The War on Christmas

The season of Advent is upon us. A time for Christian folks to reflect and celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ upon the earth. Born to a young couple in a desperate time.

We sing songs including “What Child Is This,” “Oh Holy Night,” “Away in a Manger,” “Joy to the World,” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

We read passages from Luke, Matthew, and Isaiah.

We hold pageants, cantatas, and listen to children’s choirs and handbell ensembles. Ringing in the spirit of joy, peace, hope, and unity.

Last year, as I held my son, who was born in late summer, I started to feel uneasy as the season approached. I felt a sense that something was different, changing, and needed to be said, heard, and moved upon. This year, I feel it even more – deep within my soul, and I am finding ways to put it into words, songs, and images.

As we set out our nativity scenes this year, we must take note of what is occurring throughout the world, and has become increasingly pronounced in our own back yard.

There is, indeed, a war on Christmas.

I’m not talking about people saying “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” I’m not talking about coffee shop cups, commercialism, or Santa Claus.

I am talking about the anti immigrant spirit that would reject the Christ child and his family, even in the houses of those who seek to worship him.

Dark

It’s time we confront it, together.

I am afraid that the Church at large is seeing the seeds of capitalism, colonialism, and patriotism, fruiting into idolatry of money and country which excludes the orphan, the widowed, the poor, the oppressed – and yes, the immigrant.

That the Spirit of the Lord upon us to preach good news to the poor and to proclaim liberty for captives has been traded for a flag, material wealth, and blind devotion to party and president.

Bible

That the good tidings of great joy to all people has been claimed and made exclusive to a few.

My heart palpitates with trepidation that the very fabric of the Church in the US has been replaced, whitewashed, and adopted as truth.

Are we like the zealots of Biblical times? Willing to reject the Prince of Peace in favor of the sword, militarism, and barbed wire?

Reject Prince of Peace

Have we forgotten the Sermon on the Mount and listened to the seductive whispers of promises of power and financial gain, rejecting the notion that the meek, the poor in spirit, the pure in heart are blessed?

Surely, in the heart of the women bearing babies across treacherous terrain, seeking safety for their offspring resides the heart of Mary.

In the heart of fathers, determining to protect their families and seek refuge, is the heart of Joseph.

In the face of the migrant child: sunburned, bruised, hungry and afraid – is the face of Christ.

He is hungry.
He is tired.
He is naked.
He is in prison.
He is sick.

But, Lord, Lord, when did we see you?

Have we forgotten the command to love our neighbor? Or cheapened its meaning to fleeting emotions, a limited view of neighbor, or worse…

Have we ignored it?

Have we rejected the promise of abundant life to buy in to a scarcity mindset and mistrust, fear – and yes, hatred of our neighbor?

Our neighbor who is different from us.

Willful and ignorant complicity to the oppression of our black, Jewish, LGBTQ, and immigrant neighbors are a war upon the spirit of Christmas: charity, peace, joy, and unity.

OverheadThe rampant callousness toward others presents a direct opposition to the spirit of Christ and his sacrificial life.

Have we rejected kindness and giving with an inclination toward “tough love” and following the letter of the law?

Are we on the road to Damascus or Emmaus? Will we recognize the face of God? Will be blinded by truth or ignorance?

I am deeply troubled as I ponder these questions and more. I’m unsure of what is next or what we do moving forward from here.

But, what I do know is this.

Jesus is in the heart of the oppressed, the lonely, and the broken.

Jesus is the personification of God with us.

Jesus understands and represents the rejected and the hated,

And if we love him, we will feed his sheep.

Clothe them.

Welcome them.

Fight for them.

 

Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love, and his gospel is peace.

O Come, Desire of Nations, bind in one the hearts of all…. bid our sad divisions cease.

No crib for a bed.

This, this is Christ the King… the babe, the son of Mary.

Let Earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

 

 

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the Spirit

Last night, I made blueberry pancakes for supper. Our daughter, age 3, loves them, and we all sat down and ate together – well, the baby had his own food – but you get the idea. A family sitting together having dinner.

After we ate, we were cleaning up, and our daughter went to get her swimsuit on so she could play with “the spriink-u-lar” (translation: “sprinkler”).

I turned on the world news to see an update on the latest from the humanitarian crisis unfolding at our southern border. I wasn’t prepared. They played the recording of a girl crying for her aunt, other children heard weeping and calling for their parents in the background. I looked to see our daughter had come into the room.

“That little girl and that little boy, they are crying. Why are they crying?” she looked at me, head turned with a concerned look on her face.

I swallowed hard. “Because the government separated them from their moms and dads. They want their moms and dads, but they are being kept apart. It’s really sad honey, and it’s wrong.”

She went on to finish getting ready to go outside. I stayed and saw the news correspondent ask a white middle aged man if he was affected by the sights and sounds of children crying for their parents. He said he wasn’t, and proceeded to talk about money.

I had to walk away. As I walked back to the kitchen to do the dishes, something happened.

