Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I REALLY don't like Christmas

OK, I was going to hold off on this until December, but certain people have called me out, so here it is.

I hate Christmas -- that's right, I hate Christmas -- not the commercialization (although that stinks, too), I truly, genuinely, down to my bones hate Christmas.

To help you understand this, I'm posting a copy of a piece that ran in the local newspaper last year -- and this is the "nice" version (I still have the original piece I wrote which is a little harsher -- OK, much harsher).

Anyhow, here's the nice version -- feel free to post whatever comments you wish about what a mean, awful, terrible person I am...

Why Christmas?

Confessions of a self-professed Grinch

By Ken Grant

Every December, when that great song, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" comes on, my kids demand that I turn up the radio so they can sing – or gleefully scream – the lyrics at me.

Grinch, Scrooge, the Anti-Claus, take your pick of titles – I gladly wear them all.

I honestly do not like Christmas, I do not enjoy any aspect of it, and I'm finding that more and more people are admitting that they're not all that thrilled with it, either.

I can already hear the cries of heresy coming from faithful Christians and even not-so-faithful-but-we-show-up-for-church-twice-a-year types alike. But, if we take a moment to look at the origins of Christmas, we might find that the truly Christian thing to do might be to shift our focus to something more substantive and meaningful every December.

Nowhere in scripture are Christians commanded to celebrate the birth of Christ. I challenge anyone to find a scriptural reference to the First Century Church celebrating Christmas. In fact, two of the four canonized gospels don't even mention the birth of Jesus.

By contrast, the followers of Christ are admonished to observe two things: Communion and Baptism. All other feasts, festivals, and observances are entirely optional (see Colossians 2:16).

So, when did we start this Christmas tradition? Allow me to quote from George W. Cornell:
For more than 300 years after Jesus' time, Christians didn't celebrate his birth. The observance began in fourth century Rome, timed to coincide with a mid-winter pagan festival honoring the pagan gods Mithra and Saturn. The December date was simply taken over to commemorate Jesus' birth, since its exact date isn't known. Consequently, the fusion of the sacred and the profane characterized the celebration from the start.

The reality is that celebrating new life following the winter solstice is something that's been done for some time – much more than 2,000 years. Switching the celebration from Ra the Egyptian sun-god, Adonis the Syrian god, Mithras the Persian sun-god, and any number of Norse gods (Oden being the most prevalent) to the birth of Christ seemed to have occurred almost seamlessly – in fact, nearly EVERYTHING that we associate with the Christmas tradition (evergreen trees, holy, lights, candles, etc.) can be traced back to one or more of these pagan origins.

To be perfectly honest with you, I don't know how ministers go through this every year. Let's think about this for a moment. The average minister has 52 Sundays a year to teach, to preach, to explore the deep and rich mysteries of scripture found throughout the Bible. Out of those 52 Sundays, the minister is forced by tradition to focus on a small handful of passages for at least four of those Sundays every year – re-hashing the same themes year after year after year.

And again, this is for something that really has very little to do with the crux of Christianity . I challenge anyone to show me where Peter preached about the importance of the birth of Christ. How about an epistle from Paul where he explains to a growing church the need to have a manger scene set up by the second week of December?

The message of Christ is profound – he did not call his disciples to look at his baby pictures . He told his followers to pick up their crosses and follow him to death. Paul tells us that presenting ourselves as living sacrifices is our reasonable act of worship. Peter's sermon at Pentecost focused exclusively on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Again, the two practices Christians are ordered to observe – baptism and communion – are symbols of sacrifice, death, and resurrection – not of incarnation and birth.

Of course, it makes sense for just about anyone to be more comfortable focusing time and attention on a harmless, cute baby than to deal with the man who calls you to sacrifice your pride and your ego to follow him to an uncertain future.

I am not advocating that everyone quit celebrating Christmas. But I am asking for two things. First, figure out what it is you are celebrating and why you are celebrating it. If it's just tradition or a warm, fuzzy feeling, that's OK – just be honest about it. Second, please don't tell me that I "must" celebrate with you.

