CultureSpeak: “Go Christmas”

November 19th, 2009
Cultural Context: A line from a recent Gap television ad produced in (supposed) response to an American Family Association boycott prompted by Gap, Inc’s “censorship” of “Christmas” in holiday promotions for Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy. According to the AFA website, the complete lyrics of the commercial are:
“Two, Four, Six, Eight, now’s the time to liberate
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanza, Go Solstice.
Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go add a tree,
You 86 the rules, you do what feels just right.
Happy do whatever you wanukkah, and to all a cheery night.
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you wanukkah.”
Here’s the ad:

Hmmm.  I have a few questions, starting with this:
Is that better, AFA?
In their updated online “action” memo response from 11/16, the American Family Association first takes a small victory lap by saying, “as a result of your actions, Gap has produced a television commercial that uses the word ‘Christmas.” Great job! AFA and its supporters have succeeded in encouraging a major retailer to lump Christmas in with whatever other December holiday you “wanukkah.” But, hey, they used the word “Christmas.”
Of course, the AFA website goes on to denounce the ad as “dismissive and disrespectful,” and for Christians it probably is–which begs my next question. What do you expect?
In a LATimes editorial, Dan Neil asks his own question:
“Why, for example, is the phrase “Happy holidays” so insufferable to Christian fundamentalists, but not the vulgar, surfeiting exploitation of Christ’s name to sell smokeless ashtrays, dessert toppings, Droid phones and trampolines?”
I’m wondering that myself. Retailers do want my holiday money, and they’re going to advertise to get it–just like they do every other month of the year. Why do Christians want Christ’s name out there hawking all kinds of merchandise?From all appearances, Gap, Inc is a secular company. I think I’d be safe to assume that since it made the “Against Christmas” column in AFA’s “Naughty or Nice” holiday retailer list this year. Can we honestly expect a secular company to produce a true interpretation of the monumental value of Jesus’ birth? I’m thinking NO. So is the AFA asking for lip service? It looks that way. And, that’s exactly what it got.
I whole-heartedly agree that Jesus Christ is the center of true Christmas, a celebration of His birth–the earthly beginning of His road to the cross to purchase my salvation through His death. I also happen to believe that the December 25th holiday we call Christmas is a man-made ritual with a colorful history that exists for any number of cultural and spiritual reasons. It isn’t found in the Bible. As a Christian, I do want to ensure that I’m putting value in the right places during the season and focusing on the incredible gift God gave us in His Son becoming flesh. However…
I find this whole Gap/”Happy Holidays” battle to be a ridiculous sidestep of the real issues. It’s cosmetics. And, in the name of bringing out the truth of Christmas, this boycott campaign is completely false at its foundation. How can we possibly expect a culture so prevalently at odds with Christ to produce something that honors Him, to be the bearer of the Christmas message? Why do we even want to try?
To borrow God’s metaphors… Salt whets a thirsty world’s need for living water. Why insist on sprinkling it with a bunch of tasteless, low sodium substitutes. Whole and redeemed vessels can pour that water into thirsty souls all around us. Why expect hopelessly cracked vessels to carry it?
Dear AFA,
Broken cisterns can’t hold water. Maybe your battle is the wrong one.
[For the record, I probably won't be purchasing anything from Gap during the holiday season this year--mainly because I'm 5'1" and their sleeves are always way too long. Baby Gap could be another story.]

Cultural Context: A line from this recent Gap television ad produced in (supposed) response to an American Family Association boycott prompted by Gap, Inc’s “censorship” of “Christmas” in holiday promotions for Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy. According to the AFA website, the complete lyrics of the commercial are:

“Two, Four, Six, Eight, now’s the time to liberate
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanza, Go Solstice.
Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go add a tree,
You 86 the rules, you do what feels just right.
Happy do whatever you wanukkah, and to all a cheery night.

Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you wanukkah.”

Hmmm.  I have a few questions, starting with this:
Is that better, AFA?

In their updated online “action” memo response from 11/16, the American Family Association first takes a small victory lap by saying, “as a result of your actions, Gap has produced a television commercial that uses the word ‘Christmas.” Great job! AFA and its supporters have succeeded in encouraging a major retailer to lump Christmas in with whatever other December holiday you “wanukkah.” But, hey, they used the word “Christmas.”

