Celebrating Christmas and the Holidays, Then and Now

Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Photo courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.

christmas2013-1Nine-in-ten Americans say they celebrate Christmas, and three-quarters say they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. But only about half see Christmas mostly as a religious holiday, while one-third view it as more of a cultural holiday. Virtually all Christians (96%) celebrate Christmas, and two-thirds see it as a religious holiday. In addition, fully eight-in-ten non-Christians in America also celebrate Christmas, but most view it as a cultural holiday rather than a religious occasion.

christmas2013-2The way Americans celebrate Christmas present is rooted in Christmases past. Fully 86% of U.S. adults say they intend to gather with family and friends on Christmas this year, and an identical number say they plan to buy gifts for friends and family. Roughly nine-in-ten adults say these activities typically were part of their holiday celebrations when they were growing up.

But fewer Americans say they will send Christmas or holiday cards this year than say their families typically did this when they were children. The share of people who plan to go caroling this year also is lower than the share who say they typically did so as children. And while about seven-in-ten Americans say they typically attended Christmas Eve or Christmas Day religious services when they were children, 54% say they plan to attend Christmas services this year.

There are significant generational differences in the way Americans plan to celebrate Christmas this year, with younger adults less likely than older adults to incorporate religious elements into their holiday celebrations. Adults under age 30 are far less likely than older Americans to say they see Christmas as more of a religious than a cultural holiday. They are also less likely to attend Christmas religious services and to believe in the virgin birth. This is consistent with other research showing that younger Americans are helping to drive the growth of the religiously unaffiliated population within the U.S. But the new survey also shows that even among Christians, young people are more likely than older adults to view Christmas as more of a cultural than a religious holiday.

christmas2013-4These are among the key findings of a new Pew Research Center survey conducted Dec. 3-8, 2013, among a representative sample of 2,001 adults nationwide. The survey – which explores Americans’ Christmas plans, childhood traditions, and likes and dislikes about the holiday season – also finds that most Americans say gathering with family and friends is what they most look forward to about Christmas and the holidays. When asked what they like the least about the holidays, many express frustration with the commercialization of the season; one-third say they dislike the materialism of the holidays, one-fifth dislike the expenses associated with the season, and one-tenth dislike holiday shopping and the crowded malls and stores.

One-fifth of Americans say they are the parent or guardian of a child in their household who believes in Santa Claus, and 69% of this group says they will pretend that Santa visits their home this Christmas Eve. But Kris Kringle’s visits will not be restricted only to houses where children retain their belief in the “right jolly old elf”; even among adults who say there are no children residing in their household, 21% will pretend that Santa visits their home this year.

Other highlights from the survey include:

  • Among the religiously unaffiliated, 87% say they celebrate Christmas, including 68% who view Christmas as more of a cultural holiday.
  • Roughly eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say they plan to put up a Christmas tree this year. By comparison, 92% say they typically put up a Christmas tree when they were children.
  • christmas2013-3Nearly six-in-ten Americans say they plan to give homemade gifts this holiday season, such as baked goods or crafts. There is a big gender gap on this question; two-thirds of women (65%) plan to give homemade gifts, compared with 51% of men.
  • Those who celebrate Christmas as more of a religious event are much more apt than those who view it as a cultural occasion to say they will attend religious services this Christmas (73% vs. 30%) and to believe in the virgin birth (91% vs. 50%). But on other measures, the differences in the ways the two groups will mark the holidays are much smaller. Roughly nine-in-ten in both groups will gather with family and friends and buy gifts this Christmas, and identical shares of each group will pretend to get a visit from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve (33% each).

Religious Observance of Christmas

christmas2013-5Half of Americans (51%) say they see Christmas as a religious holiday, while 32% say that, for them, personally, it is more of a cultural holiday. A few (9%) give other responses, such as saying it is both a religious and a cultural holiday or saying it is neither a religious nor a cultural holiday, while 7% say they do not celebrate Christmas, and 1% say they sometimes celebrate Christmas or decline to answer the question.

Eight-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (82%) see Christmas as a religious holiday. Smaller majorities of white Catholics (66%), black Protestants (60%) and white mainline Protestants (56%) see Christmas as more of a religious than a cultural holiday, as do about half of Hispanic Catholics (51%).1 Among the religiously unaffiliated, two-thirds celebrate Christmas as more of a cultural than a religious holiday.

