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Cleanse

I don’t think there’s any doubt that our country is facing a far-reaching marginalization of religion in general, and Christianity specifically. It is happening everywhere, at every level. The movement to purge Christianity from all aspects of public life is in full swing, led by men and women who have perverted the establishment clause. They have deceived a nation that doesn’t know any better, a nation that doesn’t even understand the rights granted them in the constitution, who would rather rely on quickly digestible sound bytes that “sound right” than actually be bothered to find out the truth for themselves. Wouldn’t want to miss JWOWW’s new show to educate ourselves now, would we?

Under the guise of “progress” or “progressive thought” these people have convinced others that the so-called “separation of church and state” (that phrase appears nowhere in the constitution or the Bill of Rights) means that religion should be utterly banished from every corner of the earth and relegated to quiet time in the privacy of your own home or church. That no one should ever have to actually see or hear about anyone practicing their faith, ever, because it may offend them.

Of course, they ignore the fact that a Creator is invoked several times in the very same constitution. They also ignore the numerous historical writings that establish most of the founding fathers as theists, if not Christians. And they ignore the specific verbiage of the establishment clause itself (and its companion, the free exercise clause), reducing it to a catch phrase that other brainwashed masses can latch on to and mindlessly repeat. I’m referring to the part which says, congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Wait…I don’t see anything about abolishing religion. I don’t see any reference to atheists having the right to sue anyone and anything that offends their apparently delicate sensibilities. What I see is protection for those who wish to follow a religion. I see the government being told not to establish a national church (and later, through the 14th Amendment, this would also apply to the State governments, as well as Federal).

The establishment clause was meant to protect religion from the government, not to protect the public from ever being exposed to religion or, heaven forbid, being offended by it. And even though people today have unparalleled access to virtually the entire sum total of human knowledge right at their fingertips, they’d rather take the words of angry atheist liberals spewing hate-filled venom, than to lift a finger and educate themselves properly.

As a result of these efforts, Christianity has been viciously attacked and marginalized, while many who follow it are content to do nothing. Or perhaps the correct phrase is, they are incapable of doing anything. That’s because, like their more secular counterparts, they are content with a minimal education about the subject matter, just enough to get them by but not enough to actually take their time and attention away from other matters. This tendency seems rampant in these last few generations.

But in times of crisis, sleeping giants sometimes awaken, and some of these folks are starting to do just that. Some of them are tired of being bullied and pushed around by angry atheists with an axe to grind against God, who beat everyone over the head with the word “reason” like they came up with it. (Mind you, their “reason” is typically a dash of science intermixed with an abundance of repressed anger at “religion” and God.)

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver. I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isa 48:10). In-context, this verse is discussing the refinement of Israel as a nation. But looking at where we are right now, I think we have little choice but to see this present darkness as a similar opportunity to be cleansed and refined. It’s time to let go of our complacency and realize that there’s a lot at stake here.

Christians in America have never been challenged like this before. We’ve spent the past two hundred years enjoying a free ride. We’ve never had to really get into why we believe what we believe. We were the defacto “religious experience” of the past two centuries. Thus, it’s truly frightening, the number of people who really don’t know the why of their faith. This year, I spoke to a number of Catholics regarding their tradition of getting marked on Ash Wednesday. Not one of them could give a reason why this is observed. When you don’t understand why, then the actions themselves become a meaningless, disassociated ritual. The response to why do you get marked on Ash Wednesday should not be, because I’m Catholic. This sort of thing makes assaulting Christianity incredibly easy.

So do trite platitudes and bumper sticker theology. Those small, digestible tidbits I was talking about earlier aren’t just the exclusive domain of the atheists or progressives. We’ve got plenty of our own. Clichés like “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” That’s a bastardization of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which is part of a larger passage discussing, specifically, temptation. “There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.” I could spend a lot of time writing on that, but click here for a truly excellent article.

It’s time to stop helping those who want to shove us behind closed doors because they find our beliefs offensive. There’s not a law on the books that guarantees anyone’s right to never be offended by anything. I’m just as offended by their flagrant disregard for others’ beliefs and opinions, but I’m not trying to sue them into silence or take down their insipid billboards or prevent them from having their atheist rallies. In fact, I’m fine if someone wants to follow atheism. But when they try to push their religion (let’s not pretend it isn’t) on the rest of the world, that I have an issue with. And so should they, since one of their core issues with Christianity is that we “force it” on others. Live and let live only applies to this group if you agree with what they believe.

We are being threatened by those who would blindly (and gladly) march an entire nation – an entire world – into utter darkness. These people aren’t targeting Islam or Buddism or Scientology. They pay lip service to disliking “religion” but their focus is Christianity. God. That’s the reality we face. That’s the fire coming for us. We can either allow it to refine us, sharpen us, strengthen us, or we can burn in it.

