A Festival of Love
We need a new festival. Christianity is a way of life, a faith system, where none of its recognizable dates corresponds directly with its central teachings. So again I say this. The Church is in desperate need of a new festival. We must create a celebration of love. Now before this is brutally twisted for the purpose of misunderstanding, I should clarify that I don’t mean a festival of sex, lust, and pursuit. We already have a solid ongoing celebration of culturally-enshrined reverence for the sanctity of male-privileged right to physical pleasure and domination. Some people abbreviate that to “marriage”. Others call it physical misogyny but that’s a discussion for another day. What I want to talk to you about is why “take back Christmas from Santa” and “reclaim Easter from the chocolate bunnies” are silly and unnecessary because, simply put, they are missing the point and we don’t have a time of celebration of the central argument of the faith — unyielding and unquestioning love of all humans.
So I’m proposing that we have a fourteen-day festival to commemorate the teaching that the old ideas of God-as-vengeful-concept and one confined to a particular group, a particular race, a faith of structural inequality and subservience, was over. Shake off your bonds and follow. All are equal in the sight of God. There is no man or woman, no old or young, no person not worthy of forgiveness if they only ask and commit to a life of service to others. There is no God of might, only a God of universal, equal, pervasive, ubiquitous love. And, although it’s not all that important in the grand scheme of things, I could suggest a date, too. I’d suggest, this year, that it be on 20 March and last until 3 April. I would certainly be open to alternate suggestions but it appears to me on the surface to be a sensible time for it. It’s a time of change and significance on Earth regardless of location. In the northern hemisphere, that is the vernal equinox, a time when rebirth is capturing the imagination of people and seasonal change is intertwined with growth and joy. In the southern hemisphere, that is the autumnal equinox, equally a time of change when colors are shifting wildly into new forms of beauty and in many places the harvest is celebrated as the culmination of important work and the beginning of a new cycle. Much like the concept of love, it would signify that this is an inclusionary act, not one of delineating new walls of exclusion.
The first thing you are likely wondering is what is wrong with the festivals we already have. In many ways, there isn’t anything the matter with them. Except that they’re celebrating things that don’t particularly matter. Easter is seen as the greatest festival in the Christian calendar. It commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. But what’s the importance of that story? It’s a recreation myth designed to show the importance of his teaching and to give incentive to followers and it’s a beautiful reflection of the type of literature that was significant and moving for centuries. But that was two thousand years ago and we’ve moved on but still we pray, as a society, as if medieval torture instruments are a real symbol of faith or that people come back from the dead. It’s not a physically possible story nor should it be. It’s about the symbolic rebirth of humanity in the face of brutal oppression and hatred. But here’s the truly significant issue. It doesn’t matter. Jesus was perhaps the greatest teacher in recorded history. He preached a new doctrine of universal equality, of love, of an end to slavery and oppression, an end to hatred, an end to nationalist divisions, a true following of service to others and a lack of materialism. A revolutionary concept then — as it is today, perhaps even more so, in a culture of socially-engrained hyper materialism and country-nationalism where we have all the structures in place for a global government of real freedom, flexibility, equality, and enough for all but our western materialism and xenophobia and hatred and superiority denies it to all those of us who desire simplicity and real, fundamental equality, not simply quotas and pay equity, not simply equality for those born here. So he taught all of these things in spite of the fact that it wasn’t exactly a secret that he would likely be branded a troublemaker and put to death, which he was, quite quickly, since his total teaching output spanned an incredibly short period of time. Imagine what he would have said had he lived another thirty years and kept preaching. Although I could propose that if he had been allowed to live longer, he probably wouldn’t have had to bother to preach because in a world that wouldn’t have stopped and killed Jesus, his teachings would have been much closer to have been reality already and, other than that, he said all he needed to say and two millennia later we still haven’t really been able to put those teachings into practice. But he said all of those things — before he was killed. Death, suffering, resurrection, huge issues of doctrine but that’s all they are. What’s significant about Jesus was what he said, what he did, and what he was able to do through his followers and all of that was accomplished in his lifetime. The passion story, while it is a beautiful reflection on the importance of ending your old life and creating a new one to follow in a life of service and equality, isn’t exactly the point. That being said, we really should rebuild the celebration of Easter to reflect what it truly signifies. It’s not about mourning the death of a great teacher and leader and it’s not about him being alive again. It’s about acknowledging our own mortality but more than that, discovering that we can let our old selves die and start a new life.
