Monday, December 19, 2005


First, on the car: praise God! Usually I don't ascribe every little thing to God's hand (I wouldn't want a micromanaging diety), but I can only figure that something supernatural had to happen to cut through the red tape of California bureaucracy. Turns out, CA offers these nice people called smog check referees, and they have the power to override the little glitch in the system that is my nightmare. So thanks be to God, I have an appointment for tomorrow, and this will all be taken care of for only $30 more (bringing our total to about $100, but what are ya gonna do?).

Second, on the summer: I'm still considering what to do with myself. I need to get out and help someone somewhere. Not to supplant, but to supplement, my education. I don't need to leave Fuller and I know I'm being well-trained there. I wouldn't give up this wonderful season of seminary for anything - it's a glorious respite from the real world. In fact, like J, I may just retreat into academia forever.

But first, I need to get my ass out there and work a little bit among the people. So I continue to pray about where to go and what to do. I haven't applied for CPT yet - not because of the kidnappings, although that was disturbing (no update last I checked, although the deadline passed), but because the timing isn't all that perfect. It would be better for me to go when school's not in session, 2-3 weeks in either June or September. Plus, my original desire, you may recall, was for Africa. Well, I have a friend who's from South Africa and is well-connected there (she was actually ordained by Desmond Tutu, I think), so I've asked her if she knows anyone who could use my help. Perhaps J and I could even go as a team. And I've recently learned that my mother wants to tithe on her inheritance, and this may be a viable way for her to do so (at least I think so, I have to ask her), supporting me as a short-termer.

There are also always my friends in PNG, who it would be amazing to go work with (they work in ethnomusicology and worship studies), but they're coming home on furlough in a few months! Have to do that one later.

So we'll see. Please pray for me.

Final Update, on Christmas services (to be or not to be):

Well, a very interesting discussion is going on in the comments section - check it out. Here is my take on it, and you can all tear me a new one.

My dad was also a pastor, and when we'd get snowed in and couldn't have Christmas eve service, we all breathed a sigh of relief. We never had Christmas day service (but I don't remember what, if anything, we did on a Christmas Sunday). It seems pretty normal for churches to do it up on the Eve and leave the Day to the families.

But I think we might be wrong about this. I understand, believe me, the ministers who've written in saying they want that day off because they are pooped (my church does four Christmas eve services!). I understand the people who want to be with family because that's what the holiday is about for them. I understand the sentiment that one can worship and celebrate Jesus' birth anywhere, not only in church. But I disagree.

I actually think that if we are going to be the authentic church of Jesus Christ, we need to make his birth one of our hugest festivals of the year - only second to Easter (and who'd cancel services on Easter??). Because frankly, it's up there for the most important moment in history - the incarnation, many Christians believe, was the turning point, not the crucifixion/resurrection. But either way, we can all agree it was terribly important.

We need to let go of our biases about it being a day of family, a day of presents, a day of celebrating peace and goodwill. Guys, it's a festival celebrating the most holy of occasions: the incarnation of the living God. It's not about us at all, remotely. It's a day when we should be coming before the throne with fear and trembling, not able to fathom what great love caused this God to do this thing for us.

So I am sorry that it is inconvenient, tiring, and anti-family. But it's Christian. Jesus didn't want us to spend time with our families. Jesus did plenty of great work while he was exhausted. Jesus freaking incarnated. What are we doing with our little manger scenes and children in bathrobes and bad music?? Are we nuts? Do we even realize what we are playing at???

I think a step towards the solution is to cut out all this Christmas Eve worship. We have capitulated way too much to the idea that the festival is on the Eve. Now granted, the Easter Vigil is also a great Eve festival, and in my church at least, it totally kicks Easter Day's ass. But there's got to be balance. For all the anticipation of the Eve and the Vigil, we need the hugest celebration for the Day of our joy! Celebration and righteous awe. Not "Aw, aren't they cute?" But fall-on-your-face dumbstruckness before a God who would enter a womb and live as a human and let us kill him. How did God become a fetus? It's incredible.

Last night on the Simpson's, the first story was actually really funny and cute. It was the Christmas story (sort of). And one great line stuck out: Marge (as Mary) told Homer (Joseph) that the baby (Bart as Jesus) cried every time someone suffered in the world. So he was always crying!

Wow. What a great moment, in a cartoon of all places! We should get it so well.

