Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Merry Christmas!" or, A Reflection on Meaning in Five Hashtags

I'm so glad that I have the time and energy to be writing on Christmas Day! I woke up this morning at my in-laws home in central Minnesota, after going to church and opening presents last night. At the end of a very tumultuous Advent, I am incredibly thankful for this Christmas Day... and to make up for my lack of focus during the Advent season, I am hoping that I might be able to make the most of the 12 day Christmas festival!

Anyway, my reason for writing today has more to do with the fact that I woke up and hit the Twittersphere to see what's out there. And I've found a few pretty awesome movements that I would like to share with you, my dear reader. There are also a couple of things that I found which I thought were quite curious. But as I'm looking over everything, I realize that it's always useful to ask that question: "What does this Christmas thing mean?"

1. #AdventWord
The first is from the Society of St. John the Evangelist (@SSJEWord)

SSJE has been posting one of these picture meditations every day through the Advent season. And while I was not able to post my own picture to participate with the global Advent calendar, I loved this as an alternative to the typical Advent calendar with its chocolates and paper doors. Most years, that just becomes a repository of stale chocolates for me, because I forget to open a door for a few days and then I don't want to catch up in one day and suffer the chocolate overload... But what this online movement has helped me to do this year is really reflect and participate with a community on a particular topic every day through Advent. The beauty of meditating on a single word and responding with an image is that there is so much diversity that can come out of it. And even on the days that I did not have the time or the ability to post my own picture, I had the ability to still reflect on what others had posted. So I think the beauty and meaning of this for me has been that awareness and sense of support through the season.

2. Christmas is...
The next thing I found on Twitter was something that I had absolutely no influence in (and I know, it's not actually a hashtag)... just simply something that I came across because someone I follow had retweeted it:
What followed was a long list of theological tweets that completed that statement. I didn't understand all of them, but I'll provide a selection of them here:
Like I said, this is just a selection of the tweets. There were plenty more. I have no idea who this guy is, but I found the tweets engaging and thought provoking. I enjoyed them enough and found them valuable enough that I wanted to share them. If anyone has any reflections or reactions to these, please let me know in the comments below!

3. #ChristmasMeans
This is something that has been trending all day. It's sponsored by the Church of England (which has a pretty impressive Twitter feed, actually) and it's a campaign that's pretty straightforward: what does Christmas mean to you?

So, of course, this is something that directly addresses that needling question in the back of my mind. For a while, the Occupy Advent movement has been working to increase awareness of the Church's tradition of preparation, penance, silence, and waiting that precede the 12 day feast of Christmas. But since there is increased awareness of Advent, where does that leave Christmas itself? Is it so simple that we need to "keep the 'Christ' in 'Christmas'?"

I know that many of you may have all kinds of answers to that musing question (and I invite you share your reflections in the comments section below) but I really like the route that the Church of England took on this one; they just turned around and asked the Church at large, they asked the people. Some of the posts with the #ChristmasMeans tag have been kinda mundane, but many of them are really thought provoking. Just as an example, Archbishop Justin Welby had a particularly thought-provoking one:

4. #Atheism meets #ChristmasMeans
This may be more like the third-and-one-half hashtag, but at any rate I to take this topic and move it in a different direction, so I'll share that I found this:
First, take a minute to read that first screen shot image, and then look at the Suspicious Fry meme if you want. What I want to say is nothing to the denigration of either Atheists or Christians, but to make a comment about respect and tolerance during the holiday season.

I'm saddened that there was so little effective communication and empathy between the man in the story and the flight attendant. I don't think we live in a society anymore where I, as a Christian, can assume that everyone I encounter in a day will respond to my seasonal greeting in kind. I also don't think that we live in a society where one person can walk around and take offense to people not being sensitive to his personal worldview. I think holding either of those attitudes keeps the person holding them in a very narrow experience of the world.

Speaking more specifically, I think it's great that December is a time when so many celebrations converge. There is Christmas and there is the celebration of the Winter Solstice (or Yule, depending on which group you belong to). Hanukkah usually falls somewhere in December (and yes, I know that Hanukkah is not the Jewish equivalent of Christmas). But there is also Kwanzaa, there is Pancha Ganapati (which I learned is a Hindu celebration that only happens in the U.S.), and Bodhi Day among Buddhists. Outside the religious realm, I wouldn't dare skip over HumanLight or Newtonmas. The point is that there is a huge variety of celebrations that happen during this time and I would love to see more people be proud of their celebration, eager to share it, and be graceful when someone declines that offer. There is so much opportunity for cultural pride and festivity, but it makes no sense to me why anyone would find it necessary to resort to aggressive tribalism and resentment. I would not be upset in the least if my meaning of Christmas needed to encompass the respect I have for other traditions, throughout the year.

5. A Tweet with some Humor
Reentering my own tradition, where I am a native, I also found this tweet as I look at what meaning others attribute to Christmas:
No matter what, I think that it is good to be able to laugh at yourself and your own stuff. So for my part, yes, I acknowledge that today we Christians celebrate Christ's birth... but looking at it from another way, why shouldn't there be a birthday party? I think there is meaning there... but I'm not quite sure what that is yet.

.  .  .

All in all, I think I will conclude where I began. Because, in the end, I think that Christmas means something has changed. And it's up to each of us to receive that as a part of our lives (hopefully it's a joyful change). So here is my response to the SSJE #AdventWord:

Yep. That's my wife. And me.

"The wise men made a long and arduous journey to come to Christ. We have only to open our hearts and put out our hands to receive him now."
-Br. Geoffrey Tristram