What is the Meaning of Christmas?

If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that I have always had some struggles with the consumerism of Christmas. I grew up with six siblings and parents who didn’t have much money. We always received gifts for Christmas, but they were simple gifts like farm sets and matchbox vehicles. Truth be told, we were happy with the gifts given to us, even though they were not the biggest or newest toys on the market at the time. Being an adult for some time now, I’ve witnessed family and friends giving extravagant gifts worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, and I have always thought how ridiculous this seemed as it was proof for me of the rampant consumerism that occurred at Christmas time.

People’s struggles with consumerism have been going on a long time. In 1965, an animated television special based on the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz, debuted for the first time on television. The special was called A Charlie Brown Christmas and this was a cartoon that really addressed the issue of consumerism at Christmas.

51ACRI9SIYL._SX940_In the cartoon, Charlie Brown knows that he should be happy, but he isn’t. He believes that commercialism is the problem. He struggles with his younger sister Sally who wants him to help her with her Christmas letter to Santa, where she dictates, “I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I want. Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How about tens and twenties?” He is also conflicted when Snoopy enters a Christmas decorating contest and wins a cash prize.

Charlie doesn’t know what to do about it all. When Lucy suggests that he direct the Christmas play, Charlie Brown hopes to find the true meaning of Christmas in the process. Even that doesn’t seem to work. One of the last pieces for the play is to get a Christmas tree as the set centerpiece. Charlie Brown, along with Linus, takes on the task with his entire cast wanting him to pick out a nice aluminum tree. Instead, Charlie Brown chooses a small, frail looking real tree, which when he tries to decorate it  he believes he has failed.

Even Linus declares, “Christmas is not only getting too commercial, it’s getting too dangerous.” Linus’ sister Lucy tells Charlie, “Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” The cartoon is about Charlie Brown who is trying to obtain the real meaning of Christmas, which he believes is eclipsed by commercialism.

No one speaks of consumerism around Christmas better than Cal Thomas, an American syndicated columnist who often writes from a Christian perspective. Mr. Thomas recognized uncomfortable truths about Christmas in his December 2003 column. In his column he wrote:

“I’m not sure it’s worth keeping Christmas anymore. Oh, it is fine for those apparently dwindling numbers of us who still believe in the “original cast” of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men and the animals. They, as any post-Thanksgiving (not to mention postmodern) shopper knows, have been replaced by the road show of reindeer, winter scenes, elves and the God substitute, Santa Claus, who serves as a front for merchants seeking to play on the guilt some parents bear for ignoring their kids the rest of the year…

Why participate any longer in this charade where the focal point of worship has shifted from a babe in a manger to a babe in the Victoria’s Secret window? From gold, frankincense and myrrh to Bailey Banks & Biddle? No room in the inn has been replaced by no room in the mall parking lot. If God would get a lawyer out of hell, He might be justified in suing for copyright infringement. His great story has been hijacked and transformed into its opposite.”

Even though the column was written twelve years ago, Mr. Thomas still echoes the sentiment that many people feel today. Add to that the desire by some for political correctness or the mentality of some that we cannot say “Merry Christmas” for fear that we might offend non-Christians; that the politically correct thing is to say “Happy Holidays.”  The Bible Society of Australia conducted some research in 2011 about the Australian public’s attitude towards Christmas. 70% of Australian believers think the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. Their research also discovered that 51.9% of ‘non-Christians’ think that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. (see Loosing the meaning of Christmas). So that begs the question, what is the true meaning of Christmas? Is Christmas just about giving gifts as our consumerist society wants us to believe?  I’ve been reflecting on this question for some time now and I have come to the conclusion that Christmas is really about love.

img_3204In 1995, Dr. Gary Chapman published a book called, Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, a book I read a few years ago. Here is a quick summary of the five love languages as described by the Verily website.

  1. Words of Affirmation: Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.

  2. Quality Time: In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.

  3. Receiving Gifts: Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures.

  4. Acts of Service: Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most wants to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.

  5. Physical Touch: This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.

I have always thought that there was a lot of merit to Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages. How does Christmas fit in with Dr. Chapman’s love languages? Well, after thinking about it, it turns out that Christmas addresses all the languages of love. Let’s have a look at each.

