- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
'tis the Season
All I want for Christmas…
Most Christians—and all who celebrate the shop-til-you-drop version of Christmas—are in the final week of hubbub and to-do lists before the big day where Santa drops through the chimney with a bag full of plastic toys made of toxic petro-chemicals that were imported from China. Is that a tad too cynical? As the holiday season is upon us and folks celebrate (which I, too, enjoy) by generously giving to their favorite charities, baking homemade treats for neighbors, sipping eggnog with family, making foolish decisions at the work holiday party, my thoughts—as a Catholic Worker—inevitably turn to peace.
“What do you want for Christmas?” asks my mother. “World Peace.” I’ve made the joke so many times that it is no longer funny—was it ever? Nonetheless, I slug through the commercialized, state/religious-authority approved versions of Jesus that bear no reference to the poor, to social justice, or to the radical teachings of sharing, inclusivity, and nonviolence that the “Prince of Peace” spoke. “Nothing political,” my mother warns me before any family dinner. Each year, my immediate family gathers with our friends of over 20 years from across the street for games, drinks and a Christmas skit. The Olzen family script is in the works but I’ll give a little teaser for this year’s theme: “Occupy North Pole.” Again my mother forewarns as her eyes settle squarely on me, “but we don’t want to get too political.”
While Easter is, theologically speaking, the most important holy day for the Christian church, it probably enjoys more public specter around Christmas as it has deep roots in American consumer culture. Still, many people will head to church on Christmas who may not any other day of the year. Church leadership, choosing not to alienate its congregations, will steer clear of anything resembling close to a political statement. Christmas Mass—for Catholics—will predictably be a sing-song of beautiful carols and elaborately decorated altars and nativities. We will be urged to give thanks for what we have. Pray for what we don’t have and asked to be generous to our less fortunate neighbors. So long as decorum is kept, controversy kept at bay, and sides are not drawn, it will be a good Christmas… and totally misses the point about Jesus, Christianity, and the state of society.
Lines have been drawn and tipping points reached. The economy continues to falter, the cost of living goes up, social support networks disappear, and war spending, environmental costs, and corporate profits skyrocket. As Occupy Wall Street seeks sanctuary, somewhat controversially, at Trinity Wall Street—an episcopal church—I wonder at how long most churches can avoid the politics of economic, environmental, and social justice? Of course, this is not a new pondering as tomes, dissertations and Glenn Beck have tackled the issue in a myriad of ways. But this Christmas seems different. The politics are different. The possibilities are different. World peace is more than a Christmas wish. There are U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq. There are glimmers of hope—US negotiations with Taliban, a 2014 deadline to end the occupation—that the Afghan war has an end in sight. And where are the churches preaching that good news, even if it is not perfect?
During the civil rights movement, churches—particularly African American ones under the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)—played a significant role not just in raising awareness but in organizing and training people in nonviolent activism. To be sure, there are plenty of churches involved in nonviolent struggle today. The Sanctuary movement of the 1980s was largely a Christian church movement and many of those churches are now leaders in immigrant rights work. St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. has long opened its door to activists descending on the nation’s capital for protest. Programs like JustFaith and Advent Conspiracy are trying to get Christian church people connected to social justice and get them involved in social action both globally and locally. It is a good thing and powerfully transforms people’s lives, but there is a little bit of Dickens’ Scrooge in me. I want more. I think we can do better.
So what do I want for Christmas… besides a new soil thermometer? All I want for Christmas is for churches to become the agents and leaders for social change that their creeds profess. All I want for Christmas is for Christians to choose to nonviolently struggle for the love, justice and peace that their faith in Jesus promises. All I want for Christmas is that the 1 percent leadership of political, economic, and religious institutions make the choices that work for all—and that the 99 percent will help them do it through creative and courageous nonviolent action. This Christmas, I want ordinary folks to realize that there is no Christmas without the elves; that Santa relies on their cooperation to make it happen. It is because of the elves—through their hard work, their obedience, and their adherence to the status quo—that Santa gets the milk and cookies. Where are our milk and cookies this Christmas? Well, I guess it’s time to get organized, to get trained. With the late Howard Zinn reminding us “that we can’t be neutral on a moving train,” it’s time for the churches to get moving.
- Editor's note: This story first posted December 20, 2011, on WagingNonVioilence.org
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
For some reason, a letter from the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation was characterized as having been received by NBC News, as if it were some sort of privileged communication. In fact, the thing was a press release and rather obviously designed to change the conversation about the Heritage Foundation from trying to defend the indefensible "study" of Hispanic intellectual insufficiency to food stamps, a real two-fer issue. Two-fer in the sense of being offensive on two fronts since the dollars doled out represent a subsidy to industrial agriculture, even as they serve to remind the indigent that, if they're Read on →
A few years back, Columbia public relations guru Bud Ferillo made a film about several economically distressed counties that he dubbed the “Corridor of Shame.” This area, which stretched along Interstate 95 in South Carolina from Dillon County to Jasper County, got a lot of attention when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama toured an old Dillon middle school in the run-up to the 2008 election. But did you ever wonder whether South Carolina’s Corridor of Shame was an anomaly -- or whether something similar was happening on the other sides of our state borders? Unfortunately, similar conditions continue, extending north to Tidewater Virginia and curving Read on →
I had an interesting morning yesterday at the Free Clinic. Once a week I’m a Spanish interpreter in an organization supported by over 400 volunteers who give a few hours a week of their particular expertise in a smoothly run team. We cater for patients with chronic conditions needing regular medication, having no access to health insurance. Yesterday we met a new patient who is deaf and mute since birth. We took her through her eligibility interview with a social worker, then a nurse took her health history, followed by a doctor's consultation and a laboratory test. In the seven years I Read on →
When I sat in that old church built in the Gothic style surrounded by the music that the organist was playing, I was thankful to be in such a peaceful setting, far away in body and spirit from the violence that holds so many lives hostage in this world of cruelty and tumult. In a church where people pray for peace, forgiveness and love--all of which seem so lacking in our world--I wonder at times how we manage to reconcile what we wish the world were like and how it actually is. Sitting there in such a calm and safe spot, Read on →