On the cusp of the Labor Day weekend, a memory came to me of an odd — crazy — man in my neighborhood growing up who vehemently believed holidays were evil and unChristian. Harold McKeever was one of those perennial “old men” — my mother remembered him being old when she was a teenager — who neighborhood kids loved to torment because we could get such a rise out of him. He was a fist-shaker and cursed at the top of his lungs some of the most creative and disgusting threats imaginable. What a treat! Every public holiday, Mr. McKeever would phone the police to report his neighbors for disturbing the peace with cook-outs, picnics, family gatherings, littering (putting pumpkins, corn, reindeer, religious figures, hearts, etc. out as decorations), and explosives (Fourth of July). When I was in college, I once stopped Mr. McKeever and asked him why he hated holidays so much. His answer was short and to the point: they aren’t in the Bible. In the faith that made sense to him, nothing not in the Bible was legitimate and should not be observed by “good Christians.” He noted that you could tell “good Christians” by their actions — many people claimed to be Christian, but if they observed holidays it was irrefutable evidence that they weren’t REALLY Christian.
I asked him about Christmas. He replied that if there was anything other than religious observance associated with it, then the people weren’t Christians. “True” Christians would not have Christmas trees, sing non-religious Christmas songs, watch Christmas shows on television, put up lights and decorations, etc. Such people “worship the world, not God.” This was news to me. I was a Christian and I put up a Christmas tree. I taught youth group and Sunday school and sang Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. I went to Christmas Eve services and watched It’s A Wonderful Life. I never knew I wasn’t a real Christian. The fact that I also decorated at Halloween and gave out candy to neighborhood children sealed the deal. Mr. McKeever saw Halloween as proof that not only were Christians not real Christians, but that their real god was the DEVIL.
I remember Mr. McKeever as a whacko, but he comes to mind from time to time whenever I hear conversation and media dialogue turn to “real Christians” and “real Americans” and the narrow-minded and irrational silliness used to justify such claims. Recent Glenn Beck/Tea Party idiocy comes quickly to mind. Why can’t political pundits — conswervative or liberal, Republican or Democrat — keep their conniving and self-serving mitts off religion. I don’t need politicians and media pundits defining for me what “good Christians” believe and do. I also don’t want “true” faith defined as a characteristic of one political parties agenda. Whenever I hear that liberals, Democrats, Obama-supporters, etc., can’t be Christian, all I really hear is Mr. McKeever telling me that “all holidays are the work of liberal Democrats furthering the Communist agenda to take over America,” and that “Eugene McCarthy was the last true Christian this country ever saw.” Having the gospel of Jesus Christ called “socialism” by people who have never truly studied Christianity — and knowing that millions of people are persuaded by such garbage — breaks my heart.
Do I wish Christians modeled a different way of living in our dominant American culture? Sure. I wish when we had a day off we spent more of it with God. I wish holidays were holy days. I wish we would give more thanks to God for every day, but especially an extra day off — whether it be to celebrate our freedoms, our faith, our history, our relationships, our myths, our gratitude, or our dreams. I wish our faith could be more firmly rooted and grounded in all that we say and do, and that we gave special significance to religious holidays over secular holidays. I wish we could spend more of our days looking for ways to build bridges to one another instead of wasting so much time identifying ways to be upset with those who see the world differently than we do. I don’t think of Mr. McKeever often, but when I do, I wonder what joy his faith brought him? I wonder what role celebration and remembrance held in his life? I wonder if he could separate a sense of fun and play from formality and reverence? I do not remember Mr. McKeever ever smiling. I do not remember him ever reaching out to (or responding favorably) to any of his neighbors. I do not remember him ever offering a kind word and extending a loving gesture to anyone on our street. And I do not think of him when I think of a “good” or a “true” Christian, though I know that is how he defined himself.