 

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Shaking Off the Negative

“The best way of removing negativity is to laugh and be joyous.”

– David Icke

I chose the above quote for my first blog of the year (indeed, the first blog on this site in two years) because it perfectly expresses two particular sentiments: first, the most obvious meaning of the quote, to embrace joy and let go of negativity. The second is more in my choice of author. David Icke is partly known for espousing government conspiracy theories, the majority of which I don’t personally agree with. Yet here we are, finding common ground when it matters.

I spent most of 2013 in something of a hazy, angry rage. The rage was often silent, but ubiquitous. I was frustrated about a great many things, and for much of the year, I believed those things to be external. Every time I turned around, there was a new report or article talking about how religious liberty was being threatened, how Obamacare was ruining the health care of hard working Americans, how the liberal culture was slowly seeping into how the nation is governed such that it is practically unrecognizeable anymore.

These things upset me because I care about our country. I care about the freedoms we enjoy. I am vehemently oppossed to a nanny state, to spreading the wealth, to limiting individual rights. The notion of big government makes me absolutely nauseous. Our nation is being run by a man who has never had a day of real work in his life, who was educated by the hippies and idealists of the previous generation, people who embrace ideas and philosophies that sound great on paper, but that fail miserably when implemented in reality. The incessant “I had no idea” rhetoric, the disdain with which he and his administration treats the founding principles of this nation (ideals that enabled him to get elected in the first place)…I’ve had my fill and then some.

The problem is not that these things upset me. The problem is what I do with my anger and frustration over them. For the past year, I’ve just raged on endlessly about it, complained about, pointed out the million reasons why it’s all going to fail. I stand by all of those arguments. They’re valid. I see it. A lot of other people see it. But – I let that anger just fester and change me, until I couldn’t see any good in anything. And that is where I went wrong.

Now, I admit, another source behind the “rage” was a personal issue or two that I’ve been dealing with. Questioning my faith, that sort of thing. I think most people face that kind of existential crisis. When it’s over, you’re either more certain than ever, or you have an epiphany that changes your worldview completely. In my case, it was the former. I’ve changed the way I think about some things. Or more accurately, my understanding of things has evolved, and said thought process changes came about organically because of that evolution.

We’ve got a lot of crazy things coming up in 2014. Creative projects will at long last reach fruition. Others will begin, and even on the homefront, things are set to change and evolve. It’s an exciting time. Thankfully, the holidays somehow managed to lift my spirit, to make me remember that life isn’t just all about the negative, even when it seems like that is all that surrounds us. I see signs of my fellow countrymen waking up, in light of a number of victories for Christian employers who don’t have to cover abortion-inducing drugs in their health plans, and in the reinstatement of the Robertson patriarch in Duck Dynasty (and prior to that, Cracker Barrel’s putting the Duck Dynasty products back on the shelves). I’m pleased to see more conservative Americans making some noise.

As I always do, I hope to post more frequently here and establish a more consistent routine for my writing, both fiction and non-fiction. I’m sitting on some cool ideas for screenplays and stories that I wouldn’t mind getting out there and selling. And of course, projects dear to me, such as Shepard, will be coming to fruition this year. Very excited about getting that out there!

But be warned: no topic is too big or small, to politically correct or risque. Read future entries at your own risk. And if I happen to offend you: stop what you’re doing, head down to Target, and buy a sense of humor.

 

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Character Profile: Jason Shepard

“These kids aren’t my problem.”

It’s hard to imagine such a calloused and self-centered individual had such humble beginnings, but such is the case for Jason Shepard.  Born into a single-bedroom apartment (literally; his mother couldn’t afford insurance and had him at home), Jason grew up without luxuries like toys, disposable diapers, or medical care.  His mother worked three jobs to provide for them, after his father walked out soon after he was born.

Jason attended a poorly rated public school, where he was mocked behind his back for his limited wardrobe and the lack of a hot shower every day.  The constant taunting led to many fights and an ever-increasing build-up of anger and frustration.

Yet at home, Jason seemed content.  He enjoyed spending time with his mother at least once a week, and spent the rest of the time plucking away at a guitar she had bought him at a yard sale.  It was his most prized possession, and on it, he taught himself how to emulate the sounds around him.  He spent hours listening to the rock stations on the radio and picking out the tunes, then playing them himself.

Unfortunately, one of his mother’s job was working in a local mill, where she contracted a serious lung disease that prevented her from working.  After a friend offered legal counsel, she sued the company and the money won from the lawsuit allowed her to finally give Jason the kind of house and life she had always wanted for him.

High school turned things around for Jason.  His mother – with her health deteriorating – invested some of the money from the lawsuit and managed to make enough to provide for herself and Jason for a long, long time.  No longer ridiculed, Jason reveled in newfound popularity due in part to his impressive guitar skills.

