Whose Christmas? December 22, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Christmas, Identity & Purpose, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Values
I had an interesting encounter at my favorite coffee shop (Beans ‘n’ Cream, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin — greatest people in the world…) last week. One of the regulars made the following observation, which led to a spirited conversation — “Christmas would be so much more enjoyable if all the religious people would just leave it alone.” On the surface, this is a ridiculous statement, but he made the following points to his argument — some of which make a lot of sense:
- the cultural experience of Christmas has overshadowed any religious intent
- we celebrate more Pagan aspects of the season than Christian, but even the intent of Pagan religion has been displaced and destroyed
- more Christians shop, cook, bake, decorate, drink and travel than go to church
- more money is spent on materialistic gift giving than are donated through our churches to help those in need
- Santa is more important to more people than Jesus
- the church has bought into the pageantry of Christmas and doesn’t even know/tell its own story with any integrity anymore
- Culturally, Christmas has become a time of stress, discord, depression and division more than a time of peace on earth and goodwill to humankind
- Secular celebration has nothing to do with the story of the Nativity — many people don’t even know what Christianity has to do with Christmas.
Manipunativity December 16, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Devotional Reflection, Seeker spirituality.
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Spiritual seekers
I can quite honestly say I am having a “cognitive dissonance Advent”. Late in November I received a monograph from two graduate students for review and comments. One of the most intriguing aspects of the monograph is that its authors are young females — one Israeli and one Palestinian. Their subject is an examination of the poor in first century B.C.E. Palestine (drawing mainly from sources written 60 – 2 B.C.E.), primarily in urban settings, but with rich detail comparison to rural life. It is slow going because I have been asked to do some source checking, and I find the work both well-researched and exhaustively documented. The problem with it is that it is challenging all of my 20th-21st century dearly held beliefs about the birth of Jesus! Our wonderfully crafted modern mythologizing transforms the accounts from Matthew and Luke into a pageant — grand, noble, inspiring, but also sterilized, palatable, and comfy.
Picture Mary. What images come to mind? The “wise” men? The shepherds? The stable and manger? The immaculately clean, well-behaved, reverent animals in western style stalls? The star in the sky? Joseph? The mean old inn-keeper? In its simplicity it is a sweet, gentle, kind, lovely story. Just the kind we love — don’t nobody mess it up! If you don’t want it messed with, stop reading. No, seriously, you won’t care for the rest of this blog. I mean it. Step away from the blog.
The Story of Yuletide Carol December 19, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Advent, Christmas
In every town, in every time, there are those rare individuals who become part of the “local color.” If they are wealthy, they are labeled eccentric. If they are poor, they are simply “crazy.” Outsiders see these people and marvel. Townies hardly notice them – they become part of the fabric – odd threads that give special texture to the whole piece. One woman – Yuletide Carol to the residents of Muncie, Indiana – was such a thread.
Growing up, I was ever aware of the troll-like woman who wandered the downtown streets of Muncie. I cannot recall the first time I ever saw her, but it was not until she died that I even learned her true name. Yuletide Carol just was. She waddled the streets spring, summer, fall, and winter bawling Christmas songs at the top of her lungs. Remarkably, her voice was not awful, and she had the uncanny ability to recall dozens of songs in their entirety. Dressed in a worn wool coat – regardless of the weather – Yuletide Carol would wobble, weeble-like, waddling along the sidewalks. A raspberry colored babushka encircled her jack-o-lantern face – squinted eyes, vegetable-lump nose, picket-fence grin, and potato-shaped, warted chin. She stood all of five-foot tall, but was a yard wide. Tree trunk legs propelled her on her way. Amazingly, most people in town didn’t even see her, so familiar a sight did she provide.
Christmas C.S.I. December 13, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Christmas, Integrity, The Bible.
