Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Uhhh, Happy Holidays!

"We who bring you the light refreshment your way, wish you the most light-hearted of Holidays."

“We who bring you the light refreshment your way, wish you the most light-hearted of Holidays.”

Originally posted 12/24/2012

Besides crass, opportunistic commercialism, the above ad also brings home the value of a good illustrator. They can take a bizarre concept and make it appealing, at least visually.
“See, J.O., it’s gonna show this young couple and she’s in front of a mirror puttin’ on a hat that looks like a Christmas tree, see…”
“And how’s that going to help us take market share away from Coke? They got that damned Santa thing locked up!”
“Don’t worry about a thing. It’s Christmas and parties – everybody loves that – and we’ll tie it up tight in the copy. You’ll see.”
“A hat that looks like a Christmas tree sounds like it’s going to look stupid, Frank.”
“Bob over at Hewitt says they can make it killer. Got Stan Tedler on it right now. Did all the Tiffany and Cadillac stuff. We’ll have the concept sketch here Thursday, with copy. You’re gonna love it, J.O., I’m tellin’ ya.”

When was the last time you noticed an illustrated ad of this quality – or any illustration art work at all? Too bad That’s Obsolete!

You know, Christmas, as an observance of God’s incarnation into mortal flesh, has pretty much been flushed down the crapper in the time since it was started, and I don’t just mean the commercialized hijacking of it starting in the mid-1800s. No small part of the original problem is that the Christmas date has been selected from one of many pure speculations. The date that God incarnated into human form, was not recorded – and I believe there’s a message in its absence, even an intentionality about it.

A date is desirable when you expect to be won over to a new system of belief. Who, what, when, where and why can serve as validation points for any religion or philosophy. But Christ did not appear in order to establish a new religion. In fact, he was in complete opposition to both religion and religious people. Religion (including Science) tends to set a ladder of sorts into place to try to lift man toward God’s level, set judgment in place of tolerance and mercy, encourage war, and emphasize size and “success” at the expense of transparency and honesty. Sounds like politics too, doesn’t it? That’s why they tend to get intertwined.

Yet, there is still something in most people that compels them to suspect that there is more significance to life than breathing for a while, and then not. There may be an uncertain wondering about spirituality, some plane of existence that cannot be seen and is beyond the physical senses. Or maybe not. You might get a detention or be suspended from school if you’re caught praying or even looking like you might possibly be praying, but there’s no less interest in spirituality now that Christianity as a religion has become Politically Incorrect. Religion is that man-made work of searching for God “however you may choose to perceive him”.

In contrast, Christ is the work of God, being God’s outreach for man, in a manner of speaking. Jesus announced freedom from the shackles of religion, and called the hardest working and most successful of its adherents whores, vipers and hypocrites. Hardly something Dale Carnegie and How to Win Friends and Influence People would advise! He also had the brass to state to his followers that, without faith in Him, one would never be able to stand before God. That alienates a multitude of people today who see that as intolerant and exclusionary. It is exclusionary. The Politically Correct view is that there are many paths to God, or no path, or no God. Whatever. Just don’t mention it during the graduation ceremony.

But Jesus’ extraordinary claim is right in line with His prophesied purpose in being here, living the way He did and departing the way He did. It was a purpose and a task that only He was qualified to accomplish successfully, and it needed to be accomplished for mankind’s sake, not His own. That was exclusionary too, and He didn’t do it to win popularity. He did it solely for our benefit. His purpose was to make it possible for anyone at all to have a personal relationship with God by accepting an extraordinary gift that no one could pay the price for but Him.

Normal folk naturally tend to shy away from any deity who demands perfection as the standard to be able to come into his presence, and a sacrifice of blood and life to compensate for imperfection. Wow! Sounds pretty primitive, and we have the free will and the option to reject the whole thing. We are given the freedom to choose what we will believe. The Bible itself says that the whole concept of the existence of such a God and His provision for a relationship with Him will, to the purely rational mind, appear like utter foolishness. That’s why religious “documentaries” purveyed in media sources like The History Channel describe the Bible as a motley collection of tales and myths, and the Messiah as a great speaker with a lot of skeletons in the closet. After all, who could actually believe such a construct?

