Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hey, Jesus - Happy Hanukkah!

I must be one of ten people with mental illness in the United States of America who does NOT have holiday trauma issues.  My personal desperate darkness starts each year in late July and breaks some time in late October, with mild depression fading out through November.

Thanksgiving to New Year's is pretty much my best time of year.

Nevertheless, this year I have been sad, not depressed really, just sad, as I read on Facebook the hostility that has come to be the litmus test of Christian fervor.  Evidently inspired by Fox News, Merry Christmas is no longer an expression of joy and good cheer, but a battle cry against the First Amendment and the great American experiment of freedom and tolerance of difference.

Irony abounds here.  One of my own ancestors came over on the Mayflower, as a matter of fact.  The Puritans wanted freedom to practice their religion, not anybody else's, just their own, including a prohibition against Christmas, which they outlawed in 1659.  They knew their religious history, that the holiday originated as a pagan festival, full of excess of every sort, with the thinnest wash of Christian appropriation added later to assure pagans they could still celebrate the Winter Solstice after they got baptized.

The Puritans had mellowed by 1712, when Cotton Mather, whose credentials are as Christian as you get, preached tolerance for other Christians who did want to celebrate the baby's birthday.  I do not now dispute whether People do well to Observe such an Uninstituted Festival at all, or no, he said.

He went on to encourage a Romans 14 attitude: Good Men may love one another, and may treat one another with a most Candid Charity, while he that Regardeth a Day, Regardeth it unto the Lord, and he that Regardeth not the Day, also shows his Regard unto the Lord, in his not Regarding of it...

According to Cotton Mather, he believed in "political correctness", because he found it in the Bible, in Paul. 

The Brain And Christmas, Or At Least Something, Anything

Christian, Jew, Zoroastrian, Wiccan, Druid, "spiritual but not religious," and plain old capitalists, as the days get shorter, our pineal glands go into overdrive, pumping out all that melatonin that makes us want to hibernate.  Our brains cry out for relief.  Push back the darkness!  Light a candle!  Light a bonfire!  Wait a minute -- just a log.  Nothing in the brain requires that anybody get burned at the stake.

Regular readers know that, while Prozac Monologues is not for the purposes of evangelism, I make no secret of my Christian faith, and even defend religion and the disciplines of church membership as resources for mental health.

But not any religion.  Not what passes for Christianity but looks suspiciously like, well -- fascism.  There, I have said the word.  When the cross gets wrapped in the flag, no matter whose flag, you know that the frontal cortex is offline, the lizard brain is in charge, and somebody is about to get crucified.

Which is so not what Jesus would want for his birthday present.

I mean, the first guests invited by heaven to his party were the scruffiest low lifes of the neighborhood, who had probably been passing the bottle to keep warm that night, and some foreign fire-worshipers, for crying out loud!

Theology Alert

He came as a baby.  He came vulnerable.  He came helpless.  In the core and mystery of what Christians call Incarnation, God-in-flesh, that very vulnerability is how God tells us how much God loves us, that the great Almighty would set almighty aside in order to pitch his tent among us.

That God desires to be with us, and will pay whatever price that requires, and would indeed require, is the core of the Gospel, all we need to know that we are beloved.  We are worthy.  Knowing that, then we can exercise the courage it takes to treat others as beloved and worthy.

We can even say, to show our rejoicing for the worth that God gives us and our rejoicing for the worth that God gives our neighbors, Happy Holidays!

These days are holy, they are graced by God's presence among us, whatever days you keep.  That is what I believe.  And I hope for you that these days are happy.

Research on Vulnerability

So here is where the deep truth about God-With-Us and mental health research come together: Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work on The Power of Vulnerability.




That baby who slept in the cold and all the babies who tonight sleep in the cold call us to look deep, deep into our hearts, the hearts of our neighbors, the heart of the world, the heart of God.

Happy holidays.

painting of Announcement to Shepherds by Gaddi Taddeo, c. 1327, in public domain
mezzotint portrait of Cotton Mather by Peter Pelham, 1700, in public domain
photo of Luminaria at Lake Washington from Seattle Municipal Archives, used under the Creative Commons license
painting of Madonna and Child with Cherries by Jan Gossaert, c. 1520, in public domain

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