Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Question of Christmas

I'm not even sure how to frame the question.

What is the meaning of “Christmas”?
What exactly do we celebrate during this holiday season?

Truth be told, it means many different things to many different people. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Eid ul-Adha, Santa Claus, the list goes on and on. There is also the non-religious and very secular (and commercial) “Christmas”.

During this holiday season I had two interesting conversations with two different people.

My wife and children and I had gone to my sister's to exchange gifts. It wasn't Christmas day because we weren't going to see them on Christmas day. My children were the only children there, and true to being children were excited to open their presents. My sister said to them that Christmas wasn't only about presents. It sounded like the beginning of a speech or a lecture, and in a odd sort of way, I really wish it would have been. Because in the end, the statement was left hanging.
...Christmas isn't just about presents you know...

Okay, so what is Christmas about? Coming from a self-proclaimed agnostic – one who celebrates with a Christmas tree, yet doesn't (or won't) place a star or angel on it - really catches my curiosity.

What is “Christmas” about? The answer is family. “Christmas” is about family. In this example I don't have a problem with that. However - should that be true - then “Christmas” should represent the summation of all the other 364 days of the year.

How strange is it that it was only last Christmas that we sat in her home. I could probably count on one hand how many times we've been together during those other 364 days... on hindsight, I don't really buy that meaning of “Christmas”. It can't really be about family - not in this case.

Christmas Eve, we – the four of us – mommy, daddy, son, and daughter – had our Christmas dinner. We had one guest. A friend of mine – also a member of my small group – an older gentleman, a bachelor and without children. It was not an act of charity because we really enjoy his company. But on the same note, nobody should be alone on Christmas.

After dinner we got into a conversation in which he spoke of what Christmas meant to him. Although a faithful man, basically he said Christmas was really about simply enjoying yourself. It's a celebration so simply enjoy it. Although a Christian, he didn't attach any religion significance to the holiday. After all, Christ wasn't born on December 25th.

It's been 3 days since and I am still thinking about that. The last I can remember hearing was that they believed that Yeshua of Nazareth was born sometime in May or possibly Spring, although I have heard of many other dates. Regardless, the point remains pretty firmly established that He was not born on December 25th, or for that matter anytime within the month of December.

So what is it we celebrate? I remember earlier this month reading a story in the paper of two school teachers who put together a Seasons Holiday Musical performance at their local school who got into a little bit of hot water over changing the lyrics of the song Silver Bells, making it religiously neutral. Strange that is. Included in the musical performances was the song The Candles of Hanukkah to celebrate their multiculturalism.

The obvious problem is multiculturalism at the expense of one cultural tradition, namely Christianity's.
From Centrist Christianity, Tim had written,

I have absolutely zero problem with celebrating Ramadan, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas all at once. I have no problem with there being equity in the public expression of those holidays. Because let's face it, we haven't been an exclusively "Christian" nation for some time, if ever we truly were. We are a culturally diverse nation and should celebrate that. However, diversity must be acknowledged without suppression. This is where I grow concerned. Many of the parties that wish to see an "equal" recognition of these other holidays would like to do so at the expense of suppressing Christmas; or more importantly, the Christian connotations... Disturbing because it [is] an insidious form of extremism that seeks to eradicate all traces of sacred Christmas meaning.”

I believed this and would have argued in favour of this up until this Christmas. (And I don't mean to pick on Tim, nor pick a fight with him – I respect him very much), however, I don't think I agree wholeheartedly.

The Romans held a festival on December 25 called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun."; Sol Invictus. According to the Romans, December 25th was also the Winter Solstice. Later to become Saturnalia. The Early Church “baptized” the holiday and “Christianized” it.

When the Christianization of the Germanic peoples began, missionaries found it convenient to provide a Christian reinterpretation of popular pagan holidays such as Yule and allow the celebrations themselves to go on largely unchanged, versus trying to confront and suppress them. Regardless, on numerous levels there are present numerous pagan traditions, which strongly suggest this to be true. Mistletoe, the Yule-log, and even the Christmas Tree (quite possibly the Yggdrasil, but definitely Pre-Christian).

What is the meaning of Christmas? What is it that we celebrate?

I can't help but wonder if we're inadvertently celebrating the decimation of numerous cultures and traditions, yet – somehow – claim to celebrate cultural diversity.

Maybe Christmas should be eradicated.
Maybe the meaning of Christmas should be an apology.
Maybe the meaning of Christmas should be to extend ourselves to learn from other cultures and other celebrations.
...because the more I think about it, the Christian Christmas seems to have less and less real meaning... it seems to be ringing hallow
Let's keep Christ in Christmas

I don't believe Christ ever was in Christmas.

Maybe Frank Costanza's “Festivus for the rest of us” carries more weight and truth.

How sad is that?

I find it heartbreaking.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I have struggled with how exactly to introduce my intent behind this blog-site, Burlap. It really is a simple idea in itself. However, such a simple idea is in no way simple to put forward. Whether we like it or not, we live in a religiously pluralistic world. The question we are faced with is, how do we deal with that?