By the way, the kids don't seem to mind the fact that their father is a Grinch.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Let's open the books!

Anyone who knows me knows that I really can't stand certain individuals who claim to preach about the God of the Bible while actually preaching a message that is contrary to scripture (God wants to give you money) and living a lifestyle that Robin Leach would consider excessive.

Well, it looks like Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is starting to ask some of these people to open their books to justify their tax-exempt status.

Again, anyone who knows me knows that I am normally opposed to government interfering with anything very much. But, in this case I believe this may be a good thing.

I guess the only thing that frustrates me is the fact that no matter what happens there will always be another group of charlatans and liars ready to fleece the foolish -- and another group of people ready to hand over their cash.

Click here to read Sen. Grassley's press release and copies of the letters he wrote.

Where do you live?

I have some truly interesting, insightful, and talented friends (chances are that if you are reading this you are one of the interesting, insightful, talented people in my life).

I just wanted to share something one of those friends has written (he said it was OK to post it here). Let me know what you think -- and which floor you see yourself on...

Recovery From Pride
By Brad Bosler
October 24, 2007

I lived on the seventeenth floor of a building before. When you have to walk up all seventeen floors using the stairs, you realize what it means to raise yourself up on your own power! When you make it, you feel like you have accomplished something. The building of life, though, is much higher. When adversity eventually brought me down, I realized the stairs I once bounded up with the energy of Pride, were now tougher in humiliation. When I reached out for help, someone showed me another option- the up elevator of grace. Having been raised up, I now want to offer the same option to the homeless of Elkton, Md.

I am in “recovery” from Pride. When I was young, around 18, I lived high on the building of life! Pride energized me. It took me up, high enough to where the view was great! I thought life could not be any better than what I had made out of it. It was as if I was living in a skyscraper. Everyone moved below me. In the distance, the horizon stretched for miles all around, and from my viewpoint, I could see that every road emanated from me. In my arrogance, I believed everyone below me was inferior, and if I wanted to help someone, it was to raise them up to my level because they were less than me.

I was full of pride. Adversity, then, was what I needed to become humble. It would not have been my choice, though. Through a series of adversities, mostly as a result of my arrogant actions, I began to fall down. Sometimes it was down the steps. Other times, I was plummeting in the down elevator. On my way down, I saw those I once thought I towered over become farther above me while I continued to fall. As sadness and humiliation grew, I desperately wanted to stop falling. However, as time passed, I began to see that there was much farther I could fall! Ground level would not be the bottom! That’s when I reached out for help, stopped falling, and got out on whatever floor I was at. I was closer to street level than I had ever thought I would be in my life. If I was full of pride before, adversity showed me I had room to grow.

In a famous poem by Langston Hughes called Mother to Son, the mother who has seen hard times tells her son, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor—Bare. But all the time I’s been a-climbin’ on…” When I reached my bottom and reached out, I found those same hard stairs she was talking about. For me, life had been crystal stairs, but now, at the bottom, getting back to those stairs seemed impossible. The stairs at the bottom are rough and filled with splinters. The steps I once bounded up with the energy of Pride, now seemed impossible in darkness of humiliation. Despite how low I felt, I did begin to trudge upwards. I was determined to get back up to that towering view, to regain what I once had. The beauty of that view and the serenity of the height enticed me. Yet, as much as I tried, I could not seem to make much progress.

Trudging slowly up the steps, I realized I could only raise myself so far on my own energy. I needed help. I needed a lift. Through personal struggle and the guidance of others who had fallen, I realized I needed a power greater than myself, one that I could fully trust. That’s when I made the decision to step onto the up elevator of grace. Giving up on believing I could get myself back to the top, I found myself raised up. The ride up was easy, freeing, and exhilarating. But too soon it stopped. The doors opened, and I was let out somewhere in the middle. I wasn’t on the top floor. In fact, I could still see the ground easily. Furthermore, I could look up and see that there were plenty of floors above me. The view was nice, and I could see some roads and their apparent directions, but I was more confused as to why I was not raised any higher! I did not get my pride back! Instead, my heart still felt broken, yet it did seem somehow strengthened as a result of my fall. It was then that I realized that I was not supposed to stay on this floor. I was now supposed go back down and lead others to where I had been raised.

