Friday, December 29, 2006

Santa's Closets: When Consumerism Collides with Deception

I said I wasn't going to post anything until the new year, but I just cannot help myself; I must publish one more Christmas post. Perusing through the paper while relaxing at my in-laws, children playing in the floor with various assorted and miscellaneous pieces of soon-to-be dumpster fodder, I came across this AP gem: Self-storage Units become "Santa Closets" to Hide Holiday Gifts.

If Americans did not buy their children too much junk at Christmas anyway, now the self-storage industry is more than happy to rent a unit so you can store all the flotsam your kids don't need at a nominal price. I must admit, I was really concerned as to what to address first in this analysis; the obvious consumerism blatantly endorsed or the deception on the part of untrained children.

I'll give the benefit of the doubt here. Some folks may genuinely not have the storage space for some large items while they await the gifting process; the article mentioned the big-screen TV, a recliner, or a bicycle, and for someone living in a condo or apartment that may be a legitimate concern. But to rent a storage unit because of sheer volume of Christmas glee? A close reading of The Gift of the Magi would be beneficial. Christ has definitely taken a back seat to consumerism and greed. People simply relish having lots of stuff, and not just at Christmas.
One in 11 households currently rent a self-storage unit, compared with one in 17 in 1995. Self-storage facility gross revenues for 2005 were about $18.5 billion, according to the Virginia-based Self Storage Association.

"They treasure these items and keep them for a reason, but they don't want them underfoot," said James Overturf, spokesman of Extra Space Storage, which operates more than 425,000 units in the U.S.
Wow. U-Haul sure is making a lot of money to keep our stuff. Nevertheless, the deception eminent is also overwhelming. The fact that parents need to rent a storage unit outside of their home to hide Christmas gifts staggers me. Is deception a virtue to be lauded? I'm not trying to be too judgmental here nor throw cold water on holiday fun, but when I was growing up I didn't snoop for my Christmas fare. That was a sure way to ensure I wouldn't receive it and that the jolly old elf wouldn't slide down my chimney. However, instead of training junior to actually benefit from the virtue of delayed gratification, you can nurture that greedy spirit by renting a Santa Closet.
Missy Phillips knew she had a big problem on her hands when her boyfriend's 18-year-old son ransacked their house looking for the stash of unwrapped Christmas presents.

To keep the nosy teenager from finding the stereo, video games and hunting bow she and her boyfriend bought him, Phillips had to go out of the house ---- and into a self-storage unit ---- to hide the gifts until Christmas Eve.


Terri Sibbett and her husband manage A-A-A Storage in Nashville and recently posted a listing at that asks, "Wanna keep the Christmas gifts away from those sneaky little ones?" It offers to "Hide the toys from the kids. Hide the boat from your husband."
Yet another way to capitalize on greed and deception. Christmas is all about making money anyway, isn't it?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The 12, uh...14 Days of Homeschool

This will be the last post of the year for me. We are going to spend some much-deserved time with family and resting. Hopefully I will post something of substance when I am back January 1st, 2007! I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know all of my blogging friends and I wish the best for you this Christmas season. To all of my regular readers and those not so regular, friends I have made halfway across the world (you know who you are!), and family members who refuse to comment, thank you for taking time out of your schedules to spend time rambling with me.

One of our homeschooling friends emailed this to us and it's hilarious. I do not know the source, so if you do, drop me a note and I'll be glad to update the post. Sing it to the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas! Enjoy!

On the first day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Can you homeschool legally?"

On the second day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the third day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the fourth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "What about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the fifth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "YOU ARE SO STRANGE! What about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the sixth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "How long will you homeschool, YOU ARE S0 STRANGE, what about P.E. , do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the seventh day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE!, what about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, do you homeschool legally?"

On the eighth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Why do you do this, look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE, what about P.E. do you give them tests, are they socialized, do you homeschool legally?"

On the ninth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "They'll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE!, what about P.E. do you give them tests, are they socialized, do you homeschool legally?"

On the tenth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "What about graduation, they'll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE!, what about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the eleventh day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "I could never do that, what about graduation, they'll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE, what about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the twelfth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "Can they go to college, I could never do that, what about graduation, they'll miss the prom, why do you do this, look at what they're missing, how long will you homeschool, YOU ARE SO STRANGE, What about P.E., do you give them tests, are they socialized, can you homeschool legally?"

On the thirteenth day of homeschool I thoughtfully replied: "They Can go to college, yes you can do this, they can have graduation, we don't like the prom, we do it 'cause we like it, they are missing nothing, we'll homeschool forever, WE ARE NOT STRANGE!, we give them P.E., and we give them tests, they are socialized, AND WE HOMESCHOOL LEGALLY!

