So the holidays are over and it’s a new year. It always feels a bit sad when the holidays end, especially here in Michigan with the daunting thoughts of a long cold winter looming. There is definitely a different feeling in the air at Christmastime. People remark on it all the time - a certain joy, and well wishes for those around us. And organizations like the Salvation Army have capitalized greatly on the charitable feelings with their red kettle campaign, which generated $135.9 million last year alone. Then there is the Christmas music - so cheerful and familiar. The novelty of only hearing it during the Christmas season makes it so much more special. Christmas movies abound as well. I watched two versions of A Christmas Carol this year. I grew up watching that movie, but I must say, now that I have tasted a life in poverty, it strikes a chord deep within me. Scrooge’s attitude towards those in need at the beginning of the story, compared with his life-changing metamorphosis by the end is poignant.
When the story begins, Scrooge does not even realize there is a problem with his attitude. I can relate to that. He was a hard worker, took care of his own needs, did not ask for anyone else to help him out, and, therefore, did not feel like it was his responsibility to take care of others. After all, they were poor because they were lazy and didn’t want to work, right? They were selfish and just wanted a hand out. They were troublemakers who belonged in prison. There were workhouses around to which the poor could go. They would be separated as families, but they would have food and a place to sleep, a church service on Sundays, and maybe a bit of work. At least it was something, so they should be grateful for it. They were poor, and couldn’t expect more. Treat them like people? With dignity? Nope, Scrooge felt the world would be better off if the poor just died, to “decrease the surplus population”. That would make it much easier not to think about them, wouldn’t it? Until I walked in those shoes, I rarely thought about people in need - mostly at Christmas.
So what turns Scrooge around? He is visited by the spirits - and goes on a journey. That journey takes him to the other side. He gets to see the world from the eyes of those in poverty. He gets a glimpse into the other side, and thinks about what it might feel like to be in those shoes. He realizes he is living, but he is not alive - and that being alive encompasses caring about the lives of the people around him. He learns how important it is to try to make a difference for the people he comes in contact with, and how beautiful and precious it is to give and care. He understands the importance of bringing joy and hope and happiness into the world, and he decides he will use his resources to do so. The story ends with Scrooge a changed man who “knew how to keep Christmas well”.
A Christmas Carol captures the essence of the Christmas spirit that people are drawn to and that causes so many to love the season - and to drop their spare change in the red kettle. That spirit of love and generosity does not have to disappear with the Christmas decorations. I don’t think it should. I do think we don’t realize how the spirit of Scrooge tends to dictate our lives when it is not Christmastime. Our indifference to the pain of those around us, and our desire to always protect ourselves from being inconvenienced by getting involved prevails in a society in which independence is worshiped. Our lack of sensitivity to, and ignorance about people in need is a sad commentary of our inability to connect as human beings.
I think many Christians have been drawn into a comfortable mindset that God is running a political party in the United States, and politics dictate their faith. I don’t think He wants us to run our lives according to a politician's words or proposals. We cannot legislate love and understanding, hope and peace. We can’t. Those come from within, and have to be demonstrated. Blindly jumping on a voter's bandwagon just because it comes from the right speaker shows the height of ignorance of God’s words.
Don’t underestimate the power of influential words populated with catchy Christian phrases and Bible verses. Yes, your vote matters, but your life is what counts. One example is the popular posts about testing people for drugs before qualifying them for food stamps. Really? I understand not liking the current system, but people using drugs are not the problem with the food stamp system. A selfish society that has allowed the government to try to do what compassion should dictate to abdicate its own responsibilities as human beings - not to mention the many Biblical commands to Christians - is the problem.
We are so comfortable in our role as judges, that the attitude of Scrooge prevails and that makes Christmas all that much more delightful because, for once, people act like they care. What if we did that all year around? What if we tried to understand where other people are coming from? Sarah and I came under fire one time for helping a young man. We were told he was lazy, and a liar, and on and on and on. Weird. I don’t know if that is one of those “only in America” types of situations, but, seriously? If a person is lazy, or a liar, or a drug abuser, or any of those things, there is a reason. Something in has happened in that lifetime to put that person where he or she is.
Maybe an act of kindness could help break through that - and allow that person a glimmer of hope for change. Or maybe, being treated like an important member of the human race can help others who have been beat down to stand a little taller, and find the strength to try again to change their circumstances. We can’t give up on people, and we can’t wait for others to do something - we can change the world for those around us, and it’s not just by throwing some money at the problem once in awhile, or showing up occasionally to a church activity to help the poor. We need to put ourselves out there, to listen, to care, to be present in the problem - and use our gifts of intelligence and compassion to try to come up with solutions, and to be supportive of those whose needs are the greatest.
We could make it feel like Christmas all year around.