The other week on one of our walks through the neighborhood, Annie and Hazel and I passed by several houses that had their Christmas lights up, but not on yet. Christmas lights are one of those wonderfully uplifting parts of this time of year, but a lot of people still hold to the tradition of waiting until after Thanksgiving to turn them on. This walk was before Thanksgiving, but we still joked about how impatient we were to start seeing the lights come on. Especially, because Hazel would get to see them, and hopefully, she would start associating those lights with all the joyful anticipation of the season.
Because we all know that feeling, right? In this season, when carols start playing on the radio and classic movies start showing up on TV, when the tree goes up and the lights come on around the neighborhood, there’s a certain magic about it. Every year there’s this wonderful anticipation of something fantastic about to happen, something just around the corner that we’re so excited to see. I’m really looking forward to sharing that with Hazel as she gets older!
An art installation back in 2013 made a big splash in the church world. There was this Canadian sculptor named Timothy Schmaltz who made this bronze statue of Jesus. Only, it doesn’t really look like Jesus. In fact, some people were really offended by how little it looked like Jesus. Instead of the traditional imagery of the crucified Christ hanging from the crossbeam, Schmaltz had depicted Jesus as a person sleeping on a bench, with a blanket covering every part of him except his pierced feet.
The intention of the art piece was to help Christians get a real, earthy, physical reminder of what Jesus meant when he said “when you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” And it was good in some places, with congregations wanting it installed by the church, and the Pope blessing it as a truly holy representation of Jesus. But other reactions were…well, not so great. In one installation, a woman called the police shortly after the art piece was installed, assuming it was a real homeless person.
“What you did to the least of these, you did it to me.”
The other day, we took the time while the weather was nice to take down our Halloween decorations at the house. Now, admittedly, that basically amounted to a few pumpkins and a bat that hangs on the door, but they’re decorations nevertheless. October is over, and so we shift gears in November to talk about thankfulness. We might not be 100% sure what Thanksgiving will look like in COVID-tide, but we do know that November means Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving means thinking about our blessings.
And if we decide to do that while blasting Christmas music, I think we should all agree it’s 2020 and, at least this year, let’s let that whole argument go.
I saw a meme on Facebook a little while ago that came to mind this week while I was thinking about All Saints Day. It was a story about a younger person having a conversation with an elderly person, talking about the times we live in. The younger person talked about all the difficulties of the pandemic, about the pain of not getting to spend time with family and friends, how people were having a hard time paying the bills when the economy came to a crashing halt, how it’s all layered on top of all the other issues going on this year—civil unrest, angry elections, global climate change, all of it.
And the elderly person gave them some perspective based on their lived experience. They had lived through a world war. They’d seen the world brought to the brink of nuclear apocalypse. They’d experienced Vietnam, Watergate, Kent State, and the oil crisis. They’d seen so many upheavals and difficulties, but in the end, things have always turned out okay. Somehow, even if we come out with bruises, the bad things in the world can’t overtake the good things—not in the end.
There’s a fun show that Annie and I have been watching lately called “The Good Place.” It’s a really fun comedy about hijinks in the afterlife. Basically, the main character finds herself in the afterlife, and is told she has gone to the Good Place because of how good she was. But when she starts encountering some of the other residents and hears about the kind of lives they led, she starts to realize that she’s not supposed to be there. The other residents of the afterlife were saints, acting with complete selflessness toward others, and generally being good people to an obnoxious level.
But the show, entertaining though it is, also says something very interesting about the afterlife. The architect—the host who welcomes the main character into the afterlife—explains that people’s good deeds are calculated by a points system, and are offset by their bad deeds. Their points are tallied up, and if they achieved enough points, they would get to go to the Good Place. It’s a remarkably simple system and I think part of the popularity of the show has to do with how we generally think that kind of system is fair.