One of Mom’s favorite Christmas decorations
This week has been an emotional one for me. As I draw closer to this first Christmas of my life when I won’t be able to talk with my mother, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about her life and my own. She was forever shaped by a childhood faith tradition that focused much more on the bloodiness of crucifixion than on the gracious gift of a baby’s birth. Then she married into a family that more than once told her that she wasn’t going to heaven unless she joined their church—the only one they believed would be in heaven. Though her life was an example of Christ’s commission to take care of the least among us, she told me three years ago that she was afraid to die because she might not go to heaven. She admitted that there was nothing logical about that fear, but she said, “It’s hard to get away from something you’ve been taught your whole life.”
Last Sunday I began the week with a return, after missing last month on the heels of my mother’s funeral, to my women’s circle at church, where several of us have lost our mothers recently. As they shared stories of the work they’ve been doing this Advent season, I realized that I’ve spent more time decorating my home for Christmas this year than I have devoted to living Christ’s charge to clothe the poor and feed the hungry. Even in an uneventful month, I can’t seem to find the time to do what many of the women in my circle do. Though I volunteer when I can, I struggle to find time to work, to commute, to do housework, to exercise—and to have time left to do the writing that helps me find my way in the world. Yet there are women in this group who work more demanding jobs and still have children in high school who volunteer at every opportunity.
I tried to reason with myself—that I should offer the same grace to myself that I offered my mother when emotion overwhelmed logic. But I walked away from that circle meeting feeling guilty and inadequate for failing to help others as Christ commanded us to do.
I came home from circle to a continuing discussion among my more conservative friends on social media about last week’s court ruling that a cross on government land in California must be removed. The cross sits at the highest point in La Jolla, where a tacit agreement among realtors not to sell properties to non-Christians once ensured that only Christians could live there. Not one voice in the strand of posts supported the removal of the cross.
As I read the replies to the post, I thought of Peter, talking excitedly about building a monument to Jesus on the mountain where Jesus’ face shone like the sun in the presence of God. But God, having none of it, sent a cloud over Peter’s head, and a voice came booming down: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well-pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). That was the end of Peter’s chatter, which suggests that God cares not a whit for monuments of stone. And many times in the New Testament, the writers speak of how God does not dwell in houses made by human hands.
I was too exhausted to craft a response to the posts, where I am usually a voice crying in the wilderness for separation of church and state. But I thought of my mother, who often said with a laugh, “I want to be there on Judgment Day when God tells your dad’s family that He doesn’t just dwell in a church made by their hands.”
Before I could reign in my emotions enough to craft a logical response, the topic changed as a firestorm erupted over Phil Robertson, a conservative on the reality show Duck Dynasty, who said in an interview with GQ Magazine that homosexuality is a sin. The same people who had posted on social media condemning the court decision on the monument spewed outrage about A&E’s decision to suspend Robertson from the show.
I honestly cannot understand the logic of Christians who defend Robertson’s crass comments, which I found offensive to women as well as to gays. He judges in a way that Christ explicitly chastised, yet he judges people for something Christ never so much as mentioned. The gays I know, among them devout Christians, offer grace and love, while this man offers judgment and condemnation. My gay cousin reads the Bible every day, and he traveled hours to visit my mother in the nursing home, something none of those who were convinced she was going to hell ever did. And when the hospice staff called my family to my mother’s bedside, my friend, who is a lesbian, dropped everything she was doing to housesit for us and care for our dog. I would pose the question to those who condemn gays and defend people like Robertson the question Jesus often posed: Which of these is more godly, more Christ-like?
My mother had an answer for that when we once talked about family members’ reactions to her gay nephew, whom she adored and considered a true Christian. “I have a feeling some of them are going to be mighty surprised at the Pearly Gates when they see who gets in.”
Because of my mother, my first reaction is more emotional than rational when Christians invoke the name of Christ on their side whenever anyone disagrees with them. I admire my Christian friends who can make their point quietly and walk away, as Christ did from the scribes and Pharisees. I wish I could do that.
But I hear my mother’s voice, fearing that judgmental Christians might be right about the state of her soul, in spite of what she knew made no logical sense. And it makes me just a little crazy—until I remember that she knows now what none of us can know on this side of life, no matter how loudly we claim to have the answers.
Merry Christmas, Mom. I miss you. The world could use a few more Christians with your kind of logic and love.