Like a wild animal that has been let out of a cage, with a quiet and powerful fury, words came flying out of my mouth under my breath. I got to the kitchen and looked at my wife and our 10 month old son. I told her what the man said and said the same words of fury again, this time at normal volume. Then,

I broke as I said, “why?”

Tears shot out of my eyes. My arms tensed up and I cried in a way I never have before. Not just any cry.

I rage cried.

It wasn’t sadness, frustration, or hopelessness, or fear.

It was rage. Strong, breathtaking, rage.

I wondered aloud, “What the hell is wrong with people?” and “what are we going to do?” I took deep breaths and tried to focus on washing dishes and just doing something with my hands.”

A few minutes later, D took our daughter out and got the sprinkler going. She had to come in for a minute, so I stepped outside to the back porch and watched our daughter. She put her hands in the sprinkler and squealed, then jumped through, squealing and running away, smiling. I laughed and felt my chest ease slightly. D was coming back, laughing with me, then I watched a moment more before going back inside to finish up and get our son.

We all went outside, and we sat and watched our rambunctious three year old play with delight and abandon. I held our son and watched the water, taking in the sight of the golden summer evening sky, the feel of the cool in the shade, and the sounds of tree frogs and the chorus of night-time insects beginning to announce that evening was near.

We went back inside, and we got the kids ready for bed. As I lay next to my daughter to read a bedtime story and then as she fell asleep, I felt the pain again, thinking of those separated families, praying silently for them.

Later, I sat with my wife, and we talked more about how we were feeling. I again told her how hard this was and how much rage I was feeling. We watched comedies and tried our best to relax before going to bed.

In the watches of the night, I woke up, my mind turning again to the sounds of those babies. And the sight and sound of that man, hateful/unmoved/empty of compassion and decency.

I looked into the darkness and thought, “What is wrong with people? How can you be like that? Why are so many people ok with this and trying to justify it?”

Then, I thought: “The Spirit is gone.” Which certainly seems true. The fruit of the Spirit is love – joy, peace, kindness, patience, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.

Then I wondered. “Where is God? What if God is dead?

Then, a song I learned when I was a small child came to mind and seemed to well up within me even though it had long been forgotten.

“God’s not dead. No, God’s alive. God’s not dead. No, God’s alive.”

Then, as I remembered more of the song, I realized some important truths.

“I can feel God in my hands”  – when I use them to serve the most vulnerable and the hurting.

“I can feel God in my feet” – when I pray with my feet by marching for justice and equity and let my feet carry me to the places I am needed.

“I can feel God in the Church”- when the Church boldly fights for love.

“I can feel God in the air” – when I make environmentally sound decisions and also when I stop and mindfully observe the gift that is nature,

“I can feel God everywhere. I can feel God all over me.” – when I practice love – joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, the Spirit is with me, all over me, and working through me.

I fell back asleep, thinking on these things. When I woke up this morning, I saw the news and watched video of a beautiful unarmed young 17 year old black boy be shot in the back, killed by a police officer who had been on the job for 3 hours.

The rage welled up in me again. My three year old daughter walked in, and seeing his mother crying asked me- “why is she crying?”

“Honey, she’s crying because ( I felt my throat swelling) because… Because her son was shot. He died. She’s sad. It’s very very sad, and it’s not right.” I knew that at three years old, she can’t understand too much – she doesn’t even fully “get” death yet. But I realized I will have to talk with her more and more as she ages, and talk with our son as he gets older, so they can know and understand.

I said aloud something I knew needed to be said. “We have to do more. If there is anything I am feeling right now, it’s that we have to do more.”

Later this morning, I was getting ready and alone to my thoughts again. I thought about all that is going on and all that has happened in the past few years that have moved me. And I came to some conclusions.

I repent.

I repent for my armchair activism, feeling that I’m doing more than I actually am. I recommit to working on the ground and actually doing more while still writing/calling/posting to help educate/inspire/motivate change.

I repent.

I repent for my own ignorance, sometimes willful, sometimes not – and I recommit to educating myself on the truth and how to help.

I repent.

I repent for recognizing my privilege as a white woman while holding so tightly to my disadvantage as an LGBTQ+ person, that I have failed to use my privilege as an ally for folks of color. I recommit to dismantling systems of oppression for all. 

I am a work in progress. And I am waking up.

I find that I am overcome with so many emotions these days, and I feel weary at times, like the fire of rage and compassion will burn me out – and I cannot let that happen. So here is what I am learning.

I let the rage wash over me, and it put me in touch with fighting for justice.

Also, I let the love I have for my partner and kids wash over me – and I took note of the little things, and I felt stronger for it.

I am reconnecting with my spirituality, I am writing, and I am painting again. All healing activities for me.

I’ve disconnected in some of the places and relationships where I need to disconnect.

And last, but not least, I am being mindful. I am noticing when I need to walk away for a moment, when I need to fight and when I don’t. I know when I can’t change a mind, and I need to be more aware of and accepting of hat and move on. I am mindful of the taste of coffee, the scent of rain, and the sounds of thunder rumbling in the distance. I am observant of the colors in the sunrise and the way the light plays across the landscape.

