John Bennison Words and Ways | 2015 | December

Unto Us a Child Is Born

The Brief Observance of a Holy Nativity

 

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A pdf copy to print and read is here.

Alain de Botton, the British atheist who proposed building a temple in London where fellow adherents can religiously practice their non-beliefs, openly confesses that – while he presumably wouldn’t place an ounce of credibility in (any variation of) the Christmas story – he nonetheless still loves to sing all the carols!

In turning our backs on all aspects of religion, we allow it to claim as its exclusive dominion areas of experience that should rightly belong to all humankind – and that we should feel unembarrassed about re-appropriating for the secular realm. Early Christianity was itself adept at appropriating the good ideas of others, aggressively subsuming countless pagan practices which modern atheists now tend to avoid in the mistaken belief that they are indelibly Christian. Much of what is best about Christmas is entirely unrelated to the story of the birth of Jesus. It revolves around themes of community, festivity and renewal; which predate the context in which they were cast over the centuries by Christianity.

The wisdom of the various faiths belongs to all of humankind, even the most rational among us, and … deserves to be selectively reabsorbed. Religions are intermittently too useful, effective and intelligent to be abandoned to the religious alone.

Exerpt from an article in The Guardian, “An Atheist at Christmas: O Come All Ye Faithless” – Alain de Botton

The Christmas “holidays” have long been the most secularized religious observance in Western culture; and shows no sign of letting up in this chaotic post-modern world in which we find ourselves. So the radio blares a combined medley of “O Holy Night” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” while “progressive” types like myself gather to consider what could, or would, make any and every nativity a holy one.

As a non-theist who places little stock in the standard orthodoxy of my own religious tradition – including the divinity of Jesus (see “Taking the Christ Out of Christmas“) – I should probably be worried I might not pass any litmus test if I still claim to call myself a Christian. Given the current political climate where other religious types are indistinguishably clumped together, I might have to pack up and flee in the dead of night if Herod’s latest proposal for homeland security were to prevail. Then I would end up like so many other millions in our world. They are those who — in my humble opinion — were the likeliest candidate for Time’s “Person of the Year;” namely, the refugee and illegal immigrant.

Given the current political climate where other religious types are indistinguishably clumped together, I might have to pack up and flee in the dead of night if Herod’s latest proposal for homeland security were to prevail. 

In an almost uncanny way, ancient prophets come around this time each year to depict for us the desolate place in which we seem to still find ourselves; and wearily foretell once again the place we instead long to be. “The people who walk in darkness,” Isaiah prophesied, “have seen a great light.” Figuring out exactly what that light might illuminate for us seems to be the challenge for Christmas to mean anything more than a quaint, childlike tale for those who can still only believe it on such a level.

I do not need to believe in angels and archangels hovering in a cold night sky over terrified shepherds and their flocks to welcome a “fear not” message they would bring a nation now so gripped in fear. And, I need not believe a single Bethlehem star had to once outshine all the others, in order to awaken in the hearts of wise people everywhere the words and deeds that came as one of us; and dwelt among us to save us from ourselves.

The observance of a holy nativity occurs in a different guise and place all the time; beneath a steel blue sky studded with a million more stars. The words and deeds of the one I would still strive to follow comes quietly and irrepressibly again; amidst the din and clamor of the holiday season, and the turmoil and lunacy of our worn and tattered world.

The band of progressive Christian types that I lead [Pathways] will support a young Afghanistan student next year with enough funds so he can attend school, instead of begging on the streets to help support his family.  So, unto us a child has been born. He is not a Jew from Bethlehem, whose name means “savior;” but rather a young Muslim from Kabul. His name is Wali Muhammad, and his life is as holy and wholly valuable as any on the face of this earth.

A member of our group recently shared this personal holiday story:

“My father was bipolar,” said Fred. “Raised in a poor family that made Christmas a time of regret for the things they lacked, he felt no nostalgia during the holidays. In fact, he would try to stay in bed on Christmas morning. Mother would send my brother and me to drag him out of bed and bring him to the family hearth for the opening of presents.”

“It is time, and past time,” my friend went on to observe, “for people of good will to drag their reluctant fellow citizens to the realization that a child is born; a child for whom we all bear responsibility, and for whom we have the stern yet joyful responsibility to bring gifts of inclusion and love.”

Let it be so. jb 

© 2015 by John William Bennison, Rel.D. All rights reserved.

This article should only be used or reproduced with proper credit.

To read more commentaries by John Bennison from the perspective of a Christian progressive go to

http://wordsnways.com

http://thechristianprogressive.com

read more

All I Want for Christmas Is an AK-47

When the Reason for the Season Goes Missing

A pdf version to print and/or read is HERE.

 

Making a list, and checking it twice: “The Prophet Isaiah” – Raphael, 1512

Making a list, and checking it twice: “The Prophet Isaiah” – Raphael, 1512

The morning news cycle yesterday made passing reference that — among the brisk Black Friday holiday shopping spree sales last week — Americans snatched up more guns for gifts than in any previous year. Only a few hours later, news broke of another mass shooting spree, this time in San Bernardino.

