Archive for the ‘cultural wars’ Tag

We Just Go Nuts At Christmas   1 comment

Hi, this is Brad because Lela is probably cooking Christmas Eve dinner.

Ah, Christmas, season of goodwill toward … uh, well, not my fellow man judging by the guy who flipped me off in the parking lot when I took the parking space he wanted and the woman who shrieked at the store clerk because the latest Star Wars bauble was sold out.

Peace on earth might come about if someone could find and destroy the musak machine and slip tranquilizers into the alcohol supply, but I know that’s dreaming.

What exactly gets people in such a tizzy? Is it being forced to give gifts to people they probably can’t stand the rest of the year? Surely it can’t be that you actually have to vacuum before guests come over! I thought we were the only people who neaten up before letting non-residents into the house. No?

Yeah, okay, I’m glad to know I’m not alone. I grew up in a very Irish Catholic family … BOSTON Irish Catholic, so for most of my childhood, Christmas started with going to church on Christmas Eve afternoon to confess my sins so I could take communion at the candlelight service and then going home to Christmas Day which was essentially a drunken party where the adults got into huge fights over football and broke the furniture wrestling in the living room. I haven’t made peace with that yet, but Lela has mostly made peace with her family’s issues and I would love to be in the same mind-space because I know it’s a healthy place to be. Meanwhile, I live in Alaska and do my best to avoid the Saturnalia while concentrating on Christ’s birth. Yeah, IF he makes it heaven, the pope who decided it was a good idea to hide Christmas in Saturnalia is going to have some explaining to do.

But let’s take a deep breath and consider Christmas for a moment. A cousin (or, er, I think he’s really my father’s second ex-wife’s kid by a third marriage) is all up in arms this year about Christmas. He keeps posting Facebook memes (like that word? Lela taught it to me) about how God is a sadistic bastard for sending his kid down here to be killed.

I decided not to respond directly, but hey, Lela has a blog for a reason.

So, just to set the record straight —

Jesus is God come to earth as a flesh and blood human being so He could understand us.

I know! We make a big deal about how Jesus is the Son of God, but that’s really not the true relationship. Jesus consistently referred to Himself as “Son of Man.” Why? The simplistic understanding is that “Son of God” focuses on His deity and “Son of Man” implies His humanity. Both are true.

Jesus was, during His lifetime on earth, a human being, but He is and remains God, the Second Person of the Trinity with all of the divine nature fully in Him.

 

Jesus was born of a human woman and conceived by the Holy Spirit. He had no human father in the physical sense. Jesus was and remains divine and He was human during His lifetime on Earth.

But there is a more important and sophisticated historical insight buried behind the simplistic explanation. In Daniel 7, the Bible introduces “the Son of Man” as a very exalted figure. It must mean something that Jesus adopted the term as His favorite self-designation.

Mark 10:45 “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That’s just one example.

On the face of it, Son of Man is an ordinary phrase for “human being.” Jesus was born as a human. But if you know about Daniel 7, you know He was claiming a very exalted role in the history of redemption. Mark 10 suggests He meant to fulfill that role.

Jesus subtly revealed His identity to those with eyes to see, but He didn’t announce it so blatantly that everybody would come and make Him king. He steered a very narrow course in disclosing His identity, rather than openly announcing, “I’m the Messiah, I’m the King of the World. Come and acknowledge me as King.”

Instead He would make claims that were explicit in certain settings and implicit in others. Only when the time was right—mainly when He was on trial for His life, and they asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the living God?”—did he say, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man coming with great power and glory.” So He confessed His open deity right at the point where He knew He would be crucified for it.

It would be very cruel if God sent a helpless baby to Earth to die for our sins, but in reality, Jesus was God Who voluntarily stepped down into human flesh so that He could understand us. I don’t completely understand why that would be necessary … maybe it wasn’t and He was just curious as to why His creation keeps wandering from His loving-kindness … but whether I fully understand why or how it was possible for God to become a human being is not nearly as important as what He accomplished in doing it.

He put a human face to deity. He understands why we struggle with sin. He gave Himself to fulfill His own requirements rather than have us do it. There is absolutely no reason to be angry at God for sending Jesus to die in a barbaric way because God Himself sent Himself to earth knowing that we humans would kill God rather than admit that He loves us … but He also knew that some folks would recognize His sacrifice and let Him save them.

Pause and take a moment to consider that the baby in the manger was God Himself submitting to our messy existence so that He might love us all the more by understanding us fully. The creator of the universe enduring hunger and crappy diapers, skinning his knees and doing chores, puberty, ridicule, shame, cold, sleeplessness and hatred, and even torture, humiliation and death by one of the most barbaric forms of execution ever devised … and He chose to do it because He loves you, and wants you to be reconciled to Him, which will bring peace to you that could, if you let it, spread to others.

