by Charles LaFond
Today God became meat on this planet, of so we celebrate. Jesus’s family was, we know, large and so by now hundreds of millions of people in the middle east have his family blood in them. Don’t you wonder about that? I do. I wonder that we Americans, who so celebrate this feast of God’s tent-pitching with such lavish expense wonder why people in the middle east are angry at Americans. Don’t you wonder what it means for Jesus to bring “peace on earth and good will towards men?” What if some guy over in the middle east were Jesus’ millionth cousin five hundredth removed? What if the people we think are our enemies are Jesus’ family?
Imagine peace on earth for a moment. Mustn’t it come down to two people changing their minds? Might Christmas Day be a time to imagine friendships with middle-easterners? Might that be more spiritual than all our pious pipe organs and candles?
Let’s say that the average, run-of-the-mill guy in Iraq or Syria were given a pen and paper and asked to write about the average run-of-the-mill American – a Christian say. As an American man, I expect that when I read what the Iraqi guy wrote I would disagree. I would read his writing and I would say “no!” I would say “That is not an accurate picture of the average American man!”
The Iraqi man, Farouk, let’s call him, is writing from his perspective. He is writing from his cinder-block house half-built and partly exposed to the elements, but with parts covered with metal sheets he found by a road and a blue tarp. His anger at the death of his two sons and his daughter’s undiagnosed disease would enflame his writing. His wife’s bent exhaustion from trying to keep his other four children and their parents and his brother and her three sisters fed would further exhaust and enrage him. His work moving rocks for a local construction company would anger his hard, cracked hands as he wrote his angry words. This is not the life he wants.
He wants the life he sees every night on television that his neighbor Ahmed watches on his computer next door…that show “Friends” the episode which is the Christmas special – the show about that group of friends in New York with their coffee shop and that apartment with all that running water they have and those lights they have and the heat in winter and the food about which they ceaselessly speak. He would be angry watching old episodes of “Friends” all the while unable to laugh, listening to a language he does not fully understand. He would eat his five ounces of bread and mug of goat broth and wonder about us on Christmas night.
So, he would write a twisted story from a twisted picture; from a sad perspective of not getting what he wants and even needs. The unfairness. The way he lost the biological and political lottery game of the planet.
Not really knowing how kind John Smith is, in Omaha, as he tills the soil of his family farm, this Iraqi man, Farouk, writing this story, would naturally hate John Smith even though he does not know him up close. This Iraqi man would naturally rant and rave and write and say horrible things in his own pain and suffering – the celestial unfairness of it all.
And John Smith with his little farmhouse in Omaha has no idea who Farouk is. He has no concept that his own life on his farm, though a very hard life with betrayed friendships, a drunk brother, a missed mortgage payment, a divorced wife on whom he once cheated and a stupid girlfriend and a terrible parentage – that even this life is a good life really. He has cans of food and running water. Boxes of mac and cheese from on sale at Walmart The lights go on who he touches the switch – every time. If he gets sick, he can just go to a doctor and his insurance pays the bills. He has enough and yet life is still so disappointing – not what he wanted and even needs.
Christmas night is like taking Farouk and John and sitting them down together by that sparkling tree with a scotch and inviting them, in a magical common language, to get to know each other. Or is Christmas just about peace in America? And do we even have that peace?
Farouk would begin angry and hateful wishing Allah would smite John. John would begin sullen and distrustful wishing Yahweh would smite Farouk. John would remember to tell his congressman to bomb Farouk’s village and Farouk would remember to tell his leaders to send a terrorist to John’s town to blow up the Walmart at 5:00 on December 23rd when it was really busy. Farouk would think John is a smug, self-righteous American red-neck who won the bio-lottery on earth and he would be right. John would think Farouk is an angry, vicious towel-head who threatens American values simply by existing on the other side of the planet. And in a way, he too is right. John would find it hard to remember that most of Farouk’s friends are biological descendants of Jesus. Farouk would find it hard to remember that Jesus calls us to love everyone.
But over time in a conversation late at night by a Christmas tree, Farouk would see that John’s eyes glint when he smiles and his soul is soft like warm butter. And over time John would see that Farouk has a deep and gentle kindness in him when he speaks of his beloved wife Falwa and that when Farouk laughs his hand turns up automatically, exposing his open, cracked palm in a gesture of welcome unconscious and gentle. Farouk would understand why John is so disappointed and John would understand a bit of why Farouk is so angry.
Soon they would let their foreheads touch each other as they spoke late in the night in hushed tones about their wives, their children, their love of hot Pita or of pancakes with bananas in them. Of Life.
Don’t you see America? Christmas is that. Christmas is that between God and God’s people. All of them. All of us.