It never surprises me when people get agitated in Seattle. It is by far the most caffeinated city in America and it makes sense that sometimes that coffee buzz leads to silliness. A recent “crisis” in the Emerald City has been averted by the rare combination of communication, common sense, and cooperation. What a concept.
If you missed the story a huge uproar occurred when the officials at Seatac International Airport decided to enact the adult version of “taking your football and going home”. When asked by a local rabbi to include a menorah along with the airport holiday decorations the port officials deferred, fearing a precedent would be set that any and all religious or cultural symbols would have to be displayed. Then the rabbi made it known that a lawsuit was a possibility. So the airport authority apparently hired the overnight moving company that spirited the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis and removed the Christmas trees while we were sleeping. A story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted that this was not the intent of the rabbi.
Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, who made his request weeks ago, said he was appalled by the decision. He had hired a lawyer and threatened to sue if the Port of Seattle didn’t add the menorah next to the trees, which had been festooned with red ribbons and bows. “Everyone should have their spirit of the holiday. For many people the trees are the spirit of the holidays, and adding a menorah adds light to the season,” said Bogomilsky, who works in Seattle at the regional headquarters for Chabad Lubavitch, a Jewish education foundation.
Rabbi Bogomilsky defused the situation by withdrawing the lawsuit option and the trees were again returned to the airport. I salute the rabbi for his gesture that allowed the Christmas trees to be returned. I believe him that he never desired to have the trees removed and that he merely wanted to add the menorah lights. But there is a darker side to this story that plagues the legitimate attempt to defend cultural traditions like Christmas decorations.
That darker side is the hateful, ugly, ungraceful communication of angry Christians (and non-Christians) when issues like this arise. For my purposes, I am only taking Christians to the biblical woodshed. The reason for our little trip is this quote from the Associated Press that simply breaks my heart.
The rabbi had received “all kinds of calls and emails,” many of them “odious,” Bogomilsky’s lawyer Harvey Grad said, adding he was “trying to figure out how this is consistent with the spirit of Christmas.”
I can help the rabbi with this one. It is not consistent with the spirit of Christmas. And that is what I fear the most in the battle for Christmas. We, as followers of Christ, must demonstrate that spirit if we are true to our faith. The quote from Mohandas Gandhi has troubled me for years because of it’s gut level honesty. Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Ouch. And guilty.
When we are unlike our Christ we lose the message of Christmas even if we get trees back up in an airport. This December many of us will read the Christmas story without really understanding the meaning of it.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2 KJV
Christians believe that the baby born that day was a Saviour, Christ the Lord. By believing that He is Messiah we are called to represent Him not only in truth but also in spirit. And that brings me to the title of this post. As part of our strategy for the war on Christmas I would challenge every follower of Jesus to memorize the following passage. Print it out, place it on your computer monitor, put it by the phone, or make it your screensaver. When an “odious” call or email is made by a Christian or one who claims that title it does damage and I believe it grieves our Lord. Here is the verse that all of us need to write across our hearts.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin” Ephesians 4 NIV
It is okay to be angry and speak truthfully to your neighbor but it is not okay to be ugly and meanspirited. In your anger do not sin. In practical terms that means some or all of the following ideas…
- Never hit the send button on an email written while you are angry. Wait, pray, reread, and pray again before even thinking about hitting the send button.
- Ask a mature Christian friend (preferably one without a dog in the hunt…that is Texan for emotional involvement) to read your email to see if it communicates truth gracefully
- Do not ever call anyone names or accuse them of motives that you can’t honestly know.
- Lay out your argument in a gentle but firm way, never shirking truth, but also never forgetting that you are representing the Lord Jesus Christ
- Ask if this letter, email, or conversation is glorifying to God or would you be embarrassed if God were present (important safety tip…He is)
- If you ignore all of the above be humble enough to repent and then repair any damage your anger might have caused
In your anger do not sin. Remember that when cultural clashes or even congregational clashes occur. Jesus did not say that He came that we may have discord and frustration. In the Gospel of John the Lord says that, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”. In my simple little world anger and bitterness are not part of an abundant life. How about yours?