Monthly Archives: December 2013

Happy Holidays to All?

It’s Christmas day in the Christian world, Jews celebrated Hanukkah at the beginning of the month, and Kwanzaa begins tomorrow. It’s the season of giving and sharing in many faiths this December, and yet there are roughly 1 million people in the United States who won’t be wishing anyone a happy holiday. All over the country, Jehovah’s Witnesses spent the day without presents or Christmas songs or nativity scenes. This branch of Christianity – which does not believe in the Trinity and holds up the Bible as a divinely written and infallible text (BBC Religions) – asserts that Jesus commanded the disciples to observe his death, not his birth and Christmas is both a pagan celebration and lacks biblical support (Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Celebrate Christmas?).

Furthermore, the disciples and the early church did not celebrate Christmas, and God certainly couldn’t approve of a holiday rooted in pagan ritual. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ official website – jw.org – it is simply a myth that Jehovah’s Witnesses miss out on the generosity and spirit of giving at Christmas time. Jehovah’s Witnesses seek to be generous and giving every single day; why would they need a special day or time of year to express the commandment to love their neighbors?

While many of us may not think about Jehovah’s Witnesses, except to comment on that time they came to our door, they are a substantial part of the population in this country. We are doing better to incorporate and highlight the holidays of other religions – Hanukkah, Diwali, Eid al-Fitr – but what do we do about those who don’t observe any religious holidays?

When we wish people “Happy Holidays” in order to cover all our bases, we are being inconsiderate towards Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who choose not to partake in the winter festivities. Though “Happy Holidays” is certainly safer than “Merry Christmas,” we have to remember that it doesn’t cover all our bases. If someone tells you they don’t celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, wish them a wonderful day, a great weekend, or a fantastic afternoon. You can start singing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” as soon as you wave goodbye.

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The Duck Disaster: Sin, Faith, and Loving Your Neighbor

Has the Dynasty fallen? If you’ve been on any sort of social media or news this week, you’ve probably seen the fire ignited by Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. In an interview with GQ, Robertson makes some very candid remarks about the LGBT community and sin:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” (CNN Dec. 18, 2013)

When asked what he considered sinful, Robertson began with homosexuality and segued into bestiality and having multiple sexual partners (CNN Dec. 18, 2013). GQ also quotes Robertson as saying,

“Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they [African Americans] happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.” (CNN Dec. 18, 2013)

There are many aspects of this debacle to address, most importantly the blatant disrespect and discriminatory remarks about the LGBT community (A&E, the network of Duck Dynasty, has suspended Robertson from the show indefinitely; CNN Dec. 18, 2013). However, I think what is worth discussing is the reaction of the rest of the Duck Dynasty family and many others, all of whom laud Robertson for his religious convictions.

In response to Robertson’s comments to GQ, the Robertson family is quick to point out that “his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible,” and that “Phil is a Godly man…who would never incite or encourage hate” (CNN Dec. 19, 2013). As to A&E’s suspension of the family’s patriarch, the Robertsons and thousands of Americans are protesting the decision, claiming it is too extreme and that Robertson is being punished for simply stating what he believes (CNN Dec. 19, 2013).

Many, including myself, are finding it incredibly difficult to reconcile the commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself with Robertson’s statements. As members of the LGBT community are fighting for the right to marry the ones they love, many of whom are incredibly faithful and God-filled people, Robertson is comparing same-sex sexual activity to bestiality. Even as Robertson says, “I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me, we are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity” (CNN Dec. 19, 2013), he ignores the still present racism in this country and suggests African Americans were happier before the civil rights movement.

So many people – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist – live their lives around the idea of loving their neighbors. Robertson’s comments and the connection to his faith presents us with a question: who are our neighbors and do we have to love them all equally? If Robertson subscribes to a old classic – hate the sin, not the sinner – is that enough love for Robertson’s gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender neighbors? When Jesus said to love your neighbor, did he mean we have to love our neighbors with our actions and our words? Does loving your neighbor mean you actually have to think about whether your comments are loving to different communities?

The future of Phil Robertson and the rest of the Duck Dynasty is up in the air – with A&E standing behind their LGBT-friendly reputation and suspending Robertson, the Louisiana royalty are weighing their options. Regardless of where the ducks land, this debacle has brought attention to a more important aspect of how we live with others and how our words can be unwittingly hateful. One thing we can all agree on is to love our neighbors…the next step is equal love towards all neighbors, gay or straight, male or female, young or old, black or white or brown.

How do you love your neighbors?

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Nelson Mandela: A 20th Century Jesus?

