Faith: December 2005 Archives

Julie R. Neidlinger writes of a Christmas Eve service at the Church of the Living Powerpoint:

And therein lies another problem: we were not a congregation, but an audience. We were performed to by a bunch of talented musicians and a music pastor and a pastor who had planned the service to a T, with few glitches, all quite lovely. I looked around at the rest of the people, and everyone seemed to be really into it.

Except me, because I am an alien.

The start of the service should have served as a warning. The music pastor took his place behind the keyboard and as a non-Christmas chorus flashed on the screen, he told us he was going to teach us a new chorus.

Teach us a new chorus. During the Christmas Eve service.

I got up and walked out of the sanctuary. I was absolutely angry, because it just bothers me so much and I couldn't even say why. I waited outside in the hallway, pretending to read a bulletin board, while a few other choruses that had little, if any, Christmas connection were sung. A few parishioners came in and out of the sanctuary, but I avoided eye contact for fear they would attempt to share the four spiritual laws with me, assuming I was a pagan visiting family for Christmas and was unable to sit through the service.

If Julie's an alien, so am I. I remember being just as disturbed some years ago at a Christmas eve service. We were visiting out-of-town family and went to worship at a megachurch I call the Bobble Barn. (That's the way they say "Bible" in those parts.) I walked out, too.

Two things really got to me. At the beginning of the service, the music pastor told the parents not to correct their kids' behavior because, after all, it was Christmas eve. It struck me as the same sort of idolatry of the family to which evangelicalism is prone, the idea that Christianity is all about happy marriages and well-adjusted children (never mind all that gross stuff about God's wrath and a perfectly holy God-man offering himself as a bloody sacrifice to satisfy that wrath). The music pastor's admonition reflects a world-view in which Christmas is a holiday for children -- "tiny tots, with their eyes all aglow" -- not a day of rejoicing for all the redeemed.

And then, through most of the service, the house lights were down, and there was a spotlight on the music pastor. It was as if we were at his concert, and he was graciously allowing us to sing along. What was missing was any sense that we were assembled there corporately (as a body) to offer praise and adoration to the Word Made Flesh. A pagan wouldn't have had any trouble sitting through the service -- there wasn't anything that would have offended a pagan in this comfy, cozy, cardigan-clad Christmas concert.

Julie's essay is a re-run from a year ago, brought back because it articulated the feelings of many readers, all of whom no doubt wondered if they were aliens, too. I found myself nodding in agreement, especially when she comes to the issue of emotional manipulation:

I fear that evangelical denominations are desensitizing their own parishioners with this constant manipulation, to the point that their hearts are no longer moved by the simpleness of the Gospel, as well the complexity and wonder of the Gospel. They need a minor chord progression in the background before they know the presence of God, or appreciate something He's done.

The Bible says to let our yes be yes, and our no be no. It doesn't say anything about a violin in the background.

Julie plans to post an update, revisiting the ideas she was trying to get across in this entry. I'll look forward to that.

The five-year-old added the thought balloons to the cover of this morning's order of service.

Baby Jesus loves his mama

Lance Salyers has posted his first blog entry in a few months, stepping out of hiatus with a post at Eternal Revolution about the War on the War on Christmas. He begins with vocal Christians who have their knickers in a twist over this year's White House Christmas Card, which has a Bible verse but also says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas":

This is just the latest in a series of skirmishes in the war to save our culture from itself. The call of Christ to help rescue fellow sheep that are lost often gets tabled for bigger missions, like ’saving Christmas’ by boycotting Wal-Mart, or ’saving marriage’ by boycotting Disney. How can the Enemy not love these morality crusades? They accomplish two things, neither of which are good:

1. They create an image of Christianity that is easily (and understandably) disdained: a shallow religion that concerns itself most with coercing others into an appearance of uniform morality.

2. They distract attention and divert resources of Christians away from doing the work Jesus actually calls us to do: bringing hope to the lost by personifying God’s love for them.

Lance goes on to suggest what we really ought to be doing to ensure that Christmas has meaning for us and for others.

I'm happy to see Lance posting again, even if this is only a brief cameo. I'm also happy to report that Lance's old URL,, is now back under his control. When he decided to step away from blogging for a while, he deleted his blog. A spammer grabbed the URL to take advantage of the strong search engine page rank the URL enjoyed, thanks to all of the links to Lance's writing on other blogs. (His is not the only blog to have been hijacked in this way. I wrote about this phenomenon back in October.) The spammer went away, or more likely was booted, the URL became available again, and I was able to help Lance reclaim it before some other spammer could get hold of it.

