Not that Kind of Baptist

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in Advent

Mary, Christmas, and Merry Christmas

          I am fascinated by the drama around saying or not saying, “Merry Christmas.”  Who knew it would become a line in the sand or a platform plank.  Obviously, it is a touchy subject.   

While pondering Christmas scriptures this week, I wondered, “WWMD…What would Mary Do?”

Luke 1 heralds the virgin Mary as a “favored one.”  Gabriel, the angel, says God abides with her.  Then, when Gabriel leaves, Mary says, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.” 

In both the church’s scriptures and in the church’s stories, Mary is the epitome of humility.  She is modest, we assume.  Unpretentious.  The opposite of arrogant.  Above all else, a “servant of the Lord.” 

As a White American Christian, I rather enjoy my built-in privileged life.  I am so used to it, I don’t even notice it.  It is as natural and as invisible as breath.  I will say what I want, to whom I want.  Amen.

But, Mary would not.  She counterweights my haughty assumptions.  She would not manipulate an encounter at a Kroger’s cash register willfully asserting anything.  She was not born on third base with culture on her side. 

If she weighed in on this issue, I wouldn’t be surprised if she said, “Be careful with Merry Christmas. It can come across as unchristian.”   

That was a shocking thought.  But it got worse as I researched the Pilgrims.  The founding fathers of our American faith.  The spiritual mothers of the Mayflower Compact.  These religious, pious, Christian Pilgrims did not wish anyone a “Merry Christmas.”  Admittedly, they weren’t merry in general; but, they believed the celebration of Christmas was one of the commercialized sins of the Anglican Church from whom they separated.   Governor William Bradford insisted that Christmas Day 1621 be entirely a work day in Plymouth!  (Though he did allow a few complainers to take some of the day off, “until they were better informed.”) 

All this to say, I myself will be saying Merry Christmas frequently.  I will say it in the Narthex and say it in the sanctuary.  I will say it to every NDBC member I meet.  I will say it to everyone who first says it to me.

And I will say it to strangers…but with strangers, I will rarely use words. 

Have you heard that quotation from an early church father: “Peach the Gospel.  Preach the Gospel.  Preach the Gospel.  And if necessary, use words.”  

 I will try to do that this season.  While thinking, Merry Christmas, I will try to be gracious with a smile.  I will try to be respectful.  I will try not to impose or be rude or presumptive.  I will try to be kind; maybe even loving. 

And I will think of Mother Mary who did not use her “favored” status to leverage any situation.  Her lofty goal was to be lowly servant of the Lord. 

WWMD?  She’d say, “Be humble…especially during the Holy Seasons…and the message will come across.”

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in Racism

Pastoral Reflections By James Lamkin “Symptoms, Systems, and Spirituality…a Reflection on Charlottesville”

          God!  I’m using the word God as a prayer, not an expletive.  In fact, God, is a complete sentence.  In saying God, I am confessing…as in, “God is God and I am not.” I am beseeching…as in, “God do something!”   And, I am questioning…as in, “God, are you paying attention?”

            These are all prayers; but none are original with me.  I plagiarized them…right out of The Psalms.   These ancient psalmists poetically wrestled God, worshipped God, walked with God, whined to God, and wondered about God. 

            Though Charlottesville is nowhere near Babylon…the biblical writers experienced the same kind of acute cruelty, chronic racism, and senseless death that visited that city last weekend.  The psalmists, too, were taunted. “Sing a song of Zion, sing a song of Zion,” they heard from their captors (Psalm 137).  It sounded like, “Jews will not replace us.”  And all hung their harps and wept. 

            Plenty has been said about the Charlottesville tragedy.  Need there be more, you ask? 

            For me, reaction is easy; and silence is even easier.  But spiritual reflection is hard.  Maybe it is more like refraction…like a prism separating light into its component pieces.       

            In my opinion, Charlottesville is a symptom.  It’s like walking into the doctor’s office saying, “Doc, I’m jaundiced!  Can you give me some lotion to rub on my skin?”  I may be wanting the doc to try a drugstore shelf full of ointments and creams.  But, this approach is only topical.  Any doc worth her or his salt, would also check my liver.  Without treating the liver’s systemic failure, no salve on my skin will save me. 

What I’m saying is: racism is more than skin deep.  It goes to the bone.  Our racial identity informs our relationships; and our culture informs our racial identity.  That is the system.  For me, this system requires confession, repentance, forgiveness, patience, and practice.  And love.  It takes a lot of loving and looking to acknowledge the glass walls and ceilings that centuries of sin have polished. 

  As long as there will be human beings, I believe there will be racism.  It seems to be a seminal piece of the human story.  But, not only that, it particularly is true of the American story.   The early Explorers’ ships brought back effusive tales of discovery.  And, sadly, slave ships quickly followed the same maps.   

I greatly grieve Charlottesville.  But, I try to think beyond this case study, symptom, and local outcropping of racism.   I want to keep working on the big picture.

  If you want to read further about this, here are two offerings from two authors I admire.  Jim Wallis wrote: America’s Original Sin.  And Robert Jones (a former NDBC member) wrote The End of White Christian America.

I suspect these books may be frightening; but they may also help us see the invisible glass.  And more than that, they may help us see the resourcefulness of our relentless God.  And after all, God! is a complete sentence.    

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