On the fourteenth day of homeschool my neighbor said to me, "How can I get started, why didn't you tell me, where do I buy curriculum, when is the next conference, WILL PEOPLE THINK WE'RE STRANGE? I think we can do this, if you will help us, can we join P.E. and we'll homeschool legally."

May God bless in 2007!

UPDATE: HT to Jube Dankworth at Texas Home Educators for the citation. Its amazing how things get circulated around the Internet and via email with little or no acknowledgement. Thanks Jube!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Another War on Christmas Volley

There continue to be grenades lobbed into this farcical battle that is the war on Christmas and Streak points us to a moderately genteel approach that spoofs conservative attitude toward the hijacking of "their" holiday.
When I'm not sure, or when I'm addressing a group, I say, "Happy Holidays."

I don't say this to slight Christmas, but to be polite and sensible. Wishing "Merry Christmas" to someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas is like wishing someone "Happy birthday" when his birthday is six months off --- it's not so much rude as it is weird.

At the same time, however, wishing someone "Happy Holidays" when you have good reason to believe that he celebrates Christmas is also weird.

It comes off as prissy, and, intentionally or not, it carries with it the suggestion that you, the speaker, feel "Christmas" is a word that polite people avoid.

This suggestion, in turn, feeds a fear that modern secular culture is out to remove Christ from the winter holiday season one greeting at a time, if necessary.

I get that. I happen to think the fear is baseless. Observing the Nativity remains the overwhelming reason most Americans celebrate at this time of year, and their freedom to do so is vast. But I see how "Happy Holidays" can sound like a cold dismissal of that observance.

At the same time, I see how "Merry Christmas" as a blanket greeting carries with it the suggestion to the non-Christian that those who don't celebrate Christmas are misfits; oddballs whose strange beliefs don't command even a tip of the verbal cap.
The writer of the original story also called for a balance where there isn't any regarding the usage of "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays."
If there's any way to break this absurd logjam in seasonal pleasantries, it lies in each of us making a reassuring effort to use the appropriate greeting with the appropriate people.

Don't assume, but don't chicken out, either. And for goodness' sake, don't take offense when none is intended.
If Christmas really is that time of year when peace on earth and goodwill toward men ought to reign, how about we see a little bit more of that? Personally, I just wish everyone a Merry Christmas; not meaning to offend, but this is one place where I see an appeal to tradition isn't that far off base.

My family has received a plethora of Christmas cards from church members, each one with different greetings on them. Season's Greetings, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas; some have a nativity, some a snowman, and heaven forbid, some have Santa Claus. Christmas has a lot of trappings associated with it and many, try as we might, we cannot avoid. But steps can be taken in the general direction. There are a lot of things I like about Christmastime, a lot of things I utterly despise.

But if Santa really does plan on riding this year, perhaps he could bring each of us a generous dose of humility, a moderate splash of tolerance, and a smattering of reason and common sense.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

An Atheist Wishes Everyone "Merry Christmas!"

In the last post, I asserted that this "war on Christmas" is a fabrication; the next logical question is what end does the fabrication serve? I think atheist Richard Dawkins provides the answer. If you are not familiar with Dr. Dawkins, he is an evolutionary biologist, rational apologist, and atheist evangelist from Oxford University. His recent book, The God Delusion, has caused quite a stir in the evangelical community.

If there was a war on Christmas, evangelicals lost the battle before it even started. It is my conjecture that the war is a fabrication because essentially evangelical Christianity is wholly missing the point regarding the Christmas season. In order to reclaim some kind of spiritual relevance back to the holiday, the war was invented to perpetuate the claim that somehow evangelicals are being robbed of the holiday's significance. If Christmas has been divested of its meaning, it is not because the secularists and non-believers jerked the rug out from under the evangelical conception of the holiday; it is the greedy materialism, lavish programs, and consumer mentality driving it, which Christians shamelessly promote.

Richard Dawkins, in a statement about his own Christmas philosophy, made the implicit, provocative claim that Christians are at fault for the American misunderstanding regarding the holiday.
“But of course [Christmas] has long since ceased to be a religious festival. I participate for family reasons, with a reluctance that owes more to aesthetics than atheistics. I detest Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the obscene spending bonanza that nowadays seems to occupy not just December, but November and much of October, too.”

