It’s the Christmas season!… Truly the most wonderful time of the year, for many reasons: longer days, warmer weather, nostalgic music, delightful decorations, extended school holidays, family visits, gifts, festive food. What’s not to love?
Well, to begin with there’s Over Extended: that feeling which is known to commence visiting its host toward the end of November. Unintentionally invited, of course. Then by mid-December, one might reluctantly welcome house-guest number two: Over It. The parties, the food, the expectations, the to-do lists, the obligations… as if Over Extended wasn’t enough to entertain, Over It pushes you to your known limit, leaving you wondering if the dam walls of Keep It Together will hold again this year. And of course, the star at the top of this tree: Over Indulged. The abundance of food, the myriad of presents, the absence of sincere, overwhelming gratitude: elements very often found in many homes, overshadowing the most important elements of the Christmas season. Or maybe it’s just my house.
It certainly begs the question: is this God’s best for me, my family, and my community?
For as long as we’ve been parents, we have aimed to focus on what is important to us at Christmas: the person at the centre of the birthday celebration. That is, Christ. It’s not always easy to create a meaningful Christmas amidst a flurry of exciting & exhausting distractions & we don’t always get the balance right, but it is possible. Being purposeful & turning our focus towards Christ is unquestionably an enriching experience for our family.
This year, we are embracing a fresh way of approaching the festive season with our 24 Days of Christ advent calendar.
Each day includes a chocolate (of course!), a name of Christ, a Bible reference for that name, and a Christ-like heart-state or kind deed in which the whole family may participate.
In addition to the fun, festive frivolity of the Christmas season, this is how we are choosing to ensure it’s a meaningful one & to incline our hearts towards Christ, but it’s certainly not Pinterest-perfect: the idea wasn’t planned weeks in advance & as a result we’ve only commenced the calendar on the 3rd of December. (Does that then make it 22 days of Christ??)
There are a variety of ways through which families choose to put Him at the centre of their lives & communities, despite the silliness of the season; no one idea trumping another. After all, relationship with Christ is never about the specifics of a rule, but rather the condition of our hearts.
I’d love to hear how your family chooses Christ at Christmas…
“If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter. Lenin believed this after reading Das Kapital, and consistently taught that if a just, peaceful, happy, free, virtuous society could be created by the means he advocated, then the end justified any methods that needed to be used, literally any.
“The root conviction which underlies this is that the central questions of human life, individual or social, have one true answer which can be discovered. It can and must be implemented, and those who have found it are the leaders whose word is law. The idea that to all genuine questions there can be only one true answer is a very old philosophical notion. The great Athenian philosophers, Jews and Christians, the thinkers of the Renaissance and the Paris of Louis XIV, the French radical reformers of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries of the nineteenth—however much they differed about what the answer was or how to discover it (and bloody wars were fought over this)—were all convinced that they knew the answer, and that only human vice and stupidity could obstruct its realization.
“This is the idea of which I spoke, and what I wish to tell you is that it is false. Not only because the solutions given by different schools of social thought differ, and none can be demonstrated by rational methods—but for an even deeper reason. The central values by which most men have lived, in a great many lands at a great many times—these values, almost if not entirely universal, are not always harmonious with each other. Some are, some are not. Men have always craved for liberty, security, equality, happiness, justice, knowledge, and so on. But complete liberty is not compatible with complete equality—if men were wholly free, the wolves would be free to eat the sheep. Perfect equality means that human liberties must be restrained so that the ablest and the most gifted are not permitted to advance beyond those who would inevitably lose if there were competition. Security, and indeed freedoms, cannot be preserved if freedom to subvert them is permitted. Indeed, not everyone seeks security or peace, otherwise some would not have sought glory in battle or in dangerous sports.
“Justice has always been a human ideal, but it is not fully compatible with mercy. Creative imagination and spontaneity, splendid in themselves, cannot be fully reconciled with the need for planning, organization, careful and responsible calculation. Knowledge, the pursuit of truth—the noblest of aims—cannot be fully reconciled with the happiness or the freedom that men desire, for even if I know that I have some incurable disease this will not make me happier or freer. I must always choose: between peace and excitement, or knowledge and blissful ignorance. And so on.
