Full disclosure: I was raised Methodist and I believe that our household never neglected the true spirit and meaning of this season of celebration. With that established, I’m concerned that 2010 was a year in which we may have drifted seriously in our respect for that spirit. Christians may argue that the Lord is always, in some way, testing us. But I think this was the year that we really tested him. At least, we tested his patience.
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35). In August, a man was verbally abused because he was believed to be a muslim boy a crowd demonstrating against plans to build a mosque near New York’s Ground Zero. See, he was wearing a hat similar to that worn by Muslim men. People in the crowd called him a coward. The man responded that he did not practice Islam, and he was later identified as a carpenter called “Kenny.” He was eventually saved from an escalation in the taunting by the intervention of two men.
Yeah, well, come on… that’s a crowd of stirred-up New Yorkers. It’s not like rational people, people who want to lead our nation — Hold it, I’m checking… Yes, Newt Gingrich, who is rumored to be looking at a run in 2012, came out against the mosque in New York; Sarah Palin voiced concern on Twitter, and lug nut and failed New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino threatened to use eminent domain to stop construction of the mosque. Sorry, Lord. We were saddened at these reactions, especially since “Kenny” was a carpenter just like you.
“For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy.” (Ecclesiastes 2:26) Pastor Terry Jones had a vision this year. He looked into the tiny black box of his soul and saw a fire… stoked with burning copies of the Koran. Somehow, a tasteless act of persecution would “honor” the anniversary of Sept. 11 2001. Jones, a 58 year-old former hotel manager in Gainesville, Fla. told ABC News at one point that he believed that “Jesus would not run around burning books. But he would burn this one.” (Why is it always Florida?) Jones cut a striking figure for the media, teed-up perfectly by former hotel managers, uh, I mean expert public relations specialists: A neatly trimmed crew cut and kind of bad-guy-on-“The Wild Wild West” moustache complemented the pistol he legally (again, Florida…) carried on his hip.
Jones eventually backed down but not before embarrassing America before the world, potentially motivating the enemies of our men and women fighting in wars to retaliate, and making the leadership of some churches in the southern parts of our nation once again appear populated with hacks and carnies. I would add that this event also did little to bolster faith in our so-called “news” media, as Jones’ smallish church became its own Ground Zero for satellite TV trucks for about two weeks. Some wonderful stories of Christian folk actually doing things to help their brothers and sisters likely went ignored during all that. Once again, Lord, our apologies.
“That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence…” (Philippians 1:9-11). The state of Kentucky announced it would give generous tax incentives to a group of entrepreneurs who plan to construct a full-size replica of Noah’s ark, load it with animals and actors, and make it the centerpiece of a Bible-based tourist attraction called Ark Encounter. The whole idea is to create jobs, maybe as many as 900 of them, as the park is estimated to draw 1.6 million guests in its first year. Of course, all that’s based on the hope that once the ark is built there is no actual flooding. Yet there has already been a flood of another sort: Constitutional experts are being vocal over whether government backing for an enterprise that promotes religion violates the First Amendment’s requirement of separation of church and state.
And then there’s the dimension of whether a biblical tourist attraction of this scale (the park around the ark will include a 100-foot Tower of Babel, a first-century Middle Eastern village and a journey through the Old Testament, with special effects depicting Moses, the 10 plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea) causes the state of Kentucky to be making some sort of statement on creationism. As far as the statement the park makes on good taste and restraint, again Lord… we can only say that we are sorry on behalf of the good people of Kentucky.
Of course 2010 included the new tradition of folks fighting over the use of the “Happy Holidays” in place of “Merry Christmas” since that seems to invoke, uh, well, you’re aware of the problem I’m sure. Since I feel I have little or no power over such things as knee-jerk (or leave out the knee part…) reactions to mosque blueprints and the tasteless vapidity of burning religious books and selling corn dogs at a Bible park, let me throw a pitch on this holiday nomenclature thing. What if we called this time of the year “The Festival of Chinese Lights” since they’re now the country where all of our Christmas decorations come from…? While there’s a disconnect between the songs and symbols of the season and the often disappointing human rights record of China, this new angle might help neutralize the language argument. Sadly, it also obfuscates the role you played in all this, Lord. But then… we’ve been going down that road for some time now.