Jason found himself escaping more and more into his music as his mother’s health declined.  He began writing songs, putting the lyrics to paper and then making up the tune as he went.  He also began casually dating Amber DiSoltes, a fellow Senior.  His mother had desperately wanted to see her son attend his Senior Prom, so he took Amber.  She told him how happy she was and how proud she was of him, giving him a strangely long embrace before he departed.

The next morning, Jason returned home to find his mother had died in her sleep.  He was devastated. He was invited to stay with his grandparents, but chose to move to New York instead, in the hopes of escaping his old life and pursuing a music career.  He left Saint Paul without so much as a goodbye, refusing even to take part at his own graduation.

Working as a Taxi driver in New York, Jason met up with Silas Bishop, a fellow aspiring musician.  Silas was playing a gig at a night club with his partner, Nathan “Nate” Reinke.  Their third man cancelled at the last minute, and Jason – who overheard this on a cell phone while driving the two to their engagement – offered his services.

The trio performed a few cover songs, and a few tracks written by Silas and Nate (which Jason picked up on after hearing the recordings just once).  By the end of the night, people were asking for EP’s and demos.  Silas and Nate offered Jason the job permanently, and Damned Azkus was born.

The band met with great success, eventually signing on with Interscope Records.  The band kicked off a brief tour in the Northeast to celebrate.  The album was a regional success, and a world tour was in the works.  Meanwhile, Jason had married Katherine “Kat” Veneziano.  A groupie for the band from age 16, she fell in love with Jason and married when she turned 18.

Twin boys soon followed, and “Kat” ended up leaving the road life to raise the kids.  Jason grew more and more distant, unable to find satisfaction at home or abroad.  He turned to drinking, had several affairs, and fell into a deep depression.  This life wasn’t what he had hoped it would be, and he had no hope left for any other kind of life.

After a late show one night, Jason took a groupie back to the hotel with him. Both were seriously drunk, and the girl, Tiffany, decided she didn’t want to wait until they were back in the hotel.  She climbed atop Jason, and the subsequent coupling resulted in a terrible car accident.  A piece of shattered windshield nearly tore Jason’s hand off.

After surgery, he was told his nerves were shot. He could never play guitar again.  The band was unable to find a replacement and their future deteriorated.  When Kat found out how the accident had happened, she took the kids and left.  Jason was utterly alone once more.  He spent several weeks in rehab only to fall back into old habits.  He landed in jail, lost his license, got it back, and repeated the cycle.

Perhaps it was fate that Jason ended up taking a trip into Virginia.  He had been drinking again, and was pulled over and arrested near Saint Paul. The arresting officer recognized him, and made a phone call on his behalf.  Jason went before Judge Harold Slate and was sentenced to community service, in the hopes of rehabilitating him.

Though he’s had a difficult life, it’s hard to feel sorry for Jason. Most of his current troubles are his own doing, and he doesn’t seem to care or look out for anyone but himself.  Yet deep down, there is a small part of him that is still that sad, lonely little boy who had only a guitar and a loving mother to get him through each day.

Fate has a funny way of bringing things full circle, and of forcuing us to confront the ghosts of a past we thought we left behind.  And so it goes with Jason Shepard, now standing at the beginning of a journey that will bring him face to face with shadows of his past and that will change his future forever.

 

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Enter, the Shepard

Welcome to Saint Paul, Virginia.

Nothing ever happens here.  Until the day Jason Shepard comes home.

“Shepard” is my first major creative effort outside of film school, and my first attempt at a web series.  It chronicles the story of Jason Shepard, a one-time rockstar who has lost everything to a string of bad decisions and run-ins with the law (both of which involving copious amounts of alcohol).  After he is cut a break by a sympathetic judge, he finds himself back home, facing a lengthy community service sentence at an old church on the verge of closing its doors.

Inspiration for this story came from a number of places.  I’ve always enjoyed the idea of returning to what you’ve left behind and facing your past.  It’s not an unfamiliar story, that’s true. But the thing about “homecoming” stories is that they are as varied and unique as the individuals who populate their worlds.

Jason doesn’t have much left at home. No family, and no friends.  Just one lingering connection, in the form of an old high school flame that he walked out on after the prom.  And, one new connection, in the form of an aging and very much atypical church pastor, who seems to think Jason would be well-suited for the task of working with the youth group.

I didn’t honestly expect much to come from this series at first.  It seemed like a neat idea, but I never planned on taking it anywhere.  The nascence really came from my own church pastor asking me to work with the youth at our church.  It sparked an idea that has since grown into this web series.

We’ve just begun production, and have two full days of work under our belt.  As things continue, I’ll offer production updates and insights on this blog, and we’ll take a look at the unique cast of characters that populate this small but fascinating world.

