What Should I do with Santa Claus?

In May my wife is due to give birth to our first child.  I am both excited and terrified to be a father.  In the midst of all the doctor’s appointments, searching for cribs and other necessities, and reading books about parenting I have been thinking about what to do with Santa Claus?  Maybe this is not the most important thing to be thinking about right now, with all the other things going on.  But knowing we will have a child next Christmas is causing me to ponder, do I want my child to believe in Santa Claus?

I can think of a couple very good reasons to be honest from my kids at the start and tell them there is no Santa Claus.  First, the whole “Santa Claus theology” tells kids that if they are good they get stuff and if they are bad they do not get stuff.  This is directly opposed to Christian faith which tells us none of us are good enough and all we have is a free gift from God as grace.  “Santa Claus theology” is intricately connected consumerism which teaches us to buy, buy, buy.  Consumerism tells us that more stuff equals more happiness.  Santa Claus and consumerism is a far cry from Jesus Christ, God become human, laying aside all rights as God to save us and show us that the way to be fully human is to live self-sacrificially for others.

Does this mean I do not want to get my children gifts?  Of course not.  I just want to teach them that getting gifts is not the point of Christmas.  I also want to teach them that the gifts they get are not because they were good, but are because Mommy and Daddy (or their grandma and grandpa or aunts and uncles) love them.  Can this lesson be learned while kids still believe in Santa?  I am sure it can, but the fact remains that “Santa Claus theology” is opposite from “Jesus Christ theology”.

On a much more practical level, what about the many children in poverty in America and throughout the world?  It seems that “Santa Claus theology” would say these kids were not good…because they do not get presents.  I want my kids to understand that some people may have more and other people may have less, but this is not because those with more are better.  My hope would be that my kids will develop a desire to help those in need.  Christmas would be a time to realize how much we are blessed and how we then have a responsibility to help others.  None of this is because we deserve it or they deserve it.  Instead, it is a free gift of love: God has blessed us so that we can bless others (which takes us back to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that Abraham will be blessed and through him, all the world will be blessed).

To sum up, “Santa Claus theology” teaches that if you work hard and are really good then you will earn your reward.  This is a false teaching, opposed to the truth that you cannot work hard enough or be good enough to earn a reward…but God loves you anyway, even though you do not deserve it, and Jesus Christ came to love and save you.  Your reward is not something you earn.

Another reason I see to be honest about Santa Claus not existing is that I want my kids to develop a faith in Jesus Christ.  My fear would be that when they come to realize that Santa does not exist they would reason that, if they cannot see Santa and he does not exist then God, whom they cannot see, must also not exist.  Now obviously, children who learn Santa does not exist do not automatically become atheists!  I believed in Santa when I was a kid and I turned out okay.  At the same time, there are so many challenges to faith and Christianity in the world today.  I know my children will face these, and I suspect they will become more prevalent in the future. So why should I add unnecessary challenges?

As I write, I certainly do not want to come across arrogantly.  I am sure many people’s kids believe in Santa Claus and still learn the same lessons I hope my children learn.  In fact, I know many such people.  I just fear that the whole “Santa Claus theology” will get in the way of that.

What are some reasons to just bite the bullet and go along with the whole Santa Claus story?  The biggest one I can think of is that someone could say, “Come on Dave, Santa Claus is fun and harmless.  It is just a cultural thing, you are reading too much into it.”  I do not want to be “that guy” who does not just go with the flow.

Another reason is that in some way, telling my kids there is no Santa Claus then requires them to be deceitful to their friends.  What I mean by this is that I would also tell them that many families do believe in Santa Claus and that we should not ruin their fun.  So my children would then, when other adults or their friends ask them, be forced to play along.  But is such playing along a form of lying?

It seems there is might be no way to win: you either lie to your kids that there is a Santa, tell them there is not but also tell them to lie to their friends who believe there is, or let them be the punk kids who tell their friends there is no Santa and then they  have no friends.

Again, I am not trying to come across as holier-than-thou.  If your kids believe in Santa Claus, that is fine with me.  But I just cannot help but wonder, as a parent-to-be, if skipping the whole Santa thing is the way to go.  Why should I teach my kids what I know is a falsity that teaches them if they work and behave they will be okay?  Why should I teach something that is in direct opposition to the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Feedback is welcome.  Have a very Merry Christmas!

