About Neal

An expressive writer, talker, rapper, and kazoo player; passionate about the expression of wisdom, love, sports, and grace in today’s world.

A Tale of Two Christmases

A myth can be a fable or even a lie. And a myth can also be a story or history with religious truth.

As we seek to find the “meaning of Christmas”, we must be clear. Two Christmases exist; each with its own meaning myth.

So, it is important to clarify which Christmas we are celebrating.

In a well-documented 24-hour span a large number of Americans went from expressing their gratitude and bragging about their (over-)consumption of food to waiting in line to snag the deals that will help make room on the shelves for the next of newest and greatest consumerist gods.

While some eat and merrily drink, many others are feeling starved for justice. This Thanksgiving, the CDC estimates that 32,105 will be absent from the Christmas dinner table due to gun-related deaths and in painful contrast, shooter-impersonation video games Far Cry, Assasin’s Creed, Halo, and Call of Duty sold a combined 2,062,760 units THIS WEEK ALONE.

Walmart is discounting their gun selection 20% as a part of their Black Friday sales. Meanwhile, minority communities and those that are alarmed by the lack of justice surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford and so many more unarmed citizens are given plenty of reason to reconsider Black Friday and exactly it might mean of being a black citizen under less-than-equal protection of the law.

Because it is.

In Dell deChant’s book, The Sacred Santa, deChant points out that American consumerism has become its own religion, complete with sacred myths, rituals, and holidays – none bigger than Christmas. Santa Clause and Jesus Christ are not competing demi-Gods despite what Fox News says, instead they are manifestations of two different religions.

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This Advent, America is preparing for two different Christmases. As Christians, we shouldn’t waste our time worrying about which phrase store clerks use to greet their customers and much more energy being conscious of which Advent narrative we are allowing to drive our lives this Christmas season.

Because one narrative will dominate the headlines and saturate our screens while another has the power to speak to the embittered, the infuriated, and those that are desperately seeking, waiting, and working for hope.

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Today, in churches around the world, Christians celebrate Hope Sunday and for those that are waiting for justice, peace, and joy, Hope Sunday comes right on time.

Hope Sunday marks the beginning of a narrative that reminds us that God’s movement that changed the world happened in the dark of night. Hope Sunday marks a journey where God was present not just to the Wise Men and the wealthy but to the poor, the jobless, the undocumented, and the marginalized. Hope Sunday reminds us that when humanity was stumbling and grasping for light, God reached out to humankind in the form of a tiny infant.

While a Black Friday boycott organized in response to the grand jury’s decision to not indict Darren Wilson is reported to have led to an 11% drop in post-Thanksgiving spending, it is also reported that more people shopped on Black Friday than voted in the midterm elections.

This suggests to me that the myth of consumerism is more believable than the Myth that begins the Christian narrative.

But we have the power to influence and perpetuate the truth of whatever Christmas we choose to celebrate. It is time to boldly claim the Christmas that brought power into the margins, light into the darkness, and hope to the abandoned.

Because never before have we so desperately needed the power of Christmas.

And never before have we so desperately needed hope.

Whole World

 

Islamophobia in Such a Time as This

Islamophobia is perpetuated daily in our news cycles, “Christian” dialogues, and everyday conversations. To remain silent on this issue is as hypocritical as it is unchristian.

In political rhetoric and irresponsible news fodder Islam has been associated been blamed as the root of terrorism and Muslims have been made the threat to American Christianity.

ISIS and its potential 31,500 soldiers have been portrayed as being representative of the 1.6 billion Muslims across the world. Christian’s should recognize this injustice and heed Jesus’ words to notice the logs in our own eyes before we become consumed in with the speck in our neighbor’s eyes. (Matthew 7)

ISIS represents .001% of the Muslim population. Christians have enough housekeeping to do within a much greater percentage than .001% to allow our Muslim brothers and sisters to be unfairly represented by this extreme example.

Where there are groups of people, so too there are issues with misrepresentation. Christianity has been linked to bombings, mass violence, lynching and much more. And even on a smaller less significant scale, Christians should be well aware that we face a perception issue as the result of misinterpretation:

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But working and listening towards a more complete understanding of Islam is not the nice think to do, it is the Christian thing to do.