Until next time!

 

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It’s the End of the World as We Know It…and I Feel Fine

Where were you when the world ended? You know, the first time? It was, oh, about 11 years ago. On New Year’s Eve. Remember the global catastrophe that beset us? Remember all the people with their fallout shelters and five-year food supply laughing at those of us left to cope with nuclear fallout? How about when Stewie mutated into an octopus, and his offspring overran the rest of humanity because Peter made everyone burn their weap…ons…

Ah, crud. That wasn’t the end of the world, that was a Family Guy spoof of Y2K.

I actually remember quite vividly where I was: in Florida. Orlando, to be precise. Kim and I took in the New Year’s Eve show at Mediaeval Times. Our thought process? If we’re going to get nuked back to the dark ages when the clock strikes twelve, we might as well be in a place loaded with appropriate weaponry.

Of course, it didn’t quite turn that way, did it? As much as the media and publicity hounds enjoy predicting doom and gloom, they tended to forget that before it was midnight in good ol’ EST, it had been midnight across a number of other time zones first. And the world didn’t end then, either.

Of course, Kim and I knew that nothing was going to happen. I was a computer geek, after all – newly minted and working at Applied Concepts, Inc. at the time. But I knew enough to know that the precautions, code upgrades, and so forth would be sufficient. I wasn’t an alarmist. I didn’t really care about Y2K outside of the fact that it was the turn of the century, and the millennium. I suppose that’s why everyone wanted to get freaked out about it – it was a huge moment for the human race. We hadn’t seen the like in 1,000 years, and won’t see the like for another 1,000 (well, 989 years now).

Less than two years later, I wasn’t laughing quite so hard when our World Trade Center towers came crashing to the ground. And before the dust could settle, self-styled prophets were out on the streets preaching the end of days, the judgment of Christ! Layfolk were suddenly experts in the field of apocalypse – Nostradamus became a household name. You remember him, right? He’s the guy who predicted 9/11 – after, of course, someone switched the words of his prophecies around to make them fit the context. (Side note: he’s still a household name, apparently; I misspelled his name and Word’s spell checker had it programmed in. Wow.)

I suppose the end of days panic that surrounded 9/11 was slightly more forgivable. It was the first time my generation – Generation X – had seen the grisly reality of war. Sure, we had the Gulf War – but we were kids when Bush Sr. took on Saddam, and it was over so quickly, it hardly felt like a war at all. 9/11 was personal – and the like had never been achieved before. And in the light of that great and terrible tragedy, men like Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye made a killing off of their apocalyptic Left Behind novels. They didn’t exploit the tragedy – too much – but they certainly didn’t complain about the paychecks.

There was some mild concern about some asteroid back in 2004 that was supposedly going to collide with Earth. Shortly before that, Nancy Lieder prophesied that some secret, hidden planet, Nibiru, was going to crash into the Earth. She euthanized her pets in preparation for this disaster, and encouraged others to do the same. Yikes – people are dangerous. (Side note: Nancy Lieder has since merged her nonsense with Zecharia Stitchin’s nonsense about 2012 and ancient Sumarian tablets; she now believes Nibiru will collide with us in 2012. Nevermind the gravitational effects a massive planet invading our solar system would have, or the overwhelming number of amateur astronomers with tweaked out telescopes would see it and report it.)

I suppose this brings us to the 2012 prophecies. Let me cut to the chase here, since it’s a little hard to cover quickly: the Mayan long count calendar will soon progress to the next b’ak’tun. Doesn’t that sound horribly terrifying? It’s just restarting a calendar cycle – not unlike how we “restart” every decade, or ever century, or every…millennium!

That’s a great analogy – 2012 is, basically, the Mayan version of Y2K. It’s a big shift in their calendar. If the ancient Mayans still existed, I bet they’d be throwing one helluva party and laughing at the rest of us for thinking the world was about to end.

The truly glorious thing is that evidence arose recently to cast into the doubt the original calculation! (See here: http://news.discovery.com/space/the-2012-mayan-calendar-doomsday-date-might-be-wrong.html) Well, so much for that.

But – why wait until next year? Let’s just end the world now and get it over with! That’s what Harold Camping, a radio minister and former engineer has to say about it. He is predicting, through various mathematical calculations involving some allegedly sacred and holy numbers, that Jesus Christ Himself is coming back this Saturday, around dinnertime.

I guess I’ll be ordering an extra pizza. Can you get pizza on Pita bread?

The thing about being a Christian, and dealing with a faith that is increasingly frowned upon by an ever-growing secular culture, is that you have to deal with some subjects that make even the most pious squirm in their pews. Christianity is a faith of absolutes, a true abomination in this age of moral relativism. The Second Coming ranks right up there with Creation (because many Christians don’t believe Genesis is a literal account, being under the mistaken impression that science has “proven” macro-evolution), the stance on homosexuality, the rapture, and many other topics as being too delicate for polite conversation.

