MEDIA CHRISTIANS AND CHRISTMAS EVE

Today is Christmas Eve.  Christians celebrate Christmas.  I don’t wish to impose my holy day on the rest of the world, but it seems like that’s the way things are going, these days.  Nevertheless, I am grateful to live in a free society that allows me to celebrate according to my religious tradition, as I think all religions should.  I called tech support for my computer a while back and got a tech in India.  He turned down the volume on his end to dampen the background noise from the Durga-Puja festival which was going on in his neighborhood.  He and I had a wonderful conversation about Hinduism, which I had studied in grad school.  I even have a statuette of Sarasvati on my desk—the Goddess of learning, music, and poetry.

I self-identify as a Christian.  A Christian of the Swedenborgian Denomination.  Let’s establish that from the get-go.  Also, I am a Christian pastor.  But what does that mean?  What does that mean to you?  What does that mean to me?  It may very well be that what it means to me is not what it means to you.  The operative question is who gets to define what Christians are?

Unfortunately, I believe that the media get to define what Christians are.  News media tell stories about Christians—often in relation to politics.  And I think that a lot of people get their ideas about what Christians are from new stories.  However, we need to understand that the media are profit-driven enterprises.  Their reporting has to sell.  I’ve spoken with journalists who say that anger and outrage are good “hooks” to draw in viewers or readers.  If that is true, then the Christians we will encounter in media may well be Christians who generate outrage, are outrageous.  I hope that, as a Christian, I do not generate outrage.  At least I try not to.

Then there are Evangelicals.  I have issues with evangelism, itself.  I’m sure that Evangelicals are as sincere in their faith as am I, but I tend to resent people trying to make me think as they do.  I am a student of religions.  So I have a keen interest in others’ understandings of ultimate reality.  But I prefer to learn about others by inquiry, not by their imposition upon my free thought.  You can see Evangelicals on street corners yelling at people and shoving tracts at you.  Since this kind of Christian is loud and prominent, many define Christians by them.  My frustration with this is probably evident.  Also, there are televangelists.  Anybody can turn on their television and watch a program featuring a Christian preacher.  Often, perhaps usually, televangelists tend to be Evangelicals, which I am not.  I have a friend who owns a multi-million-dollar cigar company.  He always tells me that I should become a televangelist.  He says that that is where all the money is.  He also dated an Evangelical Christian for a while, and keeps telling me what he thinks Christians believe, though he is not a believer in any faith that I know of.  But I don’t hold to a lot of the tenets his former girlfriend held to, and I didn’t go into Christian ministry to make a lot of money.  My Christianity has little in common with televangelists.

For me, Christianity means living by Jesus’ teachings about love.  And I understand that to mean love for people inside and outside one’s own belief system.  The Good Samaritan was a Samaritan—a race despised by the Jewish Orthodoxy of which Jesus was a member, but not a strict follower.  This tells me that Jesus promoted religions other than His own, even religions despised by members of His own Jewish Orthodoxy.  So for me, Christian love extends to all peoples of good-will: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Jews, atheists, and peoples of good-will whom I haven’t mentioned.  And love seeks to establish friendships, and to promote good-will.  When I say that I am a Christian, sometimes I worry that people will understand that to mean I am a media Christian, who seem to get all the press, or an Evangelical.  Practicing Christianity for me means seeking to find good in every situation and to be an agent for that good.  But I practice quietly, privately, and some might even say in stealth mode.  My Muslim friends, my Jewish friends, my Zoroastrian friends, and my Hindu friends enjoy my company, I think, and I their company.  That kind of harmony is how I understand Christian love, is the kind of Christian I try to be.  I am a definition of Christianity as much as are televangelists, Evangelicals, Catholics, or media Christians.  Maybe that kind of Christian, and there are lots like me, doesn’t make for good news stories.  Any more than the moderate peace-loving Muslims I know make for good news stories.  But that’s no reason for me to stop calling myself Christian.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are times especially for me to relax and let love be, to let myself be an agent of love, and to remember and renew old friendships, to enjoy family.  As a Christian in this world, it is a time for me to reflect on Jesus’ friendship with Pharisees, tax collectors, prostitutes, rabbis, Samaritans, and Lebanese.  In a broken and fragmented world, Jesus yet has a message of healing and unity for Christians and/or others of good-will.   

WILDFLOWERS

We love to see a meadow of wild flowers

And take delight in sweet pea, bluebell, pansy

But if we try to pick and hold their beauty

We find they fade and wilt in only hours

 

Still after we have placed them in a vase

We love their delicate pedals and scent

Like flowers, time with friends is only lent

Though beauty in friendships gives life grace

 

And we love it when our friends are nearby

But time with friends tends to be uncertain

If long or short, impermanence is certain

People change; in time we’ll say goodbye

 

Buddhists say that joy in friend or lover

Still is dukkha, suffering or grief

I see the transient nature of all life

Yet still take joy, delight, and pleasure

As it is in friendship, love, or flower

SO SAY THE BUDDHISTS

The Buddhists say we are all connected

The coffee plantation in Africa and breakfast in New York

My coffee cup and a Chinese factory worker

The rice paddy that gave her supper

The exploding star that formed the iron of which the plow is made

The exploding star that made the iron for the bullets in my enemy’s gun

My enemy who would shoot those bullets at me

The iron in my body’s blood

The iron in the blood of the other political party, who stands under my flag

We are all connected, all one

My enemy as my beloved are all one with me

Everything is mine, is me

And I am one with everything

Makes me think twice about rage, about hate

About causing anyone harm, anything