More women (57%) than men (46%) see Christmas as a religious rather than a cultural event. And there is a striking generational component to views on this question. Fully two-thirds of Americans age 65 and older see Christmas as a religious holiday, as do most Americans ages 50-64 (55%) and half of those in their 30s and 40s (50%). By contrast, 39% of adults under 30 say Christmas is more of a religious holiday, while 44% say for them, personally, Christmas is more of a cultural occasion.

 

christmas2013-6Slightly more than half of the public (54%) says they plan to attend religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day this year. By comparison, about one-third of the public (36%) says that they attend religious services in a typical week.

Three-quarters (73%) of people who say Christmas is more of a religious holiday plan to attend religious services either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Far fewer people who say they see Christmas as more of a cultural holiday or who do not celebrate Christmas at all say they will be in the pews this Christmas (30% and 24%, respectively).

Women are somewhat more likely than men to say they will attend Christmas services this year (58% vs. 50%), and parents who are currently raising minor children in their household say they will attend Christmas services at higher rates than non-parents (59% vs. 51%). A majority of adults age 30 and older say they plan to attend religious services this Christmas, compared with 46% of adults under 30.

Among religious groups, three-quarters of Catholics (76%) and seven-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (71%) plan to attend Christmas religious services this year, as do two-thirds of black Protestants (65%). About half of white mainline Protestants say they will attend Christmas services. Among U.S. adults who are unaffiliated with a religion, just 16% say they intend to go to religious services this Christmas.

Roughly seven-in-ten Americans say they typically attended Christmas religious services when they were growing up. Younger adults are less likely than older adults to have grown up doing this. Roughly three-quarters of adults age 50 and older say they grew up attending Christmas services, compared with two-thirds of those in their 30s and 40s and 62% of those under age 30.

Roughly three-quarters of adults (73%) say they believe Jesus was born of a virgin. About one-in-five (19%) say they do not believe this, and 7% say they don’t know or decline to answer the question.

The vast majority of white evangelical Protestants (97%), black Protestants (94%) and white Catholics (88%) believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, as do 81% of Hispanic Catholics.  Fewer white mainline Protestants (70%) believe this. Among the religiously unaffiliated, 32% believe that Jesus was born to a virgin.

About nine-in-ten adults (91%) who see Christmas as a religious holiday say they believe Jesus was born of a virgin. However, even among those who celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday and those who do not celebrate Christmas, roughly half say they believe in the virgin birth.

Gathering with Family and Friends

christmas2013-8Nearly nine-in-ten Americans (86%) say they plan to gather with extended family or friends on Christmas or Christmas Eve this year. This type of gathering is common among all demographic and religious groups in the population. Similar shares of those who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday and those who see it as more of a cultural holiday say they will gather with family and friends on Christmas (89% and 88%, respectively). And even among those who say they do not personally celebrate Christmas, half (51%) say they nonetheless will get together with family or friends on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

Gathering with family and friends on Christmas was also a common experience for most people when they were growing up. Nine-in-ten Americans (91%) say they typically gathered with extended family and friends on Christmas when they were children.

Exchanging Gifts

Fully 86% of Americans say they plan to buy gifts for friends and family over the Christmas or holiday season this year. This includes large majorities of people in all large U.S. religious groups as well as those without any religious affiliation.

Buying gifts is less common among Americans whose annual household income falls below $30,000. Roughly three-quarters of those earning less than $30,000 plan to buy gifts this year, compared with roughly nine-in-ten or more of those in higher income brackets.

Nine-in-ten Americans (89%) say buying gifts was also typically part of how they marked the holidays as they were growing up.

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Roughly six-in-ten Americans say they plan to give homemade items, such as baked goods or crafts, as gifts this holiday season. Far more women than men say they plan to give homemade gifts this year (65% vs. 51%). Making homemade gifts is also more common among whites (62%) and Hispanics (54%) than among blacks (41%), and it is more common among parents of minor children than among those who are not currently raising children in their households (64% vs. 55%).

Similar numbers of high-income earners and those with lower household incomes say they plan to give homemade gifts this year (61% among those earning $100,000 or more, 59% among those earning less than $30,000).

Two-thirds of Americans say they typically made homemade Christmas and holiday gifts when they were growing up.

Santa Claus Coming to Town?

One-in-five adults say they are the parent or guardian of a child in their household who currently believes in Santa Claus. An additional 14% of Americans are parents or guardians of at least one child under the age of 18 but say their children do not believe in Santa Claus. (About two-thirds of Americans are not the parents or guardians of any children in their household.)

Nearly six-in-ten Hispanics say they are parenting minor children in their homes, including 38% who have children who believe in Santa Claus. By comparison, fewer blacks and whites say they currently have Santa-believing children (21% and 15%, respectively), in part because blacks and whites are less likely than Hispanics to have minor children in the home.