Merry Christmas.

Peace on Earth

Goodwill to Mankind

Santa That Ole Demon   2 comments

 

Hi, this is Kyle – Lela’s son and this is my first post on the blog.

My English teacher assigned us to make her afraid of Santa, so this is my contribution.

 

Santa seems like a jolly old elf, but in reality he is a demon. Even Satan can appear as an angel of light, so why would we assume that a jolly fat man wouldn’t be evil?

Think about it. He sneaks into people’s houses by sliding down their chimneys in the middle of the night. Most of us would shoot someone who did that, but we let Santa in every winter as if he’s welcome.

He then requires us to provide him with milk and cookies so that he will leave presents, but if we fail to give him milk and cookies, he steals children instead, takes them to his workshop and forces them to make toys.

If his “elves” (slaves) fail to work as he wants them to, he then feeds them to the reindeer to give them magical powers so that they can fly his evil night journey of sliding down chimneys, accepting bribes and stealing more children to use in his workshop … or feed to his demonic reindeer.

Yeah, my mom gave me permission to do this.

Merry Christmas and remember, you can board up that fireplace.

Freedom in Christmas   2 comments

This is part of a series. Check it out.

One of the symbols of life found in the celebration of saturnalia was the use of evergreens. These plants stayed green all year long so were often used in different cultures as symbols of life and rebirth. They were sometimes decorated as a form of worship in religious ceremonies dealing with fertility. Evergreens are traditionally used in Christmas celebrations because, during the coldest of winter when snow was on the ground, the “Christmas tree” was always green. This is why some ancient cultures would use them in their various forms of celebration and sometimes even worship.

The mistletoe was considered a curative plant and was used in many ancient medicinal recipes. The Celts even believed that the parasite plant contained the soul of the tree on which it lived. The Celtic druids used mistletoe in their religious ceremonies. The priests would cut it up and distribute it to the people who would place the cuttings over the doorways of their homes. This was supposed to protect the dwellers from various forms of evil. The ancient Swedes called it a symbol of peace and it would be tied above a table of negotiation as a symbol of reconciliation.

It is entirely possible that the Roman Catholic Church deliberately incorporated these pagan symbols into Christian worship in order to get pagans to be comfortable with Christianity.

But ….

It’s also entirely possible that pagans who became actual Christians just didn’t let go of some things because they liked how they looked or smelled or the symbolism that it represented.

It’s important to remember that Christians are not bound under the law because we have died to law (Romans 7:4) and we are under grace (Romans 6:14). This does not mean that we can go out and commit various sins, but we are free, and have the right to exercise our freedom, so long as we do not use our freedom as an excuse to do questionable things or stumble others. We must be careful and wise in our freedom.

In 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, Paul talks about the meat that was sacrificed to idols and then sold in the meat market place. The question arose, “Can a Christian eat such meat?” Paul replied, “Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience’ sake.” Why did Paul answer that way? Because we are free in Christ and that which had a pagan association with it does not degrade the Christian if the Christian has his eyes and his confidence in Jesus Who sanctifies all things.

So, using a Christmas tree and mistletoe depends on the attitude of a particular Christian and what he believes about Scripture regarding this. For some it’s okay, and for other Christians it is not. Neither should condemn the other.

Posted December 23, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Diversity’s Mark on Christmas   4 comments

This is part of a series. Check it out.

So I said I feel no guidance from God not to celebrate His birth as Jesus. Despite that, I do feel guidance from God to celebrate His birth in some ways and not in others.

While it might surprise some observers, cultural diversity is built into the DNA of the Christian churches. Read the description of Pentecost in Acts and you see a lot of cultures. Study the Jerusalem Council in Acts 14 and you see the churches coming to grips with that reality. We should expect the churches to take different forms to connect with different people and to, within Biblical boundaries, to develop a variety of doctrines in response to the various cultures Christianity enters.

Many of the doctrines we take for granted – the Trinity for example – were developed in response to questions that arose during the early centuries of Christianity – sticking points, if you will, that occurred as Christianity encountered different cultures and needed to explain itself better. This does not mean Christianity is becoming syncretic. That’s the theory of people who truly do not understand Christianity. The doctrine of the Trinity was always understood within the early church (see Philippians 2), but by stating it clearly, the church was (attempting) to make itself clearly understood. Many other doctrines are evidence that the church adapted to cultural differences while remaining faithful to the word of God. When cultural influences steered the Roman Catholic Church seriously off track, Bible believing Christians attempted to reverse the syncretism and that became known as the Reformation.

