Category Archives: Christmas

Starbucks, Micropersecutions, and the Church’s Embrace of Victimhood.

I was listening to The Art of Manliness‘ podcast about microaggressions and the victimhood culture at the gym yesterday. Pretty fascinating stuff. I can’t really hide my contempt for the psychology that produces people who whine about every little thing that goes on because it makes them feel uncomfortable or “unsafe.” Suck it up and deal with it. Face your demons and grow into something stronger than they are.
Except, about forty minutes, it hits me: First world Christians are just as bad about this, assuming that we didn’t invent the stupid problem in the first place. Every time I turn around the American church is being “persecuted” in some new manner or another, and while I believe there are probably some genuine instances of it here and there, most of what we face is not a persecution per se. It’s inconvenience. It’s a stupid law. It’s a country that doesn’t share our values.
Now, I’m not saying we should stop trying to influence the culture, or that, say, we shouldn’t take the fight for our values personally, but man. No one has imprisoned my family members lately. No one has forced me to pay a tax, convert, or leave town because I’m Christian. No one has beheaded anyone I know in less than six degrees because I’m a Christian. The only Bible smuggling I know of is OUT of America and into other countries.
That red cup? That’s not the war on Christmas. That’s not a fight to remove the name of Jesus from our society. It’s minimalist design from a company that has nothing to do with the faith.
Guys. We really need to suck it up and start dealing with this. We are ridiculous. We are laughable. You want to talk about persecution? Remember how Saul hunted down Christians before he became one? Remember Rome, when Christians were fed to lions for fun? Remember the persecutions of Diocletian, which were bad enough they created a schism in the church? Remember how 21 men were lined up on a beach last year and beheaded because they were Christians?
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This persecution complex we have: STOP IT. What’s going on right now with this whole Starbucks cup thing tells me that we’re no better than the emotionally flimsy students at Oberlin who needed Play Doh and cookies to hide from a speech with uncomfortable and challenging thoughts. Churches are not and should not be “Safe spaces” where we can be protected from the big, scary world out there. Where we don’t have to think about it. Where our hurt feelings are soothed with flannelgraphs and ethically sourced charity coffees in cups that say JESUS on them because, you know. We love our Jesus.
But apparently our Jesus is so weak and pathetic that we have to protect him from micropersecutions. (I wish you could hear the contempt in my typing when I type “micropersecutions. It’s even worse than “microaggressions” and “trigger warnings.”) Dude died a terrible horrible death so that he could kick death in the junk and liberate humanity from death’s grip, but we have to make sure his name is on EVERYTHING, so let’s tell that barista that our name is “Merry Christmas” so that it’ll get a mention of Jesus in there! What does that accomplish, besides annoying the poor barista that probably just had an entire pastoral staff roll through and do the exact same thing? Doesn’t it strike you as taking the Lord’s name in vain? Just a little?
Are we not stronger than this? Braver than this? Can we not look a little bit of cultural ambivalence in the eye and say, “You don’t care about my faith. That’s cool. My faith cares about you. Why don’t you let me buy you a coffee and we’ll talk about it?”
Now. I have a paper that I should be writing, but I had to get this crap off my chest.

The Babylonian Captivity of the Human Race

One of the biggest difficulties in Christianity is understanding the events of the Bible in context. We– myself included– tend to apply our the Bible to our life situations willy nilly, without any real understanding of what was going on at the time.

Exhibit A:

	And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” 
Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

(Isaiah 6:8 ESV)

We love this verse. We use it to drum up support for the cause du jour and rarely ever stop to look at what God says in response to Isaiah’s willingness to take up his call:

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

	“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
	keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
	Make the heart of this people dull,
		and their ears heavy,
		and blind their eyes;
	lest they see with their eyes,
		and hear with their ears,
	and understand with their hearts,
		and turn and be healed.”

(Isaiah 6:9-10 ESV)

Isaiah’s call was to be ignored.  I’m not trying to be a downer here, but it illustrates my point: Context changes things. (And really, what better way to prove a point during Advent than Isaiah?)

