Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I begin wtih a question - Christian Nation: What the hell does that mean?

Maybe not the most appropriate question, but a question nonetheless. I ask because we are in the throes of the holiday season (I said holiday on purpose - more in a moment). I was having the "holiday" conversation with my parents over Thanksgiving when my dad started to do his religious right happy dance (love my dad, we get along, just don't agree at every point) that Target and Wal-Mart are boldly proclaiming Merry Christmas instead of the more tolerant "Happy Holidays."

It's an interesting pickle the RR (Religious Right) puts themselves in when they want to be defined as strict-constructionists and keep government out of their religious doings, and yet believe that said government should give preferential treatment to their faith. Not from a legal standpoint, mind you - purely a decorative one. Doesn't it stand to reason that if one believes strongly in the concepts behind the founding documents of our country, that same person would in fact be opposed to the display of any religious symbol on governement property, like, oh, a NATIVITY.

So, then, why is there some sense of triumph when the hated "Happy Holidays" is sent packing in favor of "Merry Christmas"? Here's why I'm ok with Happy Holidays:

1. We start saying it pre-Thanksgiving, during a time period that covers several holidays, even if you are strictly a Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year celebrator - it's just easier

2. As our country was founded to give freedom to all religious expression, lo and behold, if we don't have people here who celebrate holidays other than Christmas. Blow me down. So, if you really believe that, be respectful of people who celebrate other traditions.

3. Do people honestly think that minimizing someone's dearly-held holiday traditions is an effective evangelism technique? If the only way you have to communicate the profound love and truth of God With Us is to put down someone else's tradition, you have no idea what Christmas is about anyway and should be benched from the evangelism team. We are called to be a blessing to the nations, not a burden to them.

4. I'm quite comfortable as a self-identified Christian celebrating Christmas as the birth of Christ, because that's who I am. If you're not that person, I'll wish you a happy holiday and hope you have a wonderful time. I don't need to make anyone else feel awkward or minimize myself to wish people well.

5. I don't know what it's like to live in a culture where me and my traditions are ignored and minimized. It must be demoralizing and it surely contributes to hostility in this country and around the world. I don't want to be that person.

Another disturbing thing about whatever "War on Christmas" has been going on (and I can't believe I'm remotely associating myself with Bill O'Reilly) is the deeper issue of what a Christian nation looks like. It seems like we think if the language and symbolism is intact, we then are turning the ship around and "returning" to something that most educated people would argue was never there.

Here's the deal: for better or worse (and, held in check, I have no problem with this) we are a capitalistic economy. When I took econ classes in high school and college, the first thing I learned was that the whole model is based on the principle of scarcity. Basically, that means we operate out of a place of fear - fear that we won't have enough, that we won't get our share, that someone will take our share. Statistically, the middle class is disappearing as CEOs give themselves huge pay raises and the minimum wage has remained constant for a decade (until now, thank God). We're not seeing a lot of anything trickle down, are we? Does anyone else find it interesting that our economy is based on fear and the most often given command in scripture is "Do not fear"?

To me, then, to be a Christian, nation is to be a people who will give without fear of running out. We trust that God will provide what we need and we do things like ending third world debt because at the end of the day, we don't need the money. We don't mind paying a bit more for the fast food we shouldn't be eating anyway b/c the minimum wage has gone up. We spend a bit more on free-trade coffee because it helps the farmers in Africa and South America. We can afford it and the people who work there need to feed their families. As Paul said, we need to consider others above ourselves. The goal shouldn't be to keep prices down, but to make sure that everyone has food, clothes, shelter, and they are loved. That's what a Christian nation looks like to me.

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