Saturday, December 22, 2007

War on Christmas: The Advent Conspiracy

Well, its nearly Christmas, and I am currently in Canada (Kelowna, BC) and surrounded by snow. I'm taking a break from blogging over this holyday (sic) season, but before I go I want to hash out a few thoughts on the meaning of Christmas, which neatly continues my theme on cultural conspiracies.

These days there is something of a Christmas controversy going on, which according to Wikipedia (see link above) has actually been going on since the 17th century. However in recent years Political Correctness it has reared its ugly head and insisted we celebrate Christmas but just rename everything. So Christmas trees become "Holiday Trees" or "Family Trees" (excuse me whilst I puke), and we talk about the "Holiday Season" and wish each other "Happy Holidays". Actually, its all rather ironic since talking about a Holy-Day just brings us back to the non-secular aspects of the celebration.

Here in the UK it seems at last that some measure of common sense has materialised into the political scene: Trevor Phillips, chairman of the UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission, has condemned PC attempts to secularise Christmas, although I have been told by a source that this has upset at least one political figure.

In Blogdom, Peter Kirk reminds us of C S Lewis's response to the commercialisation of Christmas: "I send no cards and give no presents except to children", whilst Duncan reminds us of some current Christian approaches: Advent Conspiracy (more on that in a bit) and Just Christmas, a initiative which Morningside Baptist (Edinburgh) seems to be involved with.

To examine the more recent Christian approach to Christmas, lets look at closer detail at the Advent Conspiracy:

[AC] Advent Conspiracy from Jon Collins on Vimeo.

All well and good, but I can't help but feel that all this Christian Political Correctness on Christmas is actually missing the point as well. Surely children know something about Christmas, and what child, if asked to give their opinion of Christmas, would start talking about ethical issues and justice? For Christians especially then, there is great confusion concerning our response to this festive time, with issues such as how to celebrate the birth of Jesus, traditions of Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, pagan winter festivals, commercialisation and political correctness to deal with.

For me the problem stems from what I see to be a four-fold root to contemporary Christmas festivities. We have, in chronological order, a pagan winter festival (Yule in Northern Europe; see also Winter Solstice), the historical event of the birth of Jesus, the gift-giving tradition of Saint Nicholas (and the related cultural icon, Father Christmas), and the recent (mid 20th Century onwards) commercialisation of the above traditions.

The Christian response is usually to downplay the pagan aspect, somewhat reluctantly accept the Father Christmas figure, pay homage to Saint Nicholas (Santa Clause) in gift-giving, and go to church to celebrate the Nativity. Quite honestly, its an incoherent mess of traditions and culture. Further more, when a Christian is asked the true meaning of Christmas, they often respond along the lines of "its all about the birth of Jesus", which is rather odd as this doesn't often tie in with the associated festivities practiced by said Christian. Alternatively, they might respond, "its about peace, joy and love", which while sounding rather nice, is - to be honest - rather trite, and while its hard to disagree with, it loses the Christian perspective: many other religions could equally celebrate such virtues. While this is not a bad thing in and of itself, it may suggest we haven't yet got to the core of the meaning of Christmas. Now often, if pressed, a Christian will admit that the core meaning of Christmas is that Jesus came into the world to die for our sins. Indeed, that very message was preached at a church I attended this morning.

Died for our sins? I thought that was the meaning of Easter? Don't we celebrate the death of Jesus on Good Friday? And his Resurrection on Easter Sunday?

May I be bold and suggest that nothing I have mentioned thus far gets to the heart of the contemporary celebration we call Christmas. May I also suggest that the birth of Jesus-who-died-for-our-sins, or "peace on earth", is also not the true meaning of Christmas. Neither is it to be found exclusively in the altruistic gift-giving tradition of Saint Nicholas. So what is the meaning of Christmas?

I believe the clue to the meaning of this season is found in the British figure of Father Christmas: an ancient pagan figure who originally represented the coming of Spring. Later (6th Century AD), he became infused with the Saxon Father Time, or King Winter. Later still the Vikings infused into him the tradition of Odin, who takes on the persona of Jul and visits the earth (this is where Yuletide comes from). The character of Jul was a portly, elderly man with a white beard and a long blue hooded cloak was said to have ridden through the world giving gifts to the good and punishments to the bad.

Finally, in more recent times the tradition of Father Christmas has been conflated with the story of Saint Nicholas, to produce the contemporary figure of Santa Claus. At this point my readers may say that if I truly think this is the meaning of Christmas, then I have finally lost the plot, perhaps in an attempt to continually shock and provoke. Well, I cannot deny the latter, but I can certainly assure you I am still Compos Mentis. Please read on!