  1. Words of Affirmation: Giving affirmations are part of the Christmas tradition. Compliments such as “that Christmas dinner was delicious” or “You look great” are freely given. Christmas cards are sent out each year expressing sentiments of love to others. Christmas letters do the same thing. This does not include the affirmations we give when we greet our loved ones when visiting them at Christmas. Words of affirmation have always been a part of the Christmas tradition and still are.
  2. Quality Time: Christmas is about spending quality time with family. The Bible Society Australia research I mentioned earlier discovered that 94% of Australians liked spending time with loved ones at Christmas. I know of individuals that only see their loved ones at Christmas time. To quote Burton Hillis, “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. Quality time is unquestionably an important part of the Christmas tradition.
  3. Receiving Gifts: Not much needs to be said about this love language. The biggest aspect of Christmas is gift giving. It has always been this way. However, that doesn’t mean that gifts have to be worth enormous amounts of money. Mother Teresa once said, “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
  4. Acts of Service: Christmas is also a time when people do something special for others. It might be buying an extra gift to donate to Santa’s Anonymous. It might be conducting a food bank drive. Christmas seems to be a time that brings out the “goodness” in people. In my community, one family puts on a Christmas dinner for those less fortunate in the community. Acts of Service are a part of the Christmas tradition.
  5. Physical Touch: I can’t speak for everyone, but my experience of Christmas has always been filled with lots of hugs and kisses from loved ones. People seem extra happy at Christmas and therefore seem more willing to express their feelings through physical touch That could be a hug or a kiss or at the very least a hand shake.  Dacher Keltner in his article Hands on Research says, “the science of touch convincingly suggests that we’re wired to; we need to connect with other people on a basic physical level. To deny that is to deprive ourselves of some of life’s greatest joys and deepest comforts.” Physical touch is a critical part of the Christmas tradition.

So after much reflection on the topic, I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas is more than the consumerism that I’ve been dwelling on. It’s more than gift giving. Christmas brings out the best in people. Christmas is a time that brings forth more love into the world. Christmas is about a spirit of love, otherwise known as the Christmas spirit.

The Christ child is a symbol of love, hope and peace that creates a joyful season. For Christian believers its more than a symbol. For non-believers the child is a symbol of love. Perhaps Linus Van Pelt expressed what Christmas is all about best when he said, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

Christmas is an attitude. It’s a time when we allow the spirit of Christmas that inspires us to give and receive. That can be in the form of acts of kindness, giving gifts, saying a kind word, smiling at a stranger,  giving hugs freely, or visiting someone you haven’t seen in a long time. Calvin Coolidge says it best when he said, “Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy [I prefer to say compassion], is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” The true meaning of Christmas is about a change in attitude. It’s about allowing the spirit of love, otherwise known as the Christmas spirit, to take hold of us.

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Christmas Controversies

Every year as the Christmas season approaches controversies erupt around political correctness and tolerance. This year there was the Starbucks controversy (see Red Cup Controversy) , which monopolized imageheadlines in November. The company typically has its red holiday cups decorated with snowflakes, Christmas ornaments or reindeer, but chose for a minimalist design this year with cups that are red with nothing but its green logo. Starbucks executives said they wanted to embrace “simplicity and quietness.” However some Christian conservatives saw these new cups as an attempt to diminish the importance of Christmas.

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 10.50.33 AMAnother controversy occurred in Oakville, Washington, a town of 700 people who typically celebrates Christmas without controversy (see Christmas Message Sparks Controversy).  This year volunteer firefighters at Grays Harbor Fire District No.1 put a biblical message on their sign. The sign outside the fire station read, “Unto us a savior is born. Merry Christmas.” So when someone complained the fire commissioner ordered the sign to come down and their Christmas tree turned off.

I understand some of the thinking around these controversies. After all we live in a multicultural country and it is important to be sensitive to the different cultures around us. In fact, Canada celebrates multiculturalism and has officially made multiculturalism it’s policy. In 1971, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the father of Canada’s present prime minister, Justin Trudeau, acknowledged its commitment to the principle of multiculturalism and formalized a policy to protect and promote diversity. Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy. This policy affirmed the value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation.