Being the parent or guardian of a child who believes in Santa Claus is most common among Americans ages 30-49. Nearly two-thirds of respondents in this age group (63%) say they are parents, including 38% who have a child who believes in Santa Claus. Compared with those in their 30s and 40s, both younger adults and those 50 and older are less likely to be parenting children and to have children who believe in Santa.

Amonchristmas2013-12g those who have a child who believes in Santa Claus, seven-in-ten (69%) say they plan to pretend that Santa visits their house on Christmas Eve this year. But even among U.S. adults without a child who believes in Santa, sizable numbers plan on receiving a visit from Old St. Nick. Roughly one-in-five parents whose children do not believe in Santa (18%) say they will pretend to get a visit from Santa this year, as do 22% of those who are not the parents or guardians of minor children in their household.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans say they typically received Christmas Eve visits from Santa as children. This includes big majorities of those age 65 and older (who were raised in the 1940s, 1950s and earlier) as well as those who grew up several decades later in the 1980s and 1990s.

Caroling, Cards and Christmas Trees

Eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say they plan to put up a Christmas tree this year, and two-thirds (65%) say they intend to send Christmas or holiday cards. Far fewer (16%) say they plan to go caroling this year.

Putting up a Christmas tree is a common practice across a variety of demographic and religious groups. Even among those who are not affiliated with any religion, 73% say they plan to have a Christmas tree this year. And a recent Pew Research survey found that 32% of Jews say they had a Christmas tree in their house last year.

Erecting a Christmas tree is, however, somewhat more common among high-income earners (86% among those earning $75,000 or more) than among those with lower household incomes (75% among those earning less than $30,000). More whites (81%) and Hispanics (82%) than blacks (65%) say they intend to put up a tree. Fully 90% of parents of minor children say they plan to put up a tree, compared with 73% of those who are not parents or guardians of children in their home.

Sending Christmas or holiday cards is more common among adults age 50 and older than among younger adults. Nearly three-quarters of adults age 65 and older (73%) say they intend to send Christmas cards this year, as do 68% of those ages 50-64. By comparison, 59% of adults under age 30 say they plan to send cards this year.

christmas2013-14Upwards of nine-in-ten U.S. adults say they typically had a Christmas tree in their home when they were growing up, and 81% say they or their family sent out Christmas or holiday cards. Compared with blacks and whites, fewer Hispanics say their family typically had a Christmas tree (79%) or sent holiday cards (56%) when they were children.

Roughly one-third of Americans say they usually went caroling when they were children. Adults age 30 and older are more likely to remember caroling as a typical part of their holiday celebrations than adults under 30.

Christmas and the Holidays: Likes and Dislikes

When asked to describe, in their own words, what they most look forward to about Christmas and the holiday season, seven-in-ten Americans (69%), including large majorities across a variety of religious groups, cite spending time with family and friends. Smaller numbers say they look forward to the religious elements of Christmas (11%), to people being happy and joyful (7%), to the Christmas spirit (4%), to Christmas music, decorations and entertainment (4%) and to exchanging gifts (4%). Roughly one-in-twenty Americans (4%) say there is nothing about Christmas or the holidays they look forward to, except perhaps the end of the season.

When asked what they like least about Christmas and the holidays, fully one-third of Americans cite the commercialization of the season, while 22% say they dislike the heavy expenses associated with the holidays, and 10% say they dislike holiday shopping and crowds. Smaller numbers lament the de-emphasis of the religious elements of the season (6%), inclement weather (3%), seasonal music and/or garish decorations (3%) and the hectic pace of the holidays (3%). Roughly one-in-five say there is nothing they dislike about the holidays, other than that they often seem to be over too fast (6%).

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 About the Survey

The analysis for this report is based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 3-8, 2013, among a national sample of 2,001 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (1,000 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,001 were interviewed on a cellphone, including 523 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A combination of landline and cellphone random digit dial samples were used; both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that person was an adult 18 years of age or older. For detailed information about survey methodology, see http://people-press.org/methodology/.

The combined landline and cellphone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin and nativity and region to parameters from the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and population density to parameters from the Decennial Census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status and relative usage of landlines and cellphones (for those with both), based on extrapolations from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landlines and cellphones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size among respondents with a landline phone. Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance take into account the effect of weighting.

  1. In Mexico and several other Latin American countries, the feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6) rather than Christmas Day is the traditional day for large celebrations and exchanging gifts. Hispanic respondents may have been indicating in their answers to this question that the large-scale celebration centered on Christmas Day is more characteristic of U.S. culture than of Latin American culture. 

