One of the (many) perks of ‘staying at home’ with small children during the week has to be the Saturday Amnesty. In fact, we vary rarely stay at home, actually; we hit the parks, museums, clubs and centres like nobody’s business, and any shopping that I’m allowed to do (See The Trouble With a Good Husband!) gets done midweek. That way, I can avoid these places like the plague when the world, his wife and their little worldletts are all out there too. Winner!
However… Last Saturday, Husband and I had a stroke of madness. We decided to get the train to the biggest city nearby; visit the famous Christmas attraction; split off for a little Christmas shopping and then head down to our favourite family food chain for tea.
I now understand why some people, (and especially the ones working in retail), loathe this ‘joyful season.’ Honestly. We queued round the block for the attraction; and then braved the horrors of the department store toy floor in an attempt to find a baby change. The crowds closed in and the chorus rang out; “Put that down! I want that! You’ll get nothing if you don’t pack it in!” Upon successful nappy replacement, we split off for half an hour. I made the mistake of pushing the pram down an alley of Christmas markets and got well and truly stuck. Thankfully; as I attempted to reverse away from the overwhelming onslaught of grumpy human traffic; the toe that I trod on belonged to dear Husband. I turned to see him there; like a smiling, bag-free knight in menswear; exhaling with relief as he maneuvered us free.
“Abort, abort, abort!”
Now, with the decision to never take our kids shopping on a Saturday in December ever again, we brace ourselves for Christmas week in our little city. Popular, for some reason, with the bigger-city dwellers, the place gets overrun from Friday onward, with work “nights out” that start around lunchtime. Venturing out, even in the afternoon, usually means walking around pools of sick and piles of take-away (not always easy to tell the difference!); and maneuvering the preschool-mobile around the drunken crowds, smoking with banter and bravado, outside the corner pub.
But hey, you know… its Christmas, right?!
But… it’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? That the traditional season of generosity and kindness; the celebration of “good news of great joy to all mankind”; should have become so characterised by greed, stress and excess. So, as I look at worried faces, frantically ticking off their Christmas lists; and hear stories of parents spending more than our year’s food bill spoiling their precious offspring; and as I bemoan the cost of stamps, for the cards I swore I wouldn’t post this time… I find myself insisting, there must be more than this.
But then I have to ask… what exactly is the alternative? Where is this good news of long ago, and is it really great joy for all of us?
See, besides the grumpy shoppers and the lunchtime revelers, there’s another uncomfortable experience to be had in town; and that’s a quick walk past the “evangelist” with the cardboard sign, Brexit T-Shirt and disapproving glare upon his face. Now, whilst I enjoy a good old dose of public condemnation as much as the next person; recently, it really got to me. See, I had been excited about Jesus. I’d just finished a period of prayer and fasting in which I had rediscovered, (for the umpteenth time, in a round-the-houses type of way), that, you know, it’s actually all about Him… (Y’think?!) And, as such, I was genuinely enthusiastic about dusting off the Gospel stories and getting to know Him afresh. But that guy really put me off. And I panicked. Seriously; I got home to Husband and I cried; real crisis tears.
“What am I going to do?! We are heading out to Curacy in 6 months time… to “do church” for the rest of our lives… and I just don’t think I’m actually a Christian!”
Husband, (who is used to such ridiculous scenes from a wife who fasts one minute and swears herself to hell the next), raised his eyebrows. “Is this because of that Wednesday?” (I.e. that Wednesday in which said wife had discovered that her post-breastfeeding alcohol limit was a lot lower than it used to be; (even when disguised as Katy Perry); and had declared to a room full of young students that the cupcake hanging off her boob with sellotape was, in fact, “what happens when you have children“…).
“Look,” He sighed, “yes you had too much. And yes, you wanted to have sex in the back garden. But don’t worry, I said no and no one else noticed… just move on!”
Errr…. no. Actually. Ahem…
I explained about the man on the bridge. Husband scoffed and said that everyone knows he’s just bullying. I pushed on; but my problem isn’t his style though; my problem is that I don’t think I believe it. Again he comes back; that’s because it isn’t true. Seriously? Well, does it sound like Jesus to you? I think for a minute; it sounds like Christianity...
And so, he gives me this book. This book he says he reads and intends to reread at the end of his degree. You know, when three years of ologies and isms have complicated the faith right out of him and he needs to remember how to understand- and communicate to real people- the very simple message of Jesus. Jesus; the man who defied the religious and rebelled against hypocrisy; the one who taught in moral riddles; who healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the sinners. The one who turned tables in passionate protest against religious and political oppression; the one who said he was from God, and was the way to God. The one who gave his life for anyone who wanted to be forgiven and to follow Him; and the one who returned, after declaring “it is finished.”
The book is called Speaking of Jesus, by Carl Medearis, and has one very simple premise: quit defending Christianity; and concentrate on Jesus. Christianity, he suggests, has so much bad blood; so much negative history; both religious and political. You could use the term “Christian” to describe all sorts of things… and very few of them would have much to do with Jesus. Strip it back (he sort of says; I’ll paraphrase!). Stop focussing on and talking about church, and traditions, and doctrine, and things you can’t even agree upon among yourselves… stop bullying people into your version of events; your branch of The Club… stop pretending you have all the answers! In fact, stop telling yourself you need to have all the answers… if Jesus is the answer, get to know Him; introduce people to Him and He will do the rest. You are not the judge or jury… you are called to be witnesses… nothing more, nothing less.
Controversial… but oh so freeing!
I think of all the times I am afraid to speak of my faith in case someone asks me any of the questions that I struggle with myself. I worry about mentioning Jesus, in case someone has had a bad run-in with a Christian before, and I somehow have to explain it. I worry about fully committing, even now, because I don’t know all of the answers. How refreshing then, to think that actually, its OK to say I don’t know? How humbling then, to realise that actually, I am not the way to God.
I am simply one who believes that Jesus is…
and I’m trying to follow Him.
How did we get there?
Oh yeah… my answer to the ugly side of Christmas…
My End of Year Resolution is to dust off those stories anyway, and to go right back to the start. To find out more about Him; the one whom it was once all about…
See, the world might be weary of Christianity; but I do believe that Jesus is the thrill of hope in which this weary world could rejoice. (You know, if only they could see the wood, for all us flipping trees!)
Merry Christmas 🙂 God Bless you, one and all. xxx