Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Different Christmas Story

So, I have a rare day off and for a blessed couple of hours this morning my time is my own . . . so I attempt to write.

I do love Christmas in the same way I love spicy Indian food.  It is over all pleasant but can be painful at moments.  This, I think, is true for most people . . . actually all people.  For some the pain is so intense that it is a sum loss.  For myself, at least this year, it is clearly a sum gain.  I have all five of my children home plus my two grandsons and the people my children love, in my home and this is as good as it gets.

I heard two things this week worth pondering with one source, NPR.  The first was the actual broadcast where they were talking about sad Christmas songs.  The person doing the piece talked about how Christmas is this strange mixed bag of the glorious and the profoundly sad.  The second point was my pastor preached on this same radio broadcast.  The reason I like this pastor is the way she handled this topic.  I've sat in front of many evangelical pastors over the years that would scold the liberal NPR saying that we Christians should not be sad about anything because we are "saved" and we have the hunky dory abundant life.  So the evangelical preacher would have said that there is no place for sad songs at Christmas, or even sad thoughts. But my pastor and I think alike on this topic, she preached that Christmas can be quite sad and that is okay.  The point is that all the problems we endure here, will be fixed someday, but they have NOT YET BEEN FIXED! Therefore sadness is real and we should embrace it.  The song of her text was the song from South Park, "Dead, Dead, Dead.

When I was an Evangelical I spent much of my emotional energy trying to live in pretend world of 24-7 "blessedness."  It was the same type of denial that a psychopath lives in, the one that tortures people and feels no guilt because then live in a pretend world where that is okay. So much of the Christian story is part of that plot to cover up the real pain.  It is the happy Norman Rockwell, or that pretend super-real world of the art of the late Thomas Kinkade (whom Christians adore for that reason).  However, the Christians who moved to live in the real life town, which was based on his paintings of the perfect American life centered on the church (little white church) would be the last who would want to talk about the fact that Mr. Kinkade died of an alcohol and drug overdose.  But I digress again.

In my journey into honesty, which began a decade or two ago, has taken me to some interesting places.  I find myself constantly deconstructing the statements and actions of myself and others. I do think this is overall healthy because the more we live in reality, the more human we are.

One example of this is when I met with some "church-based" investment advisers earlier this year.  I deeply regret ever getting involved with them but I sort of married into it.  They wanted to meet with me to talk about a new investment "product" for my meager retirement account.  I did my home work and the experts, whom I trust, each said that any investment guy that offered this program does it for only one reason, to make more profits for their company and more commissions for themselves.  So, during our conversation, I brought up this simple fact.  The investment guy seemed very offended and asked, "Do you think I'm doing this for my benefit?"

"Of course," I answered.  "This is how you make your living and there is nothing wrong with that." The man seemed angry.  Then I asked him, "So if I buy this product, you will make more money this year, correct?"

He answered, "Yes, but that is not my motivation."

I added, "And if I buy this product there is a greater chance I will have less retirement money in 10 years than if I don't buy it . . . correct?"

His anger seemed to be worse. "We are a Christian organization and we work on Christian principles."

I added, "Can you answer my question?"

"Yes, most likely you will have less money but this is a good product that is safe."

"So," I said, "It sounds pretty simple that you want me to buy this product so that you make more money and you company does as well."

I will summarize that this didn't go well and he saw me as a jerk.  But, this is reality. Of course he is in the investment advising business to earn an income for himself and his family.  That is a fact of life and I wasn't saying he was a bad guy.

Coming back to Christmas it is a glorious and difficult time for one basic reason and I will attempt to explain below.

Freud tried to take this deeply honest journey and boiling down all human behaviors into the concept that all men long to have sex with their mothers and feel jealously and threatened by their fathers.  I disagree. I believe that all human behaviors boil down to the fact that we all have an insatiable appetite to be significant.  Everything we do is towards this goal.The investment guy wants to make more money so that his company and family sees him as more significant. The great preachers who build the mega churches and evangelical empires do it for this reason alone, as do the drug dealers.  Now this problem is solved for us in Christ, but none of us really believe this solution . . . not in this life.  The more we believe in the solution the more content we are, but the best of us only believes in the solution of Christ by a small margin.

But I believe the closest we ever come to this goal of feeling significant is in early childhood. At this point (and I'm speaking of the healthy childhood, not those where abuse was the norm) everyone loved us.  We were loved because we existed and no other reason.  I tell my two grandsons all the time that there is nothing they can do to stop me from loving them because the reason I love them is because they exist.

There are no expectations of us as small children, except maybe we poop in the pot rather than in our pants.  Our entire day is spent in leisure for self-pleasure.  We have no tasks that we must fulfill to try and futilely obtain significance, such as jobs or relationships.  In many ways, early childhood is the climax of our lives and from that point forward we don't have penis envy as Freud would teach. But we have childhood envy. Now for those who have had bad childhoods, this makes it even more tragic because it should have been the climax of your life and you were robbed.

Christmas is woven into this dilemma by the fact it can be the zenith of an already wonderful time of our lives.  But it can never be reproduced again.  If is snowed just right, the perfect gifts were selected, we had all our love ones under one roof and there were no problems . . . we still cannot reproduce the magic of Christmas through our own childhood eyes, and thus we have disappointment.

At this juncture we have three choices.  The most appealing and common one is denial.  Get caught up in the Hallmark movie version of our Christmas and block out all the troubles of our real world.  We smile and roast the turkey imagining that we see a Rockwell or a Kinkade painting our world as a realism.  The second choice is to become damned depressed and many do.  Suicide rates are very high during the holidays. I've had two patients in the past two weeks attempt suicide. I had one complete that awful task last Christmas. The third is the most healthy. It is where we lower our expectations and savor what we have but knowing that it can never be as it was for us once.  We can embellish in the magic world of the young around us now and be actors in their universe, but for us adults, that magic has been eternally ruined by the roughness of reality and the Fall.  But we look in a mirror and see dimly that the debt of significance has been settled in Christ, so there is hope.


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