If the story of Father Christmas is the key to the true meaning of Christmas, then how so? Let us ask none other than Professor JRR Tolkien, who wrote Letters from Father Christmas. I believe if anyone understands the heart of Christmas, it is Tolkien. Here is a man, that despite his academic environment, could enter the story world of a child -- a world he called Fairy -- in a moment. Tolkien's response to Christmas was to write a Fairy Story about Father Christmas. And its here that the mystery of Christmas is revealed.

Now Tolkien had a high regard for Fairy Stories. He once wrote:

The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.

We can now come back to the Jesus, and to the historical Christian story. For Tolkien said, in relation to his understanding of Fairy Stories:

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospel contains a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful and moving: ‘mythical’ in their perfect self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe [good 'catastrophe' - a sudden appearing of something gloriously good].

The quote above introduces many concepts which I don't have time or space to comment on right now. I leave that as an exercise to the reader. What I want to zoom into, however, is Tolkien's keen insight of the nature of the gospel story, and in particular the birth of Jesus, which he elsewhere described as the "eucatastrophe of Man's history". In other words, Christmas is not about death and suffering (of Jesus), nor is it about a feel-good mush of love, joy and peace. Rather, Christmas is mysterious. Christmas is 'magical'. Christmas is a fairy story - not to say it is untrue, but on the contrary, it is to assert that its a wonderful time when the world in fact is the way children know it should always be. Christmas is about wonder! Its about joyous anticipation, excitement, beholding marvels, dreams coming true. Its about admitting that the impossible is possible after all. It is, at the end of the day, about the Incarnation of Jesus: about God becoming Human. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. Not his death, or his suffering, or his shame. No-one, and I mean no-one, actually celebrates that in this holiday season. They may say they do, but just look at what they actually do...its all about excitement, and wonder, and magic, and mystery.

Think about this for a moment! I first loved Christmas as a small child. Father Christmas would visit our home, magically filling up our stockings with presents. Why did I believe in this? I suggest its because it represents a deeper truth, which all children, and only some adults, know intuitively to be true: that we live in a world of wonder, amazement, excitement, mystery, magic, miracles ... of dreams coming true. I ask you this: is there any better way to describe the Truth behind this truth, and to describe the Father behind Father Christmas, than to use the language of a child?

The Incarnation of Jesus - God becoming one of us, is so often overlooked by Christians and Christmas celebrations alike. The significance of the Incarnation, which at the heart of Christmas, is best summed up by the Church Father Irenaeus: Jesus became what we are so that we might become what he is. This is the meaning of Christmas - this is what we celebrate: the mystery, magic, wonder and excitement of Jesus becoming what we are, so that we can become what he is.

This Christmas, let us throw ourselves into the magic, mystery, excitement, and wonder of Christmas, however we celebrate it, knowing that in doing so, we are experiencing what Tolkien called eucatastrophe -- that sudden thrill and excitement of something wonderful happening -- and that by entering into this, we are in fact entering into the very same wonder of the Incarnation, and find ourselves transported to the Nativity scene: perhaps standing by the mysterious Magi, joining the shepherds in their wonder, and standing in complete awe as the angelic heavenly army appears in all its might and splendor and glory.

My dear friends and readers, this is Christmas: wonder, mystery, excitement, magic... the feeling that Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen (!), the impossible becoming possible ... The Nativity, the Incarnation of Jesus, is a historical and true "Fairy Story": The ultimate story, the most wonderful story, the most enchanting story, and its what I will be celebrating this year.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Conspiracy of Denial: Porn

On a recent blog post concerning abortion, someone in the comments mentioned the phrase "Conspiracy of Denial". That phrase has sat with me, and I believe God wants to break open many Conspiracies of Denial. The next one I want to look at is porn. To do that, let me introduce you to Shelley Lubben. In her own words: "Shelley Lubben is a mother, a fighter for truth and survivor against all odds. Shelley is also a former porn actress fighting tirelessly against pornography which affects most of the world in a destructive way."

Before we listen to what Shelly has to say, let's learn a little about who she is. Watch the video below:

Now we will hear about the conspiracy of denial concerning the porn industry. The following comes from this article, which is probably an excerpt from her upcoming book.

Sex-packed porn films featuring freshly-dyed blondes whose evocative eyes say “I want you” is quite possibly one of the greatest deceptions of all time. Trust me, I know. I did it all the time and I did it for the lust of power and the love of money. I never liked sex. I never wanted sex and in fact I was more apt to spend time with Jack Daniels than some of the studs I was paid to “fake it” with. That’s right none of us freshly-dyed blondes like doing porn. In fact, we hate it. We hate being touched by strangers who care nothing about us. We hate being degraded with their foul smells and sweaty bodies. Some women hate it so much you can hear them vomiting in the bathroom between scenes. Others can be found outside smoking an endless chain of Marlboro lights.

