religious beliefs

Happy Easter

It’s happening again.

 

It’s worse at the end of the year, but it happens now, too.

 

“Happy Easter!”

“Happy Easter?”

“Happy… Sunday?”

 

Every time there’s a religous-themed holiday, someone inevitably complains. Yes, there are the complaints about commercialization, or the True Meaning of [Fill in the Blank], or how the day brings out the worst as people horde over slightly-underpriced doo-dads. But I’m not talking about those.

 

I’m talking about the paired complaints: “I wish they wouldn’t wish me Happy Easter/Merry Christmas/Whatever,” and, “Why can’t I wish people Happy Easter/Merry Christmas/Whatever without someone biting my head off?”

 

I mention “Christian” holidays above, because they’re the ones I hear most about. But I have no doubt there are similar arguments about Kwanzaa, or Diwali, or Vesak, or any other holiday that has a deity (or two or three or more) at its center – or at least at its genesis, since that argument that the once-Holy-Days have converted to nothing more than “Retail Day #7” or “Buy Overpriced Roses Day” certainly has some merit.

 

I digress. Sorry. I do that. Squirrel!

 

In all seriousness, though (yeah, like that’s possible for me), I hate this argument, this “Respect my religious holidays vs. “Respect my lack of faith/belief/interest in your religious holidays” dispute. Because it makes it about belief, and in so doing, it utterly misses the point.

 

Yes, the holidays have the beliefs themselves as their basis. Though you don’t have to believe in Christ to celebrate Christmas – at least in the trimmings: presents and cocoa and a wonderful excuse to be nicer to each other – you can’t have Christmas without Christ. You can’t have the holiday without its history. You don’t have to ascribe to the stories, but they’re there, and without them you don’t get the holiday – package deal.

 

Similarly, you can run around pelting people with colored powder, exchange gifts, and enjoy some of the greatest food of your life no matter what you believe… but that doesn’t change the fact that Diwali doesn’t exist without its history, without its god-stories of Krisha and Vishnu and King Rama.

 

Easter, of course, is the same. I love Cadbury Eggs, and that enjoyment is completely separate from whether or not I believe that one day a tomb was empty because its inhabitant had risen up and ascended to Heaven. But without that ascension story, Cadbury Eggs probably wouldn’t exist (and the world would be all the poorer for it).

 

Now, note that I call these things “stories.” I mean no offense to those who believe them – I’m a believer myself, and will be celebrating Easter this Sunday with egg hunts and food and family, but also with time in church, time in prayer, time talking to my children about what Easter means to us.

 

So no, calling them “stories” is not an insult. On the contrary, it’s a compliment. Calling them “facts” would actually lessen them in certain respects, because facts are what control our lives, seen or unseen, believed or not… but “stories” are what we choose, what we as humans have that is separate from every other creature. Every animal – every bit of matter, for that matter (see what I did there, ha!) – is governed by “facts.” By the realities in which we exist. Perhaps those realities include this God or that, or none at all… debating that isn’t the point of this essay.

 

Stories, though… if facts provide the framework, then stories provide the potential. Stories are what we choose to believe, and in so doing, point us toward what we hope to become.

 

And that’s the point of “Happy Easter” or “Merry Christmas” or whatever Holy-day that enters a greeting. It is about a story.

 

Stories are wonderful things. They entertain, they enlighten. But at their heart, the greatest magic they weave is this: they create communities.

 

An example – and please trust me, I actually have a point to all this, ya just gotta bear with me and pay close atten – SQUIRREL!

 

Sorry, where was I?

 

Right. Example.

 

Picture this: I’m in line for the newest Marvel movie. Behind me is a 15-year-old girl. Suddenly, I whip around and say, in tones of near-frantic worry, “Do you think Iron Man’s gonna DIE in this one?”

 

What does she do? In all likelihood, she’ll respond with a good-natured laugh, and then her own personal fan-theory about what’s going to happen; maybe something she heard about the plot on the internet. Someone a bit down the line will shriek, “Spoiler alert!” when she does that, and everyone laughs.

 

Okay, now picture this: In an alternate universe where everything’s the same, only here I’m in line at McDonald’s. Suddenly, I whip around to the same 15-year-old girl, and say, in tones of near-frantic worry, “Do you think they’ll ever bring back the McRib FOR GOOD?”

