It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and I’m definitely starting to get into the Christmas spirit. But if being joyful and merry means I have to start being nice to people, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to make that commitment.
See, I have a problem with goodwill toward men. I’m usually too impatient going about my daily activities to take the time to stop, chat, and have something akin to normal social relationships. It seems that if you took every opportunity during the course of a day to “chew the fat” with every acquaintance you met, your arteries would be hopelessly clogged and you’d never get anything done, except perhaps an emergency balloon angioplasty, and you’d have to squeeze that in.
Take, for example, my almost-daily stop at a cafe near my house, where I’m working right now. There are several regulars that join me each afternoon, and by “join” I mean that we share approximately the same coordinates on the face of the globe. (Once, we shared exactly the same coordinates, but that’s only because they didn’t look behind themselves before sitting down). I’ll exchange at most a nod with these folks, because I’ve seen what happens when you do anything more.
This one guy in particular is also working on his blog, as well as a book about why African-Americans should be flocking to the Republican Party (talk about a Christmas miracle). I’m not sure how he gets any work done, as he’s constantly shooting the breeze with baristas, cashiers, and anybody else that comes within a six-foot radius.
“Are you on Facebook?” he asks the blood-spattered EMT tech who stopped for a quick double espresso. “What’s your email address again?” he inquires of a passing toddler.
The other day he sighed loudly and said, to no one in particular, “I’m so glad I’m almost finished writing this book.”
“Oh, you’re working on a book?” the friendly man sitting behind him might ask, though it’d probably be the last thing he says for the next half-hour.
I am not that friendly man. I’m the bitter curmudgeon who responds in one of two ways when I see a familiar face enter the store — I switch to the other side of the table to put my back toward the door, or I’m suddenly transported into ultra-focused concentration on my work, internally debating the merits of comma or semicolon, dashes or parenthetical aside, new paragraph or yet another run-on. (Oh, damn, here he comes anyway.)
However, it’s Christmastime, and even I am experiencing a buoyant spirit that pushes me beyond my normal inhibitions. I want to do something to reach out to others and share in the seasonal cheer, but I don’t want it to be mistaken for anything more than a limited-time offer. Don’t expect this kind of amity when January rolls around, because I’ve got the whole month penciled in for being dour.
Maybe I could just hand out twenty-dollar bills. I tried that once with the homeless guy off the interstate exit ramp, however I ended up beaten in a culvert three states over.
What I’m considering now is, for me, a radical step. I’m thinking of attending a holiday church service. This would allow me to kill two birds with one stone: devote a concentrated period to fellowship then get on with my life, and also soak up a little of the yuletide pageantry that I seem to be lacking in the broken 1989 Mannheim Steamroller cassette that continuously loops through the same song and a half. Three birds, actually, if you count saving my soul from eternal damnation.
I come from a Christian family tradition, and regularly attended church as a youth, until I was confirmed at age 15 and promptly found better things to do. I have extremely fond memories of those times, as they’ve now become a colorful blur that fortunately excludes those excruciating sermons about how it’s good to be good, and bad to be bad. The music and decorations and family warmth, though, were wonderful.
So I made a tentative recon sortie this past weekend, attending a “cookie walk” at the local Methodist church. Not exactly a formal date on the liturgical calendar, the annual sweets sale on the second weekend of December does provide a great opportunity to get a quick taste of the season with minimal human interaction. For $6, you get a small box from a friendly-but-distracted church lady, then walk down a row of decorated tables, pointing at the baked goods you want to be stuffed into your box. It’s a little like communion, only these dispensers handle the goods with sanitary gloves and don’t mumble quite as much.
I made my way down the aisle with limited conversation, mostly a mix of “that one,” “this looks good” and “are those chocolate chips or raisins?” I was friendly without being grating, sincere without being affected, and completely superficial, just as I like it.
When my box was full, I headed to a cake table where another slightly more eager Methodist stood watch. As I admired the Amish friendship bread, I heard the question I feared: “What church do you attend?”
“Uh, none locally,” I stammered, hoping she’d think I was from a land far away.
But now, I’m thinking I might be ready for a deeper experience that centers more on my eternal soul and less on my weakness for red-sprinkled shortbreads shaped like Santa. I’m looking at the church directory in our local newspaper for a house of worship that might possibly accommodate my belief that it’s possible a single small South Carolina parish is not the only group to have cornered the market on everlasting life. As you might imagine, there are many that don’t look particularly hopeful: the Real Life Assembly of God, the New Vision Freewill Baptist Church and the Calvary Ultimate Life Shield of Faith Evangelical Ministry, to mention a few.
These don’t sound especially flexible in their theology (though I bet all the jumping up and down they do makes them quite agile physically), so I harken back to my Lutheran heritage. There’s a Missouri Synod branch called Epiphany Lutheran, though I believe I read that this synod maintains a strict belief in bad pro football teams (the Kansas City Chiefs, the St. Louis Rams, etc., hardly what you’d call solid rocks on which to build a church, especially their offensive lines). There’s Emmanuel Lutheran on Main Street, probably the town’s old-school congregation with old-school parishioners.
I think I’m going to choose Grace Lutheran, not far from the local college. It offers both traditional and contemporary services and has a pastor named E. Ray Mohrmann, a great name for a Lutheran. They do claim to have communion at all services, not something I’d necessarily brag about but not a deal-breaker for me. Maybe there will also be communion in a larger sense, and I’ll get the chance to fraternize with cheerful, Christmas-addled types and consume wheat-based foodstuffs at the same time.
“Take and eat, for this is the Body of Christ,” I imagine E. Ray will ask me. And I’ll be ready to respond: “Thanks for the snack. Hope you’re ready for the holidays. Have you gotten all your shopping done? I can’t believe those lines at the post office. I hear we might get some snow next week. Give my best to your family.”