Ask the Thoughtful Pastor: Christmas Coffee Cups and Protestant Splinters

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Dear Thoughtful Pastor: “There are obviously bigger issues for Christians than whether or not Starbucks celebrates Christmas in any shape or form.  Why are so many so upset, what is it that they are really asking for?”

I’m going on a rant here, but this statement drives me crazy: “We’ve got to put Christ back in Christmas.”

The words suggest that someone has the power to take Christ OUT of Christmas. Can’t be done. Christmas IS the Christ Mass.

The Christ Mass stands as the acknowledgment of the Incarnation, the breaking into the confinement of time and space the firstborn of all creation. Sure, there are lots of overlays on that, but celebrating the Christ Mass on December 25th was itself an overlay on a pagan custom: the time to honor the winter solstice and the renewed lengthening of the day in the northern hemisphere.

It is the human condition, however for some to act as defenders of God. Specifically, they believe it is their role to help preserve Christ in Christmas, however futile the task.

Unfortunately, these well-intended defenses too often lead to rampantly destructive religious wars. The result? A landscape soaked in the blood of others who were also defending God but whose weapons were less advanced.

Religiously speaking, Christmas is a minor church celebration with minimal biblical support. The current cultural celebration of Christmas has been strongly driven by economic forces. Many merchants count on this season of shopping, parties and merriment to make adequate profits to stay in business another year. There is nothing wrong with that–we live in an economy that is supported by consumer spending.

But in the life of the church, Easter and Pentecost are far, far more important. They are just not nearly as much fun. After all, when did you last decide to have a Pentecost Party, or the children of your church performed a “Pentecost Pageant” or you decorated your house with tongues of fire?

Unfortunately, many of those Christmas Correct folks may themselves be guilty of misusing the season. Like it or not, Christmas trees have a pagan base. Wise men, and we don’t know how many there were, showed up around two years later, not the night of the birth. Christmas programs highlighting a vile inn-keeper who heartlessly sent the already laboring Mary and her bewildered husband to a lonely, dirty and cold stable do not reflect well what happened at that time.

So what are these folks asking for? They are asking for their way of Christmas celebration to remain unchanged and undisturbed by those who might wish to celebrate differently–or not at all. They are reaching for security in an insecure, rapidly changing and far more multi-cultural world. I suspect we’d all like that–but it can’t and won’t happen.

The best option is to find your own celebratory rites and rituals and enjoy them to the fullest. What others say about them, or about you, is immaterial.

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Dear Thoughtful Pastor: “How do denominational church people like myself affirm other religions and non-religions while belonging to a church that believes its way is the only way? Is it best to stay involved, or is it better to follow the sorting that tends to put those with common beliefs together?”

You are asking one of the big questions that have bedeviled Christians since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church and sparked the Reformation and the emergence of the Protestant movement.

The word “Protestant” comes from “protest” of course. And these protests against the power and serious corruption coming from the Roman Catholic church in the 16th century eventually led to our current situation. Now, we see thousands of splintered church groups, many calling themselves Christian yet with profound differences in theology and practice defining them.

However, when we search for a church group where all agree on everything, we end up with a church of one. It will be for you or me, and you or me alone. Not a good solution.

In my years of studying theology, of researching churches, of simply observing people, I have never seen two humans totally agree on everything unless one of them has been beaten up to such an extent that he/she dare not utter disagreement because of punitive reprisal.

What we do need is adequate self-knowledge so that we know what our own essentials are. What are your non-negotiables? What are the foundational beliefs that you must not compromise because to do so means the diminishment of your soul?

Some will create long, detailed doctrinal/behavioral statements here. Others will settle for “love God, love neighbor.” Neither is necessarily right, nor necessarily faithful. This is a question that only those who have committed themselves to living the examined life can satisfactorily answer.

When you can answer those questions for yourself, you’ll know where to align yourself.

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All questions are welcome. You can email your questions to thoughtfulpastor@gmail.com, “like” her Facebook Page, use this form to send them or message her on Twitter. You can also send a question through conventional mail to the following address: Thoughtful Pastor, 314 E. Hickory St., Denton, TX, 76202.

[Note: a version of this column will appear in the Friday, Nov 13, 2015 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]

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