Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A search for the true meaning of Christmas

It seems almost cliche now for somebody to discover the true meaning of Christmas. After all, we see George Bailey and Ebenezer Scrooge and even the Grinch all find the true meaning of Christmas every year on our televisions while we unwrap our toys and feast in excess.

Early in December I came to understand and accept that I am an atheist. I wondered how this Christmas be different – a Christmas without Jesus. I wanted to tell everybody how Jesus’ birth was just an amalgamation of various solar deities, many of whom predate the New Testament and share a birthday with Jesus. I wanted to tell everybody how Jesus is really just a Santa for adults; how wreaths, Yule logs, and even Christmas trees are from pagan traditions, and are actually condemned by the Bible. I wanted to send out “Axle tilt is the reason for the season” greeting cards. No matter how much I wanted Jesus, or Santa, to be real it would not change the reality that they are both just myths.

The “War on Christmas” flared up again this year, with TV commentators blasting those who want to place displays to other (or no) religions and holidays alongside Christian displays. Pastors railed against those who wish others “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” It all became rather silly as I found myself standing in a Bed, Bath, & Beyond, watching the shoppers endlessly circling the parking lot, rushing in and filling their carts with useless trinkets and devices. Many people would soon exchange gift cards to the same big box stores with each other. “Hmmm” I thought, glancing over at a display. “This lemon zester cost over three days wages in much of the world, and this onion slicer cost almost a month’s salary.” How did we get to this point from celebrating a birthday that was heralded as bringing “peace, goodwill to men” – a person whose life taught us to serve the poor and needy, and love the outcast and alien?

The more I thought about the holiday season, the more I thought about the people in my community. I found out about a local ministry, Clothe Charlotte, was undertaking an ambitious project – collect and distribute sets of winter hats, gloves, and coats for every homeless person in the city. Assisting the homeless and needy in my city is something important to me. I worked to promote Clothe Charlotte and participated in the collection, sorting, and distribution of sets of winter clothes for the homeless. Clothe Charlotte was sponsored by Kinetic Church. It was refreshing to see a church so dedicated to a service project – one that focuses on the “honey” of doing “unto the least of these” rather than focusing on the “vinegar” of handing out tracts and evangelizing, especially when the news features stories of churches kicking out homeless ministries because they didn’t pray and sit through a sermon before eating.

We sorted and packed sets of winter clothes at Freedom Park, and despite the light drizzle spirits were high. I delivered a car load of clothes to CUP Ministry – one of many shelters and ministries throughout the city to receive clothes. As car after car pulled in loaded with winter clothes, the minister clapped his hands loudly as his stood on the back porch of the house-turned-food pantry.

Helping Clothe Charlotte was one of my best holiday memories in years. The holiday season is all about light in the darkness, love in the cold, and taking time from our busy lives to do good in the world. Don’t allow the sectarian and political bickering take focus away from the universal ideals of peace, love, family, and community. Whether we’re Christian, Jewish, or atheist – whether we celebrate Christmas, Winter Solstice, or Festivus – we can all join in the goodwill spirit of season and join together in helping our neighbors.

An introduction to Clothe Charlotte:

Clothe Charlotte '08 from Kinetic Church on Vimeo.

My Flickr slideshow of Clothe Charlotte:

A video of Clothe Charlotte that features several of my photos:

ClotheCLT from ClotheCharlotte on Vimeo.

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