And I get that historically it wasn't always a big deal. But come on - that's a lame excuse. We need to be always evolving as a church, not just saying something was invented late therefore we don't have to use it. Powerpoint was pretty recently invented, yet it's revolutionized preaching - for visual learners, it's been a huge improvement. The church starting up the Christmas service in the 4th century was a good thing. The early church didn't do everything right and perfect! What a static view of history that would be. We must believe that God's been working over these 2000 years, and where we've come to now is an okay place to be. Let's not always appeal to history as our guide. Let's appeal to right now and what God's doing with God's church for the future.

I hate to rain on everyone's parade, but Christmas isn't about you, or your family, or your kids, or your rest, or your peace, or your goodwill. It is about what God did for us. So suck it up. Quit whining. Cancel a few Christmas Eve services and punch up Christmas Day. So nobody comes for a few years. Takes time to change a culture, especially a church subculture. We've got to change the meaning of Christmas entirely. That's going to take a lot of work and time and commitment from otherwise overrun and overworked clergy. But that is what we signed up for as Christians - to change the world. Let's start in our own congregations.

Let's get Christmas back - for what it truly is supposed to be. This may be an entirely new thing, an entirely new idea. But I believe God inspires such. What if we all believed?


Anonymous said...

I think you're right! I also think it may be a tad prophetic in light of the debate that is going on right now about how Christmas is being reduced to nothing more than an opportunity to give gifts and celebrate "the holidays." As you pointed out previously "Christmas" comes from Christ's Mass, just as I believe the origins of "holiday" are Holy Day. It seems sometimes that there is a battle going on to remove God on all fronts and your response is not only timely but heartening. Have a blessed Christmas! :)

saraeanderson said...

Suzanne, as a nonreligious person, I still celbrate "Christmas." I've never been to church on Christmas, and am an atheist anyway, so it wouldn't really make sense for me to go. Still, Christmas has a lot of secular signifigance in American culture. I think that this debate is making as much clear - when it comes to the church, pine trees and fudge and presents aren't really very important. They have some pretty weighty cultural signifigance to non-Christians, though, and in a world that is full of people not all of whom are Christian, those are the things that get emphasised the most. (Especially when you stand to make a few bucks selling fudge, pine trees and presents.) It may seem like society is trying to remove God, but to a lot of society, God (or at least your God) isn't really the point of all this. It's not my job or Kmart's job to talk about Christ - that's what Christians are for. If God is disappearing from your Christmas celebration, it's because Christians are letting secular celebrations horn in on their religious ones.

Stasi said...

Very well said, Sara. It's absolutely true. And I hope you know, and everyone knows, that my comments are (almost) always directed at my fellow Christians. That is where I feel called to proclaim my musings. I think you get that - and I'm delighted you like to drop by and listen to our conversation as we work things out for our crazy religion.

There are definitely two Christmases - secular and religious - and that's why I personally prefer saying "Happy Holidays" and seeing that on governmental, retail, and Hallmark establishments (I now avoid "Merry Christmas" cards - not only because I have several Jewish friends/family, but also because I don't like commercializing my religious festival, and I like sending cards during Advent, while that phrase is inappropriate until Dec. 25 - it would be like saying Happy Easter during Lent!). I'd personally just as soon associate all of the cultural hype with a generic "holiday season" and keep Christmas for the Christians. I welcome the change to Happy Holidays for the mall and the state - it's a lot more sensitive in our multi-faith society, anyway!

But of course, we can't escape the fact that Christmas is an important Western European and North American holiday beyond its religious roots. So if an atheist wants to celebrate Christmas in this way, because of the cultural significance, that's fine. I don't think you are co-opting my holiday any more than I might co-opt yours (by sending Christmas cards or having the fudge and tree - or nog, my personal vice). It's healthy that we recognize we're both celebrating something different, but complimentary in a way. And I'm grateful you know what my holiday means to me. That's a lot more sensitive to my people than many of us are to you. If I were a perfect Christian I'd stop drinking the nog and giving gifts and having a tree (as it is I have only a silver fiber-optic goofy thing), but I too love the secular parts of the holiday. Hopefully someday I can convince my church to move towards more religion less culture, but we'll see.

So Merry Christmas, Sara, and happy advent to you Christians until Sunday. And Happy Holidays to everyone else who enjoys this special time of year for whatever reason.

Mini Me said...

I think from reading your post and the comments that there is an assumption that those who don't have Christmas day services are not celebrating the true meaning of the season. I'm curious as to how you can judge that, absolutely know that those who aren't in church on Sunday are bowing down to the "commercial version" of Christmas.

You said "Let's appeal to right now and what God's doing with God's church for the future." We are, as a church, doing exactly that. It just doesn't fit into your box of how a Christian should act. Judge all you want, but I know that we, as a church, will continue to reach out to our community the way we feel God has lead us, not because others don't like it.

