Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Considering Christmas

Christmas and I have had a funny relationship. In my childhood, my view on Christmas was pretty much summed up by one word: loot. The classic movie "A Christmas Story" summed it up well: "Lovely, glorious, beautiful, Christmas, around which the entire kid-year revolved." Why? Well, it's pretty simple, actually. Without any sort of spending power, this was the one time of the year where a young Asian kid who wanted a Nerf football, model rocketry kit, slot car racing set, Transformers, G.I. Joe vehicles, or radio-controlled vehicles could pretty much stand up and demand that his wishes were satisfied. I was a kid who had run the diligently run the gauntlet of Asian tiger parenting and it was the day for me to collect.

As I grew older and started to become financially independent, the receiving of gifts became less important, as I had mentioned in a previous blog. Anything that I materially wanted I could purchase for myself whenever I wanted to, so there was an increased component of Christmas being "about giving", the overwhelming portion of it well-intentioned, but some of it surely tainted by a desire to prove my generosity and flaunt my new-found wealth, as well as a tinge of wanting to influence people or have people think well of me.

As an adult, Christmas now has largely been specialized as being "about the children". My wife and I try to make the holiday enjoyable for our children by keeping some of the basic traditions and providing them some gifts to demonstrate the love of Christ, though I suspect that the theological weightiness of the holiday is often lost on them as they rip through wrapping paper to get to their ant farms, dresses, games and toys. This too is well-intentioned - we love our children and want them to experience great happiness and joy in the holiday, as a glimpse and shadow of the Gift that the Father has given us through Jesus Christ.

But if I'm honest with myself, I sense that Christmas for me has evolved into this holiday of "giving", which is just fine if you check this against most things you'll find on the Hallmark Channel or greeting cards. The thing is, it's really not. What I mean is that Christmas isn't about this generic sense of "giving" and a warm and fuzzy "let's be giving and kind to each other!" - even though this in itself is a good thing. It's about the Incarnation, about Christ coming as a human child as a requisite part of the redemptive plan to save sinners in need of a Savior. The Incarnation itself is mind-blowing: the Divine becoming flesh. Without the incarnation, there is no ministry on earth to teach, comfort and guide us. Without the incarnation, there is no crucifixion, resurrection or redemption. It may sound pious to poo-poo the meaning of Christmas in comparison to holidays such as Good Friday or Easter, but it's also misdirected.

A pastor said in a recent sermon I heard, part of the Christmas theme is "God makes room." What I take from that is God actively and mightily intervenes in this world, in love and justice. And the Incarnation, more so than any ways He intercedes in my life, work, family and relationships is the greatest manifestation of this intervention. The coming of Christ isn't a footnote in redemptive history, it's a cornerstone.

My intention here is not to be a Scrooge about this or be the least bit legalistic (e.g. "Let's all burn the gifts and toys and spend the day in fasting, meditation and prayer!") It's more of a challenge to myself that Christmas doesn't have to be just for kids. There's plenty here to celebrate in joy and wonder, if I would just be better about making room in my own heart and mind to do so.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Relationally Impaired

"We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us."
This insightful and thoughtful comment didn't come out of the mouth of Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil or President Obama. It wasn't from Rick Warren, the Dalai Lama or Bono. It was from a journeyman (less gracious football fans would say "washout") quarterback Brady Quinn of the Kansas City Chiefs, who spoke emotionally after a game played in the shadow of the tragic murder-suicide of teammate Jovan Belcher, who killed himself in front of a coach and member of the front office.

It's a remarkably insightful and timely observation from an athlete who wondered aloud whether he could have done something differently. "When you ask someone how they are doing," Quinn shared, "Do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?"

We've become a people who are increasingly relationally impaired. We find conversations uncomfortable because hate the real-time nature of listening and response and can't get over the "inefficiency" of talking to one person at a time. The bottom line is that we've become galactically lazy. It takes time and effort to give someone your undivided attention and have a conversation with someone. It's much more time efficient to post your status on Twitter and Facebook and read about others' in the same way. But this "efficiency" comes at a price - how much love and compassion can you really feel when there's no cost or investment involved?

Yes, I get the irony that this a blog post, one which has been syndicated on a Twitter feed and Facebook. And I take the prophetic warning that there is a real danger when our preoccupations with communication through our phones and gadgets outweigh the value that we place in the relationships we supposedly treasure.