The "B and A Eaters"

Two times a year I visit this healthy restaurant in my neighborhood. It is a nice place, serving people in the community for several decades and it really does serve good food. I intend to go there more often, but they are only open one day a week, only for breakfast, and by the time I remember this is the day it is open, I am very tired and have other obligations/options for breakfast. In fact, I have gotten to the point that I really enjoy eating at home with my family and friends, so unless they are going to go with me to the restaurant, I do not go. Except twice a year, my birthday and anniversary.

Photo by  Rachel Park  on  Unsplash

Photo by Rachel Park on Unsplash

The restaurant regulars know me as one of the many "birth-aversary eaters" or, for short: "B and A eaters." 

The people there are nice, to be sure and I know they are trying to welcome me to the restaurant they love so much. They tell me how long it has been since they saw me last and even talk about how great the food is or how I should meet the new chef who is doing so good cooking these days. All of it is okay, but a bit overwhelming. I sort of feel guilty when I am there because I am reminded that I generally do not eat healthy for breakfast all the time. I also feel a bit bad because I live so close to the restaurant, and feel like I should support local business and yet cannot seem to make it there more often. 

It really is a fine restaurant, and I support their work. I believe in eating local and supporting the community. I left a tip that was a bit more than I normally would leave as a way of saying thank you. And I am sure I will be back on the next anniversary, but I hope they would stop calling me a "B and A eater." I hope the chef does not point me out and say, "it has been so long since I saw you last, you should come more often!" I hope the guilt I naturally feel is not compounded by the regulars who do not see that I notice their disappointment when I am sitting in their usual spot. 

All I really want is to not feel guilty for going to breakfast. Maybe something is off in me? Or maybe something is off in the culture that does not know what to do with the occasional breakfast eater. 

The Layers of Immanuel

The title "Immanuel" comes from the Hebrew: עִמָּנוּאֵל which means, "God with us". You may have also see the romanized version of this spelled Emmanuel. However you have seen it, if you are a Christian attending worship in the month of December, chances are you have heard this before. 

When Christians talk about Jesus as "Immanuel" we may overlook a few of the layers of the implications of "God with us". I invite you consider at least three layers embedded in the Good News of "God with us".

  • God with us as in God is among us - such as in the Gospel of John which says that Jesus pitched tent and dwelt with us. God with us as a traveling companion and who walks with and beside us. This pastoral image of God with us, is not only comforting but also empowering because God is among us. 
  • God with us as in God is an advocate for us - Jesus reminds us that with the advent of the Holy Spirit the disciples will have an Advocate to remind them of all that Jesus has taught. God with us as advocate clearly calls to mind the image of God as a defense attorney standing up for us against the accuser (which is the role of Satan in the Bible. Satan is the character that stands in for humans when humans take a posture of accusing rather than advocating).
  • God with us as opposed to God without us, meaning that God chooses to be with us rather than going it alone or without us. God is not out there doing things without us, but Immanuel implies that God is with us and all our limitations. The very idea that God would choose to work with humans is remarkable and if that is not Good News I am not sure I know what Good News may be.

So when we hear the Gospel story this Advent and Christmas seasons might we reflect just a bit more on the depth of Immanuel - God with us. 


7-Eleven Christmas

It was a brilliant plan until he tried to open the office building's door. 

His plan was to use his downtown office to stash presents for Christmas so that his children could not find them. He was proud of himself for thinking of this crafty way to hide gifts. Not only did he hide the small "stocking stuffers", but even items too large to hide at home. His office was full of hundreds of dollars worth of gifts held in a sort of Christmas limbo waiting for their arrival under the family Christmas tree. 

After Christmas Eve worship, he tucked his three boys into their beds and waited for them to go to sleep. He then kissed his wife goodbye as he drove to the office with that anticipation that one has when you know the happiness you are about to bring to your children's lives. 

The only hitch in this masterful plan was that his office building was locked for Christmas and there the regular security agent was off duty. His wonderful plan was shattered when he approached the building only to find the door locked and the contracted security agent without keys. 

With all the gifts several stories above his head behind a locked door, his own excitement turned to dread as he scrambled to rectify this situation. It was far too late to call the landlord or his employer. The only call he made was to his wife. 