That is where I find myself now- drawn to homeless people on the streets of Elkton, Maryland, at Grace Community Church, a church dedicated to reaching the lost. Not all homeless people are all criminals, mental patients, and drug addicts. Some of them are just lost, stuck in the down elevator not knowing that they can get off, let alone aware of the fact that there is a way back up. Many seem to have gotten off on ground level. From there, all they see are the bottoms of the buildings, as they look no farther than their next meal or a warm place to stay that night. They don’t even want to think about the heights they can rise to or the beautiful view above. Some don’t even know how to find the door so they can get in and start climbing again. Opening the door is the goal of our church. If we can feed them and give them a place to stay, maybe they can look a little farther up. Maybe they will decide to start climbing the steps with our help. Better yet, maybe they will decide to take the up elevator and be raised up.

Throughout my life, adversity led me to the down elevator, especially when I half-heartedly tried the up. Fortunately, people reached out to me when I was falling and showed me the way back up. Having been lifted from my fall, I feel like I have been saved. I want to tell those on the bottom floors, those whose vision is so obstructed by the immediate walls around them, that there is a higher floor, one that reveals a vision of this world that is breath taking. Likewise, I also want to go up and tell those who are so high they have lost sight of the ground to remember those below who are in need, those like the homeless people in Elkton. As a result of my “recovery” from Pride, I am living on the middle floor. It’s high enough to see the view, low enough to see the street, temporary enough that I know I am not supposed to stay there forever.

Friday, November 2, 2007

My attempt at a book review

I just finished reading the book "Crazy for God" by Frank Schaeffer and tried to write a review for (it wouldn't take, long story).

So, here's the review:

Imagine trying to explain your life - good, bad, inconsistent, embarrassments - everything.

That's pretty much what Frank Schaeffer has done in “Crazy for God.”

Having read many of the criticisms from those who can't seem to come to grips with the concept of Francis and Edith Schaeffer being less than models of perfection, I have to question whether those individuals finished reading this memoir. I find a Frank Schaeffer who painstakingly tries to share his struggles, doubts, shortcomings, regrets, failures, and - finally - his coming to terms with his father, mother, wife, children, and faith. I find Mr. Schaeffer to be much harder on himself (and his work) in this book than on anyone else.

Schaeffer does something else - he allows us to get the perspectives of his friends, siblings, and children. He seems to give them all the room they need to share their memories and offer their slants on the events in their shared experiences.

Chapter 25 is a must read for everyone who has ever attended a prayer meeting.

Having more than a passing familiarity with at least two of the worlds Mr. Schaeffer exposes (the political and the evangelical), I find his accounts to ring with more truth than most in either camp would care to admit.

In the end, we find a man who is more interested in dealing with life in all of its inconsistencies and nuances than in defining everything in a simplistic “black/white - us/them” fashion.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is ready to wrestle with some of their own preconceived notions about themselves and their beliefs.

UPDATE: While Amazon wouldn't work with me -- Barnes and Noble did, click here to see the site.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Torah class!

It seems like a lifetime ago (actually about 10 years) when I told some friends that I was interested in learning more about the Jewish faith. I told them I would be interested in attending some services and classes but didn't know where to begin. They both ridiculed me and told me that my curiosity would not be welcomed. I believed them.

Fast Forward to the summer of 2006.

I'm talking with my friend, Brad, who tells me about how he's going to start taking Torah classes on Thursday nights. My eyes lit up -- here was my chance -- I asked Brad if there was any way I might be able to come, too.

So it was that last fall I started going to the local Temple on Thursday nights to soak up as much as I could from Rabbi David.

I would come home each Thursday night and tell my wife about what I had learned -- the "new" concepts I was exploring (only things that have been discussed and debated for about 5,000 years now).

The classes went through the early part of this year.

Now, I get to go again!

I think it's safe to say you will be reading a lot about these classes in the months to come.