Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Another Great Letter to the Editor

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

When I interviewed for the position of minister here at First Christian a little over two years ago, I was impressed by a comment Colin Cline made to me about the church. He said, “Members of First Christian like to stir up trouble.” As an example, he pointed across the room to where Keith Evans was sitting and then told me Keith had a letter to the editor in the News-Press that day. Over the years, about the only thing that keeps me looking at the letters to the editor every day is the possibility that a First Christian member has written in to express his or her opinion. It has been great to see newer church members like Mike Edwards and Bev Grienke writing powerful letters too. Amidst the apocalyptic declarations that we are living in the last days and the often incoherent rants about one issue or another, the letters of First Christian folks have stood out as articulate and even prophetic.

This week, Keith Evans had another letter published that continues the tradition of FCC members speaking out in the public square. Keith was responding to a letter written a week earlier by a gentleman complaining about the non-sectarian Christmas program at his grandchildren’s elementary school. The original writer complained that the songs were non-religious in nature and part of a “secular takeover” of America. He longed for a Christmas program (and assumedly an America) like his own childhood 70 years ago. Keith reminded the author and us that 70 years ago schools remained segregated and religious minorities were persecuted, despite the singing of Christmas carols at school. Keith also testified to the fact that he, the original writer and all of us remain free to sing our religious carols and observe our religious traditions in our own places of worship. Way to go Keith!

Keith was making the same point that I was trying to make in my sermon a month ago, which was titled “Bill O’Reilly is Wrong About Christmas.” It was a deliberately provocative title, but in the end it was a poor choice on my part, because a couple of folks got stuck on my criticism of O’Reilly and missed my point entirely. My intention was to say that people who get bent out of shape about the place of Christmas in the public square—be they cable talk show hosts or people in the pews—fail to get what Christmas is really about.

Christmas IS about God taking the amazing step of becoming human in order to experience what it is like to know our joys and pain. Christmas IS about God being born as a helpless infant who would die as a helpless adult to enable us to experience the grace of God. Christmas IS NOT about cultural nostalgia for a less pluralistic time. As Keith noted in his letter, what good does it do to sing carols at school when significant portions of the population aren’t even allowed in the room?

I only wish I could find Christians who are as passionate about sharing their experience of Christ as the people (and talk show hosts) who complain about a Wal-Mart clerk saying “Seasons Greetings” rather than “Merry Christmas.” It is not the job of the schools, the government or major retailers to promote the meaning of Christmas, but rather it is the job of people who claim to follow Jesus Christ to declare through their loving service to others what Christmas really means.

I’m very grateful to Keith Evans for making this same point on the News-Press editorial page.

Grace and Peace,


1 comment:

lneely said...

Ben Franklin is quoted as saying, "Lighthouses are more useful than churches." Though, the more I see, the more it seems FCC is more of a lighthouse than it is a church.

I've read all of the letters, and they reflect exactly the sort of attitude which I would expect one to have if he adheres to the Christian philosophy: one of humanity and compassion. It's nice to see that intelligent, rational, and well-spoken people write to the newspaper as well, and not just the fringe elements of our community.

Letters like this are a breath of fresh air amidst the fear-mongering, ignorance, and bigotry exhibited by the sectarian religion for which the Bible Belt is (in)famous.