'Tis The Season...

The season to do… what, exactly? The well-worn Christmas song Deck The Halls tells us this is the season “to be jolly.” The season for overflowing joy, for loads of fun, for smiles and laughter all around.


Just last week I saw a headline that referenced a recent poll which found that as many as 45% of Americans would just as soon skip the entire Christmas season altogether. That’s almost half of us! Sounds like a lot of people aren’t looking forward to the “most wonderful time of the year.” Fa-la-la-la-ugh… can we just go home?

Image source
Well there’s not much chance of skipping Christmas altogether, of course. Not with so much of the success of retail America hanging on how many times they can coax you and I into hitting “Add To Cart”. As much as many people detest the commercialization, the frantic pace, and the awkward family gatherings that this time of year tends to bring, the modern American Christmas season isn’t going anywhere.

In fact, there’s a strange irony at work here: one of the most common coping mechanisms to deal with the holiday madness is good ol’ retail therapy. “Stressed and frustrated? Treat yourself to that new ________! You deserve it.” While Americans hate crass commercialization, we love swag. And so we feed the beast while bemoaning the size of its jaws.

It all makes me think of a friend I had in High School, who was from the Philippines. I’ll never forget the day that he took more than a dozen members of our track team out for ice cream on his 16th birthday. Everyone wanted to pay for their own sundaes and then split the cost of his, but he would have none of it. He paid. For everyone. His response to our incredulous objections was to simply explain that this is the way birthdays are done where he was from: the one being celebrated, gives.

Maybe the Filipinos have it right.

It strikes me that Christmas itself has a very different message: giving. It is the story of God, who had it all, giving all to those who had nothing. Perhaps the best way to celebrate Christ in the manger is to turn ourselves outward, rather than inward. To orient ourselves to the stranger more than to the family, to the lonely and poor of our city more than familiar friends. To prefer the dark and cold environments to the warm and lighted ones. To befriend the outcast at school, to love the person who is so opposite from us at work. To spend time with the one nobody spends time with.

I don’t yet know what it would look like for me to do that this year. But I’m willing to ask God that question. If we act on the answer, maybe we will rediscover one of the world’s oldest truths, that “he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, that a season of joy, laughter, and smiles all around comes not from singing fa-la-la-la-la and punching in our PIN number, but from laying out one’s life so that others may know life.

After all, that’s what Jesus did.

Professor Kirke Was Right

This past week I got to do something really cool: I was a guest speaker for a Religion and Philosophy class at Sunset High School. Before the semester is over they will hear from Jewish, Muslim, Christian Science, and Hindu speakers, and more. My task was to explain Christianity to these 40 or so high school students, and answer their questions. What a blast! I didn't really feel like I had the time to prepare with everything else in my schedule, but some opportunities you just don't pass up. So I said yes.

The first half was my time to present. So, given 45 minutes to explain Christianity to a room full of mostly not-Christian students, what would you say?

Well, as interesting a question as that is, it's what happened next that was really fun. That's when they had the chance to ask questions. I was a little surprised by how this part went. Not that they asked me anything I didn't expect; to the contrary, I anticipated most of the topics they brought up. But it was interesting to see how "stuck" they were on a couple items. Tops on the "stuck" list was the idea that Jesus/Christianity is the only correct religion.

After answering several versions of this question a number of different times, I got the question yet again from one young lady. So I took a little different approach. The conversation went something like this:

Student #1: So, lots of people have lots of different beliefs, and they hold those beliefs strongly,

Me: Certainly,

Student #1: so... are you saying that you believe their beliefs aren't true?

Me: Let's think about this for a moment. {Pointing at the shcedule of speakers on the whiteboard} You've already heard from a Jewish speaker, from a Christian today, and next week you'll hear from a Muslim speaker.

Judaism believes Jesus was a rabbi (religious teacher) at best. Christians, to the contrary, think he is God Almighty in human flesh and we worship him. Muslims think something different from these two: that Jesus was a significant prophet from God who pointed to the coming of God's true prophet Muhammad. Make sense so far?

Student #1: {nods her head in comprehension}

Me: OK, then I have one simple question. Could you help me understand how they can all three be right?

Student #1: hmmmm... {brow furrows in thought. After 2-3 seconds of silence, her mouth opens as if to speak, then closes again. 3-4 more seconds of silence ensue as she fishes for an answer to my question}

Student #2: It's impossible.

Student #1: Well, I think that... {stops again, as if considering the words she was about to speak. After another brief pause...} It's difficult to explain.

Me: {smiling} It's difficult to explain because it's impossible.

Throughout this discussion I felt a strong empathy with the fictional Professor Kirke in CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Peter and Susan dismiss their sister Lucy's story of travelling to Narnia by magic, Professor Kirke challenges their thinking:

"Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

The professor was challenging Peter and Susan to use their brains and ignore their built-in biases. Their minds were closed to even the simplest logic when it didn't fit their pre-conceived notions. Many of the students I spoke to last week were in a similar boat (several were not, of course, but most were). As illustrated by the young lady in my example, many of them simply could not get their minds around a conclusion that was actually quite simple -- so simple in fact that a child much younger than them could follow the logic. Why couldn't they? Were these students unintelligent? Not at all. Rather, some of them have a built-in bias filter that is so strong it shuts even simple logic completely down.

The built-in bias filter in this case is the modern notion of Tolerance, which insists that all views are equally valid (not true, but valid... "true" is a meaningless concept in this view) before any evaluative thinking can take place. The result is that no truly evaluative thinking actually takes place at all, which of course is the death of logic. When we become convinced that evaluating beliefs is a hostile action against another person, we will never actually evaluate beliefs, and critical thinking stays safely locked up in a box and put on a shelf in our minds. The result oftentimes is absurd, almost humorously so. Such as when otherwise bright High School students get stumped by a second-grade logic problem.

There was much more to both my presentation and to the Q&A session, and the whole thing was a privilege and an absolute blast. I had a 30-minute conversation with a bright atheist student after class, and many other great interactions. Hopefully the challenge of logic makes some of these kids really think about why they believe what they believe, and not just assimilate whatever their culture is throwing at them uncritically. Too much is at stake for them to just be a mindless sheep and follow the crowd on this stuff.

In Lewis' story, when Peter and Susan persist in their unbelief Professor Kirke mutters to himself "I wonder what they do teach them at these schools." Well, these days they teach them Tolerance. And common sense is the first casualty.

Is Something Missing In Church?

Lately I've sensed an increasing number of Christians who feel that something important is missing from their church experience, their personal experience of God, or both. They often can't put their finger on what it is, but the number of people who feel this way is significant. I've seen it in many conversations and situations I know of first-hand, as well as sensing it as a subtle (even background) theme in much of what I read.

And what's interesting is that it's coming from within evangelical Christianity. I expect non-Christians to find Christianity somehow wanting - that's probably why they aren't Christians. But I'm talking about people who believe the Gospel of Jesus, and who participate in church regularly.

Below is a short video in which I share some of my observations about 4 places they're often going to look for "what's missing." And more importantly, what the answer is. Because in short, yes: I think something is often missing from our experience with God (as it has been from my own life for a long time). And better still, I think the Bible provides the answer to what it is. The answer hit me like a freight train this past Fall, and I discuss it in the video below (with a brief cameo appearance from Rosie the dog at the 12 minute mark!):

For some related thoughts on problems with the emergent church movement, see The Adrift Church?

For some related thoughts on how big (and sometimes small) evangelical churches tend to miss the centrality of the Gospel, see The Glitzy Church?

Blog Widget by LinkWithin