Do I seem defensive? Absolutely. I'm extremely tired of Christians who proclaim from the mountain tops how holy they are because they do it the "right way." All this time I thought it was the "religious right" who I had to worry about, but now I realize it is also the left who are just as judgemental.

saraeanderson said...

There's a pretty good bit of discussion on Andrew Sullivan's blog today in regard to Christmas, Christianity and the public sphere.

(In case ol' Sully drives you batty, like he does me from time to time, you may be comforted to know it's guest posters speaking on the subject.)

kate said...

Preach it, sister! My father is also a minister, and I remember the relief I felt when snow prevented us from going to church on Christmas eve. However, I can't help but feel that if the focus of my family's celebration was really the birth of Christ, I would have been sad to miss celebrating such an incredible event in the company of the faithful (which is exactly how I felt one Christmas Eve in college when a blizzard did prevent me from going to church. I watched the broadcast of the service at the Washington National Cathedral on my computer.) My hope is that when I have a family of my own, the center of our Christmas will be going to church and celebrating the incarnation. Though we still exchange gifts with our families, my husband and I decided years ago not to give each other presents on Christmas, and we will not give them to our children either.

I don't agree with the argument that "we never have church on Christmas, so this year's no different." Well, in my opinion, churches should have it every year!

The intermingling of American culture and church never ceases to amaze me. I have to admit that many of my hesitancies to consider ordination related to this: thoughts like "How will I have enough time for my family if I am a priest, conducting all these services on Christmas?" When I really thought about it, though, I realized: Christmas for Christians is not about me making a fabulous dinner or having tons of immaculately wrapped presents for my children to open. It is about celebrating the incarnation, and I see my responsibility to children as leading them through that process.

Sorry this comment is so long. This story struck a chord for me, and obviously I've thought a lot about this issue!

Stasi said...

Kate, I appreciate your comment very much.

Sigh, mini-me, I'm not trying to judge you. I'm simply pointing out that if a church skips Resurrection Day services (i.e. Sunday) simply because the day happens to fall on Incarnation Day (i.e. Christmas), that's deeply ironic. Two of our biggest most important celebrations...and we are whining because we want to stay in our jammies and open presents.

You are right - I do have a "box" for Christians to fit into...a way I think they should act. It's the way the Bible, particularly the New Testament, tells us to act. It's the way the Church through its history tells us to act. It's the way Jesus tells us to act. To gather with the church body to celebrate the festival of the incarnation is simply vital - without that, how are we Christians, exactly? The service can look however you want - I'm not picky about style - but if you're not with other Christians, you're not being the Church, and no, you are not celebrating religious Christmas. If you think being with your family on Christmas is more important, that is totally understandable - it's just not Christianity.

The burden of proof falls on you to explain how any other celebration of Christmas, other than with one's church body, is religious.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting discussion; however, it strikes me as odd as I'm from Australia and we've always had Christmas day services over here. We will this year as well (we're moving our usual service time forward to 8am).

In fact, for many Australian Christians you'd go to church on Christmas day rather than Christmas Eve vigils (personally we run both). As a child (and now as a parent) we'd always go to church BEFORE opening gifts. This year there'll be many little faces in a Christmas morning service desperately wanting to go home to see what's under the tree... But good for them and their parents because they're learning/teaching what Christmas is really about, through the sacrifice of waiting.

Enjoy working through your own cultural debate on this one. Interesting that I haven't heard of one Australian church that's cancelling Christmas Sunday services (yes, there's probably one out there somewhere - I just haven't heard about them)...

Mini Me said...

You are completely missing the point. We do celebrate Christmas - on Christmas Eve. You don't agree with that, ok. But don't assume that we are not celebrating Christmas - we are.

And yes you are judging - by assuming that everyone wants to stay home "because we want to stay in our jammies and open presents." You presume a certain amount of pre-knowledge about ALL THE PEOPLE in the world. If you have that knowledge, than wow, I am debating God. That would be quite something.

Of all people I would not expect this from it would be you, someone I have come to enjoy reading because I though you were open to the possibility that there are different ways to worship. Apparently I was mistaken.

Stasi said...

Okay, if we didn't think there was a right way to do things, we wouldn't be Christians. We'd be completely agnostic. Because there wouldn't be truth.

And I didn't rag on Christmas Eve services - I simply said that we should consider punching up Christmas Day more than we currently do. Right now, for just about everyone, it's all about the Eve. I question that assumption. I wonder what else there is that we could be missing by not celebrating Christmas as a Church family.

