The annual quest for meaning

I went to church for the first time in a year or so tonight.

Maybe I’ve been taking the whole French thing too seriously and I’m turning into a French Catholic who only attends at Christmas and Easter.

My relationship with church attendance is weird. Like a lot of people I went as a kid because it was obligatory in my family. Then, after high school, I was all over the place. Sometimes I was in chapel three or four times a week, sometimes I didn’t go at all as I became increasingly cynical about my institution of higher learning.

Since then, it’s been pretty dry for me. Whenever I do find myself in church, I’m incredibly self-conscious about what I’m doing there; I usually spend half of the church service trying to think of reasons to give if anyone asks me why I’m there. What if they ask to see my baptism card? What if they try to make me go to their young adults group? Where’s the nearest window I can jump out of if I need to?

Oh, and another thing: I’ve changed denominations. Ish. Kinda… sorta.

After having had enough of suburbans megachurches over the first 20 years of my life, when I do go to church now, it’s been at either Reformed Churches in France (not quite the same as the American CRC) or Episcopalian churches here in the U.S. (I still can’t spell Episcopalian, Alissa.)

You know what? There’s already enough sparkle and glitter on the TV and at the shopping mall this time of the year, I don’t need any more when I go to church. I don’t particularly want an overdone Christmas drama with thousands of lights and tear-jerking stories. There’s already enough noise.

I went to a service tonight at the Episcotheque down the road from me (there’s a story behind that) and the service probably would have been far too dull for most people. There were only about twenty people in the room. There wasn’t even any singing.

This time of the year I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a Christian and, you know what? When you start to think about a god who deigned to lower itself not just to the level of a mortal, but to the level of a homeless person, a marginalized Jewish man living on the fringes of the Roman Empire, you start to wonder what he would think about a bunch of white, privileged folks getting together in their nicest clothes on a Sunday morning. Every church has it’s own problems and there is no perfect denomination, but having spent 20 years in evangelical megachurches, I can’t fathom going back. This time of the year in particular, though, I can’t help but think of all the extraneous things that we associate with Christmas and, you know what? Most of them aren’t intrinsically bad or wrong – definitely not immoral or anything like that.

On this, the first night of advent, I wonder why we so often prioritize these extraneous things over what the gospel is really about. The gospel is GOOD NEWS, and not just GOOD NEWS but GOOD NEWS delivered to the poor, the oppressed, to agricultural workers on the fringes of the empire.

Why aren’t we taking the GOOD NEWS to the fringes of the American empire? Instead, we use our money to support the empire. We go out on Black Friday and buy loads of shit that’s going to be out of date within six months or broken or forgotten.

Sure, maybe, just maybe we’ll donate a meal to an underprivileged family. That’s really great – I think you should do this. Donate two if you can.

But we need a fundamental change in the way that we celebrate Christmas.

I’m not suggesting anything but that you try to figure this out for yourself.

For me, that means that I’m trying to attend as many advent services as I can.

I’m buying my loved ones gifts, I can’t lie. But I’m trying to give preference to supporting local businesses by doing things like purchasing gift cards from local restaurants or buying gifts on Main St rather than at the mall.

And I’m particularly inspired by Cory Booker living on food stamps for a week. I’d like to try to do that as soon as I can find a meaningful way of being able to participate – maybe it won’t be until after Christmas. I’m not sure.

Like I said, I’m trying to figure this out and I’ve been trying to figure it out for a while so I’m writing about it, not to make myself look better, but to help myself figure it out and maybe encourage anyone else out there who is living in the empire and trying to figure out an ethical way of participating in this holiday season.



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2 responses to “The annual quest for meaning

  1. Hey Joel I’m twitter friends with @episcotheque on twitter [I’m @sophiakris], which is where I saw your post. I work for the United Methodist Church and one thing we’re encouraging folks to do is “reclaim” Christmas. We’re hoping this call will get folks to rethink the Christmas celebration in the same ways you are–more simply, more presence, celebrating relationships and supporting those causes that are already doing great work. Here’s a little promo video we did try and synthesize all of this:


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