The real war on Christmas

Thanksgiving ended Thursday night, and at midnight the nation launched the official celebration of Jesus’ birthday with the most holy of holy events: Black Friday. That’s right, before the dinner table is cleared of the remaining leftovers, families began the Christmas holidays with their annual pilgrimage to the gilded cathedrals and the world’s largest houses of worship.I mean the malls, of course. Not to mention Walmart, K-Mart and Target who have announced the newest dispensation to worshippers in the form of layaway. You no longer have to use credit to buy things for Christmas. On the other hand, what do you think all those businesses expect to happen on Christmas eve when people discover they still can’t afford to remove those items from layaway in time for Christmas?Credit cards out, layaway redeemed.What better way to end a day devoted to thanking God for his blessings than by gorging on consumer crap? What better way to set aside a day to think about God and the gift of his son than by wading through seas of shoppers in aisle after aisle crammed with stuff we will most likely shelve or regift—or even toss—before the next Thanksgiving holiday?Thanksgiving also marks the beginning of the season of declaring yet another war on Christmas. The Christian right will begin to lament the fact that

  • We can’t make Arab, Hindu, Native American, Asian Black and Hispanic children celebrate the way Protestants do, and, at the same time
  • We can’t forbid children from other cultures exposing our own kids to their beliefs.

According to the Christmas warriors, even the phrases “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” are subliminal secular propaganda designed to rob us of our faith. The rationale being, I assume, that true faith is far too fragile to risk exposure to the devil’s distractions.The real war on Christmas begins on Black Friday. At least, Black Friday may well be the equivalent of the season’s Normandy invasion. I can think of nothing so likely to tempt us away from a Gospel of salvation, service and love than the false gospels of greed and consumption.I spotted a book, “Christmas is Not Your Birthday” by Mike Slaughter advertised in the latest issue of Sojourners. The book challenges Christians to remember that we should recall that Christmas is not about going deeper into financial debt, but recalling that Jesus wrote all of our debts off the books. It’s hard to take a stand against rampant consumerism, because the main target in the war is our children. It’s tough to tell children that Christmas is about something greater than toys, because every television show, every Christmas special and every TV ad says, “Christmas means more stuff.” The Christmas classic Polar Express is little more than an exposition of the glory of toys.Nor is it enough to buy one or two presents, and help our children make presents or work hard to earn money to buy a few. As soon as they turn on the TV or rush over to see their friends, they will feel cheated and deprived. Stressing the spirituality of Christmas makes them feel robbed of something greater, something far more tangible (something which, in reality, is valueless).We can lay the blame directly at the feet of the culture warriors, who try to distract us from the real war on Christmas with accusations against a secular society, a society that cannot be expected to preserve Christian, Jewish, Amish, Mormon, Adventist, Moslem or Buddhist values except as cultural traditions which make our society richer as a whole.We can safely lay the blame at culture warriors, because they chose to climb into bed with the corporate interests who reap massive profits off of conspicuous Christmas overconsumption. Anyone contributing to a campaign to stop the wars on Christmas is building the political war chest of the very interests who undermine everything truly Christian in our society.I’ve recently labelled this the Corporate Christian Complex, but that’s another post altogether. I understand that the gift giving tradition at Christmas can be justified (very thinly) by the story of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew. The Magi bought gifts to Christ on his birthday. But if we are to truly honor that scripture, shouldn’t we be giving gifts to Jesus by feeding and clothing those in need as he would have done? Jesus got the gifts, not his parents and siblings.1We should also remember that Jesus rarely became angry, except when commercial interests tried to profit off worship at the temple. I can think of no greater analogy to the merchants in the temple than the merchants who steal the sacredness of Christmas from our children. I don’t mean the shopkeepers who want to make children happy in order to feed their families. I mean the corporate, media and advertising executives who place children in the front line of battle.We can’t fix our family Christmas overnight any more than we can fix our economy. I do think we can start to make some changes. We can still give gifts, but limit the number of gifts. We might say one per family member. Period. We could insist that before they expect a present from Uncle Phillip and Aunt Carol the nieces and nephews should find or make a present for them. We can explain to our children that they may get only six gifts, unlike their friends, but other children get none.Limit stocking stuffer items to fruit and books (real books, not comic books). Trade one or two presents for events (or tickets to those events) our children enjoy so that they can appreciate an experience and not the disposable plastic.We could ask the children to select a gift for Blue or Brown Santa. We could ask our children to pick one of their unopened gifts to take with them to church to give to needier family members. We could encourage children to perform other family members’ household chores as Christmas gifts.Instead of a Christmas eve service, why not sponsor a soup line for the poor? After the soup line closes we could invite the servers and those we served to a service. We could end the service by washing feet instead of lighting candles. Church families could agree to ceilings on their Christmas budgets, and make sure to involve their children in the decision. Families with more to give could have their children bring an envelope to the Christmas service containing a check to help families too poor to reach those ceilings.If the Corporate Christian Complex intends to declare war on Christmas through our children, then we need to fight back by teaching our children that they should be giving at Christmas and not drowning in wrapping paper. One of the ways the can give is by expecting less.

