over again, pro me, when it came to Jesus’ promises in Scripture.

“For me.”

It’s personal.  And the opposite can be true.  A lot of places talk so much about God in the abstract, that any sort of relational talk is totally absent.

But I hear less of the latter and more of the former.  It’s good to talk about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but we’ve taken that and run right into the crazy bin.

If that’s all we focus on, the personal…and that’s a lot of what I hear…then, well, I think the boat has been missed, by and large.

When Jesus said “Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself,” I don’t think he imagined we’d stop on the first part as much we have.  Remember, that second part is “like the first.”

I’m all for a relationship with God; the mystic in me can’t do without it. St. Julian spoke of her relationship with Jesus in the most intimate way possible (totally scandalous…everyone should read some St. Julian).  But even from Julian you get the sense that she’s speaking from a “remain in me” kind of way, echoing Jesus from the Gospel of John.

But if it stops there…

No, really…I think a lot of places talk as if it goes on from there, about helping the neighbor, loving people for who they are and where they are in life, but it’s really just about you and Jesus and what you gain from that.

If that’s the case, well, then I’d say you have relationship issues. Maybe it’s good to consider that Jesus might not be that into you…not your boyfriend.

And that singular focus that I hear so much really often makes me a reluctant Christian.

One Thought on God and Suffering

For some reason my entry “5where-is-god-suffering Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say” is getting a lot of traffic again.

And I’m getting a lot of push back because of my thoughts on suffering and “God’s plan.”

So, in an attempt to clarify it all, let me say this:

I will not endorse the notion that it is God’s plan that people get cancer.  I will not endorse the notion that it is part of God’s plan, specific or otherwise, that children die by gunfire.  I will not endorse that Hiroshima was part of God’s big plan.

I cannot do any of these things because I have sat by too many bedsides and buried too many children, even in my short pastorate.

Now, have I seen beauty in death?  Absolutely.  But have I seen senselessness?  Senselessness that goes far beyond any sort of platitude like “God’s wisdom is foolishness” or any other attempt to bend the words of Scripture to make meaning out of the meaningless?

Damn right.

And that’s the thing.  Such theologies that try to put God at the helm of these tragedies or, even worse, try to say that God is a passive bystander, are attempts to make concrete meaning out of meaninglessness.

We all make meaning out of life.  We all do; there’s no escaping it.  I have heard and known people calling their disabilities beautiful tools they use to learn about life.  I have heard people say that the death of their child was instructive for them.

I do not deny that these things are true.

What I deny is that a particular truth was intended to be drawn from them.  What I deny is that a particular truth was in the Divine mind as those tragic events happened.

What I deny is that God is in the dirty pain business.

Now, I think that God has caused me pain; causes me pain. I experience the pain of being wrong all the time (perhaps in this instance, too?).  I experience the pain of having my ego subverted, my best-laid intentions crumbled, my pride blown away, my intellect shattered by a God who speaks a word of grace to me when my greatest desire is for retribution.

But I do not think that God has caused my car accident so that I learn to drive better.  I may thank God for an accident that taught me a life lesson, but I don’t think God was passively watching it.

I think God was in the pit of fear and hell that I was in while going through it.

And that is a theology of the cross that, I think, truly speaks to the crucifixion story and the Good News of God.

The crucifixion story is one that speaks of Jesus’ suffering not as something apart from humanity, but a part of humanity.  I am not one to believe that God caused the crucifixion for some atonement.  I think that when you act and talk like Jesus, you die for it because our power systems (even the power systems that try to make sense out of the senseless) don’t like it.

So, do I think that it is all part of God’s plan that your foot was amputated?  That your brother or sister died in the Iraq war?  That your father has prostate cancer?

No.  I don’t. And we can quibble about philosophical categories for God, and whether God knows all, can do all, is everywhere…all of that.  We can quibble until the end of time, and I don’t think we’ll be any closer to the truth than if we just allowed God to say, “I’m not going to make sense out of senselessness…I’m going to make resurrection.”

Then maybe we can learn to die to our need to make sense of it all, and be resurrected as people who can hold tension well…a tension taught to us by a life that includes suffering, joy, and all in between.

On Why I Will Allow (and Encourage) My Kid(s) to Believe in Santa Claus

Just like the perennial “Waimagesr on Christmas” creeps its Grinch-like head around this time of year, so do the calls for people to abandon Santa Claus, the “Elf on the Shelf,” and other child-pleasing myths that we’ve come to associate with this season.

Apparently because we celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time of year, everything else must come to a halt…lest we overshadow the “reason for the season.”

Well, to be honest, if we’re trying to get back to the “reason for the season” at its roots, we should probably leave Jesus out of the equation, too.  December 25th was not originally known as “Christmas,” and didn’t become so for many years after Christianity had been around.  “The Feast of the Undying Sun” was marked on December 25th, an acknowledgment of the solstice that would now ebb away into increasing daylight.  A nice pagan festival in the dead of winter.

