What If There Is More Than One Reason For The Season?
The way we respond to the commercialisation of Christmas often says more about us than it does about the commercial culture itself. Those who want to share their faith will use the opportunity. Those like to pick fights will fight. Those who want to explain the true meanings behind the symbolism will do so. Those […]
The way we respond to the commercialisation of Christmas often says more about us than it does about the commercial culture itself.
Those who want to share their faith will use the opportunity. Those like to pick fights will fight. Those who want to explain the true meanings behind the symbolism will do so. Those who just want to run and hide when reality doesn’t shape up to their ideological image of perfection will scope out the perfect bit of sand to bury their heads in.
Year on year, for the last decade, I’ve found people ever more receptive to hearing about Christmas (and learning about Advent) in ways that transcends consumerism. I This year, with the financial troubles, it will be even more prevalent. We shouldn’t underestimate how deeply and seriously a lot of people are thinking right now about what matters to them in life.
I’ve loved the Simpsons ever since I saw the shorts on the Tracy Ullman show. Animated comedy is a great way to approach cultural criticism and The Simpsons always do it well. Like a lot of people, I’ve drawn to the way the show portrays Christians, Christian themes and the Christmas season.
There are obvious Christian characters like Ned Flanders and Revered Lovejoy. There are also deep spiritual crises faced by the family themselves, especially Bart and Homer. But, there’s one character that has increasingly become, for me, symbolic of contemporary evangelical Christianity. Jeff Albertson, or as we all know him better, Comic Book Guy.
You know him, revelling in his arcane language, expertness of fictional worlds and complex rules about conventions and fandom. He’s prone to ask complex and detailed questions about obscure topics, to mock the limited knowledge or passion of those who know less than he does about comics and sci-fi and to prefer being right and alone, to being accommodating and sociable. Oh, and he is not a little bit socially dysfunctional and prone to spending too much time online
“Last night’s ‘Itchy and Scratchy Show’ was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured, I was on the internet within minutes, registering my disgust throughout the world.”
What’s interesting about Comic Book Guy’s relationship to society is that he is very culturally aware and in a way scholarly. But, he is only willing to participate on his own terms. Unless the discourse is perfect and rarified he “will not partake of it, lest it sully his expertise,” as we might imagine him saying in that weirdly King Jamesian inflection he uses. Comic Book Guy doesn’t put his amassed knowledge behind any effort to educate, to grow the appreciation of his passion past a narrow clique or to even enjoy when people show an interest in his cultural treasures. Instead, he stoops to condescend.
Doesn’t the church often do the same thing at Christmas? Rather than delight in the proximity to our message, we criticise and cast derision. Rather than welcome people’s fumbling attempts to articulate their understanding of the season, we jump in brazenly to correct and “teach” the “true” meaning of the Christmas.
But, what if we just accept that Christmas functions on a number of different levels? What if held back a little on the tendency to regulate every level of Christmas, as if the etymology of the word somehow gave us alone the privileged to use it?
I’m not saying that we dilute our own understanding of Christmas – either it’s place in the liturgical calendar or its theological significance. I’m just asking that we think a little more hospitably about the place we fill in the broader culture at this time.
Imagine Christmas as being like a giant bookstore, with a range of books; some serious, some populist, some trashy, some noble. Every book is a “Christmas” book though, of course, not every book is equal. People are browsing and choosing, talking and comparing. It’s an active and buzzing place – most people are not sure why they are there, but they are trying to make sense of it and trying to have a little fun. Do we really want to be hanging out in the comics section, chugging a slurpy and passing judgement on the people who “don’t get it?”