This Thing We Call Christmas

I'm feeling a little weird about Christmas this year. And yet, I'm excited because the season of giving and good cheer is upon us, and it's very cool to watch a two-year-old seeing it all anew (she doesn't remember last year, I'm sure).

To back up a bit . . . just over a year ago we left our old church. We attended a Congregational Church. The pastor was charismatic and the people there were nice. And yet . . .

There were three (or more) incidents along the way that caused me to flee.

1. One Sunday I was driving to church and noticed that the driver in front of me was trying to pass the car in front of him. This was a two-lane road and you're definitely not supposed to pass on it. I watched this guy fly through a stop sign and finally careen around the car in front of him (on a double-yellow line, no less). I kept thinking, "Wow, what a dick." And then I thought, "Oh geez, I'll bet he is headed to my church." Sure enough, he pulled into the parking lot just ahead of me (because terrorizing that other driver had earned him about five seconds extra). I didn't know this man but I did note that he was older and it occurred to me that he had probably been reading the Bible for many decades . . . and had learned a whole lot of nothing from it, apparently.

2. On another Sunday the sermon was given by a member of the choir (the pastor was out of town). He wasn't much of a speaker, but I did take note of one thing he said: "You can't pick and choose which parts of the Bible you believe." Ooops. Don't get me wrong - I think the Bible is an amazing document. The parables therein are full of important lessons. But, I rejected a literal interpretation of the Bible when I was a kid. Otherwise, I'd be taking up serpents and drinking poison. ("They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them." Mark 16:17-18). I love the story of Noah but at the same time it does require a willing suspension of disbelief, you know? (seriously, two of EVERY species fit on that boat????)

3. Finally, there was yet another Sunday when I found myself disturbed by the goings-on. Some of the kids from the congregation did a little skit about "sharing the good news of salvation." Towards the end, one of the girls dragged a non-believer off to Hell. The non-believer was yelling, "Why didn't you tell me? I could've been saved!" My beef with the skit was that if everyone who doesn't accept Jesus as their savior is going to Hell, what about the Buddhists, the Hindus, etc? I don't want my kid to think that those people are going to burn for all eternity. I'm not even sure I believe there is a Heaven and a Hell. I'm not even sure why I am capitalizing them!

Shortly after leaving that church, A and I started attending our local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Immediately I felt like I was in the right place. P does not go to church with us. I told him that he is welcome to attend a church of his choosing and that we can take turns bringing the kid. He doesn't seem interested. I don't bug him about coming to church with us - I want him to go because he wants to and not because I say, "Get up, we're going to church."

So, why am I feeling weird? One reason is that I can't look my daughter in the eye and say, "This I know is true." Because I don't know. All I can really do for her is take her to a place where she will have an opportunity to learn about many faith traditions (in her Sunday school class she gets to learn about everything from Judaism to Hinduism . . . but mostly she just colors and plays). If she grows up and wants to attend a strictly Christian church, I'm all for it. Why? Because I just want her to believe in something greater than herself (like God and working for social justice and banding together to help those who need help). The only thing I would have a problem with is if she turned out to be one of those nutjobs waving "God hates fags" posters at public events. I think I would probably disown her for something like that (cut her off from her massive inheritance, don't ya know). But, I am trying to raise her to be a free thinker and I can't really see her heading down such a narrow path.

The other reason is simply that I feel a bit hypocritical celebrating a holiday that doesn't have the same meaning for me anymore. I believe that Jesus was a great teacher and that following his example would make us all better human beings (and that his life is definitely worth celebrating). It's the savior part that I've left behind, and that's why I'm so confused about Christmas now. However, in talking with other UU members I started to realize that it's okay to celebrate in any way you choose. Many focus on a "winter solstice" type celebration. Others celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, AND Kwanzaa. The cool thing about being a UU is that you are welcome there no matter what your faith tradition is - some UU's identify themselves as Christian, some are agnostic, and many fall somewhere in between.

I'm kind of new to this stuff so I'm doing a lot of reading and feeling my way through. Before leaving my old church I always felt out of place. I felt like I was the only one who drinks a glass of wine (or two) on a Saturday night, or enjoys offbeat comedy, or who actually says bad words sometimes. I always think of comedian Jim Gaffigan's recent "Beyond the Pale" special. He describes being in church and attempting to immerse himself in prayer. He concentrates as hard as he can but all he can think of is: "Did I eat at Wendy's TWICE yesterday?"

I may take up this topic again in later blog posts because I feel like I have a lot of thinking to do. This is as far as I've gotten at the moment. :-)


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