We have to keep fighting. We can’t burn out.

Good boundaries. Focusing on the people we love and what we love about them. Using mindfulness and gratitude. Empowering ourselves with love and light.

Will you join me?

Love wins.

Second Class Citizen

“You are not a second class citizen.”

As I read the words from Kim, my professor turned mentor and friend, hot tears filled my eyes.

I was in graduate school, and I had sent Kim an e-mail telling her about an incident that had just happened to me.

It was a nice day, and I was walking down Parker Street, one of the main roads on campus, and I was enjoying a nice breeze and sunshine as I walked across the crosswalk to the Counseling Center where I was completing my internship for my counseling program. A car was going by, so I paused in the middle, next to some flowers in the median. A back window rolled down, and out of it, a young man yelled a word at me. Just one word.

“DYKE.”

Then, the car sped off.

Shaken, I hurried back to the counseling center, shut my office door and cried. I e-mailed Mike, who was my pastor, the lead administrator over the chapel I led worship for, and who had been a go-to in my role in student leadership. He told me not to report it, because nothing would happen. It was just one of many non-empathic responses.

Kim knew I was gay. She had walked through the valley of self-loathing with me when I first came out to her. She urged me to view myself with value. So, it was only natural that she was one of my people I could trust and talk to about this terrifying moment.

During my last semester of my internship, I brought up this instance again during a Counseling Center staff meeting. Through my tears, I was expressing my anger and sadness about how a psychologist that believes in changing a person’s sexuality was brought to speak on campus, in chapel – the one I led worship at. I didn’t tell them how many of my own therapy sessions I spent preparing for it or how my set list that day focused on God’s unconditional love because it was my one way to be vocal. But, I did tell them how hurt I was. How much I longed for social justice to be an issue, because LGBTQ people were experiencing a lot of pain, by the world, and by members of our campus community, and I told them what happened. Members of the staff cried with me, reassured me with a hand on my shoulder, and embraced me as one of their own.

I haven’t thought about this whole instance or the feelings I had around it in a while. But last night, I didn’t sleep much, and at 2 AM, it played over and over.

It’s no coincidence.

I’ve spent more nights crying in the middle of the night than not lately.

Because I feel like a second class citizen.

We live near the border of another state, my home state. We are expecting again, and planned to use the same hospital and midwife as before. I’m halfway through this pregnancy. But now we have to embark on finding a new midwife and new hospital – all because of a new law that, after talking with our lawyer, has the potential to cause us a litigation nightmare just to secure our names on our child’s birth certificate.

“So, just have the baby in your own state.”

“Just use the local hospital.”

“It’s not that big of a deal.”

Maybe it sounds over the top to say I’ve cried about this so much. Maybe it sounds like pregnancy hormones. That’s the excuse I used when I could barely speak through my crying when I called my midwife’s office last week.

But it’s so much more than that.

It’s the fact that me, my wife, and our children aren’t treated like other families. It’s the fact that even though we thankfully have marriage equality, we are still not seen as equals. It’s the fact that so many people want to make sure they assert to us and others like us, that we are, indeed, second class citizens.

UpWorthy posted a nifty video about religious freedom bills. It makes some really solid points from a philosophy professor. But, after I watched it yesterday, I thought of our own experiences.

Like when we went to a local jeweler for our wedding rings, and they “mistakenly” never ordered them. Or how after we did order from another online company, a different jeweler botched our rings  when they engraved them, and the woman who was working the store when we came to pick them up told us “it’s not a big deal.”

I also thought about how we have had to call places ahead of time – “We are gay. Is that going to be an issue?”

Can you imagine?

Calling the place you want to stay for your honeymoon just to make sure that you won’t get kicked out when you get there? Or calling a pediatrician’s office to see if they will still see your child? Or telling your financial advisor – so you can make sure that you are treated fairly? Or making sure the hospital you go to is progressive so that no one will try to keep your spouse from you?

I’ve thought about the many times I was treated differently after people found out – like the entire group that refused to go to my baby shower, the faculty member that stumbled all over himself and has since ignored me after I said the words “my wife,” and the many former friends and family I have lost or had significant wounds from.

No wonder I have suffered from depression and anxiety for much of my life. No wonder the slumps and feelings of panic still return from time to time.

In the quiet of the middle of the night, I felt hot tears hit my face. A tiny hand kept reaching over to touch my hair and to put her arm around me. She had woken up very upset, and now was trying to go back to sleep in the security only her moms can give. I thought about how much she deserves to have her emotional needs tuned into. How much she deserves to be loved fully. How much she deserves to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect. Which was quite the feat when you have toddler feet jabbing into your back and pregnant belly.

Surely, God looks on us and thinks the same.

Grief is such a difficult and long process. And it’s just one part of our process for justice – which is also long and difficult. I’m still figuring out the pieces and where I am.

I’m still figuring out where my citizenship belongs. But my hunch is, it’s inside of love. And real love has no second class citizens.

– C.