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Communication
My posts of the past two weeks have generated some fun and interesting discussions around Christmas. While I am not a fan of the “war on Christmas” rhetoric adopted by evangelicals operating from a victim mentality, I do agree that Christmas as a religious observance is in trouble. My contention, however, is that the threat to Christmas does not come from a godless, atheist society, but from within — from Christians who really don’t understand Christianity and plug their faith into their lives where convenient. When Christians don’t get Christmas, we can’t whine about how mean atheists and non-Christian believers are to our holiday. There are three things that Christians have done, engaged in, or allowed to happen that we can blame on no one else. Christmas as we know it today is exactly the Christmas Christians have created.
The three things I “blame” are these:
- commercialization — the process of exploiting something for profit or benefit
- secularization — the removal of spiritual and religious meaning from religious practices and observances
- ignoration (a made up word) — the intentional decision to not know too much about something in order to simply relax and enjoy it
An Unlikely Proposal December 11, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Christmas.
Tags: Advent, Christmas
I have been commenting on the commercialization and cultural co-opting of Christmas, and a number of people ask, “So, what do you suggest?” Well, here is a suggestion — though I know full well and good it won’t fly. Solutions are only solutions if they work, and this doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance…, but anyway. Short of having a Santa-Jesus smackdown or celebrity deathmatch, here is how I would propose redeeming Christmas as a religious observance while also connecting with the joyous cultural celebration of our secular Christlessmas.
Define Christmas as the Twelve Days of Christmas — allow the four-week period preceding Christmas to actually BE Advent, then move into a true Christmastide.
Verbundenheit December 6, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, Vision.
Tags: Advent, Christian Community, Values, Vision
When I was in college, I was good friends with two German students (Angela and Hans) who introduced me to a concept that shapes my understanding of church to this day. The German word is “verbundenheit” and while the simplest translation is “solidarity,” in has a much deeper, textured, and significant meaning. More than simple agreement or unity, it connotes interdependency and synergy — together we are greater and stronger than the sum of our parts. The metaphor they used to describe verbundenheit was this: “imagine threads woven into string, string woven into chords, chords woven together into braids, braids woven together into mats. Now, try to distinguish an individual thread from its place in the mat. While still individual, the thread is substantially more in relationship to the whole than it can ever be on its own.” And not only are we woven together, but there is a place for every thread, every string, every chord — and thought it might make for lumpy, uneven mats, inclusion is better than exclusion. The vision is compelling — and one of the best definitions of the kingdom/kin-dom of God I can imagine. It is a vision worth pursuing.
Occupy Christmas December 5, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christian witness, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Advent, Faith Sharing
I need to confess. I missed four opportunities to witness to my Christian faith this week, where I had clear occasions to challenge, confront or correct opinions about Advent and Christmas. I didn’t say anything then, but I’m going to say something now.
#1 Advent is NOT Christmas (or Epiphany) — last week I attended a church (thankfully NOT United Methodist, though I know full well it easily could have been) to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent by singing songs about the birth of Jesus and the visit of the Wise Men. During the lighting of the Advent wreath candle, the litany claimed that we light the candle of hope ” for the second coming of the living Christ.” We were reminded that Advent is when we celebrate “the birth of the Messiah.” This is from a church that prides itself on reaching the “unchurched.” What a confused mish-mash?! The relentless misinformation in this service might be viewed as insignificant by some, but I found it troubling… but not as troubling as the call I received from a confused parishioner who wanted to double-check what her pastor said in a children’s sermon.
The Reason For the Season: Evil December 6, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Religion in the U.S..
Tags: Advent, Christmas, Religious Trends
I have been laid up with a bad sinus infection pretty much since Thanksgiving, so I spent an inordinate amount of time surfing daytime TV. What an amazing amount of noise passing for entertainment… However, two tidbits caught my attention while navigating the vast wasteland of morning programming. First, I caught a Lutheran pastor’s sermon, “The Reason for the Season,” and anticipated getting all bent out of shape about another “advent” sermon that misses the point. That wasn’t exactly what I got — at least, it missed a completely different point than the one I expected. Second, I listened to a panel of people discussing how “Christians are ruining Christmas” for the general population — a truly novel idea.