One last thought, I think it would be cool to tell my children about the real Saint Nicholas.  The real, historical Saint Nicholas is a far cry from the “Santa Claus theology” prevalent in our culture.  He is much closer, being a saint, to Jesus Christ.

Recent Reads – Articles

Students have headed home for the holidays, not to return for three weeks!  As always, I will spend this time in study and preparation for the coming semester.  As part of that study, I may spend a lot of time reading the work of the professors listed as the “Top 40 Blogs by Theology Professors.”

Barna always has their hand on the pulse of American religion, so I appreciate their “Six Megathemes” from their research in 2010.  I plan to spend more time reflecting on this and how it relates to campus ministry.

Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research also gives us consistently good findings, today on how Americans celebrate Christmas.  His two conclusions are that Christmas is continuing to become more secularized (which is really not that surprising…if I hear Jingle Bell Rock on the radio one more time I might puke) but also that people are more open to the gospel than at other times of year.

It seems the furor over Wikileaks has died down somewhat (or maybe I have just spent less time reading about it).  That said, this is an issue not going away.  Wikileaks’ role in the new media is teaching us lessons (at least seven) about how information is spread and how the media will work in the future.  Some big names, like Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky, are speaking out in support of Wikileaks in the name of a free press.  However you feel about Wikileaks, it seems the conditions in which Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking the information, is being held are inhumane, especially in a country like ours which often claims the moral high ground in the world.

Six Megathemes from Barna…and Campus Ministry

Summing up their research in 2010, the Barna group finds six “megathemes”.  I will list each one below with a few thoughts from my perspective as a campus minister on a secular university campus.

1.  The Christian Church is Becoming Less Theologically Literate

What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans–especially young adults… As the two younger generations (Busters and Mosaics) ascend to numerical and positional supremacy in churches across the nation, the data suggest that biblical literacy is likely to decline significantly. The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency.

CSF at Penn State Berks consists of students coming from a wide spectrum of Christian churches.  It is not surprising that the students vary in terms of their understanding of the Bible.  Most of the students who make it a point to get involved at CSF do seem to have at least some understanding of Biblical truth.  I suspect this simply shows that of all the students who grew up in churches, those who take the time to get involved in a campus ministry are those who are already more interested in it while still at home.

I wonder what the solution to this lack of understanding of basic Christian theology is?  Part of the problem is that students have a misunderstanding of what the Bible is.  They expect the Bible to be a sort of answer book so that whatever problem they have, there is a verse (or two or three) with a solution.  Thus, understanding the Bible becomes knowing where to look for solutions to my problems.  The focus is on me and my problems.

Yet this is not what the Bible is.  Ultimately, the Bible presents a different way of looking at the world; it is a story of creation, fall, redemption and re-creation.  As we understand the Bible it is as if we put on Bible-colored glasses that help us see the world from a Jesus-perspective rather than our cultural (or human, or sinful) perspective.  Then when we face a problem the Bible is not a mere answer book.  Instead our understanding the Bible forms us into the kind of person who makes the right decision.

This understanding takes time.  It is not easy.  But it is the difference between following the rules and being a disciple of Jesus.

When I think of CSF at Penn State Berks, there are a lot of students who desire to have a better understanding of their faith.  Perhaps this group of Christians is a smaller number in our contemporary society then it used to be (at least, that is what the Barna research shows).  But  maybe this is not necessarily a bad thing.  Maybe we are in a time akin to Elijah’s time when it seemed like everyone had turned away.  Then on the mountain God tells Elijah that there is a remnant of 7000 who have not owed to the false god Baal (1 Kings 19:18).

2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.

Despite technological advances that make communications instant and far-reaching, Christians are becoming more spiritually isolated from non-Christians than was true a decade ago…As young adults have children, the prospect of them seeking a Christian church is diminishing–especially given the absence of faith talk in their conversations with the people they most trust. With atheists becoming more strategic in championing their godless worldview, as well as the increased religious plurality driven by education and immigration, the increasing reticence of Christians to engage in faith-oriented conversations assumes heightened significance.