In exploring issues within our worship, we will come into disagreement. We can't always say everyone's way is OK for them without judging it. There have to be better and worse ways. That's just part of believing in truth. You wouldn't say it's okay to worship an idol in a church, even if that was "my way" of doing Christianity. You'd tell me that it wasn't biblical, and I couldn't argue the point with you.

I guess I'm just trying to say let's not assume that just because we like something it's sanctified. Orchestras will tell you that audience favorites are not always the best music - but the audience loves them so they get played more than potentially more challenging and beautiful pieces. We need to consider whether we hold on to worship traditions because they are truly Biblical and of God, or whether we just like them, feel comfortable with them, or we've always done it that way. (the orchestra analogy is Gail Ramshaw's)

When I judge on here I am judging my own wrongness first. MY temptation is to stay home and veg. MY temptation is to give in to the cultural side of Christmas and not follow the narrow road of Christ. I am the first to admit that these are MY problems as much as anyone else's. I didn't mean to sound as if I was judging the whole world - but if you read the Christianity Today article from the original post, there are quotes on there from church leaders saying these things I've mentioned are exactly the reasons for their cancelling Christmas services. I'm referring to their attitude. It's not personally directed at you or your church, which I'm sure is a very lovely Godly place.

I find that when something tempts me - or really pisses me off - then I need to question why. Why am I so bothered that churches are cancelling Sunday service? It was the fact that Christmas is on Sunday that started all this. I've never gone to church on Christmas before. But it seemed weird not to go on Sunday. That's what made this year different.

And then that got me thinking all about what Christmas means and how Christians should be celebrating it and we wound up here.

I don't need your approval, but please don't think for a moment that I'm not open to all kinds of worship. However, admitting different ways exist and saying they are equally Biblical, healthy, Godly, worshipful, effective, etc., are two different things.

Just saying something is better than something else isn't saying either is bad. But some things, especially in religion, ARE better than other things. And I'm not the one who decides that (we leave that to the Bible and Tradition and God's Spirit) - however, when I recognize it, when I see it out there, do not condemn me for noticing. I'm not the one who made it better or more Christian - but I noticed, is all. It's not fair to say I'm saying my way is best. But it is fair to say I'm recommending the way that seems to be most correct to me.

If the worship wars could become about real things - like this - they would be so much more interesting! :)

kate said...

MIni-me, I don't think anyone is trying to speak about the whole world here. What I was speaking about, anyway, was both my experience of upper-middle-class evangelical Christianity through my family, and the comments made by the representatives of the churches who cancelled Sunday services themselves. As quoted in the CT article, "Gene Appel told the Tribune. 'We don't see it as not having church on Christmas. We see it as decentralizing the church on Christmas—hundreds of thousands of experiences going on around Christmas trees. The best way to honor the birth of Jesus is for families to have a more personal experience on that day.'"

First of all, I love my Christmas tree, but I recognize it as nothing more than a cultural icon. The idea that families could hold their own individual "church experience" around a tree is contrary to anything I've ever heard about a church service. I think it's clear what he's implying here by saying that families will gather around the tree - what do we all (especially the wealthy congregants of Willow Creek) put under the tree? I don't want to speak for Feminarian, but I know that I am simply taking his statement to its logical conclusion.

I agree with the CT author: "But if that holds true for Christmas, doesn't it hold true for every other Sunday? Why not decentralize the church every week by telling families "to have a more personal experience on that day"?

I think if you take this to its logical conclusion, that is where it leads you, and that is a dangerous place to go.

I also want to say, last year was the first year I went to church on Christmas. I too have only been thinking about this to the extent I am because Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, but I am thankful for this, because it has caused me to think critically about this topic, and after careful consideration I can't come to any other conclusion than the church body should come together on one of the holiest days of the Christian year to celebrate!

Mini Me said...

Ironically, that is exactly what I was trying to get across, as you said "I guess I'm just trying to say let's not assume that just because we like something it's sanctified." The way I see it is everyone is saying "but we always meet on Sunday, this should be no different because we ALWAYS do it." Seems the same to me as questioning what is 'sanctified'.

And thank you for the response, it clarifies some of what you have said. I've just been increasing frustrated with people throwing around the words "lazy" and "whiny" when it comes to this issue. And I reacted out of that frustration. I have been in ministry too long and know too many people who put their heart and soul into what God has called them to do - calling them names is not helpful to their ministry or anyone elses. And yeah, it pissed me off.

I appreciate the debate, just not the tone.

Anonymous said...

> Jesus did plenty of good work while he was exhausted. Jesus freakin' incarnated

... is the funniest thing I've seen written about Christmas this season. Thanks for the laugh, and for the truth inside it.