This report is a product of the Pew research Religion and Public Life Project.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Is the Pope Catholic? Yep. He’s a Christian, Too.

Photo courtesy of the Catholic Church.

Photo courtesy of the Catholic Church.

As a practicing — but manifestly imperfect — Catholic, I am pleased Time magazine has named Good Pope Francis its 2013 Person of the Year. Also cheering is the most recent Wall Street JournalNBC News poll, which asked people to rate their feelings — “very positive,” “somewhat positive,” “somewhat negative” or “very negative” — toward the Pope and Catholic Church.

Not surprisingly, Francis, with positive feelings from 57 percent of those polled (34 percent of whom rated him “very positive”) and only five percent negative (barely one percent rated him “very negative”), is much more popular than the church he leads. The less impressive scores for the Church — the American leadership of which had too often been more concerned about limiting institutional damage control than relieving the agonizing pain and damage children experienced under the care and protection of the Church and its abusive priests — were 36 percent positive and 17 percent negative. The Catholic Church is indeed fortunate to have this Pope as its “human face.”

What is the key to his appeal? He is faithful to Church teaching. The words may be the same, but the music is much different. He accepted, and personally drove around the Vatican, the “gift” of a 30 horsepower, stick shift 1984 Renault with 186,00 miles on it. His “limo” is a Ford Focus. He eschews the luxurious papal apartments for simple quarters where he reportedly makes his own bed.

He speaks to and for the poor, teaching us that an economy exists to serve human beings and not the other way around. He corrects our “idolatry of money” and the false promise that “trickle down” economics would miraculously cure poverty. He calls himself “a sinner” and opens loving arms to those, including the divorced, gays and lesbians, who have been marginalized by Church authorities. But these items just describe, not define, what makes Francis exceptional.

For that, I turn to evangelical Protestant Michael Gerson, a columnist and former White House speechwriter and adviser for George W. Bush. Few experiences are more unwelcome for a writer than to have to quote, at some length, a colleague. But that’s what I have to do to try and understand the magical appeal of Francis.

Earlier this month at Georgetown University during an event sponsored by the school’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, Gerson offered these thoughts on the Pope and the poor: “The reason that Francis is so powerful … is because he talks about Jesus and because he acts like Jesus.” Gerson’s other contributions: “Pope Francis is a troublemaker,” a characteristic, he noted, the pontiff shared with the founder of his faith who “wasn’t very popular with church and state in his own time.” He added that there is “nothing more dangerous than a troublemaker with a plan” and that “a Church that looks like this would transform the whole world.” I obviously could not have said it better, or as well, myself.

We are learning once again this holiday season that the best things in life are not things, and that, yes, Francis is both Catholic and Christian.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Hope That Light Will Always Triumph Over Darkness

Photo courtesy of Chayim B. Alevsky

Photo courtesy of Chayim B. Alevsky

Beginning at sunset Wednesday, observant Jews throughout the world began the celebration of Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, by lighting one candle or vessel filled with oil, on a special eight-branched candelabra, the characteristic menorah. Each evening an additional flame is lit so that on the last night all eight candles and an additional holder set apart from the rest, burn brightly. The holiday, which coincides with Thanksgiving for the first time in more than a century, symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration and of spirituality over materialism, and conveys a deep meaning regarding the importance of religious freedom.

In the second century B.C., the land of Israel was ruled by the Syrian-Greek Seleucid Empire. Beginning around 175 B.C., when Antiochus IV Epiphanes took the Seleucid throne, a period began of repression of traditional Jewish customs and practices. The temple in Jerusalem was turned over to the worship of Zeus. These actions inspired a revolt, initially led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons. By 165 B.C. this revolt, led by Mattathias’ son Judah Maccabee, who undertook a series of guerrilla actions, was successful.

Judah ordered the temple cleansed and rededicated. According to tradition, however, only one cruse of uncontaminated olive oil, enough to burn for one day, remained, and it would take eight days to prepare a new supply. Miraculously, this oil burned for the entire eight days. To commemorate this miracle and their freedom from foreign occupation, Jewish sages declared an eight-day holiday to be celebrated each year.

The Hanukkah menorah is traditionally intended not to light the house but “to illuminate the house within.” During Hanukkah it is traditional to eat food fried in oil, such as potato pancakes, or latkes, and doughnuts. Hanukkah gelt, or money, is given to children and sometimes gifts are exchanged. Families often play a game with a four-sided spinning top called the dreidel, whose four letters are an acronym for “a great miracle happened here.”

