Jewish heritage and blood are my forefathers’ “gifts” to me.  Calling me a Jew and assuming I’m about all things Hanukkah, however, would be as unwise as deciding – because a tomato is classified a “fruit” – to shove it into a fruit salad.  Knowledge is understanding a tomato’s scientific classification as a fruit; wisdom is knowing better than to ever mix it in a fruit salad.  Trust me, I tried once…it sucks.  If you want to mess with your taste buds, be my guest.  Otherwise, just don’t do it.

Raised in a Roman Catholic household – by a mother who wielded Catholic guilt like a rapier, and a father cheated of his Jewish heritage – childhood was my basic training for a life of misery.  I overcame that stigma – not by rebelling (though I did plenty of that…nearly to my demise) – but by learning to embrace the essential lessons taught by an itinerant Jewish rabbi two-thousand years ago in Roman-occupied Judea.  That embrace has been tenuous at best, compelling me to wrestle with a base human instinct: confirmation bias
That bias was on full display in my brain one evening last week, when – after cantoring a mass celebrating the Immaculate Conception of a pregnant-of-out-wedlock Hebrew girl from that same occupied Judea -- I was driving home.  That drive – thirty-eight miles on mostly dark and winding rural roads – gave me opportunity to observe Christmas lights.  One after another house or ranch would light the living shit out of their structures…presumably, to signal good intentions as Christian followers of that aforementioned rabbi.  The topical decorations of this “season of light” were on full display – some, rivaling Clark Griswold’s electrical grid-sucking bombast.  In other cases, it was clear that less could, indeed, be more when the objects involved snowmen, reindeer, sleighs, and the ubiquitous Santa Claus. 
Driving leisurely along the countryside, I spotted the silhouettes of long-horn steers grazing in fields lit by festive lights.  Suddenly, I glimpsed, out the corner of my eyes, a sight of what appeared to be – far off in the pasture – a manger scene.  In that moment, I was moved.  How precious, I thought, that someone actually understands and isn’t afraid to proudly display the seemingly now-taboo Christian element of Christ’s birth…fabled shepherds and kings scaling the hillsides to find a shitty little stable sheltering, for the night, the Savior of the World.
Cruising along, hoping against hope that I’d find other similar scenes depicted across the countryside, I began to despair.  Home after home portrayed the usual secular suspects:  a bearded fat man lugging a bag of toys; a reindeer with an exceptional sinus infection; elves showering toys galore upon those little girls and boys…as if they weren’t already showered to excess.  In that moment of hopeful clarity, I realized:  I MUST return to the scene of that manger, gorgeously illumined in blues, reds, and greens.  I’d travelled at least eight miles since that glorious sight, and needed to just fill my soul once more.  It would sustain me, blot out my skepticism, and enable my rapture in the glory of God, borne out by somebody’s faith.
Back I sojourned, mile upon mile, anticipation building with every curve in the road, hill I climbed, and bridge I scaled until, at last – in the distance – I spied it far off.  Same colorful pattern, steers grazing near the road…beckoned me to drive just a little further, to pay my respects to the memory of a child in a manger.  Finally, approaching the scene, set off the road at a distance of thirty yards, I saw the hideous vision before me…
Reindeer…candy canes…elves…and that jolly fatman, lugging a bagful of festive crap across the pasture!  That which I had thought was the Christ child was some stupid poinsettia!  The wisemen…?  Candy canes!  Mary and Joseph...?  Goofy-looking elves!   And there he was…the triumphant messiah of merchandising:  Fatman…and his merry band of obscene elves!  The reality of it sliced me to the core:  I, too, was a victim of confirmation bias!
We see what we want to see.  We believe what we wish to be true, based upon programming.  That programming can violate us in several ways.  In today’s politically toxic environment, we decide – based upon our own biases – to watch twenty-four-hour news channels, filled with talking heads that demonize the “other” among us.  Why…?  Because there’s money to be made off our gullibility.  Think about it…how many erectile dysfunction commercials will you endure in an evening of Fox or CNN…?  We let it wash over us like a tsunami, and hold our brains hostage until we recite the seductive mantras:

  • Immigrants are lazy and a blight upon us
  • All cops suck, and police departments should be defunded
  • COVID is a hoax
  • All Muslims want Christians converted or dead
  • The last election was “stolen”
  • Global warming is fake news
  • “Put the Christ back in Christmas”

The list goes on and on.  Facebook caters to such hysteria, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum…because there’s money to be made on all sides, as long as rage prevails.  Twitter has now become a safe haven for Taliban and ISIS, flocking there to spread their hatred.
Recently, my wife and I watched again, for the nth time, the Christmas movie classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  As my soul cried, watching the trials and tribulations of George Bailey, struggling against the worst capitalistic urges of the greedy Mr. Potter, I thought about all humans, over the centuries, who’ve been demonized for daring to expand inclusion of “others” who are different from us.  Indeed, if we only see the world through the eyes of Mr. Potter, we see the world as a zero-sum gain:  in order for me to win, you must lose.  That is PRECISELY what Jesus came to change in us:  this profound impulse to exclude those who don’t meet our definition of “worthy.” 
Thus, it has been -- for more than twenty centuries – a struggle against our most base instincts to exclude other humans from living with and among us, even as their own view of the world is informed by their upbringing – just as ours was – in a culture that may vary greatly from our own.  George Bailey dared to vocalize to ‘Clarence,’ the angel, the foreboding notion: “Clarence, sometimes I think it would have been better had I never been born.”
I understand that emotion when I see us bickering and slinging epithets, accusations and gossip against our brothers and sisters – ALL our brothers and sisters, of every persuasion on this planet.  We are all we’ve got, in a world that is screaming at the top of its singed lungs for us to stop abusing it…and one another.  Don’t take my word for it:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/12/14/climate-change-arctic-antarctic-poles/
To all my Christian friends and family, if you REALLY want to put the “Christ” back in Christmas, here are my humble suggestions…which I, too, must follow:

  1. Stop demonizing the “other” on Facebook and Twitter.  Bitching solves NOTHING!
  2. Tell EVERYONE – especially those different from you – “Merry Christmas!”
  3. Offer strangers kindness.  We’re already different enough.  Make them feel welcome to sit next to you; converse with them; exchange ideas.  Be willing to tell them all the “crazy” stuff you believe…about a virgin birth; miracles that changed people’s lives; the state-sponsored assassination of that once-helpless infant in the manger…and His ultimate resurrection.  That outta blow their minds!   And while you’re at it, bless them…with kindness, with generous spirit, and a willingness to suspend judgement.

Digital photography magic:  HJ McEnroe

​Christians, you really want to influence and change people’s minds…?  Change your hearts.  Be courageous.  Be peaceful.  Be empathetic and patient with the new immigrant that misses their homeland.  Once upon a time, our ancestors did, too.  Be better than your base instinct.  Be Christlike. 
THAT – and nothing but that – will put the Christ back in Christmas.

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