Weddings and fairy tales

My niece Joy married a British guy named Leon a couple of weeks ago. Leon puts on the light shows for stars like Paul McCartney and the Spice Girls. I know, the Spice Girls broke up, but my point is he travels all over the world for stars I would never want to see. Everybody was hoping Paul or Posh and David would show up, but fortunately they didn’t and Joy got to be the star.

Joy met Leon when she was working at San Antonio’s ATT Center, which hosts the San Antonio Spurs. Every night, her parents, Bill and Liza prayed she wouldn’t date a basketball player. It never dawned on them that she would meet a musician, which is even worse. And Leon isn’t just a musician, he’s a musicians roadie.

Imagine their horror.

This was going to be the opening of my toast at the reception, but I discovered Bill and Liza sat me as far from the bride’s table as possible. I asked Carol if that meant they didn’t want me to toast Joy. I couldn’t imagine the possibility. After all, I’m a hell of an emcee and improvisational comic.

She told me to sit at the table and keep my mouth shut.

But that didn’t stop me from making an improvisational toast. That’s why they supply glasses and spoons at receptions. Clink on the glass and you have everyone’s attention.

Bill and Liza supplied the guests with plastic glasses and spoons. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get the crowd’s attention.

I don’t know why they were concerned. Leon’s actually a hell of guy, but parents still sweat through nightmares over the worst boyfriend their daughter could meet. Just because I’m a loud drunk doesn’t mean I would say anything embarrassing.

The wedding did get me to thinking about the Wedding at Cana in the Gospel of John. If you don’t know the story, the father of the bride ran out of wine at the reception and panicked because there was no more. I don’t know why, because I wasn’t there to embarrass him with a toast to his daughter.

Jesus kept his cool and told the stewards to bring jugs filled with water. He proceeded to turn the water into wine. Not any wine, mind you, but wine that was better than what the guests had been sloshing down before. The host was grateful because usually the guests get the cheap wine last when they’re too drunk to know any better.

This passage presented a problem to the faithful when I was a kid. A serious problem. As many of you know, I was raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) and if there was one thing BPKs knew it was that wine was bad. In fact, drinking was about the worse sin you could commit (slightly better than smoking and almost as bad as dancing and sex).

In this story Jesus seems to approve of drinking. Not just drinking, but lots of it. In fact the entire wedding party has cleaned out the wine completely and now Jesus makes even more. How could we possibly account for that?

There was one explanation. Jesus told his followers that sin is sin and you couldn’t sin “worse.” For instance, once you thought about sex you had sinned just as badly as though you had sex. (Look it up). So the wedding party was already drunk, a little more wine wouldn’t make them bigger sinners.

You can probably see the problem with this approach. Trotting this passage out to horny young teenagers like me was likely to fuel the fire. I was already thinking about sex all the time. I thought about sex with every girl in my high school. By this thinking, I had already done the deed, so I might as well go ahead and sleep with them1 since I couldn’t get in even more trouble.

Baptist mentors came up with a better approach. Jesus didn’t make wine, he made Welchade. I still remember evangelists and Sunday School teachers quoting the Gospels, “New wine such as this I have never tasted.” The wedding guests were used to wine tainted with fermentation. They had never tasted pristine grape juice before.

Unfortunately, I would later realize when I actually started reading the Bible, the oft-quoted phrase, “New wine such as this I have never tasted,” didn’t make it into the final draft of the Bible. It’s an easy mistake to make, Jesus talked about new wine quite often, but that particular verse didn’t make the cut.

Even with my ignorance of the verses that made it into the Bible, I wasn’t completely sold, however. I went to high school. I spent time with those kids who broke into their parents’ liquor cabinets. I drank a few belts when they passed me the bottle.2 I knew that if Jesus started passing out grape juice to a room full of drunks, they would not have been praising Jesus. They would have been complaining, “This wine sucks.”

