Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas and Christianity

I need to get busy with a couple of last minute holiday preparations but find myself thinking about several people at the moment that have guided my behaviors and beliefs. What better time to share such contemplations than on Christmas Eve?
Many years ago, I worked in a large office building, analyzing health insurance claims. A young co-worker maintained an altar at her desk with various items such as a Christian calendar, her Bible, reference books and scripture dust-catchers. She read during her lunch break and I had to give credit to someone that was a wild-child-turned-holy-saint. One day she perched on my desk top as I worked.
"Iris, can I ask you a personal question?"
"Sure." I stopped and leaned back in my chair.
"Iris, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?" Her face showed lines of deep concern.
"Well ... yeah Melanie, I have."
"Gee, ummm, well ..." I thought about my affirmation in the Methodist church, then switching back to Presbyterian when I married. Was it then? Or when I started devouring Shirley MacLaine books? "Honestly, Melanie, there's no exact time or day that I came to that revelation - it's been a process of learning for me. Jesus has always been a part of my life."
Melanie leaned closer. "I love you Iris and I worry about you. I want to know that you will join me in Heaven."
She pointed to the cubicle across from me and shook her head, saying "Just look at Paula over there"
"WHOA!" I responded. Melanie straightened up. "Just because Paula is Jewish, doesn't mean she is not going to heaven" I protested. "Paula is a dear friend, someone I can depend on and exhibits more 'Christian' behavior than most self-proclaimed prophets I know!"
Melanie looked like she was staring into the face of Satan as I continued. "Paula will do anything for anyone, is kind, considerate, volunteers her time and her heart to many causes and respects Christians expecting nothing but respect in return. God has a special place in heaven for her and if he doesn't, he's not a God I want to follow."
Melanie blinked a few times, took a deep breath and said, "Oh. Well, okay, I just wanted to be sure you are headed for salvation." She hopped down and scooted around to her corner.
My heart was pounding and I sat back for a minute, taking in the warmth of the sun streaming into the window, thanking God for a beautiful view of the city. When Paula returned from lunch, I gave her an extra smile.
I was reminded of this episode when I happened to meet a woman from the West Indies last week. An odd set of circumstances drew us together for only five minutes and to describe the series of events that brought us to the train depot at the same moment would take two more posts, but the discussion we had naturally and comfortably led to religious beliefs.
She said that many people assume her national origin and spiritual beliefs are those of witchcraft and voodoo but she said it is as natural to her as the rituals of other beliefs and countries. I nodded in understanding. She went on to say that she does not consider herself "Christian" but instead prefers the term "Christ-like." To be a "Christian" is to be everything Christ was and is, she explained.
"No one is that perfect," she said. Instead, she feels she is constantly learning and striving to become a Christian which will happen only in death. In the meantime, she is in training.
Interrupted by her boarding call, I shared my appreciation for the conversation and the new perspective on my own belief system.
"I believe God brings people together for a reason whether it is for a lifetime or a fleeting moment," I said. "Today I am thankful our paths were crossed." She smiled and said, "I agree."
I can't remember her name but I will always remember her face, her smile and her impact.
As we come together with family and friends in the upcoming hours, remember that regardless of religion, or belief-system, this holiday is about giving. You don't have to be "Christian" to be Christ-like and you don't have to be religious to appreciate the gift of humanity.
Blessed be.

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