No Crib For A Bed

I’ve just been decorating the Christmas tree. It’s a ritual. Of course, it’s all artificial; in a box. Fifty weeks of the year it sits on a shelf in the bedroom closet, in two pieces, wrapped away with its 15-watt star and a bevy of glittery, hanging things.

Part of that ritual includes dusting off another item buried at the back of a cupboard since last January. Out comes the CD of Christmas music by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and onto the player it goes, soon to perfume the living room with glorious trebles, rich baritones, and those piquant soprano warblings so characteristic of ‘Kings’.

Every year at this time I ask myself the same question. Why do I so adore this rich, melodic, religious music with its poignant lyrics, even though I have no doubt the stories they portray are, at best, fable?

The answer is not difficult to fathom.

As a young boy I loved musicals. One of my favorites was, “Carousel”. Ever since that time so long ago, the music of “Carousel” has held a special affection in my heart, yet Rogers and Hammerstein wrote musical fiction, didn’t they?

It doesn’t have to be true to be enjoyed, and the King’s College choir provide the added charm of evoking memories of Christmases long gone.

“Carousel” was a charming fairy tale, and so is the story of Christmas. A child, born in poverty in a manger, growing up to realize the problems in his world and teaching us how best to overcome them; through love and fellowship; recognizing everyone as our neighbor, even the poor, the lame, the leper.

Most will be aware of the reports this week from Colorado, of a man refused a bed for the night at a Christian Mission, who shot dead two workers and wounded two others. It immediately raised the thought in my mind, “Hmm, no room at the inn.”

It came unbidden, but I let it linger because, while the circumstances may in reality have had little to do with the Biblical story, Denver is a town that enjoys great wealth, and wealth is a magnet for so-called “Christian” Super-churches.

Sure enough, only hours later the New Life “Super-church” in Colorado Springs came under fire from the same man. This time his luck ran out and he was shot dead by a church security guard.

I wonder how many others, besides the writer, find this whole sordid story distasteful in the extreme?

You see, I can’t get that phrase out of my head: “There was no room at the inn.”

It’s not just that the gunman was turned away. In all likelihood he would have opened fire even if he’d been allowed in. Besides, they probably didn’t have a spare manger.

According to reports, the shooter had a grudge against Christians. I don’t condone that, but I can understand it. At least, so far as the Christians of New Life Church, Colorado Springs, are concerned.

Sadly, the gunman got it wrong. These are not Christians at all. Like many of the religious sects prevalent in America today, they’ve simply hijacked the name to cover up what they are really all about.

The New Life Church has security guards with guns. Jesus would not have approved of that. No, don’t try to convince me otherwise. I know he’d not have been happy with the idea, which is strange because I’m not even a Christian.

And you see, if I – a pagan – know that about Jesus, and the New Life Church of Colorado Springs doesn’t, it stands to reason they can be no more “Christian” than I am. In fact, probably less so.

Pastor Brady Boyd of the New Life Church, Colorado Springs, said after the shooting:

“Our prayers right now are for the people that were injured and their families.”

No prayers for the gunman, or his family, it seems.

Compare that to the truly Christian Amish community of Pennsylvania who, in October 2006, lost a number of their children to a schoolroom shooting. Their immediate reaction was to pray for the killer, and offer help and solace to his wife and family.

Now Jesus would have approved of that.

The “super-churches” of America, run by marketing associations and making $millions for the few in charge at the top, have nothing whatever to do with Jesus of Nazareth, or the religion that spawned from his name; a name that has been ‘taken in vain’; a mere tool for making money.

Perhaps that’s what the gunman was so upset about? We’ll probably never know.

Fables originated as wisdom passed down by word of mouth. As stories, it helped to make them more easily remembered in the time before paper or printing press. Those fables in the Bible don’t end with the Christmas nativity stories. They go on to describe a man who obviously loved and cared for his fellow beings. He only once resorted to violence, when he became so angry and frustrated that the temple of his God was being used for common money-making and marketing by those charged with its care. In a fit of indignation, he drove the priests and marketeers out, whipping and forcing them into the streets.:

“My Father’s house is a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

It’s easy to visualize Jesus taking a similar stance with the New Life Church of Colorado Springs. Today, they’d almost certainly shoot him.

One doesn’t have to be a god to be outraged at corruption. The wealthy gain their riches off the backs of the poor. The American government could teach the Pharisees and Sadducees a thing or two about bleeding the lower classes. It isn’t hard to imagine John Adams, or Benjamin Franklyn, or Thomas Jefferson, striding into Congress with a bullwhip and chasing out the money-grabbing, corpulent, toads:

“This is our American people’s House of Government, but you have turned it into a degenerates den of corruption!”

No, one doesn’t have to be a god, or even believe in a god, to recognize love conquers hate, compassion overcomes prejudice, and our neighbor isn’t just the guy in the house next door.

