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.