I can see what you are thinking, though, what about Christmas? Christmas is a celebration of love, isn’t it? It’s about giving. Sure, it’s a celebration of love and giving but more than that it’s a lot of other things. First and foremost, it’s about birth. And that’s beautiful. We can set aside the problem of the fact that we have and probably never will have the slightest idea of when Jesus was actually born. We have a pretty good idea of what year he was born — and if you haven’t noticed, it wasn’t in either the year 0 or 1. But that’s not the issue. We celebrate birthdays every year and, when it really comes down to it, as long as we celebrate them every year, the day on which we do so makes little difference. But here’s the problem. Christmas is a secular celebration of materialist culture. We can talk all we want about the true meaning of Christmas but it’s not going to do the business. If the point of Christian teaching is to shed the oppressive skin of materialism and have a new life of equality and service to others, we may be beating a dead horse if we’d like Christmas to signify that unless we somehow manage to overcome the inherent greed of human culture in the twenty-first century first. And while that is a laudable goal and one that I would certainly support, even to the point of marching in revolution against the tyranny of state-sponsored inequality, we need a starting point and Christmas simply can’t be it. No, it’s not a euphemistic myth. Of course Jesus was born. Was he born because a virgin got knocked up by the spirit of a New Testament God in nascent transformation? In a word, no. If you believe this, it’s probably not because you’re silly or uneducated. It’s probably because you’ve been told that believing these things is fundamental to the tenets of faith. That couldn’t be any more false. No more than believing in a literal story of divine creation. It’s a beautiful story to help teach the uneducated masses at the time of Jesus (or, in the case of Genesis, far before the time of Jesus) about the importance of spiritual good and cleanliness. It’s a beautiful story, albeit a bit confusing to people who in this age think that truth is the fundamental feature of text, in spite of the rise of fake news. No, it’s about communicating the right message. People understood that literal truth wasn’t the basis for these things. It’s only many centuries later when journalistic integrity is (albeit completely artificial and never really achieved) a basic assumption of our society. Stars and mangers, they’re great imagery, beautiful foreshadowing, and interesting concepts for children’s marketing and toyshops. Fluffy toy sheep and goats mingle with chocolate Santas and the wise men of the Epiphany story make a curious appearance several years too early but it’s ok. The idea is right — a new birth, a new life, a new following, and a wholesale change in the way we should relate to God, personal and individual, as equals not as descendants of a promise to a people. I’d love to see Christmas restored to this and that the gifts be those of ourselves, that we no longer buy and receive and beg and make lists and wonder if we’ve been good girls or not. I am certainly not immune from the idea of giving gifts at Christmas, as I do this every year for those I truly love, especially buying toys for my sister’s children. I know I try to create something personal, though, at least for the adults I love in my life and I encourage you to consider doing the same. I know my parents would prefer to receive uncontaminated love in the form of poetry and musical composition rather than any wrapped item from Amazon.
So we’ve established the desperate need in Christianity for a new celebration but what would it entail? Love isn’t about the presence of something. It’s about the lack of something. The lack of hatred, inequality, superiority. It’s about leaving behind the idea that because you’re older, because you’re a dude, because you’re white, because you were born in the west, because you went to a more highly-regarded school, that you are better and more deserving of luxury than someone else. Nobody deserves luxury and it’s not about how hard you work. Working hard is truly important, fundamental to the Christian life, but it is working hard to help others. To educate, to pass on the idea of equality, to share love and happiness. It’s about simplicity. Not being ok with the idea of having nothing but rejoicing in the concept of having plenty and in the act of not having far more than we need, that everyone else can have plenty, too. Taking no more than you need, giving to others what can give them a life of fulfillment and happiness, too. You’re mortal, as you’ve been reminded by the story of Easter, often far more mortal than you’d like to be. You can’t take it with you. Be happy in the simplicity of human society and the love of those you help and who help you.
What would such a festival look like? This, of course, goes far beyond doctrine and into speculation but I will share a few ideas with you. I would suggest that we avoid traditional celebration and have a new form of Church gathering. One each day for fourteen days. Of course I know that many people would not see it as possible to attend Church for fourteen straight days but that’s a silly objection and, while I believe that all people could manage it if they wanted to, simply giving the opportunity for people to come together every day in celebration of love and being open to those who arrive without judging those who come only once or twice would be a great way to show the acceptance of the fact that we are all growing in our relationship with the teaching of equality and passive spiritual love for all. So we could start with a celebration at dawn on the first day, a reflection on our old ways, a seeking of forgiveness, sure, from God, but also from those around us. More than that, though, we live in a globally connected world and the beauty of doing something at dawn is more than symbolic. It gives us the opportunity to talk to others as far away as possible. Dawn at any point in the world is going to be evening on the other side, not the middle of the night, meaning that we could include those farthest away in our celebration and directly speak to them of our shared stories and ask each other for forgiveness — of inequality, of subversion, of a lack of actual, fundamental, visible assistance and love. It would bring us together. Of course, this also means that we would be getting together either on the evening before the festival, for those farther west, or on the evening of the festival, for those farther east. If you think about time zones, it will make sense but suffice it to say, being simultaneously on the giving and receiving end of forgiveness and understanding is probably the most basic act of Christian faith that I could propose.
I would suggest that on the eighth day, the first day of the second week, this be repeated with a different set of groups being included but in much the same way. And again on the last day, to celebrate the progress that has been made and look to the future. For the days in the middle, I propose small group gatherings, to look at what has stood in the way of love and equality. Not just with friends and acquaintances, although that is certainly a good place to begin, but with those from all around, both physically and virtually. Some could take place in the Church, with music and dance and large-scale celebration, others being calm and small home gatherings. But the importance is what is felt, what is said, and what is planned for the future.
I won’t belabor the point of how such a festival could be celebrated but here’s what’s important. Christianity, the teachings and following of Jesus, is about forgiveness and love. It is about equality, not just for the people we like but all people. It’s not about respecting diverse views. It’s about respecting diverse people from all places but about condemning a lack of equality, a lack of mutual respect, a lack of personal freedom wherever it stands. Jesus wasn’t afraid to stand up to tyranny and inequality, to a system that perverted justice for the benefit of itself, be it in the guise of nationalism, populism, religious extremism, race-supremacy. He stood up and was counted, sadly counted as only one. But through our celebrations, we could stop pretending it’s about ritual and myth and start following his teachings in our lives. I give this as a challenge to all of you. Festival or no festival, holiday or not, you say you are a Christian in a Christian society. Are you acting like it?