“So what is to be done to restrain the champions, sometimes very fanatical, of one or other of these values, each of whom tends to trample upon the rest, as the great tyrants of the twentieth century have trampled on the life, liberty, and human rights of millions because their eyes were fixed upon some ultimate golden future?
“I am afraid I have no dramatic answer to offer: only that if these ultimate human values by which we live are to be pursued, then compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen. So much liberty for so much equality, so much individual self-expression for so much security, so much justice for so much compassion. My point is that some values clash: the ends pursued by human beings are all generated by our common nature, but their pursuit has to be to some degree controlled—liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I repeat, may not be fully compatible with each other, nor are liberty, equality, and fraternity.
“So we must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals. I know only too well that this is not a flag under which idealistic and enthusiastic young men and women may wish to march—it seems too tame, too reasonable, too bourgeois, it does not engage the generous emotions. But you must believe me, one cannot have everything one wants—not only in practice, but even in theory. The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelette is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking. And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelette, and just go on breaking eggs.”
As intelligent humans, we like to think we’re right. Confidently interacting within the world around us is most certainly more helpful than constantly second-guessing ourselves, preserving an environment of insecurity. For many of our thoughts & decisions, we can generally navigate life without dislodging others from their chosen tack.
This may be true for the vapid elements of life, but should some audacious soul trespass on our more considered judgments, heaven help us all! If you’ve spent any time on social media or watching politico-cultural television programs, you’ll have experienced more than your share of both passionate and vacuous commentary from the self-declared morally superior side of the fence. The side on which you’re not standing (or sitting, should you find yourself atop the fence). All sides have their zealots in the fray; some of us may have even found ourselves holding the loud-speaker at one time or another.
Whether the topic be politics, society, religion, schooling, or the fashionable mother-lode: diet (more specifically, sugar) we humans have an uncanny ability to sacrifice principle in favour of a side. Entrenched opinions & emotionally-charged rhetoric too easily capture our sensibilities so that our capacity for intellectual purity is impaired.
But of course, the way we see the world makes absolute sense. And if we are completely honest, at least with ourselves, many of the beliefs we hold really are superior to others’; if this weren’t the case, no one would argue for anything, whether expressed or thought.
Joseph Joubert quipped, “The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.” Does there exist an approach, then, by which we can positively engage those less-enlightened than ourselves? One that progresses society, whilst avoiding the use of verbal or virtual bombs laced with insult & self-righteousness? I believe there is. It requires us to draw on the core human characteristics of humility, empathy, & compassion, all summed up in one word: love.
When I wish to engage in changing another’s viewpoint, instead of lobbing over a grenade laden with sanctimony, love requires me to climb the fence with an open heart & open arms; I may even come to understand why they are so seemingly erroneous. From my new vantage point, I am sure to discover previously concealed weeds within my own garden bed of thought; but should I fail to see why the other person persists with such perceived delusion, love requires me to whisper quietly… even when they should know better. Love calls me to move first, to place myself squarely in the comfort zone of others, regardless of the disquiet within my own soul. It implores that I would first understand before seeking to be understood.
Whether we are arguing an important point or championing a good cause, it is quite possible to be right, yet wrong, all at the same time. Whilst we may have loosened the grip on our opinions or escaped the lure of emotive rhetoric, it’s all too easy to unconsciously side-step into zealous moral superiority. Love requires humility, sometimes appropriately displayed by a silent mouth & an untouched keyboard… a lesson hard-learned & all too familiar to some of us.
But conviction sometimes asks us to have a voice, either for ourselves or for those who cannot be heard. When it does, may we always wrap our words in love so that those who receive them are enlarged & that the only victory won is mutual progress.
Enduring in love is the principle that when abandoned, causes untold misery, yet when pursued, brings immeasurable prosperity to all within its reach. Paul wrote it well to the Corinthians: “So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”
I know she lives in my community. I also know that she has children, and that her eyes are quite pretty. But that’s all I know about the mysterious lady from whose company I quickly departed with my daughters while attending a children’s music festival last Thursday. Hosted by our local university, there was a large cross-section of our multi-cultural community enjoying the gorgeous Spring weather & the celebratory atmosphere of the festival.
