Let me state this right up front: My relationship with Christ has always been complicated.
Messed up, really.
I was born into an Orthodox Jewish family that was still very busy mourning the effects of World War II when I arrived on the scene in 1958. Christ was a complete stranger in our household, Christianity seen as nothing but a dark catalyst for terrifying world events.
My resulting relationship with Jesus is summed up in this story (from the book) called He Who Must Not Be Named:
…On the one hand He looked like a nice enough guy—His blond, blue-eyed portrait smiling down on my sleepovers at the neighbor kids’ house. And of course it was widely known that if you believed in Him, Santa brought you all kinds of magical swag on Christmas.
Yet He was also the reason I wasn’t allowed into some of the other kids’ houses. I was a dirty Jew, or so their mothers informed me, and Jesus wouldn’t like it if I spread those cooties around.
Meanwhile, school brought a whole different kind of challenge. I learned nothing at all about Christ or Christianity at home or in my Hebrew school studies, except that He was somehow associated with unspeakable evil, and so the name of Jesus was never to be uttered aloud.
“Why? What happens if you say it?” I figured it must be bad because nobody would ever tell me. Maybe saying Jesus’ name was what killed those six million Jews?
This was back in the day when public school kids were routinely made to sing religious songs, so for these occasions I was forced to adopt a weird sort of ventriloquist’s dummy approach:
Wag-wag(soundlessly my jaw moved up and down)
Loves me, yes I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Does it seem insane to you that anyone would teach a child to equate Jesus with Voldemort?
Well, you’re probably right about that. But cultural context is everything.
The Jews who taught these lessons were not the slightest bit nefarious in their intentions. Just scared. Traumatized. And deeply worried that their bacon cheeseburger-loving American offspring were in danger of forgetting recent cataclysmic history.
Now fast-forward several decades to our post 9-11 world, and that 2007 story about the Muslim Mickey Mouse with his own TV show. And we think: How could anyone be so evil? And are they insane, using Mickey to teach children to hate and murder?
Well, yeah. They’ve already proven they’re at least a little insane, if only by ignoring the global reach of Disney’s fearsome legal team.
But the very embodiment of evil? I’m gonna go out on a limb here to say: I don’t think so. I think maybe they’re just wounded citizens of a deeply damaged world, trying to pass their belief system on to their kids.
So. Back to the meaning of Christmas. (Or maybe it’s the meaning of Christ that I’m really after.) It’s taken me a half-century to undo all that well-intentioned cultural conditioning from my early years. But I don’t regret any of it, because that outsider status has allowed me to approach the subject with fresh eyesight.
For what it’s worth, here’s what I think:
There’s no such thing as pure evil. There are only degrees of damage and desperately misguided ways of coping with it.
And let’s face it, we’re all at least a little damaged and a little misguided.
So my personal practice – all year long, but especially now during the Christmas season – is to overlook the damage and the mistakes as best I can, and try to see only the Oneness and perfection that lie deep within each person. I’ve been told (and see no reason to disbelieve) that everybody who’s ever lived is equally perfect and worthy of unconditional love. So, what the hey, I’m giving it my best shot.
Do I slip and forget? Constantly. That’s why they call it a practice. But on the days when I manage it, I’m enveloped in peace and joy and a sense of…holiness, really, that feels like warm cocoa wrapped in a cashmere blanket. Or something like that. To be honest there are no words to describe the feeling, except to say it’s real good.
So I think that’s the meaning of Christmas. Joy. Oneness. Letting the world off the hook for its collective “sins.” From that guy in the SUV who steals my parking spot at the mall (dammit, he SAW me waiting), to the Muslim Mickey who teaches hatred to yet another generation of children.
I’m hoping to let a whole lot more people off the hook as the season progresses.
Because practice makes perfect, you know?