He added: “So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as happy holiday season. In the same way as many of my friends call themselves Jewish atheists, I acknowledge that I come from Christian cultural roots. I am a post-Christian atheist. So, understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”
There is truth in the atheist's words. I share the article's author, Randy Kennedy's sentiment regarding Dr. Dawkins statement and the "war":
Such obliging feelings toward Christmas will undoubtedly serve as another piece of evidence for those like Mr. O’Reilly and conservative Christians who feel that the holiday has been hijacked — so much so that even atheists are now comfortable getting into the spirit. But to listen to Mr. [Sam] Harris and other nonbelieving Christmas celebrators, you sometimes get the feeling that their accommodation stems from the fact that Christmas — no matter how religious it still is or is not — has become such a juggernaut that it is simply impossible to ignore entirely. So why not grin, bear it and have yourself a double eggnog?
Unfortunately that is the way most conservatives will interpret Dr. Dawkins correct prophetic pronouncement and will regrettably fail to see the handwriting on the wall. Christmas is certainly a juggernaut; Americans typically spend $6 billion dollars a year on the season's greetings. Is Jesus the reason for the season? I am beginning to question the legitimacy of the holiday myself.

Frankly, the evangelical community gives too much fodder to its critics. The total lack of sincerity is what motivates men like Dr. Dawkins to strongly criticize Christianity. I respect Dr. Dawkins, and though I do not agree with his position, at least he is sincere in his beliefs.

The irony of the war on Christmas is that we are fighting ourselves.

(HT: Nephos)

Monday, December 18, 2006

More on the War on Christmas...Now I've Seen Everything!

I think Nancy Reagan is owed an apology for this one. If this does not convince conservatives that the war on Christmas is nothing more than political and marketing rhetoric, then nothing else will. The OPERATION: JUST SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS website states that it "is a campaign designed to encourage Christians nationwide and around the world to PROUDLY proclaim The Christ Child as the center of the Christmas Season once again."

For only $2.00 apiece (plus S & H) you can pick up one of these novel little bracelets and show those secularists and liberals that are trying to steal Christmas right out from under our noses that YOU MEAN BUSINESS.

This is nothing more than a cheap marketing ploy, borne of manipulation, aimed at inattentive and gullible Christians caught up in the irrelevant.
Their website makes that patently clear:
"The enemies of Christmas have succeeded in making Christians feel as if we are bad and intolerant to wish someone a "Merry Christmas". This is political correctness run amok. We have reached an all time low point in our nation's history when human sensibilities are elevated above offending Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. People are telling us they cannot find appropriate Christmas cards, nativity sets, etc. It is long past the time for Christians to stand firm in our faith."
Forgive me, but I think standing firm in our faith is a bit more than wearing a cheap bracelet. If Christ is not the center of the Christmas season, somehow I think the overt focus on materialism, greed, and sensationalism thrust Him out of the limelight. Political correctness has had nothing to do with it.

And if you aren't satisfied with just the bracelet, you can get the Just Say "Merry Christmas" ornament to proudly display on your holiday tree.

Yep. I've seen everything.

(HT: wasp jerky)

As an aside, blogging buddy Les Puryear out at Crucified with Christ is taking a blogging hiatus for the remainder of 2006. God bless you, my friend. Drop by and see his final post of the year, a picture of a real manger, possibly similar to the one Christ lay in that wonderful night so long ago.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The War on Christmas...The Saga Continues

Dr. Jerry Falwell said it; I believe it; that settles it.


What will it take for conservative evangelicals to stop taking this man's words at face value and start dissecting what he is saying?

In Dr. Falwell's latest wartime dispatch from the Moral Majority headquarters in Lynchburg, VA he is yet again espousing that there is a war on Christmas. Frankly, I am getting just a tad confused on this whole issue because no one else seems to think that there really is a war on Christmas except Dr. Falwell, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and...well, that's about it.

Yet Dr. Falwell seems to continue to engender fear and aggravation in the heart's of God's people over a non-issue. No one has kept Christians from doing anything this Christmas. No one has barricaded the door to the church I serve, no one has kept any church from performing their living Christmas trees, there have been numerous ads in the local papers inviting folks to living nativities (my family and I attended one this evening and there was no armed militia), and there was a manger scene in the local Christmas parade this year.