Religious freedom and the hope that light will always triumph over darkness are significant for people of any religion and no religion, and, in this world, freedom and hope are not always common. Nes Gadol Hayah Sham.

Republished from the Orange County Register. Distributed by Creators.com.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Orphan Care Solutions Workshop Saturday at WoodsEdge

Photo courtesy of iStock

Photo courtesy of iStock

Orphan Care Network will host Orphan Care Solutions, a workshop to be held at WoodsEdge Community Church on Saturday, November 9. The workshop will address will topics such as private adoptions, foster care adoptions, foster parenting licensing information, respite care provider information, and volunteer opportunities.

Registration and check-in for the workshop begins at 8:00 am Saturday; the opening session kicks off at 8:45, the workshop will wrap up around 3:00 pm.

Breakout sessions during the workshop include:

  1. Private Adoption Options
  2. Foster Care Adoptions
  3. What does it take to become a foster parent?
  4. What is a Respite Provider and what is required?
  5. What is required to become a Child Advocate (MC CASA)
  6. How can I become a Mentor? (Open Table)
  7. Basic community volunteer/ministry needs (various MC CAB member initiatives)

The Orphan Care Network began as a group of families from Woodlands Point Community Church sought how to care for the orphan and support one another in our own attempts at becoming foster and adoptive parents.  For more information on the Orphan Care Network, contact info@orphancarenetwork.org or give them a call at 832.413.2240.

Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Rosh Hashanah a Time of Self-Assessment

Photo courtesy of Josh Bousel / Flickr

Beginning at sundown today, observant Jews throughout the world will begin a two-day observation of Rosh Hashanah, the “head of the year” or the new year. Rosh Hashanah begins the 10 Days of Awe, sometimes called the High Holy Days, culminating Sept. 13 with Yom Kippur.

Jewish tradition teaches that, during this period, God consults the book of judgment to determine who will live and who will die, who will prosper and who will not, during the coming year. Since God’s judgment can be tempered by mercy and evidence of repentance, this is a time of self-evaluation, of acknowledging one’s sins and shortcomings during the previous year, of making amends to those whom one has wronged and making a plan to live the next year in line with commandments to treat other human beings and all the creatures of the Earth with respect and kindness, to do charity and uphold justice.

During Rosh Hashanah, Jews strive to deepen their willing acceptance of God not only as the sovereign of their own lives but as sovereign of the universe. Among the customs of the holiday are to greet others with a wish for a good year and the blowing of the shofar, a trumpet made of a ram’s horn, 100 times. During the tashlich ceremony, bread is cast upon flowing water, symbolizing the casting off of sins and watching them being carried away. Apples dipped in honey are eaten in the hope of a sweet year ahead.

Whatever one’s beliefs, a time of self-assessment and resolve to improve our relations with others is profoundly healthy. To all our readers, then, L’Shanah Tovah, “for a good year.”

This editorial, by the late Alan W. Bock, was originally published Sept. 18, 2009.

Republished from the Orange County Register. Distributed by Creators.com.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Renewal City Church Being Transformed by the Gospel

Some Oak Ridge area residents have banded together to start a new church in our community. Renewal City Church will be holding their first services at the Spring Creek Greenway Nature Center this Sunday morning at 10:00 am. The Nature Center is located at 1300 Riley Fuzzel Road, just north of the Spring Creek Bridge.

Bruce and Vicki Stewart have partnered with a number of other area residents to plant Renewal City Church, which will be an autonomous, eldership-governed local church that has relationship with an apostolic-prophetic team called New Covenant Ministries International.

More about Renewal City, including their Statement of Faith and Mission and Beliefs can be found on their website. There is also a brief introduction to the Stewarts and the plans they have for the new church.

What if you’ve stopped going to church? Or you’re just not comfortable in most churches? Or you’ve never been? You’d be welcomed at Renewal City Church with open arms. Their website says:

“We are not complicated.  We don’t have a bunch of rules to follow or criteria to meet before you are welcome. You don’t have to be perfect before coming as we are not perfect either but Jesus wants us anyway. “

So go check it out this Sunday. This is your opportunity to be there at the very beginning of a vibrant new church in our community.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Immigration: Unity, Morality and Common Sense

Tuesday was a big day.

Nearly 150 evangelical leaders signed onto an “Evangelical Statement of Immigration Reform.” Signers came from across the spectrum of evangelicalism, from leading Hispanic evangelical organizations, to pastors such as Max Lucado, Bill Hybels, Joel Hunter, and even Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family.