The latest in a long line of self-styled prophets, and spiritual kin to the likes of William Miller, Ellen White, and Hal Lindsey, Harold Camping claims that he has broken some mystical mathematical code that supposedly exists within the Scriptures, and that the addition of certain holy numbers leads him to the date May 21, 2011. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t gone to great lengths to understand the math. I’m terrible with numbers. I barely have a grasp of words, to say nothing of numbers. But I don’t have to understand the mathematical model to know that it’s been done before. Google Bible Code and have a laugh – depending on how you look at those numbers, even 9/11 “could have been” predicted.

Thing is, numbers are just as vulnerable to personal spin, bias, and interpretation as anything else. There have already been a handful of “Holy Number” predictions that have come and gone (the Jehovah’s Witness prophecy of 1914 based on Daniel 4 come to mind). Lo and behold, we’re still here.

One thing I’ve learned in my life as a writer and director: people subconsciously (or in some cases, very consciously) impose their own personal narratives on everything – especially faith. Facts are rarely just facts – they’re spun one way or another. The Scriptures are, unfortunately, an excellent resource for spinsters.

Individual scripture verses, when taken out of context, can easily be twisted to mean just about anything. Our modern sensibilities have shown us that a proper interpretation of the Scripture involves a complete understanding of the work: who wrote it, why, and what place it originally served in a historical context. We will never have a perfect interpretation of every verse, every practice. But when we keep context in mind, we can have a somewhat more accurate idea.

Sadly, most “Bible scholars” fail to see this. Why? Because they’re less interested in scholarship and more interested in imposing their own narrative onto what they read. They go in looking for evidence, and pick it out, regardless if it even makes sense in the new context. Unbelievers see this and, logically, hold the entire faith accountable for the actions of a few. So these self-styled prophets make all of us look like blithering idiots because they’ve got an axe to grind. And their grinding axes really grinds my gears. You know what else grinds my gears? When I can’t find the droids I’m looking for.

Ugh – Family Guy again. Sorry.

So, do I think that Mr. Camping is right? Did he really, finally, uncover the crazy mathematical formula that will predict Christ’s second coming? Eh – I’m skeptical. Only because we’ve been down this road before with holy numbers, and it turns out to be – surprise! – one man imposing his own narrative on the Scriptures and calling the result a prophesy.

Far more dangerous, in my opinion, are the people who are quitting their jobs and tying up the affairs of their lives, and convincing others to do the same. They cite that they’re being prepared, as the Scriptures command (oye vei, here we go again), but is that really what they say?

If you visit http://www.wecanknow.com you will find a marquee across the top that publishes a bunch of random verses that, when read together, make it sound like God has granted them some kind of special understanding, and that they have been commissioned by Him to enlighten everyone else. But go re-read those verses in their original context, and they’ll tell a slightly different story.

I’ll admit, Camping does call a fairly common misinterpretation – or perhaps simply we could call it a “cursory reading” – of 1 Thesselonians 5:2-6 out on the carpet. It’s commonplace that church-goers are told that Christ will come the second time like a thief in the night, and this verse is part of the origin of that. But let’s look at the whole passage.

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

I’m not a Bible scholar. Far from it. But what I see in these words is an admonishment for vigilance – NOT a promise that we will be able to figure out the exact date. What I see here is that those who believe will, by the very nature of their belief, simply be ready for Christ’s return when it does happen. We’re not going to be surprised when it happens. And we have nothing to be afraid of when it happens. But there is nothing to suggest that we will be able to interpret the specific date through a mathematical code. Watch, and be sober, folks. That’s the message here. Be ready.

At least, that’s how I see it. That’s my spin. I have done my best to look at that verse as indifferently as I can – and my honest take on it is simply to say that we won’t be surprised when it eventually does happen. Period. It carries with it the imperative to be ready at all times – but that’s just good sense anyway.

So, my final thoughts? I’m not really going to order an extra pizza. If indeed Christ returns this Saturday, I’m sure He could feed 5,000 with a few slices of Za if He wanted.

I don’t think He’s coming back on Saturday. But I won’t restrict my belief that He can do whatever He darn well chooses, either. But my take: it’s when everyone is looking in one direction, that He could easily come in from another direction – like a thief, maybe? A thief in the night? – and catch those who don’t know any better completely by surprise.