Again, my context in campus ministry colors my view here.  I work with a small community of Christians who are surrounded by their peers: they live with them, eat with them, study with them.  If you are a member of CSF, practically everyone on campus knows it.  I am under no assumption that all the Christians on campus are a part of CSF.  Yet I do believe that if you take the time while in college to be part of a group like CSF, you are already more inclined to reach out to your friends and share your faith.

Also, talking about the deeper issues of like such as religion is part of what the college experience is about.  I would imagine there are conversations that are more common and accepted on campus then on the job.

I think part of the issue that Barna is discussing is that one of the major taboos in our culture is to tell someone else you think they are wrong…about anything…ever.  We are very much live and let live.  I would say we define true friendship as someone who affirms me in whatever decision I make.  As such ideas continue to infiltrate the church we wonder how we could tell people Jesus is the unique only way to God as it implies other ways are wrong.

Perhaps, as I said above, we need to get smaller before we get bigger.

I will discuss the other four themes in a future post…

Recent Reads – Articles

Here are some thoughtful, fun and random things I have come across over the last week.

What the Internet Killed – a list of some things that the growth of the Internet has made obsolete.  My favorite is the video store.  I love Netflix and despise Blockbuster.  I disagree that the internet has killed phone books, or at least, whoever produces phone books has not heard that yet as I have received two in the mail in the last month.

Why the Virgin Conception? – One of my favorite scholars, Ben Witherington, reflects on the Virgin Mary.

Christmas in Theological Perspective – Allan Bevere reminds us that though Christmas may appear the major Christian holiday in our contemporary world, theologically and historically it was not always so.  In the New Testament, the death and resurrection of Jesus dwarfs his birth; just look at how much time is spent writing on each.  Historically, the death and resurrection was celebrated immediately but Christmas did not become a major holiday until centuries later.  Of course, the birth of Jesus was necessary for the death and resurrection to happen, but without the death and resurrection, Jesus was just one of many crucified Jews in the first century.

Football and the Limits of Conscience – Football is the most popular American sport by far.  I enjoy watching a good football game as much as the next guy.  Many Christians vigorously cheer for their favorite team.  Can we have a conversation about the violence of football?  Should it not matter that many retired football players suffer physically as a direct result of their playing days?  I found this article thought-provoking in bringing up some such questions.  The extreme reaction is to squash any questioning: football is great and people choose to play!  But if we seek to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we should at least think about our support of something that harms so many.  Again, I am not saying we should not watch football (I do)…I am saying we should not watch it brainlessly, especially if our Christian faith truly affects all of who we are.

Big Brother is watching you at Wal-Mart which seems creepy.  What is next, a call by the government to children to report on their parents if questionable things are discussed at home?  This is why Wikileaks is a good thing – it is the media’s job to uncover and report truth.

The 20 Most Influential Christian Scholars – I enjoy listening to Greg Boyd’s sermons and reading his books, but I do not think he is #4.  He does not seem as influential as the likes of Francis Collins, Albert Mohler, NT Wright and many others on this list.  At any rate, it is an interesting list.

Good work to this busboyThis is both cool and gross.

Greatest Story Ever Told…on campus

Berks Idol is a yearly event on campus, sponsored by PSU Berks THON, that allows students to share their talents.  There were sixteen performances that included interpretive dance, a barbershop quartet, soloists, and more.   A group of CSF students performed a skit they called “The Greatest Story ever Told” which you can see here (or just Google “Lifehouse everything skit”).  They had spent months practicing and preparing.  During the performances before CSF went on, the crowd was fired up, often shouting encouragements to the people on stage.

Then CSF went on. The skit, which tells the story of Creation, Fall and Redemption, was met with silence. At the climax, when the Jesus character saves his creation by putting himself between her and their attack, the front of the crowd jumped up and everyone began cheering. It was the first standing ovation of the night.  One of the judges actually asked if any of the students were theater majors, she was so impressed!

At the end of the night the judges announced the winners and first place went to CSF! I know the students were not doing it to win a prize, I don’t think they even knew there was a prize till last week. They were doing it to honor their Savior and to tell the story to their peers. Yet it is an honor to be recognized in such a way (not to mention, the $100 gift card to Chilis!)

As I reflect on this skit and the crowd’s reaction it makes me realize that the Christian story truly is the greatest story ever told. I have no idea how many people in the crowd attend church, call themselves Christians, pray or anything like that. I am sure many of them have been part of churches growing up and rarely attend while at college. But the story is so compelling, so beautiful, that a group of secular college students can’t help but get up and cheer when the Creator saves his creation in an act of self-sacrifice.