No, that isn’t a typo. Sojourners stood side by side with Focus on the Family to draw attention to the plight of millions who have been caught up in our broken immigration system. It was exciting to see such unity across the traditional political spectrum, which rarely happens in Washington.

Make no mistake, there are still big gaps in theology and politics among those in this group. But Tuesday wasn’t about politics. Rather we focused on the things we agreed were fundamental moral issues and biblical imperatives. This coming together to help fix a broken immigration system on behalf of those who most suffer from it is just what politics needs and could begin to affect other issues, too.

CLICK HERE to add your name (and if you forward to a friend you can get a free “Immigration Reform 2012” bumper sticker).

Instead of ideology, we came together because of morality and common sense. And that’s what leaders are supposed to do.

Here’s my statement from our press conference:

Big things don’t change in Washington first; they change in the nation’s capital last. You’d think that with all the lobbyists on K Street and the billions of dollars being spent, that Washington is the most important place. But this is the place where things don’t change, where politics maintains the status quo and the special interests maintain their own interests.

Things change when hearts and minds across the country change. Things change when social movements begin, when people’s understandings change, when families re-think their values, when congregations examine their faith, when communities get mobilized, and when nations are moved by moral contradictions and imperatives.

Things change when people believe that more than politics is at stake; but that human lives, human dignity, the well-being of moms and dads and kids, and even faith is at stake.

And when moral values change, culture changes; and then change comes to Washington.

The immigration system in America is utterly broken, and politics hasn’t changed that. Both sides, Republicans and Democrats, are responsible for this failed system. They are more concerned with their political bases and their votes than with the people and families whose lives are being crushed by a broken system.

There are two signs up at the border between Mexico and the United States. One says “No Trespass!” The other says “Help Wanted.” And 12 million vulnerable people have been trapped between those two signs.

But the Bible says that these people fall into the category of “the stranger,” and Jesus says how we treat them is how we treat him. They are not the political pawns of Washington, and many of them are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. We have come to know them, and to love them: we’ve come to see how their families are being torn apart, and their lives are in great danger. And we believe that breaks the heart of God; and calls us to action.

Look who is here today: Christians from across the political spectrum. The NAE, Anglo churches and Hispanic Churches whom God has brought together, the Southern Baptists, Focus on the Family, Sojourners. Has that ever happened before?

We realize our work is stronger together than as individual leaders. An effort for immigration reform of this size and diversity has never been attempted in the evangelical community. In the months and years ahead, the principles we release today will serve as the basis of outreach and communications work across the nation.

Together, we will create a national groundswell for immigration reform by reaching out to our fellow evangelicals in the body of Christ, to students at Christian colleges and seminaries, and to our churches—both Anglo and Hispanic; because God is calling us to stand together now in faith, in truth, and in the power of the Spirit—which is even stronger than the powers of Washington DC.

Together we are much stronger than divided. We represent large constituencies of Christians across America—and we are here to tell our political representatives that it is time to shed your partisan behavior — and implement a moral and biblical imperative; fix this broken system and pass comprehensive immigration reform! It is time to transcend politics and do what is right.

Together, we make a prophetic announcement today. Washington will change on this issue. Washington will enact comprehensive immigration reform…. because the people of God have come together to begin that change in our own lives and our own churches. And every Sunday we pray, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on EARTH as it is in heaven. We mean that. Amen.

Add your name, sign today.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Huge Garage Sale Saturday on Robinson Road

Photo courtesy of William C. Huffton, Jr.

Faith Family Fellowship will be hosting a huge garage sale from 7:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 16. All proceeds will benefit missions organization, Relationships for Christ. Faith Family Fellowship is located at 27327 Robinson Road.

Relationships For Christ Ministries is a worldwide Christian networking ministry dedicated to empowering people around the world to partner with their communities in order to touch the lives of hurting people.

Based here in South Montgomery County, Relationships for Christ organizes mission trips to places of need such as Colombia, Zambia, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

So head down Robinson Road Saturday morning to Faith Family Fellowship. You might just find those perfect yet gently used baby clothes, or that Pure Prairie League album you’ve been looking for. And you’ll be supporting a great cause along the way.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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The Missing Religious Principle in Budget Debates

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

Both Republicans and Democrats have a religion problem, and it has nothing to do with same-sex marriage, abortion, or religious liberty. Rather it is budgets, deficits, and debt ceiling deadlines that are their serious stumbling blocks.