 

What does she do? In all likelihood, she laughs nervously, says, “Uh, maybe?” and then steps back a pace or two while covertly getting ready to hammer 911 onto her phone before the coo-coo can eat her face off.

 

What’s the difference? Same people. Same middle-aged guy and same teenager. We’re standing just as close to each other in both situations; we’re even wearing the same clothes, for crying out loud. So why the disparate reactions?

 

 

[continue to the rest of the article…]

 

 

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice

Happy Easter (part 2)

The answer is simply this: because there is no story associated with the McRib. Sure, you might like it or you might hate it, but there’s no group-fable about the origin of the McRib, its slow ascent from the Barbecue Pit of the all-knowing Ronald McDonald, and its return to that savory underworld to bathe itself in the Sweet River of Semi-Sauce.

 

Marvel, on the other hand, does enjoy that group-story status. No one is claiming that Cap and Iron Man and the others are really gods (well, maybe a few weirdos at a Comic Con or two), but they are well-known enough and popular enough that they have become an indelible part of our lives. Their stories have permeated our culture, and our beliefs in regard to them define us, at least in a small part. If you doubt this, try posting “Marvel sucks” on a major internet forum and watch the near-genocidal war that begins as the DC vs. Marvel armies mobilize.

 

So… stories. Remember when I said that they create communities? That’s tremendously important, because it means that they define our friends and our enemies.

 

Do you know who is an American (or Paraguayan, or Ibo, or anything else)? It’s not really someone who lives in the U.S., or someone who holds a legal citizenship, or any of the political responses – there are exceptions to all of them that make those unworkable as a definition. No, what makes someone an “American” is that that person believes the same stories as the other Americans. They believe this is the greatest country on earth, or we have the greatest freedoms, or our healthcare sucks. They even believe the patently false stories, like that one about George Washington and the Cherry Tree, or that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope.

 

We believe the stories… and anyone who doesn’t isn’t “American.” Anyone who doesn’t isn’t part of our tribe.

 

Anyone who doesn’t… is a potential enemy.

 

Sounds awful stark when you put it that way, but it’s true. Beliefs are our most prized possessions, so anyone who shares a different one – or even worse, actively seeks to denigrate or destroy ours – is at best a potential threat, and at worst a current target of attack.

 

Stories create communities. Stories forge bonds. Stories determine whom we accept, whom we reject; whom we love, and whom we hate. Because the stories are us.

 

Now here’s the thing, the point of this whole article: the stories are also how we invite others to be a part of us. Think about it – in high school, you gather with your friends and giggle or complain about what the teacher did, what that other kid said, why your parents are bigger jerks than her parents. At work, you gather around the water cooler to gossip. You meet someone new, and immediately you ask, “So what do you do?” or “Where do you go to school?” or any of those questions meant to elicit a story. Then you tell your own story, and now you have a shared set of stories – the creation myth of your own little clique.

 

How does it relate to “Happy Easter”? It’s because if someone says, “Happy Easter” (or, again, “Diwali” or “Kwanzaa” or “Day of the Festival of the Great Deity of Sesame Street” or anything they view as a religious greeting), they are not saying, “Believe what I believe” – no person, no matter how religious or how naive, believes in conversion-by-greeting.

 

What they are saying is, “I like you. I value you, either as a friend or just a fellow human with whom I share this world. I want you as a friend, and so I extend my most precious stories to you. You don’t even have to accept the story; the fact that I offered you something valuable and though you did not accept it for your own, you treated it with care and respect, is enough to create our own story, you and I: the moment I said I loved you, and you said you loved me back.”

 

It is not about forcing a belief on someone – at least for the overwhelming majority of us. It is just about the story of me, and what I see as the story of you, and the possibility of creating the story of us.

 

I believe in stories. I believe in communities. I believe the best tribes are the most inclusive, and I hope someday all of us will be included in that one Great Tribe of friendship. Not full agreement, not even full peace. But the recognition that we are all brothers and sisters, and fight as we might, we will be family at the end.

 

So, to you all, I say, “Happy Easter.” Because that is part of my story, and in saying it, I hope that this moment can be the first part of ours.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com