Thursday, December 22, 2011


I'm as annoyed by Christian insanity over Christmas as the next person. Another "Keep Christ in Christmas" might put me over the edge. That's a whole other topic, though.

Instead, I want to pick on Santa Claus. Hang on. Don't freak out yet. Give me a few minutes.

I have absolutely nothing against the jolly old man. Really. It's just that he wasn't part of my childhood Christmas. He almost was, but my family was never really sure how to handle him. Basically, he was an excuse for presents appearing on Christmas morning rather than the night before. Because I never really believed in him, there's no traumatic childhood memory of realizing he doesn't exist, which has sometimes created problems.

Skipping over the trauma I caused my classmates, within three months of being hired as children's minister, I almost compared the nonexistence of Santa Claus to something else during a children's sermon. I don't remember what, actually. Yet, as I was walking up to give the children's sermon, I realized that anything alluding to no Santa was probably a bad idea. I can now only dream of the bullet I dodged there! Still, overall, I think Santa is a rather benevolent presence in life, even if a little creepy if you think about it very hard.

A couple weeks ago, though, I was talking with Sunday school teachers, all of whom are also moms. They were, of course, all sharing Santa stories. Who knew that Santa doesn't wrap presents at some houses? Or that he only fills stockings at others? Or that he only brings one gift at still others? One of the moms, though, was having to deal with her 4th grade daughter's realization that Santa isn't real.

As she and her daughter talked about Santa, she cried and told her daughter over and over again, "I've been lying to you. Santa is a lie."

Of course, the kid tried to comfort her mom, telling her, "No, it wasn't really a lie."

The mom dutifully responded, "Yes, it was. I want you to always remember that. I lied to you about Santa. He's not real. And I want you to know I lied to you about Santa because I really want you to know that I'm not lying to you about God and Jesus."

You can probably imagine the rest of the conversation.

There's something in there about the way Christians treat Christmas. I really, really am not upset if Christians choose to participate in the Santa thing. But I am kind of upset we feel like we have to.

Yes, the gifts go overboard. Yes, Santa's now totally secular and maybe always was so. More than that, though, it's the same thing we keep saying over and over to ourselves and our kids: the Gospel is not enough.

The Christ Child is not enough. We need a magic man to bring presents to make this a good holiday. We need magical flying reindeer. We need elves. We need gingerbread men and houses. We need all sorts of things to make Christmas special and memorable.

Those things aren't bad by themselves, but they help us lose our way. And if they all disappeared, what would we find?

Thursday, December 8, 2011


The thing I enjoy most about working with kids is getting to teach them Bible stories for the first time. It's awesome. They don't ask too many questions. They don't worry about the how and the details. They trust that God could do whatever the Bible story says God could do. It's awesome. I also believe that if those stories shape their world enough, then when they start asking all the questions, they'll wrestle with them rather than walking away from the faith in which they were raised.

But seriously, tell a kid about Elijah for the first time and watch her face. It's awesome.

Up until a few days ago, every kid I'd ever taught had some idea about God and churchy things. If I said, "It's time to pray," they'd bow their heads and fold their hands. If I said, "We're gonna sing," they'd have a request or two.

But all that changed a few days ago.

A man came to church and brought his two young children, ages 3 and 5. The second Sunday they came, I invited them to stay for Sunday school. They did.

That Sunday, I happened to be in the kids' class. Since I was the only person those two kids had ever met, they sat with me. I introduced them as my friends.

It soon became clear they'd never been to church at all.

They had puzzled looks when we sang. They didn't add to the list of things the kids were thankful for. And when the leader said, "Let's pray," the little boy looked up at me completely puzzled.

I thought quickly and said, "It's time to talk to God. Sit like this." So we sat, hands folded, eyes closed, heads bowed, and we talked to God.

It was easy, but it was easy because he was a little kid. Kids are used to having adults explain things to them. Kids are used to being shown how to do something. Kids are used to not knowing. As I think more and more about the people I encounter who have never had anything to do with church, I wonder how to do that. 

How do we teach adults to pray? Not just the Jesus' response kind of way, but the I have no clue what you mean way.

How do we invite adults to sing? Unless they're karaoke fans or former choir members, should we even expect participation in congregational singing?

And that doesn't even get to the perceived more important stuff of communion, baptism, Bible, sermons...

We say, "Welcome!" all the time, but how do we live it?

I've wondered many times since the day that little boy and I prayed together what would happen if he had been 25 or 35 or 45 instead of only 5. Could he have asked? Could I have answered as easily?

I love tradition. I love churchy words. I don't think the answer is to toss out all the churchy things to be more friendly to folks who have never walked in the door of a church.

All those things together, though, can make our "Welcome!" sound a little more like "Welcome?" Where is the space to just as gently take an adult by the hand and say, "Here's how we pray," as one would a child?