Of course, the AFA website goes on to denounce the ad as “dismissive and disrespectful,” and for many Christians it probably is–which begs my next question. What do you expect?

In a LATimes editorial, Dan Neil asks his own question:

“Why, for example, is the phrase “Happy holidays” so insufferable to Christian fundamentalists, but not the vulgar, surfeiting exploitation of Christ’s name to sell smokeless ashtrays, dessert toppings, Droid phones and trampolines?”

I’m wondering that myself. Retailers do want my holiday money, and they’re going to advertise to get it–just like they do every other month of the year. Why do Christians want Christ’s name out there hawking all kinds of merchandise?From all appearances, Gap, Inc is a secular company. I think I’d be safe to assume that since it made the “Against Christmas” column in AFA’s “Naughty or Nice” holiday retailer list this year. Can we honestly expect a secular company to produce a true interpretation of the monumental value of Jesus’ birth? I’m thinking NO. So is the AFA asking for lip service? It looks that way. And, that’s exactly what it got.

I whole-heartedly agree that Jesus Christ is the center of true Christmas, a celebration of His birth–the earthly beginning of His road to the cross to purchase my salvation through His death. I also happen to believe that the December 25th holiday we call Christmas is a man-made ritual with a colorful history that exists for any number of cultural and spiritual reasons. It isn’t found in the Bible. As a Christian, I do want to ensure that I’m putting value in the right places during the season and focusing on the incredible gift God gave us in His Son becoming flesh. However…

I find this whole Gap/”Happy Holidays” battle to be a ridiculous sidestep of the real issues. It’s cosmetics. And, in the name of bringing out the truth of Christmas, this boycott campaign is completely false at its foundation. How can we possibly expect a culture so prevalently at odds with Christ to produce something that honors Him, to be the bearer of the Christmas message? Why do we even want to try?

To borrow some Biblical metaphors… Salt whets a thirsty world’s need for living water. Why insist on sprinkling it with a bunch of tasteless, low sodium substitutes? Whole and redeemed vessels can pour that water into thirsty souls all around us. Why demand that hopelessly cracked vessels carry it?

Dear AFA,
Broken cisterns can’t hold water. Maybe your battle is the wrong one.

[For the record, I probably won't be purchasing anything from Gap during the holiday season this year--mainly because I'm 5'1" and their sleeves are always way too long. Baby Gap could be another story.]

The One Where I Come Out… And Say It

June 1st, 2009

Have you ever had occasion to cross a barbed wire fence? Sticky predicament. I’ve done it on Busy Bee farm through the years, tromping through a pasture, avoiding cow unmentionables. Many notable attempts have occurred in the pursuit of a Christmas tree that we were convinced was over in some greener cedar tree pasture. Sometimes crossing the fence just beats the long bumpy ride down the fence row to a just-as-bumpy gravel road, through a gate and back down the flip side of said bumpy fence row. Economy of movement is an essential concept in pasture tromping.

There’s an art to crossing a barbed wire fence. You have to judge whether there is enough slack in the line to allow you to pull the wire wide enough to go through the fence, or if you’re better served pushing down on the top and going over, although your inseam is clearly not tall enough to avoid the peril. After all, a barbed wire fence has barbs.

If you’ve been reading a while, you may have seen me refer to “the blog you didn’t know I was reading.” I say you didn’t know I was reading it because it’s not the sort of blog you might think I’d be interested in, not the sort I’d deem worthy of supporting. If you’ve read much of my blog, you also know a few things about me. I am a politically conservative, white, heterosexual, middle class evangelical Christian from Mississippi.  And, I’m probably pretty close to who you think I am when I write those words.  [Sans a few Mississippi stereotypes. For example: I have a college degree.  I don't work in agriculture. I have wireless DSL in my home and office.  I speak (and write to y'all) with a very thick Southern accent, but usually using correct subject-verb agreement. I have two full bathrooms complete with running water in my house.  I wear shoes on a daily basis.  I don't own a gun which would need to be pried from my cold, dead hands at some point, nor do I own any camoflage. I've never had a mint julep.]

So, the blog you didn’t know I was reading is LesbianDad.net. And since today is “Blogging for LGBT Families Day, I decided to elaborate–something I’ve been promising for a while. Plus, I’m always up for a good post on social justice.

