Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Merry CHRISTmas

I realize from my working title that this post could easily be read as one of a myriad of "Keep Christ in Christmas, for Heaven's sake..." rants that populate the 'net this time of year, but that is not truly my intent. My intention is to remind myself of the following truths; that I am blessed to live in this country, that Christ calls me to celebrate His birth regardless of how easy it is, and that I don't need to see His likeness plastered on every storefront to be able to hold in my heart the true, deeply joyful reason for this season.

Christmas is a celebration of Christ's birth, and no amount of political correctness can change its definition. It is what it is. Therefore, I celebrate Christmas. I celebrate the mystery of a child's birth that was foretold for centuries, the magic of a virgin's baby born in a manger, heralded by angels. Above all, I celebrate the power of that child to free me from my sins. That is what I celebrate. It is my joy to live in a nation in which so many other people celebrate with me, and by God's grace I am able to sit here, right now, and write about how amazing He is, how miraculous His birth, how glorious His story.

However, there is a danger in my situation, because I have become very comfortable with this arrangement, and being comfortable can all too often lead to a certain laziness of faith. It is easy to be a Christian in America. Yes, there are those who will attack the idea of Christianity, there are those who will protest the Church, and I may even find my own person slandered (who hasn't felt the deep-cutting sting of being called a "goody two-shoes"?). Of course there are moments where I may be a smidge uncomfortable as a direct result of my faith, but I am free to put a giant plastic light-up Mary and Child in my front yard (if that is my faith declaration of choice) with very little danger of repercussion. God has surely blessed me in my country.

My heart aches a little when some of my countrymen seem to be so deeply offended by the words "Merry Christmas". I like to believe that if I were to move to Israel and found myself being wished a "Happy Hanukkah" at every turn that I would not demand that I be wished Happy Holidays instead. But of course, that illustrates my point marvelously; here, we do, in fact, have the option to make just such a demand. We cannot accept that wonderful nature of our country only when it most suits our need and complain when others exercise their rights. It simply doesn't work.

A wonderful little mind-game I have been playing with myself is imagining what I would do in December if I didn't live somewhere where it was not only legal but status quo to celebrate Christmas. Would I dare to arrange a Nativity on my lawn? Would I light the candles on my Advent wreath with curtains drawn, whispering the Scripture? Would I walk the streets, gaily calling out "Happy Holidays", all the while permeating my words with a silent prayer that those who I was passing might find the light of Christ? I have no idea how the strength of my faith would stand against such a test, and again I say I am blessed to live in such a place as this, such a place that does not force me to choose between my life and my God.

So, because I can, I celebrate Christ's birth. And because other people can, they choose to celebrate different things. As a Christian, I am called to show them the love of Christ. Christ was not a petulant child who would throw a tantrum at the mall when He realized that on His birthday, some people didn't have signs up proclaiming His birth. Christ is love incarnate, a love that recognizes that not everyone has yet found their way. A love that can show us that the best way to help others find Christ is to simply keep on loving them, even when they prefer "Jingle Bells" to "Silent Night", and even if they would rather shop than worship in His house.

My joy as a Christian is to see Him everywhere; in the neon lights of Wal-Mart to the candle-lit church. This season, it isn't my holiday that will be less blessed because some people choose not to celebrate Christ's birth. It's theirs.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Change is Good. (Say it with me....change is goooood)

I like to think that my experiences bear some resemblance to those of my fellow humans. An author has garnered my respect when I can read his writings and think "Oh, you too?". There are, I feel, some patterns that resonate across humanity, and there is a gift to being able to adequately describe those thoughts, or feelings, or passions in such a way as to have other humans recognize them as their own.

Now, the problem facing me at the moment; do I have that gift? Or, perhaps even more vexing; do my experiences really bear any resemblance to those of my fellow world travellers?

Because if either of those parameters has not been met this day, than this shall be a most uninspiring post. However, seeing as how this post is really just fo' me, it doesn't much matter, does it?

I find myself in a most unusual state of mind as of late. A slight paradigm shift has occurred, a subtle movement in my perception that has left my world a bit off-kilter. To be clear, I don't consider this an evil - I'm actually quite content with the new wagon that my thoughts have hitched themselves to, and find myself looking forward to where my new perspective will take me. Quite exciting, really.

I hear a song on the radio. A simple, beautiful song that is somehow different than any song I have ever heard, and I make a note to look it up. And I do. I find myself in the possession of a new CD (I use that term loosely - I actually find myself in the possession of a few megabytes of digital music), which is, in a word, incredible. From this album comes an exploration into a world of Christian belief that I knew had always existed, because I was ever the devoted fan of C.S. Lewis, but had never really explored. The eye-opening, soul-awakening epiphanies that followed this seemingly tiny set of circumstances is a post for another day (or week, maybe?), and they are not my subject at the moment.

My subject is how this shift in my thinking, this refocusing on the state of my soul has both excited me and plunged me into (dare I say? I dare, I dare!) depression (I said it...). I've tried to put my finger on what it is that has changed. I can best describe what has happened as an inability to fit my life as I've lived it for, oh, 29 years, into this new perception. I feel almost as one does when they awaken from a truly fantastic dream and find themselves for a few moments trying to superimpose the contents of that dream onto the reality they are now faced with. It's disorienting, and requires that the dreamer simultaneously a) let go of some of his beliefs regarding what is true about his dream and b) let go of some of his beliefs regarding what is true about the world he is waking into.

Through music I didn't know existed, and people I didn't know shared this planet with me, powered by an amazing God, I have glimpsed Him in a way I have never been able to before. Therefore, I want to just sit and think. I want to just sit and read voraciously, and just listen to music, and just be still in the "magic hour" of Andrew Peterson's music and peacefully drift ever closer to this God that has allowed me to see a new dimension of His beauty. But ahh, there's the rub. I have to go to work, and wash dishes, and be me, and live my life.

So, I struggle, a bit, with reminding myself that the magic of my God should not be relegated to the moments in which is it easy to be in His peace, but those moments in which it feels downright impossible. I am slowly pulling my old self into this new thinking, and in so doing I am beginning to recognize that I will inevitably drag along with me my same old vices, my same old prejudices, and my same old tendencies to be downright despicable at times. That, perhaps, is what really bothers me. The possible story of my life as I can see it within the context of The Great Story of Christianity looks so, well, yummy, that I want to have it all, now. Frustration sets in when I am reminded that, while I can think all of the wonderful Christian thoughts I want, I'm still as messed up as ever, and can't quite get myself to act the way I should in order to embody some of these great Truths which have found their way into my thinking.

The wonder of my God, however, is that He is ever helping me shed my dragon-skin to make it that much easier to be with Him in all of my moments. His Grace is always at work, quietly whispering to me that I'm missing the point. I am messed up. My life is messed up. This world, folks, is messed up. But Wonder of Wonders, I can say that with conviction, and still love this life, this world, even myself, because God's Grace covers it all. He is in all things, therefore all things are holy, and beautiful, and redeemed.

I feel better. Maybe the act of working through my thoughts by writing them down has made me that much more convinced that there is hope for me yet. Or, maybe, the gentle reminder to myself that even though I just spent time at work typing this while I should have been grading papers is a perfect example of my screwed-up priorities, I am still called Beloved by a most Awesome God. And that is, like, way cool.