Don't Be Offended By "Happy Holidays"

I will confess that I love Christmas.  I love Christmas trees and Christmas decorations.  I love wrapping presents and (especially) unwrapping presents.  I love singing carols and drinking eggnog.  I love just about everything to do with Christmas.  I say just about because there is one aspect of Christmas I don’t enjoy.  I don’t enjoy the tendency of some of my fellow Christians to (seemingly) look for reasons to become outraged.  What is it about Christmas that seems to bring out the moral indignation of believers?  Let me give an example:

Every year about this time I come across all kinds of blogs and articles and letters by Christians up in arms because some evil cashier or heathen store clerk has dared to wish them Happy Holidays.  These irate Christians proceed to rant on the evils of Canadian and American culture which is trying to remove any semblance of Christian meaning from Christmas and turn it into just another secular holiday on a par with Valentine’s Day (with the addition of a tree)

Perhaps I’m in the minority here but in a world where I get cut off in traffic and am given one-finger salutes by the drivers of said cars, I’m just grateful to have somebody—anybody! —smile at me and wish me well.  I can’t work up the slightest bit of moral indignation over that.

Another example:  Around this time of year I can be guaranteed to come across letters and articles  by Christians irate because they have seen the word, Xmas, written somewhere.  There follows the predictable diatribe against taking Christ out of Christmas.  Of course, if these righteous crusaders took just a minute to do a little research they would discover that the abbreviation, X, for Christ actually predates by centuries its use in garish advertisements.  X is the Greek letter chi which is the first letter in the word Χριστός.  And Χριστός is translated Christ in English.  And, as I said, the X in Χριστός has been a common abbreviation for the word Christ for hundreds of years.  But that’s just me being a spoilsport—why let facts interfere with a good case of moral outrage!

What is it about Christians at Christmas that make us want to be on the lookout for something to be offended by?  Political cartoonist Tim Kreider has labelled this tendency towards indignation as “outrage porn”—an innate desire we all have to feel both “(1) right and (2) wronged.”  There just seems to be in each of us a desire to feel superior to others.  And there’s nothing like a good rant to give us a strong sense of moral superiority.  

But is that really what Christmas is all about?  Did God come in flesh to this earth so that we can get worked up over cashiers who wish us Happy Holidays and people who write Xmas instead of Christmas?  I think not.  Rather, I think Jesus came to show us a new way—a better way—of treating one another—the way of love, acceptance, and understanding rather than of anger and judgment.  So, this season, when someone wishes you Happy Holidays show the true spirit of Xmas and say simply, Thank you.



Believers Need To Stand Up For Minorities

The United States is more divided today than at any other point in my lifetime.  Divisions between cultures, economic backgrounds, religions, and even men and women are rampant.  It might be tempting for those of us “up north” to get a little smug, believing that the things happening in the U.S. could never happen here.  Don’t believe it!  The same prejudices, rancour, and hatreds we find in the States are in Canada as well and flare up from time to time.  Given this, what are we, as believers, called to do?  How can we be “salt and light” in the midst of bitter hatred?  Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners magazine, suggests these action steps:

1.  Go deeper in faith.  Too many people, Christians included, have no moral compass.  We must take time to read, study, and reflect on the words of Jesus—and then seek to live them out in our daily lives.

2.  Lift up truth.  Many people let their emotions determine their beliefs.  In contrast, Wallis challenges Christians to “replace fear with facts when it comes to public discussions about immigrants, refugees, Muslims, racial diversity, and national security.”

3.  Reject racism.  Whether it’s introduced under the guise of the “alt-right,” White Nationalism, White Supremacy, or Neo-Nazism, racism is a sin against our neighbour and against the God who created us all in His image.  Let us see diversity as a gift from our Creator and an opportunity for our nation to encourage full participation for all.

4.  Love your neighbours by protecting them from hate speech and attacks.  How can we act to support people who are afraid because they belong to groups that have been targeted by those who would destroy diversity?  We must watch for, report, and confront hate speech and behaviour wherever we find it—be it against ethnic and religious groups, women, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, or other marginalized people.  Indeed, let’s surround those being attacked with a supportive community.

5.  Welcome the stranger.  Let us invite and welcome immigrants and their families into our faith communities and actively work to help them settle in our communities.

6.  Defend religious liberty.  Let us embrace Muslims as fellow Canadians and protect them and their mosques from fear of attack.  Let us also reject anti-Semitism as part of the White Nationalist movement.  

7.  Work to put an end to the misogyny that enables rape culture.  Make every effort to replace misogyny with mutual respect.  Name sexual assault for what it is: a sin and a crime.  Support efforts towards gender equality in our workplaces, schools, and political systems.

8.  Protest with your best values.  The right to protest that which we oppose is a fundamental freedom in any democracy.  As Christians, we are called to protest those policies and actions that dehumanize our neighbour but to do so with dignity, discipline, and non-violence.  Hate for hate is never an option.  