We invited Jesus to the party late.  He wasn’t the original reason for celebrations at this time of year.

Christians now celebrate the “Feast of the Undying Son” (I should trademark that little monicker because I think it’s pretty darn clever), but we should be honest and recognize that it’s not our original festival to claim.  And it certainly wasn’t chosen because it was the date of Jesus’ birth.

Face it, we put the “Christ” in Christmas.  Any attempt to “keep” Christ there are done so because we cemented him there…

But back to Santa and the crazy Elf on the Shelf: I say “do it.”

As a pastor, as a father, as someone who thinks that life is more than water and trace elements forced to eek out an existence, I say “do it.”

As I preached this last Sunday, St. Nicholas can provide a real depth of meaning in this season where we celebrate Jesus’ birth (for Christians) by buying one another a Lexus adorned with a huge bow.

St. Nicholas was known for his giving…not for getting whatever he wanted.  And by keeping St. Nick in this season, we too, can focus our children on the giving of the season, rather than the receiving.

“Keep Christ in Christmas” the bumper sticker reads…on the gas guzzling car.  What about keeping Christ in consumerism? In fact, if you want to eliminate the real issue with this season, it has nothing to do with saying “Happy Holidays” or burning effigies of the jolly fat elf.  It has everything to do with buying and selling and how and why and where we do it.

But I digress.

Even more than the historical St. Nicholas, there is a bit of wonder and awe that is lost from this season if we don’t allow our children (and our adults) to play around in the great mystery that comes from things not being dark forever, from lights that shine out of a tree planted in the living room, from characters that point to good virtues and mischievous glee.

I encourage you to believe in Santa Claus, who is chief giver in a season where our natural inclination is to conserve and save-up to survive the winter.  Likewise, believe in the elf that creates havoc in the middle of the night.  Lord knows we all need another example to follow when our tendency to look out for ourselves butts up against the command to look out for our neighbor’s needs first.  Lord knows we all need a reminder that, though things seem to run havoc in the darkness, a little light can expose the havoc and encourage us to laugh at it all.

Santa and the Elf and the like can encourage our children, and even us, to live deeply in the season, look lightly at ourselves, and look wondrously at life.

The real trouble, I think, happens when we start teaching our children that believing in Santa Claus is analogous to belief in God.  That is the real fear behind inviting these characters into the season: belief and attention to them will point away from “true” belief and attention to Jesus.

But if we start holding Jesus and Santa at the same level, when we teach that belief in the Elf on the Shelf is like belief in God, and that you can’t hold both at the same time, then we do a real disservice.  Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers sing that wonderfully awful song, “I Believe in Santa Claus” where they also claim to believe in magic, in God, and in human destiny…as if it’s all on the same level…and we’ve bought into that perspective.  It doesn’t help the situation.

They are different types of belief.

I don’t trust Santa like I trust God.  Santa is a mental assent I allow myself at certain times with a wink and nod; hopefully a mental assent that points me toward a deeper truth in the world.

But God…I don’t allow myself to mentally assent to God’s existence.  I tried to do that and ended up an atheist for a while.  Rather, I trust God’s existence and lean on it (for more on this line of thinking, see what I wrote here).

Santa, the Elf on the Shelf, it all lends itself to wonder and awe and joy.  I say that you shouldn’t take that away from children.  But also don’t make belief in it all analogous to trust in God.  That’s the real problem with this whole season, I think.  We feel we’re in competition for “belief resources.”

In fact, the God who invites imagination, who inventively sung creation into being (and sung salvation into being through a lullaby), pulls out of me the desire to embrace these traditions.

They’re not harmless; they’re helpful.

And they’re only hurtful when we put them on par with faith.  And sometimes I’m a reluctant Christian because that’s exactly what Christians have done.

So, Findley will be finding some presents from Santa on Christmas morning (and we’ll probably address some from the cats as well even though they don’t have the opposable thumbs needed to wrap presents).  It won’t be the primary focus of our festival, but it’ll be there. And he’ll squeal with joy and, for a moment, feel the wonder in the magic of the season where a jolly fat guy fits down a non-working fireplace and cats wrap presents to give to their owners.

And while we don’t do the Elf on the Shelf thing (mostly because I find the elf’s proportions creepily elongated) if that’s your bag, go for it.

And if Christmas bells deliver your presents, or if Santa rides a donkey, or if gnomes put presents in stockings…all traditions from around the world…allow yourself the wonder and awe to believe that this world might just be a little bigger than we want to make it.

Perhaps you’ll find yourself caught up in joy that points to Joy greater than itself.  Perhaps you’ll figure out why the ancient church put Jesus’ natal day on December 25th.  In the time of darkness, the lightness that comes from such joy is a welcome guest.