Here’s the spin I might have tried, “Yes, Jesus made grape juice, but it was the power of God that made them think they were getting even more drunk.” I wouldn’t have been convinced by that either (if God doesn’t want believers to be drunk, why would he make them feel drunk), but I’m sure it would have been good enough for most.

Wouldn’t it have been easier to just say, maybe Jesus was concerned about more important things than drinking? I’m not one to promote drunkenness, in spite of my earlier jokes. Too many people abuse their families, spend their families into the poorhouse, get into cars and kill someone, or do all three. I understand why some Christians might want to express concern about drunkenness.

Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t condemn drinking or alcohol. It teaches moderation. To extend that concern to a blanket ban on drinking ignores that fact. The problem is that in our attempts to make scripture conform to our expectations of God (and, more importantly, other people), we create any number of fairy tales to allow us to keep those beliefs and still believe we take the scripture at face value.

I can forgive twisting the passage on the wedding at Cana. Sobriety can be a virtue. Nothing in the Bible condemns sobriety. During the upcoming election campaign, however, we will hear quite a few more fairy tales about what Jesus wants from Americans.

We will hear that Jesus believes the rich earned their wealth in the service of God, that the love of money is as important as the love of God, that we should do nothing for others unless they do for us first, and that we should never have to render unto Caesar.

We will be told that Jesus wants to keep government out of our lives unless we don’t believe in God. Then government should remind us that we’re wrong by making us pray. We will be told that Gays and Lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to marry, but that corporations should be able to squeeze every last dollar from the economy no matter how much damage they do in the process.

We will be told that God may care about those who are poor and in need, but the government shouldn’t give them a second thought.

The irony is the Tea Party and religious right don’t even feel the need to appeal to scripture any more. They believe that God has given them authority to speak for Him. They have anointed themselves authority on both scripture and Constitution. This is the biggest fairy tale of all.


1Of course, I would still have to convince even one of them to have sex with me, and my idea of calling a girl for a date was to sit by the phone and hope that by some miracle a girl (any girl) would call me. But this is a hypothetical problem I’m posing, not a logistical one.back

2I went to college too, but we won’t go there.back


Herman, what would King David do?

It’s not as though politicians haven’t been caught with their pants down before. Nor will this be the first time they’ve tried to cover it up. But Herman Cain seems to think that because he hasn’t made improper gestures to thousands of women, that seems to let him off the hook for four.

At least that’s the number at last counting.

Herman’s also calling this a lynching along the proportions of Clarence Thomas’ lynching on Capitol Hill. There are a couple of differences. Justice Thomas wasn’t exactly lynched since he’s now one of the top nine legal arbiters in the country. Anita Hill, on the other hand, was brutalized. Can you blame these women for getting lawyers?

Justice Thomas’ written opinions haven’t exactly been prolific since his appointment, however. Maybe he finally learned to keep his mouth shut.

Cain, however, seems to be proud of the fact that four women have accused him of sexual impropriety. It’s almost a certain sign, that he, like Jesus, can be crucified.

I think King David may provide a better analogy, however. Israel’s King David made the moves on Bathsheba, the comely bride of one of his soldiers. He didn’t bother to settle the lawsuit, he simply killed the husband. Now, by anyone’s standards King David makes Herman Cain’s peccadilloes look like those of a choir boy.

God forgave David, however. And here’s where the two really differ. When David’s misdeeds became public he didn’t say, “For every woman who claims David hit on her, there are thousands more who haven’t.” This could be because there probably weren’t thousands of women in Jerusalem for David to harass, but also because David may have referred to himself with the royal “we” but he never spoke of himself in the third person.

More importantly, David did public penance. In fact, once he realized the seriousness of what he did, he became genuinely penitent. He wore sackcloth and ashes and publicly confessed. Herman Cain isn’t even making a pretense of penitence. He’s trying to paint himself as victim and good guy.

We might ask, given the reality of sexual behavior by American Presidents, whether or not it matters that they carry on behind closed doors. Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson were reputed philanderers. Clinton was busted and Harding had a child out of wedlock.

My answer to the question is, probably not. I was always more worried when the man who could push the button and launch the missiles wasn’t happy and bursting with unresolved testosterone. The true measure of the man, however, is how he behaves when the facts come out.

By that measure David was a class act. He confessed and found forgiveness. Cain claims he isn’t guilty, blamed both parties for outing him and also makes it clear it wouldn’t matter if he was guilty. His misdeeds are our problem.