Unfortunately, calling yourself a Christian doesn’t guarantee recognizing any of those things. Though if you don’t, you’re simply a hypocrite. Probably as much a hypocrite as the “Christians” who fill their houses with firearms and vote unerringly for Republican politicians who believe assault rifles make great Christmas gifts.

Thankfully, I don’t have that cross to bear. I may not believe Jesus of Nazareth was the son of a god, but I can understand and accept the concept, “Thou shalt not kill.”

On the occasions I fail to fully measure up to the words of Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammad, or any of the other great teachers, I can console myself that, after all, I’m only a lowly member of the human species, who enjoys Christmas carols for what they truly are: heavenly music made by magical, earthly, voices.

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9 Replies to “No Crib For A Bed”

  1. A very insightful piece, RJ. Thank you.

    Many churches in the area where we live do resemble businesses. I think they also offer a chance for people to socialise, in towns where there’s not much else in the way of communal activity. There’s a mixture of positive and negative messages I get from it all, but I feel very much an outsider.

    We don’t have a Christmas tree, but I do put a few seasonally ornamental, glittery doo-dads around the room for Christmas-time. This year, as I did so, I asked myself why, when I don’t believe in the basis of it all. Yet, like you, I do believe in the message within it. “Peace on Earth. Goodwill to All Men.” That alone is a wish worth celebrating for a few days every year. And the music connected with the season is so nostalgic – it’s hard not to be caught in the magic of it.

  2. Great piece, RJA – and this, I believe, was the church founded by the notorious King of the Hypocrites himself, Ted Haggard, using the hard won contributions of his congregation to finance his expensive sex life.
    I celebrate Solstice and like yourself do haul out the old carolling CDs and the old movies but broke the spell of my Catholic brainwashing many moons ago. I can actually enjoy all the wonderful old liturgical music today. Like opera.

  3. I have a tree, too. We light and decorate it, and string lights in the yard. But…it is a winter solstice celebration. The tree and lights mean rebirth to me.

  4. Uncanny, RJ. What was it I said so recently? Great minds? Carousel? I LOVE it. My all time favourite.

    Just take a look at the date I posted this.

    As for Christmas, I enjoyed it until my early twenties. From there on, for me it was bah, bah, humbug all the way.

    Then, three years ago I began to enjoy it again. Since that’s when the missus & me started going to an (inexpensive) hotel for our 4/5 day Christmas break.

    No stocking up with so much scoff that we couldn’t possible ever eat. Not before half of it went off, anyway. No slaving away in the kitchen for hours on end, for Rhona. No extra cash splashed out for aforementioned (now unneeded), scoff No washing, clearing and cleaning up afterwards. No unwelcome ‘surprise’ visitors. We’re the one’s being waited on, instead of us doing the waiting on. Loads of live entertainment. Like minded company of (99%) those of our own era.

    And, the dosh we save by not going nuts at home pays for, at least, half the cost of our Christmas break.

    As for the ‘holiday’ itself, I’m all for the ‘message’, but all against the organised, hypocritical religious and commercial exploitation.

  5. Flimsy – yes, Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” is based in Colorado Springs.

    Twilight – you’re right, the message is worth believing. And it’s that message from whence the magic comes. Nothing metaphysical, just the sheer magic of human beings living for a short time without fear of each other, feeling each others love. That was the magic Jesus of Nazareth brought to the world. He was no “god”. He didn’t need to be.

    WWW – the very same. Good old gay-basher Ted, who turned out to be bashing his very own devils. I wonder how many of his congregation realize the true celebration they call Christmas is the Solstice. I’d guess, not many. Every day I pass a Baptist church with a sign outside that reads, “Jesus is the reason for Christmas”. That’s just one more thing they got wrong.

    Jerry – the Solstice is a much more sensible celebration, and more meaningful than the traditional Christian holiday. Did you know old Wenceslas was originally Wenceslaus, a Bohemian duke (now Czechoslovakia) who lived around the 10th century. He was eventually murdered by some friends, in the pay of his younger brother who wanted, and got, his throne.

    It is a grand old carol, though.

    TOB – now THAT’S spooky! And I’ll bet you were just as much in love with Shirley Jones as I was. Those videos brought a tear or two to the eye. Watching the first one, it struck me how films of that era were mostly tales of love and romance, with a touch of adventure. Now, all we get is violence, blood, and gore. It doesn’t say much for us, does it? Maybe that’s the true reason Christmas lacks much of the magic of times gone by.

    I’ve considered going to a hotel for Christmas, but my wife won’t budge. She says she likes Christmas at home. Mind, I can’t blame her. I do all the cooking! 😉

  6. I didn’t know the poor sod was assassinated, but, yes, for me it expresses “good will toward men,” which, in any religion including agnostic, must be the heart.

  7. Jerry – yes, it’s a sad little story. Apparently, his pagan mother had her Christian mother-in-law strangled, presumably because she wanted to ingratiate herself with the still-pagan nobility. Still, in the tradition of “good will to men” and all that, the church later raised Wenceslaus and his grandmother (Ludmilla) to sainthood. 😉

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