WILLIAMSTOWN -- There are times when being a Christian is uncomfortable -- and Christmas may be the most uncomfortable time of all. Oh, of course we love the idea, the birth of someone who by manner and actions was the prince of peace and a radical economist. The music and the decorations are lovely, too, as long as they don't involve an immoderate use of electricity. But the anniversary of Christ's birth reveals the cracks in the structures men have raised on his foundation.
Many years ago Sam, A Better Chance student from Harlem attending Mount Greylock Regional High School, was staying with our family over the holidays. He answered the telephone when a friend called. When I got on the line, my friend remarked, "I didn't know you had a butler." It was a joke, and a funny one, given my teacher's income, yet troubling, given black Sam's background of real poverty.
I could not help seeing the pile of presents under the tree through Sam's eyes. Then, when the grandparents arrived, the pile seemed to double. Christmas can appear as a memorial to commercial enterprise, pulsating getting and spending, a way of asserting economic advantage in the face of the majority of mankind.
Christmas reminds us of other abuses. People use Christianity as a weapon to rebut scientific theories such as evolution, or perhaps climate change, offering flawed education under the guise of freedom of religion. Or they claim recognition of other religions, or the non-religious, especially at this time of the year, as somehow a betrayal of Christianity, part of a "War on Christmas."
People use Christianity cruelly. They preach against those who are different, calling them sinners or regarding them as less than human. Christian denominations with their dogmas have cudgeled the poor, the hurt, the grieving. In fact, intolerance, through the ages, has been characteristic of Christianity. The Christian religion as drone has always found targets.
"Christian fighters kill nearly 100 in capital," was a shocking headline to read this advent, even when we know that those fighters were fighting back against assaults on them in the Central African Republic. I suppose just as shocking as for a Muslim to read about attacks attributed to people of his faith.
Being a Christian at Christmas -- or any time of the year -- can be a heavy burden, like Santa's pack. Even if I try to disown the unsavory history, the absurd biases, the malice and misuse, I cannot shuck them completely. Yet we can keep the figure that Christmas celebrates separate from the misfortune that has happened and continues to happen in his name. He rises unscathed out of the clutter we have created, or so it seems to me.
So, yes, I think the guy Jesus was all right, and I would truly like to see him truly reborn at this time of year, however hard that birth may be. Without irony I wish all a Merry Christmas.
At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.
A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.