In 1988, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act was enacted by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. This Act has two fundamental principles:

  1. All citizens are equal and have the freedom to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage.
  2. Multiculturalism promotes the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in all aspects of Canadian society.

The United States does not have any kind of act recognizing its multicultural diversity that I am aware of, but nonetheless, like Canada, it is a country made up of immigrants and therefore it’s society encompasses many cultures.

So I get it (I think). I understand the need to be sensitive to other religious traditions and cultures. After all, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act states, “Citizens…have the freedom to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage.” So the way I see it, Christmas is a time for Christians to share their religious heritage.

Christmas is celebrated on December 25th and is the day when Christians celebrate the birth of Yeshua or Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is regarded by most Christians as the Son of God and the savior of humanity. It seems every year there are some people who take offense to Christians expressing this belief.  Christians should not feel stifled in any way when celebrating one of their biggest festivals!

250px-Menorah_0307The Jewish tradition celebrates Hanukkah or the “Feast of Dedication,” also known as the “Festival of Lights”.  This festival is celebrated on the 8th day of December and it is a time when Jewish people recall a miracle in the Jerusalem temple during a war fought by the Maccabees for the cause of religious freedom. Temple candles only had enough oil to burn for a single day. Yet they burned for eight days. Jews light candles on a menorah, two on the first day, three on the second, to nine on the eighth day. Jews should not feel restricted in any way when celebrating Hanukkah. In fact, this celebration should be encouraged. Perhaps in addition to Starbucks having cups with Christmas decorations on it, the company should also include cups with the menorah on it.

Also on December 8th, or on the Sunday immediately preceding it, the Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day. This day recalls the day in 596 BCE, when Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha (meaning enlightened one) sat beneath a Bodhi tree and is believed to have achieved enlightenment, thus escaping the repeating cycle of reincarnation: involving birth, life, death and rebirth. Being this is an important day for the Buddhists, why not have some Starbucks cups with Bodhi trees on them in December as well. This would be a great way to educate people about the various religious traditions among us and maybe even build religious tolerance, which is so badly needed in our world.

For Muslims, Eid al-Adha is a significant annual Islamic observance for many Muslims around the world. It is also known as the Feast of Sacrifice or Festival of Sacrifice or Day of Sacrifice as it commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son to God. Eid al-Adha is a happy occasion that many Muslims celebrate. It is around the 10th to the 13th days of the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah (or Dhul Hijja). This is the twelfth and final month in the Islamic calendar. It is a very sacred month in the Islamic calendar, one in which Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) takes place. It is a time marked by special prayers and many Muslims gather for special prayer services. Many people also visit family and friends, exchange greetings and gifts, and make donations to the poor. It is also a time for forgiveness and compassion. Doesn’t that sound a lot like Christians at Christmas? At Christmas don’t people gather for special prayer services, visit family and friends, and exchange greetings and gifts?

In 2006, 2007, and 2008, Eid al-Adha was celebrated in December. These holy days have left December, but will return in about three decades. Why not have some Starbucks cups commemorating this Islamic festival during the month when it is celebrated. This would be a great way to educate people about Islam especially during a time in history when Islamophobia is rampant. Why not?

We can get so caught up in political correctness or the mentality that we might offend non-Christians if we celebrate Christmas publicly. These festivals should be celebrated publicly and acclaimed with pride. I am not referring to just the Christian festivals but all religious festivals. Instead of being afraid to offend someone, companies such as Starbucks, should be willing to acknowledge these festivals when they occur and their cups should acknowledge the festival of whichever religious celebration is occurring. Maybe I’m being naive, I don’t know. Maybe this is easier said than done, but it seems to me that this would be a way to educate people about the various religions of the world and a way to build religious tolerance rather than contributing to fear and resentment of other religious traditions.

