I admit that I am ambivalent about the Xmas season. I struggle with some of it – the Santa stuff that takes over all other holidays at this time, the materialism and the happiness that doesn’t always feel genuine. My partner and I, being a Jewish/Christian combo, celebrate “Chrismakkah” with the kids – a mashup of Hannukah and Christmas, but we are still trying to figure out what our family ritual looks like. Before kids, we volunteered and went out for Chinese food on Xmas, and that was a fun ritual (see http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/53569/jewish-christmas for a great piece on Jews and Christmas). But with the kids, we’re still trying to figure out what it looks like (for this year – Sushi on Xmas Eve (yum!), staying in pjs all day and watching the Sound of Music and going to my Dads for Xmas supper, to hang out with family and cousins).
But while I don’t identify as a Christian, I used to. And the Christian side of Christmas is my favourite part – the songs, the act of remembering a kick-ass guy who was born in a manger and lived to be one of the most inspiring community activists. Most people are surprised when they find out that I used to identify as a Christian, and that I actively lived in Christian community. I think that amongst the progressive lefty crowd, there is stigma and judgement, and usually an image of Christians being judgemental, nasty homophobic bigots. And while that type of Christianity is of course alive and well, the Christianity that I have known has been completely different. The Christianity I have known has allowed me to meet some of the most amazing community builders, taking the biggest risks in life and living a life of integrity, inspiring me to question the status quo. Here are just a few of the Christians who have inspired me:
1. Brent Hawkes – MCCT – My Christianity was formed at 13 years old when I started going to MCCT. My mother came out as a lesbian when I was three, and 10 years later, she found MCCT – a Christian ministry for the gay and lesbian community. We started going to this church when I was 13, and at that time, people protested outside of the church and even came inside to disrupt the service. We marched every year in Gay Pride with MCCT, and again, I remember protesters. Brent Hawkes is an amazing pastor – there is something truly magical about the way he speaks and tells stories, that is truly captivating. Brent and this church is amazing in their activism, being at the forefront of fighting for gay marriage, as well as being one of the only churches that states in their mission statement that they believe “there are many paths to God” – http://www.mcctoronto.com/.
2. Mary Jo Leddy – Romero House – I read Mary Jo’s book “At the Border Called Hope” when I was in University, and was so inspired that I signed up to volunteer. I was a live-in volunteer at Romero House during the year of 1998/1999, living in Christian community with refugees, accompanying them. This was probably the most intense year of my life, at the age of 22, living with people who had experienced more tragedy and pain in their life than I would ever know. My learning that year was very hard and deep – learning how to listen, learning how to be with people in their pain and not have the answers but just to be there, learning how to deal with crisis (2 suicide attempts), learning how to take care of myself and the critical importance of community to keep yourself honest and focused and making the right decisions in the day-to-day.
3. James Loney and William Payne / Dorothy Day – I met James and William on a 24 hour van ride to Georgia where we were protesting the School of Americas, and they blew my mind. I had never heard of the Catholic Worker Movement until that trip, and I couldn’t believe how hard core they were. Dorothy Day started the Catholic Worker movement, and at the heart, they live in Parkdale and open up their homes to people who need to live there. Check out this interesting post about this – http://ontario.cmha.ca/network/my-catholic-worker-community/. As well as Catholic Workers, William Payne and Jim Loney are “Christian Peacemakers” who literally go to places of violence and stand in the middle of it all, risking injury and death to promote peace. If that isn’t practicing what you preach, I don’t know what is.
And on this Christmas Eve, I wish all of you a safe and peaceful holiday. I leave you with my favourite Christian prayer – the Prayer of Saint Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is error, truth; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek; To be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.