There's always funny stuff over on Purgatorio, but the latest batch is laugh-until-you-cry quality:

  • Religious LP covers: "The Addicts Sing" (nice sketch of someone shooting up on the back), "From Nightclubs to Christ" (the conversion of a debauched accordionist), "Lynne and Gwynne" (the singing twins), and Christmas adventures with the Six Million Dollar Man.
  • 10 Reasons Why You Probably Shouldn't Be Amish Anymore: Number 10: "You start what you think is a really good Amish blog and your only visitors are Hutterites."
  • Kitschy nativity sets, including Peanuts and Veggie Tales characters, Precious Moments figurines, and an all-dog cast (including a dog in the manger, natch).
  • Nuns with guns: It's a caption contest; be sure to read the comments.
  • Snake handlers: In memory of snake-handling pioneer George W. Hensley, who died 50 years ago... you can guess what from.

Bookmark it, blogroll it, enjoy.

P.S. Yes, I will get back to serious stuff, and I will analyze the 4 to Fix the County vote and the latest developments with the Mayor's "Citizens' Commission on City Government" -- but not tonight.

Church on Christmas?

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Michael Spencer has a roundup of responses (including his own) to the news that many of the nation's evangelical megachurches are punting services on Christmas morning, although they will have Christmas eve services.

Cancelling Sunday service on Christmas day is not as novel as some of the reaction seems to suppose. There was one Sunday Christmas during my schoolyears -- 1977 -- and if I recall correctly, the little Southern Baptist congregation we belonged to cancelled Sunday services.

Also, it was our church's practice to sing Christmas carols only on the Sunday nearest to Christmas. The Sunday School quarterly (it was a long time before I knew it wasn't spelled cordalee) had a lesson from the nativity accounts on that Sunday, and the pastor would preach a Christmas sermon, and that was about it for our church's observance of the holiday.

It wasn't that Christmas-themed content was banned on other Sundays, it's just that we stuck to the usual pattern the rest of the time -- gospel hymns from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the pastor preaching from wherever he happened to be on his expository preaching through the Bible. No Advent, no Christmastide, no Christmas eve or Christmas day service.

We did have our own family Christmas traditions -- reading the nativity story and a time of prayer as a family, driving around to look at Christmas lights, then opening one gift each on Christmas eve -- new pajamas. Christmas day was always about gifts, food, and family.

I'm glad the church we now belong to has a Christmas eve service. I think it's right to come together as a church to celebrate the Incarnation of Christ. I agree that our country's biggest and most visible churches ought to be open on Christmas day and ready to receive and minister to those who will only enter a church on Christmas. But, for what it's worth, closing a church on Christmas day is nothing new, and nothing especially progressive.

UPDATE: Our church, Christ Presbyterian Church, 51st and Columbia, will have services at 6 and 11 p.m. on Christmas eve, and at the usual time, 10:45 a.m. on Christmas day, with Sunday School at 9:15. No services that Sunday evening.

In the comments, Elaine Dodd has posted times for her church's Christmas eve and Christmas day services. If you're part of a Tulsa area church having services on those days, feel free to post a brief comment with the details.

Kevin McCullough, New York radio talk show host, blogger, and columnist, has come up with a positive way to protest the push to turn Christmas into Generic Winter Holiday.

I'm joining Kevin and a number of other bloggers around the country to urge you to send a Merry Christmas card to the ACLU national office in New York City. Not "Season's Greetings," not "Happy Holidays," not "Harry Eidiwalihanukwanzamas," but "Merry Christmas." ("Happy Christmas" is acceptable if you're an Anglophile.) And make it as specifically Christmassy as you can. You might even write a note explaining what Christmas means to you.

Here's the address:

"Wishing You Merry Christmas"
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004

Kevin reminds us to be respectful: "[P]lease be kind, even cheerful in sending the card. Trust me - kindness will produce more smoke out of their ears than anything untoward you could think of anyway..."

Some of you may object that the ACLU doesn't deserve all the credit or blame for the increasing secularization of Christmas, and that's fair enough. And although I'm sure the ACLU would not interfere with our ability to observe Christmas in our homes or churches, they have damaged the ability for a community to come together and acknowledge Christmas. And ACLU litigation has created a "chilling effect" that has led to overreactions by public schools (like banning the school choir from singing Handel's Messiah) and private companies who genericize the holiday season in their advertising.

I think the chilling effect is not just fear of being sued, but the ACLU's efforts give the impression that more people are offended by explicit references to Christmas than really are. The message is starting to get through to retailers that avoiding "Merry Christmas" offends more people than are offended by using it.

As Greta (Hooah Wife), who is Jewish and lives in the Tulsa area, wrote, "Merry Christmas is a holiday greeting to me - it does not and should not offend me. If it does, then I need to re-examine my own values."

I'll update here periodically, but read Kevin's blog for the latest on the effort.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Faith category from December 2005.

Faith: November 2005 is the previous archive.

Faith: January 2006 is the next archive.

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