Steve’s Letter – February 2013
FEBRUARY 1, 2013
I’m writing this a couple weeks before Christmas. So far I haven’t punched out Santa, offended anybody I know, or screwed it up for everybody else. But there is still time.
You, on the other hand, are through with Christmas and probably don’t want to hear anything about it for a long time. As you know, I generally write these letters to you about whatever I’m thinking or doing at the time…and this old Scrooge is still dealing with Christmas.
I’m listening to a lot of media talk about the “war on Christmas,” and feel constrained to say something about it…so you’re it.
As our culture becomes more and more secular, and we become less and less popular, this is not altogether irrelevant to what Christians feel most of the time. If you haven’t noticed, there is a lusty, materialistic paganism afoot and those folks don’t like us much. Political correctness (unbelievers are rarely consistent) means that it is acceptable to say whatever you want (no matter how scurrilous, uninformed and shallow) about Christians and Jews, but may God have mercy on your soul if you say anything even mildly negative about Islam, abortion, alternative lifestyles, etc.
(Well, maybe not “God have mercy.” If one doesn’t believe in God, there’s no one to give you mercy.)
Is there a war on Christmas?
Of course there’s a war on Christmas.
I don’t care what Jon Stewart or Don Imus say. There are a whole bunch of people who simply don’t like Christmas and are fighting to get rid of it in every way they can. Not only that, there are a lot of believers on the other side who are angry at those efforts and aren’t going to take it anymore. Religion is okay as long as you keep it to yourself and away from any kind of public forum. Keep it in your “holy huddle” and that’s fine. The late Richard John Neuhaus made the same point in his very good book, The Naked Public Square. What he wrote then is still true today…only more so.
It may not be a world war, but it is a war.
I get that.
I suppose it must be hard to be an unbeliever and live in our culture. It’s hard to be an unbeliever anyway. You have to be careful about the books you read, the friends you have and the movies you watch; and, above all, you have to stay away from religious stuff…especially funerals and Christmas celebrations. If unbelievers, for only a moment, were to entertain anything to suggest that their views are as shallow as they are, they might start thinking…and thinking can be very dangerous.
I’m a believer, but not without a modicum of compassion for those who don’t share my religious beliefs. I can imagine how irritating Christmas must be for those whose whole worldview is built on the belief that Christmas doesn’t matter because it points to what is spurious at best and dangerous at worst.
I get that.
On the other hand, there are times when I identify with the elderly pastor on a plane sitting next to the young man who was making fun of his reading the Bible. The more the pastor ignored him, the louder the young man got. Eventually, he asked, “Don’t you have something to say, old man?”
“Yes, I do, son,” the pastor said softly. “Would you go to hell more quietly?”
I get irritated when a church cancels “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown,” a crèche is removed from a public place, UVA bans Christmas trees from dorms, and a Christmas concert is canceled or changed because some uptight atheist is offended. I listen to their stuff all the time. Fair play suggests that it wouldn’t hurt them to abide some of mine. There are a lot of believers who have simply had it.
I get that too.
I’m just not going to play.
It’s not that I don’t want to fight in the war. I’m not running away. You and I are called to “speak truth to power” whenever we have the opportunity. If we shilly-shally, we betray who we are. I’m just not going to join a war that I believe is already won or fight a battle that was over some 2,000 years ago. Instead, I’m just going to sing (albeit as loudly and as publicly as I can) a Christmas carol. It’s a Christmas carol about love and a God who went to a lot of trouble to express his love for us.
Christmas doesn’t mean that God came to destroy us or to kick posteriors. I believe that the reason he came was to tell us that he isn’t angry. And when I make an obscene gesture to those who disagree with me, it kind of misses the point. It becomes a disconnect between what I believe and what I do. So, I think I’ll just sit this one out.
If I really believe (and I do) that the King came, it kind of changes my perspective. The last thing I should feel toward unbelievers (no matter how silly, judgmental, condemning, uptight and irritating they often are) is anger. I should (and do in my finer moments) feel compassion and concern.
A number of years ago, I accepted an invitation to be on a very popular talk show in Miami where the host hated Christians and said so. Many Christians I knew were intimidated by him and what he was saying, so I decided I should do something. After he asked several times, I finally accepted the host’s invitation. It isn’t pride but just a fact that I have a glib tongue, think well “on my feet,” and the angrier I get, the better I talk. So in most discussions with angry unbelievers I shine. You wouldn’t go to a surgeon who didn’t know the difference between a scalpel and a butter knife. Likewise, you shouldn’t trust a professional religionist who doesn’t know anything about his subject.
A war already won
I came into the host’s studio angry. As a part of his attack, while we were on the air, he passed a published piece over to me to comment on. I threw it back at the host and said, “You’re kidding. Whoever wrote this writes like a three-year-old. If I were you, I would be ashamed to affirm this kind of drivel.” That was when the host winced, realizing he had maybe bitten off more than he could chew.
(I’m not bragging. Okay, Okay. Maybe I am. I’ll repent later. I don’t have time now and need to get this thing finished.)
But then something strange happened. I went “soft.” it dawned on me that this host was angry because he was “hungry.” And it was a hunger for something more than food. He was hungry for God. Augustine’s oft quoted line—“Thou hast created us for Thyself and our hearts are restless [angry] until they find their rest in Thee”—had found its illustration in the angry talk show host. I felt compassion for him. From then on, I made an effort to be kind and gracious; and frankly, came close to pulling it off.
I sensed the pleasure of God…not in my polemics, but in my kindness.
You know John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”), but don’t forget the next verse: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Is there a war on Christmas? Yes, there is, and on Christians. What we believe is quite scary to a whole lot of people for a whole lot of reasons.
Maybe you remember the quote from the sixties, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”
(That quote bothered me in its original context and still does. Back then, I always wanted to say, “I’ll tell you what would happen…we would be speaking German and living in slavery.” But I digress.)
In the case of the war on Christmas and Christians, what if nobody came to the war…a war already won?
Jesus didn’t. I guess we could try too.
He told me to remind you.