A few weeks ago I took my 4 year old son Christmas shopping. At the church we attend, our family participates in a yearly charity sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse called “Operation Christmas Child”. We pack a shoe box with a variety of gifts, which is sent to children in “Third World” countries. I pack one for a boy while my wife packs one for a girl.
I took my son to help me pick out the gifts. I want to instil in him the understanding that Christmas isn’t about “him” getting gifts from Santa Claus, but that during this time of year it is more important to give to those who don’t have as much as we do. So as we shopped, we had a conversation about what Christmas really means and how we celebrate this season as a family.
I went on to explain that Santa Claus isn’t a real person but he is “pretend”. I impressed upon my son that his mother and I, as well as our friends and family members buy him the gifts… not only during Christmas but all through the year. I further explained that the reason we are buying these gifts for the boys and girls is that their family and friends don’t have the extra money to do so and there is really no Santa Claus to bring them presents.
I could see that he was listening intently while his little mind was processing what I was telling him. He understood what I was saying, but he still wanted to believe that Santa Claus must be real. That’s what he sees on television. That’s what he learns in school. That’s what people are always ask him: “what do you want for Christmas from Santa?”
Since that day we have had a number of conversations about the meaning of Christmas. If you ask him now what is Christmas, he answers that it’s Jesus’ birthday. If you ask, he’ll say that Santa Claus is pretend, although it is evident that he still wants to believe that he is real. He’ll tell you that his mommy, daddy, friends and family buy him his gifts… that they don’t come from Santa. I explained to him that we give each other gifts just like the 3 wise men brought gifts to baby Jesus when he was born and as a way to remember that God gave us the gift of his Son Jesus.
At four, I don’t expect him to understand and accept it all. However, we’re not allowing him to be conditioned by our society’s values into being self absorbed and materialistic. Furthermore, I don’t believe it’s healthy for black children (especially boys), to be conditioned to believe that all good things come from a white man… a fat old white man with a long white beard at that. I believe it subconsciously undervalues their appreciation for the efforts of their parents (especially their fathers), it further undermines their own self esteem and respect for black men as a whole, and it grooms them to be easy prey for that seemingly nice (old) white man.
In his own way, my son does show us that he has an understanding of the true “reason for the season”: the celebration of the birth of Christ, the love of God, family and friends, and that it’s better to give than receive. So far he hasn’t asked us for even one present.
This is the Christmas lesson we want him to learn and incorporate into his life.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1: 18
A few months ago a friend and I had a very intense disagreement which led to some very harsh words being exchanged. A few days ago out of the blue (is it ever really just “out of the blue” ?) while on Facebook, he hit me up and now all is forgiven and forgotten. We are at peace.
“According to an article in the Canadian Army Journal, a former president of the Norwegian Academy of Science, aided by historians from England, Egypt, Germany, and India came up with some fantastic figures and findings:
Since 3600 B.C. the world has known only 292 years of peace. During this period there have been 14,531 wars, large and small, in which 3,640,000,000 people have been killed. The value of the destruction would pay for a golden belt around the world 97 miles wide and 33 feet thick. To put it another way, in world history we have seen 13 years of war for every year of peace. Since the beginning of time, more than 8,000 treaties of peace were concluded. Although meant to last forever, the average time they remained in force was 2 years. (Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, p. 1571)”
The above reference was used during last Sunday’s sermon by our pastor. As I listened I asked myself: how many of these wars have been fought in the name of God? How many millions have been killed in the name of Christ, The Prince of Peace, whose birth we are celebrating at this time? How many of us, who profess to be followers of this Prince of Peace, are today involved in creating and perpetuating chaos, discord, fighting, rivalry and conflict? The pastor made a profound statement that we all, Christians and non-Christians, need to promote a culture of peace… one heart at a time! Easier said than done but Christ gives us a blueprint of how to accomplish this:
“You have heard that it was said, eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
This doesn’t mean you must allow others to abuse and take advantage of you. It doesn’t mean you must be soft or weak and cower away in the face of oppression or aggression. It does mean that there are moments in each of our lives, when in the interest of peace, we all must summon the spiritual fortitude to forgo the need to fight to be right.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
“The constant assertion of belief is an indication of fear” Krishnamurti
Once a week I volunteer at an inner city mission. Interestingly, even though I had volunteered sporadically before with different organizations and missions, it was after reading Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life”, that I made a conscious decision to commit to volunteer on a consistent basis. I came to realize clearly from his teaching that we are created by God with a ministry and a mission to fulfill. Our ministry is what we do in our service for the “Church” and our mission is what we do in our service for the “World”. Both are important. Both influences and strengthens each other. To have the maximum impact as a child of God on those we come in contact with, we have to be committed to being consistent in our ministry and mission.
In reality, this is easier said than done. When I don’t feel like going and can find many excuses to justify staying home or doing something else, I push myself to go. I don’t do this out of fear. I don’t even do this out of a sense of commitment or obligation. I can honestly say that I have progressed to the point where I now do it out of love. Not a self-centered or self-directed love for God, but my love for the people I have come to know and connect with… and what an interesting group they are!