Culture of Fear or Compassion ?

ct-photos-eiffel-tower-in-the-french-flag-s-co-006Since my wife and I had just been in Paris, France a month ago, I  was filled with great sadness when I heard about the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris on Friday, November 13, 2015.  Terrorism is something I have a difficult time wrapping my head around. I cannot for the life of me understand how someone can cause harm and death to innocent people such as the carnage we saw in Paris. The news media has repeatedly said that the people who carry out such acts of violence have been radicalized, that is, have become more radical. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a radical as  “advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs”.  I guess for radicals that means carrying out acts of murder.  This is what I can’t get my head around.  How can someone with any kind of conscience murder innocent people? The only explanation I can come up with is these people have been brainwashed. The MacMillan Dictionary defines brainwash as “to force someone to accept a particular set of beliefs by repeating the same idea many times so that the person cannot think in an independent way”.  How exactly terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) are able to do this using the internet is a mystery to me, but this  must be what is happening.

IMG_1182What concerns me the most is that many people are becoming fearful. On November 23rd, the American Government issued a world wide travel alert cautioning Americans to possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. This obviously means that Americans are becoming fearful. Don’t get me wrong, caution when traveling is always a good thing.  Travellers should always use caution when travelling outside of their country whether terrorism threats are around or not. That is just common sense.  Moreover, we are beginning to see a rise in Islamophobia (or anti-Muslim sentiment). That is when there is prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam or Muslims. U. S. Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson have been advocating for more surveillance of Muslims. (see Muslim-Americans fear ‘ugly rhetoric’) Mr. Trump says, “we’re being foolish, we’re kidding ourselves” if law enforcement doesn’t keep close surveillance on mosques, and he expressed support for the idea of a database for tracking Muslims in the United States. Some have even resorted to using religion to justify Islamophobia or fear of Muslims. During a November 15 sermon at First Baptist Church in Dallas, pastor Robert Jeffress told his congregation that the Paris terrorists were “acting according to the teaching of Islam,” and said “it is time” to call out Islam as “a false religion … inspired by Satan himself”.  (see Theological Studies Director calls out) This is wrong, pure and simple. It simply is not fair to put all adherents to Islam in the same category.  In fact, the majority of Muslims around the world have condemned the Paris attacks and other acts of terrorism carried out by Muslim extremists. Even more, most if not all non-extremist Muslims categorically say that these extremists are not true Muslims. (see Muslims Around World Speak Out)  The bottom line is we must not let the terrorists achieve their goal. The root word of terrorism is terror which Dictionary.com defines as “an instance or cause of intense fear or anxiety”.  The very goal of terrorism is to instil fear in society so that our leaders cave into their demands. 

IMG_1239This fear, caused by the Paris terrorists and other terror attacks, has changed the debate over refugees.  Since returning home from Europe a few weeks ago I have been asked many times if we were affected by the refugees that had been dominating the news media before the Paris incident. Of course we were not.  My wife and I even had a conversation with another couple recently at an airport where this couple expressed real concern over Canada accepting refugees from Syria. They told us that they heard one of the Paris extremists was a refugee. Once again their concerns were stemming from fear.

There seems to be two camps in this debate; Do we allow the Syrian refugees into our country or do we keep them out as there might be an extremist among them? Canada’s new prime minister,  Justin Trudeau has promised to bring 25 000 Syrian refugees to Canada. (see Trudeau…) The debate in Canada and United States over the refugees is heated.  Several of Canada’s premiers have spoken out on the issue, both for and against. Petitions against bringing in the Syrian refugees have been popping up online. (see Should Canada stop).  Quebec’s premier Philip Couillard said it well when he said, “We must keep our arms open to refugees. They have fled their villages, they have seen their parents murdered and sometimes in front of their eyes. They come here in search of peace and freedom. Always remember that the Syrian refugees that will come to Quebec are themselves the first victims of terror.” (see We must keep our arms open)   The Free Dictionary defines a refugee as “one who flees, especially to another country, seeking refuge from war, political oppression, religious persecution, or a natural disaster”.  These people fear for their lives. They have witnessed horrible things. As Mr. Couillard stated, they are victims themselves. Alberta’s new premier,  Rachel Notley said it even better when she delivered an impassioned speech on the need to keep our doors open to Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris attack, to not treat them as if they are terrorists about to launch a jihad in Edmonton or Calgary.  (see Graham Thomson) Here are some of Premier Notley’s words from Monday, November 16 speech; “…The refugees are themselves fleeing exactly the kind of terror that we were all shocked to observe and watch unfold this weekend. And that’s why we need to be reaching out to them…” The Premier later told reporters: “We cannot have our decisions being driven by fear.” The premiers of Quebec and Alberta are right! We must not be driven by fear.  My fear is that my country is buying into a culture of fear and as a result becoming less compassionate. I have always believed and been proud of the fact that Canadians are a compassionate people. Now is the time to show compassion for the Syrian refugees and NOT fear them. Now is the time to show the extremists that we will NOT be dictated by fear, that we will continue to travel abroad, and that we will NOT live our lives in fear.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United State said  in his 1933 Inaugural Address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Roosevelt is right! My fear is that fear will take hold in our free society thereby making us prisoners of fear.

