Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas food--for thought

Trying to stay as far away as possible for the yearly revival of the "war on Christmas"--the loony notion that somehow, somewhere, Evil Secular Forces are trying to rob good, churchgoing Christian people of the ability to wish everyone Merry Christmas--I am impressed with two recent columns which meditate on the meaning of this day beyond doctrinaire Christianity. They make good food for thought to accompany the goodies from your Christmas table.

In the Boston Globe, James Carroll interprets the story of Jesus as a reaction to life at the crossroads of empires--the Middle East then as now was a battleground, with successive imperial forces fighting it out at the expense of helpless local residents. In Carroll's view, Jesus Christ presented a radical new way of negotiating one's way through the world. Since the invading empires used military force to solve problems, he preached the gospel of non-violence, of turning the other cheek, of walking a mile in your enemy's shoes. I found that reading compelling because that's exactly what we have been living this century and last, nation-states trying to impose their will on others through military means. Iraq is just the latest example.

That alternative--non-violence, creative compromise, whatever you would like to call NOT living by the sword--is still out there for people, still available, still viable. It's just that it's a bit harder to live in the short term--it's always more satisfying somehow to whack people, knock them down, make them knuckle under.

Then, in yesterday's WAPO, E.J. Dionne writes about St. Francis and the Franciscans, who posited that Jesus was born in materially poor circumstances and that consequently the meaning of Christ and Christmas lies in simultaneously liberating yourself from material concerns and helping the poor with life's basics. Dionne profiles some modern-day, lay Franciscans, Catholic Relief Services workers in Afghanistan, who decline to preach Christianity or Catholicism in favor of helping bring water, adequate nutrition and education to the peoples of that benighted land. The CRS principal there declares, memorably, that they are not there to help people find Heaven, but to get them out of hell--the earthly, Taliban-plagued hell they live in. I have definitely heard narrower, less generous views of Christmas than that in my life.

De-emphasized materialism, non-violence and charity, the first of all human virtues...if these values can serve as the foundation for your New Year 2009 as well as your 2008 Christmas, you will indeed have found the real reasons for the season.

Merry Christmas!


Post a Comment

<< Home

Free Web Counter
hit Counter