If there is a war, the battle has yet to have been waged here in our part of the state. Dr. Falwell's evidence is confusing because he is assuming that "secularists" and non-believers should act differently than their nature implies they should. This quote is fascinating:
This week, Alan Colmes, co-host of the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity and Colmes,” attempted to convince my buddy Franklin Graham that this war did not exist. Thankfully, Franklin shrewdly countered this notion by noting that there is indeed an accelerating effort by secularists in America to annihilate expressions of Christmas and Christianity.
Note the effort is by secularists. Did not Jesus Himself say that in this world we will have trouble? Frankly I am glad that this war on Christmas is really all Christians have to deal with. Note the tender touch of sorrow in Dr. Falwell's sentiment in this quote:
Meanwhile, people across America continue to be harassed because of their faith.
Just harassed? What about Christians across the world who cannot openly practice their faith? There are Christians in China, Korea, and in the Sudan who would love to have a fraction of the freedom we have in America. My blog friend Streak sums up this fallacious thinking quite nicely.
Christians had enjoyed a false sense of ownership of the public square for much of our history. Of course, they belong in the public square, but just as conservatives do not own the flag, Christians do not own our public square, and that is how conservatives are acting now that others want in. Nothing, of course, is stopping any conservative (or liberal) Christian from participating in Christmas as a form of worship. Not one thing; nothing stopping them from having Christmas services, Festivals, Parties, huge, lavish programs, etc.

Just some people suggesting that in the public square, the rest of us--liberal Christians, non-Christians, etc.,--have just as much right.
Dr. Falwell was disparaging CBS because they ran an episode of a sitcom "Two and a Half Men," which I have never watched nor intend to, where the lead character, played by actor Charlie Sheen in Dr. Falwell's words, turns the beloved Christmas hymn Joy to the World into a "sex romp." I'll admit, this inspires in me the same frustration as it does Dr. Falwell, but like it or not, CBS and Charlie Sheen have the right to do it.

If I infringe on their rights just because I don't like it, then I invite the same infringement upon my rights as an American citizen. Whatever happened to America as the great "melting pot?" I misunderstand how Christians are mistreated in America. If we are it is by devices of our own making, not by the "efforts of the secularists in America." Dr. Falwell always falls back on arguments like this instead of hard factual evidence:
Further, imagine CBS reworking the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King or a portion of the Koran with a character proclaiming he will soon be having a sexual romp.
Here is my conjecture, for whatever it is worth, on the zealous right-wing view about this war on Christmas. Is it possible because of the belligerence of such radicals as Dr. Falwell, that the "media" turns conservative Christianity into a parody and they invite the network moguls to work such abominations into their scripts? You have to admit, conservative Christianity can be an easy target, primarily for its lack of sincerity. Therefore, conservative Christians must fall back on a fabrication such as the war on Christmas to turn the attention back to the "secularists" and fail to take responsibility for their own shallow behavior.

Dr. Falwell concludes his dispatch with these disheartening words.
No War on Christmas? You’d have to be “the Grinch” himself not to see it. There is indeed such a war and Christians are in the cross hairs. We must continue to stand up for our rights, my friends. If we don’t, it is readily apparent that they will be quickly eradicated.
Somehow, this looks like putting the cart before the horse. If there genuinely is a war on Christmas, can we as Christians really expect secularists and non-believers to treat Christmas with the respect and admiration that it deserves given that we have offered them no better? Why would we want them to celebrate this holiday with us when what we offer really looks no more than defection to the enemy?

So, to Bill, Sean, Jerry, and all those other Christmas culture warriors who want to battle on behalf of us Christians: thanks, but no thanks. I won't be joining you in the foxhole. You have all gone
the way of the proselytizer, the moralist. We already have a Savior, and you are not Him. And until He comes again (we are in Advent after all), would you please practice enough decorum not to foul things up any further?

Oh—and happy holidays!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thou Shalt Have A Quiet Time

Through seminary, I was successfully indoctrinated that a quiet time or personal devotional time was mandatory in the life of a committed Christian. It is supposed to be a concerted, consistent time of prayer and Bible reading, reflection, and meditation. It should at times be accompanied with singing and other means of worship. One professor's mantra regarding the personal devotional time was, "If you don't do it here, then you won't do it there." Another professor quipped, "A quiet time is quite a time."