For those of you not in the know, the Christmas season, according to the way churches have traditionally reckoned the year, does not actually begin until December 25th. For four weeks prior to that, we are in a season called Advent.

Growing up, I came from a church that didn’t follow that calendar, and I had no idea what Advent was. I knew that Advent meant the coming of something, and I knew that it meant I got to open a little door on a glittery calendar every day (or every third day, since I had to share with my sisters -_-) and procure a tiny little chunk of Christmas-themed chocolate.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Advent is the Lent to Christmas’s Easter. You don’t get a lot of people giving up something or fasting during Advent, but it’s a somber time. A low key time. While the rest of the world is singing “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” during December, churches that keep Advent won’t be singing those songs until Christmas day, typically. What you’ll find instead are songs that are more in keeping with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Listen to the song. It’s not really all that cheerful, despite the refrain of “Rejoice! Rejoice!”

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

We’re not rejoicing for a salvation accomplished in this song; we’re begging, pleading. We’re seeking our ransom.

The terrible, horrible thing about taking things out of context isn’t that we’re going to lose the fact that Isaiah was to spend the next few decades ignored, it’s that we lose the impact of the movement of God in history. All too frequently, we take the life of Jesus out of context, and understandably; it was 2,000 years ago, and “messiah” meant something very different to the people of God then.

Or did it?

Messianic expectations– the desire for liberation from oppressive foreign rule– really came to the Jewish people after Israel had been shattered into two separate kingdoms, Judah and Israel, and then stomped over by various foreign powers. Towards the beginning of the sixth century BC, Nebuchadnezzar dragged thousands of Jews out of their homeland to serve in Babylon. Eventually, The Persian Empire swallowed the Babylonians several decades later, and as it turned out, they weren’t terribly fond of slavery, so they let the Jews go home and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, though they were still beholden to Persian authority. In the fourth century, Alexander the Great came through and swept up everything in his path, including the Persian empire, and after his early death, his conquered lands were divided amongst his generals, the Diadochi, or “successors.” These generals became kings, and ruled their various lands, pretty much up until Rome became ascendant. The Maccabean freedom fighters managed to overthrow their Greek kings in the second century, but that freedom lasted for about a hundred years on the nose. Civil war broke out, and eventually got so terrible that the Jewish people actually invited Rome to come put an end to it. Rome did, although not quite in the way they wanted; they came through, conquered the place, violated the temple, and the independence of Israel was finished for the next 2,000 years.

O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

Look at that context. Can you imagine– the Israelites were the chosen people of God, meant to be the center of a theocracy that would be a just and holy rule over the world. Can you imagine having that expectation of divine rule shattered? Can you imagine being conquered again? Your temple, the holiest spot in the universe, because the Creator has deigned to dwell there, being profaned and violated? And God didn’t even bother to strike the general that marched into the Holy of Holies dead, as he did for merely touching the Ark of the covenant in the past?

Can you imagine how broken you would feel?

The reason why all this went down is because Israel couldn’t keep up their end of the bargain. They were supposed to be a shining beacon of justice and mercy in a world that was far more cruel and violent than the world we know today, but time and time again, they turned their back on God and his commandments until God plowed them under.

Which, really, is the story of humanity. We were supposed to walk with God, to live in community with him and with each other. We failed. We screwed up, and we turned our backs on God. The exile that Israel faced in Babylon, and the subsequent centuries of foreign rule, is an illustration of the human condition. Stupid decisions were made, and now we, like they, are under foreign rule.

Our place in the history of God’s creation is a little bit better than theirs. Our savior has come and gone and in his wake, things changed. But that change isn’t finished, and God’s redemptive story is still ongoing.  The world’s still broken, still waiting Emmanuel’s return and the final healing of the world.

The next time you hear “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” take a moment to really listen to it. To empathize. To look forward to the end of the Babylonian Captivity of Humanity.

O Come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

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