Amy and I entrust our two kids for a few hours on most Mondays and Wednesdays to some nice ladies at a large local church. We’re not members of this church, but for all the beauty and brilliance of our particular faith community, we just aren’t big enough to pull off the Mother’s Day Out infrastructure. It’s important to us as a family that Amy gets to be home with our kids most of the time, but the ratio of our various obligations to my capacity-for-generating-income-while-still-doing-something-that-doesn’t-violate-my-conscience-and-allows-me-to-stay-sane requires that Amy, whose capacity-for-generating-income-(insert all those other hyphenated words here) far exceeds mine on a per-hour basis, do her occupational therapist routine for several hours a week. Hence the Mother’s Day Out.
Monday was my last day of living on the borderlands of the "doesn’t-violate-my-conscience-and-allows-me-to-stay-sane" part of my occupational life, and I cut out of the office a little early to pick up my two favorite people under four feet tall. As I pulled out of the church parking lot, I found myself behind the minivan belonging to the woman who was screaming at her kids on the way out of the building. What that view entailed inspired me so much that, as I got the kids ready for school yesterday, I packed the digital camera alongside the bottles of milk, Aiden’s banana-based lunch, and assorted nap paraphernalia in hopes of coming upon this lady and her window sermon again. Guess what:
I have to admit that it took me a minute to piece together this mysterious message. I had heard vague rumblings about a "Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas" controversy brewing between "us and them." Since I seem to identify with the "us" in that equation less and less often, I think I sighed and then tried to avoid all further exposure to that conversation. But here I sat on Monday, stalled at a red light with this screaming lady’s window screaming "Merry CHRISTmas" at me along with some strange art.
At first I thought the slashed target was an anti-gun message. I couldn’t quite figure out why that seemed to go with the Christmas greeting, but I figured it had something to do with all that "peace on earth and goodwill to men" stuff. After a few seconds, I realized that this lady apparently had no use for the latter part of that phrase, and that she was wishing another kind of will on the folks at Target. I immediately assumed that this was related to the aforementioned brouhaha over Christmas and holiday greetings. I’ve since been informed that Wal-Mart is supposed to be the primary object our public scorn, so I’m not sure if this lady just took a wrong turn in the midst of her zealous window paint rampage or if Target has gone secular as well.
Either way, I just do not get this at all. Look, I find the whole PC-run-amok thing completely silly. Someone said that the Times Square Christmas tree is the Times Square Holiday Tree this year, and I think that’s laughable. I’m all for inclusiveness, but Muslims and Jews and atheists don’t have holiday trees. Decorative evergreens in December are Christmas trees. It’s just a word, and it is what is. Christmas trees aren’t oppressing anyone. Maybe we need to go to Festivus poles, feats of strength, and airing of grievances and be done with it.
But far more troublesome to me than any of that is what has apparently become the base impulse of American Christians when faced with anything that doesn’t make them feel like the most important kids in the room — combat. As ace and rk‘s wife have noted in other places and other conversations, this particular battle is even more absurd because of the consumerist syncretism of most of us in the American church. We lost something far more important than "Merry Christmas" a long time ago. Santa Claus and overspending usurped God incarnate and peace on earth well before Wal-Mart lost its religion, and we’ve played right along. To stand up and scream about verbiage now just further distorts what this whole thing is about for the unbelieving around us.
And that’s just one of many unsettling symptoms I see of this instinctive desire so many of us seem to have to fight for Jesus any chance we get. Problem is, I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t want us fighting for him. I think he wants us loving and forgiving and speaking truth. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned – those are things he said we’ll do if we carry his name. Rescuing the persecuted (and no, having your Christmas loot put in bags that say Happy Holidays does not place you among the persecuted), giving life to the dying, and doing Kingdom battle against sin and death – these are worthwhile endeavors for Jesus followers. Seeking power and protection and position…when did the wheels fall so completely off of our spiritual practice that we can even entertain these as legitimate Christian enterprise, much less normalize them as heroic acts of faith?
This is not about sanding the hard edges off Jesus or the Gospel so they go down smooth for the world. Far from it. Frankly, I find the need for institutionalized Christianity far more belittling to Jesus and my belief in his power than any secular agenda or opposition. If Jesus is who he says he is, everything in creation is ultimately subject to his power and authority. By his Spirit he can transform the very core of a human soul without my interference. What in the world makes me think he needs me to subdue the evil Scrooges and Democrats threatening his (our?) hold on the political and profit-making institutions in our culture? If he is King, he is King. Let that alone be our resting place and our agenda. Let’s throw off everything that so easily entangles us and advance his Kingdom by being like him and by no other means.
So, whether you’re Christian or Muslim; Gentile or Jew; Target or Wal-mart:
Peace on Earth…
Goodwill to Men.