After all. He earned everything he has.

Corporate Christian Complex: Eisenhower never saw it coming

Before he left office in 1961, President Eisenhower warned Americans of the rising influence of the Military Industrial Complex. Little did he know that the Military Industrial Complex was only a precursor to the much more insidious Corporate Christian Complex, an unholy alliance between corporate interests and Christian marketing designed to seduce true believers into the unholy heresy that Jesus wants big business to be even bigger.

The Corporate Christian Complex grew out of televangelism and telemarketing, thanks to the well meaning hippies and stoners who dropped out and tuned into Jesus in the seventies, and I count myself one of them. Until the Jesus movement, evangelical Christianity kept itself separate from popular culture. In fact, evangelicals prided themselves on being in the world but not part of it.

Sure, televangelists sold Bibles, blessings and prayer squares over broadcast television, but evangelism was decidedly unhip and determined to remain that way. Christians (at least white bread Christians like my family) didn’t listen to rock and roll, they listened to gospel or Ralph Carmichael, who was to Christian music at the time what Robert Goulet was to pop culture.

Christians didn’t have the New Christy Minstrels, we had Up With People. Sure, they sold a few albums, but it was for inspiration and to keep the work of the Lord going. But when the fans of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones realized that Ralph Carmichael made Neal Diamond sound like Roger Daltry, they did what they always did. Started their own bands.

Those bands made money. Much bigger money than the backup singers for Billy Graham. It went further than that. Jesus Freaks bought Jesus Freak translations of the Bible with leather fringe covers, and even leather belt pouches for their pocket editions. They bought Jesus jewelry and Jesus beads, and in a few short years Big Business discovered a huge market for modern day relics as well.

Hippies and Jesus Freaks were political, too, and that scared the evangelical and charismatic sponsors looking to adopt them. Many of us intended to cast our first eighteen-year-old votes for George McGovern. Our evangelical foster parents tried to convince us that Christians avoided politics, but we marched against the war and went to Woodstock.

The new era of rock festivals for Jesus proved to the evangelical old guard that we could be co-opted, and so the evangelicals harvested the energy to march to form the religious right. They might not convince us to give up politics, but they could convince us to change political alliances. If we could give up pot for coffee and scripture, we could give up McGovern for Reagan.

And the dollars rolled in. And in, and then began to flood. You see, the Corporate Christian Complex wasn’t new, it had been lying dormant since the Renaissance and Reformation. Shrewd businessmen cashed in on Christians with relics, pilgrimages and even mass crusades. If you couldn’t bring your husband to Christ, you could buy his way into heaven once he died. If you wanted to be pure and keep on drinking and whoring, you could buy an indulgence.

Today we have Christian Broadcasting Networks, and more commercials for Christian music CDs than the commercials that used to sell Slim Whitman tapes. Even the BBC will sell air time to songs of praise CDs. Churches sell coffee, and their pastors sell books and tapes. Good Christians can now own (and probably do) at least six different translations of the Bible and two more paraphrased editions.

You can find home-based Christian businesses on the internet. You can worship Jesus with t-shirts, mugs, coozies and coolers. You can sit through worship with your Starbucks coffee and power bars. Michael Jackson may have appalled people with his Jesus Juice, but only because he thought of it first. In a few years we can expect to see Jesus Juice, Jesus Jolt and cans of Red Gospel.

Go online and you can order Nativity stickers, Jesus gliders, birthday stickers for Jesus, and bouncing Jesus balls. Headingtoheaven.com promotes itself as a “Christian superstore” with shirts, jewelry, books, games and even home communion kits. Sounds a lot like Walmart. How about c28 or Christiangear.com?

Nor is it surprising that corporate and Christian interests pour millions of dollars into Republican and Tea Party politics. After all, when you’re raking in cash hand over fist from the rubes, you don’t want to pay taxes to fund a government that might regulate your enterprise.

If you read the Gospels, you know that Jesus forgave a lot. He forgave drunks, adulterers, pagans, hookers, and adulterers. He rarely got mad, but one thing really pissed him off. He lost his cool when he saw the entrepreneurs cashing in on God. He got so pissed off he kicked their tables over and drove them out of the temple.

The businessmen and religious hypocrites he challenged got even. They got in bed with the Roman government and had him killed. In other words, they formed their own version of the Corporate Christian Complex, and there was nothing Christian about it. These were the Bible’s bad guys.

So how did they become the heroes now?