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and this father got very inventive. 

"Seven eleven logo" by [2] - [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

"Seven eleven logo" by [2] - [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

For those of you who do not know, there is a chain of gas stations/corner stores in Fort Worth called "7-Eleven". These stores are open year round usually for patrons who need gas or a famous "slurpee". This fateful Christmas Eve, however, 7-Eleven was Santa's workshop and the overtired employees were elves. 

Like Santa jumping from house to house, this father filled bag after bag of candy, cheap squirt guns, plastic army men, special edition "slurpee" cups and straws and anything else that could pass for a "respectable" Christmas gift. 

A few hours later, the family Christmas tree was covered in 7-Eleven merchandise.

The follow morning, with a sense of regret, the father woke up with a story to explain to his children that these gifts under the tree are nice but the "real gifts" were going to arrive later. When he walked into the family room, he was shocked to see his boys not only playing with the cheap toys, but exclaiming, "How did Santa know I wanted this paddle ball game!" and "This cotton candy in a bag is my favorite!"

In pure amazement this father and mother decided that the 7-Eleven Christmas was more than enough for the boys and they decided to take all the "real gifts" back. 

The morbidness of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer - Revealing systems of sin

The more that I reflect on this little song the more it is clear to me how it functions like a short understanding of Rene Girard's theory of Mimetic desire and sacred violence. Take a look at each section of the song:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw it you would even say it glows. All of the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.

Notice that Rudolph is identified by what makes him different and odd. Just like any scapegoat is a deemed odd by the group. Also notice the power of the mob and how the mob seeks to justify its action - if you ever saw how weird this guy was you too would do what the group would do. The oddity of the victim makes him the butt of jokes and further ostracizing. Additionally the victim is never allowed to be a part of the "normal" group/mob's games. This sets Rudolf up as a ready scapegoat when a need arises. 

Then there is a crisis, or a scandal:  

Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, "Rudolph, with your nose so bright, Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"

With any crisis, the community needs resolution or, as Girard says, "the social fabric will burst". So the mob uses a scapegoat to ease the crisis. In this case, the crisis is set and so they put Rudolph in the lead position, so that if anything goes wrong, we can all blame Rudolph and his obvious inability to lead or be a contributing member of the community. Also it is worth noting that our imaginations have several reindeer pulling the sleigh, the song can also suggest that there is only one reindeer pulling the sleigh, and in the time of great crisis and most danger the one selected is the "odd one" who will not be missed if unsuccessful. 

With little choice, Rudolph leads the sleigh and we hold our breath to see if the would be scapegoat dies or lives. The next part of the song is a little fuzzy on it's timeline:

Then all the reindeer loved him, as they shouted out with glee! Rudolph the red-nose Reindeer, you'll go down in history!

This line is often understood as "the end" of the story, after Santa's delivery on the sligh. But it could just as easily be read as before the foggy night delivery. As soon as the scapegoat is selected, there are shouts of great joy. And when the scapegoat is selected, the community begins to further justify the decision to scapegoat the victim - there is a promise that the scapegoat will "go down in history". Tales will be told of all the "Great Rudolph" and how he was able to quell the crisis. This happens with Presidents of the U.S.A as well. No matter what the approval rating of the president in the moment, once out of office many people have a idealized memory of them (Regan, Bush, Clinton, etc.). 

Truth be told, we do not know the fate of Rudolph. Did he succeed in guiding the sleigh? We don't know from the song. The only thing we do know is that since Rudolph's time there has never been another foggy night/crisis on Christmas Eve again. And because Rudolph brought about the end of all future foggy night/crisis, Rudolph is recalled as the greatest reindeer of all. As the beginning of this morbid tale suggests:

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen; Comet and Cupid and Donder and Blitzen, but do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?

I am not trying to be a downer this season. And I could totally be way wrong on this interpretation. The reason I point this all out is to highlight that it is very easy to whitewash a story that could be very tragic and make it seem like the mob was in the right the whole time. The Gospels make it clear that the mob is actually the one that is constantly wrong. 

This is what makes, in part, the Gospels different from other myths, legends, tales and fables.