Sunday, December 27, 2009

RETHINKING CHRISTMAS

How do you take the most commercialized, commodified holiday of the year and truly make it meaningful for yourself, your family, and your community? This Christmas I am especially struck by the Christian message of humility contrasted with the secular message of consumption.

In Christian liberation theology, we are invited to identify with a Jesus who is poor, oppressed, and alienated. We see Jesus as a figure who enters suffering willingly and transcends it. At Plymouth UCC we recently watched an interview of black liberation theologist Dr. James Cone with Bill Moyers.

Do we identify with the oppressed or with the oppressor? James Cone asks. Do we identify with those in power or with the powerless? Our answer may affect how we choose to commemorate Christmas.

A Facebook friend recently mentioned how much she loves Christmas in Manhattan, and several people chimed in with “thumbs up” and agreement about the beautiful shop windows on Fifth Avenue. I couldn’t help bursting the bubble. “Seriously?” I commented, “I try to stay away from all that.”

Didn’t we have our crash? Aren’t lavish window displays soooo 2008? Do we still identify with the wealthy and powerful, having suffered at their hands, losing jobs and houses and health care and more? Do we still long for luxury, knowing how fleeting it all is, and knowing that the environment or developing nations have been exploited to produce many such goods? Remember GW Bush’s “haves and have-mores”? Surely we are over all that.

If we take Jesus’s suffering to heart, how does that affect the celebration of Christmas? Thankfully my kids, young adults, have matured beyond the hunger for new toys that used to dominate the holiday, and we have been able to keep the gift exchange low-key.

So how do we honor the holiday without the commercial trappings? How do we celebrate Christmas as common people, working people, simple people, honoring Jesus, who was born in a shed, for God’s sake?

As soon as my teaching obligations ended for the year, I went into a sewing frenzy. I set up my sewing machine in the dining room, went through my piles of scrap fabric, and sewed: 2 pairs of yoga bloomers, 6 yoga mat bags, 5 pranayama bolsters, and 1 one grocery shopping bag, so far. When the kids were little we used to make dozens of candles to give to friends. I find that making things serves as a wonderful foil to consuming, which can often feel more like destroying. Instead of destroying we are creating. We also used to make handmade Christmas cards, loving inscribed with personal messages. Since the kids have gotten older, this tradition fell by the wayside, but I’m determined to send cards again this year. I also made quite a few cds of my favorite podcasts over the past year, from favorite public radio programs such as Speaking of Faith and Radiolab.

We celebrated Christmas day with our second annual film festival, with each member of the family selecting a film. I invited my whole local email list of 200 friends, and quite a few came by, including Jews and atheists, those without family in town, and several members of my favorite demographic—older single women.

Not only at Christmas, but throughout the year, can we take on the point of view of the oppressed rather than the oppressor? Can we live like Jesus each day? Can we identify more with those who suffer than those who inflict suffering? Can we stop imposing suffering on others and instead be willing to take it on ourselves? What about people of color and women, who are already at a lower level of privilege, can we still embrace suffering? Is it appropriate to do so? Please consider all these questions with me, and examine them through these Holy Nights, and let me know what you come up with.

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