Because of the timing of Christmas this year, this column has to serve as both Soft Edges (which would normally go out Thursday) and Sharp Edges (which would normally go out Saturday). The letters are different, though..
Thursday December 23, 2021
I love Christmas. I hate Christmas.
I love Christmas for the spirit of goodwill in the air. I love the silver bells and holly wreathes. I love coloured lights shining through the long winter nights. I love the generosity that causes friends, and even relative strangers, to make little gift baskets of shortbread and Nanaimo bars.
And I love that some people still feel motivated to actually write a Christmas message, in a card, by hand, and post it. Even if I, personally, take the easy way out and send my Christmas letters by email.
On the other hand, I hate shopping. I resent the pressure from endless advertisers to buy something bigger, more expensive, to show how much I care. I dislike traffic jams and packed parking lots.
I’m sentimental, but I loathe saccharine sentiment slopped on with a shovel.
When I was young, I loved deep fluffy snow. We ran around in it, made snow angels in it, whooshed down slopes on toboggans and sleds, often crashing at the bottom, emerging from a fog of snowflakes looking like Frosty the Snowman, laughing our fool heads off.
Now I just bundle up against the cold.
Delving into theology
But what I like most about Christmas, I think, is that it forces me to sharpen my beliefs.
I call myself a Christian (though I’m sure some would consider me a humanist at best, an atheist at worst). Certainly, I come from a Christian tradition. And Christian tradition has asserted, for centuries, that God was born as a human baby. We call him Jesus. Other cultures call him Jesu, or Yeshua, or some name that I don’t know.
Think about the sheer audacity of that claim. God became human! God didn’t just pretend to become human. God didn’t put on a human mask and go around in disguise. God became a human. A very specific historical human.
Theologians love big words. They call this radical act “Incarnation.” It comes from a Latin word for “meat” – which also shows up in “carnivore” – meaning to become flesh and blood. Just like us.
I don’t attempt to define God.
For some, God is unconditional love. For others, God is a ruthless judge, an invisible accountant keeping track of naughty and nice, handing out rewards for good behaviour (heaven) or bad behaviour (hell). For still others, God is the Creator, the ultimate First Cause, a purposeful entity that existed before time and will exist beyond time.
If I did risk a definition, it could only be partial. Because I believe God is more than anything I can reduce to mere words.
But the Incarnation makes my faith much simpler. If I want to know what God is like, I need only look at Jesus. What did Jesus do? How did Jesus live? What did Jesus try to teach his followers? How did those followers live?
That’s the radical implication of the Incarnation – God is not something separate, different, from Jesus. Forget all those other conceptions of God – look at Jesus!
In us. As us.
A former moderator of the United Church of Canada, the Korean Dr. Sang Chul Lee, told of reading the Bible in prison. He said he was captivated by the personality of this man Jesus.
Unlike Dr. Lee, I grew up with Jesus. But, as I grow older, I realize how much I have taken Jesus for granted, all these years.
Now the Incarnation has become central to my theology.
The Incarnation tells me not only what God is like, but how God does things. God does not act from a distance, hurling thunderbolts like Zeus or pulling strings like a puppeteer.
Rather, God gets involved by being embodied. Incarnated. Becoming a living being, born of blended DNA, who lives, breathes, influences others for good or ill, and dies.
Somewhere in her memoir Eat Pray Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert coined the phrase: “God dwells within me. As me.”
The prepositions matter. Not just LIKE us. AS us.
Every winter, the Christmas story reminds me that’s how God does things. God chooses to be born, as one of us, born again and again.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write email@example.com
Last week’s Soft Edges, about the prejudices we don’t recognize until they’re drawn to our attention, drew some thoughtful responses.
The column moved Dave Winans to six thoughts; I’ll include only two:
2. I am a white male 75 years of age. The only "-ism" I have experienced as a victim is ageism.
4. Accepting responsibility includes admitting guilt, asking forgiveness, learning from and empathizing with victims and seeking ways to rectify inappropriate actions and behaviors.
Several of you responded to my reference to men’s fly zippers being right handed.
Rob Dummermuth called it a “mundane insight that is so obvious, I am sufficiently ambidextrous to work the kettle and tear-open packages. so they never occurred to me either.” Rob wondered how zippers that require the man’s right hand would “fit with men keeping their right (sword) hand free to defend their maiden?
“Being aware of discrimination and privilege is a not an easy task, let alone practicing it. Thank you again for the insights.”
And when Frank Martens read about right-handed zippers, “I laughed until I nearly cried. 😊 😊 I never thought of it that way… I never thought about this zipper thing being frustrating for my 21-year-old grandson who is left-handed, although I’ve winced at his effort to use tools which are made for right-handers – chainsaws, for example. I’m sending this column to him.”
Ruth Buzzard found herself on the receiving end of prejudices: “A 60-year-old example of religious prejudice that I experienced in Israel on a six-week student seminar. Since ‘Ruth’ is an old-fashioned Biblical name I was welcomed with open arms by the Israeli students on the seminar. But when they found out that I was really of Irish Protestant ancestry, they dropped me suddenly.
“When I got home to Vancouver many of my acquaintances assumed that I was Jewish since I had just been to Israel and dropped me like a hot potato too.
“My American Buddhist friend from Sri Lanka, who has very dark skin, is a fanatical hater of Muslims, so much so that I had to curtail our friendship. And yet I’m sure that she has personally experienced much discrimination in the USA herself. The moral of the story is, examine your heart and get rid of as much conscious and unconscious prejudice as you can find.”
Annette Consor: “In a class a long time ago, we were discussing life after death. Two friends disagreed. One believed in life after death, the other didn’t. No 1: "If he’s wrong, won’t he be surprised! If I’m wrong, I won’t know the difference.”
James Russell offered an overview: “Prejudices, of course, are simply pre-judgements -- the solutions we carry around to problems we no longer see, since for us they’re solved. They have an economic purpose in the simplest sense. They simplify the complex task of navigating the turbulence of everyday life – until they don’t. The real question is when and how to rediscover and revise them.
“I don’t agree, though, that we have to accept the word of the person aggrieved as proof that our prejudices are wrong (Your friends clearly had a pre-set about the word ‘dark’ that you didn’t share; that doesn’t make you wrong to make the offer you did). It might make us re-examine our positions, though.”
In my column, I had listed a few prejudices I had not experienced. Mirza Yawar Bain noted another: “And of course you don't know what it feels like to be a Muslim in a non-Muslim, uncaring, often hostile society either, Jim. You don't know what it feels to have a caution tape running in the back of your mind as you board every bus, train or plane, watching people looking at you and guessing (you know but you don't want to admit it) what they're thinking. Especially when you're a woman wearing the Hijab. Or a man with a beard...wearing a cap? No. Only Orthodox Jews have the guts to do that; beard and cap. Not Muslims.
“The tape tells you to watch every word and every action. Great training is self-awareness. I recommend it strongly.’
If you want to comment on something, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just hit the ‘Reply’ button.
To subscribe or unsubscribe, send me an e-mail message at the address above. Or subscribe electronically by sending a blank e-mail (no message) to email@example.com. Similarly, you can un-subscribe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca
I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to email@example.com
And for those of you who like poetry, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to email@example.com (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)
To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.