Lesbian Dad is probably pretty close to who you imagine she is–one of those crazy, liberal Californians, Berkeley graduate, feminist, Buddhist, lesbian activist. She’s also a “Baba” of two children and an excellent writer and photographer. She and her wife have one of the 18,000 marriages that were upheld by the California Supreme Court last week when it also upheld Proposition 8.

Reading her blog has convinced me of a few things. So I guess it’s time to come out… and say it.

It’s likely to elicit the same “duh” response of outrage from both the LGBT and conservative reader-types, but I’m sitting squarely on the (barbed wire) fence on this whole gay marriage issue. And, I’m trying not to rip my jeans or anything else while I figure out the side upon which I’m landing. If you’ve had experience with barbed wire fences as described above, you know that when you’re sitting, it would behoove you to get off. It’s uncomfortable. It’s dangerous. The best thing is to pick a side and stand on it. And, that’s what I’m in the slow process of doing.

You see, I’m a practicing (I’m afraid to say devout) Christian. I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word, and is true for always. I believe God is alive, active and cares about the cosmic and much of the mundane. I also believe homosexuality is not pleasing to God. I believe He thinks its wrong, which is why I call it a sin–much like I call adultery, lying, stealing or berating others a sin

Here’s the thing.

In this country, people aren’t required by law to believe what I believe. And, other people don’t think it’s a sin. My faith is big enough to even like a few of those people, even if I don’t agree with the complete scope of how they’ve chosen to live their lives. How do we properly deal with that in society? I know our response to sin has changed in the years since Moses codified the laws of the Israelite’s theocracy. I know that noone was clamoring to stone my first husband after he had an affair. I know noone is running around plucking out eyes or teeth because they’re ticked off. I know God hasn’t changed, but Jesus Himself changed how some of those old laws were executed. When He was confronted with an adulterous woman, He changed not what was accepted by God, but what was permitted in society by the religious leaders. I’m too entangled in the barbs to write an intelligent and well-composed argument either way–hence the uncomfortable fence-sitting.

LesbianDad wrote on her blog (or maybe it was twitter or somewhere else), that “they” don’t know who they’re voting against. Reading her personal story on the gay marriage issue has convinced me that’s true. This issue is not about the flamboyant gay bar scene, secluded roadside parks, irrationally suspected pedophiles, indecisive Hollywood-types or drag queen lounge singers that would prompt a much easier fence jump. No, this issue is about a desire for lifelong commitment, about monogamy. In practicality, it’s about social security benefits, health insurance, school permission forms, powers of attorney, and who has to stand out in the waiting room when a child is born. Yes, it’s about children who go to preschool or elementary school and like PowerPuff Girls and Cars.

I see the joy LD derives from her family every day. I see the frustration she feels about their “legal” status. I see the faces of her children at museums and dance class and home. I read that she sits on their beds after they’re asleep to stare with joy and hope for their futures just like I do. But for time zones, we might be doing it at the exact same moment.

One of the most poignant posts I read recently from LD was after a neighboring school board meeting regarding an existing anti-bullying curriculum that included content about sensitivity toward children in LGBT families. In response to the statements she heard, she wrote that there was “no hope”–no hope that others of my ilk would “see” her children.  And, I had already determined that I would see, that I would choose to look. That whatever side of the barbing I land on, I would do it with both eyes and ears open–not just to my side of the story, but to the side that might be uncomfortable. To look full on into the real “face” of the gay marriage debate.

I haven’t resolved it inside. There it is.  But, I’ve learned this. The “fight” for equality is not what it seems to be, and it’s getting bigger. (Thanks, LD)

I encourage and welcome your disagreements, insights and thoughts.

East, West and the Space Between

April 13th, 2009

This is not the Easter story I was trying to write.  I wanted to write something befitting the joy and triumph of redemption, something extolling the glory of the work God did through Christ on my behalf that early morning long ago. But, I was interrupted by a sharp look at myself.  And, given my previously unscribed commitment to stay real, this is the Easter story I must write before I write anything else.

In case there are any of you out there who are living under an assumption that Christians do not intentionally do wrong sometimes, stand corrected.  Even those of us who try to navigate the waters of sincerely following Jesus in this world do sin.  And, sometimes we do it knowing full well what we are doing.  It’s an ugly story.