We will either look outwards to our neighbours and become tolerant of religious pluralism, or we will retreat from the world and become insular, exclusive, and intolerant. This is Fundamentalism and any fundamental movement is a desperate attempt to force a movement back to the truth. The argument being if we have in our possession, the entire and whole truth and the facility to comprehend it, why would we seek to move away from that?

We must define for ourselves which of the following we are and will choose to do. But if we do have in our possession the entire and whole truth and if we also have the facility to comprehend it, then why do we have as many denominations and numerous faiths?

There are only 3 conclusions:
1) We do not have the entire and whole truth in our possession. Which means holy scripture are not completely the truth nor is it entire.
2) We do not have the facilities to comprehend fully the whole and complete truth.
3) All the above; we lack both the truth and the facility to comprehend it, in which case, no decision of ours will make any difference anyway.

So, my conclusion is

1) Only God fully understands the truth of anything.
2) Only God can punish non-believers because only God truly knows what non-belief is.

The distinction and segregation of true believers and non-believers is so outside of my “jurisdiction” that I must never ask that question. They are all simply my neighbours. The focus must be elsewhere.

Only God fully understands the truth of anything. Only God can punish non-believers because only God truly knows what non-belief is.

These two statements of belief transcend boundaries that have caused more pain, misery, grief, and human suffering in all of human history; namely, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Atheism.

Tribalism, Legalism, Religiosity, Licentiousness, Fundamentalism, and soteric criteria all fly in the face of love thy neighbour as yourself.

I wholeheartedly believe that ideas have consequences; real consequences! And because of that I also believe that Doctrine is critically important. Allow me to repeat myself for emphasis: Doctrine (singular, not plural) is critically important.

“Love your neighbour as yourself”

If your belief necessitates more than that, if your theology needs footnotes and endnotes on that statement, then your theology is wrong, your religion is in error, and your belief is crippled.

That is my core belief.
However, my core belief also makes me a hypocrite. The sad fact of the matter is, I don’t love my neighbour. I usually despise, badmouth, hate, am intolerant, or often indifferent, to my neighbour … and indifference makes all the difference in the world.

I guess, ultimately, I don’t fully understand my core Doctrine yet. I have a lot to learn. I have a long road ahead of me.

I am in need of teachers and students; mentors and proteges. I am in need of traveling companions on this path, on this journey, and it is for this reason I sincerely hope you can become a voice within this piece of Burlap.

Where in the past the world was a very large place, if we so chose, we could live an insular life. However, the world is no longer big but very small and being insular is no longer an option (outside of blatant denial). We live in a pluralistic society and we are aware of the pluralistic nature of the world. The model Christianity uses no longer works or fits. The older Christian model, or traditional-paradigm, no longer works and no longer matches what we see.

A paradigm is more than just the lense we view the world through. It is the Model we use to filter our perceptions through. When a paradigm outlives its use, we discard it and attempt to find another model.

When the Ptolemaic view of the solar system could no longer be maintained (that the Earth was its center), the model – the paradigm – was discarded and replaced with a new paradigm; a new model (Copernicus') .

The idea that the Religion of Christianity is the one only True Religion has become difficult to support. The first shift was to add an 'epicycle' and claim that no religion is the One True Religion, and that Christianity isn't a religion. This is still functioning within the Ptolemaic-paradigm, but only adding a footnote, an 'epicycle'.

It isn't that all religions lead to God, but that no religion leads to God.

Those strict dogmatic-types who insist that their religion and only their religion leads to God and/or salvation, we'll call the “Dogmatic”.

On the other end of the spectrum are those that believe all religions lead to God. It could be said they believe in a sort of “Sacrament of Religion”. Out of a lack of a better name, I'll call them “Universal-Pluralists”.

There are those who say that no religion lead to God.

And finally there are those who will claim that no religion leads to God by redefining their belief as a non-religion. But what they are really saying is that their “faith” (substitute any word for 'religion') is the only way. This is really the above mentioned Dogmatic but disguised. They still believe in a singular True Religion and that their belief is it. We'll call these types “Disguised Dogmatics”.

If we are honestly willing to say that no religion leads to God (or salvation), and if we are honestly willing to acknowledge that there does indeed exist a religion called Christianity, and if we are willing to accept that this Religion of Christianity cannot lead to God/salvation, then we must be willing to explore or ask ourselves the question, “What parts of our religion are we willing to give up?”; because if we're not willing to give up any part of our religion, then what we really are is a “Disguised Dogmatic”.

November of 2006 was the first manifestation of this exploration for me with a (lengthy) piece entitled The Nature of Grace. To someone clearly in the first camp (Dogmatic) it must seem in the first few paragraphs that I am not only denying Christianity, but denying even being a Christian. (and to a certain degree, I was).

In Abbaian I had visited the distinction between believing all were legitimate vs. none were legitimate.

The next 'milestone' in my journey was a piece called Postdenominationalism, which really focused exclusively on the more extreme lot in the first camp (the Extreme Dogmatic). As I look back on it now, it was quite narrow in scope, focusing only on denominations (or denominationalism) within Christianity (the unspoken assumption being nevertheless only through Christianity or Christendom).