But not me. Because whenever we all least expect it – that’s when I’ll be expecting it.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Reconciling Christmas: Part the First

Ah, Generation X.  The children of the baby boomers.  We lived through Reagan and Bush, survived Black Monday, and saw the nascence of the home computer and video game industries.  War was something we read about

Baby Boom

Baby Boom! No... not that one.

in history books, or that our grandparents (the so-called “Silent Generation” who survived the Depression) would talk about.  We witnessed the tragedy of the Challenger, the inexplicable rise of hair rock bands, and the birth of MTV (back when the M stood for Music, instead of Mindless).

Our childhoods were unique because we grew up in a time of relative peace that enabled the innovations we witnessed throughout our younger years.  Heck, I still remember our first VCR, and how amazing the concept of “renting” movies when I first heard about it.

On the downside, our parents also had a pretty high divorce rate.  A lot of GenXers come from broken homes, absent one parent or another due to divorce (or lack of marriage in the first place).  This seems to have led to a shift in cultural paradigms, because our generation began a trend that GenY continued (and often gets credited for): not getting married young.  There was a sharp rise in premarital sex when GenX hit our teen years, ostensibly because we saw what trouble marriage was when people jumped into it too quickly and didn’t want to repeat that.  This, of course, led to an upswing in teen pregnancies and STD’s.

Obviously, the point of this blog is to talk about Christmas, not delve into a sociological discussion about Generation X.  I’m trying to lay the foundation to explore why Christmas seems to have become so watered down and overhyped.  As GenXers continued to age and GenYers gained more prominence and representation, the more liberal ideas of the latter began to take center stage.  Probably due in part to the uncertainty and transitional state of their GenX forebears, GenY has forsaken many traditional and conservative values, but for the most part have not replaced those values with anything of substance.

Since the typical premium marketing demographic is in the (very vague and unofficial) range of 18-30,  most marketing and business have adapted to GenY’s more liberal leanings.  Suddenly we see fewer nativity scenes, a rise in prominence for other religious holidays in December, and the secularization of what is, by virtue of its very name, a religious holiday: “Cristes maesse” derived from the Greek “Christos” and the Latin “missa” – in other words, Christ’s Mass (interesting side-note: the abbreviation for “Christos” is – guess what? – the letter X; so simply writing X-mas is not, technically, taking the Christ out of Christmas).

I believe this is primarily why the holiday seems to hold less meaning for us today.  It’s all pomp and no circumstance, lots of glitter and red and green but bereft of its original substance and meaning.  (And when I say “original” in this context, I mean Christmas itself; not its predecessor, the pagan festival Saturnalia, or the German counterpart, Yule).

But Santa, what if I can't pay my mortgage?

So the struggle we face, especially since many of us are now raising our own kids, is what to do about Christmas.  It’s just not the same anymore.  Sure, in part it’s that we grew up.  Significant moments of childhood are often inconsequential as in adulthood.  But part of it is that Christmas has changed.  We look around now and see ridiculous sales and an increased focus on spending money and buying gifts, and we think… wow, that’s not what I remember at all.  Your memory isn’t faulty, folks.  That’s not how it was.

What was once a grand time of year is now frustrating.  It brings out the absolute worst in people.  Don’t believe me?  What about the Wal-Mart associate that was trampled to death under the heels of rampant Black Friday shoppers in 2009?  How many of you have been fortunate to actually have someone back off and give you a parking space, instead of racing you to it?  Shoppers prowl malls and stores on the lookout for the best deals, and they’ll knock you over and step on you to get there without a second thought.  The very concept of being a friendly, courteous, good neighbor is completely lost on them.

And the impatience and stupidity of people!  Everyone is in a hurry to get absolutely nowhere.  I’ve been tailgated on slick roads with my kids in the car by people who clearly have no concept of what ice does to traction.

And let’s not forget our own negative experiences with Christmas itself.  Do any one of you have a parent who had a clue how to tie the Santa story all together?  Or could provide a meaningful answer as to who the jolly one was in relation to this Jesus kid who was supposedly born on this day?  Probably not.  And as GenXers, we questioned our parents about everything.  Thanks to the relative peace and prosperity of our youth, we developed a culture of entitlement and expectation that the older GenY members have broken down into a science by now.  We knew better, right?  We could do better.

I’m going to examine three big elements of the holiday season over the next three days (well, nights), and offer some thoughts about how we can reclaim this holiday from its current, meaningless iteration.  Let’s reconcile then and now, and make the future, for our kids, a brighter one than we have ever known.  I’ll be starting with the path of least resistance, the simplest piece of this puzzle, the jolly red one himself, Santa Claus.  Or at least, that intangible ideal that is Santa, as one of the two big symbols of Christmas.


Reconciling the Symbols: Providing Context

Our generation is one of the first to really experience a massive influx of Santa culture, thanks to the advent of cable television in our youths, and the ever-evolving mass marketing methods.  We saw him everywhere – on billboards, on television (in commercials and in his own Christmas specials).  Who could forget the loose continuity of the Rankin Bass Christmas specials, like Rudolph and The Year Without a Santa Claus?  The big guy was everywhere, even more than in previous generations.