A week earlier, our country’s “terror alert” had been raised from medium to high: a terrorist attack is now likely. Add to this the fact that just the day before, anti-terror raids had been executed across several states in our country, taking a handful of people into custody, accused of plotting an awful random crime against an unsuspecting public.
Consequently, almost involuntarily I was operating on higher alert toward those in my community who might pose a random threat to me and to my family. I found myself surveying my fellow caffeinators, imagining what it might be like for one of them to randomly launch a knife at my neck & shout a loud declaration in honour of their fearsome god.
Distracted from my bleak imaginations by the long black suddenly bearing my name, I thanked the barista & moved to join my daughters in front of a nearby makeshift stage. A group of parents, students, and children milled around, being entertained by a group of enthusiastic, young singers. I quickly noticed one lady: covered head to toe in free-flowing clothing, her face veil betrayed only her bright brown eyes; she was difficult to overlook. Unsure of what to do with my own awkwardness about how to possibly interact with someone so closed off from the world around her, I made random glances in her direction without any intention of personal engagement.
My curiosity about her carefully hidden life was soon curtailed when she walked towards our location, placed a large black folder on the seat next to us, and then walked away with her family to another place altogether, completely out of sight. It seemed a little odd to me and before I knew it, my bleak imagination had returned & adrenaline saw me promptly moving my daughters to another location far away from the abandoned item before it could blow us to smithereens. I was quite suitably “alert, but not alarmed”, entirely unaware that the increased police presence on campus was indeed related to a bomb threat. As I later processed the bomb hoax by an imbecilic 19 year old, I couldn’t help but realize that I’m not alert; I am in fact alarmed. I am alarmed by a number of things, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not alone in some of them.
I am alarmed by extremists who lack any regard for life.
I am alarmed that I have allowed myself to see potential terrorists behind every Middle Eastern face, while conveniently ignoring the potential drunken terrorist behind the wheel of every vehicle.
I am alarmed by an ideology that believes a woman should be concealed under billowing swathes of unpractical clothing.
I am alarmed that I have allowed myself the right to disengage from her because I do not understand why she is wearing clothing that is so offensive to me.
I am alarmed by so many new Australians’ inability to speak English.
I am alarmed that I have allowed myself to sanctimoniously silently correct others’ misuse of the English language without reaching out to anyone around me to offer support from my position of educated privilege.
I am alarmed by the seeming increase of tribalism in Australia.
I am alarmed that I have not chosen to actively share my culture, having very few friends with ethnicity of difference to mine, ignorantly & subconsciously preferring to live securely in my middle-class white tribe.
There are a myriad of things in this world that alarm me; many of them are so atrocious, they are unspeakable. But what alarms me most is that I too quickly allow fear of others to move me, rather than reaching out beyond my safe, well-established tribe. I don’t know the woman from whose folder I ran at the music festival, but I have already made many judgments about her. Based on confronting world events, I fled from a fellow mother because I didn’t trust her, holding her instead under immediate suspicion. This is not how I want to live; as an active participant, this is not the world I envision. I want my life to be lived in such a way that both of our lives are enriched & improved. Yes I want my government to be strong & to protect its citizens, but the government will never know what life is like, for either that woman or me. And neither should it. Much of the responsibility for creating a stable, cohesive society does lie with our governments; but when it comes to co-existing together, advancing humanity together, really living life alongside one another, in community… that’s our individual responsibility, my responsibility, completely independent of our governments’ activities.
So in the future, I hope I choose to be alert.
Alert to hope.
Alert to diversity.
Alert to personhood.
Alert to shared struggle.
Alert to common delight.
Alert to love of my fellow man.
I want to be alert to living a life that reaches out to others, instead of simply conserving the little bit of awesomeness that I’ve been given to enjoy.
And if in living a life of generous spirit I meet my physical demise, I pray that those with whom I have engaged might know that, ultimately, it is only in losing the life we have that we find the life after which we desire.