Most professors, chapel addresses, and other seminary students loudly proclaimed the sinfulness of failing to have a daily quiet time. I would often be asked by my well-meaning seminary brothers, apparently trying to hold me accountable, "Brother, did you have your quiet time today?" May God have mercy on your soul if you slept late that morning.
Nevertheless, Chris Ortiz out at The Chalcedon Foundation, blogging on an interesting perspective by Martin Selbrede on this issue, makes a provocative claim.
I thought I'd look up some representative claims regarding a personal quiet time and see if anybody--anywhere--supported the notion with anything other than what I said they were using (to wit, making a weak, out-of-context inference from a verse concerning Jesus praying away from the crowds that pressed on Him). None of the sources provide a single command in Scripture concerning the doctrine of a personal quiet time. The Great Commission says we are to teach the nations "all things whatsoever I have commanded." Where God did not command, we have no imperative to teach (especially to teach something as a binding obligation!). Teaching the necessity for a personal quiet time is to teaching something that God has not commanded (since no command in Scripture concerning it exists -- anywhere).
Frankly, I have toyed with the notion of whether or not a personal quiet time is an absolute spiritual necessity. To oppose the practice or even question the legitimacy of it invites rancor of the cruelest sort, that "you just aren't spiritual." Does failure to have a daily quiet time equate to the most abominable sin and does having a quiet time make you more obedient?

Often, in my counseling with other Christians, I use the daily devotional time as a litmus test for that person's spirituality, and I wonder if it is such an effective barometer anymore. What about obedience? Faith? Serving others? Confrontation of personal sin?

Ortiz makes a broad, sweeping assertion that the quiet time is not commanded anywhere in Scripture, nor does Christ really give Christians an example to follow. He cites Mark 1:35 and its parallel, Luke 5:16, and refutes that these verses teach a quiet time.
The text does NOT teach us that Jesus had a quiet time, and He certainly did NOT have a quiet time in the sense that people would, because He didn't lack for intimacy with the Father ("I and the Father are One"), and He elsewhere states (John 11) that His open prayers are for the benefit of those around them hearing His words, and not for His own benefit at all.
Ortiz also quotes from, interestingly, an article from the Southern Baptist Conservatives of VA, A Personal Quiet Time with God:
"[The article] provides a similar inferential scripture (not a command or instruction) when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Jesus went alone to be with His Father (Matthew 26:36), and so should we." There are several surprising things about this citation. Jesus's time with His Father was anything but quiet (He sweated blood and cried out to God in anguish), it wasn't private (a stone's throw from his disciples was about 20 yards so they could hear Him)..."
The events of the Garden of Gethsemane are nothing but proof-texts to give credence to, as Ortiz points out, an unsupported doctrine.

However, Ortiz's article is far from comprehensive. The one Scripture that popped into my mind that was totally avoided in the article was Matthew 6:6.
But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
It is surprising that Ortiz overlooked this passage of Scripture, because this is typically the verse that I have often heard quoted in defense of a personal devotional time. It is easy to see how one could extrapolate having a quiet time from this passage because Christ is teaching in contrast to the way the hypocrites pray, standing in the synagogues, babbling so as to be heard by all and have their apparent spirituality "approved" by passers-by. So, having a quiet time may not be unbiblical, it certainly could be classified as extra-biblical.

Ortiz cites several sources that offer Scripture-less defenses for maintaining a quiet time, and I confess my evidence is purely anecdotal. Nevertheless, it seems that Ortiz may be simply parsing words or jumping through semantic hoops to decry this spiritual discipline. As Ortiz notes, we are commanded in Scripture to pray and study the Word, but the modern notion of a quiet time is not commanded...or is it?


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Merry Christmas...Yeah, Right

It is difficult to hide my sarcasm and utter disdain, but this is the most transparently self-serving piece of promotional journalism I have seen in a very long time. In light of my Monday post on the "war" on Christmas, Baptist Press had this quaint little diddy come out yesterday that is a caricature of the scam that is the war on Christmas: LifeWay Stores point to Jesus amid Christmas season bustle. As you run around looking for another gift for another relative who doesn't need another gift from another relative, just don't forget that Jesus is the reason for the season.
With tight budgets, overwhelming schedules, frustrating traffic and politically correct retailers replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays," LifeWay Christian Stores is aiming to put the focus of Christ back into Christmas shopping.
As I pointed out Monday, the replacement of "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" is nothing less than a red herring to divert the attention of a harried shopper from the real issue, which is selfish greed dipping into their inattentive pockets. It is a nauseating attempt to divest Christians of their pocketbooks, laced with the supposed nobility of shopping at LifeWay because they really have put Christ back into Christmas shopping. Richard Mencer, manager of a LifeWay store in Texas, has some not so salient advice.
"As in everything, pray before you shop," Mencer suggested. "Ask God for direction on what to buy and for guidance in your shopping."
Don't forget to pray, but make sure you pray and shop. While you are praying don't forget to lift up LifeWay's burgeoning bottom line. If rampant commercialism does not convince the frenzied Christian shopper of LifeWay's true motivation, then maybe the hypocrisy of saying we don't focus on materialism at Christmas will.
Whether ministering to customers in the store or helping shoppers select gifts with a spiritual emphasis, LifeWay employees see the potential for eternal impact in Christmas shopping and giving in addition to increased opportunities to witness and encourage customers.
The self-centered, self-seeking, worldly focus of this article detracts from the true meaning of Christmas. As we become familiar with the truth, it becomes so commonplace to us that we become desensitized to pathetic attempts such as this to espouse the Scriptural commands of giving and helping the poor. Minister to LifeWay customers, ensuring they have a pleasant shopping experience, but what about those little kids who will not have a Christmas this year? It seems to me that LifeWay could have an even greater impact on eternity if they would broaden their target shopping base.