Sadly, this media explosion led to a ton of inconsistencies in his “origin story” if you will.  For one thing, most of us got name brand toys and electronics for Christmas, so the whole “elves making toys in a workshop in the north pole” thing kind of goes out the window.  Unless, of course, Sony had subcontracted some elves to produce a Santa-exclusive series of Walkman radios.

For another thing, our awareness of the world at large had evolved.  It was a big place!  How is it possible that Santa delivered toys to the entire planet?  And why did he always use the GMT -500 time zone that the eastern US utilizes?  When it’s midnight here, it’s already daylight in Japan.

And where did he come from?  Rankin Bass had their own theories, of course.  So did Clement Clark Moore in his classic poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas (better known to us as The Night Before Christmas).  Of course, Mr. Moore was likely onto something with that title.  A bit of rudimentary history reading will show you that there really was a St. Nicholas, who was born in Turkey sometime around 270 A.D.

Historically, Nicholas was a prominent and highly generous figure in the church (yes, even the “Santa” element of Christmas has religious roots).  His wealthy parents died at a young age, and Nicholas spent his inheritance to see the world.  He entered service to the church because he wanted to help others, and eventually became known as the patron saint of children, sailors, even thieves.

Yes, Virginia, there WAS a Santa Claus.

Of course, the man was only mortal and he eventually died.  Many stories arose about Saint Nicholas after his death.  It’s impossible to tell which are true and which are not, but the man’s selfless, generous life in service to others obviously provided the basis for the figure we know as Santa Claus.

In our house, Nicholas’ involvement in the church is at the forefront of what we teach our kids.  It’s real history – and it helps connect them to the very real history of Christ’s birth.  We’ve always tried to keep the stories of Santa sufficiently vague, explaining to the kids “they say” as opposed to stating it as a cold, hard fact.  We have a book we read near the start of each Christmas season, called, “A Place for Santa.”  It’s a cute little book that touches on “Santa’s” life as St. Nicholas.  I’ve seen other efforts made by the faithful to bridge the gap too, including a new VeggieTales video about him.

So why bother with Santa in the first place?  Speaking as a realist: try to avoid him.  It’s practically impossible.  He’s too much a part of our culture, and he’s not going away.  The kids are going to hear about him, from television, from their friends at school… heck my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher had her class write letters to Santa and he “wrote” them back.  No parents were consulted or warned prior to this so they could opt out or express concerns.

There’s no avoiding Santa, so the best thing you can do is educate yourself about him, and be prepared to answer any questions honestly.  Or tell them from the start who he really was.

You should also be prepared to deal with unintentional connections between Santa and Jesus – if “Santa” isn’t real, young (or naïve) minds may apply similar logic to Christ as well.  Every parent should be well-versed in apologetics if they intend to share their faith with their kids.  Understand the various evidence out there in support of Christ.  Understand any so-called counter-evidence; it’s kind of an implied mandate (see 1 Peter 3:15 – good advice, there).

Yes, I just referenced a Scripture verse – which is a great segue into part two of this blog: Reconciling the Religious and the Secular: To Believe or Not To Believe.  Stay tuned!  And remember, no matter how you handle this element of Christmas, remember that  whatever you tell them, is theirs for life, and it may color their own feelings about Christmas for years to come.  Don’t underestimate your influence.

Note: If you do wish to let your kids share in the Santa legends, there’s a nice little book we’ve read to our kids called, “A Special Place for Santa” – it’s available here.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2010 in Writing

 

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Lord, Save Me From Your Followers

My faith has always been an ill-tended garden.  It’s an unfortunate truth, one that I’ve kept fairly well hidden.  With the onset of my anxiety issues, however, I’ve been forced to really look inward and examine my beliefs.  For if I really had faith in what I claim to believe, I really shouldn’t be having anxiety problems.  That was my initial thought, though it proved to be untrue.

God has always been in the background of my life.  Ever since those early days when my mom and dad took me to church.  I never wanted to go to.  I locked myself in the bathroom because I didn’t want to attend Sunday school.  When I got older, I went to a youth group called the Boy’s Brigade (sort of like Boy Scouts).  I even went to a Christian school.

I didn’t realize at the time but my education through these places was never actually very thorough.  I learned all the cliche’s and buzz words (“born again”, “get saved”, “sinner’s prayer”, “altar call” and so on).  I learned all about the evils of the occult, rock music, and Hallowe’en.  I learned about how I was a sinner and would go to hell unless I accepted Christ.  I had Bible classes as part of the curriculum.  We prayed before classes.  We had chapel services on Wednesdays.