So, in one form or another, we put together our own reality, one which often hinges on an ability to create our own final destiny, even if that destiny resembles oblivion. Most people are innately equipped with a conscience, a faint suspicion that there is something out there greater than ourselves, a desire for justice, and a working sense of logic. Some say that if there is no god, we would feel the need to invent him. It’s in our DNA. That’s where religion comes in, man’s search for a god, or even to become one. Movies of the past pushed the idea that we must try hard and earn our “angel’s wings”, and more contemporary ones continue this line with the thought that we earn our final destinations, good or bad. Meanwhile, Science washes its hands of the whole thing and tries to answer the Big Questions through ever-changing theory and speculation.

The date of Christ’s birth is not only unimportant, but I contend that pasting one up there on a calendar is counterproductive. Humanity has a habit of reducing momentous events into one more excuse to party, but that’s what you get when you want to build a big, influential institution by whatever means necessary. Organize, catalog, establish procedures and hierarchy and rituals, and get out there and sign up some converts – by whatever means necessary, if necessary. Competing religions got festivals and traditions? Make them yours in order to win ’em over. Take advantage of people’s need to belong to a dominant social group, quell the dissension, dominate the debates, win the wars. Success = control. True Christianity is entirely different.

In my experience, faith in Christ is not effectively approached solely by logic, reason, feel-good semantics, dogma, or anything else that religion hangs upon. Man’s vaunted powers of intellect are really not all they’re cracked up to be anyway, and sole reliance on intellect can make you wind up in some pretty unfortunate places. Unlike the vacuum cleaner salesman at your doorstep, no one can really talk you into accepting a heartfelt faith in Christ, in spite of the eyewitness accounts and increasingly discovered historical accuracy. They can only convince you to check out what they are saying for yourself, or perhaps to join a movement that they are a part of. At it’s core, faith in Christ is not a religion at all. It is Life itself. It’s a quiet one-on-one relationship with the Being that created you and knows you better than yourself, a relationship without any intermediaries, multiplied an unknown number of times. Not a soul earns what Christ offers, or can deserve it more than anyone else. There is only a yes/no standard of performance that not only can’t be accomplished, but can’t be perceived in any meaningful way. There are no credits, compensations, or points back. In the Book of Luke, when one man asked, “How then can we be saved?” Jesus answered, “What is impossible for man is possible for God.” Providing a means of forgiveness is God’s work. Such salvation is a gift, provided at the asking. Gaining the faith to come to Christ is largely experiential, not a formulaic or logical process. It is a matter of the heart, voiced by the mind. What is referred to as the Holy Spirit must pave the way inside us first, individually. But, I will interject here that while faith and God’s grace are entirely free and aren’t accompanied by a performance checklist, there are three caveats to be aware of.

The first is that, again in my opinion, you won’t feel like calling for Him until He calls for you. I can attest that when He finds you, refusing His call only works for a while. See, one doesn’t really choose Christ. He chooses you first. All you do is accept His call into your life. If you are insufficiently softened up by the work of His Holy Spirit and/or remain clueless about the real lay of the land, He will patiently and unrelentingly hunt you down like a dog and “find” you again, when life’s realities have sunk in sufficiently. Of course, one can turn bitter and resentful from hardship, but that’s the thing about it – it can also make another less obstinate and more willing to let go of the “tiller of the ship of life”.

The second caveat is that, when you’re ready, and sometimes when you’re not, you will need to hand your priorities, worries, and your concept of what your life is supposed to be about over to Him. So, the price may be free, but it will cost you everything you are and, sometimes, whatever you value the most. Actually, that tends not to be a cataclysmic problem, because the “my life, my way” train has usually been so thoroughly derailed at that point that you don’t feel that you have much to lose, if anything. We tend to place value or rest our weight on unhelpful things. Many fear that if they come to God, He will break their legs and make them learn to play the flute, but that is quite the opposite of what really happens. At a varying pace, you become who you were meant to be. Not all change is unpleasant. Being freed from certain crippling things that have always dominated our lives can be liberating.

