Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Backstage Passes

I say it all the time to the kids at my internship church: It’s not Christmas yet. You, of course, wouldn’t know that if you paid attention to the radio or the TV. Christmas carols start before Thanksgiving, Christmas sales begin with the infamous Black Friday, and Christmas dwarfs what Christians are called to be: a hopeful, waiting people. When Christmas dwarfs Advent, Christians lose the very thing it means to be Christian.

And it’s in Advent where we meet John the Baptist – Jesus comes to the world through a half-naked lunatic who eats bugs. Here’s a guy whose sole purpose is to point to something beyond himself. He is, essentially, that really good supporting actor in movies that you love, but who never gets top billing. He’s Djimon Honsou in Gladiator, Philip Seymour Hoffman in 25th Hour, Zooey Deschanel in Eulogy.

And it’s just not like our society to reward those people. Nobody cares about the offensive lineman who helps LaDanian Tomlinson into the end zone – it’s only the running back who spikes the ball.

But Christians revel in our supporting role. We are John the Baptist, speaking the truth – “I am not the Messiah.” When society tells kids they must be the best, the brightest, the skinniest, and the coolest, Christians say, “I am nothing without God.”

This is not a limitation, however. It allows us to do amazing things, to love our neighbor, to work for justice in the world.

It was Oscar Romero’s words that ring true: “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning - a step along the way. An opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.”

We are not all quarterbacks and leading actors. We are the backstage people, making the set ready for the main event. And there’s no shame in that; there’s no disappointment because we “should” be something more.

The New York Yankees are such a prolific baseball team, any year they don’t win the World Series, it’s considered a failure. Luckily we don’t have such high expectations.

We are just wandering around, searching, waiting. And then God’s grace enters and does the rest.

It’s not Christmas yet. All we can do is wait, in a society that never does.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Passion of Black Friday

There are some who mourn the loss of God in our schools (as if she couldn’t get in there without our help or something). Others decry the moral degradation of our nation, witnessed in such things as the Ten Commandments being refused public placement in courthouses across the United States. This is where we can see how much our country has fallen from its “godly” ways, they say. If only we could get back to that golden age when God was worshiped (and so was the United States of America).

I’m pretty sure, however, that the U.S. isn’t bowing down to the Christian God – I seem to remember that we were a nation of religious freedom, first off – and I’m pretty sure it never has. The nation we know was founded by deists, people who believed in a deity up there, in the sky, but no mention of Jesus Christ in the Declaration of Independence. (I think I would remember – I learned that document in our “godless” public schools, and it certainly mentions a Creator…)

But this nation has always bowed down to another god, and this has never gone challenged. It’s the god of consumerism, wealth, and materialism, and it is worshiped with such vigor and passion that Protestant Christians, for one, could learn a lesson.

I don’t think Jdimytai Damour would have ever imagined that his day would go like this. But, indeed, the son of Haitian immigrants died on the biggest shopping day of the year, a martyr to the god of consumer wealth that has certainly not disappeared from our schools, as well as everywhere else. Bum-rushed by more than 200 people at 5am, this guy’s only sin was to be the one to open the door that fateful morning.

That’s not the worst part. As he lay dying, and medics came to his side to revive him, people still rushed by, undaunted by this dismal scene. A dying man was not going to get in the way of their LCD flat-screen TV for $399, thank you very much. “Don’t even think about closing the store,” you could almost hear them saying. “That dying dude better not get in the way of my shopping!”

And so another innocent bystander dead in our obsessive worship of this god. There are those that may fight for God to ‘return’ to schools, but I think a much better use of our time is to rid ourselves of the god who infiltrates every aspect of our society…and its refrain is loud and clear: “Purchase me, and you will be a better person.”

This god is passively entertained – if not wholeheartedly endorsed – by our society. And someone died for it on Friday.

But, hey. Widescreen LCD flat-screen TV’s for $399! Wow, what a deal! I’d kill for that!