9.  Listen.  Ultimately, the only thing that will end the divisions and polarizations in our culture is dialogue.  So, listen to those you disagree with.  Help our congregations to become safe and sacred spaces for hearing each other’s stories—including the painful ones.  Listen twice before you speak once!

Jim Wallis concluded his article with these words that all Christians should take to heart: “The days and weeks and years ahead will require much of us. . ..  Everything isn’t going to be all right, but we will stick together, sustain each other, and mobilize our energy, time, and resources, to protect the people, values, and commitments we care most about.  We will move forward together.”



Who Will Speak Out for Those who are Threatened?

One of the most noticeable aspects of the protests that have been taking place down south since the election of Donald Trump as president has been the signs.  It seems like everyone protesting Trump’s policies has a sign.  Some of the signs are serious: “No ban!  No wall!” while others are humorous: “We Shall Overcomb” and “Tweet Women with Respect.”  Some are thoughtful: “Jesus was a Refugee” while others bring in literary allusions: “Dumbledore Wouldn’t Let This Happen.”  One of the most eye-catching and memorable signs I’ve seen was one that read: “First They Came for the Muslims . . . and We Said Not This Time.”  

This sign is an allusion to a poem written by a German Lutheran Pastor, Martin Niemöller.  Niemöller pastored in Germany during the Nazi era.   In the poem, Niemöller confronts the cowardice of German intellectuals during the purges which took place following Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.  Here are the words to the poem:

“When the Nazis came for the communists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.”
This poem has been adapted many times.  Here is the most recent American version:
“First, they came for the Muslims,
 and I did not speak out
because I was not a Muslim.  

Then they came for the Mexicans,
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Mexican.  

Then they came for the feminists and the gays,
and I did not speak out;
I was not a feminist or gay.

Then they came for the Blacks,
and I did not speak out
because I was not Black.  

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out.”

Both in its original and adapted versions, this poem is a reminder of the mission of the Church.  In all places and in all generations, the Church is called to be the voice of the voiceless.  We are called to speak for those who have been silenced, to advocate for those who are marginalized, to protect those who are being threatened.  The Church is called to go forth under the banner of the prophet Micah who proclaimed the words of God: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  May we, the Church, continue to walk with all those whom Scripture calls, “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).




The State of Marriage in the Age of Social Media

There is no question that the social media revolution has brought countless benefits with it.  It is easier now than ever before to keep in touch and communicate with friends and loved ones across thousands of miles.  Families can now feel close to one another even if they are separated by continents.  Of course, as has been well documented, not all the changes that social media has brought with it have been good.  In addition to things like online stalking and bullying, marriage counselors have become increasingly concerned about an unhealthy phenomenon that is becoming increasingly prevalent.  Counselors are seeing weeks and months of work to put a broken marriage back together undone in an instant by impulsive postings put on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites.  It has never been easier to rashly and publicly express a criticism, a frustration, or an irritation with a spouse.  And once these outbursts are online there is no taking them back.  Counselors are seeing efforts at reconciliation ruined in an instant by a thoughtless tweet.

To avoid becoming a statistic, let me encourage you to talk with your spouse about setting ground rules now (before they’re needed) that you both promise to uphold even through the rocky patches all marriages go.   Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Center and a faculty member in the Media Psychology program at Fielding Graduate University, offers these suggestions for social media users:

•    Identify your larger goals.  Before sending out a rash tweet, ask yourself what your larger goal is.  If you’re trying to heal a broken marriage, maintain cordial relationships with an ex for the benefit of children, or simply lower the stress level in your life, ask yourself if that tweet will help or harm those goals.

•    Evaluate your social media use.  Many of us swim around social media like a fish in water never considering the impact it may be having on us.  Yet, Enrich Canada has reported that 25% of cell phone owners in a committed relationship have felt their partner was distracted by their cell phone while together.  Further, 8% of internet users in a committed relationship reported having arguments with their partner about the amount of time one of them was spending online.  Indeed, Enrich Canada has reported on a Pew Research Center study, Couples, the Internet, and Social Media, which found that 20% of couples reported that internet use had had a mostly negative impact on their marriage.  This is just further evidence that we need to be intentional about our use of social media.  As Rutledge says, you should be the boss of your technology, not the other way around.

•    From time to time take a break from social media.  It’s important to “unplug” yourself occasionally and remind yourself what this feels like.  If you can’t do this, you may be heading towards a social media addiction that could cause problems for you down the road.

So much of life is about intentionality.  Each of us need to be intentional about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and who we’re doing it with.  Our social media use is no exception.  Let me encourage you to think through and develop rules around your social media use.  Don’t let it become a tool that the Evil One uses to harm the most important relationships in your life.