Friday, 19 December 2008

Happy families? all a bit weird...

Do nothing — Christmas is Coming! Last year I followed Maggi Dawn’s excellent Biblical advent course. This year Lucy and I have been taking Stephen Cottrell’s advice as we prepare for the Big Day. Stephen tracks through most of the weary things we’ve all felt, and some of us have said, about Christmas on its way, then takes the whole thing to the cleaners, by suggesting some down-to-earth ways of Thinking Different, that could really make a difference.

On Page 1 (as far as the busy journalist can be expected to read in any book) Stephen quotes one weary grinch:
Groan. It’s the first day of December, I’ve got about a hundred Christmas cards to write...”
Sadly our journalists were so busy that they didn’t get far enough to realise that this wasn’t an ex Cathedra statement from Stephen but an opening quote about feeling harrassed round Christmas. This mistake gave birth to a “Father Ted has got it in for the Chinese” story about Stephen and Christmas Cards. This straddled the world, from GetReading:
The self-styled “crazy bishop” has made the news again urging us all to forgo sending Christmas cards.
to the sunburned splendour of the (Murdoch) Brisbane Courier Mail

Church of England Bishop Stephen Cottrell says we should chill out this December and forget about sending Christmas cards.

Even Kiddiwinks got misled, as the fountain of niceness, CBBC Newsround reported:
Stephen Cottrell says we should stop sending Christmas cards to absolutely everyone we know, because it's a waste of time.
This is the time of year when most journalists go out, leaving machines to write ritual formulaic stories instead. There is a Holy Trinity of seasonal RF Stories:
  1. Sales exceeding all records (possibly not this year, but they might run it anyway)
  2. A council somewhere cancelling Christmas so as not to offend other faiths
  3. Some vicar somewhere who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus.
These stories are not produced by human beings. There is no point treating them as though they were. The tale of a bishop banning Christmas cards is a variant of (3).

Having read as far as page 46 of Stephen’s book, I can testify that it’s worth it:
To one degree or another, we all find our families embarrassing. It’s something we all have in common. And the other sobering fact that we seem hell-bent on avoiding is that we are all members of our family. What really irritates us about them is that they are so like us! And here’s another uncomfortable truth: we are part of a common humanity. We all have the same frailties, insecurities, anxieties and heartfelt longings. We are all a bit weird. We are all flawed. We are all less than the people we want to be. We all get embarrassed by ourselves and by those around us. We all cause embarrassment to others.

Christmas can be a time when we let this get on top of us. Wouldn’t it be better to take the medicine on offer? To accept these frailties, and then do two other things: first, accept yourself as the flawed and beautiful person that you are; and second, have a very good laugh at your own foolishness and enjoy the foolishness of others, especially those you’re going to be spending the next week with. After all, this is supposed to be the season of goodwill.
I defy the risk that the world’s press will now report that the self-confessed weird bishop has murdered all his family. I like his advice today:
  • The best comedies will not be on TV this Christmas. They will be around your own table, if you can but see them.
  • Re-imagine the peoples of the world as a hugely complex, extremely muddled, wonderfully odd and riotously funny family. Enjoy the differences. Take proper account of the deep-seated similarities.

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