Just the other day in Belk's, I was buying a white shirt for my wife. A lady, wearing a "Jesus is the reason for the season" lapel pin, cut in front of me at the check-out line, without even a backward glance.
Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4

Monday, December 11, 2006

Is There a War on Christmas?

I about dropped my teeth going into Wal-Mart this evening. The greeter, as she plastered my oldest daughter with a yellow smiley, exclaimed, "Merry Christmas!" I nearly shot back, "Are you serious?" However, reason and common sense got the better of me, and I began to rethink this whole "battle for Christmas" thing.

Really, where did it begin? I have a hard time believing that anyone really has it out for Christmas, no matter how much John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly think they need to save us from...whatever it is they think they need to save us from. Could it be more so about pandering after weak-kneed, sallow Christians and a blossoming bottom line rather than ensuring the cashiers and greeters cannot say "Merry Christmas?" I have my sincerest suspicions.

As you bring in the season, you also bring in the doom-sayers that writing X-mas instead of Christmas just strikes Jesus right out of Christmas and the indignation against nativity scenes on public property and that Frosty and Rudolph are more prudent than Joseph and Mary, are all mixed with collective vexation, anemic theology, and inaccurate history.

Given that I have just enough theological training to make me dangerous and inhospitable as this writer, I am going to lob a few grenades of my own into this battle. Mark Douglas, an ethicist at Columbia Theological Seminary, offered these reasons in an editorial. I offer a few comments and expansion upon it.

Has it ever occurred to anyone that this really is not the Christmas season??? The season we are in right now is Advent. It is that time of earnest expectation of the arrival of the Savior. It is a time of anticipation and quiet solitude, not the frenetic, chaotic, madness that normally characterizes the shopping centers. Christmas actually begins on Christmas Day and continues for the next twelve days (hence the song).

Why do we understand Christmas as coming before rather than after Christmas Day? Is it maybe because the retail industry wants us to believe that? That is where the money is. So last year when retailers turned to the less religious greetings and Target banned the Salvation Army, they took it in the gut, obliterating not just their pride, but also their bottom lines.

So, at least a return to "Merry Christmas" is not quite so obviously self-serving.

A second point: why is the use of "Happy Holidays" patently offensive to some? If Jesus is really the reason for the season, and Christ came not just to redeem human beings from their lost condition, but to redeem also all creation (Romans 8:19), which would include the setting apart of ourselves unto God (holiness) and the redemption of even time itself, would then redemption have something to do with making all that is redeemed holy? And, if the word holiday is simply a westernization of "holy day," is not every day then in the life of a Christian a "holy day?" So then "Happy Holidays" ought to be perfectly acceptable; Mark Douglas concludes, "'Happy Holidays' is always an appropriate greeting for those wishing to court Christians (or at least their wallets)."

Finally, if all these battles are to put Christ back into Christmas (Did He ever leave to begin with?), I sincerely doubt that manipulating retailers, decrying majority rule, or even giving Bill O'Reilly a fair hearing will do it. It will come much in the same way that it happened some 2,000 years ago; nothing less than a stupendous, fantastic miracle of an Almighty God. And when Jesus came the first time, it had nothing to do with retail frenzies, vacuous legalities, and innocuous media banter. He came preaching the Gospel to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, proclaiming liberty to the captives, and healing to the brokenhearted. That is what Advent should engender in us.

The season of Advent--a time of patient anticipation; not frenzied folly.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Compassionate Conservatism: An Oxymoron?

Our little Podunk Paper has knocked it out of the park once again. They carried an AP article that really ought to make Baptists stand up and take notice. The article, Methodists Overlook Differences to Join Mixed-faith Union, chronicled clearly how folks of different denominational stripes can indeed work together to make substantive differences in the lives of underprivileged people.