The students are performing the skit again tomorrow for the Step Team/Dance Team show. Pray it again goes well. More than that, pray that the students in CSF get many opportunities to talk with people and that this skit would open doors to share the gospel.

Recent Reads

Here are a few recent online articles that I found thought-provoking, interesting and fun:

 

Today in the New York Times Ross Douthat talks about how the “culture war” is changing. Interestingly, as it pertains to campus ministry, this change has partly come about as evangelical Christians have become better educated over the last decades and thus more able to engage in cultural debate:

In part, these shifts may be a testament to the upward mobility of religious believers. America’s college-educated population probably looks more conservative and (relatively speaking) more religious because religious conservatives have become better educated. Evangelical Christians, in particular, are now one of America’s best-educated demographics, as likely to enroll their children in an S.A.T. prep course as they are to ship them off to Bible camp.This means that a culture war that’s often seen as a clash between liberal elites and a conservative middle America looks more and more like a conflict within the educated class — pitting Wheaton and Baylor against Brown and Bard, Redeemer Presbyterian Church against the 92nd Street Y, C. S. Lewis devotees against the Philip Pullman fan club.

 

Not really along those lines, although perhaps we could find connections in how different groups of Christians relate to the wider culture, is this blog post from the Internet Monk.  The contributors to this site are thoughtful, but they also pull no punches.  Here they take on the creation of a Christian theme park of sorts based on Noah’s Ark, seeing it as “the Disney-ization of Faith”:

Those visions will come to life in true Disney-like fashion—with overwhelming kitsch, mawkish sentimentality, a thin veneer of credibility, and, most importantly, the absolute conviction of unwavering belief in spite of any contrary evidence or countering interpretations. This project is fundamentalism at its creative worst. It doesn’t lead us to the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible. It leads us to the cartoon Jesus, the Disney Jesus, the American sanitized version of Jesus, the Jesus who entertains us and keeps it all safe for the whole family to enjoy (at 50 bucks a pop). The Jesus they give us is Jesus the Hero who lived and died on the screen in all his glory, not the “Man of Sorrows” who suffered and died on the cross in shame. This Jesus has been drawn and brought to life for us by purveyors of spiritual technology, not shared with us as true apostles like Paul did—through a humble daily life of suffering and loving in Jesus’ name. There’s the Jesus way and there’s the Disney way, and the gap between them is vast.

For a little history lesson, today is the day when Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians in the history of Christianity, and one of the greatest philosophers in history, stopped writing.  The story goes that he saw a vision of God and said that he can write no more for in light of what he has seen, all he has written in straw.  Here is a reflection on this event.

A few weeks ago I found this article on worship to be intriguing, and probably helpful to worship leaders.

As much as I want to share articles I have read on Wikileaks and TSA, I feel I can easily get distracted by such things, caught up in the frenzy.  It is advent, the weeks before Christmas, and I am trying to re-focus on what really matters.  But I still do recommend Dan Carlin’s podcast Common Sense if you are interested in talking politics (and his Hardcore History podcast is great if you like studying history).

Grace and Peace

Three Week Blitz

I am glad that when I was a student at Penn State there was no week-long Thanksgiving break.  If I recall, we either went to school Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, or perhaps even the morning on Wednesday.  We also had a fall break in early October.  Now students go for 13 straight weeks from August to Thanksgiving with only Labor Day as any sort of break.  Then they get a whole week off for Thanksgiving, which if you include weekends is nine days!

It is like running a marathon, stopping around mile 23 for a nap, and then jumping up and sprinting to the finish line.

For CSF, this sprint includes:

*Ringing bells for the Salvation Army on Saturday

*A fundraiser at Chick-Fil-A on Monday evening (Dec. 6)

*The CSFers are going to be performing this skit on Tuesday December 7 (Berks Idol) and Thursday December 9 (Step Team Dance Holiday Show).   This in itself is quite exciting as the skit is rather explicit in presenting the Gospel and the students will be performing it at two of the biggest events that happen on campus.

*Christmas Caroling and Christmas Party on Friday, December 10.

These next couple weeks look to be exciting.  Your prayers are appreciated!