(Sorry for being out of season, but…..)
We were talking on one of the earlier threads and there was some disagreement over the true meaning of certain scriptural passages. (I must be kidding, right? Here?) It seems like we kept going around and around and around. I was suddenly reminded of another familiar situation where I keep going around and around and around. Christmas.
Or to be more precise, decorating our home for Christmas. I’ve always loved this time of year, I probably even loved it more when I didn’t have a faith (but that’s another story). But I am not crazy about getting everything down from the attic, setting up the decorations and then having to clean up. I especially don’t like having to trim the tree. It is a lot of work.
I used to spend a considerable time making sure that every single strand of tiny lights was evenly distributed on each branch, like my father had taught me. Soon enough I learned how to stand about six feet away and toss the lights on like a fisherman casting his net. I’ve always preferred the little tasteful white lights, like the ones we had growing up. My wife, though, hails from a tradition that celebrated with gaudy multi-colored lights. She was raised Lutheran and I Catholic. In the spirit of ecumenicalism we agreed to blend both types of lights. 25 years later I can’t even think of not having it both ways.
Some people accuse me of wanting to have it ‘both ways’ when it comes to how I relate to God. I can see value in most all faith traditions and I hesitate to say if someone is not with God even though they may respond to him differently than I do. I consider myself to be a Christian but there have been times when I have been challenged on this. Apparently some think that I can’t hold to this more tolerant point of view and still maintain a faith in Jesus.
Usually our arguments will boil down to the essence of where we disagree – Holy Scripture. Someone may place more emphasis on a certain verse than I do. I might be inspired by something completely different. With both of us concentrating on what we each holds most dear, we usually end up stalled and, at best, agreeing to disagree. But that can be so unsatisfying.
When decorating our Christmas tree, each family member would devoting his or her efforts to specific parts of the tree. When the children were small they concentrated on the low hanging branches. I would be teetering on the stool near the tree top while my wife would finesse the all important mid section. Even then, some would stray more towards one side of the tree over the other. Many times the kids would hang balls and ornaments in the ‘wrong’ places, out near the ends of the branches where they sagged or too far inside where they could hardly be seen. This would drive me nuts but over time I learned to bite my tongue, for the sake of familial harmony.
When all was hung, when the boxes were empty, we would take a few steps back to review our handiwork. After a few moments my wife Bev would say, “Well? Does it pass the squint test?”. To my surprise, it always did.
Standing in close to the tree all I see are the individual ornaments of different shapes, colors and sizes and where they are placed. The occasional broken branches and bare spots are starkly visible. I am painfully aware of the ‘mistakes’ of my children. Though they should be fixed so that they make more sense, I just accept their placement.
But when I move back a bit, take in the whole thing and, softening my focus just a little, I can make out the image of a beautiful, colorful and blazing bright Christmas tree. All the intricate and and glistening ornaments, each of them with their own story of Christmases past, working together to create this wonderful creation. Even those deep and dark crannies where the lights do not reach suggest mysterious areas worth further exploration.
A cooperative effort between God and his children, a Christmas tree speaks in a slightly tone to each person that meets it, evoking memories and feelings that cannot always be expressed. The ‘imperfect’ yet natural shape, the ‘inaccurate’ placement of the balls, the ornaments that range from big and shiny to small and fragile – each element works together to present a perfect whole. A little different every time, each observer can agree that the shape is always the same, and the spirit that this shape evokes can be shared by all.