We cannot simultaneously believe that God exists in all of creation and continue minimize or ignore what the Muslim faith experience can offer towards a better understanding of God. We cannot live out our greatest commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves while we not fighting against the stereotypes and lies that are being perpetuated against our brother and sisters.

Christians need to work to push the conversation forward.

While Christians should be seeking collaboration and conversation with Muslims, a greater percentage than .001% of Christians seem to be in denial of Islamic existence. A lack of expressed disapproval of the protests against Muslim prayer in the National Cathedral suggests Christians are choosing to remain silent.

For this reason, I applaud Pope Francis for participating in “Muslim” prayer during his recent trip to Turkey.

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It’s time for you and I to start making faithful displays of solidarity alongside our Islamic brothers and sisters and it might mean that it is time to start getting to KNOW our brothers and sisters. Let us heed the words of wisdom from the book of Esther:

“For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (4:14)

Christians need to start working for, fighting for, and embracing that all of humanity shares a sacred bond as God’s creation.

Perhaps no human bond is more sacred than the one shared through prayer. Let us start there. God knows, we could use all the prayer we could get

For such a time as this.

What do you think? How can you and your church work past Islamophobia towards more fruitful sacred relationships?

 

Yes, There’s a War On Women, and it is All Around Us

It amazes me that people can continue to deny there is a ‘war on women’ when it is all around us. Wars include threat, injury and death, and that is what happens to women every day.

But denial runs high.

Bill Cosby has still not had to face charges of rape, and the female victim’s reports were ignored for several years until it was brought up by a male comedian., Our daily news (or the crap that runs rampant through social media) is filled with stories of physical, domestic, emotional, and sexual violence against women.

One thing that really helps hide the ‘war on women’ is how women’s bodies are totally objectified. Think about Kim Kardashian and Chelsea Handler “breaking” the internet by feuding over their butts.

We see images in selfies and fashion magazines that indicate that while the war on women wages on, we continue to lose every subliminal battle too.

Contrast this objectification and invitation to violence with how Jesus of Nazareth treated women. Early Christian feminists wrote about how “Jesus was a feminist,” and they were right. It was Jesus who reached across cultural norms to quench the spiritual thirst of the Woman at the Well. It was Jesus who refused to accept the the woman at his feet as the sexual object that she was made out to be.

Jesus sets the standard for our lives, including how men need to value women and girls as equal human beings created in the image of God.

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From the moment that I learned that my first child would be a girl, I knew that I was receiving an extra privilege and an extra responsibility – an extra responsibility because young women need to be taught and empowered to defeat the system that has been structured against them. What I did not expect, some 2.5 years later, was to already be fighting that battle.

I recently found out that I am going to have a son, and I ignorantly asked my wife, “How much of our daughter’s clothes could not be used again for our son – what’s the difference?”

In researching that question, I have realized that the difference between boys and girls clothing – even at size 2T – is more than just colors and accents. It is also a difference in clothing measurements that suggest differences in body type and/or fashion preferences.

At Target, the hemlines around the crotch are significantly higher for “girl’s” toddler shorts than for boys.

This is a shocking example of how young girls are when their bodies begin to be objectified.

When we open our eyes to what is really going on, we must admit that the difference between clothing for young boys and clothing for young girls the difference is not a matter of fashion, it is a matter of sexualization.

Lingerie store, Victoria’s Secret, has begun marketing a line of thongs and panties towards tweens and teens. As we market cosmetic products like make-up for young kids, we are teaching them not only to develop an image based on their bodies but also to begin to hide the blemishes that threaten that image.

My daughter is perfectly content running around in a diaper, I know that her sense of fashion will be just as much as it will be instinctual. If we are not more outspoken about the images, messages, and products that smother our girls their sexuality will not be forced and nor will it be developed. It will be imposed.

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We fathers We Christians must admit and atone for the fact that we have been absent soldiers of defense in the war on women. Unlike Jesus did in his own time, we have either ignored or perpetuated violence against the women in our communities.

Unless we make a stand against the sexualized images that control our phones, computers screens, television screens and fashion catalogs, we are no less guilty than Lot as we subject our daughters to forced sexualization.

And it starts in their toddler where a healthy sense of self is far more important than a sexist sense of fashion.