A Tree That Feels Like Me

Charlie Brown Tree 2

 

We have three Christmas trees in our house this year.  I know, weird. 

One is fancy and stands in our living room.

The newest is beside my desk in my study – a sale-tree that I bought on Black Friday.  I couldn’t resist.  It is an aluminum tree with a color wheel.  Yep, I guess they’re being made again for all of us boomers.   Did any of you have one of those at one time?

But my favorite tree is in our Hearth Room – it’s the one you see above – our Charlie Brown tree.

The fact that I have both an aluminum tree and a Charlie Brown tree is a bit ironic since “A Charlie Brown Christmas” special first shown December 9, 1965, was more directly responsible for the death of aluminum Christmas trees than anything else.  “A Charlie Brown Christmas” resonated with 1965 audiences in a way no other children’s programming had before.  

It still resonates with me.  

Charles Schultz’s characters have been a part of my life since I was 9 years old when someone, I don’t remember who, gave me the book, “Good Grief, Charlie Brown!”

I wish I remembered the name of the person who opened up this world to me. I’m thankful for them. 

Everything I like about Charlie Brown is contained in “A Charlie  Brown Christmas” and that little, lonely, pitiful looking tree.  

It is real.  Every other Christmas special has in it some element of fantasy.  

A snowman that comes to life.  

Flying reindeer. 

But not in Charles Schulz’s story.  The story is build on the reality of sadness.  

Charlie Brown is sad.  “I know no likes me,” Charlie Brown says, walking along, “so why do we have to have a holiday to emphasize the fact?”  Charlie is us.   We want to be liked.  Not just loved.  It’s hard to feel loved when we’re not liked.  

Linus recites Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.  But, even with this spiritual element, God doesn’t swoop in to rescue Charlie Brown. Neither does Santa, or Frosty. There is no Elf to bring back the spirit of Christmas.  There is Charlie Brown dealing with kids who are mean to him.  And why?  He was only trying to do something good.  When he brings his tree to the group, the insults are launched:

“Boy, are you stupid Charlie Brown”
“I told you he’d goof it up.”
“He isn’t the kind you can depend on to do anything right.”
“You’re hopeless, Charlie Brown.”
“You’ve been dumb before, Charlie Brown, but this time, you really did it.”

How many watchers of that special see themselves in Charlie Brown? How many have heard, still hear, those same insults?  Insults and attacks for only trying to do good. 

And no one steps in to defend him.  To advocate for him.  

He’s alone.  Like the tree he picks.  Charlie Brown and the tree are parallel characters.  Each of them is considered by others to be defective, unwanted, worth-less than other trees or other people.

“This little one needs a home,” Charlie Brown said when he saw the tree on the lot.  

Charlie Brown provided that home.

Charlie Brown was the only one who really saw the tree. Who saw the value in the tree. Who loved the tree.  He thought others would see the tree as he saw the tree.  They didn’t. 

The rejected boy took the rejected tree to his home.  When he hangs a single ornament on it’s tallest branch,  the tree droops to the ground.  Charlie Brown cries out, “I’ve killed it.  Oh! Everything I touch gets ruined.”

Have you ever felt like you can’t do anything right?  Then you get Charlie Brown.  

Linus’ Bible story inspired Charlie Brown to decorate the little tree, in spite of what others said, but it doesn’t heal Charlie Brown from the pain he feels.  What heals him is the other members of the Peanuts Gang coming out into the cold to rescue the tree – with love.  As Linus says, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree…Maybe it just needs a little love.” 

And love is what the gang gives the tree.  Show a tree, or a person, some love, and look what happens!

It may be a story from a comic strip, but it’s a story about realness.  

Real sadness.

Real loneliness.

Real rejection.

Real prejudices.

Real comparisons.

Real realization of judgmentalism.

Real love.

Real community. 

Real change. 

And it’s really good.  

Have a really good holiday.

  

Testing Our Traditions

Shiraz on the Shelf.jpg

“But we always have turkey for Christmas dinner!”

“But we always have pistachio pudding salad (the traditional dish when I was a kid) for Christmas dinner” 

“But we always open one present on Christmas Eve!”  

“But we always go see Christmas lights on Christmas Eve!”

Whenever someone tries to replace, remove, or reform a tradition, the change is probably met with a “But we always…”

What is your “always”?

Do something two years in a row and you’ve got a set-in-concrete tradition. 

Traditions are not just a holiday thing. They are a theology thing. 

Tradition. There’s a whole song devoted to it in Fiddler on the Roof.

Tradition.  It was the context of many of Jesus’ collisions with the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-8).

Tradition.  It has been the context of many of my own church collisions in my early years pastoring:

*Singing songs that weren’t in the Baptist Hymnal.

*Bringing a guitar and drums to the Sunday morning service.

*Replacing the denomination’s Adult Sunday School curriculum with a study of Charles Swindoll’s “Improving Your Serve.”

I could go on…

More recently, and more importantly, I’ve been dealing with traditions of what to think, what to believe, how to see God, how to see others, how to see myself.  

There are traditional ways of doing and there are traditional ways of thinking.  

 Both need to be “examined.”  Hold on to that word – “examine.”

First, let’s examine why we hang so tightly to traditions.  Why does the mantra, “We’ve always done it that way” fit so many so well?  There are two reasons:

 1.  We are copycats.   We tend to follow the crowd in both doing and thinking.  Instead of thinking for ourselves we want to be told what to think.   “Welcome to church.  Leave your brain at the door,” is the culture of many.   We count on pastors to tell us what to believe.  We follow their words in an automatic and robotic way. Pastors count on people to not question what they’re told.  Pastors can have an exalted opinion of themselves.  

Be a free-thinker!  Jesus told his followers that the Holy Spirit is their teacher (John 14:26). You’re walking around with the teacher within!  Listen to the Spirit.  

John writes that “the true light gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).  Did you catch that? “Everyone”  Yes, me.  Yes,  you.  Wake up to the light.  Be aware of the light.  You have in you the light of understanding. 

2.  We are scaredy cats.   Our world can be scary, stressful, uncertain.  Having traditions, when we do the same things over and over – like shampoo, “Rinse and Repeat” – we know what to do, when to do it, how to it, gives us a comforting sense of control and stability.  But is the comfort an illusion? A shadow?  Is there something more solid to which we can hold?  

Let’s examine the traditions themselves – not just the traditions of putting trees in our house or hanging our socks on the fireplace – but the tradition of thinking a certain way, of believing a certain thing. 

Ask questions about, critique what you believe and what you have been taught.

Paul tells us to “examine the preaching” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).  

Does it pass the test?  
Here’s the test:

When it comes to hearing a sermon, Paul says,  “Examine it and hold on to that which is good.” 

Listen carefully.  Listen critically. Give it a test. A beauty test.

The Greek word translated “good” (kalos) means “beautiful.”  

Does the preaching pass the “Is it beautiful?” test.  The test is not, “Is the preacher beautiful?” (I’m glad because there’s not much I can do about that!),  but is the preaching “beautiful?”

Kix Cereal is “kid tested and parent approved.”                                                              Preaching is to be “beauty tested.”

When listening to teaching/preaching, if it’s beautiful, hold on to it. If it’s not beautiful, let it go.

Traditions are about:

  • Priority – what/who is first in my life?
  • Authority – what/who will have authority over my life?
  • Beauty   

Jesus calls us to connect with something bigger than our traditioins.  He calls us to connect with love.  When traditional thinking, traditional views, clashed with love,, Jesus always came down on the side of love. 

Healthy religion always pulls us away from traditions of exclusion to inclusion, from scarcity to abundance, from a God with only enough love for my group to a God for the universe.