I only started reading blogs last January when I stumbled out of my cave and discovered the twenty-first century. I happened on Beliefnet.com, which led me to Jill Stanek, who along with Bethany and Carla are responsible for this blog coming to life. On Beliefnet, I became a fan of Rod Dreher who writes “Crunchy Con”, which is actually shutting down this weekend and reopening as “Rod Dreher” on Beliefnet.
On Rod’s site a commenter by the name of Erin Manning has also guest posted for Rod. Erin is as unapologetically Catholic as I am (refreshing), and ardently pro-life. I’ve linked her blog And Sometimes Tea in the blogroll. She, along with the others there, whom I’ll be referencing as well in the coming days, is a must read.
In the process of getting my blog up and running, I missed this gem that Erin guest-posted on Rod’s site on December 27. It’s extremely sobering food for thought when we get caught up in the War on Christmas vitriol later this year. I plan to forward this to all of my friends.
Merry Christmas! Rod is graciously allowing me to join him and co-blog this week. This will be my last chance to put my opinions on this side of the comment boxes, so I’m grateful for the opportunity–as I have been for every time that Rod has let me participate here.
I don’t know how many of you had a chance to see this piece by Terry Mattingly of the Get Religion blog on Hank Stuever’s book, Tinsel, which Rod reviewed a while ago here. When I read Rod’s review, I wanted to read the book, and Terry’s piece on it has increased that desire–it sounds like a fascinating look at the paradox that is the modern American Christmas as experienced by the three Frisco, Texas families whom Steuver followed closely.
The Get Religion blog post highlights something I’ve been thinking about, not only about Christmas, but about the struggle to live as a serious Christian in modern America. Terry Mattingly writes:
“Stuever and I talked for more than two hours and it seemed like 20 minutes. I am, of course, a prodigal Texan who gets sweaty palms in shopping malls and, frankly, Stuever was much more patient and kind than I would have been trying to write about the material that he covered. He takes the people totally serious, even while lacing his work with large does of sarcasm and even cynicism when he deals with the culture in which they live.
“I would have jumped straight to anger, which would have sent me to my priest for confession over and over and over.”
We Christians are often–and I include myself in this, most definitely–suckers for the “us against them” narratives that are told in our culture. From our focus on stories of atheist Christmas displays to others featuring artful outrage over some (admittedly tasteless) ornaments on a tree at the White House to still other War on Christmas themes that crop up in the news at this time of year, we tend to fall for the idea that the greatest threat to Christian life is something outside of us, some threat that will make it much, much harder than it is now for us to live openly as Christians in America.
To be fair, there are aspects of modern American life that conflict with a serious pursuit of Christianity. Not all perceived threats to religious liberty are the products of fevered imaginations and conspiracy theories; it’s important to pay attention to the prevailing cultural winds. Large, heavily centralized governments are often not friends of Christianity, or of any other serious faith which sometimes puts citizens at odds with the values and principles of the State.
But as a book like Tinsel, or even our own experiences of Christmas in America, can remind us, the strongest enemies to a serious attempt to live as a follower of Christ are not the ones on the outside. They are the enemies within–they are the faces that look back at us from the mirror, as we put on our Christmas finery with little thought to the lives of the wretchedly poor people who probably made our festive clothing for pennies an hour half a world away. They are the weary sins that plague us, the hardness of our hearts, our ability to sing words of joyful good news while focusing all our mental energies on criticism of the decor chosen to adorn the sanctuary; they are the paradox of Christmas that has nothing to do with what other people are doing, and everything to do with our own thoughts and deeds.
What kind of War on Christmas is being fought, when within a family a pitched battle may rage over the burning question: white lights on the tree, or colored ones? What kind of War on Christmas is being fought when we find ourselves in debt, yet again, because we succumbed to the siren-song of materialism, and bought and paid for a false vision of piles of gifts under the Christmas tree? What kind of War on Christmas is being fought when people gather with relatives to coo and simper at each other, all the while looking forward to the delicious pleasure of rhetorically shredding each other on the way home? What kind of War on Christmas is being fought, whose generals are pride, envy, avarice, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth?
That War on Christmas has been fought since the first Christmas, since the Light shone into the uncomprehending darkness, since Herod commanded the Magi to return to him with news of the Child, all the while plotting to kill Him. The darkness that lies buried in the hearts of men rises up each time our fallen natures get the better of us–which they do, when we are more furious over some perceived slight to Christianity miles away from us than over the injustice of hopeless poverty in our own town; which they do, each time we become so buried in the bustle and glitter each December that we forget to lay it all aside and ponder, for a handful of moments, the gift of the Incarnation, the astounding and astonishing reality that to save us from our sorry selves God Himself became Man, and dwelt among us.
And that, alas, is a War on Christmas that cannot be brushed aside as “us against them,” as something some wicked someone out there is doing to the shiningly innocent group of faithful Christians among whom we, perhaps presumptuously, count ourselves. That shining innocence is like the glitter of artificial lights on intrinsically dull tinsel, and we are too often the authors of our own wickedness to spend such an inordinate amount of time zeroing in with a microscope on the specks in the eyes of those who have not yet been granted a gift of faith.