Where would Jesus shop

Where would Jesus shop this Christmas?

It sure wouldn't be at Wal Mart, that's all I'm saying.

Ok, so after we good Evangelicals get finished complaining about how stores and schools are banning "Merry Christmas, what do we do? We hope in our cars and drive to Wal Mart, whose business practices are not very Christian, as Sojourners put it earlier this year.

Wal-Mart expects to reap $1 billion in sales of "Christian" merchandise in 2003, only the doorstep of a much larger market. Evidently, Christians are shopping at Wal-Mart. But what are we buying, when a dollar saved in the store is another dollar squeezed from the life of "one of the least of these?"

Preachers and Sunday school teachers need to be asking Christians more about what our dollars support, and in Wal-Mart’s case, who’s paying for consumer "savings." A favorite preacher of mine says, "If you want to know what people care about, look in their checkbook" (or Visa statement, as the case may be). Our purchases ought to reflect deeper values than just "always low prices." Christians have asked Wal-Mart for cleaner magazine and CD content. Perhaps it’s time to demand cleaner corporate character as well.

Worse of all, Wal-Mart was singled out as one of the worst offenders in the original "Toys of Misery" report from the National Labor Committee and China Labor Watch. You can get the 2001 report here and the 2004 report here. It's ugly stuff, 20 hour work days, seven days a week at times, all for 16.5 cents a hour. Not by Wal-Mart, of course, but from the Chinese suppliers they buy toys and from.

Here's a bit from the original report executive summary:

When you go into a Wal-Mart or a Toys ‘R’ Us store to purchase Harry Potter or Disney’s Monsters Inc., Mattel’s Barbie, Sesame Street, Hasbro’s Star Wars or Pokemon do you ever think of the young women in China forced to work 16 hours a day, from 8:00 a.m. to 12 midnight, seven days a week, 30 days a month, for months on end, for wages of 17 cents an hour? Workers forced to work overtime, but cheated of their pay? Do you ever imagine women working all day long in 104-degree temperatures, handling toxic glues, paints and solvents, women fainting, nauseous, sick to their stomachs? Women housed 16 to a dorm room and trying to get by on four hours of sleep a night? Workers whose bodies ache, who are exhausted from racing through the same operations 3,000 times a day, day in and day out? Women who are fired when they get sick? Workers who have no rights, and who--if they try to defend their most basic, internationally recognized human and worker rights, will be immediately fired and blacklisted? Workers who are worn out and used up by the time they reach 30 or 35 years of age and are removed to be replaces with another crop of young teenagers?

It's still that bad, according to a
recent report in the LA Times.
Even a company like Mattel, which the Times says has tried to make improvements, still has factories that seem more like sweatshops than anything else.

Here's the rub:

For a company like Mattel, it is a tricky proposition figuring out what its obligation to workers -- as well as to society at large -- should be.

"Is it Mattel's responsibility to determine and pay a living wage? I don't think so," said Walter, the company's quality assurance chief. "But should Mattel prompt a local government to determine what a reasonable wage is? We should have some impact on that."

The struggle between morality and profitability goes right to the top of the company.

"Do we want to make people's lives better? Absolutely," said Eckert, Mattel's CEO. "Do we want to unilaterally do things that make us uncompetitive and therefore our products don't sell and therefore nobody gets employed? No."

Morality versus and profitability--that's a dilema that ought to get some Christian attention this Christmas.

A quick update-- Sherry asked "I don't get it. Really. Why is Walmart evil because Mattel or Disney refuses to pay decent wages? If we're boycotting anyone, shouldn't it be Mattel or Disney or whomever?"

There's a good explantion of the influence that the cut-rate prices that retailers like Wal Mart have on toy manufacturers
in the archives of NPR's Worldview program---you can find it by going here and then clicking on December 21, 2001


No Room at the Inn

There was no room in the Inn for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Luke tells us.

Does this make the Holy Family homeless?

Apparently not, Nick Coleman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune found out. He was deluged with email because of a Christmas column about 100 homeless people who died in Minneapolis in 2004.

One died on the railroad tracks on his 51st birthday, unable or unwilling to get out of the way of a coming train. Another was strangled, her body found beneath a bridge. A third, dying of cancer, spent the last weeks of his life in a rocking chair in a drop-in center so he would be close to his friends at the end.