The latest (and most controversial) piece was Three Syntheses, which took the 'religiosity' out of Postdenominationalism and seriously ask the question, "What part of my religion am I willing to give up?"

The next step is a discussion, a conversation, inviting people not only of other denominations, but of other faiths. These questions and issues are not unique to Christianity.

We must be dedicated to seek the truth wherever it may be found.
We must be willing to take risks and ask questions, because that is how faith evolves. A spiritual journey is one of perpetual change and growth. Stagnation is spiritual death.
Tribalism cannot be the truth.
We must insist on being educated rather than indoctrinated.
Our loyalty should never to be a people or a culture or a dogma, but to ideas and ideals and God himself.

Maybe we should be asking ourselves, or questioning our own idols; identifying what we consider sacred and untouchable, and then discovering whether it truly hold that value

If the concept being put forward is really true then it should be manifest not just within Christendom, but outside of it as well. I find it encouraging that we are beginning to see signs of this.

The Ptolemaic Christian-paradigm has outlived its use and what we are doing is attempting to find a more appropriate one. This is in no way my idea. I am only one voice in this endeavor. And I am inviting others to be that voice with me.

This is a voyage that I am in no way capable of traveling alone.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I can carry Taoist values, as reflected through certain martial arts – dichotomies often existing in harmony, not at the expense of one another.

I can learn the tranquility of the Buddhist, to let go of issues that cause stress, as there is a time and place for passivity.

I can value, revere, and worship the divine directly through Nature, paralleling paganism.

I am free to hold Christian and monotheistic metaphoric truths to further understand the incomprehensible and hope to love others better, without the trappings of literalism, tribalism and legalism.

I can appreciate and accept Catholicism’s veneration of the Virgin Mary as a manifestation of the much needed yet unaddressed divine-feminine.

I can see the symbolic power and beauty of Orthodox icons and not suffer from idolatry.

Because of the Gnostics, I hope to be free of the addictive nature of historicity and religiosity.

I need not abandon the open-eyed skepticism of the Humanist, Atheist, or Agnostic on watchful guard for liars, “words of knowledge”, cheats, spiritual frauds, “prophetic gifts”, and charlatans.

I am Woven; a living tapestry of identities, languages, cultures, and faiths.
A piece of burlap; Strong and tightly bound, yet unbound in my liberty.
I am not a subject of the lowest common denominator. I am a gestalt. The unweaving of one part is the undoing of the whole.

What the Religionist must call purification – the purging of alien practices and ways – is to become unwoven. A single thread is easier to capture than a richly woven tapestry. My “religion” would best being described as a Non-institutional Syncretist… and Syncretism is akin to wringing the truth out of 10,000 lies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I see threads woven together to form a tapestry.
I see people woven together by the hand of God.

St. Paul called it the Body of Christ.
Yeshua, the Anointed, spoke of it as the Kingdom of God, now, yet still to come.
Islam holds to the “ummah”, the nation of Islam, transcending political borders.
Ezekiel saw the Jewish people as a corporate entity, the daughter of God, Jerusalem.

They spoke of a composite entity – a living organism – composed of people, woven into a living breathing tapestry; woven by God.

I see this woven tapestry as a piece of burlap; strong, tightly bound in the center, but loose and frayed on its edges; sometimes damaged, ripped and torn.

We tend to worry about these outer frayed-edges. Ultimately we're concerned about this piece of burlap coming undone.

The master weaver is God, for it is only God that can successfully weave these pieces of thread into this piece of material, this beautiful piece of cloth. But with every piece of cloth there are unfinished ends...frayed edges. The question must be asked, what are we to do with these rough edges? Are we to hem them into an ascetically pleasing finish? Or are we to simply cut them off? Perhaps burn them? Should we pull them off; tear them out? Who are these frayed edges?

We should not hem the frayed edges in to make a homogeneous seam and edge. This is to hide and tuck these people away and out of sight. We should not cut them off because they have as important of a roll to play in this tapestry. Once a frayed edge is cut off it is only a matter of time until the next row of thread breaks and becomes the frayed edge, thus eating away, or diminishing the whole of the cloth. We should not attempt to pull them off, or pull them out because, again, it will unravel this beautiful cloth.

They are both the most fragile part and the most critical part of this beautiful piece of cloth. They are the most fragile part because they must be delicately cared for. They are easily undone and easily lost. Any structure or institution is only as strong as its weakest part. Yet they are the most critical part of this cloth because it is these fringe-dwellers which actually hold this cloth together. Once a loose thread is pulled out it begins the process of unraveling the entire cloth. It is these frayed edges that inadvertently stop the undoing of this piece of burlap. And let's be absolutely clear on this one point; God does not unravel these pieces of thread, man does.

But these fragile frayed edges also have the unique opportunity to bind other edges – to eventually form a much larger cloth. They can connect many pieces into a singular 'quilt'; a unified body.

This site – Burlap – isn't about selling one's beliefs. It's about resigning them. It's about connecting. It is about moving beyond the syntheses.