Though the title carries with it an obvious fear factor for Baptists, there was neither compromise nor true ecumenism going on. A grey haze generally settles over Baptists when there is talk about working with anyone of another denomination for fear of compromising theology. Though I will not concede that theology is unimportant, I can work with other folks with whom my theological opinions vary to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than myself. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 clearly articulates this stance in Article XV, The Christian and the Social Order:
In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.
However, Baptists are often seen on the wrong side of adequately addressing social issues such as poverty and immigration rights, or at least go about it the wrong way. In a recent Baptist Press article, Kelly Boggs wrote about the strides Baptists are taking to change the world's opinion on their stances of meeting the needs of the disadvantaged. His article was well-written and thought-provoking yet it was also using conservatives' new-found goodwill as a cudgel against liberals.
“I don’t know any conservatives that are opposed to helping the poor,” I replied. “We just disagree with liberals on what is the best way to provide assistance to those in need.”

Over the next several minutes I explained that of all of the conservatives that I know, while they want to help those less fortunate than themselves, they do not believe government was the best vehicle to get the job done.

When it comes to government-run programs, I said, there seems to be a tremendous amount of waste. Not only that, but there is virtually no accountability. At best, most government programs are only placing a Band-Aid on the problem and, at worst, are only perpetuating the plight of the poor.

“An old adage states, ‘Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for life,'" I told the reporter. “The conservatives that I know want to teach people how to fish.”

The reporter’s perception of conservatives, specifically religious conservatives, as callous and uncaring toward the poor has been perpetuated by liberal politicians and their willing accomplices in the left-leaning media.
I don't know if the veracity of the last statement, a broad generalization at best, could be proven, but could it be proven by conservative churches' responses toward the poor in their own communities; some raw, empirical data? Would the perception not be there if conservatives in some way had not instigated it? Besides the areas of missions and evangelism, there is no other area in the ministries of the church a wider gap in what is said and in what is done (James 2:18) than in the area of helping the poor.

Granted, we may work at the food bank, soup kitchen, or clothes closet once a quarter; even receive a love offering for world hunger. But do our responsibilities end there? Consider this brief smattering of verses:
Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard. Proverbs 21:13

For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. Mark 14:7

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just. Luke 14:13-14

They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do. Galatians 2:10

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble...James 1:27

Are there any Baptist churches that are really exploring ways and means to address these things that were very near to the heart of the Savior? Upon reading the AP article, Baptists were noticeably absent and the opening sentences of the article explain why:
Virginia religious leaders are setting aside philosophical differences to form a four-denomination union they say will help them more effectively lobby social causes like poverty and immigrant rights.

Leaders with the Virginia Conference United Methodist Church this weekend signed onto LARC, a union previously limited to Virginia's Lutheran, Anglican (or Episcopalian) and Catholic denominations.

The resulting LARCUM-Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist Churches in Covenant-will promote dialogue between the faiths, which often have clashed on touchy subjects like gay marriage and women in the ministry, explained the Rev. James Parke, with the LARCUM planning committee.
Baptists notoriously have a difficult time setting anything aside and typically rail whenever gay marriage and women in the ministry are mentioned. However, allow me to draw a parallel from the BP article. The heart of Kelly Boggs' BP article arose out of an interview with a newspaper reporter about the issue of homosexuality.
A couple of years ago I was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter on the subject of “gay marriage.” Somewhere in the midst of our conversation the discussion turned and the reporter said, “You have to admit that there are places in the Bible where Jesus comes across more like a tax and spend liberal who really wants to help the poor rather than a conservative who wants the disadvantaged to help themselves.”
I could be making a false extrapolation and I am willing to admit it if I am. But since when does working with others in matters of goodwill constitute an abandonment of theological belief or doctrinal compromise? Dan Edelen is one of my favorite Godbloggers and in a December 6th post, where he addressed Christians' fascination with ____ & Violence, he draws an interesting parallel between evangelicals' outspokenness regarding sexual sin and the deafening silence that accompanies social issues.
Curiously, when you look at major political talking points in Evangelicalism, sex appears at the core of almost every ballot initiative, signature collection, and protest. Major hot-buttons like abortion, homosexual marriage, sex education, and abstinence promotion all have sex at the center. Meanwhile, we seem mum on the environment, fighting injustice, advocating for the disadvantaged, and so on.
There are places where I differ theologically from other denominations. There is a a Grand Canyon-like difference in my views of the Bible from my liberal friends, but they are still exactly that; friends. In the AP article, there was no obvious compromises regarding orthodoxy or even orthopraxy. Rather, there was a common sense approach to tackling some major issues and consent that compassion transcends denominational lines.
Despite their differences, [Bishop] Kammerer said places where the denominations agree offer the chance for cooperation.

