The Atheists Are Right: Skip Church This Christmas

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There’s been some recent buzz regarding a billboard that was put up by the American Atheists that told people to skip church on Christmas. Obviously, there will be some backlash from Christians who are, once again, upset that Christ is being taken out of Christmas. Articles on Facebook will circulate that will tell us why this is all due to President Obama wanting to allow Syrian refugees into America to strip us of our religious rights after he called the Christmas tree the Holiday tree…or something along those lines. Petitions will be signed. Arguments will be had. And in the process, zero people will change their minds.

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But for once, I agree with the American Atheists: skip church on Christmas.

Let me be clear on one thing: this isn’t about how some people only go to church on Christmas and Easter. I’m not saying if you don’t go every week, you shouldn’t go at all. Some people go every week and do nothing at all. In my book, those who don’t go at all are better than those who do and do nothing.

Why do I agree with the American Atheists? If you’re going to go to church to become good, then go ahead and skip church on Christmas. The American evangelical church is plagued with this idea that all of our sermons should be something about how we can become better people. If your view of church is a place where it teaches us, “how to become better people,” then I think you’re misunderstanding the point of the body of Christ.

This isn’t the fault of the atheists. The American evangelical church has done quite a bit to show people that our only concern is to help people become better. A quick glance through the Christian bestsellers will show you a handful of books that borderline self-help rubbish. And this is what people want to hear.

Just because this is what people want to hear doesn’t mean it’s what we should be saying. We spend quite a bit of time crafting messages that will make people feel like they can become better and in the process of doing so, we remove any need for Christ.

We tell people how they can become better at…

Managing their money…

Building a stronger marriage…

Controlling their anger…

Living a purposeful life…

Raising their kids…

We hear these kinds of sermons all the time. And so, to the outside world, the church exists to help people become better versions of themselves. But the church can’t exist to do this. The church has to exist for something more. And if people see the church’s purpose as that, then I apologize, because that’s not what we are about at all.

As simple as it sounds, we are about Christ. That’s it. We’re not about becoming good. We’re about recognizing our brokenness and Christ’s wholeness. We celebrate this through the Eucharist each week. Christ, in His brokenness, became whole and we, by consuming the emblems, recognize that and celebrate that.

Can we, in the American evangelical church, begin to reshape how people see us? Here’s how I propose we do this:

1.) Since we’re great at boycotting things (I get emails all the time), boycott buying books from Christian authors that propagate this self-help ideology.

2.) For once, don’t find a way to blame the godlessness in America for every “wrong” perception about the church. Let’s own up to our mistakes.

3.) Stay clear of click bait articles from people who just want to start a holy war. Don’t click on them. Don’t share them. Report them for spam. Because in my opinion, that’s all they are. Spam.

4.) Continuously remind your friends who don’t go to church that it is not a place to become good. That goes completely against the Gospel. Be transparent and open about your own failings.

5.) If you do, by chance, go to church only to get your life in order, can I challenge you to rethink that position? Perhaps try going to church to celebrate what Christ has done and what that means for the world. Celebrate your brokenness because Christ didn’t come for the healthy, but the sick.

I’ll say it one more time: Don’t go to church this Christmas if you’re going to become a better person. Go to church this Christmas to celebrate the incarnation of Christ and the hope that brings to the world.

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Confession of a Choir Boy

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poseexampleGrowing up, I never fully identified with what other boys my age did. Sports was never my forte. I was not one to go out and practice a particular sport over and over. I found that boring and repetitive. Watching sports was even more of a challenge because I never understood what was happening and there was not a storyline to keep me interested. Maybe it was sports that caused me to feel alienated from other boys my age, but sports play a huge role in our American society.

Not only that, I wasn’t a fan of a lot of the music to which they listened, movies that were just about fighting and nothing else, playing video games until all hours of the night, or even the popular clothing that all the kids my age wore. A lot of this was because my parents wouldn’t allow me to listen to a lot of the music, watch a lot of those movies, play video games all the time, or wear clothing that was absurdly expensive for someone who would just grow out of it in a few weeks.