I offended someone last week–actually two people.  I would love to say that it was an accident, that I didn’t mean to do it.  But, it wasn’t, and I knew that my actions probably would offend.  Chalk it up to a difficult week or an incorrect assumption.  Excuse it as not thinking before speaking or using poor judgement.  Whatever my justification flavor of the moment, the fact is that I knew what I was doing.  I even rejected the voice of my better angel telling me not to do it.  At the moment, I just didn’t care. And so, I offended two people.

One forgave me.  One didn’t, and I suppose it may have cost me whatever friendship we had.  And while I was disappointed that our relationship wasn’t worth an act of forgiveness, I can’t begrudge the choice God gave her to make.  I can only wish she had chosen differently.  I wish  I had chosen differently.  Yes, because my actions hurt other people.  But, more than that, because my actions showed who I still am.

When I peek into the reflection, I’m so disappointed.  In myself.  In the blackness I see in my own heart. Deep in the corners and crevices are places ugly and dark with the need for light and redemption and reform.  Those places weigh my head down in sorrow and shame at how little I seem to have learned. Those places drive me to the scarred feet of that Man.  The One who was laid in the tomb, bloodied. They drive me to view the absence of that Man at the resting place of death. They drive me to seek Him elsewhere. To take comfort in a renewed redemption. To once again seek the separation. As far as the East is from the West. To live in that space. Between. And to get up.

This is not the washed Easter story I would have written.  No, only more so. In this story, the gently folded shroud is still bloodied by pain inflicted.  The cloths left in piles are still soiled and stinking with recent sin. The rough-hewn rocky room is still dark with the self-sightedness of poor judgement, still jagged with the blows of carving out redemption.  But, at the end of the day, the story is the same. At the end of the day–the second day–that Man was dead. And, just before daybreak on day three, He got up. Just like the sun, He established His trek westward reserving the space between, the distance from my sin that allows me to get up.  And, that’s my Easter story.

Rest

March 22nd, 2009

shabbot

“the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it” (exodus 20:11)

500/15 on Equality

March 5th, 2009

This morning, I’ve been following the coverage of the California State Supreme Court hearings on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 – the California gay marriage ban that passed by a 52% margin of the popular vote in November. The arguments, protesters and media are a world away from my office lunch break here in Mississippi, but the debate is inescapable. The common relevant phrase today is “marriage equality” and it has me thinking about the nature of equality itself. I saw a Prop 8 protest badge on a blog earlier in the week (the blog you didn’t know I was reading–a post on that later): “Equality should not be put up for a popular vote.”

It begs the question: Is equality a popularity contest? Equal is one of those words (like unique) that is or isn’t. It’s, by definition, a mathematical absolute. Something can’t be nearly equal or slightly equal or very equal. People, situations, equations are equal or not. So, is marriage an issue of equality? People are never inherently equal to one another. Our differences are a biological given. Since marriages are made up of people, is it even possible to seek that kind of “equality” in a meaningful way? Is it right to try?

In the tweet coverage of the Court arguments, I see many references to “inalienable” and the question of whether the “right” to marry (or form a union) is an “inalienable right” that falls somewhere in the realms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In that grand list, we read that the truth of equality is “self-evident.”

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

All men are created equal—declared by a bold ownership of independence and freedom, the freedom to choose our own way. No, we are not all equal in our abilities. We are not all equal in our choices. But, we are all created with an equal ability to make those choices. And, much to the chagrin of our manifest destiny mentality and our conservative bravado, neither the Declaration of Independence nor the California constitution bestows that equality and ensuing freedom of choice. God, the Creator, is the originator of the concept.

Do I believe gay marriage is “right”? No. Would I choose it for me and mine? No. Do I think we need a law on the books banning it? Is God’s law enough? Can I as a person or we as a society rightfully deny a choice God has given? Even if that choice is opposed to His expressed desire? Can I reach out to those in the protest line and respect a common equality despite the differences in lifestyle choices? Can we find ourselves on equal footing as people, as mothers, as citizens? Despite a slight majority, can we somehow equal more than the mere total of our numbers? Those questions require more than 500 or 15.

For a brief history of the California Proposition 8 story, visit the LA Times chronology.  Be forewarned: LAT officially endorsed a “Vote No” stance on Prop 8 on November 2, 2008.

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