"The issues of women's ordainment (and) the issues of priesthood of all believers have not prevented us from sitting at the same table," said Kammerer, who thought leaders could work together on some things without compromising on others. "On many social issues, we can speak with one voice."
Denominations are going to bump heads over biblical interpretation, homosexuality, and abortion. They should. There would not be denominations if they didn't. In spite of these differences, our communities can and should be improved by our churches working together on those issues where we find common ground. Perhaps then "compassionate conservatism" will not be regarded as such an oxymoron.


All Scripture taken from the NKJV.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I've Got My Eyes Peeled...

I just discovered today that Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas has his sights set on the 2008 Republican nomination for the presidency. After the embarrassing defeats of George Allen and Rick Santorum, Sen. Brownback is the obvious choice, given the platform upon which he plans to run. Speaking in "Christian-ese" in an interview on Right Wing News, he outlined a strategy as follows:
John Hawkins: If someone came up to you and said, “Sam Brownback, pick any three pieces of legislation you want, anything you want, to get them passed, what would they be?

Sam Brownback: My first would be on the life issue. We’d be getting legislation to protect young human life in the womb and from being researched on.

The second one, given the nature and the time that we’re in right now, would probably be that deficit reduction deal...that I mentioned to you. As to the rest of government we do need to get this budget balanced and get it centered back to where we need to get it.

And then there would probably be the decency legislation that’s pending now, increasing fines toward Hollywood, really trying to send a message into the culture that we need to clean up the culture.

I want to take back that one. I’d probably do a piece of immigration legislation instead of a decency one. I think that’s just a more important area -- the immigration. So it’d be a life, deficit reduction bill, and immigration.
However you spin it, he knows exactly what to say to get the religious right to listen. Of course, you have to throw in the abortion issue, not that I am not against abortion, I am more for the issue to be looked at a little more realistically. Possibly Brownback will do that.

You cannot be considered a credible politician if you don't say something about deficit reduction, so I'll give him that one, but the foible on decency legislation in Hollywood; that is laughable. That was purely to play to conservatives, because Hollywood is to blame for all the sin in America, right?

And the immigration legislation has been Dr. Richard Land's and the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's pet peeve for a long time. The article does not tell specifically what Sen. Brownback's position on the issue is; it will be interesting to see where it all leads.

pastordan at The Street Prophets wryly commented, "That giant sigh of relief you just heard came from James Dobson's office in Colorado Springs." Phew!


Monday, December 04, 2006

Pistol Packing Preacher Goes Down in Mayberry

Often when my creativity is at a standstill something likes this comes up to fill the void. You just cannot make this stuff up. According to a Friday, December 1st AP report, via The Christian Post, a North Carolina pastor brandished a gun as part of his sermon. What the membership of Victory Baptist Church did not know was that their pastor was convicted of drug trafficking and firearm possession in 1990.
MOUNT AIRY, N.C. (AP) - The pastor of a Mount Airy church accused of brandishing a gun as part of his sermon is free on bond after being charged with possession of a firearm by a felon.

Jerry Wayne "Dusty" Whitaker, 58, of Mount Airy, was convicted in Virginia in 1990 of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm during drug trafficking.

Members of Whitaker's Victory Baptist Church say they had no knowledge of his criminal background. Whitaker told them he was a retired Virginia state police officer and a retired U.S. marshal who was injured in the line of duty, said Garry Scearce, trustee chairman at Victory Baptist.

Whitaker denies ever telling anyone he was a marshal, but said he worked as a police officer for six years in Montgomery County, Va.


Whitaker was arrested during church services Sunday. He was released Monday after posting a $20,000 bond.
The Street Prophets asked an appropriate question, "Do Baptists ever get tired of reading this kind of story about their pastors?"

Yes. We do. Or at least I do. Somehow the humor gets lost on me and I just don't laugh anymore.

Consider this story I posted a couple of days ago about another NC pastor using the church credit card to buy improprieties, as well as this one from a few months ago about a pastor using a church's credit card to pay personal bills. The rub there is he had resigned from that church over a year earlier.

It is too much the norm reading these kinds of stories in the news. Considering the preacher from Mt. Airy, it is wise and prudent that all search committees do a comprehensive background check on all prosepective pastors and staff; not to mention nursery and children's department workers (even the lay people). It is a sad commentary on our culture and religious environment that this is a necessity, but might I reiterate this sentence from the AP article: "Members of Whitaker's Victory Baptist Church say they had no knowledge of his criminal background."
Can churches afford such oversight? The legal repercussions are too high.