In high school, I remember feeling even more alienated because I didn’t want to sit down and fill out a bracket, I was horrible at all PE games (and had the tendency to lose interest), and I was involved in band and choir instead of the illustrious football/basketball/baseball team. Not only did I remain uninvolved in sports, but I also actually thoroughly enjoyed being in band and choir. I enjoyed being in musicals. I enjoyed performance. I enjoyed playing piano.

I heard the litany of insults that students would call me. It was the usual unintelligent rumblings of those whom the evolutionary process seemed to skip. Kids were mean. That was normal. I would much rather watch a musical than a game any day of the week. But the only time I felt different was when I was at school…and sometimes at church.

The evangelical church sometimes has the tendency to stereotype genders. Men play sports. Men eat steaks. Men are reminiscent of those cavemen from the GEICO commercials. Women make casseroles. Women stay at home with their children. Women should always be June Cleaver.

Luckily, I grew up in a home where my parents taught me that boys didn’t play with trucks and girls didn’t play with barbies. I never felt like less of a man because I didn’t want to go outside and stand in the middle of a field. At home, I felt loved and like more of a man. At church, I oftentimes felt like less of a man.

In her book, Redeeming Sex, Deb Hirsch writes this: “The problem is that buying a truck for a kid who would rather paint or dress a doll can lead him to further alienation from his masculine identity. Wouldn’t we do better to raise our kids according to their natural likes, gifts and strengths, broadening out our own categories in order to accommodate them?”

Unfortunately, I know of a lot of kids who feel like they aren’t a man at home. I was fortunate enough to be raised to where my parents taught me that what made me a man was keeping my promises, helping out those who needed help, caring for others more than yourself, and eating steak…but to be fair, eating steak was what made a woman a woman in our house, too. It was a universal truth. My parents taught me that my character made me a man.

My fear is that the evangelical church is missing out on this conversation. Every time you stereotype men for an event that is “manly,” realize that you are alienating quite a few guys. Every time that you consider those involved in the arts as “fags,” remember that David played a harp and danced around…so David was a fag. Does that make you uncomfortable? Good. It should. Because your words make me uncomfortable. In fact, every time you call someone a fag or gay or some other term from the LGBT community in hopes that it makes someone feel like less of a man, you should be ashamed. I have many gay friends who are more of a man than you’ll ever be.

Many in the evangelical church still think it’s okay to categorize guys based upon their athletic ability, their diet, or their job status. And we do the same for girls based upon their ability to be a mother, their job status, and their cooking abilities.

I am a man who loves cooking, living in a clean apartment, gardening, making sure everything is decorated and looks appealing, spending a Tuesday evening watching a musical in the city, going to hear the symphony orchestra, listening to a recent musical soundtrack, watching great films about deep topics, watching a stand-up comedian, laughing, reading, and drinking egregious amounts of coffee.

But those don’t make me a man.

Can we, in the evangelical church, move past the idea that what we do makes us a man or a woman? We may not teach that from the pulpit, but we do imply it in several different avenues. I’m not saying that we walk on eggshells…I’m just asking that we become cognizant.

There are rumors going around that “guys” don’t like the church because it is too feminine. So we decide to add more sports, more meat, and more testosterone-driven messages. Maybe we don’t need to add more stereotypical manly activities and instead speak to the character.

With Father’s Day approaching, churches will most likely celebrate it to some extent (I’m not a fan for celebration of non-liturgical holidays…but that’s another topic for another time). Instead of doing the usual jokes about how men don’t ask for directions, eat too much meat, refuse to do the dishes, or whatever else, speak about character and integrity.

I would much rather sing in a choir any day over watching a football game….even the Super Bowl…and that doesn’t make me less of a man. I’m not the one who’s insecure about his masculinity. In my experience, the one who projects is the one who is insecure.