Will there ever be peace?

According to International Relations.com, there are ten wars where the fatalities are greater than 1000 every year and  five serious armed conflicts with fatalities just under a 1000 per year, happening on our planet at the present moment. According to the website, Syria remains the most lethal and overall “biggest” conflict, with an estimated 250,000 deaths in the past three years, of which fewer than half were battle-related deaths. The website goes on to list 15 other conflicts where less than a 1000 people are killed per year. For me, that is appalling.  For me that says something about the world’s sad state of affairs. It begs the question, “Will this planet ever experience peace?”  An even better question would be, “Is peace on this planet even possible?”

Personally I believe it is.  At the beginning of the Great War, otherwise known as World War One, the Christmas Truce of 1914 gives me a glimmer of hope. According the BBC,  a scattered series of small-scale cease fires did happen between some German and British forces. But this brief festive reprieve was not a mass event as some people have come to believe. In many places along the Western Front, December 25, 1914 was a day of brutal fighting like any other day in war times. Where it did occur, accounts suggest that men sang carols and in some cases left their trenches and met in No Man’s Land. If events where enemies put down their differences and celebrate, in this case Christmas, then those actions suggest to me that peace is achievable because of personal choices.  Each soldier involved in one of those brief cease-fires made a personal choice to make efforts of peace and goodwill towards their enemies.  It was a choice.

So is peace possible? Hans Küng,a scholar of theology and philosophy and author of many books, wrote in Christianity: Essence, History, Future, “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions”.  Many of the conflicts in the world involve tensions between the world religions. Hans Küng holds part of the key to the solution for world peace.  World religions need to understand one another and to practice what their religions teach, which is the ideals of their faith’s.  All world religions teach ideals of compassion, love and tolerance.

There have been and still are many spiritual leaders in history that have given us ways to achieve peace. The historical Jesus, the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and the Dalai Lama to name a few. Gandhi once said,”An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind”.  In other words, violence begets violence. History has demonstrated to humanity that most human conflicts have been as a result of stubbornness on the part of our leaders.  If our leaders could just learn that most disputes can be resolved by showing a willingness to understand the issues of our opponents and that by using diplomacy and compassion these issues can be solved peacefully.  Mahatma Gandhi also said, “There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no cause that I am prepared to kill for”.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal”.  His wisdom holds true not only for peace in our world, but for peace within ourselves.  Mr. Gandhi taught, “We must become the change we want to see in the world”This is by far Mahatma Gandhi’s wisest teaching. To achieve peace, be peace. How does one be peace? By a sheer act of Will. By the decision to always act peacefully and by causing others to experience what you wish to experience, that is peace.

peace-signThis especially holds true for our leaders, especially our political leaders. One cannot bring world peace to all unless a leader demonstrates peaceful acts of kindness daily.  Just think how different the world would be if our political or even religious leaders didn’t act like bullies, but instead always acted out of love, understanding and tolerance. It would be a very different world. A world living together in peace.

So what is my point simply put? Seymour Miller & Jill Jackson, a husband and wife songwriting team, say it much better than I could when they wrote the 1955 song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,  with those beautiful words, ” Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me”. Peace begins with you and me!

Pope Francis: A Breath of Fresh Air

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)This month, Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Catholics, was breaking new ground when he made the statement, “People who started a new union after the defeat of their sacramental marriage are not at all excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way. They always belong to the church.” (see Pope calls for compassion). Even more, Pope Francis goes on to say, “How can we recommend to parents to do everything they can to educate their children in Christian life, giving them an example of a convinced and practiced faith if we keep them at arm’s length from the community as if they were excommunicated?”