That’s right, in a city deeply divided between the political right and left there is a growing consensus from religious leaders about getting our fiscal house in order and protecting low-income people at the same time. Together, many of us are saying that there is a fundamental religious principle missing in most of our political infighting: the protection of the ones about whom our scriptures say God is so concerned.

Indeed, the phrase “a budget is a moral document” originated in the faith community, and has entered the debate. But those always in most jeopardy during Washington’s debates and decisions are precisely the persons the Bible instructs us clearly to protect and care for — the poorest and most vulnerable. They have virtually none of the lobbyists that all the other players do in these hugely important discussions about how public resources will be allocated.

For us, this is definitely not a partisan issue, but a spiritual and biblical one that resides at the very heart of our faith. It is the singular issue which has brought together the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Salvation Army, and the leaders of other church denominations, congregations, and faith-based organizations across the nation.

Here is the missing principle still absent in our current debate:

We must agree not to reduce deficits in ways that further increase poverty and economic inequality by placing the heaviest burdens on those who are already suffering the most.

Religious leaders do believe that massive deficits are moral issues, and that we must not saddle future generations with crippling debt. But we believe that how we resolve deficits also is a moral issue. And our society must not take more from those who already have so much less than the rest of us.

We understand the politics of this debate. We know that Republicans will resist reforming the private sector, because that is where their core constituencies and money lie. We understand that Democrats will resist reforming the public sector because that is where their key constituencies and money are.

We also understand that neither party wants to risk actually examining bloated Pentagon spending out of political fears that they might appear unconcerned about national defense or our military personnel. During elections, both Republicans and Democrats are almost entirely focused on middle-class voters and wealthy donors, who all have special interests in the outcome of how government financing is determined.

And then there are the pollsters who tell both parties that talking about “poor people” and “poverty” will not be popular.

But we must agree with what a Catholic bishop told President Obama in a meeting we religious leaders had with him in the White House last year as the August debt crisis deal was being decided:

“Mr. President, our scriptural mandate from Jesus does not say ‘As you have done to the middle class, you have done to me.’ It rather says, ‘As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.’”

We have no choice as to what our position will be in these upcoming debates. We are telling the leaders and legislators of both parties that they must form “a circle of protection” around the most effective and vital programs that help the lowest-income American families survive in such difficult economic times. With one clear voice we also are telling lawmakers that the global efforts that literally mean life and death to the poorest around the world, who are assailed by preventable hunger and diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS, must be protected.

Some cuts kill. Others will destroy the small opportunities families have to lift themselves out of poverty.

We will be telling our legislators, for example — that if they really decide to take all of the proposed $36 billion in agricultural cuts from proven and successful nutritional “food stamp” programs, which go mostly to families with children, while taking nothing from the rice, corn, and sugar subsidies to rich agribusiness — they should expect to hear voices like Old Testament prophets standing outside their halls.

Or — when they plan to cut poor children’s health care or the chance for students from poor families to go to college for the first time, but block any increased revenue from the wealthiest and keep corporate welfare checks flowing — they should anticipate having to listen for the faith community’s different priorities.

And if they cut “meals on wheels” feeding programs to our most vulnerable senior citizens, but keep paying for the wheels on outdated and useless weapons systems, they should expect to hear some words from the scriptures.

How faith community leaders protected low-income entitlements in the sequestered automatic cuts agreed to in the August 2011 debt ceiling deal is an untold story in much of the media. We will ask for those protections again.

Both Republicans and Democrats could agree to the principle of protecting the most vulnerable people — as have many budget cutting processes have in the past — and the Simpson-Bowles recommendations do even now. Then the parties could have their private-public sector debates and reach the compromises necessary to find fiscal integrity. But both party’s church leaders and pastors will be telling them to defend the ones for whom God commands us to give special care.

Everything else may be on the table, but the fate of the poor and vulnerable should not be.

Source: SojoMail www.sojo.net

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Deliver Us From Smugness

Photo courtesy of David Goehring

Ah, the life of the church. So many arguments, so little time.

The list of subjects about which the saints disagree is seemingly endless, encompassing both the profound and the woefully mundane.

The ordination of women. The proper role of religion in politics. Climate change. Homosexuality and same-sex unions. Pre-, post-, or a-millennialism. Biblical translation. Gender pronouns for God. How best to aid the poorest of the poor. How best to support the sanctity of marriage. Hell. Heaven. Baptism. Which brand of fair-trade coffee to serve in the fellowship hall. The use of “trespasses” or “debts/debtors” in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Whether to use wafers, pita, home-baked organic wheat, gluten-free or bagels at the communion table. What color to paint the narthex.

