Christmas?

I’ve still got my Lutheran gold and enamel pins for 5 years perfect Sunday school attendance from when we lived in DeSoto back in the early 50’s.  I liked the church–the building that is.  To a young child it was a large cavernous space.  Much bigger than our barn and that was big.  I liked the wooden floors and pews,  the vaulted ceiling, the candelabra’s, the velvet drapery and the robes and vestments of our minister, Pastor West.  And most of all I liked the giant windows.  Everything was refined compared to home and our pastor was warm and friendly and smiled a lot.  The hymns were beautiful and familiar and it felt good to sing along with the choir and the organ.  I liked church service more than Sunday School, probably because I didn’t know how to act (as they say) with other little kids.  Or maybe it was because they all prayed at home at mealtime and at bedtime and we didn’t and I was ashamed of that. We didn’t seem good enough.  And their moms or dads tucked them in at night.  Not like what mom or dad did in our house.  It was scary too because I sometimes didn’t know the answers to the teacher’s questions about the Bible stores.  I’d get throat-lock and turn white.  And especially so after the time I questioned the teacher about essentially the reliability of the written history, though I couldn’t possibly have characterized it that way.   My amazement was that we could know for sure that the stories of the Bible were true–how could we possibly know, it was so long ago?  The second time she had to tell me “We know it is all true because the Bible tells us so”, she was visibly angry with me.  I wished my throat had just locked-up before I ever asked the question.

After we moved to Carbondale in 1957 Mom joined a new church and mostly just she and I went for a couple of years.  I don’t remember the others attending much.  In the beginning the congregation met in a hall on Jackson St–either in a funeral parlor or next to one.  Later a chapel was built on Chatauqua, up the street from our house.  The space was small and uninspired.  We soon quit attending at all.  It may have been because mom volunteered to make the red velvet drapes for the altar and they didn’t turn out well.  She thought the project would be a cinch because she had worked in a glove factory and a dress factory, but she had no experience with velvet.  It gave her fits and she’d cuss the “god-damned velvet” for crawling around.  Maybe she cursed so much over them that it made bad vibes for her when they were hung.  Or more likely, some smart-ass bitch in the congregation that knew she was better than mom made some cutting remark and mom slunk away.  Her self-esteem never blossomed , indeed it was always in danger of extinction.    Of course, Mom said she quit going to church because dad wouldn’t give her more than $3 or $4 or $10 or whatever it was for the collection plate.

But Christ wasn’t really in our Christmas growing up.  We always had a big tree with lots of big lights, multi-colored for the early years and all blue mid-size bulbs for my teen years.  And lots of icicles and colored glass balls. Decorating the Christmas tree was just about the most fun thing that happened in our house all year and though I was the youngest I usually did it alone.  The anticipation could make me tingle.  In a lot of ways it was better than opening the gifts on Christmas morning.  It seems there were often disappointments with that.  And then there was lots of special food.  Thanksgiving and Christmas were the only times during the year that we had turkey and dressing, fruitcake and frozen fruit salad.  So growing up Christmas was about the tree and gifts and food.  For our family it had little to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus.

In High School I wrote a term paper on comparative religion.  I was fascinated by what I read and have continued that study through my life.  At 20 I married a Catholic, subsequently converted and began raising our daughters in the Catholic Church.

Now the Catholics really know how to build a church.  I’ll walk a long way off course to visit a grand cathedral. They are truly awe-inspiring.  The space itself is  articulated to lift your spirit, lift your mind, lift your vision, and grow your hope.  And from that should follow wisdom and compassion, grace and creativity.  Unfortunately, these grand spiritual sites get taken hostage by the politics of religion.

After 16 years, I left  the Catholic Church and soon joined the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.   I immediately related to the congregations focus on asking the kinds of questions that I had been asking myself for years. Questions that  focused on the spiritual path.  Questions about meaning and purpose.  My experience with Protestantism and Catholicism told me that the focus there was on pledging to a doctrine that essentially informs you of what you are to believe, what your purpose is and how to get to Heaven.  That’s why in a one hour service or mass for instance,  probably only about 15 minutes is devoted to one bible reading and the companion sermon.  Everything else is designed to reinforce your faith and/or loyalty.

 As for me I’m not convinced or choose not to believe that Jesus is in some special sense the son of God .    It’s just not important to me to figure out the politics of JC’s life.   Choosing a day upon which to celebrate the birth of Jesus however is a fine, really fine thing to do.  He is one of the most influential men in history because of the weight of truth to his words.  It is because he sermoned repeatedly about love, compassion and acceptance.  Those must be the cornerstones of our effort to save civilization and indeed the life of the entire planet.   It must be grounded in equality, with a true love thy neighbor philosophy as Jesus taught. His message is what is important–not his pedigree, or what reward you might get for invoking his name.  One thing I’ve learned from reading about various religions, is that it’s important to respect others beliefs, but there can come a time to say that a particular thing is just wrong.

 If you believe Jesus died for you then consider this.  Salvation comes when we remember him in the way he wanted to be remembered.  He didn’t ask for statues and temples.  He wanted to be remembered for his message.  When we learn that lesson we can save our environment, our economy and our souls.  That’s your entrance to heaven–The Garden of Eden is right here and now. It’s not coming for you after your body dies.

Saying a prayer of thanksgiving at mealtime and at bedtime is something valuable, and something I miss doing with my girls when they were young.

Happy Birthday, Jesus

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