After the world heard the news that Nelson Mandela had passed away at the age of 95, Peter Oborne ruffled some feathers. Last Friday, December 6th, Oborne wrote a blog titled, “Few human beings can be compared to Jesus Christ. Nelson Mandela was one.” Oborne exalts Mandela, saying, “There are very few human beings who can be compared to Jesus Christ. Nelson Mandela is one. This is because he was a spiritual leader as much as a statesman. His colossal moral strength enabled him to embark on new and unimaginable forms of action. He could lead through the strength of example alone.” The BBC’s Evan Davis joined Oborne, telling radio listeners “Mandela should be ranked alongside Jesus in ‘the pantheon of virtue'” (Stop Comparing Nelson Mandela To Jesus, Huffington Post).

Not everyone agrees with this comparison, as evidenced by the passionate retort of Dominic Lawson reminding us of Mandela’s striking humanity. As Lawson quotes Richard Stengel, who worked with Nelson Mandela on his autobiography, we are reminded, “‘We’ve kind of made him into Santa Claus. He wasn’t. He had tremendous anger and bitterness in his heart,’ Stengel said. ‘What made him such a fantastic and astonishing politician was that he never let anyone see that'” (Mandela was a giant, Daily Mail). Lawson also reminds us that Mandela himself rejected “as ridiculous the description of him as a saint, and he said so.” Many of us have heard that while Mandela was a warm, compassionate, charming politician, he was a stern and seemingly unsympathetic father and husband. Lawson reminds us that this is simply the nature of being a political leader, men and women who devote “themselves to improving the lot of their nations: and that is the highest calling.” Sometimes families get neglected or lost, “but does not diminish their [political leaders’] greatness.” Great leaders are not saints, they are not perfect. They are human. In the midst of all Mandela did for South Africa and for the world, he was still just a man, a man who struggled himself as he inspired others.

While I’m still undecided which camp I fall into, I see the validity of both sides. Oborne and Davis are right when they see the links between Jesus Christ and Nelson Mandela. Advocating for peace, not violence. Embracing all, not excluding any. Striving for reconciliation, not revenge.

And you could even say that Jesus wasn’t a great family man either. He did leave his biological family to serve others, and he did tell a whole crowd of people that his mother and brothers and sisters were those who did the will of God, not just his biological family (Mark 3:31-35). Yet it did not diminish his greatness. He came for the bigger family…the entire world.

On the other hand, Jesus did not sin. And we know, through his own admission, that Mandela never pretended he was not just as much of a sinner as every one else. Was Mandela Christ-like? Certainly. He was perhaps one of the most Christ-like, with Mother Teresa and Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Was Nelson Mandela a Jesus Christ of the 20th century? That is more complicated. What criteria does Mandela have to meet to claim that comparison? Do we really want to spend our time remember this great man by debating the parallels to Jesus Christ or any other sacred figure?

Let’s remember Nelson Mandela for the great political leader and activist he was, for his passion for peace, for the long life that touched so many people. Let’s celebrate, because Mandela’s life shows all of us that peaceful protest works, that we cannot give up even when the world seems to be doing everything to drag up down, that reconciliation is possible. Celebrate Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: activist, revolutionary, philanthropist, man.

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Advent Begins: How Will You Wait?

For the Christian world, the season of Advent began this past Sunday. A time of waiting and preparing for the birth of the Christ Child, Advent is often trampled on by the consumerism of Christmas shopping, spending more and more to show love for friends and families. Christians forget to stop and read the Christmas story, or their eyes glaze over when the pastor starts talking about peace, love, hope, and joy. Yet this is the time time when Christians are supposed to be preparing their hearts and minds and homes for Jesus Christ, and while it can be incredibly difficult to push back against the consumer culture of the United States, it is possible. And it’s rewarding.

Many American Christians experienced the Advent Calendar, the box with 25 doors hiding chocolate or little treats, one for each day of Advent. My family did Advent calendars for years, but they never meant anything more than Christmas was coming and I got chocolate every single day. Maybe it’s time to rethink Advent Calendars. Instead of some material treat, some little gift, maybe each day offers up a scripture or and action. Sure, it’s not a piece of chocolate (and somehow, those generic chocolates taste so good in December), but Christmas isn’t about chocolate. It’s about the incarnation. It’s about God working through a little family, a bunch of shepherds, and some wise men. It’s about God working through us to give more and love more, spending less time in the mall and more time in prayer and reflection.

Need some inspiration? Here are some things you can do this Advent season.

  • Bake cookies with someone you love.
  • Instead of writing a letter to Santa (or making a list of the gifts we want this year), make a list of all the things you want to give this December. They don’t all have to be material – some of the best gifts aren’t things we can attach a dollar value to.
  • Serve a meal at a local soup kitchen or volunteer at a food bank.
  • Spend 10 minutes in silence, offering prayers of patience.
  • Watch a Christmas movie – my personal favorite is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” featuring Hermey the Elf.
  • Listen to Christmas music while you read or cook or clean the house. Pandora Radio has hundreds of free stations with every kind of holiday music you can think of.
  • Re-read the Christmas story and see what sticks out to you. You can find two versions in the Bible: Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 2:1-20.

Let’s rethink Advent together.

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