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This article by Eugene H.Peterson originally appeared in the December 11, 1987 issue of Christianity Today and relates the extraordinary story of how at 8 years old his mother decided there would be no Christmas Tree.
The thought of this is pretty stomach churning and to my mind very cruel, and today it would be considered a case for child abuse....Mercifully the tree re-appeared the next Christmas.
I certainly would not advocate this as a way of introducing the idea of being an outsider to a child but it is worth reading how Peterson the adult describes the impact it had on him with some humour, and the part his atheist uncle played. Remarkably, he is now thankful for it.
This is the last part of the article below:
"The feelings I had that Christmas when I was eight years old may have been the most authentically Christmas feelings I have ever had, or will have: the experience of humiliation, of being misunderstood, of being an outsider. Mary was pregnant out of wedlock. Joseph was an apparent cuckold.
Jesus was born in poverty. God had commanded a strange word; the people in the story were aware, deeply and awesomely aware, that the event they were living was counter to the culture and issued from the Spirit's power.
They certainly experienced considerable embarrassment and inconvenience—did they also clumsily lie to their friends and make excuses at the same time they persisted in faith?
All the joy and celebration and gift-receiving in the gospel nativity story took place in a context of incomprehension and absurdity. Great love was given and received and celebrated, a glorious festivity, but the neighborhood was not in on it, and the taunts and banter must have cut cruelly into their spirits.
So, Mother, thank you. And don't apologize for the silliness. Thank you for providing me with a taste of the humiliation that comes from pursuing a passionate conviction in Christ.
Thank you for introducing into my spirit a seed of discontent with all cultural displays of religion, a seed that has since grown tree-sized. Thank you for being relaxed in grace and reckless enough to risk a mistake.
Thank you for being scornful of caution and careless of opinion. Thank you for training me in discernments that in adult years have been a shield against the seduction of culture-religion. Thank you for the courage to give me Jesus without tinsel, embarrassing as it was for me (and also for you?)."