A church needs to be immersed in a particular culture in order to serve people of that culture. Christianity is God working through people, after all. While some ecclesiastic bodies have tried to impose hegemony on Christians living within diverse cultures, that is not God’s way at all. At Pentecost, Peter and the other apostles spoke their own language, but the crowd heard them in their own languages. They then took the gospel they learned that day to their home territories.

I am personally leery of churches that are made up of a homogeneous culture because I was spiritually born in a racially and ethnically diverse church. Still, within that heterogeneous church culture, homogeneous groups formed because those sub-groups shared common language and cultural experiences. There is nothing wrong with that so long as those sub-groups do not become inclusive, and at that particularly church they did not. I learned to eat with chopsticks from Koreans. I am offered seal oil by Native folks (and take a requisite no-thank-you taste as often as it is offered). I know how to make agudiq and tamales (badly). I learned these things from my fellow Christians who are of other cultures than mine.

So, the idea that different churches in the early Christian era practiced Christianity in somewhat different ways, appropriate to their culture, does not surprise or alarm me. I don’t have an issue with early Gentile Christians practicing Christianity in Gentile ways and early Jewish Christians practicing Christianity in Jewish ways. It doesn’t bother me that the church at Rome, surrounded by Saturnalia worshippers, chose to celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25. What bothers me is that the Roman Catholic Church later required all Christians to do it the same way.

The Roman pagans lit candles as an offering to Saturn to convince this god to reverse the track of the sun and bring back summer. When the days lengthened, they had a big drunken party to celebrate.

Christians in that society were probably also praying to God that the days would lengthen and when they saw God’s patterns turning toward spring, they might have gotten together for a Lord’s Supper and a fellowship feast. Maybe someone reflecting on the starry night was reminded of Christ’s birth and, viola, we now use the solstice celebration to remember Jesus’ birthday.

My Celtic ancestors dragged evergreens into their houses midwinter and also offered sacrifices to pagan gods in hopes that the sun would not continue its downward descent. Their worship included building great bonfires, decorating with evergreen plants such as holly, ivy, and mistletoe, and making representations of summer birds as house decorations. It is sometimes hard to separate those who became Christians because they believed the gospel story and those who became Christians because the power of Rome required it, but recognize that the church in Rome had very little to do with the Celtic churches, which grew up separately by the work of missionaries and remained largely on their own for several hundred years during the Dark Ages when the Roman Catholic Church was imposing its hegemony on the rest of Europe. There remained an emphasis in the Celtic churches for a personal commitment to faith that included an examination of your life practices. To assume that pagans simply remained pagans and brought their pagan practices into the churches is not to understand how Biblical Christianity works.

Are the Celtic and Germanic elements of Christmas signs of syncretism or are they simply the adoption of cultural elements into the practice of Christianity? If I love the smell of evergreens in my home midwinter, why would God refuse me that practice if I’m not using the evergreens in worship of a pagan god?

None of us alive today can be really certain of what was in the minds of the  new Celtic Christians since we weren’t there. But what we do know is that in AD 49, there was a gathering of Christian leaders at the church in Jerusalem and a letter was transmitted that basically said “Gentiles do not have to become Jewish to become Christians.” So for almost 2000 years, it’s been okay for Christians to not circumcise their children, to eat seafood and pork, to kindle a fire on Saturday (or turn on an electric light, which amounts to the same thing). The 613 rules that the Pharisees strove to keep in order to be in line with God do not apply to Gentile Christians … they don’t even apply to Messianic Jews … because they were never God’s law, but cultural practices some Jews adopted in a wasted effort to make themselves perfect. Christians are held instead to Paul’s guidance in 1 Corinthians – it’s okay to eat meat offered to idols because what goes in the mouth does not make a man unclean, but what comes out of his heart does, but … if you’re with another Christian whose conscience is bothered by eating meat sacrificed to idols, you should abstain rather than cause your Christian brother to violate his own conscience.

The vast majority of practicing Biblical Christians are comfortable with the trappings of Christmas. They don’t worship Santa, but they aren’t offended by the fictional character. They don’t see themselves as participating in a syncretic religion because they have some formerly pagan trappings mixed in with their religious observance. The decorations are pretty and nothing more.

Some practicing Biblical Christians are offended by Christmas. And, I can certainly understand feeling that the Savior is being ignored if you live in North Pole Alaska with its candy cane light poles and its Santa Claus House. I know some Christians who will not celebrate Christmas with any traditional trappings, though they may honor Christ’s birth through a religious observance.