Interestingly, I learned that Jesus isn’t the reason for the season; evil is. An earnest, sincere older white Lutheran pastor focused in on the advent theme of Jesus’ last week before his crucifixion to illustrate that our world is corrupt, violent, merciless, arrogant and disgusting to God. God looked at our world approximately 2,000 years ago and saw how filthy and diseased it had become and he sent Jesus to clean things up — however, the world was so far gone that instead of receiving the Son of God with joy and thanksgiving, we annihilated him. We “took God’s gift and spit upon it,” the preacher proclaimed. “And if we thought we were filthy then, just take a look at how foul we have become since!” Christmas, it seems, is like an annual flu shot — an inoculation against the corruption and disease that we call “the world.” Without Christmas, “evil wins.” He digressed to talk about the rampant cultural values that are destroying Christmas — mentioning that “Santa” and “Satan” employ the same letters for a very transparent and insidious reason. Then he said something that I found chilling and incredible: “The light of Christ come down 2,000 years ago has been extinguished — evil has won, the devil is the victor — it is up to us to reignite the flame!”
Once More, With Feeling November 27, 2010Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Advent, Christmas
It’s Advent time again; the beginning of the “church year.” We change the paraments to purple (or blue, in some cases), hang the greens, set up the advent wreath with candles, and we engage in the ceremonies of the season leading to the birth of Christ. How do we keep the “been there, done that” jaded cynicism out of the experience? Is it possible to infuse the season of Advent with a true spirit of anticipation and waiting, looking forward with hope to the event that will forever change the course of history? Can we make the biggest deal of all time a big deal one more time?
We do try. Many people love the weeks leading to Christmas Eve, and all the special music and pageantry. But it brings to mind a conversation I had with about sixty 18-30 year-olds at Vanderbilt University about four years ago. We were talking about the significant experiences that occur in church. When one young woman shared how much she loved going to her home church on Christmas Eve, a resounding rebuttal came from about 40 other sources. Opinion was divided, but the vast majority of young people said they stayed away from church at Christmas and Easter because of the contrived phoniness and generic activities they experience. “My church tries to be so sincere and significant that it makes me laugh out loud,” a seminary senior reflected. “I cannot believe how manipulative and insipid church gets at Christmas.” A young man echoed the sentiment, and added, “Everything seems dumbed down at Christmastime. Like we would rather focus on the fairy tale than the most impressive paradigm shift in the history of the world.”
Christmas Memories I — The Story of Yuletide Carol December 7, 2009Posted by Dan R. Dick in Advent, Christmas, Personal Reflection.
Tags: Advent, Christmas
Each year, early in December, my thoughts return to my hometown and to some of the significant memories of my young life. One signficant memory concerns one of those eccentric, colorful characters that seem to populate every small midwestern town. These people become accepted fixtures, even though they behave in odd, bizarre ways. They are just part of the landscape — even though sometimes they are treated in less than kind ways, especially by youngsters who should know better but don’t. In Muncie, Indiana in the 1960s and 1970s one such person was a woman known to many as Yuletide Carol.
I am fuzzy on Carol’s full story, but what I was told and what I remember is that in a matter of months she lost her husband and three children, and it pushed her over the edge. One child was hit by a car, one drowned in a boating accident, and her husband and last child were in a terrible automobile accident. Carol ended up living in a converted garage on Willard Street and she could be seen daily walking the streets in a dirty, frayed sweater singing Christmas songs. It didn’t matter what time of year — she sang Christmas songs in a dreamy, detached voice. If you tried to talk to her, she would look at you and sway back and forth, but she would never stop singing. As kids, we all thought she was crazy, and we took every opportunity we could to make fun of her and torment her. She must have walked twenty miles every day, just wandering through town, singing.