Santa Claus, the Great Lie at the heart of the American Dream, is symbolic of what’s wrong with America. Children are told, If you’re nice and do what you’re told, you’ll get the gift you want. But if you’re naughty and act outside the norm, good luck. As adults, we learn: if you want a gift or a card, you have to give one. Xmas love is a transaction.
The hypocrisy is boundless. You meet up with relatives you ignore or detest throughout the year and act nice. You obey rules that prohibit authenticity, like “no politics.” You smile and joke and tell stories and go home thinking, Well, that wasn’t too bad.
The season is defined by shopping. After the Church co-opted St. Nick to seduce the masses, Nick has returned the favor with a vengeance. The celebration of the birth of Jesus has become an orgy of selfish materialism. WIIFM, the Internet acronym for What’s In It For Me, sums up modern life. It’s the mantra that complements the lie that both Michelle Obama and Melania Trump tell children: You can grow up to be whatever you want to be. The corollary to that deception is: you get what you deserve.
All that socializing contradicts the teachings of Jesus, who said:
- Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
- What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
- Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.
As Bob Dylan said, These days “not much is really sacred.”
When times are tough, I turn for guidance and inspiration to Howard Thurman’s classic book, Jesus and the Disinherited. No wonder Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. carried it with him when he traveled. It’s a wonderful self-help manual for activists!
- [The] universality that makes all class and race distinctions impertinent…,
- …the simple practice of brotherhood…[with which we] treat others…as human beings,
- …the human family [in which each stands] in immediate candidacy for the profoundest fellowship, understanding, and love…, and each person meets the other where he is.
Concerning noxious collaborators with oppressors like tax collectors, he says, “To love them means to recognize some deep respect and reverence for their persons,” though “to love them does not mean to condone their way of life.”
Even with the Roman conquerors, Thurman insisted, “To love the Roman meant first of all to lift him out of the general classification of enemy. The Roman had to emerge as a person…”
For Thurman, the starting point is:
The underprivileged must himself be status free…. Love is possible only between two freed spirits…. There cannot be too great insistence on the point that we are here dealing with a discipline, a method, a technique, as over against some form of wishful thinking or simple desiring…. Such a technique may be found in the attitude of respect for personality.
Does love require “ignoring the fact” that the other has a particular status? Thurman answers:
Hardly. For lack of a better term, an ‘unscrambling’ process is required. [Otherwise] the ultimate fate of the relationship seems to be in the hands of the wider social context. It is necessary, therefore, for the privileged and the underprivileged to work on the common environment for the purpose of providing normal experiences of fellowship…. This cannot be discovered in a vacuum or in a series of artificial or hypothetical relationships. It has to be in a real situation, natural, free.
That perspective reminds me of Buber: As individuals, we can be available for an I-Thou encounter, but for it to happen, it must be mutual.
These reflections lead me to conclude:
- If one fully embraces love, that compassion automatically leads to opposing racism, classism, sexism, and other similar forms of oppression.
- Without being blind to color, class, gender, and the other specific characteristics of the unique person we encounter, we can set aside those labels, which are drilled into us by society, and be ready to relate heart-to-heart.
- When we express our deepest beliefs, it is not necessary to spell out specific examples, such as instances of racism and sexism, that clarify what we affirm, though doing so can help clarify our meaning.
- One can fully recognize specific instances of oppression while at the same time seeing them as examples of broader systemic oppression: the urge to climb the social ladder.
- All of this requires many-sided awareness, the ability to see reality from various points of view simultaneously, rather than embracing dogma and ideology.
So, on this Christmas Day, 2016, I ignore Xmas and appreciate what I have learned from Jesus: Without crucifixion there is no resurrection. Or, as Bob said, he not busy being born is busy dying.
I would rather participate in a community that celebrates the Solstice.