Wednesday, November 5, 2014
The Liberal Church Needs Christmas
According to my FB feed I should already be getting myself into my annual state of XMas rage. I should be mad at Fox News for their pretend "War on Christmas" (I am). I should be angry at retailers being open on Thanksgiving (I am). I should be annoyed about the general commercialism of "the Holidays" (of course I am). I should also point out that it isn't really that important a holiday in the Christian calendar anyway (duh...obviously). Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday in the world. Ever. Easter comes in second. I so get it. This run of holidays beginning with Halloween, reaching its peak with XMas and coasting to a stop around New Year's (for the unchurched) and Epiphany (for the rest of us) is a bit of a chore. It's all about hype and money and whatnot.
However--ministers--could I just direct you to something important? For many of the people in your community (not necessarily your congregation, but the community at large) this is the only time they think about all those things we think about the rest of the year. I mean in a focused way. This means while we are grinching our way along, we are getting killed by the secular culture and the religious right. They speak the language that others speak rather than speaking thier own language slowly, expecting folks to understand.
The season starts (as I mentioned) on Halloween when we think about fear and death. Then there is Thanksgiving which is about gratitude, family and so on. Then there is XMas which is about presents (if you let it be) or about something so much more. That "something" though, is hard to articulate if we don't think about it until it is upon us. You know those fellow humans who aren't darkening your doors on Sunday; the ones at sports, the ones at work, the ones with the New York Times who think they are just a bit too cool for school? Something happens to them this time of year. They feel an urge that they cannot quite place.
Now, we might call this urge the "movement of the Spirit," or "God," or "The Divine," or "The Great Whatever". They call it "Christmas Spirit". That is their word. It is what they have and they want to know more. That is why they suddenly show up around this time of year. To reach them we have to speak the language they know, not beat them about the head and shoulders with our purity. Then, if we can do speak in a way that respects their humanity, we can broaden their vocabulary. We can talk about the Jesus of Faith, Hope, Peace, and Love. We can talk about Justice and all those good things that they may think about, but don't get to think about systematically the rest of the year. Maybe they might even like church and visit us again.
This is important, grouchy pastors. We are being tuned out because we often speak a language of arrogance and exceptionalism. We correct people. We judge them. They are trying to get some of what we say we have and instead of support or direction they are getting guff. They aren't shopping the right way. They like to listen to carols in November. Their turkey isn't organically fed love maggots and tickled to death. That is what they hear, anyway, and we are paying the price. In our churches we pay. In our nation we pay. Since some of us woke up this morning to find a post-election disaster, I think it is clear that the message that we declare from our pulpits isn't getting too far out our doors. If you do not meet people where they are, they won't listen to you.
What I am NOT suggesting here is that we join the throng at Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving night! What I do suggest is that we take a moment to think about how we can--using the "pulpits" that are least ignored during this time--provide some counter-mojo that affirms those seekers we are turning off. I am serious. "God" to many people means getting to buy stuff and say "Merry Christmas" to whoever you darn well please. It is a way to channel our anger into what should be a happy and glorious occasion. Seems pretty shallow to me. We offer a deeper God, one that calls us to serve something greater than ourselves. How do we get that message through? How do we get people to listen? Probably not by yelling.
Anyway, I have already begun planning for the holidays. Since I see it as a single piece with many "movements", I started October 1 getting ready for Halloween. I will try to share stuff with you if I find something that makes sense. Worship planning is a great place to start. After all, this is the time when you never know who might go to church...
Here are my past "shopping tips". One thing that might help (I have usually failed) is to clear the deck of this sort of obligation so you can focus on the spiritual work at hand during Advent. Which to say, you can actually spend time being religious, yourself.
The Ukulele Buyers' Guide Part I and Part II
And the "Ethical Shopping" post of many years ago... Part I and Part II