The one whose death I reported was the one a passerby saw sitting helplessly amid a roaring blaze, moaning as his homemade tent went up in flames, his arms stretched over his head.

His name was Robin Sam.

"Robin was a wonderful man," a fellow named Patrick Wood, who works with the homeless, told me back then. "He's a tremendous loss. Say what you will about people like him, they have gifts. He was resilient, he was resourceful, he was passionate, he was caring. He had a lot to offer."

He was 38, and he died last February in a snowy ditch beneath a freeway bridge on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, hidden from the thousands who passed over him each day, out of our sight until he was on fire. I'll say his name again: Robin Sam.

They all had names and they all had gifts, the homeless Minnesotans who died in 2004. There may have been 100 who died alone, without homes, without care, without a safety net.

Coleman ended with this tag, which got him in trouble.

In Minnesota, we should be able to celebrate the holidays -- and take care of the needy.

If we can't do that, you have to wonder what we're celebrating this Christmas. After all, once upon a time, a homeless couple came to Bethlehem, looking for shelter.

Were readers upset at the 100 people who died on the street?

Nope, says Coleman in a follow up column. They were mad at the insinuation that Jesus was homeless.

Apparently they missed what Jesus says in Luke 9:58: "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." I don't know but that sounds pretty homeless to me. That's all I'm saying.

Coleman says it's not the secularists that Christians have to worry about at Christmas time--it's themselves. "No one knows how to give us Christians a bigger black eye than the people who call themselves Christians," he wrote.

This week, a number of my fellow Christians took time from worship to criticize a column I wrote about the homeless. They didn't write to tell me about their concern for the 8,000 homeless in Minnesota or the fact that half of them are women and kids or that 100 of them died this year.

No, they wrote to say that even though we will always have the poor with us, as Jesus said, that doesn't mean those poor buggers shouldn't get out of the way of our SUVs.

"These homeless are bums, nothing but leeches on society," wrote a guy who signed himself Trav. "If we could push a button and make the homeless die and disappear without repercussions, nearly everybody would do it. I would. Good riddance."


But it's all the nuns fault, says Coleman. They taught him in Catholic school that Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

I guess the point these compassionate Christians are trying to make is that Jesus wouldn't give the homeless a second glance if he came back. And you know what? They might be right. Jesus might walk right past the homeless, the poor and the sick, and march straight into our churches.

Because he'd have a lot of tables to overturn.

Amen to that.


Merry Back stabbing Christmas

There's no Merry Christmas in the Wisconsin State Capitol, where Republican Alvin Ott sent out a holiday greeting, entitled "Time for God." soon after some politically motivated budget cutting by Republican Assembly Speaker John Gard .

Rep. Marlin Schneider is peaved. He's got to fire one of his staff just before the holidays because of the cuts.

"Don't give me any spirit of the season crap," Schneider told Ott in an email quoted in the " Madison Capital Times, "when your leader is forcing me to fire one of my staff in the meanest, most partisan, most nasty thing I have ever witnessed around here in my 34 years in this place."

He went on:

My aide's little boy will lose his health insurance and his dad his job on Jan. 1 with the holiday cheer you Republicans spread around here. I am in no forgiving mood when I see this kind of 'lump of coal at Christmas' action by Republicans who praise Jesus with their e-mails and compel actions that are the total reverse of Christianity and then this nice little note about Jesus.

Merry Christmas indeed.


More Christmas Banning

Jerry Falwell's worried that an army of "spiritual Grinches in our nation are accelerating their war against Christmas."

No worries, Rev. Falwell. Christmas survived being banned by Christian , it can survive the secularists.

But please, knock of the "war on Christmas" rhetoric. There's a real war going in Iraq, another one in Sudan, one that might break out in Congo, and I'm sure lots that you and I don't know about. If this war on Christmas is as bad as it gets, then we're pretty lucky.

If you've got a couple minutes, read Linda Campbell's piece, "So We're Oppressed?"

"It's heck being a Christian in America these days," she writes. "Insults and ostracism confront us daily."

An "orthodox Christian" teacher at a public California elementary school has accused his principal of barring him from using historical documents naming God.

Target Corp. has stopped letting Salvation Army bell-ringers put a guilt trip on harried shoppers so they'll drop spare change into the familiar red kettles.

Now Newsweek and Time are running cover stories critically examining the biblical stories about Jesus' birth.

