With all the hubbub surrounding the recent election, and the strong feelings for and against the outcome, no doubt you saw the dozens of pre-holiday media articles giving advice on how to make it through Thanksgiving family table time without erupting into divisive political chaos. Sadly, these articles seem to bear witness to the breakdown of the ability of families to engage in simple civil discourse. When we can’t even talk turkey with Uncle Larry over what constitutes good governance without coming to blows, and have to steer conversation only to the weather, or the latest Kardashian saga, the real problem probably isn’t Donald or Hillary.
On a brighter note, however, the current political climate may make talking about religion seem positively benign, by comparison. This is particularly true at Christmastime. Most normal people I know are no more offended by being greeted with “Merry Christmas,” even if they’re not a Christian, than I am in wishing “Happy Anniversary” to someone other than my wife. In fact, the ideas of Christmas—light in the darkness, joy to the world, peace on earth, and care for my fellow man- are aspirational for all but the deeply disturbed, even if we differ on how that can be achieved.
Which is why, if you’re a believer, Christmas is a great time to engage others in dialogue about Christ. As Tim Keller says in his wonderful book, Hidden Christmas, “Every year our increasingly secular Western society becomes more unaware of its own historical roots, many of which are fundamentals of the Christian faith. Yet once a year at Christmas these basic truths become a bit more accessible to an enormous audience…the essentials of the faith become visible.” Through carols, giving generously, Christmas lights, and other trappings, believers have more opportunities than ever to talk about what these things really mean, how they signal hope for us, and for the world.
If you’re a seeker and not a believer, or not seeking at all, it’s easy to write such conversations off as a sort of bothersome social faux pas, like belching or his and her matching Hawaiian shirts. However, another perspective to consider might be that of Penn Jillette, the magician and half the duo of Penn and Teller. Jillette does not profess belief in God, but admits no respect for those who do and don’t proselytize. From his perspective, to believe that one has the way of life and another does not, and yet to refuse to share that with the other out of fear of rejection or social awkwardness, is an act of indifference bordering on hatred. He likens it to knowing the other person is unwittingly about to be hit by a truck, and saying nothing. Putting it another way, consider for a moment that your friend or family member, rather than seeking to offend you, may actually love you enough that they’re willing to risk social awkwardness or rejection to engage you in conversation about something they believe could change your life dramatically for good, even if you believe they’re misguided.
Furthermore, what if there actually was someone, someone really powerful, maybe all powerful, who cared about you so much he felt you worth dying for? Wouldn’t it at least be worth talking with your friend or family member about whether this someone was even true or real? Maybe it’s time to revisit and explore these truth claims again, just to see?
With politics seemingly off limits in polite conversation for a while, you can only talk about the weather and the Kardashians for so long. Let’s pick a “safe” topic. Like Jesus.