But the porn industry wants YOU to think we porn actresses love sex. They want you to think we enjoy being degraded by all kinds of repulsive acts. The truth, porn actresses have showed up on the set not knowing about certain requirements and were told by porn producers to do it or leave without being paid. Work or never work again. Yes, we made the choice. Some of us needed the money. But we were manipulated and coerced and even threatened. Some of us caught HIV from that coercion. I personally caught Herpes, a non-curable sexually transmitted disease. Another porn actress went home after a long night of numbing her pain and put a pistol to her head and pulled the trigger. Now she’s dead.

It’s safe to say most women who turn to porn acting as a money-making enterprise, probably didn’t grow up in healthy childhoods either. Indeed, many actresses admit they’ve experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse and neglect by parents. Some were raped by relatives and molested by neighbors. When we were little girls we wanted to play with dollies and be mommies, not have big scary men get on top of us. So we were taught at a young age that sex made us valuable. The same horrible violations we experienced then, we relive through as we perform our tricks for you in front of the camera. And we hate every minute of it. We’re traumatized little girls living on anti-depressants, drugs and alcohol acting out our pain in front of YOU who continue to abuse us.

As we continue to traumatize ourselves by making more adult films, we use more and more drugs and alcohol. We live in constant fear of catching AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. Every time there’s an HIV scare we race to the nearest clinic for an emergency checkup. Pornographers insist giving viewers the fantasy sex they demand all the while sacrificing the very ones who make it happen. In other words, no condoms allowed. Herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and other diseases are the normal anxieties we walk around with daily. We get tested monthly but we know testing isn’t prevention. Besides worrying about catching diseases from porn sex, there are other harmful activities we engage in that are also very dangerous. Some of us have had physical tearing and damage to internal body parts.

When porn actresses call it a day and head home we attempt to have normal healthy relationships but some of our boyfriends get jealous and physically abuse us. So instead we marry our porn directors while others of us prefer lesbian relationships. It’s a real memory making moment when our daughter accidentally walks out and sees mommy kissing another girl. My daughter will vouch for that one.

On our days off we walk around like zombies with a beer in one hand and a
shot of whiskey in the other. We aren’t up to cleaning so we live in filth most of the time or we hire a sweet foreign lady to come in and clean up our mess. Porn Actresses aren’t the best cooks either. Ordering food in is normal for us and most of the time we throw up after we eat because we’re bulimic.

For porn actresses who have children, we are the world’s WORST mothers. We
yell and scream and hit our kids for no reason. Most of the time we are intoxicated or high and our four year olds are the ones picking us up off the floor. When clients come over for sex, we lock our children in their rooms and tell them to be quiet. I use to give my daughter a beeper and tell her to wait at the park until I was finished.

The truth is there IS NO fantasy in porn. It’s all a lie. A closer look into the scenes of a porn star’s life will show you a movie porn doesn’t want you to see. The real truth is we porn actresses want to end the shame and trauma of our lives but we can’t do it alone. We need you men to fight for our freedom and give us back our honor. We need you to hold us in your strong arms while we sob tears over our deep wounds and begin to heal. We want you throw out our movies and help piece together the shattered fragments of our lives. We need you to pray for us the next fifteen years so God will hear and repair our ruined lives.

So don’t believe the lie anymore. Porn is nothing more than fake sex and lies on videotape. Trust me, I know.

Unfortunately the church hasn't always been the best witness of Jesus to those involved in porn, erotic dancing, and prostitution. But there is Light at the end of the tunnel: check out the JC girls, below:

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


It took me a while to notice, but I've been tagged by Duncan with the thanks meme. Apparently I simply have to list five thinks I am thankful for.

  1. For Jesus dieing for my sins and reconciling me to God, and all the rest of the atonement

  2. My beautiful and amazing wife

  3. Good, loyal and faithful friends

  4. For having a nice flat to stay in, a nice car to drive, and an interesting and rewarding job.

  5. For the ministry of Mars Hill Church, for I have profoundly grown in Christ as result from their teaching.

If we want to get theological about the stuff I am thankful for, we could boil it down to beauty, truth, relationships, material provision. Amen to them!

I'm tagging Paul Ede, Peter Kirk, and BrunetteKoala. I think you are meant to tag five people but I don't know enough bloggers! :-)