Friday, December 31, 2004

Storytellers II

I am on location in the balmy winter air of pre-Super Bowl Jacksonville. In actuality, I just learned that the Super Bowl was going to be here today, because keeping up with football is to me as keeping up with tacos is to a green parrot. Now that I've got your attention, and your inquiries as to whether I'm legally competent enough to drive, I'll tell you that I have the most uncanny ability to be coldly logical at the wrong time. When people I love have every right to be as beyond-the-brain as I am most of the time, I say to myself, "Why? Why in the world do you have to be this way?" It's a perfectly logical question, but that doesn't make it a step in the right direction.

It's vacation time for me. This generally means that I drive quite a bit and move but little. I sat down and read Roverandom by Tolkien and some short stories by Hemingway, while I was at my future in-law's house, whiling away the hours that should be spent reconnecting to reality through my Father's loving eyes, instead of visiting worlds of fantasy that I spend too much time in anyways. I like stories, a lot. In my freshman year, I received a kindly deja vu experience when some storytellers came to Carson Newman. It wasn't the real deja vu, it was incredibly reminiscent though, of kindergarten. Storytime in kindergarten, when we all sit indian-style on carpet squares that are about three-hundred years old. And you run as fast as you can to get the blue shag one, because it feels great to sink into that two by three foot scrap of old carpet that smells like your great-uncle's creaky house where you go every Thanksgiving. You run hard to get it, until the teacher reminds you and everyone else that running is forbidden, so you must go back to where you were and start again. And you turn around and almost go back, to about ten feet from where you were. Then you turn and walk stiffly as fast as possible, like a little pewter toy soldier - only being stiff to prove that you're walking when you can really only run that fast. And you get to the stack of carpet squares first and with the most excitement and it's the fifth one down in the stack, the only blue shag carpet square in the whole bunch. And you tug hard at the corner that's sticking out from under the others and the four on top of it come crashing down on the floor to bring the teacher's programmed reply, "Pick the other ones up and put them back..........Adam." But I didn't mind. I got the blue shag carpet square and I held it under my arm even though it was three-quarters of my size long, and I picked the others up the best I could. And I didn't even mind when Mackenzie Taylor came and tugged at the blue shag carpet square under my arm, even though I had gotten there first, hadn't I? I owned it by rights until the story was over, and nobody could take it from me justly, and justice was never wronged, was it? But I said, "It's mine," and I jerked it away, and walked proudly to my place in front of the teacher, where I sat on it - there in the presence of the adjudicator of all things kindergarten, not even Demetrius Patterson could take it from me, not even Joshua Tolls could take it from me, I was the king of it until the story was over. I sat on it leaning against the shelf with the plain wooden blocks on it, and I got one in my hand - a triangle - while Ms. Smiley (that really was her name) read Ms. Nelson is Missing, because we were going to have a substitute tomorrow, but we didn't know it yet. I held that block where Ms. Smiley couldn't see it behind my leg, and I felt the coolness of the corners, so my hands could do something instead of getting me into mischief. And I sat on the blue shag carpet square that smelled like my great-uncle's creaky old house, and I held a triangle woodblock and heard a story, and I was king.

Monday, December 06, 2004


Christmastime is here. Most people have a strange concoction of possible happiness and deeply-rooted obligatory convictions about family and friends that they need to see. Sort of like oil and vinegar shaken up in a bottle together. There are shopping malls which we grace with our anxiety and impatience, and the unfortunate store clerks who are only there to make money, just like the rest of us at our respective jobs. They didn't come because there's a reason for the season. I will be the first person to tell many that I hate Christmas. Most share some sort of the same feeling, and it always seems to be for the same reason. The two terrible twins, hustle and bustle, lead us around on a chain of parental slavery. The malls, vast arteries of business, flow with cash and plastic and headaches. Children cry. Santa Claus is an altar of childish greed and parental stress - while the true story of a persecuted Lycian bishop who lived a life of love and charity (especially toward children) in the early church is all but lost, certainly among the middle-class clutter of our suburbanized culture. I have worshipped wall street. I give to those who have too much already, and I am seen as miserly if I do not. I travel to see family and friends who, if I truly had relationships with them, I would go to see anytime I could - to sit down and have a meal, to pray and talk. To share. "There is a time and a season for everything," said Solomon, but the season for the giving of love is not a single portion of the calendar year. Decorations hang upon houses with little meaning, sometimes becoming contests to create a miniature Las Vegas in a front yard. Our children learn our lies, disguised as tradition, in order to pass them on to their children. This is not the meaning of Christmas.

On Jewish holidays (or holy-days, days that are set apart as special, for that is what it means), the Jews fasted. But they became caught up in their traditions, as people often do. This is what God said through the prophet Isaiah:

"Day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?' Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please, and exploit all the workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your Righteous One will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." (Isaiah 58:2-9)

Our money, with the tiniest exceptions in programs like Lottie Moon Offerings and Christmas Child boxes, is spent feeding the rich into gluttony, and giving worthless earthly wealth to those who have too much already. I have spent some time on Christmas day for the past couple of years going to work at the Salvation Army for a few hours. Most people would say that this is a wonderful thing. I say that it is to my shame that I do this alone and not more, and that I do it on Christmas day (signifying in my mind, that it was an especially righteous thing to do). While this is better than not going at all, the problems with my heart are clear.

I don't think that God is pleased with the attitudes of our hearts toward the celebration of his Son's birth. On this, of all days, the Beautiful Word of the Lord should be spread in all languages, and the hungry should be fed, the naked clothed. The homeless sheltered, the injured cared for. The Day of Jesus's birth should not be an inspiration for the rich to cloister themselves in houses around a cascade of wealth, for a fattened people to feed themselves, for us to leave the Savior and His angels out in the cold gray streets as a monument and testimony to incorporated Christianity, for guilt to be spread because of parties not given and not attended, because of musicals not rehearsed, because of cards not sent, because of phone calls never made. 'Tis the season of giving. We must change. We must remember Jesus and his unfailing love of the unloveable on this of all days.