December 13, 2007

The Big Fight (Be A Blessing)

Let the fight begin. In fact, it started a while ago. Every twelve months or so these two superstars face off for the match of the season, waiting to see if this is the year that one of them will finally go down for the count. At least, so many of us act like we expect a fight like that, taking a side and rooting them on from the stands. Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays! PUNCH! Don't give in to the commercialism! BLOCK! Today's culture has ruined the true spirit of Christmas! JAB! Don't waste your money on gifts when kids are dying all over the world! GUILT! Traffic and egg nog and mall Santas and peppermint mochas make baby Jesus cry! TAKE THAT! And so on and so forth.

Some of my best memories with my family are of us trudging through a foot of snow, being stuck in traffic jams, hunting through malls for some perfect gift for Dad or for a cousin or someone at church. I think that maybe we react too much, sometimes, as Christians. We cheer on a fight where none is needed. And where it would be so much better, so much more Christian, so much more Christmas-y you might say, to act in peace and gentleness.

Love and peace are good, consumerism is bad, yes we all know. But maybe we’re better off working within our traditions and embracing them, rather than so often fighting against them. Go ahead and go to the mall this weekend and look for a nice gift for your mom. And then go home and send a nice check to a charity. And then go help your neighbor shovel his snow while you talk about the latest toys and XBox games that his kids want for Christmas. Be a blessing.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

After all, if you did believe in Santa, it was your parents who probably told you about him. There were stories about his home in the North Pole, his elves, his wife, his reindeer, and all of the gifts he brought every year to good kids. Part of it was motivation for you to be good all year, but part of it was the excitement of something magical that you believed in, that didn't seem like it could really happen but you believed it did. Maybe you even heard Santa some nights, or caught a glimpse of him shooting back up your chimney. There were presents under your tree in the morning that were most certainly not there when you went to bed, and many of them said "From: Santa" on the gift tags. You or one of your friends may have fully and completely believed that you saw him land on one of your neighbor's roofs one Christmas night. Some of your friends at school laughed at you for believing in stupid Santa, who was obviously not real. "Your parents put those gifts under the tree--it's a perfectly logical explanation," they might have said. But they didn't understand.

And it occurred to me, how much different are Santa and Jesus, in that respect? If you go back through that last paragraph and replace 'Santa' with 'Jesus', and then change a few of the story details to reflect Jesus' life rather than Santa's, I think you end up with an accurate representation of a lot of our experience with belief in Jesus and God. And maybe, in a similar way, those very traditions that we're so worried will overtake and destroy Christmas have a lot more to do with Jesus than we remember?

December 3, 2007

To See It For Themselves

I've heard a lot of people say something like, "When it comes to a church movement, I'm uncomfortable when a church won't clearly explain its positions." Even in the poll we did here last week, people expressed a desire for strong, clear doctrine from the church. But I think the edges of the church are beginning to move away from this kind of detailed, inflexible doctrinal statement. In its place are the kinds of statements that vaguely point to the spirit of what the community believes. Many see this as a weakness, but it resonates with my experience with God and doctrine.

For instance, if I saw God's face (and somehow didn't die), and I came back and tried to explain the experience to you, I might find myself having trouble finding the words to say. I might start out by saying, "He looked like... a mixture of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman -- stunningly gorgeous and yet incomparably wise. And with a Santa-like twinkle in his eye." And yet, this wouldn't really describe him well at all. So instead I might say, "He had the eyes of a lion." But that wouldn't really be true either. So I might try to describe the attributes of his face, to say his face was kind but fearsome, gentle but terrifying, wonderful but awful.

And you, the listener, might start to make fun of me and my descriptions. "Did you seriously just compare the LORD of all Heaven and Earth to Brad Pitt?" Or for using contradictory terms, or for relating him to both a white man and a black man (he can't be BOTH black and white). The way these explanations contradict would seem irreconcilable.

So at some point, I finally say, "His face was love." And that's it. You might beg for more details, but I begin to realize that the more details I give, the more wrong I start to become, and the more wrong ideas I give people. So instead of details, I give a vague description and then encourage people to seek his face out themselves. To see it for themselves.

When you think about it, every detailed description was true in the way that it highlighted certain features of God, but in all the ways it fell short of describing his wonders, it misled. To see him for yourself is to begin to understand how far beyond our descriptions he really is, and longing to see more of him again and again.

Even Jesus presented his teachings about God, his own father, in parables and mysterious proclamations that urged his listeners to chase after understanding and to ask questions of him and of each other. He could have given clear, simple answers in our language that would have seemed like enough, but he knew that the complexity and greatness of God required paradoxical, profound descriptions that didn't always satisfy our thirst for easy answers.

When I think about it like that, and when I think about all of the divisive fighting that detailed doctrine has caused, I have to wonder why we should settle for these misleading descriptions?