What is a “good” Christian? Who decides? I am not sure I believe that there is a “good” or “true” Christian. I guess I believe there are a lot of Christians-in-formation, becoming what they hope and believe God wants them to be. How wonderful it would be if we could learn to support one another in this amazing process of becoming instead of trying to figure out who is doing it right and who is doing it wrong. Maybe we should take a few days off and work on that. And if we’re successful, perhaps we should declare a holiday.
Categories: Personal Reflection, Religion in the U.S., U.S. Culture
Prophet Dan …..
Too funny — thought I reading first ppg.
Then — the chuckle turned to a gasp — not funny, thought I and so so true. We need to get back to the basics and toss the dross.
Again, profound wordsmithing.
Keep up your great work.
Mr McKeever wasn’t alone in his beliefs.
What you describe has been mainstream in the Church of Christ (non-instrumental) for over a century, and among the Jehovah’s witnesses since their founding.
And of course, Christmas itself had a very contentious history well into the 19th century, even in “respectable” Protestant circles. Where it wasn’t banned, it was surely strongly discouraged to be anything other than, as Mr McKeever said, a religious observance on the day.
So I can’t really call his practice of refusing to celebrate such holidays “lunatic” per se.
What was lunatic was assuming that because he and his religious community practiced this, that meant he had an obligation to require everyone else do the same.
It is also to be remembered, of course, that Methodists were viewed as lunatics early on.
They had religious meetings at least twice a week in addition to Sunday morning worship.
They would occasionally send one of their preachers to “hold forth” in a public spot twice a day (morning and evening).
They were a “secret society” in that one had to be an initiate by actively participating in six months of class meetings before being eligible to join the society itself.
And they were pretty adamant that without the holiness they were seeking to learn and live out, “no one could see the Lord.”
And then their worship on Sunday nights– loud, expressive, raucous.
And their worship on Sunday mornings– about the only Protestants who knelt– and they knelt a lot– without kneelers!
And don’t get folks started about what was happening in the revivals– the barks, the shakes, the “falling out.”
Since it appears that their religious practice, corporately and personally, was accompanied by lots of joy instead of a need to control others, maybe not so much.
Joy seems to be woefully lacking today – in our churches, the marketplace, and in the political arena.
How do we/can we cultivate a culture of Joy?
You obviously have been following Beck and Palin and the Tea Party. I really thought the Tea Party might be a good thing early on, and even respected some of the points they were raising. But now? I can’t imagine a person with a lick of common sense not running away in terror from some of the lame brains setting the agenda. Is it just impossible to find a common sense middle ground. Do the loonies and morons have to ruin everything? I know you are saying we should be more tolerant, but how can we be tolerant of inteolerance? How do we accept the unacceptable? How do we ignore the lies and deceptions and pure hate that are pushed in our faces as Christian? I am a Christian and I am willing to accept that someone who thinks very differently can be a Christian too. Why won’t they extend the same courtesy to me?
I think it is very difficult today to hold a position without being labeled, catagorized, then lumped into a camp. The Tea Party is not my cup of tea (pardon the pun) and I have no use for Glenn Beck, but I know people I respect who agree with both. I need to be very careful when I talk about “the Tea Party.” What is this exactly? It has become a convenient label for one side to use against another. Everything out of Glenn Beck’s mouth is not insane, and it is unfair to demonize him (just as it is Limbaugh, Stewart, Colter, Colbert, etc.). I don’t like CERTAIN things (I should have been more fair in my post) that I have heard from Beck and that a handful of less-productive/helpful Tea Partiers have said. I cannot erase from my memory the absolute hate and poison that I say Tea Party supporters spew at Immigration rallies earlier this year — but I should not ascribe their hate to all who support the Tea Party. I hear your pain — we do not seem able to adopt a “live and let live, respect and expect respect” approach in our current church — and blurring the lines between politics and religion, faith and cultural values certainly isn’t helping. We need to seek out and celebrate common sense. There are Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, Christians and atheists, seeking to make our world a better place. Avoiding the lunatic fringe is the key.