That is their choice. There is no reason to argue about it. The Christmas-enjoying Christians are not likely to grow any closer to God by discontinuing the practice of Christmas. The Santa-haters are also not likely to be uplifted by joining in the practice of Christmas.

But hey, the atheists who hate Christmas and want to see it ended (or at least see the religious part of it hidden behind closed doors) love to see us argue because they see such in-fighting for what it is – a lack of understanding unity.

We are fighting over a dust mote in our eyes when we have much greater things to face and overcome as churches.

A Christian History of Christmas   4 comments

This is part of a series. Check it out

The Bible never mentions Christmas. The early Christian churches did not celebrate Christ’s birth. They celebrated Christ’s resurrection (which is a topic for Easter), but Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. The apostles and the churches they founded did not celebrate it or commemorate it. In fact, it was about 300 years after Christ’s death before we see the first recorded observance of Christ’s birth. It seems strange to folks nowadays, but the early Christians praised that Jesus Christ was God come in the flesh, but the day of His birth had no relevance to them because Jesus was no longer physically on earth. It was the risen and exalted Christ to whom they looked, not a baby in a manger. So how did we come to celebrate Christmas. Well, there are a lot of contradictory explanations for the celebration.

Some say Christmas was first practiced in Rome in 354 AD under Bishop Liberius, others say it was in the Church at Jerusalem about 440 AD, while still others believe Constantine created it whole-cloth to legitimize the Saturnalia festival around 380 AD. Which tells me that nobody really knows and that it is likely that the celebration of Christ’s birth was slowly growing in the churches before Liberius set it among the Saturnalia festival in 354 AD.

Contrary to popular belief, Emperor Constantine did not rescue Christianity from extinction and he had very little to do with most of our traditions and doctrines. Christianity flourished despite the best efforts of his predecessors to destroy it. When Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, he declared Christianity a legal religion. This ended one of the bloodiest and fiercest persecutions of Christians by the Roman government, called the Diocletian persecution. This edict didn’t make Christianity the official religion of the Empire. That was actually done by the later Emperor Theodosius in 380 AD. Christianity had continued to evangelize despite persecution and it is estimated that 40% the population of the Roman Mediterrean region espoused Christian beliefs by the time Constantine recognized the religion as allowed among other religions. Constantine was just getting on board with what he recognized as inevitable.

As Christianity began to be practiced more by Gentiles than Jews, the Jewish religious ceremonies and holidays were less a part of Christian practice. This is perfectly understandable. The Jerusalem Council in AD 49 allowed Gentles to remain culturally Gentiles while practicing Christianity. They were not required to be circumcised or to observe Jewish rites. But people love ceremonies and festivals, so it is highly likely that Christians were already observing Christ’s birthday around the Roman empire by the time the holiday was fixed to December 25. It may have been celebrated at different times depending on a community’s own cultural calendar. It’s likely that the church in Rome was already celebrating Christ’s birth around the same time as the Saturnalia festival because a persecuted people do not want to seem out of step with their neighbors and what better way to hide your beliefs than to gather when others are celebrating and celebrate something of your own?

Jesus was not born on December 25. Biblical scholars think He was probably born in September. Just because the apostles did not celebrate Christ’s birth does not mean we cannot. There are many things that occur in our world today that were not sanctioned by the apostles. We celebrate the 4th of July as American Independence Day, for example. I do know some people who object strenuously, but there’s no Biblical evidence that the apostles or Jesus would have objected to the celebration of a cultural event. Let’s remember, Jesus and the apostles continued to celebrate their own cultural events throughout their lifetimes while at the same time Jesus’ brother James and the other apostles came to recognize that Gentiles were not Jews and were allowed to put their own cultural stamp on the Christianity they observed.

Jesus was God come to earth, stepped out of glory into human flesh and destined to die for our sin. After His death and resurrection, His birth is easily the greatest event in human history. It makes sense that some early Christians gradually adopted a religious observance of that birth. It may be unfortunate that the church at Rome elected to officially observe the celebration on December 25 and then force the rest of the Christian churches to fall in line. I get why they did that, but they probably should have avoided the connection with Saturnalia.

But in 2015, I am 1600 years after that decision. I did take a pause several times during my younger years to ask God if it offended Him that Christians acknowledge Jesus’ birthday on December 25. He hasn’t gotten back to me, even though He regularly corrects my behavior in other areas.