In essence, Pope Francis is saying remarried Catholics are not automatically removed from church membership, although the church’s rules say such couples are not allowed to receive communion. The Catholic Church permits remarriage only after a church tribunal rules that the couple’s original marriage is annulled. The pontiff understands  that children of these remarried couples are watching how the church treats divorced families.  What this means is Francis accepts divorced couples as members of the church and says they need to be treated as such.

This is not the first time Pope Francis has shown compassion towards those looked upon less favourably in the Catholic Church.  Back in June of 2013 the pontiff made a bold statement during an interview saying, he doesn’t have any problem with the inclination to homosexuality itself.  He is quoted as saying, “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”  (See Pope Francis reaches out to gays).  It  would seem that the pope accepts gays and lesbians as well.

It is so wonderful to have this “breath of fresh air” in the Catholic Church.  Finally, the Catholic Church has a leader who is pastoral, who is welcoming, and most importantly, who is more inclusive than his predecessors have been.  It seems to me, that when a church claims to follow the teachings and example of Jesus, then their actions need to reflect that.  I honestly believe that His Holiness, Pope Francis is doing just that.  He especially demonstrated this when in November of 2013, when the pontiff paused  to pray and lay his hands on a man with a disfiguring disease.  (See Francis embrace of a Disabled man) If that action doesn’t say, loving acceptance I don’t know what does.

Why is it so important for the leader of a Christian Institution to be so all-inclusive? Very simply, because Christians purport to  be the embodiment of Jesus on earth, therefore the institution must act and teach as Jesus did.  According to biblical stories Jesus was all-inclusive!  Let us look at some examples.

Take the story of the Woman at the Well as told in John 4:7 – 26, for example. To summarize the biblical story, Jesus  and his disciples were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee.  They took the quickest route which was through Samaria. Tired and thirsty, Jesus sat by Jacob’s Well, while his disciples went to a village to buy food. During his wait, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman who came to the well to draw water.  When Jesus met this woman at the well, he did something atypical, scandalous really, in that he spoke to a Samaritan; a group the Jews traditionally loathed. Even more scandalous, Jesus asked  the Samaritan woman to get him a drink of water, which would have made him ceremonially unclean, according to the Jewish faith, because he used the same cup or jar as the Samaritan woman.

To help understand how powerful this story is and just how all-inclusive Jesus was, we must understand that the hatred between Jews and Samaritans was intense and long-standing.  Jews, who considered themselves pure, detested the mixed marriages and worship of the Samaritans. Thus, a faithful Jew would never go near a Samaritan let alone talk to one.

Mark 2:15-17 tells the story of Jesus sitting down to a meal in Levi’s house, the home of a tax collector.  Tax collectors were for the most part Jewish people, and therefore they were hated by their own people. When they collected taxes they would collect the required amount of money for Rome, plus some additional money for themselves. They were considered to be extortioners of large sums of money. Plus, there was the fact that tax collectors worked for Rome, who were Gentiles (non Jewish) in the eyes of the Jews, and so they were treated similar to the worst kinds of sinners and prostitutes.  So for Jesus to sit down and have a meal with one of these tax collectors would have been scandalous to say the least.  Yet, it says that Jesus accepts even those most loathed by his community.

Jesus touching and healing a leper as told in In Mark 1:40-45 is another example . What makes this story so incredible is the fact that lepers were cursed, not only with a terrible disease, but also with exclusion from society. People wanted to keep far away from those with this contagious illness. Lepers lived in the outskirts of civilization and, if they came close to people, had to warn them by yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!”  Yet, Jesus was willing touch and heal such a person.  Was this not an incredible act of acceptance?

Thumbs upSo as you can clearly see, the biblical Jesus accepted and included even those most marginalized by society. So to restate my point.  If the Catholic church claims to enbody Jesus on earth, then it must be all-inclusive just as Jesus was all-inclusive.  That is why Pope Francis is such a “breath of fresh air.”  He accepts all those that have been traditionally marginalized by the church. So “Thumbs up” for Pope Francis!