Should I also take it as an unmistakable message of hostility that CBS last Friday pre-empted my favorite show -- Joan of Arcadia, in which the central character regularly converses with God -- to air the secular winter-holiday fluff of Frosty the Snowman?

So many slights, so little time.

But I wonder: Why are we so easily offended?

Didn't Christ himself teach us about turning the other cheek and practicing our faith in substantive ways without attracting undue attention?

Besides, she says, it could be worse. We might be Muslims trying to fufill our obligations to give to charity, all the while wondering if it's a waste of time, because the government will just shut another Muslim non-profit down.

How many churchgoers bypass the collection basket so that federal agents won't knock down their doors with accusations that they've been aiding terrorists masquerading as religious charities?

Good question. And still the great uncovered religion story of the 21st century.


Banning Christmas -- A Christian Tradition

The Committee to Save Merry Christmas wonders: When did it become offensive to display or say, “Merry Christmas”? 

How about 1659, for starters, when  Christmas was banned (by good Christians, no less!) in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

"it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county."

From the records of the General Court,
Massachusetts Bay Colony
May 11, 1659

The Puritans in Massachusetts failed -- the ban was lifted in 1681-- just a similar ban in England did from 1643 to 1660. Even they were late, though, as Victor Parachin pointed out in the Christian Science Monitor some years back:

In AD 245, when a group of scholars attempted to pinpoint the exact date of Christ's birth, a church council denounced the endeavor, declaring that it would be wrong to celebrate the birth of Christ "as though He were a King Pharaoh."

There's some more tidbits at The Alabama Baptist (run by Bob Terry and Jennifer Davis Rash, two fine journalists and good folks).

Like the date of Jesus birth was just might be May 20, because of the presence of shepherds:

The May date was first thought to be closest to the authentic date because of the Bible’s reference in Luke 2:8 that the shepherds were “keeping watch over their flock by night.”
Shepherds only watched over their sheep at night during the spring lambing season. During the winter, the flocks would be inside enclosed corrals without a posted guard.

BTW, the whole "secularization of Christmas" started early too, as Increase Mather pointed on in the 1600s. There was too much eggnog and fun for for Mather's taste back then:

"The generality of Christmas-keepers observe that festival after such a manner as is highly dishonourable to the name of Christ. How few are there comparatively that spend those holidays (as they are called) after an holy manner. But they are consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, in mad Mirth ..."
Reverend Increase Mather, 1687

Is it too much to ask to get a little bit of historical context in our religion reporting?


We don't do Ecumenism

Southern Baptists "don't do ecumenism, " Martin King, a spokesman for the Southern Baptists' North American Mission Board
told RNS recently.

The SBC has declined to join
Christian Churches Together
a new group trying to bring "Catholics, mainline Protestants, Orthodox Christians, black churches, evangelicals and Pentecostals together" in the US for a more united Christian witness--like the one suggested by Jesus--of all people--in John 17 .

But working with other Christians isn't on the SBC adenda.

<,b>We just don't see that it would help us in our efforts to help our Southern Baptist churches share our understanding of how to be saved, so we have no plans to participate," King told Religion News Service.

Is this the outcome of a "purpose driven life" instead of a Jesus-driven life?

I'm just wondering.

Not to gloat, but the Covenant Church has joined up, one of the earliest evangelical groups to do so.


Stealing Jesus

Padlock that baby Jesus before you set him out, or he may be gone. The Chicago Tribune noted rash of Christ-child-nappings in recent weeks.

I did get a kick out of this one in Ohio.

One strange heist in Ohio last year garnered international attention because of its apparent political motivation. Someone made off with the Jesus figurine from the nativity scene of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church outside of Toledo, only to return it weeks later with a coat of brown paint and a note.

"I thought I would point out that Jesus was not an Aryan but actually a man of color," the note read. "Although you probably knew this but would rather not be reminded."

Pastor Roger Miller said the episode, though disturbing, did indeed spark a discussion over Jesus' racial identity. The paint on the infant was so dark that an artist could not return it to its Caucasian tone, so the church decided to give Jesus--along with Joseph and Mary--olive-colored skin.

The Trib noted that some churches have added "high security measures" to protect Jesus from vandals. But Roger Miller from Ohio, has got the right idea. After Jesus came back, he went back into the manger--"there for anybody to take if they want him."


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