Christmas is one of those times when we gather with family and friends and it allows us to share our faith in a non-threatening way. If for some reason, the world around me suddenly declared Christmas to be ended, I would still celebrate it. If they changed the date for the celebration, I might well change my observance to that date.

My point is, Christians should – if they want to – observe Jesus’ birth. We should constantly be lifting up praises to God for EVERYTHING He has done for us. In some ways every day of the year is Christmas for Christians. We just happen to call December 25 by that name. If you don’t want to celebrate it then, you don’t have to. But we do and I absolutely do not feel any guidance from God not to

Christmas Wars   5 comments

The Christmas “wars” have started for 2015. Most years it’s the atheists who lob the first volley when they act like tyrants, but this year a Christian freaked out over the color of Starbuck’s coffee cups.

Oh my! Can we stop? Please!!

The United States of America is a pluralistic society. Approximately 80% of Americans identify as “Christian.” They don’t, for the most part, match the Biblical definition of Christian (that’s less than 20% of the population), but this 80% includes a lot of cultural “Christians” who grew up celebrating Christmas with Nativity scenes and Santa Claus, evergreens and eggnog. Of the other 20% of Americans who are not cultural Christians, there are many who still celebrate the secular version of Christmas. Why? Because it’s fun.

There are small percentages of others who are “offended” by the whole idea of Christmas and some of these folks work overtime to make the celebration of Christmas as miserable as possible for the rest of us.

Why? I guess they find their Grinch-like behavior to be fun and amusing? Or, er ….

Well, to be perfectly honest, I think many of them are simply tyrants who want to force others to live and act in ways that they approve. They may believe they’re doing it for our good, but in reality, they are simply tyrants.

But …

If I’m completely honest with myself, atheists aren’t the only ones who seem bent on taking the fun out of Christmas. And that is going to be my research theme for the season. You’ll find the complete discussion her.

Merry Christmas 2015

Christmas Wars (This article

A Christian History of Christmas

Diversity’s Mark on Christmas

Freedom in Christmas

Santa That Old Demon

We Just Go Nuts At Christmas

First Noel

 

A Brouhaha About Nothing   2 comments

So apparently there’s some sort of flap about Starbucks and a red cup. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/nation-now/2015/11/11/itsjustacup-mocks-starbucks-red-cup-controversy/75563876/

As a Christian, I should be very exercised by this denigration of Christmas and Jesus and join a picket line outside of a local Starbucks.

AFP 546238018 A FIN USA DCBut I’m not. Here’s why:

  1. It’s zero here today and that is the worst possible time to picket anywhere.
  2. I don’t like Starbucks coffee so I rarely drink it. Don’t get me wrong. I like coffee — A LOT. But Fairbanks has plenty of independent coffee huts that make WAY better coffee than Starbucks, so I only drink it if I’m at Barnes & Noble and then only if its’ really cold outside. I can find better coffee almost anywhere else in Fairbanks and for a lower price and that helps the local economy.
  3. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, so why should I get exercised over someone (possibly) denigrating Christmas yet? Let’s deal with the denigration of Thanksgiving first. Have you noticed that except for turkeys, you pretty much wouldn’t know that Thanksgiving is a holiday. Our grocery stores here (which are all large chains) decorated for Christmas November 1. So, if I was going to get exercised over the color of a cup at Starbucks, I would complain that it’s not orange.

There! See! Now we’re at least in the right month.

So, here’s the thing. As a Christian, I am very much annoyed that stores try to turn Christmas into a midwinter festival. When cashiers say “Happy Holidays” to me, I say “Merry Christmas” in return. It’s a deliberate choice on my part and I don’t care if it annoys you. Get over it. I celebrate Christmas. You can celebrate what you want, but you don’t have the right to force me to celebrate it with you.

I do my Christmas shopping, mostly, in September, so I don’t really notice if stores are not highlighting Christmas at Christmas, but I do try to frequent on-line stores that celebrate Christmas as Christmas, so yes, I care about the issue and encourage those Christians who actually shop during the Christmas season to choose to not shop at stores that act as if Christmas is more about Santa and reindeer than Jesus Christ. I don’t think you’re silly. If stores want to ignore the Christian aspects of the midwinter festivity, well, losing some business might be enlightening for them.

But, folks, choose your battles and weapons carefully. Accusing Starbucks of “hating Jesus” because of the color of a coffee cup just feeds their corporate PR machine and, trust me, they don’t need our help with that. Their advertising budget is enormous and now Christians — all of us and not just the useful idiots — are seen to have blown our wad on a controversy that just looks silly.

Now, maybe we can get back to celebrating Thanksgiving in November instead of looking like fools.

Enough said?

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