It should come as no surprise to most Christians that the world outside the church looking in sees it rife with conflict, bickering, arguments, and castigation — of the “unbeliever” and fellow believers alike.

Frankly, it also should come as no surprise to the rest of the world that the church — by virtue of being a community of humans — naturally would have such disagreements and discord.

We are imperfect. Our communities are imperfect. And our faith, too, is imperfect.

But I would argue that it is not the imperfection or presence of conflict themselves within the Communion of the Saints that too many of those who would not call themselves Christians find repellant. It is how the church deals with them that repels so many.

Jesus said the world would know we are Christians by our love. Not our smug.

To be smug is to be excessively proud of your achievements and successes. Conceited. Arrogant. Complacently self-satisfied.

Spiritual smugness is both a scourge and an epidemic, particularly within Christendom. Whatever the disagreement may be, we believe we know the truth — biblical truth, orthodox truth, God’s truth. And anyone who might disagree with us is either a fool or a threat to the life of the church.

Neither is true. At least, I don’t believe so. But I could be wrong.

See what I did there? I left the door of possibility open for uncertainty.

In his recent post on God’s Politics, Gary L. Tandy, a professor of English and chair of the English Department at George Fox University, wrote about the “problem of certitude” in the life of the church.

“There is a cultural tendency in evangelical Christianity that does not leave room for ‘evolving’ positions, complexity, uncertainty, or doubt. Rather the assumption seems to be that every Christian should have a clearly defined position on every social issue and even that for some issues there’s only one acceptable position to take,” Tandy wrote. “When discussing these controversial issues as Christians, can we exercise enough humility to temper our statements? Can we resist the temptations of certitude, realizing that it draws lines in the sand and reinforces stereotypes that non-Christians already carry about those of our ilk? Can we learn the use of conditional phrases like ‘Based on my understanding of scripture’ or even ‘I might be wrong about this’ or, God forbid, ‘my views on this are evolving’? Can we remember Anne Lamott’s friend, Father Tom, who suggests that the opposite of faith is certainty?”

If the opposite of faith is certainty, then in this context, the opposite of love is smug.

Smugness is immovable. It is a conversation ender, an impasse, an act of intellectual and spiritual hostility. Smugness is the arid ground in which the mustard seed of faith finds no purchase. A smug spirituality is one that self-defines as superior to others (and to the “other”) and reduces faith to a zero-sum contest to see who can find the truth first and best.

Faith is a gift, not a full-contact sport in which to the victor go the spoils.

The way of Jesus is not the way of the Smug. When he walked among us in the flesh, teaching his followers about the Kingdom of God, Jesus was patient. He never assumed a posture of “I know and you don’t and you’re stupid for not knowing.” He didn’t roll his eyes, throw up his hands and storm off when his disciples didn’t get it. He didn’t call them names or ostracize them.

Rather, Jesus kept talking, kept telling stories and having conversations with them. He found new ways to communicate with his brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers.

I am blessed to be a part of a local church community that strives to model a humble faith and what our lead pastor, Jeff Tacklind, calls a “modest theory of knowledge.” We are a diverse community and there are many subjects on which we disagree. But we are committed to unity in our diversity, and the way in which we deal with conflict is a intentional practice of our love.

Of course, we don’t get it right all the time. We miss the mark. We make mistakes. Sometimes the smug begins to creep in through the back door of our dialogue about controversial subjects. But we try, with humility, not to let it claim a seat at the table.

In his doctoral dissertation for George Fox University (coincidentally — he and Tandy don’t know each other), Tacklind says that two things in particular work against the mission of the church to be known by its love: fear and control.

“In order to cope with this fear, we gloss over the weak points or discrepancies in our own beliefs and focus on the flaws in other positions. Eventually, this can lead to an obsession with proving others wrong and us right. We mask our criticalness in virtue, and become protectors of the truth. We create systems of thought which we dedicate ourselves to defending. Our insecurity and doubt become clouded by overconfidence and defensiveness,” Tacklind writes. “The tendency of Christians to go to war with other Christians is such a vivid image of how terribly we can miss the point. This veritable dishonesty of the heart is the very thing that Jesus came to redeem. He saves us not only from the penalty of our sins, but also from ourselves.”

God is much bigger than anything we can imagine. God’s truth is more vast and complete than any knowledge our minds can hold. And yet, we climb what Thomas Merton called the Seven Storey Mountain. We seek to know God, who is the source of all that is true. And God promises to be found.

Give us this day hearts that are humble, minds that are open, and deliver us from all smugness.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

More Posts - Website