So, this is kind of cheating. But I never "officially" posted this on my own blog, just on a friend's blog (Make A Difference to One), completely out of season this summer. I shared this last night as an offering at All Souls' worship service. The first time I read through it again, six months after writing it, my initial reaction to my own writing was, "That sounds so trite. You're really considering reading this in front of the entire congregation? You really think no one has heard some version of this before?" I had to remind myself of the stirring in my soul during the summer -- the recognition that Miller had finally put into words this understanding of God that I had never before thought to verbalize. It was possible that last night, in that room, were people who needed to hear it as much as I did. That maybe they would be touched. Maybe their views of God would be challenged. It's a scary thing to put something you've created out there for everyone to witness. I had to remind myself of what my high school Writer's Workshop teacher used to communicate to us: art is to be shared.
Art is the perpetual motion of illusion. The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?
- Bob Dylan
Earlier this year I finished Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What, which is a book composed of Miller’s thoughts about and experiences with God. Miller’s books are always entertaining and thought-provoking. He is one of those authors who always seems to be able to put those things we struggle to verbalize into words with an artistic flair.
Chapter two of this book spent some time exploring the parallel between a child’s understanding of Santa Claus and Jesus Christ:
“In my opinion, there are two essential problems with believing God is somebody He isn’t. The first problem is that it wrecks your life, and the second is that it makes God look like an idiot.
When I was a kid and, to be absolutely honest, a teenager and perhaps even a young twenty-something, I believed God was like Santa Claus. I realize grown people should not think God is like Santa Claus, but you wouldn’t believe how perfectly convenient it was for me to subscribe to this idea. The benefits were astounding. First: To interact with Santa Claus, I did not have to maintain any sort of intimate relationship. Santa simply slipped into the house, left presents, ate half a cookie, then hit the neighbors’, There was no getting out of bed in the middle of the night to have sloppy conversations about why I was still wetting the bed.
Second: Santa theology was very black and white: you either made the list or you didn’t and if you didn’t, it was because you were bad, not because of societal pressures or biochemical distortions or your parents or cable television, but because you were bad. Simple indeed. Third: He brought presents based on behavior. If you were good, you got a lot of bank. There was a very clear reward system based on the most basic desires of the human heart: Big Wheels, Hot Wheels, Legos. You didn’t have to get into the spirit of anything, and there was nothing sentimental that served as the real reason for the season. Everybody knew it was about the toys: cold, hard toys. Fourth: Kids who were bad got presents anyway.
After reading this section, a resounding “WOW” echoed in my head, because everything Miller just said, I had pretty much subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) believed about God at one point in my life. I’m still struggling to get away from it.
As an American kid, growing up, while I knew “Jesus was the reason for the (Christmas) season,” that big ol’ jolly guy in the red suit was definitely a reason, too. Always the inquisitive one, I had figured out by about age 5 or 6 that Santa Claus was just a story, but it didn’t stop me from wanting all the perks on Christmas morning that came along with believing. And yet there was still a magic about the whole Christmas experience – although I don’t think it came from a heart filled with wonder over the birth of the savior of the world. Sometimes it surprises me that although I knew from a very young age that Santa Claus wasn’t real, the idea of Jesus as a man who once walked this earth and now lived in Heaven remained very real to me. As a twenty-something, I am going through the process of stripping away this “pop culture” and “Americanized” version of who I believe Jesus is, and trying to figure out who he truly is.
While I have known this in theory my whole life, I am learning that in order to truly follow Christ, I have to be in intimate relationship with him. I have to come to him with every aspect of myself and my life and ask him, “Hey, what do you want to do with this?” And expect him not only to listen, but to answer. I don’t believe Jesus wants me to jump into his lap, list off the things I want, and then be on my merry way. He is eager to give me good gifts, but he wants me to understand why he’s giving them in the first place. He wants me to know that he loves me, that he’s proud of me, and that being loved by him should overflow into my life and how I love others.
Whether I’m naughty or nice, my God still loves me. There is nothing I can do that will make him end his pursuit of me. It does not mean that I have the license to run around and act like an idiot and make foolish decisions while expecting a pat on the back, but it does mean that whenever I screw up (which is often), he is there waiting for me to ask his forgiveness for breaking his heart, and start again. And there is nothing I can do to make him love me more, or want to give me more presents. His view of me always has been, and always will be the same, and that is that I am his creation, and because he made me just as I am, he loves me just as I am.
In this season of life, I am discovering that there IS a wonder, magic, and mystery to this man Jesus of Nazareth who called himself the Christ. I don’t have to wait anxiously for him to come around once a year, and wait with bated breath to see whether I’ve made the “naughty” or “nice” list. I can meet with him daily, and ask him with confidence what good gifts he has in store for me. A real, interactive relationship with Jesus is worth far more than any material thing I could have ever asked for from Santa Claus.