Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is there a time to take Christ OUT of Christmas?

I had a great time reading to 2nd graders today at one of our local elementary schools. A group of us from work volunteered to read to students after lunch. We chose our books from a pile in the library, pre-selected by the school. I grabbed a book that looked fun and was written by Mem Fox. I love Mem Fox and this was a new one to me. Any kids' book that has 'wombat' in the title is for me. 

I wished I had flipped through the book before I made my choice, however. 

Dear little wombat was now old enough to have a part in the nativity play. He was either too big, too tall, too small, or too sleepy to be the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, a Wise Man, or the innkeeper. He was finally chosen to be the baby Jesus. All's well that ends well.

I felt very uneasy reading this story to a group of school children in their classroom. I know, I am overly sensitive to this. There were several different ways of seeing this story. All the Christian children who know the story of the birth of Jesus could relate. All the children who may not be Christian may have felt like no one ever comes to read books for their religious holidays.  And the one little boy in the front who asked, "Who is Joseph?" completely confirmed for me that in school, it's okay for it to be a completely secular holiday celebration. 

I know this seems very strange to say, but there are times when I'd like to take Christ OUT of Christmas.  The birth of Jesus has nothing to do with sales at the malls, buying someone a Lexus, or a fabulous chunk of jewelry - exhilarating as it may be. It has nothing to do with cookies, bows, cards, drinks parties, and the like. It really has nothing to do with Santa Claus, but you can kind of see how we learn to pray in our Dear God/Santa...please give me everything that I want sort of way..

Until August of this year, I spent 16 months in a paid staff role as a Christian Education coordinator for my local church. I love sharing the wonderful stories of the bible, telling of the amazing people who have shaped our faith, the lessons to be learned from all this great history and how God still speaks to us today. Let's just say I was out of my comfort zone in a public school with children, save two whom I have taught in Sunday School, whom I did not know if they a) celebrated the real story of Christmas, b) celebrated a completely secular Christmas, c) observed other faith traditions, or d) did not celebrate Christmas at all. 

Yes, I know that I was the only one in the room who was uncomfortable. I'm grateful for the nudge of the Spirit who let me know that making assumptions is never the best way forward. I'll read again, with my Santa hat on, at school next year. But I'll be certain to pre-screen my selection first... 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Middle School

What an awkward age middle school is... I'm showing my age to call it "junior high." But in 7th and 8th grade, that's what it is to me, "junior high." It's that weird place in between. 

Tonight we attended the 7th and 8th grade winter concert at the high school. It won't be long before we'll be attending high school programs at the high school. In 7th grade, a girl in tights and Mary Janes will stand in front of a young woman in an adult dress, hose, and pumps. In 7th grade, boys will stand at five feet tall next to a young man of 5'8". And they are all the same age. 

The shyness of some of these young people is painful to watch. Each one of them feels as though everyone is looking directly at them and as a member of the audience, I almost want to look away. It doesn't seem so bad with the band, they have music to look at, they aren't looking out at us. But the choirs, their focus is their director in front of the ENTIRE auditorium filled with parents, siblings, and grandparents. They sing so well, but their shyness keeps them from singing. They were barely audible and I know 90 percent of the grandparents did not hear a single note they sang. Bless their hearts. 

I loved junior high, but I also know what a stressful and difficult time it is for those who are about to be teenagers. Is that how young I really was in 7th grade? I thought I was becoming so grown up. I wanted to be an adult at that age, but I was still just a girl in hose and pumps.

As I looked at them, I had this urge to tell my 12 year old self that it really did get better and life was different in ways I could never have imagined then. I wanted to tell my 12 year old self that I really wasn't as big as I thought I was at that age and I'd LOVE to be that size now. I'd tell myself that as we age, we care less and less about how other people think of us. We begin to own our sense of style. Those are things I want those beautiful, awkward, young women to know, and to borrow a phrase, to tell them that it does get better.