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I’m one of those people that go through episodes of the Christmas funk each year. Aspects of the season piss me off and, yeah, just downright depress me: commercialism, the so-called “war on Christmas,” the pressure, the rush, the crowds, the bad music, the trite and obvious sentimentality and mindless traditionalism, etc. etc. blah blah barf.
Maybe more than anything it comes down to expectations and ideals that translate to mostly unmitigated crap in the real world. And let me be clear: the high lords of low culture, corporations, churches, the media–they’re all responsible for the shitty translation, but so are you, my friend, and so am I.
But there’s always something about the season that pulls me back, brings me joy and makes me feel good about not only the holidays, but about life, my life, us, all of us, the world.
So it was that the other day as I ventured into Silence and re-centering that I realized what it is that I so love and so hate about Christmas: it’s the humanity.
Of course for Jesus folk, that Christmas is human is eminently and immanently true. Christmas is when we choose to celebrate the singular miracle of Incarnation.
Atheist, pagans, etc., hang on, it’s yours too–I like to think there’s something here for all of us, whatever we do or don’t believe. As many of you smart asses are fond of pointing out, there are myths of incarnation in most every religion. That’s awesome; there you go. And obviously if you’re a godless humanist (sincerely, no derogation intended), the very need for incarnation is an absurd superfluity; so then why not take this opportunity to rejoice in the fact that for at least one moment–albeit each in his own goofy way–the rest of us are on board.
By my reckoning, at Christmas–if we do it right–we’re all Humanists.
And, now, forgive me, I’m going to indulge the peculiarities of the myth I believe. Please feel free to insert the greatness of your choice (“Greatness” itself, if you wish) where I’ve got Jesus below. That seems right to me.
Jesus was born.
Theists, soak in that for several minutes. If that’s not a disruptive thought, you’re not really thinking it.
Jesus came to the world an adorable–fragile, helpless, occasionally annoying–infant. He had to have his diapers changed. He cried and needed comfort. Let’s face it, unless you’re one of those people who just gets off on the whole baby thing (and, bless your hearts, there’s something wrong with you folks), for practical purposes, Jesus was worthless.
But there is something inexplicably and inexpressibly beautiful about a baby, isn’t there (damnit)–even in all of its worthlessness?
And there is value in loving what can’t really do much in return (not crying–the cessation of an activity it might not have started in the first place–or those sweet little smiles and giggles and snuggles, well, rationally speaking, those hardly count). And of course there’s all of that as yet unrealized potential–greatness we somehow innately perceive, despite the scarcity (or outright absence) of evidence.
As we age, most of us get gradually less cute, perhaps until that day we begin the regression into old age. We nevertheless continue to be human, to some degree at least.
I guess what I’m saying is that in some sick way, all of the politics, contention, cloying nostalgia, mediocrity–yes, even the awful music, disgusting commercialism and desperate, doomed attempts at things lovely and/or sacred–all of that failure and inadequacy and general brokenness and mess is inextricably human. Not to mention–but not merely–those times when by some act of Grace we actually get it right, when the song doesn’t suck, the food doesn’t make you sick, the gift isn’t a disappointment, the experience is ecstatic, the soul transcends nonsense to arrive at the sublime.
So as you’re putting up with people’s shit, imagine that you’re changing Jesus’ diaper. As you comfort that person whose problems and pain seem either trivial (at least exaggerated) or incomprehensible or, let’s face it, just their own damn fault, consider that you are in a sense (that I consider very real) holding a crying baby Jesus. How cool is that?
Those of you who are parents should especially understand this. My child was born on this very day, with Christmas looming. And I have never ceased to be startled and to wonder at how miraculous she is, even when I was changing those diapers, and even when I was never quite sure what the heck she was or was doing. She has always been beautiful and glorious, never stopped changing the world for the better. She started with her mother’s life and mine–even when her existence was little more than abstraction, then a protruding belly, then a bloody, gooey mess, through colic and on to many more obviously marvelous things.
She moves the world now, not merely with her kindness and wit, but in secret ways that most of you probably wouldn’t begin to understand and in ways that maybe only a father can see.
If you love anyone, are glad for or hope in anyone–even yourself, but especially some other–Christmas is for you.
Merry Christmas. Or, for Christ’s sake (for your own sake, really), find something and someone to celebrate, find some way that makes sense to you to make the days holy. Happy Humanity.
I have a lot to say about Blue Like Jazz, the movie, which opened today. But it’s proving to be too much for me to condense and a tad confrontational. I think I need more quiet time to process, and maybe get my attitude in check. That probably won’t help, except that I might piss off some of you later rather than sooner.
Even though I haven’t figured out how to tactfully say everything I want to say, I can say a few things for sure:
1. This is not a typical “Christian film.” Those who made it don’t even want to classify it that way. Given the quality and tone of most Christian films, I don’t blame them. But I think it would be disingenuous to deny that it comes from a Jesus-oriented sensibility (and, for the record, I don’t think they do deny that).
2. It’s surprisingly authentic and open. Clearly for some folks it’s a little too authentic. But, call me crazy, I kinda think films about faith and spirituality should be authentic.
3. If you’re not a Christian, this is one film about faith that might not make you hurl. And if only for the last scene, I beg you to see it. Please. If you’re totally disappointed you’re welcome to rail at me later. For those of you have been damaged, please be assured, there’s not an altar call or a salvation prayer or an Amway commitment or an RNC platform statement at the end.
4. If you are a Christian, you especially need to see it. I feel pretty good about not telling you (aside from what I’ve already suggested) the many reasons why.
5. If you read the book, I’m guessing you’re interested in seeing it already. It’s different from the book and in some good ways. They created more of a narrative but they managed to capture the spirit of the book and many of its most powerful moments.
6. You should see it with someone you love and/or disagree with and talk (or argue or make obscene gestures) about it afterward. For believers that someone could be God. For many of you that someone can be the other, unnamed (or, hell, named) voices in your head. But a flesh-and-blood someone that you can (but probably shouldn’t) punch (I’m not sure why I chose that image to convey tangibility, but I’m sticking with it) would be awesome.
In addition to seeing an advance screening of the film, I recently re-read the book.
It’s been eye-opening, perhaps more than anything for how I’ve changed since I first read it. I probably disagree with more of it now than I did then, but I still think it’s a great book and I still recommend it (I’m happy to say that a friend at work recently read it on my recommendation; yay for people who read . . . and who take suggestions; by the way, she liked it, or at least she said she did).
IMO, the book and the film address many of the things about faith that church folks are often unwilling to talk about. And it doesn’t reduce them to narrow and formulaic answers. As much as anything it asks questions. I think asking questions is a good thing.
So is looking for the answers; maybe this is just me, but I think looking the answers is a helluva lot better than having them shoved down your throat.
Please see the film this weekend. It’s excellent. It’s unusual. It’s liable to not be in theaters too long precisely because of those two characteristics.