The people who the mission serves are poor, mainly struggle with some form of addiction(s) and many deal psychological and/or emotional issues. Yet in some ways, they are the most caring people I have met. They are always polite and grateful for what we do. Some may drop in for a few minutes, while others stay for hours. They have moments of conflict with each other, but for the most part, they look out for each other.
In conversing with most of them, what has astonished me is that while some (if not most) have gone through… and are still dealing with some real difficult, traumatic and heart-breaking situations… they have a deep faith in Jesus Christ. Not the “church going” or intellectualized faith that we vainly opine and debate about, but a faith based on the unadulterated belief that Jesus has brought them through so far and He will always care for them. What amazes me even more is those with the strongest faith are the ones who have suffered the most. They share with me their stories and like Job’s wife I ask myself: “why don’t they just curse God and die!?”
When I first started volunteering at the mission, I felt God was teaching me that I really have nothing to complain about and I should appreciate my life because in comparison to the clients at the mission, my life was indeed blessed. Over time I have come to realize that what God was in fact showing me was that my faith, in comparison to these people, was shallow at best. Their belief is not based on fear, but on their personal experiences in the love of God.
“If Christianity and it adherents really stand for something powerful and special and good, why aren’t they doing as Dr. Martin Luther King did, getting in the streets, organizing believers and non- and attempting to eliminate all of the ungodly behavior going on in their communities and in their nation? It doesn’t seem that that’s what this religion thing is about…and if its not about what’s moral, what’s evil and what’s right, what good is it??” Lubangakene
This attitude is the reason why our community at large and humanity in general, haven’t progressed further than it has in regards to the common good. Too many of us are looking and waiting for the next Martin (or Malcolm), instead of taking up our own cross and working to fulfill our own mission. Too many of us would rather answer like Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, than take the responsibility to “really work for something powerful and special and good” in the service for others. The life work of Martin Luther King is inspirational and influential, however I am inspired and influenced by the ONE who inspired and influenced Rev. King: Jesus Christ. He’s the source. His example isn’t one who went to church (synagogue at the time) 4-6 days a week to prove his faith, nor sit in a room and write a treatise (or blog) on the importance of his beliefs. Jesus got involved and served the poor and oppressed… their physical and more importantly, their spiritual needs.
Those looking and waiting for the next Martin and Malcolm, are looking and waiting for the “spectacular” as a measure for judgment. The spectacular event or series of events by the righteous, which appears to have an impact on the world at large, is what they value. However, the truth is the greatest impact is made by those unheralded workers who change the world for one individual, one day at a time. They don’t get a lot of media attention, the vast majority get none at all, but what they do is “spectacular” for those they help none the least.
Yet, let me highlight some of the works of Christians to alleviate the sufferings and oppressions of the poor. There is the Spanish Catholic priest, Father Christopher Hartley and his work helping Haitian migrant workers in the Dominican Republic. His efforts to bring medicine, education and advocate for their human rights is the subject of the documentary: The Price of Sugar. There are the front line workers of the Salvation Army who are committed to meeting the daily needs of the hungry, substance addicted, the homeless and young runaways. Here is a documentary by the National Film Board of Canada on their efforts in my home town of Toronto: “Salvation“. There is the Catholic Bishop Kevin Dowlings who advocates the use of condoms to save lives and prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS in his diocese in South Africa, putting him at odds with his church’s doctrine on contraception. There are the Christian Peacemaker Teams who work in conflict zones in places such as Palestine, Iraq, South America and Africa… and who are committed to non-violent direct action to confront systems of violence and oppression.
One of the columnists I read regularly at the New York Times online is Nicholas D. Kristoff. He travels to some of the most remote parts of the world reporting on the injustices and sufferings faced by the powerless. There is one thing his columns has taught me… there is no such thing as a “god-forsaken place”. In the midst of the sufferings, no matter where in the world, he usually mentions that there is a Christian missionary or worker from a Christian NGO working there to help the people.
Then there are those I know personally from my mission work. The two pastors who started and run the mission made a conscious decision to commit themselves to serving the needs of the poor, instead of working in traditional churches. The volunteers are ordinary people, such as university students, homemakers, office workers, etc, who unselfishly give of their time to make a difference. Some volunteers have gone through their own personal battles and are still fighting their own personal demons, trials and tribulations. Yet they consistently show up and serve. A few are clients of the mission itself, who simply want to help.
The one thing all these Christians have in common, from Father Hartley…to the people at the mission… to the countless millions of Christians who quietly, selflessly and consistently fulfill their mission… is that they do what they do out of love, not fear. Their belief, faith and the works that they do is very simply a manifestation of the love of God through Jesus Christ, as well as being their “brother’s and sister’s keeper”. Matthew 22: 36-40
Regardless of your belief, non-belief or philosophy, my question to you is (and it is a rhetorical one): “are you your brother’s and sister’s keeper… and if you are, what are you doing about it?”