Wednesday, November 21, 2007

'Tis the Season

It's almost December, tomorrow's El Dio del Pavo (The Day of the Turkey, for my fellow gringos), and you know what that means. That means that for the next four weeks or so, as Christmas approaches, much of the world and much of the nominal church will join hands in a collaborative effort to demonstrate just how little Christianity is running around out there.

In our story today, the world is represented by the Lowe's chain of homeowner hells (let's pause to properly credit Dave Barry for that oh-so-apt name). Before we proceed, I have to stop and give the management of Lowe's some mad props for that little apostrophe between the E and the S in their corporate logo. As one of Lynne Truss's passionate groupies, I am touched by that old-school, properly-formed possessive; would that "Walgreens" had done so well! But enough digression; time instead for procession. Let's proceed. The story:
It's green, cone-shaped, and ready to be decorated and lit. But in the Lowe's holiday catalog it's a "Family Tree" not a Christmas tree.

That's put the Mooresville-based home improvement giant at the center of what has become an annual debate over whether retailers should specifically refer to Christmas in their advertisements.

Lowe's 2007 holiday catalog triggered an outcry from the American Family Association, a conservative advocacy group.

Over the years, the association has led boycotts against Wal-Mart and other retailers for using the catchall "happy holidays" in its advertisements and greetings instead of "Merry Christmas."

This year, the association posted an "action alert" on its Web site, asking readers to e-mail Lowe's about how the "family" trees might be offensive to Christians.

Lowe's spokeswoman Karen Cobb said the catalog page's title was an error during the "creative process" and was inconsistent with the company's practice of referring to the trees as Christmas trees. Cobb said the company is redoubling its efforts to proof its catalogs.

"We've apologized for the confusion we created," Cobb said. "It was not our intention to offend anyone."
Christmas is an important observance in the context of the Christian church. After all, without the incarnation of God, you could hardly have His atoning passion and death, nor could you have the crown and capstone of the faith: His resurrection. So it is proper -- indeed, in my view, obligatory -- for Christians to celebrate the incarnation. And if the traditions of the historical church have incorporated some pagan stylistic elements (placing the time of the celebration near the ancient Saturnalia and the winter solstice, decorating with greens), well, so be it; these things are the "shadow" and not the substance, in Paul's sense and meaning from Romans chapter 14. However, I search the Scriptures without success for any hint at all that Christian believers should compel the unbelievers of this world to simulate enthusiasm for the believers' celebration, or to hector those unbelievers to produce that simulated enthusiasm, or even to expect it. What I find in my New Testament is explicitly contrary to this notion; again and again, the believer is told to expect trouble and abuse, ranging from ridicule to torture and death.

So, is Lowe's, that corporate purveyor of "family trees" for "the holidays," dispensing persecution? Don't make me laugh. Persecution means arrests, beatings, imprisonment, confiscation, torture, and execution. To first century Christians, persecution was violent death. For some abstract corporate entity to fail to render some insincere show of respect for my beliefs is ... well, let's just say that if this is as bad as it ever gets for me, I'm either not much of a believer, or I'm living in a rather tranquil time and place. (I'd prefer to assume the latter, if that's OK with everyone.)

I'll interrupt this post with an admission that I have a little bone to pick with Lowe's, too. Mine involves the difficulty of procuring a decent sheet of 3/4-inch BCX plywood at a decent price. But that's for another day ... and the Home Despot is usually just as bad, if not worse.

At His incarnation, my Lord took the form of near-ultimate powerlessness: an infant born to a couple of nobodies in an occupied backwater of the Roman empire. "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild," indeed. Why does so much of His nominal church behave, at this time every year, like a crew of truculent gangbangers, demanding our due respect  from one and all? Must we insist on our props?  Couldn't we try to emulate our master just a little more closely?

I wonder, too, why so many of us buy into the notion that we're supposed to have an emotional relationship with an animated money machine like Lowe's? The American Family Association, after all, is urging us to have a quarrel of some kind with that corporation. There's probably some footsore person manning the register at your local Lowe's store to whom you can relate, and maybe minister, in some personal way. But the corporation ... well, that's what it is. What do we expect? Of course  it's going to do some silly verbal dance that's been carefully optimized to maximize the amount of "holiday" merchandise moved while minimizing the number of customers offended. Is it a good thing? Probably not; how many small, independently-owned "hardware stores" do you see these days? Are most of the alternatives worse? Under our omnipotent thug government, they probably are worse. But we claim we believe that this is a fallen world, dancing to the tune called by its dark Prince. Should we be surprised when unbelievers conduct themselves as such? To me, the real surprise is that most people behave as well as they do. Maybe God really meant it, when He said that His law is written on everyone's heart.

So, what's the alternative? What am I suggesting that Christians do, if they're not filling their hours in e-mailing and boycotting and trying to bully unbelievers into insincere salutes to belief? Well, loving those who vex you is a biblically-recommended sort of pastime. The cultivation of humility is always becoming and appropriate to sinners, such as we. Making merry is good, in and of itself. As for changing the world, well and good; it very much needs changing. But we should keep in mind what the Lord told Paul, in 2 Corinthians chapter 12: His power is perfected in weakness.

Love is subversive.

Servants are revolutionaries.

Amen and amen.

1 comment:

Grace Nearing said...

For some abstract corporate entity to fail to render some insincere show of respect for my beliefs is ... well, let's just say that if this is as bad as it ever gets for me, I'm either not much of a believer, or I'm living in a rather tranquil time and place. (I'd prefer to assume the latter, if that's OK with everyone.)

Bless you, Bartleby.