I prayed the magic sinner’s prayer in sixth grade.  And probably about ten times a year after that.  But I didn’t know what I was doing.  I did it because people said I should, or else I’d go to hell.  I was never offered a proper explanation.  It was never explained just what this prayer was supposed to do or mean, other than “Now Jesus lives in your heart.”

Really?  That’s it?

It boiled down to a number’s game.  There was a singular focus: get people saved.  It didn’t matter if they really understood their decision.  All of that would come in time.  They just need to pray this prayer and get saved.  That was the focus, so little effort was spent in quantifying the decision or properly educating someone who prayed the magic prayer regarding what they were supposed to do.  No one is ever told how hard it’s going to be.  It’s pitched like a magic fix for the worst of problems.

The issue here is that we end up with a bunch of spiritually immature believers with little to no guidance or understanding, who are left to go out and continue the sales/recruiting process.  These people go out into all the world to follow what they were told was the focus of Christ’s message.  But they fail.  Because they cannot withstand the criticisms and challenges of skeptics.  Their beliefs can never truly take root, so they have no real defense.  They are left with a tenuous framework of belief tenets, a list of stuff they should avoid and a list of cliche’s with which to do the recruiting.  That’s it.

I don’t mean any of that literally, of course.  And I’m sure many of these people who are out there trying to “save” others are good people who are trying to do the right thing.  The problem is they aren’t really looking at the big picture.  They don’t know Christ; instead, they know what his message is according to what they were told.  They don’t question.  They don’t wonder.  They accept it all on blind faith – irresponsible blind faith.

Growing up in the midst of all this, it’s no wonder at all that eventually I fell away from it.  Looking at this approach as an adult, with a certain degree of wisdom and experience, I can easily trace my path from that kid in the private school to the adult plagued with doubts and questions.  I’ve always had discontent in my spirit about many of these things.  None of it has ever seemed right.  I’ve recently realized my real issue with Christianity wasn’t necessarily believing in God or in Christ… it was the people who claimed they do.

Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  They are so unlike your Christ.”  I cannot find better words to describe the current state of Christianity in this country, and in the world at large.  So many people who claim to be Christians are the exact opposite.  Not only do they often fail to communicate the message of Christ, half the time they’re communicating the wrong message altogether.  Almost every public face of this faith has been brought down in the last few decades, or they’ve had a PR faux pas that has ruined their ministry.  They act so holy, pretend to be perfect in the public eye… but eventually their sin catches up.  And since they don’t preach a message that says “Hey, we are Christian but we still screw up, we don’t have all the answers” they are judged fiercely by the public, thus reflecting poorly on the whole.  (I won’t even get into the war-mongering Christians who want to obliterate others; needless to say, wars have been fought in the name of Christ.)

If I were an outsider looking for something higher to believe in, I’d have a hard time accepting Christianity.  Its people behave in a way that is in direct contrast to the message of the faith.  I certainly don’t expect perfection – but a lot of people who claim to be Christians aren’t even in the right ballpark.

Yet as much as I cannot abide organized Christianity, I also cannot dismiss the faith it is supposed to represent.  It is unique from other faiths in that it is not based upon teachings, but a person.  You can take Buddha out of Buddhism and still have his teachings.  You can remove the person of Muhammad and still have the teachings of Islam.  But if you attempt to remove the person of Christ from Christianity, you completely lose Christianity.  The faith is tied directly into the person, not the teaching.

It comes down to this: either Christ was who he claimed to be, or he wasn’t.  It’s a very direct question, isn’t it?  It’s a “yes” or “no” answer.  And this answer forms the basis of the absoluteness of the faith.  There is no middle ground, no room for interpretation.  There can be no “Jesus was a good earthly teacher or prophet, but he wasn’t the son of God.”  Why?  Think about it – this guy claimed to be the Son of God.  Which means one of two things: either he really was… or he was a lunatic with a death wish.  Who in their right mind would stroll into the biggest city in Israel, the very front door of the teachers of the law, and claim to be the Son of God?  I don’t care how uplifting his teachings were, he must have been out of his mind.  Or he must have been right.  It’s one or the other.  It can’t be both.

I’m digressing a bit, and I apologize.  The point to all of this, I suppose, is not to judge the whole by the rantings of a few.  I can assure you there are thousands of people out there who would call themselves Christians, who are thoughtful, responsible, tolerant, and helpful.  I’m still working out my own faith.  Still analyzing and questioning (which, if you read the scriptures in context, we are encouraged to do) because that is how you grow.  I regret that the public perception of this faith is so negative, because the heart of it is the exact opposite.  And I regret that I let myself be led down shallow, unfulfilling paths instead of being more discerning.

I’ll write more on the subject another time.  I think the real message of Christ is getting skewed by these salesmen who are hunting for bigger numbers.  But that’s a message for another day.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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