The third caveat is that it helps to discard the assumption that following Christ will bring an end to challenging circumstances. Health, wealth, and happiness are guaranteed, some people pronounce, and if they don’t happen it must be from a lack of faith and/or your own penchant for rebellion against God in some form or other. Some cherrypick verses in the Old Testament as the contract. Unfortunately, Jesus Himself promised just the opposite, saying that life circumstances would not go easy, and in some ways would become more difficult. That isn’t mentioned in the practiced patter of that missionary on your doorstep. It’s an individual thing though, and your mileage may vary. On the good side, you won’t be overwhelmed, something that life without Him cannot promise. And there’s one more thing that makes it all well worth it.

All you actually need, and what you are explicitly promised, is that you won’t have to face life without Him. The power that set the universe in motion and still binds everything together will go through your life with you. Yes, some otherwise unexplainable miracles will occur, but some tough circumstances may cling and elbow you like a roller derby blockade. The circumstances may not change, but you will. Many people feel that God does not deal with people on an individual level, and so has pretty much abandoned all involvement once He got things rolling. The condition of the world seems to underscore that belief, doesn’t it? The appearance of “God With Us” on Earth, the sacrifice He paid on our behalf, the promises He makes to all individuals who would choose to become followers of Him, and a Spirit that backs it all up today contradicts that non-involvement theory. God is in this up to His elbows, but is opposed to taking away our free will and turning the world into a rigidly-run puppet show. You can’t have both at the same time. An abandoned world? Take some time and look closer.

I mention these caveats in order to dissuade you from thinking that there’s a sign-up sheet floating around somewhere that will allow you to locate and press the “Easy Button” of life. That simply isn’t what faith in Christ is about. Completely different topic. You know, when I read or watch comedy, rare is the day when I actually laugh out loud, even for really good material. I really enjoy comedy, but I usually enjoy it silently. It’s just the way I am. The one thing that invariably does make me laugh out loud is to be reminded of the outlook about Christianity shared by both Godless Commies and American Tough Guys: that religion (while pointing directly at Christianity while saying it) is a crutch for the weak. Oh, how I love that one! Living out Biblically-based Christianity is not for the faint of heart. It can’t be done by willpower alone. It involves a willingness to change, and to be changed internally. Not always so easy in daily practice. One very astute woman once told me, “The only problem with placing your life on God’s altar is that it keeps trying to slither back off again.”

So, what’s all this got to do with celebrating Christmas? Certainly, getting together with friends and family is a fine thing, and any excuse will do. It’s just that, although Christmas was invented as a new tradition by a religious think tank and then endlessly modified to accommodate numerous unrelated belief systems, it has little to do with Christ, then or now. If we were meant to set up a feast day to commemorate the date of His birth, we’d have that birth date, because it would be recorded as one of the milestones of His work here among us. It isn’t. If anything, it’s a distraction, representing one more hoop to jump through in order to satisfy an improvised religious checklist. It has even now morphed into a secular holiday in which any reference to its original meaning is held to be deeply offensive.

Many folks are able to express the original point of having Christmas Day much more graciously than I am. From The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister: “Christmas is not really about the celebration of a birth date at all. It is about the celebration of a birth. The fact of the date and the fact of the birth are two different things. The calendrical verification of the feast itself is not really that important…What is important to the understanding of a life-changing moment is that it happened, not necessarily where or when it happened. The message is clear: Christmas is not about marking the actual birth date of Jesus. It is about the Incarnation of the One who became like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15) and who humbled Himself “to the point of death-even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). Christmas is a pinnacle feast, yes, but it is not the beginning of the liturgical year. It is a memorial, a remembrance, of the birth of Jesus, not really a celebration of the day itself. We remember that because the Jesus of history was born, the Resurrection of the Christ of faith could happen.”

So, whether you want to have a Happy Holiday, a Merry Christmas, a Merry Xmas, or a bangin’ party, dog, pursue the day in your own way. It’s a dart in the calendar, so take advantage of it. The fact that Jesus was born centuries ago started a roll that explains why I’m still here in one piece today. You know, if you somehow won a huge lottery of vast riches without having to document legal stuff and fill out tax paperwork, I bet most guys would forget the date, sooner or later, because it doesn’t much matter. Gratefully getting one’s filthy paws around that kind of wealth is what matters, and that receiving event sticks in the mind no matter what follows. I often get distracted, diverted, forgetful, bummed out, too busy, or otherwise preoccupied, but to me, Christmas is more like 24/365, when I have the presence of mind to think about it.

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