“The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn't for any religious reasons. They couldn't find three wise men and a virgin.” – Jay Leno
The most amazing thing didn’t happen to me yesterday.
I was at the grocery store, spending my last three paychecks on luxuries like eggs, milk and bread. As the cashier handed me my red-and-green shopping bag (after finding out whether my preference was paper or plastic), she smiled said, “Merry Christmas!” And without stopping to think – without measuring the possible ramifications – I accidentally blurted, “Merry Christmas to you, too!”
The realization of what I’d done hit me like a 20-pound snowball. I’d said the C-word. In public.
The blood rushed out of my head and I felt woozy. I stood there, frozen to the spot, waiting for the anti-Christmas police to swoop in and arrest me.
I began regretting that morning’s choice in underwear, expecting to be strip-searched. After all, I’ve been hearing about the “War on Christmas” for years, and GOP Presidential candidate Rick Perry himself has released a TV spot pointing out the irony of gays being able to serve openly in the military when “our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” (It’s on television, so it must be true.)
But nothing happened. Nothing at all. I waited until the elderly gentleman behind me shouted, “What the hell ya waitin’ for? CHRISTMAS?” When nothing happened to him, either, I realized that I was safe after all. But it was a close call. I live in the United States, where it is, apparently, extraordinarily dangerous to be a Christian and to honor Christ’s birth.
As I drove home, passing store after store with “CHRISTMAS DEALS!” signs up, and house after house daring to display colored lights and Nativity scenes, I meditated on how difficult it is to be a believer here. I could live in Egypt, where 26 Coptic Orthodox Christians were slaughtered last month. Or in Nigeria, where 45 ethnic Berom Christians were killed just last week. And since most of the stuff people are buying for Christmas is manufactured in China, I’m thinking it might be better to live there. After all, the only thing Christians have to worry about in China is being “disappeared.”
Here, on the other hand, it’s really a nightmare. I’m trying to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, but there are barriers up everywhere. For instance, I work at a newspaper (and everyone knows the media are godless). I had to create a Holiday Worship guide, filled with stories about Christmas including one about certain events in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. The publication was held together with glossy advertisements for merchandise, some of them brandishing the word “Holidays” but many of them actually using that C-word. We even have a big sign up in the office: “MERRY CHRISTMAS.” And a “Christmas party” has been planned. (I have to bring a cheese ball.)
On the radio, I hear seasonal music, much of it referring to Christmas either in a religious way (about God and stuff) or in a secular way (Santa, Rudolph, war heroes coming home). On TV, there are plenty of seasonal specials, again referring to Christmas – whether as a religious or a secular event. (My personal favorite? “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The ORIGINAL: You can buy a copy here. I can’t watch that one enough – especially the part where his heart grows three sizes! That is SO awesome.)
And I can’t begin to tell you how inconvenient it will be to celebrate the big day, seeing as like the majority of Americans, I get Dec. 25 as a paid holiday. It hardly seems fair, the effort I have to put into honoring my Savior’s birth. Even writing out the name of the holiday is laborious, so I often refer to it as Xmas. (Some people would tell me I’m trying to take the “Christ” out of “Christmas,” but interestingly, the X comes from the Greek Chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ.) (Look it up.)
Meanwhile, while I’m undergoing these trials and tribulations, another 2.6 million of my fellow Americans slipped into poverty since last Christmas – and the number of Americans living below the “official” poverty line (which is low indeed) is more than 46 million people – the highest number on record. I recently wrote a feature story on area food pantries; the sources told me that demand has increased threefold since the Recession began. And here in Madison – where things are better than most places in the country – the social service agencies are running out of stuff. Food, clothing, shelter.
Which brings me to what really confused me about Mr. Perry’s clever TV spot in which he “admits” to being an unashamed Christian. He admits there’s something going wrong in America. But what’s going wrong, he says, is that gays are allowed to serve openly in the military. In my Bible, Christ – whose birth we are preparing to celebrate – makes no mention of gays in the military. He does, however, talk lovingly of the poor.
And I’m wondering … maybe Mr. Perry SHOULD be ashamed.
It’s enough to make the Baby Jesus cry.