The media predictably descended on that community, just a few miles from where my daughter, her husband and our 2-year old granddaughter live. Camera crews were close on the heels of swat teams in armored vehicles; with scenes that bore the resemblance to embedded reporters accompanying boots on the ground in foreign lands. Except this was the Inland Empire in Southern California.

Immediately the same questions and futile search for answers emerged, and all the worn and weary arguments about gun control waited in the wings to make their various, detached pitches for background checks, better mental health screening procedures, the ineffectiveness of terror watch lists, or second amendment rights of the 37% of all Americans who own and love their guns.

But regardless of whatever facts emerge in the aftermath of what has happened once again, people are already puzzled and perplexed in the vain search for explanations. This was no lone, crazed gunman. This was an American couple in their twenties, who left behind a six-month old child who is now an now orphan. According to first reports from baffled family members and friends, no one saw this coming. And as we all know, if you can’t see it coming – even if you yourself are armed to the teeth — how can you dodge a bullet?

But the plain truth is that’s the wrong question, based on a false assumption and illusory myth. Good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns. Except, in the vast majority of cases, only after the damage is done. In classic terms, it is once again the violent response to the myth of redemptive violence. On our behalf, law enforcement becomes entangled in a tragic pas de deux with the perpetrator.

With every perpetrator, there is one common denominator. We usually don’t know why they did it, at least initially. But we always do know how they did it. And we can say that for whatever reason they did what they did, it was an act intended to express something. Whether that something was to advance a cause or redress a grievance, it was intentional. And, in this case, the means used to express that something in such a lethal way was with legally acquired weapons that provided the means to commit those violent acts. Whether or not this scenario fits our predisposed opinions, those are simple, plain and undeniable facts. But lest the reader think this is just another editorial debate ….

This is the season Christian faith communities of every sort prepare in one way or another to observe the nativity of something deemed to be holy and salvific. We recall ancient prophecies that foretell a “prince of peace, and wonderful counselor” comes around each year with a message to save us from ourselves. (Isaiah 9:6)

Once born into a world of violence and terror not unlike our own, the message remains unchanged. Regrettably, so too has been the obstinate ways in which we have collectively refused to live with one another in response to that message.

We recall ancient prophecies that foretell a “prince of peace, and wonderful counselor” comes around each year with a message to save us from ourselves. Once born into a world of violence and terror not unlike our own, the message remains unchanged.

And while we seem to remain deaf to what is obvious, that message is not simply for the few individuals who – for whatever reason – are unable to hear that message. It is for every law-abiding gun-totin’ citizen; as well as the two-thirds majority of our citizenry who do not possess a firearm. It’s not about the few that can’t hear or won’t listen. It’s about the rest of us who can.

It was just over two years ago that a place called Sandy Hook Elementary School dominated the news cycle for a period of time [see “We Love Our Guns More”]. And there have been a numbing number of similar mass shootings since, in what we proudly call the “land of the free.”

At a recent charity event at a shooting range near Atlanta, Georgia, kids got to pose with Santa and an AK-47.

At a recent charity event at a shooting range near Atlanta, Georgia, kids got to pose with Santa and an AK-47.

But we are hardly free from the self-inflicted violence that is a plague on all our houses. As a society and a nation, we worry and wage war on terrorism abroad, while remaining intransigent to the kind of terror we blindly and willfully inflict upon ourselves. Time and again we shoot ourselves in the foot with the weapons we hold in our hands.

I have long thought the lack of any reasonable restrictions we have when it comes to guns is rooted in their obvious appeal; leading to their preponderance in staggering numbers in a culture that allows utter unreasonableness to pose under the guise of individual rights.

At the same time, I’m convinced we will not simply legislate our way out of this morass of violence through reasonable debate, a half-baked compromise, or a better argument. We live under a fundamental fallacy that violence is an acceptable response. It is a false myth, perpetuated by current social standards and norms. It is only exaggerated by those who uncontrollably and unpredictably fall off the grid of what poses as normalcy.

Yet the totally impractical, unrealistic and prophetic message of Christmas remains undeterred; with a nagging question that comes around every year, as we prepare for this holiday in the midst of carnage and chaos. We have erred so long on the side of doing nothing, might it not be time to err instead on the side of doing something, regardless of its possible ineffectiveness?

When my spouse asked the other day what I wanted for Christmas, I replied I already had everything I needed. I’ve since changed my mind. I want an AK-47, dismantled and rendered inoperable. I don’t care if such a gesture will only be an insignificant and inconsequential drop in the bucket of unprecedented U.S. arms sales this holiday season.

As I recollect it, the reason for the season began with a voice crying in the wilderness; a place where we seem to still remain. The echo of that voice still remains as well. It is something like, “Prepare the way of the one would be the lord of life.” (Isaiah 40:3)

As I recollect it, the reason for the season began with a voice crying in the wilderness; a place where we seem to still remain. The echo of that voice still remains as well. 

 

© 2015 by John William Bennison, Rel.D. All rights reserved.

This article should only be used or reproduced with proper credit.

To read more commentaries by John Bennison from the perspective of a Christian progressive go to

http://wordsnways.com

http://thechristianprogressive.com

read more